Tag Archives: nature

S’16 Solo Reading List

Spring 16 students can now join the proud ranks of Mountain School alums who have successfully completed their solo camping trips, this year with the added bonus of half a foot of snow that fell on the last full day. In addition to eating Ramen, working hard to stay warm, and repeatedly hitting their tarps to knock the snow off, the students read some great books. Here are some of their recommendations:

  • The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas: “It’s a classic, but totally engaging and written in a conversational way. It’s an awesome story about violence, but kind of honorable violence. I’ve always wanted to read it–I’ve read the abridged version. And it’s historical fiction, so I learned so much about the French Revolution, but I didn’t feel like I was learning because it was so compelling.” -KV
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote: “I loved reading it because it read like a long, in-depth article in The New Yorker. Even though some of Truman Capote’s journalistic ethics were questionable, he really explored all sides of the story, and made the person reading feel very connected. If you like Serial, you’ll love In Cold Blood.” -EP
  • Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik: “It was enlightening and funny. RBG is my queen. One of my favorite things I learned was that her husband gave up his job for her. She and her husband were really cute, actually. She became a pop culture icon only in the last two years; before that, just was kind of there. Now there’s all these memes and everything. Anyone with a soul will like this book.” -MB
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson: “It’s a personal account of the peak and failure of 1960’s counter cultures. It’s a seminal work for anyone who is an aspiring journalist. It’s a wild ride, a very twisted book that will give you very twisted dreams…” -CK
  • The History of Love by Nicole Krauss: “It’s about a man who writes a book about his ultimate love and a girl named after the character in that book and their convoluted quest to find each other. I could not fathom how any of the stories were interconnected. At the end it all came together, and I was starting to figure it out on my own, but the reveal was very satisfying.” -PM
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “The story of a Nigerian woman who coms to the United States and her journey in the US, especially her encounters with people and their perceptions on race. It was a really interesting viewpoint on American race because it was an outside perspective. I especially liked the blog that the main character keeps about race, which is interspersed throughout the novel. Adichie’s writing is awesome, and that’s part of what makes the book so good.” -AL
    • Editor’s note: Americanah is the best book I have ever read, and I honestly believe that everyone should read it.
  • Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson: “It’s about one man’s experience navigating the criminal justice system and the death penalty in the south. It was really good because it balanced non fiction and narrative well. It explained systems in America while also telling a compelling story. I found the combo very enlightening.” -LKB
  • Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed: “It was a good read for solo because I was enduring the same hardships as the main character, Cheryl, to some extent. Like she talked about her hip bones hurting after carrying her pack all day, and I felt that too. It made me look at my experience in a different light.” -EKo
    • “It was a great book to read on solo because I’m alone, she’s alone, she’s working really hard while I’m sitting in my hammock… We were going through vaguely similar struggles.” -TM
  • Encounters with the Archdruid by John McPhee: “It was cool how McPhee gives an objective view of the conversations and the people with such conflicting views (an environmentalist facing people who don’t agree with him ideologically). I liked how he kind of forced you to take a side, but also makes you consider both sides of the argument. Also it was written in the 1970s, but it still completely relevant to issues we’re talking about today.” -MW
  • Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger: “It’s a family favorite book, and I had never read it. I was really engaged with the narrator. I was told that it used to be taught in schools and now it isn’t as much because it’s unrelatable in the present era, but I disagreed. I felt a connection to the world at home even though it was written in 1951.” -RM
    • “Holden Caulfield is a supremely frustrated, loving, passionate 17 year old boy who tries to navigate his life after being kicked out of high school in New York City. He struggles to find where he belongs in a world where seemingly no people are like him or understand him. Behind Holden’s angst and frustration is a deeply caring and observant person. Holden stays by my side on the days when I feel like nobody is on my side. A must read for parents and teens trying to understand the thought process of unnecessarily angsty/hateful teens.” -PR
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: “It’s a father’s attempt to explain an unjust world to his son and people like his son. It was great to read on solo, especially the part where the author talked about being in Paris and being identified as an American, not a black man. He wasn’t defined by his race there, and I felt the same way in the woods. Mother Nature doesn’t care about my race or gender; she’ll unleash her fury equally on everyone.” -WB
  • The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe: “It’s like watching “The Wolf of Wall Street,” but in book form, and takes place 20 years earlier. Super interesting.” -JL
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller: “What makes it so amazing is that it’s about WWII – so it’s serious and political – but it’s also so funny. It’s really entertaining to read because you’re constantly surprised by what the author does and you never know what to expect.” -IBC
  • Blind Woman, Sleeping Willow by Haruki Murakami: “The short stories themselves are fairly simple, but they are told in really interesting way. It definitely made me think a lot.” -ZH

Solo Spring ’14

Spring ’14 students have been griping recently that they were mislead – the season we have lived through for the last three months fits no one’s definition of spring. It’s been all George R. R. Martin style winter all the time.

