by Klare Nevins and Caeleigh Warburton
As we enter our final weeks at Arcadia, the air grows colder, reminding us that winter will soon chase us out of the yurts and into our internships. With less than two weeks left in the yurt village and the approach of final exams and projects, we stop often to remind ourselves to slow down. In his memoir, Winter, Rick Bass writes:
If you look out at the snow . . . it seems to come down fast, and your life, if you let it trick you that way, seems to be just as harried and frantic. But if you remember to look at the snow like a child . . . then the slowness into which it falls, the paralysis of its journey, will drop you immediately into a lower, slower state, one where you are sure to live twice as long, and see twice as many things, and be two times as happy at the end.
Like Bass, we find that by slowing down, remaining curious, continuing to explore and giving thanks for our community, we are able to remain present.
In the weeks since our first October snow, Arcadia has hosted a pattern of below freezing temperatures that ushered in November. We wake to frosty mornings, steam rolling off the lake and our breath, frozen hand-washing stations, and the now familiar scent of woodstoves burning endless armloads of hardy American beech and yellow birch logs. The cold has brought with it a new assortment of winter activities. We all gather around whatever woodstove is burning the hottest, immerse ourselves in knitting projects, eat root vegetable stews, and even indulge in the occasional sauna and following plunge into the bone-jarring, brain freezing, chill of Massawepie. As the semester winds down and we begin to feel the allure of family, friends, home and the holidays, we give thanks for these November days filled with the warmth of woodstoves and our community that keep us present and inspired to make the most of our remaining days.
We welcomed our last entertainer of the semester this weekend, and had the pleasure of experiencing the many talents of Len Mackey, a North Country local with a passion for African drumming, wilderness survival, and spiritual exploration. On Friday evening we all piled into the community yurt to hear Len speak about the rich cultural heritage of the ancient art of drumming. Len explained how drumming has long been used by African cultures to bring a community together to celebrate life and all its wonders. As we recreated these timeless rhythms on Djembes, we may have sounded chaotic in comparison to the technology-smoothed music of today, but we found beauty in honoring this chaos, as it is something that occurs in all of our lives. We indulged in rhythm, voice, and dance well into the evening and filled the night with a beat that seemed to connect us to the roots of creation.
The next day we joined Len in creating a Native American inspired sweat lodge where we would face the spiritual and physical challenge of extreme heat and moisture. Len and his assistant, Roger, built a fire to heat up the “stone people,” the rocks that would warm the lodge, and we constructed a dome-shaped frame out of red maple saplings and sealed the structure with a tarp. When the stone people were hot enough that they glowed red, we placed them in the lodge and circled around them as Len led us in a chorus of traditional sweat lodge singing and chanting. As the lodge grew hotter and Len poured more water on the glowing stone people, we became more aware of just how intense a sweat lodge can be. Some of us rocked, chanted, sang, meditated, or lay down for some relief from the worst heat. Many of us held hands, grateful that we were not alone in this spiritual and physical challenge.
Upon reflecting on the sweat lodge experience, we all agreed that it wouldn’t have been the same if we were strangers, and we saw more clearly how much we have all grown to trust and depend on one another. This is one of the many gifts we will take from Arcadia: a supportive community as encompassing and sacred as a sweat lodge. Len left us with a saying from the Guinea language of Africa, “namu namu,” meaning “the love I give and share with you.” Our journey here isn’t over yet, and it becomes more apparent with each passing day that the most important parts of this program will keep the journey alive long after the semester is done: the ability to slow down and let the snow that falls as we write to you ground our minds and presence, the closeness of our community, and the namu namu that connects us all.