Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ten Years Gone

It's been mentioned here, a time or twenty five before, this thing called skiing.

In many ways, it's been the love of my life. It called, I answered. It beckoned, I came. It schooled, I learned. We were sort of married, skiing and I. It's taken me beautiful, unbelievable places, given delicious moments of triumph, wonderful people, livelihood - filled me with purpose and set the rhythm of my years.

We hit the advent of year number ten this fall. To celebrate, I damn near filed for divorce.

Fall of 2002. It was a dark night, I was just barely sixteen. I followed instructions to the basement of a building in downtown Boise. Sat down at a table of strangers and scrawled my name in red Sharpie on a sticky tag. A gregarious man with a commanding nose and booming voice took over, introducing himself and his quiet, petite feminine co-part in leading the group interview. Something like eight of us followed suit with our own introductions. I was the youngest there, by far. I wanted the job, though, wanted it with all my heart and soul. My blood ran cold with nerves but I revved the stamina of my confidence, kept pace with the group. And, was hired. I know I squealed for joy. I cashed out my entire savings account buying a complete setup of gear and clothing. I was so, so stoked. I taught all three larger-than-life ski seasons of my high school years.

August 2005, I'm just about to turn nineteen. I'm a fish out of water, blue collar daughter, going to college for the first time, had thrown myself into life in downtown Salt Lake City. I am, to be sure, clueless, green as grass, though I wouldn't know it for quite some time. I apply to work at Alta, and meet with no less than three ski school managers to interview at a bagel shop - I didn't even own a car yet. Truth be told - I'd never even been to Alta. Grandpa raised me on his endorsement; simply put, Alta was the best, and thus it was the only place I wanted to be. The first time I drove Utah State Highway 210 to join my new ski school family at a pre-season breakfast... I cried a little inside - with awe and overwhelm.

Places that made me tremble a bit to ski that first year have become my favorites in the six seasons since. I've grown into my self there, in so many ways. I've cried real tears in that canyon, been still and silent, screamed with joy, laughed and bonded with place and people and periphery and found myself a HOME in the heart of Little Cottonwood, a place that will always be sacred and special to me because there I have been ALIVE. So very much alive.

Yet last month there I was, staring down the barrel of the coming season, not knowing where to pull the trigger, stay or go, aim my sights elsewhere or focus on what I know. Had been feeling the pull to invest in the more year-round things I have going on, to settle a bit, to hold still in one place for more than six months at a time.Thought through the options, alternatives, motives...

And in the end, I'm going back. Lucky number ten, a nice, round, double digit.

Sacrifice may very well be the heart of love.
Sometimes it's letting go that best teaches what we hold close and dear.

Peace to you.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Days (daze?) of Rest

So-called. Slept in, again. Jumped out of bed and hit a Crossfit session to the brink of nausea before standard Sabbath activities. Had attended celebrations with many delicious delicacies and desserts over the weekend, a friend invited me to her gym, an opportunity I literally jumped at - I loveth Crossfit, said friend is a studess, and I was in need. Didn't puke, didn't pass out on the bench during the following hours of Church, did take notes and meet new people, and - am going to sleep like a rock tonight. 

I forfeited sleep in the name of new horizons and empires for many, many of my young adult moons. A deep debt is mine for the repaying; the sweet reaper has come to collect. I sleep now, routinely, deeply, hard. Some days I can't draw the lines between the lucidity of nights' dreamscapes and real-time moments. It's crazy beautiful awesome. Right about the time Freudian theory was turning a lens on sleep consciousness, Surrealist painter Salvador Dali utilized a technique of approaching sleep often sitting upright, key in hand, so that the moment sleep came, the key would drop and awake the artist. He would do his work on that buzz, and love it. I can relate. A Dali print hangs in my room - surrealism, that's pretty much life, right?

Fall term last year was a circus. I left academia for the year following, in part drawn to a consecrated inquiry of the meaning and modes of love, swearing I wouldn't return until I had some answers. The words of the poet Kahlil Gibran speak well to how that journey has gone/is going;

"And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course."

And that it has.

