Alone Time

I’m coming to you today from my bed at 8:30 pm.  Let me set the scene.  It’s dusk outside, and so hot it makes my ears ring.  I have a fan pumping air at me on medium, so I can still feel relatively sane but I’m not in a wind tunnel.

I’m worn out.  This seems like the story of my life.  So I won’t bore you with the specific details right now.

Let me instead tell you about yesterday.

Yesterday I camped above treeline on wide, lush, flower-speckled piece of earth that made my heart happy.  I ate dinner from a mug, swatting mosquitoes off my cheeks in the fading light of evening.  I felt the cold air descend as the sun dropped below the massive mountain above us.  I crawled into a small green tent, and put my son into grey fleece pajamas. My husband read aloud to us from my book until our eyes were all droopy.  Then he closed the book, and the last of the evening light faded. We snuggled together – a man, a woman, and a little fleece-covered cherub.  The cold evening air infiltrated the tent slowly, and we pulled our sleeping bags tight up around our shoulders to stave off the cold.  Only Cody’s feet remained uncovered, because they get too hot.  Because he is more than just baby now – he’s a small person with feelings and thoughts – laughter and frowns.  He has answers to questions.  He has urgent need for kisses.  He has to throw rocks.  Right now.  He is id embodied.

I was exhausted and fell into a deep sleep.  I recall nothing until I was awoken around midnight to the sound of a human voice yelling ” Aaaargh!”  My eyes opened and I whispered urgently to Rick.  “What was that!?”  He explained it was two, possibly drunk, hikers coming by.  I sat int the heart-pounding space that one sits in when terror awakens.  I realized that as an individual I’d never been afraid to camp.  I assumed I’d figure out the right move in the moment if anything went wrong.  Now, with a gray, fleece-covered cherub to take into account, my fear was palpable. Things change so quickly.

The gray, fleece-covered cherub fervently held me in the cool night – asleep but still vigilant to stay close.  I nestled him in closer and checked his feet for cold.  I evaluated plans for fighting off unwelcome nighttime visitors with a grey, fleece-covered cherub by my side.  I fell into a new sleep – guarding him closely.

He is my everything.  I fear I don’t know exactly how to protect him – both in the night when strangers yell – or in the world when things feel very dark, and good news feels like a rarity.

I sit here alone tonight, and even in my excitement to be unattached for a few days while the cherub, dog, and husband are away  I am reminding you and myself of how urgently and unquestioningly I love this small being and the others too.  I remind you of the exhaustion, the sweet kisses, the tissue-soft cheeks, and the deep fear that he is too sweet for the world and that I can’t do enough to make the world better.  I remind you of my sadness that our reality will unquestionably dampen the joy he exudes today. I remind you that motherhood is a thankless challenge and also my highest honor.

Snow!

I’m sitting in the rocker that Rick and I put into our bedroom to nurse and sit with our baby during the night.  From its vantage point in the corner of the large room, one can look out the window at snowflakes gently falling on the cars parked on our street.  The snow dulls the sounds of morning – when typically one can hear cars starting, kids walking to school, the opening and closing of creaking gates.  This morning, occasionally I hear the scrape of a shovel on the huge old slabs of sidewalk that line the street.  Other than that, the morning light slowly emerges, more strongly than normal, reflecting off the snow, but with it comes a silence indicative of winter.

As I sit in this rocker I feel movement in my belly.  This part of pregnancy has become a constant for me.  The stretching and banging and moving that emanates from my son within my womb is both familiar, and when I stop and give some thought to it, incredibly odd and foreign.  As my pregnancy begins to near its end I think sometimes about how little gratitude I’ve offered to my body for its strength and vitality through these months of change.  Someday, I may miss the movement of my baby inside me and recall the days when I was ripe with anticipation for his arrival.  Many days, my focus turns to the inconvenience that can come with pregnancy – the fatigue, the irrepressible hunger of the third trimester, the fact that my body isn’t my own anymore.  But, today, waking to the gentle descent of snowflakes I’m filled with a feeling of being truly blessed in my circumstances.

I recognize, sitting here this morning, a sea change in my attitude towards life.  Last night as I labeled Ziploc bags and prepared to make dozens of frozen dinners (for postpartum times) I wondered aloud to Rick about our choices and whether we were setting ourselves on the course we desire.  We both work hard and we both want to do well.  We commit ourselves fully, and sometimes I wonder whether either one of us is capable of scaling back if we needed that. Last night as we talked I wondered whether we could turn the ship around if we decided to uproot ourselves and begin life anew elsewhere.    This morning the light reflecting off snow, the bitter cold front that moved in overnight, and a long, slow wake-up of murmuring with Rick and Addie as we snuggled together against the chill of our room, leave me feeling refreshed and truly positive about our lives.

