*beware of bad math puns at the end!
The nostalgia didn’t pass over me like a calm ocean wave; it crashed head-on like a tsunami, churning my stomach with a feeling akin to a mixture of excitement and longing. We were cruising through the mountainous terrain in a school bus, 54 high school students headed to a camp in the countryside – because there’s no better place to practice for the AP Calculus exam than the bucolic setting of Southern Californian mountains. We passed fields of horses, cows, even camels, and there was a moment along a particularly narrow road when I glanced out the window of the other side of the bus and felt like I was floating because all I could see were the mountains in the distance, speckled with ivory-beige boulders. As we bounced up the rocky path leading up to the camp site, I experienced that strange sense of déjà vu. Several years ago, in another state, another life, I had been heading to a summer camp, bracing myself as we crunched our way along a path made of composite pebbles.
The memories of summer camp as a kid overwhelmed me as we approached the entrance of the camp we were to stay at overnight. There was almost the exact same sensation of pastoral peacefulness, serene relaxation, and adventurous elation that comes along with spending time in harmony with nature. It’s rare that I’m more than a 10-mile radius away from most of human civilization. I’m constantly surrounded by traffic lights, rushing cars, and stucco houses. But here, I could not hear the ambiance of cars rushing along the freeway; the quietness was interrupted only by the occasional chirping of birds, the sound bright in the clear atmosphere.
The neat, well-kept grounds had large wooden lodge cabins, a game room, a pool, and areas for soccer, basketball, and tennis. Although the facilities are probably considered modern compared to those of most camps, it was still the most rural setting I had been in for a long time. During a period of free time in the late afternoon, a group of my friends and I set out for a hike. We trekked up the mountainside about a half hour before sunset, and both the steep hill and the beautiful scenery contributed to my breathlessness. I stopped frequently to snap photos on my phone, wanting to capture the landscape around me, but I knew that the on-top-of-the-world feeling of seeing miles of terrain stretch out below me couldn’t be relived through a photograph. Along the way, one of my friends asked why I was taking so many photos, to which I responded simply, “Because I’ll never see this again.”
By the time we made it to the top of the mountain, the sun was low in the sky and we spent a great deal of time befriending the sun in our photos. We heard the yapping of coyotes and the whistling of the wind through the chaparral, and all around us was a magnificence that I had never really noticed until now. It no longer felt like the mountains were a backdrop to the scenery. I now viewed every single aspect of the land and the sky, from the animal burrows to the bare blackened branches, as parts of a greater whole. When dinnertime arrived, I was reluctant to return down to the camp; I hadn’t basked long enough in the beauty of the nature around me. In the next 24 hours, in between our calculus excursions, I tried to relish every moment I spent at the camp, from swaying on a porch swing, to appreciating the warmth of the sun in a rocking chair, to playing board games on the red picnic tables.
Up until yesterday, I had forgotten what it felt like to experience the purity of nature, untainted by human intervention. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed the quaintness. I may not be able to live in an idyllic setting for my entire life, but I fully believe in the importance and necessity of escaping from civilization from time to time to appreciate the absolute value of the earth. Our environment is an integral part of who we are and we are the ones to choose what to derive from the resources it provides. The separate parts of nature sum up to something wonderful – one ideal landscape that isn’t so imaginary after all, stretching on for infinity beyond the limits of what we can define.