Happy Birthday to COOT

 

Thirty years ago, 18 freshmen trekked into the Maine woods with a lot of enthusiasm and returned to campus with Katahdin or a piece of the Appalachian Trail under their belts.

By R.J.
 

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Colby COOTers about to take to the water during an orientation sea kayaking trip on the Maine coast in the late 1980s.
After the first "Freshman Wilderness Orientation Trip," a Colby magazine article said, "The participants . . . hoped that the program could not only be continued but expanded next year"

They got it. Since then, FWOC has become known as COOT (Colby Outdoor Orientation Trips), and it's a rite of passage that almost every first-year chooses to brave. "It's just sort of grown like a fungus," said Jonathan Milne, director of the program, while preparing to send about 630 new students and trip leaders out on 52 trips throughout the state this summer.

While COOT orients students with Maine's outdoors, it also orients students with each other. "Around a campfire you can really start talking about some meaningful things," said Vice President for Student Affairs Janice Kassman. And while first-years are starting their year with a core group of about 10 friends, their roommates are doing the same, so when they get back to campus their social network expands. "It's like this tentacle that radiates out," said Kassman'.

Tentacle? Fungus? Whatever COOT is, the reality is that four days of eating trail food, not showering, and sharing everything with a group of complete strangers makes them strangers no more.