2017-2018 Live Deliberately Essay Contest
Grace Fullerton, 20
Honorable Mention, 19-21 Age Group
“The Pursuit of a River”
Last year, I embarked on the three-day trek through the Quilotoa Loop in the mountains of Ecuador. The first and second day went smoothly, but the third day was rough. We left in the early morning with insufficient directions in hand and planned to arrive at the Quilotoa Crater just before the evening rains. Upon hitting a fork in the road, our trio met another group from Germany with clearer directions, so we joined forces. As we chatted and learned some simple German, we noticed our trail disappearing into the brush. The plants began to slice at our arms and legs as we slid downhill in the mud left from yesterday’s rain. We thought we saw a trail below us and getting back up seemed impossible at this point, so we persevered only to discover that the “trail” was a river cutting through two mountains. Facing us was a steep, rock wall topped with muddy farming terraces growing lettuce and onions. As we walked along the stream hoping to pick up the trail on our side of the mountain, I heard a boy’s voice coming from the mountaintop. I made sense of his Spanish enough to realize he was trying to help us. This 14 year-old boy proceeded to individually pull all six of us up the mountainside with ease and eventually got us back on our path. Although the rest of the day was far from easy, short, or dry, we made it to the crater just after the evening rains and before sunset.
I spent a weekend drenched and exhausted on the Ecuadorian mountainside because the process of choosing a college completely overwhelmed me. Instead of going to college after high school, I chose to spend a year working and volunteering abroad. It’s surprising to many people that, for me, living in a foreign country by myself was an easier transition than going straight to college. In that sense, my journey to college exemplifies Thoreau’s “narrow and crooked” path. Taking a gap year to volunteer in South America was an immense privilege, but it is also not the path most would recommend to a scared 18 year old with good grades and set career goals. It could have lead me astray or made me think school was no longer important. However, after reflecting upon Thoreau’s words, it’s clear to me that the literal and figurative paths I pursued that year were critical in my personal development.
There is a reason Thoreau decided to use “pursue” instead of “choose.” Pursue is a word that implies continuous and committed action. Choice is a one-time decision; once you choose, your action is done. The path we pursue is full of choices. My individual choices on that hike — to use new directions, to trust a 14 year-old Ecuadorian boy, to continue putting one foot in front of the other when, in my drenched seventh hour, I felt like giving up, along with my life choices — to take a gap year, to pursue a career in education, to ask for help when I need it, all add up to my pursuit of a life I love living. The fact that our life is a continual pursuit means that those individual choices do not have to define us. Our missteps, when we lose the trail, don’t mean our pursuit is over. Our choices divert us into small creeks, brooks, and streams, only to bring us back to the larger river. Importantly, we are never alone. No matter how small or trivial our stream seems to the system, it serves a purpose in our and others’ lives. During my journey I found people who would walk with me in a community of “love and reverence” when I felt trivial. These relationships, the ones formed on the “narrow and crooked” paths are the ones that have carried me to the end of my journey. My choice to take a gap year was a deviation, a tributary that eventually led me back to the main river. It was the reprieve that I desperately needed, and through the people that pulled me up mountain sides, both literally and figuratively, I learned how to treat myself and others with the “love and reverence” that Thoreau expects of us.