Proctor's Mountain Classroom program kicked off the New Year with a trip to Big Bend National Park and canoe excursion down the Rio Grande. With high winds and cold temperatures challenging them along the way, the group continued to bond, grow, and learn from each other and the environment in which they are living.
Calista '22 | Canyons That Could Be Seen In a Painting
I’m not going to sit here on a cold bench in the middle of Big Bend, Texas and ramble on about how I felt during our recent 5 day canoe trip down the Rio Grande. Rather, I want you to experience a day of our trip yourself…Imagine waking up way before the sun and hours before the loud coyotes awoke. You slowly drag yourself out of your tent and force your body to pack up the remains of the few outfits you are allowed to bring in your dry bag. Don’t forget deodorant! You’ll need that. With your small personal items in hand you walk over to a boat launch to meet the man who will be guiding you through the Rio Grande for the next few days. His name is Joe. He is a tall, bearded Mountain Man. His toes are crusty and he looks like he only bathes in the river. Also, he chooses to sleep outside without a tent every night for some reason. Say goodbye to the bathrooms and showers. It’s time to go.
With a paddle in your hand and pounds of gear in your boat, you and your partner paddle down the turquoise colored river. Think of an emerald, the river was full of emeralds. All of a sudden there are rapids! What kind of river has rapids? You frantically paddle down the rapids with fear of flipping in your eyes. Safe! You made it. Joe greets you at the bottom and says “good job.” You look back at your partner with a smile, all of a sudden laughter bursts from both of your mouths.
Paddling on, you reach the port of entry which leads into Mexico. Two young boys approach you and your group. Holding out friendship bracelets, you buy one. With a new stylish bracelet around your wrist, it’s time to continue. Finally, you reach Boquillas Canyon. It’s right in front of you. What looked like a greenscreen all this time is finally real. In awe, you stop paddling and take a moment to look around. The canyons are tall, they look down on you but in a kind way with colors layering one another like strokes on a painting. Orange, red, white, and even gray streaks cause your wide eyes to focus a little harder. Wait! There’s a horse. There’s two horses. The tall, muscular four-legged grass eaters look at you in annoyance as you wave hello to them. Finally, Joe pulls over to let you know that the long stretch of land in front of you is home for the night.
You sigh in relief. But most importantly the one thing on your mind is getting out of the cold, wet, soggy shoes on your feet. Everybody pants as heavy jugs of water, food, and shelter are brought onto the beach. You change out of your cold clothes and throw on every warm layer you packed. Poof. Tents are up, cooks are cooking, and Joe is sitting in front of a fire warming everyone up. Together, everybody gathers to discuss dinner! Pesto pasta with chicken and a dessert of Oreos. Smiles gleam from face to face as bowls are filled and stomachs are filled. You feel warm next to fire, feeling full to just the perfect amount. Dinner is over, everyone is cleaning up. You wash the oily dishes in water hotter than a summer day without a cloud in sight.
Before bed, everybody gathers together around the fire once more to reflect on the day. Be proud of yourself, fix the small problems, and move on to tomorrow. Hold the ones around you tight. They end your day with one of the happiest of nights. Resting your head against your friend’s shoulder you can’t help but smile again. After everybody says their goodnights you decide to walk past the tents full of quiet whispers and red reading lights. Away from everybody, you lay down alone. The sand below you is hard but feels soft. Above you lay millions of shining stars. The Big Dipper, Little Dipper, and North Star stare back down at you. The crescent moon shines a shadow upon you so great you can see your silhouette even in the dark. However, the canyons that were once full of color now tower above you with faces looking at you. They show emotions you never thought canyons could have. Anger, laughter, and fangs? There’s a vampire figure right in front of you. Before getting up you take a deep breath. You realize that you are okay, out here nothing matters, you are truly happy. Go get some rest…goodnight.
“Don't judge a book by it’s cover.” A cliche that everyone has heard maybe a million times, and most have taken for granted. The same could be said for first impressions–the first experience with someone or something can shape the rest of the experience. My first impressions of Mountain Classroom were formed by student panels, peers who experienced it for themselves, and a shiny pamphlet I acquired during revisit day. As I’ve become more immersed in the experience the more I realized how irrelevant these first impressions would be in the long run.
Dust covering my face and wind blowing my tent away were my first impressions of Big Bend National Park. Roughly two hours later I sat in my crazy creek, slightly uncomfortable, staring at an unpolluted night sky. I spotted the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, and a string of stars that I couldn’t name but still marveled upon. We woke up the next morning and played a very early game of ultimate frisbee, which was slightly forced, and took place on a field with so many bumps it was practically impossible to run. Jeffrey learned the hard way by taking a knee to one of the various bumps we all tripped on. However, the challenging game of frisbee and the intense wind was all but forgotten after a long gaze at the surrounding canyons, sand dunes, and a hazy, orange sunset, accompanied with a perfect canyon to sunset ratio. All the nerves and preconceived notions about leaving home or coming to a new place dissipated with exploring Big Bend’s natural creations.
Instead, what I have begun to contemplate is gratitude. What was it about the dust or the wind or the awfully cold frisbee game that diminished my gratitude? I think what I learned most in the first couple of days was how lucky I was to be sitting under those stars. I now have a new question to ponder: How do I show Big Bend National Park my gratitude? For now, my answer has been to absorb as much information as I can about the public lands we visit; one of our assignments was to complete a land acknowledgement, which consisted of completing research regarding Big Bend and Indigenous peoples who inhabited the land before us. Part of the project was creating a personal reflection where I highlighted the importance of educating a new generation. Although I might not be educating a newer generation, I will still tell my friends and family about what I’ve learned.
With a brief solution and a vague understanding of how I will show my gratitude in the future, I hope our travels finally help me come to an understanding on how to show my appreciation. What I am trying to determine is what it means to say thank you to a teacher while leaving their class and also telling my family about Big Bend’s beauty. Even though they are different perspectives, I believe both circumstances come with an equal sense of gratitude.