Five of us lay in a soggy three person tent, the odors of damp goose down and dirty bodies filling our nostrils, the sound of thunder muted over the rain assaulting our shelter walls, reading the emergency manual’s advice on what not to do in a thunderstorm. The weight of a heavy pack on my back, the miles of dusty mountains stretching out behind me, I love it. I am who I am because I am hard working, and I am willing to experience discomfort to achieve my goals. My unique education allows me to find what I love and follow these passions with enthusiasm. Although I don’t know what I am going to do with my life, before college I want to backpack all 2,600 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. The trail has a culture, in which people can come together and connect, and it feels good to be part of that community. Especially when you are doing something where the first question isn’t what grade are you in?
Or, where do you go to school? As a homeschooler, this and the questions that inevitably come after are not easy or exciting to answer. It’s a way of life, something that is part of me, but I just can’t find a way to explain it to someone whose entire life has revolved around the public school system. Often people seem to view us as an elitist cult or fad; Entire rooms have quieted and gone abuzz with talk when I’ve mentioned I’m homeschooled. Homeschooling isn’t always easy. I don’t know what my life will be like year to year; my friends go to school, I move on to different co-ops and groups, and I experiment with different curricula until I find something that works. Each school year it is a fresh challenge to find a routine and fit into an entirely new group of kids. Even though homeschooling is challenging in its own way and often misunderstood, it allows me to explore my passions: Hiking, Latin, drawing and photography, reading and writing.
I’ve been a reader and a writer even before I could read and write. It just clicked. I grew up on The Hobbit, Watership Down, and The Lord of the Rings. I love older books, and inherited my Dad’s ‘boyhood’ collection, adding Anne McAffrey, Piers Anthony, and Ursula K. LeGuin to the ranks. Although I was ‘good’ at writing, it wasn’t until I left school in fifth grade that I slowly began exploring. Writing structure? Sentence variety? Clauses? All of this I had never been taught in school. For a few years I only explored and honed my knack for words. It wasn’t until WATO, when I was 14, that I recognized my dual passions for writing and the outdoors.
Northfield Mount Hermon boarding school lies just south of the Vermont border in Massachusetts. My Grandma gave me the opportunity to go to summer school there, and I took it (She’s a very cool Grandma). The class I took was WATO, literally Writing and the Outdoors, and it exposed me to writing, poetry, and personal freedom more than any other experience I’ve had. It was the first time I was given an opportunity to receive critical feedback and to then improve my work. Throughout the class we went hiking, camping, biking, and rafting, and read outdoor writings from Thoreau to Dickenson to Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. I think my classmates despised me for my enthusiasm.
WATO helped me realize what I am passionate about. Although I don’t know what I am going to do through and beyond college, I know what I love doing. I want to continue seeking like-minded individuals and communities through learning, being outdoors, and writing, as well as to continue challenging myself and exposing myself to new experiences.