Dear Reusable WinCo Bag,

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Dear Resuable WinCo Bag,

I’m sorry I didn’t acknowledge our one-year anniversary. To be honest, I forgot. I didn’t forget about you–of course not! How rude. How unforgivable–but I forgot that our adventuring had stretched beyond the shortened measuring stick, that weeks and months were a paltry time reference and that our relationship could be measured by years, or epochs even (did you know that it would take you 1,000 years to decompose? I’d never let that happen to you though, of course not).

We met in California. I’d been living out of my car for two months and just discovered the miracle of WinCo Foods, an employee-owned grocery chain that has remarkably cheap groceries. Grocery shopping was always exciting, a brief burst of normalcy as I walked through the labyrinth aisles with my greasy hair and dirty clothes. Grocery shopping meant I feasted that evening with a pre-made salad, gummy worms, and a tall boy of PBR. Since I traveled without a cooler, all perishables had to be eaten quickly, so I had a day or two of good food before it was back to ramen and grilled cheese sandwiches.

I used you for grocery shopping several times, but then I relegated you to a more permanent position: undergarment holder.

The road trip ended but still we traveled onward. Iowa, Ohio, Cape Cod, the Adirondacks, Rochester. More wool socks were added to the collection. You held everything proudly.

I thought of you the other day, darling WinCo Bag, when I was watching Marie Kondo’s show on Netflix. Does this bring you joy? She asks people, referring to each individual object in a person’s overstuffed house. Does this bring you joy, this dog-chewed key chain from El Paso? This bedazzled tank top you wore one time for your Coyote Ugly outfit? This Santa-hat-wearing teddy bear an ex-boyfriend gave you with a note reading, “Beary Christmas” and that you used as Kleenex when he dumped you two months later? What do you feel when you hold it? Joy?

I’ve been thinking about stuff lately. Because I like stuff. I like my red down jacket, and my map-of-Pittsburgh pint glass, and having my favorite poetry books clustered together in a neat pile. Things are useful. Things bring me joy. But things weigh me down, both literally and metaphorically. I feel like at some point I have to chose between a vagrant lifestyle of adventure, and a settled life of houseplants and WiFi. And it’s hard because I want both. I want it all.

An article on Grist pointed out that the show fails to address why we have so much stuff, how we got to this point where our lives are flooded with meaningless objects, shiny in their newness. It doesn’t mention capitalism, and consumerism, and how we inculcate children to the importance of buying things, that we paradoxically frame shopping as both a luxury and a necessity, a balm for our fraying sanity. We build our pride around owning stuff. Not necessarily using it, or cherishing it, but having it, so that if someone asks if you have a Vitamix you can proudly exclaim YES, and feel like you belong to this group of people. Because stuff is part of our identity. What we own, or don’t own, links us with certain groups and that sometimes the only reason we buy something is to belong.

And all this made me think of you, dear WinCo Bag, because items gain value through use. Thanks to California’s ban on plastic bags, I purchased you, lovely, useful Reusable WinCo Bag. And when I lay eyes on you, you give me joy. Because I know my cozy socks are in there. (But also for the memories. Those too.) You bring me far more joy than any beige basket from Target ever would.

Cheers,
Channing

Government? Closed. Parks? Open.

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People taking pictures of things at a busy national park (I prefer to photograph the people taking photographs, obviously)

Reading the news is a small daily horror. We are currently in the longest government shutdown of the modern era, and people and places are suffering. The institutions we have built this country upon are failing us.

The national parks are staying open despite being understaffed and unable to handle the influx of visitors. Restroom facilities are closed. Trash is no longer being picked up. Landscapes are being damaged, sometimes irreparably so.

I’ll save you the trouble of digging through the news dumpster yourself:

We can blame the shutdown. We can blame the lack of money and resources that protect our parks. We can blame troublemakers and rule breakers.

But the root is us. Thoughtless, hurtful humans. Because it’s not one person causing all of this, not two, not a handful, not a couple “bad seeds.” We, the collective, are the problem.

Natalie Diaz tweeted the following in regard to the destruction at Joshua Tree National Park:

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I could make this post a philosophical musing on human nature and destruction and how we love to play god for the brief eclipse of power. I could cite scientific studies (hello, Stanford Prison Experiment). I could quote Shakespeare. But none of that is helpful.

