No Al Muro, by Emma Rigler
Hey y’all! I’ve missed you. I know it’s been a while… I’m so sorry. October and November have been crazy months with so much adventure, learning, and growth. I have so much to tell you! There is no way I’ll get through all of it, but I’m going to share the pieces that moved me the most. Otherwise, you would be reading for a looong time, and I would be writing for even looooonger, and nobody wants that. We will get to the juicy stuff soon enough, but I want to preface. The third week in October Allison, Luke, and I met up with the Tucson YAVs, Lisette and Eli, and another volunteer group called Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVSers), Cade, Michaela, Andrea, and Jessie, for a Border Delegation Retreat. Tucson is only two and a half hours outside of Douglas, Arizona where a U.S. – Mexico port of entry is. What I experienced, I will not be able to fully tell you. There is no way to understand what I saw, heard, and felt, unless you experience it for yourself. I highly, highly, highly encourage every person reading this to spend just a few days with migrants, to listen to their stories, go to the U.S. – Mexico border and see it for yourself. I still have so much to learn and I am by no means even within a fraction of being an expert on immigration, but everyone should be aware of what is happening to real people… human beings, right next door.
As usual, we will start at the top! We arrived in Douglas the first afternoon and had a beautiful dinner at Frontera de Christo with some of the staff and volunteers. We met Hoka who was more or less our guide through our days in Agua Prieta, Mexico. Our first day we were a part of a cross planting ceremony for a young man named Heriberto Garcia Perfecto. Heriberto was 28 at the time of his death in June of 2021. Heriberto was found the day he died. It’s rare for people who die in the desert to be found that fast. Heriberto was alone when he died. Heriberto probably died of hypothermia. Dehydration. Starvation. Heriberto died a quarter of a mile away from where we planted his cross. Heriberto was someone fighting for a better life in the United States.
I knew this day in particular was going to be a difficult one to get through… and it was the first day! I started that day feeling heavy; trying to emotionally prepare myself for what I was going to feel. The Sisters of Notre Dame took us to the cross planting site. They try to go out as often as they can with volunteers to plant crosses. They mark where people have passed during the extremely long and dangerous journey to the border. They run a blog site with a map of the people found, marked by red dots. It only covers Cochise County, and there are hundreds. If you want to look more into it here is their blog! We gathered in a circle and played instruments in celebration of Heriberto’s life. There was a smudging ceremony which probably struck me the most because that is something that my family does before a time of transition or a new beginning. It was incredibly sad, but there was also joy and love being spread among the people there. Here was a group of strangers, coming together to recognize Heriberto. So many people that shared the same fate as Heriberto have never been identified or even found. Imagine how many families are waiting for word that their family member(s) made it safely, and how many are already waiting in the U.S. for their family member(s) to join them, to never get word. Imagine living in that uncertainty. I’m not going to lie, it was a bit of emotional whiplash for me. I caught myself almost felling silly for crying at Heriberto’s cross planting. Who was I to cry over this young man? I didn’t know him or what he went through, and I never will. I am so privileged to have the things I have, to be able to have these experiences and be able to go home, to safety, to be able to call my family and friends whenever and not fear for my life. I have the comfort of knowing that the people I love are safe. This was not the last time I found myself feeling that way.
