I’m sitting in the bottom of Dolores River Canyon waiting for the coffee to perk and the sun to get here. It’s about halfway down the western canyon wall, maybe another half-hour.
We’re one-sixth of the way through our current school year, a short enough time not to be thinking about May but a long enough time to have established a routine that may lead to the doldrums. The forecast of temperate weather this holiday weekend led me out of my impending lethargy and into the environment that I love the most – red rocks and yellowing cottonwoods and stolid cedar and a talking river. A little bourbon in my GI cup of coffee somehow makes it complete. Balance. Away from the freshman hall, where herds of them mill about bovine-like, having pretty much the same conversations I imagine cows would have. “Wow. That bull is hot. Got anything to eat?”
After the intense anxiety of last spring, when many of us didn’t know if we’d be working at Durango High School this year, I’ve counted my blessings – this idyllic spot and the time and means of getting here being one of them – and had a good, positive, strong beginning to school. Balance.
On the way here, I stopped to help a couple friends who were cleaning up the site of a local musicians’… gathering? Jamboree? Hootenanny? That was held in August. Under threat of being pecked to death with guitar picks, I can’t reveal its location. Musicians gladly will share their chord changes, riffs and tricks of the trade – as well as more consumable items – but not the place where they gather together to do this sharing. It’s not like freshman hall at all. (Mmm. I hear the potentiality of a song there.)
We tore apart fire rings, spread the rocks and charcoal and unburned wood, seeded it with grass seed, raked it in, covered it with duff from the forest floor. We were three old farts doing community service because it is the right thing to do, and it felt good. I don’t know if requiring our kids to do community service in order to graduate is the right thing to do or not. The “feel good” part of it comes from doing it willingly, not because you have to. Certainly, some of them will have an epiphany – “This is, like, so cool!” – but others will just get their neighbor who works for a nonprofit to sign off on it. I’d like to see students given a choice – 20 hours of community service or a 10-page paper about why community service is a necessity of any functioning society or an outdoor education course that culminates in a backpacking, skiing, bicycling, rock climbing or river running trip for third-graders. Or a first aid and CPR class. Or a defensive driving class. Without giving our students a choice, we put ourselves in the position of baptizing cats. Band-Aids, anyone? Neosporin?
It’s this canyon that makes me so expansive. That allows me to think, to look back on things I – and we – did well and things we could have done better. At. For. With. Against. Balance.
There was a kid I met this month who had the most perfect and impenetrable wall of defenses that I’ve ever seen. Better than China’s wall, better than psychosis. I gave up on him. That doesn’t happen very often, but my bag of tricks was not adequate for him. My humanity wasn’t adequate for him.
It’s more than difficult for me to believe there are skeletons with flesh and muscle and working organs and blood flow walking around out there who want nothing to do with our world. It upsets me. When I want to make things better and I can’t, it upsets me.
Which is why I’m in this canyon. It’s gone through so much more than I have – and it’s still here, and I’m here with it. And I’ve walked its shoreline and balanced on its rocks and stared at its crevices and dipped my hands in its water. Salvation. This is what salvation must be. Balance.
I’m sitting in the bottom of Dolores River Canyon, waiting for the coffee to perk and the sun to get here.
Greg Loheit is coordinator of The Center, a program for at-risk children at Durango High School. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.