By: Austin Pilcher
Before coming to Hawley to join the SCA Massachusetts AmeriCorps team, I was living in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, California. This is where I returned during our two-week winter break, a long and well-earned vacation for the students of western Massachusetts and, by extension, for our crew in Hawley. In late December, the eighteen of us scattered about in cars, trains, and planes, to go spend the holidays with families and friends. I flew from Hartford, Connecticut (amid snowstorms and delays) to Los Angeles, where my old friends were waiting to pluck me up and reintegrate me into society, as if I had never left them to live in a cabin in the woods on the other side of the country.
Talking about Hawley to my friends and family back home, I was describing somewhere unreal and unlivable. “We don’t flush our toilets, can you imagine? All eighteen of us are crammed into a single bunkhouse every night. No cell phone service! Ice covers the ground! I bet more beavers live here than people!” Scandalous. It’s strange to tell people about life in Hawley; in one breath, I’m talking about constantly working against the pressures of bad Wi-Fi, stringent water conservation strategies, crowded living quarters, and freezing cold, and in the next breath, I tell them I feel at home there. The buildings we inhabit are cozy and warm, filled to the brim with the collective character of our team and the teams that have come before us. The food is amazing and abundant. We may take some extra steps to save water, but that’s because we’re making an effort to live responsibly and sustainably. Every conversation about Hawley is streaked with pride.
I started 2017 on my last morning in Los Angeles; the sky overhead hinted rain, and I was sipping coffee and folding two weeks of freshly washed laundry in my best friend’s living room. My vacation was up and it was time to go back to Hawley and resume my service. I visited the museums, I ate the sushi, I sat in the infamous traffic, but it was time to leave and get back to service. When I arrived at the airport in Hartford, Connecticut in the wee hours of the next morning, I felt relieved by the chill that slipped in through the sliding glass doors. I wrapped my scarf once more around my neck and plowed into the cold, bags in hand, ready.
Jumping back into the Hawley routine has been invigorating, like jumping into a cold shower. It was a shock to the system, to return from my hazy, lazy California days and immediately get thrown into the thick of it. Amazingly, little had changed. Our group dynamic hadn’t shifted, the weight of service and planning hadn’t been lightened, and the cold hadn’t subsided. We settled back into our routine and continued trucking on into the heart of education season. At this point, we only have six weeks left until we’re done with our focus on environmental education and we move on to trail work, that bear in the distance.
For now, I relish in the planning sessions and the meetings and the long trips to new schools. My background is in informal science education, so I love telling people about the environment, about science, about nature. It’s the reason I’m here. On the horizon I see a future of sweat and heavy lifting during conservation season, and the change is intimidating, but welcome. New things are scary and hard. Coming here in the first place was scary and hard. But they can also be so rewarding and fulfilling.
I’ve never felt a great deal of affection for the city, but Los Angeles is my home and the friends that I have made there are my family. It’s been that way since my adolescence and that won’t change, regardless of where I live. But at this point in my life, I’ve made new homes for myself. It has been a collective effort, twenty years in the making, to shape these little brown buildings on the edge of Hallockville Pond into a place that I can call home. But it has been shaped, and I am home here.