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Let's build a fort

By Hadley Barndollar, Staff Writer
I began my experience at UNH in the woods. College Woods, that is.
As May appears and the dusty air of an unraveling summer rolls in, the days dwindle down to when I’ll be given senior status, marking the start of my fourth and final year in Durham. And in the midst of this horrifying revelation, I can’t help but reminisce about a certain simplicity for which my mind lusts. I hear the hum of the crickets, I feel the heaviness of late August air on my skin. Dry sticks crackle beneath my feet. It’s back to the woods. Back to where it all began.
For those of you that have been there, you’ll laugh at the following: It was in 2012 when my four best guy friends and I built the infamous fort in College Woods. Made of hundreds of logs and sticks, the fort stands tall, with enough room inside for at least five people, probably eight if you squeezed. We slept five people inside comfortably. I can stand up inside of it without hitting my head.
It might as well be a forest castle.
Dozens and dozens of hours of manual labor went into its build. Typically I’d sit and watch, as the boys dirtied their hands and acoustic music played from a phone speaker resting on a nearby tree stump.
This was nothing new to me. I had been one of the boys my whole life.
We spent countless days and nights at this hidden location in the middle of Durham’s woods. They say we don’t know what we’ve got until it’s gone. But I can honestly say that in these moments, I recognized this feeling. I knew it wouldn’t leave me.
I hadn’t been to the fort all year, and I went back last Friday. I smiled at the paper log that still remains, containing signatures and messages from any passersby who wish to leave his or her mark. Dozens and dozens of people have done so. At one time, colorful clothing hung from the trees above; our way of decorating. A “patio” once existed outside of the fort, with log seating and a communal fire pit. Many times we’d bring our guitars, sounding the ring of metallic strings into the night sky. Now, the surroundings are more barren. But I see the memories.
So much has changed since then. I’ve changed so much. I was an eighteen-year-old undeclared major whose biggest concern was how we’d score a thirty rack for the weekend from an upperclassman. My parents became concerned with my excessive wearing of flannel shirts and my growing, nomadic ways. And yet, so many things still remain the same. My flannel fixation surely hasn’t changed.
Perhaps this is the stillness that we resort back to, the moments of peace and absence of overwhelming responsibility.
And no, I’m not saying that I lived in the woods for my freshman year. I’m saying it was a destination for us, whether it was 3 a.m. during the Nemo Blizzard (yes, this did happen) or a place to de-stress after an exam. I made some of the best memories of my life at this place with those boys. I’ve always wanted to articulate this the right way, but I’m realizing now that I don’t have to. The bond I’ve shared with that place and those people doesn’t need to be given a name.
I’m the last one of my friends to turn 21. As much as I look forward to experiencing the much talked about bar life, I know there will still be nights in the midst of an alcohol-fused chaos that I’ll long for the feeling of a smoky outdoor fire and the simple joys of intelligent conversation under a starry sky. Something away from the chaos.
And that was exactly what we found freshman year. A place off-campus, away from the noise, where we came to know ourselves. It was these nights I found myself contemplating the greatest questions of my life.
And so, I’ll wait for the night next year in which I know will come. The five of us will be leaning up against the bar, sipping our weak drinks and circling the room with our eyes.
One of them will say, “Let’s go to the fort.”
And even as a senior, at twenty-one, I will remember the connotation that comes with that phrase and the thought of a late summer afternoon when I was just discovering myself.
Follow Hadley on Twitter: @hbarndollar

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