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.
Last Sunday, the Albuquerque YAVs and I were invited to speak at Las Placitas Church. We were each advised to share a story from our YAV experience thus far, but the prompt was fairly loose; we just needed to tell our story. We only had two to five minutes, and I probably stressed out about this more than I needed to, but I reflected on an important aspect of my reasoning for participating in this year of service, and that my search for something holy, something meaningful, or at least for something to show me that I’m never truly alone on this journey. Below is my experience as a pilgrim walking alongside others in solidarity to demonstrate unity. (for information ~ http://nmpilgrimage.org/2019-pilgrimage.html) I have since realized that I did more than walk along paved roads and gravel trails; I was walking on holy ground.
PSALM 40:1-11 (EDITED)
I WAIT PATIENTLY FOR THE HOLY ONE; I KNOW SHE HEARS MY CRY. SHE DRAWS ME UP FROM THE DESOLATE PIT, OUT OF THE MIRY BOG, SETTING MY FEET UPON A ROCK, MAKING EACH OF MY STEPS SECURE. HER STEADFAST LOVE AND FAITHFULNESS WILL KEEP ME SAFE FOREVER.
The first few months of my YAV year were met with a new community, new experiences, and an eagerness for a new adventure in a beautiful place. There were also met with loneliness, loss, and a desperate need to feel God’s presence. I expected to encounter all of these things, though the latter came sooner than I anticipated.
I used to think that in order to experience God’s presence it had to come with some grandiose gesture, an overwhelming sense of emotions, a feeling of complete awe. That may be the experience for some, but it was never mine, and I’ve learned that it still isn’t. The presence of the Spirit doesn’t seem to appear whenever I desperately want it to. However, She eventually makes herself know, typically when I least expect Her and after I’ve given up on searching.
My first unexpected encounter with a holy presence occurred in September on a pilgrimage for unity which started a pattern I’ve learned (still learning) not only accept, but embrace. I was accompanied by most of my fellow ABQ YAVs and many others stemming from various faith communities in the area – Episcopalians, Catholics, Quakers, Unitarian Universalists, Presbyterians. The pilgrimage fell close to the time of year I lost my dad four years ago.
Each morning our walk started at Ghost Ranch, a place so beautiful I was almost moved to tears. I soon realized why this place is called “the land of enchantment.” Surely, I thought, God is near if not here with me; She will make herself known. When I wasn’t met with Her presence immediately, I started to search a little harder – through prayer, walks by myself, in the mountains, early morning sunsets – but I still felt disconnected.
The first night before the pilgrimage started, Pastor Ken referred to the land that Ghost Ranch inhabits as “holy ground.” I know he was right; I just wish I could experience its hold and sacredness for myself. I decided to make that a prayer of mine as I walked ten plus miles for the next three days. However, my legs grew weary and my feet began to blister. It wasn’t long before my prayers drifted into the back of my mind and my focus turned into myself to keep moving forward.
Then, unannounced, I felt Her presence. I witnessed God in a brief conversation with one of the other pilgrims during a snack break. We rested our tired bodies on a blanket, enjoyed some dark chocolate, and just talked until she noticed my tattoo on the inside of my left arm. It reads:
Love you, Dad.
What’s the story behind your tattoo, she asks. With hesitation, I told her that I got it after I lost my dad my first month into college. This prompted a conversation I was not anticipating. She then began to ask questions about my dad, ones I wasn’t used to answering. She was interested in who my dad was as well as who he was to me; I found these questions to be a bit tougher to answer. I also had the privilege to hear her own story with losing her father. Her interest in me and my experience forced me to open up enough to finally notice God’s presence – She had been there all along. God shined through someone who at the time was almost a stranger and has become someone who I dearly admire. This exchange of stories continued after our snack break, and I am grateful for that. I started to feel lighter, more relaxed, and each step afterwards felt like I was walking on holy ground.
Since our pilgrimage, I have lost two other people who were, and still are, very special to me and my family. This new adventure did not start off easy, nor has it gotten much easier. But I am surrounded by a community who constantly shows me support, love, compassion, and humility making this year special. I’m learning to be patient with God, which requires me to accept the fact that though I believe She is ever-present, I won’t always notice. And when I’m in a place that seems to lack Her presence, I remind myself that surely, this must be holy ground too.
To read more from Caitlin, click here.
To say that the YAV experience has been turbulent would be a bit of an understatement. From Orientation being one of the most disorienting learning experiences of my life to getting hit by a truck, a lot has happened over the past few months. I’m long overdue in giving everyone an update on how thing are going so here you go.
