Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Two Thousand and Thirteen: A Year of Journeys, a Time of Transience

Where do I begin to list the immense adventures that we have begun? To illustrate the scope of our travels- a list of the states we have breathed the air of in this year.
California, Oregon, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Illinois, New York, Connecticut, North Carolina.  Beaches of New York and of Santa Cruz- Atlantic and Pacific waters.

New locations we explored- Chicago, San Francisco, Oakland, Portland, Ridgefield, Berkeley, Joshua Tree, Estes Park, Tucson.
Parks and monuments we got into for free thanks to my pass: Joshua Tree, Muir Woods, Grand Canyon, Fish Lake National Forest, Arches, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Death Valley, Petrified Forest national park, Rosevelt National Forest, Rocky Mountain National Park, Ash meadows national preserve
Mountain Peaks we’ve summited: Ryan Mountain (Joshua Tree), Augeberry Peak (death valley- via car), Wildrose Peak (Death Valley), Deer Mountain (Colorado), Mt. Taylor (New Mexico), San Gorgonio (Cass), Mt. Tukanikavatz (Amil).
Notable Career changes/updates: Amil  is a professional artist after selling prints of his original pieces in North Carolina and California. as of December 20th, we have resigned from our positions as Outdoor Educators- with Amil as Kitchen Assistant and I as Support Coordinator, to accept positions as Caretakers and managers of an Environmental Education Center in Albuquerque.  
Themes/Highlights: Travel, movement (more so than other years, Amil more than Cass.) Transience, impermanence. 
Moral: Some places are more dense of beautiful things. In places where that beauty or joy is harder to find, it has to come from inward. If the beauty that comes from those very beneficial environments is not there, you have to be grateful of every place no matter how dissonant it might be.
This year we were able to see, touch, hear and smell an immense diversity of things. We breathed air of all different freshnesses. Amil got snowed on in North Carolina, tasted that snow…then ate some snow in California. He slept in deserts in NM, CA and AZ, and went river rafting in Utah, climbed a tree in Northern California, did a Navajo sweat, and listened to his voice echoling in Joshua Tree, Canyon Dechay, and Grand Canyon. This was a year of trying to find stability within- the most hectic year as far as moving around. We traveled the country but aslo traveled the spectrum of emotions to extremes. Extremes of joy and bland blankness.  A year of establishing practicality and connecting the dots between things we’ve always done, and things that compliment behaviors, beliefs, traditions and rituals. 

A year of accepting and appreciating.  Accepting the way that I am in the place that I am while addressing that I need to change. Not being stagnant. Looking forward to growth. Establishing a continuous flow of joyful living.
A year of emotional highs and lows, incredible opportunities, hopeful possibilities, vastly different landscapes and interactions with people from all walks of life… all contributing to an ideal of self and an ambition toward a great change…to come in 2014.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Bookstore

I woke up this morning with a craving to explore a book store. There aren’t any good bookstores in Big Bear, and it’s certainly not worth the traffic of LA just to rummage through some books.
Years ago, a friend and I had a laugh when I mentally went to my ‘happy place’ to find that I was imaginging being a fungus on a tree. I have discovered so much about myself since then and my need to be around trees, to feel the pulse of the earth around me, and to get and give equal nourishment from others…but my happy places have since evolved. 
Right now, I feel that sitting in a bookstore is one of my happy places—and I’m happy to say that I have had many incredible book stores to explore.
To me, what makes a perfect bookstore, is one made up predominately of used books. As soon as you walk in, it seems as if your nose is stuck in between the pages of a supple yellowed book. In my ideal bookstore there are no walls without shelves, and navigating through the inner shelves is like working  through a maze, although everything is organized by some sort of category. There should be some sort of seating in little corners along the way, whether it’s pillows, old leather recliners that are scratched up and worn, or little wooden kitchen chairs with straw seats. And it’s a bonus if there’s a little local coffee shop attached where you can get a warm Chai tea and sit down with a pile of books to scan.
I have had the luck of exploring many such bookstores around the country, and after consulting (remembering from) Amil, I have organized them into my top 5.
Honerable mentions are some smaller store’s we have come across. In Baltimore, Red Emma’s, an anarchist bookstore, had a really good selection of political, gender studies, and natural history books at reasonable prices, along with anarchist-themed merchandise and a cute little coffee shop with some really good pastries. Another is a small, quaint bookstore in Brooklyn had nice white shelves inside, well organized literature and really good selections, and a dollar cart outside. They sold beer as well as coffee and had some tables inside to encourage sitting down with a brew and a book. And finally, the Shakespeare bookstore in Manhattan seemed like a good find. They had some great categories, a sliding ladder to reach the top of their bookshelves, and a basement that I didn’t get a chance to explore. When I return to NYC, I will definitely go there and maybe even skip the Strand. There was also a bookstore in Santa Cruz that I really appreciated for their magazine selection, but I don’t remember what it was called, and it seemed a little too sterile for me (reminding me a bit of a hastings).
5 – Powells (Portland)  They had some of my top requirements, like a coffee bar, and some little nicknacks,  but despite going to two different locations, I didn’t fall in love. I did like their new age selection, and a found the hard back of a book I had been searching for The Secret Life of Plants.  If Powells was my neighborhood bookstore, I probably wouldn’t complain, but they can’t compare to the other 4 on the list. 
4- The Strand (NYC) One thing that turned me onto the Strand was how much people who didn’t live in NY new about it. It’s a pretty famous, if not one of the most famous local bookstores. A great appeal about the strand is it’s extensiveness. You have to consult the maps on the walls to see what floor to go on, and from there, which bookshelves to navigate through. They have a large variety of used, as well and new, and older, rare books. They don’t have a foolproof system of what they have or don’t have, but it’s better than Half Price Books in Austin.  It also has a very New York vibe in that you can’t just stand in an aisle and gawk, because there are people trying to squeeze around you. They certainly have the space filled with books, but there aren’t many, if any, places to just sit and read. I have had two experiences there that put it on the top 5, despite the unwelcomeness, concrete floors and high metal ceilings. They have a decent budget book section- that inspired Amil and I, separetly but in the same trip to purchase The Time Machine, for only $4.95. When he finally came out of the store to meet me, we showed each other our purchases, laughing that we didn’t consult before we checked out. Another time I was on the hunt for a book about paganism. I thought to myself before asking anyone that what I really wanted is an Idiots Guide for Paganism. I took a step toward the help desk, looked down to find the Idiots Guide shelves, and found it, right in front of me.
3) The kind of store that I’m craving right now is a Used Bookstore that we went too in Brattleboro. The smell when you entered the store was right on par with what I would expect, and the shopkeeper is in my mind as an old man with a wirey gray and white beard. The shelves ran from floor to ceiling, some of them leaning a little, and books poured off the shelves onto stacks from the floor. Despite the surrounding of books, there were plenty of different size and shaped shared in almost every little corner. We spent well over an hour there by going our separate ways, then finding something we wanted to share and trying to navigate the maze to our friend sitting in a corner. We would join them and then get up and repeat the scenario.
2) Tattered Cover (Denver) I have been to two (both?) of the Tattered Cover locations, and I have to say that this store mixes large, local chain store, with clean and cozy. Their audiobook selection was impressive, along with their budget books, and Amil probably spent as much time before she clearance book shelf as I did wandering the whole store. We had to run outside and feed the meter 4 times because originally thought we would just run in and check it out, but kept getting moved to stay. They have a good balance of used and new books, a helpful resource desk, some reading-related gadgets and a little coffee shop.
1) Recycled Books (Denton) –The star on my list and in my heart is in my College town of Denton, Texas. This big purple building used to be an old Opera house, but has been transformed into probably the biggest bookstore I’ve ever been in. It would be a tough contest to compare the Strand, but once you have wondered the main floor, the side wing, the back room, the floor adjacent to the main floor, and the literature loft…you discover there is a basement with a floor plan just as big as above. The literature is in a nice warm, carpeted loft that people don’t often meander to, so it can be an intimate space for you and the books. The theatre section is right by lots of windows, and constantly growing, shifting and improving, but to get to either of these, you have to pass through a huge corner of photography and art books, which you can’t help but stop and browse for a while. The natural history section is its own little wooden-floored room with very consise labels, and the hippy-dippy-environmental section, where I spend the most time, is tucked in a closet, with a chair. I usually stop at The Candy Store on the way and buy one or two huckleberry bonbons, then duck into this closet with a fascinating book about how our environment is doomed, and nibble on my chocolate.
I would love to hear what other stores meet my criteria so I can put them on my list. As you can see, I don’t favor one place more than others for their bookstores. I think it’s central to most towns and cities to have a bookstore with a big variety. I’m most pleased when that variety is of used books, and I’m happy to see that they don’t seem to be hurting despite all the electronic books available. What’s your favorite book store?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Convening Captured Clues from Across the Country…18 (Finale)

