Stout Fire Pit: Student Reflection 3

 

“As I laid in my sleeping bag, the only sounds I could hear were that of a crackling fire, hushed voices, and a strong Indiana breeze blowing through the treetops. These were the last sensory memories I had of spending a night out at Stout Meetinghouse with four other Earlham students. I was a volunteer for an activity that focused on cultivating an experience in the borderlands – areas of land that are often kept out of the human eye. I’m an Environmental Studies senior at which means I have experience talking about the “adventures of the everyday”, urban nature, and the suburban escape. However, it’s been about a year and a half since I spent much time around the periphery of Earlham’s campus. Earlham is very unique because it offers students the opportunity to escape into trails that meander through patches of forest and streams that are a fifteen minute walk from the dormitories.  However, I never acknowledged the significance that a lonely fire pit out by our Quaker Meetinghouse had. That night, I slept down at the fire pit that lies at the bottom of a series of hills. Coincidentally, it is also located directly across from a cemetery with a meager wire fence being the only barrier between cemetery and Earlham property. The fire pit itself is framed by a wide ring of sheet metal and is filled with the ashes of previous fires along with various debris. A neat pile of chopped and foraged logs sits beside the fire pit while native trees surround you and block one’s view into the outside world. As we sat around the fire listening to the sounds of the logs crackling, I realized that I couldn’t hear anything outside of that fire pit. The strong breeze blew the tree tops together. Perhaps, once in awhile I heard a truck blow by on the nearby highway however I had trouble differentiating between a truck and a breeze. Staring at the fire dimmed our vision and any hope of seeing through the trees into what laid beyond. On a sensory level, I was in a completely different place then I was a mere thirty minutes earlier. I had been practicing for a series of skits in Goddard auditorium. The auditorium was filled with lights, loud music, and numerous raucous seniors. However, I soon as I grabbed my sleeping bag and pad and walked through a little path down to the fire pit, I had not realized I had entered this new place. I would say that this place was a “place” and not merely a “space” because I was feeling a connection to where I was sitting. This place offered momentary solitude from the commotion of the everyday college student while being extremely accessible. My experience there gave me insight into how we define “solitude” and “wilderness”. Being an outdoor education instructor at Earlham, I know that the conventional location to achieve solitude is in a place far away from human society and its traces. However, what do we get from that experience that is more than my experience at the Stout fire pit? How do we compensate for the expenses and exclusive nature of wilderness-based education while knowing that far more accessible locations could offer the same merits that we seek?”

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