How I grew out my Fingernails

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September 2nd. I’ve been here once before and am susceptible to it being a habit by now. The waft of pungent exhaust from the generator is coming in one door and out the other, while the sharp “ting!” of Owen’s maul striking the head of his wedge echoes from uphill. Propane needs to be ordered, more wood has to be gathered, split and stacked. I can smell autumn’s approach from the must in the air and feel her sharp cut against my skin. My breath is visible again and the newness of the seasons here has finally worn.

I’ve caught myself sheepishly fantasizing about the isolated and muffled quality of winter in Scenic lately. The self-sufficiency and simple tasks. The radiant masses of white outside and the snow bombs exploding on my roof, startling me every time they landed. The creaky burn of wood in the hot stove. The dirt underneath my fingernails and the slivers beneath my skin. Wading through waist-deep snow, hauling bags of trash and laundry up and down the hill. Seeing Aida’s little body disappear into the depths of fluffy mounds. Frozen pipes and shoveling snow. Living inside the clouds and no one to have an audible conversation with for days on end. And then, of course, the anticipation mixed with anxiety of going downhill, where I would gather my socialization and community for a couple of days every week.

Don’t I know any better by now? Last winter’s isolation left behind the taste of a bit too much of my own company, I really shouldn’t hole myself up in here for another.

By the time summer had arrived, I was eager to plant myself into a hopping block of urban development. It was not a familiar desire, but I missed people and wanted their company. So, naturally, I went straight to the source: The City.

June 1st. I sat on the floor of my empty new 440-square-foot Fremont box. Wearing the shoes of the foreign kid I remember being numerous times. Crammed into a new school mid-year. The familiar but nevertheless stinging process of walking into the classroom for the first time, where all the other children were already seated and quiet. I was the outsider and they already had their cliques generously developed. I could tell that they wondered where I came from and why I was there. Whispering into each other’s ears with smiles on their faces, looking back at me. I was the new kid again.

I told myself that I wanted this. I wanted this. But at that moment, what I really wanted was to go back home.

What was I thinking? I had never actually lived in “the city” before. Everything and everyone moved so quickly. The sounds of human nature were deafening. Buses and honking car horns, dogs barking within every building that framed my existence in what I would call yet another home. Airplanes and helicopters and laughter from George and his Dragon below my window, echoing well into the morning hours. I was experiencing noise again after being accustomed to listening to a different kind of nature while living in Scenic. The sterility was claustrophobic and the city lacked the wildness that my heart had apparently grown so fond of.

It didn’t take much time to move my belongings in, in fact it still feels empty in there and I like it that way. Just the necessities to make it “home” and the tools to do my work and play. I wanted my lease to be the only anchor keeping me there, rather than my things.

I hope that all of you reading this are lucky to be nestled into your own world of habitual comforts. I really believe it is both the beauty and the curse of our being human. I’m writing this particular entry not in an effort to beautify an experience, but rather to address a few of life’s most salient characteristics. Things we often forget due to acclimatization. Things we risk to lose and could stand to be grateful for from time to time. There’s value in visiting a range of the spectrum every once in a while, and this past year has allowed me to experience both ends. Somewhere along the way I remembered, that I’m sometimes not able to discern before first reaching a void.

The Abundance of the Grid

I’ve been plugged back into it again for over four months and am continually surprised by how spoiled we are by this thing we call The Grid: A network of a support system that is designed to make us move more quickly and efficiently, ultimately leading to some form of comfort. But is this comfort really what makes us happy?

I wish that I could somehow deduce how much of it we need to be better, versus what of it buries our most basic foundation as people. Living this way certainly has its benefits because we can accomplish so much. Technology and a framework are not bad, but they’re good to be aware of and intentional with. After all, isn’t being engaged in what we’re doing ultimately what it means to live? It is to me, and it would be an awful shame to stifle it.

Think back on what it felt like to be a kid. The simplest things created so much excitement because they were still new to us and yet to be experienced for the first time. As adults, that excitement has worn down to a duller reality for many of us because convenience and efficiency tend to create habit and leave out the more elaborate experience of living. We are quicker and accomplish more, then tell each other about how fast time goes by. Does that have anything to do with the fact that we don’t let ourselves experience the essential characteristics of merely existing anymore?

It wasn’t until I made a cabin in the mountains my primary source of “home” that I learned what it means to live more deliberately. Take heating my home as an example. There is a more faithful relationship associated with building my own fire than the more common alternative of lethargically pushing a menial button on a thermostat to create an environment at my desired temperature. Or, better yet! I can just program the damn thing to get a scheduled variety of temperatures to serve my daily habits right, no manual button-pushing required.

To build a fire, it takes more time, engagement and patience. If the wood is shitty and wet, it’ll take forever and I’ll get to experience that delightful frustration while freezing my ass off. But the rewards of its radiant heat are necessary and it’s a key source of safety. If I really want it, I need to do the work to get it. The wood that fuels my fire isn’t purchased or given to me, it needs to be found and gathered in the woods. Acquiring it here meant that I had to ask for help because I didn’t have the tools or knowledge to do it myself well. It may seem a bit odd to sign up for the extra effort, but being warm never felt better.

People people people.

I’ll admit, I used to be the person who stood in line at the grocery store with a clenched jaw, impatient and wanting to get on with it.

Who am I kidding? I’m still that way sometimes. Frustrated by the hurried and fatigued frenzy of so many people, all of us ultimately in cohabitation with each other. I was somehow able to come up with the silly rationalization that “they” were “in my way” in one way or another. Or perhaps felt justified with my bitterness or offense by folks who adhered to different belief systems than my own. All while knowing damn well that I have never lived inside anyone else’s story, regardless of how well I thought I could read it with my own eyes.

In the process of last winter, I came to understand very well that we are equal. At our most basic foundation, however we individually choose to measure or separate ourselves from each other with our own self-worth, success or ideas on how to live a good life: we need each other.

I suppose this is a simple concept, but it can easily be overlooked when we spend too much time inside the spin cycle. At our core, I believe we all care about each other immensely. This binding quality is the most potent source of betterment between us. But the volume and pace of the grid require a certain level of apathy from us in order for it to thrive, and this is where we risk to lose each other.

The city where I live doesn’t necessitate a close-knit community in order to be very functional, so there is less reward for helping each other out. It’s too easy to look only straight ahead or at ourselves, rather than around us, when convenience is at the tips of our fingers.

I’ve certainly taken people for granted. Not just those that I’m closest to, but the thousands and millions around me to which I have turned a blind eye. There are few instances in which I have experienced such contradictory feelings than that of re-entering civilization every week after being mostly alone in the cabin all winter. The desire to see another person’s smile or to hear their voice, or to casually be near the movement of someone else was like needing a breath of air. Regardless of that anticipation, the moment I was reunited felt like I had to be baptized back into it.

I guess I managed to pick up the habit of forgetting how fatigued and over-civilized we can be. This quality in people is where my frustration came from in the past. But seeing it again coming out of an isolated perspective produced empathy and perhaps a bit of sorrow in my response to it. My isolated living required that I break down some of my own social walls by wanting to be closer to people. But going back to them, I saw with clarity the walls that most had around them in an effort to protect themselves. The walls we create come in the form of extreme aggression toward each other while driving. Or grimaces in public places and verbal attacks when we feel like someone has overstepped some sort of invisible boundary. It’s almost painful now to watch how quickly we fight back when we feel we have been crossed. This is the most basic form of social apathy, but as we’ve all seen or read about, it shows up in much more extreme forms.

I used to have to plant myself in a coffee shop or grocery store as my point of re-entry when I got out of the mountains. Not to consume, but rather to watch and download first before participating again. Seeing our layers show up in how we behave toward one another has made me want to be kinder and more aware of others. Knowing that I need human connection in order to thrive makes it a little easier to break down some of my own walls and live by the fact that we are the same.

Nature is home

It really doesn’t matter how sophisticated or cultured any of us think we are, or how much time we spend outside. Even by burying ourselves in massive houses or hiding behind the identities we have chosen for ourselves, we aren’t separate from nature and that is ultimately our common home. If we’re ever lost to the point of forgetting who we are or how to navigate, it only takes looking to the seasons to be reminded again that there is resurrection in all life and that this is all cyclical. We are no different.

Being close to my natural environment and having a separation from the framework that we’ve created has helped me to embrace how to give less fucks overall. We have a tendency to overcomplicate, but it’s quite simple. Being closer to nature makes it a lot easier to stop sweating the small stuff and free up the space to have patience for the things that actually matter. We only have so much capacity for our experiences, so, why not make it a priority to choose which one’s we’d like to foster? Quit worrying so much about what someone else wants you to give a fuck about, look for the courage to choose your own and try to make the best of what you have.

Sunshine on Mars

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It was 11:30 as I pulled my car into where I would call home for the night. I shut off my engine as the eventual fade of headlights finally allowed my eyes to stop wrestling with reality, thus completing my navigation of a 16-hour rabbit hole on wheels.

I sat in my car for a moment while the moonlight reoriented my perception, my eyes finally relaxed. I gathered my body and scooted it out of the driver’s seat. My feet landed on the soft, arid earth as I hoisted the rest of myself up. Feeling so supported by her, the rest of my body became weightless.

I’d like to name my instant welcome to Moab as Dead Air. Undivided stillness. I realized that I had never gotten out of a vehicle to find myself in a place so quiet before. I held my breath and listened, just to make sure. I was beginning to wonder how long I could hold it in my lungs, until I heard Aida swallow, finally breaking the silence. I began to breathe again.

