Friday, August 23, 2013

California Wilderness: Here and Now

The California Wilderness program was lucky enough to have one international student! A novice to backpacking and newcomer to California, Ye Eun (trail name: Sweet Sap) writes about engaging with the beauty of nature, learning about herself, and appreciating her Sierra Institute group:

In this program, I experienced what I could not have imagined. California was so beautiful that I could not help falling love with it. All nature such as trees, the river, the lake, rocks, and stars were breathtaking. In nature, I could enjoy it as home, a friend and a teacher.

The last and longest leg was in the White Mountains. At 10,000 feet, we had solo time for three days. Since I have never been solo for even one day, I was nervous. I was a beginner in backpacking, but soon I was used to it. I knew how to pack well and could enjoy beautiful trails even with a heavy backpack. During the solo time, I hiked up hills or explored around. Most of all, I had a lot of time to think about myself, time I never would have had if I were in the front country. I realized that I had been weak, but pretended I was fine. I am just a human-being who cannot live without other people. This whole six-week trip and three-day solo time enabled me to grow, both physically and mentally.

One more thing of my precious memories of Sierra Institute is our group, Here and Now. We each had a different personality but when we were together, we were in harmony. They were so cheerful, generous, and considerate. I learned from them about how we can respect each other and how we can take care of the nature. Sharing a passion for nature, all understood how important it is and appreciated how beautiful it is. As we shared about our lives, experiences and feelings, I was able to experience a group talking with open hearts. Here and Now became a treasure to me.

Writing this is simply not enough to explain what I felt during the trip and what I’m feeling now. Thanks a lot to California Wilderness, and to Here and Now.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

California Wilderness: Homecoming

Talia Bakker (trail name: Ripple) writes about her journey, and how her definition of Home has changed, in the White Mountains and beyond:

The White Mountains  satiate a deep longing for home. This six-week trip, though we have been moving non-stop, has in fact been an extended homecoming. Throughout my life I have docked at many harbors, and inevitably set sail once again when the seas call me. When our group of adventurers  departed from the harbor of Santa Cruz, I charted a course without knowing the destination. Relying only upon the provisions I was in possession of, I sailed straight out into the open sea. As I was rocked about by the waves crashing upon the prow of my ship, my sails held fast with the support of classmates. Throughout all hardships of the trip and with each  incursion into the wilderness, I have found that there is more to myself than I could have dreamed.

Now end of our trip, I sit next to the sun-dappled creek and there is a great feeling of belonging, of aliveness. I have spent my whole life thinking I knew where I wanted to go, and put out so much effort to fight the elements in getting there-- carving course through the waters, struggling to stay on track despite vicious racking winds, only to find when I arrive that it is not what I was looking for.

This last journey has allowed room for new eyes, another glace at the stars and the waters reflecting them down below. Home: I have been looking for it within achievements, never noticing that home has been with me wherever I go. I believe now that it cannot be reached by fighting the elements and charting courses; home is to be found in the journey to those things. This is why the White Mountains holds so much more than just wilderness. The mountains are part of the adventure, part of the home, part of those who love it. It is part of me; my journey has led me here and I exist within my journey. Now I will travel back to civilization ecstatic to experience new things, and old things in a new ways.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

California Wilderness: Let Nature be the Teacher

As his six-week California Wilderness program draws to a close, Roman Leynov shared what he has learned, and how nature has changed him for the better:

I write this from Tres Plumas Meadow in the White Mountains, as a pleasant breeze offsets the afternoon heat. The wind carries with it the minty-earthy aroma of sage brush and makes the Aspen tree leaves undulate, creating waves of light and dark green across the landscape.

As the six-week program enters its final stage, I reflect fondly on what I have learned. I, along with the other eight students in the group, have learned and taken to heart the importance of preserving and sustaining the natural world as we read the works of learned authors and roughed it in the outdoors. But the most valuable aspect of this trip has been the coming together of diverse people to the extent that we have become like a family, helping each other out and holding spirited debates during class.

