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

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

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:
-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)
-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.
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.