I have been at a loss for what to write since I moved to Oregon for graduate school. It’s not for lack of stories. But I’ve just felt lost. Scattered. Pieces of me everywhere. And I’m not entirely sure what my story is anymore.
This has resulted in what could be considered a minor existential crisis, but I’m getting myself re-organized, re-normalized, and re-calibrated to life in the lower-48 and as a student again. I’m surrounded by stimulus: people everywhere, new ideas, new demands, new sounds, new responsibilities, new routines, new culture.
I miss my cabin in the woods, and being able to walk into the forest and be totally alone, out of sight and out of mind. Here, I feel like anywhere I go, I’m within sight of someone somewhere, whether or not they’re actually looking at me or paying attention. Some say being in the city feels anonymous, but I feel so exposed here.
It is a curse and a blessing that I am in the Environmental Studies program.
It’s a curse because I have been slammed with all the problems of the world again in my first week of class, problems I had blissfully pushed to the back of my mind for my last few years of limited global-connectivity in Alaska. But in coming to grad school, I have willingly taken on the burden of these problems again, for I have always known that I will eventually need to face them head on and be a part of the solutions.
The blessing is that I am among a cohort of like-minded individuals, and one of our first orders of business after orientation week was to take a group camping trip to Clear Lake in Willamette National Forest last weekend.
In central Oregon, fall colors are just starting to peek out among the maple and aspen. Combined with the startlingly vivid blue of Clear Lake, the natural color palette of the trail was mindblowing.
A large group of us started out in the 6 mile trail that circumnavigates the lake, but before long we were split up into a bunch of small groups hiking at different paces, which suited me just fine. I found that I have become a much faster hiker than I used to be, but did lag behind often for pictures.
It felt so good to be out in the woods again, even though it was a far cry from the remote wilderness to which I’ve become so accustomed over the last few months. The weather was perfect, a sunny 68 degrees, shining straight to the bottom of the crystal clear lake. One hundred and twenty feet down at the bottom of the lake, petrified trees rest in their aquatic graves where they were submerged over 3,000 years ago.
That night, we enjoyed many hours around a campfire, eating veggie soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, sharing stories, laughing, playing games, and roasting marshmallows. I knew I’d found my people. 🙂
The next day, we took a quick stop at Sahalie Falls just a mile up the road. We didn’t have much time to play around since we had to make it back to town by 1pm, but we made it to the top of the falls for some breathtaking views. Ethereal clouds of mist and rainbows surrounded the roaring falls like a halo. Definitely a place I need to go explore some more.
In finding myself in the Pacific Northwest, it does indeed feel a little bit as if I’ve fallen through a rabbit hole, like Alice into Wonderland. I’m in a strange new world, with strange new people, and it’s all I can do to keep up.
I think the Red Queen unknowingly describes grad school pretty well in Through the Looking-Glass:
“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
In all honestly, it hasn’t been too bad yet, but the anticipation of how hectic things are going to get makes me anxious. I hope I’m ready.