Friday, December 30, 2016


The phone rang late. My parents were off at an ice hockey game and the "this is it" thought crossed my mind when I saw the caller id.  My mom's voice wavered. "John has had an accident and can't drive his car. We are going to take him home."  It would have been a longish drive at night. In that instant I got worried.

"Just come here and I'll drive you over there." I replied.  Their fancy sedan pulled up moments later. John in the front seat. 90 years old, a bit discombobulated, rattling off the list of things that were on his schedule for tomorrow but now had to cancel. His daughter was coming up in the afternoon. He shuffled papers in his hands. He'd lost his glasses. It was so late. The home team lost the game.

My folks spent a few minutes getting John settled into his house. He lived alone in the place he'd bought with his wife and my mom's close friend, who died a couple of years ago. Mom and Dad debriefed me on the way home. The car was totaled. He'd hit the bus of the visiting team while backing out of a parking space. A woman was injured. "What would come of him?Will they let him drive again? He's stuck so far out here." My mom wondered.  For John, the accident was a milestone, a moment of profound change.

Last year at this time, I was flying to Singapore at midnight like Santa on Christmas Eve. I spent 4 nights in the city for under $500, spent days hiking urban trails and exploring an island, saw The Force Awakens. In 2011, I was parading around the Buddhist school playground in a Santa costume leading the children in robust refrains of Jingle Bells. I was reminded, via Facebook, that 7 years ago I was bundled up around a campfire celebrating the Solstice in Alaska.

Now, everything is different. For the first time since 1990, I am not traveling through multiple time zones to celebrate the holidays with the family. This is a very safe and comforting life. I am insulated with extra holiday pounds, overcooked vegetables and someone else doing snow removal. In this stasis week between major holidays and the upcoming end to the seasonal retail gig, I am unsettled and uncertain about what will emerge next. I'm grateful for the space-- in this condo community with my parents--to find the right fit and continue to look for righteous work without too many financial pressures.  I am experiencing a life change that feels like a long simmering of beans cooking in the late winter afternoon, ripening of fruit, the growth of a tree.

In early December I attended a webinar with Glenda Eoyang of the Human Systems Dynamics Institute on life changes. She started with her impression that her life would be a trajectory, a cumulative ascent of marriage, children, salaries, and houses. The change model of tidal charts and moon phases, gentle periods of fullness and emptiness, works for some folk. Glenda looks at change differently-- that the process of builds slowly, like the pressures of shifting tectonic plates and barometric pressures and culminates with a dramatic release of earthquakes and tumultuous storms.

 I don't know where I sit on these models, but I suspect I am wallowing in a steep valley in the dark time.  As easy as this life should be, it feels a little uncomfortable. I still haven't hit the right gear for the upward climb. In just a couple of weeks, I may be unemployed in an American society with a bombastic, reactive, likely corrupt and wholly unattractive and unhappy leader with his band of gleeful billionaires ready to disrupt the tenets of civil society. Time to buckle up, shift into a lower gear and keep the foot on the gas.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Tuning In
On a 2-lane highway somewhere in the deep hinterland of the American West, I heard about the meaning of April 19th.  The details spewed out the car radio in my Toyota wagon as I made my way from my friend’s house in Montana to my sister’s house in Colorado, a pit stop in what was one long road trip in the early 90's as I vagabonded my way through America. I was cruising the waves, seeking something different than the cassette tapes that had become so predictable that they played over and over again in my mind long after I left the car.  Listening was an easy connection to the local community in those hours of solo, road-trip travel through small towns.

Along those lonely roads, the talk radio host went onto explain the significance of a citizen rebellion of government on that day, the anniversary of the 1775 Battle of Lexington and Concord. The man went on to talk about Waco, a 51 day month siege that ended on April 19th and the Oklahoma bombing that purposely occurred on the same day.  It is still unclear if America’s first mass school shooting in Columbine Colorado was orchestrated for that day or Hitler’s birthday on the 16th. When I tuned in, I learned these things.

An AM-band radio station kept me awake and focused during the early morning hours, after an epic two-day hike in the pouring rain with 10 elementary school children, a flooded stream and a burly co-guide who rigged a line across the torrent and carried each kid across, as they clung to his back. After more hours of hiking, the group slowing down into darkness, we loaded up, stopped for pizza and headed back to camp. The van was quiet with deep, exhausted breathing, the only sound was music and commentary from a station in New York City, miles away, but reaching me as I focused on the empty highway to home.

