"I was, in fact, homesick for wildness, and when I found it I knew how intimately - how resonantly - I belonged there. We are charged with this - all of us. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice." - Jay Griffiths, Wild: an Elemental Journey

Monday, April 30, 2012

Oh yeah - and then I breathed and everything got better.

The gas fumes sneak
in to the cab of the truck
in the moment he opens the door to get out.
I lean my seat back and cover
my eyes with my arm.
He pumps outside,
his face turned away.


I raise my seat and lean
over for my phone on the dash.
Across the street I see
two girls.
Throwing a ball
back and forth.
Back.  And.  Forth.

I sneer and snort.
They don't understand.
I check my phone.

The girls are laughing.
I can't hear it, but I can see
their mouths open
their bodies shake with the sound.
Their arms hurl that ball fast
and hard
into the glove.

Back.  And.  Forth.

He is still pumping
Looks away, jaw tense.
I groan and bury my face 
in my hands.
When-will-it -

I look up. 
Back at the girls.
My hands now in my lap.
I sit up straight.
Breathe in rhythm with their ball.
Back and forth.
Back. And. Forth.
In and out.
In. And. Out.

There is no this weekend.
There is no this summer.
There is now.
There is him.
There is love.
That is all.

I smile.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

And Then My Love-the-World Head Exploded - UPDATED

This is my bumper:
In case it's not clear, my bumper stickers say:
"We can't cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy." - Joseph Campbell
Upset is optional
My other car is a pair of boots
(HRC equals sign)
War is not the answer
Loving kindness is my religion
Teach respect for the earth and all living things
No farms No Food

Today, a man in a green volkswagen jetta drove by, shouted, "Self-righteous!" at me out of his window, and then gave me the finger.  I could tell that he was looking for my reaction through his rearview mirror, so I smiled and bowed to him.

Which, ironically, felt a little self-righteous.

Immediately, I noticed my shoulders tense, my jaw clench, and my eyebrows furrow.  I felt nauseous and a little dizzy as I sat at the light waiting to turn left, after he had just sped past.

I had just come from getting a massage and then stopping to visit Oldman at work to bring sushi for him and one of his co-workers.  I was going home to read and maybe blog.  I was thinking about how I'm looking forward to going to PA tomorrow to visit my family for the weekend and celebrate my nephew's 9th birthday.  I was feeling pretty good.

And then it was like this dude sped by and emptied a dump truck of negativity into my car.  It felt like I was suffocating under its weight.

I used my hands to mime wiping my whole body off, sort of like symbolically shedding the energy.  I said aloud, "This is not mine.  I don't want it."  I have done this before when I felt like I had inadvertently taken on some negative energy, and it usually helps, even if just psychosomatically.  (Really, everything is psychosomatic because we live in our minds and create reality from our thoughts, but that's another blog post.)

It didn't help this time, though.  I just felt self-righteous for doing it.  So I closed my eyes for a minute and visualized sending him love and blessing; covering him with light.  But that made me feel even more self-righteous and then I wanted to flip myself off because I was driving myself crazy with my own inescapable self-righteousness!

And then I began questioning my entire existence and way of looking at life.  Why couldn't I just flip him off in return, like any normal human being?  Why couldn't I have just summoned the necessary anger and shouted, "Yeah and your mother, too, bastard!"  Would that have felt better?

I think this bothers me so much because I have been called self-righteous many times in my life.  When I was a young, over-zealous Christian, when I got all Buddhist-y in my twenties, when I started classes at Tai Sophia Institute for the Healing Arts, yada yada yada.  I've always hated hearing it.  Who likes to be around a self-righteous person?  No one.  Ick.

Yet it seems like choosing to be un-self-righteous involves participating in a culture of complaint and negativity.  And I don't want that either.  Does choosing to express love and acceptance equal being self-righteous?  If so, perhaps it is a label I'll have to just get used to.

