I spent five days in the wilds of West Texas with 35 strangers and zero backpacking experience, learning to navigate the unforgiving desert, and climb to the top of personal and literal mountains. Despite the heat, dehydration and blistered toes, it was one of the best weeks of my life.
When you return from mountaintop experiences, it’s difficult to relate physical and psychological progress to those around you. You try to describe what it’s like to haul everything you need on your back up rocky terrain at the hottest part of a West Texas summer day. You try to explain the panic you feel when you mistake your rain flap blowing in the wind for a predatory animal who smells the peanut butter your forgot to unpack.
You tell them time runs differently in the mountains, and you feel you’ve stuffed 65 million years of geological history into a space of roughly five days.
You start to talk about how you bonded quickly and smoothly with 35 other souls; people who challenge and invigorate you, who you already care for so much, it’s a little frightening.
You say how absolutely excited you are to work with your park and journey to your friends’ parks and have all these intense adventures around the state, country and even the world. You can barely finish the sentence. Your toes are tingling, already itching to go.
You try to explain these things, but words diminish them. Photographs, as gorgeous and well-balanced as they may be, will never capture the simple connection of watching a West Texas sunset or summiting that final peak.
You can’t share these moments adequately, and it makes you sad. You begin to wish you were still there — with the dry dust and expanding skies — and you long for moments that are now over.
But drowning in nostalgia, is not what you were called to do. Maybe you can’t show or describe things perfectly, but you can do something.
You can invite people outside. You can create spaces where your friends, loved ones and neighbors can see the overlooked glory of their surroundings. You can teach them how to survive, and how to grow with their landscapes — not destroying resources, or treating them with indifference — but working together to complete the circle.
Our challenge is to get our communities outdoors — to not only let them visit our parks — but allow them the fundamental pleasure of falling in love with them.
Anyone can be a steward. Anyone can plant a seed.
As Texas State Park ambassadors, we must give our communities the tools they need to experience their own mountaintop moments — to fall in love with the people, wildlife and places that make us whole.
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