See, what bothers me about news is that very few outlets tell me what to do about any of this. They inform me of all the bad things happening but don’t give me ways to help fix them. And for me that’s frustrating. I’m a doer. I believe firmly in my own agency and my ability to affect the world. I believe that change is brought about by people, and that I can be a source of power if only I do and act and try.

So I do. And I act. And I try.

This is me trying. This right here. This small, sparrow-boned post.

Want to help our parks? Here are some things you can do:

  1. Don’t go. Even if you promise not to litter or take a dump, human traffic is still a problem. Please don’t visit the national parks right now.
  2. Educate yourself on the Leave No Trace principles. There are seven of them. Learn how to best minimize your footprint in our parks–both national and local–so that when you visit in the future, you will know how to respect the surrounding wilderness.
  3. Donate. Money is helpful and necessary. Small local organizations are stepping in right now to protect our parks. Support them. Yosemite is one of my favorite national parks and through some research (AKA a recommendation from Beth Rodden, a Yosemite resident and pro-climber, on Instagram), I learned that Ken Yager and the Yosemite Climbing Association are doing a lot to help the park, especially with the current trash overload. They have a donation page!
  4. Write thank-you letters to park staff. Kind words are always welcome.
  5. Get involved with your local conservancy or park. Education is one of the best ways to develop an appreciation and understanding of nature. Will it help immediately? No. But change doesn’t happen overnight and the American wilderness faces a long, globally-warmed road ahead; it needs all the supporters it can.

What the parks need right now and in the future are kind, compassionate, thoughtful human beings who care about the people and the world around them. Because even if there isn’t someone there to tell us what to do, even if we are able to run free and wild with sunsets in our eyes, we need to do the right thing. For the planet we live on. For our own fragile humanity.

There’s no better time to start than now.

(Do you, dear reader, have other suggestions? How can people help our parks and wilderness? What cool, inspiring things have you done or heard about in this vein? Let me know!)

Ohio on Fire

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Forget what they say
the year started in March
when a girl offered you a cigarette
leaning against her blue beater.
The match was lit.
Still
you stayed.

Did you know fingers
can smell of cigarettes?
Fingers that point and pluck and love
perfumed with a past
no memory of you.

You’re not sure how it started.
It started when you arrived
it started when you wrote your name
(not your name)
in marker
on a blank white sheet
it started when you were mopping the rec room
and his doubts poured out
straight into the dirty water
and you washed the entire room with them.

(Did his doubts smell like tobacco?
You don’t remember.)

It’s easy to ignore smoke
to name it incense
fog
a dirty ghost from
a dirty past
rising from the rec room’s
dirty-water-washed walls.
It’s happening, they told you.
No, you said
and walked away.

(You cried on your drive to Ohio.
You never told anyone that.)

People tried to bury
their loneliness in you
like an armoire
they could hide their
secrets and shame
knowing they’d soon be smoke.
They expected you to be someone
when you were barely yourself.
Call me by your name
No.
Call me something else
let me be someone else
let me move to Ohio
and be synonymous
with the sound of rocks
sinking in stagnant water.

Farrow
(Only one person asked
what book it was from.
You never give more
than asked.)

Bonfires burning the night
all eyes on California
when really it was Ohio
going up in flames.
Scorched love.
Scorched earth.
I still don’t know
if love or anger
burns hotter.

Remember Me

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Marcy Airfield, Keene, NY.

“There are so many people we could become, and we leave such a trail of bodies through our teens and twenties that it’s hard to tell which one is us. How many versions do we abandon over the years?”
― Dan Chaon, Among the Missing

You exist in the minds of others. You exist in twisted and bronzed and sun-bleached forms. Because memory’s a sieve, leaking feelings and details until only pebbles large enough to run between thumb and forefinger remain.

I remember you.

This happens often now that you’re wintering in your hometown. People will do double-takes as they look at you from ten feet away, eyes squinted, head turned just enough that they could spin away in an instant.

I remember you. You went to Brighton, right?

They are not always confident when they tack on that last part. They are teachers and parents and students. You wonder what they think about you. I’m not here for good! you want to shout across the t-shirts racks, as if it is somehow shameful to end up in the same place you were raised. As if the only way you could claim dignity was by leaving.

I remember you. You went to Brighton, right? What are you doing these days?

You never have a good answer to that. Because you both know what you are doing–you are restocking the Techwick t-shirts that are suitable for most outdoor sports, but will they wrinkle shoved in a suitcase for a three-week trip to South Africa? No fucking clue. You don’t say that, though. You tell them about Lake George. You use the term “outdoor education,” which sounds palatable in suburban America because it includes the word “education.” You make it clear that you are not in this town forever, and that someone else will eventually be arranging the Techwick.

