The Gappers are back on base!
Blog Post, 3
Base Phase Two
Back on Base
On the night that we returned from our expedition we were welcomed back with a beautiful home-cooked meal made by Grant, one of our mentors. After having to muddle through fourteen days of cold and our slowly improving backcountry cooking skills, it was more than a relief to gorge ourselves on a luxurious, hot dish – BBQ ribs, baked beans, green bean casserole, and homemade cornbread. The dish’s comforting presence reminded me of the true power of cooking: using only a handful of ingredients, one could create a physical expression of emotion, capable of wooing a person, lifting their spirits and lulling them off into a comfortable stupor. Cooking is an expression of human-made magic, pulled through the body like a spell of wellness or destruction, and made to impact one’s full being (even if its effects are only temporary). The food coma that was brought on by the meal eventually transferred into the gentle hands of sleep, sheltering us from the darkest hours of the night.
The gentle warmth of the night before disappeared in favor of the next days scheduled utilitarianism. The days work load consisted of diving head first into our next long-term project: volunteering. During our times spent on base, now and in the future, we will volunteer two days a week at our assigned placements. Placements range from working with the hustle and bustle of rowdy pets in the vet clinic to the mellow, intellectual work in the library or for an assisted living home. Each of us were genuinely excited to see what our placements were holding in store for us as we began this new journey. My placement, the local Tannery, immediately intrigued me. Walking into the storefront, I couldn’t help but become fixated on the vast array of trinkets and furniture crafted out of hide and antlers; the trove of treasures quickly fascinated me – I wanted so badly to touch everything!
Me and my fellow volunteer proceeded to meet our kind supervisor, Joe (who jokingly stated that girls are better workers than boys) and quickly jumped into the swing of things by learning how to clean out some bison hides. We worked with a strong sense of determination, filled with wild curiosity. It was interesting – majestic animals that we had watched from afar on so many different occasions had melted from their strong, sturdy bases into heaps of gelatinous flesh, right before our eyes. Part of me was revolted by the beasts’ devolution, but another part of me couldn’t help but admire the craftsmanship of taking their remains to create incredible pieces of art; it seemed a strange paradox that one could make life out of dead matter.
By the time we wrapped up and returned to base, everybody was bursting with stories. Some exclaimed their adventures with wrangling cattle, while some relayed their journeys with middle schoolers, and others discussed their interactions with the elderly. By the time the night took its place in the sky, we were exhausted from hardwork and joyous storytelling. Our bodies sagged when they hit our mattresses. There was more to come, but first, our bodies needed rest.
In contrast to the physical labor required of us in our volunteer placements, the Central Wyoming College (CWC) required a more dreadful, demanding wind of labor: studying. However, I should give the college some credit – they were relatively easy on us the first day. Instead of wrestling us into a day of monotonous lectures, we were given a tour of the campus, exploring the metal shop, radio station, and rock climbing room (among many others). Additionally, we were each given ten dollars for lunch – which we took eagerly and graciously! Despite what is generally said of school lunches, CWC makes a pretty mean cheeseburger. Of course, over the span of the day, there were periods of time where work had to be done but, overall, the experience wasn’t half bad! I may despise school but CWC seemed like something I could handle.
On wednesday, we jumped back into volunteering. In the tannery, Joe had another intriguing job for us: skinning a coyote. Despite having to fondle with the dead carcass in order to get its skin off, we were in awe of the overall process. By carefully carving at the borders of the coyotes thin flesh, another section of its convoluted anatomy was revealed to us. We carefully prodded through tissue, bone, blood, and muscle until we finally attained the prized fur. As we took the skin off, the animal seemingly transformed into a satanic heap of meat. Its blank eyes, broken bones (part of the skinning process) and bloodied teeth reminded me of Francis Bacon’s crucifixion triptych, with its equally unsettling visuals. Later that night, as sleep consumed my body, I dreamt of the coyote running by my side – as if he was completely unaware of being a wild animal or that his life had come to an end. In a way, perhaps, the coyote will continue to live on through my memories and in my dreams. How is that for immortality?
The next couple of days were rather relaxing and laid back, in comparison to the previous few. Several of our group members began the process of becoming certified lifeguards, while the rest of us began to plan our next expedition – which we decided would be spent exploring Colorado and New Mexico. While the planning process began to feel chaotic, at times, we still found periods where we would goof off and have some fun. I even found the wildly uncommon opportunity to prepare lunch in complete silence! This may not seem all too exciting to most individuals, but to me, the momentary absence of people’s chatter was exhilarating! Friday was a repeat of Thursday’s events, but there seemed to be a more nonchalant feeling in the air for us. It felt like the first real day of relaxation that we’d had since the end of our first expedition; we continued to plan, but more importantly, we took naps, painted (well, I did), and read cozily. It was bliss. Though I must admit it was a different experience for those in the lifeguarding class who reported a first aid exam, videos, lecture, and lots of CPR practice.
