Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Light in the Woods

I came across this image while I was perusing a Tumblr site and it brought back a vivid memory from four decades ago that I thought I'd share.

When I was a sophomore at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, I lived in the Honors College dormitory.  This dorm (along with nine other newly constructed dormitories) had been completed just one year earlier, so they were highly prized places to live on campus.  Instead of sharing a room with a roommate in an old, brick dorm, the Honors College dorm rooms were singles arranged in modules, with six private rooms opening onto a central common living/socializing space with a shared bathroom.

Though the dorm's amenities were new and posh, the real draw for me was that the dormitories had been built on (what was then) the edge of campus.  Furthermore, they were located on the floodplain of the Hocking River, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had recently diverted into a deep, new rip-rapped channel designed to move floodwaters away from Athens as quickly as possible.  Nevertheless, the dorm builders recognized that the river inevitably would flood, so all of the dorms were on stilts, and were connected to one another by walkways raised 20 feet off the ground.
The new Hocking River channel
My dorm room faced the river channel and the dark, forested hills on the opposite bank.  Getting over to those hills to explore required either (1) driving a car (which I didn't have at the time) or my bike about two miles upstream, crossing a bridge, and then driving down the road at the base of the hills on the opposite side of the river, or (2) fording the newly completed river channel, which most of the time was shallow enough to wade, though the bottom was sucking mud - really great fun, actually!  I used to love to go exploring the woods on the opposite side of the river.

One night, I was in my dorm room looking out the window and thought I noticed a small, dim light in the woods across the river.  The light disappeared, then reappeared.  This sequence occurred several times. I was entranced and decided to investigate.  I couldn't wade the river in the dark (even I'm not that stupid), so I made the long trek across the bridge to the other side of the river, keeping my eye on the dim light all the while.  I finally got to a point where I could leave the road and head into the woods.

There, in a small clearing, was a scruffy young man with a ratty backpack huddled over a tiny fire.  He probably wasn't much younger than I (who was 20 years old at the time).   I'm certain that I must have surprised and startled him as I appeared out of the gloom.  To this day, I don't recall anything about this young man, though I'm sure he was either hitchhiking or homeless. In any case, I invited this kid to come back to my dorm room with me and to sleep on my floor for the night, and he assented.  When I woke up in the morning, he was gone - and he didn't take a single thing from my room.

Nowadays, I wouldn't even consider doing such a thing - and I probably shouldn't have back then, either.  At the very least, he could have robbed me (but how much money could a lower-middle-class student have to steal?) and or/beaten me up.  Foolish, naive, innocent youth.


Carolyn H said...

Scott: Good story and I love the image, too!

packrat said...

Your simple act of kindness to that young stranger may have been paid forward countless times over the past four decades, Scott.

I didn't know you attended Ohio U. Good school, beautiful campus. I only got to see it once. I went to Kent State before entering the navy, then returned to finish up at Youngstown State on the G.I. Bill.

Scott said...

Thank you, Carolyn. I loved the image, too, which is probably why it inspired this memory.

Scott said...

Packrat: I was thinking about how I had probably invited a serial killer into my room, and you were thinking that I may have done a selfless deed. What an interesting juxtaposition of world views, huh?

When I was in high school, I borrowed my family's station wagon and six of my friends and I drove the 3+ hours from the Cleveland suburbs to Athens. We were smitten with the beautiful campus in the Appalachians (and the fact that we were quite a way away from our parents, I'm sure). Most of the kids in that car ended up enrolling at Ohio University.

My mother wanted me to enroll at Cleveland State so that I could live at home and save money--that was NOT an option as far as I was concerned. OU was the right fit for me all around.

Kent State would have been satisfactory; my niece just graduated from KSU. I've only been to Youngstown two times in my life--both of which were to run a footrace in a large park in the city--so I can't comment about Youngstown State.

Mark P said...

Ah, youth! We can be awfully trusting when we're young. It was a generous thing to do. I agree with packrat. I wonder how many times that simple act of kindness has been remembered through the years.

Scott said...

Like I said, Mark, I don't remember much about the kid--maybe he was a stoner who wouldn't remember the evening after he left my dorm. Or, maybe he still has good thoughts. We'll never know.

robin andrea said...

This is such a wonderful memory. We are so full of trust when we are young. It is a good thing the innocence of youth was not shattered by a bad experience. I like the idea of how often this act of kindness has been paid forward. We don't pick up hitchhikers or bring strangers home, but do sometimes give someone a bit of money in hopes they'll get a good meal. Lovely image too.

Scott said...

The image is what "got" me in the first place, Robin Andrea. My wife Kali called me soon after she arrived at work on Tuesday morning to relate an incident that occurred while she was on her way into the city. Kali was stopped at a traffic signal where she was approached by an elderly African American woman. The woman said "I am not a bum, and I really need some money. Can you help me?" Kali politely declined, but was upset and called me to ask me what I thought she should have done. I told her that I probably would have done just what she did, but we've both been giving the incident a lot of thought ever since. We're not rich, but we're undoubtedly better off than this woman, and we wouldn't even notice a donation of a few dollars. It sounds like you might have given her some money.

packrat said...

Regarding giving money to people or not giving, Scott, I have gone both ways. In part I believe it's a situational thing. Within the past six months I have chosen to give money to one guy and deny it to another in the very same shopping center parking lot.

The first guy approached me hesitantly, respectfully detailed his situation--that he was down on his luck and needed money to feed his daughter and wife (he nodded over his shoulder to where they stood outside a beat-up vehicle--and apologized for bothering me. I gave him a few dollars.

The other guy was panhandling. I saw him trying his luck with other people before he approached me while I was putting groceries into my car. As he grew near--before he even had a chance to speak--I said, "No." And then I did a nutty thing: I said, "I'm sorry."

Who can say if I read the situation correctly, though? Perhaps the respectful guy was nothing more than a grifter, an articulate one who knew how to work a scam. And the second man truly was down on his luck, but had no real verbal skills.

Scott said...

I completely agree with you, Packrat. The common wisdom is that donors should contribute to established organizations that help the needy (like soup kitchens and homeless shelters) and not give money directly to a person on the street. But, sometimes it's not that cut-and-dried, is it? Thanks for your thoughts (since they pretty much reflect mine, too).