If It Was Not For the Desert

May 6, 2008
By
I thought I was waking up on a typical Saturday morning on March 8th in 2007, but waking up to two strangers standing next to my mother does not habitually describe my normal Saturday morning. At first thought, I believed my mother had brought home her clients, therefore I asked, “Mom, who are they? Isn’t it like, illegal to bring your clients home?” Her casual response of, “Morgan, this is Jen and Mike and they are going to take you somewhere. It’s all going to be okay,” alerted me that everything was not okay.

That was the inauguration of the turning point in my life. Strangers woke me up, forced me into a foreign car, and drove me to a secret and unspecified destination, not allowing me to change out of my pajamas. This day created a situation of such confusion I had never experienced before. I did not see my brother and two sisters before I was “kidnapped,” nor did I see my father. The only household face was that of my mother’s, the one person whom I had not been able to have a civil conversation with for the full three weeks prior to being sent away.

Arriving at SUWS, a School of Urban Wilderness Studies was life altering within itself. Before arriving, I was under the impression that I was being transported to a boarding school. Regrettably, at first thought, I admit I was enthusiastic to be away from my family. However, I was entirely mistaken, for if SUWS was to be considered a boarding school, it would be the one from Hell.

The most humiliating situation happened when I first arrived. A woman named Laura took my clothes, handed me a pair of cargo pants, a bright orange, fleece sweatshirt and wool socks. Before I was allowed to change, my body was thoroughly examined, which brought me to tears from the humility of having my body searched by a complete stranger. Almost immediately after changing, I was given hiking boots, a tarp, a sleeping bag and some other small essentials. Nobody took time to explain where I was, why I was there or what I was supposed to do; I suppose that was the point.

I was driven out into the middle of the Gooding Desert in Idaho. Vast nothingness and dust swirls clouded my mind while stinging tears of despair flooded my eyes. I was taken to a site called “Owl” where I was to begin my “Orientation Phase.” An instructor named Allison sat next to me, asking questions such as, “Why do you think you are here?” and “Do you know where you are?” She asked me personal questions that I knew she already had the answers to. She explained to me my “basics,” drinking six nalgenes a day, eating at least the minimum of the food portioned to me, asking when I had to urinate and counting aloud while doing so; things that an average American would find demeaning to say the least. The “basics” were the bricks upon which we were to build our new lives upon. The leaders tore us down, and gave us nothing but ourselves and the bare essentials to live upon - and we found happiness within that.

Soon after my “O Phase,” I was transported to an all girls group, where I was to complete my “Individual Phase.” In “I Phase” I was not allowed to talk to the other girls. It was in I Phase, completely secluded and alone, that I realized why I was there and what I needed to do to improve myself. I struggled to complete the requirements needed to move on into “Family.” My knuckles bled, and my fingers were numb from the cold, but I struck on. After five nights of consecutive fires and the creation and assembly of my four Piaute Stone Fall Traps, I was initiated into “Family.”

In Family I was introduced to the girls that I ended up spending the majority of my time with. These girls were the beams that held the reconstruction of my life. We sat next to each other in the face of the flames of our family’s fire, sharing stories and life experiences like sisters. These were the girls who held their ponchos over my kneeling body as I bow-drilled in the pouring rain, attempting to bust a coal for the family. They were the ones who knelt next to me, smoke stuffing our eyes and lungs, praying for the sodden wood to catch flame. They were the ones who witnessed my anguish when the coal went out; casting my poncho onto the ground, kicking off my shoes, pitching my beanie as far as I could, and marching away. They watched me grab another bow-drill set and try again, and for a straight hour we attempted to bust another coal, to no avail. It was that day that I recognized what a true “family” consisted of; not necessarily of people who share the same blood, but of a group of people who can love each other unconditionally, despite the hardships that life enjoys to periodically throw in their faces. These girls taught me a lesson that I will never forget; “Realize that if you have the time to whine and complain about something, then you have time to do something about it” (Anthony D. D’Angelo).

The road was rocky, and the desert endless, but there was something beautiful to be learned from the struggle. I was taught nothing about anger or attitude unequivocally, but about myself. I came to realize that my anger was an emotion that I expressed because of my lack of self-awareness. SUWS did not tell us that things were going to be different when we got home, but we all left without the facades that followed us into SUWS. We were not there because of who we were, but because of who we did not know we were. There is still much to be learned about life and how to better myself as an individual. I still fall on my face, and I still concoct mistakes, but SUWS taught me more about who I am and how to be okay with every aspect of that, for “It is not the bad times on which we should dwell, it is only poison to the mind and soul. We shall raise up after we fall, and continue to go on – dwelling on the good, high-spirited times of our lives” (Austin Holmes).





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