by Maddy Cooper, VMS 12th Grade
VMS senior, Maddy Cooper, took part in the 2019 Upper School Intraterm Trip to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, which inspired the reflection below. She shared it with her fellow students at Town Meeting on February 26, 2019, and we are grateful for her willingness to share it with the larger community through this blog.
Sand bench loop. A hiking trail located in Zion National Park that is 2.5 miles long. A loop sprinkled with hickory-smoked sand and frosted with a layer of snow. A loop dusted with ten teenagers - and a few adults - stomping and whooping and hollering with nowhere to go but back to the start. Yet, despite the cyclical nature of their journey, the whoops of joy and bounds of satisfaction persist.
One particular whoop came from the one and only Ms. Pavlik. As we approached the start—or end—of our path we heard a splintering crack—like a jet engine—from the other side of the canyon. A giant slab of ice from a tucked away frozen waterfall had just jumped away from the jagged ledge and crashed down a thousand feet. Like a bullet train, the slab of ice shot down and exploded into a million pieces of crystal mist...
“Look!! The waterfall just turned on!” shouted a flustered Ms. Pavlik desperately trying to explain what she was seeing, but not quite being able to find the words.
The noise of our laughter slowly melted into random conversation until the sound-smothering snow storm blowing in from the north had enveloped our trail and left the entire canyon—and us—silent.
As we continued to walk, fat snowflakes floated down around us and I began to realize the recently thawed waterfall would soon again be ice. But before it returned to this stage, the water would likely flow down rivers, and up the veins of plants, through the air and mountains, and possibly our pipes, through valleys and down rivers until it ended up frozen once more to the side of a canyon wall as ice. Water to ice to vapor and back to water again. A sort of cyclical cosmic indifference. And indifference that says, “well if the start is the end then there really is no end. It's all the same—one big loop.” Sand bench loop.
And maybe in a way, all of our journeys are like this. We are awake we are asleep, we are joyous we are sad, we are created we are destroyed. It's all a loop governed by the same cosmic indifference. And while sometimes traveling in a loop can seem overwhelmingly pointless, it can also be overwhelmingly freeing. For there is no need to focus on where you are going or where you have been. All you have to do is persist; splashing and whooping, loving and laughing as you gaze up at the jagged, snow-canvased mountains. Thanking them for showing you that you are never truly lost. For showing you that you are free to love something that does not love you back.
Ultimately, what sand bench loop taught me is that nothing is permanent or promised—only provided.
And how you travel depends on whether you see the cycle as a way to be trapped or a way to be free. Whether you whoop and splash and love and nourish and learn, or you become paralyzed by the inevitable. For while the cycle may be mandatory, how you travel—how you persist—is not.
So I urge you to whoop to holler. To touch to enjoy. To be as flexible as water and as tough-minded as ice. To cry and admire and to taste and smell and to, above all, listen to the silent cyclical nature of the universe.