A Sign from Joshua Tree
Blogger: Donovan Dennis
I think it’s safe to say I’m having an “off” semester so far.
I reluctantly returned from the five week recess, and was greeted with a textbook-slam to the face by the reality that sometimes, college is hard. Even the best students find something they struggle with, especially when they start to take advanced classes and work on more comprehensive projects. If I’ve learned anything so far this semester, it’s been trying to rationalize and accept that the effort I put into my schoolwork sometimes isn’t reflected by the results that come out. That’s life, I guess. We can’t all be brilliant. I’ve never been bad at school (when I’ve actually tried), so failing homework assignments that I’d worked hard on was a fun new world for me to experience.
So here I am, almost a month into school, not wanting to be here, not wanting to do school work, working harder than I ever had just to get mediocre results (at best). Geology may be for jocks, but it certainly isn’t for the meek at heart. I don’t want to say it’s getting better, but I think I’ll pull through.
If you’ve lived in Southern California, watched Workaholics or Californication, or are a national parks enthusiast, you are probably familiar with Joshua Tree National Park. It’s this little oasis (I say oasis ironically, of course) of desert ecosystems about two hours east of Los Angeles… two days east in traffic. On a whim, a few friends and I decided to head out to the desert for a weekend to just get away from campus. We had no campsite reserved (yes, you have to reserve campsites in California), no firewood, no plan, and a smorgasbord of P B and J fixings, some cereal, eight apples, five bananas, a package of hot dogs, a gallon of milk, Cheez-Its, Ruffles, and a Santitas $2 jumbo bag. College camping as it was meant to be, am I right? On our way, we decided to camp on some BLM land (were there roads to it? would there be coyotes? we didn’t know…) and then drive into the park during the days.
Our first lucky strike came at 9:30pm Saturday night, when on our way to the BLM land we decided to poke through one of the official J-Tree campgrounds, Indian Cove, just in case someone didn’t show up for their reservation. This was a really really really long shot. As the National Park Service notes on their website, President’s Day weekend is the 4th of July of the desert, because the weather is actually mild enough that you won’t fry upon entry. So we drove through, woke up everyone with our headlights, and came around the final bend to discover not one, not two, but THREE open campsites in a secluded spot away from the rest of the campground. We checked the reservation cards… two were for Saturday night, one for the whole weekend. After much debate, we decided to stay and risk incurring the wrath of the E.L. family. Best night of sleep I can remember.
Our second stroke of luck was learning that President’s Day weekend is free everything for the National Park Service… so we didn’t have to pay for the site, or entry into the park every day. That was nice, although there were hoards of city folk either “hiking” in their lululemon pants and Nike trainers, or roughing it with their hipster beards and designer plaid *sigh*. We messed around in the park Sunday, all the while praying that the Hoy’s (the reservers of the campsite next door to us who hadn’t shown up the night before) either wouldn’t mind that we moved into their site, or wouldn’t show up at all. Having had substantial luck already, we weren’t counting on fate to smile upon us yet again. But that wily devil chance let us win one more round, and the Hoy’s failed to show up. I made a mental note to avoid the slots for a couple of months.
Our last really lucky break came when we realized that hot dogs roasted on sticks and eaten with sliced bread (not buns), Tiger Cooler ketchup packets, and salami is actually pretty good. Like really good. Especially after a day of traipsing around in the desert.
Long story short, we returned to campus, and I was actually glad to be back. Disappointed that I wouldn’t be falling asleep around a campfire, but glad nonetheless. In retrospect, the weekend was a metaphor, of sorts. Had I not come back this semester, I would have never had been able to take this great camping trip. In kindergarten rationale: much like being at Oxy allowed me to go camping, going to college will provide other awesome opportunities. You might scoff and call it a cheesy comparison, but having consistently failed almost every assignment (actually failed, not “I got a B + failed”), I needed a sign, no matter how small, that I was supposed to be here.
If you’ve read my entries before, you know that I don’t like to complain about the privilege of attending college, and I’m thankful every day for this education and the many people who paved the way for me to be here. But sometimes, in fact most times, college will challenge your self-worth. It will humble you, and force you to question your abilities. It’s easy to look on Facebook and see friends who aren’t in school, and despite what the high-brow set say, these kids aren’t destitute. Most aren’t selling drugs, and they aren’t all pregnant. It would be easy not to be here. So why do we do it? I’m not really sure. Maybe it’s to prove something to ourselves; maybe it’s with the hope that we will learn something; maybe it’s simply so we can get jobs. I suspect it’s different for everyone, and in the case of this recently-humbled author, I’m still trying to find my reason. But as it turns out, brilliant stars, redneck hotdogs, dirt, and good times are enough to remind us that it’s worth it, in the short-term at least.