I have never had an answer for those get-to-know-you games where a card comes up and says, “What was the best gift you ever received?” Usually, I would reply in a panic about some very tangible and wrapped gift I was given that birthday so many years ago. Now, after reflecting for a week about my precious 50 hours alone in the woods, I can confidently say that in the future I have the best answer to that question.
As I walked back to campus with my huge yellow dry-bag that easily weighed the equivalent to multiple small children on my back, I couldn’t help but feel the “change” that everyone claims to feel after solos. I didn’t believe such a change could happen after a time that must just be consumed with so much anxiety and panic. How could these alums have truly had that much time to reflect when all I can imagine doing on a solo is worrying? Well, after having now a week to reflect on my solo I can most definitely say that this “change” they speak of is real. If not a “change”, it is at minimum the equivalent to the feeling of having a full mind and body cleanse. As if Chewonki wasn’t enough of a cleanse where we, all 41 of us, get to escape temporarily to a place that values and cherishes the little things that so often get forgotten at home.
It sounds silly to think back on now, but there is this one moment from my solo that I remember the best. I had just set up my tarp using two double knots (because of course, I forgot all the knots they had taught us so many thousands of times before) and opened my dry-bag, pulling out this red bandana my dad had gotten me when I was little. I didn’t even know why I had brought it but in that moment I needed something, something tangible that I could use to convince myself that I could do this. That I was capable of taking on this solo, I was going to conquer it. I wrapped the bandana around my head and told myself that as long as I had on that bandana, I wasn’t going to be afraid. I kept that bandana on the entirety of my solo except for the last day. It was day two alone and it wasn’t until late morning I realized that the bandana had fallen off. All of a sudden this safety net was not there and it hadn’t been for who knows how long. I realized in that moment that yes, having the bandana made me feel strong but it wasn’t what had made me strong. I decided that I didn’t need the bandana to make it the rest of the time. I had just spend two nights alone in the woods! I knew it wasn’t the “power” of the bandana that enabled me to survive my solo it was my own power. Not a newfound power at that, but rather a new power that I now knew truly existed.
Not only did I gain new insights and a new recognition of my abilities, but also I got an answer to the get-to-know-you game question that always fumbles me. As a ranted to my mom about my solo the next day about how much I had enjoyed it and about all the things I had gotten the chance to reflect on, the first thing she said was, “wow. What a wonderful gift they have given you.” And she was so right. I owe Chewonki the biggest thank you card in the entire world for the incredible gift of a solo they have given us.
-Rose, Kingswood Oxford School, CT