That night, we went to C.A.M.E. (Centro de Atencion Migrante Exodus) for dinner. C.A.M.E is a place that welcomes migrants, and gives them the space to live while they work and wait to give their testimony before their cases are reviewed in the United States. I was really nervous for this interaction because I have not practiced my Spanish since my junior year of college. Lisette was the only fluent Spanish speaker in our group, but Alison, Cade, and one of the Frontera de Christo volunteers, Kathy, were really good at translating as well, and helped those of us who weren’t so good. Needless today, those of us that weren’t comfortable in our Spanish clung to those four that entire night. For the time that we were there, they were only housing men with two other families. They made the best calabacitas (squash) for Jessie and I (the designated vegetarians) while everyone else had chicken. They graciously made our food with “no spice”, which we all giggled at. I sat with Michaela and Kathy that afternoon, and talked with two men named Enrique and Lae (I probably didn’t spell that right). The best word that I could use to describe Lae would be calming. He sat down and my nerves were calmed a little. He came in so interested, asking questions about us. He made eye contact with us even though he knew we couldn’t understand most of what he was saying. Enrique is from Guatemala and is 20 years old. He came to the border by himself, while his family stayed behind. He shared parts of his story with us. He was born in Alabama when his parents migrated to the US, so he is technically a US Citizen. His family ended up migrating back to Guatemala and his papers got lost in the move so he is trying to go through the process of crossing. His personality was so bright and joyful. He was goofy and loved to make us laugh. He showed us a traditional song called “Michaela” from his home, and practiced his English on us. We were patient with each other. We laughed together. We related to each other, even though it seemed like we couldn’t be more different. We created community in the short time we were with them. This was probably one of my favorite parts of the trip.
The next day, we started at CATPSIC (Centro Atencion Psicologia), a drug and rehabilitation center. They told us that they were housing around fifty people at the time we were there, but it was empty compared to what is has been. The thing that blew my mind the most was that they were completely volunteer run. Every person that was “working” there was there on their own time and dime. You could tell by the way these people interacted together that they were a true community that stood up for each other. They took us out to the “Tree of Life” in the middle of the dessert. David, a local pastor, drove us in his son’s basketball team’s van. It had rained a few days prior to us being there, and there were a few times it felt like we were on a roller coaster driving through the desert mud. We got stuck once and we all had to get out. Half of us pushed and got sprayed with mud, and the other half stayed out of the way and clapped when they succeeded, I’ll let you guess which group I was a part of.
When we reached the Tree of Life, it fit the image I had in my mind. It was giant, with branches so long and heavy they rested on the ground before they reached for the sky. Beautiful leaves that shaded perfectly, letting just the right amount of light in. About twenty of us fit comfortably under this beauty. There was a giant blue container under the branches, that the people from CATPSIC refill with fresh water every two weeks or so. This is a safe haven for migrants to rest before they make the final trek to the wall. We had a devotional time and reflected on some scripture before we started on our own trek. Some of the folks from CATPSIC were at one point coyotes. Coyotes are the people who smuggle migrants across the border for money. It was interesting to hear their side of that interaction. People looking to cross the border will hear through word of mouth who these Coyotes are. They will contact them before they even leave home. The journey could cost anywhere around $10,000 and it is very dangerous, you are likely to lose everything, and it is not a guarantee that you get to your destination. The Coyotes showed us the safest way to stay hidden and to get to the wall. We crouched, ran, and crawled through the desert all the way up to the wall. We were all bloody and dusty from the thorns and spikes of every plant that surrounded us. I was picking thorns out of everywhere for the rest of the day. IMAGINE DOING THAT THROUGH LITERALLY THE ENTIRE DESERT! WITH BARELY ANY FOOD OR WATER! OR DECENT CLOTHING TO SURVIVE THE PLANTS AND KEEP YOU COOL DURING THE DAY AND WARM AT NIGHT! WHILE PEOPLE ARE HUNTING YOU! I don’t know about y’all but that sounds like the Hunger Games! Yes, there are many ways to get across the border, but each is just as dangerous as the next.
Once we reached the wall, the Coyotes showed us how people climb the thirty foot metal wall. The top six feet of the wall was solid block of metal with nothing to grab. Only one of us succeeded in touching that block of metal. I maybe got five feet off the ground, and trust me, I was proud of myself for even getting that far. I couldn’t even fathom climbing it all the way up and getting over the top to then slide down again and run into more desert for miles and miles AND there are sensors in the ground and cameras in the trees. When we were headed to leave, they told us that both the cartel and border patrol knew we were there and had eyes on us the entire time… that just added to the fire that was rapidly boiling my blood. We hiked back to the Tree of Life and we ate delicious burritos together and processed what we had done. Just like that our time catching a wink of what thousands of people do to survive was at an end.
