Snow!

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

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

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

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

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Sand Dunes National Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diversionary Tactics

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

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

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

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

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

 

Manizales, El Jardin Secreto, and… Montana?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honeymoon Part II – The Grand Canyon

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I have to admit it’s a bit funny to still be writing about my honeymoon.  I can’t keep up with myself.  In the last 10 days I have been in 8 states, on the road, traveling by foot, train, plane and anything in between.  My honeymoon was weeks ago, but I still haven’t written about the BEST part of it – our trip to the Grand Canyon.

After two years in Australia with Aussies constantly asking us questions about the U.S. like, “Are you afraid you’re going to get shot all the time?”, and referencing our general fatness, it was hard not to get a little bit of a chip on our American shoulders.  We decided to make our honeymoon a bit of a tour of discovery (mostly for me) of America’s proud landscapes.  Obviously the Grand Canyon was the first thing on the list!

So, the Grand Canyon!  We drove there early in the morning from a weird little town in Southern Utah called Kanab.   Kanab was apparently a mecca for making old western movies back in the day.  Now it appears to host a number of tourists running the gamut between Zion and Grand Canyon – and little else, with the exception of two subpar steakhouses.

We left Kanab, and drove for about two hours before we stopped for breakfast at a charming little diner called the Lees Ferry Lodge, on the edge of the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument.  We sat waiting for our breakfast with another couple and before long we got to chatting about why we were there.  Turns out they were celebrating their 50th anniversary, and there we were about 10 days into our marriage.  They shared a few words of wisdom with us before we went on our way.  It was a special moment, alone in a desert diner, sharing a common love of wild places and the people with whom we explore them.

When we made it to the south rim, we still had much to do before we could embark on our trip.  First we stopped at the visitors center to check out some information, then on to the backcountry office to grab our permits to camp at Bright Angel campground in the canyon’s bottom (secured four months in advance!), then back to our car to gather our backpacks, change our clothes, and then on to a shuttle bus to the South Kaibab trailhead.

The South Kaibab trail is the newer and more rugged tail to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It’s a bit exposed, and a little gravelly, which makes it a bit hard on the legs for 7 miles of downhill.  I was worried we wouldn’t make it down until dark so we practically ran down,  making it in about two and a half hours with lots of daylight left.  (Note:  There is a severe overabundance of caution from rangers at the Grand Canyon to the extent that their advice is barely even applicable to young, fit, ambitious hikers and should be taken with a large grain of salt.  Had we listened to them, we never should have left the rim! )

I really wasn’t sure what to expect from the hike.  I was actually underwhelmed by the view from the south rim.  It’s too difficult to really understand the canyon’s depth and expansiveness from there, where nothing can be put into perspective.  But, thankfully as one hikes down into the canyon, the depth, color, and topography begin to expose themselves.

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The canyon is absolutely breathtaking, and it becomes more so the deeper one ventures in.  By the time we were within view of the suspension bridge across the river, I was smitten – both with the place and with Rick for bringing me to it.  We made our way down, through the dark, narrow tunnel of rock, and out on to the bridge.  It was an incredible journey.  To stand above the powerful Colorado, watching it course below us, and look up at the fading light in the canyon was pure magic.  I was so entranced by the colors, the warmth, and the welcoming air of this little oasis amidst the starkness of the desert.  It’s incredible.

We wasted no time trotting into Bright Angel campground and setting up a camp next to Bright Angel Creek.  For the next two nights it kept a constant bubbling soundtrack to our adventure.  The noise of water, the sound of deer grazing, and the lushness of the area surrounding this confluence of the Bright Angel Creek (named because it was one of the few sources of palatable water in the canyon) and the Colorado, gave the place a romantic, peaceful aura.  We loved it.

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The next day we hiked twelve miles round trip to Ribbon Falls, a side canyon on the way up to the North Rim.  The hike is beautiful and culminates in a falls that come cascading over the canyon rim above, splattering onto a green, algae covered dome of rock that has been hollowed out by erosion over time.  Though it was cold, I couldn’t resist tearing off most of my clothes and going for a dip, which included ducking into the rock cave behind the falls and exploring.  Nearly hypothermic afterwards, I laid out on the sun-baked rocks until Rick almost lost it worrying about me getting sunburned.  So, off we went.

