This summer, we asked Deer Hill field staff and community members to write a little bit about what keeps them coming back year after year. The following story is a response to that request, as told by Michael Weiss from our Field Staff team.
The first time I saw a bear in the state of Utah was during a Deer Hill program on the upper San Juan River. To be specific, I was in camp on the bank and the bear was on the river, swimming across. The bear was no bigger than a very large dog, which I mistook it for at first, but after realizing what it was I stared in a stupor equal to that of my students, some of whom had never been in the backcountry before. Seeing a bear swim across a river in the desert is a shared experience that obviously has a unifying power for any group, regardless of age, previous outdoor experience, politics, upbringing, or really any other factor at all. I’ve yet to see another river bear, but I find smaller versions of these moments on every program. A campfire, for example, is something that entices everyone close enough to see the glow to stare into it, no matter if it is your first campfire or your ten-thousandth.
I am always surprised by the ability of the wilderness to strip away the layers of ego and insecurity that we bring to the group from what is from, in many ways, a harsher environment, either within one person or in a group as a whole. Whatever it may be that prevents or slows us down from unifying and empathizing with each other does not seem to be present in these wild places. I have watched as students say goodbye to each other as if they have known each other for years at the end of a three-week program.
“I am always surprised by the ability of the wilderness to strip away the layers of ego and insecurity”
If these ideas sound cliché or overused, it is because there are hundreds of thousands of people like me who have discovered that interacting with others in the wild is a rejuvenating, healing, and intensely spiritual experience. For some people, it is an addiction and for others, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but for all, it is something beyond extraordinary.
By Michael Weiss
Michael has been working in the outdoors for the past five years and joined the Deer Hill Field Staff team in the Spring of 2019. Like countless others, the desert has indescribably captivated, consumed, and challenged him. He is an extrovert who can’t help but spend time alone in wild remote places. He is a lover of used bookstores, long trails, climbing, Edward Abbey, and extra sharp cheddar cheese.