The second-place winner of this year’s alumni essay contest is Ian Wilkinson! Ian was a student on both the Colorado Utah and Yellowstone Teton Service trips. Thanks so much for sharing your work with us, Ian!
“The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness”
– John Muir
As I stood at the edge of a path in the woods, wielding an intimidating pickaxe, I gazed up at the sky and smiled. That smile summed up every emotion that was coursing through my body. I found myself in a state of bliss. My companions and I had just finished constructing a new section of trail in Wyoming, beginning a three week service and camping trip. While we took a short break, a hiker approached our group and said nothing but a simple “thank you.” What struck me was not what she said, but the manner in which she said it, bestowing meaning and value upon our work. The weeks we spent outdoors, the dozens of hours of service we performed, and the sore muscles were worth it. I began to realize the true significance of volunteering and community service.
Several days passed. I zipped up my jacket and pulled my arms in tightly as the wind whipped around me, nearly knocking me down. Trudging up the mountain through an icy patch of snow, my body recoiled in a sudden panic when a loose rock slid out from underneath my boot and tumbled down the slope. Finally reaching the summit, I discovered the most gorgeous view I’ve ever seen. The sky, a clear, crystal blue with only a few clouds in the distance, offered an exquisite panorama of the shimmering lake, endless forests and rolling hills. As I stood there, speechless, surrounded by the peacefulness, beauty, and importance of nature, I realized that I want to work to preserve what I have seen, so that others can have incredible wilderness experiences to call their own.
One week later, my legs shook and my hands grew sweaty as I clenched onto the damp, jagged rock. I pressed my body as tightly as I could against the face of the rock, not willing to move a muscle. Though I was completely secured, horrifying images of impending death flooded through my mind. I needed to stretch myself across a crevasse between two large rocks and pull myself onto the far side. Summoning more courage than I knew I had, I took a leap, and nearly threw myself onto the other rock. I scrambled onto the flat area and sat down. Breathing a heavy sigh of relief, I laughed to myself as I realized what I had just done. I had accomplished something that I was terrified to do and would have never done before. Now, I use that moment to encourage myself to do what I previously thought impossible.
The high-pitched hum grew to a loud roar as the plane ascended off the tarmac. I smiled to myself once more and reflected upon the lifetime of experiences I had in three short weeks. Those experiences guided me through a journey within myself to discover a universe of knowledge: the value of service, the importance of our natural world, and my own true courage.