Meet our 2006 Sylvia K. Burack Scholarship winner
Published: July 28, 2006
|Eleri Cousins has spent most of her life in Los Angeles, but she also has strong ties to France and Switzerland. When she was 7, her family moved to Thoiry, France, just across the border from Geneva, for two years, and she has spent most of her summers in and around Geneva ever since.|
A sophomore at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., Eleri is planning to major in archaeology and minor in classics. This summer she participated in a Stanford-sponsored dig in Pompeii, and the previous two summers she volunteered at an excavation along Hadrian's Wall in northern England.
Eleri explains her interest in writing: "I'm a bit of a daydreamer, as many of my teachers can attest, and for me writing is primarily a way of expressing those dreams, of letting them get out of my head and into the world. It's also a way of giving meaning and shape to my thoughts. By writing about my experiences and my dreams, I make them become more defined and more concrete. It's not until I start writing that I begin to discover all the things I find magical and wonderful in the world, and to understand why I love them. It is this process of self-discovery that makes writing so important to me."
|Essay: In The Jura|
"For one tiny moment in the lives of those ancient hills, they are loved by a young girl, and then she is gone, leaving nothing behind except some dreams and a few footprints on a small trail..."
They're really no more than rather high hills to the west of Geneva, affectionately called mountains in French classrooms and schoolbooks. Low, green, forest-covered, they don't intrude, they don't make you gape and reach for your camera, especially when compared to the Alps to the east. Even I can admit that. But to walk in them, or just to be near them, is, for me at least, to find peace.
If you should happen to drive west out of Geneva for about 15 minutes into the French countryside and find your way into the town of Crozet, and take its ski-lift to the top, you find yourself on the crest of the Jura mountains, the Haut-Jura. From here, if you hike about two hours on a small trail threading its way merrily through cow pastures and sheep pastures dotted with limestone rocks just begging to be climbed on, and then through copses of twisted pine trees drowning in thousands of adoring wildflowers, you reach the highest point in the Jura, at 5,636 feet, the Crêt de la Neige. You might make a few appreciative noises at the view to the east, comment loudly and enthusiastically on how majestic the Alps look today, and then you might turn around, just to see quickly what's on the other side. And you discover that you cannot turn away.
To the west, as far as the eye can see, and farther, stretches the quiet glory of the Jura. Deep, green, wooded fold follows wooded fold in a great rolling sea of beauty, until it finally all ends in a distant blue haze, in which, if you strain your eyes hard enough, you can almost see yet another fold. Directly below you is a small green valley with a few villages scattered in it, and a stream running through. Overhead, white clouds are flying (lucky things!) into the magical land before you.
And it is magical. This is a land of deep forests that conceal limestone caves and chasms and bizarre rock formations from which you never know what might emerge, a land where you are sure that a medieval knight or dragon, or at the very least a unicorn, will appear around the very next bend in the trail. All its airs of tameness and tranquility are just a front, and underneath it teems with danger and adventure and the unknown. I should know. I've spent two full years and every summer since childhood on its slopes. When I was 8, it was my back yard. When I was 14, the darkest storm cloud I have ever seen chased me down from its slopes. By 18, I had peopled it with every kingdom and creature that my imagination has ever created.
My love affair with the Jura is very much one-sided, and I know it. For one tiny moment in the lives of those ancient hills, they are loved by a young girl, and then she is gone, leaving nothing behind except some dreams and a few footprints on a small trail. If they'd blinked, they would have missed her. And recognizing this sobering fact only adds to my adoration. I love that timelessness about them, the permanence of those bizarre rock formations and chasms and caves, the ease with which monsters can materialize in the underbrush. We all need a little dark magic in our lives, a small amount of mystery. But mystery and magic can't intrude abruptly upon our consciousness, the way the neighboring Alps do. They need to creep up on us slowly, like the grandeur that gradually envelops the view from the Crêt that seems innocent at first, and they arrive in the strangest places.
Where do the most lasting legends of our culture take place? In the mountains of Wales, on a dusty plain near the Hellespont. None of these places knock you off your feet at first sight. But with time and imagination, they become imbued with adventure and danger and mystery and magic, and suddenly the footsteps of Arthur and Achilles can be heard behind. The immediately spectacular simply doesn't allow us the time to reflect, to create, to add to the land. It remains what it was to begin with: immediately spectacular, but nothing more. But subtle beauty grows on you and with you, until one morning you wake up to a place far richer in dreams and visions than you could have ever believed possible, and you find that your entire character and world have become inextricably linked to the stories it whispers in your ear. #
Editor's note: The Sylvia K. Burack Award is named in honor of the former editor in chief of The Writer. She was with the magazine for 60 years and was renowned for helping and encouraging writers at all stages of their careers. This year we asked students to submit a personal essay on a topic they felt passionate about. Eleri's essay was chosen from more than 700 entries. She will receive $500 and a one-year subscription to The Writer.