Some news!

I’ve been sitting on some news for a while. Some pretty great news. Some news worth letting sink in. But, I think it’s time to share.

I’m engaged!

It happened on the first of March, so it’s taken a bit of time to tell my friends and family, square it away in my head, and digest the news before sharing. That said, it can be hard to keep good news under wraps I’ve learned! It spreads like wildfire! Even though I haven’t exactly been able to stop the excitement from spreading on social media, I am excited that I have had a few weeks to absorb this news before personally sharing my story! We are so excited and eager to begin to plan a wedding, and our next moves from here.

Here’s the story of how he proposed – if I appear gushy, it’s because I am.

Rick planned a special date, almost two weeks in advance, with a formal invitation requesting that I wear something nice (a specific dress he loves) and that I meet him before our reservations for a drink.  I’ll admit that the early planning did have my curiosity piqued at that point. I had some inkling that an engagement might be in the works, and my psychic sister had been asking me about it for weeks. But, disappointment sucks, so I wasn’t jumping to any conclusions. Though we’d talked about marriage over the time we’ve been together,  I had never put any pressure on him and didn’t feel a strong sense of urgency on the matter.

After meeting him for a quick drink after work, he took me to a very nice restaurant in the CBD, where we both ordered amazing steak dinners, and shared a bottle of wine.  I was just considering what dessert should be when he stopped me and told me he had something for me.  I thought, “Oh my god! This is it!” But, he went on to tell me he had picked up some headphones for me after borrowing mine and realizing they were falling apart. So thoughtful of him, and so not what I expected him to say…

So, with a slightly embarrassed sigh, I thanked him for the headphones and admonished myself for being delusional.  We resumed considering our dessert options, but after a short time he announced that he had something planned for dessert elsewhere. This raised my eyebrows a bit.  We paid our bill and headed out of the restaurant – me with excitement and confusion, (and sharp reminders ringing in my head about not building up any expectations).

He led me to the botanical gardens, which were wet with rain after three weeks of nonstop drizzle.  We walked the empty sidewalks, chatting about life, dinner, and Brisbane, when he noticed a bench off the path and suggested we have a seat.

The bench overlooked the river, sparkling with the reflections of the city on the smooth waters.  To my left I could see the lights of the Story Bridge, its suspension cables lit brightly against the night.  In front of us were the sailboat moorings, peacefully bobbing in the current, and to the right, the Kangaroo Point cliffs were lit up in a soft purple.  It was a gorgeous and silent night in the gardens.  After a few minutes of taking it all in, he told me he had something for me and gave me a small box.  I opened it to see a sparkling ring, unlike any I’d ever seen before.  Immediately my eyes filled with tears and I looked up at him, to find him on one knee, in the mud of the gardens, asking to spend the rest of his life with me.  I was so overcome with emotion I could barely reply.  But, obviously, you know what my answer was.

After some more tears and hugs, he reached back into his bag and pulled out a bottle of champagne that he had been carrying with him all day, along with two glasses.  We toasted to the wonderful night, and drank the whole bottle in the gardens while we let the news settle in.  We both were crying and laughing and giggling, and repeating things like “Holy shit, we’re getting married!”  It was the kind of moment that you hope is forever crystalized in your memory.

Once we finished the champagne, we giggled our way back home where we gorged ourselves on ice cream, berries, and chocolate shavings that he’d been sneakily hiding in the freezer (which I had found earlier in the week and been told to pretend I never saw). We turned on some music, danced around in our house, and then called our friends and family. It was jubilant, champagne-soaked, and giggly.

In my opinion, one of the things that made the day perfect was the story behind the ring he gave me. To preface this, I have always been unsure about diamonds. I have conflicting feelings about buying an artificially price-inflated stone for the sake of custom, especially given the ethical issues associated with diamond mining. That said, I can’t argue against the beauty of a nice diamond, or the value of presenting a solid investment to one’s partner as a testament to one’s commitment. So, the bottom line is that I’ve always wanted something that served as a bit of a compromise, a vintage ring that has a story, a history, and is re-used, but still is a valuable and beautiful gift. Well, Rick nailed that. The setting came from his mom’s mom, the main stone from his Dad’s family.  The stone has been used by EVERY Frederick John Weismiller (he’s number 4) to propose to his wife.  It’s from 1918.  The setting was worn by his grandmother for years, and is worn down along the sides where it rubbed against her wedding band.  It’s a vintage heirloom, with SO much special meaning – the only kind of diamond I think I’d want.  We took it around to various jewelers the next day to ask about making some changes to the ring to make it “mine” and every single one has been incredibly complimentary of it, to the extent of insisting I make no changes save for re-sizing. I guess that means it’s good! I feel so incredibly lucky to have such a meaningful symbol of his love, and our mutual values of family and simplicity.  It feels perfect.

