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.

Goodbye, See You Tomorrow

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“Here sitting on the world, she thought, for she could not shake herself free from the sense that everything this morning was happening for the first time, perhaps for the last time, as a traveler, even though he is half asleep, knows, looking out of the train window, that he must look now, for he will never see that town, or that mule-cart, or that woman at work in the fields, again.” –To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf

You’ve been living in a tent on the top of a hill in Cape Cod for over two months now. Patches of black mildew blossom in the humidity. Tent freckles, you think to yourself, as you run your finger over them. It is almost time to leave again. Almost.

The summer passed you by in the strangest way. Sometimes it feels like you weren’t even there, like you were a passenger on a train watching the scenery flash by—families rotating in and out, cabin doors slamming shut in their wake—but then there are moments, moments when the window opens and the breeze smells of wildflowers—when a kid hits a bullseye and his mouth falls open in wonderment, when a camper sings boldly into a microphone with the backing of a live guitar—and in that moment you feel present, grounded, like the world is real and you belong, and you’re doing something important, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.

You want to write something big and meaningful about this summer, about illness and death and human connection, but you feel smaller than normal and words don’t come easily.

Here’s what you can capture, still lifes from the train window:

Some nights you’d make tea and sit behind your mildew-freckled tent and listen to the sounds of the highway while looking up at the stars. You went to Provincetown by yourself and listened to a podcast about the Manson Family as the road narrowed and the traffic swelled, and it felt safe and warm to be alone again in an unknown city, and it made you happy to know that you could be with someone and still belong fiercely to yourself. You found a tree frog in the toilet stall and marveled that a life of tree frogs and shower spiders was now yours.

This has been a summer about empathy. About listening and learning and finding gratitude in every shadow, every narrow beam of light.

Families welcome you into their lives for a week, sharing stories of g-tubes and surgeries and stubborn doctors, and you take whatever they give you, whatever morsel of their lives they are willing to put into your hands. You are a passenger along for the ride. You are just passing through.

What Blossoms From Anger

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“The children of the woods play wild, secret games.” –Gillian Flynn. My campers playing games in the fields of Ohio.

When I was eleven, I wrote a strongly worded email to General Mills arguing that gymnast Paul Hamm should be on a Wheaties box. I didn’t regularly eat Wheaties and I didn’t do gymnastics, but I thought that the red-headed gymnast was adorable and talented and totally deserved to be smiling up at frazzled grocery store shoppers who were confused about what aisle the granola had been moved to. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t an issue I cared much about (sorry, General Mills, for the deception), nor did it matter that Paul’s hair would’ve contrasted poorly against the orange Wheaties box (Shadowbox it with white? Photoshop a stylish hat on?). People online convinced me to take up the cause, and I was enamored enough with the tiny ginger man that I did.

The next time I wrote a protest email to a person or organization was thirteen years later. The White House had changed hands, and the Internet had erupted into a firestorm of white hot anger. I read the discourse, I felt the heat of the flames, and I joined the fight. And, once again, it was the People of the Internet who stirred me into action.

It was different this time. At eleven, I had felt the feeble force of injustice at an athletic slight, but none of it was anger. Anger has never been an emotion I’ve worn well. I cry (often) and brood (probably more often) and overthink (hence the parenthesis), but I don’t rage.

But this time, at 24 years old, the echoes of outrage reverberated within me. I composed letters and emails, even faxes, to my local representatives. I hosted postcard parties to speak out in quantity. I left voicemails. Sure, Paul Hamm may have been denied the coveted position as the poster boy of Wheaties because he may or may not have fairly won the gold all-around medal (I’m sure this controversy keeps you up at night too), but this was injustice on an unfathomably large scale. I was angry about health care. I was angry about the slackening environmental regulations. I was angry about the corruption and the greed and the callous disregard for humanity.

It is July 28, 2018. It’s been over a year since I’ve contacted a local representative. In fact, I forgot to register in time for an absentee ballot for the New York primaries this past spring. Bouncing from place to place, it is harder to stay in touch with the national discourse these days. WiFi is infrequent. I spend my days out in the sunlight, helping kids into kayaks. I spend less time reading the news.

And the questions I’ve been asking myself lately revolve around my fading anger. Do I need to rekindle it? And if so, how and for whom? On what scale should I be fighting—for my country, for my hometown, for the trees I now call neighbors? In the time that I have, what’s the best way to make a difference?

