This summer I am a participant of the arete project, an experiment in community formation for female or gender queer identifying individuals. It is based in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina on the Arthur Morgan School campus in Celo. The program is based on the three pillars of a Nunnian education, labor, rigorous academics, and self governance. The mission statement is as follows: “The mission of the Arete Project is education towards its highest ends: the cultivation of wisdom, the living of a good life in thought and action, and selfless devotion to world and humanity.” (https://areteproject.org/)
Overall I am struck by the beauty of this place. Last Saturday I hiked to strawberry field, a huge meadow atop the ridge. This time of year it is full of wildflowers and the slightly brown grass against the blue sky was breathtaking. I felt like I could lay in the sun and look at the mountains for the entire day. I find this feeling a lot, the feeling of being caught in a moment. I’ve found it in playing with the baby goats, night swims in the pond, sitting with the rest of my cohort and crafting or reading, or watching the sunset over the Black Mountain range. I struggle to find these moments elsewhere.
There are also many moments that I do not find this. It can be exhausting to be here. Each week is filled with roughly 20 hours of physical labor, 17 hours of class and an extremely varied amount of time in self governance (this past week we spent as a group around 25 hours planning our end of program trip, talking about class ideals, learning about post-arete involvement and committees, and working on connecting as a group—the number of 25 hours also doesn’t account for small group work or the individual’s time invested in governance). On top of this, we are rather isolated in our location. The 16 of us eat together, work together, and sleep together.
As the program draws to a close there’s a lot of reflecting that I have been doing. I have already noticed changes in my mindsets, ideas about how I participate in community, my body, and how I am wanted to grow and change in the future. I have also been reflecting on the structures of arete, how they are beneficial, where they can be changed, ways I’ve felt fulfilled and where I feel is lacking. I wonder about the impacts this program will have on me after I leave and how I will engage with this space once I’ve left. There are so many possibilities for what this program can become due to the flexibility of a program constructed by its participants, and that feels just as beautiful as the fields of wildflowers.