The irony is that this is my second round of bumper stickers.  I used to have ones that said stuff like, "Fund Education, Not War," and other liberal, political stuff.  But when I got this car, I decided to only put loving messages on my bumper - nothing that could be seen as oppositional or argumentative.  I only wanted to spread love.

And even upon looking at my "Upset is Optional" bumper sticker, someone chose to take a big, giant bath in upset, and then dump the dirty water all over me.  And now how am I supposed to get clean again?  Or should I just stay dirty, so I "fit in" better with this angry, bird-flipping world?

There have been many comments on my Facebook page in response to this post, all of which I appreciate and have given me more food for thought on the issue.

Many people are saying things like "It's not about you," or some version of that.  Letting me know that this man's anger is his choice, and doesn't have to be mine.  I agree.  And I have been thinking about that phrase, "It's not about you."

No, it's not "about" me, and it still affects me.  Nothing we do on this earth is isolated.  As I once heard somewhere, we are just time-sharing cells.  Our entire body has renewed its cells within a 7 year period.  The universe has a finite amount of matter, as far as we currently know.  Nothing ever really dies, just gets re-created as something else.  The cells that make up your skin could have once been in Mother Theresa, or Hitler, or Beyonce.  The air you're breathing could have once been on the hair on a grasshopper's leg, or the ink on the tip of Obama's ballpoint pen.

Everything we do while on this earth affects everything else, in some way.  That man choosing to put a little more negativity into the world means it's just a little more icky for the rest of us to live in.  What a great lesson for me.  That is what I am choosing to take from this.  I am choosing to learn from him and remind myself how much his negativity affected me.  I want to commit to be more careful about the choices I make, and what I'm putting into the collective soup that is our shared existence.

ALSO, there was a comment about whether I am "over-reacting."  Perhaps.  I was reacting for sure.  Was it an over-reaction?  I like to examine things, and am fascinated with people, so it's rather in character for me to spend this much mental time considering this incidence.

I have thought about this man quite a bit.  Who is he?  What was his day like?  Who are his parents and how did they treat him?  Who in his life loves him?  What brings him joy?  The possible stories are endless.

And finally, I must admit that I had already had two quite negative experiences in the day before this happened.  I started my day with two angry parents yelling at me in my office about something totally ridiculous.  It took me until about lunch to shed that experience.

Then a co-worker sent me a nasty, biting email in response to what I thought was a rather benign request.  It took me until after school to shed that experience.  And then this happened, and I think I was just full up for my negativity quota for the day.

Luckily, Oldman had read my post while at work, and knew that this had happened.  He woke up me when he got home late and showered love and affirmation on me, which totally made up for all the ickiness of the day and balance out the scales.

So the point is: yay for love.  Don't be hater, y'all.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Real Food for a Busy Hungry Girl

I usually say, "I don't like to cook," but what I really mean is, "I don't like to cook when I've worked all day and am tired and have somewhere else to go in two hours, or when the food is not really food but processed corn-nugget-nasty-whatever-was-on-sale-government-subsidized-crapola-disguised-as-food-product-but-is-really-just-flavored-sawdust-in-a-box food."  When I have no connection to my food, I have little to no motivation to cook it.

When I can buy food at the farmer's market where the person who grew it puts it into my hand with a smile, however, and I make the time to leisurely prepare it while I hum happy songs to myself on a Sunday afternoon, that is a different story.  My enjoyment rises exponentially and people (aka Oldman) actually say things like, "mmmm," when they eat it.  I want to care for those little eggplants like they are my babies (well, not really because then I'd be eating my babies and that's not really the kind of blog I'm writing here. . .)

My spoils from the farmer's market this week:
boy choy
ground bison
raspberry tart
oatmeal chocolate chip cherry cookies
And I realize that making edible meals from actual food that came right from the ground or the animal without a factory in between it and my mouth is not that difficult.  For example, let's take the way I've been eating breakfast the past few weeks:

On Sunday evening, I scramble up a crap-ton of eggs with all sorts of whatever fresh vegetables and cheese I have.  (I realize that cheese is not necessarily "healthy," but I am not a healthy person for anyone to be around if I haven't had my cheese, so let's just keep our priorities straight.)  Then I put it into a big container, take it to work, and microwave small portions of it all week in the mornings when I get into my office.  Simple, healthy, easy, and cheap.

