Thursday, March 10, 2016


“He who is contented is rich.”
Lao Tzu

This blog has sat dormant for over a year, gathering dust, hiding the creativity that dwells here, much like the cobwebs that are currently clogging the creative outlets in my brain. But today, for some reason, I found myself of a philosophical mindset, leaving me with the urge to write something that is not thesis or graduate school related for once.

Today, I celebrate my 35th birthday and this may be why I am in a philosophical mood. Many people reflect on the past year during the New Year. I, on the other hand, like to do this on my birthday as I think it is an excellent way to evaluate where I am and where I want to be...or don’t want to be. 

In April, 2013, I wrote this blog entry: I Gather No Moss. When I woke up today, I found myself thinking about this entry for some reason. So, I decided to read it. Afterward, I sat there smiling and shaking my head. In many ways, I feel so removed and so distant from that angry, stubborn, prideful, arrogant woman who spent a sleepless night in the Singapore airport writing that entry. I have to admit, I was following my dream. I was doing the things I wanted to be doing at that point in my life, but reading back through that entry, it was apparent that I was also not happy while doing it.

As I sit here typing, I now realize that the anger, fear, and loneliness I carried with me at that point in my life is gone. Don’t get me wrong, I can still get quite stubborn and prideful...and occasionally a little arrogant, but I feel content and at peace. And, believe it or not, I am living the life I sneered at back then. And that is an amazing revelation. I have stayed in one place for over a year and have not once thought about leaving. What?! For those of you that don’t know me, this is a major milestone in my life and something that in 2013, I never thought I would want or was capable of doing.

I see now that I am in a transitional period of my life. I am shifting gears toward a new direction. The days of living out of a backpack or my car are behind me. The days of seasonal contracts are gone. I now have a wall to hang my worldly goods on and it actually feels damn good to look at that wall. I have a job that gives me a consistent paycheck and lets me hang out with kids on a regular basis, while also giving me a retirement plan, which is a novelty in itself. And...I have an amazingly, wonderful, supportive, loving person in my life who loves me for me and wants me to be the very best version of me that I can be. I have to admit, that feels pretty good.

Before arriving to Prescott, my last year in Hong Kong was spent constantly talking about the need to take a break, to get back in touch with the things I like to do outside of field slow down. Well, I actually did it for once and it was far easier than I ever expected. This past summer was the first summer I have spent not in the field since 2003. I now have weekends and a set schedule. For once, I can plan my life. I can get back into the things I like to do: drawing, painting, crocheting, cooking. I can contemplate trying new things that I’ve always thought about doing, like: going to graduate school, gardening, getting a Y membership, making friends outside of work. Staying in Prescott is letting me learn that you don’t need to go to faraway places to experience epicness and adventure. It can happen in one’s own backyard. I am also learning to be content where I am, to open my eyes and see what is around me, to really get to know a place. And to get to know that place enough to want to call it...home.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have days where I am tempted by the taunting voices of my old pals, Wanderlust and Adventure. Days when all I think about is sitting in a kayak in front of Aialik Glacier, listening to the rumble of icebergs hitting the icy waters of the Kenai Fjords. However, for now I am content to just sit and reminisce over these thoughts and the memories that follow them. Although my life has slowed in comparison to years past and my priorities are shifting, I am still the person I was then. I do not regret the choices and adventures I've followed in my life. At this juncture, I am simply choosing different adventures and adding more layers to the rich life I’ve already been living. 

For once, I am content to say that this is where I want to be. 
Here's to 35 and the lessons learned from quiet days and quiet adventures. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Pelicans Have Air Bags, Who Knew?

**A reflection I wrote for one of my classes this semester

“Why do so many people no longer consider the physical world worth watching?” ~Richard Louv

“Kur-plunk!” “Kur-plunk!”

I am sitting on the bank of an estuary in Mexico, watching brown pelicans dive into the water in search of fish. I am about a half hour drive from Bahia de Kino, a small coastal town located in the Mexican state of Sonora. Estuaro Santa Rosa is the name of the estuary, and although I am only about 30 minutes from civilization, I feel like I am in no man’s land. I am sitting where the Sonoran desert meets the ocean. It is a rugged, unforgiving landscape. Hundred year old cardon cacti tower over me, while twisted, gnarled elephant trees make a poor attempt at providing shade from where I sit. 