California(Jason’s Deli)
We woke up in Zion to see more blue sky than we had before, though there was still plenty of cloud cover. We hiked the Emerald Pools trail, taking longer than we expected, then came back and packed up, and head out.
Finally, the last stretch of our grand trip lay before us. My bet that we wouldn’t see the sun until California was foiled by sunny Nevada. We stopped at Jason’s Deli not far from Vegas, to use up a gift card from my bro. As we crunched on endless salad bar food, bowtie pasta and zucchini Panini’s and talking about all the delicious food we were going to create when we had our own space, we debated about the pros and cons of taking one more day. Environmentally, it would be best to go slower, camp somewhere along the way, and hit up the farmers markets on the way up the mountain. Personally, though, we were done with camping, pulling things out of and throwing things into our sad, stinky car, Stella.
 So we decided to go for it, not knowing whether our trailer was ready or if anyone was around to let us in.
It was exciting turning on familiar roads as our car moved closer to the mountains. It had been almost 4 months since we left, and we had traveled thousands of miles since then, yet it all seemed so familiar. Although it was getting dark, the bends in the road were in our muscle memory, and our brains quietly traveled through the memories of this space.
We arrived at our trailer a little after dark, unloaded some necessities, and plopped down on our pleasantly hard bed, excited for what was to come.
Home sweet home? At last, I could unpack the car and organize many of the various items we’ve acquired. I could explore the ‘outdoor gym’ right outside our front step, and would soon meet all the new people moving in the cabins surrounding us.
This is the longest I have lived in one place since College, and at a year and a half, the longest job I have worked consistently…though even with the summer break, I find myself tiring of the monotony, or at maybe just the long, hard hours.

Habits are hard to break, but I’m thankful that my most prominent habit after spending 9 weeks in the desert uplands of New Mexico as a naturalist, is to observe.  I observed some amazing things over the summer- Elks grazing in the early morning light, mountain ranges in hazy blue shadows with a frame of pink clouds at sunrise. I observed children making connections about the necessary skills of early humans in the New Mexico area by hunting a mammoth made of crude Baker tent cut-outs and some artistic touches of tempura paint. I saw spots of flowers emerge from quaint leaves to blooming beauties, and I became familiar with the patterns of a seemingly random sky. I saw children transform from shy and dependent to confident and leading conversations. I saw the land suck up every drop of gently falling water for five weeks, only to be unable to take in the consecutive downpours in my final week. After weeks of stopping to watch every desert beetle cross my path, taking note of any Sagebrush Lizard that scurried by or seeing tracks in the sand or holes in the duff and identifying what creature put them there, I was not going to be able to just shut down that sense.
In our weeks of travel, I tried to simply observe, but the idea of having a home to move into next year pushed those observations into ideas.                                  
And now, here we are. I write this from my kitchen table in my 5th wheel trailer- home for 14 weeks. This may be our last time to live in a space for such a small amount of time. My family has lived in 3 different houses since I was born. I didn’t help with either moving process other than perhaps packing up some of my things. Since leaving my home for college, I have moved in and out of 16 different spaces.  This is the first space that Amil and I will share completely, not having other rooms to retreat to or other roommates. Next year we will likely move again, into a bigger space of our own, livening the space with what we have learned from our friends and families and ourselves. I don’t feel defined by the stuff I own, but I am expressed by it, it inspires me. It shows the world and reminds myself who I am, where I fit in. However the most important aspect of where I have moved, is the space available outside, to explore, or discover or just be.
Our home is a studio space where I can write, color, explore, classify, and most importantly, Be. These are all the things that are important to me.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Connecting Clues from Across the Country

Escaping wet weather in arches
Excitedly driving toward clear skies ahead!
We arrived at Beautiful Bryce canyon just as the gray drizzle turned into big fat drops. At least we didn’t’ have to drive in the rain much, but we did have to endure some cold dampness to see any sights. We waited in the visitor center with about a hundred other pancho-clad park visitors, mostly senior citizens. After studying the map for a while, and taking a quick drive to view the Hoodoo’s, we got in our car to dry off, warm up and flee to Zion National Park.
I had been to Zion last November, but this was Amil’s first time, so I knew we could easily spend an extra day there. Although our quick view of Bryce left us wanting more—all us desert folk really wanted was to bake on some rocks. And all we had had the opportunity to do so far was shrivel in the rain.
Our drive to Zion was spent hoping at every turn that we would see a glimpse of sun poking through the expansive gray sky. But every mile closer solidified the fact that we were going to Eeyore our way through this whole trip. 
We arrived in time to secure a campsite—and this time, the rain stopped as we pulled in, allowing the darkened rocks to pop against the whitening sky. Eventually we even saw patches of blue to contrast the rocks.
We utilized the opening sky to dry out our tent, and even laid out some of our clothes. I hiked a few miles along the river as Amil relaxed at the campsite, both of us preparing our morning routes.
As the sun started to set, just as we were getting used to this no-rain thing, some big fat drops started to fall on my journal as I sat at the picnic table planning my route. The rain drove Amil to the car and me to the tent. I noticed the increasing volume of rain starting to run under the tent, sure to get between the footprint and our tent making the bottom wet, so I started to dig little channels for it to go under. Eventually though, we just had to get out in the rain and move the tent, then dive back in for another night spent sleeping under the pitter patter of rain, with wet clothes at our feet, happy to have dry sleeping bags and each other to keep warm.
In the morning I went on a quick hike up the Watchman trail, asking Who watches the watchmen in my head the whole way, then ran down it. From the top I could see the altocumulus thinning out, showing that there was still moisture in the air, but not enough to pour down. Amil and I packed up the site and went off on our own routes- he on Angel’s landing which I had challenged myself to do before but didn’t need to do again, and me up Observation Point.
Amil hiked Angel’s landing barefoot and ran down, meeting many people with many different reactions along the way- some cheered, some laughed, some looked inspired. My trail was equally inspiring until the part where the accumulation of water had covered the trail, and about 20 people who had previously stranded on an island farther up the mountain were attempting to cross the roaring waters, about 5 feet wide to where I stood. I decided not to get wet, and turned around to do the Hidden Canyon trail, until that, too ended in a water crossing.
It was really special being in an area, like all of Utah, really, that is especially known for the sun and the bright rocks, and to be there at a time where you can really feel and understand the power of water.  As much as I appreciated the water, I craved the sun. My hike was an incredible balance of soft mist, light drizzle, and warm sun rays, and as I climbed I emerged into and through clouds. When I got back to the campsite was when it really started to clear up, and we left all our stuff out again, to dry.  This time, it held off and we went to sleep dry for the first time in days.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Converging Cross Country Clues…16

Fish Lake was a longer drive away than we thought. The sky stayed gray through the drive, and the moist air damp and cool. As we got closer, I realized that Pando was not going to be an enormity of aspen trees as far as I could see, but rather, speckled clumps of quaking leaves amongst a hills of green. 
Our campsite was mystical, isolated and vast. After getting settled in we went out to explore. I, sadly, didn’t take my camera as I hiked higher and higher to an awesome view of the great lake, through bramble and grass, amongst the solemn aspens with their leaves of green and trunks of white. 
The stillness, the quiet, and the energy of this space was refreshing, yet the endless gray skies and the chilly high-elevation weather motivated us to move onto bright, sunny Bryce canyon. (heh, yeah right).

