I was a jaded student from a New York City prep school, where the administration constantly told us that we were a community. But we weren't. The fierce competition for spots in top-tier colleges was one of the things that drove us apart. This is not a jab at my high school. I'm only telling you where I was coming from. So, when the c-word slipped out of Willard's mouth, I figured he was off his rocker.
Prior to my rendezvous with Chewonki, I was, to use a term Wendell Berry used in an article we read in English class that semester, an environmental sinner. I threw away soda cans when I wasn't close to a recycling bin; I left all the lights on in our apartment at night because I feared the dark; I wasted water when I did the dishes; and a favorite pastime was flushing my allowance away at the Westchester Mall.
Environmentalism was not a word I associated with myself or my interests. It was a word I associated with radicalism. It made me think of my mother, who carries Coke bottles home in her purse to recycle, and of Greenpeace, the group that tried to hijack the logging ships. Even though I didn't consider myself an environmentalist, I chose Chewonki because I needed to get away from my school, and I had heard from kids who had gone before me that it was an experience that could change lives.