I looked up and felt the stars shrink my pupils. I made up my own constellations as I connected these brilliant twinkles with my imagination. Framing them, the moon illuminated a tracing of enormous silhouettes against the night sky. My curiosity for their substance left me wondering what daylight would reveal in just a few hours. I stood there and cherished my desire to solve their mystery. I hoped that I would have the pleasure of being humbled by their presence. Because it is my favorite thing, feeling small and insignificant against something so absolute. Fair and square, the way I like it.

Even though the temperature outside agreed quite nicely with me, the goosebumps on my arms and back brushed up against the fibers of my shirt, the sheer wonder alone gave me the shivers. I closed my eyes to create complete darkness. The peace that remained resembled a most calm of emptiness possible, it left me questioning if existence was even a real thing.

Feeling satisfied with my arrival, I proceeded to convert my driving machine into a bedroom. As I walked to the other side of my car, I noticed myself moving quietly and carefully. Worried that I was disrupting someone’s sleep as little fragments of rock rolled under the shuffles of my feet. Opening and shutting my car doors, moving my things around inside. But there was no one around. Nobody’s slumber to wake.

I pushed the seats down and inflated my pad, finally spreading out my fluffy sleeping unit over it. I quickly peeled off my clothes, put on my purple thermals and stuffed my legs into the sleeping bag. Reaching for the hatch, I reluctantly shut the back door as I slumped the rest of my body into the sack of down feathers. It is always relieving to crawl into that thing. I made sure to set an alarm, because I couldn’t come to a place like this and experience its discovery without the sun illuminating it, the way nature had intended. I took a big breath to gather the end of the day in my lungs, exhaled big and finally closed my eyes as my head grew heavy on my pillow.

Goodnight, Day.

I awoke to the muffled melody of Tycho’s “A Walk” crooning at me from the depths of my sleeping bag. I opened my eyes and blinked a few times, letting the alarm sing to me as I looked up and out the back window, noticing the sky begin to fill with light. Fresh baby blue, with occasional whispers of white stretching from here to there. I wanted to smell it. The sun wasn’t up just yet, but I was eager to see.

I looked over at Aida, who was curled up at my feet, her eyes wide open meeting mine. I smiled at her as I shifted my weight around a bit. She interprets my first movements as a grant of permission to come say hello. She’s a morning person, like me, excited about a new day. She picked herself up in her doggy bed, lifted her snout to stretch her neck long as she yawned and grunted, her tongue sticking out of her mouth. She walked over to me and promptly put all four of her pointy paws on my chest, sitting down on my stomach as she proceeded to lick my face. Her weight made me squirm. I wrapped my arms around her as she buried her face in my neck, her version of a hug. “Good morning, Aida” I said.

Good morning, desert.

I pulled my knees to my chest into a fetal shape, reached down into my sleeping bag to collect my phone and turned off the alarm. I sat up and opened the door, swung my legs out and tucked my feet into my shoes. I got out of the car and stretched myself long and looked around, Aida hurled herself out after me. The silence from the night before mostly remained, but I could hear the occasional car passing through the highway in the distance.

It was still a little dark, but the silhouettes were now coming to life. Stately red fortresses with skirts of rock draping down and outward over their foundations. What appeared as tall but long trains of towers in front of me. Stacked. One after another, there was no end. I was only seeing a tiny fraction of this earth. ‘How could there be more?’ I wondered. Geology that I had never seen before. A kind of earth that was so foreign to me before had just magically appeared before my eyes.

And so, I began the day. It wasn’t time for coffee yet. I couldn’t miss the sun, it was more pressing than caffeine or nutrition. There was a slight chill in the air, but not cold enough to delay changing into my clothes. I brushed my teeth and got back in the driver’s seat with Aida as my passenger, revived the engine and drove out of the campground, joining highway 191 as I continued a handful of miles south to Arches National Park.

I approached the park entrance, feeling like a kid about to enter an amusement park for the first time. It was too early yet for a park ranger to be there, and there weren’t any cars ahead of me. 7:00am, I passed through and looked ahead at the massive wall of orange beyond the entrance, a tease, leaving me wondering what on earth could be behind it.

I downshifted as my car motored uphill and began to wind along with the twists and turns of the road. The orange to my left passing, and then to my right, soon I was inside the walls of my favorite color. Like the initial uphill stretch of a rollercoaster for a moment, excited and a little nervous for what I would soon be exposed to.

Coming around the bend and reaching the top of my rollercoaster, there she was. Arches National Park.

A never-ending garden of skyscraping orange paradise. Colossal sandstone in the most unreal geological formations I had ever seen in my life. Fins and chimneys and balanced rocks, arches and peepholes. Their composures quirky and weird, I couldn’t help but relate to them and feel at ease in their presence. Dressed in textures and lines that were so satisfying to look at. Feeling greedy for a moment, I wanted to touch them all. I wished to play in their jungle gym.

I felt suspended between not getting enough, and not being able to handle the enormous wild of it all. My eyes filled with tears and I felt my face grow very wide with a smile that I could not contain. The absolute life that exists in this place made my heart take up so much more room than I thought I could embody.

Experiencing it for the first time reminded me of dreams I have had before; the kind from which I woke gasping for air, taking long awaited breaths that I desperately needed to nourish me. It was like this, but without the panic. I felt almost too present, having to stop every couple of minutes just to catch up with my own reality because I couldn’t focus on much else. I wanted to take in giant breaths of this treasure.

It was overwhelming, in the most necessary way.

It became certain that the desperation I was curious if I would feel in the high desert was only my imagination. The photographs I had seen of it always had me wondering if the desolate environment would leave me wanting more substance, as if there would be some kind of a void that needed to be filled. But there was nothing sterile about this place. It was bursting with a kind of life that couldn’t be toyed with. Whoever entertains the notion that this dry, barren land could possibly lack interest or be infertile has to be completely out of their fucking minds.

Myself included, apparently.

As I drove through Arches and came back, drove through again and then back again, I worked out my “Oh-My-Gods” and “Holy-Shits,” finally stopping to make myself that precious cup of coffee. Watching the colors evolve over the course of an hour or two was fascinating, like watching a painting fill a canvas. A gentle but important reminder that all things change and, for good reason. We cannot capture or force anything to stand still, ever. Trying to halt or possess something is so futile, any attempt just misses the whole point, we miss out on the beauty of life.

Strong coffee in the desert. It went too well with the dry heat and sunshine.

I stepped into the sand and ran my hands through it. Something about it seemed so childish, like a silly gift from God: “Here’s some orange sand. Oh, I’ll toss some prickly sprouts around in it, too. Ya’ll enjoy!”

Aida took it upon herself to do just that. She had an orange beard in no time, and her white chest and paws were stained orange the same. She loves picking up sticks, rocks, or anything she can carry in her mouth and toss around. Naturally, she wasted no time in launching nose-first at the Prickly Pears. She bounced back a few feet instantly, staring back at the cacti for several moments, trying to assess what type of earth-dropping this was. She didn’t give up, either. She spent the remainder of our trip, on trails and in campgrounds, lovingly and cautiously putting her mouth on any pokey thing she could find. Testing again and again, from any and all angles. In hopes of finding a way to pick one of the suckers up in her mouth. Such determination. Maybe next time, Aida.

I eventually made my way towards the properly named Castle Valley. The Colorado river rolled beside me as I drove by. I managed to snag the last spot in the 4th campground I drove into, where I would spend the next two nights. It was 80 degrees, bold, blue sky. The heat of the sun left me baffled at the thought that “home” at that moment was in contrast under several feet of snow and still engulfed in clouds. I didn’t realize how isolated I had been back there until I got to the desert. It had resuscitated me in every way that I needed.

Medicine.

My little camp chair faced the river and yet another giant wall of orange on the other side of it. I sat there in my shorts and tank top like the quintessential white northwesterner who had just crawled out of winter, enjoying every last drop of sunshine in contentment. I like to tell myself that it’s the 12% fraction of Mediterranean DNA being revealed in my skin that had caused it to darken so quickly. My freckles multiplied and connected on the bridge of my nose.

All the people around me were moving around quickly, talking to one another, laughing, seemingly oblivious to the giant, orange elephant in the room. This vastness, have they just been here for too long? Have they been here before? Was I the only one getting my mind blown? Am I just going through a weird initiation, and everything would feel normal the next day? I wanted to interrupt and ask them, are you here too? Where am I? Is this Mars? I think it’s Mars. It has to be.

I hiked the Negro Bill Canyon trail later that afternoon. The sun was headed west to set in a few hours and the light continued to change the atmosphere. All the reds, oranges and greens in the canyon were now darker and richer, exposing yet another character of the desert. On my way back to the trailhead, I realized it had gotten later than I thought. I wanted to be back in Arches before sundown, so I walked faster and eventually ran back to the trailhead with Aida.

As I hiked up to Delicate Arch, I was out of breath trying to get there in time.

But wait, in time for what? I stopped my thoughts dead in their tracks, quickly realizing that it didn’t matter. Always in such a hurry.

I wasn’t able to see the sun itself exit from where I was when it went, but I certainly saw my first desert sunset. Someone must have illuminated an light bulb. The sudden warm dim over everything felt like the embrace of a trusted lover. The silence of the desert among its vastness was amplified again, regardless of the other people and their noisy activity along the way. There wasn’t a trail and I was meandering among cairns all over rolling rocks.

