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

Of Mice and Mountaintops

 

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Bernard and I breakfasted together the morning after our introduction. Honestly I would’ve kept him around longer, but he had boundary issues and tried to run up my leg while I was driving, a major no-no.

I am writing this at 10:09 PM on a Thursday night in a WalMart parking lot. My car smells overwhelmingly of curry. My car doesn’t normally smell of curry.

When I committed myself to a solo road trip—a mini foray into the shallows of vanlife—I was ready for the Big Stuff. Mountaintop vistas. Sunsets on beaches. Sitting in the woods with my feet propped up, beer in one hand, book of Rilke’s poetry in the other. I thought everything I Instagrammed would also be the most profound, enjoyable moments, as if the physical grandeur of the landscapes around me would reverberate at the same internal frequency of awe.

And they do.
Sometimes.

But sometimes I hike 10 miles, look around, shrug my shoulders, and head back down. Sometimes I don’t leave my car to take a picture and it remains only that—a photograph with no backing behind the veneer. Empty.

What I didn’t prepare myself for was the Small Moments. Like when I forgot my garbage outside my car for a couple of hours and then discovered at four in the morning when I felt something scurrying across my sleeping bag that I’d accidentally brought a mouse in along with my empty Pringles’ cans. It wouldn’t leave, despite me opening all the doors and asking nicely and waving a spatula about. My tent smelled of onions and peanut butter the next night as I curled up in the woods with all of my groceries, hoping the mouse traps in my car worked. (RIP Bernard. In the words of Fall Out Boy, thanks for memories even though they weren’t so great.)

Similarly, I was under prepared for the curry disaster of September 21, 2017. Knowing the tupperware was prone to leaks, I’d wrapped my flannel around it and stabilized it with my pillow. And then, because I’m an idiot, I forgot about it, only to suddenly remember it when I came back to my car after brushing my teeth in WalMart and wondering why my car smelled so weird.

It wasn’t even good curry, mind you. I’d made it myself on the bank of the Sol Duc River in the Olympics with coconut milk, spices, and WalMart-purchased vegetables. So it was very mediocre curry. And it smelled not great.

It had seeped into my flannel, drenched my pillow, and pooled onto my air mattress. It had been a long day of driving, and all I wanted to do was sleep. My body tightened in frustration at the mess before me.

But I had soap and a sponge. I had a towel. I cleaned up the mess, rolled down the windows, and ate an entire bag of gummies in the driver’s seat to make myself feel better.

My car regained its normal smell about three days later.

When you go out into the world things will happen to you. Yes, there will be beautiful mountaintops and sunsets, but there will also be field mice and mediocre curry in your sleeping area. And the mountaintops will give you better pictures, but the mice will give you better stories. And that feeling of overcoming an unexpected crisis—even if it’s mouse-sized, even if it’s in the WalMart parking lot—may feel more rewarding than that 10 mile slog.

So say yes, go out into the world, see what’s there, cry a little, feel inspired, feel proud, wash your hair in rivers, sleep in your car, say hi to strangers, see what the world hands you when your eyes are closed.

Curry-tinged dreams are better than no dreams at all. Even if they involve mice.

 

Farewell, Pennsylvania

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Scenery from Dorflinger-Suydam Wildlife Sanctuary in White Mills, Pennsylvania, where I’d go walking and trail running.

I never wanted to live in Pennsylvania. The cities weren’t big enough and the land wasn’t wild enough. To me, Pennsylvania was the Liberty Bell on one end and the Steelers’ stadium on the other, with the strange groundhog that rivets the nation for one lone day in February somewhere in between. Everything about it felt unremarkable in scope, which is saying something since I hail from Suburbia, NY.

But I did call it home for five and a half years. And when you call a place home, a strange thing happens: the place begins to unfold. A bakery here. A quiet park bench there. Things you took for granted and overlooked suddenly glow. The place needed you to love it first and then, only then, would it show you all it had to offer.

The Great Outdoors probably isn’t the first thing you think of when you think of Pennsylvania, but I always had great access to parks when I lived there. I never lived more than a mile from a public green space, under seven miles to the closest park bigger than 400 acres. Pennsylvania taught me the importance of accessible green spaces. Yes, we need National Parks, but we need smaller, local parks too, parks people can visit on their way home from work or early on a Saturday morning with their kids.

When I started this blog, I wanted to focus primarily on the National Parks and Monuments since those were some of the most visibly at risk. But so much of the important ground work happens at the local level. We don’t need geysers and moose to appreciate and experience nature, although, hey, I’ll take a good geyser and moose sighting any day. So much happens right outside your window, down the block, in the square you pass every single day. Pennsylvania opened my eyes to all that, and it’s something I want to continue to explore in this blog.

For now, the road and my 2012 Ford Escape with hit-or-miss AC are home. Farewell, Pennsylvania. Thanks for everything. It was a lovely five and a half years.