On top of a desolate mountain, amid swaying trees, swirling snow, and star-less darkness, there burned a vibrant bonfire. Twenty or so seniors with half a dozen of their most ardent teachers encircled the oasis, joking lightheartedly, sharing confidences, and dwelling, if only briefly, on what a unique school they are part of.
When I had mapped Sky Ranch the previous evening, a cursory glance had revealed it to be in the center of Fort Collins. As our school bus wove its way up the Poudre Canyon, the roads became more narrow, the aspens more golden, and my packing more inadequate. It was my own fault. I had not been able to attend the informational meeting and, though I had collected the permission forms afterwards, I had forgone a summary, assuming I knew the Senior Lock-In “routine.” Somewhere between the unnerving cliffs that fell away beyond the left side of the bus and the jagged rocks that hedged a little too closely to the right side, I realized “routine” might be the wrong word. We were perfectly safe, but I like to think we went where no school bus, barring the possibility of some very wrong turns, had gone before.
Since “routine” seems unsuitable, perhaps I can find another descriptor. “Cold?” The nippy wind that greeted us as we stepped off the bus would suggest as much, but we must not forget the contribution of the space heaters and antiquated radiators. The radiators would have liked not to contribute, but thanks to Mia’s strong fingers, the girls of Cabin Dorothy Day won that battle. Maybe “belligerent” imparts the gist of the trip? Though it captures the radiators and the quick little prank that followed me happening into the vacant boy’s cabin, it misses the affable atmosphere of the meals that included wishing Rosie happy birthday with a gluten-free cake. How about “hilarious?” Maya’s tiger onesie and Austin and Walker’s comedic piano performance gave the trip a festive tone. Perhaps “thoughtful?” Writing our future selves letters brought the weekend a special moment of reflection and perspective; next time we hold our letters we will be weeks away from graduation. “Beautiful?” Caitlin, Maddie, and McKenna remain to be credited for their lovely and more traditional piano playing. “Delicious?” Not the food, the mountain air. “Cheering?” “Invigorating?”
Despite my lack of gear and the more marked absence of our classmates who had scheduling conflicts, it was quite the weekend. No turn of phrase can exactly capture the small, but untold delights of camping with your classmates. Chief among the joys of the trip was the bonfire. After all, every charm of getting to know and cavort with your classmates and teachers is best seen by firelight.
After supper, we laden each other’s arms with firewood and carried it into the fading light, following the sound of Mr. Anderson chopping. He cut kindling and lay it in the fire pit. One match touched one carbon atom and the combustion that ensued was enough to make any poet forget my prosaic chemistry and to make every member of the class of 2017 tingle with warmth down to their very soul. The wind howled through the trees and the dark sky was filled with wet and cold flakes, but our circle of light knew naught but warmth. Around me Mr. Hayhurst talked to Kaylee about basketball and Caitlin told Maddie some of what she has learned about love. Further around the circle, Peter and Robby laughed rowdily at whatever new antic they had invented, and Adam, Maya, and Ciara joined in their gaiety. Beyond them, Mr. Carpine and Mr. Anderson exchanged smiles. Austin built up the fire. Rosie listened to Dr. Bevill. Walker sat. Emma stood. I looked into the bonfire and saw the glowing reflections of our conversations and joint experiences. This bonfire burned brightly because it was fueled by people who care about each other, sharing their ideas about life, their shenanigans, their hopes, their pasts, and many beautiful memories, of which this bonfire will soon be another. It will warm us long after the fire has turned to ashes.