Introducing…SEMESTER IN THE WEST!

Well, since I’m off for Whitman in a little less than two weeks and leaving on Semester in the West shortly after that, I thought a bit of reflection and panic would be appropriate.

The West has been a place of self-discovery for a while. People have written entire libraries about how its majestic landscapes mirror their personal struggles and searches for self. And right now, that seems very appropriate. Everything I’ve taken for granted in my life for the past year seems uncertain. My job might be waiting for me when I get back, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll have space for me or that I’ll have time to work in the spring. My relationship, now at the sixteen month mark, is going on hold so both of us can step back and explore other possibilities. My environmental studies-politics major, which I was so sure about that I declared a year early, seems suspect after I spent half the summer reading books which convinced me that politics will never solve the environmental problems we face. Even my long-cherished vegetarianism is crumbling under a growing mountain of evidence that eating meat under certain conditions is far more sustainable than relying on monocrop agriculture to feed me.

It seems appropriate, then, to spend a semester thinking it all out with epic desert scenery in the background. I’m hoping that removing myself from most of the things I take for granted will help me focus on those things that are truly important in my life. I won’t be able to drive myself crazy by triple-booking every waking second of my day, and while I’ve heard that Semester in the West is no picnic in terms of free time, I also know that no program could overschedule me to the degree I overschedule myself when left to my own devices.

Naturally, I’m also slightly terrified. This feels like going to college all over again. When I set out for Whitman at the end of last summer, I was saying goodbye to friends I’d had since 4th and 5th grade, a city I love, a school I knew I could excel at and a very large and supportive extended family. I was reassured by the constants in my life–Western civilization, access to the Internet and phone in case everyone at Whitman hated me and I needed to talk to friends from home and the knowledge that home was only a four hour drive away.

Semester in the West is a similar departure from the familiar. I’m leaving my new friends at Whitman to have a semester of adventures without me. I’m leaving both of my homes, my family, friends, boyfriend and Western civilization behind. My potential friend pool has shrunk to about twenty-five people, and god help me if I don’t get along with one of them.

But in a way, the lack of constants is reassuring. With everything I usually hide behind stripped away, I’m forced to depend on myself for everything. If I don’t get along with someone, I can’t retreat to the safety of my room. If I feel stressed and need a break, I can’t call a friend from home or zone out in front of the TV. And I’m hoping three months of living without the barriers I usually put up will make me a better person.

I’m hoping to update on a regular basis from the field, both with descriptions of what we’re doing, as well as more personal reflections and such. For interested parties, here’s our rough itinerary as of now:

August 25-27: Orientation, Johnston Wilderness Campus
August 28: Depart for Wallowa County, Oregon
August 29-September 3: Wallowa County, Oregon
September 4-9: Baker County, Oregon
September 10-11: Dufur, Oregon/Bend, Oregon Area
September 12-13: Mono Lake Area, near Lee Vining, California
September 14-18: Owens Lake Area, near Lone Pine, California
September 19-26: Escalante, Utah area
September 27-29: Wells, Nevada area
September 30-October 4: Hailey, Idaho area
October 5-8: Dinosaur, Colorado area
October 9-12: Paonia, Colorado
October 13-15: Aspen, Colorado area
October 16-19: Green River, Utah area
October 20-23: Bluff, Utah area
October 24-25: Four Corners area, TBA
October 26-30: Near El Valle, New Mexico
October 31-November 4: Bandelier, New Mexico
November 5-9 Southern New Mexico, TBA
November 10-11: TBA
November 12-13: Yucca Valley, California
November 14-16: Tejon Ranch, near Bakersfield, California
November 17-19 Travel, stops in SF Bay area, Bend, Oregon
November 19 or 20: Arrive, Johnston Wilderness Campus, begin work on final projects
November 25: Thanksgiving at JWC
November 30: Western Epiphany Presentations, 4pm
December 1: Western Epiphany Presentations, 4pm

If you’re reading my entries on a regular basis, I’d love to hear comments and thoughts about the stuff I post or just thoughts about the issues I’m talking about in general. And of course, random emails and texts and phone calls are always welcome.

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