Note: I wrote this in June 2009
It’s coming up on graduation time at Deep Springs College, or so says my alumni news update and my dread sense of the passing years. It’s been ten of the them since the Deep Springs class of 1998 loaded my class (1997–your DS class is numbered by its year of entrace) into a cattle trailer and tooled us around the Valley before arriving at the secret location of our graduation ceremony, which happened to be the Lower Reservoir. While I commended the effort of the first-year men int trying to bamboozle us, we all knew exactly where we were based on the turns taken; two years is plenty long enough to know a small network of roads quite intimately.
My thoughts and prayers are with this new crop of young men about to be tossed on the spinning world. No matter how hard life inside can be, no matter how depressing or pointless it seems, it has a symmetry and a place that, as far as I can tell, few alumni manage to avoid missing. Two years of sagebrush in your nostrils every day and the best and most irritating friends in the world will do that to you. You show up just a raw, green little thing and the balewagon is busted so you’ve got to get out and buck bales and the hog pen needs to be built before the piglets arrive and people are talking about Beckett whom you’ve never read. You throw a little Macbeth out there to feel good about yourself but another 18-year-old pronounces himself bored–bored!–with the plot arc.
The days pass slowly, sometimes excruciatingly slowly, but the two years pass with breathtaking speed. Then we all leave and you have to say goodbye to people you hardly realized you loved and to places you couldn’t imagine missing not long before. And you have to make your way in places where being able to roll a cigarette or fix a tractor doesn’t necessarily confer any status, and where even the smart kids aren’t very impressed by the word “carnivalesque,” and it’s just all weird and sad and hard.
Ten years ago this week, I was sitting up at the upper reservoir, drunk and high with several of my class the night before packing up and being rung out by the boardinghouse bell. It was time for one more night swim up there, where the smallest sliver of moon can light up the whole valley and where clothing is not quite optional. Too bad we had to walk down, I said to one guy. Yeah, it would be better if we could float. The stars and moon and the water and the friends and the chemical enhancement made the proposition sound almost plausible–as if the world would make a special arrangement for us that one time to mark all we had done and been in that place and to acknowledge the love and gratitude we overflowed with so painfully.
For me, at least, I’ve tried to keep loyalty to that place and especially to those people. I don’t know that I’ve done better or worse than anyone else at that, but I’ve carried it with me ever since. To all the Deep Springers out there, I love you and wish you all the happy trails and starry nights of the world.