I know this is gushy, and I never expected to be gushy. I never expected to start crying immediately upon seeing an engagement ring. Or to have a big, sparkly diamond on my finger. I haven’t always been certain these were things I wanted. A lot of the way this played out took me by surprise, and truth be told, there is plenty of reckoning still happening in my head. But, I wouldn’t want this any other way. The ring, the ice cream, the calls to family in the middle of the night – it was special. I guess I have to admit that I’m a girl, and I’m sensitive, and apparently I get gushy and emotional at times like this. I suppose it would be worrisome if I didn’t. 🙂

Yoga Bitch

I’m in the middle of my yoga immersions. On my bedside table is a workshop manual covering all the stuff we discuss in class, my notebook for notes, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and what I’ve heard to be the most easily-readable translation of the Bhagavad-Gita. Heavy stuff. So, when I was buying these, I allowed myself a fluff book too: Yoga Bitch.

I have to admit that when I got my shipment of books, Yoga Bitch was the first one I opened. I have seen it in circulation amongst my yoga teachers, and from the moment I saw the name I knew the book was for me. Its premise is exactly what I have struggled with as I have walked this yoga path – how to reconcile a wry, sardonic persona with the authenticity and vulnerability that yoga demands.

I’m not yogic on so many levels.

From a young age my mom referred to me by one of two names: Grace, and the Princess.    I was called grace due to my lack thereof.  No bandying around that one.  Though I have managed to cultivate bit more physical grace with age, I can’t really hang my hat on a graceful physicality, or nature in general.  Strike one against Kat the yogi.  I was also known as both “the Princess” and, even better, “the Adorable Child.”  These were both tongue-in-cheek references to my ability to play the role of a sweet daughter while actually bossing my sisters around and manipulating them like puppets.  Cute stuff. So, there’s a testament to my authentic nature.

I note these because they underscore the fact that, hell, I am no yogi.  From childhood to now I lay no claim to being sweet and sincere. I like to drink beer, enjoy the occasional cigarette, get a little wild, and have been known to exhibit a bit of temper.  I’m sarcastic and occasionally snarky and judgmental.  I struggle to cultivate inner peace – and I’m not always sure I want to.  That’s the rub.  That’s why I love Yoga Bitch. I get this chick. She’s like me.

From her musings on her inner conflicts regarding her need for freedom in her first serious relationship, to her ambivalence about becoming someone who “drinks the kool-aid” (or her own urine, as the case may be), I relate to this author wholeheartedly.  She embodies my personal dilemma with yoga in so many ways.  How do you embrace yogic principles without giving up the identity that you have created for yourself? (Answer: release your attachment to that identity.) But why?  And by what proof do we know that this path leads to the enlightenment we seek?  Are we just drinking the kool-aid like we would from any other organized religion (that my inner cynic (and Marx) tells me is simply the “sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions… the opium of the people?”

Ay.  This is too much thinking for me right now and I haven’t finished the book. Perhaps she addresses these questions further in.

Anyway, I think her memoir works because so many people come to yoga from a place of inner conflict and/or confusion.  So many people find that yoga’s integration of the body and mind in the quest for enlightenment simply…works.  It works better than a lot of other things.

Last weekend I got a massage; a Valentine’s gift from Rick.  It was probably the best massage I’ve ever received and I know this because I started crying in the middle of it – which as I’ve learned from yoga means they dug up something juicy deep in the flesh around my kidneys and lower back.  I could tell you more about the juicy bits, but let’s just say it’s awkward crying through the hole in a massage table and leave it at that.  It was a snotty experience.

I bring it up because the author of Yoga Bitch, and I, share the common experience of finding that yoga answered (or helped to answer) something existential that our souls sought.   It’s a tool that has helped fill a bit of a void in my comprehension of myself as a relational being amongst a world full of ’em.  It’s a path that has brought me to a new understanding of myself, my pain, my past, and even more so, my present.  My massage last weekend reminded me of where I was with yoga just a couple of years ago – crying on the mat and feeling every hip opening take me a little deeper into a dark place that I, frankly, did not want to explore.  It reminded me of what yoga has done to make a wry and sardonic creature like myself into a bit more of a well-rounded, authentic person in just a few years.