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Cross County Culture …

We parked and roamed the shopping strip, amazed at the amount of taffy shops (at least 9). It turns out that the shops and sights I remembered are actually in Boulder. Estes Park is a small mountain town that looks like it reached its height of tourism in the 80’s. It reminded us of Telluride, but not as new-age.
What really captivated us was the glass blowing store. They had a glass blowing studio in the store where you could watch him create the pieces they sold- a brilliant plan, because once you watch it you’re more attached to the artist and piece and more willing to buy. We watched him make two glass pumpkins and then Amil bought us earrings.
That night we visited the town Theatre, appreciating it’s antiquity, including an old movie projector in the hallway, and it’s independence from big theater corporations. We watched a documentary about Crop Circles and heard a talk by the director, then drove back to our campsite.
We woke up and packed up, our site being reminiscent of Big Bear, but a little wetter. I ate breakfast while watching clouds hold back the sun, listening to Amil play guitar, then we head out for a day of hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park. We settled on a hike called Deer mountain, that afforded us beautiful views of Estes Park, and our campsite down below.
We hiked up in 1.5 hours and ran down in 45 minutes, then hopped in the car and head to my cousin’s house to stay with her family for a few nights.
I love visiting my family in Longmont because I don’t get to hang out with them often, and I have fond memories of playing in their three story modern Victorian home with my cousin. What was really strange was how much my younger cousin, resembeled Brittany when we were young.   
The first night we got there, we were treated to a classic family dinner of Spaghetti and garlic bread. Although I’ve had my share of pasta dinners in my residencies, this one in particular brought me back to the meals my mom would make growing up. We dined on the front porch, watching the colors of Colorado fade into dusk. 
I took a nostalgic walk around the neighborhood in the morning, then strolled around the very cute downtown that I don’t think I had visited before. I dropped my computer off at a local shop, and perused through a Bulk food store where you bring your own containers and everything is available in bulk, from nuts and grains to dog food to shampoo and detergents.
That night, our gracious hosts took us to an amazing “new Mexican” restaurant, where I gorged myself on chips, salsa and guacamole (you customize what’s in the guac and they make it right in front of you), and sopapilla rellanos (which I’ve never seen before), as well as a pretty strong margarita (maybe it was just strong because I can’t remember the last time I had a margarita).
The next morning I went on a run to explore more of the neighborhood , then Amil and I went to the farmers market and got some goodies for our upcoming drive back to California, and to make for dinner. 
He made a delicious and abundant meal of fancy rice, bean slaw, coconut bread, and I made a salsa. I had really enjoyed my time here, catching up with the family, playing on the rope in the backyard, walking back through old memories and sitting on the porch reading my new books. When I was young I always dreamed I would have a house that big, and marveled at the three stories, plus basement (now a home office), plus carriage house (they rent out). After college I toyed with the idea of renting their carriage house while studying the ecology of Colorado and establishing residency. Coming back this year, it was clear that my ideals have changed, at least from my big-home dreams. 
As much as I appreciated the homeliness of their big home, and the accessibility of the town of Longmont, I was eager to get on the road and move into my own home. We had just one more stop to make and person to see.
Our last day in Colorado was spent packing the car, full with fruits and veggies from the farmers market as well as grains and flours from various stops, and leftover concoctions from the week. We bid adieu to the family and head over to Boulder to meet an old friend at a Tea House. 
We visited this friend in Colorado last year, helping her paint a her room, and playing with her sugar gliders. This time we were going to join her for Tea where her fiancĂ© works. Although living in cold weather has made me appreciate hot tea, I deflected the experience by ordering a fruity iced tea with tapioca bubbles. Amil, however, really enjoyed his Pu ehr(?) tea, and after sipping cup after cup, bought two different kinds and a special mug to drink it out of. As we drove away, he expressed how much he appreciated this knew drink, and the overall experience. We drove away from Colorado not realizing that it would be the last time in days that we saw the sun, toward Arches National Park.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Cross Country, and back. Section 3, part 12

Train
If you have read any blogs up to this point, it might not be a surprise to you that I was excited for this final train ride. From NY to Chicago, a 4 hour layover and then on our way to Denver 38 hours in all. I had complained to Amil and his family that airports and train stations should have a little play area that adults are allowed and encouraged to play in, including treadmils, stationary bikes, bouldering walls, etc. I pretty much got that in Chicago. We happened to stop there on one week when an art exhibit that included fake grass and park games was open. We had jump ropes to play with, tetherballs to swing, and lawn darts to throw. Then we put our adult hats back on and drank a beer before boarding our next train. Once again, my hopes for plugging in and tuning out were a little dashed, but we met some amusing people and had some inspiring conversations.
 Denver (Nick)
Our anticipation to arrive in Denver was driven mostly by our excitement to stand up and leave the trains we had been riding in for almost two days. We walked off the train and through some construction, a little shocked at the warm sun and the vastly open streets, then took a bus to a half mile from Nick’s house. Amil had stayed with our friend Nick before taking the train up, and had left the car there.
Upon arrival I texted my dad that all our stuff remained safe in the car, to which he replied “that either says a lot about the people in Denver, or the quality of your stuff.”  I don’t know much about the crime rate in Denver, but I think it’s a little of both. After ringing the doorbell we discovered we were waking up Nick, his girlfriend, and the friends that had stayed over after a weekend-long Phish concert (what exactly that entailed, I was soon to find out). 
The rest of the day was spent joyously spread out on the lawn in front of their house, unpacking our car, and eating various delicious meals and treats provided by different members of the group- amazingly giant vegan ice cream sandwiches. Although it was a little strange to hear their recounts about their weekend without having enjoyed the same adventures, it was great having so many people sharing a space in such a simple way- just sharing stories, soaking up the sun (and smoking, etc).
We planned on leaving the next day, but our car, Stella, required some attention. We ended up spending most of the next day wandering through town after dropping off our car, deciding the 2 mile trip downtown would be more scenic on foot. One thing that struck me about Denver is the amount of dispensaries. Just as Seattle has their coffee shops, one on every corner, every strip mall is equipped with at least one dispensary, and some form of extreme exercise like spin class, rock climbing, or bikram yoga.  When we finally made it downtown, we were hungry for brunch and eager to eat at a vegan restaurant we ate at last year on our visit. Amil had some squash soup that he kept raving abuot, and I devoured a quinoa based burger with a fried egg on top and all sorts of gourmet toppings and dressings, as well as some delicious French fries.
After lunch, Amil went to get the car, and I set on a walk to another location we fell in love with, the tattered cover bookstore. I read that there are two locations, so I head toward the farther one that we hadn’t been to before.
I really like the city of Denver. Despite being a major city, it seems small and walkable. I walked about 30 blocks down their pedestrian sidewalk to the river. They don’t brag about being a sustainable but do cool things like promote recycling, have free trolleys, and rent board games for free in the sitting space between the pedestrian mall. It may have also been the warm sun, the size of the buildings, or the casual but efficient atmosphere, but I could see myself living in the mountains nearby, and calling Denver home one day.
Amil, Nick and his motorcycle riding, bearded friend aptly referred to as Barney did some bonding under the hood of our car, and after a quick trip to the parts store, ended up fixing Stella themselves for almost 1/7th of the price the car shop was charging, and as a result we got to stay one more night, which afforded us an opportunity to see my cousin.
Brittany was staying at her boyfriend’s place in Denver, and when we arrived she came out to meet us and show us around the block. Being college kids and musicians, I imagined the house to be a disaster, like the spaces I endured in college, so I understood her coming to meet us outside. After walking to a little park and catching up, helping a kid who fell down off the monkey bars and was crying his brains out but whose parents just kept yelling at him in Spanish not to talk to strangers, and doing a bit of catching up, my cousin and her boyfriend invited us into one of the coolest, and cleanest houses I have ever seen college students live in. 
They brought us downstairs past a mobile art installation he had been working on, as they introduced us to the cats and warned us that the roommates were still sleeping. The entire downstairs, save two bedrooms, was a recording studio. The corners had instruments that had been left behind by previous tenants or acquired from friends who needed storage space. Xylophones, drum sets and guitars, closed in by walls soundproofed in creative and modern ways. They showed us the recording room, and my cousin’s boyfriend began to explain the physics behind sound. This led us into his room for an experiment with frequency. If you emit a specific frequency for the space you are in (which can be calculated based on the size of the space), the frequencies hitting off the walls will cancel each other out and make really loud pockets and really quiet pockets. Of course, we had to try it out—the four of us walked around his narrow room ducking and standing on our tiptoes or pausing whenever the noise was deafeningly vibrant or surprisingly faint.
With our minds blown and our hearts happy, we packed ourselves into our tetris-ed car and head into the wilderness towards Estes Park for a night.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Capturing the Clutes of Cultures Cross-Country …11

