Archives for May,2014

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Finding Oneself with Dahlia Santiuste

Dahlia Santiuste was at a crossroads when she arrived to the Adventure Risk Challenge (ARC) summer immersion course. She had just completed her senior year of high school in Atwater, CA and was unsure of her future. She had turned down an offer to play softball at a distant east coast college. The local colleges weren’t attractive to her, and she felt family pressure to stay close to home. She described herself as feeling “confined” and “trapped” and overwhelmed by the sense that she might fail.

“Throughout my life, I’ve struggled to accept failure…. I am the type of person who is unwilling to tolerate any sort of disappointment,” Dahlia writes. “Many thoughts and negative judgments would flow from one side of my head to the other. Failure was always in the back of my mind.” Negative thinking and self-judgment kept Dahlia from making the leap into her post-high-school future. She felt paralyzed by the enormity of deciding “What’s next?”

The ARC summer course offered Dahlia an opportunity to break free from her fear of failure and indecision. She was in a completely foreign environment with new faces and new challenges. As Dahlia describes, “One day I was in the warmth of my bed, and the next day, I was sleeping on a foam mat in a sleeping bag with the protection of a tent hanging over me. On top of that, I was surrounded by people I had never met before.”

Soon, the unfamiliar faces became her closest friends and the wilderness became a peaceful sanctuary and place of beauty. Dahlia had never visited Yosemite National Park, and she was awed by its large granite rock faces and spiraling waterfalls. By being in this naturally beautiful place with new friends, she realized that she could live independently and could accomplish things she previously didn’t think she was capable of. She hiked over sixty miles during the course and went rock climbing, rafting, and kayaking.

Her ARC teammates saw her as a leader, and by the end of the course, she came to see herself as a strong, self-sufficient woman. Dahlia wrote, “ARC has taught me to be more independent. I feel comfortable continuing on with my life because I no longer need to rely on anyone else. I can do things on my own. I was lost before I came here…. Now I know who I want to be. I am no longer lost. I have been found.” Dahlia is now a member of the U.S. Coast Guard and is on her way to becoming a Health Services Technician.

The following is a metaphorical poem Dahlia wrote during her summer with ARC:

I am a Snow Plant

I am a snow plant
Fragile and weak
Constantly learning from my surroundings
Collecting fungi for its nutrition
Curiously spreading my roots
Until my roots reached unknown territory

Wrapping me with a relentless grip
My parents expected me to be a typical woman
To stay home in the kitchen
Because that’s where I belonged
I cleaned, I cooked, I washed, I swept
I mopped, I wiped, I dusted, and I vacuumed
There had to be more than exhausting work in the confinement of four mind-numbing white walls
Walls that closed in on me when I had my back turned
Walls that trapped my solitude so I could perceive the reality that I lived in
Walls that I wanted to demolish to let my roots grow
Dreary lifeless white walls that suffocated me
Suppressing me ‘til I renounced my defeat
Giving up was not an option

Didn’t matter if I had support from my mom, dad, family, and community
Like the soles of the hiking boots compressing me to the ground
Preventing me from growing
I wanted to do what I loved
Rising up through the thick layer of dirt, rocks, and sticks
I realized that I should be playing softball

I had no experience
I did not sprout with the knowledge of the game
But it all came naturally to me
Grounding the fluorescent ball
Launching it to first base was electrifying
One way or another
I would make everyone
Everyone see
That I was born to be a ball player

Being on the field felt like home
My terrain that I fortified from trespassers
It fueled me
I was nourished with bright knowledge coming down from the intense rays of the sun
It made me feel like I was blossoming in just the right spot
I felt comfortable
Too comfortable
Where did my talent come from?

Skills passed on through generations
Energized by the soil
Through the thick grass and bright horizon I discovered
My grandpa was a baseball player
He became my role model
When I walked out onto the lushes’ field
I was playing for him
For the magnificent gift that he gave me

When I needed nutrients I looked to my grandpa
If only I could look at him
Look into the glossy whites of his eyes
Glistening, shimmering in the waves of the sun
He’s passing took me back to the lifeless white walls I once lived in
The walls that wouldn’t let me go

I am as rare as the scruffy crimson bandana that my grandpa owned
Visible from miles away
Walking the trails of Snow Creek Trail you could spot it with ease
With every catch
With every throw
His wisdom and direction flowed fluidly from the bandana
Tickling my delicate skin as it escapes from my finger tips
Following the ball ‘til it reached the other glove receiving the last and final out
My grandpa is my inspiration

The snow is starting to melt
I know now that my time is approaching
People are starting to notice me
University of Hartford showed great attraction to my vibrant red glow
Being held back from my true potential and suffering from the agony of my loss, I’ve grown
I made a decision to reject the offer the University of Hartford had presented to me
A decision I will never forgive myself for
Sleeping has become a task for me
My dreams are lost in the tangle of my struggles
I took responsibility for my actions
And I know that all will go well for me
Keeping a bandana on my wrist
I know I have protection from my angel up above
The stars gleaming in the night skies keep me from wilting

I always knew I was different
It was difficult to confuse me with other plants
My bright luminescent color standing out in the piles of pine needles,
And forest litter,
Growing as the snow melts
I am a plant with no chlorophyll
I am a plant that does not photosynthesize
I am different
I will always be different
I am a Snow Plant