We drove back to the church, but stopped for a treat across the street. CAFÉ JUSTO! I was in my element here…coffee! They gave us a tour and a crash course on how they came to be. They are a Grower owned Coffee Cooperative based in southern Chiapas Mexico, formed to address the poverty and migration from Mexico to the U.S.A. The church we were staying in helped them get started with the business and started handing out bags of coffee to new members and visitors when they were starting up 20 years ago. Eventually the community fell in love, and it is a must stop coffee shop in Agua Prieta. They showed us how they roasted the coffee beans we even got some lattes. Needless to say I came home with three bags in small duffle bag and my clothes haven’t stopped smelling like coffee yet! Are all of the bags for me, you ask? That is to be determined.
That night we went to the Healing Our Borders Prayer Vigil back on the Douglas, AZ side of the wall. The sisters from the cross planting invited us, and they have been doing these vigils on the same day every single week for the last 20 years. The crosses are almost identical to the one we planted for Heriberto, all of them with different names, different ages, some with no names. All of them a red dot on that map of people who have died on this treacherous journey. After such an exhausting week, this really got me. It was way outside of my comfort zone. I have never been the person on the street trying to get peoples attention, let alone in front of the rush hour line at stand still trying to get across to Mexico holding crosses high, yelling these peoples names. During the closing portion on the side of the road, I started to cry. I imagined holding crosses with my mom’s, dad’s, brothers’ names on them. How many tears had been shed over the names we were holding up that day. How many people don’t know that their loved one’s name is on one of those crosses, and are waiting to see their faces at their front door, or waiting by the phone for them to call, to hear their voice.
Our last day, we visited DouglaPrieta Trabaja Women’s Cooperative. DouglaPrieta Trabaja’s purpose has always been to assist individuals and families in colonias populares, or poor neighborhoods, by developing local capacities for economic self-sufficiency. We ate with some of the women who currently work there. They showed us the carpentry area where women learn to make items like ornaments to sell. They showed us the sewing room where they make pot holders, bags, table mats, dolls, and other beautiful things. There was even a school for the children of the women there and they teach them sustainability in the garden. The garden was massive and buzzing with life! There were even cats that would just chill; Allison was in heaven! If you want to support them by donating or buying some Christmas presents, HERE is their link. From there we were finished in Agua Prieta and headed back to Tucson for the reflection part of the delegation.
Here is where we will take our intermission! The next blog post, I will go into the reflection and the post-Mexico feelings. I want to say thank you for being so patient with me.. I took my time with this post. Maybe a bit too much time. It has been more difficult than I anticipated to get my feelings and thoughts out. This experience is so important to share, so again, thank you for being patient with me.
LEARN MORE ABOUT ORGANIZATIONS IN AGUA PRIETA
To read more from Emma, check out her blog here.
(yes… a month late)
My work with Second Church has been terrifying and empowering. Stepping into a family like the one here at Second, I had to calm my nerves each time I introduced myself to new people or joined meetings I had never been to before. Meeting new people is both a great delight for me, an extrovert, and occasionally nerve wracking. Since settling into the patterns here, I have felt the extension of trust overflowing from members. Now, my phone and email light up with invitations to join new projects, offer perspective, or share a story. My work here helps me feel as if I am finally moving in a world that has felt stagnant since the beginning of COVID. This movement breathes life back into me, gives me life, and creates such great memories. Being engaged with the celebration of God’s creation with both Second Presbyterian Church and Santa Fe Dreamer Project makes my life better, brighter, and bolder.
