So, I'm back among people now and...everything's different. Human beings seems noisy and intrusive. Society seems arbitrary. Being dry when it's raining, or even just taking a crap indoors, all seem weird. Not that I necessarily dislike being dry and comfortable, there's just this persistent sense of oddness in everything I do. As though in a profound way, I am still outside of something.
Charlie says that living in the woods alone for two weeks is unlikely to make any permanent change in me, that I'll start taking campus life for granted again over the next few days. And yeah, I'm already feeling more normal than I did when I first got back. He says if I want to I can use the memory of this sense of strangeness deliberately, to help be get and retain a better perspective on society, but I get the feeling that's not really his objective in giving me this assignment. He's not trying to make me feel like an alien, even if feeling like an alien can occasionally be useful.
I'm not sure what his objective is, but we seem to be progressing towards it. He's given me a new assignment. For the next year I'm supposed to average one night outdoors per week, always in that small area he has defined for me. I'm allowed to do several nights out in one week to bank time so that I don't have to go out in really bad weather, but I do have to spend at least one night out each month. I can't, say, skip February.
Again, it's not an exercise in outdoor survival; I can bring out whatever gear I need to stay warm and dry and I'm supposed to carry up all my own food and water. I'm allowed to have visitors, but not to the extent of not experiencing where I am. And I'm not allowed to bring anything like a radio or a CD player, nor can I bring reading material, except for for field guides. A day counts as a minimum of fourteen hours, so if I arrive on site at five thirty in the evening, I have to stay until seven thirty the next morning or it doesn't count. I'll be able to attend classes at least.
I'll also have assignments within the assignment. I'm supposed to keep a journal and make at least one entry per night out. Each week I'm supposed to hand my journal in to Charlie so that he can make comments and suggestions and ask me to do, write about, or learn about specific things when I go back out.
"My new notebook!" I said, realizing why he'd given me a blank write-in-the-rain field notebook for my birthday.
"Yes, if you want to. It's a good brand--I use them. But you can use that book for anything or nothing, if you want to. It's your present." He shrugged a little, to show that his feelings wouldn't be hurt if I didn't use the thing, I suppose. "Happy birthday," he added, a fond twinkle in his eye, briefly. Funny, I don't normally see that from him.
I did go out for my belated birthday celebration a couple of days after I got back. This time I thought to ask Charlie to come, but he begged off, saying he had papers to grade.
Besides my twenty-second birthday, my time in the woods made me miss Greg's talk on Labor Day and the history of the labor movement (he didn't do that last year--I think the talk was, in part, a response to a request from Steve Bees) and the campus observation of the anniversary of the attacks on nine-eleven. I have heard it took the form of a memorial gathering for those victims of the attacks that people with some connection to our community knew. Odd that I missed that and didn't even think of it while I was out. I'd lost track of the days.
My parents, of course, think this whole sleeping in the woods think sounds onerous and even dangerous. They think Charlie is being strange and ridiculous to make me do it. And yet they both go camping when they get the chance. If I'd told them the whole thing was my idea, I think they would have been happy for me.
Human beings are odd, sometimes.