Embrace Nature

Embrace Nature

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Post-Christmas Consciousness

Well, that holiday that so many people look forward to the whole year has come and gone in the blink of an eye, and here we are with leftover wrapping paper, empty boxes and empty homes. It's time to start cleaning up the pine needles and dirty wine glasses and start thinking about those New Year's resolutions or something, right?

Last night the coyotes were howling again, just like they did on my first night here in Santa Fe. It reminded me of the poor thing that got itself stuck in the upright pipe in the ground in the backyard. All we could see was the tail, and sure enough, when Rick yanked it out of the ground, it was in fact a live coyote!

I have been thinking about what I learned from being stuck in the house for 3 days. The night I picked Sam up from the airport, the snow started, and it didn't let up for about 24 hours. Then the cold decided to stick around, and our driveway became an ice rink. So much for getting into town with my Hyundai. Even the chains were no help. It was maddening to feel so trapped, so sequestered. I realized I missed the sun, even for those few days, and it made me wonder if the persistent shadow of Seattle is a bit too much for me. It also made me wonder if I should get some cross-country skis.

I'm exploring what friendship means and who friends really are. What makes a friend? Why do people put themselves on the line? What does "a friend in need is a friend indeed" mean? We put out calls for help or shouts of joy and true friends join us for both. Right?

The turning of the year brings up feelings of excitement and anticipation, of reminiscence, of hopefulness. We want next year to be better. We want it to hold happy surprises. We take action to make these things come true. Right?

So let's do this thing.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Fat and Stupid?

I'm meeting all sorts of great people here in Germany. Just yesterday we spent some time with a Finnish girl who has been an au pair here, and is now studying at university. (Did you know that in Finland, not only do students receive €500 per month to go to college, but tuition is also free? And this is in addition to a national healthcare plan.) One comment she made has been burned into my memory, and will remain food for thought for some time to come:

I can't believe I know two Americans [referring to me and my host Vanessa] who aren't fat and stupid.

Frustrating. Yet at the same time, it makes me want to figure out a way to change this stereotype. Is this possible?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Not perfect.

I am me.
Myself.
Just who I am.
I am not A,
with her
constant
professional attitude
and fashion plate style.
I am not B,
with his
multiple degrees
and unwavering confidence.
I am not C,
with a productivity
and physical ability
beyond what I thought was human.
And I am not
simple,
straightforward
or
unencumbered.
I.
Am.
Not.
Perfect.
But I am
what I am
and it has worked so far,
so let's just expand
on that
some more.
And I'll stay me.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Humans as Social Beings

On Thursday night we trekked up to Los Alamos (yes, birthplace of the atomic bomb) for the monthly meeting of EAA Chapter 691 (Experimental Aircraft Association). The evening ended up holding a truly crystallizing moment for me.

We made the 1-hour drive in darkness, but with the nearly-full moon and abundant stars, I could still make out the silhouettes of amazing formations of tuff rock that cover much of this part of New Mexico. The rock, cliffs and remnants of snow shining in the darkness made the drive very exciting, and it passed quickly.

Throughout the various socializing opportunities of the night, I conversed with at least half the people in attendance (almost all grey-haired, balding men, except for one or 2 younger guys, plus the wife of the guy who was hosting the meeting at their house). They all had interesting stories, kids to brag about, insight into what I am doing. And almost all of them implied that I should stick around this place a little longer to help each of them build their personal airplane projects. (I said I'd stick around if they could find a way for me to make some money, har, har).

These conversations, along with a good talk I had with Rick on the way up, made something very clear to me: I love learning about people. About their dreams, the hopes they have for their children, their hobbies, their travels, their outlooks on life. On so many occasions the people I interact with have vastly different views than I do, and I get a rush from analyzing why that is, where they come from and how they got to where they are.

And I'm beginning to realize that maybe that's why I'm doing what I'm doing. I'm out here to meet people. To learn from them. To figure out what each individual has to offer - because it's always something. Humans are social beings, so learning from each other is the logical next step - but remembering to go into any situation with an attitude like that is something we all need to do much more often.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Enchantée











Sunset photos taken from my back porch.