Several opportunities have arisen outside of my central work at Second Presbyterian. An education-focused retreat to the southern border with the YAV program reminded me that the world is not always gentle to its residents, and that I have much to learn about the disrespect to human life that the border activity often wields. Housing a man going through the deportation process has provided an opportunity for Second, as well as me, to care for someone outside of the immediate community. The connection between the Santa Fe Dreamer Project’s DACA clinic and the space available in the apartment owned by Second Presbyterian Church has been an important reminder of the importance of connection with organizations implementing care-based vision in New Mexico (and beyond!). Also, I would be silly to forget the deep awe brought on by the hot air balloon festival.
The earth and I interact differently since I have moved here. As a personal health goal, I spend time in greenery once a day, and do my best to hike once a week. This goal helps me reorient myself as one of God’s creations and feel thanks for the natural creation that God created all around us. The Sandia Mountains are a glorious method with which I bask in these reminders. I adventure frequently to the foothills, yet still feel as if 99% of the mountains remain shrouded in an invitational mystery. Roosevelt Park is a regular stop for me during my morning runs (alright… most of them are walks… but if I call them runs, maybe that’ll motivate me??), as is a nearby house which houses several chickens, ducks, and a rabbit. I seek out the outdoors and the outdoors do not disappoint.
I have a new appreciation for sunshine and networks of support. I feel the warmth of this community each time someone inquires about my life or asks me to join in on new projects/events/celebrations. I feel the warmth of the church when Rob Woodruff or Frank Cavalier bring their dogs to sit with me at work. I feel the warmth of the church each cold winter night when I see the glorious quilt Pat Gilberto made for me keeping out the chilly weather. I feel the warmth of the church when I hold the pepper spray from Jim Lechtenberger as I go on my morning walks. I feel the warmth of the church when I sit in the peace garden, surrounded by rosemary and memories of people I do not know but who loved you all so deeply. I am grateful for the warmth of this new place, especially in the midst of a brisk winter.
I want to extend a challenge to you all to find and reminisce in the warm places that God has made in your life. Sometimes these moments are as simple as sharing a pot of hot water, visiting your local neighborhood front-yard pets (chickens, dogs, and roadrunners alike), and creating a goody bag for a person experiencing homelessness. Sit in spaces of discomfort in your life and offer a fresh, appreciative perspective to them. Write in a journal. Look up a video on how to play the ukulele (then try it!). Make a new kind of cookie. Get on a support committee for the children’s sermon, a mission project, or a church infrastructure revitalization project. Fail at something simple and giggle about it.
You all teach me each day that the space offered to each of us is endless. The limits we sometimes feel in this world can be shifted with a little stretch and a purposeful practice in trying something new. STRETCH. Be WARM. RECONSIDER something you thought you knew. REJOICE in something you love.
In this New Year, I offer this challenge alongside a deep thank you for these wonderful past 4 (ish) months. Cannot wait to spend several more in ABQ!
Balloon Week, by Peter Compton
We woke up at five A.M. last Monday for Albuquerque’s most famed attraction, its signature event, its raison d’etre: Balloon Fiesta. Having destroyed my knees on a sixteen mile hike the day before and thereby being half-asleep and quasi-immobile, I staggered and fell bow-legged around the house trying to gather my things, slopped a bowl of cinnamon toast crunch all over my pants, and crawled into the car in a stupor. We parked a quarter mile away from the venue and despite feeling like part of an apocalyptic exodus limping alongside heavy traffic and floodlights during the darkest part of the morning, I was looking forward to it. For hot air ballooners and fans alike, this was the Super Bowl, the March Madness, the Olympic Games of their craft. And here I was to see what all the hype was about.
The venue was a mile-long field thronged with people, lined with souvenir shops and restaurants on the perimeter, all of it blanketed in pre-sunrise chills. But the ungodly hour wasn’t stopping anyone. I hobbled through this fever dream of a place and noticed that despite the noise of the crowds, I could easily make out two men talking to each other over a microphone. Maybe I was delirious, but I thought this was hysterical—the fact that Balloon Fiesta had hired commentators. Art and Glen were here to narrate the event, two seasoned veterans in the art of hot air ballooning. And in the constant stream of dialogue between them consisting of wind directions, pilot introductions, wind directions, Balloon Fiesta history, wind directions, fun balloon facts, and more wind directions, both seemed too excited to take a breath. Which of course made sense. Everyone knows that if you take two middle aged men who share an eccentric hobby and sit them down in a room together, you’re bound to hear a lot of chatter. Now imagine giving them microphones. And a crowd. And moving them to a field. And calling the whole thing a fiesta. Art and Glen were having the time of their lives.
