where do we go from here?

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I used to sit in Washington Square Park and watch this punk rock pianist play classical music on the weekends. I bought one of his albums and still listen to it all the time.

But I needed to witness someone wrestle
With what it means to just exist
-Dawes

Existing is hard. A pair of lungs, working legs, synapses that fire and illuminate, you’d think the biology of it all would be the difficult part of it. But often it’s not.

I’ve had a lot of what happens next conversations with people lately. It’s partly the field I’m in—seasonal work is transient, and movement in every sense is always on people’s mind—but it’s partly age, as well. Twenties are a messy decade. Life plans and road maps only get you so far.

The moment I realized that my plans were broken and that my map had gotten me lost was in New York City. I’d expected to love New York. I was a new college graduate, and I’d romanticized the city as a place where I’d be young and poor, struggling but successful. My life was supposed to be an episode of Girls, only with moderately better choices and a less irritating protagonist. I’d spend entire afternoons combing through the grid of Manhattan by foot, hoping that by walking I’d find a way to make the city home or a way to escape, but my sojourns never brought me either.

Ever since New York, I feel like I’ve been living year-to-year, never making decisions with an endgame in mind, but just living to live, gaining experiences and figuring it out, knowing that I have the tools and resources to make something of this all when the time feels right.

(When does the time feel right? Maybe you just know. Or maybe you don’t know and you just do it anyway.)

We don’t prepare people well for the world beyond college. We tell them to get a job, to work and save, but if that doesn’t happen, we tend to shrug our shoulders and wish them luck. Life feels very narrow sometimes.

What I struggle with the most is the shadowy judgment I feel from others watching me navigate my own life. It’s nothing outright. It’s hidden in the subtleties, the nuances that inform me that they think I’ve strayed too far, that I am too old for such instability. It bothers me when people no longer see me as the smart and motivated woman I was in college, that, for some reason, I can’t be smart and successful and wandering all at once.

Formal education isn’t the only form of growth that matters. Academia is only as high as the pedestal you put it on.

I’m not really sure who reads these posts (besides my few vocal, dedicated readers; I see you), but maybe you need to hear this because sometimes I do: You will find your way. You will find your way because you are capable of choice, and life takes the shape of your choices. It’s going to be alright. You will make it work. The days of thorns and bramble will become memories, and one day you will miss this struggle. Appreciate the bruises and flowing blood while you can. You will find your way, and it will be as golden as you always dreamed it would be. There’s courage in the choices you’re making, in choosing differently, in seeing differently, and I hope you know I’m proud of you. I hope you’re proud of yourself.

My senior yearbook quote for high school was from Atlas Shrugged, which, despite my conflicting views on the novel, I still find motivating:

Do not lose your knowledge that man’s proper estate is an upright posture, an intransigent mind and a step that travels unlimited roads. Do no let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it’s yours.

You’ve got this, dear reader. The world is yours ❤

 

 

paris is burning (but what isn’t?)

 

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The Kapoho tide pools in Hawaii.

I get it now; I didn’t get it then. That life is about losing and about doing it as gracefully as possible…and enjoying everything in between.” -Mia Farrow

Notre Dame was ablaze yesterday, the cathedral spires crowned in smoke like an unholy halo. People reacted as they normally do in moments of erasure–photos, prayers, temporary Facebook profile pictures. It was as if someone had died.

On Christmas Day in Hawaii, my parents and I went to the Kapoho tide pools, pockets of volcanic rock alive with sea urchins, and coral, and small darting fish. I wore my trusty Chacos and hopped around the blackened edges, peering down at sea slugs as thick as my wrist.

The Kilauea lava flow in 2018 decimated those tide pools. The sea urchins, and sea slugs, and small darting fish, all gone.

My biggest naivete as a teenager was how fully I believed in forever. That I would write something that would be known for hundreds of years, that I’d find someone (soon) and spend the rest of my life with that one person. I valued endurance. I treasured longevity—for myself, for my creativity, for my relationships.

I remember my first breakup in excruciating detail. It was the first time I’d experienced deep loss, the first time that dark cavern inside of me opened up and swallowed me into some lonely, fetid place. And I remember the last time I saw that particular ex. I remember his drug-fogged eyes and dirty apartment, and I remember that it was then I realized how many forms loss can take. That a person, or a place, can exist and still be gone forever.

How fervently we believe in forever is a sign of our own hubris. We believe that this planet we hold hostage won’t change. That the memory of ourselves will last longer than our own beating hearts. That people won’t leave.

I used to be overwhelmed by own insignificance, by the weightlessness of my small and fleeting life. But now, knowing that everything happens only once, that this is it, this is everything, somehow that now feels like a gift.

I am thrilled that Notre Dame was spared significant damage and that people are already emptying their pockets for restoration. But I can’t stop thinking about those Kapoho tide pools that are lost forever. And it makes me think about other natural spaces that are not yet gone, and how no one of power is frantically trying to preserve them. Rumor has it that there are oak trees in Versailles planted specifically for repairs to Notre Dame, but I can think of nothing that will replace the melting glaciers in Montana, doomed to disappear by 2030.