There is something about winter that stirs in me an inner camaraderie with all of humanity.  Looking out at the cold reminds me to connect with the people around me and to offer them all the love and support I can give.  Together we can make it through whatever comes our way.  Today’s silent morning reflections bring me back to a sense of myself, amidst weeks of exhaustion, feeling too busy, and wondering how I will juggle the demands of life once we have a child.  Today in the stillness, I sit in gratitude for the immense love around me, the generous spirit of my friends and family, and the beautiful natural world that periodically pivots to reveal another facet of itself and remind me that the vicissitudes of life are part of the dance – not something to fight against.

Learning to Cope and Leaning In

Sometimes when you care deeply about things, it can be hard to reconcile work and your personal principles.  In fact, when you work in environmental consulting, it can be a daily challenge.  So, today I want to share an email that my boss shared with me.  She wrote it to a young sustainability coordinator in our company who is struggling to find a balance between her work and her beliefs. Reading it, I am reminded about my calling to this work and my belief that change needs to have internal champions.  Names have been changed, obviously.

Dear Hillary,

I spent some time with Rebecca after the conference and she shared a little bit about how hard it was for you to make peace between what we do as a company and what you personally believe from a sustainability perspective.  This is a topic my colleagues  and I talk about frequently and I thought you might like to know our perspective.

I have worked on many projects that were frightening and unfair to impacted landowners – especially when eminent domain is involved.  There was one project a long time ago that particularly sticks with me – I was working with Bob Anderson on a storm water solution for the greater Omaha area that would involve flooding a huge area of farm ground and relocating a small community north of town. Bob and I spent several days meeting with landowners one-on-one, some whose houses would have to be relocated for a planned recreational area adjacent to the lake, and many who were third-generation on the land.  Good, honest people sat down in front of us and cried because they understood that if the project was approved they would lose their home or post office or farm ground.  On the drive home, Bob and I were silent for a long time.  And then I asked him if he ever felt like we were on the wrong side of the issue.

“Every day,” he said, “and that is exactly why you and I need to be leading this project.”

His point was that if we weren’t on the inside, who would be fighting for the little people?  Who would be pushing to do the right thing?  Who would be working to find a solution with the least impact?  Who would be working to make sure the community’s voices were heard?  Who would be there to make sure the people weren’t bullied?

Over the years I have realized that is exactly what my job is.  My job is to get on the inside of our client organizations and swim upstream as far as I can to influence the decision-makers to do the right thing for the public.  Sometimes I can influence them to do great and amazing things.  Sometimes I am powerless to do anything at all.  Sometimes I can nudge them a fraction of an inch, sometimes I can push them miles ahead of their time.  What is important to remember is that my career – my quest to make a difference – is a marathon, not a sprint.  My success isn’t measured by one or two projects, rather it is measured by hundreds of projects and professionals I have influenced over many years. 

I offer this perspective to you because I know that every word in bold above can be replaced with the word ‘environment’.  I know that without people like you on the inside of our firm working to make a difference, bit by bit, every single day – without people like you championing the earth, our society would continue to destroy it.  I also understand that there is a tremendous industrial momentum in our society right now that is not going to turn on a dime – it could take another decade or two or three to get it to fully embrace renewables, recycling, and smaller footprints.  You work for a company who is in the middle of that and not only believes in sustainability but invests in it heavily.  It’s a good place from which to make a difference.

Do not be daunted by the full task at hand.  It will take hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people just like you to change it.  Feel empowered by the small space you have to make a difference and just keep doing it.  Over time, you will realize how much of an impact you are having.  Also remember that you are just getting started – your power will be much greater in 10 years after you have tried things and witnessed things and soaked every possible thing in that you can.

It was fun to spend a little time with you at the conference this week.  Thank you for your deep commitment and tenacity.  Both are a great service to the earth.

Sand Dunes National Park

I sat awake in the cool night air, listening.  Around me the winds from the east were rushing down the mountainside. The aspens and meadow grasses surrounding me whirred with a steady rustling.  The noises felt ominous in the cool dark, as though they preceded a storm or an imminent bear attack, but in my little tent not even the puppy stirred.  It seemed that I was the only one startled awake in the blackness to wonder at what the night concealed from me.

I shifted position, recognizing that the pressures on my growing belly made for an interesting sleep experience on my thermarest.  I curled into the fetal position, facing the tent wall as it fluttered in the wind, glowing with the subtle light of the moon’s cool light filtered through the aspen grove where we camped.