Yoga Bitch, in closing, is a book that I have not finished, but that I’d already recommend.  It’s good stuff.

Morning musings

I have been on a bit of a journey lately.  It’d be difficult for me to describe the path I’m taking, but I can offer vignettes.  I’ve meandered through vegetable gardens (three), discovered a body (mine) capable of doing things I never expected, fallen head over heels in love (again), and begun drinking strange potions that taste unpleasant.   How and why these things are strung together in my life as they are, in the space and time they are, seems a bit unclear.  The thread uniting all of them charts a circuitous path through my past and my future, and I’m pretty sure it doubles back on itself and may be tied in knots along the way.

It all begins with something that happened about a year ago while I was in Nicaragua with R.  We had a fight, as couples do.  But this one was less of an argument and more of a reckoning, on both our parts, that we were making huge life changes – together – and we needed to figure out how to make it all work.  Together.  Now, R, being the intelligent and compassionate guy that he is, didn’t really need this reckoning.  The one who needed it was me.  I needed to be reminded that I had to really take pride in, be happy with, and love myself in order to be present and active in our relationship. Something that, at the time, I was not really doing.

So, over the last year I have worked hard on making myself happy. I’ve been examining my motives, and analyzing when and why I sometimes feel discontent. It’s been a bit trying to take a fine-toothed comb to my intention, and asking whether my actions are rooted in desire, obligation, competitiveness, or perhaps a bit of each.  It’s been a long-overdue process of claiming ownership over my actions and my life in a way that I had never done before.

One thing that has been a valuable tool for me on this path has been yoga.  I’ve written about it to a certain degree here, but it can be a hard thing to write about because to me yoga is very emotionally laden.  It’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to really understand the mind-body connection that is intrinsic to yoga; that yoga is about much more than achieving a pose. But, with time, and probably through confronting heartache and pain during my practice, I’ve begun to recognize how much emotional impact the physicality of yoga has on me. With time I have learned to recognize why the emphasis is  in process, form, and patience.  I also realize now how the powerful connection between our minds and our bodies can be an amazingly transformative tool.

So, yesterday after a hard practice based in the theme of “letting go,” I lay on the floor of Shri during savasana and listened achingly as the girl beside me sniffled quietly before choking back a loud, painful sob.  I felt for her. I wanted to reach out to her and let her know things would be okay.  I’ve been in her place– during savasana with tears pooling in my ears as I laid on my back, or feeling emotions rise up during a long hard run that leave me doubled over. Crying.

I may be a particularly sensitive person, or I may not.  I’m not entirely sure.  But I know that at times life can really beat you down.  It can be relentless. But, in my experience, from those depths it’s sometimes possible to see just how valuable your connections to people are, and to level with your own failings and weaknesses.  One of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, says of this low place:  “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness.  It took me years to see that this too, was a gift.”

I have lately felt like a teacher in the sense that I feel I have something to share with those around me traveling the path of sadness.  Some of the people closest to my heart are facing their own heartbreaks – which inevitably leads to the soul-searching moments, the doubled-over crying, and the confrontation with real, agonizingly stark grief.  I feel like I have walked through that fire and reached the other side on my own personal path.

I guess that’s probably why on Monday, when I went for my first ever Ayurvedic consultation, I wasn’t surprised to have my doctor look into my eyes, deeply furrow her brow and note gravely, that I have DEEP stress lines in my eyes.  But, she went on to say that I had stress lines in both eyes, meaning that I had carried significant stress in my body for quite some time.  The good news was that in my right eye, which indicates my current state, she could see that I was healing.

It’s funny to say I am healing, when I honestly can’t quite describe my illness.  All I know is that for a long time I wasn’t happy.  I can’t say why, exactly.  Except perhaps that I lived with a pervasive sense of uncertainty.  I feared missing something, the future, an unexpected change that would dash my hopes and dreams.  I honestly, am not sure what I feared – probably simply failing at being the person I wanted to be.

Have you ever see Take This Waltz?  It examines this dilemma pretty well, in my opinion.  Admittedly, I’m mildly obsessed with this movie, but it’s worth taking a moment here and watching the trailer to look at the pretty people.

