The Oozy Emerald Frog

One of the things that I can see as publisher of this blog is how many people click the links that I include. Typically, I will get 0-1 clicks any given week that I include one. This week’s title is such a lovely phrase and most of you will just go into the rest of your day never knowing where, exactly, it comes from. Just saying.

Surprise, I don’t have a whole lot to share this week. No trips to Chicago, hardly any trips at all. Because of the snow. Not feet upon feet but enough to make me increasingly wary of driving. And though for the moment, temperatures are maybe around the mid-twenties, there were a few days where the high barely made it into double digits, if at all. And there will be more such days shortly forthcoming.

And, as I wake up this morning, apparently we have a winter storm warning in the area. Several inches of snow to come this afternoon. Not quite a blizzard but very wintry and snowy and Narnia-y (pre-Pevensie, of course).

Quite cold, no matter how you slice it. Some small comfort, however, that I do not live in Yakutsk. I implore you, look up Yakutsk weather if you’re reading this in the northern hemisphere’s winter. In fact, I’ll include it for you here. (Though if you have a lot of money and are willing, I would gratefully accept a trip to visit Yakutsk because how interesting).

Anyway. I’ve not been up to much this week. Reading, of course. I was reading a book and it got to an emotional moment that was not a good kind and I needed to not continue for a while, so I started another book that I had just gotten off hold from the library–and that book very quickly gave me an emotional moment of a gross kind so that I needed a break from that one too. Frustrating. Not even the good, heartstrings bits that thrill me even as they tear me up inside. Just gross, hurtful, sad times that weren’t even morosely fulfilling. Ugh.

So I didn’t do a whole lot of reading yesterday, maybe today I’ll be in a place to pick them up again. We’ll see. If they were cooler emotional moments, I might tell you about them but mostly they’re just lame. Alas.

The plus side of all of the weather, if I may backtrack for a sec, is that I’ve seen some lovely winter sights. Snow-laced trees and ice-crusted stream and whatnot. This campus does have its moments.

I have spent a great deal of time inside, as one might imagine, but rest assured that I have enjoyed the snow in person as well. It is very beautiful, even if the very cold weather is not my strong suit. The snow lends an element of happiness/peace/something good that the bitter cold I had in Seoul last winter lacked most of the time.

Just a quick thought for you here at the end. Kind of totally unrelated but also kind of very relevant.

You may know, in a three way tie for my favorite poet is Edna St. Vincent Millay. She wrote a poem, [Still will I harvest beauty where it grows], that I’ve been thinking about this week. The thrust is mainly, I think, that beauty can come from anywhere–including places others may find gross. Very Ratatouille; not everyone can be a great chef but a great chef can come from anywhere kind of vibe. But tonight, writing this, I find myself thinking about the first word, primarily.

Still. In the midst of all that is going on. Though there is so much ugliness in the world. Despite the general state of things, as I see it. Even so. Still will I harvest beauty. Nothing will dissuade me from finding what is beautiful, even when others tell me there is no beauty to be found. The world may be hurting but it is still beautiful.

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Michigan is Happening

So maybe it’s me, but 20 October seems pretty early to have your first snowfall. Driving a van full of students back from the mall, in the dark, in the snow-then hail-then snow is not ideal, I’ll tell you. Doing it in October is just that much more disheartening. Well, maybe that’s not it exactly. Because I am, obviously, excited about the snow. Snow. What’s not to love. But I’ve been warned so many times about the kind of winter that I’m likely to have here in northern Michigan than I’m leery of it starting so early.

The next morning, driving to church in Traverse City, I saw areas of nothing, areas of dusted shoulders and fence posts, and areas of true coatings of snow. It’s all gone now, we had temperatures in the mid-fifties this week. But we also had days with highs right about 40°. Seems a little bit like that scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where they skip a season. Spring turned to summer, summer gave autumn a miss and went straight on to winter. Something like that.

Though, in Michigan’s defense, there have been some tremendous fall colors. It’s a genre of natural beauty that doesn’t typically hold much sway with me but I’m just as able as the next guy to acknowledge the magic of a tree lifting its unburning fire toward a chill, sere blue sky.

In any case, time marches forward and the seasons continue on their imperturbable rounds. Nothing else much to report on the life front. We’re up to five students (five!) in our house, so that’s been a development. Manageable and that’s pretty much all I have to say about it.

Another side to this job, the side that sort of compensates for what I expect could well be a disastrous winter, is the sunsets. Part of my job involves walking around campus in the evenings and that includes checking the beach on Lake Michigan. I often go after dinner. I often see spectacular sunsets. Case in point, earlier this week (though well after the snow experience in Traverse City):

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It did also start to sprinkle right as I went down the boardwalk and, just behind me taking that picture, was a lovely and pretty clear rainbow catching the last rays of the day. Just incredible.

Michigan nature, as I’ve said, isn’t quite my usual but it is very good nonetheless.

 

Smoke

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So I woke up this morning in Banff, Alberta because why not. My route on the way to Michigan is this: Gig Harbor, Kamloops, Banff, Regina, Grand Forks, Milwaukee, Traverse City. So far, the drive has been plagued with lots of smoke from wildfires (I’m very thankful I’ve never been threatened by a fire). Even so, it’s been beautiful.

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The thing is, it’s hard to (try to) look at all this beauty and reconcile the gross things people do. Obviously, forest fires happen naturally and are sometimes necessary for the ecosystem. But also humans have clearly changed the calculus. And when I see people smoking while looking out over an incredible landscape, truly just the tip of the melting iceberg, I really can’t stand it.

