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Group Reflections at Midcourse

Dear friends and family of the Colorado River Basin Semester,

After five weeks of travel and learning in Colorado, we’ve had a chance to rest and reflect in the small town of Mancos, where the Rockies meet the great red rock deserts of the Colorado Plateau. As part of our reflections, we gave students a set of 7 questions to contemplate. Each student chose 5 to respond to in writing. This is what they said:

One of the most important new perspectives I’ve encountered is…

One of the most important new perspectives I’ve encountered is the perspective of the anti-capitalist. I have come to see many faults in the system that I rarely questioned before this trip, but I now see how there is an inherent conflict of interest between accruing wealth and living sustainably. This perspective has encouraged me to rethink what is best for our society and to adopt more radical views, or at least entertain them.

One of the most important new perspectives I’ve encountered is the libertarian perspective on government (especially bureaucracy) in the West. Repeatedly, we’ve encountered small businesses that are encumbered by slow moving or deliberately antagonistic officials at the county, state, and federal level. This perspective has encouraged me to re-evaluate how I traditionally think to solve policy problems: regulate, regulate, regulate. However, there’s a simultaneous lack of regulations concerning agricultural giants like Monsanto. The comparison begs the question: how can we craft policy that is specific and nuanced enough to trust-bust and check large corporations whilst not preventing the growth of small businesses?

One perspective that has greatly influenced me is Gabe’s, specifically his devotion to stewarding the land for future generations. Although living in our modern and busy world, I have often felt very disconnected from the oneness I share wit the land. Gabe reminded me of the grief that’s healthy to feel towards the land, and of the guilt I should feel if I don’t do better for our children. I was most influenced by Gabe’s refusal to separate his life and work—instead of compartmentalizing, Gabe devotes his days to something that feels essential to him. His impact might not be felt for many years, but he’s nonetheless directing his energy towards love and care rather than further destruction. His devotion is something I strive for in whatever path I might take for healing.

I think the biggest perspective I’ve gained on this trip is definitely the fact that you don’t have to go through our country’s schooling system to do something meaningful with your life. A great example could be Gabe. That man is doing more with his life than most people ever will. The idea that a degree is the ultimate goal is one that has been so deeply seeded in my mind. This trip has really been making me question that.

One of the most important new perspectives I’ve encountered is my renewed relationship to the experience of suffering. I accept pain and discomfort not only as a necessary for growth and self-realization, but also as a temporary and fleeting phenomenon. This perspective has encouraged me to seek out and succumb to discomfort and challenges that push me out of my comfort zone in the name of personal development.

One of the most important new perspectives I’ve encountered is the perspective of water and how it informs the way we cultivate food, live in cities, and manage entire ecosystems. The perspective of water encompasses all that goes into life, however, that perspective is not examined or valued enough.

One of the most important new perspectives I’ve encountered is the flaw or truth of wilderness and “untouched” nature. The idea of wild-tending and reconnecting with the wild around me has been really impactful. I was a big wilderness supporter, but now I am starting to question what the designation even means and does to our culture. The wilderness cannot save us, in fact we ned to save, care, and love the wild around us. This idea has propelled me to practice wild-tending and learn to appreciate the earth in all places. The sublime and pristine is amazing, but a city park and a good tree have/do more for me on a day-to-day basis, and I should reciprocate! Live simple with reciprocity to Mother Earth as we are wild to do.

In the past, my personal connection to the land (both physical and spiritual) has been…

In the past, my personal connection to the land has been a series of compartmentalized encounters. I saw no sense of “wild” in an urban community and no sense of “civilization” in the backcountry. Since questioning my perception of our wilderness spaces and the context behind the word “wild,” I begin to see the lack of separateness between the human-constructed notions of front-country vs backcountry environments.