Participating in the Sierra Institute has helped me gain a new perspective on a variety of personal issues such that I have changed for the better, and I am not the only one who has benefited thus. The saying “Let nature be the teacher” rings true, as nature has, in its own way, inspired our group to see life through a new, more positive lens.


Friday, August 9, 2013

California Wilderness: The Gift of Being

Henry Schrandt (trail name: Wild Heart) writes about the Domelands and feeling home in the wild:
This leg of the trip was remarkable in so many ways. I felt like I got to fully experience the core aspects of the Sierra Institute. Our group embarked to a region of the Sierras known as the Domelands. I have never seen that much granite in my entire life. 

The entire trip consisted of extreme weather patterns, from blistering heat to electric thunder storms. I came to love these unpredictable weather patterns. We read poetry underneath boulders that gave us shelter from the pouring rain. It made me feel like I was home. There was an excitement in being in the storm; the air was charged with energy from the white-hot lightning that struck earth in the distance.

I have gained a lot from this trip. The tone set by my peers and the surrounding habitat has given me insight into my inner wilderness. My heart has been in need of healing and reassessment, and for six days out in the back country I managed to be content with the current challenges of my world. All I can say is that my Sierra Institute tribe and the spirit-filled wilderness gave me the gift of being.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

California Wilderness: Pure Self-Compassion

Jameson Hubbs (trail name: Coyote) shares how his experience in the wilderness has changed his relationship to self:
It's fascinating to shiver and sweat in the same day. From cloudless desert heat waves to relentless thunderstorms, the weather of the Domelands expresses the spontaneity, the intensity, the sheer spectacle of California. In our temporary homeland, nestled on a desert river between stony mountain ridges, my own intuition becomes impossible to ignore. My outer environment is as still as the beaver-dammed creek; my inner wilderness becomes simply irrepressible. 

Decade-old insecurities buried in my subconscious resurface as my ego is drained of external stimulation, an inevitable healing process unique to the backcountry. My normal craze of the intensities of bohemian UCSC life is absent in the inward journey as the Domelands quiet my external cravings. 

Here, I just be. I be with my true self, my natural environment, and be with my psychological vulnerabilities instead of being consumed by thoughts. Pure self-compassion. Fears of inner weakness, poor decision making, and the issues of the 21st century surface in my mind, but I learn to listen and release. Some of these insecurities would previously spiral me into depression, but I now master the art of knowing that I am more than the thoughts that fly through my head. It's interesting how I must let go in order to grow. As William Everson- whose esoteric poems we read throughout this trip- puts it, "it is the ancient paradox: you have to lose your life in order to gain it."

This life I've gained throughout the journey of the inner-wilderness is best described by Joseph Campbell's idea to follow your bliss. My intuition grows enormously and ecstatic experiences present themselves more and more as I continue to let go of the ego. To name a few:
-Impulsively going on a solo hike to watch a mountain sunrise with deep-violet skies, rainbows, and distant lightning flashes complemented by the song of coyotes
-Climbing high up the stone mountain peaks with a few other friends
-Starting a moonlit drum circle dance party on our festival day

While sad thoughts of the imminent end of my experience with my amazing Sierra Institute tribe continually resurface, negative emotions decrease more and more as I proceed to master the art of being my self, here, and now. This practice is the greatest gift I will ever receive, and is the infinite value I'm getting from this experience. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

California Wilderness: Rhythm

Enjoy Tito Dixson's poetic take on the Marble Mountains!
If my ordinary life were a scenic pond replaying day and night imagine Sierra Institute as a cosmic stone slipping into my pond. A sight unseen, when the present breaks a barrier the water’s surface instantly engulfs a new vibration creating ripples like waves to the mind’s design. The wilderness experience... Nature as the teacher and the classroom! A backpacking adventure; hiking up steep mountains and down deep valleys, not only a physical battle but mental as well. Scaling past academic criteria, digging out personal achievements and embracing social differences. A chance to look within, take these feet off the street and listen to a new beat.

