Proctor Academy's Mountain Classroom program continues to wind its way east as the Spring Term progresses. After a four-day solo in Colorado, the ten students reflected on their time alone. Read Tommy's profound description of the isolation he experienced and insights he gained on his own life, both at Proctor and beyond.
“An idle mind is the devils playground,” Asher recited to me just before solo drop off. I began to wonder what I will do without the comfort of a thought-provoking book, a meaningful discourse, or my beloved kendama. After our last goodbyes and two quotes from Quinn and Kate, Emily, Faolán, Maura, Asher, and I filed into the truck in utter silence. One by one, we were told to get out, get our stuff, and get busy. With only Asher and me left, Kate nodded her head in my direction. I climbed out of the raised white vehicle and was immediately stunned by the snow-capped mountains that towered above me. To my left, a creek, about eight feet wide and a foot deep, cut through rows of various trees. Left of the the creek, a steep, deforested hill covered in thick snow shot upward, with the few remaining pines showing bare bark until branches suddenly emerged in the top thirty feet of the tree. Jutting out from the right edge of the meadow stood a hill of similar immensity, this time riddled with pines and comprised of crumbling dirt and sandstone. Each hill was an arm spawning from the broad shoulders of the mountain range, hugging me in my solo grounds.
Once I found the oxygen that the scenery stole from me, I decided to hike rightwards up the red dirt in hopes of finding a spot with an epic view of the mountains, but could not scout any acceptable land. After hiking the hill in all directions, I called it quits and settled for a campsite tucked behind the meadow. Sure, the campsite had no views of the mountains—or anything, for that matter—but it reminded me of home. Patches of snow, deprived of warm sunlight, surrounded my tarp along with piles of deer scat. The coniferous trees, tightly packed between damp soil, blocked my vision of the barren meadow, the steep hills, and the drastic white daggers I so badly wished I could ski.
I woke up the next morning to a gorgeous sunrise of hot pinks and and faint blues. After a triple-decker peanut butter sandwich, I walked down to my mailbox—a compilation of mossy red rocks—and gathered the various letters I received from my friends. I smiled. Merely twelve hours into my solo, I had already begun longing for human connection. I sat down and scribbled inside-joke-filled notes for my peers to enjoy. Once I had finished my notes, however, I had nothing left to do. As a tsunami of boredom flooded my body, I could feel the devil swinging on the monkey bars of my mind. I decided a hike would be an excellent way to pass the time. After a gorgeous hike, the devil danced around my idle mind again. I desperately began doing anything I could that would take my mind off the location of the sun in the sky. I juggled rocks. I paced up and down the path through the meadow. I ate. I sang. I threw rocks in the creek. I broke sticks. I wrote the lyrics to all of the songs I had stuck in my head. I thought about home, about how I missed my family dearly. I thought about my friends, and what they were doing to get through the long, lonely hours. By the time the sun caressed the peaks of the mountains, I was in my sleeping bag, watching the remaining light disappear. I have never felt as trapped or as free as I did in the first thirty hours of my solo.
I sat waiting for the mailman (Quinn) like an energetic puppy on the morning of the third day, awaiting the bully that could kick the devil out of the playground: my book. An acquisition I made in Moab, the book The Blood in the Water had captivated me since page one (It is about the 1971 Attica Prison uprising—really good read). I put it away in my day three bag before I left for my solo because I figured I might be ecstatic to have something to read—and boy was I. I tore open the grocery bag I had stored it in and thumbed to the thirty-fifth page, which had a crisp dog-ear in the top-right corner. One-hundred-and-sixty pages, a naked sunbathe, and ten hours later, I saw Quinn walking past me once more, to which I realized I had been reading ALL DAY (This is a bit of a hyperbole—I wrote and had a target practice session, throwing rocks at trees). Day three moved at lightning speed compared to days one and two, landing it a whopping third place spot on my “slowest days ever” list. With a burn agitating my chest, I headed to my tarp to weatherproof my belongings and go to sleep.
I got up on day four with a grand smile for two reasons—the rain had not begun, and I would be able to engage in human interaction once again! I quickly shoved my tarp, food, and clothes into my backpack and went down to my mailbox. I looked up to the mountains, but couldn’t find them. I rubbed my eyes and looked again—still no mountains. I soon realized thick rain clouds were blanketing the immense peaks. I raced to my bag, threw my rain cover over it, and zipped my rain jacket up to my chin. Within five minutes, hail was dropping at an alarming rate. Within another five minutes, that hail was snow. Five minutes later, that snow was rain. Then back to the little white pellets. “What the hail is going on here?” I wondered. Soon enough, the dark clouds passed over and the sun hit my face. Then, I heard the rumbling of a rusted blue jeep coming up the dirt path, and couldn’t help but smile. I dropped my bag into the back of the car and ran down the road. I ran and I screamed and I saw Maura and gave her the biggest hug. Yes, I loved my time alone, but never have I appreciated human connection more than I did after those four days.
For me, the biggest takeaway from solos was not the experience itself, but the results and the aftermath of the experience. I didn’t do much heartfelt self-reflection or have any sudden realizations, I didn’t see the Lord or answer the questions that haunt society, but I truly learned to appreciate the relationships I have fostered, the good fortune I was born with, and the experiences I have endured—even if one of those experiences was sitting by myself for four days straight.