HMI Gap 2015: Simple in Means, Rich in Ends

Last week, our tight-knit group said the inevitable goodbye and journeyed off to new adventures. Some students and instructors stayed in Patagonia to travel independently while others returned to college or home to return to “real life.”

The last two weeks of our time in Patagonia was spent at a small estancia in the heart of the Argentinian pampas, a land where neighbors are distant and travel on horseback is still common. There, we walked most days into a dramatic canyon lined with towering rock walls of seemingly endless climbing routes. In the afternoons, we waded in a refreshing river on the edge of camp, cooked dinner among an international cadre of climbers, and helped Mario and his family (the owners of the estancia) clear a corral with only hand-powered tools. Needless to say, this was the most luxurious point of our journey, with impeccably sunny weather, bathrooms and showers at the campground, and incredibly fun rock climbing. Part of its luxury was its simplicity and a glimpse into life of a past era.

It is difficult to know what elements of our experience this semester will lithify. Unquestionably, everyone significantly improved their rock climbing and outdoor skills. On our last day of climbing, we held a friendly competition that motivated the group to push themselves to climb as many routes they could. During the entire day, instructors never had to even put on their harness because students had learned everything they needed to sport climb independently. It was impossible not to gain a greater appreciation for the captivating wild places that we visited throughout the journey. And of course, the friendships, laughter, and ability to work constructively with such a close group of people will help us build similar relationships in our future communities.

However, there is something that is less tangible and difficult to put into words. In one of our readings for solo, “Stillness,” Scott Russell Sanders warns, “As the demands on our time and attention multiply, we move faster and faster to keep up with them, crowding our calendars, shuttling from place to place and deadline to deadline, strapping phones to our belts, carrying chores everywhere in satchels and laptops, working through lunch and supper and weekends and holidays, getting and spending twenty-four hours a day.”

This quote captures the inspiration and need for all of us to slow down, push the pause button, and observe how frantic our lives can become. That is truly what we have gained on this semester: the ability to live simply and have our days filled with rich and authentic adventures, challenges, and relationships.

This sentiment is expressed in the final circle reflection that students wrote:

To go back to Plato’s Republic, it’s almost now after spending this time living simply, out of tents and doing activities that have no obvious purpose (i.e. rock climbing) that I feel enlightened and feel more able to distinguish which things in my life that I truly and really care about and inspire me.

As I sit alone in the open land I try to recollect what these past three months have been. To me they have been an escape from the social norm. To not have to play by society’s rules, but to play by rules established by nature. My day was not filled with “what if” thoughts, or “what should I do today?” It was “what am I going to do today to stay warm, dry, and healthy?” It is a tunnel vision that only fits to you because you are your priority.

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