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!

 

The Heart



My life up until a few years ago rarely featured my heart.  It showcased my sense of adventure, my need for freedom, and my conflicts over how to love in light of those things.  There were many pieces of me on display, true.  But the way my heart works wasn’t among those pieces.

In recent years, I have worked through yoga and through some soul-searching to open my heart, to accept and love myself in spite of my flaws (and because of them), and generally be more honest and authentic in recognizing what I need and what I want.  I feel good about what I’ve done.  It’s been a lot of work, and a lot of truly amazing reward.  But, nothing so far has prepared me for this.

Today, I heard my baby’s heartbeat.

Via a monitor on my stomach, through some little speakers, this wildly powerful little chug-a-lug of a heartbeat shook me to my core.  I’ve seen the little one on ultrasounds a few times, and watched the little flicker of his or her heart blink along in the sepia swirls, trying to see limbs or a discernible form.  Today, though, hearing the little being within me thumping along made it all seem more real to me.

It’s been a few months (3 to be exact!) since Rick and I found out we were expecting.  In that time, I have suffered barely any symptoms besides being a little tired and uninterested in eating.  As a result, the fact that I’m carrying another human inside of me has at times felt unreal.  I have been reading voraciously about birth, fetal development, and trying to absorb everything under the sun about this massive change which will soon be a reality in our lives.  But, all the reading, diminished appetite, and the increasingly tight waistband of my pants has not really sunk in for me personally.  That is, until today.

Maybe this will make me more protective of myself and my cargo, where I have otherwise been treating my life as normal – going rafting, hosting parties, riding my bike around, running, doing inversions and twists in yoga.  Who knows? I recognize that pregnancy in many ways is a test in flexibility and managing expectations.  Things can move fast, and even though I seek a healthy and safe pregnancy, that could change in a moment.  As such, part of me doesn’t want to give up too much too quickly. I am trying to keep a good handle on my life, recognizing that there will be PLENTY of time for me to alter my life to accommodate another little member of our family soon enough.

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Baby’s first Elephant Rock! 62 miles in the saddle and first ride since October!

What I have actually found to be the most noticeable part of being pregnant, for me, has been a very deep recognition of the incredible man who got me into this position.  Comprehending the immense experience we are sharing together (be it as common as ever) reminds me of what I love about Rick.  He is reading pregnancy books and following along with my apps that tell me what fruit compares to my baby’s size (lime this week).  He listens to my every observation and constantly reminds me that I’m pregnant, and not getting fat.  He busts his butt to keep up on the schoolwork to get his teaching certificate and just got a great teaching position, all the while doing daily projects on our adorable little house and managing a totally deranged little puppy.  And when I come home from the office he, more often than not, has dinner cooking for me.  He is coaching me back into running so that I can run a race in Aspen this summer, and he supports me in all the little things I ask of him.  He is so truly a good man.  And, I think in knowing I am bringing another human into the world his goodness gives me such hope and joy for the whole process.  I am recognizing that this is an experience I can’t imagine with anyone else.

So, to bring this back full circle, let me finish this post on a point about the heart.  Today when my heart cracked open a little bit as I heard thumping through a little speaker, I recognized that there is so much still to feel within me.  At times I look at Rick or my puppy and feel like my heart will explode a bit, but today assured me that there is another threshold of love that I’ll soon be aware of.  The vulnerability that comes with pieces of your heart being outside of your control is absolutely terrifying and incredible.

 

 

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Baby’s first rafting on the Arkansas! I think we all enjoyed it! And I am doing my best to “show” here. Not showing too much yet…

Going deep

Delving into the intricacies of one’s relationships, spirituality, and personal interpretations of the world can be complicated territory as a writer and someone who blogs.  I’ve often struggled with how to use my blog to interpret and delicately communicate these issues to my audience without sharing too much of myself or appearing to be gossipy.  I believe that our relationships past and present are crucial components in making us the people we are, and I’d like to talk about mine in greater depth.  But it’s a struggle that often ends in me writing about the schedules and events of my life over the feelings and emotions that color my personal perspective. I hate that.  I think that privatizing and shielding our experiences and reactions – the joys, sorrows, and lessons – is denying ourselves.  Not everyone agrees with me that our feelings and experiences deserve so much time and space.  But, if I am honest with myself, I truly believe that our feelings, joys, and struggles are what makes life the adventure it is, and I want to document that.