It was close to dark as I reached Delicate Arch. I enjoyed a few moments to myself as the breeze cooled me down, examining the colors that seemed so fictitious. But of course, nature doesn’t lie.

I looked around at the people enjoying this place with me. Crawling all over the rocks, taking photos of their loved ones amongst the backdrop of things so unabridged and no strings attached. Their temporary and unimpressive little scurries amongst the immeasurable existence of God. I hoped for a moment that they understood how lucky they were. That they could see this place as something more than just a temporary joy in their mere vacations. More than just an intermission.

I hiked back to my car in the dark. I hadn’t brought a headlamp with me and tried to avoid focusing my eyes on other people’s illuminated foregrounds, hoping that I wouldn’t fall and break my legs. I tried to let my eyes relax on what was in front of me, because once my eyes adjusted, the little remaining light from the sun now gone and the moon’s brightness was enough to guide my way. It was hard not to look at the artificial lights, because my eyes are so addicted to their guidance. I thought about how much artificial lights and computer screens have already deteriorated my eyes over the years anyway.

By the time I got back to the campground, I felt a bit of melancholia creep in. I was tired, not enough sleep the night before after the long drive and trying to inhale everything in day one. My tendency for excitement and resiliency is all fine and good, until I forget that it doesn’t always serve me (or anyone else) in the end. I hoped that I could sleep. I sometimes fight with insomnia, thoughts typically tend to creep in at night when all other activity is put to rest. My brain likes to use it as an opportunity to sort things out. Not the best timing for that kind of thing, I’d say.

As I opened my eyes to bright sunlight the next morning, I felt instantly smothered by the heat inside my car. I wasted no time in unzipping my sleeping bag and promptly throwing it off of me, kicking and shoving every last bit of it below my feet. A surge of energy remained.

9:00am

11 hours of sleep, not even remembering waking up once to turn myself over at night. Instant relief and happiness. I was filled up again. So nourished. I quickly got out of the car to stretch, delighted by how hot and dry it was outside.

I vowed to take it easy that day. I sat with my coffee for two hours as I looked out at the Colorado river. I listened to the activity of people coming and going around me and enjoyed conversations with those who stopped by to say hello. The folks from Colorado seemed easiest to talk to. Kind and laid back, good conversation makers. Interested in my Washington license plates and to know about me. It was peaceful to sit there that morning, not having anywhere to be. Certain moments felt like effort in having to sit still. But it was okay because this was more than productive. More than enough.

I explored the city of Moab for a few hours that day. So many people on the last day of March, I imagined how bustling this place must be in the summer. I loved the activity and seeing all the beautiful and active humans everywhere. Climbers, hikers and mountain bikers galore. Smiling faces that matched the brightness of the sunshine. Food retailers and bars: two types of establishments that always put a town into perspective.

I took my time hiking Fisher Towers that afternoon. What a place to explore and get lost in. Moenkopi and Cutler sandstones reaching high, caked in red. Every corner I turned would reveal a new surprise that left me slightly breathless at all of its beauty. Aida took it upon herself to enjoy the playground. It was hard to keep her nearby in such wide open space and not much of a trail.

The evening after my hike was uneventful in a good way. I built a fire in my camp spot with beer in hand.

Why is it so easy to sit and stare into a fire? I can get easily bored and distracted looking at any one thing for more than a couple of minutes, but I can spend an embarrassingly long time looking at the flames of a fire burning bright. It’s an important part of our evolutionary history. For communal rituals and food, among other things. There is something content and safe about a fire.

I neighbored a group of happily inebriated climbers gathered around their own campfire. I overheard their conversations, boisterously making fun of each another, discussing climbing routes and imaginary stories of what they would get into the next day, sexual jokes and innuendos. Judging from their tone, I decided they were all in their mid-twenties. I admittedly felt a little lonely, not able to be amongst a group of my own friends by a fire. I considered approaching the crowd next to me, but I’ve never been one to feel comfortable enough to approach a big group of strangers alone and befriend them easily. I’m exceptionally jealous of extroverts and the bravery of certain other shy people for their talent in this arena.

I gathered my things pretty quickly after leisurely waking up the following morning. Left the campground and drove away from Castle Valley around 10:00am. Out of everything that I wanted to see and touch on Mars, I saved the best for last:

Canyonlands

When I typed this word, I closed my laptop and walked away from the remainder of my story for two weeks. I didn’t know how to tell you about Canyonlands, and I’m still not certain if I am able or have the courage to dress it up in words. Truthfully, any attempt at labeling it makes me feel like a bit of a thief. It’s a joke for me to define it or pretend like I can make sense of it for you. I can hardly make any sense of it for myself. I don’t want to explain my days and time there chronologically, and so I will write freely and hopefully briefly.

There must’ve been 30 people waiting at Mesa Arch that morning. I giggled a little as they ran past me along the trail, many with camera gear in tow. It all felt so serious and pressing. All of them in a hurry to get their very own picture to carry around and possess in their pockets. They came from different parts of the world to watch a 3-minute sunrise from that very spot. The frenzy eventually possessed me to walk faster with them. Don’t worry, we all got there with plenty of time to spare.

The massive arch is perched boldly at the edge of a cliff, nicely framing a seemingly never-ending land of carved earth and mesas that were still asleep when I got there. I walked over to the arch, assessing the scene of people claiming their pieces of desert floor from which to watch. I felt silly for a moment and hesitated, trying to decide where to go or what to do. I climbed over the rocks just beside the arch where there were less people so that I could more easily see what the fuss was about. I stood at the edge of the cliff looking down and ahead.

We were witnessing a gargantuan and beautiful beast sleep. An immense entity, perhaps a giant mystical creature in some kind of a zoo that we were all there to observe. Only it wasn’t incarcerated. It was beautiful and healthy and free. We were just fortunate enough to be present while it was (mostly) still for us to see it rise and shine.

I climbed down and stood back behind the arch again. Trying to nestle myself into the crowd someplace where I could still see the landscape beyond it. The location of the arch offered us a unique perspective of the earth, separating me from it visually just enough to understand the message loud and clear. It created a kind of frame to look through that offered, “Look at me, but don’t touch.” It reminded me that this place doesn’t belong to any of us. It is not an animal that is meant to be caged, it’s a free-living beautiful soul that we must respect. The more any of us try to take and use from it, the more we will lose. This place demands to be protected.

The sun at once crept its way up over the desert horizon, finally cracking the light for the show. I watched the beast come to life, I could see it breathe. It certainly got its beauty sleep. Everyone grew quiet and their cameras began to chatter. I shoved my camera between several people’s heads to snap a photo. All of us attempting to pick a wholly ripe apple at just the right time, before the opportunity was gone.

I was entranced by the beauty with an uninterrupted stare out into the distance. I didn’t realize anything was over until I looked away for moment and suddenly noticed that the majority of the people had already left. Three minutes had come and gone, and so had everyone else. I looked back out through the frame of the arch and squinted my eyes at the bright continuation of the beast’s morning. Happily flopping around and going about its morning, as if none of us had ever been there to see it get out of bed.

The moon was unquestionably full that final night of mine in the desert. The texture was apparent through perfect resolution. Perched just over Pinyon Pines and canyons in the distance. Our moon typically seems to float over the earth, but here it seemed like it was nestled into it, no separation between it and the desert, such good comrades. The sky that it was painted on changed into colors that I could not have imagined with my eyes closed. It was steadily changing as the sun was making its way to greet another part of the planet. Pinks, purples, blues, oranges, yellows, reds, white. Nature’s fireworks show.

I sat at the edge of a cliff at Island in the Sky that night and carefully hung my legs over the edge. A little bit of fear crept in as I looked down at the massive cavity in our planet. Two canyon wren landed on tree branches beside me, one to my left and the other to my right. I was surprised at how close they were to me. They sang to each other, and I wondered what they were talking about or if I had role in their conversation. I quickly realized I was in their home, happy to be a visitor. They didn’t stay longer than a minute and eventually went about their evening.

The wind howled with enough power to lightly shift my seated body weight and toss my hair violently around my shoulders. I selfishly wished that I could slow the earth’s rotation as the sun was leaving Canyonlands for the final time. But then I remembered, trusting it would be there the next day to grace this place for someone else to see, again and again. The canyons would stay. And that would be okay.

Home

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1. The place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.
– New Oxford American Dictionary (2016)

I must admit, I felt silly having the sudden urge to look up the meaning of this relatively simple word today. I stood in my living room after having built a fire, finally starting to feel its warmth bring the place back to life. My animals are happy, and we are molding into our little unit again. The completion of my overseas visit with my family became official as I arrived at the cabin.

I’m home.

I was quite anxious to return here—both excited to feel grounded again, but unsure of whether or not I’d feel lonely or lost here. I had just spent nearly a month with my family in Europe. I was nervous about returning to a cabin in the mountains, to a community with few inhabitants.

Well, as it turns out, I didn’t realize just how badly I needed to come back here until I arrived! The cumulative understanding of my trip’s experience wasn’t possible until now. It was during this moment in my living room, when I realized just how important having a home is.

This is what happens to me after any kind of adventure comes to an end—I don’t fully have a grasp on what I’ve just been through until I return “home.” It’s as if I need to plug myself back into some sort of charging station, in order to download the aftereffect of whatever I just experienced. It’s the gift that awaits my return on my doorstep at the end of any adventure—no matter how short or long.

