There is no Internet access. Cellular service is at least a few miles away. Running water? The Marble Fork of the Kaweah River is a little closer than the nearest faucet, but neither is more than a short walk away. The sound of the gentle wind blowing is melding seamlessly with that of the cold rushing river as the grey light of dawn illuminates a new day. It’s 6 a.m. at Buckeye Flat.
In 1983 I was 20 years old and in my first semester at San Diego State University. Although it would turn out to be a disastrous two years academically, I did gain much intangible life experience and some very close associations. In fact, both experience and the friends gained through it were generated from the same source that was, in part, responsible for my academic failure. It was, however, only a small part - more a distraction and hardly an excuse; my failure to perform at SDSU was due to my unwillingness or inability to do the work. But I digress...
San Diego State is a very large school. When I arrived in late 1983 there were 35,000 other students enrolled. I was 500 miles from home and didn’t know a soul. It was frightening in ways I had never experienced prior. I was late enrolling, late in acquiring housing and way too late to get into the dorms. I had no car and although I had a little money, I didn’t really have anything to spend it on. I managed to rent a room in a home very close to campus and because it is a very compact campus, I was within walking distance to just about everything I needed, like a social network.
The Greek letter fraternity and sorority system at SDSU was and is a big part of campus life. Although the vast majority of students don’t belong to one, these secret Greek societies are a dominant presence. In the fall of 1983 I knew absolutely nothing about them save what I learned from the National Lampoon movie, “Animal House.” Although I’ll admit that some of the parody hits uncomfortably close to home, there is far more depth to Greek life than the movie portrayed. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Rush week is when all of the fraternities throw parties to attract potential new brothers. The sororities have a different mechanism, but sorority sisters are often closely associated with a particular fraternity, so in that respect they are unofficial participants. At the time there were something like 17 different fraternities on campus and most had a fraternity house. Among them were local, single chapter houses as well as the largest of the national fraternities. Each held a party every night for a solid week. For someone who was alone in the world like me, it was perfect.
At first I was just party hopping, I didn’t really know what was going on. It seemed to me that everyone was very friendly, wanting to meet me and asking a lot of questions. Where are you from? What’s your major? Any brothers or sisters? Where did you dad go to school? They really wanted to get to know me. In the process, I met a few guys that I clicked with and by the time rush week came to an end, I had been extended an invitation (a bid) to join two. Delta Chi and Kappa Sigma. I chose Kappa Sigma, one of the nation’s largest and oldest fraternities.
Partying is a big part of fraternity life. At the time, SDSU was ranked as Playboy magazine’s Number One Party School - a dubious distinction that was helped in large part by the fraternity system. It was a time just prior to the national focus on college binge drinking and the role fraternities played in it. Speaking from personal experience, it was a significant role. And although the seemingly non-stop party atmosphere did distract me from my studies, it was also a convenient excuse to not put forth any effort into growing up. Although I was not alone, I was in the minority - most of my fraternity brothers managed to find their way to a degree in a reasonable amount of time.
But the bonds I made during my two years in Kappa Sigma at SDSU have lasted for 25 years. I don’t see these men very often, but we stay in touch via email. Over the years we have lost a couple (one very recently to cancer), but we relive the memories when we gather every year in Buckeye Flat. Created and promoted by one very dedicated brother in 1989, Sequoia National Forest has been the reunion site for those who were initiated at SDSU from about the mid 70s to the mid 80s. Informal, unofficial and with varying degrees of participation, this is our twentieth year - and more than 20 brothers are expected.
This is my fifth trip to Buckeye Flat. The Kaweah River with its rapids and its falls is just as pristine as it was when I first came here 19 years ago - the second annual alumni camping trip. Although we are all looking a little older, the campground remains virtually unchanged. Twenty years ago, there was no cellular service, no Internet access, running water was just a short walk away and… the wind and the river sang the same song.