Awestruck in Arches

The day I arrived in Moab, I did a road bike ride through Arches National Park. The ride was longer than I had planned, but presented me with so many unbelievable views that I didn't really care. I neglected to bring my camera, so all these photos are taken with my trusty iPhone 3G. If you have never been to this little part of the universe before, I strongly recommend it. I had never been, either, and am already planning my next visit.


Looking down at the entrance. The gate is on the far right, then the switchbacks begin.


One of the first stunning views.


Balanced Rock

Exiting as the sun sets.



*Thanks to the kind photographer who took the last photo of me. He even had me pose and everything!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Slickrock Lessons I Wasn't Expecting

"It's sacrilege to visit Moab and not ride Slickrock Trail."

That's what everyone told me when I said I'd be going through Moab on my way to Santa Fe. This is the trail - the ride - that made Moab famous, brought hordes of mountain bikers to the town and continues to draw people, young and old, to this mecca of mountain activities.

Sadly, I am a novice mountain biker, my fitness is at a low point and my bike is heavy.

But I had decided I was going to ride Slickrock.

The morning after getting way too little sleep and waking up with a screaming migraine, I drove up to the trailhead, paying the $5 fee to enter the Sand Flats Recreation Area. The road up is steep, and I wondered if this foreshadowed the riding to come. As I arrived in the trailhead parking lot, I found that my car was only the fourth to arrive that morning. Excited to have gotten an early start, I packed my Camelbak, put drink mix in my water bottle, donned my mountain biking apparel and pumped up my tires. As I made all these preparations, I became increasingly nervous about what lay ahead. I procrastinated. I went to the bathroom again. I read the signage at the trail entrance. One memo reminded riders to wear their helmet and gloves. Ooh! Forgot my gloves in the car. Went back to grab my gloves.

Finally, I got on my bike, and rode up the first little incline. And then I came upon this sign:



I tried to ignore most of it, and headed onward to the practice loop.

PRACTICE LOOP.

The practice loop is supposedly no easier than the rest of the trail, it's just a shorter loop to give riders an idea of what's in store should they continue on to the main loop. Well, believe me when I tell you they're not kidding.

The loop is about 2 miles total.

I think it took me an hour.

I must have walked at least half of it. It was so steep in parts that I thought I was going to do a backflip off my bike - so instead of that, I got off and walked. There were parts of the trail that went right up to the edges of cliffs, and then hairpinned back around and descended into a crevasse, only to present you with yet another impossibly steep incline.

I spent approximately 92.3% of the time talking out loud to myself, asking myself what in the world I thought I was doing, and if I was perhaps the least experienced rider ever to attempt this crazy trail. I spent a lot of time taking photos, too. The view from that place was beyond words - and definitely beyond my tiny camera's abilities.


Lesson 1

And then I met Girly.

Of course her name isn't really Girly, but that's my nickname for her because I never did ask her name, and because she was even more of a weenie that I was. She was standing over her bike, next to her Boyfriend, at the point where I took the first photo of the sign, and they were debating their course of action.

Girly: Wow. This is crazy.
Boyfriend: Yeah, the rest of it is like that, except harder.
Girly: *silence*

I laugh, and chime in.

Me: It's true. I just did the practice loop and it took me forever.
Girly: I can do regular stuff just fine, but this is so different.
Me: Just don't be afraid to get off and walk.
Boyfriend: Yeah.

I followed them for a while, until I realized I didn't want to wait for Girly so much. She was actually slower than I was! It made me feel better about myself, but even more than that, it reminded me that there will almost always be someone slower than you at just about anything. On the same token, though, there will always be someone better than you, too. Good stuff to be reminded of, especially when I'm wondering what I thought I was doing when I went mountain biking by myself on a "Strenuous" and "Very Difficult" route.

Lesson 2

After I left Girly and Boyfriend, I came upon Mike and Doug. I am fairly certain these are their real names, but with my awful memory I can't be sure. These two men had grey hair and nice bikes. Mike was skilled and strong, and rode in front, coaching Doug through the maneuvers. Doug was older, slower and less daring. He rode his brakes a lot, and went off the trail if the painted route was too steep.

