By Robert Castle
Through secret connections that I cannot disclose, I was lucky enough to get the chance to visit Deep Springs College and Ranch for the first week of my Spring Break.
The visit was originally planned to be brief: a stop on a longer camping and backpacking stint. But because one of our friends was swelling up every morning with what was diagnosed as idiopathic angioedema, we collectively decided that we should hold out on driving into Death Valley, far away from phone service, hospitals, and loved ones.
So instead we hung around and got the “Prospie” (prospective student) experience at Deep Springs. The school is small; they only accept around 15 new students each year. The curriculum is a 2-year program that incorporates labor, study, self-governance and isolation. The little ranch grows its own alfalfa and has pigs, cows, bulls, horses and chickens. There is a garden, and many families of staff and faculty populate the little community.
A common scene: Little kids excitedly running up to the Boarding House (Dining Hall) with a collection of bugs, Deep Springers playing soccer adroitly in the center of the campus, a group of cowboy-lookin’ guys shooting the sh*t: all nestled in the expansive skies and dirt-intensive mountains of Deep Springs Valley.
The stars are bright at night and can be comfortably seen from the top of the Dairy Barn, where students go each morning at 5 a.m. to collect the daily 7 gallons (!) that the school’s two dairy cows produce.
Deep Springs is unique largely because of its isolation from society; it is a long drive to the nearest town, Bishop, which itself is no L.A. Some of the students were disinterested in us as visitors; they kept to themselves and we didn’t bother them. Others were eager to hear about St. John’s and to discuss the merits of our respective schools.
I learned how to bake bread; I helped prepare meals with the school’s Kitchen Manager, Martha; I tagged along with Martin (from the Czech Republic) to feed all the horses, cows, pigs; I shared many hours-long conversations with people I never imagined I would have met.
Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to see their classrooms. But the spirit educational labor filled me up as soon as I arrived; ever since, I have been looking for opportunities to work and to learn by working.