Sunday, September 28, 2014

Success is Sweat

"We did it," said CJ around 10:30pm, as we arranged some things in the office before retiring for a well earned night's sleep. We had just returned from a debrief of a 6 day 5 night trip with 18 students from Poland. The itinerary included a trip to the Grand Canyon, our Base Camp, Chaco Canyon and the property of a company-friend where we often stay in exchange for some labor.
"We're crazy," I uttered, thinking back on the emotionally, physically and mentally draining week that was intertwined with incredible rewards that would only make sense to the 4 of us working the trip.
"Yea-" she started to say, catching herself. "No, people who go to the same place every day are crazy."
"yeah!" I added, "People who wake up and sit in traffic for hours every morning and afternoon to stare at their cubicle walls are crazy!" We laughed.
The next night I found myself chatting with another worker about the tradeoffs of a job like this.
"What did we do to get a job that makes us happy?" he quizzed? "We sweat. A lot" I responded.

"It takes a lot of sweat, though." He paused, reflecting in his head. "a LOT of sweat." His implication was that it almost isn't worth it. At this point of the year, coming off a busy spring, an insanely busy summer, and a sporadically busy fall, it's not unusual for people in this line of work to start envisioning themselves in an autumn wonderland-- a time when they can rock climb without belaying 11 years-olds, hike without being so distracted by asking 20 children to put on sunscreen that you forget it yourself, and otherwise enjoy the great outdoors with love in actual silence, not the shuffling and scraping sounds that come after begging the group for a few silent moments.
I have found myself looking forward to the fall for several weeks now, only to remind myself to wait and appreciate those sun-soaked days. I have a growing list of projects I'm looking forward to do when I'm not working, but I know that after a week and a half of home-bound projects and crafting, I'll be itching to explore outdoors, and wishing I had a company vehicle and a group of wide-eyed 12 year olds to teach to. Maybe a month and a half for that.
This last week was a wonderful way to cap off an exciting year in Outdoor Education. For one, I think I learned at least as much as I taught, but probably more. I learned about my personal needs, and different styles of teaching for people of different cultures. I saw my first wild Tarantula and held my first bat!. I learned a few words in Polish, as well as Polish eating and working habits.
At one moment I sat with my head in my hands, wondering how on earth I could teach them to respect our equipment, because nothing I had done had convinced them yet. On the verge of tears I pondered other jobs, and wondered how many people reading this have cried in their last month or two at work. But then I wondered how many people get to see complete transformations at their jobs. I saw a girl who has never washed a dish in  her life, completely do her dishes without any nagging. I saw a teacher give in to our traditions, and a peer acknowledge their occasional hard-headedness. Perhaps it's the exhaustion of hauling 30 lb water jugs around, waking up early to cook and staying up late to plan, or the beauty and openness of the wilderness around us, but these breakthroughs offer an overwhelming reward. Hearing a Polish child ask for a songbook so they can sing cowboy songs when three days ago they were begging to hear their American playlist in the vans is just one of those moments when you know that it IS worth it. I'd sweat buckets for those moments. and I do. :)

I have one more trip of blood, sweat and tears, and all the passion I can muster before I get to collapse into my firm bed and blog away the autumn. I'm looking forward to these last 3 days of the year, spending the nights in my paradise, and sharing whatever teachable moments I can to anyone who will listen.

Friday, September 19, 2014

What are you Wining About? Taking Local Food to a New Level

This morning I thought I would be nice and chop up some salad for Amil’s lunch, since he’s doing me a favor and picking up some things downtown. I chopped up some co-op cabbage (that’s on its last leg, but somehow still delicious despite buying it almost three weeks ago) and some farmers market tomatoes (that Amil had bought as green tomatoes, but they reddened up in our basket). Once I had a nice pile of chopped veggies, I reached for our usual salad bowl. It wasn’t there. I looked all around before I remembered where I saw it--outside with 50 or so peach pits in it, the result of Amil’s latest alcohol-making endeavor. 

