by: Raina Freedman
A lone Arcadian shivers in her down sleeping bag as the first stars puncture the North Country night. Raina carefully lights a corner of birch bark and leans back when the kindling catches, illuminating the campsite behind her. There’s the tarp that she strung up herself between two hardy red pines and her full Nalgene water bottle, which she made sure to purify before the sun went down. Her heart quickens and her mind races, imagining what could lie beyond the shadows of her campfire. The trees creak in the wind and a stick cracks somewhere in the forest behind her. Then, across the bay, she sees another fire catch, throwing amber waves onto the lake. Although a stretch of dark, cold water lies between them, Raina can hear Emily belting the chorus of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” as she collects firewood by headlamp light.
This past weekend, Adirondack Semester students participated in a series of solo expeditions. They had the choice between one or two nights spent alone at one of the several campsites in the Massawepie area. Those who opted for two nights departed for their solo spots shortly after returning from our Land-Use Change in the Adirondacks field trip on Friday afternoon, while those who chose to do one night set off the next morning after breakfast. Some students decided to fast for the duration of their solos, while others packed their bear cans full of snacks picked up on our field trip and Arcadian leftovers.
We had a wide variety of experiences on our solos. While Ned was experimenting with roasting the perfect marshmallow, Ryan was taking three consecutive one-hour naps. Somewhere across the lake, Meredith was writing a letter home and Emily made new friends, a twin pair of gray jays. Although some used their solo time to catch up on homework and others preferred to take a break from our rigorous academics, we all endured the crazy winds of Saturday and the snow of Sunday morning. This time away from our yurt village allowed us to reflect on our semester thus far and plan how we want to spend our last few weeks here.
Although our two major expeditions and mid-semester break are behind us, things are constantly changing at Arcadia. It snowed for the first time on Wednesday, which we recorded, per Adirondack Semester tradition, on the wall of our composting toilet (the Clive). We debated which stall it should be written in (Left Clive was victorious) while enjoying a meal prepared by Natalie and Nicole. This was the first time the two cooked together, as we were all assigned new cook partners for the duration of the semester. Another new development has been the onset of hunting season. Because the Massawepie Easement is open to the public, including hunters, for most of the year, we all play it safe by sporting trendy neon vests when we leave the village. It can be weird for us to hear gunshots across the lake, as we are used to the relative silence of isolation.
And isolated we are, as our village is only accessible by canoe or a short hike. This brings a unique set of challenges: lack of running water, limited communication, and more than an hour from access to medical care. These circumstances dictate a self-reliant community run by self-reliant individuals. We must take it upon ourselves to carry water from the lake, canoe twenty minutes to the nearest phone, and be proficient with wilderness medicine. This competence was on display this weekend when we embarked on our solo adventures. Many of us came into the semester with little outdoor experience, but all of us will leave not only with increased capabilities but also the independence that isolation can foster.
Like Raina and Emily at their individual campsites, we are separate but still comforted by each other’s presence. Our solos last weekend were a smaller version of when we return to campus next semester. Anna will be back jumping hurdles with the track team, Jordan will be moving into Powerhouse with like-minded athletes, Marly will be back crushing at the climbing wall, and Eliza will return to her happy place, the Johnson Hall of Science. We’ll miss our super senior, Michael, but he can expect a visit from us soon. Like our director Cathy Shrady said this past week, “Self-reliance is not a skill people are able to practice much in today’s society. Therefore, when we encounter a situation where we need it, we don’t know what to do.” We Arcadians have been practicing for the past two months, and we will put our skills to the test in our transition back to campus next semester. But we won’t be alone. Even when we go back to engaging in our individual interests, there will always be an Arcadian across the shore who will light a fire built of birch and pine and warm the night with their song.