I have been camping my whole life. I remember when I was seven carrying a small (which didn’t seem small to me at the time) daypack with a sleeping bag in it up the trail. My sister had the clothing for us. And my mom and dad- well, they had everything else. At the time, I thought I had the heaviest pack ever! I look back and think how amazing my parents were carrying all that weight so we could learn to camp and hike and be in nature at a young age. Those trips so affected me that becoming an SCA volunteer was a natural step for me. I cannot think what my life would be like without the summers of camping with my family and working for SCA. All those backcountry experiences and times with small groups doing our thing in the best places in the world.
I came to this project, this Grand Canyon Alternative Spring Break project with the same ideas: working hard outside, camping, being with people who care and learning more skills and gaining more knowledge. I have been an SCA member before and I just needed to get back into it.
I can honestly say that my trip here so far has been everything I had hoped for and, believe it or not, more. But, in an ironic way, by not being at all what I expected.
Everything we are doing is different from what I have done, and yet the same. It is a very cool way to learn and to come to see what the ‘center’ really is.
Let me try to explain. We are 34 people strong. 30 members and 4 staff. There are almost always other people too- from other SCA projects and the park with us- working during the day, having dinner with us at night- stargazing and eating curry together in the campground. The campground is developed. There are showers, running water, and many other people from all over the world doing similar things: hanging together in nature to get the ‘darshan’ of life and the Grand Canyon. It is noisy, there are many fires, there are lots of cars and people and all kinds of smells of food everywhere.
I am used to a small group-in a place far far away. I am used to the silence of the wilderness in the middle of the summer when you can get away from it all. But get this: 34 people, sharing space near other groups sharing space. Gobs of people on the rim of the Grand Canyon who have come here to be part of the earth and each in his or her own way to celebrate the sacredness and the art of the canyon and, her people’s –past and present. Working with bulldozers to save plants at a construction project; working at a visitor center where there are so many people its hard to keep track. It really isn’t any different that what I have been doing.
Our work, even though we are not alone is saving nature and it is important for me to remember that there are many people who would save a ‘wilderness’ because it is pristine but wouldn’t think about the area near a dump, or near a visitor center that has 4 million people visit each year. Saving nature in the small forms- as we are doing on the rim of the Grand Canyon- that is ever so important. Because what is right around us- our homes, our work spaces- the places most of us go-those are the places most people see, most people know. Working near the center of humanity-is just as important and cool as being in the middle of nowhere. I have learned something this trip already.
Next: 34 people. Most of them so excited to serve and help that they’ll freeze their hands in icy water to wash dishes. And of our group, everyone will sit in a circle together, close together around a campfire to keep warm and also to share in a moment in time together. Last night we had a group around a tiny fire compared to our group size. We had some guitar players and some singers and most of us couldn’t remember the words to the songs we were singing, that were being played. But it was lovely. It was classic. There probably are reasons that certain images, certain legends and myths prevail in cultures throughout the ages. A group of people- tired and sunburned, with bellies full of good homemade food and in the dark of the night- in a beautiful place, a fire, music: if that doesn’t stir you up a little, really, come on , it is true- there is something about the sharing and the primeavelness of fire and companionship that will always ring true.
Yeah maybe there are 4.5 million people who visit the park each year, and yeah maybe. And I will never stop loving being truly away, far far away from the human society tucked into some wilderness somewhere; But I also think just being able to be outside, and in sacred places- no matter how busy- and recognizing that the simplicity of a mission together, the simplicity of making and managing camp and of being together in nature- its as true a truism as there can be: there really aint nothing better.