Introduction to The Diaries
first update, 10/24/2017
Durango. For those of you who didn't know I moved here three weeks ago to pursue work in wilderness therapy with Open Sky. Wilderness therapy is, put simply, a form of therapy that takes adolescents and young adults in crisis and plops them in the middle of nowhere, to first stabilize and then learn tools for self-efficacy under the mentorship of licensed therapists and field guides. I've been hired as a field guide with Open Sky, and am working eight days in the field, with six days off. There are three things I love about Open Sky.
- Open Sky focuses on mindfulness practices. Each day I get to lead or participate in yoga and meditation, breathwork and feelings checks. We journal, process, and write letters. All of our food is organic. There are ceremonial sweats, ceremonial services, and ceremonial transitions. It's an amazing community.
- The focus isn't exclusively on the students. While the students are in the field, therapists are also working with the families, who, in many cases, have significantly contributed to their children's mental illnesses or addictions through neglect, shame, abuse, and manipulation. Therapists work with the families so that, when the student graduates from Open Sky, they can return to a home environment that's healthier than before.
- Open Sky is based in Durango, Colorado, which was one of our favorite stops on Keys to Freeze. It's incredible here - the San Juan mountain range juts up from all directions. The desert is an hour away. There are hot springs, thousands of miles of single track trails, and rock climbing that makes my brain leak out of my skull. There's a standing argument that mountain biking originated in Durango, and the packraft company that Tyler & I used during Patagonia Soul is based 30 minutes away in Mancos. I'm in an outdoor heaven.
So, what's my job? Basically, I'm in charge of asking unreasonable people to do reasonable things. This is hard. My first shift I worked with adolescent boys. There were confrontations, blowups, crying, bickering, and laughter. My top priorities are safety and supervision. I'm constantly counting students to make sure all are present. Kids have to call their names while they pee and poop. Adolescents give us their hiking boots and rain gear at night. There are knife protocols, fire protocols, constant communication with my guide team, and safety watches. We push students to do their work, and celebrate their efforts with ceremony. There is a lot of babysitting - asking the same student 10 times to clean out his cup, coaching a student to unpack his tarp backpack to retrieve his only pair of socks that he packed for a six day expedition into the desert. Many are students who hate themselves, lack the self-worth to take care of themselves, and the guide team is there to make sure they are safe, warm enough to avoid frostbite, full enough to maintain weight, hydrated enough to keep normal body functioning. It's demanding, and exhausting, and exhilarating.
I had a moment on my sixth day out in the field. It was sunrise, and I was pooping into a bag, one hand holding a juniper branch as I watched the sun hit the horizon. The branch snapped, I staggered backwards, tripped over my wag-bag, and landed on my ass with my tights around my ankles, staring up at the sky as my hand bled and buttcheeks stung from the gravel I'd scraped over as I fell. I started laughing, how absurd my life has become in less than a month. This is what I'm doing now - it's entirely uncomfortable, and I couldn't be happier with the work. It's something that I've been searching for for a long time, and here I am. I'm proud to be here.
And on my off shifts? I hang out with my new community, do yoga, run, and bike. I also work with my hands on my home - I'm living in a school bus named Crunk. I'd like to throw a HUGE shoutout to my Dad, who helped me get it ready to drive out west. We fit six months of work into seven weeks, and the bus survived the 2,000 mile journey from NC to Durango. This past off shift I built out the bed frame and shelving system. Next off shift I'm going to backpack through the desert, and get some space from Crunk, for I've found myself to obsess over the bus and all the endless things that need be done to her.
Having six days to recharge is necessary to my psyche. I felt like a sponge from my first week in the field, crying to process the stories of trauma and pain that the students hold. Being able to bounce around, spend time with an intentional community of peers who love getting outside and pushing themselves to the absolute limits of their physical and mental edges, and then retreat to a 1996 short bus for writing and sleeping feels like a good compromise.
I'm happy here, but I miss home. I miss my family, my dog, my friends and community. I miss teaching yoga in a studio, and biking around town with disco balls and loud music. I carry you all in my hearts, and am excited to see my family at Christmas. I struggle with the sacrifices that come with this job, the consuming nature of shift work, of the difficulty with creating deep, intentional relationships outside of my work community. I feel my relationships fraying, and I'm working to be consistent and intentional with staying in touch, either through phone calls or letters. I ask that, for those who would like to stay in communication with me, to work with me to maintain these relationships. They are important to me.
So, here. This is where I am, and what I'm doing. It's Tuesday. My first full cycle of wilderness therapy is over, and tomorrow I'm stepping back into the desert with a gang of adolescent boys who don't want to be there, would rather be doing just about anything other than what we'll be doing, which is eating, sleeping, hiking, pooping, and living outside in the coming cold of the Utah wastelands. I'm excited. After six days off from the field I'm antsy to get back into work. And I'm excited to continue sharing with you all, through words, stories, poems, pictures, and art.
The Durango Diaries begin.