Posts Tagged ‘dirt’


It is time I told of Warren Wilson College, the place I’ve been residing for the last 2+ months. This is a largely undergraduate college (there is one renowned graduate program in creative writing) with three branches to its education system: Academics, Work, and Service. In addition to study with the goal of attaining a “degree” (or pedigree, if you are to speak about it honestly), you are required to work for at least 15 hours a week on and for the campus, as well as complete 100 hours of community service before you graduate.

The campus, nestled softly in the cradle of God formed by the Appalachian mountains surrounding, is extremely well-contained. Before I arrived, I felt that I wouldn’t be able to last here without bringing a car – my need to escape had prior seemed prevalent. A thirst wanting quench. But now my car sits in the lot for days on end without budging. Full weeks at times, so’s that I forget where it is or that it exists altogether. (this isn’t to diminish its importance, however. surely if it weren’t here I’d be craving escape all the time) No, everything I need is right. here.

I live in essentially a four bedroom, two bath apartment (called a “suite”) complete with kitchen and living room. Housing is coed, including shared rooms. Couples room together here and no one bats an eye. Front doors to suites remain largely unlocked. None of the doors in our suite are ever locked. There is no regimen and are no regulations for having visitors. When I need something, like a pot for cooking, I simply walk across the deck to the neighboring apartment and take what I need, returning it when I am finished. I’ve had friends use things like my freezer, juicer, and yoga mat at their discretion, only obtaining my general permission ahead of time. Below my bedroom is a meditation room, which contains cushions, a shrine table, an electric kettle, a couple of small statues, a crystal rock lamp, and two bookshelves packed full of material on spirituality and meditation. A friend of mine who lives across the way plays a balafon, which is a Guinean type of marimba that employs gourds as resonators. I hear the dancing sounds of his mallets striking smoothed wood each night just after ten.

Out back behind my living space are woods and hiking trails. I drink snow and rain from heavy branches out there. I wander til I reach Christmas Tree Hill, once a pasture for a Christmas tree farm, the specimens now overgrown and reaching high into the heavens in surreal lines on a perfect grid. Their needles bathe the earth beneath them, making it a blanket of softness and strength. I rub my hands in dirt on those trails. Rub them in dirt, then press the dirt into the grooves of bark to see how the designs lay. Look at how the dirt I’ve pressed into the bark has lodged itself in the lifelines of my hands, a perfect mirror of phenomenon. Filthy clean designs, the way mud never has made me feel like I needed a bath. Rather, it makes me feel like I more exist. And the more I play in dirt and hang with trees the less bathing is a necessity.

I bathe about once a week. I wash my hair about that often if not less. I no longer comb or brush it except for with my fingers. I condition it and treat my dry scalp with olive and coconut oils. I wear and sleep in the same outfit for days upon days. Folks don’t seem to notice. The smell of me seems to attract rather than deflect them.

This being my first semester, I was not provided with a choice as to which work crew I could be on. I have extensive experience in food service and so I was assigned to Dining Hall Crew. There are two major dining choices on campus: Gladfelter and Cowpie. I work upstairs in Gladfelter, which is the more traditional dining hall suited for omnivores. The food is typical and mass-produced. There is a salad bar, a beans/rice/cooked vegetables bar, and the main entree as well as cereals, breads, peanut butter, and the like. There is no uniform for working on this crew (if any crew). There are little rules besides the general showing up on time, doing work, and remaining until the end of your shift or until all the work is done. I do tasks ranging from setting up for meals to washing dishes to prepping with cooks to stocking to wiping tables and mopping. The interesting thing about the work program is that, essentially, all of the students serve one another. In my first week, I was taken by the fact that I was washing dishes for the same girl who helped me in the library just an hour earlier that day. One result of this is a quick and relatively stable sense of community. Another result is that a certain am0unt of respect is cultivated for the tasks that are done for you. Sure, some people who eat in the dining hall are inconsiderate or spaced out and there are dishes left behind at every shift. But, overwhelmingly, students make sure to acknowledge the employees and more or less genuinely thank them for their efforts.

I love working for school. It provides me with a sense of belonging and gives some needed structure to my time. Most days I’d rather skip class than skip a work shift. Plus, working with folks really establishes a pretty clear relationship. I definitely feel closer with the people I work with every week than I do many of the folks in my classes, even when I see them about the same amount. There is something about working alongside someone that creates an important understanding and affection.

I came here in search of real community. And I’m not sure what I’ve found. Surely, out of 900 students, I know only a mere fraction of the humans here. But familiar faces abound and there are a good portion of folks that make sure to stop and connect with me as we cross paths. At first I was frustrated because I felt that I wasn’t establishing deep connections with anyone (except for a rare couple I met at orientation), despite efforts through meaningful conversation. I felt that I was spending time with folks without necessarily becoming any closer with them emotionally. It seemed to me as though everyone was more interested in existing next to one another peacefully, maintaining their individual lives without necessarily risking anything or going out of their way to become close. I was baffled as to how friends were to be made in this setting. After all, my whole life my friends had rather been made for me. My friends were the people who were most like me in a world full of ‘others.’ It was easy – I was attracted to people who looked like me, thought like me, liked the same things I did and those people were attracted to me. How am I supposed to make friends here, where there are so many like-minded individuals?

For the most part, everyone is friendly and even, potentially, friends. Most people speak to one another not only with respect and congeniality, but with a sort of recognition (familiarity?) as well. As if we’re neighbors. On the same page. There is an automatic open-ness I never found in the northeast. And more than that, very little judgment seems to go on here.

I’d like to speak more about Cowpie, social relations, and the environment I’ve begun to immerse myself in. I want to talk about baking bread, finding snakes on the trail, the free store, the wealth of trust, my issues with academic structure and my brainstorm about the possibility of free guided self-learning… I want to talk about dancing in the grass, letting my body hair grow, and taking refuge in a more peaceful enclave of society. I want to talk about what it means to be isolationist versus what “the world” really is. Alternative lifestyles. How nature feeds me. The bounty of health and energy I’ve felt since I arrived in these mountains. Hand-making things like toothpaste. I want to talk about how sometimes I wake up in the morning wondering what the point is and what the solutions to that may be.

I want to talk about how I feel so disconnected from my life thusfar, as if it’s all been an elaborate dreamstate. When I think about memories, I recall events almost from a third-person perspective. And try as I may, I can only recall feeling certain emotions. I am unable to re-feel them to my core or even consider them relevant.

The incredible beauty of the natural world and human lives as mere extensions of that. Ferns as fractals. Humans as fractals. Parts as wholes as parts, inseparable. The self as no self as all self and so on.

Homesteading. Growing food. being not doing. Making. Love.

of course, there is always more


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