Allergic to the Outdoors
By Leslie Ye, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, July 13, 2012
My mother likes to tell a story about the time my family went to visit Monticello when I was two years old. After touring Thomas Jefferson’s house, my parents decided we would have our lunch on the grounds. The second my parents put me down on the ground I started screaming. Even the addition of a blanket wasn’t enough to calm me down — from birth, it was clear that I would never be a child of the outdoors.
Dartmouth, on the other hand, was literally born and raised in the wilderness: Almost all of us choose to spend five days before we are even students living in the woods, our motto is all about some poor schmuck lost in the forest.
It’s ironic that I’m writing for the outdoors issue. Central Park is as much nature as I ever want to deal with at once, and honestly, trees planted in the sidewalk are totally enough for me. I’d never really seen stars before I came to Dartmouth and given the option between hiking Mount Moosilauke and retaking this week’s astro test, I’d rather sit myself down in Wilder and enjoy the air conditioning and access to plumbing.
Going to a school that is so head-over-heels obsessed with the great outdoors has been an interesting experience. It began excitingly enough — on my Cabin Camping DOC trip, my trippee and I were sent out to get water from the river, supposedly a simple task. We were told to collect the water from wherever the current was moving the fastest because that’s where the water is cleanest.
Yet this task posed a challenge for two girls from New York City. Having no prior experience with a large body of rushing water, we lowered the pot into the river and promptly lost it to the current. Our attempts to retrieve the pot went poorly and my trippee fell into the river reaching for the pot. Needless to say, we were assigned to other tasks after that experience.
The outdoors is a quiet place and the silence unsettles me. My first week here, I couldn’t sleep at night because of how quiet it was. Everything was completely still and there was nothing. No honking horns, no buzz of white noise. I can fall asleep with DMX blasting in the background, but the complete and utter silence made me feel smothered and on edge.
I’ve since discovered that silence can be nice. Walking home from Robo at night, past Collis and down West Wheelock has become a nice little ritual — just me and the stars. Before Dartmouth, the sounds of police cars and ambulances were just background noise. People were getting hurt all around me all the time but I never noticed. In Hanover, the sound of a siren scares me. Is something burning down? Is that ambulance coming for that friend who I haven’t seen all day? Maybe, maybe not. Living in silence taught me to care.
Living in the wilderness has also taught me more about insects than I ever wanted to know. There was a cricket-like creature jumping around in the shower the other day. A couple of days before that, a monster ant was found meandering its way across our ceiling. Right now, several large moths are buzzing around our porch light, occasionally charging the closed windows. Yesterday, a frog jumped on my foot while I was hanging out in the backyard getting eaten by a pack of mosquitoes. Not kidding. Living off campus is great and all, but apparently the price of a single with a full bed is a house full of bugs.
Nature is a weird thing. The outdoors can swallow you up — it can literally kill you. But it showed me that jumping in the river with your friends overrides the fact that the Connecticut is not filled with chlorinated, temperature-controlled water. It reminded me that New York City air is actually gross and I have done my lungs a great service by going to school here. I may never learn to love backpacking or appreciate insects for anything other than their important roles in our ecosystems, and I’m definitely never going to feel the urge to take a vacation in the pastoral countryside. But I am now strongly considering renting a DOC cabin with my friends, preferably the ones who will kill bugs, and staying for one night. Baby steps.