Life has been tumultuous of late.  Rare is the moment of calm in my current storm.  Between home renovations in Denver, having family in town for weeks, traveling to visit other family, interviewing at a blistering pace across the west, moving cross-country without knowing whether it’s temporary or permanent, and beginning to consider longer term plans for home ownership, etc. – there has been a lot to think about!

So, we’ve been busy.

Add to this the unexpected and extremely unlikely scenario of running into my estranged ex-boyfriend and his wife few weeks ago at a hot springs in Montana (where I was interviewing for a job) and a whole extraneous existential element is thrown into the fray. I haven’t really talked about this since it happened, because the whole thing broadsided me so completely.  But, I guess I feel far enough away from it now that I can address my feelings about the exchange.  Plus, it feels inauthentic not to discuss the incident since this blog is devoted to examining life and love through my own personal lens.

I was with my friend Meg in the hot springs on a Sunday night.  We’d been lounging for a few hours after an afternoon of backcountry skiing.  We were preparing to leave when I looked up and saw my ex and his wife walk in.  I knew that during the weekend I was in Bozeman I risked running into them, but by the time Sunday night rolled around, I felt confident that the chances of a run-in before my early Monday flight had narrowed to nearly non-existent. The hot spring was small, so once in the pool they were mere feet away from me. But, it was dark so assuming they hadn’t  noticed me, I continued to soak while I strategized with Meg as to how best to approach the situation over the last of our beers.  I was pretty shaken up by seeing them for a few reasons.  First, I hadn’t spoken to my ex in about 2 years at his urging, with the exception of a brief interaction just days before my wedding where he reached out to me with a long email.  I, therefore, knew that though we hadn’t spoken in a long time, he still cared about my, missed me, and wished there was a way we could still share in each other’s lives some way.  Then, there was his wife, who in her last exchange with me had promised that if I ever saw them again, the situation would not be pretty.  So, I was at once terrified and confused and felt as though the universe had definitely thrown me a curve ball.

But, curve ball as it was, the universe had placed me in the same hot spring as them.  And, I felt compelled to acknowledge it.  Not to her, but to him.  To just make my existence in that space known.  After all, if I was going to have my stomach drop and my heart racing, he should share in my terror too.  Why should I suffer alone?  Rick and I had developed a bit of a strategy for me, in case I did run into them:  acknowledge the situation, say I couldn’t really talk, but say hello, and make my exit.  So, when I saw him get out of the pool to buy a beer, I exited the pool, walked over to him and said his name.  He looked sidelong at me (through an enormous beard), recognized me, and then his face grayed with a wave of what appeared to be terror.  He looked down, his eyes darting back over me again and again.  I said, “I really can’t talk to you, and I know you can’t talk to me.  But, I saw you walk in and thought I’d say hello to you before I left.  I’m just heading out now.”  He looked into his beer and mumbled that he couldn’t talk to me.  Out of my peripheral vision, I saw his wife quickly approaching, nostrils flared.  Seeing his fear and her obvious defensiveness, and feeling like a criminal for that measly conversation, I turned and walked into the dressing room.  From there, I heard Meg jovially say to them, “Bozeman’s a small town, eh?”  as she walked in to join me. And though I was still shaken up, her lightheartedness reassured me that the awkwardness of the exchange was, after all, short-lived.

It’s hard to talk about the situation that exists there.  Nobody is thrilled with the outcome. He was my best friend and my partner for many years. I still deeply respect him and care about his well-being. I know he feels similarly.  I don’t hate him or have lingering negative feelings toward him.  But, we don’t speak anymore.  It was not my choice. He said it was what was needed for him to move forward. Though, it probably is for the best.

Right before my wedding he reached out to me. I was very touched by what he had to say.  It appeared to have been a long time in the making – as such things tend to be, I suppose.  But, I was bothered by his timing.  It felt malicious to contact me and disrupt my happiness just a few days before my wedding. I called him, and told him that.  I told him we had to maintain our non-communication for the sake of our own sanity and our partner’s.  Then I put it out of my mind and went on with my life for a few months. It’s hard to lose a kindred soul, but it is harder to attempt to maintain an extremely complicated friendship.