In the past, my personal connection to the land has been in passing—not only is it rare for me to spend more than a few years in a place, but I also exist in places on the surface level, driving through them in cars, spending little time outdoors, outsourcing my food production to far away land. I I want to make a reciprocal contract with the land, a relationship in which I can treat it with care and gratitude, but in order to do so, I need to know the land in the most basic sense. When I’m on foot, how do the woods and the beach around my house look and function in the summer, the winter, the mornings, the evenings? What about my street corner, the parking lots, the cracks between the sidewalks? Only when I know a place will I be able to care for it. With spiritual oneness in mind, maybe I will learn about myself in the process.

In the past, my connection to the land has been virtually nonexistent, or at the most, a place to escape to. The concept of land and place to me was nothing more than a place to live and sometimes I saw it for its physical beauty. I think this was a result of living my whole life in NYC. I want to shift that relationship towards seeing landscapes as living things, and part of my life and of me. To do that I need to develop a greater appreciation for the places I live and how they support me, possibly by planting things and by doing research on its history.

In the past, my personal connection to the land has been impersonal and superficial, to the point that it has barely existed at all. I want to shift that relationship towards a more important and active role in my life. To do that, I need to learn how to me more present in the moment. I have to push myself out of my “comfort zone” and transition my normal routine to incorporate the outdoors. I also need to learn about the plants and animals I inhabit the land with.

My past land connection centered around recreation and separation. Even when I had spiritual connections to the land or fought to protect it, I stayed within the recreation & economic mindset. Displaced in my everyday existence from where my water comes from and using a lot of it. I want to shift my relationship to one of reciprocity and education. I am inspired to wild-tend and find ways to not only protect, but revive the earth through my ways of living and by showing others. I need to learn a lot. About the land, its food, history, use, and how to listen and care. I also want to forge a previously overlooked connection with the land, urban and wild.

In the past, my personal connection to land has been in two strictly divided categories: recreation and food. I want to shift that relationship to be more reciprocal. To do that, I need to stop viewing land as a void from which I can consume infinitely. Instead, I must reconcile the land’s agricultural, spiritual, and recreational value as only small facets of its whole. I must recognize land’s intrinsic value besides what it can directly provide for me.

In the past, my personal connection to the land has been divided in section devoted to recreation and to experience “wilderness.” I want to shift that relationship towards and all-encompassing experience of relating to the lands I live on and interact with. The invisible line between the two spaces deemed recreation and wilderness had been conditioned into me and informed the way I experience my environment and what is considered nature for the majority of my life. I need to learn how to rethink the way I relate to the land by recognizing that the dichotomy between “civilized man” and wilderness needs to be eradicated. What we have failed to realize (as a society) is that all land is wild, we just need to rethink the way we see natural things and the land as a whole.

In the past, my relationship to the land was very weak and shallow. I live in a community where the use of our water is never a worry. I used to never ask where my food comes from because it would just appear on my kitchen table. I also have little to no knowledge as to the previous inhabitants of the land on which I now live. Moving forward I would really like to gain that knowledge and to find ways to incorporate it into my life. I also want to start questioning my water usage and where my food comes from. I also want to start looking for ways to use the land that is already there near my home.

I want to devote less/more of my life to…

I want to devote less of my life to past. I have spent far too long dwelling on the past; my actions and the events that have affected me. I can’t change what happened and it only hurts to focus on past pain. I want to devote more of my life to the present. Living actively in the moment allows me to focus on things that make me happy and stimulate me. There is no use in worrying about anything out of my current control.

I think I definitely want to devote my life less to focusing on myself and more on how my life will affect the lives of those in the future. I really want to start acting on behalf of generations to come.

I need to stop giving time to mindless hours of scrolling and texting. Life is so much brighter and clearer to me without a phone glued to my hand. There are so many things I want to do and feel super motivated to pursue… always being online is just an inhibitor to that. I want to devote more of my life to making art, not just selling it but making it for people i love and care about as a gift. It feels so good to do that and is the best way I can summarize my gratefulness, plus it is a gift that is unique to me and my style. Hand in hand with that I need to spend more time with the people I love. I always feel so busy but I’ve been realizing that there’s no point in being busy if I’m just going to be miserable.