The end run is, I’ve come to a place where I am not scared.  I am content.  Each morning when I wake up an wander my three gardens turning on hoses, pulling out weeds, and eyeing the growth I see, I know I am doing it from a place of love.  Each time I soften my shoulders and feel that I no longer have that sticky spot in my back hindering my mobility, I know it’s a product of the work I’ve done.  And each time I see R smile, I know he knows.  He knows that I have grown.  He’s seen how I have changed.  He knows his role in it, and he knows my immense gratitude for his help and guidance through some confusing times.

I guess the point I’m trying to make through all this rambling is that lately I’ve been witness to a fair bit of loss and sadness.  It’s served to shine a light on my own experience of grief, and made me aware of how far I’ve come beyond it.  My immediate loss and then my general sadness were once both so deeply entrenched in my life that it was hard for me to finally let them go because they had come to define a piece of me.  But with time, love, and lots of hard work I think I can say that I have put away the pieces of my past sadness that once defined me.  They can sit on a shelf in my past, reminding me of my path, but today I am going to tend to my squash, and my life, with the dedication of someone who has worked for what she has and is grateful for it.

Yoga Aid 2012: The Kirtan

All around me spandex-clad, sun-kissed ladies and gentlemen bounce rhythmically to the pervasive drumbeat.   In the waning afternoon light, after 3 hours of yoga, the kirtan’s slowly rising thunder is reaching a crescendo.   Almost as though in a trance, seemingly normal, English-speaking adults are bouncing, holding hands, and singing together “Haribo ita gore, ita gore haribo“, calling and repeating with the small band on stage and the ladies leading the meditation.  If one were to turn off the sound, the whole scene could easily be transposed from a rollicking set at a Yonder Mountain String Band show.  Only in this scene, there is no alcohol or goo balls or any other plausible excuse for dancing around as though we’re all possessed.  Nothing, that is, but the spirit of the kirtan on a sunny afternoon, a dancing and chanting ecstatic meditation.

In the midst of the throbbing mass, with the afternoon’s rays just cresting the trees to shine on our faces, I almost feel as though I’m on drugs.  The drumbeat and the powerful voices around me, calling and repeating a simple phrase seems to be doing something to me that I really can’t explain.  I didn’t realize this was part of the whole experience, and I don’t feel prepared for the rush of emotions. But, feeling open, and energized in a way that only 3 hours of yoga in the afternoon sun can do, I don’t have the will to fight my super ego’s voice reminding me that it’s 4 in the afternoon, I’m sober, and this whole things is a bit weird.

In fact, I’m literally brimming over with happiness.  As I look around me people are shining with joy, holding hands, and singing together.   It’s child-like and ecstatic l in a way that I haven’t felt in years.  And I feel happy watching this group rise with the music and dance with such freedom of expression.  I want to feel that too, yet something terrifying is happening in my body.  Each time I open my mouth to chant, my voice comes out in barely a whisper, as though any further expression would pierce through me and I would crack down the center and flood outwards.  A knot rises up in my throat and pressure pushes outward from behind my face. A single tear rolls down my right cheek.  I wonder whether to wipe it off as the man behind me grabs my left hand and begins to pull me toward the stage.  The music keeps getting louder, and the swell of people around me bounces and dances more enthusiastically – clapping and spinning.

As I run towards the stage and then back, holding the hand of a man with gold teeth and a shirt that proclaims him a member of the Australian School of Meditation and Yoga, I feel disembodied.  Who am I and what am I doing?  Yet, I feel the grip of my super ego losing strength, and a knot again rises in my throat and threatens to break me open and flood the scene with something – tears, light, joy, dancing?  I’m not really sure.  All I know is that I am scared of it actually making its way out.  I work hard to suppress the rush of emotion that wells up each time I scan the crowd, and instead I focus on the stage.  But there, a beautiful woman stands, singing the words in a voice deep and strong.  She jumps and spins and dances, and again the knot is rising.

Unable to handle the constant effort of holding back whatever is threatening to break me open, I look up at the sky as I dance, deeply exhaling.  This pause restores me and temporarily releases the pressure of my internal waters on my eyelids and cheeks.

