Friday, November 04, 2011

Challenge 3: Place

I have challenged my students to write a college application essay of at least 300 words every day for 30 days, working off a long list of essay topics. Below is one of my attempts. (Note from the future: Out of about 50 students, 22 actually completed it. I tried but gave up after 18 days.)

#59: Discuss how a specific place can be used to help illustrate your personality.

Every day, I walk my dog to Mt. Hermon Flat. It's quite easy to find (although, really, I hope you won't bother): Walk out the back door of Oakville Terrace and through our backyard; turn left (don't forget to close the gate so the cows won't come in) and walk up the road for about 40 meters; make a sharp right past the gate that announces the "Winterline Centre [sic] for the Arts" and make your way up the steep and rocky path; and as you reach the top, look around you: behind you is Mt. Hermon, an old missionary home/former student dormitory/current staff apartment (don't worry, the residents can't see you from there, and they are rarely outside anyway so you won't see or hear them either); below to the right you might see, through the trees, our house, smoke drifting out the chimney; ahead of you is a rectangular open space about 15 meters wide and 40 meters long; to the left is a wooded valley, some hills, and off in the distance, peaking through the morning gloaming, are the peaks of the Himalaya. The deodar trees above sway gently in the breeze. Further up is the clear sky, punctuated by one star hanging on. In the grass near the edge that overlooks the mountain range is a small clay cup and saucer -- the cup has some flower petals inside and the saucer some sugar and a coin. Try not to disturb these. Someone has been here recently to do a puja ceremony to the local deity. The deity, by the way, must be around you, surrounding you, overwhelming you, but don't expect to see a small altar or flashing neon lights.

You might think that "Flat" is an odd name for this place. There isn't much flat space. If you walk ahead, the ground rolls around you; you take three steps up a small embankment and are surrounded by new trees and scrub; you skip over a boulder and watch your footing on the narrow gravel path, or you may tumble down a very steep khud, down the steep ravine.

There is so much for the dog to investigate. His tail curls high above him and his nose rarely leaves the ground as he scampers from tree to rock to fallen wood rose. What does he sense? What was here last night? Certainly no humans; this is one place that is relatively free of footprints and litter. Perhaps a leopard? You've never seen one, but you hear stories. Perhaps jackals? There were two on the path in front of the house last week. The dog freezes, paw up, pointing, before charging into the brush. An explosion of feathers startles you; three mountain quail take flight as the dog yelps in excitement. Or perhaps it's distress; he so desperately wants to catch one. You can't help it, you laugh.

You can pause here on Mt. Hermon Flat, watch the mountains absorb the morning light, reflect on the possibilities of life and beauty. It's a solitary spot, yet it's so close to home. Whistle to the dog and the neighbors can hear.

I hope you don't ever visit. I don't want you to spoil it. But I do want to share this place with you. I want you to experience the beauty and tranquility. Perhaps tonight? You don't want to miss seeing the clouds around the mountains burst into color -- from white to pink to many shades of red to gray. It lasts a few minutes. Don't bother bringing a camera; you can't capture this. Any of it.

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