I want to devote less of my life to waiting—waiting for the perfect opportunity, the perfect person, or the perfect destination. I think that by procrastinating decisions one ends up inevitably falling into a circumstance rather than choosing it. I want to devote more of my life to, in Christy’s words, getting on to a forward-bound train without always being certain where I’ll end up. Instead of being hyper-fixated on separate goals, I want to focus in on building a life instead.

I want to devote less of my life to consumption and fickle aesthetic concerns. I want to devote more of my life to learning and intentional listening, to sustainable practices, and to reflection.

I want to devote less of my life to short term happiness and validation, like social media and concerning myself with how I am perceived by others. I want to devote more of my life to cultivating meaningful relationships with the land and others, learning about things I’m passionate about, keeping an open mind, spending time outside, teaching others about land  and nature, making time for things that make me happy, and being present.

I want to devote less of my life to worrying. Worrying is only helpful if you take preventative measures as a result of the worrying. Worrying without action is pointless and mentally exhausting. I want to devote more of my life to being present, less time on screens and more in touch with reality. I’m not sure what this looks like yet but I’m going for it.

I want to devote more of my life to creation, and I want to devote less of my life to consumption. Ever since reading “The Illusion of Scarcity,” I’ve been thinking a lot about the monetization of time and our reliance on purchasing everything in today’s world, and about how that constant consumption often leaves me feeling disconnected from things and like how I spend my time is out of my control. Instead of making my life more “efficient” and “productive” as promised, these high levels of consumption actually require that I sell more of my time and energy to make money. To regain control over my time, I want to create more—I want to grow my own food. I want to learn how to make my own clothes. I want to cook my meals. I’m not necessarily looking to reduce the amount of things in my life, but I would like to increase their quality and my connection to them.

I want to devote less of my life to unsustainable practices such as supporting big ag, using septic tanks, and partaking in the over-consumption of our culture without acknowledging what I already have. I want to devote more of my life to examining my relationship to the land, starting the nation-wide compost toilet revolution, and living more simply. I would also like to grow my own food, plant fruit trees on public land, and buy locally!

I want to devote less of my life to things. Owning things, buying things, things I have no connection to, things with shiny, fun ads & labels while using our earth and her people. It’s hard, even now in this environment and I’m trying to recenter simply. But I have enough things & my time can be used in better ways than digital things on a screen. People are too obsessed with things (me too) and I want to change that. I want to refocus on people (myself is people too). People and community make things happen. Through creating culture we can change for the better and get out of our digital thing rut. I have learned to much compassion and want to spread it. Care about people, not things!

 

The way I see things has shifted to encompass/exclude…

The way I see things has shifted to encompass non-traditional markers of success and to exclude the belief that success can be quantified exclusively by titles or salary. Although I respect and admire those who are highly accomplished in their fields. I also respect and admire those who live alternative lives that prioritize the things I also value, such as the land, community, progeny, love, and sustainability. Perhaps this is the type of unlearning Keshet was referencing when I named “ambition” as one of my core values! I used to think that I would get the most out of life by being as busy and “productive” as possible, but I’m starting to learn to slow down and prioritize the simpler aspects of life, like food and friends and learning that actually leave me feeling more fulfilled. I’m not sure how this shift change my life plans, but for now I’m taking things one day at a time.

At times in my life, it has ben so easy to make bold statements about my beliefs, especially regarding the environment. This purist ideology (intertwined with the idea of protected “wilderness” separate from humans) has started to falter as I meet the faces of folks whose lives/livelihoods depend on water from a river I would like to see untouched. My perspective has shifted to something much, much larger and harder to elaborate upon. I see so much, and have begun to feel it, too. I care deeply about conserving and protecting this earth, but I’ve come to understand that we are not separate from this land, not even close. We are this land, it’s us, we are one and the same. There are ways to live reciprocally, respectfully, and mindfully while receiving the earth’s gifts.