Connecticut-
Unlike the geographical line from Connecticut to NY, which is subtle, our visit to Ridgefield was a welcome and wild change from where we had been staying in NYC>
As the train chugged out of NYC, the trees got bigger and bigger, eventually emerging from between colonial white houses that mark the rich town of Ridgefield. My friend and her partner are not wealthy, they are probably in poverty according to the government, but they live a rich life without ever buying food. Yep, they only dumpster and forage all their meals, and they still get more than any human needs to consume. 
We met up with my friend Stephanie, another college friend who I’ve corresponded with mostly through snail mail since leaving, but have had the chance to see a couple times since we graduated. She welcomed us into her humble abode, a small square of living space that featured a bed, a writing desk, a counter, a wood stove, a kitchen counter, a small loft with another bed, and a bathroom. Although we were in the ‘suburbs’ now, this space—a carriage house above the garage that they rent from the house owner—could have easily fit in the living room of our relatives in Brooklyn.
As we settled into the simple but well structured space, Stephanie offered us some breaded ‘chicken of the forest’ mushroom, with ketchup, a flavor I haven’t eaten in a long time. We chat while they cooked us a dinner of dumpstered vegetables and recently foraged fungus. We sat on their patio for dined on stir-fried eggplant, shitake and other misc. mushrooms, a cold salad with veganaise (a delicacy from the dumpster) and corn tassles, the first time I’d eaten those. I thought they tasted really good but in hindsight, that might have been the veganaise. Afterward, we grabbed the popcorn maker (dumstered from walgreens) and walked through some lawns to get to a friends house.
We watched Samsara with her two cute kids, about 10 and 14, with curly blonde hair, eating popcorn and drinking basil tea. We walked back home and settled into their upstairs, perusing their increidble library of field guides as we drifted off to sleep
When we woke up in the morning, after they had gone to work, we walked around town, took their advice and got a free pass from the library to an art museum, then found after walking there that they didn’t open for another hour and a half, so I napped in the grass while Amil juggled. Once it opened, we found that 3 of the 4 exhibits were in transition. The most memorable thing was not a photo on the wall or a ‘sculpture’ of a shot glass or painting of Spongebob, but a giant camera you could sit in. In consisted of a dark room that you could sit in and watch a pin-hole project the image of the street outside (upside down) and anyone walking down the sidewalk.
Stephanie came home from work early, ready for a long Memorial Day weekend of mushroom hunting, and dropped us off at the train station, where we caught a ride back to Amil’s brother’s house for one more night in NYC. 
It was great finally getting to see how Stephanie lives. We grew a lot together in college, both invocated and awe-stuck by the information we were learning. Since parting ways with graduation, we’ve kept each other up to date and in check on our lifestyles and ideals. It’s so wonderful to have someone to keep me rooted on the things that really matter to me, especially as I move so transiently from one community to another. Her living space shows a practical way to live sustainably that doesn’t sacrifice comfort or community. 
For more info about how to live off the land,., sustainably, and as an active part of the community, check out Stephanie’s blog:http://stephaniescavelli.wordpress.com/

Monday, October 7, 2013

Country Clues

Brooklyn B-side-
After several hours of traffic spent cuddled in a bus with the air conditioning on high, we returned to Brooklyn. For tonight, instead of staying within the simplicity of Amil’s brother’s apartment, we would visit a college friend who I worked in the food co-op with.
Walking from the subway to this different area in Brooklyn, under the clacking of the trains on rails high above, along the sidewalk weaving roads spotted with zooming cars exemplified the commotion in NYC, and the smell.  When we arrived at his apartment, the 3rd floor of a house that he co-owns with 10 people, I couldn’t help but admire the contrast between this and the lives of Amil’s family living just a few subway stops away. We arrived on a hectic day amid a roommate swap, so the intricate, colorful living room was crowded with Dan, the new roommate’s boxes. Homemade tinctures lined the mantle, and Beehive collective posters covered the half-completed muraled walls. The kitchen was a 7 foot by 4 foot space that Stefan creatively arranged to make room for spices and grains. Although they didn’t have a working compost system in place, Stefan guided us in the way of throwing bits of food and seeds out the window the garden below.
Later, a tour of the building included a dingy basement that smelled all too much like stagnant spaces after shows in College,  that they use to host bands from all over the country. A walk through the basement past a stack of stuff spilling into the hall led us to a door that reveled a space rare to most Brooklyn homes. Bordered by a chain link fence on one side, and a solid cinderblock wall 20’ high on the other, they had a functional garden space that had sadly been over grown. Stefan, who had spent time in his travels as a farmer, expressed ambitions of making the compost heap in the back accessible, planting some more useful plants than the flowers and squashes that had run wild, and ultimately transforming this green sanctuary among a city of bricks into a functional garden that maintained its use as a smokers spot when shows spilled out from the basement.
Back inside we grilled up some onions and beans, and chopped some beets and cukes and carrots into a slaw. I wasn’t hungry as much as I wanted to relieve the burden of carrying all the vegetables we had bought from Union Square that we cleared out of the fridge and already lugged to Garnerville and back. I nibbled on our veggie concoction late into the evening, while reminiscing about college days and catching up on what all our friends are doing now.  
Stefan had to wake up early in the morning, but we stayed in the space, eventually leaving to take a stroll to a nearby used bookstore. Despite its quaintness and isolation among non-commercial buildings, this is a favorite of all the bookstores I’ve been to. When we checked out, tempted ny the offerings of coffee, tea and beer, Amil got a book about ‘the Strange’ (mysterious things that happen in our world), and a book on palm reading that he’s proudly been practicing. I purchased a Natural History book that I was tempted with at The Strand in NYC called Dirt, as well as a new Anais Nin book to add to my collection, and a $1 paperback called Moulin Rouge (throughout the rest of our road trip and the days of adjusting back home, I tore through the 500 page novel about Toulouse Lautrec).
We returned from the bookstore and made ourselves at home, trying to make a dent in our food cache, and enjoying some of the anarchist literature sprawled around. Shortly after sitting down to a meal, a subletter and her friend came in and made themselves at home on the couch, not even asking who we were or what we came for. I love this sense of communal living. Stefan and I have the same memories of sitting at the co-op surrounded by friends and and strangers who identify with the feeling of family simply due to the openness of the space. His home was like this. The duo began to watch a fiction story about Burning Man, which I would pop over and peek at every once in a while. Despite the comfort of the space, and the welcomeness of the people we encountered in Brooklyn, there was always this underlying sense of hustle, or happening. I think deep down I longed for the slow progress of New Mexico days, and look forward to the possibility of coming back to that.
After a chill morning in a comfortable space, we were to pack our bags and head back out to ride the subway to the train to catch a bus to visit another friend from college in Connecticut.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Capturing Clues Across the Country …9