But I started to wonder, what does home mean, anyway? As I remembered feeling many different instances of home over the past month, it dawned on me: Do I know what home is, or where it’s at? Do I even have one, and is it a good enough home for me?

Hence why I turned to the dictionary! Which, as it turns out, wasn’t much help either.

Herein lies the problem: Mr. Dictionary says that home has to be permanent.

What a word. Permanence. It made me uncomfortable just to read, and even more uneasy in my understanding of what home is. To me, the word “permanence” doesn’t apply to much of anything at all. None of my homes have been permanent, nor do I believe that they are or ever will be. Is anything really permanent? Why does this word exist?

For those of you reading this blog that don’t know me very well: I’d like to give you a quick download of my personal history. I’ll do my best to keep it short, and also say that my childhood had a deviated quality to it that is similar to (and perhaps partially to blame for) my adult thirst for wanderlust.

I was born and spent the first 6 years of my life in former Czechoslovakia. During my life there, the country was dominated by the Soviet Union. To keep this relatively short and free of bias (and to avoid a drawn-out solitary political debate), I’ll say that particular laws were in place to maintain communist ruling. This, of course, made independent choices challenging or impossible for its citizens. My parents wanted more flexibility in their liberties, and the opportunity for me to make different choices in my own life. Leaving the country at the time was not legally possible. So we fled, thus becoming refugees.

This escape of sorts was not easy on my family, as you might imagine. They were not allowed to know of my parents’ intention of departure, in order to minimize the possibility of getting caught. If word got out (and into the wrong ears), my parents would’ve gone to prison, or perhaps would’ve suffered even worse consequences for their actions.

We spent the better part of a year in temporary refugee housing in both Yugoslavia and Austria. Once we finally received our green cards (a green light, really), we made our way to the glorious United States of America. Land of the free. This place everyone we knew dreamed of, where freedom was golden and plenty.

I grew up with a very small proximal family: My mom and my dad. After Czechoslovakia came to its dissolution in 1993, members of my family (grandparents, uncles, cousins, etc), visited us from time to time. However, we didn’t make the journey back to our place of origin until I was 21 years old.

Throughout the course of my childhood, we moved around the east coast, eventually making our way to the beautiful Pacific Northwest. This is where I have spent the majority of my adult life and a good part of my childhood. Perhaps this is why it usually feels good to land here, again and again.

I love my family very much. If you know me at all, you know how important they are to me. This is partly because of the culture that I was raised in, but also due to the fact that I was not fortunate to spend a whole lot of time with them growing up. In fact, I still don’t. Any opportunity to see them still makes me giddy as an adult.

I try to visit my family once a year now, and I look forward to it every time I go. By now, I typically know what things I expect to feel while I’m there. It’s all comforting and very necessary, but it never quite feels complete. I don’t feel complete. I wrestle with the desire to hold onto the parts of my home there, that I know I can’t bring to my home here in the Northwest.

The “place” that is Slovakia, the location itself did not feel much like home during my visit. It felt unfamiliar, this is not where I grew up and it’s not where I want to be now. The people, however, felt very much like home. Not just my family, but Slovaks (or simply just central Europeans) were so much more relatable. I understood them quickly, and they understood me. There was a certain ease to them. It’s an ease that I sometimes feel when I meet Americans, but not often.

In contrast, the majority of the people in my life that I love and connect with are American. And they’re all here in the Northwest. At home.

Staying with my family also felt like home, even though their places weren’t mine. Being with them and surrounded by Slovak cultural “things” felt very comforting and easy to me. It’s so interesting to me how this works, because I have spent the majority of my life here and have gotten used to American culture. However, my earliest foundation is after all, still Slovak.

These feelings of belonging in different places were disruptive and confusing at times. They clashed with my overwhelming eagerness to return to my home in Scenic, where I’ve allowed other roots to grow. I wanted my life back. Anytime I visit my family, I have some amount of these feelings. But they were much more powerful this time. I have decided that it is because I have finally built a life for myself (on another continent) that feels content (however changing or temporary this current version of my home may be).

I’m realizing now, that due to my own breaking-up of what the dictionary says is home, my personalized concept of it has given me the ability to exist in different places. I’m grateful for this, regardless of how complicated it might feel at times.

Ahh, home. There can be so many.

But this one physical house that I live in, this roof over my head and this shelter and this community. This is where I have landed and where I rest. It’s not permanent. But it’s home.

This place is necessary. Whatever form you choose it in, and for however long it needs to be a home is entirely up to you. I think it’s different for all of us. It can be a structure, a community, a tent in the wilderness, a car, or…any place on this planet where your heart feels safe and complete at the end of the day, really. This place should not be defined by a dictionary or another individual’s own idea of home. Most importantly, it certainly doesn’t have to be permanent, the length of your stay may vary.

The Scenic Route

Banner-2

Here we are, our last precious day of summer has come and gone. I gotta say, I felt the very distinct energy of Autumn roll in two Saturdays ago. The colors seemed to change instantly, and the air felt and smelled so much different. Her arrival brought in thick, beautiful and fast moving clouds into Scenic. Watching them frolic through the trees and mountains just outside my window is unreal. Seasonal change is more abrupt and intense in the mountains. It’s quite beautiful here and I feel very lucky to be a part of it. I’m trying to cherish every moment, because I know that this, like everything else, won’t last forever. There is no place else I’d rather be, and life is good.

There is a fresh coating of snow covering a portion of the earth just a few miles east of me, while wildfires still burn. There are hurricanes and tornadoes. If this summer hasn’t been a clear opportunity for us human-folk to hear Mother Nature tell us a giant “Fuck you,” then I don’t know what more it’ll take. I think we ought to give her a listen, no?

This summer has been one hell of a giant ride. I bet you could feel it, too. Somehow (somehow), I was able to cram a whole new life into it. It dawned on me, that I have probably created some of the most memorable experiences of my life in this year alone. I feel so raw to all of these new things, and I don’t feel like the same person anymore. To try and sum it up into words is impossible. The best I can do is to share a few of my experiences thus far, and how their lessons have changed the way that I live.

I moved up here less than a week after coming back from my long Montana and Wyoming trip. It took me a while to get somewhat comfortable with being here. It’s funny how we anticipate and dream of things to happen a certain way, but really, they hardly ever turn out the way we expect.

I’m sitting here writing this next to a fire in my living room, and I finally feel like I’ve settled into a rhythm. I was laying on my couch a few days ago, looking up through the window at the massive trees outside, it was at that moment where I felt the distinct realization of truly being at home for the first time here.

However, when I first got here, I was flustered, scared and pretty lonely. My dog kept looking at me weird, and the cabin was a mess. I certainly had more than a handful of “what the hell have I gotten myself into” moments. I felt like I was in a giant land-locked boat, and I was worried that I’d do something really dumb to either set the place on fire or blow it up. I couldn’t figure out how to charge my devices and keep myself connected to the rest of the world. I took cold showers for the first couple of days, because I was afraid to fire up my water heater. I eventually mustered up the courage (the courage to turn on a water heater?!) I went under the house (and made my dog keep me company, of course). I pulled my hoodie over my head and kneeled as far away as I could from the tank, while still being able to reach my fingers to the pilot. After a few minutes, I got it to fire, turned the knob to the “on” position, and off we went. It’s that easy?! It’s that easy! Taking a warm shower felt pretty damn good afterwards.

And the lessons just kept coming.

Habits.

If there is one big thing that being here has taught me, it’s how to live without complacency. I have to be more deliberate here. I can’t live my life the way that I did before. Living more freely comes with a price, but one that I’m quite willing to pay because it allows me to live in nature and to experience my life much more vividly.

We always seem to tell each other how quickly time goes by, and I believe it’s often because we become (at least somewhat) complacent. We become comfortable for too long, and experience too much of the same thing over and over again without much challenge or growth. Happenings seem to blend together to create the kind of time that accumulates and rushes us through our experience here.

I didn’t realize just how addicted I was to my cell phone until I got here. There is one spot in this house that my phone gets reception, and its a very tiny pocket right in my living room window. I’m very lucky to even have reception, because most people in my community don’t have that privilege. My phone sits in this window at all times, and I have to choose to use it. No more falling asleep with my phone in my hands, or wasting time mindlessly sifting through social media posts. Just this one thing has opened me up to the countless moving parts all around me.

I’ve also become much more aware of my experience with food. Cooking and eating it is such a primal activity, and I didn’t even realize how much I was depriving myself of that experience until I got here. I no longer have the option of frequent PCC luxury trips to save time and spend money on tasty, prepared meals. The nearest grocery store is about a half hour drive away, and it’s certainly no PCC. I have to be good about planning my grocery shopping, which typically happens when I’m in the city for a couple days each week. The result? I don’t spend nearly as much money on food anymore. I eat healthy. And, I have to cook again. The ritual of this is so very important. It’s such a simple but important task to cook our own meals. We have become so over-civilized and fast-moving that we often times forget about the most simple habits that make us human. I hiked 12 miles yesterday, was starving when I came home, and had to spend TIME preparing my meal, instead of buying and inhaling it.

I have to conserve energy, so I try to use my generator as little as possible. This means I have to choose when to have the lights on and for how long. It’s gotten quite a bit colder up here over the past week. I’m grateful that the smoke from the wildfires has cleared, it means I can build a fire instead of use propane to heat the house. The wood stove is so much more efficient, and let’s face it, feels much better anyway. I love waking up in the morning, starting a fire, playing outside with my dog, then coming back inside to warm up and drink my coffee.


