Monday, January 31, 2011

A land of cactus and daily miracles

Many of my friends and family are aware that I have a job at a wilderness therapy program called Anasazi. Actually, probably most of you know it because it probably forced it's way into every conversation you tried to have with me since I did my internship there last summer. However, besides the bizzare stories I have recounted to many of you, I don't know how much I have described the everyday joys of being in the trenches at Anasazi. I could probably write for hours on this subject, and I plan to over the next several posts as well, but for now, let me describe a day in the life of a Trail Walker ( I am honored to call myself one of those) and if I somehow paint a picture that gives you even the tiniest idea of what it is really like, I will sing praises to the Anasasi Cactus god. Just kidding. Don't worry, mom, Anasazi has taught me about the same God that you did.

First, some general information. Anasazi takes really talented, incredible kids bound for greatness disguised as "troubled teens" out into the wilderness of the Arizona desert for a minimum of six weeks (more often a couple more which is when the biggest miracles are seen). Bands of about 4 Young Walkers, age 12-17 or Sinagua Walkers, age 18-84 (they figure by 85 an individual has discovered who they really are) are accompanied by 2-3 Trail Walkers as they hike, sleep, eat, and especially discover self, family, and the Creator in the dessert. The bands hike somewhere between 10-30 miles a week over ridiculous terrain: creek beds full of boulders, or cliffs, or freezing water, thick forests of catclaw, and straight up and down mesas the size of... well, a big mesa. What was that? Trails? No.

Trail Walkers and Young Walkers get the same exact gear and food, except for the extra weight that TWs carry: the com. kits (radio, sat phone, and GPS), the med kits, and the maps, as well as exorbitant amounts of beads. Because Anasasi runs on beads. The food pack is about 20 pounds, sometimes 10 by day two if YWs are trail smart and eat/bury half their food before the hike the next day. The food pack is filled with the following goodness:

3 cups lentils ( YWs must get a different kind because their lentils mysteriously dissapear within an hour... odd...)
3 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups brown rice
2 cups corn meal
2 cups oats
2 cups whole grain macaroni (oh goodness)
1 cup orange tang (or powdered hope for a better day for YWs)
1 cup brown sugar
small bags of salt, baking soda, pepper, and chicken boulion
11 dried figs, 17 dried apricots, 20 dried tomatoes (oh baby)
small bags of almonds, walnuts, and raisins
1/4 cup butter (boys get 3/4 cup. I know. Super bitter about it)
A ridiculous amount of powdered milk (Ew)
And: Da da da DA!!! 2 glorious cups of powdered cheese (and we are not talking the kraft mac'n cheese crap. This is like cheese from heavenly cows. Sigh.)
1 onion, a massive hunk of garlic cloves, 1 potato, 2 carrots, and an apple ( I learned how precious this apple was when a YW basically crawled up to me with an upturned, dewey-eyed face and pled, "Can I have your core?" Yeah.)

You would not BELIEVE the incredible range of foods that are made with these 21 items. It still astounds me. The other week I had my first pizza, and I kid you not, it was one of the best things I have ever tasted. YWs have come up with muffins, poptarts, calzones, cheesecake, lasagne, teriaki chicken rice, lentil burgers, tostadas, wet dog (don't worry about it), jam, cookies, cold cereal, and tortillia chips. Of course there are those times when a Young Walker will approach you, wide-eyed with excitement, and proclaim that his concoction tastes like such and such food and you take a bite and it definitely does NOT taste like such and such (more like pond goo), but you just smile and nod at them because, after all, they have been out in the wilderness for a long, long time.

All of this food is cooked either over the fire in a tin cup or in the fire (ash cakes). Cups are to be clean when the YWs get their new food pack each wednesday. Sometimes that is the ONLY time that week a cup has been cleaned.  As the weeks come and go, however, the cleanliness of a YWs cup begins to reflect the changes he is experiencing in his soul. He starts to take pride in even something as simple as that. Pretty cool.

Every individual on the trail sleeps out in the open, on the ground in a sleeping bag (winter) or a canvas army "burito" and wool blanket. Everyone gets a tarp to make a shelter with when it rains. Or snows. (Like it has twice in the past few weeks on the other rotation, and never on mine. Ha! Crap. I probably just cursed myself...)