Estuaro Santa Rosa

An estuary is an ecosystem created from a body of fresh water that flows into the ocean. It is an area of transition where fresh water and salt water merge to create brackish water, and the surrounding landscape is influenced by the ebb and flood of the tides. In fact, the tide is currently ebbing. I sit and watch as the water level drops and smooth sand bars begin to appear in the channel of the estuary. Ospreys circle overhead as delicate long legged snowy egrets stalk along the shallows in search of prey.


The silence is broken, as, dumbfounded, I watch several brown pelicans, 30 some feet in the air fold their cumbersome wings in close against their bodies and plummet, at what seems like breakneck speed, beak first into the murky depths of the estuary. Like rockets falling from the sky. “Mmmmrrrrrrrrrr—Kur-plunk!”

The birds hit the water, disappearing beneath the smooth surface, only to reappear a second later, gulping a fish down, seemingly unaffected by their face plant into the water. The sound of their diving echoes all around me. It is so loud I can hear it without even having to see the bird in action. Plunge diving is what this behavior is called. To me, it seems like a perfect way to get a headache, but to them, it appears to be an effective means of getting a meal.

I sit in utter fascination and watch the natural cadence of the estuary unfold around me. I realize that I have found the perfect location for a self-reflection on my relationship with the natural world. Why am I so enthralled with the simple act of a large bird plunging into water to catch a fish? How did I gain this sense of wonder that I often feel as I look upon a natural landscape? Why do we not all have this sense of wonder? Why are some people terrified by something as innocent as a butterfly?

These are the questions that plague me as I sit here watching nature go about its business. Louv states that “nature is imperfectly perfect, filled with loose parts and possibilities, with mud and dust, nettles and sky, transcendent hands-on moments and skinned knees” (p. 97, 2008). This quote speaks volumes to me. It makes me think of my childhood and hours spent in the bamboo patch, out behind our house, playing cops and robbers and hide and go seek with my brother. I think about the summers I spent roaming the large hill behind our barn, catching baby field mice and salamanders and bringing them home tucked in a pocket made by the hem of my shirt, held together by my grubby fingers.

I grew up in a rural area on a family operated dairy farm with acres and acres of land at my fingertips. By many, I was viewed as the poor kid in town, but to me, I was given a luxury that not many have access to today. I had a free, safe environment to explore in with parents who were determined to make me go outside rather than let me sit in front of the TV watching cartoons all day. Many children today do not have this. They live in urban environments where it is safer to just remain inside than to be outside playing. They do not have parents that work in an environment that allows them to be home with their kids outside and still be able to call it work. All of these variables make for a different experience and I totally understand this difference.

Although I do understand this, I still find myself wondering why is nature viewed so differently now? Why am I so comfortable in a natural setting and others are not? Is it because I had a huge backyard to play in? Is it because my parents encouraged me rather than forbade me from catching field mice or salamanders? The only rule I had to follow in regards to these little creatures was that they weren’t allowed in the house. Needless to say, I broke that rule as often as I could, due to the simple fact that it was a rule.

Society has changed even in the short amount of time that I have been an adult. There are less and less farms every day and more urban development. With more urban development comes the idea that being outside is a fearful place and children need to be protected from it. I agree with much of this, but how do we still encourage children to discover a sense of wonder? How do we encourage them to be able to look at a brown pelican and not feel fear, but rather wonder?

Upon my return from Estuaro Santa Rosa, I discovered that brown pelicans actually have internal air pockets along their front chest cavity. These air pockets are there to help cushion the bird against the force of their impact into the water while also providing buoyancy. It is these air pockets that make the bird pop up out of the water like a bobber on a fishing line just teased by a fish. I thought this to be fascinating. Brown pelicans have air bags, who knew?