If Albuquerque feels like a cross-section of society, Balloon Fiesta feels like a cross-section of Albuquerque. Smartly dressed Mormon missionaries huddled together next to groups of high schoolers in their letterman jackets, who passed footballs to each other over the heads of Buddhist monks in flowing orange robes. A tall bearded man with a fat backpack and a cat-themed toboggan stood alone smiling aimlessly at the sky as if there was no place in the world in which he belonged more than a hot air balloon convention.
Yet at 6:30 A.M., all eyes were on a group of four balloons in the center of the field (“dawn patrol,” which took off early to get a read on the winds). Their domed canvasses had been raised and filled with gusts of hot air created by propane tanks sitting in the baskets, which roared with high flames when ignited. This first group lifted off the ground and gradually rose hundreds of feet into the south, eventually visible only by furious flashes of ember from the propane tanks which coaxed the night sky into softening. But the real spectacle was the mass ascension scheduled an hour later. By this time, the rosy sky over the mountains made it possible to see dozens of balloons inflating all over the field, many in checkered patterns of red and yellow but others with still more creative designs, the most ambitious being a cow shaped balloon that could do nothing but flop on the ground while the others took off and left it behind. In minutes the sky was a mosaic of color cast against a brilliant blue. We admired it for as long as it lasted, or until most of the balloons from this event had drifted out of sight. By then, the next event of the morning was starting: competitions.
To preface, I never thought I would be introduced to a sport that was more confusing than cricket and less thrilling than golf, where I would have enough time to leave, get breakfast, come back, and still have no idea what the hell was going on or who was even winning (probably because no one had scored). That was before I discovered the sport of precision balloon landing (I think it had another name, but this is my best guess). Traffic cones delineated a small section of the field to form a miniature runway, with smaller coned-off areas within the strip forming targets of varying sizes. A couple dozen hot air balloons would hover hundreds of feet above the strip to the north, and every once in a while a brave captain would slowly descend down and south towards the field and, after getting low enough, would throw a streamer at one of the targets, before landing his balloon a hundred yards downfield. Art and Glen were eating it up. Their dialogue would go something like this:
“Art, what is HAPPENING to Joe Smith’s balloon? Is he moving southwest?”
“That’s what it looks like, but why aren’t the OTHERS going southwest too?”
“Art, this is getting CRAZY!”
Meanwhile, all the balloons kept bobbing peacefully in the sky.
Maybe I don’t give it enough respect—after all, the only way to willfully change the direction of a hot air balloon against the wind (besides tugging on some ropes and sending up a prayer to the Almighty) is to strategically pop holes in the side of the craft and let it zoom around the sky like some kind of untied, gargantuan birthday balloon. But on a serious note, being unable to steer is a pretty big problem for even the best of our altitudinous Albuquerque aviators, despite the fact that blue skies and calm winds in the area are why the event happens here in the first place. Having no efficient steering mechanism is the reason why fans of the fiesta without the money to buy passenger tickets sign up online in groups to be part of “chase crews,” whose sole mission is to hop in a truck and drive all over the city in hot pursuit of their assigned balloon, carrying the equipment needed to pack it up wherever it may land. Luke told us a story about a balloon that landed in a baseball field a few miles south of the park and had to use the very last of its propane supply to shoot it up and over the fence because they couldn’t fit the basket through the gate. As a matter of fact, local little league teams have a rule that if a precocious little hitter manages to ding the side of a wayward balloon, he or she automatically wins the game and is instantaneously awarded a scholarship. I made that up. But truthfully, it’s quite an experience seeing balloons drifting lazily over streets, parks, and avenues across town with no serious eyebrows raised.