Garnerville-
2 hours after departing the bustle of Brooklyn with Amil’s brothers, weaving through taillights on busy New York highways, zooming past growing stretches of green in our venture up north, we arrived in Garnerville, at Amil’s aunt and uncle’s house. Amil had spent several weeks here after we met, recovering from surgery and we had spent time here on our last great cross country journey, so I greeted the vibrant green hills behind the staunch straight houses in the suburbs with a bit of a warm welcoming in my heart.
A lot had changed in this household since our last visit a year and a half ago. This, along with the contrast of personal beliefs between us and Amil’s family’s was illustrated best with the dinner that night. 
Like many of the activities we were invited to in New York, we weren’t really told what to expect, where things were happening, what time, etc. My only expectation of this family gathering was that we would be eating dinner, (probably bbq) together, since we hadn’t all been together in over a year.
In reality, all was a blur of movement and eating, and talking, and settling. Some people opened bags of chips they had just bought, others offered dips, some grilled, others chopped onions, while others made a salad. After almost an hour of greetings and check-ins and hustle and bustle in the kitchen, one by one we made our way to the table, putting out one dish after someone else had filled their plate, or filling our plate with one menu item but not the other. 
We dined, as family, eating our own independent interpretation of the meal that was pulled together by the unique individuals around us, off of paper plates on a mirrored table. Conversation between this group of people- Amil’s brothers with his Aunt and Uncle, their daughter, and his brother’s significant others as well as the two of us, had never occurred before, and ranged from food to politics, to society, law enforcement, and education- all pretty heavy subjects for a first meeting. I couldn’t help but admiring the different opinions and the different emotions behind them, as I watched a glass of water ripple on the table under our conversation. In the mirror of the table, just as in the undertones of the words spoken, the water seemed to bounce and wave, but on the table, as our appearance and politeness attempted, the water’s underlying ripples were unseen, and it was apparently motionless.
The next morning I again tried the sea-level run. The air here, although humid, had a slight twinge of cool that I hoped would help me push though, and it did. I had two great runs through the little neighborhood, while also taking advantage of their jump rope and weight set.
Although we were away from the big city and all it’s easy subway connections, we had found many opportunities just a drive away from where we were staying. We got a massage, cooked a lot of vegan food, and I got to experiment with several vegan ice creams- avocado coconut (the lime is everything!) and chocolate peanut butter banana (this one I may keep in my back pocket. 3 easy ingredients whipped together and chilled before dinner, perfect after dinner treat. We about killed the whole bit). On another day, Amil’s aunt drove us to the mall for him to get his eyes checked out for new glasses. Driving in her car to the second largest mall in the country, walking around between the four floors, avoiding good-smelling temptations of pretzels, burgers, and frozen yogurts…I felt thankful for my quaint life in the woods in the last year. Away from products and things people are trying to sell you, and tell you that you want and you should be. Most of all, the driving, the buying, the avoiding was an interesting contrast to our next visit just across the Hudson.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Cross Country ! Part 2…Chapter 8

New York (Brooklyn)
As soon as we left the train, all was a blur of humid subway stations and dinging and “the doors are closing” and garbled voices over an intercom before we walked up some stairs and Ta-Da— we had arrived in Brooklyn! The humidity keeps the air lingering around your body, similar to Texas but not as domineering. The culture, the people, the gum-stains on the sidewalk, however, replace the trees and space and air back home with a strong reminder of the presence of people.
I love visiting friends and family in the city because they each have such creative and unique ways of living in small spaces that are still personal to them. I have always been obsessed with small spaces. Sometimes I google “tiny houses” (tumbleweeds are my fave) to imagine living in less than 200 square feet- just enough to keep your stuff dry but enticing you to live outside, where the real living room is. 
So, seeing the simplicity and the personality of the space of Amil’s brother and sister-in-law’s 2nd floor apartment always gets me excited for housing possibilities. This time I was especially excited because I have this possibility in the back of my mind of moving into our own little house in Albuquerque.
In addition to the simplicity of their home, I enjoy the accessibility. The layout is very inviting- sit on the couch or gather around for dinner, the furniture seems to say. Still, there are some things that will be markedly different because Amil and I are, of course, different people. The fridge will likely be jam-packed with all sorts of concoctions, and the counters full of sprouts, jars of fermentation experiments, etc. In our excitement for having such a welcoming home, we sort of began to transform their productive space into our food lair. Despite their understanding hesitations at our kitchen takeover, Amil’s family sat down to a fully vegan-sprouted meal including a Domincan-themed beans and rice, fried plantains, and some homemade gluten free crackers with a chickpea-salad topping, all created by Amil (crackers included). As we have been growing to be more picky (I hate calling the desire to eat raw, unprocessed foods picky, but I think it’s easy for others to see it that way), it was nicely reaffirming for the family to eat what we consider a good, healthy meal, and feel satisfied. Amil’s brother commented on how it was one of a few fully vegetarian dinners he had eaten, and yet he didn’t feel he was missing out. Success. J
The rest of our week stay was a delicate dance between our excitement at the freedom of having a kitchen to play in and a fridge to hold our stuff, and their adjustments  to our occupation. On one occasion, after returning with bags full of carrots, greens, peaches, apples, beets, and onions from the Union Square farmers market and chopping the kale into a lovely salad, Amil noticed a cute little caterpillar on a leaf that had just barely missed his knife’s cut. Worried that it would die without ongoing nutrients from the kale, he generously put it in water and supplied it with some of his expensive super green meal supplement powder for it to have nourishment as it grew. All this happened in his own quiet creative world, and I only noticed the jar of green goo with a leaf coming out of it a few hours later. Before long, though, unwilling to host a creature that may emerge and fly at any moment, the kale was quietly discarded.
In that week we lived, and played, and visited, doing activities that are completely unusual to our lives as traveling hippie tree-huggers. We went to Long Beach and stayed into the night, watching the sunset and the stars peek out. Coming from New Mexico, where the Milky Way is so thick it brightens the night by itself, the showing of stars was pretty sad, but our company remarked on how amazing it was. Oh, Perspective. We went out to dinner afffterward, long after our tummies had shut down for the night, and near our usual bedtime.
It was fun living life like a New Yorker…fast-paced, full of possible activities, a way I envisioned my life when I transferred to college in NY. Although we didn’t make it to any shows, I did fulfill my craving for falafel, and we even dined on the rare treat of a NY hard pretzel. Although I was fascinated by the facets of city life, I concluded that Albuquerque might be an ideal place to have city and stream, motion and mountains, space and community. Hopefully I’ll get to find out.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Capturing the Clues of Culture across the country…7