I followed them for a while, benefitting from watching Mike's technique and which lines he took. We chatted, mostly joking about the route. Mike made a comment about how he was a lot better 30 years ago, and that he wasn't as fast as those young'uns. I replied that I didn't think age mattered here. He laughed because it was true, at least for the 3 of us.

Mike continued to encourage Doug, giving him tips and props.

And then Mike told me that this was Doug's first time on a bike in 4 years. After a stroke.

And my jaw dropped. What a trooper Doug was!

But it wasn't until I was in the car, driving away from Moab, that I realized what I had actually witnessed up there on the trail. Mike and Doug had an amazingly strong friendship - a bond that is hard to find. I had stumbled upon one friend helping another to become better, stronger, healthier - and it was like watching truth in human form. These two men, obviously friends for a very long time, had a love between them that many people only dream or write about. I started crying at this realization while I was driving down the highway, and had to calm myself down to keep going. I know that this writing does not do their friendship justice, but I hope it can give even the slightest idea of what I saw. It was moving, to say the least.

Lesson 3

When I arrived back in the parking lot after doing 2 laps of the practice loop and a few extra excursions, I smiled at a woman in a FatCyclist jersey, heading out for her ride. She asked me how it went, and I told her that it had gone about as well as it could have. She told me she remembered her first time on Slickrock, and even offered to ride with me a little. Knowing that I should be on my way if I wanted to make it to Santa Fe at a reasonable hour, I didn't take her up on the invitation. But my final lesson up there on that mound of rock was a great one. She offered to help without me asking, giving selflessly. If we can all remember to do that as often as possible, I think this world will be a much, much better place for everyone.

Thank you to all these people I met on the trail - the lessons they taught me were far more meaningful than the lessons I learned on the bike out there.


I will leave you with some photos that just do not do that place justice.

A ginormous cliff that terrified me the first time I came upon it:

Can you see the people on bikes in the distance?

At Peace on Slickrock

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Moonflower Campground

cold ground, feet and nose.
unwanted, disturbing dreams.
alone. magnified.




In Moab, I camped at Moonflower Campground - a BLM site that has walk-in camping only, is situated nicely near the river and features historic petroglyphs and a ladder in the holed out rock. It's stunning. Photos do not do it justice.


I pulled into the campsite in early afternoon, and set up my tent before heading out for a road bike ride in Arches National Park. The campground was empty. The sunlight hitting it was perfect. The canyon that it's situated in was cool and striking and enormous and secluded. I can't describe the awe that I felt just standing there.


When I returned to camp after dinner, the sun was just beginning to set. Four other campsites had been claimed, and a larger group was singing and playing guitar at the 2 sites closest to the entrance. I was exhausted, but enjoyed the way the guitar and voices echoed along the seemingly endless rocks. That is, I enjoyed it until I couldn't sleep, and was awakened again and again, and then it got colder and colder. And I wasn't wearing enough clothes, I didn't have the right tent and I had forgotten my ground cloth. My thin sleeping pad wasn't long enough to keep my feet off the cold ground, and despite feeling dehydrated, I kept having to leave the tent to pee in the woods. It was a restless night, and on top of that I had some horrifying dreams. Dreams that I still don't understand, and that I'm not sure I even want to make sense of.


My conclusion? Moonflower Canyon is haunted. I think it's possible, even probable. I rarely have such nightmares, and I hardly ever remember what I've dreamt. And the migraine I awoke with is corroborating evidence.


After I awoke, I swiftly packed up camp and grabbed a bite to eat at the Love Muffin Cafe - a great place with vegan pastries, amazing coffee and tasty, hearty breakfast fare, perfect for pre-mountain bike rides. Then I headed up to Slickrock Trail - the mountain biking trail that made Moab. And that, my friends, is a story for a blog post all its own.


Monday, October 25, 2010

School.Teacher

At the end of August this year, I ditched my 10-year high school reunion to go make new memories in the high desert of Nevada. One evening I was dancing the dusty night away, and was reminded of an incident during my school years. I recalled rocking out during a friend's DJ'ed birthday party, and being told by an acquaintance that I had no rhythm and no dance skills. Flash-forward to present tense, and I'm partying like there's no tomorrow at the Burn, making up my own moves and getting props left and right on my independent style. I knew right then, in my small spot on the Playa, that I had made the perfect decision. I had come to the right place. I had come home.