The problem is I want to do it all. I want to learn more about proposed legislation for ATV use in the Adirondacks. I want to rage against the inadequate assistance in Puerto Rico and our complicity in our own quiet tragedy. I want to become a rafting guide in Arizona, and teach at a camp in upstate New York, and live in a cabin in a sun-stained patch of woods with mismatched mugs and towering bookshelves and my imported Lord of the Rings posters. I want it all.

Some days I feel like I’m doing enough. I send thank you letters to authors who’ve impacted me, and I get a message back, a thank you for a thank you. Kids gift me smiles and laughter. Parents thank me for my time and efforts, my willingness to live out of a tent for the summer so that they can enjoy camp for a week. And maybe the smallness of my efforts are OK. Maybe I’m impacting more lives by teaching kids how to shoot a bow and arrow than I ever did with my emails and letters. Maybe it’s passion, not anger, that matters more.

A Year

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One year ago, I was sitting at a desk. It was a nice desk. The chair was padded and it swiveled; I had an entire drawer dedicated to colored paper, glue sticks, and craft foam; a painted alligator made of egg cartons and cardboard boxes watched me work. It was a lovely desk.

Fifty-two weeks ago, the end of my desk life was in sight. I was leaving my job at the end of June and embarking on a new adventure. I was ditching my office desk for a collapsible one my dad and I made that fit snugly into the back of my car. Farewell to my padded chair and hello to a bright red camping chair that had a single cup holder in the right arm. Spontaneity was swapped with security. AC was abandoned for smoke-stained Western air.

Three-hundred-and-sixty-five days ago, I thought I was taking a break from the 9-5 lifestyle. Just a couple months of wildness, I told myself. Then I’ll be ready to start again.

But those couple months stretched and stretched, until here I am, one year later, with no foreseeable end in sight.

The past 525,600 minutes feel heavier than those that came before them, weighed down by the places I’ve visited,  the trails my shoes have pressed against, the people I still daydream about. Time passes without significance in the cogs of routine, but adventure forces you to be present every moment.

3.154e+7 seconds ago, I was a different person. I loved fewer people. The world felt more hostile. In this narrow space of becoming, I shed my skin and ran, growing with the world instead of against it.

One year ago, I left my lovely desk job. I haven’t looked back since.

 

 

Wild Child(ren)

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      “What’s this tree’s name? C’mon, we just went over it.” I point to a slender tree with gray bark peeling off like wallpaper. The kids look at it uncertainly.
       “I know it!” A girl exclaims, tugging on her braid. Her eyes widen in revelation. “A shaggy hickey!”
       I look at the shagbark hickory and stifle a laugh. “Not quite.”

Outdoor education is exhausting. Thirteen-hour days filled with sixth graders and mud and “No, that’s not edible!” Mashed potatoes with the consistency of Drano. Thin vinyl mattresses that you slip off of if you forget to put a sheet beneath your sleeping bag. There is never enough food, never enough sleep to fill me up.

This was supposed to be my in-between gig, a brief respite before my next full-throttle adventure. But then the lake water receded, the buds burst on the trees, and I dreamed less and less of faraway places. For the first time in years, I wanted to stay.

“Is Farrow your real name?”
“Do you ever wear make up?”
“Have you actually been to all those places on your water bottle?”

The questions flow ceaselessly. I answer them honestly. Most of the time. The kids distract themselves with their disposable cameras, taking pictures of half-eaten grilled cheese sandwiches and their own muddy boot prints on the tile floor.

“What time is it?”
“When’s lunch?”
“What would happen if I accidentally fell into the lake?”

They start off a little shy, uncertain about me as an instructor. But then their caution melts. They smile as I play off of their Vine reenactments. Their eyes widen when I reference the twisted towers from Fortnite. Their eagerness grows as I tell them yes over and over again, boundaries from their daily lives slipping loose, delivering them fresh and breathless into the wild.

Small acts feel like gifts. Can I put mud on my face? Yes. Can I lick this tree? Yes. Can I get my shoes wet? As long as you don’t complain later. The kids splash unceremoniously into creeks and hold salamanders in their hands. Tree branches crack as boys beat them against rocks. Girls rub sand into their hair.

There’s a sense of pride I get from being the one to say yes, the one to give them this tiny sliver of freedom and wildness. How strange that it’s a luxury to get dirty. How odd that climbing rocks feels like a privilege.

“So that’s poison ivy? Can I eat it?”
“How do snakes poop?”
“A crawdad? The counselor over there told me it’s a lobster.”

People say to dream big, but I’m dreaming smaller these days. A clean thermos, a book, and a child brave enough to interrupt me during a lecture to tell me I have a tick on my face all feel like bliss. Some days this is enough.