From the Alums: Sam Hinkley on his Fall Semester

by Jake Lewis
February 05, 2019

 The author at work on his canoe paddle
The author at work on his canoe paddle

Reflections grant us a perspective on that to which we are too close to see on our own.

Hearing from Sam Hinkley, Fall ‘18, in this essay regarding his gap experience wraps several reflections into one: Sam reflecting on what his semester here meant to him, and us reflecting on the possibilities of gap time. May you enjoy reading this as much as I did!

Glen Brook — The Final Piece?
by Sam Hinkley

How has my experience at Glen Brook been? To say that it was incredible would be a total understatement. To call it life changing would be equally meaningless.

Life changing is defined by Cambridge dictionary as “ having an effect that is strong enough to change someone’s life”. Aren’t all our experiences life changing? We constantly change our life. When we put on our clothes in the morning we change the course of our life, when we skip breakfast we change how our life will be. Yet, we would never use the term “life changing” to describe putting on clothes or skipping breakfast.

We use the term “life changing” to describe something that was profound in our lives, but the term just doesn’t have the weight that I would like to give to the time at Glen Brook. One of the greatest ideas that I learned here at Glen Brook is that our words have weight, and that we should be conscious of what we say in order to become people of consequence. I would rather call my time at Glen Brook Illuminating. Maybe the Sam who came to Glen Brook 2 Months and 2 weeks ago wouldn’t hesitate to use the term “life changing” when describing how he thought he would feel when Glen Brook would draw to a close, but I don’t think the weight of that term would be totally understood by him.

Illuminate is defined by Random House Webster’s College dictionary as : 1. To supply with light or to brighten up, 2. To make lucid ; clarify, 4. To Enlighten. I would say that all of those definitions work well with my belief that my time at Glen Brook was Illuminating. My time at Glen Brook shone light on pieces of myself that I didn’t know were there before getting here. I learned more about myself, and honed in my beliefs, clarifying who I believe I am. Without a doubt I feel enlightened, I know so much more about every part of life than I did before coming here. The wind certainly smells sweeter, and the grass seems greener all around as I prepare to leave Glen Brook.

 Sam emerging from his debris hut, built in anticipation of his 24-hour solo
Sam emerging from his debris hut, built in anticipation of his 24-hour solo

One of the most profound pieces of my experience at Glen Brook was my solo. Being on solo was one of the best experiences of my whole life. Staying up all day and all night long around a fire, with nothing but my thoughts was a massive awakening for me. The greatest part about the solo was the simplicity of it. Sitting around a fire, thinking, keeping it going. Feeding the fire wood, fuel,  as it feeds me warmth, and comfort. So simple, but so complex as well. I could think about my solo for hours and find new ways that it tells me something about myself. I thought about language, and the solo’s lack thereof. I wondered about how people 10,000 years ago sat around fires and spoke to one another. I contemplated why fire is so essential and so universal as a symbol to all people. I struggled to understand what we were like without fire. Were we even Human? Is fire what sets us apart from the other creatures we share this world with? But then I started to wonder about my wonder-ings. Could I ever have had those thoughts or ideas sitting at home surrounded by comfort and luxury, the likes of which have not been seen in Human history? Sometimes you need to get out and into the cold to start the real fire, and I believe that my fire was started at my solo, and has not yet gone out.

 At work with the horses
At work with the horses

Recently my thoughts have turned to the past, and I think about what I was like before coming to Glen Brook. I think about the Ship of Theseus. If you build a boat, and all the parts of a boat are replaced, is it still the same boat you first built? When I came to Glen Brook, I did not know nearly as much as I do now. I didn’t know much about Permaculture in practice, I didn’t know much about eco-philosophy, and I didn’t much about the deeper more real relationship to the Earth. So I wonder, now that I know more about these ideas and practices, am I still the same person who came to Glen Brook months ago? If you refine and replace the ideas that make up a person, is that still the same person?

Something that constantly controls our lives today is time. Everything is based around time. How long is that going to take, when will that be done, what time is our thing? We have built a society that is so obsessed with time, that we can’t stop and take a break. That is what I love about Glen Brook. Glen Brook is a place out of time. Not to mean that at Glen Brook time doesn’t move, or that at Glen Brook time moves differently, but meaning that Glen Brook is one of the few places where you are able to step back and look “in” at time. Being at Glen Brook allowed me to take a look at my past from a perspective that I was unable to see before I got here. I have not had more concise and concrete meditations looking back on my life so far, than the first time I went out into the Glen Brook woods alone. It was as if I had entered another world. The air of the forest and the sounds of the streams allowed me to step out of time and look in. But this doesn’t just happen in the Glen Brook forest, this happens in the whole of Glen Brook. It was this feeling of being outside of time that truly made me feel illuminated during my time at Glen Brook. I will stick by my definition of Glen Brook as illuminating, and I hope that I always remember my time here as such.

 the Fall ‘18 cohort at the summit of our neighbor mountain, Mt. Monadnock
the Fall ‘18 cohort at the summit of our neighbor mountain, Mt. Monadnock

A great goal that is established in the first few days of arriving at Glen Brook is to become a “person of consequence”. I would argue that it is excruciatingly difficult to become a person of consequence anywhere else. The reason that people at Glen Brook are people of consequence, is because Glen Brook is a place of consequence. Just as the people of Glen Brook know what they are putting in the soil when they farm, or where their water comes from (well, maybe not everyone) and the effects that what they do has on the world, the place of Glen Brook knows what it gives back to the people. The people of Glen Brook chop down trees to make more room for their cattle, but the cattle fertilize the field, and the wood burning adds nutrients to the soil. This idea ties into the entire concept of beings of consequence. That we are all beings of consequence, whether we like it or not. What we do has consequences for everything around us. That responsibility is not a easy burden to bear, but it has to be borne anyway. We the gappers made a list of what aggravates us about the world in our applications, and it took me two months, but I can finally say that I understand the way to fix the world is to be the best person of consequence you can be. If we start there, we might just get to the “fixing” part, and not the “salvaging what we can” part. To end in true Glen Brook fashion, I would like to ask, “what befell a people whereby they had to strive with all their might to be persons of consequence?”