Thursday, June 28, 2012

"I still remember when 30 was old."

A quick google search has led me to conclude that turning 30 is marked by  advice and self-reflection in quantities usually reserved for weddings, funerals, and high school graduation speeches.  I turn 30 tomorrow, and not to be outdone, it's my turn to share the results of my introspection.  I've spent the last 2+ weeks in a hotel for work and it has given me plenty of time to ponder entering decade 3.  I would be lying if I said I didn't feel any concern about how and what I've done with my twenties.  They've been great, but not exactly according to plan.  Among other things, I spent a lot of time in school and moved a lot.  I've reflected on my serpentine career path and wondered if I'm on the right track.  I thought about men I've dated and wondered why I wasted so much time letting them stomp on my heart.  Others I wonder why on earth I didn't fight tooth and nail to be with.  As I thought about the approaching birthday, wondering if I have messed up something crucial,  I started jotting down a list of how I spent previous birthdays.  That's when I realized that in the past 13 years, I haven't been in the same place for a birthday.

17th (1999): Home in Idaho.
18th (2000): Moved to college just days before.  I'm pretty sure Mom and Dad slipped my roommates $20 to throw me a party, which they did, and I appreciated it.
19th (2001): In Amagansett, Long Island deep sea fishing.
20th (2002): In Romania at an orphanage.
21st (2003): On Afognak Island in Alaska.  I spent the day on the ocean kayaking with seals.
22nd (2004): In Tokyo, Japan.
23rd (2005): With family at the cabin in Idaho.
24th (2006): In Provo, Utah.  I achieved my goal of finishing all the requirements for my Masters program by my birthday.  I technically didn't make the copies and get signatures until the next day, but all the final edits for my thesis were done on my birthday.
25th (2007): I almost spent it in the Atlanta airport.  After nearly breaking down in tears to a Delta agent she somehow got me routed to Cleveland where I arrived at my brother's in time for cake.
26th (2008): I was in Germany watching (on TV) the final game of the Euro Cup where Germany lost to Spain.  It was the only birthday in a long time I've been with both of my sisters and my mom.
27th (2009): Yellowstone National Park working, but the rainstorm left behind a beautiful rainbow.
28th (2010): Salt Lake City, Utah.
29th (2011): Gardiner, Montana.
30th (2012): Will begin in Williamsburg, Virginia and end Washington, D.C.

None of these were trips I took for my birthday.  These were the places life took me, and I happened to celebrate another year while there.  Making this list eased my concerns about things I didn't do or achieve.  I have loved my twenties and have been exceptionally lucky--I lived fully and experienced things I never dreamed of.  But I can honestly say I'm ready to move forward, grow some roots, and celebrate my birthday in the same place for two years in a row.

I found myself profoundly grateful.  My worries reflect my social class, place in time, and nationality.  I was able to pick a field of study and spent over 8 years in higher education just learning and then not even work in that field when I was finished.  I am able to worry if my job is fulfilling or should I switch to something else.  I can be a single woman of thirty and not a disgrace or financial burden to my family.  Food is so easily accessible that I have to exercise ("vigorously" according to the U.S. Government) to be slim.  I will, on some distant day die from a degenerative condition, like cancer or diabetes, rather than an infectious diarrheal disease.  When I eventually have children, I am certain their births will be attended by a medical professional.  According to a U.S. Social Security life table, as a woman of 30 I should live another 51.5 years.  After all, they say, "Life begins at 30."  But if I lived in Swaziland, I would have just 2.15 years left.  That puts things into perspective; I am grateful that I have so much time.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Finding the right words can be hard.

Through a series of unusual events I am in the midst of six straight weeks of traveling.  It began with a trip to Yellowstone, followed by a few weeks in Japan, a quick stop in Hawaii, followed by an extended stay in Williamsburg (Virginia), visits to D.C., and will culminate in an Independence Day trip to Glacier National Park with my folks (Eve: please come too).  In between trips I return home for 24 hours to do laundry, pay bills, and open my mail.  Sometimes I even sleep a little.  The period will end on July 8 and I'll be done with airplanes, hotel rooms, rental cars, jet lag, and eating out for awhile.  However, I will be missing all the family and friends I visited.

