Proctor Academy's Mountain Classroom program enters its final two weeks of the Spring Term. After winding their way across the Northern Plains, students embarked on a three day solo in the Vedauwoo National Forest. Lucy '22 and Maura '22 share beautiful reflections - each in their own style - of their time on solo. Enjoy this window into perhaps the most powerful experience Proctor students can have in the entries below.
Walking across rock and sand in Nevada, I am on top. Implanting layers of fabric between the ground and me. My shoes, the tent, a folding foam chair. When I go to bed, I wipe away the day, sterilizing myself for my sleeping bag. The next day is hot and dry. A swim in the lake will cool me off. Shaking away the frigid water. Repelling the mud away. Distancing myself. The tree provides shade and we fight over it, the lot of us.
There are nine others and me. All choosing to be stuck together for the next two months. We walk, talk, chew, sleep, play, and learn simultaneously. I left a life behind, so did all of you. I lie awake thinking of the past, wondering about the future.
I sit in a canoe on top of the water, a layer of metal protecting me from the Colorado River. I avoid the wetness, uncleanliness. It is not part of the ecosystem of my body. I stay detached from the world, unmatched from you.
Driving over cacti covered sandfields through jutting rocks. Leave comfort, discomfort, only comfort, your faces. Laughing, crying, consulting, convering, passing the time. Long hot days. Even colder longer nights. Huddling together, you are all my comfort. Everything on our backs, packs, that’s all I could need.
Back to “comfort,” what is comfortable? With ease, sand exfoliant, more laughs, but it's a rhythm now. The rumble, so humble. Back in the bus, we head North towards our next adventure. There is a pattern. An expectation, a relationship.
Once an individual, thinking about the past. I am present now. More conversations, laughter, arguments, resolutions. Choosing, choosing, choosing. It’s a choice to stick around, embrace the dirt, frolic, dance, play with the Earth.
Now, sticky, sticky, humidity, bare feet, green grass, puffy hair, no puffy coat. Lakes. We bathe. Not to wash off but to soothe, connect, embrace. Air, fresh, soothes my lungs.
I think about it sometimes. What will happen when we go? Where will I go? Who will I talk to? I came here with only the intention of required communication, six stamps, six envelopes. Only for my family.
In the dry heat of the desert I lived by strict rules: I will see you when I see you, but in the meantime we don’t exist. Home is for home. Camp is for camp. School is for school.
But, as I trudge through muddy shores and my hair grows wide from the moist air, I don’t want to lose touch. I buy postcards, and stamps, to let my dear ones know I am thriving in my natural environment.
In the past there was a mass. Friends, memories. Are they memories if I can’t recall them? Now there are moments written down. Stored away to be looked upon in the future.
I don’t crave the outside world, I crave connection. I crave the ability to fill my love and belonging need. To not just sit on top of the world and meander around this planet, but to breathe in its airs, and feel the Earth on my feet.
The smell of the grass, dirt, sand, rock, calcified cow crap. The touch of the breeze, the squeeze, your arms around me. The burn of the sun, so fun, radiation of love. Embracing, pacing, till I find it.
Connection, compassion, relation, reflection. I don’t want to forget, disconnect. I want to remember.
If you’ve ever been on Mountain Classroom you’ll know that, as a group, you tell each other way too much about your bodily fluids and functions. If you know Carol Feeney, you’ll know she loves good competition. She loves cultivating a good competition even more. Thus the Gold Trowel™ rivalry was born. Whomever created the cleanliest, most creative, and most compassionate bathroom setup while on solo would bring home the gold. The “gold” being a luxury Walmart trowel with a paracord daisy chain; the entirety of which was spray painted gold. Gunnar professed his fear of not having enough natural resources to cultivate his dream latrine. My main fear was the compassion bit, because that entailed leaving no trace. And how was I supposed to curate a porcelain God palace if I couldn’t make my mark? We all had victory on our minds as we traipsed off into the woods.
Before we left I had asked Carol, “How do we know this will be an unbiased competition?”
Her response: “It’s not.”
We all signed her Golden Trowel contract anyway, even though the fine print read: “10 points will be awarded to the instructor's favorite student.” Jeff thought this line was especially hilarious, and was practically giddy over the whole ordeal.
Upon arriving at my site, I immediately saw THE perfect tree. It was a delicate arch, you could say. The roots were still secured in the ground and the top was trapped beneath a second fallen tree. The area of the Vedauwoo (pronounced vay dah voo) National Forest I was in had a plethora of fallen trees. It wasn’t difficult to find many superbly straight branches to erect the scaffolding of my new sanctuary. Now I’m not sure what constitutes a person as a “professional fort builder” but to give you a frame of reference – I did go to a Waldorf School. I initiated construction on an alcove off the back side, offering privacy from the nearby trail. It was a laborious process. Over three days I lugged fallen pine branches from the forest floor over to my new loo. I’ll give you a quick rundown: I had a levitating hand washing station, a toilet paper holder stand swathed in pink yarn, and a toilet masterfully crafted to resemble a log cabin.
Upon our group's return, we swiftly gathered data on our opponents. Four members of our group graciously removed themselves from the running as they simply did not try. Gunnar, Stew, Lucy, and I were neck and neck, all vying for the sweet taste of victory.
Lucy published her own reading material to stimulate her brain while takin’ care of business. Her magazine included affirmations such as “you are not constipated.” She even wrote a song about a frog, which she later serenaded us with.
Gunnar was able to provide visual evidence of his creation on his camera. His bathroom offered up an enticing view… meaning: it was smack dab in the middle of a field. Upon reflection, Carol brought up doubts on the cleanliness of Gunnar’s setup…meaning: he had been utilizing a cheeto bag as a waste reliquary.
Stewart revealed some supremely shocking statistics. He recalls spending 14 hours and covering roughly 10 miles of terrain throughout his building process. It's a shame I don't believe him. You know what they say: confidence is key, and these contenders certainly displayed unwarranted assuredness.
I was feeling at ease with my lavatory, relying on the presumption that my fortress constructing expertise would deliver me a win. Of course I also partook in other activities in my copious alone time. I ate solely spoonfuls of almond butter, while I fantasized of the gummy bears back on Deb. I finished knitting two hats, both of which were too small and I promptly had to unravel. I also had approximately three minor heart attacks when I mistook hikers passing by for vicious woodland creatures. Romy fought off a rather hot-headed squirrel during her solo, but I had no such encounters. You would think with my substantial free time that I would prioritize self-care and floss my teeth after gorging on almond butter. I did not. Sorry Mom! Needless to say, I missed my friends, and once we had reunited I came to the realization that it had been three whole days since I’d last laughed. Jeff had immediately started teasing me about the Twizzlers I was steadily polishing off (can you blame me?) and we were right back in our jovial rhythm. So while I had time to recharge and create the bathhouse of my dreams, I missed our group’s lighthearted banter, and the endearment we share for one another.
I’ll leave you with three sure things I’m taking with me from my solo:
- Laughter really is the best medicine.
- When I put my mind to something, I don’t lose.
- You never appreciate the luxury of a pit toilet until you no longer have one.