Train
At long last, the moment I had been looking forward to for a few weeks, where I could sit back, listen to whatever music I wanted with my headphones in and knit or look out the window, had arrived. And it flew by so quickly. Shortly after catching the train we had a delicious vegetable heavy dinner, enjoying several of the fresh greens Amil had purchased at a farmers market in Chicago, then chatted and quickly drift to sleep curled awkwardly in our train chairs.
Amil and have developed two different train etiquettes. He tends to roam the train, spending a bit of time in the lounge car, chatting with interesting people or being chatted with because he looks interesting. I prefer the aforementioned reclusive routine. As a result of his social skills, though, we have met many interesting people and developed some exciting stories. On the train to Chicago, though, Amil was reminded of the power of listening. A man by the name of Rapheal? From Guatemala had a lot to say and didn’t have much time for listening. We had had a similar experience with an old Hippie artist named Doc on the train to Santa Cruz in January. We’re pretty good at following along and listening, and practice only makes us better…Amil got a lot of practice on that train ride. Nevertheless, he reminds me that “no one is a stranger if you choose to look at them as a friend.”
As we rolled into the city we had both known with a distant familiarity, Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York played on the intercom bringing forth a playful smile. It was good to be back in a city with so much possibility, even if it seemed to counteract many of my environmental ideals. Little did I know how little I would be taking advantage of the city this trip.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Cross Country …6

Chicago
It was a beautiful time to be in Chicago. A time when it’s easy to romanticize the large fountain, the sunflowers, the beach of Lake Michigan (who has ever seen a lake that size?!). The friend Amil stayed with gently reminded us that summer is the good season, that winters are bitter cold and colors fade for most of the year, leaving nothing but a concrete and steel city. Albeit, a well artichetected one. 
Before I arrived in the city, Amil had a few days to get to know it. He ran into the Windy City Wizard, an inspiring and amazing illusionist. After a jaw-dropping performance, Amil heard the magician telling someone how he grew so successful. After seeing a local magician, he begged to learn some tricks, but the Magician told him that he would  have to prove his commitment if he was to learn. He came back with a little magic trick he had bought. “Do you know how to do it?” the professional asked. Little wizard confessed he hadn’t learned. “Then come back when we you can show me that you really want to be a magician. So he learned the trick, practiced it a few times and came back. “What other tricks do you know,? the magician asked after seeing the trick. Little wizard again confessed that that was all. Doubting his commitment yet again, the magician sent him off. Finally, little wizard bought a magic book. A great magic book. (Probably Mark Wilson’s complete course in Magic ;) ) He learned every trick in it, studying them and practicing his favorites of them over and over. When he returned to the magician, he was finally convinced, and so he taught him what he knew.  If you really want something you’ve got to put your heart into it.
Although I didn’t’ get to visit our friend’s house, hearing about it from Amil has made an impact on my decorating decisions. His space was very minimalist in its decoration, but in its simplicity, the little bit that was there stood out because it wasn’t crowded. And because of that, the house was able to speak a lot clearer…if it was louder it would have been more like noise rather than music.
During his adventure in Chicago, Amil was invited to a new-music concertn. Quince? And something color ensemble were performing. The music was dissonant, chaotic, almost tickling. Alternating between laughing and cringing, he sat through it, appreciating it for what it was and what it could be, though he never reached the point of understanding. Understanding something can be an important part of enjoying it, but if you don’t understand it you can still appreciate it.
I was happy to spend just a few hours in Chicago, a city I’ve long dreamed of visiting, or even living in. Shortly after meeting up with Amil, a simple event that proved confusing among the subways and the Chicago city streets, a kind-looking young man inquired (based on the amount of crap we were carrying around- a backpacking bag each, plus Amil’s  pull-cart and my day pack) if we were backpacking, and offered us some bananas. Though delighted by the gesture, we declined, having enough food to carry without worrying about something to get squished. We dragged our stuff to the ‘beach’, pausing to watch the fountain’s choreography to the climax of the 1812 overture, and enjoyed some simple, nutritional raw fruits and nuts, while anticipating the expedition ahead.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Capturing Country Clues … 5

GeorgetownThe next day, after more lake fun, we drove back home for me to sleep in my bed one last time, before I departed the next day to meet up with Amil and continue our travels from Chicago. The usual comforts of home were overwhelming as I realized I had no time to organize, dig through things, find lost items, and clean up messes made from our quick visit last Christmas. I reassured myself that I would be home again in 4 months for Christmas, but this time would stay for long enough to truly go through my belongings and weed out what isn’t necessary for my future.
My short time in Texas was a lot different than my experience in New Mexico. Being back home around family made me realize what a mark New Mexico had left on me. There in the desert uplands I was finally doing exactly what I wanted to be doing:living in a community of amazing people, helping cook and clean as necessary; coming up with my own activities to allow kids to interact with nature, or facilitating exploration through various ecosystems; and mostly, watching the world change in one place from spring into summer, and summer into monsoon season. This being still, being slow, being creative and communal, struck every cord within me. But I didn’t realize how much it meant until I left it for what used to be home- the comforts of my upbringing. 
The short trails weaving through the property in Marble Falls were no longer enough compared to the thousands of acres of forest that surround me now. The comforts of flush toilets and ‘convenience’ of electric lighting no longer seem to be a necessity.
While I don’t think I will grow out of enjoying some comfort food, and drinkin’ a beer in the hammock anytime soon, I have grown to realize that those experiences are outliers of my own ideals. The lake, my parent’s house, my grandparent’s house, are just a place of escape for me to go to just long enough to realize that where I function best is in my own space.
But where is that? 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Cross Culture Clues…4

The Lake 
The conclusion of my volunteer week meant a much needed, long anticipated weekend at “the lake”. 
Visiting the lake means Food, Family, and Fun. There is always an ample amount of food, especially things I don’t usually eat. Despite the cycle of diets that one member of the family or another is on, there is always a bottomless bowl of Peanut M&M’s on the counter. There is also home-cooked food, which at this point I hadn’t had in months. But eating the treats that others create means not being too choosey in the ingredients. I had some cheese-covered-squash that grandma prepared, and some corn-syrup-infused potato salad—store bought, but a Lake staple nonetheless. For this weekend, I didn’t worry about the ingredients as much as I normally would, for any fare my family would feed me would be leaps better than the slop at camp, and I felt I deserved some comfort food. Oh! And, my brother made me a vegan chocolate coconut cake. Yum!
In addition to the ample food, we play games. Once everyone has eaten, checked their e-mail or looked up whatever the subject of the last conversation was, played guitar, and/or swam in the bath-temperature-water lake, a card or board game ensues. Since everyone knew I was only around for the day, they graciously assisted me checking off my Lake-life Bucket list:
-Scrabble
-3-13 (card game)
-Swim/Stand-up paddle board
-Drink a beer (shiner’s Prickly Pear ale, no less!)
-Canoe (replaced with paddle-boating with my bro)
-Eat!
-Lay in the hammock
 When all that was over, it was back to my grandparent’s house to wind down to bed. Something about sleeping in that house: the firm futon, the flowery sheets, the low night lights, or just the fact that there are so many people I love sleeping so close to me, always equals an un-paralleled sweet sleep. Also, waking up to the sounds of people chatting, the smell of toast, and the gentle sun through the curtains is like something out of fiction. :)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Cross Country Culture…3