Now I'm beginning to consider, more seriously than ever before, becoming a teacher. I increasingly feel drawn to this profession, feeling as though I can truly make a difference, really impact a student's life, honestly affect change in the world. I want every child to grow up with all the tools necessary to make the right decisions for himself or herself. Maybe they need confidence. Maybe they need math skills. Maybe they just need an ear to listen. Or maybe they need - really need - to build a robot. Whatever it is, I think I just might be the person to fulfill all those needs.

I had a math teacher - a few, actually, all women - who tried her hardest to make me hate math. She told me I didn't belong in her class, she didn't answer questions when I asked them, and she gave me poor grades. But I decided that I wanted to be an engineer, I wanted to work at NASA so badly that I would overcome my extreme aversion to math. I would suffer through Calculus I, II and III; I would decipher differential equations; I would push myself through linear algebra. And I did. But it could have been so much easier, I would have been a much better student, and I ultimately would have had a better understanding of mathematics if these teachers would have spent just a few more minutes explaining - and understanding my own struggles with the subject.

What if I could do this for someone else?

And what if all those kids who were told they couldn't dance, end up dancing to their hearts' content?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

More Meditation Musings

The ten days of Vipassana meditation might have been some of the hardest 10 days of my life. We were strongly encouraged to culture the feeling of going through the experience completely alone. In this vein, we observed "Noble Silence," in which we abstained from any kind of communication with others, including speech, gestures or even simply eye contact. The only times we could communicate were when asking questions about the technique of the assistant teacher, or when addressing physical problems with the course facilitator. Men and women were kept separate in all areas, and we had separate halves of the meditation hall. Even so, I don't think I would have made it through the course if I hadn't known that Sam was right there, going through it with me.

The main reason for Noble Silence, or so we were told, was to quiet the mind, and to prevent new thoughts and worries from crowding our meditation. If we were allowed to communicate with the other students, our concentration would be compromised, and we would not be able to focus fully on the task at hand. Meditating for almost 11 (yes, ELEVEN) hours per day allows quite a bit of time for random thoughts to sneak out of hiding, and introducing more fodder doesn't help one's efforts.

On the final day, we were allowed to speak with the other students (mainly just women with women, men with men), and we girls talked our faces off. And oh, how comforting it was to realize that everyone had gone through many of the same struggles, same emotions, same frustrations. Day 3 and Day 6 were two days when I just wanted to leave -- give up, go home, eat 3 full meals a day [we were only allowed breakfast and lunch, and then we had tea and fruit at dinnertime]. After Day 6, I simply counted down the days, wanting time to pass as quickly as possible. And to hear the others talk about similar feelings made me realize that was part of the purpose of the course. And that made it all the more meaningful for me.

The actual meditation technique consists of being able to observe all kinds of subtle sensations on and in one's body, without developing any kind of attachment to them - either of craving or of aversion. This type of observation without attachment then transfers to all areas of your life, allowing you to eventually find the path to enlightenment. I'm not sure enlightenment will happen within this lifetime for me, but I know I'll find ways to utilize this meditation skill in many facets of how I live now, not the least of which are my interactions with others and my work on the bike. Watch out, racers.

Monday, October 18, 2010

New York Travelers

We just left New York City yesterday. It was a bittersweet goodbye - I loved every minute of being there, so much that I wanted to stay longer, see more museums, eat more amazing food -- and meet some more of the most interesting people I've ever met. Many thanks to Gus for introducing us to your penguins, hosting us and putting up with the mess that inevitably follows me around. And big props to Ryan for his fantastic show, and the tickets along with it. And congrats to Summer for the last of her show's run that we miraculously made our way to. We saw the PS1's jaw-dropping exhibits, and I'm so glad that Sam (and Vanessa, too) convinced me that was the place to go. And Ryan and I crashed a private party in the back room of a bar for about 5 minutes - what a kick!