On another road trip to a job at a ski resort in Colorado, I hit a patch of black ice and felt helpless as the car tumbled over into a ravine. In that second, I gave up to the forces around me.  There was no control.  There was no ability to change the trajectory.  I was on a path and there was no turning back. The small rocks on the dashboard, the go-to items in the passenger seat and cargo in the back were scattered throughout the car; the seatbelt held me safe. I landed on all four wheels and with the engine still running, got hauled out of the ditch to review my options. In the end and after my sister , the car was safe enough to drive. In the late morning the next day, I began the journey back to Boulder.   The car was clean and empty, rising up the highway over Steamboat Pass.  the radio played the song, “And when I die… there will be another child born to carry on”   I cried to the music in the car.  

The car radio punctuated a passionate moment when I was in High School as I kissed a boy in the front seat. The night was cool, it was steamy and passionate, the brush of whiskers and explorations of lips and skin, hands and hair. My knee hit the knob and the radio station blared, "Jesus died for your sins." We paused, giggled, and tried to carry on. The moment was changed then. He was Catholic. He dropped me at home shortly after.

In all the commentary of the campaign and the results of the election, I feel similarly to that moment in 1979 when the abrupt message came in over the radio waves. I am alternating among a desire to leave the country (one acquaintance has already),retreat into meditation and dedicate time to finding righteous employment, or find the right activism. In the meantime, I try to muster kindness for all. What other control do we have? The questions linger. How to do we have a constructive and meaningful dialog with those who hold different views? What is the way forward in achieving unity and agreement to advance our collective commitment to liberty and justice for all? How will this incredibly turbulent time change us, as people and as a nation? I am not sure the radio will have the answers, but it worth trying to tune in to learn more.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Objects of Desire

The people, clutching their items, approach my section of the long checkout counter in a rapid and dizzying succession. A knobbly cabled cotton cardigan is followed by a 7-pound pea coat. A cashmere hoody slinks in, soft and seductive, and jumps on the counter like a black cat. Shoe boxes shout their presence and succumb unwillingly to the paper bag at my feet. Rubber boot keychains, cookies shaped like totebags and lobster lollipops bob to the eddy of my shore as the river of customers flows by. On rainy days, the river runs strong.

I'm temporarily working in the capitalist machine of consumer goods, albeit a family business with a great reputation for quality and valuing their employees. The human personalities in the stream of customers are at times strong, I become more attached to the items that float by.  “Wouldn’t it be nice to have that?” a small voice whispers as athletic pants appear on the counter before getting slipped into a paper bag. The want tugs gently at my shirtsleeve like a 3-year-old, pleading, "Buy this, accumulate that, build a fortress of clothing around you as the temperature dips to the frost point."  Driving home close to midnight after my shift ended, the headlights illuminate the red and yellow leaves. The full moon is high over the fallow fields as I venture through the fog wisps. Like the chipmunk with full cheeks, I am thinking ahead to winter.

Thus far, I am able to resist the purchase to buy brand new but still wrestle with the reality that I need to be outfitted with clothing for winter. There are finds at thrift stores and the employee store, I seek in waiting to accumulate objects that are sturdy, utilitarian, funky, and have some soul.

But in fact, I miss the objects that have disappeared in years of moving around. The handmade knitting needle case that may have been misplaced in the roof of my vehicle and disappeared as a drove to the next destination.  A custom crocheted knitting bag with stunning intricacy and care, traded for a handknit set of socks, hat, and mitts, that lost in the mail with a simple decision not to insure the box,  My grandmother’s stainless steel bracelet, perhaps fallen from a pocket in the aftermath of an MRI on a still troublesome upper back and shoulder, was missed immediately yet not found anywhere at the hospital. The sea kayaking jacket that accompanied me on multiple expeditions, the ultimate defense against pouring rain, high winds, and cold temperatures, was given away in the frenetic days of the house sale. To where and whom it was given, I cannot remember.

If I knew these special items were destroyed in a fire, it would be easier to let them go. When I am settled and long to nest, these objects haunt me. The hungry ghosts arise in thoughts with regret, longing, and disappointment, I am remorseful over the past mistakes and carelessness that tossed them into an abyss of misplacement. One can only hope that there were adopted by another instead of lying in layers of garbage in a horrific landfill.

When the need strikes, I unpack the boxes looking for the things that were moved from the house. They are there, in all the joyful understatedness of packed away presence. As I find the places for them in my new home, I find that these things enrich my soul and give me joy. I am able to hear their stories.

On a way home from a late season
trip many years ago and with tips
burning in my pocket, I went through Denali
National Park's gateway village and saw
a sale sign.  I pulled over, saw this piece and
fell in love. It arrived in Maine a little
broken and bent, but a local artist was
able to fix it. 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

My Alaskan Bachelor Party

It was a "last-chance before the snow falls" pilgrimage back to a beloved land, culture, and people. The primary mission to see old friends and bring back my belongings. In the final hour of the 9 hours of flights from Maine. I lifted the window, high-fived my forethought and appreciated the clear skies as the sun stretched its legs in the waning autumn evening.