Recalling the day that brought me to this spot, I smiled.  Rick, Addie, and I had piled into his car and driven the three hours to the Sand Dunes National Park.  Rick had visited before, but for me it was the first time and I was pretty excited.  Along the way, I watched the scenery fade from the familiarity of South Park, to the arid vastness of the San Luis Valley – a huge, flat expanse of harsh, unwelcoming land.  It once was a booming agricultural valley, but now it was mostly dotted with small, abandoned shacks, interspersed with large irrigation systems that periodically brought a shock of green to the swaths of brown grassland.  The valley is testament to the finite nature of groundwater and a warning to use it wisely.  In the heat of midday, the valley seemed anything but welcoming.  Heat vibrated up from the roadway, blurring the brown grasses that made their way, crisscrossed with only dirt roads, to tan sands.  As we pulled into a coffee shop to grab a chai and use the bathroom, a sign reminded us of the cost of maintaining the toilet and the need to conserve water. It asked us to flush only after multiple uses.  It asked for contributions to help pay for their tank to be emptied each month.  It seemed apparent that the valley was not thriving.

Putting this depressing fact behind me, I tried to focus on the dunes, but suddenly I was consumed by questions of if I would even enjoy the trip.  Through the wafting heat off the valley floor I could picture myself trudging across an unbroken, unshaded expanse of yellow sand with no water or cool air in sight.  A creeping panic began to rise in me.  If there is one thing that grabs my survival instincts by the balls, it’s the thought of unbroken and unmitigated heat.  My brain immediately flashes to visions of me shriveling to a parched and shrunken shell of myself, and collapsing in the heat, and never leaving the desert.  Though many landscapes evoke fear, to me, the desert is perhaps the most forbidding.

We drove into the park, however, and I reminded myself that today would not be spent on the dunes.  Today Rick and I planned to hike in the preserve where we could backpack in to a backcountry site to camp.  Abutting the dunes is the Sangre de Cristo Range.  The winds that bear down the mountains, combined with the prevailing winds barreling across the San Luis Valley, and the winding Medano Creek help to hold the massive dunes in their place.  Today we would hike up Mosca Pass, to the crossing point of the Sangre de Cristos, in a low saddle full of wild green grasses and aspen groves.

We hiked for an hour and a half, up the incline to the pass, and were there before we even knew it!  The hike was mostly shaded and gradual, and we were moving faster than we thought.  We reached the pass just as afternoon storm clouds began gathering on the horizon, so we turned back, took a dog-legged path off the trail, and made our way into a beautiful mountain meadow with a small creek running though it, wildflowers blossoming abundantly, and a tiny, miraculous, hidden cache of Columbines in a shaded aspen grove.  It was a little paradise, and after searching out the right spot, we set up camp at the edge of and aspen grove overlooking the meadow from above.

We made a fabulous meal, and Rick broke out two beers he had stowed away in his bag as a little treat.  As I sipped my shandy and watched the light fade while Addie bounded through the meadow grasses, I couldn’t imagine a better, more peaceful spot to rest my head and body for the night.  I felt a little chill as I sat with intention, trying to share this moment with the little being fluttering in my belly.

We lit a small fire and let the night fade away from us before crawling into our sleeping bags, reminiscing on the sweet perfection of our day.  Moments spent like this, together, away from the rush of life in the city, bring both of us back to ourselves and the simple things that bring a smile to our faces.

As we have been busy putting together a nursery, fixing up our home, and trying to establish ourselves in the new jobs, we occasionally lose sight of these simple pleasures.  Our trip to the Sand Dunes was a beautiful reminder from the universe that a mountain meadow filled with wildflowers can do more for the soul than weeks of dedicated work to “improve” one’s lot.  Reduction, it seems, is often the key to contentment.

Diversionary Tactics

Diversionary Tactics was the title of a poster I presented at the Association of American Geographers Conference back in 2006.  it was about a hydropower development project in Manitoba that was making a major diversion on the Churchill River, through a man-made channel, upon which would be built several hydropower dams.  The dams would not be in great locations – mostly coniferous forest, without major topography, meaning the water would spread out – not up.  It would kill a lot of biomass, which would in turn rot, produce methane, and generally be a bad ecological situation. Tree stubs and floating logs would pepper the reservoir, posing safety risks to boaters.  Water levels would constantly fluctuate, making it hard for the riparian ecosystem to stabilize, and in the winter ice would not form consistently, which can trap and kill animals.  On top of that, the dams were on traditional First Nations lands, and would alter the land the tribes relied on. Worse, however, was the fact that these projects tended to divide the community and fuel corruption.  First Nations communities in Canada already suffer some of the highest rates of drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, and violence in the nation.  This type of development was simply a new chapter in a legacy of environmental racism and injustice that had long plagued them.  The saddest part to me, was that this infrastructure was being built to sell power to the United States – to Minneapolis and Wisconsin, and Chicago.  It wasn’t even benefitting the local communities that felt the impacts most acutely.  And most people in the States had no idea…