The curiosity and sense of wonder I felt at the estuary is what encouraged me to discover more about this bird. I would like to do this as an educator, to expose others to the natural wonders of the outdoors in a safe enough and engaging enough manner that they go home and want to learn more on their own and then share their excitement with their parents. Perhaps if this practice was adopted in more schools, outdoor centers, youth groups, and by educators, mentors, and parents, we would make more progress in establishing curiosity and a sense of wonder toward the natural world. This doesn’t have to happen in a remote location in Mexico, it can easily happen in someone’s backyard or on the sidewalk in downtown Manhattan. It can happen anywhere.


Louv, R. (2008). Last child in the woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder (2nd ed.). 
New York, NY: Workman Publishing Company, Inc.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Reflections of a Graduate Student

“Success is not a good teacher, failure makes you humble.” ~Shahrukh Khan

Two nights ago I cried for the first time since becoming a graduate student. I remember thinking last winter, while I filled out the application, that at some point during my tenure as a student, I would be brought to tears. Ideally it would happen as I am being handed my Master’s Degree and it would be tears of joy. However, two nights ago, that was not the case.

Instead, they were giant, anxiety induced tears caused by an overwhelming sense of lack of control and the complete inability to find myself and know what I wanted. It is January and the start of my second semester is a mere week away and I felt completely lost. I was to a point where I was ready to toss the towel in and call it quits. This realization in itself only brought more tears. Tears of frustration and anger. Anger over my inability to understand and articulate the ideas circulating around in my brain, and frustration over the Prescott system that I have no control over. 

You see, I don’t quit things often or easily. So for me to be brought to a point of wanting to toss the whole kit and caboodle and wipe my hands clean of the matter, it was a big deal. Or at least, in the moment it felt like a big deal.

That was two nights ago in Prescott, AZ. Today, at 0800am, I found myself walking down a sandy stretch of beach in Bahia de Kino, Mexico, my home for the next couple of weeks. Bahia de Kino (Kino Bay) is located in the state of Sonora, and I am here until February 3rd assisting with a Sea Kayaking Natural Marine History course with the undergraduate program at Prescott College. I am essentially partially responsible for the safety and education of six undergraduate students, a slightly hefty weight to bare. 

(Photo taken from a Google search--not one of mine)
This responsibility and management of safety is nothing new to me. I am an outdoor educator. It is part of my job to manage safety and risk in the field, ensuring that everyone comes out safe and healthy, something I take very seriously. Yet, I didn’t feel on top of my game. My confidence was like a turtle tucked into the security of its shell, unwilling to stick its neck out, for fear of failure. 

What was wrong with me? Why am I having anxiety attacks when I get to spend two weeks in Mexico with white sandy beaches, palm trees, and intense sunshine, doing what I love to do? It can’t really get any better. So what was the problem? I pondered these questions as I wandered down the beach, listening to the gentle lap of the waves against the sand, the keening of sea gulls competing over a school of fish they’d found in the water. 

Was it really a big deal that I didn’t have a thesis statement or a definitive plan for my degree? Do I need to have all the answers right now? Could I not just relinquish the control for once, and go with the flow. See where it takes me? Here at Prescott College, they have a saying, “trust the process.” Could I trust the process? 

This is a challenging thought. My biggest fear, when deciding to pursue graduate school, was that I wouldn’t make the cut. I wouldn’t remember how to write a research paper. I wouldn’t be able to “think critically” or write at a “scholarly level.” I can do all of these things I’ve realized. However, it’s been challenging to trust others to make the decisions and let them lead me where I need to go. I’ve been in charge of my life for the past decade and suddenly, my future has been put into the hands of strangers and I feel as fragile as an abandoned egg jostling around in a basket. Will I crack under pressure? Will they handle me with care or will they drop me and let me splatter all over the pavement? I feel alone in this process of trying to figure out how to navigate degree plans, practicums, and formulating a thesis statement. Yet, I’m not really alone. Many others have gone before me and have made it. Somehow, some way I can make it too. And this is what I needed to remember and trust in. I would make it.