“Impatience is Bad”

I’m quoting my neighbor Eric, here, whose response this was to me after I explained to him how I fell off my back deck. “Geez, be careful! ” he said, “There’s no one out there to pick your ass up.” I think what he said nicely sums up what I learned from an accident that could’ve ended up a lot worse.

There are always quirks and things to learn about living in a new place, and the cabin is by no means an exception to this rule. I was cleaning up my deck a few weeks ago. My heart sank to pit of my belly when the door shut and I realized I had accidentally locked myself out. I remember the instant panic that set in as I tried to twist the doorknob with no success. My cell phone was inside, along with my animals and a couple of burning candles.

My panic jumped instantly to finding a quick solution to my problem. I remembered that there was a spare set of keys in the woodshed, so of course, I had to retrieve them. My hands were shaking and I was moving quickly. I scurried to the south side of the deck, where it was closest to the ground. I climbed over the railing and proceeded to lower myself down to the ground. I got my feet to about 4 feet above the ground getting ready to jump down, as a rotten piece of wood came apart under the grip of my right hand. It was a piece of wood that kept the door to the bottom of the house shut, and as it crumbled under my hand, the door swung open, throwing me to the ground and violently slashing my inner forearm over old, rotten wood. The cabin kicked my ass.

I sat there on the ground for a moment, realizing that the impact of the actual fall didn’t hurt me. The injury on my arm didn’t hurt very bad at that moment either, but then I looked down and realized what I had done. 5 very deep, bloody gashes from where the wood had penetrated my flesh and traced future scars. I was seeing fatty tissue on my own body for the first time like that. I realized that the reason it didn’t hurt too bad was because I was in shock. I quickly stood up and composed myself, knowing that I had to get back in the house. I knew that I needed medical attention, but I couldn’t get myself anywhere without my car keys, which were inside the house. I ran into the woodshed and grabbed the keys, came back to the house, went through the giant swung-open door and pulled out a large, heavy ladder. Funny how adrenaline works. I couldn’t get into the front door, because I had awesomely locked the inner sliding lock while I was still inside the house. I had to get back on the deck and let myself in the same route that I had locked myself out. So, I took my time as I positioned the ladder to a stable place against the deck. I knew I didn’t need to fall a second time.

Once I climbed back up, I tried all the keys on the ring to let myself in. Finally, one of them worked, and I was back in the house. The relief I felt was like an insane amount of weight instantly falling off of my body.

I turned off the generator, blew out the candles, rushed into the bathroom and proceeded to clean my arm with soap and water. I squeezed about half a tube of Neosporin on it, and wrapped my arm in gauze to contain the bleeding. I paced around the house for a few minutes while my eyes filled with tears.

My friend Jenn was on her way up from Portland to spend the weekend with me, so I sent her a text message telling her sloppily what had happened along with a picture of my arm. I was starting to replay the scenario in my head, instantly beating myself up and trying to come up with other ways I could’ve handled the situation. Had I stopped and taken a few breaths instead of allowing my impatience to lead my decision making, it all might have played out differently. I was so angry at myself for thinking and acting so quickly, and I desperately wanted someone to tell me that I wasn’t stupid.

Well, mistakes and accidents are always going to happen. I’m not stupid, but I certainly have a giant scar on my arm to remind myself to take a few minutes and some big breaths before making important decisions. I can now think of several other ways that I could’ve executed my actions in a safer, calmer way. These things happen to us so that we can learn from them. Part of me thinks I needed that fall to happen, so that I’m intimately aware of the fact I am self sufficient out here.

I drove myself to the urgent care clinic in Monroe. I cried in my car as I realized that I really am out here alone. Most of the people who own cabins here do not live here, and those who do, live here in the winter. I learned that I need to carry my cell phone on me at all times when I walk outside the house, in case I get myself into an emergency and do indeed need someone to pick my ass up. And, get some more spare keys made. And, allow myself to take 5 and think before I act.

Community.

I really hope that I can explain this one well, because there is a lot to it. So far, it has been my favorite thing about living here. I am alone here, but somehow at the same time, I’m not.

Being quite a few miles away from the nearest store and not having a neighbor next to me at all times felt jarring and lonely at first. I felt pretty isolated, and was anticipating going back to Seattle.

I will never forget my first trip to Safeway in Monroe, 4 days after moving here. Before living here, I used to HATE going to the grocery store. I would dread having to go there and battle crowds on my way home from work, after sitting in traffic for at least an hour. I’d get in the store, quickly get what I needed to eat, and rush home.

My, how those roles have reversed! That first trip to Safeway was quite different. I spoke to people and made eye contact with them. I noticed that when I created genuine conversation, it made me feel good, and I could tell that the people I was interacting with felt good talking to me, too. When you don’t have people surrounding you all the time, you learn how to appreciate them quite a bit more.

I find that this is now always the case when I spend a couple of days in the city, visiting my friends, taking care of my errands and teaching my classes. My experience with the people I interact with during those activities have much different qualities. I enjoy teaching and talking with my students even more than I did before. I realized that my teaching qualities make their days better, too. I feel more spoiled being able to see my friends now. And this whole experience has helped me to see the people who value having me in their lives more clearly. It’s humbling and quite moving for me to feel it.

Isn’t it funny how the exchange of energy works? I really feel like I pulled a full 180 here.

My community here is SO much different than it was in Edmonds. I live around MUCH less people. However, I am so much closer to the people that I do have in my community here. I am floored by how much the people in Scenic care about me and want me to do well here. I was so worried that I would feel judged as being single, female or naive.

Damn, was I wrong. It took me a little while to reach out to people around me and ask questions. But the moment that I opened up to them, their generosity and willingness to connect came back to me ten-fold. Everyone is curious about me, and so respectful and kind. We have many commonalities. I now feel very safe up here, actually quite a bit safer and wanted than I felt in the city. Life feels so much more meaningful here. I am happy.

I started doing some volunteer work at The Mountaineers lodge just a few miles away at Stevens Pass. They opened their big, beautiful old cabin to PCT thru hikers this summer. I instantly made community there. I can’t say enough about the joy of giving back to communities that are close to your heart, it is so incredibly nourishing for the soul. I made friends with folks who are like-minded and very kind, and got to meet some amazing people off the trail that to my surprise have turned into friendships as well. I’m so excited to be a part of that community as time goes on.

I’ve also started to embrace the fact that I’m awkward. I’ve met so many other awkward people up here. We’re all a little awkward, and it’s kinda the best sometimes.

The grand sum of my experiences here thus far all boil down to one thing that I want you to know and trust: If there is something, ANYTHING you dream of but are afraid to entertain it, please, please please please, take the leap. I promise that you will land, and your courage won’t lead you astray. Life is short, and your heart is calling you to do certain things for good reasons. By nourishing your dreams, you’re gracefully paving the way to attract exactly what you need. This is natural law, there’s no way around it. It may not pan out exactly how you imagine it to, but that’s ok. The universe really does have your back, you know. All you have to do is take the leap, and the rest will come.

 

 

Sugar.

sunset

I just spent 2 1/2 weeks in a sort of heaven, and I don’t know where to start to write about it. There is just too much to say.

This post will probably be all over the place—but that’s okay. One of the things I learned during my trip is how obsessed I can get with order in my process of things. So, I guess this will be a good exercise in trying not to give too big of a shit about it.

But really, where do I start?!

Ok.

My adventure of sorts began on July 25th. I hit the road to Montana early Tuesday morning, about to embark on a solo trip to Glacier NP for one week. The drive was long—but like most road trips, it felt like I had just shed anything of weight and opened myself up to enchantment. There was a silent ripple of content mixed with excitement inside. I had no idea what was ahead, but damn, was I giddy.

About 10 hours and 600 miles later, I arrived. Going-to-the-sun-road. Have you driven it? If not, please…GO.

I had to pick my jaw up off the floor of my car, and there were tears coming out of my eyes. I have goosebumps as I’m remembering what it felt like to see this place for the first time. The words “holy shit, how is is this real?” kept coming out of my mouth, even though no one was there in my car to answer my question. As I turned a corner driving through the national park, east Glacier had revealed itself. It was like God himself had orchestrated this experience for me, the sun was setting and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I pulled the car over to compose myself several times. I was fumbling around with my phone and my camera to try and capture it, because I was desperate to find a way to share this extraordinary beauty. But there just wasn’t a way to capture it accurately. Eventually, I gave up trying to possess the moment by storing it in some sort of digital data, and relaxed into knowing that it was there for me to experience for myself. It finally grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me, like, “Look, just look at this, you’re missing it.”

The colors were something out of this world. I couldn’t touch them, it was like they were there to show me the certainty and grandeur of nature, and it is so much bigger than anything else imaginable. The colors, shadows and peaks worked together in such a melodic way. It was grace and mass percolating into one. I guess it isn’t called the Crown of the Continent for nothing. I have never understood who or what God is, but this was the simplest form of it/him/her that I had ever witnessed.

The awe came to a brief halt, when I couldn’t find a place to sleep. All the campgrounds in and outside of the park were full. I knew they filled up fast, but I assumed I’d be able to find SOMETHING, even if I had to drive a ways outside of Glacier.

Nope. Nothing. Nada. Not even a hotel room anywhere.

