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Final Site-Sit

hirakismail's picture

I decided I would observe Rhoads Pond this last time with my eyes closed. After the wonderful experience of "seeing" the campus with Carmen, I had the desire to do the same with my site-"sit."

It was unnerving! Especially the last part. The first part was still calm. I took a deep breath, dropped my bag, closed my eyes, and went. I had my hands in front of me. It was really pretty cold but I didn't want to wear my gloves because that would numb my sense of touch which I frankly couldnt' afford. Walking my site "blind" was a bit intimidating. I didn't have the reassurance of a 15 person class to hold onto. But I could go at my own pace which helped. The first place I reached was the tree I had initially chosen as my spot to sit in the beginning of the semester, the one situated right outside the pond fence. This whole endeavor was interesting because it was a place that I am so familiar with now visually. This was a test of that familiarity. As I felt the branches, I found it soothing to have something to hold onto. I surprised myself by knowing the shape of the tree pretty well. I reached up and grabbed onto branches I knew were there; as I slowly circled the tree I guessed the location of the bumps and the branches and knew when to duck underneath an overhanging part. I definitely leaned on it at one point, in a sort of hug. I was able to recognize where the extra growth was and use that to orient myself when I started leaving the tree to walk toward the fence. 

As I stepped slowly, I realized and felt more clearly the decline of the ground. I usually take that for granted, but here I was so aware of it. I needed to be so I wouldn't fall. When I reached the fence my eyes flew open when I heard a rustle, thinking I might have encountered an animal or that someone was behind me, but I closed them quickly. This happened a total of 3 times throughout my walk. It was an involuntary reaction to danger. I felt like it was my body's way of being like "What are you doing?!" when I felt in danger; it didn't make sense to my body to voluntarily shut off one of my senses when I felt I needed to protect myself.

I walked along the fence, parallel to it, occasionally reaching out to touch it to orient myself. The second point at which I opened my eyes all of a sudden is when I touched the wiring of the fence and it throbbed. I must have pulled on it too hard for it to react like that, but it startled me, it felt like a heartbeat! I knew I'd be encountering a second and smaller young pine tree soon, so I kept my right hand out to my side in preparation. When I finally reached it I touched the pines and felt amazed and soothed; these were so incredibly soft, a detail I had never known. I'd never thought to touch it before. I took a moment to take the pines and run them across my cheeks. The pines were probably new, young; the tree was probably in its process of regrowth. I bent underneath the pines, using them as a map to guide me as I continued across the fence. I needed to find the section of the fence that was broken so I could step across it. I found that and stepped slowly and carefully over it, trying to avoid being scratched by the wire on the fence. What I found most fascinating thus far was how slow this was all going. I had really forced myself to slow down and experience by simply closing my eyes. The feeling of engagement with the surroundings was profound.

Letting go of the wire fence and walking forward was where it started to get unnerving. My 2 biggest fears once I got inside the fence--walking/falling into the water and being confronted with a mouse/snake I couldn't see. For once, I didn't feel very scared of encountering bugs or insects. I just had this overwhelming fear of accidentally stepping on something that was going to retaliate badly. So I definitely started praying to be spared that. I could feel the difference between the wet leaves piled up under my feet and those that were dry; they crackled differently. I had my cold cold hands out in front of me when I found a branch. This was incredibly exciting: something to hold onto, a being I could trust. I was so excited in fact that in the process of swaying the branch in order to feel which way the tree was situated, I broke off a piece. It was brittle and came off into my hand. As I continued to feel the branches, I realized that this one was already free of most of its leaves, but I ended up feeling silly and destructive anyways. I decided I needed to slow down more and use the branches as my lifeline. I wanted to get to the trunk of this tree, but I was afraid of going the wrong direction and veering off into the cold water. As I had class in roughly another 15 minutes, and would not have time to change pants, this was not an exciting prospect. What was complicated about this portion was the contrasting experiences my hands and feet were having. I had the dead branch in one hand, brandishing it at all the imaginary snakes in front of me and more reasonably using it to feel how much longer I had to get to this trunk, while my feet were feeling both wet and dry leaves and some spiny growth that was cropping up along the path. I was worried I was going to end up walking into something with spines and be injured. Fear escalated as I stopped being able to differentiate between the rustling I was causing and any possible imaginary extra creatures crawling around. During one of these moments (in addition to being scratched by a branch suddenly) my eyes came open again and this time I kept them open. I was amazed at which spot of the pond I had ended up on. Paying such close attention to the tree itself, I wasn't thinking about where I was standing in relation to the pond. This tree was at the center, near the stone bridge. Near my feet was a thicket of spiny plant growth, that I would have probably hurt myself on if I had gone any further. Looking back to see how far the branch stretched, I saw I had felt my way about halfway through. It was extremely long, and I paused feeling a bit blown away by the entire experience and also happy that I had almost made it to the trunk. It had been so engaging and I was so in tune with the tree and the ground and the fence and the grass and the leaves. I had to be.

