Leslie settles in to the office she (for now) calls her own.

MA’s Own Osprey Comes Back to the Nest

February 20, 2019

A geeky punk probably isn’t what comes to mind when you think of someone who’s supposed to be the resident outdoorswoman on campus or an osprey for that matter, but this majestic sea hawk is exactly what Leslie Beach was referring to when she blurted out, “it’s a little bit punk, a little bit geeky, so me!”

Osprey is Leslie’s nature name. That is, the name she went by starting at 17 when she became a CIT (counselor-in-training) at the camp she had attended the six years prior as a camper. The name isn’t one she valiantly bestowed upon herself, but rather one that a former trip leader gave to her when she was on an 18-day backpacking trip in the Pasayten Wilderness. This trip was hard for 15-year-old Leslie, both physically and because she didn’t bond with the other participants who, much to her dismay, said that if she were an animal, she’d be a bunny. The Leslie I know is certainly no bunny, nor has she ever been. The person who recognized this, and who she did get along with, was one of the trip’s adult leaders who officially assigned her, “Osprey, because they love the ocean and they love to be alone,” and this, this sounds more like the Leslie I’ve come to know.

In addition to the osprey magazine, Leslie has also brought her very own mini-library and her own maps labeled with her nature name.

She’s showing me pictures of an osprey diving into the water in the magazine she brought from home, one of the few of her possessions she’s allowed herself to decorate the office with. As Interim Director of Outings, Leslie is keenly aware of her short time on campus, trying to strike the balance of making the role, and the space, her own without actually dramatically changing anything: “Actually I think the place where I’ve done that the most is in the trips that I’m offering.” Her main goal in these trips is to, “keep it inclusive, both of the incredibly committed and talented outdoor athletes, and also of people who love being outside regardless of their ability or investment in those things.”

Leslie understands that this latter type may capture more people at MA, who in her words, “don’t identify as ‘I’m a Gung Ho climber’ or ‘I’m really committed to being the best whitewater kayaker in the world’ or whatever,” and Leslie herself has often fallen into this group. In fact, right now, she’s running an outing that stands in as an alternative to prom which she admits, though she loves dancing now, she definitely would have taken up during high school.

Speaking of which, I have yet to mention a big part of Leslie’s identity, at least while she’s here. It comes in the form of two little numbers they like to string after her name: ‘04. That’s right folks, she’s an MA alumna.

Although she fostered her love of the outdoors while on this campus, this quiet admiration began long before she met the redwood in the circle or the California buckeyes on Cottage. Leslie’s parents had an appreciation for nature but it looked a lot different than hers and she says it wasn’t they who fully engaged her in nature, but rather her grandmother: “My mom is a wonderful, imaginative, incredible parent, but she’s fast and I’m slow and my grandma would slow way down and walk through the world with me at my own pace.” She and Grandma Beach would walk the same path every day, the one behind Bacich elementary that runs from Marin General to College of Marin.

Leslie is a same-route-everyday kind of gal. She continued her outdoor explorations as a latch-key kid, walking to her elementary and middle school, always amazed at the nature she found around her, even in the suburbia streets of Kentfield. Coming to MA was a change. Without a license, and too far to walk, her mornings became rushing out the door and carpool drama, barely squeezing in time to look out the window on the drive.

Because of this, she was delighted at the chance to return to her habits of backyard observation under the pretext of an AP Bio assignment from our very own, Mark Stefanski. The assignment was to choose an organism and return to the same place to observe it every day: “I did a snowy egret ‘cause they roost in the trees by the creek behind my house and to be in this place that I had walked every day from fifth grade to eighth grade, but not as much now that I was going to school someplace else was really an incredible experience.”

I think it’s funny that Leslie mentions this assignment because, in a way, it’s exactly what I’m doing to her. This is especially true if you adopt Leslie’s core belief in, “thinking through what it means to be a creature on this planet among other creatures rather than this sort of problematic propensity of the humans to think that we’re greater than or other than other life.” So let’s step back for a moment and look at Leslie as she did the snowy egret.

Here’s Leslie, 2007 Outings Catalog in hand, showing me her notes from a phone call (peep her snail doodle in the right-hand corner).

Leslie is wearing a fern and floral top with coffee-with-cream-colored corduroys cuffed at the shin and above the ankle work boots fitted with laces and a zipper. She has keys at her hip, attached with a carabiner, that jangle when she walks. Her hair is pulled back in a messy, relaxed way and she is wearing wooden earrings. She doodles snails on the corner of the page she is taking notes on during a phone call and has her planner by her side with a rubber band as a bookmark that still opens to last week.

While I’m certain this was just a silly coincidence, it makes a lot of sense for Leslie: “I’ve never been a forward planner. I kind of look back and see patterns rather than thinking about where I want to be in 10 years and working towards it.”

I’m pretty sure she’s even applied this to her role here at MA as the first time I walked into the room the freshly christened “her office”, she was reading old Outings catalogs, telling me she just wanted to get an idea of how the program has changed. This is what Leslie does, she looks at the past to make sense of the present and even the future.

When I ask her what’s next, it’s the one question she wasn’t excited to answer: “Guess what? This question still stresses me out even after all these years. I don’t know for sure.” Despite her seeming uncertainty, by the time she finishes responding to the question, she indeed comes to an answer. Leslie is committed to remaining a part of the education world. How she came to this in the two minutes she was talking? Funny enough, by looking back, even funnier, looking back to her time at MA: “One of my favorite history teachers when I was here, Nancy Hoffman passed away sort of unexpectedly last year and I went to the memorial service where Derek Anderson spoke among many others beautifully and it was really perfect timing because I was at a point where I was sort of deciding between was I going to try to get a job in editing or was I going to really follow the education path. Hearing colleagues from all three of the schools where she taught speak to her impact as a teacher and remembering how much she’d impacted me, made me really realize that teaching is what I want to be doing.” I know, as well as you all do now, that whatever Leslie does next, she’ll bring her past with her, MA, Osprey, and all.

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