Dear friends and family of the Colorado River Basin Semester,
As we prepare to depart from Arizona, we’ve been telling stories, and figuring out how to tell the story of this journey. In all of our stories, one hero emerged as central, hero often forgotten in our modern world: the land. As you read through these final reflections of our group, we hope it gives context for who is coming home to you, and what sits in their hearts as they take their next steps. Here they are, in anonymous form.
In the Colorado River Basin, I…
In the Colorado River Basin, I surrendered myself (physically, emotionally) to experience. not always without a sigh, grunt, perhaps even a tear. But most usually, this submission brought to my often tired feet a feeling of fulfillment and peace so deep and consuming. Peace like a river flowing free, a sky without haze, an existence void of the urban rush and societal pressures to conform to something alien. Submission to experience then showered me with more loving gifts—strength, self-love, and maybe most importantly, a re-attachment to this earth. I hesitate to say re-attachment, considering I’ve lived my almost 20 years very far removed from the soil, sand, true food, and water it cradles. However, I have come to feel and understand that my mind and body know this feeling… my cells awaken, my cells so quickly and familiarly yearn to tend and protect and fiercely love this land. And I’m excited… driven and ready to work actively on my relationship to this planet and the curious wonder and life it provides me.
In the Colorado River Basin, I began to hate the word “efficient.” Efficiency is one of the most prized American ideals. When something is efficient, it takes less time and energy that can thus be put into profit and capitalism. It sounds great, but is horrible in action. In order to make way for efficiency, quality, care, and purpose are often put on the chopping block. We have seen the way Big Agriculture has destroyed seed diversity. We have seen the way migrant workers have no fresh food of their own. We have seen the way public land has been sold to oil and gas companies. All for the sake of efficiency. If the land and the people who live on it are destroyed, is efficiency worth it? Are American ideals worth it?
In the Colorado River Basin, I hiked, saw, listened, felt, swam, farmed, ate, drank, spoke, reflected, and assumed responsibility. I observed a natural world that was foreign to me and reflected on the natural world I left behind at home. I spent more consecutive time in the outdoors than I ever have, I realized the value of self-sufficiency, the sparkling attractiveness of a reductive life, the openness of my future which I once thought already dictated. I absorbed so much information from my environment, the people around me, and the interpersonal relationships I’ve developed.
In the Colorado River Basin, I saw the land as part of my being and came to understand the interdependence of all of our systems, in and outside of myself. I truly am the food I eat, the water I drink, the land I walk on and the thoughts and words that consume me. I have learned that any action that can be perceived as “outside of myself” impact me, even if “indirectly.”
In the Colorado River Basin, I reacquainted myself with a land I thought I knew. A land who sustains me, whose waters run through my veins and whose body gives itself to me. Given to me so I may live and breathe, drink from rivers and eat from the valleys. The land gives so much and expects so little. I’ve understood that my role in getting to know this land is to find ways to show my gratitude. I’ve seen the rivers bleed yellow from open wounds left to fester. A mountainside marked in gold reduced to ash, a drowned canyon, and the end of a river that no longer reaches the sea. The utmost expression of love is grief, and I mourn this land. I mourn the relationships lost to greed. I’ve seen that the people have forgotten. They’ve forgotten who their mother is and taken more than they need. Now all I must do is give thanks. Plant seeds, save seeds, never take more than what has been given, and love this land.
In the Colorado River Basin, I learned to love the land. I learned to love the river by drinking it, by feeling it pull me through canyons on the San Juan, and by watching it, tired, fall still in southern Arizona. I learned to love the mountains by walking up and down them, by getting lost on their craggy sides, by feeling little in their shadows. I learned to love the soil by sinking my fingers into it, by finding what it needs, by holding corn in my palm and understanding that it is a product of careful invention, an embryo, a gift. I learned to love the canyons by watching the light shift over their curving walls, by running through their sweet tamarisk and willow and rabbit brush, by feeling the wind whip over me on a mesa at dawn. I learned to love the water by praying for it, by running my eyes, thirsty for a spot of darkened moisture or promising green, along sandstone walls, by naming a pothole as what it is— a miracle, a bastion of life. And I learned to love the moon as my mother, grounding and beautiful. Then, I learned to love my body as a powerful portal between myself and the land, my point of connection to all that I know and love.
In the Colorado River Basin I learned what it means to connect. Prior to these last 10 weeks, I had moved and hike through mountains basking in and enjoying all their beauty, but I rarely stopped to connect. Connecting with the land has meant learning about its history and present while allowing myself to listen and experience within these wild spaces. The context is really important to shape my understanding, but being present in a space is what made a connection. Listening connected me to the wild spaces we traveled through and the city spaces. Through this connection and presence I notice more things i took for granted or missed back home. The same is true for learning to connect with people. Whether it is the people we met or my friends in the group I have never experienced before the power of connection. Due to our shared connection and care for the land, we dug deep with those we met, and built strong relationships with the people along for the ride. Connection and community are so empowering for change and self growth and I am so grateful for that experience, one that in turns strengthens my connection to myself.