It was while I studied this that I began to better understand natural resource development.  It fascinated me.  Particularly when it comes to power.  The methods we rely on to fuel our increasingly electronic lifestyles are often pretty far removed from our lives.  We don’t tend to see the costs, and as a result we don’t often involve ourselves in the debates on how to develop our natural resources in responsible ways.  Thankfully, there are some legislative tools (the National Environmental Policy Act) that encourage us to step back for a moment and consider our choices, our alternatives, and consider public input before major projects can move forward.  These tools are pretty effective in the United States to curtain truly BAD development policies.  I tend to think, however, that our legislative tools make us a bit lazy as citizens.  When was the last time you participated in a public meeting on an issue that affected your community?  When did you last contact your representatives to let them know how you felt about a bill or a development that personally impacts you?  I can almost guarantee that unless you have a pipeline coming through your backyard, you probably haven’t been very engaged in the public decision-making process of late.  I know, because this is what I do every damn day.  I try to facilitate this process.  Though I don’t always necessarily support the PROJECTS being developed, I wholeheartedly support the PROCESS they must go through to secure permits, and prove that they are necessary and that better alternatives are not out there.  In a sense, I feel a bit like a public defense attorney; these processes are part of the structure that makes our country what it is, and it is my job to see that the process is followed that the public is consulted and made aware or these projects, and that they have an opportunity to educate themselves and make informed decisions about the natural resources issues that impact them.

It’s intriguing to me how my worldview on the subject has shifted with time and age. There was a time when Xcel Energy monitored my blog because I was so adamantly opposed to Manitoba’s hydropower developments.  Now, however, with a wider wold view, I recognize that there is a place for certain development, and unless you can claim to live entirely off the grid, we are all, in essence, complicit in supporting that development through our need for power, for gasoline to fuel our cars, for water to take a shower each day.

Yesterday I was asked to help write a rebuttal piece to an article by Yvon Chouinard, the owner of Patagonia, which was recently published in the New York Times.  He was maligning dams and suggesting we tear them down.  I deeply respect Chouinard. I worked at Patagonia and I am proud of his record of being a thought-leader and a visionary who has also made business work without compromising his principles.  Of course, I can barely afford to buy anything from Patagonia as it caters mostly to rich, white people.  But, it’s good quality product and it is made responsibly.  That said, the inflammatory nature of the article he wrote also bothered me a bit.  Most people today in the United States recognize the perils of dams.  New hydropower dams in the US are simply not being constructed due to the lack of suitable locations, and the NEPA process.  It’s too hard to permit these structures.  Plus, they have significant riparian impacts.  But, they do produce energy free of greenhouse gas emissions, and they help to manage water flows and provide storage.  They are not all bad.

I wrestled for a moment with the fact that my 23-year-old self would not have been able to write a rebuttal to Yvon Chouinard, but my 31-year-old self sees the need and the responsibility of having that conversation in a public sphere.  I am excited to participate in this project, and to be making my dreams of impacting and improving natural resources debate and policy a reality!

 

Manizales, El Jardin Secreto, and… Montana?

As I write this, there are two puppies curled up on the floor near me, Rick is sitting in hammock a few feet from me, and I’m overlooking a lush, green mountainside that falls away into a valley punctuated by a muddy, boulder-strewn river.  Just setting the scene here.  I almost hate to write this knowing that many of my friends and family are hiding out from the cold weather.  We, on the other hand, are taking a little break from the afternoon heat.

We are about twenty minutes from the city of Manizales, near the coffee-growing zone, at a hostel called the Jardin Secreto.  Unlike most of our previous places, this is actually not owned by locals.  That part is unfortunate.  We practice our Spanish a bit less here than when we stayed in the city of Manizales with the adorable Maria Teresa of the Palogrande hostel – she and I sat and chatted over coffee for a few hours, which was so wonderful for my Spanish and great fun to learn about the city from a local!  But, there are trade-offs, the couple that owns this place is American (from Portland) the woman is a yoga teacher in the Anusara tradition, and she’s into Ayurveda – so I’ve found my little happy place.  Needless to say we have been here a night and already extended our stay for several more.  There is something about the lushness, the cool nights, the pungent smells of dirt and manure, and the myriad flowers in every shape and size – it’s a just a hard place to leave.

Today we toured a sustainable coffee farm, which was great.  Lots and lots of good coffee, and some great food too.  Tomorrow we’ll head up to the mountains to trek to Los Nevados – hopefully approaching something like 15,800 feet of elevation!  The day after we will check out some thermal springs, before heading to Bogota where I’ll be beginning my yoga teacher training with BJ Galvan.  I’m really excited! The fact that I’m able to continue my training with a teacher who I have worked with in Australia is wonderful.  And, the fact that we could combine our travel here and my teacher training (after having to drop out of the training I had planned to do in Australia so that we could move home and get married) is a huge blessing.  I can’t wait!  I’m also thrilled at the opportunity to do some of it in Spanish.  What fun!

