A couple of weekends ago, our entire semester headed out to different spots on the Neck for a forty-eight hour solos. Paul, my advisor walked me out to my solo spot. We bushwhacked through Hemlocks, Spruces, and Winterberry to the spot where I would spend the next couple of days. After a busy school week and late-night cabin craziness, I hadn’t given much time to prepare myself mentally for the task of being alone for this time. Packed with me, I had a bright yellow bag full of gear, a few jugs of water, a tarp, some GORP, carrots, and one of Constanza’s (zazen) meditation benches.
I was at Red Pines campsite, which is on the north-western part of the neck, where I sat in an amphitheatre of rocky coast, looking out at the salt marsh. I quickly followed what we’d been instructed to do: immediately set up the tarp. So I found a grassy opening with nice sun and a good view of the marsh and set up my gray tarp. But just as a tied my last trucker’s hitch, securing down the tarp and giving me shelter from the impending rain, I heard a rustle of leaves. My gaze shot up where I found a furry creature just about 20 ft from where I was kneeled. Its pointed face, sharp teeth, distinct ears, and orangey under fur led me to say it was a woodchuck (as indicated by a field guide of course). He was a bold sort. I stood up, pressed toward him, moving to get a better view. He stood up, we made eye contact, but he didn’t budge. Up until this point, I had never been so close to a wild animal, especially one intrepid enough to keep its ground. But, as time passed, I realized I really didn’t want this neighbor of mine quite so close. I moved closer and closer trying to urge him to go elsewhere, but he held his ground. Eventually I gave up. I pack up my stuff and carried it a bit north into the patch of Hemlocks where the view was just as nice, but was away from the Woodchuck.
I think it’s important for us humans to every once in awhile step back and examine our relationship with the natural world. For me, it was valuable to see first-hand how best to interact with the world around us.
This encounter with the woodchuck is not much different from other human engagements with nature. Everyday housing developments tear down forests, dislodging the natural ecosystems in place there. We as people must be conscious of what surrounds us, and how best to live jointly with nature.
Moreover, I spent much of my time meditating. After setting my tarp up for a second time, I sat on a rock looking out at the salt marsh, with nothing but myself , the sun, raptors, gulls, and the small marsh birds in view, focusing singularly on air from my lungs. I spent my time with my breaths looking out at the afternoon and then dusk, the only interruptions being the occasional airplane overhead. This weekend alone, I found was a vital part of my time at Chewonki. Our lives on Chewonki Neck are endlessly active and invigorating. But with this invigorating lifestyle we live, it’s important to remember to recharge, and to meditate. We must maintain a strong consciousness of ourselves and the role we play in the natural world. We must take time to step back, reflect, and explore.
-Andrew, Cape Elizabeth High School, ME