Monday, October 11, 2010

Trailing of the Sheep

On Sunday, we went to the Trailing of the Sheep parade in downtown Ketchum. This tradition stems from the longtime presence of the Basque sheep herders in this part of the country. At the end of the parade, hundreds of sheep are herded through town, on their way to winter grazing lands.


Bagpipers - or Sheep-pipers?


These horses were huge in real life.


The streets became packed with sheep.


"Mom! Look!!"


What a great day for a stroll through town in this beautiful slice of the world.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Look Inside

Going...

going...

gone?

Up.

In.

Over.
Out.

First Thoughts

Some initial thoughts immediately following my Vipassana meditation course:
  • The Beach Boys might have been on to something.
  • Craving. Aversion. Ignorance.
  • Awareness - and equanimity.
I really have so much left to ponder and process about this. But that's all for now.

Oh, and peace, love and happiness to everyone.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Too Much or Not Enough

Recently I had a conversation in which it was suggested that perhaps I'm asking too much. This was after I said that what I want to do with my life is something:
  • worth waking up for each day,
  • that makes a positive impact on the world,
  • challenging,
  • with enjoyable coworkers,
  • that occupies me.
On one hand, I admit it's a lot to ask for - especially to experience those aspects every minute of every day.

But each paid job I've had so far seems to move me a bit closer to perfection. Why not keep searching?

A Nonjudgmental World

A few posts ago, I wrote a commentary on awareness of your impact, and how Burning Man promotes such. That post was more specifically about one's impact on the environment. But I also believe that Burning Man deserves respect as a social experiment on how people affect each other, and how people view each other.

One of my most meaningful musings about the event revolves around the lack of judgement that people seem to take on one another. In the default world, people (including myself, as always, as I am a person, too) have a tendency to pass judgement on each other swiftly and simply, and very often towards the negative end of the spectrum. At Burning Man, on the other hand, the default assumption is positive, or at the very worst just neutral. This bias helps to create an environment that is emotionally open, accepting and freeing. People have no motivation to put up a false front.

If there were a way for us to foster this kind of behavior in the everyday world, I think we would be many steps closer to perfection.

Absorption

Before I realized what I was doing, I signed myself up for what would become two life-changing events, one after another.

First I decided to attend Burning Man. Although it took place almost a month ago now, I'm still reeling from its after-effects, and unsure how to proceed with my life.

Next I am heading to a 10-day Vipassana meditation course, where I will be immersed in silent meditation most of the time. I've never done anything like this before, and everyone I talk to who has been through it assures me that I won't be the same afterwards.

I'm terrified. But I'm also extremely intrigued. The course starts Monday evening, and for the duration of the class, there is no speaking, reading, writing or pretty much any kind of communication.

Let's hope I can soak it all in, and continue to process everything that has happened in the past month as well.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Quote

"I'm an idealist. I don't know where I'm going, but I'm on my way."
~Carl Sandburg

Thanks, Carl. I think that's a good sentiment for today. I'm getting ready to head off on some adventures - Vipassana meditation, and then visiting lots of friends and family in various parts of the country.

Here I go.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Temporary Community and Sustainability

Burning Man is a self-stated experiment in temporary community based on radical self reliance and radical self-expression. It brings people together in the hostile environment of a high desert dry lake bed, and cultivates a culture of art and music for one week each year.

Participants - or citizens of Black Rock City, as the community is known (named after the Black Rock Desert) - are required to bring all of their own water (for drinking, cleaning, bathing), and are also required to remove all of their own grey water (used dishwater, wastewater from showers) from the site. Anything that falls on the ground that wasn't there to begin with (food wrappers, crumbs, thread from your costume, a sequin) is deemed "matter out of place," or MOOP, and must be picked up and carried out. No trash receptacles are provided by the event planners, and citizens must carry out all of their own trash.

I embrace this "leave no trace" aspect of Burning Man, and appreciate that it is an economical and responsible way to run an event like this. Port-a-potties are one of the few things provided by the event (thank goodness). But to require participants to fend for themselves, and to take responsibility for all of their consumables, forces each of us to be more conscious of the impact we have on ourselves, each other and our environment and surroundings.