Melanie's Weekday Wonder-scramble:
8 eggs (fresh from the market, if possible, but definitely organic and cage-free) scrambled with a bit of organic milk
a small, organic red pepper
a giant handful of fresh, organic spinach from the market
fresh scallions from the market (are you seeing a pattern?)
shredded asiago or cheddar cheese
salt & pepper

Or, if I'm just making breakfast for one morning, say, on a weekend, this has been my favorite choice as of late:

Weekend Power-Breakfast:
two farm-fresh eggs, over medium
organic chicken-apple sausage
ezekiel sprouted grain bread, toasted with fresh butter from the market
sliced avocado with sea salt

For lunch, I've been eating salads with that same spinach and scallions from the market, a few different kinds of sprouts (they sell a mix called "Yoga Salad" at my local, natural market that is delicious and has at least five different kinds of sprouts), feta cheese, and Newman's Own garlic-parmesean vinaigrette.  And then, because salad only fills me up for like five minutes, I also eat either leftovers from dinner the night before, or some kinda frozen, natural-ish meal or burrito thing.

For snacks throughout the day, I eat apples and cheese from the market.  Or maybe a banana or some nuts.  Or a giant piece of chocolate cake that was left in the faculty room at work . . .

But my favorite snack lately has been cut up fresh veggies dipped in sunflower seed butter.  Seriously, y'all.  This stuff is like crack, but healthier, and without the possibility of losing your job, you friends, and your sanity.  So it's pretty much a win-win.

Organic red pepper and carrots about to take a dive into that sunflower seed butter

Later this week, I plan to use the rest of that stuff from the market in this meal that I'm super-excited about: bison meatballs, roasted potatoes, and bok choy sautéed in coconut oil.  Yum yum yum!  Hooray for real food!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

And Then We Found a Turtle

Today, as part of our school's celebration of April as Stewardship Month, I took my advisory out back into the woods to pick up trash.  Armed with giant trash bags, and sporting rubber gloves on our hands and chemically-sprayed tick bands around our ankles - we were a pretty rag-tag bunch.

We trekked through the back of the school until we reached the wooden staircase that leads over the fence surrounding our property.  We explored through the thick woods of Greenbelt Park without any trail to follow.  We filled our bags with glass bottles, disintegrating paper, pieces of rubber tires, old roof shingles, tire scraps, and all kinds of other crazy stuff that has no place in the woods.

As we rounded a bend, on 6th grade girl yelled, "Oh!  A turtle!  I almost stepped on it!"  We gathered around, taking turns passing her around.

"She's so brave!" a 7th grade girl declared.

"Why do you say that?" I asked.

"Because she's not even trying to go into her shell.  She's wiggling all around and looking at us and letting us pass her around and touch her.  She's not scared at all."

They begged me to keep her as our class pet.  I know that she would be best left in the wild, but I considered keeping her as a pet so the students could bond with her.  I know the calming effect of animals, and I haven't had a class pet since our guinea pig, Cashew, died four years ago.  "Maybe," I conceded.  Let's take him inside with us and I'll think about it."

Well, "I'll think about it" obviously means "yes" in kid language.  Everyone knows that.  So they immediately named her Claudia Alexis Anne Elizabeth Zopplehauffer and began discussing where she would be kept and who would go to the pet store to buy her supplies after school.

After doing a bit of research, I found out that this is mating season, which means this girl may have eggs in her body or even in a nest out back.  I decided that we'd keep her in the terrarium in our room for the rest of the day, but I'd return her to exactly where we found her after school.  Thankfully, they all understood.

Before saying goodbye, I gathered the students around.  "Many Native American cultures believe that we can learn all we need to know about life from watching the animals.  They believe that animals each have different characteristics, and so can teach us different lessons about life."