 It's been harrowing. Humbling. Potentially humiliating. Love demands its price, even as a seductress, even as the light dancing just ahead on the dark and thoroughly barbed path. It will be worth its weight (or not) in both risk and reward. Jonathan Franzen wrote beautifully on the subject in the NY Times, read it here. The takeaway quote, the line that keeps reaching back at me - "...the dirt that love inevitably splatters on the mirror of our self-regard." There's some serious dirt on this mirror, and justly so. Also said by Gibran, and to this a hearty AMEN from me -

"For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you.
Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning."

I have learned often and repetitiously that I really don't know love at all, as said by the luminous Joni Mitchell. Her voice in youth had the clarity and purity of a brook, a bright silver bell; the version of the Both Sides from the seventies is charming, yet the pure weather in her vocals, the sound and feel of thirty years' wisdom and maturation conveyed in her performance of the song in 2000 is... words fail. I suggest them both, in succession. Something tells me, despite her modesty, I could sit for hours listening to miss Mitchell's findings on love and life. 

Yet by now you're probably sick of my thoughts on the subject. I am. This self-imposed sabbatical indeed changed my course as well as my courses; what I'll register for in the following semesters as much as who I'll be as I travel forward from here, forever. Grateful for the words, people, philosophies and experiences that have graced my path. And I got enough, more than enough of what I went inquiring after, and so - it's time for me to go back to class, back to scholarly endeavors, weed through it all and put it to good use. 

In other news, it's been another beautiful fall in the Wasatch. I re-enter into this valley after summers away in awe and appreciation for the days of ever-cooling warmth and brilliant foliage, temperatures dancing the seasonal transaction, Old Man Winter awakening from his months of slumber, ready to turn the key on skiers' surrealist dreams and paint these mountains white with powder ripe for the turn-taking...

Exhales of tenderness. 
Blessings of peace. 
Much love.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Twenty Five to Life

I hear the winter of 1986 was excellent. Perhaps my conception was the grand finale to one of those blessed days on the mountain which decrescendo over a winding descent into city lights, having spent, incinerated, seemingly every cell's energy - only the warmest coals left glowing after stoking the fire of life with laps over fresh fallen snow.

A little prematurely, four weeks so, the hormones and essences of life synchronized between child in utero and host mother elected Labor Day for the waters to break way for my arrival. Stubbornly, breached, I delayed that til the early hours of Tuesday, arrival crescendo to emergency C-section, all six pounds of me exiting the womb at 2:44am, September 2. My mother thought I was beautiful. Everyone else noted the misshapen nose still imprinted and off balance from the curves of nesting against her spine. They called me Yoda. She called me Jennifer Elaine, after my paternal grandmother. The resident staff of St. Luke's labor and delivery ward took note of only the latter of the names, thankfully.

A heap of living between then and now, but that was the moment celebrated this weekend as I traveled the miles between Salt Lake and Boise for a time that must be among thousands by now, musing on the precious and temporary conditions of life. Thought that of all we have as human beings, no matter who we are - none of it couldn't be lost or dissolved in the contents of a day. Not even our stories are entirely our own. We drift through these moments on borrowed time and at the mercy of a universe of changing circumstance. We can take ownership over what we give, but not what we get given.

Not knowing what tomorrow may bring - what's to be invested in? Relationships, experiences, whatever makes one grow in love and gratitude - that's all I'm truly banking on, at least. I drive long obnoxious miles for that end because really, such is what I'm driven by. The cost dissolves in the dividends: love is worth its expense, worthy in spite of or maybe even because of - its impermanence.

As the now reigning majority, mine was a home broken over time, love and lust lost between the entities that created me. Even fleetingly, the powers of attraction, passion, lust and ideally love witness their lasting merit; entire lives are borne of mere moments shared, in connection, in synthesis, whether the instincts and emotions make it for the long haul or even through the night.

Adulthood is no longer pending. Not at twenty five. You're in it, whether acted upon or not. I've got ideas about what I want, have the foundations established in the first half of my twenties and then some, have forward-thinking hopes and intentions. That doesn't really matter, though. I could die tomorrow or live a thousand years and what surfaces of meaning in all of this, what I've spent the last week plus change musing on, is real, meaningful love for life and my people, which doesn't require perfection or poise or even a state of being "pulled together." As you may know, I'm often scrambling at the wiles of a full schedule and deep seeded wanderlust - grace, patience and tolerance go a long way in preserving relationships in the tumult of life.

