Posted by: Staff | 01.11.2010

College Essay XX: by Lucy Hicks ’10


As I stood with my one red suitcase, waiting to board the plane, my stomach felt queasy. The week ahead of me would entail a road trip with my great-aunt, Hart, and my grandmother, Annie. Generally, whenever I visited Annie, she always had a surprise waiting for me. She once took me to a sacred drumming circle when I thought we were simply going to Olive Garden. Another time she insisted we take a short stroll, which actually was a daylong exploration of the lush, green North Carolinian woods.  Her spontaneous trips always made me a little uneasy as I generally enjoyed sticking to “the plan”. I used to make lists of the activities for the day, and enjoyed crossing them off as the day went on. I usually anticipated outcomes before even starting an activity, and rarely did I stray from my plan on a whim.

When I exited the plane, I saw both Annie and Hart waiting for me. My grandmother was wearing a bright flowered shirt, which reflected the vibrant smile stretched across her face, paired with enthusiastic waving. My great-aunt had her graying brown hair pulled back into a ponytail. Unlike most people her age, she had decided to grow her hair longer, a symbol of her free spirit.

The road trip began as it would in every family, asking about how my school year went, talking about our favorite new movies, and, of course, stopping every few rest stops to keep our mini-pretzel and chip supply in full stock.             

I fell asleep about two hours into the adventure, and when I woke, I had no idea where I was. Annie had parked the car and was unloading our luggage from the back of her trunk.

“Guess where we are?” She said, excitedly.

Before I was given the chance to respond, she said, “We’re at a Quaker meditation retreat! We’ll be here for the rest of the trip!”

I did not know how to react to her proclamation. I was flooded with too many emotions to form a coherent response: surprise, confusion (I had never heard but a few words about Quakers before), and frustration due to my lack of control over the situation. But seeing the hint of excitement shining from my grandmother’s eyes, I could not keep up my negative mindset. I decided to remain open-minded.

The next few days were challenging, but eye opening. Each day began with breakfast served at seven, and then a nature walk in the verdant forests surrounding the Quaker Retreat Center. On the first day, I felt ambivalent about these early morning walks. If I were at home, I would have hardly placed a foot out of my bed by seven-thirty, but here I was, stumbling over tree trunks in the early morning. The first walk seemed endless: the dirt path extended continuously beyond my gaze, no matter how far I tried to look ahead. My legs ached, and by the end of it, I felt ready to curl up in bed again. After a few days, I began to ignore my grogginess and notice the natural beauty of the forest in the early morning. I loved watching the reflection of the sun as it hit the trees, and enjoyed seeing the forest become alive again as I walked through it. By the end of the week, I looked forward to these morning walks, during which I would observe how the forest had changed since the day before.

Our schedule allowed free time until the afternoon, which my aunt and Annie usually used for meditation. Initially, I stuck to my crossword puzzles, but after two days sitting by myself in the corner of the room, curiosity compelled me to join them on the rug where they sat and meditated. Though I was never able to master this skill, I was proud of myself for extending my comfort zone, and by the next day, it was me, rather than my aunt, who suggested that we explore the local area of Charleston, South Carolina. I spent the day talking with local people about their daily lives, traditions as a community, and about the history of the land they lived on. We sampled a variety of new foods, such as gumbo shrimp and tomato grits, two different meals that I had never tried in Massachusetts. By the end of the road trip, I had experienced more in one week than I had in several months.

If I had known the specifics of this trip at the beginning, I would have viewed it as a nightmare. This vacation, however, was just what I needed to open my eyes to new experiences and to help me become more relaxed and observant. If it had not been for our early morning walks at the retreat, I never would have discovered my love for exploring nature. I still frequently take walks in Cold Spring Park, a local forest near my house. More importantly, this trip taught me to slow down. I have always been a person who approached my work with a level of intensity. After this week with my relatives, I learned the value of taking my time and absorbing my surroundings. I found that talking to locals was a richer experience than simply reading about their daily lives in a book. Next time Annie and Hart invite me on a road trip, I won’t hesitate to accept.


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