The woman at the front desk of the lodge could tell that I was high off of exhaustion, and she was very kind to call some other motels in neighboring towns for me. There was one room vacant in Browning, about 30 miles outside of Glacier. It was $250 for a bed to sleep in. My shoulders dropped as I exhaled in response to what she said, but I needed a place to sleep, and my brain was too tired to think or to come up with other ideas. So I drove to Browning.

The sunset’s color show continued to amaze me, but the overall drive to Browning was less than fun. It was almost dark, and there weren’t any other cars on the fast, twisty road. An old, green suburban pulled up behind me. Like, RIGHT behind me. As this person tailgated me, I noticed all of his windows were blown out. Front windshield included. He eventually swerved around me and sped away. I couldn’t help but notice the license plate was black, no digits or anything to identify the car. I shrugged it off, he was gone.

Buuuuttttt….he came back. He was behind me again. He must’ve pulled over someplace, and gotten back on the road behind me. He did the same thing. Like clockwork, he must’ve been a foot or two behind my bumper. He rode it for a couple of minutes before passing me and disappearing down the road again. I felt my muscles tense up and suddenly felt more awake. He fucking came back. Again. A third time. There he was, right behind me. By now, I was sufficiently terrified. I was exhausted, but so wide-eyed, and suddenly wondered what the hell I had gotten myself into. Coming out here by myself, naively excited about adventure. I reached for my phone to have it in my lap, in case I needed to call for help. Only thing was, I had no reception. Was this a horror movie? My heart raced, and my breath quickened to keep up with my pulse. He disappeared a third time, and finally…FINALLY…he was gone. I had another 15 minutes or so before I got to Browning, and my eyes were constantly jerking around, making sure there was no one, as I maintained my death grip on 10 and 2.

The little town of Browning welcomed me with many stray dogs viciously barking and attempting to attack my car. I found my motel, parked, grabbed a bag and ran inside. I got to my room around 11pm and crawled under the covers, still in my clothes. My body was buzzing. I hoped that the last hour wasn’t a precursor to the rest of my trip. I tried to sleep, but the man on the other side of the wall kept me awake. I could hear him arguing with his girlfriend, and her voice yelling back at him over the phone. I’d hear sirens outside every 10 minutes.

I managed to get some z’s, and awoke at about 5:30 the next morning. I needed to be at St. Mary campground before 7:00am to snag a camp spot for that night. It gave me enough time to shower and drive back to Glacier. I had only gotten about 4 hours of sleep, but I really wanted to see my first sunrise there. It was overwhelmingly beautiful, as I imagined it would be. I read someplace that St. Mary lake was one of the best places to watch the sunrise in the United States. It was true. I made sure to wake up early every day to witness the sun bring earth to life, and watch it put us all to rest again each night. I’m not sure what it was that made the sun’s entrance and exit so startling and emotional in Glacier, I have never seen anything quite like it. Not even in the wee hours of my Rainier climb, not in the Tetons, or the Cascades. Nowhere else had I seen it so striking before.

I spent the following 5 days hiking almost 50 miles through Glacier National Park. It all seemed too good to be true, I felt incredibly lucky to be able to experience it all. With only minor hiccups, really. Like having to sleep in my car on the side of a highway one night, when I didn’t have a backcountry permit and all campgrounds were full again due to my poor planning. I slept with one ear plug in (enough to keep the road noise to a minimum, but still be able to hear anything shady outside my car). Or just barely missing a run-in with a grizzly bear on one of the trails I hiked (I carried my bear spray under my arm, while clapping my hands and making up bear songs for many miles in an effort to avoid surprising one). I got dirty, sore and tired every day, bathed in turquoise lakes, and slept soundly outside. I was invited and embraced by nature’s intrinsic rhythm, and it felt better than anything. It was so good to feel fully alive.

Even though I was solo adventuring in Glacier, I NEVER felt lonely. I could disappear deeper into the mountains if I wanted to be alone, and I could equally find people when I wanted their company. The folks I ran into there were so friendly and eager to know about me and what I was doing there. They came from all over the world to have experiences similar to mine. I must have seen a license plate from every state at the trailheads, and I can’t think of a language that I didn’t hear spoken. One of my favorite things was soaking up the sun on any of Glacier’s lake shores, talking to people, listening to them and watching them. I loved seeing families bring their children there, because…how wonderful and special is it for kids to see this stuff and for people to experience it as a family? I relished at being able to bathe in St. Mary lake. I always felt so clean afterwards, and I loved the way it made my hair feel. How funny it was for me to think of being in a shower at home, pouring soap and shampoo on myself. I didn’t need it. The water was absolutely frigid. Seeing people work up the nerve to dunk themselves in was so entertaining. Very few dared to immerse themselves all at once. Whatever their method was, it took everyone’s breath away to get in. Giggling, screaming or loudly gasping for air.

That week was incredible, and I had a very hard time pulling away. I promised myself that I would come back to this place, I have to. But it was time to get back on the road and meet Cassandra in Yellowstone. The Tetons were waiting to scoop us away for a week and a half.

We spent an afternoon/evening in Yellowstone. It was a gorgeous place, but it felt like a joke to have such a limited amount of time there. I was able to get some cool photos and video, but I wanted more! We saw geology at its finest. Did our time and waited for Old Faithful, then hit the road again as the sun went down. We drove another 2-3 hours and arrived in Wyoming at midnight, where we split a hotel room in Jackson. I hadn’t had a “proper” shower in a week, and at that point, I needed the soap. I had to SCRUB the dirt off of me, it was fascinating watching the dirty water race away into the drain. It made me proud of myself, and it was kind of cool to see the natural color of my skin emerge again, and the sun that it had collected over the past week (regardless of how much sunscreen it had consumed).

Our first full day in Jackson began with a trip to a coffee shop. Drinking a latte was…ecstatic. I hadn’t been properly caffeinated in a while, and it tasted really, REALLY good. We wandered around town for a bit, and eventually drove into Grand Teton National Park. The mountains we were so curious to see but were blind to in the darkness the night before finally emerged. We both gasped at the moment we saw them at once. Again, with the pictures. I couldn’t capture these peaks, no matter how many times I tried. The amount of profanities that came out of our mouths as we stared at these massive things was comical. There would be silence, and then at any moment, either one of us would be like, “SHIT!”

We reserved a spot at a campground in the park for a couple of nights. It gave us a place to land while we explored Jackson Hole. We spoiled ourselves rotten with good food, delicious beer, listened to bluegrass, danced and met a lot of lively people who were equally curious about us. 

Up again at 5:30 the following morning, we raced to the ranger station to try and secure backcountry permits for the Teton Crest Trail. We were both tired, grumpy, and sans coffee. I ran up to the doors impatiently, where there were already several people in line. I sat and joined their wait, as Cassandra prepared caffeine for us in the parking lot. (She made us lots of good coffee to save us in those mountains!) She joined me with hot coffee in hand, and we waited until finally one of the rangers opened the doors.

We walked up to the counter and spoke to the woman about where we wanted to go. She pulled out a map, and somehow (wow, with the luck, again), we were able to get each night reserved at the spots we wanted. 6 days, 5 nights, as we wished, were granted to us. We probably had a mixture of crazy and happy in our eyes. The woman studied our faces and said, “You guys are really excited, I can tell.” We were the only women in line waiting to get permits. All others were men, with the exception of one couple: a man and who I assumed was his wife. The ranger kind of seemed like she was proud of us. I was proud of us!

Scurrying away with our permits in had, we were in shock at our luck. SO HAPPY.

After spending another day in Jackson, we headed back to our camp. Procrastinated for hours, and finally began packing. We both tried real hard to leave behind as much as we could, but in the end, our packs were stupid heavy. Neither one of us had ever gone into the backcountry for this long before. We couldn’t weigh our packs, but I’m willing to bet that they weighed at least 45 pounds a piece. This was the heaviest my pack had ever been.

As we were getting on the Teton tram the following day, set out for adventure, we couldn’t stop laughing at how awkward it was to put those giant things on our backs. We tried several different methods. People were staring at us, asking us what we were doing. Over the next 6 days, we got to know our packs well. They carried our houses, our beds, our meals, tools and clothes. My pack hurt and pissed me off. I swore at it and constantly wanted to take it off. But, after a few days, I learned how to adjust it in a way that made my hips and shoulders hurt less.

Let me tell you this: the pain that I felt in my body from using it and making it work, was nothing compared to the pain I have felt in my body from inactivity or forcing it to stay in the same position for too long. And, after only a couple days of hauling ass up these mountains at high altitude, we could both feel our bodies become stronger. It was such a cool experience. 

Each day, that trail gave way to more and more astonishing beauty, and equally more challenge. Of course!

I had never seen mountains like this before. I don’t know how to explain them. They were massive, partly terrifying and at the same time, so alluring. They looked almost fake, they were so beautiful. The more difficult things got, the more we got to see. I felt so happy to be there. To experience it all. Even the shitty parts. They all felt so different up there.

On our third night along the trail, we camped in the South Fork Cascade Canyon. We had the most amazing view of Grand Teton herself. We were drinking the whiskey that we so lavishly hauled up with us in a water bottle, talking about just how far away that mountain seemed yesterday, and how close we were to her now. As we looked up in the dark, we noticed a headlamp. We started laughing in excitement and shined our headlamps back. We watched two twinkly little lamps over the next several of hours before crawling into our tent, of what we assumed were two climbers descending off the Grand. We talked about what’s more difficult at that hour up there, going up or going down? We agreed: going down.