On the same token, that very aspect reinforces the necessary impermanence of Burning Man. Just to survive for the short period of time I was out on the Playa, I had to carry in approximately 15 gallons of water, showered only sparingly, and washed my dishes as frugally as possible, so that I wouldn't have to lug many gallons of grey water out with me. My water supply was finite, and the space in my car to remove all of my trash and MOOP was limited. By design, Burning Man is a temporary community.

So while Burning Man exhibits so many aspects of perfection on an emotional and interpersonal level, the basic needs for human life limit the extent to which it can be ideal. But the lessons we learn from these limits are useful beyond measure: Simply put, be constantly, vigilantly aware of your direct, humanly impact on this place we call home.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Processing

I returned from Burning Man on Tuesday. I am still processing so much, but I wanted to get something out there:

Burning Man is how a perfect would could be.

It's true.

People hug hello, instead of shaking hands.
People accept each other as they are, instead of being judgmental.
People act themselves, instead of putting up a front.
The gift economy dominates.
The art rules.
And everyone smiles and cries together.

I'm working on more, but this is all I can get on the page for now.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Expectations

What are your plans?
What do you think you're going to do?
What do you expect?

I hear these questions repeatedly lately, and then I hear:

Don't expect anything.
Erase all your expectations.
Don't ruin the experience with the expectations you've set.

So I think about it.

And I have concluded:

You can expect things. Just be honest with yourself, and know what your own expectations are. Don't tell yourself that you don't expect anything, because that is rarely the case. And I still have to plan.

Oh, don't worry, I'm only expecting...

See? Just fill in the blank. It's always something. Maybe you think it's meaningless. But you'd finish that sentence somehow. I know you'd find a way.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

One for the Hesitant

Don't wait.
Don't second-guess yourself.
Take down the stop signs
and the guard rails.
Move quickly -
almost too fast.
But don't forget
to enjoy it.
You don't know
how long this will last.
This? This time.
This moment.
This life.
Take what you can.
Make what you want.
Fake what you can't.
And live.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Where to?

come down, rain, softly.
tickle the leaves and this grass.
remind me of home.


I think we take vacations as much to get away as we do to be more grateful for our homes. For what would homesickness be without a home? And what would a vacation be without a place to leave?

Tonight, through my open bedroom windows, the night's orchestra contains insects, a breeze and a gentle rain. Every time this symphony plays for me, I feel like a fated character from Greek mythology - someone who falls in love with something that will never stay, and will never understand my obsession.

But aside from stealing my heart, the rain also reminds me of my home. Reminds me of the dark, rainy winters. Reminds me why I love that place so much.

My adventures will take me from the home I have found; I do not yet know how far. But I feel confident that I will return, someday not too long from now.

One Week

It's now been just over a week since my last day of "real work," and I think I've learned 2 great lessons already.

1. You can get a lot for $20. (Ok, this one might just be a re-learn.)

I went to Goodwill and the Salvation Army to get some items for some of my upcoming adventures, and I got about 10 articles of clothing for twenty bucks. And half of those will probably be turned into multiple different clothing possibilities. My whole idea of "shopping" has now been changed, and I can't wait to cut down on my own possessions once I return home.

2. Music is essential, and other people believe this enough to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to the cause.

I went to an outdoor concert at the renowned Tanglewood. There were thousands of people there. The music was stellar. The show was amazing. The ambience was energizing, yet relaxing at the same time. And the program - the thick paper booklet that they were giving out to all the attendees - was full of the names of people and businesses who donated money so that we could enjoy that beautiful concert in that beautiful place (for a mere $21 - see Lesson #1).


I think music might be a part of the puzzle of world peace. That, and $3 shirts.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

This is how it feels right now.

and away she walked
into the world
preparing for anything
everything
hoping for adventure
and still trying to convince herself
to expect heartache
heartbreak
difficulty
frustration
yet unable
to believe
that anything
would be impossible

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Welcome

Welcome to my new blog, where I will be recording my adventures throughout the next year. I'm looking forward to taking chances, seeing new places and learning as much as my brain and body will allow. Please join me.