Exactly one week ago, I found myself sitting silently in a dark Western Connecticut cabin in the middle of the night. Six teenagers sat cross-legged around me, a freshly brewed college senior, saying one thing they liked about me, each of them gently patting my back or massaging a hand. Lest you be concerned, I should explain that it was my turn in a game called “Warm and Fuzzies,” a team building exercise more common to the grey cubicles of Corporate America than to the green fields of rural Connecticut.
It was the final night of Harvest — the pre-orientation program where incoming freshmen are plopped onto organic farms to weed fields and camp out for a week — and everyone took a turn in the center of this strange circle, receiving gentle taps and treacly compliments. We were readying ourselves for the Camp Yale awaiting us back in New Haven.
Harvest is one of my favorite times of the year, mostly for its peculiar rituals and regulations, Warm Fuzzies being one of many. For one, phones are seized on the bus ride to the farm to enforce a live-in-the-moment atmosphere. It is always “Harvest time,” as no watches are allowed. Along similar lines, questions about college are gently extinguished with responses like, “You’ll have four years to talk about Yale,” with the understanding that school will happen when it happens, and there’s no need to fret. Everyone anonymously shares their “hopes and fears” on the first night of the trip, and the fears of upperclassman leaders are frequently indistinguishable from those of freshmen.
Of course, there are a lot of games to pass the time, as fieldwork can get tedious. This year, the group of freshmen I was with powered through fields of Brussels sprouts and assorted peppers, all the while playing word games and deconstructing brainteasers. And there was plenty of singing to fill each other’s ears with the beautiful harmony of unnoticeably off-key voices. Days ended with a dip in the pond, a meal procured from a camp-stove and chatter into the night.
It was with a taste of bittersweetness that, upon our return to New Haven, I realized I would never experience the joy of a Harvest trip again. For a great deal of Yale students, programs like FOOT and Harvest dull some of the sharpness of learning how to be a college student. Freshman year, Harvest was just the pre-game I needed to relax a little, to not think about the minutiae that make up college life. Later I would use the trips to once again quell my nerves as an upperclassman leader.
Unlike previous trips, the bittersweetness of this year’s departure from the countryside was tinged with the same anxieties about dramatic change with which I had moved into Bingham Hall. Questions about which classes to take have been joined by uncertainties of career options. As I got to watch a new bunch of freshmen begin their Yale careers rehearsing duets as they plucked cherry tomatoes, I had an unshakeable bellyache about the beginning of the end of my Yale career.
Senior year, in effect, is more or less the Harvest trip before life. At least, this is what I’m telling myself. The rules that make Harvest special translate nicely (if a little tritely) to the strange bottleneck of the senior year experience that a fourth of the student body is headed toward.
“No phones” is out of the question (we’d all miss Tinder too much), but the sort of living-in-the-moment attitude it elicits might make the constant barrage of yearbook photo reminders and application deadline notifications more manageable. Mundane tasks are as central to Harvest as they are to school; weeding is not so different from a five-page paper. Both need to be cranked out, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less necessary or important to attaining some end. It’s the people you’ve got around that can make them bearable, even if they can’t sing.
Harvest will remain in my thoughts as this year runs its course and I figure out what I want to do with myself. As corny as a game like Warm and Fuzzies is, it brings together a group of strangers to reflect upon each other and enter a new world more comfortably. I can only hope the same for my own senior year.
Austin Bryniarski is a senior in Calhoun College. His column runs on Fridays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .