To those of you living around the godforsaken tenement rooftop of Plex, I truly apologize. I’m not used to living in society.
If you live across from 8 House, East, various nights, you’ve probably witnessed some nakedness, dancing, dancing whilst naked — and me dancing naked while drinking New Hampshire maple syrup out of a jug and jumping up and down on my bed. In any case, this display had nothing to do with you. While I might have turned off my lights and closed the curtains to preserve your modesty, I didn’t. But I wasn’t thinking of you. I was pretending it was summer and I was back in New Hampshire.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve worked a few seasons for a conservation organization in the White Mountains. They employ college students of the predominantly northeastern, hippie/granola persuasion, whom they house in remote cabins in the mountain woods.
My cabin is perched in a notch between two mountains. Amenities are limited; conventional showers nonexistent; the sleeping quarters are coed, with bunk-beds; and, most remarkably, you are largely removed from everything that qualifies as civilization. Only accessible by mountain trails, the cabins are miles – on foot – from wireless internet, shops, and all people who would judge you for looking like a hobo and smelling like a body sweat cocktail.
I was so happy there.
Something about shared sleeping quarters coupled with complete social isolation breeds intimacy. The four of us working out of this cabin were completely gone on one another. It’s hard to describe.
When my editor asked what I was going to write about for this piece, I said, love.
Love? He said.
Love. I said.
I said, I lived with three other people in a cabin in the woods and we were so in love.
” Like…awkward in love?”
And that got to the heart of the matter. When living up in these cabins, there’s an obvious distinction between relationships down in “the valley” and those in the mountains. Down amongst the flatlanders, love is always kind of awkward. It’s not something to be rushed in to, and certainly not to be shared with anyone you haven’t scrutinized. There are all sorts of conventions and maneuverings that require close calculation.
In the valley, a love affair between four people would certainly complicate things to the point of obscene awkwardness. –OMG. Whose turn is it to call whom?
Not to imply that I was involved in some sort of fabulous four-way sex house. There was, in all honesty, nothing sexual about it. It was close, and physical, and, in a way, romantic, but it was pure, chaste, and Love.
I remember the first day that I went hiking with one of my cabin-mates. We climbed to a look-out high above the notch and sat, looking down at our house. We fell into this weirdly intense conversation about the relative importance of rational decision making. And in the quiet closeness of that high spot, I reached out and held his hand. Though relative strangers, it seemed the most natural thing in the world. I imagine it’s hard not to feel close to someone when you live with every naked, unwashed inch of them.
And that was how it started. Intimate conversations during the day moved fluidly into raucous, unselfconscious dance parties at night. Four people rocking out to Kanye West’s Flashing Lights should be extremely uncomfortable— but it wasn’t. Nobody knows how to have a good time like scruffy mountain kids. There was rarely a day that didn’t close with a sundown dance party, clothing optional. If I’m honest, I’ll admit that there was bourbon involved. But it was good bourbon. Class.
I imagine that this whole scene sounds completely unappealing to some. But try to picture yourself in the loveliest little building you can imagine. Fill the house with music and good food. Then drop in your favorite landscape. Finally, add a very small circle of similarly-interested people. And cut everything else off. That’s what it’s like.
When we hiked out for the last time, there was a general sense of desperation, an understanding that we were leaving behind an ideal life. Everybody had some pressing obligation to rush back to: college, work. I suppose dance parties and Bulleit aren’t sustainable as full-time activities.
The relationships, though, are hardest to relinquish. In the normal run of things, sexual relationships are preeminent, and then, if you’re lucky, you and a partner of your choice will learn how to love. In the mountains, love is less cynical. And what’s the harm in it?
I miss being able to love people. I miss being able to hold someone as an expression of care. I miss spontaneous break-out dancing, platonic hand-holding, hugging, communal napping.
I’ll be forever on the lookout for people with whom I’m more myself than I was in the mountains this summer. My real self is more wide-eyed and affectionate than I’m capable of being in society.
So I suppose I know why I leave the curtains open at night: I intend to be a beacon of love. Do you hear me, Plex? A freakin’ Beacon! Kanye up, Clothes off.