While we expedition planners relaxed and planned, those in the lifeguarding courses were studiously engrossed in day-long seminars. Eventually, their seminars transferred to in-pool, hands on courses, which everybody in the group came along for. We expedition planners swam, read, wrote, and, of course, continued planning. Those in the lifeguarding courses spent hours on end proving their potential heroism in the face of swimming-related dangers. By the end of the day, they emerged from the unnaturally blue waters like pruny-skinned sea creatures; their groans of exhaustion sounded eerily similar to those of ghoulish monstrosities.
After the courses had ended for the day, we decided to hit up the Central Wyoming College campus to watch their productions of “The Addams Family”. We entered the darkened auditorium with exhilarated curiosity. Would the production be cheesy and ill-made, or would it captivate us with its magical ambiance and storytelling? We were ecstatic to find that it fell into the latter category. We were enthralled by the unique characters, the beautifully designed set, and the wonderfully executed acting. Our fascination with the production resulted in widespread disappointment when we had to leave during the intermission due to worsening weather conditions. The night grew even more disappointing as we reached our campsite – it was snowing profusely, to the point were setting up camp became a monumental struggle. On the bright side, most of us slept cozily that night, wrapped under layers of soft clothing and muddled in our sleeping bags like human cocoons.
We returned to the swimming pool the next day and resumed our previous activities of expedition planning and lifeguarding certification. After completing our day at the pool, we stopped at the grocery store, on our way back to base, in order to do our foodbuy for the week ahead of us. Returning to the tannery on Monday morning felt oddly natural. All the colorful hides and interesting trinkets blended together into a cocktail of welcome familiarity. Even the foul scent of flesh and fur felt comforting after being away for a handful of days. It all just felt a little bit like home.
Unlike the last weeks of CWC classes, this one was more formal. It felt like a genuine class this time, versus the freeform tour that we had experienced on our previous session. This week’s class was particularly hard to sit through: we talked for hours about drugs, sexually transmitted diseases, consent, sexual assault, and suicide. Admittedly, we could have handled these serious topics with more maturity, but at the time we found ourselves feeling trapped inside of these horrifying realities. We laughed at points when we probably shouldn’t have, wrote immature things on the whiteboard, and overall tried to make light of the situation. We were so rowdy that our teacher brought up to our mentors, who in turn reasonably expressed their disappointment to us. I, personally, felt completely ashamed with my conduct – it had not been my intentions, or any of ours, to disrespect anybody, merely to express the inexplicable grief that rose in our bones from discussing such gruesome topics. I shed a few tears out of mortification and swore that I would never be that disrespectful in the future. I plan to keep that promise. Though disappointing, this experience certainly served as an eye opening, incredibly important life lesson for each and every one of us.
We returned to the comfortingly disgusting smells of the tannery the day after the CWC class. We spent the first part of volunteering doing our usual cleaning chores, but in the second half we were offered the interesting opportunity to skin an antelope. Unlike the coyote, the antelope had an unusually savory smell to it, almost like beef. Its skin also came off easier, our knives cut through its’ tissue like butter to the point where it was satisfying to separate its skin from its body. In a weird way, the whole process felt like a queer form of meditation; cutting the antelope up showed me just how much a single animal could provide. Its hide could make a cozy blanket or fur clothing, its teeth could be made into beads and tools, and its meat could sustain a family for quite a while. We humans are incredibly lucky to have these magnificent creatures walk the same earth as us. Their lives have given countless humans life and sustenance. This gift is so astounding that I cannot even pretend to comprehend its wonders.
On Thursday morning, Jeremy (SOAR’s Camp Director) came to us with a deer he had previously shot, in order to show us how to properly skin and butcher it. This was such an incredible moment – the majority of the StarGazers had never walked through this process so it came as a neat learning opportunity. More personally, this was a neat opportunity as Jeremy allowed my co-volunteer, Avalon, and I to help teach and show the other group members how to skin the deer. Each of us had the opportunity to be hands-on with this project as we learned the different techniques and the anatomy of the animal. After several hours of learning, and for some of us, putting ourselves in uncomfortable situations – the hard work paid off as we got to enjoy some of the freshly butchered venison.