I have to say that this trip has strengthened my confidence in my speaking immensely. I have always been able understand Spanish fairly well (having taken it from age four through high school certainly helped with that), but my speaking has really come back to me with two weeks of Spanish school.  It’s wonderful and fun to feel relatively sure of myself as I speak, and to be very sure of what I’m hearing.  It’s been nearly 13 years since I last spoke Spanish regularly – it’s incredible what the brain keeps hidden away. 🙂

Anyway, in case you’re wondering how Manizales, the Jardin Secreto, and Montana are at all related, I guess I can fill in a few details. As we have been traveling, Rick and I have been dedicating a fair amount of time to job applications and figuring out some of the details of our future.  While there are challenges to doing this abroad (namely horrendous Internet in Cartagena, and the fact that we are often on the move) it’s actually been pretty effective.  Up until we left for Medellin I was cranking out a few applications a day – mostly to locations throughout Montana and Colorado. Rick has been doing much of the same, though his path is a bit more reliant on where I go so I’ve been leading the charge.

Having completed our tour of the US cities we were considering calling home just over a month ago now, we determined that we loved the sunshine and ruggedness of the Rockies and probably wanted to make those mountains our home.  Though we have both spent lots of time in Denver, and though Rick owns a house there, we are both drawn to a rural lifestyle.  Montana has been calling to us both now for a long time, and it might just end up being our final destination for several reasons.  I’ve always wanted to live there, and have taken every chance I’ve had to visit.  Rick too has felt the draw to Montana.  He was a ski bum at Big Sky and has spent quite a bit of time in and around Bozeman.  And, just a few summers ago Rick and I biked from Missoula to Seattle, seeing some of the best of the west along the way.  That part of the country holds a chunk of both of our hearts and I think we’d like to try making a go of settling down there and bringing up a family – with the majority of our time spent out in the woods.

There is something about the idea of a more rural life that I love.  I am a social person and I love and feed off the energy I get from other people.  Unfortunately, sometimes I feel as though it takes me away from my own priorities and goals.  I found that to a certain extent, the relative isolation of our lives in Australia (in the sense that we didn’t have a huge social network) allowed us to grow individually and together in some really special ways.  I felt like it allowed me to spend time focusing on things I enjoy and want to do more of – like yoga, art, and writing.  Rick, though in very different ways, sees the appeal of a rural lifestyle.  We both want to improve our ability to live self-sufficiently and be close to nature.  Rick loves the idea of being able to leave the house to go trail running, a luxury that might even draw me back into the runners fold. We also both love that in Montana we can have mountains, water, and sunshine.  I guess I’m greedy, but I just want it all – and I’m willing to give up living in a larger city to have it.  Plus, we both love the winters and the potential of amazing backcountry skiing, great resorts, and opportunities to Nordic ski too.

We have a few irons in the fire for jobs in Montana, but we are more and more convinced that even if we don’t have a specific job to walk into, we might make our way to Montana anyway. We aren’t ruling out other parts of the West.  I certainly love the idea of being close to our friends in Colorado, or somehow finding work we love in Jackson Hole or Boise, but when we consider all the options, we still end up with Montana at the top of our lists.  No final decisions have been made yet, but so far this is where are hearts are leading us.

Up north

My parent's cabin

It’s been a year and a half since I last visited my parent’s cabin in the north woods of Wisconsin.  Then, it was summer and I’d rallied a crew to join me from various parts of the country.  We drank wine, swam in the lake, and enjoyed sunsets to melt your heart.

Now, it’s -16 degrees.  Snow drifts around the house, and the lake is buried under ice and criss-crossed with snowmobile and cross-country ski tracks.  The sound of the woods is silence, broken by the creaking of frozen trees in the wind. The winter sun sets about 40 degrees south on the horizon from its summer roost.

I love the seasons here: the falls with their pungency, their color, their sense of tangible resignation to the slow descent to winter.  The springs with turtles rambling about laying eggs, the smell of pine and mud permeating the air.

I have spent many of my most enjoyable New Year’s Eves here, with many other close families, skiing all day, cooking chili by night, all of us trudging through the ice and snow of the lake to celebrate the new year with a toast of champagne under a cold, star-filled sky on a frozen island.  This place holds so many of my dearest, most wild and fun, and some of my most painful memories.  Its fabric is woven into me – the time my dog drowned in the lake and I had to pull her lifeless body out and bury her in the darkening evening as my sisters and I cried and got eaten by mosquitos; the time my boyfriend came to watch me run my first marathon and held me later that night in my exhausted soreness telling me how impressed and proud he was; the time I brought college friends here to hide away before finals and we baked blueberry pies and drank homemade wine after studying all day by the fireside; the summer days when my sisters and I would build forts in the woods and catch crawdads and snakes.