Perhaps the most remarkable transition of adulthood is going from approaching the world for the taking, the exploit, with unskilled-as-of-yet hands and heart, demands, needs, expectations - to pure, whole hearted love that seeks to give, understand, nurture, as is, for better or worse, knowing intuitively that it's worth it even if painful and with invisible returns.

Not that I'm there. I surely haven't fully arrived, but the wheels in me are turning ever forward. Learning continues. Loving, so much that it hurts is a choice I've made, openly, knowingly, with intention. In the act of prayer, more than a few times I've been returned powerfully that I am to be an active part of the answer, that the universe has invested in me; I have been given much - and even in the act of making requests, they require action, choices, discipline at the junction of awareness and loving. Giving back. Knowing or desiring to know how, when, where, why, to whom and what is to be given. And firstly - to love oneself enough to give love and support inwardly, which makes all the difference in reaching out.

Another transition: I've been thinking about Facebook and what it implies in its brand of "friendship." In contemplation of technology's artifice, the opportunity provided for people to interact in means unprecedented - much of which I'm grateful for, there's a magic in being to connect with friends past and see how their stories are unfolding, and knowing things and events are happening with little effort can be really great. However, sometimes retaining connection is not for the better, is not appropriate, windows that would naturally and/or intentionally shut are kept open by social media. I don't believe the validity, importance, value of a connection is diminished in its end any more than a novel or movie - endings are part of life. When a connection is grown out of, moved on from, finitely over - is it appropriate or healthy that either party be updated about the comings and goings, relationships and current images of the other? Never in the history of mankind has this been the case, at least not without a human third party, or stalking - which was previously regarded as sociopathic, creepy, and illegal. Is this a normative change we want to embrace? Perpetuate?

I've 'unfriended' very few people since I first joined the site in 2007. I've never gone through and 'weeded' as I've heard some people describe. It all seemed sort of like human farming, a bit of a grotesque approach to connection.

But I get it now. I've heard expressions of open contempt and derision for contacts maintained online, kept for entertainment, to feed competition, pity and criticism. That's not a friendship, and that's not honest. I think the more we feed into that sort of approach and even abstractedly christen it friendship, the more a falsely presented environment of scrutiny, criticism, unkindness and ultimately injury is fostered. It's sick, it's cyclical, it's harmful, and I want no part in reinforcing that. I want to be a real person and share loving, whole acceptance with others. I don't want to edit my posts for audience, I want to just post, as I am, with integrity and a whole heart.

I did some housekeeping this weekend and closed a few chapters of Facebook "friendship." My guiding principle in my decision was this - would I, or could I, sit down and share a meal with this person, exchange stories and feel sincerity and mutuality and human goodness? There were no's, and logistically and practically I'm not going to be seeing most of my FB contacts anytime soon, some maybe ever. But I did recognize that I have much to be grateful for and many connections to nurture with time and over good food in the future.

25 to life: I'm conciously taking you full on. Being real. Loving hard. Come what may.

Cheers to that.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

All Au-gust-o

Admittedly, I've had a lot of time on my hands lately.
I've been more or less unemployed for three weeks.
It's been scrumptious.

Flew back to the Lower 48 earlier this month after spending some time in the charming hamlet of Eagle River, Alaska, reconnecting with a dear friend and getting to know her sweet baby boy.

In flight somewhere over Canada whilst descending latitudes, I saw the stars for the first time this summer. Completely mesmerized, I pressed my face against the glass and was both very still and abuzz with celestial ecstasy. The first nights back I slept out in the back yard, still in awe of a dark sky full of twinkling stars, such a novelty after the months of midnight sun. I can't conceive of ever taking that for granted again.

By design, the day I landed my family and I gathered at Deer Valley to celebrate the marriage of my cousin-brother, we're three months apart. It was a tender, beautiful fete and I'm grateful for his love and happiness, his bride is a perfect compliment to all that he is and will be a treasured presence in our family.

Spent a few days in SLC moving things out of a dusty 5x10 and into new-to-me space before skipping town, in hot pursuit of sunshine, ocean and bestfriendship. Met up with my beloved sisterfriend in Vegas, where another dear friend had graciously lent his place. We headed for the ocean and a sailboat in Mission Bay. Got mani/pedis, laid purposelessly on barely warm sand beneath overcast skies, listened to the ocean, enjoyed the simplicity of each other's company. Giggled and conversed over plates of delicious food and walking aimless miles of unfamiliar city streets in Encinitas, La Jolla, San Diego, Solana Beach and surrounding. Swam. Loved. Just were, as is.