Cassandra asked me, “Why do you think we do this?” I had to think about it for a minute before I responded. Why do we kill ourselves, do scary shit for hours at a time and risk our safety, make our bodies hurt, get insanely grumpy or scared or emotional, push ourselves to the point of complete exhaustion? Get up high, get that feeling of “FINALLY, WE DID IT!” Come back down. And then do it all over again? Do we do it for the thrill? Maybe we all have different reasons. But the reason that I do it is to feel human. Only sitting in a cubicle all the time that is coordinated for my dependence on comfort and safety doesn’t make me feel human all the time. Nor does going on a leisurely vacation to see pretty cities. Sure, parts of those things are nice and good to do/have, but I think we need more. These other kinds of adventures that cost time and vulnerability that test us, where we face the unknown and come up against extremely hard work…these are the things that connect me to the feeling of being alive, to feel my pulse. What a complete waste it would be to not live and experience these things that we are all capable of. To see the things that are extraordinarily simple yet spiritually relevant. These are the most precious gifts in life. The lessons that I gain from the mountains are irreplaceable, so very priceless. I’ve only been back down here for 3 days, and I’m still trying to gather all of the post-adventure (torture?) thoughts and realizations that are coming out of me on the other side of this.

The peak of our challenge and joy came on our 4th day. We had hiked 10 miles the day prior to that (remember, the big-ass packs), pissed off every time we had to descend, because we knew we would have to climb back up again, making up all that lost elevation, and then some. This 4th day was about 12 miles long. Our bodies hurt. We went down, then back up. Then down, and then way the hell back up again. We passed the couple that we saw at the ranger station just days before, getting the same permits as us. They looked disappointed, coming from the opposite direction. We said hi, and they said hi back, looking down. Cassandra said, “They must have turned around, they didn’t make it.” The question of why was looming over our heads.

We must have been going for 10 hours, until we finally reached Paintbrush divide at just under 11,000 feet. We were both pep-talking each other that day, telling each other that, once we got up to the divide, the hardest part of the entire trip would be over. We would then descend a little, setup our tent in Upper Paintbrush Canyon, eat some hot food out of a bag and pass out.

NOPE! We were incorrect.

We followed the trail along the divide, thinking we’d see it veer off to camp spots not far below. What we saw on the other side was frightening. Any bit of giddy behavior left in us quickly dissipated, and relief wasn’t as soon to be found as we had hoped. We both looked at each other, with wide eyes and open mouths. “Uhhh…fuck.” To which Cassandra replied “…Yeah, I can’t.”

The east side of the divide was much less welcoming than the west, where we had just traversed. No sun, no people. It looked cold and frightening. Snowfields. Really vertical ones, with a thin trail that resembled a long hairline, that followed way the hell down into the canyon. And scree. Lots and lots of scree. Again, the vertical kind. It was not the kind of fear that made me excited. It was the kind I felt in the pit of my stomach that made me want to back-pedal. I wasn’t comfortable going in there without ropes, and with someone who was equally terrified. We looked at the map to see if there was another way, and of course, there wasn’t. We talked about going back down to a lake we had rested at hours before. But the sun was about to go down, and we weren’t keen on going back down, many miles, on a sketchy trail in the dark. We remembered that we ran into a group of two men and women about a half an hour ago, who mentioned they were camping in Paintbrush as well. We decided to wait for them and share the fear with someone else. Really, what were we going to do, turn around?

Once we met up with them, we all walked back over to the end of the divide and pointed at the scary stuff. After talking about it and agreeing that it looked sketchy, the 6 of us were a little less afraid. There was a way to approach the descent that involved a little bit less snow, but a little bit more scree. The first bit of snow was what scared us the most. It was a bit of a ledge…not very long. But if we slipped and fell, we knew we wouldn’t be able to self arrest on the little amount of snow below it. We would fall straight down the rocks below. The two men assisted their wives across this thing, came back and walked their packs over as well. Cassandra and I watched them, and looked at each other. I asked one of the men if they could help us cross, and they were generous in doing so and offered to walk our packs over the other side. Falling would be one thing, but falling with a 40-some-lb pack would be another. We put spikes on our shoes and took out our ice axes, and took turns crossing the snow one by one. Ice axe in one hand to help keep us anchored, and a pole in the other to help keep us balanced. Slow and steady, the snow was sticky and supportive. It wasn’t as scary as we had made it out to be. When I got to the other side, I did a happy, giddy little dance. I was elated.

It wasn’t over yet, though. There wasn’t exactly a trail to follow on the talus field. Over the next half hour or so, I was probably more scared than I have ever been in the mountains. I had an extremely hard time crossing all that scree on such a vertical slope. I couldn’t find a stable place for my feet to support me (with the pack on, again). I would shift a toe inside my shoe, and it would cause one rock to move, then hundreds of rocks followed. I started to panic, and wondered if I would fall to my death on this stupid thing. The guy that walked my pack across the snow earlier watched me freak out, and told me to stay where I was and not to move. He was able to make his way over and somehow created a foothold for me. I placed my foot on top of his and was able to pull myself up and more securely walk over the scree and back to somewhat of a trail again. I must have thanked him a million times afterwards, I was so grateful for his help.

NOW, now the worst part was over. We had to cross more snowfield, but these parts were more doable.

We finally made it to the camp in the canyon, just as it got dark. After setting up our tent, we sat outside watching the full moon rise over the peaks in front of us. Again…how lucky are we?! It was so beautiful. We couldn’t understand how it was that we were able to be there. And we realized that we had just created a bond with a group of complete strangers because of what we had to go through with them. We don’t really connect as easily over surface talk with other people, do we? Going through something like that makes you instantly closer to someone. We hadn’t eaten in hours, and our adrenaline made us forget how hungry we were and we couldn’t eat.

The next couple of days were mostly cake. Except for the grumpy factor. The last miles on days 5 and 6, there were no rocks, there was no snow. There was a bit of down, but it was easier and then it was flat. There were just those last couple of miles through the forest that seemed to last FOR-E-VER. I was grumpy and whiney, and Cassandra was hungry and pissed off, walking fast ahead of me. I just wanted to stop. My feet felt like they were being stabbed over and over again.

We finished our adventure and got a ride back to my car at 8:00am on day 6, where I pulled a lukewarm cider out of the back that we drank in celebration. We shoved some Cheez-Its in our mouths as we laughed deliriously over what we had just accomplished. Everything after this made us feel so spoiled. If you partake in any similar adventures yourself, then you know what I’m talking about. It’s like you finally return to your taste buds after having them taken away from you for any period of time. You’re reunited with all of life’s conveniences that you normally take for granted. A hot shower, comfortable shoes, clean clothes, beer, fresh food, other people, music, cell phones, cars, FRESH COFFEE! A bed. Those comforts that we live in on a daily basis and become numb to, it’s good to have them taken away from us from time to time.

We were back in Jackson that night, showered and smelling good again. Listening to music and dancing, meeting more new people, drinking more beer. (Oh, word of advice: if you just dragged your poor body through hell for a week, go easy on the alcohol. You’ve just been reborn, and if you water yourself with booze, you’ll have the worst hangover of your life the next day). The amount of work we had just put into those mountains had nothing on my energy levels. I felt like a new person, experiencing everything with heightened senses.

I was talking to someone we met at the bar, explaining to him how overstimulated I felt all of the sudden, being in town after what we did in the mountains for 6 days.

He responded to me, “I know. It’s like sugar, isn’t it?”

A Home with a Purpose

20157981_10214288860434558_6839072069881910143_o.jpgWelp, my plan to live a transient lifestyle has been moderately altered: I bought myself a cabin house in the mountains! Oh, how I wish words could describe the insane amount of happy energy that my cup is overflowing with right now.

I was explaining to a friend the other day, that although this was not part of my “plan”…I have a feeling that this new addition will make the plan, the dream…a bit better. I suspect that it will help me in my transition to live a different kind of life—the kind that helps me to live more presently and with intention. A home with a purpose.

The cabin sits at 2,200 feet in Skykomish, WA. It is nestled between towering evergreen trees and mountains beyond. It’s just a short 2-minute uphill walk from the Tye river. It is 9 miles west of Stevens Pass, just off highway 2. There are trails in every direction just outside my new front door. I will be relatively close to Leavenworth.

You guys, I can’t even begin to explain the excitement I feel, that I will soon have the privilege to call this place my home. This is a gift, and I don’t know how I managed to get so lucky to be able to do something like this. I’m mentally squeezing this opportunity like a giant hug.

Perhaps you’re wondering how the hell I came up with this. My plan after selling my home and quitting my job was to stay at my mother’s while not traveling, at least for a little while (whenever I say this, I cower a little bit). And, to give in to my wonderfully loving and generous friends who have offered me their couches and spare bedrooms. I’ve slept on many a different bed this past month, and even though I miss having my own place at times, I feel like I’ve actually adjusted pretty damn well to this transient existence of mine. Besides, how lucky am I to be able to see the people I love and their smiley faces, so much more than I was able to in my old life? The discomfort I sometimes feel with not having my own place wasn’t exactly enough to prompt me to be buy another house, all over again. I told myself I wasn’t going to do this for a while. I didn’t want to invest in suburbia again, or to tie myself down to a mortgage and the good ol’ rat race.

I didn’t seek out this cabin, it found me. It came knocking on my door, and it wouldn’t go away. I think that sometimes, we are so hard set on making very specific plans, that we are too noisy in our own heads to see the little glimmers of light that come our way, the kind that beg for our attention and have big things to offer. It took me a little while to identify this as such. Timing is a funny thing.