My next step was to walk over to the start of the bridge with my eyes open, and then close them as I began the walk across. After taking once step, I decided it was a bad idea to try to do this on only two limbs. I crouched down then and began to use my hands to feel the width of the bridge and gauge how much space I had to move on without falling into the pond. Then I began this weird sord of amble using my hands and feet, still to the ground and began moving like that, being careful to not let the wire cut into my hands. I found it comforting to use my hands to walk, I was practically walking in a yogic "downward dog" position. Just dropping my eyesight led to an entirely different use of my body. When I did this for a while, I slowly got up, hands in front of me for balance and walked very very slowly across. I came to a rise that I certainly had not either noticed earlier or not noticed at all, and this rise, with my eyes closed, meant to my nervous mind a serious loss of balance, so my eyes flew open for the third and last time. Quickly closing them almost immediately, I climbed over this slight rise and continued, realizing that there probably were more of them every so often on this structured bridge. Sure enough, there was another one a couple steps down. This time I had to squeeze my eyes harder to make sure they didn't open, but I hurt my ankle in this process and yelped. I continued walking slowly gaining more confidence--then my phone alarm went off. The one I'd put on so I could remember to go to class. So I opened my eyes and quietly stood out on the middle of this bridge I had just crossed, halfway with my eyes closed and just appreciated the colors. I heard the geese to my right and saw the water which looked more greenish and almost dusty. I thought for the first time then how strange I might have looked throughout this entire process to someone who didn't have context.

It was strange, so strange. I crossed the bridge easily now with my eyes open to the small island in the middle of the pond and kept looking at the water, seeing the many many leaves which had fallen and piled up inside. There was slight foam in one of the sections of the water as well, and everything was so green. I was left feeling very strange. I don't know how to explain it exactly. I felt very full very shaken up but intact and full. If the walk with Carmen in class left me feeling thankful trusting of my classmates, this left me thankful of the pond and all its inhabitants. The trees, the leaves, the sound of the wind, everything that guided, scratched, scared me. I had to depend on it consciously, become aware of its affects. Without the trees to hold and the rocks to touch and the very ground to crouch and take a breather on, I would have nothing to hang onto. Walking without sight can feel like floating; all the aspects of Rhoads Pond became my anchors, and I was oh so grateful. It had been a communication that I haven't had before, haven't accessed, haven't thought about. There was something about the action of going on my hands and knees on the bridge that made me feel connected, like I was reaching for something.

I want to do this again. With a longer timeblock. I had planned out approximately 25 minutes for this activity before going to a class, with the thought that I wouldn't be able to handle much longer than that by myself. Which was true; at the third tree beside the pond, I was waiting desperately for the alarm to go off so I could open my eyes. But by the time I had gotten scratched and had to confront some of the fears that came with closing my eyes, I wanted more. I walked to class then very quietly, not taking out my phone to check text messages but instead walking ahead overwhelmed. It felt good to admit to myself that I was unnerved and scared, because my decision to keep on going despite these hesitations not only made me feel stronger, but made my trust and dependence on the plants and rocks etc. around me stronger. I developed a relationship.

I think I will try this again, eyes closed, for an hour and use it to kickstart my final web paper project, which will be a series of poems. That feeling, that indescribable feeling I had when I opened my eyes after such a long time, I wonder whether I can begin to express it, just a little bit better, through poetry.