Driving highways through northern California; in and out small towns, up and over golden hills along the song of river’s bed. Last week past Willows Creek, through the dreamy temptation of reservation, and up north a salmon fork. The trailhead lead the way into Marble Mountain sway. Minimum impact through the woods and a quick lesson to basecamp if you would. Open the books to take a look, inner wilderness and outward alienation. Poets, psychologists, and environmentalists cast a blast of new ideas for the green encyclopedia. Speaking of new ideas I got distracted, after a long hike no words could separate the tribe from the vibe. Igneous rock surrounds the lake, various conifers up like stakes and a certain deerness you could not miss. Social gatherings fill the valley with chants, a powerful sky attacks the eye.

The class reeled me in with ecopsychology and friendly kin. A new begin, with endless wisdom to be seen. I’d felt disconnected from nature but this experience will make sure I never forget. A trip to the mountains, a night around a fire and a hop in the pond or maybe a river, needless to say I’m happy with the decision made. And we’re off in the morning!! Hope i didn’t leave you scorning. 

Happy trails from Sierra Institute!

Monday, July 29, 2013

California Wilderness: The Ecstasy of the Untouched

Allison Dycaico (trail name: Otter) writes about her experience in the Marble Mountain Wilderness, and what Sierra Institute has meant to her:

During our hike up to the base camp for this leg of the trip, I was stunned by the raw beauty of the landscapes though which we traveled. Fields of wildflowers – fireweed, Indian paintbrush, and some species of sage whose small white flowers blessed our trek with their sweet herbal aroma – flourished in fields of gravel between boulders, in stands of conifers decimated by a recent fire, and in marshy areas fed by natural springs and snowmelt.

During this leg of the trip, I particularly enjoyed swimming in Clear Lake, the water source for our base camp. When we first arrived at the lake, sweaty and breathless from our uphill trek, we flung our gear down and plunged gleefully into its tranquil waters. We were delighted to discover there were other swimmers in the lake: green and brown newts with russet bellies. The newts were our companions for the rest of our days at Clear Lake, and a constant source of amusement. The newts, like the other fauna in the area, were entirely unacquainted with humans. As a result, they were boldly curious about us. When we dipped our fingers and toes in, the newts swam with serpentine grace to taste and twine around our unfamiliar appendages.

Newts were not our only animal neighbors. Dragonflies and damselflies frolicked in the air above the lake water, while lazy trout made halfhearted attempts to snare their iridescent prey. By day, the raucous shrieks of Stellar’s Jays followed us as we explored the area, alerting all other animals to the presence of humans. Tiny chipmunks scrabbled up and down the many species of conifers, squeaking in rage when we ventured too close to their home. We soon discovered that our base camp was a favorite night-time hangout for a herd of deer. The deer did not startle at our voices or freeze in terror when a beam of our headlights hit them in the darkness; it was truly as if they had never seen a human being. We were filled with the intoxicating sense that we were camping somewhere truly remote and pristine, a mountain landscape that had somehow escaped human detection.

Why am I writing to you now from the backcountry bliss of the Marble Mountain Wilderness? I love to explore new natural landscapes. I am fascinated by human-nature interactions and alternative education practices. California’s diverse and stunning landscapes continue to draw me out into the wilderness. These factors reigned paramount in my mind when I applied to the Sierra Institute, but what I didn’t foresee at the time was how much fun I would have, and how much I would grow as a person through this program. The academic course, California Wilderness, is similar to those I’ve taken for general education requirements through the UC system. It requires a substantial time commitment; we are required to read around two to three articles and participate in three to four hours of combined lecture and discussion per day. 

When I first heard about the course load, I anticipated that I would have little time for myself or for connecting with the other students. In actuality, I have ample free time to complete the readings, write in my journal daily, bond with the tribe, explore the breathtaking surroundings on my own, and bathe or swim every day. It’s amazing how much freedom we have out here without the constant imposition of clock time, how the hours dissolve into the golden present with only the calls of mountain birds to mark that each moment has a beginning and an end.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

California Wilderness: Find your Calling

Eli Willis (aka River) reflects on her time spent in the Yolla Bolly Mountains:

This entry begins where I am sitting on a small island of stones in Yellow Jacket Creek, just off the Eel River. Douglas Firs grow above and around, while wildflowers and vibrant green shrubs populate the soil closest to the water. Bees, dragonflies, butterflies, water skeeters, and other insects (more bugs than are within my current comfort zone, actually) buzz and hop around. This small stretch of the creek is my sit spot, the place in this unfamiliar region of Yolla Bolly that I can get to know personally, that I can visit daily to be with my thoughts and observe nature doing her thing.