The way I see things has shifted to encompass the beauty of this land and its resources. Land has become more spiritual for me and I want to strive to treat it as sacred and consider the consequences of my actions—big and small—as they relate to the land. The way I see things has shifted to exclude the mindset that I can’t do anything to fix our national problems if nobody steps up to fix a problem, there will be no solution. I can and will be one of the people who steps up when something needs to be done, and I will try to get others to join.

The way I see things has shifted to encompass the motives and fiscal ideas of essential low- and middle-income farmers. The way I see things has shifted to exclude casual classism against rural populations.

The way I see things has shifted to encompass views that do not solely concern humans & how the climate affects us. I am understanding how everything we do has effects on the ecosystems around us, and being actively conscious of this is incredibly important. The way I see things has shifted to exclude concerns about money and monetized success, instead focusing on inner peace and wholeness. And excluding notions of competition, instead embracing community.

The way I see things has shifted to encompass a greater understanding of perspectives that are not my own. Whether it be an indigenous or female or LGBTQ+ perspective, I think i have created more space in my life to hear these narratives rather than solely focus on my own. The way I see things has shifted to exclude greed and negativity. But I mostly haven’t excluded much, I’ve really only gained perspectives.

The way I see things has shifted to encompass an understanding and appreciation for the symbiotic relationship and a form of “gift economy” that exists between all living things. I am learning to look upon my past relationships, engagements, and learning opportunities as an exchange of lessons and needs rather than solely for personal benefit. I am more frequently realizing that there is no such thing as an isolated action, and that for each one an equal reaction will occur. I think this theory can be applied not only to my interactions with people but also our Earth and the land I find myself upon.

Sometimes it’s amazing how you can speak things into existence. Upon crossing the Continental Divide, I hope and exclaimed to leave behind my previous definitions of success. I had no idea what to redefine to, until we saw so many people happy defining success in their life for themselves, and leaving behind a thirst for legacy. Now I have seen so many versions of success and will continue to explore beyond the monetary and powerful. It’s natural and joyful. I have started to exclude the capitalistic disregard for life and difference, in favor of compassion and natural ways. I’m still unsure how to do any of this, but hopeful for my future after this new transformation and an acceptance of the non-traditional.

Whether or not I knew it, my life was connected to the Colorado River because…

Whether or not I knew it, my life was connected to the Colorado River because I lived in a city that depended on its hydropower for energy and its water for the food on my table as well as the water coming out of my faucet. My whole life I never actually knew a sizable portion of LA’s water came from the Colorado River.

My life is connected to the Colorado River because on the scale in which people inhabit them my entire existence, my whole family’s existence is dependent on the Colorado River. With grandparents from Arizona and my home being LA, life in these peculiar deserts would not be possible without water from the Colorado river. They (my relatives, ancestors) would have settled elsewhere, creating an entirely different life trajectory that may not have included my birth. I continue to rely on it to produce the California grown food I consume, the water I drink and survive by. I have only recently become acutely aware of this fact, which is both humbling and somewhat frightening to me, as I start to regret the settlement of spaces like Los Angeles that cannot sustain themselves, and were not meant to hold so many.

I feel let down by past generations who…

I feel let down by past generations who prioritize money/profit over people, and who let this view destroy our land, water, and communities. I’d like to build a future that supports people and provides them with basic rights, promotes equality, and values land. To do that, I need to learn how to uplift people right now, how to listen and learn from people who have historically been silenced, and how to restore and keep the land healthy and beautiful.

I feel let down by past generations who prioritized wealth and ease over the preservation of our land. They thought only of themselves and not of the resources and climate they were taking from. I’d like to build a better future that focuses more on the future than the present. If you focus only on your well-being in the moment, you ignore the needs of future generations. To do that I need to learn more about what we can do to help people in the future and preserve resources so that they have enough for themselves and future generations.