When I ran into them in the hot spring and had the world’s most weird exchange, it stirred up old feelings about the how and why the situation came to be.  It seemed such an unlikely scenario that after years of deliberately not talking and being on different continents that there in the hot spring we were standing just a few feet apart. To me, the fact of our meeting seemed meaningful in some way, and I did and do continue to wonder what that meaning might be.

Though it ended horribly, that relationship catalyzed such immense pain, growth, and change in my life that I feel it deserves a lot of credit for making me who I am today.  In many ways it taught me how to be a better partner – because I did a lot wrong the first time around.  It eventually led me to better understanding and compassion for others, better delineation of my goals and life plans.  It helped me to become a stronger, healthier, wiser, and more loving person.  Its demise also catalyzed many discussions and learnings that helped Rick and I grow closer and learn to be open and honest in our relationship together.  It helped me understand and to fully be present in our relationship.  I think I never would have been ready for Rick had I not been through what I went through with my first serious relationship.  So, obviously, the run in in the hot spring touched some nerves for me.  In my inspiration to share the feelings that came out of this run in, I am guided by a beautiful quote by Ernest Hemingway: “Write hard and clear about what hurts.”

Later in the week following the hot springs incident, my mom asked me to clean out my boxes from the basement as I prepared to move west.  In doing so I unearthed about 30 letters from the same guy.  In the letters, as compared to our encounter in the hot springs, he was anything but terrified of me. The contrast was startling.  

As I re-read some of those letters, I couldn’t help but think about the several happy years together, followed by several years of turmoil and drama while attempting to remain a part of each other’s lives.  Our interaction at the hot spring – benign as a passing conversation – was all that remained of my first love and one of my best friends.  All that could survive the fallout.  It was a poignant reminder of the ephemeral nature of our lives and relationships.   It forced me to confront the impermanence of even those bonds that seem to be the most lasting in the moment.

Sure, I guess we all know that life is short, nothing is constant, change is inevitable.  We are meant to be present and enjoy the journey.  And, certainly, I do agree with that.  But, I think it is human to long for something that defies that entropic nature of life – something eternal and unchanging. It made me a bit sad that our brief exchange was all that was left of a bond that had felt so strong at one time.  It reminded me of his words in the letter he had written to me just before my wedding – “I have only the sweaters and boxes and letters to show that you are even real.”  And it is true.  There is nothing more.  And that eats at me in more of an esoteric fashion than a personal one – why do our connections fade away?  What is the purpose of our suffering in life?

Yoga, through hinduism, tells us that the reason for this experience of life is that the universal spirit, or supreme being, seeks embodiment for pure entertainment. Shiva danced the world into creation, and in doing so created the mayas, or veils, within which we perceive reality. To have the omniscient, and omnipotent power of the supreme consciousness masked behind these veils of chronological time, embodiment, and attachment hides the transcendent nature of ourselves.  The universal spirit seeks entertainment in experiencing life behind these veils, so we live with the understanding that time constantly progresses forward, our bodies define our beings, and that our feelings and attachments delineate real barriers and challenges in our life.  But, the masks, the chronology, the bodies that contain us are illusory.  To pierce the veil of these mayas is to recognize our true universal and eternal nature.

I try to remember this as I struggle with these sorts of day-to-day challenges life presents, where you’re confronted with real hurt and lingering sadness that seems hard to shake.  I try to recall this when I get a bit down about lost friendships and the fleetingness of life.  I try to reason that my attachments and perceptions are illusory.  Or, as my friend Katie once said “This shit ain’t real.”

Perhaps this confrontation with my past was simply a challenge to my understanding of the way the world operates.  It was perhaps a test of how much I have internalized the learnings I’ve gathered over the past few years about life, love, compassion, and detachment. Perhaps, it was there to confront whether I really accept life as an adventure of spirit.

But, here I am, mayas notwithstanding, a spirit making its way through this journey, and riding the waves as they come.  That incident presented me with some important questions to answer for myself. But, when I look around me at Rick and the life we’re building, I know I’m on the right path. I smile and feel grateful for the road that brought me here, challenges included.