We decided midway down that a steak dinner sounded preferable to our meal of quinoa, so we swung by Phantom Ranch on our way down, and asked to join the guests for dinner.  Apparently it can be difficult to get a reservation, but when it’s your honeymoon things fall into place a bit more easily. 🙂

We made ourselves comfortable and put away several beers, justifying our growing buzz by telling ourselves the mules that carried down the beer would appreciate our efforts to lighten their load. Then we had a great steak, went to a late evening ranger talk, and toddled off to snuggle up in bed and listen to the creek gurgling beside us.

Bright and early the next morning, Rick and I headed out and up the Bright Angel trail.  This route is the more traditional way down the canyon, originally used by the Havasupai tribe, and then later used as the standard route until the South Kaibab was constructed.  It is a steady climb of about 10% grade for 10 miles.  So, though we made it up relatively quickly, we were pretty tired when we reached the top several hours later.  By that time, we felt fully justified in craving pizza and beer.  We made our way to Flagstaff and found just that.

Flagstaff is an adorable and artsy little college town.  I’m not sure how it never made it on to my radar, but after our time there I would never pass up an opportunity to visit again.  Though we had originally planned to spend the night meditating in vortexes in Sedona, we were easily lured into staying in Flagstaff for the night and traipsing from one outdoor shop to the next with warm drinks in hand.  We decided to spend the night in an old hotel called the Weatherford.  Unbeknownst to us, it did double time as a VERY popular bar. By the time we were heading to bed (8 pm ) the bar was just getting going.  Our “European style” bathrooms were an amusing sight as I waited in line in my PJ’s to use the toilet, surrounded by girls dressed for a Friday night out.  But, even with the noise and the ridiculousness of sharing our hotel floor with a bar, we still had a great time.

The Grand Canyon and Flagstaff were the highlights of the trip to me.  It’s hard not to become reflective when the sandstone walls constantly remind you of your smallness and impermanence. There is something romantic about being in love and happy in the face of such confronting evidence of your own insignificance. With eternity echoing in the stillness all you can do is hold your lover, best friend, and life partner and savor the glory of being alive and vital in the wild, unblinking world.

Full of gratitude.  🙂

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The Seat of Exhaustion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goodnight friends.

Rainy Day Musings

I’m sitting in the gray light of a rainy Brisbane day. The street we live on is steep, so there’s a torrent rushing down the side of it adding to the music of falling rain, distant traffic, and the occasional squawk of an unhappily drenched crow.

It’s the first moment of stillness that I’ve had in a few days.  I just cleaned house and I’m waiting for pizza dough to rise—now to reflect on the past few weeks.   Ah, domesticity suits me… sort of.

We had Denver friends in town for a few days as they make their way on a round-the-world trip.  It was fantastic seeing some faces from home and hearing news of people we know.  We brought them to see a soccer game, checked out the beach at Surfer’s Paradise, and grilled some kangaroo on the barby.  Also, one of them was accepted to veterinary school while here, so we had to celebrate a bit!  Good things happen to those who visit us!

But now that they’re gone, it’s back to normal around here.  R and I are taking an introductory painting class at the Brisbane Institute of Art.  We’re both running a fair amount with an eye towards the Gold Coast Marathon in July  (I’m also working on my barefoot running).  And, of course, I am on the job hunt—and there have been some promising developments, but nothing concrete yet.

Mostly today, I am reflective.  Rainy days do that.  I have felt a profound desire to disconnect, leave facebook and stop compulsively reading the New York Times—to seek a more permanent state of stillness and focus. Of course, knowing almost nobody in Brisbane and being on the other side of the world makes that prospect a bit daunting. Reliance on the electronic world to connect you to all that’s familiar is a frightening form of dependence, which scares me so much I want to disconnect. Of course, disconnecting scares me too. But why should I be scared? What is more familiar than taking some time with yourself, without a computer screen or a movie, or podcast, or ipod—just you and your thoughts.  Every time I am alone with my thoughts, I realize that I like them.  I find them comforting.  My brain keeps occupied and I don’t feel distracted.

Eventually, however, I wonder if I am missing out on something and it eats at me until I check in online.  And then 20 minutes later, sated on information, I am left shamed by my lack of spine.