     After she flew out I returned to Vegas, spent a smattering of days in pampered, soulful exile excepting a few meaningful connections via phone.  Overlooking the endlessly moving human zoo, glitz, money spending opportunities, rich food that this city is known for, and I admit - I'm dazzled. My crusty, bitter Vegas hating environmentalist face has retired... because in the wilderness of Alaska, so very far from all this - I gained perspective and appreciation. It is what it is. It has a place, I'm glad for it, happy to experience this... from a distant bird's eye perspective at least. I went to Harry Potter IMAX 3D at the Palms yesterday. HP was everything I'd waited for, just the escapist experience I'd craved. Walking through the Palms was so classically Vegas, it's the casino host to the Playboy scene, which is boldly advertised from flashing screens and building-length banners, everywhere. Vegas is relentless. Trashy. And kinda just perfect for itself. I've treasured my time here and absorbed much sun as souvenir.

The City of Sin. Doesn't look so bad...
Tomorrow I suppose I'll mosey home, and create a new meaning of the word, yet again.
Pick up what still exists of the pieces I left behind in SLC.
Forge synthesis of new and old rhythm, relationships, life.

By all definitions, it's been a friggin' fantastic summer.

Photo at Muzita, an Ethiopian eatery in UCSD area.
Also, I'm almost 25. EEEeeeeeek!


Saturday, July 30, 2011

Not That Special

Yesterday someone told me point blank:

"You know, you're not that special."

It was kind of... a relief, actually. Not that I walk around cooing to myself about perceived specialness by any means. But I was reading a blog earlier today about a child born with EB - which may very well be the most vicious disease I know of. A blog about the tragedies in Norway. Another blog about one modern girl's brutal and heartfelt journey toward finding love and family.

And it's true, I'm not that special.
No one is.
We're all just human.
The universe has many stories.
Everyone's experiences are worthy.
No one is better than anyone else.

I think competition kills love, a little bit.

Maybe because competition is made of pride, a pride that puts our ego at the forefront of our concerns in a mode of diminishing returns - the more we concern ourselves with our own interests, the less we see of the world around us, the less our real needs are met, the less we are able to see anything else, and consequently really see ourselves and others as we are - merely humans. Ezra Taft Benson's words on the subject here in a talk that's relevance and application has only grown over time for me.

Just musing. Thinking. It's late.

Friday, July 8, 2011

On the Run

Well, I done did it. Left the biz, family, friends, my once-was house, comfort zone, habits... essentially, my world. Came to Alaska, and love Alaska I do. Of the many reasons for being here, being on the run is one. In the advent of the second month of my stay, I'm breaking stride. It's getting fun. I've got rhythm, I've got soul.

In case you haven't seen the TED talk linked to the left side over there, right beneath my profile, you might want to. A few times, even, maybe. That little number changed and continues to change my life - which really has been quite full of change. A big part of that comes from having parents who are radically different from one another and also got divorced - having to bounce back and forth between different houses, lifestyles, rules, habits, everything. Absolute torture and an opportunity to foster resilience and dynamism, all at the same time, and the foundation for the whole gypsy lifestyle I've pursued in my years on my own.

A few things I've learned or been thinking of, lately...

  • Being smart isn't worth anything at all if one can't figure out how to be happy, too. 
  • Being "cool" has zero street value if one can't also be kind and authentic.
  • Generally, situations are what you make them, and just about everything requires hard work. 
  • When I don't take things personally but instead look for the bigger picture or deeper factors, the more accepting I am of others.
  • Creativity isn't easy to foster and give breathing room in the messy chaos of life, which makes it even more rewarding and beautiful when it rises and exists.
  • Changing the setting may let the character emerge in a rewarding or even necessary way. Transplanting myself to new places has always helped evoke the purest things in me yet I am what I am, no matter where I carry that to. 
  • The internet and a smart phone practically makes it possible to be a little bit of everywhere, all at once, on demand - which is about as good or as bad a thing as one makes of it. 
That's it for now, more words coming soon. Peep the vid! 

Peace and love.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Images from AK

What would summer be without?

Leaving the Salmon Bake at 2am.