I love this place with my whole self.  It’s an incredible homecoming to be here after our months of self-imposed homelessness.  It reminds me of what matters to me and what I want for my own future.  It is such a great way to recall my memories of family and friends, and tare the scales of my life with my priorities.  Rick is not with me, he is celebrating the new year with his family before we leave to head abroad.  I think for him too, this bizarre exercise we’ve been performing of criss-crossing the country in search of a home, then coming home, then heading abroad, and hoping the pieces fall into place for us, it’s all very confusing, but I think the time back home serves us well to establish a base of where we come from and what we want going forward.

Do your dharma.

Today I was sitting at work thinking about completely non-work-related things like the fact that I need to move out of my house in the next month, leave for a trip home to the U.S., come back and wrap up all ties to Australia over the next month and a half and then move back to the U.S. and get married.  It should be a relaxing few months, eh?  And then I started thinking, “Hmm, Kat, what should you do for a living when you get home?”,  and “When will you get home after your several months of intended bike-touring honeymoon?”, and “Where will home be when you return?”, and then finally, “Do you actually qualify as an adult?”

This isn’t an unusual train of thoughts.  In fact, I think about it most days. And, it’s slowly driving me mad.

Truly.

Meanwhile, I am nearly done with my yoga immersions.  In a few weeks I will complete the last of them, which means I will have all the hours behind me to move forward into teacher training.  It also means that I’ve re-read the Bhagavad Gita and dabbled in the Yoga Sutras.  I’ve begun to more seriously meditate and I’m feeling pretty excited and energized by all of this.  I had a new break-through in opening up my psoas.  It was life-changing. Only serious yoga-types can say stuff like that unironically, which means – I’m in.

But with all these pieces of my life swirling around me, I still wonder what direction I should move in on the larger plane.  I’m still stewing over whether the current course of my life is what I’d like and what I’ve envisioned for myself.  It’s kind of funny that I was mulling over this today, because in an unrelated search of my gmail account, the following conversation, which took place several years ago, came up.  It felt symbolic and a bit sad.  Names have been changed to protect this innocent:

me: i just remembered talking to you last night

Mystery person: well i remembered it at the time

me: haha, i was asleep!

Mystery person: sorry it was so late, but you go to bed early

me: it was like 12:20

Mystery person: well, that’s when i worry the most about you

me: oh mystery person.  just calling to check in? making sure i’m safe in my bed?

Mystery person: no that’s not why i called if you remember

me: i don’t

Mystery person: because i was thinking about how different you would be if you lost your idealism, and that maybe being a teacher would help you with that because you wouldn’t be corrupted by monetary success

me: do you think i am very easily corrupted?

Mystery person: no i don’t think you are easily corrupted, but given enough time, I think you could get worn down

me: hmmm

Mystery person: and then one day you would just become part of the system
me: never!

Mystery person: ok, i was just worrying that’s all

I read this conversation, looked up from my computer and found myself in the office of a major oil and gas company, developing on of the largest coal seam gas to liquefied natural gas projects in the world.  I wondered if perhaps the mystery conversant was perhaps a bit clairvoyant.  I got a little squeamish in my seat.

So, I thought some more about it.  And yes, I work for a gigantic multi-national oil and gas company of the variety that I regularly skewered in papers and presentations throughout college and beyond.  But, on the other side of that,  I am part of a small and dedicated environmental team, working to ensure the project complies with all environmental laws and permits applicable to it.   That is a good thing right?  I actually care about this.  I don’t want to see this go pear-shaped.   I subscribe to the credo that you can’t say damn the man unless you can turn around and go off the grid tomorrow.  Until you’re there, you need to work with the man and get what you want through the proper channels.  And, I truly think that some of the best change comes from within.  So, am I doing what the idealist within me believes is right? Yes.

Should I continue on this track?  That’s a tougher question.

You see, I’ve learned in my yoga training about a concept called dharma, which was previously unknown to me. Dharma is the idea of doing what upholds the good and right in the world, and which an individual is uniquely suited to do.  It is what fits, feels right, and works in your life. For example, if your dharma is to be a garbage man, you’d go out and be the best you can be at it because that’s the right spot for you in the greater scheme.  Some people actually believe that when you do your dharma, the road opens up before you and what felt stuck suddenly begins to flow.