Big changes

Outside my window the snow falls in torrents.  I sit in an upstairs bedroom at “The Wolf Den”, the place my mom is renting for the month up in the mountains. (The name Wolf Den was not her doing – that honor goes to the unit’s owners.  I wonder often at who these wolves are in real life.)  Below me are the voices of my mom and some of her oldest friends, all together in Colorado for some hiking and girl time. It’s wonderful.

I feel a fatigue in my bones from a month of hard work and busyness.  I have complained at length on this blog about the tyranny of uncertainty in my life.  Today, I aim not to complain but to observe that perhaps the uncertainty is ending – and feel a sense of gratitude in that.

This has been a week for the books.  Rick and I became the proud Aunt and Uncle to a sweet little baby, Mary.  So, Lisa (Rick’s mom), Rick, and I dropped paintbrushes and sandpaper and flew home to New York for a few days.  Our arrival timed perfectly with the new family’s return from the hospital.  We came, filled up their living room with tears and smiles, lots of cooing over the precious baby, and heaps of freshly cooked food.  Rick and I were so elated to have a kitchen (after months!) that when we weren’t holding the new baby we cooked most of the meals for the family and guests while we were there. We took turns holding the little one in her perfect swaddle and pondered about when this all might be a reality in our lives.  I picked their baby nurse’s brain to learn about the challenges and joys of her job with new families.  I observed the new parents, and watched with such joy as Rick snuggled the newest addition in his arms and gave her lots of sweet kisses.  It was such fun to have a short reunion with his brother and his brother’s wife in this precious time, with the newest little baby, and before they move abroad later this spring.

In addition to this wonderful news, after over a month of interviews with an engineering firm in Denver, I received an offer this week for a position that I am thrilled about.  Though there remains much to determine, it is beginning to look like our lives may take a more permanent form here in the very place that they melded together. It is a welcome event.  Though we have looked in many other places, Colorado feels like home, and fulfills many of our overarching desires for a long-term place to settle.  We are meeting with a realtor tomorrow and beginning to look into giving this move some permanence. Joy!

By way of observation, I have witnessed many friends undertake the unpacking of dreams and plans that follow a marriage.  It sometimes goes quickly and sometimes slowly, but in every case it is fun to watch two souls building their lives together.  It is such a joy to be undertaking this process with Rick – working to accommodate his needs and mine, piecing together the pieces of a bigger picture that only the two of us have a clear vision of.  I find that each day I am floored that I am actually a participant in this process, that I have somehow found myself in this place.  I look at my finger and I am astounded to find that I am married, building a life, and acting the part of an adult, even if I sometimes don’t believe I’m qualified for the title.

 

Bogota and Teacher Training!

I’m wiped out.  I just finished five days of yoga teacher training with BJ Galvan here in Bogota. My body aches, I’m sort of grumpy (backbends and hip openers – oh dear!), I need some scrumptious food, but above all I’m feeling a deep sense of peace and appreciation.

I had been looking for an opportunity to complete the teacher training that I wasn’t able to finish in Australia, and in scouring the Internet I found that BJ was conducting training in Bogota.  In Brisbane I had done a challenging workshop with her so it seemed like a great fit.

Rick and I arranged our travels to make sure I could participate.  Here, I need pause to offer so much gratitude to Rick.  First off, he encouraged me to do the training, which I probably would have otherwise delayed so as not to hijack our travel plans.  He also occupied himself in the city for the last 5 days while I have worked my butt off in the studio. He fed me, listened to me whine about my aches, and wax poetic about alignment principles.  He weathered my tired grumpiness as I stayed up late doing homework.  He lovingly woke me up in the mornings with a backrub and got me breakfast every day as I prepared for class.  Every day he has told me how proud he is of me, and nothing makes me happier.  Gratitude is a concept that the yoga world loves to come back to, and I am no exception – I couldn’t be more thankful and in love with my amazing husband.