While walking down the beach, I realized that it was almost exactly thirteen years ago when I arrived in La Paz on the Baja side of Mexico to embark on an experience that would forever change my life. January 20th, 2002. I was a mere 20 year old, about to disappear into the remote wilderness of Baja Sur California for 80 days and learn how to sail, sea kayak, and backpack. I had been a poor farm kid who had never been away from home, had never flown in an airplane, had never been in a foreign country, had never seen the ocean, and had never carried a 70lb backpack or pooped outside in the backcountry. Everything about it had been scary and unfamiliar, and yet, I had had the courage to take on the challenge. 

Turning to make my way back to the Prescott College Kino field station, I looked down the beach from where I had come. Several students were scattered out across the sand, some with field guides in their hands working to identify bird species, some with cameras or binoculars glued to their faces, others sitting in the sand staring out across the ocean, listening and taking it all in. They all had one thing in common. They had a look of wide eyed wonder on their faces. I realized then that that had been me thirteen years ago. Stumbling into Baja with a permanent look of wonder plastered on my face and someone had taken the time to nurture that wonder so I could learn and understand the experiences I was being exposed to. 

It has always been my goal to be impacted in some positive way by the experiences I choose to have. To become a better person in the end when all is said and done. When deciding to pursue graduate school, I realized that my need for growth had come to incorporate a need to help and inspire others. This is what brought me to Prescott College. As I watched the students, I realized that in my anxiety, I had forgotten why I was here. Their wonderment was inspiring. Their wonderment was giving me the courage to step to the plate and deliver. As an educator, I am realizing that learning cannot be forced. The teacher can open the door to learning, but only the student can make the decision to step through into the world of knowledge. 

This is why I am here in Mexico. Someone had faith in my abilities and choose me for this position as adjunct and that is a humbling realization. Now it is time for me to have faith in my own abilities and to share a passion of mine: sea kayaking and natural history. This is why I am pursuing graduate school at Prescott College. To open the door to wonderment and exploration for others. And with that realization, I step over the threshold of my own wide open door and accept the challenges being handed to me. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Thumb Butte Free Write (Edited) 09/11/2014

"What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?" ~Henry David Thoreau

How is it that, when I come to a place, the purpose being to reflect and relax my mind, instead, the exact opposite happens? The wheels spin a mile a minute, and my brain burns rubber. Words such as authentic inquiry, quantitative vs qualitative, literary reviews, academic discourse…and again…literary reviews…are on constant replay in my noggin. How am I supposed to observe my surroundings, while sitting as still as possible…for two hours? It seems virtually impossible.

I’m convinced I don’t have the time to sit in this peaceful location I’ve found, but I know it will be good for me; it’s exactly what I need. I used to do this all the time, so why is it so difficult now? Graduate school has begun to consume my life. I’m essentially studying the therapeutic aspects of nature, yet it seems I never leave the house, continuously glued to my computer. Does anyone not see the irony in this? 

Photo courtesy of a Google Search
I’m supposed to open myself up to observation within the nonhuman world. Mother Nature that is. I’m normally quite good at this. Observation in the woods. Maybe it’s from growing up on a dairy farm and having 200 acres at my beck and call? Or maybe it’s from going hunting with my dad as a little girl and following him around like his miniature shadow? I’d march behind him, slipping my tiny feet into the size eleven post holes he'd create in the snow, shaking with the effort it took to be still when prey was in sight. Hunting with dad was how I learned to walk “silently” in the woods, feet turned slightly to the side, taking wide, slow steps, waddling like a bowlegged cowboy. 

Walking sideways, compared to stepping with toes pointed forward, apparently reduces the amount of branches snapping under foot, therefore decreasing the chances of giving away your location to your intended prey. While taking deliberate steps, you had to breathe slowly and quietly through your mouth. If you couldn’t do this, hunting privileges with dad were revoked and you were left at home. Dad was a master at stalking dinner, and masters cannot be disturbed.

I keep coming back to this article I read the night before. Beauty and the Brain, written by Laura Sewall. It was about mindfulness, attention, observation, and technology. The “plasticity” of our brain, as they called it. In layman’s terms, it is the brain’s ability to adapt and conform to observational triggers of things we see, storing the image away as something we will recognize later. This helps create our senses of observation and attention. The ability to focus is linked to our ability to observe. The more we focus, the more we see. Our brain is stretched and molded, hence the word plasticity, to recognize and remember the things we see. This happens at a rapid rate for adolescents, whereas for adults, it's more to the speed of molasses, but thankfully, it still happens.