In that sense,  there is a part of me that feels I have always been in line with my dharma career-wise because I have been unusually lucky in my life. Doors have opened for me over and over again at just the right moment.  People have walked into my life and touched it perfectly, and then moved on.  But yet, I have a constant sense of being not fully committed to my plan.  So, is it my dharma?  Does it fulfill me and make me feel whole?  I’m not sure whether it does at the moment.  I know that I enjoy my job.  I feel like I have a path forward, an appropriate level of influence, and I am surrounded by extremely knowledgeable people to gain experience from.  I get to work in environmental law on a daily basis, I have ample opportunities to write (which makes me happy), and I communicate and work with all aspects of the project which makes me feel aware and engaged on so many levels.  So, why do I question my choices?  Does my sense of turmoil over working in oil and gas stem from anything inherent to it, or does it come from a place of internal judgement that I should be in a more creative, cutting-edge role?  That’s where I need to focus my analysis.

So, as I consider where to move when we go home and what my next steps will be (and the pressure is all on me here, as Rick is changing course completely and is totally flexible) I have to consider what is my dharma?  What makes me feel whole and right in the world? What inspires me and makes me passionate?  I have to also consider these questions without too much regard to monetary reward – which is hard for someone like me who often uses external metrics like grades, salary, and position as indicators of my own progress in lieu of more subtle things that are less easily measured.  I need also to, on the flip side, consider whether I am particularly judgemental about my personal career choices (despite being quite happy in my role) because of external influences such as my college experience, my liberal bias, and my own internal pressure to do something more selfless

I sometimes wonder why I impose these periods of deep reflection on my life in what appears to be two-year increments.  It’s insanely stressful, especially when you add a wedding and a transoceanic move into the mix, but I do feel most alive in these periods of massive change.  I do love the process of really stopping to consider what I want and how I want to achieve my goals.  I do like waking up in the morning with the knowledge that I’m walking away from what I know and rebuilding, again.  There is something cathartic and beautiful in the process of creation and destruction that goes with these moments.

As much as I want to settle a bit in my life, I feel most awake in a state of flux.  Is that my dharma?

The Edge

My blogging here, began with a goal to explore my relationships and emotions through my experiences in the natural world; a fitting lens through which to gaze, as it so markedly shapes my outlook.  But I’ve struggled with it!

Oddly, I have found that though my life in Brisbane takes place outside proportionately more than my life most other places has, I feel a shortage of reflective time to think on the world I move through each day. I’ve suffered a bit of writer’s block in the last few months. I’m not sure if the block was due to lack of time, lack of inward reflection, or the simple fact that I’m just happy.

I once interned with a former stand-up comedian during college.  When I asked him why he no longer did stand-up, he told me it was because he was finally happy.  I wondered at first if he was joking – an ironic answer to make me laugh and maybe see if he still had it – but he wasn’t.

Perhaps the creative muse lives, for many of us, in the seat of discontent.  I know mine has at times.  Why do people ponder their lives, their partners, their direction, if not a gnawing seed of unsettledness?  And isn’t that pondering at the root of creativity?  It seems to me to be.  But then I have been known to paint beautiful things only to cover them in black paint because I prefered its texture.  I’m a weirdo and it’s possible I have a dysfunctional muse.

That being said, I felt inspiration to write for the first time in months last weekend – and it came from something other than discontent.  I took my sisters up to northern Queensland to the city of Cairns for a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef and to see the Daintree forest.  We spent the day on a small sailboat and swam with some beautiful reef sharks and sea turtles.  It was a bit choppy so the water wasn’t perfect, but I love the ocean and the chance to swim with creatures that never cross my path for want of feet.  It calms me to undulate with the movements of the water around me and offer myself up to a universe where I’m at the mercy of so many things beyond my control.  It seems to appropriately align the world – at least to my view.  I could spend my life in the water without complaint.

We had motored out to the reef in the morning, but as the afternoon drew to a close we clambered back into the boat and put it under sail for the ride home.  Now, I haven’t done a lot of sailing, but I am not a total novice either.  I raced a legitimate regatta on Lake Michigan once, and I had the bruises to show for it for weeks. After last weekend though, I wish it was a bigger part of my life because when the wind bowed the sails, and our masts leaned against its force I felt unchained.  My hips rolled with the boat into the swells and my body let go in a way I have felt in only a few other contexts; tearing down a powder run, riding my bike fast down the mountains of Colorado, and paddling big waves in a canoe.

On the Ocean Free

Maybe it’s the speed or the wind in my face that lights me up, but the feeling is as if my body is filling up with honey; pure bliss seeping through me with slow, gooey, goodness.  I say honey both for the fact that it feels like it creeps out from my core to my fingers with this languid viscousness that quells any mental chatter.  And because it sticks. You can call the feeling up after the fact and bask in the glow of it.  You’re in the right place, you’re flying,  you’re not scared, you’re on the edge – and loving it. I’ve heard the feeling referred to as flow.

It’s in those moments that I feel like a conduit between the world below me and something bigger. At those moments I’ve tapped into the source.  It’s a high like no other.

