April 19, 2022

Interim Gap Year Student, Jon, Musing Over His Gap Time From 2000-2001

I recall sitting in the office of Cornelius Bull, the founder of the Center for Interim Programs, when he asked me his favorite question, “if you could wave a magic wand, where would you go?” I was only vaguely prepared for this question. I knew I wanted an adventure but frankly it was hard to narrow down my thoughts on the spot. The conversation took many twists and turns, but Mr. Bull was able to suss out exactly what I needed. And it turned out I was looking for what a lot of us are looking for, a bit of adventure, a bit of change of pace, and a whole lot of new scenery. So, the following June, a few weeks after my high school graduation, I got on an airplane alone and for the first time I traveled to a country that was literally the furthest away from where I grew up that I could possibly get. 

My year off took me to many places, and I remember them all quite fondly. But the first place is the memory I revisit the most. After roughly 3 full days of travel from my limited universe in Lexington, Kentucky, I arrived in a small town in the middle of the Australian outback, called Fitzroy Crossing. Here, my boss for the next few months picked me up and drove us the dusty, 1.5-hour drive back to the cattle station, Quanbun Downs. During my time on this cattle station, I worked harder than I’d ever worked in my life. I saw things I never imagined, and I lived a completely different existence. My adventures here included running cattle, working the stock yards, and the age-old cowboy tradition of fixing fences. We worked from before sunup to sundown. It was long and hard work, and it was extremely rewarding. I suppose it sounds like quite a simple life, and it was to a degree. But our tasks changed each day and, I assure you, running a cattle station is anything but simple.

I picked up a lot of Australian slang while I was there, some I had heard before, many I’ve never heard since, but one phrase lingers with me to this day. It has become my mantra of sorts. As an American I would use language familiar to me; I would use the phrase “I’ll try” when someone asked me to complete a task I’d never done before. But to a stockman “try” isn’t the right word. To “try” is not nearly good enough. To a stockman, “trying” might include some effort, or it might not. What they wanted to hear me say was “I’ll give it a go”, which means something completely different. To “give it a go” means to jump in feet first and throw your back into it. To “give it a go” is the right phrase when a hard job must get done but you have no idea how to do it. It’s what you say to your boss when he asks you to help him hold down a bull while he makes it a steer. I took that phrase with me the rest of the year and, well, even up until now in my life. It has served me well. My time at Quanbun Downs supplied numerous memories that I return to often. Some of them are difficult to put into words but in turn are some of the strongest memories, a sight, a sound, or a smell. At night, as I would walk back from the main house to the bunkhouse where I slept, I would stop and take a moment to breathe and look around. The station house ran on solar power and had no batteries, so there was no light pollution for literally a hundred miles. I would stand there and marvel at the stars of the southern hemisphere - truly a sight to behold. I remember that if I listened closely, I would notice a slight humming sound that wasn’t there during the day. As though the desert would come alive at night. Perhaps it was the insects going about their nightly business, I’m not sure. But it was there and very real.  And I remember the sweet smell in the evening. At night as the air cooled, the humidity would drop to the dusty ground and create a strange, sweet smell. It was, and still is, my favorite smell. These memories have taken root in my mind, and I’m grateful for them.

         I had many other adventures and experiences that year. Personally, what I needed was hard work, so I sought that out. I worked as a station hand on a sheep station, was a member of a crew for a conservation trust, I worked among the redwoods in northern California as a member of the state park grounds crew, I worked in the island of Kauai on the state park trail crew. Now here I am, some 20 odd years on and I seem to have made a life of adventures and experiences. I went back to college with a new-found motivation and did quite well, and after a brief, successful stint in the military I am now happily progressing through a career in private industry. But probably my most exciting adventure is that of being a father. Four years ago, we brought our daughter into the world and as any parent will tell you we had no idea what we were doing. But as I told my wife, “I’ll give it a go.”

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