And it’s not necessarily easy to land a hot air balloon, either. The wind can sometimes push them horizontally at twenty miles per hour, although their speed is deceptive. Art and Glen had to remind us NOT to stand in front of an incoming basket and try to stop it singlehandedly. Valuable advice, because occasionally a balloon would blow off course into the crowd, with the pilot waving his arms and yelling, and spectators running away screaming and diving, and ground crew trying to grab onto the sides of the basket to slow it down and instead being launched off their feet by the momentum, before we would see a massive collapse of people, baskets, and canvas. Miraculously, everyone would escape unscathed. I had lots of respect for the ground crew in these moments—just like Texans and their longhorns, or Aussies and their crocodiles, it takes a true New Mexican to wrangle a rampaging hot air balloon.
Maybe that’ll be me one of these years. Or maybe I’ll never make it back to Balloon Fiesta. At any rate, they should put the Snoop Dogg/Kevin Hart duo on the mic sometime, like in Tokyo. Or maybe just Bill Walton. But no matter. The people will come.
To read more from Peter, click here.
Entering the Desert, by Emma Yoder
Today, we met with our work supervisors for the first time, officially marking the end of the beginning. As orientation comes to a close, I reflect on my arrival to Albuquerque and the last week and a half spent exploring surrounding New Mexico. Only a little over a week ago, I drove with my dad through the open lands of New Mexico, occasionally pelted by rain and constantly in awe of the surrounding scenery. Flat plains, interrupted by jutting mountains slowly evolved into the rocky Sandia Mountains, finally giving way to Albuquerque, my new home for the next year. In our 9 days of orientation, we’ve already had the chance to explore so much. Our days were filled with attempted scavenger hunts around the city, tours of Santa Fe, Caja del Rio and Madrid, attending church on the nearby Laguna Pueblo, and visits to fantastic food spots all over.
Yet, as I look back over the last week and half, I think about how many people expressed such excitement and enthusiasm at our arrival. For my introverted soul, entering new spaces can be filled with mixed emotions of anxiety and vulnerability. Choosing to leave my homes of Virginia and Ohio, and my wonderful communities in each, was not an easy decision. Seeking adventure in an entirely new space comes with excitement, but it also comes with fears of loneliness and uncertainty. But, this past week the people we’ve had the joy and honor of meeting have made those fears rest a little easier. Only yesterday, the wonderfully vibrant John Husler led us around Madrid, an old mining town, sharing his stories from his adolescence spent in the town. The mischievousness of his adolescence continued to shine through in his personality, as he pulled out spelling lists and jokes from his wallet, determined to connect with us and make us feel welcome in his old town. A few days previous, members of the Laguna Pueblo welcomed us into their church, allowing us to join them for worship Sunday morning. Though it was a small group of worshipers, the community amongst them was easy to feel as almost all members lifted either a prayer request or a joy during their time of sharing. Andrew Black, a man with more vocational hats than most anyone, took time out of his busy schedule to show us around the sacred Caja del Rio, his endless stream of facts equally fascinating and impressive. Not to mention all the time Luke, our site coordinator, the ABQYAV board members and various church members have dedicated to making my roommates and myself feel comfortable in our new home.
I’m sure as this year continues, I will continue to grieve for the friends and family I left behind. But, the joy of the people around me, as they welcome us into their lives and communities makes the vastness of New Mexico feel less overwhelming.
To read more from Emma, click here.
Class in the Wild, by Tristan Wall
I have always had a strong connection to the outdoors and a longing for life outside of man’s constructed world. Growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, with nearly 4 miles of trails at my disposal for free literally in my backyard, I often yearned to live in the woods as far away from people as possible. Much like Sam Gribley, I yearned for freedom outside away from the modern world. I was unaware until the beginning of my adult life, that areas such as this existed in masses outside of hidden trails by the highway, or a few acres of forest on the fringes of suburbia.