I remember you. You went to Brighton, right? What are you doing these days? God, I’m so sorry, but your name is totally slipping my mind.

You wear a nametag but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that names are really unimportant, that they encapsulate blood and sinew, feelings and thoughts, and that’s what really matters. What really matters is that you are a bunch of indescribable moments and buzzing atoms and that people will remember you the same way they remember that one particular rainbow over that one particular Walmart parking lot.

I remember you. You went to Brighton, right? What are you doing these days? God, I’m so sorry, but your name is totally slipping my mind. You broke eight minutes for your 2k time, though. I remember that.

You talk with the former boys crew coach, and some distant, buried part of you swells when he mentions your 2k time. Because you were the best. The best by far. You remember lining up in the small asphalt lot by the bank of the Genesee–girls and boys teams–in order of fastest to slowest. Boys were on either side of you and that moment remains treasured in memory because gender didn’t matter; you were still one of the motherfucking fastest.

Sometimes you forget that you were an athlete. That you won medals. That you raced with the University of Rochester team in the summer because you could hold your own. That you would come home with skin dangling from your palms and Spandex plastered to your shivering body from the rain.

That was a different you, and the strangest thing about living in this city is confronting shadow versions of yourself, the you that’s only alive in memory.

What no one ever tells you is that it’s OK to leave people behind. That not everyone deserves a place in your ripening future. That it’s OK to be the nameless rainbow above the Walmart parking lot, a singular moment captured without depth, without acknowledging that two minutes later the light had shifted and the rainbow was gone.

I remember you.

 

First Steps

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On the summit of Wittenberg.

I camped by myself for the first time when I was 23. It was in Phoenicia, NY, nestled in the Catskill Mountains, the closest one can get to New York City and still feel connected to threads of wildness. My plan was this: leave work early, drive three hours, camp, summit three mountains, and then drive back to the Poconos exhausted but content. I had no expectations, no greater hope. I just wanted to be outside, and this is what I had come up with.

I learned a lot in college, including if you want to get outside you don’t need anything fancy. Leaders in my school’s outdoors club always told us that all we needed for food was a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter. That would last us the entire weekend. Of course that didn’t stop people from getting fancy with their tinfoil meals cooked over a fire, or backpacking with an entire bag of Franzia strapped to their pack. But the essence was clear:  the outdoors is accessible with minimal gear requirements if you’re willing to forgo creature comforts.

Over the years, I’d collected my own stash of stuff–down sleeping bag, insulated sleeping pad, hiking boots–but besides the new acquisitions, I’d pillaged my dad’s inventory and made do with what I already had, including an EMS backpack I’d purchased in middle school that was quite literally falling apart.

So off I went. On my own. To the mountains. For the very first time.

The weekend went smoothly. Better than smoothly. As I was checking in to the campground, two women overheard that I was by myself and invited me to their campfire that evening. And I went, even though I intended not to. They introduced me to their partners, and we spent the night drinking, eating, and exchanging stories by the fire. Two of them had met in the Marines and had married after three months of knowing each other. One was a chef who worked at a five-star restaurant. They told me about their lives in Virginia (interesting). They asked me if I was scared of bears in these parts (no). They were suitably impressed with my itinerary for the next day (nearly 20 miles, and no, they didn’t want to join).

I cannot find a beginning to this wild, meandering, sunlit life of mine. I cannot trace it back to its origins. How I got here. Who specifically inspired me. There is no clear path, and sometimes I think my life would’ve evolved into this organic, pulsing knot no matter what steps I took. But that weekend in the Catskills is a clear pivotal moment, one of countless beginnings.

Being a beginner is a special kind of joy. I recently started playing around with watercolors, picking up the supplies at a craft store on a whim, and it’s been fun albeit challenging. I don’t know what different brushes do, or techniques for using the paints. And it’s hard not to compare my work with others. But I’m trying.

This past year I have been a beginner more than ever before. I’ve lived in five different places, had five different jobs, and have met more people than I can count. And I wonder if my life feels fuller partially because there is so much newness. That the discomfort of beginning becomes the glow of success, and I constantly reap the rewards of struggling, learning, and growing.