Jon Young recommends the sit spot as the single best practice for creating a meaningful connection to nature; I and several others in the group have taken the sit spot as our 40 day practice. For the past few days I’ve made the short walk to this spot, getting to know the landscape of the journey as well as the spot itself. With my grandma’s bandana tied over my braided hair and my mind wide open to adventure, I feel like a child. With innocent curiosity I look and listen and feel. What is the magic behind this beautiful natural place? How do river and rock, fly and flower, trees and bees interact and exist harmoniously, becoming one entity, one ecosystem? How is it that simply sitting quietly here has such a profound effect on me? These are the questions I ask, and nature subtly responds.

In class we explore these topics, inquiring about humanity’s place in nature and nature’s place within our own lives. The readings are relevant to our experience in the wilderness, and themes from class mingle with my own observations and thoughts. Of particular interest to me is William Everson’s Birth of a Poet, the Santa Cruz Meditations, a collection of transcriptions of his thoughts and lectures to a UCSC class in 1975-76. This book seems to speak directly to me, a current UCSC student concerned with the state of the world and open to new possibilities for my precious lifetime. Everson discusses broad topics such as the uniquely American relationship between people and this land, and personal topics like how we can each find and follow our own path.

He speaks of finding one’s vocare, their calling. I’m thinking about my vocare, my own role in healing our relationship with nature. Somehow those thoughts feel different out here, immersed in nature itself, than in the front country. One phrase we’ve been exchanging around may help explain it: though there is a lot of work to do, we are human beings, not human doings. Being with nature, being nature, is crucial in healing nature. I’m so  grateful to be exploring the real force behind my studies and ambitions: a genuine love and respect for the Earth.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

California Wilderness: Growth

On July 1, the Summer California Wilderness group departed on their six-week journey. The group faced many challenges: several students were backpacking for the first time, everyone was just meeting for the first time, and no one knew what to expect!

As one of their assignments, each student has been asked to submit a reflection from the field. Some may write about their engagement with the course material, others may focus on their relationship with nature, their fellow students, or themselves. What better way to start of than with a post that touches on all three?

From Kai Lee Herbertson:

How am I to communicate what the Sierra Institute has done for me? Although I have only completed one leg of our six-week long trip, I already feel such a connection to the subjects we have discussed, my own personal development, and the growing identity of the group as a whole.

Oftentimes while doing the readings, I laugh outright thinking: this is CLASS! The educational component of our experience is an almost bizarre contrast to what is normally viewed as academic. How lucky we are to sit on a stony riverbank with our toes in the water, and read the words of authors who truly speak to us! Many of my classmates are passionate about the subjects we explore, and whether that is environmentalism, social justice, or just plain great writing, it makes for powerful discussion.

Being in the backcountry has been an important part of my life, and retaining a strong connection to the natural world is something that I wish to carry into the next chapter. Sierra Institute allows for a safe place for that development, both physically and emotionally. A powerful positive regard for each individual in the group allows for everyone to satisfy their own personal needs, everything from alone time to think, meditate, and explore, or opportunities to bond as a community. Teamwork is practiced when we make dinners in pairs, group decisions, or fireside music. The safe, non-judgemental space that we hold for each other here is a huge part of what makes the experience so comfortable for so many different kinds of people.

It has been beautiful to watch the tribe develop, even in this short amount of time. I know for a fact that every person has had their boundaries pushed in a healthy, supported way. For some, that has taken the form of the physical act of packing in; for others, it has been learning how to listen to a new friend with an open heart, or having the courage to speak their truth during council or in our day-to-day interactions.

I didn't really know what to expect when I applied for the Sierra Institute, but so far I have certainly gotten a lot out of the experience. I can only imagine what the coming weeks will bring, but I know already that whatever it may be, it will certainly further each of our development--intellectually, personally, and as a thriving community.