Anyway, how it presented itself: I’m on a very old real estate mailing list that gets delivered to an equally old mailbox, one that I hardly ever check. I was plugging into an email app on my computer, and technology (being a smartass) opened that one up for me for the first time in months. I sifted through junk mail and aimlessly looked at some real estate listings. My stomach got instantly queasy looking at the ridiculously expensive boxes that are for sale in the Seattle area. I shook my head, and patted myself on the back for selling mine.

But then, this cabin happened.

I don’t know how Redfin knew that I liked cabins, but I do. I salivated over it. I never seriously considered buying a cabin. Ever. It never seemed like a “realistic” thing to do.

But, what is realistic, anyway? I always loved and secretly dreamed of cabins for as long as I can remember. One of my fondest memories from my childhood was going on school field trips to Whidbey Island, where my classmates and I stayed in old cabins and slept in bunk beds for a few days. I used to watch the old Friday the 13th movies, over and over and over again. Not because I liked scary movies…but because I was obsessed with seeing the cabins. Now, as an adult, I like horror movies. Go figure.

I proceeded to go down a real estate rabbit hole for about a week. I wasn’t even aware of my reasoning for doing so, I just was curious what other cabins were out there. Just for fun. I browsed through my favorite mountainous places in the northwest.

But I kept coming back to this one. The one in Skykomish. It was a REAL cabin: wood panels, wood stove, septic pooper, river water, generator and batteries…all of it. Off. The. Grid.

I remember the distinct moment when the light bulb sparked. I was sitting on my couch in my old house, just days before I moved out, when all of the pieces started to come together. It’s like the subconscious reasoning behind why this thing kept nagging at me finally started to reach the surface. I COULD ACTUALLY DO THIS?! I could take the earnings from my old old cul-de-sac life, and trade it in for an investment that supported my dream. I was in this moment, about to walk away from a home that no longer had a purpose for me. And suddenly I had an opportunity, clear as day, where I could walk into something that functions with a very intimate purpose.

John (the 78-year-old man who owns and built the cabin 34 years ago) was not modest in humbling me with what it would take to operate this thing. In fact, when I first spoke to him on the phone, he did everything he could to gently dissuade me from wanting to live there. I won’t lie, it kind of felt like a punch in the gut and he scared the shit out of me. Left me feeling almost embarrassed for considering to do this. But, I guess it wasn’t enough for me to throw in the towel just yet. The more I got to know John and the more he got to know me, the more I felt at ease seeing that he had a little more faith in my ability to do this.

I spent the following month familiarizing myself with this house. It has made me postpone some of my long travels. I lost count of how many times I have driven out there to talk to John, contractors, inspectors, neighbors, etc. But I learned something new every time. The more I saw what I would have to do to make it work there, the more scared I got. However, each time (after reeling from the fear), I got a little more excited than the last. Because I saw that it was possible. Fear has a way of terrifying us to the point of not trying something, only because we don’t know it, or we think we know it to be a certain way. But sometimes, when we entertain something and approach it with an open mind, we open ourselves to the realization that it’s actually quite basic and not so scary.

What I love most about this place is that it’s not mindless. I will have to think about what I’m doing and actually execute it intentionally to get the benefit of the rewards. It’s going to take work. Something that sounds so complicated gives way to a more simple life. The cabin sits in a hidden community (called Scenic) of maybe 8-10 other cabins. The people who live and vacation there are kind, and they look out for one another. When the water filtration system in the river (yep) gets clogged with tree debris, someone has to clear it, or they (we) have to fix it together. I’ve never lived in a community like this, but thinking about it gives me the warm fuzzies inside. Even though I’m confident I will have plenty of meltdowns and moments of panic when I’m there.

So, my UPDATED plan is this: After my longer travels wrap up in late fall, my idea is to spend most of my time (living) in the cabin house (4-5 days a week) and doing some freelance design work there. The other 2-3 days will be spent in the city, visiting all of you, and teaching some yoga. And I do hope that you will come visit me, because a big part of the reason I want to live here is so that you all can help me make some memories there. We can go ski or hike or climb, or or or! Then we can make fires, drink whiskey and hot cocoa. Maybe watch me freak out when the generator doesn’t work, or when somebody flushes something unacceptable down the toilet, or when I get stuck in numerous feet of snow.

WE SHALL SEE! It’ll be a mixed bag.

Walking that fine line between fear and hope is essential in living a purposeful life, in my opinion. That line is the sweet spot to a fulfilling life, and it’s where our dreams are born. I can’t wait to move into this place! I’m about to embark on a 2 1/2 week-long journey to Montana and Wyoming (!!!!), so, moving in will have to wait until the middle of August.

As you can see…things have room to change and evolve no matter where you’re at or what you are doing. What will this next thing morph into? Who knows?! Who knows! One thing’s for damn sure, though—whatever it is…it’ll be with a purpose.

“Happiness only real when shared.” —Christopher McCandless

slideshowChristopher McCandless made a damn good point. It’s important for us to find what charges us in this life and to do it. However, it isn’t only for our own satisfaction, but also for the benefit of others. I feel that even if we’re able to conquer whatever it is that we’re good at or makes us happy, ultimately that gift of enjoyment or happiness is fully functional and at best charged when it’s shared with someone outside of ourselves.

I do usually love going into the backcountry alone. Whenever I feel like I’ve got my head buried too deep in an over-civilized existence, being up in the mountains always enlightens me with the necessary perspective to pull my head out. I always seem to return back to the periphery when I come back out. Being out in the wild seems to naturally reconnect me to my original humanness. And, for some reason, if ever I’m feeling alone or isolated in my day-to-day life, coming back from the mountains helps me to reconnect with the people around me by helping to erase the things we sometimes create that inadvertently separate us. I NEVER feel alone when I come back to the city after solo adventuring.

But, back to happiness being real only when shared. 

I’ve had a taste of this concept before while being outside alone, but just recently I felt it the most. My trip to the Wallowas was probably the newest and more exploratory solo trip I’ve taken into the outdoors. I got to see a mountain range that, until recently, I didn’t even know existed. It was all unfamiliar to me, even a bit scary at times. I spent 3 nights in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, alone. It was beautiful out there. I’m always amazed how different places (even if they’re not too far away from each other) differ in their environments. What I love the most is that these differences are created in nature, and not by us humans.

I had many hours to myself in this place over the course of 4 days. When I was on the go, moving from one place to the next, I never felt alone. Probably because my brain was occupied by constant activity. Each evening after I finished with the day’s explorations, I would setup camp and get settled. It’s always easiest for me to be still and not engage in any activity in an effort to occupy my mind when I’m outside. You could say that it’s meditative for me to sit outside alone, in the center of nature’s rhythmic existence. I sat in my camp for hours each night just being present, letting my senses take everything in. I would hear 7 different types of birds signing. They didn’t sing alone or all at once. Their individual songs were like 7 different pieces of a puzzle coming together, that made one exquisite song. They needed each other to create it. They would do this over and over and over again, it was a rhythm that created a whole. I would watch the clouds above me dance, and then I’d see how their movement affected everything below them and around me. The change in light changed everything, and in turn changed my perspective. All of these things were such a graceful reminder that nothing in this universe is separate. Every. Single. Thing…is absolutely connected.

Even though I enjoyed these experiences and needed the solitude, I found myself feeling lonely in these times of stillness from time to time. Let’s also identify here, that alone and lonely have two completely different meanings altogether. Being alone doesn’t necessarily mean I am lonely. I’m naturally an introvert, and so I tend to crawl back into my shell anyway to recharge. I do love being around people and of course need them in my life, but I have no problem with being alone, too. Being outside always delivers some of the happiest experiences for me, so I was wondering, ‘why do I feel lonely?’ I was experiencing all of these things that I love so much, and I’ve worked hard to get here. And I wasn’t sure why I felt lonely. Sometimes when I felt happiness soar, it was like it reached a ceiling. Kind of like a high that only had so much momentum.

Then it dawned on me: Happiness needs to be shared. 


Have you ever spoken to someone in an effort to share an experience (happy or sad), and if they’re perceptive or empathetic enough to what you are saying, your feelings become more real, too? I have. It’s like that moment of sharing allows the experience to be amplified. It’s the BEST when I can share something exciting with another person, and to be able to watch them light up, too. It reminds me that we are not separate, and I can almost see myself in them. It’s like those birds. Two or more experiences contribute to a whole and make it evolve into something bigger and more powerful.

As I pondered this, I considered my other upcoming plans to solo adventure over the coming months. I currently have the gift of time and am able to take longer trips and many mid-week adventures. The majority of the people in my life that I share these experiences with are on different time, so I know that many of my trips will still be taken alone. So, how can I make those solo experiences more real? It’s by simply sharing them. I love photographing what I see, and LOVE sharing them with people I meet along the way and the people I love when I come back to the city. I’m experimenting with making some videos of my trips, which I’ve never done, but am so very excited to share in hopes that it will help other people light up, too. And I have this blog that I get to write this stuff in (which I’m grateful that you are reading!) All of these things—they make my happiness bigger.

And so, I believe that meaningful experiences must be shared. Whether it’s something we learn, or simply the feeling of experiencing something beautiful, good or bad. When we keep these things bottled up inside of us, that’s as far as they can go. They end there, but they are meant to be evolved by being shared with someone else. Someone who will make happiness more real.