Zaylah Pearson-Good: Advocating for the place she loves
When Zaylah Pearson-Good moved with her mother to Austin at the start of her high school junior year, she knew she would be different from her classmates. She’d grown up in Crestone, after all, taking part in ceremonies at the Ashram and Buddhist temples as a little girl, practicing intensive yoga as a young teen, hanging out barefoot by a mountain stream, and eating only organic food. She expected everywhere else to be “normal,” although she wasn’t quite sure what that meant. What she didn’t expect was for life in the city to make her more open minded. In Austin she got to know and respect people whose backgrounds and experiences were very different from her own. And while she kept the values she’d gained through living close to the earth, she realized that “mainstream wasn’t necessarily wrong or bad.”
It was an important lesson for someone whose later studies focused on the complex constellation of elements that make up any specific spot on the planet. This newer, interdisciplinary approach to geography, Zaylah’s major at the University of Colorado Boulder, taught her to look at the interconnected effects of ecology, climate change, social justice, history, and culture on the human population of any particular place. And conversely, to ask how human activities impact that place.
Now 25 and living back in Crestone, Zaylah is using her education, quick mind, and lifelong love of writing to help protect and preserve this special geographic spot. She serves as communications manager and outreach coordinator for the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council and writes news and features—often involving environmental issues—for The Crestone Eagle. She creates art that incorporates materials from nature, and finds herself delving into a more self-sufficient yet community-connected homesteading life. It’s a life that brings her back, full circle, to her childhood passion for the earth.
Magic & creative fun
With names bestowed by her father, grandmother, and mother, Zaylah Willow Rose was born in Texas at the same intentional community where her brother Juniper Urieh was born and their father Nathan Good grew up. The family moved to Crestone/Baca when Zaylah was nine months old. Her early years were spent in a house Nathan and Cindy built on tree-covered land bordering Willow Creek. There she remembers being enchanted by a “fantastical, magical” world where tree limbs became a closet for hanging her princess dresses and where she used a special teapot to brew “tea” from twigs to serve the resident fairies. “I really felt like fairies were real, that animals had their own personalities. I talked to the trees and the wind and was always barefoot. It was a deep connection with the environment,” she says.
She attended the Moffat School and Crestone Charter School, and each summer for her first ten years she traveled with her family to take part in Renaissance Fairs around the country. There, creative fun was the central theme. As with life in Crestone, she interacted with colorful, eclectic folks who didn’t fit neatly into the American mainstream. Still, when her mother, Cindy Pearson Garcia, remarried and moved to Austin, Zaylah was ready to go with her. She was curious about the world beyond Crestone and ready for academic challenges that would help prepare her for college. She found them, in particular through a two-year advanced placement high school art program during which she produced an extensive portfolio of photography and mixed-media painting and for which she received college credit. Before continuing to college, however, she returned to Crestone to study and become certified in massage therapy with Dan Retuta and Sue Beck-Retuta at the Crestone Healing Arts Center.
With a goal of advocating for the environment, Zaylah entered CU Boulder with a focus on ecology and evolutionary biology but soon turned in a more integrative direction, merging human and natural sciences. “I realized that a lot of protecting the environment is about how humans live in it,” she says. Switching to geography, her studies included such areas as indigenous history and the effects of colonialism on the environment; food as a tool of power; and the impacts of climate change on diverse socio-economic populations. She also learned geographic information systems (GIS), which provide technological skills for communicating about issues like environmental threats through mapping and other location tools.
Between high school and college and again following graduation from CU, Zaylah’s interest in the larger world led to months of travel on her own—to seven European countries, Great Britain, and Costa Rica, staying no less than two weeks in each place. Everywhere she went, she says, she met people with whom she found common ground. Back in Austin she worked at a variety of jobs before teaming up with her mother on a new version of the Sacred Earth Journal, a beautifully produced publication that presents Crestone/Baca through its distinctive qualities, including the spiritual centers located here. Her mother previously spearheaded earlier editions of the journal.
For Zaylah, the new edition offered an opportunity to orient readers to the realities of living in this magnificent high-desert environment. Especially with many relocating here from urban areas, she wanted to “expose the very precious and delicate resources in this ecosystem. My desire is that people walk gently, no matter what they do,” she says. Having moved back to Crestone/Baca full-time in May 2020, she applies that principle to her own life—gardening, raising chickens and goats, and building a loom on which she weaves natural fibers intertwined with bits of wild plant material. She also makes pine needle jewelry and basketry, writes poetry, does watercolor painting, and continues to intensively study nutrition and wellness.
“Living here, we’re constantly interacting with the elements, which always brings me back to gratitude, because we’re tangibly experiencing all that the environment is offering,” she says. “If I’m upset, my motto is: Look up! Look up at the sky and stars. This issue is really nothing—I’m just this one person, and how infinite everything is! Nature gives me calm and acceptance and allows for stillness, and I feel held by that.”