The students were silent as they watched Claudia Alexis Anne Elizabeth Zopplehauffer dart her red, beady eyes around the circle.  She slowly reached out her scaly legs and scratched against the glass.

"So," I continued, "What lessons do you think we can learn from Claudia?"

Immediately, hands darted up all around the circle.  This is what they said:
  • Be patient.
  • It's ok to move slowly sometimes.  There is no rush in life.
  • It can be nice to be silent and still.
  • Be brave; come out of your shell.
  • Be cautious.
  • Don't scratch the glass.  It won't get you anywhere.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How Not to be Sad


1. Get acupuncture.  (This place is awesome.)

2. Spontaneously decide to get Indian food with an old friend.

3. Make a new playlist on your iPod.

4. Wait till the sun has just set, then go for a bike ride in the cool, spring air, listening to your new playlist in one ear, and the sounds of the night in another.

5. Make sure to go down a few hills as fast as you can.

6. When you get back, be grateful for the simple delight of a cool, juicy orange.

7. Light your favorite incense.

8. Watch this.

9. Or this.

10. Know that life is good, right now, in this moment.  Because really, that's all there is.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Wild Bike Ride

I love having adventures in nature because they are unpredictable.  I feel like most "adventures" to be had in suburbia and the city are in some way pre-planned, pre-packaged, and predictable.  Going to movies, out to dinner, to play mini-golf, etc. - these things are all fun, and all things I enjoy.  But there is something about going into the woods, or the desert, or the mountains, that add an element of excitement. There is no air conditioning, no guarantee of safety, and no elevator music.

Yet even in suburban Maryland, there are mini-wild adventures to be had.

Oldman and I broke in my new bike yesterday, and along with it, my butt.  I thought I was doing alright in the department of butt cushioning, but apparently even this junk in the trunk wasn't enough to stand up to that hard, mean little bike seat.  About a mile in, I stuffed the wool hat I had packed just in case it became cold later, into my pants.  That made the ride bearable - at a minimum.

The C&O Canal was a perfect, straight, hard-packed dirt trail to start off with.  The day was sunny and mild in the 70's.  There were purple phlox, grape hyacinth, and white daisy asters lining the trail on both sides.

We saw a hawk swoop down in front of us on the trail, and quickly after snatch a fish from the Potomac river.  We watched a family of at least 15 deer eating their evening meal across the canal.  We played with a frog and a few inch worms on one of our breaks.  It was a bit of a fairy tale day.

There were also a few encounters with nature that were rather . . . intimate.  Oldman and I each ate a few bugs as we whizzed by, a butterfly flew into my neck, I got a gnat stuck in my left eye, I narrowly avoided running over a fat, black snake impersonating a stick in the trail, and to top it all off - I got stung in the cleavage by a bee.  TWICE.  The little sucker got into my bra and went to town.  How's that for a few wild moments?

We had originally agreed to try to ride a minimum of 20 miles, which felt ambitious to me on my first ride in years.  As they day wore on, it was just so beautiful, and my bike was so smooth and perfect, that I didn't want to stop.  When all was said and done, we rode 37 miles over about 5 hours.

I can't wait to go out again!  As soon as these coaster-sized welts on my butt heal, that is. . .

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wild Tao #2 - Wilderness First Responder

Speaking of flowing with the Tao, some Tao just flowed right into my office.  Actually, it called on the phone.

Since I decided to move west and possibly pursue a new career in outdoor education, I have been considering getting my Wilderness First Responder certification (WFR).  I had heard vaguely along my way that this would be necessary as an outdoor educator, and I thought it would probably be helpful information for my life as a backpacker / rock climber / mountain biker (yeah that one's new) anyway.

I'd learn crazy resourceful stuff like how to make a litter out of sleeping bags and trees.

But although I decided I should take this course nine months ago, I still haven't registered.  Every time I moved towards registering for a WFR course somewhere, I got that feeling that I now recognize as opposing the flow of the Tao.