The Lost Coast of Alaska,  the northern coastline of the longest contiguous stretch of wilderness in the world,was studded by glaciers and mountains below.  I'd guided many trips in two glacier-filled bays along this coast in the mid-90s. It was a sheer, raw,dynamic  and powerful place where I felt such a deep hue of humility and awe that I felt some of my ashes should be spread there after my final days. The plane flew farther north to Valdez, then over the mountains and following the highway into Anchorage.

Over the next ten days, I awoke during a mild earthquake at 3am, saw moose and calves in Anchorage's parks, watched for belugas amid the glittery outgoing tide of Turnagain Arm, walked long and hard, reunited with some objects some of which were reassuring and others pointless, went to a pop-up street art festival, drove a manual transmission, and listened to my favorite radio station.  My host and Southeast Asia travel companion fulfilled my hope and offered to drive on a road trip out to the edge of the biggest National Park in the US, which is only accessible by air or a 60-mile gravel road.
On the road east. Frost heaves not shown. 

The highway stretched through expanses of golden birch and aspen punctuated by distant views of some of the highest mountains in North America. I reunited with a friend and homesteader, who I hosted for a few winters at my house in Spenard, and moved into a sweet little cabin for the weekend.  We drove into town with Mark on Friday night for some local culture and aurora's magic glowing green waves rippled in the sky.
Aurora at Fireweed Mountain.
Photo by Mark Vail. 

One our way into town the next day, heading up to the Kennecott mine for our hike, the memories of my first autumn in Alaska drifted in.  I'd gone out alone in my 1984 Landcruiser wagon for an end of season trip to visit my friend Tim. I'd just started a new job coordinating an eco-tourism trade association in Valdez. On the long gravel road that was the old railroad bed, I'd gotten a flat tire and changed it myself. My friend was guiding trips and the operations were based out of a shipping container in the gravel beds on the riverside. The airstrip was on the other side of the river in the old miner's community.  Ar the time, the only way across the rushing and icy glacial river was to pull yourself over on a hand-tram that swayed above a rocky, rushing, glacier-fueled river. Tim and his fellow guides shuttled their gear across each day  I watched the owner heat his bathing water with a small, twiggy fire in a tiny, cylindrical stove.

Years later, on this crisp fall morning, we set out and hiked up-- 1,000 feet of elevation per mile--saw bears grazing on the hillside, more mountains stretching on forever,  and returned home to make a simple dinner and sleep well.

There were other nights in cabins in this beautiful valley. In the late days of 2008, I was the beginning of a new stage of work and feeling frayed by the previous job. I rode in with a couple of with a couple of gal friends who also had cabins in the area. The truck was loaded with tire chains and a chainsaw, There was a cold snap of well below zero degrees.  My homesteader friend met me at the trailhead at the road and I was happy to ski with my backpack. I was staying in the cabin couple that rented a room in my house during a winter they lived in this special foothills area of Fireweed mountain a few years earlier.

Bonanza Mine on the horizon. 
The outgoing breath billowed to leave frost on my eyelashes and breathing in froze nose hairs.  Over the next few days, I explored the area with Mark, read and wrote, and split wood in the noon light. The big spruce logs cracked apart in the deep still cold. I hauled in and restocked and melted snow for water. That night, drifting down to 30 below, the night percolated along nicely. It was time to buff up the stove before bed.

The gnarled piece was problematic to split even in the deep cold of the Alaskan interior. A knot entangled at the base. It barely fit in the barrel of the stove. Hot and fierce action erupted as the heady flow of oxygen was sucked in. The accelerator was floored in this race to complete destruction.  The stovepipe glowed red.  If this went bad it would be a disparaged legacy, a reputation gone awry, a horrible act of negligence and a grievance that one lifetime couldn't heal. Perhaps only a minute passed in frantic poking and prodding, but then the load shifted. The stove door shut and I exhaled and tempered the damper. Everything was settled into a slow burn.  I was happy to see the morning.

Now back in Maine, the fatigue of the redeye flight has subsided. The fiery passion of getting set up in Maine has now settled into a merry warmth on a bed of settled coals. The fire embers I spoke of back in 2011 are igniting. The 9 boxes of books, journals, antique kitchen tools, and small arty objects of importance and joy will arrive before September's end.
The 250 pounds of stuff sent back in the mail.
25% of it was the boxes of journals.

While I will likely never work as a guide again,  I now have the outdoor gear I need to explore Maine's vast wild places. On the departure evening at the airport,  I hefted the utilitarian duffle bag from my guiding days onto the scale. I'd carefully packed with my outdoor gear: tent, life jacket, sleeping bag, hiking boots, small tarp anI stove. It weighed in at 49.5 pounds, 8 ounces shy of the overweight limit. "Nicely done.", the Alaska Airlines agent commented as it moved away on the conveyer belt. "Yes!", my brain high-fived itself, "Haven't lost the mojo."

