My husband, son, and I arrived in Lehi on Thursday evening. On Friday morning, we headed to the Outback office, met with Robby, our Family Therapist, and headed over the mountains to the West Desert. On the route, which is the original Pony Express Trail, we saw antelope, wild horses, and a large hawk. We picked up our daughter at her camp, where she and her brother re-united after not seeing each other for more than two months. One of the field staff, Krista, joined us, and we loaded up and headed for our own camp, arriving around lunch time.
First order of business was unloading the truck, digging a latrine (a task that our children took on), then going on a wood run so we could get a fire going. By “we”, I mean Robby, our daughter, and Krista, who all busted coals with their fire sets. Robby made open-faced quesadillas over the fire, which was pretty much one of the most delectable and simple things I’ve ever eaten. We drank tea out of stainless steel cups, with water boiled in a “billy”– a coffee can set into the fire. After that, we had a group session and talked about Feelings (kind of an Airing of Grievances / Resentments). Tough stuff! It also started raining, but we were dry and warm under the tarp in our rain gear, mostly.
Early in the evening, we went on a hike, got our sleeping gear in order, and had another session, talking about Gratitude. It continued raining, but we stayed warm and dry next to the fire. This group was easier than the “Resentments” by far! Robby made pasta in a billy and a tomato sauce loaded with freshly chopped veggies, which we ate in our cups with wooden spoons we carved (roughly) out of juniper branches. Not even kidding. We cleaned up, using juniper greenery as scrubbies to clean out the pans and our cups. We rinsed the food bits out into a sump– a small hole dug in the ground, lined with juniper branches, which filtered out the particles. We drank tea and told jokes by the fire, and laughed heartily about silly things from the past. The coyotes were howling eerily, and our daughter said they were “close”. We howled back.
We crawled into our sleeping bags at around 8:30, using a couple of headlamps as light. It started raining hard not long after that, but we were dry, and pretty warm even though the zipper on my sleeping bag was not cooperating with me. That was the night of the full moon/eclipse/comet, which of course we couldn’t see because of the heavy cloud cover, but the moon still provided enough light that you could see fairly well.
At some point the rain stopped kind of abruptly, and there was this odd quiet hush; I was pretty sure that it had started snowing, but I wasn’t about to crawl out of my sleeping bag to find out. Our son found out by having to pee in the middle of the night and when he stepped outside in a t-shirt and with a boot only half on his foot: definitely snowing!!!
The next morning we woke to a gorgeous blanket of snow—our daughter and Krista weren’t happy about it, because snow makes things cold and wet and challenging, but I was pretty thrilled. Well, thrilled until we realized that we had used all of the firewood the night before, so had to go on another wood run. In the wet and melting snow. If we wanted to eat and get warm, we needed a fire; so off we went. By the time we were done, we had a freaking mountain of wood and kindling (“littles”), and Robby had a blazing fire going, over which he made shakshuka, a Mediterranean egg dish with loads of veggies and tomatoes and it was absolutely divine.
We had more group sessions in the late morning and afternoon, sitting in the sun, with a simple lunch of granola, fruit, and sunflower seeds. This was followed by a game of Ninja. I suck at Ninja. The reason I have photos of it is that I was the first one out, so I could take pix of everyone else! Later in the afternoon, we headed out for a long group hike, during which we sang and played a word game called “Got It!”, which is just too hard to explain, but loads of fun. I was way better at Got It than I was at Ninja. By then all of the snow had melted and the ground was MUD. Slick, sucking mud. Thankfully, we had our waterproof gear and boots.
We got back to camp, and Robby had the family go out and collect an item for each person in the family that represented how we saw that person. In a muddy rocky desert with mostly sage and juniper, this was a bit of a challenge, but we did it. When we had done this, Robby had us, as a family, make a leather pouch, a powaka, into which we would later put the items in an evening ceremony. Our daughter has mad leather-sewing skills. The rest of us, not so much, although my husband was able to use an awl to punch holes in the leather to facilitate our son’s stringing up his side with sinew.
Dinner was chicken coconut curry and rice, again made with one frying pan and one billy. We pretty much inhaled that, and then had our group session where we went around and presented our items to each person, explaining what each one meant. This was really, really cool. Really.
- So for my husband, our son presented him with a rusted, shot up can, which represented his ability to stay standing after many trials and tribulations. Our daughter presented him with an antelope femur, representing the ability to keep moving and pushing. I gave him sage, representing something that survives under difficult conditions.
- Our son was presented with two different types of rocks from my husband and I, and an animal tooth (maybe a coyote), from his sister. From my husband, a rock with layers; from his sister, the tooth represented the strength and edge he’s shown during this period; from me, a smaller, solid red rock, representing his solid strength and colorful character.
- For our daughter, my husband and son gave her spent shotgun shells (for real) because, well, obviously, right? So perfect! I gave her a piece of granite, colorful but with jagged edges and some cracks, representing her solid strength, vulnerability, and beauty on the inside.
- For me, my husband gave me sage, representing being rooted and important to the foundation of the family. My son gave me a big, roundish rock, and told me I was the rock of the family. My daughter gave me the vertebra of an antelope. A backbone. Did I lose it or what?
Anyway, we had some family time by the fire, and crawled into bed, again around 8:30, but not before watching the full moon come over the mountains and light up the desert in spectacularly. And the STARS!!! OMG, never seen stars like that. It got clear and cold.
In the morning, Robby got a great fire going, and we had oatmeal and granola with apples and bananas, and nice hot tea. We packed up, had a group session in the sun, and made commitments and requests of ourselves and each other for the future. We loaded up the truck and took down the tent. Another field staff came and picked up our daughter and Krista to take them back to the Lorikeets group while Robby, my husband, my son, and I loaded up in our truck to head out.
We got back to the hotel wearing basically the same clothes we had been wearing for three days, covered in mud. We showered, got something to eat (our son is now a big fan of Peruvian food), and were in bed by 7pm.
It was probably the best, most important weekend of my life. Our daughter was amazing. Open, honest, bright, smiling. She sang and danced. I loved watching her interact with her brother — paying Ninja and having a snowball fight, or gathering wood or scattering ashes before burying the fire pit. She has 2-3 more weeks to go, and even though she turns 18 on Friday, she’s agreed to stay longer. The change in her, and all of us, is enormous, and I am so proud of her, and proud of us.
Onward we go.
*Outback Therapeutic Expeditions offers Family Expeditions for current and Alumni families. If you would like more information on our Family Expos or wilderness therapy, give us a call at 801-766-3933.