Sorry for the quietness on my end. This month has turned out to be busier than September and I’m glad it’s almost over! I’ve had a lot of fun though, and I have about 5 blog posts swirling around in my head waiting to be written. Here’s the first.
My senior year of college, I participated in a program called Semester In the West. From the website: “Whitman College Semester in the West is an interdisciplinary field program focusing on public lands conservation and rural life in the interior American West. Our objective is to know the West in its many dimensions, including its diverse ecosystems, its social and political communities, and the many ways these ecosystems and communities find expression in regional environmental writing and public policy.”
While that description sounds a little vague, what SITW really was for me was an opportunity to explore the unexplored places in the American West through a lens of ecology, politics, and literature. We traveled through eight states and part of northern Mexico over the course of 3.5 months speaking with locals about various environmental, political and humanitarian issues that were affecting their homes. In addition to the wonderful opportunity to connect with grassroots issues and causes, it was also a time of deep reflection on home, creation of everlasting friendships, and the discovery of a region (that contained my home) as something more beautiful, more mysterious, more contentious and more community-based than I could ever imagine. Throughout our time on the road, we were tasked with putting the puzzle pieces together into coherent (and sometimes not-so-coherent) writings about our experiences, the issues we were seeing, and the solutions we agreed and disagreed with. The program accepts 21 students for a semester every other year and has been going since 2002. So that’s the background.
Two weekends ago we had a reunion of all participants in Bluff, UT, a place that many of us connected to during the semester. It’s hard to explain why Bluff is so special. Our campsite is at the foot of Comb Ridge, a 120-mile long monocline that gradually rises from the east side to an 800-foot drop off at the west end that overlooks badlands unlike any other landscape I’d ever seen. It’s spectacular, it’s the first place where the sandstone seems to have topography, the sunrises and sunsets have two completely different backdrops, and it’s the first place the desert starts to feel like home. This is the comb looking north. You can see the beginnings of the slope that heads east for about a mile before you reach the ground near Bluff, UT.
So there we met, nearly 100 “Westies” new and old, to reminisce, catch up with old friends, meet new ones and glory in the beautiful fall weather of southeastern UT. I have so many reasons to be grateful for this program. It set me on the course of the next three years with homes, jobs and explorations, it taught me the value of compromise, of listening to people who you have nothing in common with, of finding common ground. I’ve returned to many of our campsites since the program ended, but this one is always the most special. Here are some more photos from our time there.
Overall, this weekend was extraordinarily therapeutic. Not only was it wonderful to relax in the desert for a few days during my busy season at work, but the love and kinship that I feel for and with these people is like a warm blanket on a cold winter night. I felt so comfortable, so at home, and surrounded by family. Thanks to all who made the huge effort to get to Bluff, UT and here’s to the next 10 years!