Although there are still pieces of peach stuck to our floor, the three large buckets of fermenting peach goodness seems promising. At the very least, I’m impressed by his motivation to take a 35lb box of squishy peaches from the co-op (which he marked with a sign claiming, “I’m makin’ Hooch!”) and turn it into something, even if it ends up as a mere experiment. I too, had dreams of making stuffed grape leaves, or even jam, but they haven’t come into fruition. It’s partly because I haven’t had a chunk of time I deem appropriate for collecting, smashing, canning, etc., but it’s also because I haven’t invested in the tools necessary. I did buy some awesome looking low-sugar pectin! But no jars, no pot big enough to get the jars, and not one of those things to get the jars out of the hot water. I think I’m making it out to be more than it should be, all the while I’m resolving that next year, I WILL do something with our grapes, apples, etc. At the very least, I want to make apple cider vinegar out of all the fallen apples in the orchard. Hopefully as autumn blows in, we’ll have a large batch of pecans to figure out what to do with. But I know I don’t need special  tools for that. Some salt, spices, and a nut cracker!

The real point of this blog was to highlight the funky-smelling, burping, massive glass containers that are sitting in the middle of our kitchen/living room. (photo coming soon). This was Amil’s first project with the grapes growing in our backyard (other than over cereal, or in Chickpea salad, or laying them along the adobe to dry out into raisins). Amil has been hanging out with some new friends from the Wine Making club of Albuquerque, who have offered to bring their supplies over and donate some materials to make wine. Another friend he made makes strawberry brandy and the like, so Amil’s been calling him about what to do with 35 lbs of peaches.
I was out of town when Bill came over with his grape crushing machine, as they harvested, smashed, stirred, poured and combined yeast with the grapes, but the evidence is all around our house. There’s smushed grapes on almost everything, and a big pile of grape innards past our fence, but the best thing is these two bubbling jugs of what will someday be wine. After just a week of bubbling, Amil made a careful pour of the chalky-tan substance, and gave it a whiff.

“Smells like wine!” *slow sip* “tastes like it, too!” I sniffed along for good measure. Indeed, it smelled like red wine, despite its color and texture. We’re on the right path.
Our grapes have been sweetening up for about a month, and in that time we’ve had dozens of people take impressive amounts home with them for their own wine adventures. I’m encouraged by their promises of bringing us a bottle, knowing that if ours doesn’t taste great, we’ll have at least a few others on hand. 
More updates on the local food front coming soon. In the meantime, I'm off to Philmont to deliver a workshop, then out to the Grand Canyon with a group of students from Poland. Never a dull moment. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A day in the Life

I really do feel like I have the best job in the world.
Today, I got to take 48 Montessori students (1st, 2nd and 3rd grade) on a 3 mile hike to a beautiful vista at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.

While driving there, some of the usual environmental concerns popped into my head.
'Would it be more efficient for us to have newer vehicles? Or is it good that we maintain our old vehicles so that we don't have to use new resources?'
'Could the kids get the same experience from something closer, cutting our driving time and fuel use down?'
Overall, I think that we do a pretty good low-impact outdoor experience, and that impact is made up for by the positive impact I see our excursions having on the students.

The day was full of funny things kids say, like "Aw, how sad, some people died" as we passed the cemetery, or one kid telling the other that he is not a mature 2nd grader. And there were some tears as we neared the top and they couldn't get their little legs to lift up those big rocks anymore. But the highlight for me came from about .5 mile into the hike. We were stopped at an oak tree, examining the acorns, when I pulled off a gall

(like this, but orange)
and asked them what they thought it was. I had them pass it around to confirm that it was something squishy, which was one of the items we needed for our scavenger hunt. Then I opened the top and showed them the inside. The same little girl who I had talked to about having a positive mental attitude, and had expressed that you don't know how much you like something until you try, said "WOW! I LOVE hiking! I want to do this more often." Later she told me she wanted to do this at least once a month.
It was her who had the most struggles going up, and despite the fact that sometimes she said she was a "tough cookie" as she took another step, other times she said she couldn't make it.
I made a deal that if she made it to the top, I'd carry her backpack back down....and guess what? She made it to the top. She was so proud, she carried her own backpack down (as I suspected she would).

Her mother thanked me for my "interaction with [her] daughter" at the end of the trip, but the pleasure was all mine. Even if she was the only kid to feel like this was a wonderful experience, and that hiking and exploring and breathing fresh air is something that she wants to do regularly, I feel we succeeded. But I imagine we sparked a bit of interest. And we get to take the group out again in October.