Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Inner City Outings - Anza Borrego Volunteer Trip with Sherman Heights Community Center

Volunteered again with Inner City Outings, took a group of kids from the Sherman Heights Community Center out to Anza Borrego with perfect weather and the flowers in full bloom.

I caught a ride on a carpool with other volunteers, there was Katy driving, and Michelle, Kevin, Liz and Me all headed east on Hwy 8 to Ocotillo Wells then North into the hills and washes of the desert, and we rushed the entire way, our fear going back and forth between the highway patrol and being late to meet the kids, but in the end it turned out we were early.

We stretched our legs and smeared our faces with sunblock and met another volunteer Mike, the kids all arrived soon after and they leaped out of their bus and poured over the ditches in the sand, jumping over everything, trying to pick up boulders, soaking up the sun after a long drive. Their mothers called after them to look out for scorpions but I explained to them that the only poisonous ones to really worry about don't live in California, and they felt calmer.

Then, another group of kids came running up claiming to have found gold, and before I could say anything the kids and their moms were all picking the stuff up all over the ground, until I explained to them it was only mica, then they were disappointed, but in a moment they were appreciating it and talking about it being "just as pretty as gold anyways."

The first kids to discover the restrooms were amazed at the toilet, the simple deep hole in the ground, and I told them they had to climb all the way in to use it but not to worry, there was a rope ladder and if they got stuck on their way back up I would help them.

We started out on the rocky trail, following a moist stream bed, in search of an oasis. Some heavier moms and their kids started filtering towards the back, huffing and puffing, but they never complained. They smiled and grunted and when they had to sit for a rest they would apologize and say how beautiful it was.

A worried mother asked about some tracks in the mud, could they be a lion, a wolf? They were honest and earnest when they pointed out some shoeprints and discussed how you could tell it was a sheep’s. All the flowers and cactuses were in bloom, it was a gorgeous sight anywhere you looked. We stopped for lunch at an oasis and everybody got out their goodies to share. I told some kids asking me about some boulders, that inside they were made of pure silver and that people cut them open with lasers, that’s why there were a lot of smaller rocks laying around, they were the husks of this jewel fruit. They spent the rest of lunch trying to figure out a way to carry out a meteor-size boulder between the two of them but ended up leaving with only wild dreams of treasure.

Then a little girl found a crazy looking spider and nobody would pick it up until our trip leader Jim told us it was a striped species of daddy long legs and it was safe. I picked it up and passed it around the kids, when one of them passed it to Mike, he kept a straight face but got rid of it as soon as possible and whispered to Katy how much he hated spiders.

We continued on some Indian trails, zig zagging through the hills, and now the kids each took turns being the leader and trying to navigate through the rocky maze. The kids loved being in charge of the entire group and feeling like captains in the wilderness, watching them I thought about how important it is for kids to feel that sense of responsibility in a positive environment, for them to develop a sense of self-empowerment later in life. Exactly the reason why I'm climbing for Big City Mountaineers.

At the end of the hike, I walked and talked with a small little girl who had a tiny mumbly voice but would never stop talking, story after story. Finally understood that she wanted to race me and ran all the way back to the bus, so hopping over little boulders and dunes and cactuses, we took off, and of course she won.