Baja Student Reflection: Tessa Cafritz
Wow, it is incredible how time can pass and feel like lifetimes ago. Though Baja feels so far, I think about it all the time. I think about sleeping under the stars, about walking through forests of cacti as the sun was setting, creating bioluminescence through the waving of my hands. Sharing and learning from those around me. Every time I went head first any chance I could get in the water at the field station. I feel like I was searching for myself on this trip. I still am but the urgency is apparent in my journal entries and in the way my body feels when I think back about the times I struggled. Though this time for me was hard – I had moved across the country, ended my teaching career, started working at a rather hectic new place, and then soon after this transition went on this trip – the feelings that come from looking back at this trip are not negative, but intense and give me a sense of the growth I have made from then til now.
The search for myself is continuous and I do not think it is a journey that comes to a true end, the path just changes and the person wandering along does too and in Baja I feel that I experienced both and I am better for it. I have a clearer sense of the direction now of where I want to be going. I was able to realize what was and has been missing for me. A lot that comes up for me during this reflection, are moments of truly feeling seen. By myself, by my peers, professors. These moments take forms like diving into the Sea of Cortez, making eye contact with whale sharks, and searching for scorpions. They feel like conversations in the back of cattle trucks, pushing vans out of sand, and witnessing children play in the water they once feared.
Feeling seen is something I worry I do not feel enough. For a long time, I found that dissociating from myself and surroundings was how I could get by and as a result I have more recently realized that it causes me to not feel like myself. I have described in the past as almost feeling asleep to the world around me and I don’t even realize it until I have moments so jarring, I wake up. This is what Baja was for me, everyday. The classes, the people, the places that surrounded me, forced me to stay awake and even though I read my journal entries and sensed a feeling of not feeling present – I was. Constantly invigorated by not only what I was discovering in myself but what I was learning and experiencing from those around me. It had been so long since I was surrounded by minds that shared my wavelengths and spoke in a similar language about the shape of fish, bird nesting techniques, the complexities of working with animals. It had been so long since I learned in a classroom setting – whether that was on the side of the road or hiking through the desert. I felt like a part of me was reconnected, I think about this so much. Feeling a sense of belonging by others, from myself, the space around me is something I needed.
Community is so crucial to an individual’s wellbeing and the future of this world. The conversations of how educators can move forward in zoos, museums, aquariums, and other science institutions has turned to empathy. How can we foster meaningful, lasting relationships to the natural world? How can we uncover connections between humans and non-humans that ignite the need to cherish all living things? The first tiers fo Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are required to accomplish these goals (McLeod, 2023). This experience reminded me of just how important it is to have those needs fulfilled.