by Esme, 2018 GOALS scholar
Standing at the summit of Silliman Pass, 10,160 feet above sea level, there is no direction you can look and not see beauty. With Twin Lakes behind you, a blue glimpse of Ranger Lake in the distance in front of you, and the granite ridgeline on both sides, you are surrounded by things that resonate with thousands of years of sun and wind and sky. Somehow they seem much more real than you are, but it doesn’t really matter — it is enough to just be there, standing among things beyond your understanding.
In my application essay for this program, I wrote about how actively looking for and recognizing beauty in quiet, unassuming things can help shape the world that you experience. I expected to find beauty on this trip in some form or another — it is Sequoia National Park, after all — but I didn’t realize that I would find beauty in myself as well. Being without mirrors for two entire weeks, where your only option is to look outside of yourself at the wonder of your surroundings, changes you. You forget your insecurities, forget the dirt, forget the mosquitoes and black flies. You begin to understand the connections that link you to your surroundings, how you, somehow, indescribably, are a part of the beauty of Silliman Pass as you stand there or the wonder of Watchtower Peak in a thunderstorm, simply because you are alive and present enough to realize the majesty of that moment. Even now — two weeks since we left the mountains — I think I still carry that feeling of connection with me, subtly giving me the confidence to be comfortable with myself and to pursue the things that I am passionate about.
If I had to give one piece of advice for future GOALS scholars, I think that I would repeat the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” Everything I did on the trip that, initially, I didn’t think I could do ended up not only being something that I could do, but also something that I loved doing! GOALS provides you with the opportunity to feel connectedness with yourself, with other people, and with the wilderness around you until, to quote another Eleanor (Eleanor Wilner, peace activist and poet), “you no longer know / the trail you take / from the one that you are making as you go.”