2016-17 Gap Year Blog

Oct 29, 2016.  



IMG_0331Oct 17, 2016. Today we went to work at
Thistle Whistle Farm.  The first thing we did when we arrived was to milk goats.  Next we toured the farm andIMG_0334 saw bees, strange plants that made your mouth numb, and over 60 species of hot pepper.  Next we helped harvest.  Some of the group picked tomatoes, long rows of diverse kinds of tomatoes with numerous heritage varieties.  Other people picked peppers and others dug potatoes.  Mark makes his living from his farming.  Here’s a newspaper article about him that Dev wrote a few years ago.




Oct 15, 2106.  By Willy Clemetson.  I woke up early on Tuesday, the day we were leaving for the backpacking trip. I watched the sun rise over the huge crumbling shoulders of Gunnison. The other sleepers woke slowly, grudgingly around me. They rose, drifting thickly out of the building we slept in, like the heavy clouds off Mount Lamborn, whose steep face hung over the lush orchards in this small valley, Paonia.

I was the first to swing my pack off the dusty ground outside our hodgepodge house. Part of it was a mud daubed straw-bale building, the other was unfinished and barely insulated. I dragged it laboriously up the silver-gray side of Critter, and secured it by strapping it around the rack that was fixed to the top of the old, decrepit van. Critter was of indeterminate age and health, but it always got us where we needed to go, even if it’s top speed uphill was twenty miles an hour. Our only other mode of transportation was a brown pickup truck that had to be at least a hundred years old.

The outdoor kitchen was bustling with activity by eight o’clock. We made a delicious meal of Focaccia, and scrambled eggs, then Dev, the director, harangued us into piling aboard the creaking vehicles. Thirty minutes later I was watching scrub sage roll by, occasionally broken by a ranch house or miniature canyon that held a now dry stream. I was in Critter, as the truck was mostly made up of people who were in the other hiking group. We had 2 groups, I was in the flow group, a combination of fast and slow hikers, the other group was medium speed. Both groups were starting from different places and intended to meet at a lake in the middle of the West Elk Wilderness: a huge tract of land that stretched out to the east of Paonia. The reason we had the slow and fast hikers together was because we could all move at our own pace, independently. we would camp together, but any of the faster hikers who wanted to could streak off and hike a mountain on the way. We left the other group at a junction between two road and pealed off to the left, towards our start point.

I was watching the mountains draw closer out the left side window when we pulled out of a dirt road corridored by Oakbrush, into a small parking area. The oak leaves were just turning, and as I tossed packs down from the top of Critter I couldn’t help but stare out over the fiery tips of them from my vantage

“Got everything?” asked Julie, one of the staff. At my confirmation she exclaimed “rad, lets get going homeslice!” She used very stereotypical Cali lingo.

I Jumped down with a laugh and hoisted my pack. Suddenly gravity felt like it doubled. My usual springy physicality slumped slightly, straining under the weight. It was going to be a long day. My peers did the same, hefting their packs. As soon as Dev gave the word, I shot off down the road. We followed it for a few minutes, staying mostly in a group, until we veered off into the trees, at Dev’s direction, and traversed our way across a small stream. only minimal boot wetting. Here, after a quick debrief of the route, we were given free reign and all set out at different place. A few miles later Dev’s wife Marion, Ben, Oscar, and I were far ahead of the rest. We walked past beaver dams and mountain streams, under tall aspen forests that burned with heavy, golden light in the afternoon haze, wove through the tall spruces and firs, which cast a dark green shadows on our backs.

I was sweating in the heat and with the weight of the pack, every step an effort by the time we stopped for a break. I ate copious amounts of my precious trail mix, a crisp apple that I had stowed in the front of the pack, and some slices of cheese with summer sausage on a tortilla. My water was fresh and cool, sliding down my throat like a sigh.We waited for fifteen minutes to digest, while the entirety of the fast group caught up to us, plus another ten for them to rest, then we continued on. It grew colder as we climbed higher in elevation. A few patches of snow started to appear, and the light grew brighter and brighter as the air thinned. We crossed our first talus field, deposited by the ancient glaciers that draped the shoulders of the peaks above. There was a solid path through it, where we could see the imprints of horse hooves in gray clay. It wasn’t nearly as treacherous as the slopes of East Beckwith, which we climbed the Wednesday before.

IMG_0296We finally broke out of the trees, and strode out into a tundra filled with high altitude grasses, and gooseberries. I snagged a few as I was walking. They were sour, but refreshing. The path was now a narrow track of dirt mostly traveled by horses and cows. There were often paths that led off in different directions, but it was usually easy to tell which was the main trail. So when we got to a section where the path forked into two nearly identical trails, leading off in different directions up the valley, we had to stop. Dev had told us that the campsite was only a quarter mile up the path from the start of the meadow but he never told us which path it went on.

“I’ll go on the left.” I said to Ben.

We both dropped our packs and jogged in opposite directions up the paths. I was about to reenter the trees on the other side of the valley when I heard Ben cry “I found it!”

I walked into clearing in a grove of spruces surrounding and covering abundant amounts of flat ground. There was even a fire pit dug and surrounded by stones. All of this sat on the top of a ridge, which gently fell away on the other side, and the dark green of evergreens morphed into the soft butter of the Pople.

People soon blossomed out of the distance and walked up through the alpine meadow. We set up camp, made a fire, and celebrated our first day of backpacking by making sweet peanut noodles over our cat-can stoves. By the time the dishes were washed everyone was yawning around the fire. The sun had long since set over the end of the valley. The burnt rose light in the west had faded to a dark blue. In the cool shade of the spruces I watched as the light slowly of the flame slowly faded and the stars began to twinkle into existence. I drifted from the fire towards my nest, brushed my teeth, and slipped into my warm bag.

