Alternative Spring Break: Seeing The Forest For The Joshua Trees


SCA alum writes Op-Ed in National Parks Traveler

This article originally appeared on the National Parks Traveler.

By SCA member, Oliwia Baney, who spent her spring break working at Joshua Tree National Park. Her essay was written the week before she headed to Joshua Tree.

I was scared.

I admit it.

The weathered rocks, the sneering wind, the indifferent sun. It was my first time in the Mojave Desert.

I stood alone, small, searching in vain for any sign of human influence, and I suddenly became painfully aware of my own insignificance. This stark yet stunning territory had already experienced more than I ever could if I lived one hundred lifetimes. I was humbled, awed and, yes, a little fearful.

Yet even as I grappled with these strafing emotions, I began to feel a new and different sensation. The pure patience of the landscape was infectious and soon I no longer felt I was an intruder, but rather an accomplice. By participating with the earth, I became part of something greater. The desert broke me down and then built me back up. I am stronger now, and eager to return the favor.

Next week over spring break, I will work at Joshua Tree National Park with 29 other college students with the Student Conservation Association, eradicating invasive species and contributing to the ultimate goal of sustaining this unique ecosystem.

As a member of a generation widely believed to be self-absorbed and detached from the natural world, I would like to offer an alternative perspective to the purported norm. Millennials, as others have labeled us, struggle to differentiate ourselves from the vast amount of the data out there. We sell ourselves on Facebook, doing everything possible, often to the extreme, just to make ourselves stand out from the crowd.

This mindset helps drive our celebrity culture, and motivates the pursuit of hollow fame and the anonymous adoration of a million faceless followers. It’s not only virtual, it’s vapid.

When you take a standard eye exam, there is a fascinating machine called a phoropter. It’s the one with multiple lenses, which the optometrist flips through to a series of distinctive sounds. First lens, the letters on the poster are indistinct blurs. Click. Hey, now you can actually see what they are. Click. Oh, this one’s even better. Click. In an instant, everything is perfectly clear, the little black letters standing at full attention on the wall.

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Student Conservation Association