Before I Go

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Me at 14 years old in the Canadian Rockies. First big mountain range (minus the Adirondacks, if you count those) I ever saw.

Summer is here and the woods are alive.

I made an impromptu trip back to Rochester this weekend, one final exhale before summer submersion, and I rifled through old journals as I often do, thinking and dreaming and remembering a past me. I found a bucket list I’d made in 2012 with items such as, visit the temperate rain forests in Washington, get something published, and go skydiving. Of the eleven things listed, seven of them I’ve already done (I’m coming for you, Alaska). It is a strange and lovely feeling to be the person you always wanted to be, to see mile markers so clearly staked behind you in the rear-view mirror.

On Twitter Esmé  Weijun Wang posed the question: what song, if you were driving at night down a dark & quiet road, would immediately transport you back to an adolescent Mood should it come on the car stereo. I scrolled through the thread, curious to see what songs were listed, while simultaneously thinking of my own haunted melodies.

Smashing Pumpkins, Simon and Garfunkel, Alanis Morissette, the songs were ripe with memory. And then there was this:

hearthurt

 

…closure is a lie, we never get over, we just get on, and we are all of us inside every age we’ve ever been.

That right there. When you find a line, a word, that encapsulates everything you are feeling but didn’t know how to describe. Sometimes I think art is the only thing that can lift us up from ruin. Art, connection, I don’t know the difference.

I played around with watercolors the other night before I got tired of my own ineptitude and switched to writing in cursive with my new fountain pen (which is one of the most soothing, aesthetically pleasing feelings ever). I am bad at visual art. I am bad at a lot of things. I am bad at knots, and making fires with wet wood, and reversing into parking spaces with a trailer attached. Working in the outdoors has alerted me to all the things I am subpar at.

Which is an interesting feeling because I thrived in academia. I am good at time management, and writing, and test-taking. I am a traditionally smart person.

When I reiterated that I was bad at knots to a coworker, she said that I was being too negative about my own abilities. And I see the advantages to phrasing it “knots are something I can improve upon.” But saying I’m bad at knots is being honest, and I think society has created the expectation that being bad at something is a negative connotation, which I’m tired of believing. Being bad at something means you have room to improve, more to learn. And isn’t that a gift? To learn more, to see yourself grow by an observable metric?

I have a couple outdoor trips this summer that are stretching my confidence thin. And that’s good. Instead of feeling overwhelmed or nervous, I am excited to improve my skills. I dreaded lifeguarding because I hate holding my breath underwater and look who’s a goddamn lifeguard? (Please don’t suffer a spinal injury in deep water.)

It’ll be a good summer. I am excited to be away from the internet, to look forward instead of backward, to make new bucket lists, to write more and share less, to be outside, to be physically engaged, to be away from humanity for a bit, to feel power within my own body and my own mind.

I hope you have a good summer, too. I hope you do things that you are bad at because you are bad at them. I hope you get outside. I hope you are easy on your 19-year-old self in memory and that those songs haunt you less. I hope you do things that a younger you would be proud of. I hope you read books and create art and are brave enough to be vulnerable with another living soul. I hope there’s at least one day that feels like magic.

Happy summer, friends. See you on the otherside.

 

Now

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Time is a sloshing, sticky thing. I first started this blog as a way to document my travels when I lived out of my car. That was nearly two years ago, and here we still are. I’ve kept writing because I’ve always written and I don’t know another way to live. But I also write because it connects me with other people and with myself. I have most of my writing from fifth grade until the present and about once a year I’ll do a deep dive and sink myself in memory, to a time when I was that girl, that woman, with those thoughts, those feelings.

So here’s what I am up to now. For you. For me.

Where I am:

The Adirondacks are thick with pollen this time of year. A swell of wind blows through camp, and plumes of pollen emerge from the trees like fog, like smoke, like every wish you ever dreamed when you blew on a wispy dandelion.

I like to think I know the Adirondacks, but I really don’t. Teaching here for the past two seasons has taught me that much. I’ve visited it as a tourist does–dropping in for a weekend in the High Peaks, walking around Lake Placid–but never knowing its bones. I’m trying to know it better. I root around in the woods and sleep on its ledges and talk to the frogs that hop away from me in the wetlands, and I hope that someday I have a place I know like a lover, a place that feels like mine. Because right now everything is all rain and movement and mudslides. And it’s good. It’s fine. But I want that stability. I want a forest I can watch change throughout the seasons, a woodland I can grow with.

What I’m doing:

This is my first season here not teaching outdoor ed. I still haven’t adjusted to the change. The new coworkers, the new responsibilities, the new shared spaces. Camps blossom in the summer season, and it is harder to find spaces to be alone.

It’s been exactly one week since I’ve started my summer adventure job, and already I’ve been on two backpacking trips. My legs ache with mosquito bites and my gear is drenched, but two nights ago I stood on a ridge with a group of high school boys, and we talked about traveling and climate change and how short life sometimes feels, and the sun set behind us, and it was a little bit magical, a little bit splendid.

