I’m standing on the porch of the Vallecitos Mountain Retreat Center log-cabin lodge, looking out at New Mexico’s Tusas Mountains when one of my fellow retreatants turns to me and asks, “Did you say you went to Colorado College?”
“Yeah,” I answer. “Why?”
“Heidi went there too,” he says.
I’m not sure which of the 23 other individuals around me is Heidi — it’s just the first full day of this “Wisdom of No Technology” retreat that I’m attending — but as I smile back at his words, I find I’m both eager to seek her out and flabbergasted that two CC alumni could end up at this rather obscure place at the same time.
Vallecitos consists of 135 acres, nestled within the Carson National Forest’s 300,000 acres in Northern New Mexico. The nonprofit organization hosts Buddhist and secular meditation-based retreats between May and October each year, when the facility, located 8,800 feet above sea level and 11 miles from a paved road, is accessible by car.
My brain begins to tick. What are the odds that two CC alumni, formerly unknown to one another, will end up connecting in person somewhere in the world?
With a degree in English, not mathematical economics, (and all of my tech tools tucked away, as a requirement of the retreat), I tally guesstimates with paper and pen. Colorado College currently graduates 500-some students each year, though in the earlier years that number was not only lower, but a significant number of those folks are no longer alive. If you loosely assume an average of approximately 300 living alumni per year from 1930 until today, then there are at most 26,100 potential points of connection. There are universities with annual enrollment larger than that number.
I’m sure a CC professor could calculate a more exact figure backed by a fancy database, but when it comes down to it, the chance of running into another CC alumna in the U.S. alone with its 300-plus-million population feels, well, infinitesimal.
And yet, for me, it hasn’t been. Since I graduated 21 years ago, I’ve unexpectedly run into other CC alumni while traveling at least a dozen times, from a brewpub in Portland, Maine, to an Airbnb rental in Sonoma, California, and points in between (and not counting my hometown of Colorado Springs, where it’s relatively easy to meet other Tigers).
This retreat week at Vallecitos feels a bit like a CC class field trip — is that what drew both Heidi and me? Twenty-some students have gathered at this off-the-grid, solar-powered facility to rise early to the tone of a gong, meditate, hike, and share communal meals and late-night discussion sessions — after leaving all technology, including cell phones, laptops, and cameras, behind. Facilitated by filmmaker Dyanna Taylor and writer/photographer Don Usner, our conversations, or group silence, aren’t interrupted by “You’ve got mail” dings or an obsessive need to scroll through updates and notifications. Instead we’re learning to reconnect with the natural world, and ourselves, and to think critically about our lives and how we want to construct each and every day.
As it turns out, Heidi Cost ’80 and I become fast friends. It’s her first time at this particular retreat, though not at Vallecitos. The Santa Fe photographer has been coming here since 2009, and she currently serves on the organization’s board.
I feel as if she takes me under her wing, and her familiarity with the workings of the property bring me comfort since I’m truly outside my usual territory, physically and emotionally. (I don’t consider myself “outdoorsy,” and I do have a bit of a tech addiction.) We chat and eat meals together in silence easily. She teaches me to chop kindling for the casitas’ wood-burning stoves. I make her coffee for porch-sitting during afternoon rain.
The irony is not lost on me that at the end of the week, one of the first things I want to do when I’m back in cell service and my iPhone is recharged is text Heidi.
I don’t (for a few days at least). And it’s OK. Because no matter the statistics, this, and every CC connection I’ve made since graduation, feels less like a numbers game and more like similar souls reaching out and finding one another. And in Heidi, I’ve found a soul sister.