The small joys of seeing old refrigerator magnets from the house. 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Work Ethics

I thought it would be over by now.  I thought that within 100 days I would have had a job offer and have started the process of building my income again. The deadline has come and gone: a relay baton not passed or a left-hand turn in the car passed too quickly. My life passed by with both a blink of an eye with time both inexorably slow at the same time. 

In recent weeks, the void of paid work in my life has been a lingering dissonance, like the empty patch in the garden from a large plant that I relocated a few weeks ago or the annoyance of a typographical error on the sign near the cashier.  Characteristically, I am keeping busy attending to life details, getting out and about in wild places, conversing with a network about who I am and what I want to do, and undertaking  projects with a couple of groups that were close to my heart and were happy to have a seasoned consultant offer free services for a limited period of time.  My New England work ethic has always defined my character by what I do, but here in America your professional job typically provides you with other benefits- health insurance and sometimes an ability to invest tax-free. Weber 

At this 100 day milestone, I am facing the need to refill those critical medicines I need to survive. I'm not clear of those costs and with a $5,000 deductible looming ahead for the next three months, all expenses are mine to bear. Fortunately,  I am receiving a low-income subsidy for the monthly premiums and I have virtually no living expenses while staying with my parents. I am grateful for that.  While I have grown to accept many of the facts about managing my diabetes, it pales to the reality of my grandfather. 

I had an opportunity recently to read my uncle's family history about my father's father, George.  My grandfather was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a young adult just after insulin was discovered in 1922.  He lost his job during the Great Depression and went to the library to hide the fact that he was unemployed. George found a job working with a steamship company in Boston, but he could never reveal that he lived with diabetes. He could never buy life insurance for his family. He never went out to dinner with friends or colleagues, in fact eating the exact same food each day: oatmeal for breakfast, ratatouille for lunch and meat and vegetables for dinner.  He was so scarred by the Great Depression that they never bought a house and he saved all of his money in Swiss bank accounts-- a secret kept from his wife until he passed. 

Today, I often cycle past the 2 apartments where my grandparents lived in Brunswick (they were displaced twice by Bowdoin College's student housing expansions.)  My father's great-grandfather was born in Nova Scotia and started logging in Brewer Maine at 16. At 22, founded one of Maines's larger lumber companies, which harvested vast tracts of timber and floated them down the Penobscot River to the waiting ships that clustered in the bay to transport to market.  The family has always worked hard. 
At the Oak Hill Cemetary in Brewer Maine.
Photo credit Bill Maling. 
I finally buckled down and applied for a seasonal, temporary job at a major outdoor retailer a few weeks ago.  

 "Have you ever worked on a factory line or around heavy machinery?", the interviewer asked.  This question came just a day  after a search committee for a senior level position asked about my project management skills, to which I replied, "Plate Spinning" and the interview team erupted in laughter.   But here I was in a cubicle with the interviewer typing into an online form while listening to my responses. 

"Yes.I have", I replied.  The factory was my first job after my freshman year of college. It was the first time that I met someone who had lost most of her teeth. Her think hair was pinned on a small bun atop of her head. She told me about her love flower over the clatter and dusty of the machines that spit out sheets with tiny glue squares, upon which we glued a petit four of small fabric squares. The country radio station played, "I'd rather be lonely without you than a fool by your side."  I realized the power of being born into the middle class and the power of health insurance.

Weaver Bird and Nest
These days,  I am spending some of my days a the library. The full-time job search has thus far been  unsuccessful.  10 closely-targeted senior management level CV submissions and three interviews later, my internal dialog is beginning again about my uneasy relationship with office work. How to be a creative freelancer with the Ball and Chain of healthcare costs? This is a recurrent refrain from the opening number in my performance art piece in 2010.

I am so grateful to have this unique position.  As long as I can manage to wrestle the internal doubts and idiosyncrasies of living with my parents, this is a great place to stay. There are minimal financial obligations. I have savings after years of living on the very cheap.  Last week when I refilled the prescriptions, it was a huge relief- Obamacare is working for me.  I think I can pursue a creative path.

This process of forming relationships, establishing structure and creating a new life will take longer.  I can feel the webs forming, the tensile threads of connections, a glistening and resilient network that forms community and work connections.  I am building a nest, gathering threads, knitting together small balls of yarn to create the blanket of this new life.  

