The Making of the Wildest People
I’m sure that anyone at NT who has ever done an overnight solo before (at camp, in their backyard, or for braver souls, in the cemetery) is full of vivid stories waiting to be told from their night of sleeping alone in the woods. As daunting as that would seem at first, I discovered that it’s an adventure that’s truly worth trying, whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast or not, and even in the midst of rainy weather or bear scares.
But the evening of Monday, July 21st boasted neither rain, nor bears, nor stars; just bugs, an uncomfortable coolness, and an interesting night.
It was pegged that July 21st, 2008 would be our Death Day. On that unusually brisk summer afternoon at Camp Wanakita, sixty other student counselors and I set out to accomplish that unavoidable task which was guaranteed to define our month at camp: the solo.
At 4pm, after a long trek in the muddy back trails of the camp, I finally found the perfect solo spot; a shady, forested area where fallen tree trunks lay. This place, as unknown as it felt, was my home for the night. I was going to be on my own for sixteen hours.
To my horror, as soon as I sat and rested against a tree stump, creatures of all sizes started to appear; most notably, the Wanakita Mosquito Chorus. Even though I looked ridiculous wearing muddy rubber boots, long pants, leggings wrapped around my ears, and two hoods over my head in twenty-degree weather – I had to find a way to drown out their continuous buzzing and avoid being eaten alive. But somehow, through three thick layers of clothing, they were still as audible as ever. That was when I realized that a mosquito’s drone can penetrate through almost anything, regardless of how many layers you have around your ears. And seeing that I didn’t bring any bricks to build a surrounding wall with, and had nothing else better to do, I began humming with those pesky creatures, slowly being immune to them.
By midnight, after scribbling dreadful poems, writing ten-page spiels, and building a stick shelter, I was exhausted, shivering, and wrapped tightly in the crunchy tarp. As I came to another realization, that I should have brought my sleeping bag, I trembled with fear whenever I heard the slightest rustling of the leaves. My imagination flew to all sorts of Blair-Witch-like proportions, and being a Lost fan didn’t help. Could that have been the wind? A whisper? A wild chicken (which Camp Wanakita is rumoured to have lots of)? A ax-murderer? A BEAR?
Conveniently, then came the washroom dilemma. In bear-proofing 101 you learn that bears are attracted to anything that smells “interesting”, and yes, human pee is one of them. But I was desperate and decided to risk it. Reluctantly, I grabbed my flashlight and freed myself from the relative warmth in the groundsheet, walking out into the darkness and towards my stick tepee, where I found it the safest to pee. As I stared out into the unknown, the total pitch-blackness of the surroundings ignited a terrifying chill inside me that had nothing to do with the cold air. I dashed back into the safety of my groundsheet as quickly as I could. That was when I realized that if you have to go, you should go BEFORE the sun sets.
When it proved that I wasn’t ever going to stay asleep for more than two hours straight that night, I fished out a booklet that we had been given earlier and mindlessly flipped through it. My final realization was found typed plainly on the page two: “Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons,” the quote read, “it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.” – Walt Whitman.
The “making of the wildest people” should have also been mentioned in the quote. When I think of solos, I think of wildness. I think of my friend telling me of how, at one point during the night, she had marched around a log while singing the whole soundtrack to Rent. I remember another friend who confessed that his tongue stayed numb for five hours after he had foolishly licked a slug. And, finally, I think of being fully human, with nothing except for nature and your free self having control over you for just one night.
After living through that dynamic experience and have still having managed to keep relatively sane, I can say that one solo in a lifetime is already enough to make you braver and more nature-loving (or mosquito-hating). But, maybe next summer, I’ll take that muddy trail back up to the spot where my stick shelter stood and do an overnight duo.