It’s been wet and rainy and cold since Thanksgiving. It hasn’t dropped much below freezing, but it’s never been that far above it, either. It’s been warm and cozy inside the Mansion—they’ve started the woodstoves, in the mornings to get the chill off—but that doesn’t do me a lot of good because I’ve been living outside.
I don’t have to do this. I only have to average one night out per week, and I’m actually a little ahead, so I can afford to stay in when the weather is nasty. Rick convinced me that I shouldn’t.
First of all, winter weather is coming, and if I can’t deal with the cold and the wet then I’m going to have a hard time keeping my average up over the next three months. Second, I’m planning on spending four weeks, starting with Christmas, at home. Because I have to do at least one night out per month, that means I’ll have to be outside that last week in January no matter what, and so again I have to prepare myself to deal with bad weather. Third, and most important, Charlie clearly wants me to get to know my spot in the woods in all its moods and seasons, to get the feeling, if not the actual fact, of living out there full time. Those moods and seasons include cold and drippy.
And so, for the past few days I’ve spent every night out in my spot, huddled under my tarp in my hammock. There’s nothing to do, and nothing I can do. I can’t go out and explore the woods because I can’t risk getting wet in this weather—water conducts heat very quickly, and I know that hypothermia can creep up on a person very quickly. And anyway my field guides would melt in the rain. And I can’t lie in my hammock and read because I’m not allowed. So I’m mostly just watching things drip and thinking.
For example, what on Earth did people do on rainy days back when shelters were small and books didn’t exist yet?
I imagine them spending the time in some kind of mystical meditative state, becoming enlightened through contemplating the wet and the cold and the fog. Although I’m probably over-glamorizing it, falling into some sort of noble savage fantasy Charlie would not approve of. More realistically, I suppose most people have always lived with other people, so that when the weather was too bad to go outside they probably huddled by the fire and drank told stories and jokes, and had sex—and here I am all by myself.
I do notice some things. Like the drippy air smells different at different temperatures. Like crows caw single or in series of two, three, or four, but never more than four caws in a row. Sometimes I spot animals before they spot me and when they do notice me they are as funny as humans their surprise.
I go inside once a day. In the mornings, I go back to campus for breakfast. I see my friends, find out what’s going on at school, use the toilet, and warm up if I need to. Then I fill up my water bottles and my food bag and I go back out. I plan to keep this up for another couple of days and then move back indoors for the rest of the week. I have books I want to read, people to talk to, and depending on the weather I may have some work at my off-campus landscaping job or on the groundskeeping team. Then, over the weekend I’ll do another night or two outside.
Am I learning anything in all of this? Anything important, I mean? I’m honestly not sure, yet. I trust Charlie, and I trust the process I seem to be engaged in—I remember all the other things I’ve done, the other assignments that just seemed crazy at first and then ended up changing me. I’m not the same person I was three years ago, and I’m not the person I would have become if I hadn’t come here. For one thing, I don’t think I would have enjoyed doing something like this before. I might have done it anyway, gone camping for several days in the rain, because I liked camping and sometimes when you go camping it rains. But I would have complained about it. And I would have stuck it out mostly because I didn’t want to be a quitter.
But you know? This grey, drippy forest is actually kind of pretty.