Trail walkers work 8 days on the trail, wednesday to wednesday, and have 6 days off. "Switchouts" between the two rotations are like the coming of the Anasazi moon god for the young walkers. Just kidding. No moon god either. This is the day they get their new food packs. Trail Walkers wafting the foreign smells of shampoo and mint toothpaste arrive fresh from the city (YWs have the most incredible sense of smell I have ever seen. It is truly amazing.) and the filthy, trailwalkers wafting the lovely smell of the trail, a mixture of sweat, urine, smoke, and garlic, sling their packs on their backs and walk/race (this would be denied by most TWs because TWs are supposed to be the epitome of selflessness) up to the vehicles where they find a feast of extremely unhealthy food from the other rotation. I always bought oreos, in hopes that someone on the other rotation would get the hint that I wanted them to buy me oreos for my rotation. It took 3 weeks. I always feel a little guilty while I am stuffing my face with such gluttonous wonder while my young walkers are doing the same with trail food. But they are probably more grateful, so I am actually losing out. Right?

On the trail, there are two rules for these kids. 1) Don't get dead and 2) Don't ever look in your canteen. Seriously, those are the only rules for Young Walkers (Trail Walkers have a few more, but that is only because we ask for them) and the rest fall under the natural laws and consequences of life itself. Which is why this program works so well. There is no beating the system; life is the system.

A Trail Walker's primary responsibility is the safety of the Young Walkers. And that includes emotional safety. With all the dangers (sheer cliffs, rattle snakes, undropped water (choice of some YWs to leave out the chlorine...), the presence of very sharp knives, fires, and poisonous plants, etc.) of leading adolescents through the desert, hours away from the nearest civilization, there should be several serious injuries every week. But there aren't. One of the earliest things I became aware of at Anasazi was the close protective hand of the Creator over those on the trail. I have seen enough to know that YWs and TWs lives are preserved many times each year.

Anasazi's philosophy is one freedom of choice and personal accountability. The staff look for and point out the "seed of greatness" in each teen and encourage them to shed all the labels that have been tagged on them in the past. Our aim is to help them 1) Experience the power and continual reality of having a New Beginning, 2) Turn their hearts homeward to their families, and 3) Turn their eyes upward to the Creator. We teach them to listen to the "sacred wind" and to follow the "awakenings" that come through it from the Creator. Little do they know, they are being taught the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a language free from their own biases. And they listen.The Anasazi staff strive to live lives that will create an environment that invites change. Staff are to have "hearts at peace" always, to put Young Walker's first, and to simply love them and listen to them.

Young Walkers are very suspicious of such a non-judgmental environment in the beginning. And they often sit in angry, defiant silence for their first day or two, but the desert--free of all the noise of their life at home--and the nearness of the Creator eventually gets to them and they truly transform. Almost in direct porportion to the darkening of their skin (mostly dirt and ash), their eyes fill up with light. They start to share with anyone who will listen (which is everyone out there) about all the awakenings they have had, how much they regret taking their family for granted, and how very different their life is going to be when they get home. It is incredible. I am the lucky one who gets sit and listen, and watch this miracle happen each week. And then I get a check. And it suprises me, every time.


  1. I love you so much Kathryn! It sounds like you are having a great experience! I miss you dearly, and am so glad you have a blog so I can continue to partake of your words of wisdom! :)

  2. Wow. I don't know how I finished reading this whole post without jumping in my car and driving straight to the bloody basin! Thanks for that moment.

  3. Kathryn, I want your job. Not kidding.
    And not even as much for the outdoor aspect (though I love the desert), but for what your organization is doing in the lives of young people. Go you.

  4. Oh, Kathryn, I can't wait to hear more! It sounds like you are learning so much, and becoming even more of a great person. I love and miss you!

  5. Wow, what a beautiful way to describe what you do. I second the other comments. I want your job. I guess I kind of have the same job though raising my little neanderthal to be a decent human being who loves the Savior and knows her Father. I'm very jealous of you getting so close to nature. I cannot wait to take Evie hiking and camping now that we are back in Seattle. We are going to live outdoors this summer for sure! Can't wait to see you if you come for the summer!

  6. This sounds amazing. Thank you so much for sharing! I had no idea that you had done this. I'd love to hear more stories about it!

  7. Kathryn! You are an amazing writer, as others have said. I am glad to have a way to keep in touch with you. Be safe and let those kids feel your incredible love for them and for the Lord. We miss you!