How do we choose what to care for? How do we decide what shape loss takes?

Some things are destined to leave us. We can pour all our funds, all our energy into preserving something, and we can lose it anyway. We can pour all our time, all our love into someone, and they can leave us anyway. Not everything that’s broken can be fixed. Not everyone who’s broken can be healed.

9 Things I Learned Working at a Gear Store

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A proper-fitting, breathable, fun-colored headband for snowshoeing adventures! See the end of the post for my pre-upgrade version :/ (this is also a PSA for why you should be skeptical about buying a white jacket…)

  1. You don’t really need all that stuff.
    From my perspective, gear store shoppers fall into three categories: dirtbags, stablizers, and over-the-mooners.

    I myself am a dirtbag. I am thrifty. I stretch my money and my gear as far as it will go. Duct tape for patches? You betcha. Breathable layers purchased at secondhand stores? Oooh ya. Sheets of Tyvek instead of a tent footprint? Now we’re talking (but seriously, look in my trunk).

    For my first ever backpacking trip, I went on a week-long trek in the Himalayas (humble beginnings, I know) using my dad’s 80L external frame Kelty pack that totally didn’t fit me. But it held stuff. And I got to hike to the source of the Ganges. And it was awesome. Dirtbags love the adventure, want the gear, but really can’t afford much. So they make it work. Because adventure is always worth it.

    Stablizers are at a comfy place in life. They have their beloved outdoor pursuits, but they already own most of the gear they need, so they only buy more when necessary. When they get a $10 reward in the mail, they use it to buy things like bug spray or Clif Bars. They do not fall for marketing schemes and remain tight with their purse strings.

    Over-the-mooners don’t always go on crazy adventures, but they do buy crazy amounts of stuff. They’re often new to outdoor pastimes, and they are going to drop buckets of cash before they’re sure if they even like the sport. Examples: Couple who bought $400+ in baselayers before their long weekend in Toronto (dirtbags know you only need one baselayer for, like, ever), mother who bought $400+ in Smartwool because her daughter said she was cold, and a grandfather who purchased his granddaughter $500+ worth of clothes before her first ski club outing. Will they like their adventure? Solid maybe. Will they be warm and stylish as all get out? Awww yeah.

  2. There will be days when people will want to throw Microspikes at your face.

    As a gatekeeper of both gear and cash, people will get really angry with you. They won’t follow the return policy and somehow it will be your fault. Or they will want you to endlessly rollover already-used coupons. Or they will do the math themselves and ask you to double check the computer’s math (the computer doesn’t mess up tax percentages, but thanks for checking, Rich). They will try to return a children’s North Face jacket sans receipt and be irate that you cannot accept it, and they will shake the jacket in your face and ask “But where else would I have purchased it?!?!?!” and you’ll say, “Uhhhh, The North Face store in Victor?” and your manager will nod in agreement.

    Customer service is strange because, yeah, sure, the customer is king, and we will often do backbends to make them happy. But the more I work service jobs, the more it feels like that policy is used as an excuse to treat employees like garbage. People feel entitled, and they’ll threaten to call corporate, never shop in your store again, and even blast you, personally, on Facebook if transactions don’t go their way.

  3. Customers will sometimes know more than you. That’s awesome.

    Fake it until you make it only lasts so long. For the novice outdoorsperson, general knowledge might be enough. Maybe the promise of hip pockets on their pack is enough to sell them. But some people are gearheads and they know their stuff. They see right through your bullshit, so don’t bother pretending you know which Osprey pack is the lightest off the top of your head, or Caamp vs. Black Diamond vs. Petzel carabiners. They’ll know when you’re lying.

    Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know. That’s such a valuable skill for anything in life. Because as soon as you say you’re not sure what the answer is, it opens up a window to learn. I found it rewarding to grab the store iPad and look up answers online to the people’s questions to make sure I gave them accurate info. And they respected that.

  4. Profit is #1. 

    It’s in vogue now to be an ethical outdoor retailer. REI, Patagonia, PrAna, the list of companies that are trying to be more sustainable and eco-friendly is long, and what they’re doing is awesome. But don’t forget that retail companies exist to sell you things. I’m sure most of them genuinely care about their impact, but they’re also playing into a facade, trying to be ethical and aware because that’s who the consumer wants to buy from right now.

    Working for a gear store alerted me to all the behind-the-scenes stuff that isn’t glamorously eco-chic. For example, did you know every single garment in a store comes in its own plastic bag? Every. Single One. (OK, some are tied with twine; shout out to PrAna and their focus on sustainability). And many stores don’t recycle. At all. So it’s definitely ironic that you can buy a North Face t-shirt made from recycled bottles and that same shirt came in plastic that will never be recycled. See what I’m getting at?

    Resources aside, many brands and retailers don’t focus on their human impact. Where are the clothes made? Are the laborers being paid fairly? Only a handful of brands tout the sustainability and fair-trade quality to their items, so I think it’s safe to assuming that many brands are operating on a less-than-laudable basis.

