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A Return Home

Posted on

01/12/21

Author

Reed Harwood, Executive Director

Across cultures stories are told about a hero’s journey to distant lands, only to find that what they seek is where the journey began: home.

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

T. S. Eliot, 4 Quartets


On December 28th I embarked on a personal journey, a journey that resembled my first foray into the American West after graduating from college two decades ago. Last week I hugged my family goodbye and hopped into my van. Outfitted with warm layers, sleeping bags, food, and podcasts, I headed toward the “Four Corners” region, where CO, UT, AZ, and NM meet. I had no idea how far I’d get or where I’d sleep, other than knowing I’d be in the back of my van, somewhere. For a week I meandered. I roamed Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa, their dried canyon river bottoms blanketed in snow; I sat on the edge of the Grand Canyon, confused by the deafening silence and overwhelmed by the full nighttime galaxy, unadulterated by city lights; I descended the Colorado plateau into the great Sonoran Desert, and felt its soft winter warmth. After a challenging year, reconnecting with the American West, and my twenty-year old self, was like drinking from a well after a long period of thirst. I felt a deep gratitude for my post-college journeys into these landscapes, which were closer to the surface of my consciousness than I had ever realized.

For nearly three decades Dragons has taken participants on journeys to discover the world and, in the end, themselves. When the pandemic closed down the world, Dragons turned inward to North America. This fall we offered two outstanding domestic Gap experiences: the Rio Grande Semester and the Colorado River Basin Semester. Because of their success, we are excited to announce that this new programming will extend into the 2021/2022 season and will continue to  be an important core of our work.

Keep an eye out for our new 2021 domestic program announcement!

The confluence of COVID-19, a heightened awareness and reckoning of racial injustice, and vast political divide in the United States has increased the need for domestic programming and specifically for a Dragons-style education. Our domestic programs strive to understand the complexity that arises when diverse peoples inhabit a land, looking closely at settler colonialism, power and privilege, and racial, social, and environmental justice issues. We examine how people have changed landscapes, for better and worse, and how those landscapes have in turn shaped our present realities. At a time when connection is hard to come by, the Dragons experience seeks to connect us to each other, our natural world, our collective and shared histories and, in the end, ourselves. Like all of our programs, our domestic courses help students confront important realities and understand their agency in shaping our collective futures.

As we slowly return to the soulful international programming that has always been the hallmark of a Dragons experience, we’re moving into 2021 with increased self-awareness of our home here in North America. That rediscovery will weave itself into our global tapestry, augmenting even more depth and breadth to our programming.

After college I moved to New Mexico, and then California. I spent my time guiding wilderness trips for youth. It led me to Dragons, and in my late 20’s I found myself on the Tibetan Plateau, leading a Dragons group from Lhasa to Mount Kailash, a sacred pilgrimage route for Buddhists and Hindus. I was struck then by how much the Tibetan Plateau reminded me of the Colorado Plateau and the vast American West. And now as I travel and live in the southwest, I’m reminded of Tibet. Future Dragons students will now share the rediscovery of a place many people call home, and come to know it for the first time with new eyes and understanding.

As you start thinking of your plans for 2021, I hope our domestic programming is something you will consider. And if you decide to join us, I hope your experiences in the American West will always be with you, right beneath the surface, waiting to reawaken you, as it did for me this past week.

With hope for the future,

Reed Harwood,
Executive Director

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