With my mushy declarations and acknowledgments now out of the way, I’ll delve into what my experience of Bogota and teacher training has been.  I love Bogota, but that may be a consequence of the fact that I spent the last five days with a fascinating and warm community of very advanced yoga students.  The city is huge, cosmopolitan, and very international.  Also, it’s hard to believe this kind of metropolis exists at 8500’ feet in these wild mountains.  It’s such a cool setting!  The people I have met here are all incredibly kind and welcoming.  During our time in Cartagena, I was led to believe that residents of Bogota were sort of stuck up and overly formal – that has not been my experience at all.  Everyone I’ve met has been helpful, kind, and enjoyable.  I have felt so welcomed by everyone from the people in the yoga studio, to our hostel owners, to the clerks in the shops I’ve been to a few times.  I have had waitresses who served me once say hi again to me on the street several days later.  This town is the antithesis of cold.

Beyond that, the level of yoga in Bogota blows me away!  My studio in Australia was incredible and I loved every minute I spent there, but from my experience in Bogota the level of asana is definitely more advanced generally and the students are more fearless in trying out new and aggressive poses.  It’s been a refreshing reminder not to become complacent in my practice.  While my practice in Australia was very focused on alignment principles, this teacher training took my level of asana to new places.  As always, I have to focus on cultivating softness in my practice to counter my natural tendency to gravitate towards strong poses like hand balances and inversions – I was able to do that, while also pushing myself into new poses that I’ve never before tried.

It was a challenging weekend. My practice over the last few months has been inconsistent and, more often than not, a personal practice which I’ve made time and space for in the narrow channel next to a bed in a hotel room or under an air conditioner in Cartagena – or not at all while road-tripping around the country.  It hasn’t been all that I’d want it to be, and I felt it over the last few days.  I’m so sore!  That, and the other side effects of long-term travel like gastro issues and general fatigue and lack of consistency left me without the full strength and energy I try to bring to my practice.  I had to accept where I was physically versus where I would love to be.  More than that, I had to try to get my brain around yoga in Spanish, and the challenges of sequencing and teaching classes.  It was demanding and tiring but above all it was enriching.  The people in my training were all wonderful, BJ Galvan was dynamic and full of neat astrological/biological insights, and being in a new studio and learning yoga in another language was so exciting! I can’t wait to do more of it, and I’m already encouraging Rick to start a yoga cross-training routine as he looks to run his next race so I can practice teaching on him.

In the lead up to this training, I got word from two potential employers that they wanted to conduct in-person interviews back in the States.  Needless to say, with me being tied up with yoga teacher training and quite far away I had to work with them to do some video interviewing – which is a challenge under any circumstances but more so in a hostel with noises, unreliable internet connections, and a general inability to control your space.  Thankfully, my hostel owners were understanding and set me up in a quiet back room with some natural light so that I could at least mitigate SOME of the issues in my interviews.  With two interviews in the five days I was in teacher training, I have to say I was stressed out and probably not in the best frame of mind, but now that it’s all over I finally got a good, long night’s sleep and feel like a human again.

Today we are off to finally explore some of the sights in and around Bogota. Though we have met several friends of friends here and managed to see a few really cool parts of the city as a result, we haven’t had much opportunity to check out some of the sights.  So today we are off! It’s hard to believe that we come back home tomorrow (my Dad’s birthday!!).

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.

Life and Love – Paisa Style

Medellin: Former capital of cocaine, crime, and kidnapping.  Now, home to bike lanes, amazing public transit, beautifully rotund Botero statues, and Paisanos – the hardworking and friendly residents of the city.

We came to the city with big expectations.  Colombians LOVE this place, and I  can see its appeal.  It’s a progressive city, nestled in the huge Aburra mountain valley.  It’s hard to think that just 20 years ago this city would have not been on my radar – that people were murdered at random in drug-related violence, bombings, and at the hand of the city’s most notorious resident, Pablo Escobar, and his cocaine cartel.  Progressive reform, efforts to reduce corruption, and to improve the safety and well-being of the city’s residents were often cut short when leaders were killed.  In fact, one of the leaders of Medellin who began to implement the improved transit that eventually helped to turn the fate of Medellin was killed as a result of his efforts.

Thankfully, the violence of Medellin’s past is no longer still an issue in the city.  Though the city is not quite like Cartagena, which feels like Disneyworld, it is safe and very easy to travel in.

