Saturday, April 3, 2010

Good News, Everyone!

(Above: A photographic approximation of what it feels like to ride the miniature choo-choo train at the Camden Children's Garden. And also to get Internet access again.)

Hey folks,

Badger 6 has arrived in Camden, and the Internet is here with us. That means NCCC'd just got a shot of adrenaline after a long dry spell. Get excited!

We're about to begin our second project at the Camden Children's Garden, and you can expect fairly frequent updates on our progress, plus all sorts of fun little features that I've been wanting to do but couldn't pull off without regular Internet time.

So to kick things off on a vaguely inappropriate note, here's some weird stuff I wrote last night while we were in transit between Conowingo and here.

Hooray for navel-gazing!


I’m lying here in my dorm room, alone.

In AmeriCorps, this is the rarest of sensations: total isolation. To function in this program, you spend almost every waking and non-waking hour in the company of fellow Corps members. Working, eating, shopping, playing, talking, exercising, fretting, hoping, joking, living.

But tonight, my team is spending the night at the Perry Point dorms, as we transition from our now-completed project at Conowingo to Camden. We’re all spread out through the two-story building, tucked away in our different rooms. No one else is in the building. The feeling is one of camping out in a sprawling, abandoned ghost town.

I’m living in what they call “the Ameri-bubble.” No sense of the outside world... just the project, the team, the hours required to graduate. For one night, though, I’ve penetrated it, stumbling back out into something resembling my past life. I’m half-blinded, weary, confused. What happens when I’m spat out from this strange little world, permanently?

It’s a question I’ve studiously avoided ever since the new year began, as I threw myself headlong into what’s been an absorbing NCCC adventure so far. My first stab at scaling the journalism industry ended at a frustrating impasse, and I found myself aghast by all the things I had sacrificed in the name of chasing what they call “a career.” Lost out on the Wyoming plains... what a perfect metaphor for where that path leads!

AmeriCorps has me already reconsidering what I’m capable of and what I want to do with myself. But the next step is hardly any more apparent today than it was when I rocketed out of Wyoming on January 1. Thankfully, there is a “Life After AmeriCorps” program that I can explore for hints and clues.

I can only transition to the next section of this blog with a hastily scribbled “ON A LIGHTER NOTE...”

The final night at Camp Conowingo was fairly absurd, exciting and beautiful all at once... in the typical Badger 6 style of things. To celebrate completing our first project, we began the night huddled around a campfire, swapping s’mores and ghost stories. A blanket of stars swam overhead, and the only sounds beneath our voices were the crackle of firewood and the imagined footsteps of boogeymen in the dark.

Sounds romantic, I know, but it was just an appetizer. Once we were sufficiently amped up by all of the ghoulish tales, six of us decided to tour the Bell Manor just before the stroke of midnight. A quick word of explanation: the Bell Manor is a complete oddity on the Camp Conowingo grounds, a stately, white, three-story monster mansion thrust into the middle of the wilderness. My knowledge of the building’s actual history is muddled beyond coherence, but from what I understand it was a family’s summer home, and judging from the architecture its construction dates back a good many decades.

Oh yeah, and the mansion is supposedly haunted.

So into the abyss we six ghost hunters stumble, with one pocket flashlight, a headlamp, two cameras and a cell phone between us. We maintain a policy of not turning on any of the house lights, and more importantly, of not splitting up. You can imagine what followed: a gaggle of gigglers bumbling through the shadows and twitching at the tiniest creak of the floorboards. No spirits, malevolent or otherwise, made any guest appearances, but I would chalk up our late night tour as a legitimate adventure.

To close out the celebration, five of us spent the night in tents that we had erected several weeks before as a part of our project duties. They’re impressive beasts, built on raised wooden platforms in the middle of the woods, and able to hold about five cots apiece. The labor of fitting those things together and pulling them up was probably the most immediate and viscerally satisfying tasks of our project. So to actually sleep under one of them felt immensely gratifying.

Snuggled up against the cold in my sleeping bag, listening to the chorus of forest bugs outside, feeling 8 years old again. You can’t recreate that, or do it justice in words. It’s just a powerful, warm memory that you try to preserve in amber and hold onto as long as you can.

On a night like this, I’m gripping it tightly.

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