First I thought I'd take it over spring break in Colorado, but I didn't want to pay for a plane ticket that I couldn't afford, take 2 days off of work that I couldn't afford, or leave my new love, Oldman, for a whole week.  So that plan flowed right down the toilet.

Then I thought I'd take the course with Oldman at the beginning of our journey this summer.  But we couldn't find the right place to do it at the right time in our "schedule" (I use that word very loosely), and neither of us really felt comfortable parting with $600 right off the bat when food and gas might be more important for the first few months of our nomadic existence.


Every time I've brought up the WFR course ("Babe, we gotta figure out where we're doing this WFR thang before I spend all my money on bikes and ridiculously-expensive-but-totally-worth-it merino wool underwear."), I've gotten that Tao-opposition feeling.  It feels like tightness in my stomach and a clenched jaw.  I hear myself get almost a whine to my voice as I push a little harder for something that's obviously not naturally flowing.

So in exasperation, I said to myself, "Damn.  I wish I could just talk to some unbiased person who works in outdoor ed and see if I really need this WFR thing right now, or if I could wait until I'm hired and hope that the company will pay for it."

And then, in the only ten minutes of downtime I had at work yesterday, I got a phone call out of the blue:

Erin, from the front office: "Melanie, do you have a minute to take a phone call from some guy from Outward Bound?"  (Which is only the most well-known, well-reputed outdoor ed company in the country.)

Me: "Um, well yes.  Yes I do.  Please put him through."

Apparently, he was calling to let me know about some of the student leadership opportunities in our area. After I listened to his schpeel, he was only too willing to answer my questions about getting into the outdoor ed field.

Me: "So, what credentials will I need to get into the field?"

Dude: "The most important thing is experience working with kids."

(Me? Experience working with kids?  Pshaw.  I've been babysitting since I was 12, teaching since I was 14, and am the head of a middle school now. Gimme something hard.)

Dude: "And some basic outdoor experience would help.  Do you have that?"

Me: "Well I've backpacked in over 13 states all over the East and West coast.  I also rock climb, and know how to snowshoe, ice climb, kayak, and am learning to mountain bike."

Dude: "Uh yeah.  Your'e pretty much set."

So long story short, he tells me that Outward Bound goes halfsies on the WFR course for its employees once they're hired.  He said I should not worry about paying for and taking the course before I go for an interview.  Bonus!!

Immediately, my shoulders dropped and I got a huge smile on my face.  All the pressure about planning our trip around this damn WFR certification flowed right down the drain with that un-Tao-y plan.

Sometimes we have to let go of our plans without any assurance that we're making a sound decision.  I certainly could have paid more attention to my bodily clues and recognized on my own that my plan needed to be dropped.

But apparently, the Tao uses the telephone.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Wild Tao

I'm starting to recognize what it feels like to flow with the Tao, and what it feels like to be in opposition to it.  I'm actually starting to feel it in my body.

(Definition: The Tao is an ancient Chinese term meaning "the way," and basically refers to the unspeakable, mysterious force that underlies everything.  Similar words in other "languages" might be "the universe," "God," "Allah," "energy," etc.)

I see the Tao as a river; an unstoppable river of life, possibility, and happening.  It has been flowing for long before I appeared in this form, and will continue for long after this body is decayed in the ground.  I have been learning over the past few years how to flow with the Tao, instead of being in opposition to it.  Just like it takes a lot more energy and is often less successful to travel upstream, so it is with opposing the Tao.

Let me elaborate.

I like being in control.  When something is going "wrong" in my life, I examine it, analyze it, and ask myself, "What can I do about this?"  This question assumes a two things:

1. Something needs to be done, or fixed.
2. I need to do it.

But sometimes (in fact, most of the time), life just happens.  It doesn't always have to be good or bad.  I don't need to exhaust myself by living in a constant cycling of doing and fixing, doing and fixing, doing and fixing.  This is like rowing my boat upstream, and moving each rock out of my way as I go.