But finally, seeing a little girl running through the group to her mom, and leaping into her arms as she dances, I am spent.   Tears rolls from my eyes and I know not where to look or how to appear when I’m looked at.  So I smile.  I let the warmth and salt trickle down the sides of my neck and pool in the hollows above my collarbones, feeling cool as the afternoon breeze kisses the streams.  With my internal pressure gauge finally returning to normal, I am again able to sing with a full voice.  I look around the scene feeling a deep peace.

I’ve never been through a full kirtan before.  Never experienced that rise of emotion and release.  I think I needed it.  My soul needed it.  Perhaps I hadn’t realized how much I was standing in the way of my own joy, until it literally welled out of me against my will to the rhythm of bare feet on the earth, warm sun in my hair, hands holding mine, and untempered voices bolstering my heart and giving it strength to let go.

Thank You, Ever on my Mind

I was storming through the house, burning from some inner fire whose proximate source wasn’t clear to me, or anyone else— ultimately, born of frustration at my day-to-day search for a job, a challenge proving fruitless. And, unfortunately, directed at the person who brought me here, R.

I wasn’t being mean, I was just not being me.  I wasn’t kind.  I wasn’t gentle. I wasn’t laughing or smiling.  I was brusque and distracted.  R left the kitchen, where I was chopping garlic with a focused fury and headed to put on some music to calm the tension.

Moments later, Emily Saliers’ voice cut through the garlic haze, crooning “Least Complicated”, one of my early and lasting musical favorites.  Swamp Ophelia, an Indigo Girls album filled with songs and lyrics that weave a history of my life;  growing up, experiencing love and loss, and becoming who I am, sang out from our stereo.  R’s album. My life. (In an abbreviated and poeticized form— articulated so much better than I ever could.)

As I sung along with the words, the tension eased out of me, garlic chopping turned to slicing, and I fell in love with R all over again.  To know me is to know that Swamp Ophelia will pacify the eruptive fury of my soul.

I have been less than direct in my mission of writing about love on this blog, but as I walked home from an interview today the song Free in You came on my ipod. I was in a good mood.  The interview went well.  The cosmos aligned in my favor momentarily.  As I listened to it, all I could think of was my life right here, right now.

I have been in love before. Deeply.  I walked away from it, in one of the more difficult decisions of my life.  I won’t say I never looked back.  I did.  Plenty.  Perhaps one of the reasons I have held back some of my writings about love in its specifics rather than its abstractions on this blog, was a fear that I was treading into a dangerous and exposed world in publicizing my feelings.

Well, today I am going there.  The song Free in You (video above) perfectly describes how I feel about R.  Love as I once knew it, was like a drug addiction, with sailing highs and torturous lows.  Love as I know it now, is an altogether different being.  I may be unemployed, unsure where I fit into the new world I inhabit, and tentative about my next steps, but I do know how I feel about the man by my side in my confusion.  I am proud of him, I love him, and I want to do what is right by him.  I want him to stick around.  Sometimes I wonder what he sees in the human-shaped chaos that is me, but he reminds me that he sees me. He sees the things I consider weakness and he loves them too.  He believes we deserve each other and happiness.

How he knows so much and articulates it so well when I need to hear it most, blows my mind.  I sometimes believe he is a sage from a different universe, sent here to teach me how to be a better person.  But, then I see that his light shines on other people— cab drivers, coworkers, people in the running club he started, and I know that I am kidding myself if I think that he’s here just for me.  He is here to set the bar for personhood.  If we all strive to be like R, the world will be a better place.

I recently came across this letter, from John Steinbeck to his son. 

He says this about love: “Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it. The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.”

And so today, I am glorying in, and being grateful for what I have.  And daily, I try to live up to it.

Would You Stay?

Watch the above video.  It always makes me cry.  Read below and you’ll see why.

Two years ago, today, I was presented with a difficult choice.  I learned that my boyfriend at the time had cheated on me.  It wasn’t the first time, and I hadn’t always been faithful either.  We had a tumultuous relationship, we’d done a lot of distance, we’d tried being “open,” we’d questioned ourselves, we built layers of scar tissue upon layers.  But, this time it was in my face.  The girl contacted me.  Told me she was sorry.  She wanted to be friends.  She was, sweet, almost as if she didn’t realize she’d blown a hole in my life.

