I always get stares of disbelief from people when I talk about canoeing 50 miles of the Colorado River with 200 teenagers and a dozen colleagues, but the truth is this: for many of them, who have never been away from home—and certainly not camping in the desert for any length of time—being a part of their awakening to the wonder of the world is just as enriching for me as it is them.
They learn that the rewards from a day of hard work are greater than the consequences of an aimless day, and that touching the void is better than folding up in the familiar. When they graduate four years later, many of them point to the river trip as one of the most pivotal moments in their education.
I’ve sat in silence with my students at sunrise, watching the morning light set fire to the landscape in orange and purple and green hues. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” they told me in reverent tones, as if they had just set foot in a vast cathedral and were afraid to go any further. Blips in the nave, we were, and our little canoes carried us over the sacrosanct blue, south towards the Mexican border.