We have finally, in the last week, progressed into spring. It is warm enough that the lettuce we’ve been sheltering in polyhouses all winter can now grow outside. We no longer have to wear more than one layer of pants. The fields are slowly turning green. All very exciting.

But none of that mitigates the fact that when we left for our three day solo camping trip on April 23, it was very cold and many of us camped on or right next to snow. Two of our three nights in the woods had below-freezing temperatures. Some of us even got snowed on the last morning. (Thanks, Mother Nature). The good news is that the second full day had beautiful weather, so everyone was able to enjoy at least one day of sunshine and warmth.

Liam's beaver pond (just another reason to be jealous)
The beaver pond at Liam’s solo site

Every semester, students go into solo expecting to be enlightened by nature and return fuller, better humans with profound new understandings of the world. As Grant said, “Before solo, I had this expectation that I was going to have deeper thoughts than usual. That’s something I’m never going to be able to do. I’m never going to be a meditator. I just pushed down trees and talked to myself.”

Here are some other students’ reflections on their solo experiences:

“There were these moose tracks all around my site. I was clearly staying as a guest in someone else’s home.”

“I tried to look closer at what was in the woods.”

photo 2

“A lot of what I did on solo was sit in places and just look.”

“I found flagging from a previous solo. It was cool because I realized, I’m not the only one who lived here.”

“I thought a lot about the happiness you get from yourself vs. the happiness you get from other people.”

“I was scared that I would be bored, but then I walked around and realized it was OK to be alone.”

“On solo, I would think of something, and laugh out loud. I kept cracking myself up and it was so wonderful.”

“I felt at peace with myself in a way that I haven’t been before.”

“I was always trying to drive myself to be more productive – to read, sketch, draw a map. Then, the last night, I decided I didn’t want to do that.”

“I worried that once I was alone, I wouldn’t have anything inside of me to be interesting. But I sat and watched bugs for awhile and realized they have really complicated lives.”


“I usually have something I have to do. On solo, I was able to sit in a hammock and do whatever popped into my head.”

“Every train of thought I had on solo led back to the same place of feeling lucky.”

“I felt grateful to see the beauty of nature.”

“I thought solo would be refreshing, that I would not have to focus on what other people want me to think. I would finally be able to concentrate on one thing. But instead, I let my mind go and got pulled in all different directions.”

“I was really surprised by how self-sufficient I was able to be. I got really into problem solving. Usually I’m so focused on efficiency and moving on instead of focused on finding a solution.”

Congratulations, Spring ’14! We’re proud of you!

Journal entry: NYC vs. TMS (S’13)

I never could have dreamed of waking up, the way I did yesterday, to the glory of a pink sunrise streaked with orange, the lines like those left after someone has waved a sparkler. When I was younger, I hated the city. I wanted to leave, to climb trees, to milk cows, to wake up to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s tin-basin bath. But I have grown used to the city, taking too much for granted the proximity of museums and how easy it is to find an excellent school – or, rather, a whole host of them. And in the past few years, I have taken art history, coming, through the class, to a better understanding of the beauty of the art in those museums. I have relied on multiple public library branches for research papers, resources that may or may not be available outside of New York. I have even started walking to school through the park in recent years, watching the sun rise up 96th Street. In short, I have come to appreciate the city and its way of life. I have lost touch with the desires that pushed me so forcefully away from it, and I have settled into its conveniences. I felt Nature’s absence less strongly, compensating, for its lack with my daily half-hour walk through the park. (I have, since third grade, intentionally capitalized Nature’s first letter.)

Life at the Mountain School is rougher. I don’t yet have the spiritual capability or possess the physical strength for life in Vermont winter. I can love the season’s visual aspect, but I am in no way prepared for snowshoeing up hills and pushing myself to the top. I have worked to find intellectual challenge; now, physical challenge has found me. I like the idea of it, and I hope that I will be able to meet it. The sense of time here is different and more beautiful. Not only am I allowed to admire the sunrise and look closely at the trees but I am expected to. Managing homework, in terms of time constraints, is still a challenge. But the challenge now is balancing school work with the outdoors, not schoolwork with more schoolwork. I have seen few sunrises but have had to rush onward to arrive at school in time for some sort of meeting or other. Now, I can stop for a few moments just to stare at the heavens. That’s the real difference between the Mountain School and New York City living.