It was just a few weeks ago, as I was finishing up my Jumpstart classes in Chicago, when I was faced with a difficult decision: where should I go next? My two best friends from Chicago (James & Sebastian) were moving out to San Francisco to start a new life of adventure and uncertainty. They had no jobs, no apartment, their pets heads were falling off but they were just ready for something new. It had been my plan since college graduation to move to the Bay Area and this was the ideal opportunity. San Francisco represented a chance to settle into a life in a beautiful place with people I love and start working toward the business I’ve always dreamed of: an outdoor educational and tutoring center. On the other hand, I was offered an internship at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico to develop their outdoor and sustainability curriculum with a number of youth groups. Since my intentional wanderings in the spring, Ghost Ranch has held a special place in my heart and I couldn’t wait to go back. New Mexico represented a chance to slow down life for a bit, continue exploring the mysterious and powerful natural world, work directly with kids groups, and live for free.
Ultimately, I decided to go back to Ghost Ranch because it offered me the direct experience in building outdoor educational curriculum that would come in handy in the future. That and my buddies were going to be living in SF for quite a while and there was no rush for me to get out there and spend all the precious little money I had saved. It was a difficult decision and I wasn’t totally ready to give up the nomadic lifestyle and settle down. However, the simple fact that I was considering it means that I’m closer than I was 4 months ago.
I was excited to get back on the ranch that had been so wonderful to me in the spring, a place surrounded by rich sandstone mesas and sprawling sage fields, a place where everyone greets each other with a smile, a place where somebody else prepares my meals. I had great visions for a collaborative educational movement on the farm, where kids would be inspired to reconsider their everyday water and land usage and start building their own farms at home.
On my first day of work at the ranch, it quickly became clear that I was not going to be doing what I had signed up to do. In fact, I wasn’t going to be working with kids at all and there was absolutely no ‘education’ aspect to my job description. My time would be split between basic farm duties like weeding, watering and harvesting and helping with the Outdoor Adventure program, which consists of leading guided hikes, archery, and the ropes course. A few months ago, this would have been ideal, but to the new motivated and future-oriented Dylan that somehow developed over the summer, this was a waste of time.
I was stuck. I had just finished one of the most incredible road trips of my life with my lifelong best friend, James, across America. It included a weekend in Denver staying with an Overland friend (Sarah) and her roommate (Annie) where I had never felt so welcome and comfortable as a visitor. We could have stayed in that apartment on that green couch for weeks without a care in the world. But life had to continue and before I knew it, I was on a Greyhound bus down to New Mexico. Now New Mexico turned out to be not what I had anticipated and my mind kept slipping from the now into the elsewhere. Should I just quit and go to San Francisco? Or maybe back north to Denver? Should I tell the ranch I’m only staying for a month, or a week? Should I complain about my job description and demand a new position?
I called my parents looking for some guidance. After explaining the situation to my mom, my dad grabs the phone to tell a quick story. For almost 20 years, my dad would take an annual fishing trip up to Roaring Stony Lodge in Minnesota. After the first day, people would sit around the dinner table complaining because they couldn’t catch a single fish, not even a nibble! My dad, boasting about his 5-catch morning, would offer to take em out the next day and show em around the lake. He’d show em how to relax, enjoy the serenity, and appreciate the opportunity to be sitting out on a lake without a care. Soon enough, the people who were complaining were now laughing, joking and having a great time despite the fact that they still hadn’t caught a fish. They arrived at the lodge expecting the big catch, but left with something else, an appreciation for the landscape and the now. The initial expectations didn’t match up with the lasting memories.
As always, I had a choice. I could bitch and moan about the girl who hired me and the fact that I wouldn’t be learning any new skills in the day-to-day. Or I could appreciate my surroundings and make something of it. Ghost Ranch is what you make it. I’m determined to make it great. I’ve decided to take the energy that I would have otherwise spent developing new curriculum and put it into physical activity. I’ve decided to take these next few months and appreciate the slowing, read some books, spend my time outside and challenge myself with exercise. In the last week, I’ve gone on 5 hikes, biked over 40 miles and ran a half marathon up and down a mountain. I look forward to the end of work each day when I can get out and move my body through some of the most pristine and unique land in America. I don’t care, I love it!