Proctor's Mountain Classroom group visited the Tohono O’dham Reservation in Arizona and completed three and a half day solos in the Arizona dessert over the past week. Check out reflections from Luke '18, Augie '19, and Julian '19 in the blog post below. The group apologizes for fewer photos and videos this week (broken camera/phone), but promises more to come next week. Enjoy!
While in Tohono O’dham, a Native American Reservation in southern Arizona, we did many things, but three experiences especially stood out to me. We hiked a large mountain, met a man, and squeezed into a cave. All three experiences drew me closer to the land, people, and culture, but also reminded me of how different and foreign I was. These actions on their own, stripped of context, seem trivial, but through the deep culture and religion of the Tohono O’dham, they created impactful memories in our whole group.
The hike, which lasted from 8:00am to sunset, roundtrip, was an excellent way to learn about the history of the land that we stood upon. We learned from the caretaker/guide, named James, that the mountain is sacred because it is where the Creator lives. The Creator is who the natives of the area worship for annual rains and other natural events. The night before the hike, we were encouraged to set intentions for this day and ask for blessings from The Creator. I have never felt religious before, but as we hiked up the 7000 foot mountain in the middle of the desert, I felt humbled and in awe of the beliefs that have survived since almost the beginning of human existence. I also felt my butt get more and more tired as the trail got steeper. Finally, after using our hands and feet to scramble up the last 150 yards, we got to the highest possible point. James said that it would be dangerous to ascend to the summit without climbing ropes, so we gladly broke for lunch at a rocky outcrop nearly at the summit. As we were sitting on the rock and looking at the endless expanse of barren landscape spread out beneath us it seemed so likely that this spot would be the spot of The Creator’s existence. We all took a couple minutes at the top to think about the magnitude of where we were and during this time I thought about how so many people today never get to experience to be as close to the natural world as we were in the moment. I felt so lucky to be able to experience such an amazing place that also has a complex history.
While on the upward part of this hike, we came across a man. This man was desperate for water and food because he had been climbing across the mountains for seven days without either. He told us, in Spanish, that he is from Guatemala and is trying to get to the U.S. so he can have a better life. He lost his whole family and only knows one person in the United States who is in Mississippi. His story was astonishing, and as a group of well-off high school students, we could never relate to this man. We gave him water, food, James gave him directions, and then we parted ways. My philosophical ideas and wonderings came crashing down as the reality of the present smashed its way into my head. We knew as a group that this moment was something we would never forget, and will think about well into adulthood. The life I am living now is what so many people dream about. I am privileged beyond even what I had imagined. When I get back home, I will encounter problems, but nothing even close to what other people experience. I started to understand how grateful we really should be, not just for going to private school or getting presents on our birthday, but for having caring families and futures where it is guaranteed that we will survive and be comfortable regardless of how much effort we put into our lives.
The next day, James took us up another trail. This trail only took 45 minutes to ascend. At the end of the trail, James told us that there is a cave in the side of the cliff. The cave is even more sacred the mountain we had climbed, it is filled with the offerings of people from all over the country. Climbing up the trail, I felt afraid to see the inside of the cave. It didn’t feel right that we would be allowed to enter, being tourists to the area. James assured us that as long as we had respect for the culture and the religion, we would always be welcome. When we got to the end of the trail, there was a large wall of rock, and upon further examination, a small opening in the side of the rock just wide enough to fit through appeared. Once inside, all I could see was the side of the cave illuminated from the hole in the wall. With the help of my flashlight, I started exploring the inside as more people entered. We were all taken back by the cave and the amount of things that were left as offerings. The edge of the cave was filled with everything from water bottles and sticks to to wallets and jewelry. The silence and stillness of the cave was terrifying but also beautiful. There was something about a lot of people joined together in one belief that is so powerful, and in the cave, even though it was just our group from New Hampshire, it felt like everyone who had ever been in the cave was joined together.