All of this is just a way to explain the content of this post.  While in Japan I traveled with my brother and his family south of Tokyo to Kyoto and Hiroshima.  There were some beautiful, deeply moving parts of this trip, but I also started a small collection of signs translated into funny English.  Please excuse the potty humor, but there seemed to be an unusual amount of signage in Japanese bathrooms.
More signs should be written like this--it tells me exactly what I need to know.
The sign led us to a tram, which took us up Mount Misen, which apparently has very pretty views from the top.
"View from Misen where the same expression isn't shown." 
My nephew enjoying that day's "expression" from the top with a pair of binoculars.
This is my favorite!  It is the "Satellite Lover's Sanctuary" where two people can light a flame together.
The sanctuary shares a room with a cafe where lovers can make sweet bean cakes and buy ice cream.  
Here is the sign for the Sanctuary.  I enjoyed lighting my "Fire of Oath" with my niece.
Some train cars are designated for women only, especially late at night, for their safety.
This is sign in on the train platform.

I so wish I knew how to do this.  I would love to comply.
These instructions are actually very useful.  I used a few squatters facing the wrong direction until I read this sign.  When I read this sign I realized why the toilet paper was so difficult to reach.
This is to prove I saw more interesting things than just the bathrooms in Japan.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Did I Miss Something?

It's a little strange, and a little humbling, to be in a college classroom again, this time sitting in the desks instead of being the person at the front of the room.  It's a little strange to return to the campus where I spent six years, and to return to undergraduate classes.  So much has changed.  I'm enjoying this time as a participant observer.  The sociologist in me can't help but mentally catalog away the things I notice.  Some of it, I know, is because I've been away from cities for awhile, and some of it has always been there but I never stopped to notice it.

During my last year at the university (nearly six years ago) I couldn't leave my carrel without running into someone I knew; now I float anonymous in a sea of students.

I'm in a place where girls leave their backpacks sitting outside their stall in the bathroom rather than take them into the tiny stall.  They trust that no one will take their backpack with their shiny Apple computer inside.

This will date me, but when I came to college no one had cell phones.  Then, rich kids had them.  In our apartment there was a big whiteboard where your roommates (hopefully) wrote your messages.  I begged my engaged roommates to please answer the call-waiting beep while they were on the phone with their fiancĂ©.  I bought my first phone at the end of my junior year.  I don't think texting was even invented until after I left campus.

Once there were armies of computers ordered in clean rows in computer labs.  I'd go in to write a paper in a massive room filled with computers and students.  Now, most students have their own laptop so those big labs have had walls built so that more classes can be held in the room using the computers.  A class held in a computer lab used to be exceptionally rare.

We watch a lot of youtube clips in my classes.  I never saw a youtube clip in all the years I spent here before.

There's a piano in a big, open lobby in the Student Union.  Almost every time I walk through someone is playing.  I never noticed it before, but now it amazed me that a students sits down and pounds out some jazz, some classical, some of whatever he or she knows by memory for hundreds of passing students to hear.

Umm, how long have people been wearing tapered pants?  I clearly, clearly remember a girl pulling me aside as a freshman or sophomore in high school and asking me why I was wearing tapered blue jeans.  She explained to me how out of touch I was with fashion.  And now I find myself out of touch all over again.

I can't remember a lot of things about campus, but I can still walk to a bathroom in every single building without even having to think.

When I came to the university a few weeks after high school graduation my professors were old men.  Now, I wonder when BYU hired all these handsome academics.  I used to check the boy next to me for a wedding ring, now I check my professor.

I realized that if I had a paper and a test of equal weight in a class I would rather get a C on the test and an A on the paper than B's on both.

I argue with my TAs.  Sometimes I bring up tricky social theory questions in review sessions partly to test them and see how well they know their stuff.

I hardly know anyone on campus, but I keep seeing the faces of old friends in those who walk around me.

The first boy I ever kissed passed me on campus last week, but didn't recognize me.  He's a professor here now.

My how things have changed.  But then, some things haven't.  I remember being 18 and stopping in my tracks on campus as I watched the sun break over the mountains.  I still find myself watching the dawn while students flow around me on their way to somewhere important.

Friday, January 20, 2012

"No change of heart, a change in me."

I moved last month.  I've sort of put off writing about it because I didn't know what to say.  I packed all my belongings into a trailer and the 400 square feet I called home became bare and impersonal.  I turned in my bear spray, radio, keys, and cleaned out my desk.  Only in Yellowstone is bear spray part of your work equipment.  I sent my last e-mails and scrambled to finish the to do list at work.  I tried not to think about leaving until the moment arrived to say goodbye.  I have rarely felt so much love for the people around me or felt so much love from them.  I think that's why I haven't written; I don't know how to ever explain the feelings that surrounded my decision to leave.

