Last week I spent 5 days and 4 nights trekking through 38 miles of meandering, rocky terrain in the Grand Canyon. I survived off the 25 pounds of food and gear in my beat-up pack. Each day consisted of trying to reach our next “destination” (a plot of land that could fit 2 small tents) with enough water to turn our dehydrated food into a meal. I agreed to this adventure to prove to myself that I could live simply, off only what I can carry and most importantly away from all electronic devices (headlamp not included).
While walking, I could hardly comprehend the imagery flooding into my brain. It felt unreal. Shades of purple, brown and green streamed in infinite lines throughout the rocks above, below, behind, in front. Unreal. In one 48-hour time span, the only Homo sapiens I encountered were my group mates. Unreal.
I was overwhelmed with awe, and with fear. It wasn’t the “I’m-sitting-on-the-top-of-a-rollercoaster” kind of fear, but a more unnerving, “I ‘m-at-the-mercy-of-this-planet” kind of fear. I was humbled and empowered in the same instance; teetering on the edge faith and worry, and having to choose between them in every moment. It was by far one of the most profound experiences of my life. Profound in a way that complements my work as an activist and civil servant.
On my drive home to San Diego the day after climbing out of the “big ditch,” I caught up on one of my favorite podcasts. As I listened to “The Threshold Moment” episode of The Dirtbag Diaries, I began to cry. The podcast is the story of Kevin Fedarko’s (activist and author of the Emerald Mile) decade-long relationship with the Grand Canyon, and his work to protect this place.
With my own experience of the Grand Canyon fresh in my mind, I learned that the town of Tusayan, located just outside the south entrance to the park, is considering the development of a shopping center near the South Rim. The infrastructure would demand so much water that the aquifers below the canyon would dry up, leaving the streams and springs dry – the same streams and springs that trickled into my water bottles and sustained me on my journey. It hit me that if this development goes through, future visitors would not be able to hike along the Tonto trail they way I had. They would either have to rush through the landscape, never stopping to rest or marvel, or carry 20+ pounds of water on their backs – no small feat.
I became enraged by this injustice. Would I be one of the last people to do this hike… Because of a mall? I started to wonder… what if I dropped everything and joined the fight? I could join the protests, host fundraisers…Then I looked at the road sign ahead: San Diego 286 Miles. And I remembered, I am going home. Home, where my life is full, and where my time is consumed by fighting for other causes I care for deeply.
Before feeling despair over my already packed schedule, I reflected on the fact that I am part of this movement, despite living 507 miles from the South Rim. For one, by applying for a permit and walking this trail I made a statement that this place matters. And when the politicians see the numbers, they will see one more person on the roster of people who care about preserving it.
On a grander scale, every time a young person decides to add a year of service to their career path, they begin their career in a way that builds empathy. I don’t know the leaders that are pushing for development in Tusavan, but I wonder what song they would be singing if they had served as an AmeriCorps VISTA at an Indian Reservation like Pine Ridge?
We might not be able to work on every cause we care about. Chances are high that there are too many, and not enough hours in the day. In my life, I am content to work for the few causes that intertwine most with my life, and then take some time to look at how my actions in every facet of my life ripple outward to affect change in other areas, indirectly. When I work for women’s empowerment and develop new national service positions I increase the chances that there will be more civically engaged adults and leaders who choose the environment and communities over profits.