I know I am not the only one thinking this. These days, I get a sense of the tide turning away from connectedness.  The New York Times recently discussed it,  I have seen multiple facebook posts about disconnecting, and then there is this game.  Twitter, facebook, text messages, blogs, and the like are all great for feeling connected but, as my friend Katie once said, “that shit ain’t real.”

People seem to want to reconnect with the wholesome – cooking, crafting, making a home; but they can’t let go of their online compulsions, so they combine the two.  Have you seen the glut of cooking blogs, or Do-It-Yourself homemaking, or crafting these days? When I google “cooking blog” I get 306,000,000 results. It’s mind-blowing.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the recipes, the crafts, and the sharing.  I cook from recipes I find on blogs all the time, but you have to wonder, is all this homemaking-themed blogging an attempt to connect with something authentic and wholesome that we hold in our distant memories and yearn for but don’t really have?  And, if you make the world’s most beautiful loaf of bread, photograph it, and share the recipe with your friends does that fulfill the authenticity-shaped hole in your life?  Do you find wholesomeness and fulfillment?  Or do you then check to see if anyone has commented on it or if the collective cyberworld “likes” your latest offering.  It’s a messed-up, vicious cycle, people.  I’m thinking of tapping out.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune recently did an article about one of my favorite authors, Sigurd Olson, who was a proponent of getting away, getting out, leaving the distractions of modern life in order to find ourselves and reunite with a peace and spirituality that becomes lost in the rush of life.  He, and a number of other environmental thinkers/writers/poets have long forewarned us against the dangers of losing ourselves in society.  See below:

One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast… a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards. – Edward Abbey

“Wilderness to the people of America is a spiritual necessity, an antidote to the high pressure of modern life, a means of regaining serenity and equilibrium.”
Sigurd F. Olson

My guess would be that someone someday will trace the roots of modern human loneliness to a loss of intimacy with place, to our many breaks with the physical Earth. We are not out there much anymore. Even when we are, we are often too quick to take things in. A member of the group who insists on lingering is “holding everyone else up.” I think about this kind of detachment from the physical world frequently, because human beings, generally, seem to long for a specific place, a certain geography that gives them a sense of well-being. – Barry Lopez, “Permafrost”

“for how many years have you gone through the house
shutting the windows,

while the rain was still five miles away and veering, o plum-colored clouds, to the north

away from you and you did not even know enough
to be sorry, you were glad

those silver sheets, with the occasional golden staple, were sweeping on, elsewhere,

violent and electric and uncontrollable– and will you find yourself finally wanting to forget all enclosures, including the enclosure of yourself, o lonely leaf,

and will you dash finally, frantically, to the windows and haul them open and lean out
to the dark, silvered sky, to everything

that is beyond capture, shouting
i’m here, i’m here! now, now, now, now, now.”
Mary Oliver

These writers, for the most part, have written about a society that was moored.  That was tied to a city, that was on a physical telephone line, but today society is everywhere.  If you have a phone, chances are you’re connected to the internet, and with that link out there in cyberspace, the world connects to you whether you like it or not.  You can’t just walk away from society, you have to walk away and turn off. People love to fault Aaron Ralston for his cavalier behavior in going into the canyons without telling people where he was, but damn if sometimes you don’t just want to go away and run the risk of really living your life without being connected, despite the potential consequences.

While I was hiking, recently, in Tasmania, my camera battery died.  I began using my phone as a camera.  We had no service, which I liked, so I could just snap a photo and put the camera away. But then one day, we hiked to the top of a mountain, and I turned on my camera to take a photo of R and I – smiling, happy, escaping from the world (I appreciate the hypocrisy of this after my earlier rant) and then my phone chimed.  I had email.  I got service atop a mountain.  And rather than ignore it, I checked it.  And my dog had died.  No joke.  So, you see, sometimes you just wish you weren’t connected.

I don’t have the answer on how to break away from the hyper-connectedness of today.  I wish I did.  I am starting with appreciating my experiences in the moment, rather than documenting them for future consumption by others.  I think this is a good starting goal, and as I do it I’ll begin working towards fully disconnecting.

On that note, I need to get going – too much time on the web, too little time spent outside.  The rain has stopped, and the birds are signing.  Time to live life.