After filling our bellies with lunch, we headed down into town where we spent the remainder of the day cleaning up our local environment in our designated “Adopt-A-Highway” location. This served as an exhausting, yet beautiful, way to give back to our community while getting in some hours of movement. As we walked beside the painted hills, the horses of nearby ranches, and the quickly moving vehicles passing us by on the highway, it gave a real sense of belonging to this place.
Friday gently rolled in and began with our weekly meeting with Nicole. We spoke of our experiences throughout the week (our victories and defeats), held open discussions, and went over expectations for the weekend and upcoming week. After wrapping up our meeting with Nicole and the team, we jumped into deep cleaning our shared and personal spaces on base. As deep cleaning proceeded, so did our bi-weekly meetings and tier check-in’s with our primary mentors. Our tier check-in’s are a time allotted for each of us to sit down and talk (one-on-on) with our primary mentors about our development in the program, our strategies and progression with our personal goals, and genuine feedback for the span of the previous two weeks. I think I can say that every one of us StarGazers are filled with joy in consideration of the growth we are experiencing and the betterment we are seeing, week to week.
Ah, finally, the weekend. Saturday began with us, yet again, cleaning our personal space as some of us had not thoroughly completed the task on the previous day, in addition to touching up on some of the finishing pieces of the expedition plan. Early into the afternoon we drove into town and explored our local consignment store, the Opp Shop. We laughed and danced around as we tried on silly outfits, fashionable hats, and fuzzy duck slippers. We later headed to the grocery store and stocked up on miniature pumpkins which we would later paint, carve, and decorate for the fall season. While some of us finished up our pumpkins, others began cooking dinner, while the rest completed homework assignments. Miranda spun up some handmade cookie dough for us to enjoy warm, freshly baked, homemade cookies.
Sunday brought us beautiful weather and a window of time that was perfect for a hike in our very own backyard. We hiked way back, over the hills, through the sagebrush, across the river, and to an old retired geyser. The retired geyser supplied us with a warm swimming hole in what seemed to be the perfect cave for exploring the blue waters. Most of us took this opportunity to swim in our newly explored swimming hole, while others of us caught up on reading and journaling whilst basking in the warm presence of the sun. Our long, adventurous day spent in the beautiful outdoors ended well with some of those delicious cookies, thanks to Miranda, and a cozy movie night to put an end to the weekend.
We started our work week with a class, taught by Nicole, on mindfulness. She guided us through a conscious activity that allowed for us to awaken all the different parts of our body. The class gave us some really wonderful ideas and strategies to use in order to help us create an environment of mindfulness for ourselves. It was a gentle start to our day and helped soothe us into the hustle and bustle of our volunteer work for the day.
We drove to Lander on the early morning on Tuesday for class at CWC. We had so much fun in class on this day – learning and exploring our results from the Meyer’s Briggs Personality Test. We’ve taken a number of different personality tests in the past several weeks and I find that each of us thoroughly enjoyed this one, in particular. Might I add – our behavior in class, this go-round, was much more respectful to teachers, our peers, and ourselves. I do believe that this added to the enjoyment of the things we learned in class, too. After finishing up class for the day, we did our food buy for the first several days of our quickly approaching expedition and began packing once we got back to base.
Wednesday really wrapped up this entire base phase for us. We had another Life Skills class on this morning, with Theresa, this time concerning communication and, afterwards, we headed out for our last time volunteering for a few weeks. This came as a bittersweet – we have all become so ‘at-home’ at our volunteer placements and it is something we deeply look forward to each week. Our volunteer hours for the day came to an end with just a blink of an eye! Rather than working out at the gym, after volunteering, we had a Yoga class to get to for our hour of movement. Some of us were skeptical of Yoga, others of us were incredibly excited. The most of us had never attended a Yoga class and didn’t quite know what to expect. With that being said – this session of Yoga did so much good for our group. What an awakening, centering, and soothing way to wrap up our busy Base Phase. We all learned and grew, in peace, together during this Yoga class. We left the gym feeling restored, freely and lightly crossing the street together, as the piercing sun sank into the west, painting the sky the brightest of oranges and purples. We so naturally smiled at the peace in which had consumed us, leaving our bodies energized and alive with the excitement for our awaiting adventures.
For the next two weeks, your StarGazers will be heading south to explore the beauty that is held within Colorado and New Mexico. We will be hiking in the Great Sand Dunes of Colorado, swimming in the mysteriously beautiful Blue Hole of New Mexico, exploring the Rio Grande by foot and by horseback, plucking at our deepest of imaginations while visiting Meow Wolf, and backpacking in Bandelier National Monument. And, before you know it, we’ll be heading back to base again!
Wish us well on our journeys!