A recent goal for myself is to be a beginner more often. To try and do and fail as often as I can. To accept being uncomfortable or scared and to push ahead anyway. Often the first steps are the hardest. The rest is just free fall.

(Want to read about other people I met on my Catskill adventure? Check out a previous blog post here.)

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My campsite in Phoenicia. (My beloved EMS backpack is on the right. RIP.)

The Lorax: 2018 Edition

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On the side of the world where buffaloes once roamed and black and sticky is the sad ocean foam and nothing ever grows from the infertile loam…is the Street of the Lifted Lorax.

What was the Lorax? And why was it there? And why was it lifted and taken somewhere from the side of the world where buffaloes once roamed?

The old Once-ler stills lives here. Ask him. Ask him by phone.

Ask him about the time, the time after land lines, when water was flowing and ziparelles were growing and legislatures knowing that the land needed us. Yes, needed us, the smallest of the small, the biggest of the big, the creatures that could shape the world like a twig.

Ask him about the time when the land needed us.

You do it. You dial, and it rings and ding-zip-a-lings, and he answers with a cough and a wheeze-wig-a-zing.

You ask him about the time when the land needed us.

“It all started way back…such a long, long time back…Way back in the days when the Colorado still flowed and mountains were still snow-capped and lawns were still mowed, and the song of the Greater Sage Grouse rang out in space, that we all lived and prospered in this glorious place.

It wasn’t perfect no, not even close. Temperatures were rising; we were beginning to roast! But on this side of the world, in the Half Dome cliffs and Everglade moats, the land was better off, better off than most.

There were black bears and brown bears and white bears as well. Wolves and bobcats and a rapper named Pharrell.

They all needed us. The black bears and brown bears and white bears as well. The wolves and bobcats (not sure about Pharrell…). The oceans and the clouds and brown fragile soil, they all needed us as stewards, to be protective and loyal.

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“But then things changed,” said the Once-ler, “new people were elected to office. Pro-business, pro-money, pro-laws as weak as boneless raw fish.

Government websites with the words ‘climate change’? That surely won’t do. So they deleted and erased, knowing well no one could sue.

But words were not enough. Actions meant more! They needed to do to even out the score.

So away went NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System. Data’s not needed. No one at the top cared how the planet was treated (as long as the murk-fested political swamps weren’t weeded).

They cut and they slashed, they repealed and they revoked. They loosened regulations on air pollution no matter who choked.

The air is fine! They exclaimed, in their crisp clean suits, walking down air-conditioned hallways with their new Fengvenchy boots. This is just how it is; business must come first. We’re doing it for you! The people! They cried, as they slipped money into their purse.

But they weren’t done yet, oh no, their work was never done. Never done until oil and big business thoroughly won.

Endangered Species Act? Really? The animals can fend for themselves. So they rollbacked the plan, adding fur to their shelves.

The wolves sighed all as one. They howled at the moon. They huffed and they puffed and they cursed that big goon, the one who marched to the beat of his own tune, the one who cared for nothing except his own silver spoon.

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Tracking methane emissions was a ‘record-keeping nightmare,’ so they reformed the policy to make it more ‘fair.’ Emit more! Pay less! This is how government works. Being friends with a Congressman sure has its perks.

Public lands were a tangled web, a new issue altogether. There was battle after battle and yet still more to weather. Grand Staircase-Escalante was shrunk more than 46 percent, and the Indigenous at Bears Ears asked where was their rent? Because it was their land first, but we seem to have forgotten. So we claim it and then sell it with deals just as rotten.

As rotten as what? A tomato? A fish? As rotten as an authentic, preserved Thanksgiving dish? Give the land back to us, or protect it, the Indigenous plead. But we give in to nothing and no one, except our own need. (It’s not compassion that motivates government, not empathy, but greed.)

The Migratory Bird Act had been in place for one-hundred years. It’d survived twenty administrations (c’mon, let’s hear the cheers). But stop! No more. It must be revised. Bird deaths because of industry? Them we won’t chastise.

Car emissions? Who cares? Let them run wild. Research about mines on local health? Don’t add to the list you’ve compiled.

We’re about money, you see, saving and earning, and what good is public land, endangered species, if there’s not a profit turning?”

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“But what about the Lorax?” you interrupt. “Isn’t this story about him?” The Once-ler stops and looks at you with a sad, feeble grin.

“The Lorax, you ask? Why, he’s gone long ago. His part is done. Seuss ended his story in nineteen-seventy-one. I’m sorry to say that things have not gotten better. Subtleties are no use these days, all they do is fetter.