Instead of asking "What can I do?" I can ask, "What is already happening, and how can I align myself with that?"  This is like stopping to look at the stream first, then deciding to allow my boat to flow down river with the current, lying on my back and basking in the sun instead of moving rocks out of my way.

A great deal of my suffering has been alleviated by this shift in mentality.

I make these small choices several times a day - to stop opposing what is happening and ask how I can flow with it instead.  I notice that when I am in opposition to the Tao, my shoulders are raised, my jaw is clenched, and my stomach may be tight.  As soon as I let go of whatever it is I'm trying to make happen, I instantly drop my shoulders, relax my jaw, breathe into my center, and smile.  These aren't even voluntary bodily reactions.  I don't even notice that my shoulders up in my ears until I feel them come out.

I have been using these bodily reactions as my clues for when I am flowing, and when I am in opposition.  Now, when I feel my shoulders drop or my jaw loosen into a smile, I think, "Oh!  I was sort of pushing there, wasn't I.  Fascinating.  Guess life wasn't supposed to happen that way."

The most challenging part about living this way for me has been not always understanding why the Tao is flowing how it is.  So often, I will see that I am pushing too hard to make life happen in a certain way, I'll know that I need to let it go and flow with what is happening instead, and I'll think, "But I know what will happen in my version!  I've got it all figured out!"  If I let go and flow instead, I must also allow myself to be surprised by what comes along next.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Wild Dim Sum

Today, on Easter - which is a holiday I don't really celebrate - I had a delicious brunch - surrounded by crowds of other people who don't really celebrate Easter.  I had Chinese Dim Sum for the first time.

Oldman and I figured we'd continue our trend of eating at Chinese restaurants during holidays when everyone else is doing some pre-prescribed holiday thing.  (We ate at a Chinese restaurant on Christmas night as well.)  Plus he's kind of been jonesing for dim sum in a big way lately, and I figured the only way to get him to stop mumbling "dim sum" under his breath was to go ahead and give the man some.

Entering The Silver Fountain restaurant on a Sunday afternoon for brunch was like going to Rita's on free italian ice day - except with more Chinese food and less italian ice.  But the crowds, the chaos, and the noise were about the same.

A squished 20 minutes in line, and we were seated.  Within 30 seconds, the first cart came by with a bunch of little plates, being pushed by a small, Chinese woman who was starting impatiently at us to make our choice.  I didn't really understand what was happening, so just pointed to something that looked noodley.

After just a few minutes, and several more carts, our table looked like this:

I hadn't eaten anything yet today, so this was technically breakfast.  Oldman informs me that Dim Sum is traditionally a breakfast/brunch type thing anyway.  Nothing about this seemed like breakfast.  I was highly aware of the cultural difference of eating what grows in a country where rice, root vegetables, and seafood prevail.  The agricultural hallmarks of a European breakfast (eggs, sausage, pancakes, bagels, etc.) were noticeably absent.

A small list of what we ended up with:
- turnip cake with bits of pork
- taro root cakes
- rice noodle with beef
- fried crab balls
- chinese broccoli
- fried tofu shrimp cakes
- pork buns
- salt and pepper shrimp

This was the aftermath of our meal:

And these, our overflowing leftovers:

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Wild Falling

Last night, I took a class on lead climbing.  Thus far, I have only been top-roping.  The difference is that in top-roping, you climb attached to a rope that is attached to an anchor the top of the route (hence the name).  Your belayer takes in slack in the rope as you climb, safely pulling you up the wall.  If you fall, you simply sit into your harness and go nowhere.  There is really no danger - except the mental one we often create.

In lead climbing, the climber sets the route as they go.  There is no anchor at the top.  The belayer feeds rope to the climber as they climb up.  The climber clips the rope in to set points along the route, basically building mini-anchors as they go.  If you fall, you can potentially fall very far, even to the ground, depending on where you are on the route, and how skillfully your  belayer catches you.  Falling is even dangerous as a belayer in lead climbing, because when your climber falls, you are pulled off the ground and both of you dangle in mid-air.