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Settling In

Over the past few weeks, the storm  of searching for work in Boston has settled and the sky in Maine has remained blue for days on end.  I felt relieved by this decision made for me.  On my interview trips to the big city,  I witnessed a lot ofthe everyday trauma. It reminded me of my first job in Boston when I worked  second-shift street outreach with homeless and runaway youth. The screech, grime, and neglect of the MBTA were too familiar. The streets and buildings were spiffed up and more glamorous than before, but the people still rattling their paper cups for spare change on many corners had not changed in the 30 years since I had worked there.  

Now refocused, my days meld together with a daily list of the projects and tasks inherent in making a  life in the rural north.  I am doing a couple of pro-bono contracts with nonprofit groups to build relationships and keep my head in the game.  There are stimulating conversations, enthusiastic cover letters, a new love-affair with Cross Fit, and more projects in the garden.  I am reveling in the simple pleasures of reading newsprint and magazines, feeling the cool air of an incoming storm, and checking off the hikes on the Southern Mid-Coast Summer Trail Challenge.
The myriad of places one can go are pretty staggering. 

Current events over the past weeks of July--not only the horrific domestic terrorism incidents but also the damning report on the Cambodian Prime Minister’s riches followed by the suspicious assassination of a beloved political activist with a Ph.D.-- has made me look more closely at the culture and customs of this new home.  There are differences and similarities. The ubiquitous motos in Cambodia with the large people on loud and enormous motorcycles with optional helmets.  It is not uncommon to see bareheaded riders zooming past my car on the highway, engines rumbling deeply in throaty power. Do the helmetless riders have children?  I wonder. 

 Unlike Cambodia’s largely young population, Maine has an average age of 43.5, the oldest in the nation. I now have a new appreciation for what it takes to age well.  In a semblance of democracy, the current governor was elected by only 38% of Maine residents in 2014 for a second term, due in part to the technical details of having more than 2 candidates on the ballot. There are thousands of miles of legally protected land conserved by  multitudes of local Land Trust organizations who have members that pay dues and help with maintaining the trails.  Like Cambodia, the government does not agree with protection. In recent months, Govenor LePage wrote a strongly worded letter on the State of Maine letterhead to donors of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, lambasting them for impeding economic development because of "locking it up"- a refrain familiar from Alaska.
The view from Eagle Island to Casco Bay at low tide.

The shopping centers in Maine are asphalt deserts, with large islands of air-conditioned oases where everything is neat and the staff wait patiently at the registers. There are only a few opportunities to buy direct from a single merchant, except on Maine Street.  I miss cycling to Central market and stepping through the goo in the wet market section, but not the expat markup. America's imperfections are showing their heads in this rural state of Maine, with the highest rate of prescription opiate addiction in the nation (CDC), and the percentage of students who graduate with a Bachelors degree is slightly below the national average.  People here drive very long distances for work. See this great link for the image.

I applied for a part-time (keep 'er busy) job last week and as I hit the submit button I could feel the vestiges of my work experience in Cambodia drifting away. That period of my life now distant on the horizon, buffeted by the winds of change and the choices.  Each day, I am reminded of the transience of this one life we have to live.  Just last week I'd just finished fueling the car when I saw an older gentleman waving me over.

"Could you go in and find someone to pump my gas for me?"  He looked at me kindly.  His tissue paper hands, discolored by age spots, held the steering wheel. His cane was propped up on the seat next to him, and his back supported by a ventilating seat cover behind the wheel of a newish Subaru wagon.  I hesitated for only a second and said, "No problem. I can do this for you."  He handed me his L.L. Bean credit card and as I watched the gasoline meter tick away. I was struck by the risk management inherent in being an old person alone and to have the courage and humility to ask for help from a complete stranger. He only needed a few gallons.

The next day, I went out on a work trip to Admiral Peary's summer house, just off the coast south of Brunswick. I was the youngest volunteer there.
From the 1985 Arctic Explorers series 
Peary was a difficult, driven guy but depended on the people close to him- his trusted associate Matthew Henson, his wife Josephine who traveled to arctic while pregnant and birthed the first caucasian baby in northern Greenland and their cook, who worked for them for 50 years. Peary's explorations were all based on Inuit survival tactics with a strong backbone of resilience and resourcefulness.

Peary's personal credo: Inveniam Viam Aut Facium “ I will find a way or make one.” This next phase to search for my next livelihood, however long it will take, will involve surveying the scene, building my community and readying for whatever unfolds next.  

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Gate That is Always Unlocked

Ruth Stafford Peale was married to
Norman, her famous husband. She died
in 2008 at the age of 102. 
About a month ago, I crept up to the gate of the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust's Community Garden on my bike, lost my balance and slowly tipped over on the soft grass. The handlebar wedged into the top part of my bra. I jumped up in a quick recovery, and looked around to see if anyone saw the mishap. After I determined was safe from scrutiny,  I walked the bike in and took a look around. Moments later, I was fortunate to meet Ms.Corie, the cheerful volunteer coordinator who gave me a brochure with an email address. A few days later, I was back to pull weeds when it was discovered that corn maggots had eaten all the pea and that a weed-choked garden of perennials needed attention.

