During my first couple of weeks out here in the desert I felt like I was on a different planet. There are no forests, very few leaves are changing color for fall, and most drastically there’s not a lake I can visit every day. I study at Northern Michigan University, which lays on the shore of Lake Superior- the world’s largest body of freshwater by surface area. I have quite literally felt like a fish out of water. At the beginning of the semester I questioned how I ended up in a landscape so different from home. I welcomed the change of scenery with open arms and like the plants and animals around me I have adapted to this harsh, dry environment. I have now been out in the desert a month, immersed in this new place and learning the ways of the West. With section three coming to an end, it felt necessary to share three things I learned:
We had the privilege to do a homestay on the Diné Nation this section. Tommy Rock and his family, opened their home to us and allowed us to help repair his family hogan- a traditional home where ceremonies and gatherings occur. When the day started we were working fast; scooping as much mud as possible and throwing it on the wall of the hogan. The mud would roll down the side of the hogan where it was scooped up and thrown on the hogan once again. Then something changed. We took a deep breath and ditched the shovels. We began to move the dirt by hand and although a hand carries much less than a shovel it was more precise. We could fill and build on to the wall with our hand much better than with the shovels. Once we slowed down our pace we worked much smoother, were more efficient, and were able to enjoy the process of such a special task.
2. Everything needs water
Although this statement could be said about any place in the world, this ecosystem has shown me the true value of water. While hiking through Dark Canyon Wilderness last week we were always on the search for water. Every watering hole we visited showed evidence of the others who visited the water; elk, bears, and coyotes. Last week the water was there and easily accessible, but this week I realized it’s not that easy for all of the West. Water wars have been an issue for decades and are still happening to this day. Indigenous people we visited this week shared their current struggles with water. During the uranium boom many local water sources became contaminated, and are still contaminated today. This polluted water causes cancer, birth defects, and other health issues. A Hopi woman informed us of current legal issues her Nation is facing in regards to the Colorado River. Water is a necessity but comes with high costs and struggles here in the West. With such heavy conversations about water, I have been feeling very fortunate to be surrounded by the Great Lakes, have a well in my backyard, and have safe drinking water every day. Organizations like Black Mesa Water Coalition have given me hope that water issues in the West might be resolved in the future.
3. Be resilient
This week we also stayed on Hopi Nation and with a Hopi woman and her daughter, both whom are gardeners on their land. By sharing their knowledge and stories with me, they proved how resilient and hardworking their communities are. With climate change, limited water, and harsh growing conditions, the two of them have educated themselves and adapted to be successful gardeners. Combining traditional dry farming with newer agricultural technology the two of them have harvested large yields every season and have inspired both me and their communities to create gardens and be more sustainable.
This is just a couple of the many things I have learned throughout the last month on the Colorado Plateau. The guest speakers, readings and landscapes have opened my eyes to issues here in the southwest that are not talked about at home in the Midwest. We still have a month of learning to do here in the desert, but I know that the lessons I have learned this far I will carry with me forever.