Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A happy Four Corners New Year!

Pardon me if I've been away, but I just got back from my New Year's celebration.

See, my New Year falls in mid-May, and lasts a little more than week. And every year its comprised of the same series of rituals plotted along the same itinerary: A circuit tour of the Four Corners, with some 25 or 30 people in tow, doing service work and visiting local landmarks while studying the region's past and present.

In my life, once a year this excursion is a sacred ceremony, a sort of walkabout by fifteen-passenger van. And it gives me a chance to set up my stance, my attitude, and to plot my approach and strategy and goals for the upcoming summer and year ahead.

I always leave this trip purged and redirected and revitalized. And exhausted.

Some background: The trip is organized by an education-travel company that does most of its trips in Latin America and overseas. This is one of their few domestic-travel programs, and it was put together specifically for a single group: A private school in San Francisco. Every year the graduating two-dozen or so from the 8th grade class, soon to be launched into a variety of high schools after many of them had been together for their entire scholastic careers, comes en masse to, sort of, well, travel abroad in their own county.

And every year it's a mind-expanding, eye-opening, spirit-spreading venture. For all of us.

The kids get a sort of smorgasbord sampling of the variety of people, places, and activities the Four Corners have to offer. They raft in Durango, wander Silverton, walk Cortez, and dance in the Bear Dance in Ignacio. They work with the Forest Service in the mountains and with Ute Mountain rangers in the backcountry of the Ute Mountain Tribal Park. They get talks from a Four Corners historian, BLM archaeologists, and Southern Ute tribal officers.

My role is part organizer, part regional public relations, and while the trip is on, full-time local guide. I get paid to do this trip, sure. But it's not the wage that makes me blot out a week each spring to cavort with 24 hormonal urban adolescents. I figure that, given it's 24/7 for seven days, plus prepping and wrap-up, I make only a few bucks and some odd cents per hour.

But for me it's the best below-minimum-wage job I've ever found.

Because for me, this foray into what's right around our home works as a pilgrimage into theme, into place, into my place and its people -- my personal passions. And it provides the space (even if it's often a rather loud, hectic, demanding space) to reassess my connection with those things, with how I'm doing my living in this place.

And the encounters I have on this excursion -- from river guides to retired miners to small-town business owners to federal land managers to tribal officials -- every time reminds me that there is a group here bonded beyond our familiar, hard, daily, civilized, socialized, acculturated borders. That there is a strong, long band of us that just plain share a love of this place, as a place, and for the place that it is.

And the great thing, too, is that most of those kids -- some who've never been above sea level, and some well-off enough to have already traveled the world -- see those things, too. And are touched by them. Even if only for a week.

I know, because they say so. And that's why I do this every year.

That, and because every year walking this personally sacred path -- okay, driving roads all over La Plata and Montezuma and San Juan counties with a rat-pack of rabid teens in tow -- is the place where I refind my place in this place.

A crazy ritual, perhaps. But, as this trip reminds me every time, the world is what you make it. And that's a message we all need to be reminded of. Regularly.

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