Some reflections from our annual fall retreat trip to the Catskills:
Despite only being just past the halfway point of my sophomore year, I already know that I will graduate saying the Edwards Collective 2023 fall retreat was one of the highlights of my Princeton experience. One thing to say from the start is that the house itself was amazing (even though I think my room was haunted); it was so spacious when we first got there, but in the end, it was the perfect amount of space for each of us to hang out in whatever ways we chose to. Even when I was just in the same room reading with my headphones in, I enjoyed hearing others’ laughs and I was comforted by the presence of good people. The walk to the bakery was definitely one of my favorite parts of the trip because I got to know each of the people who went just a little bit better. Plus, I’ll spend the rest of my life missing that s’mores latte.
In general, I’m someone who’s usually drained after being around people for just a day, especially when I don’t know them that well. So three days, with people who I’d only really “met” at orientation? I was anxious, to say the least. I’m pretty sure I thought up just about every possibility and situation where something could’ve gone wrong…but what I forgot to think about, was everything that could- and did- go right. And when asked at the end of the trip by another Lemon, “Why do you think you walked away from this trip feeling energized?” I was left to ponder. I think there are many answers to that question, but the most striking realization I had was that this group of people had to be pretty special to flip something that’s essentially a huge part of who I am. I remember at dinner the final night, Ipsita asked what all of our current projects were. I was listening to everyone talk and all I could think was, “Gosh, I’m surrounded by such talented and amazing people.” Normally, I’d feel kind of inferior to everyone else’s accomplishments, but it was clear that everyone was not bragging in the fashion Princeton students sometimes do, rather they were just proud and genuinely excited to talk about the art they’re currently working on or involved in. It was truly the first time I felt like I belonged with a group of people at Princeton, and that genuinely thrills me because this is exactly what I hoped for from the Edwards Collective.
The scenery was something straight out of a novel. From the backyard, we could see mist clouding the mountain range, mixing with the reds, oranges, greens and yellows of the trees to create deliciously mysterious shades. The air we breathed was young and light. It was quiet.
We were secluded, together. Outside was a wide expanse of world, tingling with threats of winter, but inside, the hearth fire crackled heartily. We curled ourselves around it’s heat, snuggled into couches and cushions and conversation. There was thick soup to be made and dough to be kneaded. There was always, somehow, room for another chair around the wooded table. We lingered after meals for hours. In long hours under a gray sky, we made nooks of company.
Tucked up in that old house, time became a gift we lavished each other with over games of chess and slices of pecan pie. Somewhere out there, we knew time worked differently. It was withering green things and ushering in the biting frost. But in here we were protected. We were wrapped in long lazy hours. Nothing here existed except for us. Us and the warmth of the fire we always kept going.
In my and Daniel’s astrobiology class, our professor told us that if something huge and unexpected—think, meteor—were heading toward Earth, we would have a warning time of about five seconds. I have been sharing this fun and sobering fact with everyone I know and asking them to guess the time. On the walk to Five Kids Bake House, which is in Gilbertsville which is in Butternuts, no one got it (technically, Daniel spoiled it and asked people before I did, so a few people got it). I got a pear-ginger-brown sugar latte, Sydney’s drink had these two huge ice cubes that took up the entire cup, and Corey and I were wearing the same shoes. As we walked back, I asked Harit if I could try his cardamom latte and burnt my tongue.
A more successful question was “What is one aspect of your dream home?”, which we talked about when we were sitting in the circle waiting for the bus to come, to which Max responded “an endless house.”
“Endless in what way?”
“As in it keeps going on and on and there’s always more.”
“So like—big like this house?”
“No, I figured this one out. Big as in there are just always more rooms.”
“What would you do with all that space?”
“It’s okay if it stays empty.”
I nodded. I tried to remember the name of that bridge that twisted around in the air like it was made of rubber before snapping. Rosie informed me that I was thinking of the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge (no casualties). Right, right. The bus didn’t come for another hour and Molly said her house would have a turret.
On the second night, I had a vivid dream that there was a tsunami coming towards New York City and Princeton. I was on the wall of the Met doing an obstacle course, and I was four stories off the ground. If I got to the end of the obstacle course, I could find out where I was allowed to evacuate to. I almost fell, once, and people below me looked up in shock. In real life, I may have accidentally kicked Molly at this point (sorry Molly). When I finished the obstacle course, I was on the train back to Princeton, where I had to evacuate to Forbes’s second basement. To get there, I had to walk through Head of Forbes Professor Maria Garlock’s Easter pool party.
Throughout the trip, I was reading an experimental, fragmenty-vignette book by Patricia Lockwood called “No One is Talking About This.” This kind of writing had the potential to make everything outside of the book a bit weird, like the Halloween decorations, which didn’t, in the end, matter that much, but definitely kept me alert. No, weird were the bus rides, which were good but disorienting, like moving from Gilgamesh to being flipped off by the driver of an 18-wheeler and then cows and jumping over Misha’s sleeping body on the bus and cows again.
At pizza the first night, I was sitting next to this stranger, and we made eye contact and burst out laughing. We hadn’t met each other but were deeply afraid after our sole encounter – I had picked up her phone in the bathroom when she dropped it a few weeks earlier. In the introductions, Sydney said her name was Sydney. I await “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” The last night, Sydney and I realized her room was haunted and also called “The Nursery.” I did not fit into the child’s rocking chair at the end of her bed, so I sat on her bed and the spirit moved us to gossip. One week later, I have finally extracted her “Bring It On” performance dates.
Everything outside of the bus and the book felt right and slow and cozy. I sat at a red picnic table and wrote a card to my grandma: “I am sitting at a red picnic table and looking out at soft and gentle mountains – no, that’s too generous. Hills.” Inside, I sat on the couch and Molly was writing a play and Daniel was writing a play and Teddy was reading that impossibly large book and outside Corey was painting at the red picnic table.
I spent good time making: lists, cookies, train ticket purchases, short stories, pasta, cookies, friends, soup, decisions about my favorite pie. I considered the implications of this choice—what would it really say about me if I went off to school in the great northeast of our country and came back with this idea of avocado pie? My parents are really, really into pie. My mom is turning 50 next week and I will order Blue Ribbon Pies: 75 of the Most Mouthwatering, Award-Winning Recipes from America’s State, County, and Local Fairs and break the new second-favorite pie news. Eating the avocado pie was like watching synchronized swimming in the Olympics. At first, what? Then, God, how does that work? Then, wow, could I sit here forever watching this happen? Then oh my God, I haven’t breathed in thirty seconds? But chocolate pecan pie is watching Katie Ledecky and it’s just a different pool altogether. A pool that Ipsita is dipping her toes into, clearly.
Ipsita, I look forward to the Olympic trials. Peter, your email was not too aggressive. And Edwards, boy am I grateful.
A change of scene was what I needed during fall break, and what better scenery than the fall foliage of the Catskills. Even as I spent my first full day indoors, I soaked in the view from the dining room table, which rendered the window a work of art. And that second morning, I took full advantage of the walk to and from the coffee shop to enter and enjoy the natural beauty of the mountains. The orange leaves were a welcome escape from the Orange Bubble.
Inside the house, I found warmth and comfort that assuaged the stress of my impending applications. While I could not afford to retreat from my work, I was still able to rest and rejuvenate in the time I spent getting to know my fellow Lemons. The “three on a couch” activity remains one of my favorite icebreakers, and the crackle of the fireplace this time around only added to the inviting, intimate atmosphere. Each breakfast table conversation and pie degustation brought us all closer together, and I look forward to continuing our food-based gatherings back on campus in our biweekly brunches.