Sunset over the runway. Alaska style.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Coping with Change

Writing in a vacant C4, no longer a home but a real estate parcel primed and ready for the snatching. I’m a guest, not resident. Accessory, not integral. I didn’t want this change. I’ll just admit – it’s been excruciating.

Intuitively, a part of me has known for a while that the end of this chapter was coming, although not long ago I thought I'd return to this same place, life post-Alaska. Variables redirected fate. I lived here longer than anywhere of my choosing, changed this place to reflect something of myself, was changed by it in return. Yet all the comfort, investment, and desire in the world couldn’t keep me within these walls. I’m back to rolling stone status, moving forward on the momentum side of the summit having survived the upslope, aka the ‘shove for your life against gravity lest ye be trampled’ part. Even though it’s passed now, that’s what I want to write about – the hard part, and coping.

I’ve babied myself at times, said sweet and supportive words internally to keep the motor running and spirits afloat in all this, and been not only better off for it but surviving and capable because of it. Days ago out of a similar need for comfort a child displays toward a blanket, I wanted to wear a specific jacket, black, zippered, soft lining. An easier option – polyester, pull over, green, not what I wanted - was in arms reach; my pragmatic side said take it and move along, but the part of me needing comfort wailed in revolt. I wanted to do the tasks, knowing I had to – just wanted to do them while wearing that jacket. Went out of my way to accommodate myself, happier inside and comforted even in such a small gesture.

I slept in a few days, saw some movies, let other people make most of my meals, made a trip to Boise I didn’t have time for, chose to just be with the people I love, enjoying the moments without dragging the upheaval in. I’ve finally, after all these years, learned the value of escapism as well as kindness to self. And, letting things be. Crucial lessons I was desperately in need of.

For the record, I’m not going ALL soft. I went to the dentist this week. Overburdened and breathless, I was running late. They didn’t know if they’d have time for the procedure, but were trying to accommodate knowing that I’m leaving for the summer. To save time, I asked them to skip the anesthesia. They looked at me like I was crazy or kidding but proceeded to drill, commenting on my apparently remarkable tolerance, lack of flinching/whining/tears. If they only knew that those ten minutes were the easiest and least painful of the day, a respite of sorts. Moving really, really sucks.

However, I’ll blow my cover, anesthesia comes out of a needle - I really am a bit of a pansy. ;)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Making, Taking, Breaking Waves

I'm back on board as a card carrying, Wilderness Medicine Institute certified Wilderness First Responder - may I help you? :) That's our a patient pickup line - and one I'd rather not have to use, for the record.

Been thinking of cumulative life experience lately, and the little things I'm grateful for. Even boring and tedious things have significance and transferability into bigger experiences. Everything counts.

The WFR experience has been a good one and provided a wealth knowledge drawn on in many moments following my initial certification in 2006. Aside from first aid stuff on the river and in the mountains, I've been first or nearly first on the scene of three major highway accidents and treated a half dozen strangers for shock while waiting for urban medical teams to arrive. Shock is a fascinating biological response; when the body experiences trauma, ie blood loss, it responds by shunting (my new pet word) its juices (literally, blood) to the vital organs. 

 I've thought often about this idea of shock, the shunting of energy to where it most matters - and how that goes beyond physical survival and into the broader picture of my life. You know, you put your energy where it counts kinda thing. Something I've mentioned before. So much of this winter has been seismic, shifting, grand scale changes in my mind and heart. Shock comes in many forms. 

This past week I was sitting on the banks of the flood swollen Bear River just over the Idaho border north of Logan, renewing my Swiftwater Rescue certification. It was raining, a cold dreary kind, a pervasive dampness sank past the layers, through the neoprene and flesh of me into my bones. I'm sitting there attempting not to shiver, mentally preparing myself to dive sidelong (never head first!) into the current, swim for my life through a wave train, hop on the bank and ready myself with a rope to stage rescue for the next swimmer. It crosses my mind that clean warm fresh folded laundry, making hot meals and nursing babies might not be so terrible. Whoa. Did I just think that? 

