Chiricahaw Rites of Passage -Part 2

If you missed last weeks posting- This is a true story about 10 delinquent teenage girls that were required to hike 12 miles into the Chiricahaw Mountains of Southern Arizona.  I was also along to guide these troubled youth.

Solo time was next. For three days, everyone (including staff) was to be alone.   Every girl was given a tarp, cheese, nuts, fruit and carrots.  Boundaries were set up and even though they were within sight of each other and staff, they weren’t allowed to talk to each other.  Sleeping underneath the stars with nothing but a tarp overhead and a sleeping bag was a little frightening for some of them. Gail, a tall black girl from Philadelphia, was so nervous that she wore her long underwear the entire three days even in over 90 degree temperature.

I visited the girls once a day.  Most of them shared with me that they enjoyed being alone and away from each other. It gave them time to think and that was the whole purpose.

On the second morning, I visited Beth, she was grinning from ear to ear as I sat down next to her.  Her brown hair was matted down from oil and perspiration and lines of dirt creased her neck.

“How are you doing this morning, Beth?” I asked.

“You know , its not so bad out here.  When I compare it to my home life.” she answered.

I was surprised.  This girl was speaking intelligently!

“All my life I’ve been told I was stupid.  You know my dad even hit me once with a crow bar.  That’s why I have this scar on my lip. I decided then, that if I acted retarded that he would leave me alone.  And I was right.   All I wanted from my family was some attention, but they were always too busy for me.  Did you know that when they found out about this program, they jumped so fast, I couldn’t believe it.  For years, every summer, they sent me to some camp or to other family members.  They didn’t want me.  I just interfered in their life.”  A tear slid down her cheek.

“But you know, sleeping underneath the stars, I feel so peaceful.  Like God is watching over me and everything will be OK.”

“Everything will be OK.”  I answer softly. I hug Beth and push her hair back from her face.   We held each other for several minutes.

Beth continues, “ I know I’ve given you such a bad time.  I just don’t always act the right way and I’ll really try in the future to treat you and the rest of the girls better.”

I answer, “I’ve made mistakes in my life too.  Life is a learning process. Everyday is an opportunity to grow and learn.  There is a saying I try to live by,  ‘Today is the first day of the rest of your life’.  So, every morning is a fresh start.”

“I like that.” She answers.

That day, Beth realized it was all right to be herself and immediately was more loving and easier to get along with.

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Washing up in the river

The 3-day solo ended with a feast of chunky vegetable soup, blueberry muffins, chili and lemon angel food cake.  The next morning, the girls were in better spirits as they cleaned up camp and packed for the day.   About a mile down the trail, we found a clear rushing stream.   No one had had a bath in at least 7 days.  Packs and shoes quickly came off to play in the refreshing water. Laughter and splashing filled the desert morning air as we frolicked in the sun. All the girls washed their hair and looked 100% better.  All the better to finish with their last undertaking.

Their last undertaking was a Rites of Passage called the “Trust Game” which was to be held in a remote canyon filled with boulders.  Eight girls, four on each side, faced each other, held out their arms and interlocked hands to form a basket.  One at a time, each girl stood in front of the line and fell backward from a slightly higher position into the girls lock locked arms.  A lot of laughter and screaming erupted.  It was hard for the girls to believe that everyone would keep their hold. “Trust” was a tough issue for most of these girls.  Many had never been able to trust anyone their whole life.   Everyone did hold their grip and the good feelings that generated from this activity lasted the rest of the outing.

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Getting ready for the “Trust Game”

Beth was next.  “ I never realized we were all in this together and how the success or failure of this trip depended on how we all treated each other.  We had to be a team or it wasn’t going to work. I found that out when my helmet fell over my eyes and I lost my hold on the branches and tumbled into June’s arms. I was so scared, but she was there for me.  Furthermore, being alone for three days made me realize how I was treating others.  I now realize that the real wilderness is inside me, but it is still alright to be myself.”

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Staff and Beth


If you are interested in learning more about Vision Quests or Rites of Passage, please check the School of Lost Borders.

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