Before I came to the Colorado Plateau, I thought my home was Missoula, Montana – or a little house on 39th street. But what I’ve learned being out here on my semester course with the Wild Rockies Field Institute, is that my body and my soul are my home. And every place that I love deeply and establish a sense of place in is a room in that home. And in the past month and a half I have begun to build a new room. If Montana is my living room, the desert is my sunroom. Where I go for a change of pace. A slow and intentional way of living. Where the bitterroot flowers turn to evening primrose and the spruce trees turn to cottonwoods. Everyday I’m out here I continue to decorate this room in ways that feed my soul. My home.
Every wall is a window because the desert demands to be seen. It is quiet, and if you don’t pay attention, you may think it simple and inviting. And it is inviting, but only to those who listen and observe. To those who build homes, not mining shafts, and to those who drink from the rivers, but do not dam them. There is no one feature or place I’ve been on this journey to explain it, but instead a culmination of everything I have touched, smelled, seen and heard that make me feel at home.
I feel it in the relentless winds that remind me to let go of things and keep moving.
I feel it when the moon glowing through my tent reminds me that there is light and life outside of my comfort zone.
While on a midday hike to an ancient dwelling, I am sitting on a sunbathed slab of slickrock while I write. A spot which may not be my home, but certainly a seat in the room from which I admire the view and hold memories of my time high in the trees of pine and juniper, and deep in the canyons with prickly pear and tamarisk.
At times on this course I catch the flaw in my thinking that being in the wilderness can simply fix everything and make me feel nothing but joy and gratitude. It can, and sometimes does, but then I realize it isn’t about me and the wilderness isn’t there to make me feel better. A wilderness that brings with it controversy and litigation, but also the preservation of timeless beauty and character. Instead, being out here surrounded by nature is a gift and an opportunity for me to be inspired by its power and energy. It allows me space and time to get to know myself more deeply, and that benefits everything and every being I interact with.
May 10th was the anniversary of the day my mom died seven years ago. Being here and away from my family and close friends was hard for that, but it also offered a sense of comfort to be surrounded by something bigger than myself. To embrace the beauty of where I am rather than dwelling on what I have lost. My mom loved the outdoors and grew up surrounded by towering pine trees. Now, in Dark Canyon, I am surrounded by that for the first time and that feels like a gift from this canyon.
What I have learned and experienced through this course isn’t easily articulated, but it shines through in the relationships I’ve gained not only with new friends and instructors, but with these canyons and their complex history. And for that I will always be grateful.