By Emma Stuessi ’17
Chill, desert wind blows across my face while the warmth of my sleeping bag hugs the rest of my body, shielding it from midnight weather in the canyons. I gaze up in awe at a whole universe of stars unlike anything most people will see in a lifetime; little pinpricks of light against a black curtain, appearing to wrap the entire world.
My reverie is broken, as the five smiling faces on the tarp around me all burst into laughter. Chiloé has unknowingly cracked the best joke of the trip, and we roll around on our sleeping pads until our cheeks hurt and there’s nothing left to say. Ziggy and Sage are too zonked out after a long day of hiking to join in tonight, but I don’t think I’ve ever laughed more on a trip than I have on this one.
I almost missed my Senior Quest. I sprained my ankle two nights before we left, but I decided to push through anyway, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Laughing and exploring the wilderness with a group of people I hadn’t expected to grow to love, but who have suddenly become my new family, has been truly unforgettable.
There is something to be said for the uniqueness of traveling through terrain so remote that it sees maybe fifteen humans a year. Our time in the impressive canyons of the Death Hollow Wilderness in Southern Utah has, like all Community School outdoor trips, been filled with remarkable experiences—and with no technology. As we look ahead to the end of our time here from our place beneath the stars, I think we’re all considering what we will give up upon our return to civilization.
It’s incredibly rare for me now to go even 10 hours without checking my phone or my computer, let alone ten days, but Community School outdoor trips have become some of the only times that I can truly step away from technology. This proves to be both a relieving and distressing experience for me, at first. As the days go on, I occasionally feel the inconvenience of not being able to play a song or google a question, and I sometimes get a mental tug telling me I need to share the wild experiences, funny moments, and cool pictures with the rest of world; but as I disconnect from my online presence, I become so much more connected with nature, myself, and the people with whom I am lucky enough to travel. Honestly though, disengaging from technology is the least important aspect of our outdoor experiences. Outdoor Program trips are so much bigger and more important than simply getting kids to put their phones down.
The wild, nature-loving spirit that was the foundation of our school over 40 years ago launched these outdoor experiences, and tradition sustains them. As I’m sure has been the case with so many Community School students before me, what I remember most about my trips is not just seeing really beautiful places and challenging myself in new ways, but sharing these formative experiences with my friends and teachers. I remember the laughs we’ve had, the smile on someone’s face when we finally reached the top of a peak and looked out at the entire world below us. I remember sharing a sunrise quietly and howling at the moon with wild laughter. I remember singing and dancing and even falling—and then getting back up to cheers.
I remember so many beautiful moments that I couldn’t have had alone, and that I couldn’t have had from the comfort of my home or in the glow of a screen. Long after my Instagram picture is posted and my Snapchat story disappears, I will cherish these many undocumented memories for making me who I am, shaping who I will become, and reminding me of where I came from.
Emma Steussi graduated from Community School in 2017 and currently attends St. Andrew's University in Edinburgh, Scotland. This essay was originally published in CS Magazine, Fall/Winter 2017.