By Margaret Rodgers
Stephen King once said that “books are a uniquely portable magic.” Although I agree that books and their stories can transport a reader to a faraway land, it can’t hurt to be in a beautiful and magical place to begin the journey.
I recently traveled to Mammoth, California, for a weeklong getaway before embarking on the upcoming adventure that is college. I had originally planned for hiking, rock climbing, and eating delicious food to be my sole activities, but I packed a book with me just in case the moment presented itself. Such a moment came on the second day of the trip, as I was leaving the cabin to go on a hike. I packed the necessities: water, sunscreen, a sweatshirt, and a bag of peanuts in case I ran into a hungry chipmunk. I then recalled that I still had some reading to catch up on in the Iliad, one of my assignments for my upcoming freshman year at St. John’s College. I put the book in my bag, just in case.
I drove to a beautiful hiking spot and started making my way up the trail. With each step, I became more overwhelmed by the splendor of the mountains and surrounding lakes. After about thirty minutes of hiking, I had reached my goal. It was then that I saw it: the large rock in the center of the plateau, which would be my reading spot. I was instantly reminded of a feeling I first had while attending the St. John’s Summer Academy last year in Annapolis.
I had been sitting on a bench on the Quad, reading a short story by Dostoyevsky, when I looked up from the text and felt a profound sense of calm. Not only was I reading a work of art, I was surrounded by one: the sun in a cloudless sky, the sound of rowers on College Creek, the whispers from a discussion taking place between other future Johnnies just feet away from me. I knew I was so lucky to be in this place. In that moment, everything was perfect.
It was this memory that prompted my immediate reach for the epic poem. I sat on the rock for over an hour, absorbing each line. I felt I could follow the story even more closely; I felt more a part of the story and the vast scenery Homer described. I was a part of the “winds East and South,” as they “explode[d] from the clouds” (II. 157-158).
Sitting on a rock in Mammoth, alone with nature and words, I knew more than ever that St. John’s College is the ideal place for me. Not only will I have the privilege of reading and discussing classics such as the Iliad, but I will be exploring them in a unique and classic setting—and I am ready for that journey to begin.
From an older alumni, please realize that it won’t always be this idyllic, but sometimes it very well might. Someone in seminar or at lunch during discussion will say something absolutely preposterous, but someone else will enlighten your soul. Listening to everyone may prove difficult; it certainly did for me. A quick remark while listening can be artful, while interrupting without listening can be corrosive. Again, from my vantage point 40 years out, and certainly not the brightest star in the firmament of what was my class, what a wonderful opportunity you have. Best of luck…
May you have many such moments over the course of your St. John’s education, and into the future! My most sublime experience was reading War and Peace on the dock at the bottom of Market Street, where I lived during my junior and senior years. It is a unique breed of happiness.