The contemporary, modern world has taken full advantage of this plasticity with their focus on product advertisement, bill boards, and TV commercials. Filling our world with glittering images, so children create visual attachments to images they see all the time, therefore they want things all the time. Welcome to the world of materialism. We are all guilty of it. The internet and technology appears to be deadening our senses, especially the power of observation. By staring at a flat screen for hours and hours, our brain is absorbing tons of information and images, yet retaining little. It’s like flash cards. This in turn is affecting our natural connection with the natural world. 

As I walked from my car to the trail head, I realized how true this was. An image of my computer screen seemed to be permanently burned into my frontal lobe because that was all I’d been staring at for the past week. I was oblivious to the ponderosa pines towering over me, the granite beneath my feet, and the heat of the sun on my shoulders. All I could focus on was if I can afford to purchase Adobe Pro, so I can highlight and write digital notes in the PDF articles I have to read for my classes. I prefer paper copies so I can write where and how I need to. I feel I learn and retain information better this way. But technology has now invaded my study regime, and in order to succeed, I have to adapt and allow it to enter into my world. Did I mention I was trying to study about how to bring us back to nature? Again, the irony? Welcome to the digital age.

It wasn’t until I heard the water flowing in the creek that my senses kicked in. I heard that first trickle and it was like a kick to the gut. My head lifted, my eyes widened, my skin prickled from the warmth of the sun, and my nose hairs twitched as I smelled the sweet welcoming scent of the woods. Earth, grass, bark, water, and air all mixed together. It is an elixir to get drunk off. Heaven in a bottle. My shoulders relaxed, my lips twitched with a smile and without realizing it, my feet made a bee-line for the stream bed.

I now sit on a small rock outcropping right at the stream edge, writing and listening. I asked myself to let go of everything; to just open myself to my surroundings. It was as if I had to empty my body of all the corrosive material eating away at the very marrow of my soul, and fill it with the healing goodness of Mother Nature. It’s amazing how much water matters to me. I am in a land locked desert, but I still managed to make my way to a source of water. 

I don’t know if it’s the sound, the feel, or the smell, but it soothes me like little can. I want to feel it all around me. I want to be back in my sea kayak sitting in the ocean, stationary, letting the water take me where it will. This allows me to feel one with something that I can’t really be one with. Am I drawn to water because we are primarily 98% water? Because I grew up land locked? It’s different, so it attracts me?

I prefer cold water to warm water. I don’t know why. Maybe because it’s challenging? When I swam in the warm waters of the China Sea in Hong Kong, it was soothing like silk against my skin, but it didn’t sooth and cradle me like the Pacific in Alaska. The Pacific steals my breath, making my skin pins and needles, but it provides a plethora of diversity that never ceases to amaze me. The coldness and harshness of that ocean humbles me. 

So what is it about water? Is it because it’s constantly in flow and that is what I strive for? To be going somewhere, anywhere, as long as I am going? Is it because, like the tides, I seep into things slowly, cautiously, and finally, furiously; investing myself wholly and completely to something? Is it because, like the water in a rapid, as I meet obstacles, I create ripples, determined and continuously seeking to find a way around? 

We are persistent, water and I.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Sense of Me

**This is a reflective piece I had to write for one of my graduate classes...just felt like sharing it since it's been a while since I've posted anything.

“Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.”~~ Gary Snyder 

I’ve always found it difficult to talk or write about myself. In this case, I sat and looked at photos chronicling the years of my life, in an attempt to put words to who I am, because sometimes I’m not even sure. Photos depicting rolling hills of New York farmland, scenic vistas in remote landscapes across the west coast, floating ice fields while paddling in Alaska, wildlife ranging from bison along a highway in the Yukon Territory to komodo dragons in Indonesia. Shots of smiling people, near and dear to my heart. Photos displaying a world of limited color, restricted to a grey sky and the white, barren, frozen landscape of Antarctica. Photos of colorful temples as I sought enlightenment thorough out Southeast Asia. These were the images staring back at me; a collage of me.