Our time in the Tohono O’dham reservation was a time to look at a different culture. By comparing the cultures of Tohono O’dham with the culture of the world I live in, I have come to realize the importance of believing in a greater being or idea as a community. There are many problems that are persisting in our environment today that are not being dealt with, and by coming together under a common belief as the Tohono O’dham do, I think that we can instill a higher level of change.
On Friday morning in Cascabel, Arizona, students on Mountain Classroom packed their bags full with food, clothing, tarps, water, and sleeping bags to prepare to leave for their solos. The cold air greeted us as we all ate our own individual breakfasts and nervously chatted with one another about what the next three and a half days would have to offer. At 9:00 AM, Alex rang the old, rusty triangle dinner bell and we all fell silent. Two groups left in two different directions off to the solo sights where previous Mountain Classroom students experienced their solos. Luke Weber, Sam Fulton, Anna Hollenbaugh, Olivia Clark, Alex, and myself all trudged off with Birget and David (Cascabel Residents) through a dried out creek bed. We all had to carry out all of our water and food for the next three and a half days, so our packs were very heavy. Forty minutes later we reached the beautiful canyons of Cascabel. One by one, we were individually dropped off at our campsites. Luke and Anna were dropped off first, then I was dropped off, then Olivia, then Sam Fulton. In silence, I said bye to everyone and walked into my own canyon.
During the fall term of my sophomore year, I remember being in the kayak bus (the old Mountain Classroom bus) speaking with a now Proctor alum Lucien Wiener. As he described the life changing adventures and the incredible experiences that he had been apart of during the Mountain Classroom of the year prior, I became increasingly interested in the program as a whole. After he shared many stories of his time off campus I remember being especially drawn towards one of the prominent parts of Mountain Classroom: the solos. The solos consist of three days alone in Cascabel Arizona, with only a tarp to sleep under, a tarp to sleep on, and any personal gear required (sleeping bag, sleeping pad, food, etc.). This three day experience away from all civilization, entirely alone sounded like a time that would stick with me and the members of our group forever. When my junior year rolled along and embarking on this journey was just around the corner the one part that still was most exciting was the solo. Jump forward to the present and my mind hasn't altered one bit.
Once everyone landed in El Paso to begin the second part of Mountain, we all knew that the solos were just around the corner. That is when the mental preparation really started. Little possible factors started racing through our minds, we started thinking of all the potential positives of the experience: the warm desert all to yourself, the sunny days, waking up to the sound of birds chirping and ground animals scurrying about. These blissful thoughts lasted right up until the actual preparation for the solos, then all possibilities became a possible reality: what happens if I run out of food, what happens of I run out of water, what happens of it rains, what am I going to do with three days to myself? These questions ran through our heads one after the other until the reassuring voices of Alex and Kate reminded us that we would all be totally fine, we just needed to have a good idea of the possible outcomes and plan around them. For food, bring items that will not go bad in under three days (canned soups, tortillas, peanut butter, not quite ripe fruit). For rain, learn the correct and most efficient way to rope down your tarps and don't sleep in low places to which water could flow. But most of all, for the three days alone, be open minded how far you can stretch mentally.
The most challenging part of mentally preparing for the solos is coming to the realization that boredom is inevitable, but that that is OK. There are going to be times where all you want to do is call out for a friend and know that one will come from right around the corner, but having these moments is OK. This time alone is designed to take students who put a significant amount of their time and effort into their schoolwork out of the constant repetitive routine and structure. The time is designed to have us sit still and just, well, honestly, just not do anything. We have to be willing to take ourselves outside of our comfort zones and into a world of nothing but our surroundings. It is in these moments where we will learn the most, getting into the thick of it. Truly experiencing everything around us happens more efficiently completely alone. It is in these moments where we will learn more about ourselves than anywhere else. The knowing and accepting of the inevitable on our solos is almost impossible, but knowing and accepting ourselves out there isn’t. That is what solos are all about: getting to know ourselves better. Over all we are all incredibly excited (and some of us nervous) for the adventure that lies ahead. Solos don't have anything on the Mountain Classroom Class of 2018! Watch out!