June, July, August. They run together in my head: traversing mountaintops, skipping towards a yawning sunset, the electric shock to my system stepping into the snowmelt creek. Dry air and heavy head against my pillow.
For eleven weeks, I worked at a summer camp in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in Colorado. My senior year of high school had just ended, and looking at my life as a newly graduated not-quite-eighteen-year-old, my time at Bowdoin could not have felt farther away. I’d committed myself to this bounded reality, to the mountains I’d spent my childhood looking up at, to nearly three months spent in an alpine bubble with no shortage of hiking, so-hard-it-makes-your-stomach-hurt laughter and some of the most spectacular human beings I’d ever met.
Brisk, early fall winds and teary goodbyes meant mid-August. “I think I’m really going to miss the mountains here,” I remember saying to a friend—they had a certain familiarity after growing up in Colorado. I left camp, traveled back to my home in Denver and packed for college. A week later, I was in Maine, the Atlantic Ocean just three miles to my right.
My first encounter with the Maine landscape was a short story I read my sophomore year of high school: “So Many Chances” by Anthony Doerr.
In the story, nature functions as some infinite, reciprocal loop in which the protagonist gives herself up to the landscape as much as it gives itself up to her. Misty ocean and pine forest turned over in my head for a week. I’d think about it occasionally as high school drifted by—this otherworldly, arbitrary place that felt as mystic and inviting as my own home.
Suddenly I was standing on the dock of the Coastal Studies Center looking out at everything I’d read about. Forest behind me, ocean in front. I’d been busy with orientation and starting classes, and I felt like years had passed since I’d ascended some indiscernible peak deep in the Colorado wilderness, drawn into that loop with my surroundings. Jumping feet first into the ocean, I plunged myself back into it all. I watched the place I’d call home for the next four years of my life adopt the same familiarity I’d always relied on—a reflection on my short time here.
There’s beauty in watching the mountains unfold beneath you or squinting up at a coruscating blue sky while floating in the Atlantic. There’s a feeling you get from that that’s hard to find anywhere else. A new beginning, maybe. A promise that you’re here, enveloped in a landscape offering as many chances as Doerr’s story promises.