Thursday, June 20, 2013

California Wilderness: Going Solo by the Eel River

Overview: In the second half of the California Wilderness program, students have the opportunity to complete a “solo”, a period of time to take leave from their classmates and instructor and be alone in the wilderness. Those who choose to embark on this solitary journey often emerge with greater self-awareness, the satisfaction of having faced and conquered their fears, and new confidence in their ability to survive in the wilderness. This is the story of Thomas Conneely’s four-day solo in the Yolla Bolly Mountains.

From Tom Conneely:
Our feet gently sunk into the sand of Asa Bean Flat as we hobbled across the misshapen silver-green rocks of the Eel River. The first days were hot and, we spent the days reading and swimming between classes. We began to explore the depths of pan-pyschism – rigorous theories of encountering the world transnationally, rather than exploiting it and objectifying it through our limited scope. More so than other readings, these first academically challenging days at Asa Bean let the reader engage in worldviews not commonly presented, not even in college lecture halls.

As the heat evaporated into a handful of rainy afternoons, the prospect of the approaching solo began to nearly burden my mind. Would I drive myself insane after four days alone? Having barely spent a single day alone in my life, I was embarrassingly nervous as the solo washed into reality, like the sweet river water washed onto the stones.

My solo was a mindful time of guitar playing and river watching, practicing the art and beauty of moon gazing and insect-listening. In a nearly indescribable manner, my solo felt much like a homecoming to a place that I had never left. I knew that something had changed, though nothing clicked or instantly snapped. I faced myself and my own fears, and felt a sense of intrinsic confidence that took a journey like Sierra Institute to fully realize.

Our group reconvened and, through the unspoken gratitude of seeing other people again, emerged a single unit – not a patchwork of people and ideas, but a single entity, very much a real tribe. The afternoon passed into evening casually, and we spent the time laughing and consciously enjoying the presence of the family that we had slowly become over the past 2 months. I felt like a more whole self after solo; I knew that my fears had not been discarded- they never will- but they had been stared straight down the throat, witnessed and disowned. I knew I was ready for the next step – to begin the summer of my life.

“The forever river, looking up ahead
                                        here I come
                                                here I come.”

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