The phrase "Find a need and fill it.” has been credited to Ruth Stafford Peale, Pastor Tommy Barnett and Henry Kaiser. And so I have set to work over recent weeks.  Wheelbarrows of weeds got dumped into the pit, the flowers in the garden were uncovered and transplanted in beds of rich compost. I hauled rocks to create borders and woodchips to make paths. From a mishmash of neglect, I tended until a garden emerged.

Unlike my prolific perennial gardens at my house in Anchorage, this place will always be in community ownership. As long as I will come to Brunswick to see my parents, I can take a short jaunt across the street, past a small patch of rare lady slipper orchids tucked away in a small patch of forest, and head over to the gate that is always unlocked.

The compost bins with some flowers from a personal plot. 
The garden grows produce for the local food bank, while also hosting about 60 10x10 community plots nurtured by the people who rent them for the summer.  There’s plenty of tools in the shed, and compost. mulch and chips for the loose soil, now in its 4th summer of production. It's all organic, rich and teeming with spiders, worms, ladybugs, an occasional spotted salamander and other beneficials.

 When the sun shines, I can run a hose for watering, fill up the watering can from the tank or the crop volunteers can water the seedlings with drip irrigation-- all water pumped with solar energy.  There has been thought and investment in the land: the good spirit exudes. Birds flit about constantly.

Recently planted squash with a perennial bed in the foreground.
One of the 2 water tanks is in the background.  

This garden is the tangible manifestation of community,abundance, and of ripening potential. After a long winter, all of the resolute perennials emerge, fresh shoots coming up from the brown shells of last year's growth. The day lilies' buds form in the early summer, still wrapped in their fresh green sheets, while he Forget-Me-Nots have already gone to seed to set the foundation for future blooms. The perennial plant's low maintenance determination emerges to greet the sun and form the infrastructure for another summer of growth and beauty.

I'm deeply connected to the soil through all the physical process: crouching on hands and knees, invading into the base of a tap root with a tool and prying, or tugging persistently on an overgrown set of root bundles, and learning deep into the shovel around a plant that needed moving. There is another deep, nearly reverential bliss that comes from the process of moving about on land. My small terrace garden in Phnom Penh was a giggle compared to the robust belly laugh that my body experiences in this space.

The garden surrounded by open grass fields, then the stands of tall pines that form a barrier to the larger organic farm that is also part of the Land Trust holdings.  The Common Good gardens, particularly the perennial beds, are the result of many individual efforts over the past four years since the Community Garden was started. The flowers needed a little attention, another push to keep the momentum going
The weed pit with a few of the past year's pits now
covered. It's a good idea to let the bad stuff get buried

The "back 40 bed" that I just started
on yesterday was also quite overgrown
Over the past month of earnest effort, I have now adopted the plants and the space. The plots have not only been an anchor in a long series of days filled with optimism and fear for whatever unknown future emerges, but also a terrific reason to be outside. No one asks why you are standing out in the middle of a garden looking at the clouds whisk across the fresh blue sky.  

In these recent days, I have been waiting more eagerly on a decision that will determine the next step of my professional life. I find myself struggling with restlessness, caught now in a patch of doldrums waiting for a breeze to form.  In the meantime, I go back to the earth,filled with gratitude for a peaceful, healthy space and something to do.

The end of the first phase of work for this garden.
Lots of hours here! 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Project Repatriation

“Try using horsefood62,” Mum said.  Logging into the household wifi network was not working. That led me, less than 10 hours after arriving in the US for the next stage of my life, lying on the floor under my father’s desk trying to read the tiny letters on the modem while on the phone with customer service.  Moments later at 5pm, the phone disconnected and I realized it was probably time to have a drink, eat dinner and go to bed.
Lists upon lists.

Project Repatriation, not unlike Project Runway or Masterchef,  is a limited time process to set up the infrastructure of life in a new country.  In the early stages, it is complex and daunting, confused by jetlag and overall disorientation.

 I gave myself two weeks to get sorted out on multiple fronts: the business of life (phone, bank account,car, heavier clothing and new electronic identities), establishing healthcare (dental evaluation, Obamacare), learning to live with my parents, and staging for a new job (updating CV, Linked In, preparing networking lists and compiling a wardrobe).