I fell asleep to the chorus of my three tarp-mate’s breaths, and the gentle whisper of aspen leaves.


Oct 13, 2016.  IMG_0319

Today we went to a farm called Delicious Orchards and met with Jeff Schwarz who says his farm his an organic, biodyIMG_0322namic farm that is used by the community.  They grow lots of fruit, varieties of apples, pears, peaches, apricots, plums and cherries.  Jeff is a “doer” who says “yes” to most things and likes the depth and richness that results.  One of the more powerful moments was when Jeff shared his biodynamic preparations and compost and his passion for taking care of the soil and the community.  We picked apples and tomatoes and made sure to swing on the rope swings.  We took apples home for crisp and tomatoes for canning.

Oct 6th, 2016. By Milla von Tauber. 

Journey, HEro, Chris, Lainey and I in front of our cabin outside of Denver
Journey, Hero, Chris, Lainey and I in front of our cabin outside of Denver


The first few weeks on a trip like this are always hectic. There is so much going on and we are all learning how to live and cope with each other in a communal space, which is never an easy feat. By the time week 3 rolled around though things were starting to settle down and I found myself so excited for the weeks to come. A little group of us (Lainey, Chris, Journey, Hero and I) were heading out to Denver to see Tegan and Sara in concert and were all giddy with anticipation at the thought of being in civilization again, even if it were only for a night. We left after breakfast, packed the car to the brim with snacks and treats, and jammed out for the 5 hour ride to the city. 

It was pretty weird to be in a city after two weeks of back country living. The first thing on all of our agendas was a flushing toilet and when we sat down at an Asian restaurant to eat dinner, I swear we all visited the restroom at least 4 times each. By the time we finished our lovely, mouth watering cuisine, the opening act had already started so we rushed back to the venue. I got a giant “X” on my hand at the door and headed into the heat of people to be enveloped by a heady rush of excitement.  Disclaimer: before this concert, I’d only ever heard of the band once. I mostly came along to see Denver, as my dad and I 14795788_1167543616645131_746866699_oskipped it on our drive in. The energy of the room was massive though, and looking around at everyone’s

We were obviously very excited about those donuts
We were obviously very excited about those donuts

excitement made me excited too. It helped that Tegan and Sara were actually wonderful, at performing and at engaging the audience. By the end I was converted into a groupie and so genuinely thankful for the experience. We made a stop at the ever famous Voodoo Doughnuts on our way out of town and I’ve got to say, by far the best doughnuts of my life.


That next weekend was Marian and Dev’s wedding. It was a magical event, filled with love from every direction and so much joy.  You can read about it here, along with a bunch of photos I took throughout the day.


The next highlight was our 5 day backpacking trip through the wilderness of the West Elks. It was a crazy experience as a whole but one that I will never forget. You can read more about it here. Below are some additional photos from the trip that aren’t in my personal blog post.

Cori was hungry. Cori also wanted to climb the Aspens.



Cori and Journey dancing in the wilderness



October 1, 2016. Everybody arrived at the High Desert Center on September 7th. In the next three weeks we visited farms, climbed some mountains, danced a lot, celebrated a marriage, experienced some ups and downs of group living, and went on a five day backpack trip. Thanks to Journey Temple for the photos.

Picking Apples
The High Desert Center Dorm
Climbing Beckwith
High Lakes
A farm Visit


Dreamy Paonia.  SEPTEMBER 25, 2016  by Mary Grace Campbell

My first two and a half weeks in Paonia, Colorado have been a beautiful whirlwind.

My first days were filled with group conversations about the nature of living in community, picking ripe fruits from the side of the road, jumping into the icy irrigation ditch, and simply being in awe of this amazing place.

14355641_2001707410055638_7195928012616614891_nExactly one week after arriving we embarked on our first big adventure: summiting East Beckwith. We woke before the sun rose and loaded onto Critter (our funky fifteen passenger van). I snoozed for most of the hour drive to our destination. When about to begin our trek, I felt nervous about my first attempt at climbing a mountain and unsure about my own ability to summit. The first part of the hike was the toughest. As we got higher and the terrain changed from green forest to seemingly treacherous jagged rock, I felt surprisingly energized. Climbing up the rocks was a fun and difficult challenge. Each step was a bit precarious, not knowing if a rock may be loose and potentially cause a rock slide. But I did indeed make it to the top! As I approached the top, I was met with cheers of encouragement from all the crew who had already made it to the top. Making it to the summit was so amazing! I felt such a sense of accomplishment reaching an elevation of 12,441 feet and summiting my first ever mountain.

The following Friday morning I participated in the butchering of chickens. It was completely emotionally draining, while at the same time a major spiritual and educational experience. I participated in each part of the process, from calming the chickens beforehand to packaging after. I learned more about anatomy from butchering a chicken than I did from a whole semester of high school anatomy class.

In just over two weeks I have become a much more competent kitchen companion. I’ve helped in the process of canning plum jam, trying out various salsas, crafting mozzarella cheese, and my knife skills are on a whole new level considering there was absolutely no skill before! But there are delicious foods everywhere and I am loving being nourished by the hands of friends with the goods from nearby farmers.

Yesterday was a day filled with immense love. I felt so fortunate to be present for Dev and Marian’s wedding celebration. There was so much beauty and joy all around me. Delicious foods, engaging conversation, with the backdrop of snow tipped mountains, followed by contra dancing the night away…dare I say, a perfect night?

There is so much more that has filled my days in Paonia, I’ve given just a taste!

In two days we are setting out on a five day backpacking trip in the West Elk Wildernes, so more posts to come!