Yesterday, though we have both been under the weather, Rick and I decided to rent bikes and explore the city.  I wanted very badly to check out the Museum of Antioquia and to see the Botero statues in the plaza near it.  I also wanted to head to the Botanical Gardens, because Medellin is known as the city of eternal spring and I’d heard good things about their gardens. I also thought that Rick might benefit from some exertion because he has been suffering from all kinds of bugs over the last several days and hasn’t had the energy to get out running like he was in Cartagena.  It was a bit of an ambitious plan to undertake by bike, but Medellin has a really cool policy of turning Carretera 43a, “El Poblano”, into a bikeway each Sunday.  They shut down two lanes of traffic and open it exclusively to bike and pedestrian traffic. The road is a busy one which cuts through the heart of the city, making a Sunday ride a very efficient way to check out many different spots.  It’s an amazing policy that I wish was more common in the US!

We rode across the city for about 40 minutes on the bikeway, barely having to stop for cross traffic, under the friendly supervision of a crew of young people at intersections and on bikes who make sure that everything is going smoothly.  The crowd out venturing around the city on bikes had to be a pretty good cross-section of Medellin – from families with little ones, to serious cyclists decked out in loud spandex. Everyone looked like they were having a great time, and so were we. We made our way to the Botero Plaza where I proceeded to take photos of every statue, with me in the foreground mimicking the statue’s pose – like a mature adult.  (I think my imitation of the full-breasted Sphinx was probably my crowning glory.)  We then made our way back to the Poblano and continued on toward the botanical gardens.  At one point, the bike traffic seemed to shut down as we headed towards a tunnel.  I looked at Rick, skeptical, and asked “Do you think we should go in this dark tunnel on bikes without anyone around?”.  He shrugged that it was probably fine, the guards had seen us entering and hadn’t stopped us.  So, we entered, biking fast, and hoping we weren’t making a mistake.  Well, shortly after we exited on the other side, we saw a few more of the bikeway volunteers riding towards us.  They shouted that the bikeway opened to traffic at 1 pm – which is exactly what time it was, so we quickly turned and followed them back the way we had come.  As we were riding through the tunnel, out of nowhere a truck came barreling up behind us and veered around us.  “Oh my god!” I screamed at Rick and we started sprinting on our pathetic rental bikes, at about 6,000 feet of elevation.  It wasn’t pretty!  We all were busting our butts to make it out of the tunnel, and just as we did, traffic began tearing through at high speeds.

Collapsing on some grass nearby to catch our breath, we re-evaluated our situation.  We were both wiped out, and now our route home was a superhighway so we needed to figure out how to get home.  We tried to follow the route of the road we had come on, but the frontage roads sort of meandered in and out of neighborhoods, through shopping areas, and across very un-bike friendly areas.  It took us over an hour and a half to make it back to the El Poblano neighborhood where we were staying, and on the way we found ourselves on more that one occasion in places where we should NOT have been.  It was actually kind of scary to me, and I don’t scare that easily.  6,000′ of elevation has had both of us wheezing and struggling, which didn’t make me feel any better about being in some rough parts of Medellin.  Clearly, our acclimatization from our Denver days has worn off.

Anyway, we ended the night watching some good old American football, in an Irish Bar, in Colombia. Odd, right?  We even started up a conversation with another couple there, and (crazy small world) the guy had graduated from UVA in the same December grad class as Rick. Together, we gave aguardiente (Colombian brandy that tastes like black licorice)  a fair go, and decided  shortly thereafter that we had made enough of our night so we headed home a bit early.  We came home, nursed our sick bodies, and we have continued to do that through today.

Sharing sickness in a foreign place is certainly never comfortable, but together we have been making it a bit more manageable.  I packed all sorts of meds and have been able to keep us well-tended to.  He has made sure I get enough sleep (which I often don’t) and we both keep each other’s wellness in mind as we plan our activities.  Though it is a bit of a downer to not feel like ourselves, there is certainly nothing that brings people closer than jointly commiserating over unfortunate maladies.  And, honesty, we found the perfect place to be sick.  Our current hostel is quiet, with peaceful lounge areas and gardens, we have a giant room with a king size bed, floor to ceiling windows, our own bathroom, and a walk in closet area! (Gran Hostel Medellin in El Poblano)  Tonight we hope to cook dinner in (our first in weeks!) before taking off to check out some areas outside Medellin including Gautape, and the coffee-growing haciendas around Manizales.  We will keep writing as we go!