First, a small piece on national orientation. It’s been so long since that week of rich and challenging community building that I struggle to remember it all. There are a few things that remain clear as day in Albuquerque. Key among those is the prevalence of white supremacy and the systems I witness all too often that keep it in place. Here in ABQ it is hard to miss the ways in which the Military Industrial Complex, Housing assistance, treatment of lands sacred to local Pueblos, the Doctrine of Discovery, and so much more effect people of color every single day. Even in trying to fully understand the extent to which white supremacy has affected generations of Native peoples is difficult to comprehend, especially when you retreat at Ghost Ranch, a Presbyterian retreat center located on lands originally inhabited by Ute and Jicarilla Apache, as well as the Ohkay Owingeh, Picuris, Santa Clara, and San Ildefonso Pueblos. Reflecting on the role of the church, the program, and myself in this larger community has been a constant and difficult struggle I imagine will likely continue for the remainder of my time here. As my site coordinator Luke would say “I invite you to sit with that struggle.”
Other rather obvious struggles I’ve been dealing with have been the whole truck business. Funny enough, that morning we had a bible study on Genesis 32: 22-32. That's the one where Jacob wrestles an angel and gets a limp because the angel messes with his hip socket. Luckily I did have any issues with my hip, but I certainly developed a heck of a limp that day. In the following days and weeks I was inundated with cards, messages, support, and love from afar. It was so comforting knowing so many people were caring about me and I really appreciated it. Unfortunately there were plenty of setbacks to balance out things. For one, you really get a chance to reevaluate things when staying in the hospital learning how to stand up again. I found myself incredibly lonely and depressed, despite visits from my entire family and the constant outpouring of support from my community back home. Fear of missing out certainly took hold of me and I certainly felt some bitterness towards my housemates living a few blocks away from me. We barely knew each other, but I desperately wished to be with them, building relationships and the intentional community we had all committed to. Luckily when you’re young your body is apparently made of rubber and heals at an exponential rate. Once I was moved into the YAV house and my healing began moving at a lightning pace, that sense of community I longed for was fostered and flourished. Today, two months ago I was learning to stand without passing out. Now I walk the .8 miles it takes to get to work and go on hikes with my fellow YAVs. Progress is wonderful and I am so appreciative of my community here and afar.
Speaking of my community afar, I feel like I need to do some reflecting on the community I left behind at Washington and Lee. I didn’t really process leaving that community behind very well during the summer and in the past few months of being a YAV, but I found myself today struck with an incredible amount of sadness and nostalgia for my W&L community. I don’t really enjoy reflecting on my departure from the institution but I sincerely miss my friends and the larger community therein. I see so many things happening from afar, both good and less than great that I wish I could still be a part of. In some ways, I see the growth I’ve made personally since leaving school and have an immense appreciation of the experiences I have been exposed to; but that does not lessen the loss I still feel today in having left that community behind.
I feel like I mention those things to demonstrate the complexity of the human experience I feel I’ve felt these past few months. There’s so much that’s happened that I’ve left out but at the moment feel I can’t do justice. I hope to be more diligent going forward reflecting on my experiences so I can better include readers in the community I have here in ABQ. Tomorrow we depart Albuquerque for Tucson, AZ and Agua Prieta, Mexico. Expect some reflections on that experience in the coming weeks. Until then, Love Neighbor, Love Enemy, and Love Self.
To read more from Nate, click here.
*Sunset on The Sandia Mountains*
After much time and anticipation I am glad to invite you all to my blog page for my YAV Year in ABQ! We have been in ABQ for about 3-4 days and so far I love it here. Though I am from the Blue Ridge Mountains originally, and am thus used to rolling mountains filled with lush green and blue hues, there is something captivating about the energy in the desert here. Our first real night here our site coordinator took us up to the Sandia Crest to eat dinner. After gaining 5000 feet in elevation in less than 40 minutes driving up to the peak, I was absolutely astounded by the view and vistas that we witnessed atop the crest.
It has been especially nice to be here in Albuquerque after a long week of orientation at Stony Point Center in Stony Point NY. While in Stony Point, the entire program, set aside the three 2nd Year YAV’s not present at orientation engaged in important anti-racism work while also building community young one another.
We are almost half way through our local orientation here in ABQ and had quite the adventure this past Wednesday (8/28/19). We were given a list of places to go see around Albuquerque with only 20 dollars to use to get us there as a kind of scavenger hunt around the city of sorts. However, since the whole house is participating in The New Mexico Pilgrimage For Unity in September, we took this exercise as an opportunity to do a good bit of walking as a training of sorts, considering we will be walking about 40 miles in 3 days near the middle of September. Still need to make sure to break in my hiking boots for that.
This resulted in us spending 3 hours walking to 3 spots total, one of which was opening a bank account at a local credit union. So by the time it was 5pm, we had crossed off 3 of 18 spots on our list. Needless to say we didn’t finish. However, we were able to see almost all of our individual work sites around the city and then proceeded to enjoy our 1st communal meal together…around 9:30pm that night.
As I said earlier I very much enjoy being in ABQ so far. Work starts on September 5th and I couldn’t be more stoked to start my job at New Mexico Wild. I’ll make sure to keep y’all updated throughout the coming months.
Peace and Blessings
I’ve never really blogged before so I think I am going to keep these fairly casual. After 4 years of numerous academic papers and 20+ page final exam papers, I think Ill take a break from overly intellectual academic writing. After all, me writing in a casual and laid back way will lend y’all into my frame of mind and setting in the best way possible if you ask me. So we’ll see where this goes.
