“I gathered a couple gallons from the tinaja. A gift. I tried to take this with my head down, and I worried that my disinterested taking of measurements might not be the proper response to something giving me life. I paused there thinking of how I should act, what words I should use. Nothing came. The desert is full of simple acts with indescribable significance. I merely rose and left, a thief of water” – Craig Childs, The Secret Knowledge of Water
I read The Secret Knowledge of Water during our first trek and found this part to be not only beautifully written but also applicable to some of the conversations we have been having in the first part of our course. To finish orientation, Luis led us in a ceremony called Q’oa that is done on the first Friday of each month in Bolivia. Q’oa is meant to be a demonstration of appreciation for the earth. Thanking the earth for its support for us, we placed a gift on our campfire that contained different layers of the earth — a plant layer, an animal layer, a star layer, etc. As it burned over the fire, the earth received our gift. Luis said, “We have to thank the earth for being kind to us, even when we are not kind to it.” That sentence is now planted in my mind and is carried with me in each step I walk, each view I admire, and each sip of water I take.
We have continued expressing our appreciation for the earth since this ceremony last Friday. When we began our trek, we each wandered off of the trail and found a place to stand near a beautiful tree (or cactus) or before a view. Since none of us, instructors included, are from the land where Big Bend Ranch State Park now lies, we asked the earth for permission to be there. As we finished our last miles of the trek, we left the earth a gift of tiny watercolor paintings scattered through the desert wash.
These small acts have begun a bigger shift in our approach to our relationship to land and water — rather than simply taking from the earth, we are beginning to give back. Thinking of the earth as something that loves and cares as we do, and that has a heart, leads to more thoughtful and deliberate interactions with the land that we pass through. As we continue through our course, we will certainly find more ways to reciprocate earth’s unwavering kindness, and even if it is unable to support us in the future, we will forever be grateful for the resources it provided as we camped on its land and took from its streams. So I understand Craig Childs’s concern in The Secret Knowledge of Water that he fears that he inadequately thanks the earth for its ability to sustain our lives — I cannot begin to think of how I could adequately express my gratitude for the reason we are all alive, the home we all share, and the gifts we continue to receive.
(Also, I would like to wish the biggest happy birthday to the greatest gift Dragons has given me. I miss and love you Rachel and will forever be grateful we both happened to sign up to go to Cambodia in 2018. Can’t wait to tell you everything in May. Nisai forever)