Of the Adjustment Back Home

September 15, 2012 | Caitlin Newell

What is there to conclude? My 24 hours at home before a windswept return to campus for my final year at college was far from enough time to meditate and process the lessons and memories of the summer. I find that, more often that not, when asked how my summer went, I simply pause and reply with the only one-word-answer that suffices for everything: “Good.”

What is there to say? In one of my classes, the professor opened with a question of “Favorite memory since May.” I also had no succinct answer for this, and had to reply with “hiking.” What a lame answer for 14 weeks of constant newness. But what else can I say?

Enjoying my second to last evening in Washington with Robert and Andrew.
I think it is important to point out the reality that, after living in someplace so diverse than where I had lived for all my life, I can’t just click right back in. The challenge of school has been the most encouraging prospect, as it poses a challenge that prevents my mind from idleness. I look back at my pictures and see one from my hike up to Camp Muir, at 10,188 feet. It was such a long morning of hiking up thousands of feet of elevation gain - but so rewarding (albeit, freezing) to sit at the camp and look out 150 miles southward to the peeking top of Mount Jefferson in central Oregon. Such things seem a little... fake, sitting in my antique-store chair, alone in my green-carpeted dorm room, contemplating the best time to find dinner.

The change of living like that is real. And I think it is important that it not be glossed over. Just as it was an adjustment to live in a national park all summer, it has been an adjustment to come home. 

But perhaps the most frustrating part of all this is that I simply do not know what to say, or where to begin, to help my mind come along. Even when a close friend asks me questions concerning the summer, I sit there and get what I can only assume is a “stumped” expression, and simply say - “It was really different. Really good... but really different.”

So when I began my post with “What is there to conclude” - I meant it. What is it that I should be thinking? To help you, the reader, (and maybe myself) I’ve just decided to answer some of the basic questions that I am consistently asked. Maybe it will shed light onto life after the national park ministry.

Do I miss Washington? Yes. A lot. But I have a peace about not being there right now that prevents me from being discontent at school.

Was the summer good? Yes. It was amazing. But it was also very hard, very challenging, and very tiring. And for the most part, I am glad it is over.

What was my favorite part about the summer? The location. I’ve never seen a more beautiful place. And while I wouldn’t say that the beauty of the place necessarily made my faith “stronger,” I would say that it created an atmosphere that provoked introspection and deep thinking. That kind of atmosphere is invaluable, and perhaps what has caused my adjustment home to seem so difficult. 

What will I miss most? This question is a frustrating one to answer, because while I will most definitely miss the mountain and the beauty of the place, I also simply miss what life was like. The life of a college student seems very small to me when I know that places like Mt. Rainier exist. 

Was this summer what I expected it to be? Hardly anything is what you expect it to be. I did my best to enter in without expectations. I think I did fairly well. 

Will I go back? Not soon. My heart and mind have been in a constant state of accepting new and being overwhelmed with learning. That isn’t an easy place to be, and the consideration of going back when I know within that my heart and mind need time to recuperate is scary and a little suffocating. This past summer was exactly what it needed to be, and happened exactly when it needed to happen. Of that I am sure. And it is not my intention to repeat it.

What did I learn this summer? This, perhaps of all of the questions, is the worst one. For two reasons: 1) I learned so much that I can’t pick one, and 2) I learned so much that I don’t yet even know just what I learned. If that makes sense. I think I figure out what lessons I learned each day, as I go about living. As I notice the differences in how I would have reacted to how I did react. Or how I used to think opposed to how I currently think. I would say that my love for people different than me increased this summer. That my acknowledgement of my own insignificance was more readily established (but still has a ways to go). And I would say that I learned how fast time is, how out of my control it is, and how the only thing to have faith in - is God. He provides in every setting. In every situation of life. He gives peace, patience, love. He restores the soul. He is our spiritual Father. I’m not quite sure yet how to explain it - just that things make a little more sense now.

The mountain saying goodbye a few hours before I left.
Those are the basic questions I am asked daily. I am ever so slowly reentering the grind of collegiate life. Reviewing French, writing essays. It is with longing that I look into my closet at my hiking bag, tent, and Therm-a-rest and consider the days where we trekked together over mountains and down valleys and canyons. We don’t have those sorts of things in Indiana. 

So as a conclusory bit of writing for those who were dear enough to follow these past few months - thank you. I hope you have been able to look past the words (and inevitable grammatical errors) and seen what it is like to be a person, in the parks, trying to figure out life.

I went to a place where I felt my heart calling me to go. I left home, friends, and family. I tried out new places, customs, and foods. I learned about people. I learned from people. I worked with a group of people that challenged me and encouraged me and made me think. I am full of stories, miles of hiking trails, and images from the summer. And I am one of many.

As my French instructor here at school would be proud to here me say:

"Je suis en peu fatigue, main bon, merci."

"I am a little tired, but good, thank you."

"I'm still not sure of what I want to do with my life professionally; but I know WHO I want to be when I grow up. I have benefited greatly from this hands-on job experience. " -Siri, Yellowstone 2003

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