I tried to imagine these snapshots through the lens of a stranger. What would they say just by looking at these photos? Perhaps they would be inspired to say: curious, adventurer, wanderlust, soulful, spiritual, strong, grateful, traveler, seeker…crazy? If I were to take these word blips and organize them into a sentence, it would look something like: I am a seeker drawn by curiosity to adventure and wanderlust, exploring a journey of spirituality and strength; who is grateful for the souls I have encountered on this crazy ride I call life. I guess that would describe me.

And where do I fit into the grand scheme of things? The natural environment is my world, untouched by the concrete jungle of civilization, if I had my way. I see the world as mysterious, capable of cushioning one minute, and destructing the next, a cycle that repeats itself. It’s been a privilege to live in the elements and see the subtle changes of the seasons as they move from one to the next. This immersion lets me know the world better. I am a visitor in the house of nature, rather than it being the other way around.

I believe my ontology of the world is interconnected with my epistemology of experiential education because by being in the elements: seeing, feeling, hearing the natural changes lets me learn. I need to touch things, see things, and do things in order to obtain knowledge. I need to break something down to the basics and build it back up to comprehend it. I think a lot of this stems from having grown up on a dairy farm where everything is experiential.

What is myself and my Self? It’s interesting to break it down this way. Myself, is the identity I reveal to the world. My Self is my inner me, the bit I keep just for me. They are alike and yet not alike. Both are quiet, reflective, and passionate. Myself protects my Self. I am not great at revealing this Self. There are only a few that have seen her. I value connections with people, but I struggle to develop deep connections with many people. Those I feel deep connections with are the few that know her, my Self. I’m not really sure when I was able to first recognize my Self, it might have been during or right after college. There was just a time where I suddenly saw this person staring at me in the mirror whom I didn’t recognize. I didn’t dislike this Self, but I was uncertain of her because of the aura of difference surrounding her; it took a while to get adjusted to this Self. It was kind of like trying on a new jacket for the first time, not sure of the fit, and then finally you realize that she’s your favorite jacket and suddenly you’re wearing her all the time.

I’ve thought a lot about the role the world plays in my life and how do I maintain these connections? I like to know how an experience is shaping the person I am. It’s something I search for in a journey. How is this going to change me? Because of this, I often find myself looking inward. If I feel content and excited, I know that I am being true to my Self. I am growing. If I feel disconnect, I look inward and ask myself what is it I’m really trying to get out of this? If it’s not going in the direction I want it to or need it to go, it’s time to have a talk with my Self and make that change. I’ve sometimes wondered if this was selfish, but I actually think it’s a result of being driven to want to change in ways to become better able to help others.

There’s a saying back home, “You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl.” I spent a few years trying to cut all roots tying me to my upbringing, convinced I should feel shame for having grown up on a dairy farm. This stems from having been stereotyped as a “dumb redneck” much of my adolescence. I was sure the further I got from my roots, the more I could shed, re-inventing myself so to speak. Needless to say, this backfired when I realized my roots were what made me me, and there was no escaping them. The simplicity of the country is an integral part of myself and my Self. Why escape it? Those tangled vines taught me good work ethic, humility, strength, respect, and an overall sense of place. Five years ago after I realized adventure education had become my career, I wondered where it all began. Why do I feel at peace and whole in nature? What has brought me this far? I traced it all back, and it sprouts from the womb of a dairy farm.

From examining the Intersecting Axes of Privilege, Domination, and Oppression diagram, I am categorized as an educated, young, white female who is an able-bodied heterosexual of the working class (Diller, A., Houston, B., Morgan, K.P., & Ayim, M., 1996). By default, this puts me in the category of privilege. This is a strange feeling. I see myself as a mongrel mutt of mixed breeding, claiming no real nationality, with nothing but life experiences and debt to my name. But that’s just it. I was given a choice and I chose this. These choices have shaped me, thus influencing my intersectionality. Should I feel guilty for my role in society? The word privilege seems at odds with what I view as a simplistic, holistic sense of place.