You can read more from Tristan on his blog here.
I have spent the last year of my life investing love, enthusiasm, and passion into the places I have visited and the people who have become my life. My time as an ABQ YAV is over and I don’t know what’s next. Not knowing has its benefits because I will have some transition time to travel, relax, and reflect. Here are 4 things I do know I have learned about during my YAV year:
Importance of Community
Two incredible women who have been by my side through our whole ABQ YAV experience were my main community. If you have never lived in an intentional community then this is a concept you might not understand especially because I just spent the last year of my life living in a community and I didn’t always understand it. My experience living in a community provided me with a space to be loved even after I made mistakes, a space for fun and frustration at the same time, and a place to be authentically myself. The three of us together became invested in each others everything. We had hard times and happy times and through it all, we were resilient together. My intentional Christian living community impacted my experience and I will miss our times sitting on our front porch, the way we stuck together in new social situations, our trips to The Range for fries with ranch and desserts, our nightly walks, driving places windows down blasting a song on repeat until we reached our destinations, and many more experiences.
The community I was placed into at work was one who provided me with so much support and an incredible amount of joy. Heading Home allowed me the opportunity to grow their volunteer program while learning about the organization as a whole and taking a hard look at the social justice issue that is homelessness in Albuquerque. Many people at work invested in me and made me feel loved and valued. My community of coworkers positively influenced me and I will miss walking around the office to bounce ideas off different people, having people stop by my desk to discuss a wide variety of topics, and many more situations.
Putting Faith into Action
This year has provided me with many opportunities to subtly put my faith into action. I have learned to value and put into practice walking humbly and loving genuinely and to read more about that please click here. The two Bible verses I have consistently used to guide me through my YAV year were Matthew 25:31-46 and Micah 6:8. Click here for a previous reflection on Micah 6:8. These verses are important to me because both call us to boldly and compassionately engage in the spaces and places we are.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” -Matthew 25:31-37
My work placement has no religious affiliations but that never stopped me from interacting with clients in the office or residents at the shelters in a compassionate manner. Kindness and compassion matter to me please click here to read more about that. I will miss the work I did because being the volunteer coordinator at Heading Home because I consistently had the opportunity to host all kinds of awesome groups and individuals and to be an advocate and educator about homelessness in the community. To read more about being their volunteer coordinator click here.
“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” -Micah 6:8
Over the course of my YAV year, I had the opportunity to visit the United States-Mexico border two different times. Frontera de Cristo, a boarder ministry, does an excellent job of humanizing the experience of living on the border and providing multiple viewpoints by incorporating stories and organizations that fall on both sides of the immigration discussion. To read more about my border experiences click here and here.
Honoring Native Land and Enjoying the Outdoors
New Mexico is a truly beautiful state with a lot of different terrains to offer from mountains to forests. Being in New Mexico has given me a deeper understanding and appreciation for native lands and Native American culture and more of an appreciation for nature in general. I had the opportunity to worship at a Presbyterian church in Laguna Pueblo, to visit a few other pueblos around the state as well as visit several National Monuments. There is something powerful about the way the land is appreciated in New Mexico whither its native land or not. At the start of different public events I attended held on native land there was an acknowledgment of the traditional Native inhabitants of the land. That acknowledgement is an easy way of showing respect and making a step towards honoring the truth of the Indigenous people’s history. Taking a moment to struggle with the history of the incredible outdoor spaces before enjoying them and being invited to learn about different pueblo cultures and traditions has been a meaningful part of my YAV year.
Throughout this year I have intentionally practiced vulnerability. I have been reflecting on being vulnerable from the start of this experience and to read a previous reflection click here. Vulnerability for me has been about letting go of the need to be in control and having the courage to continuously be authentic and to enthusiastically show up and be present no matter what. This has not been easy and I am blessed to have so many different individuals in my life who can have meaningful conversations with me and who continue to push me to maintain vulnerability even when it’s difficult.
At this point, I will be seeking employment opportunities in Albuquerque and Minneapolis. I have fallen in love with the Southwest and I don’t know that my time there is done. Even if I return to Albuquerque things will be different because I will no longer be an ABQ YAV and the thought of continuing to work on other relationships I have built makes me happy. To read more about how important building relationships was click here. I have been truly fortunate to have built such a strong support system in Albuquerque and to have entered into my YAV year with such a strong support base in Minneapolis.
I’m sure I will continue to learn from my YAV experience for years to come, those four things are just the start of my reflections and processing. Not everything about me has changed but during my time as an ABQ YAV, I have had so many different challenges, experiences, and opportunities that I am not the same person I was a year ago. Moving forward wherever I end up, I want to continue to challenge myself to grow, to take hard looks at social justice issues and systemic problems, to practice vulnerability, maintain my enthusiasm and optimism, and to continue to find meaningful ways to put my faith into action.
To read more from Kim, click here.