My last day was filled with goodbyes to friends that have been unlike any I've ever had.  I'd like to be a friend more like them: I felt loved for exactly who I was without any stipulations of what I needed to become.  That night I walked in the cold, biting wind past the high school and out the Old Road.  I remembered summer morning walks by the river and seeing the bitterroot blossoms opening with the dawn.  The lights of Gardiner were bright across the river and a myriad of stars glittered above my head.  I saw my old favorite, Orion, as well as Taurus the Bull, the Pleiades, the Dippers, and the North Star hanging where it always does.  Running over my head, right in line with my own footsteps, flowed the Milky Way.  It looked like a great, white rainbow filled with stars.  I stood there until I lost the feeling in my fingers and toes.

It was such a cold night I didn't sleep well.  But perhaps it had nothing to do with the cold.

In the morning, Christmas Eve morning, I walked through the Roosevelt Arch and reached out to touch its cold basalt.  I soaked up views of Electric Peak as I walked.  I walked across the bridge as I did every day for the past year going to and from work.  I remembered the owl I saw, the wolves I heard, and the changes each day in the Yellowstone River.  I looked down and saw chunks of ice floating downstream.  A doe with her fawn eyed me as their hooves clattered across the bridge.

I drove away from Gardiner a few hours later.  I watched the Arch grow smaller and smaller in my review mirror until it disappeared entirely.  That was almost a month ago and I've sorted through my feelings  since then and am left with three thoughts, none of which are mine originally.

First, John Muir wrote, "In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks."  That is exactly how I feel about my time in Yellowstone.  The reasons I came were good reasons, but the lessons I learned and the people I came to know were much, much more than I could have dreamed.  I count my time there as a great blessing in my life.

Second, this fall I gave a presentation about what it means to love a place.  I have thought about that a lot.  With those thoughts, I've remembered a poem by ee cummings.

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places

There are places I love and I see them wherever I go.  All places are connected through my memory of them and I continue to see them wherever I go.  I've learned that leaving a place doesn't mean I love it less.

Finally, Yellowstone has been like Narnia to me.  I wrote about that when I arrived in Montana.  I thought that I had come to the final book where the Pevensie children come to Narnia to stay.  Instead, I learned that I was actually only at the beginning of the story.  I came to Yellowstone, had great adventures, and met people that I hated to leave.  Although I thought I'd stay in that magical world I was called back here as surely as if Aslan had come to fetch me himself.  But, just like all who tangle with powerful magic, it has changed me.  I see things differently now.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Our Town

Tonight I am proud of my little town.  I always admire the mountains, the stars, and the wildlife, but tonight I am more proud of the people.  It's a quirky place, a town built in an area known for a strange combination of a national park, mining, cattle ranching, and tourism is bound to be a little strange.  It's not unusual to see dogs waiting patiently for their masters outside the Two Bit Saloon or finding deer poop on the front porch.  It's a town where many people don't have a lot of money and Halloween costumes are handmade from permanent markers, duct tape, and a cardboard box rather than purchased at the store.  There are some real drawbacks in housing quality, fine art, or fine food.  Nevertheless, there is much to admire here.

I bet you can't buy bear spray at your local grocery store.
The current shoe pile beside my front door is a good sign.

The ice covered windows by my head when I woke up a few days ago were a bad sign.
For church, I've been the perma-substitute early morning seminary teacher since the end of October.  This means that every morning I'm at the church building by seven, in a dress, in sub-zero weather, ready to teach a section of the Old Testament.  I thought that substituting was a pretty nice thing for me to do, and have considered myself very self-sacrificing.  My sacrifice doesn't seem so big now.  One (of my two) students didn't have to go to school today.  Nevertheless, she woke up before six o'clock to be driven twenty minutes by her dad to seminary.  He returned at eight to drive her back home to spend the day with visiting family from the East.  My other student, brought a younger friend.  The younger girl is in eighth grade and a member of another congregation in town, but she would like to join our class.  She wants to voluntarily wake up, with no parental encouragement or pressure, to come study the Old Testament.  I respect these girls who will go far out of their way to live their beliefs.

Gardiner, tucked in the shadow of the mountains this morning after seminary.
Later today, I was leaving the laundromat when a sign caught my eye.

Behind the sign was the room where normally people wait while doing laundry.  But now, it is filled with donated coats for anyone to take who is in need.  No one was there to police the pile, decide who got the coats, or to even know who took them.  I was touched by the generosity of those in town who so freely gave to others without asking for recognition or gratitude.

Tonight I attended the Christmas potluck for a local grassroots organization.  I was impressed by those who spoke of loving this place.  I was impressed by these good people, from all walks of life, freely give of their time, energy, and even money to work to keep their town clean and safe for people and wildlife.  No one asked for applause, they just encouraged each of us to be a part of caring for our community.  Sometimes I listen to politics and I get discouraged, but that's not true of today.  I'm encouraged by the good, honest, hard working people of my community who quietly go about taking care of themselves, their neighbors, and the surrounding landscape.  I feel lucky to be a part of the community.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Today I stood alone in a small meadow blanketed in snow.  I was ankle deep in the white covers laying the earth to rest for the winter.  Standing there made me want to wrap this whitest of blankets around myself and rest in the arms of the earth, leaving my world of schedule and small worries behind.  On a summer day this place teems with birds, bugs, flowers, and sound.  But today, all my ears could hear was the sound of snow and the whisper of the wind.  

