Matt Morris grew up in the Chihuahuan Desert, where the rugged landscape inspired a love for the outdoors. Morris credits yoga, and hiking and trail running in the Franklin Mountains, for his recovery from a debilitating disease. El Paso native Xochitl Rodriguez enjoys a life driven by family, art, community, and her vision to show her young daughter, Calista, how to find purpose and solace in the world around her.
El Pasoans Xochitl Rodriguez and Matt Morris have lots of things in common. The friends share an unrelenting passion for the healing powers of the landscape around them—the Franklin Mountains. Rodriguez and Morris were also ambassadors for the Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation’s “We Will Not Be Tamed” campaign, in which they shared how their unique stories led to their love of the Texas outdoors.
Since cities enacted stay-at-home orders, more and more Texans have opted outside for entertainment and escape. As the Coronavirus lingers, parks, trails, and open spaces continue to provide safe refuge for pent-up Texans. But according to Rodriguez and Morris, it’s much more than that. Nature can be profoundly transformative to how we view the world, especially during times of crisis.
Xochitl Rodriguez: Matt, you and I both have the outdoors in our blood, and I’m so happy Calista does, too. Growing up in the desert dirt outside of El Paso, I spent lots of time in an arroyo a stone’s throw from my grandmother’s house, where we could ride our bikes, hunt creosote, and chase jackrabbits. My mother and grandmother each roamed that arroyo before me, so I’ve always felt that every few steps, my foot is landing right where one of theirs once did.
Now, Calista and I spend hours in stillness and silence down there, watching the bugs and cacti. People think we’re wild, but there’s so much to be found; deep soul stuff and respect for things much larger than us.
For me, being outside is about that silence, and finding my way inward. What do the outdoors do for you?
Matt Morris: I definitely understand how that silence can change your perspective. Not too long ago, you and I went on a trail race in the Davis Mountains. It was a beautiful morning, and as I took in the view while running through the clouds, I could feel the earth breathing—rising and falling with my own breath. You can only witness something like that when you’re in stillness.
I treasure the chance to stop everything and simply exist. There’s so much magic that lives out in the open space.
XR: Ha! I was sure I was going to die on that last leg of the ascent. After you left me in the dust, I just sat down and looked around, just present in the moment. We don’t get to sit in the clouds in El Paso. It’s that presence that informs how I move through the world, outside or not.
MM: Yes! And learning this mindful practice outside, and then applying it to other parts of your life, especially during times of stress. I’ve witnessed so many more people exploring our mountains during this time—people who’ve never stepped foot onto these trails, even though they’ve lived here all their life.
I’ve been doing my best to be outside as much as possible. I’m reminded of how the Franklins brought so much healing to my life when I was dealing with Crohn’s disease. Nature is powerful—it can truly heal physically, emotionally, and mentally.
XR: It’s been hard feeling a bit afraid lately, but it’s comforting to know nothing’s wrong when we’re outside. With homeschooling and working from home, our screen time can get pretty long, and our days have had some chaos. Calista and I crave the air when life is messing up our balance. I’m grateful people have been moved to be outside—reconnecting with the earth. And I hope people can come back to it again and again through all this.
MM: Me, too. Every outdoor excursion has the potential to shift and change—no two hikes are the same. I’m overcome with a sense of exhilaration and possibility when I get out into the Franklins. I always bring a journal for my thoughts, to keep me grounded and to help me look ahead. All this uncertainty has truly created a paradigm shift in my life, and I’m grateful for it.
I don’t know about you, but meditation—particularly outside—has taken on a larger role for me lately. I’m completely there, in the experience, hearing, feeling, seeing. I fixate my brain on a task, whether that’s running or walking, as my mind remains concentrated in the experience. Being in it, is being present.
XR: Absolutely! I treasure the chance to stop everything and simply exist. There’s so much magic that lives out in the open space. One thing I’m trying to instill in my daughter right now is that all the choices we make, especially when so much is uncertain, are opportunities for acts of love for each other, and for the planet that is our home.
MM: Love is the discovery of ourselves in others, and the delight in the recognition. It’s just as beautiful as watching the earth breathe.
XR: We should all have space for love to grow right now. I hope people will discover or return to themselves. I hope they stay outside, and that everything shifts for them, for the better. I would encourage folks who are falling in love with our mountains to buy a Texas State Parks Pass so they can continue the relationship long after the pandemic is over.
So often, we appreciate the outdoors in the ways that give us so much without realizing we need to give a little back to make sure our public lands stay protected and accessible for everyone.
Photo credit: Dave Mead