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Greetings from Marlborough, New Hampshire! The last time you heard from me, I was about to leave South Carolina on a multi-day road trip up north headed for Camp Glen Brook. Now, I am already more than halfway through the program, and I can’t believe how fast the weeks have flown by. Before I arrived, eleven weeks seemed like an incredible amount of time to spend away from home; definitely the longest period away in my life thus far. However, the remaining month and handful of days now seem like an insignificant amount of time that is rapidly approaching, whether I’d like it to or not. My experience at Glen Brook, although not yet complete, has been one of the most transformative and engaging periods of my life.
When we first arrived in February, each of the nine “gappers,” as we are called, had been quarantining at home for two weeks, and it took another ten days of masking up before we were able to enter the Glen Brook Bubble, a group of individuals who live on the property together and have taken specific and strict measures to keep everyone safe. Week one was our first intensive: Orientation. This involved giving up our phones when we arrived, not to get them back until the end of the first week. We also spent this first week getting to know one another, the land, and the daily ins and outs of living at Glen Brook. We learned to build fires, care for the dozens of chickens that reside here, use a wood stove, split wood, chop down a tree, and more. Again, it seems so long ago that we were first learning all these things. For the next two weeks, a period entitled Foundations, we continued building on those habits and daily activities that make life here at Glen Brook just that: Life. We attended Food Studies classes, carved wooden spoons with their bowls coal-burned into them, and we began some of our continuous classes. These include more cerebral classes, such as Society, Self, and Ecophilosophy.
Our fourth week here at Glen Brook was our second intensive and my favorite thus far: Orienteering. By the beginning of the week, we had packed up all our belongings into our suitcases once more in preparation of moving from the main house into the Hill House, our own home for the next month or so. All of this, minus what we had packed into our backpacks for the week, went into the parlor to wait patiently for us to return. On Monday morning, we moved down to a canvas tent by the lake, where we set up camp. Then, the real intensive began. Day one was an intro to orienteering: in groups of three, we used our compasses and maps of Glen Brook to navigate to three different coordinates and back to camp. On day two, we took it up a notch: we travelled to Pisgah State Park, the largest State Park in NH, where we split up into two groups, each trailed by one of our Gap Leaders, and had to navigate using our compasses and a topographic map of the area (no trails!) to two points in the park. Day three saw us in groups of three, this time without an escort, and we once more had to locate two points, the last of which was our meetup spot. The last day of orienteering was one of my favorites: the solo challenge.
Over the past two weeks, we’ve been taking electives in various subjects, including Land Conservation, Food Studies, Nature Writing, Hat Making, Bow Drills, and more! This past weekend was also our third intensive, a backpacking trip along the Monadnock Sunapee Greenway. Now that we’ve returned, our next two weeks will be full of manual work, since for our Deep Dive, we’re going to be starting on some new cabins for summer camp! After that, we’ll have two weeks of Apprenticeships (I’ll probably be choosing Farm, especially since we are getting piglets soon!), then a week-long canoeing trip, then a few more days to wrap up and off we go.
It seems so sudden to me that I can already see the end of my time here approaching. Although before I arrived, I was slightly concerned about whether I would feel excruciatingly homesick, the opposite has been true. Glen Brook has been an incredible experience with some of the best people I have ever known, and it will be a bittersweet day to say goodbye for now. I know, however, that Glen Brook has transformed me for the better, and the way I can pay back that debt is by going out into the world and spreading the message I have learned here: we are all persons of consequence, our human nature is wild, and by sustaining that which sustains us “we can learn to see our selves as made up of the world—and in turn see our role in making up the world.”
This month, in continuing with my gap year’s unintentional theme of spontaneity, I decided to take a last-minute trip to Colorado. My grandparents live in a beautiful log cabin deep in the mountains, and I thought that visiting them would be the perfect way to start off my travels this year!