I've loved every minute of this gypsy life. This is who I am, where I've been, what I've gleaned from the earth and my presence on it and how I've chosen to actively live. I'll love life still, no matter where my paths carry me, but I think a part of the fight in me has outgrown the wanderer's shoes, and that I have nothing further to prove on this front. This has been a long time coming, often in my blog I've spoken of travels, love, independence, futures unknown and moments ripe for the relishing. Of making space and making waves.  I've seen more than a few of my ilk go into a headlong battle against growing up, loving and being loved, settling down - and people have lost that battle, or won it in a way traditionally not accepted, depending on your perspective. I don't know the meaning of all things - but I do know that in me there has been a shift in willingness, intention, and a death of a former aversion - and I'm okay with that.

I'm in the rounds of final preparation for Alaska, takeoff is in nineteen days. Certifications are finished. Still have some gear to purchase, much to do. A surprise not wholly unanticipated cropped up in the game plan: I have to move out of C4. Like right now, before I leave for AK, rather than parking my car and domestic implements there in my absence and walking right back in the door of my established life and domicile upon return.The HOA has decided to take action on some issues and as a result, they'll be demolishing part of the apartment I've occupied. I can't stay even if I want to. I don't love this, it's not what I had intended - except in that there's nothing I can do about it, so I'm just going to take it head on with acceptance and see what the future holds. That's all you can do with some things in life. Like a medical diagnosis, a death, a devastation - walk forward with juicy loving acceptance and faith in the unknown.  

I know this beautiful woman, a poet, a dreamer, a teacher - in the throes of a personal tragedy, she tattooed a symbol of sap into her arm to represent active healing, bleeding willingly, having capacity to recover. It's stuck with me and I've thought often of that idea as even minor things have come up on the horizon. Much of my supposed anchors have been cut loose in the past few months, and though I feel sort of adrift in this freedom - in other regards, I have never felt so sure that my course is being divinely guided and directed for the best outcomes. 

AK, here I come. The countdown is on. 
Much love, y'all.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Delicious Spring

   On the road late last night, unexpectedly sharing the miles with an acquaintance who easily became an endeared friend. We drove from Salt Lake into the starry, moonlit hues of desert night, slept on the floor in a house on the outskirts of Moab, full of the music of exhale from sleeping people now bound for Cataract Canyon, except me. Tomorrow I start a three day course to re-certify my WFR in preparation for the 2011 river season.

  Out of habit, gravitational pull, draw of the heartstrings maybe, the first thing I did upon leaving this morning was head toward river road, finding this surprise at the turnoff....

                 MATRIMONY SPRING is back in action! 

  Last year I was devastated to find it sealed and padlocked, the water deemed undrinkable by some force for quality control. It may not be in it's heyday anymore, (click here for a previous post), but the water was as delicious and cool as ever, and I felt as though reunited with a particularly sweet and familiar vein of the lifeblood of the planet. A view from further up the road:

           Castle Valley alive and well, basking in sleepy morning sunlight and shadow. 

    After cruising over the LaSal Loop Road, enjoyed the first sleep in the back of my newest vehicle - delighted with the results, the space is quite cozy and more than I've ever had. Awoke lazily, multiple times overlooking red rock and calm water, deeply pleased to be here and grateful for all the opportunities and paths that led to this point.

   Recent business milestones: I hired an accountant yesterday and hit the one year mark of licensing and operation in March. That first year was by far the most sleep deprived and stressful of my existence. But guess what? The "baby" has survived, thrived - and with the support of some fabulous help for which I am grateful, it stands on it's own two feet and is still there, happy and functioning, when I return from my travels. The accountant had some great ideas for growth and expansion and upon return from Alaska, I'm going to dive head first toward that goal... and cross my fingers that the world doesn't oust itself from existence in 2012.

   Although honestly, were this the sunset of humanity's existence as we know it, by and large I'd be content with how I've spent it. Where I've sown and labored in business, in my heart, family and relationships otherwise - there has been and continues to be a sweet reaping. I've learned, loved, and lived much, and have every intention of continuing as the year unfolds - come what may.

   More adventures on the horizon, more posts to come.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Returning to the Source

Flashback to my junior year of high school in Boise, Idaho - a booming chamber of a room that was later to host prom, dressed then in the emblems of academia, clothed tables and postered curtains backdropped the plastered smiles of college representatives, stacks of pamphleted propaganda. I had a hard time taking any of it seriously - my only desires for college at the time were compulsory, wrought by peer pressure (having an answer for the questions of where I was headed) and expectation - from teachers, not from my parents. Academics were never a point of priority in my upbringing, I didn't even know the meaning of Bachelor's degree until I was a semester in to community college - but that's a different story. The college fair was to me, at the time, nothing more than a glorified reason for another excused absence.

