Stephen King once said that “books are a uniquely portable magic.” Although I agree that books and their stories can transport a reader to a faraway land, it can’t hurt to be in a beautiful and magical place to begin the journey.
I recently traveled to Mammoth, California, for a weeklong getaway before embarking on the upcoming adventure that is college. I had originally planned for hiking, rock climbing, and eating delicious food to be my sole activities, but I packed a book with me just in case the moment presented itself. Such a moment came on the second day of the trip, as I was leaving the cabin to go on a hike. I packed the necessities: water, sunscreen, a sweatshirt, and a bag of peanuts in case I ran into a hungry chipmunk. I then recalled that I still had some reading to catch up on in the Iliad, one of my assignments for my upcoming freshman year at St. John’s College. I put the book in my bag, just in case.
I drove to a beautiful hiking spot and started making my way up the trail. With each step, I became more overwhelmed by the splendor of the mountains and surrounding lakes. After about thirty minutes of hiking, I had reached my goal. It was then that I saw it: the large rock in the center of the plateau, which would be my reading spot. I was instantly reminded of a feeling I first had while attending the St. John’s Summer Academy last year in Annapolis.
I had been sitting on a bench on the Quad, reading a short story by Dostoyevsky, when I looked up from the text and felt a profound sense of calm. Not only was I reading a work of art, I was surrounded by one: the sun in a cloudless sky, the sound of rowers on College Creek, the whispers from a discussion taking place between other future Johnnies just feet away from me. I knew I was so lucky to be in this place. In that moment, everything was perfect.
It was this memory that prompted my immediate reach for the epic poem. I sat on the rock for over an hour, absorbing each line. I felt I could follow the story even more closely; I felt more a part of the story and the vast scenery Homer described. I was a part of the “winds East and South,” as they “explode[d] from the clouds” (II. 157-158).
Sitting on a rock in Mammoth, alone with nature and words, I knew more than ever that St. John’s College is the ideal place for me. Not only will I have the privilege of reading and discussing classics such as the Iliad, but I will be exploring them in a unique and classic setting—and I am ready for that journey to begin.