Though I had hoped the mountains would offer a reprieve from the sweltering Texas heat, when I arrived at my grandparents’ cabin, it was nearly 100 degrees. Additionally, due to nearby wildfires in Colorado and California, the sky was so smoky that I could barely see objects 400 yards away and my eyes stung when I walked outside. Suddenly, the week of outdoor activities I had planned was looking less and less appealing.
Considering the grim weather upon my arrival, I was quite surprised to wake up the next day and see that the ground was covered in a thick blanket of snow! The weather had taken a rapid shift– so much so, in fact, that while the previous day brought record high temperatures to the region, twelve hours later the snowstorm delivered record-breaking cold temperatures. Though a frightening sign of our unstable global climate, we welcomed the snow as it helped quell the nearby wildfires and cleared the smoke from our horizon.
With clear skies and cooler weather, we were eager to spend the day outside. As a native Texan, I have had limited exposure to snow and was excited when my grandparents suggested we go snowshoeing! After bundling up in winter clothes and strapping into our snowshoes, we headed off into the forest. I was astonished at how easily the snowshoes floated across the top layer of snow; I had expected it to feel like I was walking in flippers, but instead it felt almost identical to hiking. Unlike hiking, though, it offered an entirely new, beautiful snow-covered perspective of the landscape!
Perhaps the most significant aspect of our snowshoeing expedition was my learning to properly build a snowman. I had thought the only way to create a snowball was by scooping up a handful of snow and packing it together. I was astonished when my grandpa started rolling a ball of snow around on the ground and it stuck together to form a massive sphere! Our final product was a life-sized snowman, complete with a hat and glasses.
By the next day, the snow had melted enough to take a regular hike. We took a trail that is traditionally so crowded that my grandparents avoid it at all costs, yet with the recent snow and icy trail conditions, it was nearly empty. Though we had to wear ice-spikes to avoid slipping on the steep snow-packed slopes, the beautiful scenery was well worth the effort!
My grandparents have several geologist friends, one of which has his own quartz, biotite, and amazonite mine in his backyard. So the next day, he supplied us with pick-axes and gave us full reign to hack away at his mine and extract specimens to take home. Having taken a geology class in high school, it was exhilarating to be able to put my knowledge to use. I was astonished to find deep green, perfectly-formed crystals of amazonite concealed just feet below the inconspicuous surface!
After several more days of hiking and exploring, we decided to conclude my trip by climbing to the top of a “fourteener” mountain. To be deemed a “fourteener,” which is the highest classification of mountain in Colorado, a mountain must reach more than 14,000 feet above sea level. There are 58 “fourteeners” in Colorado, and my Grandpa has climbed them all– an incredibly impressive feat!
On the day of the climb, we woke up extremely early, arriving at the trailhead just after sunrise so that we could reach the mountaintop before the afternoon storms. The trail begins just below the tree line, so the majority of the climb takes place over barren granite, with no vegetation in sight. The scenery on the trail is therefore usually quite uninteresting, but with the recent snowfall, the mountainside was a beautiful glistening white beneath the sun. The trail began as a steep rocky slope with large boulders, and completing the 3,000 vertical foot climb felt like an impossible task. However, as we continued to place one foot in front of the next, our goal slowly drew closer. Whenever I began to feel tired, I would remind myself that my grandparents were climbing the same trail alongside me, and they are both 75 years old (albeit incredibly fit and active 75-year-olds)!
After hours of steep upward hiking, we finally reached the peak. Up to this point, our view of the surrounding mountain range had been blocked by the mountainside on which we were climbing. However, upon reaching the top, we were met with a breathtaking view of snow-covered mountains in every direction. The sky was so clear that we were able to identify Pike’s Peak, over 100 miles away! Though the climb was slow and arduous, it was undoubtedly worth the beautiful views and sense of achievement we received. I can’t wait to climb my next fourteener!
I am constantly inspired that my grandparents are able to lead such interesting and active lives. It is a blessing to have them in my life and to be able to share in their love of nature and the outdoors!