I loved him.  With my whole being. I hated him for what he did.  I felt the kind of loveanger that makes you crazy and blind at the same time— completely unreasonable, completely set on ending it, completely unaware of how to live without it.  I cried mascara stains into my pillow case.  They never came out.  I knew that I had to make a change.  So, I called him to my house in Denver, sat him down, and told him I couldn’t live life wondering when my next Silda Spitzer moment was going to happen.  We had to be over.  It wasn’t a choice so much as an inevitability.

Since that time, a lot has changed.  He has moved on.  I have moved on.  We had our stumbles.  We had our tearful, rambling phone calls. Loss, over the phone line, is almost more poignant than loss and sadness in your living room, on your couch.  The distance magnifies it – the tinny sound of human on wire, over waves, through space.

Our souls fell out of solution.  Grains, one by one, falling to a cold, still bottomplace, where they rested.  Today, we live on different continents.  Lives separated by oceans, time zones, easterlies and westerlies, accents, seasons.  We share nothing.  Nothing, that is, but the history of loss.

These days, I don’t mourn the loss of that love.  I miss the boy I knew who was fragile and sweet.  I miss his insightful way of seeing the world. I feel sad that there was the callousness within each of us to hurt each other so badly.

I can’t imagine acting the way we acted anymore.  I can’t imagine inflicting that kind of pain on my new love.  I bristle at the childish notion that our hearts were so resilient.  They aren’t.  They continue beating, but the scars are still there, torquing the muscles, creating heart murmurs that whisper through stethoscopes to us, telling us not to make the same mistakes again.

And I won’t.

The Essence

This had to be shared. Whoever put this together did a great job!  I wish they had more video from  the long and remote trips Manito-wish offers, but this really captures a good portion of why people love this place and keep coming back.

Watching it made me very nostalgic for my time at camp.  While this video focuses on the fun and learning that happens at camp, my personal take on it is that the real learning comes on trail.  I can remember my first year at camp, unaware that we even took a camping trip, let alone for three days (I was 11, so this was back in 1994 or something and it was a big deal to me.)  I was terrified.  I had never been camping outside of my backyard, and in my backyard I was scared of raccoons.  But before long I was packed, given a talk about how sometimes girls get their periods on trail for the first time, and pointed towards an orange canoe with some unknown, antiquated looking name on it.  Thankfully for me, my mom had taught me how to stern a canoe from an early age and though hardly anyone in our group could steer the boats, I could.  This made me a hit with my leaders, and even though we got in late, crashed a campsite somewhere on the Manito-wish River, and many girls were unhappy, I glowed inside.  THIS was cool.

The next year when I returned I did a 6-day trip.  I was in heaven.  I distinctly remember that it rained incessantly, but one morning we got out and it was mercifully only drizzling– there was a fog over the lake and we paddled out into the rising mists on glassy waters.  Again, I thought, now THIS is cool.  I get it.

We ended up sharing a campsite that night with another trip group, which was good because our fire-making skills were not cutting it in the rain.  But the leader of the other group told us that the previous summer she had done a 5-week trip in Canada (we called the trip a “Canuck”) and she helped show us how to make a fire so we could all cook dinner.  She smiled out from under the hood of her raingear and she was genuinely happy to be outside, cooking dinner in the rain.  I was inspired.

Following those summers, I went on to do a 2-week paddling trip in Quetico Provincial Park with a group of girls that I still keep in touch with today.  We paddled hard, we portaged a ton, and we all giggled at each other and marveled at each other’s strengths.

The next summer, I did a Canuck as a 16-year old.  5-weeks of camping in remote Northern Saskatchewan with 4 other kick-ass girls and a leader who seriously changed the way I saw the world.  We were a good bunch who liked to challenge ourselves, work hard, and test our limits.  I learned how to cook creatively over a campfire, how to bushwack a portage with a compass and a map, to to raise a tarp and sail on a 100-mile long lake, and how to paddle whitewater, expeditionary style. I learned how to be quiet, to meditate over paddle strokes, and to ride the windswept rollers on turbulent lakes.  I came home from that summer tanned, lean, and different.  Stronger.  More self-assured.

The girls on that trip became some of the people who I most related to in the world.  We planned to do a Staff Instructor’s Course (S.I.C.) in 2-years time. We went back to Manito-wish as staff and spent a summer passing forward some of the skills and lessons we had been taught as campers.

In the time that passed between my Canuck and my S.I.C., some things changed in my life.  I applied to colleges and the process taught quite a bit.  I remember sitting in a dorm at Dartmouth with my host who told me ” I love it here, it makes the Friday nights that I stayed home to do schoolwork seem worth it.”