What I’m reading:

I was upset when I finished watching Call Me By Your Name last spring in Ohio. It made me ache in that beautiful way art does when you see your own heartache mirrored back at you. Sometimes people stop loving you and there is no answer why. Why are you so upset, one of my coworkers asked me, and I realized that answering her question required more honesty than I possessed.

The book burns. I listen to Sufjan on repeat. Elio Elio Elio.

What I’m feeling:

It poured all day yesterday. There was a strange deja vu as I arrived back at our campsite, eager to check for flooding in my tent. Because there was a different tent once. A different place. Different people. A different year. I remember muttering excuses and racing from the dining hall to my tent on the hill, piling my possessions on the air mattress in the middle, pulling the rainfly taut, and readjusting the ground cloth underneath. It is hard not to think of Cape Cod this time of year. It is hard not to miss people and places that don’t belong to me.

What I’m thinking:

Everything and everyone has their time and place. And I am here. I am here. And it is now. It is now.

 

The Word for Woman is Wilderness

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“Okay, so honestly, why are you doing this? Did something bad happen to you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, usually that’s why people do things like this, they are running away.”
“Why do you go camping, Stan? Did something bad happen to you?”
“No.”
“Exactly.”
“But like, you don’t even come from a place that would prepare you for this. You don’t know what you’re letting yourself in for.”
“I thought you said you came from Florida?”
“You know bears in Denali maul twenty people to death every year, right?”
Then I smiled at him and passed him my 
Collected Words of Jack London with all of the feminist and socialist stories and passages earmarked and annotated for his consideration. I know he is lying about the bear statistic because I already looked it up.
What happened to me? Nothing. I think that that is the point. I need to experience something visceral to placate the hunger. And I am sick of the men that want to keep it from me. Maybe you could say patriarchy happened to me. So like a dog cast out into the rain maybe I do leave, to go cry myself a big fat fucking two-hearted river. To sleep in an open field! To travel west! To walk freely at night!
The Word for Woman is Wilderness, Abi Andrews

I tried to read On the Road by Kerouac on my way to the Himalayas. It was 2013 and Wild by Cheryl Strayed had been published the year prior. Sitting in Heathrow during a five-hour layover, I was itching to read something that’d ignite the traveler within me, something exciting yet mundane, profound yet accessible.

I’d developed an interest for adventure nonfiction in high school, starting with classics like Into the Wild and Into Thin Air, and moving on to lesser-known gems like A Man’s Life and Buried in the Sky. Wild was the first adventure book I’d ever read about a woman. I was nineteen years old when it came out. Nineteen years old.

(I never finished On the Road.)

At a Buffalo Wild Wings in Ohio, I got into an argument about the movie Black Panther.
My point: Black Panther is important because its protagonist is a black superhero, and kids need to see that, especially black kids. His point: Empathy allows us to identify with people we don’t look like; why the fuss? The Cavs playoff game blared on TVs all around us, and I remember swelling with indignation and frustration, trying to explain why diverse representation mattered. He could see the storms in my eyes. Honestly, this isn’t an issue I’ve thought about much, he told me. I deflated a bit then. Of course he hadn’t. He sees himself everywhere. The world was built to mirror back his experiences, his identity; he doesn’t have to try.

It seems silly to state this but also strangely necessary: People experience things differently. We are not all treated similarly when we travel. We do not all feel identically when alone in the woods with only ponderosas for company. We are not the same.

On a cold morning outside of Lake Tahoe, I woke up to frost inside my car. It was only October, but already the Golden State was getting ready for ski season, packing away its swimsuits and water goggles, dusting its trails with early morning snow. I set up my small stove and boiled water for instant coffee and oatmeal, waiting for the sun to slip above the pines. A woman and her husband were walking among the sparse campsites, and they stopped about twenty yards away when they noticed me. I don’t remember much about our conversation, but I do remember their body language like a stop-motion reel. Her first. Then him. Slowly. Only after it was deemed safe. After was deemed safe, not a frightened animal prone to biting. The only words I remember are not even words but a sentiment: Are you okay? I explained that living out of your car was kind of a fad for young people these days, and that this was a chosen adventure, not a desperate flight. It felt strange having to explain my choices.

I’m not sure men ever have to do that.

A Tumblr post I once read said that when women scream people wonder what is wrong, but when men scream people wonder what they’re going to do. I think about that a lot. How much of our lives are encoded by violence. Gendered violence, really. One time a male friend told me about a situation at a truck stop where a man cornered him in the bathroom; he had to whip out his pocketknife in order to escape before things really went awry. He was drunk and crying when he told me this story. I felt bad. But I also wasn’t surprised. This is the world we live in. This is the price we pay for existence. But he’s never had to pay this price before because he’s a man and men often get passes for things like this. You are not alone, my friend. Welcome to the sisterhood.