The snow fell in small flakes, almost like salt falling from the clouds.  My ears felt unnaturally sharp.  I heard the sound of each fleck pinging my jacket, my ears, and my cheeks.  I heard each individual sliver of snow and counted them with my breaths.  Distant at first, then closer, I heard the wind moving through the pines.  Not just through, but moving with the pines like partners in a dance—perfectly in tune with each other.  Near and far, the wind murmured across the landscape.  Then it wrapped itself around me and, in a low tone, whispered secrets in my ear.  I always listen carefully to the wind.  I stood transfixed by the sound of each flake of snow, the dance of pines, and the murmurs of the wind.  I thought of words of Aldo Leopold and I think I understood a bit of what he meant: 

“It is in midwinter that I sometimes glean from my pines something more important than woodlot politics, and the news of the wind and weather.  This is especially likely to happen on some gloomy evening when the snow has buried all irrelevant detail, and the hush of the elemental sadness lies heavy upon every living thing.  Nevertheless, my pines, each with his burden of snow, are standing ramrod-straight, rank upon rank, and in the dusk beyond I sense the presence of hundreds more.  At such times I feel a curious transfusion of courage.”

Time passed and meant nothing to the trees and me--we all stood tall while carrying our burdens.  A flock of small, dark birds swirled overhead like leaves in a breeze.  Alone in the woods with the day drawing to a close, I turned my skis back down the trail, and left with the winds secrets still ringing in my ears.

Source: Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac (1966), 93.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Wish

I wish you were here.  I wish you were here with me to feel the crisp, cold air and hear the silence when I step out of my home at 6:30 in the morning.  It's getting down into the teens at night and my breath puffs, then hangs in the air.  I wish that you could stand beside me to look up into the glittering galaxies shining down.  If you were here, you could join me in the awe of seeing the Milky Way stretching over our heads like a rainbow of white painted across the night sky.  We would stand in the middle of the street, forgetting where we were going because the silence, cold, and glittering sky took our breath away.  We would turn and see the stars in one corner of the sky fading with the approaching dawn.

I wish you were here as the first rays of light break over the eastern horizon and bright beams hit Electric Peak.  The peaks are all dusted, or perhaps frosted, with snow.  The golden beams turn the distant snow into prisms of light reflecting a rainbow of colors into the morning.  We would push our hands deeper into our pockets and wonder when winter will reach the valleys.

If you were here, we'd walk down the streets and laugh about the deer walking there too, or the herd of elk resting on the football field.  We'd joke about the Two Bit Saloon being the only place in town you can get breakfast at 8 am.  Someone driving past would stop his car in the middle of the street to say hello.

I wish you were here to walk with me in the afternoon when the air is still crisp, but the sun is warm.  We'd walk out the Old Road and soon wish that we hadn't worn such warm jackets.  After a few minutes, we wouldn't be able to resist the call of the hills.  Peeling off the road, we'd follow winding game trails with no destination in mind and complain about the burrs stuck in our socks.  The grasses are gold now and I know you'd marvel at the contrast between the firs on the slopes of the mountains, the golden glow of the meadows, and the deep blue of the sky.  Around the bend we'd see a stand of cottonwood or aspen trees that look like a burning torch against the sky.  We'd both stop in our tracks, amazed that any tree could be so brilliant.

If you were here, we'd sit in silence and watch the sun set down the valley.  We'd watch the last rays of light reflecting off the river.  As the evening deepened, we'd walk home past the school football field.  The elk have moved off and have been replaced by a small group of dedicated athletes and parents at a game, braving the quickly falling temperatures and daylight.

I wish you were here.  We'd get home and turn up the heat; it's worth it when there are two of you.  The kettle would whistle and we'd warm our fingers around mugs of steaming cocoa or tea.  We'd settle in and read, or perhaps talk about memories of the past or dreams for the future.  We'd remember something we needed at the grocery store, only to realize it has changed to "winter hours" and closed at seven.  We didn't really want to go out into the cold night anyway.  After awhile the conversation would slow, or I'd finish my chapter, and we'd both yawn.

I know you can't be here.  You have work, children and family to care for, or it's too far and too expensive to travel.  But still, I wish you were here.  I wish I could share with you the wonderful, simple things that highlight my life.