To me, this was a life-altering revelation. I had never stayed home on a Friday to do homework. I had always done well in school growing up and I never  learned good study habits as a result.  I was in the advanced track throughout school, placed at the top in standardized tests, won scholarships, but didn’t know how to simply do homework or study for a test.  I was a mess of unmet potential.  I had been resting on my laurels as an intelligent kid since elementary school, without putting in the time to really improve myself.

This realization led me down a strange path involving a lot of re-evaluating.  I imposed a grounding on myself, staying in for nearly six weeks instead of socializing.  I tried out for a play and got the lead.  I did my homework and did well.  I started bringing home the grades I should have been from the beginning.  In this quest for perfection, however, I stopped eating.  I got compliments and someone even suggested I consider modeling.  I lost sight of my priorities– big time.  I deferred from Macalester.  I took a year off to go figure out what was happening.

The following summer I headed out on my S.I.C., to spend 55-days paddling from Northern Saskatchewan to Arviat, a small Inuit village on Hudson’s Bay.  I hadn’t completely come to terms with some of the things that had happened in my life, but I knew that I always felt most like myself on trail.  I spent 7.5 weeks of that summer in the tundra and taiga.  I was challenged mentally and physically as I had never been before.  Worrying about my weight was an afterthought– I was worried about whether I could shoot a polar bear if I had to.   I was filleting Northern pike.  I was fending off the ever-present buzz of black flies.  I was portaging a canoe blown sideways by the unmitigated tundra wind.   I was reminded of my smallness and impermanence.  I was healing.

I came back to work at Manito-wish for 6-years.  I could have stayed longer.  Every year there I learned more about people, nature, and myself.  I never stopped growing.

Everyone has their own story about Manito-wish, but the uniting feature of those stories is that through Manito-wish people figure out who they are and what makes them tick.  They learn to appreciate the natural world and it’s intricacies.  They grow into good people.

Letters to My Future

In the window before me as I lounge on my bed, a palm rustles and sways in the warm Queensland breeze. It waves at me, a benevolent but constant reminder that I am far, far from my home in the snowy Midwest.  The peaceful rustling of leaves is interrupted by the squawking of unknown birds, and at night ring-tailed possums occasionally saunter in through our open french doors, eyeing dinner enviously.  R chases them out breathlessly and looks at me in wide-eyed amazement. We have no screens, so every window is a doorway to the unknown animal kingdom.

I look down at my bedspread, lit coolly white in the teal glow of our walls, packed away when I left Denver in July, and finally just unpacked a couple weeks ago– a reminder of home. I look at the matching Ikea wardrobes we bought for our bedroom– Australia doesn’t do closets.  I look at my tanned legs, a phenomena never before seen in December.  In fact, December as I know it, doesn’t even exist here. My world here is different. 

I realize that this life is lived in episodes and stages, as told by Mireille Guiliano.  Having exited stage left (as you look at a map) on a plane, I now begin a new chapter.

Reflecting back on the previous chapter, I consider the time I had before leaving the U.S.– a haze.  Privileged to have a great deal of time with my family and gifted with the means to travel, I made the most of my time off, yes.  Yet, that time carries in my memory a sense of pregnancy;  a longing, knowing a great change was afoot, and sadness for a future that I will miss with my family and friends, a sadness for impending losses expected, a sense of slow unraveling of life as I knew it and dislocation from the familiar– in so, so, so many ways.

I clung for dear life to those things that I attached mentally to a sense of “home”; my family, my old friends, my old loves, and the nostalgia I hold for such things.  And they clung back with shocking frankness.  And for a few fleeting moments before I left, it felt as though I could never leave.  Something would happen.  I would stay.

But then I left.

And in days, the fact that I was oceans away led to a “come to jesus” moment unlike any I’ve had before.  A realization that with this distance, with this freedom, comes great opportunity and obligation– to be 100% honest with myself and those around me, regardless of the consequences; to embrace the life I live now without thinking of the past or too much of the future.  I looked at R, and saw one of the more beautiful and complete people I’ve had the privilege of knowing, and felt an immense gratitude to be here, with him, with an open road before me.    I feel free to move forward, unburdened.  Joyful.

Sometimes I think I’d like to write letters to myself in future, or to an unborn child, or to the universe telling them of the moments like this in life that mean the most.  Perhaps this is that.