Did you know that the female record-setter for the most summits on Everest works as a dishwasher in Hartford, Connecticut, at a Whole Foods? How does that make you feel? If you look at the Wikipedia article “List of Mount Everest summiters by number of times to the summit” each female mountaineer is denoted by the female gender symbol next to their name. There is no symbol next to the male names. How does that make you feel?

I read more female adventure books after Wild. There was Girl in the Woods by Aspen Matis where she hikes the PCT after experiencing sexual trauma. There was Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow by Maria Coffey–one of my all-time favorite adventure books–that grapples with being a loved one to thrill-seekers and how they are always leaving you, sometimes forever, and what it means to be in love with loss. They were good books, even great books. But they were somehow still about men. Men were the cause, the impetus for emotions, sometimes the entire journey. Can’t women exist alone? Can’t the wilderness belong to them too, without fear, without hesitation? Can’t we have a book that extols travel and nature with the same literary backbone as fucking Kerouac?

Then I found The Word for Woman is Wilderness by Abi Andrews. It is everything I wanted. It is fiction but it feels like nonfiction. It has the journal-like quality I was hunting for.

Sometimes women go into the wild simply because they want to go. Not because they are running away but because they are running toward. And women have their own adventures in the wild. Their own stories. We need to listen better. We need to seek out their unadulterated voices more.

If you’re reading my blog, you should consider reading The Word for Woman is Wilderness. It is not an easy read. It is not brimming with action. It references cosmological physics far more than you would expect a nature book to. But because it is difficult and genuine and informative is why you should read it. Because if you list every adventure book you’ve read about a man, and every one you’ve read about a woman, and every one you’ve read about a person of color, you may come to the conclusion that you should read a little broader.

So you should read this book.

(And purchase it because buying this book supports an independent publisher and lets them know that the public values books like this. And we do. We do.)

(ALSO, if you have any adventure book recommendations about/by authors of color, I’d love to hear them.)

Ugly Beautiful

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picture of a place i went one weekend that probably changed my life that i never really talk about because how does one talk about stuff like that

 

A guy friend in college once told me I could be hot if I tried. I wasn’t offended. I knew what he meant. He meant I had socially-acceptable features that, if I made more of an effort, would be attractive to men. He meant I should wear mascara more often. He meant I should ditch the frumpy thrift store sweaters. He meant I should straighten my hair, and buy jeans that fit, and exercise a little bit more, a little bit harder.

There are many times I do not want to be attractive to men.

There are many times I want to shave my head and burn every article of clothing I own that isn’t black.

There are many times I think I’d look better dipped in blood.

The first and only time I smoked a cigarette was in college. A boy I knew told me that if I didn’t smoke with him he would kill himself. My friend and I exchanged glances and agreed to the slender stick of nicotine. I remember the pulse and glow of traffic on Forbes Avenue as we sat on a concrete ledge passing the cigarette between us. Students walked by laughing, and I envied their nonchalance, their freedom because that evening I’d never had a choice at all.

That’s what being ugly is to me. A choice.

And when I say ugly, I mean not trying.

And when I say not trying, I mean fuck you, men.

And when I say fuck you, I mean I want you to know what it feels like to stand waist deep in the ocean scraping your own fingernails against your bare skin, howling into the moonlight, and no one hears you, no one hears you, and undertow is just a synonym for gentle drowning, and this is what it feels like to be a woman, this is the tithe for having skin so soft.

College is when I first learned anger. It wasn’t listed on the syllabus.

The problem isn’t with beauty, but possession. About being beautiful for boys, and boys clutching on to it with savage fingers, thinking the world was made for them, that they are entitled to have and to keep and to judge. I often think of that Helen Oyeyemi book I still have yet to read. What Is Not Yours Is Not YoursMost things in the world are not ours.

When we think of beauty we don’t often think of danger. But an entire war was started for Helen of Troy and for which man got to claim her. Do you think she ever just wanted to be ugly? Do you think she dreamed of being Medusa, having snakes for hair, being feared instead of desired? Can you be both? I want to be both. But what does it mean that men killed for Helen, but men killed Medusa, and both were considered a victory? All I taste is blood.

Sometimes I try to look nice. There are days when I wear makeup. There are days when I hope men notice me and think I am beautiful.

You could be hot if you tried.

I could be anything if I tried. But sometimes I don’t try. And when I do try, I try to be a longleaf pine, or a timberwolf, or magnolia petals carried on a bed of wind.

And when I try to be beautiful, it is the type of beauty you see when the sun is just cresting and shadows stretch on your hardwood floor, and the kitchen smells of yeast and coffee, and this feeling bubbles up inside of you and you feel like you might burst open like a volcano, like a sunrise, and you wonder if black holes ever dream of you, if any stars know your name, and it is magical, this feeling of being beautiful, of being alive.

 

(Pssst… You should read this. And probably this, too. And most definitely this.)

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!)