What I’m saying is this: We’ve already waited too long. But it’s not over yet, and we need to be strong.

There are the brown bears and black bears and white bears as well. There are termites and butterflies and Howie Mandel. The arctic needs us, and forests too, more biomes than I can tell. But I can see it in your eyes—the determination, the energy—that we are going to do well.

That we will fight and protect, conserve and sustain, that we will do all we can for future generations so that all this remains.”

And with that the Once-ler hung up the phone—what more could he say? The earth needed you, it needs you today.

To stay alert, to stay informed, to do your very best, because the land and the creatures and all the rest, they need you to do, to act, to invest. To invest in our future, to care beyond yourself, because the best things in the world can’t be bought on a shelf.

You’ll do great, I know you will, there are a lot of strong people out there. To help you, to guide you, to show you how to care. So go now, take action, there’s a lot left to do, the earth needs your help, it’s counting on you.

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Information sourced from https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/03/how-trump-is-changing-science-environment/

Post inspired by The Lorax by Dr. Seuss, first published in 1971 by Random House.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Self-Portrait at Twenty-Five

 

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You are 25. A quarter of a century. You feel 25. You’re still young but somehow, without noticing, you’ve slipped into adulthood. You like being 25.

You sport a $16.95 haircut, and thrift-store sweaters, and purple Vans you bought in California back in high school. You still own your Death Cab for Cutie hoodie from eighth grade.

You sneak glimpses of your body in mirrors as you walk through your poorly insulated house, dashing from bedroom to bathroom through the chill of the living room. You are thinner than you once were. Stronger. You lift boats and hike mountains and belay children for a job. Your body feels capable and thriving.

People ask if you have matches on you, if they can borrow your pocket knife. These facts make you feel strong and capable, too.

You think about aloneness a lot. You remember your eighth grade English teacher pulling you aside and telling you things got better—English teachers always knew you best—and now you’ve come to realize that you misunderstood him. You thought that things would change. They don’t. But aloneness is something different now. Something comforting and desirable like your red down jacket with the duct tape patch on the cuff. You’re not sure how to live any differently, and you don’t think there will ever be a time when you don’t feel this way.

Friends from once-upon-a-time invite you to hang out, and their invitations make you pause. You have come so far since then. Since whenever. You are further and further away from who you once were, and you find it increasingly difficult to reconnect with people from your past. You don’t know how to explain your wildness. Someday you hope it won’t need an explanation.

You have a list of inspirational women that you thumb through in your head like rosary beads—Hanya Yanagihara, Rebecca Solnit, Arundhati Roy, Lindy West. All of them are strong and motivated, and you often worry that you’re not doing enough, that these women work harder, fight more fiercely, and you’ll never be one of them. You compare yourself with others in terms of accomplishments because you’re scared one day you’ll wake up and regret things undone. You worry about time. About wasting it. About not having enough.

Your world is a lot bigger than it used to be. You daydream about dusk in Yosemite, and backpacking in Nepal, and the David Wojnarowicz exhibition at the Whitney that you didn’t get to see (Hanya Yanagihara saw it). Your goal for this winter is to practice cello and learn how to bake bread.

You think about your past selves. You picture them all together like nervous actors before auditions crowded in a waiting room. Childhood Channing is reading Harry Potter in a matching neon green outfit, sprawled unapologetically in a chair. Teenage Channing has discovered eyeliner and nihilism. College Channing holds a can of PBR in one hand and a PBJ sandwich in the other.

It almost scares you how much you’ve changed because you’re only 25. Who will you be in five years? Ten? Twenty? So much is unknowable and sometimes you wish you had a master plan, a well-lit path to follow. But mystery is too inviting. So you push onward in the darkness, hands out in front of you, hoping not to stumble. You’ve learned that it takes the human eye about twenty minutes to readjust to darkness, which is something you tell kids when you lead them on night hikes, challenging them to abandon their flashlights and trust their primal selves. This is how you travel now. No lights. Just courage.

 

 

Three Moments

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Fern Boy and his friend were very proud of their fort, as they deserved to be.

One

I have a group of eight students. It is their first week of school.

We’re going to do some get-to-know-you games, I say. To start, let’s go around the circle and say our name and favorite holiday. You can go first. I gesture to my left. The boy shakes his head as he looks up at me.

You won’t know my favorite holiday, he says.

Try me.

Eid.

