Pursuing the Magic

Gracie Ryan, October 24, 2016

Written by Zoë Van Nostrand & Gracie Ryan

After 16 years of programs, the Primitive Pursuits alumni network is large and getting bigger all the time. As we’ve expanded our programs we are always eager to recruit new instructors from previous students, many of whom have used Primitive Pursuits has a jumping off point for their interest in primitive skills. We’ve had a number of young campers graduate to the role of teenage CIT (Counselor in Training), or adult participants transition from being Wilderness Skills Intensive attendees to summer instructors. One of our longest running members is Dina Rigas.

Dina’s journey with Primitive Pursuits began at the age of six when her parents enrolled her in the Thursday Homeschool program. This was in the early years of our Homeschool adventure, and Dina got to learn directly from our founders, Tim and Jed, as they were developing Primitive Pursuits curriculum and exploring new locations in the Finger Lakes. Her parents (both Cornell alumni) encouraged outdoor learning, and Dina recalls that as a child

“Playtime meant going to the creek and building fairy houses.”

The magic of outdoor learning, and the excitement at learning traditional skills kept Dina coming back to Primitive Pursuits until she was 16, when she transitioned into her role as a CIT.

“Leaving being a camper and becoming a mentor sort of felt like I was leaving the magic behind, because Primitive Pursuits does such an amazing job of being a container for wonder”.

However as she became more comfortable in her position as a role model, and with the wealth of knowledge she had gained over 10 years of being a Primitive Pursuits student, Dina quickly found her ability to connect with kids in new and different ways. She admires how our campers are taught to learn the limits and capabilities of their bodies and to trust themselves to engage in skills that could be considered potentially dangerous, like carving and fire-building. She feels that it is deeply important to teach children that the woods are their home, and can provide them with not only physical resources, but also lessons on life. As an instructor, Dina meets kids where they are at and deeply engages them in their natural surroundings. She does all of this so that they can better understand their role in the world and the effects they have on others. Her deepest wish is to be as effective a teacher for this generation, as her instructors were for her.

At eighteen, Dina is a trusted summer instructor, and regularly works with our homeschool, and Ithaca Forest Preschool programs. As a teacher she values the power of storytelling, and the ability to encourage awe and curiosity in students. She says that the kids “have such an intense wonder about the world.”

We can’t claim all the credit for Dina’s wealth of knowledge, intelligence, and compassion however. She is also an avid tennis player and coaches kids, adults, and private lessons at Cornell. And she’s an incredible music-maker which she loves to share with campers; working to tie in piano, ukulele, guitar, and singing with as many lessons and stories as she can. In addition, she’s an experienced 4-H exhibitioner, and after first showing her Guernsey calf at a 4-H fair six years ago, has traveled to State Fairs across the country to show at a competitive national level. Dina is currently in a gap year before attending college in 2017, but she says no matter how far she travels her deep love of Ithaca, and the Primitive Pursuits community will always bring her home.