Hi, Daniel 2016 here.
I want to correct a potential misapprehension. When I talk about spending time at my spot in the woods—yes, there were mosquitos. Yes, sometimes it was so hot that I couldn’t stand to be inside my bag, but there were too many mosquitos to be outside my bag. Once I tried to solve the problem by lying on the cool ground with my bag over me, but then I was crawled upon by ants and by slugs.
After that, when I couldn’t sleep I’d get up and go on long, sometimes moonlit hikes, walking fast so that the mosquitoes couldn’t keep up with me. That was lovely, but the next day I’d be dead tired. Sometimes I heard large animals moving nearby and while they were probably deer, sometimes I’d think they were coyotes or bears and I’d get nervous. Sometimes there were electrical storms and I’d get rather more than nervous. I could have gone inside if I needed to, and sometimes I considered it, but the storms usually blew through quickly enough that by the time I got back to the Mansion the storm would have been over already. My point is that despite my rather idyllic description of the experience in the main text, camping as I did that summer was often uncomfortable and sometimes terrifying.
But I remember it as idyllic. Only when I make an effort, when I focus, do the mosquitoes and everything else come back to me. Otherwise what sticks in my head is the beauty, the interest, the…how do I explain this? There was a sort of a psychological comfort to so wholly and completely doing something I so wholly wanted to do.
Now, what I’ve been wondering as I write these posts—if you’d asked me thirteen years ago how I was liking the assignment, would I have talked about beauty and rightness and psychological comfort, or would I have told you about the mosquitoes? Are my memory and nostalgia playing tricks on me?
As I’ve said, I don’t rely on memory alone to write this blog. I also consult the journal I kept, rather intermittently, in those years, letters I wrote that my friends and family have kept and lent back to me, and the recollections of people I knew back then with whom I have stayed in touch. With these resources I reconstruct an experience whose reality is lost to the past, so you can get a clearer, more colorful feeling for the place than you could if I confined myself only to verifiable facts.
This is fiction more true than reality.
And as far as I can figure out based on all those sources, yes, thirteen years ago I pretty much ignored the mosquitoes.
I was obsessed with all the “good” parts of my experience at my spot in the woods and the unpleasant parts almost immediately came to seem funny or adventurous. A storm would come up in the middle of the night and I’d spend twenty minutes huddled in “lighting position” (a way of curling up that’s supposed to minimize injury in case of a nearby strike) while promising Jesus over and over that if a tree did not blow over on my head that I’d go back to church regularly again, honest. Then the storm would clear out and I’d remember that the whole point of being Christian is that Earthly life isn’t safe so you have to look beyond it, and then by morning I’d feel rather heroic for having bravely survived yet another storm. And anyway, the cool, wet dawn after a big storm always looked so lovely.
The one major thing, the change to my perspective, that advancing time has given me is the awareness that my spot in the woods really felt like mine—and no other place in the world did. I didn’t think of it back then. The feeling was there, but as with much of the rest of my interior life I didn’t pay much attention to it and it didn’t occur to me that there was anything odd or notable about how I felt.
I never felt like my parents’ house belonged to me. Maybe it’s because we moved there right before I started high school, but in my mind it’s always been my parents’ house—it didn’t belong to me, although I belonged to it, to some extent, and still do. Of course, I didn’t have time to set down emotional roots at my first college, and the school I’ve been writing about has always felt like home, but it’s our home, not mine. Not even my room has really felt like mine because things I might have done if I owned the place—like painting the walls or installing some extra shelves—were against the rules. And I knew living there was temporary. I don’t mean that I felt lonely or emotionally homeless. I didn’t. Nothing was wrong. It just felt like the part of my life where I’d have my own place hadn’t arrived yet.
But nobody else had ever had my little campsite, and probably no one would again. I knew Charlie seldom did exactly the same thing twice—each of his students got our own version of his ideas. Nobody came to my site without my permission, and nobody altered it or did anything to it. And nobody knew as much about it as I did, nor, as far as I know, had anyone ever gotten to know it as thoroughly.
It was mine.
Usually I use these little notes as an opportunity to talk about my life as it is now, or maybe about what’s going on with the community that used to be the school and is becoming it again. But for now, I’ll just leave this note as it is.