To be honest I’m really not sure how to start writing about this. So much has happened on this trip. I’ve met so many people from all different walks of life. Each person we’ve talked to has been unique and special. It is really hard to answer this question in a way that encompasses everything we’ve learned from everyone we’ve talked to and all of the things we’ve done and experienced. But I think the hardest part of all this question is taking all of those gathered learnings from throughout course, and constructing an answer that is personal to me to share with anyone who ends up reading this. I think that the reason I am struggling to answer this question is due to me not feeling qualified to share any of the information and teachings that were gifted to this group by individuals who have dedicated exponential amounts of time, effort, and deep care to whatever it is they shared with us. As of right now I do not have anything of my own to share. At least nothing that I have spent time and effort on. I guess in writing this, I’ve formulated an answer. My answer is that I have no answer. Meaning I’ve realized that nothing worth sharing and teaching comes easy if you really, truly care about it. This realization has instilled in me a drive, an obligation if you will, to have something to share with the world. The next time someone asks me a similar question to this, I want to have an answer that comes from me and my own personal journey. That’s not to say that I don’t think that what we’ve learned on this trip shouldn’t be shared or that I don’t want to share what I have learned. I just think I want also to have something of my own to share. What I can do is take that I gained knowledge and use it to help start my own journey. The more people we have out there, learning new things and then starting their own journey of experience, the more shared knowledge we will have in this world. The more we know the more we can share. The more we share, the larger our community of knowledge gets.
In the Colorado River Basin I stepped out of the life I’ve lived for 18 years. I found myself in mountains and canyons, on rivers and journeys of un-learning and re-learning. I understand the world in ways I always wanted to but didn’t know how – in terms of life and community and love. In the CRB I have seen new landscapes and met people with completely new perspectives, and I have learned from them how to live a more whole and fulfilling life.
In the Colorado River Basin I have realized that our water supply is impermanent and has many imperfections. Flaws in our water system aside, there are many flaws in the way we live. No matter how efficient our systems of conserving water are and will be, it seems hard to imagine that those will be enough to live sustainably.
As I leave this place, I want you to know….
As I leave this place, I want you to know I reassessed my definition of “home”. I used to think that home was merely the place where my family or friends were or more simply the place I was from. Thus, by that logic, “home” was who I was before this trip. Then, as we began to talk about public lands and the wilderness, I learned that those lands are connected to me as well. As I pondered the idea of returning home, I realized that I had found a home in these places. This is now a place that I am coming from, so it is a part of my “home.” Most importantly, as we entered Arizona and began to see inequality more clearly, I realized that I can no longer see injustice without doing something.
As I leave this place, I want you to know it changed my life. This sounds really basic, because 2 months anywhere at a transition point in life can change someone, so it’s really not a surprise. What is a surprise is how I’ve changed. (I guess that’s how it works.) My expectations for myself were limited. I knew I would find some confidence and knowledge. What I also found was the power of the landscapes we moved through. The mountains, farmlands, desert, and rivers we encountered remain a part of me, tucked away in my heart along with those we’ve met and my friends who came along. As I leave this place, I take a piece with me, knowing I will return and bring a gift back to this amazing river basin, leaving makes me contemplate how to take a piece of this land back, but I cannot just take back memories and ideas. I want to leave and return home so that I can live to protect and better these spaces beating within my heart.
As I leave this place, I want you to know the earth, the physical space you occupy on this planet, a little bit better. I feel much better for it myself.
As I leave this place, I want you to know in all the experiences we have shared, whether it be inspiration, grief, awe, or anywhere in between, gratefulness for the community we built and experiences we’ve shared triumphs them all. Thank you a million times.
As I leave this place, I want you to know that this world is much bigger than any of us. Treat it as such.
As I leave this place, I want you to know that I have changed. I see even more faults with our world and system of government/how we live. I feel the urgency of climate change issues more than ever and I also see the exclusion of BIPOC from the spaces to even have these discussions. I also see the exclusion of BIPOC from spaces of wilderness and the countless forms of environmental racism have been illuminated. I want you to know that I am happy, had a great time, and grew a lot.
As I leave this place, I want you to know this land is for everyone including me and you. It is time to love and nourish it the way it loves and nourishes us.
As I leave this place, I want you to know that all things in the natural world are connected. Food, energy, wilderness, water, agriculture all form part of a vast and tangled web that has replaced our relationship with the land. Ive learned this, and learned that ancestral ties to land, now vacant, leave an empty holes in our lives, that has otherwise manifested in the grand chase for profit, bad or unhealthy food, shrinking public land and outdoor spaces, overconsumption and greed. In order to address these problems, we must look inward and realize what we have to give back to the earth, what sacrifices we must make, to establish a sustainable, reciprocal relationship.
As I leave this place, I want you to know that I am scared for our planet and for the people living on it. I am grieving for our world because we are killing it, quickly and seemingly without pause, with greedy consumption and expectations that the land should fit our lifestyles instead of the other way around. I fear that we are too far distanced from the land we live off of, that we are too far gone, too distracted by the billion distractions that clutter our world. And yet, I am hopeful because I feel something inside me reconnect when I spend days and nights walking on and tending to and loving deeply the land— in those moments, I see a path forward through the harm we’ve done. I imagine that we could live working for and relishing in the beauty of the land, finding power in growing our own food, walking far distances, and making things with our own hands. Perhaps life can be that simple.
As I leave this place I want you to know I’m grateful.