As part of this exhaustive, three-hour class, we practiced falling.  Yikes.  We  climbed up to a certain point on the wall, at which point our instructor told us to stop, briefed our belayer on how to brake our fall as safely as possible with the rope, and then told us to fall.  Like, on purpose.

I volunteered to fall first so I could get it over with.  As I reached the point about 3/4 of the way up the 45' wall, I heard the instruction to stop and wait until it was time for me to fall.  As I clung to the plastic, chalked-up holds, I could hear the mumble of my instructor giving directions to my novice lead belayer down below, and I thought, this is crazy.  He has never done this before.  I'm about to let go of all four limbs on this wall and free fall for an unknown amount of time, hoping that some dude I just met will do the catching thing right and I won't end up on my head.

And then I yelled, "falling," and let go.

The fall was quite a bit longer than I expected.  I was told that I fell about six feet before coming to a stop.  Hanging from the wall, my heart still beating into my throat, my instructor told me to climb back up to where I was, and then a bit further.  I asked, "Why?  Shouldn't he just lower me from here?"

"No," the instructor laughed.  "Now you're going to take a real fall."  Oh god.

I climbed back up as directed, even past my last stopping point.  This time, I fell ten feet.  It was even scarier.  But I noticed that the fear was all in the anticipation and the free fall itself.  As soon as I felt my body catch and I knew I wasn't going to hit the ground, I felt instant relief.

I tried to explain this feeling to my instructor.  After the second fall, he asked, "How was it?"

I said, "It was really scary while I was falling, because I had no sense of being held, like when I fall while top roping.  I had no idea how long I would fall.  But as soon as I came to a stop, I was like, oh, that wasn't so bad."

He laughed again and said, "Yeah, it's kind a like diving into a deep pool of unknowingness."

And that's when I was reminded of why I do stuff like this.  Diving into "unknowingness" on the climbing wall is like practice for doing it in life.  I am about to undertake one of the greatest times of unknowing in my life - when I leave my secure job, all my friends, and most of my belongings to head west.  I don't know where I'll live.  I don't know when I'll find another job, or if I'll find another job, or if I even want to find another job.  I don't know when I will run out of money.  I don't know if the truck will hold up through the journey.  I don't know whom we will meet along the way or what adventures we will have.  I don't even know what I don't know.

What I do know, is that in life, just like on the wall, my fall will eventually be caught.  I may fall into unknowing for seven feet, or ten feet, or even more, but at some point, I will stop.  And then I will say, "Oh, that wasn't so bad."  In fact, I will probably say, "That was awesome!  Let's do it again!"

I could choose to play it safe.  I could only do what is familiar and comfortable.  I could stick with top roping, so I won't have to worry about those scary lead climbing falls anymore.  I could stay here in Maryland, because I know my surroundings and my life is pretty routine and predictable.  But I would miss that thrill of the fall, and I would miss the satisfaction of knowing what I am capable of.

So sometimes in life, even when it seems like we have perfectly safe things to hold on to, we can practice letting go.  You never know where you will end up!


Monday, April 2, 2012

Wild Inconveniences

I've noticed something about myself lately.  I worry a lot about what other people think.  Specifically, I worry about inconveniencing people.

Last week in REI, Oldman and I were shopping the backpacking section to spend our dividends (yearly kickbacks of 10% of our previous year's spending).  There was a wonderfully helpful employee, Joe, who talked with us about water filtration, stoves, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and tents.  All in all, he probably spent over an hour just with us.  At least three times, I tried to send him away saying, "Thank you, I don't want to take up too much of your time," when it was clear that I still needed his help and had questions.

After Joe finally took his leave, Oldman asked me, "Why do you apologize for taking up people's time?  That's his job.  He's here to help us.  And he was obviously enjoying talking with us about backpacking, so why apologize?"  I don't know why I had the inclination to send him away, but I was sure that anyone else he could be helping was more deserving of his time than us.

That is just a small example, though.  This tendency to worry too much about inconveniencing people led to an embarrassing and expensive consequence over spring break.