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.

You can’t go home again

More than anything, I think this road trip is a showcase of how a cross-section of our friends in their late 20’s and early 30’s actually live their lives. It’s fascinating and it’s affirming. Wonderful, even.

This morning I awoke in Salt Lake City on a mattress on the floor of my sister’s house. Her place is amazing.  She has a massive backyard with gardens, a tree house, and fruit trees.  She has the entire upstairs of the house to herself, with walk-in closets, a huge log frame bed, and a jacuzzi.  Right now I am writing this blog while cuddled up with my pj’s on in front of the wood stove with tea and lebkuchen.  Life in Salt Lake is good (current inversion notwithstanding). Yet again, my severe case of “home-envy” (as Rick and I are calling it) has kicked in.

We spent yesterday and the day before in Jackson, Wyoming.  It had been more than ten years since I last visited Jackson, and things definitely were different.  But, I think Rick and I both ranked it high on our lists of places to live.  We visited a friend there and caught up over coffee.  Between hearing about her backcountry skiing, trail running, the amazing gluten-free cafe she likes, and her yoga studio, we were pretty smitten.

The downside to Jackson, and several other places we have explored, is the difficulty of getting home to our families.  Even Salt Lake City or Portland don’t allow us to travel home without a connecting flight, making a trip into a full day of travel.  So, with this in mind I have been examining my attachment to the idea that I can travel home easily.  I have struggled with guilt and a sense of irresponsibility living far from home and from my family.  I don’t particularly want to live in Wisconsin, or Chicago, or the Midwest – but I want to be there for my family.

Over the course of our trip the phrase “you can’t go home” has come up several times. The first was in “Travels with Charley” the Steinbeck book about a cross-country road trip that Rick and I listened to during the first half of our trip. In the book, he travels back to his boyhood home in California and realizes that what he associates as home has changed around him. Home exists only in his memory.  Revisiting the place only serves to deconstruct the idea.

The second was in reference to a seedy bar in Denver called the Rock Bar.  Many of our friends from our time in Denver are now spattered across the country; New York, Chicago, Portland, Salt Lake, Seattle.  So this trip has been revisiting “Denver” in the sense that it’s the last place we all shared together.  As we have traveled, we’ve spent lots of time reminiscing about our lives while in Denver – surely it was kind of a magical time for all of us.  We were young, in transition, unburdened by much responsibility, with good jobs, and altogether very free.  We skied and hiked and went out to the bars.  It was a FUN place to live.  But, we all recognize that the joy of Denver was mostly a product of the coalescence of many factors of our lives there in a specific place and time.  Were we to go back to Denver now, it would prove to be a different place.  This hit home in Portland as we reminisced about our hazy memories in a little place called the Rock Bar.  It closed down a couple years ago – thus concluding a chapter in many of our lives.

You can’t go home again.  I keep reminding myself of this. In both a light-hearted way and a serious way, life as I knew it can’t be recreated.  This is a new chapter and we have to choose what home will be going forward.

Roaring Twenties revisit

I’m so sore.  From about the bottom of my rib cage to the top of my quads, I feel wrecked.  Absolutely demolished. Hip openers tend to be a bit rough, but this was a whole new level of “ouch.”  Perhaps, it’s the fact that finally, after nearly a year of consistent yoga practice, I’m actually able to lay claim to having pretty open hips.  This weekend’s hip openers, however, may have introduced me to the next threshold in opening those suckers up, and in doing so they unleashed my inner tyrant.

I’ll back up and introduce this a bit.  I have been challenging myself to a personal 30 day challenge with yoga through September- so I’m practicing EVERY day for 30 days.  It’s not THAT far from my norm, but it’s the days when you really don’t have the motivation and HAVE to do it anyway that make the 30-day challenge worth pursuing – so pursue I will! I did the same thing this time last year, and it was a great way to energize and ramp up into spring!  So, about a week into it, feeling good and really happy,  I signed up for a hip and lower chakra workshop with Duncan Peak, the founder of Power Living Yoga, based in Sydney, to challenge myself a bit more and learn more about the chakras (spoiler alert: that last part didn’t happen).