Marble Falls“Culture shock” is all I can say about my week of work in Marble Falls. If it weren’t for the few familiar friends, the landscape I so love, and the hot humid August weather I had (thought I) much missed, I don’t think I would have made it through the week. 
After a few handshakes and smiles exchanged with brand new faces of all ages and shapes, I found myself sitting in the living room of the Director/Owner’s house as he explained what the week was to entail. The gist of the meeting was that no one knew what was to entail…this was going to be a brand new experiment allowing underprivileged kids to come ‘be at camp’ for a week, and strengthen from the character building that happens upon trying new things. This group would then be tracked and tested periodically and contrasted with their peers to see if this made a significant impact.
As my mind tried to process this information, I glanced around them room, trying to recognize the cultural clues that would be my home for the next week. Bare feet and flip flops replaced the “closed-toe-shoe” rule I had upheld all summer. Tank tops and running shorts of violently loud  colors seemed to be the dress code. In place of the dirty, hippie friends I had so shortly left behind in New Mexico were dozens of beautiful, manicured people- with unrealistic tans. 
I spent the entire week being lost, unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and not ready for the silly dancing, continuous singing, and blatantly “fun” but altogether meaningless activities that were required at camp. I tried hard to be a bridge between the ‘summer camp staples’ that this camp required and the slow, intentional and character-focused work that I had been doing all summer, but along with the heat, this took all the energy I had.
It had only been a year or two since I was in Texas in August. Walking through snow in New York, or digging through it in California, I had often reminisced the humid summers. But tossing and turning in a puddle on my bunk in my open air cabin, hoping for the slightest breeze (cause that’s all that comes) to blow in off the lake beside me, was a sweaty reminder of why I worked at an indoor day-camp in the summers growing up. Even at night, watching the waxing moon rise and set over its reflection in the still lake, I sweat. I realized that Amil may be right, I have adapted to the brisk wintery evenings that come with living in mountains.
Despite my personal culture shock, trying so hard to be present and enjoy the experience, but wanting so bad to leave, to be away from Miley Cirus songs, i-pods and processed food that you had 10 minutes to scarf down, the week was a success. Although a few of the girls, coming from less wealthy backgrounds than the rest of the campers, felt as out of place as I did, many of them were tearful upon their departure, wishing they could have the same experience next year, and hoping to keep in touch with all their friends.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Capturing Cultural Clues Cross Country Part 2

Houston – When I stepped off the plane in my home state, my first time in Texas in over 8 months, I was greeted by a stifling warm hug.The Texas humidity I had bragged about, longed for, and written about, was sticking to my skin in a warm welcome. I had to quickly change planes for one more flight into the air and through the sky, holding my breath that I don’t crash before I return home, where my heart can breathe and sigh and jump in the same state it did for the first 20 years of my life.
Georgetown
It was wonderful to be back ‘home’. Home in this case is my parents’ house which they purchased when I was going into my Senior year in college. Although I never lived here for more than a few months at a time (that’s another story…) it has the personal touches that my parents have chosen to express themselves, and a little room full of all the junk I grew up with. As soon as I dropped my bags I wandered from room to room noticing a new framed picture in Dad’s study, new and newly arranged furniture in mom’s art room. Then I jumped into some things I had been waiting to be home to do- digging out some forgotten clothes and items from my room, using mom’s extensive beading collection to make some earrings with hummingbird feathers that I collected this summer, saving my computer onto my backup hard drive, etc. I couldn’t stay up too late because I had to leave early in the morning to drive to Marble Falls, home of a past Outdoor School  I had worked at, to volunteer for a week.  
I woke up an hour early to go for a morning run. Although we had moved from the neighborhood I had grown up in, I missed running through neighborhoods, smelling laundry detergent and grills going as I passed each different house. This morning’s run would prove much different, however. First of all, I had heard so often that when you’re used to running at elevation (I’ve been living at 7500 feet for about a year), then running at sea level is a breeze. This is a flat lie. While I did have some success with this later in my journey, I would like to state that even as an asthmatic, it is much easier to run up and down low hills in the mountains than to run through thick humidity. 
The air was especially thick because we had just received a much needed rain. Although the grass usually cracks under your feet and the trees look like they could topple over at this time in Austin, everything was green. Sunlight danced through the trees, held in mid-air by the humidity. As I jogged along thinking about how jungle-like everything seemed, I was startled by a few deer frolicking across the street and up a ways from where I was running. I slowed down a bit, as one ran in front of me, leaping over a fence into the bushes, but the other stayed, staring at me with a look of, “what are you running from?” He kept his glance and as I ran by, he started to follow me! (Un)Fortunately he didn’t go far, and I continued trudging through my jog, impressed by the massive amounts of mourning doves acquiring on the power lines, and hopping from street to street as I passed. Although I grew up in central Texas, I had been away just long enough to think the measely Prickly Pear and yucca of the desert uplands were normal. I had forgotten what truth there is to the old saying, “everything’s bigger in Texas.”

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Capturing Cultural Clues Cross Country (and back!)

33 days after departing New Mexico, we end our journey, but not where we started, and not as the same people that departed. In thirty three days Amil and I slept in 19 and 17 different places, respectively. We saw 34 family and friends as well as 6 dogs and 6 cats. We visited 6 national parks and forests, ate 5 different kinds of edible wild mushrooms and went to farmers markets. What really made this journey spectacular, however, is not the quantity of our adventures, but how each stop on our journey crafted our personalities. We learned from each group of hosts about who we are, who we aren’t, what we need and what we don’t. In this essential time of transition between the transient life and the rooted life, the lessons we learned on the way will likely prove invaluable. 
What follows is a summary in hindsight of cross country travels- from Thoreau, New Mexico to New York City and back to Southern California.
“I want you to think about something while I’m gone this next week,” I started, as we zoomed down the highway toward the airport, under the usual variant New Mexican sky. I explained the possibility that our boss had presented to me in my end of summer evaluation. She had expressed interest in having us as a couple to work as collaborators of the Environmental Education center and caretakers of an Open Space in Albuquerque. She had mentioned it at the beginning of the summer when everything seemed so solid- fall work at an outdoor science school, back home for Christmas, move out, get ready for the wedding, get married, honeymoon, come back for another summer then off to graduate school… But now, after a summer of valleys and vistas, learning, teaching, growing and falling more in love with simple routines and desert life, our solid plans didn’t seem as rigid. After all the flexibility of the summer, this seemed like an obvious opportunity.
At the sunport, we hugged and kissed our “see-ya-laters.” Saying adieu for a week seemed like nothing after several multiple-month sessions without seeing each other. Then we were off- me to Texas to volunteer at a week-long summer camp, and Amil to continue with our originally planned road trip up to Colorado to catch a train to Chicago.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Across America…(and back.)