    Think before you shop. Shop from places and people you want to support. Voting happens every day when you purchase items; it matters what you buy and where you buy them from.

  5. People are the best part.

    I learned so much from my customers. They offered me such different perspectives.

    For example, I always ask customers if they would like a bag. An older black woman was purchasing a fleece and when I asked her if she would like a bag, she looked at me with disdain, her eyebrows furrowed together. She chuckled, “You think I can just walk out of here without a bag? People are going to think I stole something. I’ll take a bag and a receipt.” I hadn’t thought about that because I never have to worry about being accused of stealing. That’s not a stereotype I bear.

    Another time a woman was looking for a very specific type of fanny pack and carabiner. She’d seen a YouTube video of how to make a special wheelchair pouch using those devices, and she wanted to make one for her own chair. Much to my surprise,–but not to hers–many carabiners wouldn’t fit around her wheelchair bar–the gate just didn’t open wide enough. So I grabbed a ladder, pulled down a whole bunch of carabiners, and tried them on until we found one that worked. She was so grateful. I felt bad that the carabiners were hung up on the wall out of reach, that the aisles were awkward and narrow for her chair to pass through.

    Like I said, different perspectives.

  6. You get what you pay for–but sometimes up until a point.

    If you pay $50 for a pair of hiking boots, you’re going to get $50 hiking boots. Some things just aren’t worth skimping on. My coworkers and I have our own mental lists of gear that needs to be quality, and gear that just needs to be. For instance, if you’re a climber, harnesses and shoes aren’t worth paying loads for, but hexes and cams–pieces of equipment that you literally trust your life to–are not worth buying from unknown brands. For me, boots and a good pack are backpacking essentials. Clothes? Those I can hustle up wherever.

    Without naming names, some items–or brands–are cheap because they’ll only last you a season. Do your research. Ask store members for their opinions. We’re not going to sell you garbage products if they won’t work for you, but remember that better gear costs more.

    (Best of luck to everyone who bought those $18 raincoats. May God be with you on your wet, unbreathable adventures.)

    But on the flip side, sometimes items are expensive because the manufacturer wanted them to be expensive (*~all about that $profit$~*). Questions you should ask yourself (or a staff member!): What technical qualities does this item have? Is it more expensive because it’s a sustainable company (good business practices are pricey, folks)? Is it more expensive because of the brand name? How long will it last me? How much will I use it?

  7. Becoming a member is probably worth it.

    I’m only including this because if you’re a member at many stores, they keep your transactions on file AKA YOU CAN RETURN THINGS IF YOU LOSE A RECEIPT (see point #2). It’s almost like we want to make things easy for you? But also make sure you’re not playing the system? Weird.

  8. Capitalism will sometimes make you sad.

    I feel like this explains itself

  9. You’ll be inspired.

    People are so cool and do the coolest things. I LOVED hearing about everyone’s upcoming adventures. From Antarctica to Nepal, Zion to Puerto Rico, my customers all had amazing travels ahead of them. Meeting people like that, working with like-minded people who saw the point in quitting your job and living in your car for three-months, working in a gear store was a highly inspiring and validating experience. See you in the winter, fellow gear store employees…

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    LOOK AT HOW MUCH SNOW IS STUCK TO MY HEADBAND! IT’S NOT WORKING.

    (…maybe? I’m honestly so bad at commitment. )

Almost

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Here’s a picture of a place I no longer live.

Winter is over.

Almost. Just barely. Light lingers. Ice cracks. Buds on your parents’ magnolia have emerged, green and fuzzy.

when the world is puddle-wonderful, e.e.cummings once wrote.

The world is slowly turning puddle-wonderful.

You’ve tapped into your animal nature these past two winters, your mind and body yielding to the gray winter days. Hibernation involves sweatshirts, and leggings, and at least five mugs because you can never be bothered to clean them. Your body has turned softer, the curves more rounded, the lines less firm. You try your best to find beauty in that, but it’s harder to appreciate your body when it’s not pulling you up mountains, when its most impressive use is supporting your laptop as you catch up on Queer Eye . You are gentle and forgiving with yourself (because that’s how Jonathan Van Ness would be).

when the world is mud-luscious…

You’ve tapped into your plant side this past winter, lying dormant for the season with books scattered around your mattress like fallen petals. You are biding your time in the soil, cooking more, learning more, creating more. You are waiting for the sunshine and warmer days when you can emerge and can scale walls, climb mountains, with your spindly stalks. You have so much energy. So much life. You are waiting.

For now.

You’ve tapped into your natural side this past year, connecting with the world in a primal and essential way. You sleep eight hours, sometimes nine, a night, and you’re surprised that you feel guilty for this, for the luxury of unfettered sleep. You wonder when you absorbed the belief that productivity and struggle were benchmarks of success, that being nourished and relaxed meant you weren’t doing enough. You live life slower these days, roughly at the pace of ice melting on the Genesee. This is how you want to live.

Winter is over.

Almost. Just barely. Spring is approaching and summer looms large.

The quiet months are behind you.

Almost.

 

 

 

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.