In North Carolina, Wilderness is more of a slang term or an adjective than a legitimate concept, let alone legal designation. It carried more of a sense of a temporary state of being rather than be indicative of a perpetual legal designation given to an area of land. Though there are a good deal of Wilderness areas back home, their accerage and size are dwarfed by the landmass of the state as a whole and the other notable attractions across the state such as the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Outer Banks.
In mid-December, I had the privilege of accompanying my supervisor, Will and the two Cibola rangers, Brennan and Walker on a brief trip to The Apache Kid Wilderness Area. After driving nearly 2 hours south on I-25, and another 2-3 hours on old, dilapidated, crumbling, rock filled back roads, we reached our campsite which laid within the boundaries of the Cibola National Forest, and just outside of Apache Kid. It was immediately clear that the campsite had experienced seldom use within many years. We set up “The Beast” to be our lodging and kitchen, made a fire, and called it a night. The next day was when the term “Wilderness” really became emboldened in a whole new way for me.
When I first started learning more about Wilderness areas and the 5 qualities which these areas must meet and be held to, solitude was one that was evident in Apache Kid from the beginning of our hike on Thursday morning. There wasn’t a single soul in sight, no highway noise, no waiting for a runner to shout, “on your left!” and no footprints before the inevitable imprint of our own on the dirt.
Will and I were going to be mapping Milo Canyon, and by looking at the map ahead of time, we saw the trail running right down the middle of the canyon for almost the entirety of its 4 mile length. Walker told us to stick to the North side of the canyon if we lost the trail, in anticipation that the trail had been unused for many years. We started off hugging the north side of Milo Canyon but quickly ended up on the southern side of the stream running through, because we thought the trail switched over. Long story short, this got us halfway up a mountain, on the wrong side of the canyon, sticking to game trails and our map to find our way back down. Though initially frustrated at the fact that we had either just completely lost the trail, or been given one that no longer existed, upon reflecting more on our off the beaten path trek for the 1st half of the day, I am so thankful we got lost.
“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain” -The Wilderness Act of 1964
I am used to hiking and camping and always seeing other groups of people, seeing campgrounds and fire rings frequently along trails, and always being within a reasonable cell signal range. Though raised in Southern Appalachia, with trails literally in my backyard, I grew up falling asleep to the coal and wood chip train going by every night, with the sound of I-40 and I-26 always humming in the background. I would often take a trail through the woods to walk to the 7/11 to grab a slushie after school. Even from the top of Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi River, the sweeping blue and green mountains still have the clear indentation of the highway running through. While we were busy trailblazing the mountain on the southern side of Milo Canyon, using only a map and what we could see in front of us to plot our course back down in a safe manner, I became immensely appreciative of the environment we were in and the world around us. I instantly realized the magnitude of importance these areas carry with them. With no one around, no mechanized contraptions to help us, we were required to show the utmost respect to the terrain and the land. A respect seldom recognized or practiced anymore. Respect stemming from appreciation of natural power and beauty, rather than a want to dominate, harness, or control that power, and exploit the land around us. A respect indicating that we are from and belong to the earth. I was humbled to be in such a remote, wild, and natural place, and while I was at first thrilled that land is still appreciated in this manner and is set aside to be cared for in such a way, I also began to ponder why this wasn’t the standard for how we treat the world, and when the standard was set to one of exploitation and extraction.
Wilderness not only is useful for outdoor and primitive recreation, but more importantly it reminds us of the way we ought to hold our lands and the manner in which they are to be protected. The remote peace experienced in Wilderness returns us back to a primal state which has been suppressed by the machinations of society and industrial development for centuries. Even only going for a simple day hike through this wild place expanded my thoughts and perceptions of the earth in a way I never expected. I can’t wait to go back. I wonder what I will learn next time.
To read more from Tristan, click here.