Semester Solos: a Weekend in the Woods

On the weekend of April 29 through May 1, all Chewonki semester students embarked on a solo adventure in the woods on campus. We had been preparing, both mentally and physically, for our 48 hours alone — each spread out at different places on Chewonki Neck.

On the morning of Friday, April 29, there was a buzz in the air, a low excitement that had been building up for a couple of weeks: solos! The other 40 students and yours truly had all been prepped for some time in the woods, and we were ready to go! Getting through morning classes was tedious, since everyone was so excited to get out on the Neck. At last, after lunch, everyone gathered their big packs and met on the quad, our main field at the center of campus. Laden with sleeping bags, mats, tarps, and extra layers, the backpacks were all pretty large. We split up into groups in order to get what we needed for our time alone — food and water, fulfilling health needs, and safety equipment such as bug spray and whistles. We also did a quick debriefing on wag bags — for dignified excrement in the woods.

Eventually, after all of this was done, all of the students gathered in a circle on the field, the teachers standing around us. We each spoke to what we wanted to accomplish on our solos, be it reading, reflection, fort building, art, or sleeping. All of the teachers then gave their hopes for our time away from each other; rest, fulfillment, and fun! In an almost ceremonial silence, we walked across the quad and grabbed our backpacks, drifting into advisory groups. Then, one by one, the advisory groups dispersed across Chewonki Neck, being led to various solo spots.

Now, dear reader, you should know that all throughout this, nobody knew where their spot was — where we would be spending the next 48 hours was a mystery! My advisory, consisting of Dani, Jenna, and myself, was led by our advisor Hannah down the road and into a part of the woods we hadn’t been in before, very exciting! We walked past the horses, Bob and Ted, and through a big pasture, down a hill near the water on the east side of campus. One by one, Hannah led my friends and I to our individual sites.

And thus it begins: the solo itself.

I had a delightful time, this being my 4th ever solo, and I managed to read the entirety of The Silence of the Lambs, as well as sleeping and exploring plenty. I also ate a lot of cheese and crackers.

On Sunday afternoon, I packed my things up, leaving no trace at my site that someone had been living there for two days. Walking back through the woods and the big, rolling pasture, I thought about my time alone: I was happy that I had finished my book, and that I had a nice time exploring near the water and eating cheese, as well as sitting in my hammock observing the nearby creatures and landscape. Upon returning to the main area of campus, I was happy to be back with all my friends, but it was bittersweet as I knew I’d soon miss my solo experience. When I returned my borrowed gear, I talked to others who had returned at the same time: they had similar experiences to me, especially regarding the cheese (I later discovered that almost everyone who had brought cheese had devoured it all; apparently being in the woods gives semester students a taste for cheddar).

After everyone returned from the different and far out points of Chewonki Neck, we all got into a circle again — a little dirtier and sweatier than 48 hours previous, but happy and still all together. We described highlights of our time apart in three-word segments, including but not limited to “cheese sleep read,” “relax water art,” “hug trees cheese,” “big blue worm,” and “hammock fort bugs.” Everyone had had a great time, but we were happy to be back. We finished the day with dinner together and showers for everyone, along with a good night of sleep.

Felix Allen, Sidwell Friends School, Washington, DC

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