While there, I was drawn to the muted and subtle curb appeal of Alaska Pacific University, where images of rugged landscapes played backdrop rather than common, recognizable collegiate insignias. While I browsed, the rep informed me of a get-to-know-us trip for students my age in the lower 48, offered to market the great State of Alaska, its largest private school and the lifestyle and pedagogy it embraced, which they called Active Learning - totally caught my attention. I was Sold with a capital S. Signed up immediately and asked Mom for permission later (see also: begged for forgiveness). I paid for the trip from my ski instructor wages that season, and Mom reluctantly and eventually contributed airfare, but not before many embarrassing phone calls to the school to make sure I would be okay. To help me prepare, the library at the family cabin in central Idaho was scoured, multiple editions of Alaskan Bear Tales left on my pillow by loving cousins and Gramps that Memorial Day weekend. The gruesome stories of people being mauled to shreds heightened fear, but amplified the overall meaning of going. I was doing something Big. That I chose. And walking into the unknown. I embraced that.

 So for two weeks of the summer of 2004, my nights were only as dark as midnight sunset followed by a hazy dawn. I wasn't mauled by bears, though we did stow our food in caches while camping on the beaches of Resurrection Bay, arriving by sea kayak on emerald water pooled beneath breathtaking vistas of glaciers descending from massive peaks. I hiked one of the most oft summited peaks of the United States and stared across the Pacific Ocean at the majesty of its tallest, Denali. I dove headfirst into the no-no of romance with a tripmate - gorgeous, wild, irreverently blissful young lust. I saw Anchorage, Seward, Wasilla, Mat-Su, and everything in between. I met my first female river guide, who taught me to read the frigid water of the Kenai River and sang the praises of the Nenana - the glacier fed, barely subarctic, rapid-wealthy body of water that creates the natural boundary of Denali National Park. That, I do believe, was the inception of my desire to guide.

Flash forward now - I've formally accepted a position as a guide on the Nenana River for the 2011 with Denali Raft Adventures. I report in June. I thought weeks ago when the opportunity first came up that it was to be a compartmentalized experience, with a tidy beginning and end - but change comes heavy when it enters my life it seems, and the solid bookends I was banking on to surround this experience have begun to wobble and dissolve. Who knows what the future may hold - yet again, I walk forward into the unknown. Embracing it. And I'm feeling pretty amped, and ALIVE.

There you go, official announcement. Scrap whatever else I've said...

Gypsy Life 2011: Alaska

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Woke up this morning in a condo overlooking the Wildlife Preserve in Wyoming. Enjoyed a delicious breakfast with my friend and her daughter, then the three of us piled in the car and hit the Wyoming 22 heading to Jackson Hole.

Teton Village was awash in the damp grey of an inversion, but mid way up the mountain we sailed into skies that were nothing but blue, slopes radiant and sparkling in sunlit white. Crowded into a cattle car (see also: tram) with a hundred other bodies clad in a rainbow assembly of outerwear, clutching skis, we’re all twitching with ye ol’ ski jones, and cheers erupted when the sun came out to play. The goods from the last storm cycle were soft and luscious, if you knew where to find them – and our Clinician did, oh boy did she ever, all day long.

I’m here for ongoing training as a Professional Ski Instructor. This has been part of that life – road trips, new faces, feedback on my skiing from fresh eyes, new places, different snow and conditions and cultures. I love it. Or at least, I love it when I actually stop and think about it.

As much as I try to foster an ‘attitude of gratitude’ – I often catch myself abiding some tired and unappreciative outlook without questioning it, owning it, or being fully conscious of it. Today on the Tram while psyching up, I deconstructed the experience. The masterpieces of engineering and technology that take us up the mountain and allow us to travel down whilst staying warm and safe and dry, the entire industry built around it, the hype and the fun. The fact that as BIG as this world has been to me, in the big picture of the world, only a teeny minority that gets to participate. I feel sort of sad about that, and unjustly privileged, and yet glad I’ve been able to share it with hundreds of students over the years. 

Just some informal musing. Tucking in for the night so I can get up and get after it again tomorrow…