If I’m going to be honest (and I am) I was perhaps a bit motivated to sign up by his poster:

Image

He’s not the worst person to fixate on for three hours on a Saturday. In fact, I will do extremely long holds of low lunges at his bidding.  I will sit in double pigeon for many minutes.  I will work my lower back and glutes until I can barely walk.  Yes, Duncan, I will.  What’s next?  I am an eager pupil.

But, in all seriousness, despite my recognition that he is well-respected in the yoga community, I definitely prejudged him a bit.  I do that sometimes, with very good-looking men.  I assume they lack substance.  But, as is often the case, I was wrong.  The man has an extensive knowledge of the kinesiology and anatomy that makes or breaks many poses for people.  And he explained it clearly, and with humour!  So, despite the raging ache in my hips and back all day today and the feeling that I might actually or metaphorically tear Rick’s head off if he said the wrong thing (hip-openers arouse latent rage inside me…) I think it was one of the best workshops I’ve been too!  It makes me more excited than I have been in a long time to continue with my teacher training!

I have to admit that in riding the wave of rage/emotion that comes with deep hip openers I found myself wondering at the level of junk we store in our bodies.  It felt to me like over the last few years, my yoga work unpacked emotional stuff relating to my last major relationship – some sad emotions.  But, that had really plateaued as of several months ago.  I was feeling a bit stagnant in my practice.  Breakthroughs were happening with less regularity.

Yesterday’s hip openers, however, took me on a new and different adventure, farther back, possibly into more deeply buried gunk.  I spent the whole day today feeling like I did all through college and in the years immediately following: constrained; wanting to break free; generally annoyed with the requirements of life;  rebellious; hormonal.  There was no apparent cause for this in my life today, so after some reflection I attributed it to the previous day’s hip openers and I decided that rather than risk blowing up at Rick without cause, I’d go take a long walk in the West End. As I was walking with my headphones on I noticed a group of guys at a restaurant kind of looking over at me and smiling.  Now, I have not spent a lot of time on my own in the last few years, and I certainly haven’t been hit on much by other guys – so I have to admit I was kinda digging being the object of their desire for a moment.  It occurred to me that I had better appreciate the moment with my wedding coming up in less than two months, and I flipped the stone of my engagement ring around my finger as I walked, considering the symbol on my hand with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.  What happens if one day I want to be free?  Will I always love Rick as I do today?

Now, I know that I want to marry Rick.  I have no doubt about that. Since meeting him I have had a sense that he was the one for me.  But, it was interesting recalling that the feelings I felt today were reminiscent of much of my life throughout my twenties.  It’s like my hip opening session uncovered a deeper store of pent up emotions from a formative period in my life – my freedom-seeking, angst-ridden, flirtatious, ridiculous twenties.  Ah, how fun they were, and how glad we all are that they’ve passed away into oblivion, only to be recalled in oblique references by my friends in wedding speeches and more obvious references whenever my sisters feel like reminding me of what a colossal pain-in-the-ass I can be.  I fear their reemergence, particularly now.

Perhaps I’m misallocating the cause of my angst.  It could be a biproduct of my overall uncertainty over the course of my life as of about two months from now.  Or it could be a hangover from the book I just finished – The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green.  (If you want to spend several hours crying, reliving the major loves and losses in your life, and reflecting on your general smallness in the larger picture, it’s a great book!  Have plenty of rehydrating fluids handy though.)

All I can say is, something happened to me over the last week (or yesterday) and I got really grouchy today.  I revisited a rebellious, moody, angsty Kat that I haven’t embodied in several years.  There were some moments it was a bit amusing, but mostly as I tried to observe the emotions that were coming out I felt grateful to be in a different, more stable, more happy place in my life.  As I often do, I reflected on that person I was then, back in my mid-twenties.  I recognized how passionately I resisted being pinned to one version of myself, one path forward, or one single person as a partner.  Hell, it was my twenties and that’s exactly what they’re for, but in hindsight I realize that I was a bit of a wrecking ball at times.

I guess I’m glad to be where I am, and I am now definitely a bit reluctant to delve too deeply into the meat of my hips in the near future.  🙂