I know that one. Why’s it your favorite?

We go around the circle. Several kids say Eid. One says Ramadan. No one but me says Earth Day.

Those three are new to school this year, a teacher tells me as the kids take a water break. They’re refugees from Syria. 

We play another game. The children run back and forth, switching spots on the polydots.

You can leave the polydots on the ground, I tell one of the boys as he picks them up laughing. Just run from one to another. 

You said to steal them.

I pause. I did say that. Steal the dots meaning sneak onto them. It’s a baseball term. 

I never phrase the instructions that way again.


Two

We’re building forts at Red Fox Hollow. I let the kids choose their own groups, or work by themselves, if they prefer. I instruct them to use only dead and downed material, but one boy picks a handful of living ferns anyway to use as insulation. I know he’s been labeled as difficult by his teachers. I take the ferns from him and tell him to find something else.

At the end of the session, all of us tour the forts and the students explain why they built them the way they did.

Fern Boy and his classmate have the most impressive fort by far.

I was inspired by Winnie the Pooh, Fern Boy says. See, there’s this one episode when Eeyore is trying to build his house and it doesn’t work, and eventually all of his friends help him. But I remembered how they used one long stick between trees as the top, and leaned other sticks against them. And then all these leaves are insulation.

I ask all the kids to vote on which shelter they’d prefer to spend the night in. All but one vote for Fern Boy’s.

The kids tear down their forts as we head back to camp, but I let Fern Boy leave his up because I love it so much.

A week later I pass by it on a hike. It is still standing. I think of Eeyore.


Three

Minority high school students from Albany and Schenectady flood camp for the day. I lead seven of them on a hike to Stewart’s Ledges, a short but rewarding trip that offers beautiful views of Lake George. The leaves are bursting with color.

We pass several private residences on our way to the trailhead.

Look at those houses! Ryan remarks. They’re made from wood, actual real wood.

Two girls comment how their houses in Nigeria were made from concrete blocks and how you could never punch those walls.

Ryan is seventeen years old.

We take pictures and admire the view from the top. We have extra time, so I lead the group off the rocks and into the trees. Shelter building time. Only dead and downed material, I tell them.

Why is there grass up here? Ryan asks me.

What do you mean?

Why is it here? There’s no one to mow it…

One of the kids snickers. None of them call him stupid or offer an explanation.

It’s wild, I tell him. It’s probably a different type of grass than grass you’d find in a front yard, grass that you’d mow. Wild grass seeds are brought by animals or the wind and then it grows. It grows more over here because there’s no trail, no one’s walking on it. Animals keep it short so it doesn’t need mowing.

He nods and then wanders back to his shelter. He finds a mushroom and picks it to use as a doorknob for his fort. I don’t tell him that mushrooms aren’t dead and downed material. I let him use it. Ryan is seventeen years old. I want this world, the outdoors, to be as magical and welcoming as possible. I don’t want to tell him no. I let him use the mushroom.

Paper Worries

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A bracelet found in my communal bathroom.

“I sometimes think that the size of our happiness is inversely proportional to the size of our house.”
Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts

I have many hobbies and one of them is worrying. I worry about getting my heart broken, being stuck in an unfulfilling life, and money, often money. My money worries come suddenly and with force—I’ll see a picture on Pinterest of a white-walled kitchen lined with mason jars and mismatched mugs, and I’ll think “I want that someday.” Then I’ll think that to have a kitchen you must have a house and having a house means you probably have a job, and doesn’t that mean you have to stay in one place? And how does one buy a house, anyway? And why does the word “mortgage” make me envision a coffin?

Here’s the direct path of the worry spiral: Do I want to work seasonal gigs forever? Probably not. But what am I qualified for at this point? Who would hire me? What if no one will hire me but a marketing firm that sends email blasts about Viagra? What if I have to write about Viagra FOREVER just because I want to live in one place for longer than three months? And how will I take vacations if I have a full-time job writing about Viagra? And honestly, what kind of apartment could I afford with a job like that? Could I even afford decorative mason jars for all of my loose bulk products? And I wouldn’t have time to hike or read or do anything except think of more palatable phrasing for “erectile dysfunction” (Could I somehow make a pun with “limp stick” and Limp Bizkit? Maybe.).

Somehow the solution I always land on is money. If I made more money, I’d feel more secure about my flimsy future, and life would unfold in front of me with clarity and precision. It would be like a board game where life progresses effortlessly from one space to the next, a definitive end in sight. You get two-hundred dollars every time you pass go.