After our time in the Smokies, we had the idea to drive eight hours east to the Outer Banks for a few days.  (We ended up leaving nearly as soon as we got there because the weather was not great, but that's beside the point.)  After ten hours in the car (with traffic), we were finally on the long stretch of road that leads down the North Carolina coast to the beach.  It was a small, two-lane road surrounded by woods.  I was zoning out to music, exhausted from the trip, just anxious to get there and find a place to set up our tent.  It was about 11:30pm.

There was only one car behind me.  I was vaguely aware of its presence.  As I drove, I felt like he was edging closer and closer to me.  I worried that I might be going too slow for his preference.  I worried that I was inconveniencing him.  I worried more about that than about the posted speed limit.  I sped up a bit to see if he'd back off.  He didn't.  I sped up more, determined not to get in his way and inconvenience him.

He turned on his flashing lights.  Damn.

I allowed my desire for the car behind me not to "be mad" at me dictate my decision to drive 70mph in a 55 zone.  In case you're wondering, that costs $280 in North Carolina.

I'll pay the ticket.  I earned it.  But I notice this tendency still coming up on a daily basis, and it's driving me nuts.  On the way to work today, I noticed my mind go there immediately.  I thought, Oh I wonder if that parent will try to contact me today.  I have to tell her what's going on with her daughter, but I know it will upset her, so I'd rather just avoid it.  Then I thought,  I left school an hour early last Friday because I was exhausted from sleeping overnight with the 7th and 8th graders the night before.  I didn't have to teach, but I wonder if anyone is upset with me about that.  I wonder if they think I'm doing a bad job.

Readers, do any of you notice this inner monologue of "shoulds?"  Do you find yourself worrying that you're inconveniencing people, or that you care too much about what they think?  Post stories or strategies in the comments section.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Wild "Plans"

It seems that a day doesn't go by lately without someone asking me, "So, what are your plans for the move?  Have you decided where you're going?"

The answer is "no."  And "yes."

No, we don't know where we're going, as in - where we're going to live, as in - where we're going to pay rent and possibly get jobs.  Yes, we do know where we're going to start the journey. . . probably. . . most likely.

So here, to appease all of your curiosity (and give me a chance to talk about my favorite subject as of late - the big move) is our written-in-sand, loose, ever-evoloving "plan:"

1. We know that we are leaving to move west.  We know that we are ridding ourselves of most of our belongings before we do so (a combination of selling, donating, recycling, and throwing away).  We are pretty sure that we will take Oldman's Toyota pickup truck on the journey.  This will enable us to sleep in the bed and hopefully keep most of our few, remaining belongings in the cab.

2. The last day of school is June 8th.  We plan to leave as soon as possible after that.  It depends on when my colleagues finish writing their progress reports, because reading all of the 5th-8th grade reports is my final task as Head of the Middle School at FCS.

3. We will likely register for the Wilderness First Responder course through NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School), which takes place in Tahoe City, CA beginning June 27th.  This will be our first major stop on the journey.  Becoming certified in WFR will not only be a great tool to use to remain safe as we continue on our own wilderness adventures, but will hopefully also help open career doors down the line.

4. After the course, the "plan" gets a bit fuzzy.  We want to wander a bit, without too much pressure to settle in one place.  We'd like to see the California coast, the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park in Utah, pretty much all of New Mexico (Taos especially), and maybe Tuscon.  We will wander until we run out of money or find a place that we just don't want to leave - whichever happens first.

5.  When we stop wandering (temporarily), perhaps we will find a little town with a wilderness store where Oldman can work, and a cute little cafe where I can work.  Neither of us want to work in our old careers (as a mechanic or a teacher), at least for now.  Perhaps we will find a small room to rent where we can lay our heads and store our few belongings.  Perhaps we will stay for a month.  Perhaps for a year.  Perhaps forever.  Who knows.

6.  I plan to write about this entire journey - at least in my blog, perhaps also in a book.  So I hope you will all stay tuned and spread the word to more readers!