I looked down, immediately closed my eyes and hung to the wall of rock with fear. Fifty feet below me, the brightly colored crash helmets of my team looked like Skittles scattered across the rocky floor. I was balancing on a seven inch ledge, 40 pounds on my back, and the only thing keeping me sane was a 10 millimeter thick rope tied around my waist. I looked behind me and my stomach rolled as I thought of the precarious boulders that I risked my life on every step of the way here.
Backpacking in Death Valley for a month exposed me to a multitude of new experiences. Traversing treacherous terrain was definitely one of them. Out there I was pushed, challenged, and dared to be something bigger than myself. Death Valley stripped me of all my barriers so I could reach out uninhibited to find that larger meaning I could be truly passionate about. It was the unexpected aspects of the desert –the raw beauty and the limited water– that unearthed a sense of environmental conservation in me I was able to develop and cultivate.
More than anything else, the beauty of the desert inspired me to appreciate the subtle wonders of life. The first night out there, I was astonished by the brilliance of the stars. Out in the wilderness these infinitesimal winks of light were brighter and more spectacular than I had ever seen them before. I stayed up late that night, and every other night, watching them spin through space as the tips of my cheeks and nose were by the frozen wisps of air drifting through the barren desert. After that, I started to notice small beauties: the rose tint to a peach cactus’ spines, the patterns in the walls of Marble Canyon, the perpetually perfect slopes of the sand dunes. I thought of the seemingly polar opposite environment I came from and realized that we strive too often to separate the two worlds of nature and civilization whereas it is and should always be interconnected.
I saw the part I had played in this herd mentality of consumption. I looked back at myself, the stranger I had been merely days before, and became aware of how self absorbed I was. My world was no larger than myself and what affected me. I never truly saw the impact I had on my environment because of the constant flow of material goods that appeared with a swipe of a credit card and disappeared with the emptying of a trash can. Camping with limited resources made evident that waste of water, space, and material goods is thoughtless of our responsibilities to our earth. Understanding that this planet is impacted negatively or positively by the things we do convinced me to become involved in conservation endeavors for the rest of my life. It is this passion for environmental sustainability that I brought back from Death Valley. In sharing my visions of permaculture design, gray water usage, and conservation of resources, I hope to influence others to action in this world of emerging ecological awareness.
Hours later, I looked back at the cliff I had scaled. I saw the shades of orange and red in the rock face, a sharp contrast to the vivid blue of the sky. It was this kind of natural beauty, as treacherous as it may be, that first inspired me. Despite the blood, sweat, and tears I had shared with those rocks, I felt a greater bond with them now that they arose as the cornerstones of my lifelong goals.?