Call it good or look for a whiter jacket?
I hate shopping. I rifle through the racks of clothing in the stores and malls, milling next to women who are shopping for fun, not determination. Seeing the range of countries from which these clothes are made, I am haunted by memories of young people in cattle trucks leaving their shift at the garment factories in Cambodia as the sunset red with dust. Within the pressure-driven environment to buy everything from socks to jackets, I really want to stay focused on simplicity.  I dusted off the fashion assessment that was done when I finished graduate school and decided to focus on establishing a capsule wardrobe. The concept,30-40  pieces that comprise your entire wardrobe for a season, provided structure to guide the process.

Not a fan. I liked the concept
of a Chia Pet better. 
There are so many options here in America. In the early days of my arrival, I stood in front of a cracker display and was stunned into paralysis. New items and trends that have evolved since I left.  I am internally aghast at the kinds of foods in people's carts: huge bags of chips, bulbous containers of sugared soda, strange colors in food.  The items on the shelves in the supermarkets here seem more boisterous and crowded than the ones I went to during my holiday in Australia. Certainly no comparison to the beleaguered items in my neighborhood supermarkets in Phnom Penh.

Indeed, the customer service experience contrasts with the practices in Southeast Asia.  Just yesterday, I was on the lookout for a device to transfer the 577 photos on the camera's storage card to my computer. I ventured around Staples (an office supply chain) and didn't see what I needed, so I headed out the door. "Can I help you find something?", the cashier said. "Sure..I'm looking for blah blah." She escorts me to the appropriate aisle and I absorb the inventory for a few seconds.  She radios her supervisor to help.  As I balk on the price of the coveted item,  the supervisor he checks the price on his device and offers me an 85% discount on the retail per the store's policy of an 110%  price match guarantee. Feeling my commitment to anti-consumerism wane, I buy it.

Oh, come on. 
The streets and character of Brunswick,Maine are a refreshing and start contrast to my past environs. The buildings are historic, well-loved and stately.  I remain giggly and giddy when traffic stops as I approach  the zebra-striped crossing zones on the street. There are bike lanes and the law requires 3-foot distance between car and bike.  Mum's 30-year-old bike has 18 speeds and I had to learn how to shift gears again. The last bit of belongings from Cambodia arrived this week, carrying my helmet that I first bought in Alaska.
The squawking of the murder of crows in the towering pines in the neighborhood here reminds me of the swirling ravens that rode the thermals over the electric plant in Anchorage. On an early morning car trip to visit with my sister and our cousin and husband in southern Maine, I counted the bodies of 8 small,woodland creatures on the roadway, picked off as they tried to navigate the highway. Also
Installation at the Curtis Memorial Library.

I drove my parents to the airport last week for their overnight trip to DC. There was a moment when we could have been surrounded by semi trucks zooming along in unison at 70 mph; our collective anxiety swelled in their force and absolute power. After a few days of watching my rear view mirror and seeing more than one person gesture in frustration, I have finally gotten oriented to driving in the US. That yield-on-green light thing was tricky.

Here we are, my two-week benchmark and I feel like I am beginning to get sorted out. It had ups and downs, but overall it was remarkably easy.  I am reminded of the onset of life in Phnom Penh, where I secured a modest, cheap apartment in 2 weeks and a contract job in the month following.
Got mum's Schwinn tricked out and then found a sweet deal:
a 2010 Forester with only 26,134 miles on it. It may be a
bit big, but it will be a solid ride for Maine winters. 

The psychological concept of "Flow" --a principle articulated by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's TED talk-- seems evident in this decision to return to America and be closer to my family.  Material elements have effortlessly unfolded. I take satisfaction in helping with the small chores, am absolutely grateful for the privacy and efficacy of my "penthouse"-- the upper-level level studio in my folk's townhouse. There will be strong challenges ahead, but at this moment I am creating a firm foundation for growth.

Now, the last part is finding the "right livelihood" to sustain me economically, and some friends. There are promising developments unfolding on both fronts. I am optimistic. While there are (and always will be) some anxious moments, in this first blush of repatriation I am sailing on sensations of greater forces, generating positive energy, making new connections and of being receptive to wherever this path will lead. So grateful for all the riches and comforts.

From Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's TED talk, linked above. 

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Long Journey Home

The skies opened with a torrent of rain and I was free. Cleansed in the patter rigorous patter of rain drops and clothed in swimmers and a brim hat, I stood on the shores of the Coral Sea and watched the tourists scurry to the respite of fan palms. There, under the full pummel of the brief shower,  I felt all the worries and travails of the past five years slip away.   I'd had the most awesome day already-- buffed by the swells of the ocean while snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef and just steps away from the oldest rainforest on earth.