(Oh blog, why have I been neglecting you?! My desire to write and share is so strong, and yet I sit down to the computer to…scan Yahoo news. yikes.)You and I will become better aquatinted, cause I have some stories to tell and some observations to share. 
There are two reasons for my absence from the blog lately. My last post in February occurred while employed at an Outdoor Science School in Southern California. I somehow found myself too distracted with getting to know people, yahoo news, working, and making the most of the warming months in Southern Cali to post frequently. 
I left Cali in May for a week long trip through Arizona to New Mexico where I have spent my summer as Resident Naturalist. I think I have really found my niche in the world, and I hope to continue pursuing naturalist positions. 
In the month between jobs, Amil and I are traveling from New Mexico, to Colorado via car, to Chicago via train, and then to NYC via train, to stay with friends and family via more cars and trains and then take a train back to Colorado to drive to California. 
As if that weren’t complicated enough, I got an offer to work at a week long summer camp opportunity for KIPP students in Marble Falls, Texas, that allowed me to fly home and see my family in the Austin area before flying to Chicago to meet up with Amil and jump on a train to NYC. 
The mental focus and emotions that have occurred from these transitions, as well as my observations of each new place, is what I hope to highlight in these next few blogs. Stay tuned :)

Monday, July 8, 2013

Yellow #5

1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Every food should look the same so come on and dye
every piece of food the same color
Mac and Cheese looks so great but I really don’t want a
headache like I had last week
memory loss, stupidity and fatigue
it’s in M&M’s, mustard, Mountain Dew, Velveta
It may change the color but it doesn’t make it sweeta

So what can I do, I really beg you FDA
let food be it’s own color, it is nature’s way
In ‘08 the EU began to publicly damn it
now it’s time for you to Ban it!
A little in the marmalade in my life
a little in the popcorn by my side
a little in the cheese is all I need
a little in the freeze pops is what I see
a little in the corn chips in the sun
a little in the pasta all night long
a little bit of chewing gum and I’m set
a little of your dye makes me upset!
Yellow #5!
What’s wrong with brown, and greyish colored foods
If it’s not appealing as it is
then maybe it shouldn’t be sold to you
we don’t need foods to sparkle and shine
before dyed foods we got by just fine
and as if that wasn’t good enough for you
you put it in my soap, make-up and fake tattoos

A little bit of allergies in my life
a little ingestion in my side
a little bit of wheezing’s all I get
a little bit of migraine’s you can bet
A little of depression is no fun
a little insomnia all night long
a little bit of hives all over my skin
This yellow #5 is quite a sin
I’ll do, all I can
to keep #5 out of the plan
you can run and you can hide
but do away with Yellow #5!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Tradeoffs

As published on Dirtyclassroom.com/blog
When I was 18 I sat in a mandatory economics class and listened to my sweet elderly teacher say that “when making a decision, you must consider two things—‘how much does it cost’, and ‘what’s in it for me?’” It was at this moment, essentially, that I decided to become an environmental educator. I was appalled that people were being taught not to think of the ramifications for their decisions, and I have spent the 6 years since then working to teach our future generations that there are consequences for every action you take.

During  staff training at High Trails, I was faced with some decisions about my class materials that drove me to ponder the most sustainable route. Although I have a strong environmental bias, I understand the importance of taking all realities into consideration when making a decision. How much something costs; how morally sound it is; how it affects other people, animals, and the atmosphere; where it comes from; who benefits from my choosing to use it, etc.

As I considered what materials to use for my classes, all of these thoughts buzzed through my head. As outdoor educators, our primary prop is the nature around us, but to really engage children through experiential learning, which is what urges them to drive all the way up the mountain in the first place, is to find a balance between something bright, flashy, appealing to multiple senses and effective at communicating a message,and something free, using minimal resources, in line with the message we teach.

A lot of instructors use dry erase boards and dry erase markers. While this has the benefit of being easily erasable and potentially colorful, one instructor confessed the irony of having to throw away a dead marker in the middle of our Environmental Awareness class. Because of this, I decided to try out chalk.

The obvious drawbacks of chalk are that it’s not weather proof (and as winter rounds the corner, I’m reminded of how much weather we receive) and using it requires a courage against chalky hands and clothes. Is it more important for students to get a good, colorful visual that they can remember when they’re back at school, or does a mere black and white image do the trick? Is it helpful for students to see us modeling more sustainable behavior, like using chalk—a non-renewable resource extracted from deep mines but is non-toxic and produces zero waste— over dry erase markers housed in a plastic case that comes from petroleum? And in that case, which one is truly more sustainable?

I faced the same questions regarding other props we use. Using small sticks, cut or carved at different lengths instead of poker chips, which are easy to identify on the forest floor, may seem more sustainable, but when those poker chips are obtained from a thrift store, are you saving a resource, or causing someone at the thrift store after you to buy new poker chips because there aren’t any? Is there a measurable difference for the students? Is it helpful to have large colorful object like a poker chips over smaller chips?

I use colored glass marbles that have been handed down from previous instructors, thereby avoiding petroleum-based plastics. Rather than buy new colored craft sticks, I found some bamboo shish kabob sticks destined for the landfill that I cut into different sizes. Visual learners still get a visual aide, albeit not a bright one, and I get to uphold my preaching of the value of reduce and reuse.

One thing I’m sure about is that we create a lot of trash. Although we recycle just about anything we can, I find myself with a lot of plastic bottle caps, straws and miscellaneous packaging wrappers that I don’t want to throw them away. Often I put them in my bag of props for our trash activity or the bird beak relay. These props then double as a visual when I’m talking about the 4 or 5 R’s.

It is difficult to be thrifty and resourceful without coming off as cheap, but I feel that as long as you put thought into your materials and keep them in line with the message of High Trails, they become just as effective, if not more so, than something you could pick up at a store. And you save some green.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Two types of Change

According to the Keep America Beautiful website, Americans generate 251.3 million tons of garbage per year. Where does all of this trash end up? Fifty-five percent gets buried in landfills, 33% gets recycled, and 12.5% goes to incinerators (1). 
It’s easy to see a fact like this and think, ‘that’s staggering…we should do something about it.’ But the real question is what, and how? And will you stay commited to that change in an hour or a week when that staggering fact fades away? Most of my decisions in the last 10 years to be more environmentally friendly, have been gradual habits that form overtime through strong meditation and staying inspired by the emotions that initiated the will to change. Yesterday, however, while talking to Amil about the sustainability of the food we were eating, I realized that there are several types of Change.
My method is very passive, and reactive. I think, we waste so much water, I’m going to react by putting a bucket in the shower to collect the cold water while it warms up for my shower. Or, Oh no, they gave me a napkin…I should use this napkin to the fullest extent possible to make it worthwhile for killing a tree.
In the last week or so, Amil has challenged this way of reacting. Instead of thinking, “man, I’m really enjoying this warm shower…I’m going to take the energy from this warm shower to do some good,” as I had been doing, he uses the water straight out of the shower in a very efficient way. He has cut out the use of paper products, giving back napkins and straws. He is making change through proactive decisions. I guess there was a time that I did that, but admittedly, I have been unconsciously sucked into the pleasures of convenience.
With my new intentions for change, and my current travels, I have developed some doctrines for consuming less while traveling.
How to consume less while traveling. 
Bring your own mug, silverware, Tupperware. It might seems like a lot to pack in a bag and carry around, but then you have a bag to put all the books you find, or the fun stuff you gather from free boxes…and, replacing paper coffee cup with a reusable coffee mug each day would save you 23 pounds of waste a year (2).
It’s lovely to support local economies, but do so sustainably… Watch for a while before you order food or goodies. In addition to choosing the most sustainable meatless local option, ask to dine in, without any doilies or garnishes such as paper plate liners. If you’re at a real trendy place, they might be able to serve you on your own plate. Wouldn’t it be great if the whole world were like camping—bring your own, eat all you’ve got, carry out your own trash…?
Of course…the most sustainable option is not to travel, to live under a rock and eat the bugs that crawl under there, etc…but then we’re not sharing, growing, and being stewards of the earth.
1-      Trash Facts, the Artula Institute, http://www.thelivingcoast.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/TrashFacts.pdf