Scene: We drift around a corner on the Lower San Juan, muddy buckets in hand as we prepare to sneak attack the boat ahead. They are distracted by grandeur of sandstone walls and the haze of heat, and we slide in, artillery loaded. A sudden turn, a giant splash, I push on my oars. Their toothy grins, toasty legs — here, borrow my sarong — and mud-flecked sunglasses reflect the unbreakable river magic.
Scene: The Yukon. Huddled under an outcropping. Whipped by snow. Throttled by wind. Team meeting. Break out the chocolate almonds, their creamy decadence radiating through our chilled bones. Summit success. The day after: gleefully not leaving the swaddling of our sleeping bags, feasting on pasta while playing endless party games.
Scene: Laughter sets off a brilliant sunset over scattered Joshua trees in their namesake land. The joy of the day comes not from routes attempted but from camaraderie, shoddy Mexican food eaten together, and the stoke of knowing why.
Scene: Night in Grand Canyon. A full moon lights our path as we ascend from the water that carried us and healed us through our uncertainty, brokenness, and fear. We step out, giving thanks for the outline of each tree, of each rock, of each trail bend.
Scene: Hammers swing, saws crunch, humans laugh. We elevate our sore muscles in the pursuit of something more: of justice, of goodness, of righteousness. We lay down what separates us and pick up what unites us in the pursuit of building hope for a family in Mexico.
Scene: A flash, and I fall. Down the slick of Silver Grotto into the very water that buoys me. Silence, silence again, filled with reverberations from my stunted scream. The longest silence, and then I stand. I stand, uncertain, and the reverberations of pain persist.
Now I am worlds away from my varied lands of rock and water; the desert highs that drained me and sustained me; those that brought me into my very being. Here, the mountains rise higher and the trees shine greener. The city walls encapsulate the infrequent sunlight, and differentiating between the clouds and pollution is nearly impossible. But the ice cream is prevalent and sweet, the smiles meet your eyes, and there is always a new place to explore.
My students often ask me which I like better, the United States or Colombia. I tell them this is an impossible question. My home is full of sunsets on sandstone, long drives to low water drained by massive demand, stoke on rock, mornings defined by Macy’s coffee and jaunts to the tranquil intensity of nature, 15-minute bike rides to anywhere in town, and the consistency of knowing anywhere I go, I will know someone there. But here, here is a place where the slate is clean, where the expectations are free, and where growth is immeasurable.
I miss my home, my rivers, my desert, and most of all, my people. The glamour of going abroad often blurs over the pangs of lonely nights, almond butter cravings, and wishing for the perfect bagel. Though its very nature defies perfection, I am learning it: the art of muddling through.