Lately I’ve been dancing with the edge of this sensation on a near-daily basis. I wish I could share it with the people around me because it feels so damn good.  I think I’ve been able to access it through a combination of a lot of yoga and the work I’ve been doing with my friend and ayurvedic doctor who is helping me to work with my diet to regulate my inflammation and moods.  I don’t really know what is happening, but I’m sticking by it.  I feel too good not to.

I have a sense of mental calm that I’ve never really experienced in any sort of sustained way before.  It’s like I’m accessing a better version of me, and one that I was keeping under wraps for a long, long time.  I realize I sound like a new age hippy and I don’t mind if you laugh at me for this post. Whatever. I will do weird breathing exercises and eat dirt twice a day if I can continue to feel awesome indefinitely.

But seriously, I feel so good that I worry I may become a happy jerk. You know the type. The person whose rose-colored glasses make you want to shoot them?  I’ve encountered the type before and I have come close to pulling the trigger on them.  I mean, who do they think they are with their preachy radiance and tranquility?

Sadly, I think I pulled a happy jerk move just recently trying to share my experience with someone who wasn’t open to it for various reasons.  Long story.  Needless to say, I think it exhibited a lack of compassion on my part, and I need to watch my predisposition to be the uncompassionate happy jerk.

I don’t know. In times of great joy I think it’s worthwhile to remind yourself of the fleetingness of the feelings we experience. Which is, I guess , why it’s so tempting to overshare one’s jubilance.  I’m going to work on just observing the feelings and being happy with the little slice of world before me.  Like sadness, these feelings are just waves we each ride.  Take it as long as you can ride it and hope more comes your way.  I’m riding this wave for all that I can.   I feel the wind in my hair and the sun on my skin, and goddamn, it’s amazing.

(P.S. I realize that in the very act of posting this I may be jinxing this.  But it’s still worth sharing.)

The Seat of Exhaustion

I’m writing from the seat of exhaustion – where exhaustion starts, ends, and returns to.  I am there, literally and metaphorically.   My body’s aversion to gravity, while never very strong, is weaker today than is typical.  It feels as though my skin is sinking off my bones, seeking its angle of repose: a horizontal pool of Kat on the ground.

This deep weariness is rooted, as weariness often is, in imbalance.  My scales have weighted heavily towards work in recent weeks, but that alone wouldn’t have brought me to this place.  It was the relentless pursuit of fun, on top of the imbalanced work, that has brought me here.

Last night I stood in an outdoor amphitheater in my polka-dotted work dress, sipping Bundy and coke and listening to Mumford & Sons.  It was a little bittersweet as I had bought the tickets as a surprise for Rick, but knowing his work schedule can be so unforgiving, I told him in advance of the show so he could plan to be here.  Nonetheless, this week came around, and he was unavoidably stuck in Cunnamulla, Queensland drilling holes in the ground while I was left quietly singing the words to songs that have been a recurring soundtrack for the last few years of my life, surrounded by masses of that unique brand of concert-goer who stands, arms crossed, face stern, assessing a show through thick-rimmed glasses, rather than enjoying it.

That’s not to say the show wasn’t fun – it was lovely.  My feet in the grass of the outdoor amphitheater, my friend Krystle laughing with me at the stodginess of the crowd, my heart cascading up and around the crescendos of banjo and lyrical whirligigs.  It was beautiful.  When the show ended, Krystle and I retired to her apartment and drank guava drinks and chatted into the night, before I teetered back to my yellow steed and let her guide me home through the night.  I bumbled around my house, exhausted, watering plants and cooking eggs as I had skipped dinner, and then collapsed into my bed for a few brief hours.

This morning, as they do, the birds began to squawk. . . at 4:30.  It’s hard to emphasize enough how god awful the caterwaul of the avian beings here really is.  It’s like they were put on Earth to destroy peace and happiness, and instead, replace it with a persistent rage that the laws of evolution denied this continent a branch of the Felidae tree.  Please, someone import a tiger up in here to shut these birds up!

But, the beauty of being awake at the crack of dawn is the chance to enjoy the crack of dawn.  I have been doing a lot of enjoying it, recently.  I wake up and immediately head (pajama clad)  to the porch where I uncover all my plants from the blankets and grocery bags that I use each night to protect them from possum teeth.  I then wander down the steps to the garden I cleared in front of the house and water my seedlings, beans, and the native garden that I put on top of the hill where it’s dry.  It’s a pleasant way to start the morning, dwelling barefoot in dark loamy soil of the garden, assessing the growth of my little shoots and stalks and trying to figure out how the whole thing works.  I can’t wait until Rick finishes building my greenhouse in the back where I can keep them protected.

And with that description, it seems the exhaustion has finally caught up with me.  I didn’t even get a chance to talk about our surprise surfing trip last weekend or the beach, or the debates, or anything else I’d hoped to touch on.   So, we’ll have to hope I have the stamina next go round.

Goodnight friends.