However, thoughts passed over the young woman I'd met first thing in the morning as we were waiting for the pickup for our snorkel trip.  When she was given an extra thick wetsuit and I noticed her changing that the pronounced, fragile, malnutrition was revealed. The girl, traveling by herself, with ankles the size of my wrist spend the latter part of our snorkel trip hunkered, shivering,  into the skipper's warm jacket as the boat ebbed and swayed on the Outer Reef. I offered her some of my calories and she declined. She seemed frail, yet determined. But something was a little off.

Her physical condition mirrored my own travails with my teeth that I'd suffered in the latter days of my time at the Red Centre.  For then, ominously I noticed a swollen and painful lump next to my new implant.  I flashed back to the days when I was freewheeling in the US, the months after I'd left an intense experienced working as a street outreach counselor to youth , in downtown Boston. Thanks to  diabetes, questionable childhood dental braces, overeager Tufts dental students and negligent periodontal follow-up, I'd had that same symptom in 1991 and then lost my four front teeth.

I was not manifesting the cavelier patterns of my youth any longer. Early Monday morning, I called the dentist, mapped my route and went in. He did some intense cleaning, confirmed that the x-rays showed no bone loss and then I was on my way with antibiotics and a warning not to drink alcohol. I staggered out of the office, bleeding and vulnerable, but also confident I was doing the right thing.  But for this young woman, looking as emaciated as many of the Cambodian patients I left behind in Phnom Penh, there was no easy cure. She needed nourishment.

The next morning, she said hello again and complained that the night walk had gone on quite late and she was tired.  I asked her for a moment, and then asked if she was well. "Before you say anything else, let me ask you one thing first," she was strident and righteous."Do you think I'm anorexic?"   I knew then I was in trouble.

"It occurred to me, but really...." Before I could finish, she went on a tirade of stomach cancer and years of health problems, yelling as she walked away from me and retreating to her room.  "I was speaking from compassion!," I said as her door closed.

I did not see her again, but I think of her managing all that pain alone. Over the past five years, I've learned the tools of self-reliance and resilience.  I've polished my packing systems, sharpened my receptivity and defenses and at times wallowed deeply before rolling into the next wave.

There are some knowns about the future: my family and lifelong east coast friends await. There will always be a place for me. I'm confident about the job market for my skills. I'll need to spend some money to get things moving, but there is plenty of richness ahead.  I am strong and capable, bruised and gray but still relatively attractive and ready for a new adventure.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

First-class Wilderness Architecture

This is a snapshot essay of the developments along the brand -new 3 Capes Track in Tasmania. Built over a period of 7 years, the track was a huge investment with legions of workers, over 15,000 helicopter cargo flights and 28 million Australian dollars.

I share the development instead if the nature because I was so inspired by the 
combination of function and design along the way.

This is the first interpretative bench. Hikers are provided with a booklet tbat provides safety information and trail details. Each bench/seating area highlights a specific natural and social feature along the way.  This bench looked out over Port Arthur, a prison community from the 1800's. 
First night's cabin powered by solar array and missing a small section of roof. The ranger joked about it, so perhaps the missing sheet is on the way. Or not. I'm not sure.  
Each common area had a library of interpretative materials. 

 Each night, we had a short orientation session with the ranger shortly after we arrived. These guys work for a couple weeks at a time. Our group was varied: 3 single people (me and a girl from Kuala Lumpur who shared a room each night, and an older single guy), Pensioners from Tasmania and other states in Australia with their 30-year old backpacks, newlyweds, couples and friends and families. 
A lot of the track is wood, here covered with chicken wire. Farther down the path seen in the upper part of the photo is Ellarwey Valley, named by a couple of 1970's Bushbashers who shortened it from "Where the hell are we."  
Alas, one of the members of our group knew one those explorers
 who died of Alzheimers Disease recently.  

With the helipad to the top right, you can see that these outhouses feature the flying poo, which is winched out to the edge of the platform for transport by helicopter.  

The shower at the Munro cabin, night 2.  You can add a little hot water to the 
bucket. Hoist it up and you are ready to go.  I declined. Too cold. 
Cooking gear and stoves are supplied. Look at all that gleaming steel.  
The hand pump is a great feature. 
Deck chairs, yoga mats and foam rollers for post hike relaxation. BYOB. 

Love these simple design details that transform function into art. 

Memory foam mattresses covered with a soft rubber covering. Oh hale- Alaska State Parks! 

Another particularly artistic interpretative stop that was called "Blood on the Velvet Lounge"
 featuring insights on  vicious insect predators.
These signs appear on the track every so often.  Goofy newlyweds helped illustrate the dangers. 
Wow.  The track follows the coast for most of the time. 

Believe it or not, most of the stones used in the trail
were flown in by helicopter.  There was so much craft involved in
this effort.  I found it illuminated and inspiring. 
The end the trail at Port Forescue. 

Selfie at the end of the trail down the blade.  One of the first 3,000 people down the trail!