by Leah Duran, '09, '10
A wood stove exuding warmth. A lake with shimmering ripples. One bunkhouse. Sixteen people. No cell phone service. The setup sounds like Survivor, The Real World or even Walden, but in actuality, this place is our new home. Welcome to SCA Massachusetts. Our goals: to live as a community, to learn from each other, to enrich ourselves and those around us, and to complete hands-on conservation projects, split into five months of environmental education service and five months of trail work.
Snapshot: “We are pro-love,” says our director Jonah Keane at our first community meeting.
Life at Kenneth Dubuque Memorial State Forest entails intimacy with the land and each other. You could compare our first meeting to a blind date, except that you couldn’t just pay the restaurant bill and leave. Point blank: You will be with these people for the next 10 months.
Snapshot: “We’re here. We’re actually here,” says corps member Caleb Ruopp over cereal on a Sunday morning in early October.
With unpredictable dynamics and little privacy, community life can be challenging, but we work through trials together. Almost everything, including how we delegate chores, is open for change through collective debate and consensus, a flexible system refreshingly different from the typical handed-down set of instructions for running our lives.
We started as strangers, and as we build connections, the spectrum shifts to friends. Through the power of play, open communication and hard work, we engage in the continual process of creating a space that simultaneously fosters comfort and the stretching of personal boundaries. We are free to be our zany selves, to scream and run barefoot through snow into the lake in the middle of December. We can laugh when we make epic falls in front of each other while sliding on icy sidewalks. We can have impromptu dance parties in the kitchen.
Snapshot: “This is how I want to live my life!” says corps member Kevin Collery while boiling water for tea and listening to fellow corps member Molly Berntsen in the adjoining room playing piano.
The more comfortable we become with each other, the more we continue to surprise one another. Already, our group has been through a myriad of situations, each one revealing unique aspects of our personalities. We have seen each other struggle to chop wood, learn how to bandage a burn during Wilderness First Responder training, and teach a classroom of expectant kids. We have supported each other during good and bad moods. And if we ever tire of constant company, solitude is a step outside.
Without cell phone service, TV, or similar distractions, we are forced into meaningful interaction with our immediate surroundings. The rhythm of seasons is inescapable. Is it sunny? Raining? Snowing? Whatever the weather, we must venture outside if we want to shower or eat breakfast. Not a day passes where I don’t feel the minute change in temperature; not a night expires where I don’t notice the shape of the moon or the brilliant intensity of starlight.
Sure, there are drawbacks – like occasionally running out of water – and the bitter, inescapable cold of Massachusetts in winter. Whenever I return to my childhood home in Connecticut, I am struck by how much we take for granted, even something as small as the presence of paper towels or the absence of compost bins. Though simpler in some ways, life in the woods is infinitely rich and fulfilling.
Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park, wrote: “Stripped of your ordinary surroundings, your friends, your daily routines, your refrigerator full of food, your closet full of clothes – with all this taken away you are forced into direct experience. Such direct experience inevitably makes you aware of who it is that is having the experience. That is not always comfortable, but it is always invigorating.”
We are learning how to better treat the earth and each other. We are SCA Massachusetts.
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