Proctor Academy's Mountain Classroom students are currently on a four day solo in the middle of the desert, but the two weeks prior have been group adventures. Read insights into the Mountain Classroom experience from Ang '22 and Lucy '22 in this week's blog post below.
How am I supposed to appreciate the land around me? How am I supposed to be educated on this land? Lay my head down to sleep, climb the rocks that tower above me, hike through trails and mountains that have been spared by modernization and watch the sun rise and set on land that is not mine. Land that has been taken. Land that has been reshaped, renamed, reformed, and reinvented. Land that has been ruined and ripped up just for a day's worth of copper or drilled for oil. Land that cannot be reversed back to its normal state once it has been broken. How do I express my love for all this land when I cannot comprehend how the ones before me that truly love this land and build cultures, families, traditions, and communities are now silenced. Their love is silenced, their language is silenced, their livelihood is silenced. How do I appreciate this land? Who am I supposed to tell or express this to when I am stuck in a pit of confusion and misunderstanding? How am I supposed to move forward after I feel so moved and inspired?
After countless tours, hours of driving, and hard-to-break-down class discussions. Countless pictographs in Hueco Tanks, pieces of pottery within the Superstition Wilderness, and parts of history that have surrounded me. Who should I go to when the park rangers or tour guides tell me they don’t know the answers to any more of my questions? How do I say thank you? How do I express my appreciation, memories, once in a lifetime opportunities on land that others have cried, fought, and even died over. How should I appreciate the way I am living and learning right now?
I could sit and write about how we as a group have overcome adversity, of how we woke up at 4:30am to hike as the sun came up, or how we are no longer a group but a tight knit family. I could write about all these things (and more) for hours. Instead I am writing this blog to spark up a conversation, to educate others and bring this idea to my own community at Proctor. Mountain is more than what is shown through a screen, through talks with past participants, or maybe through your own idea that you have formed in your head. Yes we haven’t showered in 12 days and yes the wilderness is our bathroom, but there is more to Mountain than what I have just told you.
All of these questions have been floating in my head for a long time. I’ve had these thoughts written in my journal since January 18th and there hasn’t been a day that has gone by that I haven’t gone back and asked myself these questions. This blog post is not an attempt to find an answer because I’ve realized there are no easy answers. I wrote this to bring more awareness to Native and Indigenous lands. I hope that whoever you are or wherever you have been you take the time to educate, connect, and form a stronger understanding about the Native/Indigenous land around you. To my readers, listeners, teachers, peers, family--have you considered whose land you are on right now?
Now if you were to tell me a part of Mountain Classroom would be waking up at 4:30 AM to walk five miles after four days of expedition, I probably would have told you Mountain Classroom was not for me. However, that is far from the case because I now find myself eagerly waking up at 4:15 AM with Colin to fill the water from the nearby spring for breakfast. As our water boiled, the rest of our group emerged from the tarps, beginning to pack up. With the loads of clothes and toiletries down from the bear hang, we were able to stuff away our gear into our packs for our last trek through Superstition Wilderness.
As the lights from our headlamps flickered from our draining batteries, we slowly walked along the path. With each step, my foot ached from the blisters overtaking my heel. Nevertheless, we carried on, eventually crossing over our first hill of the day where we were happily greeted by a view of a distant, mighty mountain range. Pushing past my aches, I felt stronger and stronger. My motivation for each step stemmed from a simple quote Carol told us on the first day of expedition. While I walk I remind myself, “the first thing to do is to lift your foot. Breath in. Put your foot down in front of you, first your heel, and then your toes. Breathe out. Feel your feet solid on the earth. You have already arrived” (How to Walk, Thich Nhat Hanh). So with one foot in front of the other, I looked up to the sky to see the sun begin to peek through the horizon. We all paused to soak in the golden sun illuminating the path before walking any further.
The day continued on with a bit of off-roading from the path and investigation of the maps. Eventually though, the path appeared and all was well as we swiftly walked downhill to escape to the valley below. Our excitement filled the air as we walked down the last hill which overlooked the parking lot. As we practically ran down, our trusty Deb came into view. It wasn’t until we sat next to Deb, eating our sandwiches, did the past five days start to sink in.
The expedition was most definitely difficult, exhausting, foreign and exciting all at once. It gave me clarity that, through the hard, there will come ease. Hiking through the vast mountains of Arizona has opened my eyes to the beauty and the gift we experience living off-grid with one another. Mountain might not always be a breeze and some days you just want to sleep, but with each step we take on Mountain, a whole new world is open to explore.