The generation before us has left us a ticking time bomb. This bomb is losing time faster and faster every year, every month, every day. The way our world has been treated by these older generations is just absolutely disgusting. I would like to leave behind an earth with hope. Our generation will not be able to fix our home in our lifetimes, but we can set it on the right path. We need to leave our kids with the drive that we need to save this planet. All we can do is do as much as we can before it’s the next generation’s turn to take this burden left to us by generations before.

I feel let down by past generations since the colonization of this land. The people who came and destroyed peoples, cultures, animals, and the ideology of respecting the land that seems impossible to re-engrain within this country. The focus on monetary gain and consumption/commodification disturb me deeply. I’d like to build a future that acknowledges we are the land, and without it we are not “we” but mindless creatures who aren’t living to our fullest potential of fulfillment and loving awareness. I need to learn how to articulate these ideas to those around me who have gone so long feeling such a disconnect.

I feel let down by past generations who have felt a need to control the natural flow of water and exploit land for the sake of profit without any consequence. I’d like to build a future where people have respect for the land they live on as if it were their own body. Where saving seeds isn’t illegal. Where future generations will not live with the threat of human extinction, and where an entire body of water cannot be bought and sold in shares. I don’t think the future will look like that in my lifetime, but in order for it to happen, there needs to be a massive shift in cultural priorities and the general mindset of the average U.S. citizen.

The biggest new questions I am asking are…

The biggest new questions I am asking are how I can participate in a capitalist society in a way that helps people instead of harming them, how I can bring the lessons from this trip back home with me, how I can help encourage others to spend time outside and to care about the environment, how I can eat locally once I return home, how I can get people to care about the food they are eating.

The biggest new questions I’m asking are: How will I make time in my life at home to prioritize making things for myself instead of constantly consuming? How my admiration for alternative, often agrarian lifestyles reconcile with my more “traditional” goals such as working in journalism? Is there really a way to pot-out of the system? Would it be better to “do good” from the top down? How can I keep myself responsible for living mindfully as my life speeds up again as I go to college then adulthood? Is it better to do my best to opt-out as much as I can even if that means my impact is smaller?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the question of my future. There has always been a piece of my soul (sometimes tucked away, other times brazen and obvious) that wants, yearns to live outside of the confines that define mainstream society. The part of myself has always provoked fear in me and my family, the uncertainty of it all… the unfamiliarity too. Recently, though, it doesn’t seem frightening at all. The people we’ve spent time with don’t compartmentalize their lives, and those lives seem so full and intentional. Witnessing that makes it all seem attainable (difficult, but attainable). I’ve been questioning the future I imagined was required of me, and now I’m so much more excited to live on this planet, pursuing art always felt out of the question – no longer.

Big questions I am asking: What more can I learn about this land? How can I talk to more people living differently? What do I want my future to look like? What types of people do I want in my life? How can I form a community at home and within? Will any of these thoughts last or will this be a phase in my 20’s before I return to normal life? What should I explore before I choose devotion? How can we get more people (especially those with less opportunity) to do this? Why is a “different life” dominated by childhood privilege (myself included).

I think my question would be where do we go from here?

The biggest new question I am asking is how we can begin to conceptualize a remolded system of production and consumption that includes practices like agroforestry and sustainable irrigation that can simultaneously meet the production standard of our modern and industrialized society.

The biggest new questions I am asking are: How can we craft policy that is specific and nuanced enough to check monopolistic corporations while simultaneously encouraging the growth of small business? How can I lobby for my town to include indigenous perspectives in public education? How can outdoor recreational and agricultural education be made accessible to low and middle-income urban populations? How can communities engage in a transfer to clean energy without incurring major job losses and economic fallout?

The biggest new questions I am asking are: How can I make the biggest positive impact of the world while also leading a life that works for me and keeps me happy/fulfilled? How do I know what will keep me happy/fulfilled? Can I actively change that? Will it change over time?