But life doesn’t feel like that. Instead, it feels like the scene from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when Harry’s flying around on his broom grabbing at keys, hoping to find the exact one that will unlock the next door guarding the stone. It feels aimless and overwhelming, and yeah, Harry knew which key to grab because of the bent wing, but I’m certainly no 11-year-old Harry Potter, and I’m not even sure if it’s keys I’m reaching for or tree branches or part of my front door that broke off this week and will probably never be repaired.

And I know it’s silly, and I know it doesn’t make sense, but part of my brain whispers that a steady income would solve all of that.

It’s a worry that’s been implanted into my mind from the world I inhabit, a worry that people around me unknowingly nurture. When will you go back to your real job? So it’s kind of like a gap year? You have a degree?! People tacitly imply that I’m not doing enough, that I’m spinning wheels instead of racing forward, and it can be difficult to remind myself that my life is fulfilling and meaningful. I’d rather be in the sunlight helping kids conquer their fear of heights than tucked away in an office thinking of ways men can feel confident about their soft genitalia. Society abides by a very narrow definition of success, and I am frequently reminded that I do not meet that criteria.

Every trite thing you’ve heard about money and life is true, but I’m going to tell it to you again because I need to hear it for myself:

It will never be enough. But it is enough. You are enough. Make enough that you can sustain yourself and the ones you love, and then place your wants elsewhere. Crave time and adventure and human connection, and forget all the rest. Forget what they’ve taught you about needing more. Being busy isn’t the same as being successful. Being successful isn’t the same as being happy. Life ebbs and flows, and it’s most vivid at its most wild. Don’t stress. Don’t worry. It’s all just borrowed time anyway.

But Wasn’t That Love?

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Flashback to hiking in the Himalayas

“He said, ‘I love you.’
She shook her head. ‘You can see me, that’s all.’
But wasn’t that love? Seeing what no one else could?”
                            –Bone Gap, Laura Ruby

“I’m so scared of dying without ever being really seen. Can you understand?”
–David Foster Wallace

When I was 18, I believed you could fully know a person. I believed you could understand a person’s thoughts and feelings and the entirety of their past. I believed that love meant that every axis of a person’s life was illuminated, that there were no secrets, no shadows to be excised. I believed that others could learn to see you in the same fluid, tilted way you saw yourself.

I don’t believe any of that anymore.

Last night I sat on a dock on Lake George and watched the surrounding mountains blossom with lights as darkness settled. The night was warm and the sound of boat horns echoed along the expanse of lake, and in an instant my memory sparked and I was brought back to my days in the Himalayas, how I’d sit on the rooftop deck of my dorm and watch the lights of Dehradun in the distance. I was always alone. I always left my classmates behind in their crowded rooms. The lights seemed to glitter in the thin mountain air, and I watched them with my legs scrunched together, singing the same Iron and Wine song underneath my breath.

My life was smaller at 18. I’d never lived outside of my parents’ suburban neighborhood. I’d never been by myself in a city, or fallen in love, or made clay sculptures in a cave by the light of my headlamp. Life was easier to encompass, it was still something you could hold and pass along like a tide-worn pebble, no thorns, no knots. I still didn’t fully believe in being alone.

A coworker asked to see my water bottle the other night after catching glimpse of my Glacier National Park sticker, and we talked about hiking, and seasonal work, and the beauty of the West. I spent three months by myself on the road, and it was one of the best periods of my life. But that time spent alone, those private, radiant moments, are impossible to share. Words are flimsy. Like sunlight through wanting hands, those moments cannot be held.

And it’s not just me. Most people I know have their own corners and cobwebs, the places of themselves where light only trickles in. The other evening my partner mentioned his time traveling out West–hitchhiking and surviving off pocket crumbs–and his brow furrowed with bad memories. I will never know most of his previous life, I’ll never know the boy he was before with brighter hair and fewer freckles, but maybe it’s through possessing these private thoughts and memories we ensure that above all else, we’ll always belong to ourselves. Life is better with mystery, anyway.

In this mess of light and love, of being seen, of being human, I think of a Vincent Van Gogh quote:

“I tell you, the more I think, the more I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.”

I share my time and my thoughts. I try my best to be open and honest. And maybe that’s all any of us can do. Try to be human and empathetic, try to convey what it feels like to be alive in our own earthen and wanting skin, try to convey that through whatever means we can.