I know that people can be so good, so loving, so caring, so compassionate and considerate and conscientious. But, especially coming on the heels of my Alaska trip, I also know that people are trash. With everything going on in the world at large of late, it’s easy to feel like the trash part is the only part (this also comes from self-awareness, it’s not like I’m immune).

I’ve been thinking of late about how to balance these two ways of looking at the world and I’ve come up with, I think, an apt and succinct summarization. Three things that I believe to be true. I don’t think it’s quite a syllogism but it’s a something.

Assertion 1: humans are trash.
Assertion 2: I am worthy of love and I have good inside me.
Assertion 3: humans are trash but are worthy of love and have good inside them.

In practice, this means two things. First, I expect people to be the worst and am not surprised by how horrible we can be. Second, I go through this world seeking the good in others and loving freely, even when I don’t find it. Or, at least, that’s the goal and you’ll pardon me if I’m not always excellent at achieving it.

So, driving through this fabulous land and preparing to be an Adult Someone to a bunch of high schoolers, that’s what I’m trying. Humans can be just as beautiful as the Coquihalla Canyon and Mt Rundle. Even if it’s all obscured by smoke, the beauty’s there. Very metaphor, I know, but whatever it takes right?

I don’t really know what I’m driving toward. I have a job, I know the basic description of suture, I’ve looked up the area approximately one zillion times. But mostly, it still feels unknown (I guess this is a trend with me, moving far away without knowing what I’m doing). I’ve been battling a relentless negative attitude but it all comes down to the fact that I’m going, I’m willing, and–to paraphrase Bill Widener–I’m going to do my best with what I have where I am. In other words, bloom where you’re planted.

Bloom, it might be said, not only for yourself, but for others. Maybe even others first. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: love first, there isn’t really a second.

The Last Frontier

 

So on Monday afternoon, I got on a plane to Anchorage, Alaska because I was blessed with means and opportunity. I’ll be here until Saturday evening, just seeing some things worth seeing and trying out the whole Alaska thing. I’ll give you a quick rundown on what I’ve done so far and then leave you with a few thoughts.

Before we get to the Alaska stuff, though, the plane ride itself. Because I’d never had occasion to fly over the Olympic Mountains before and they were positively breathtaking. Turn, coming down over Alaska, more breath was taken as we descended over glaciers and water and sub-arctic forests.

On Tuesday morning, my friend (we planned this to together not quite spontaneously but still only a but ago) and I got caught in the rain walking to breakfast. We knew rain was in the forecast but were inexplicably confident it wouldn’t start until after we returned. Alas. Breakfast was wet. Then we rented a car and set out.

Driving along the Seward Highway, the rain continued pretty heavily and most of the landscape was fairly deeply obscured. Our first destination was the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and as we approached, the weather started to clear up a bit.

The Center itself involved walking a little long among the various enclosures. Unlike a zoo, which is totally uncomfortable, the animals mostly are there for two reasons: they were wounded and unable to survive in the wild (like the bald eagle who had one entire wing amputated when they found him) or they are part of a conservation/reintroduction program. The major highlight was, of course, seeing my beloved mush oxen which remain and forever will remain my favorite animal.

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After stopping for lunch and a bit of shopping, we decided to continue on to Whittier. I really want to tell you the whole story of Whittier, Alaska, but I don’t think I’d be able to do it justice in this space. Suffice to say that the majority of the population of about 200 lives in a single building built for the army during the Cold War. The other building from that era is in ruins and is very creepy. Also, to get to Whittier, you must pass through a very long, one-lane tunnel which changes directions every half hour. It is quite an interesting place. That is all I can say about it.

Yesterday, we spent the morning exploring Anchorage a bit, the downtown if I may call it that. Some nice little shops, tasty food, lovely views. Then we headed up into the mountains (still within the city limits) for a hike that turned out to be much more of a hike than we anticipated. Tabletop Mountain starts fairly steeply but reasonably, but the last portion of the trail is truly just rock climbing and we weren’t about that life. The best part of the trail was that there was never not an excellent view.

 

Overlooking the city, the expanse of tidal flats, snowy mountains in the distance. No picture does it justice, alas.

Today holds a trip to Denali, the highest peak on the continent.

I’m not sure how I feel about Alaska, the so-called last frontier (we all know space is the final frontier so…). Obviously, it’s incredibly beautiful, beyond description or photography. But it’s also in perpetual danger because humans are trash, even when they live in such a place. In some ways, the state is politically progressive and in others very regressive. It’s plagued by social ills to a degree beyond most other states but it also fosters its people in unique ways. I honestly don’t know that much about it but it’s a weird place.

As always, I’ve contemplated if I would live here and it’s hard to say. For one thing, snow. For another, it’s been sixty and rainy pretty much this whole week, which doesn’t bode well for summers generally. And the politics. All that balanced with the Beauty of Nature and a kind of isolation, even in Anchorage, that I find appealing.

 

Either way, it calls for further study and I would very much like to come back and explore more. I require more data points. Come to Alaska (just don’t be trash about it).

Coast; Thoughts

I thought about making this post a Jeff Bezos rant, and just rich people in general (wealth is immoral, ask me about how I feel and I’ll tell you) but I couldn’t quite manage it. I have lots of rants stored up, and some of them aren’t even that bad, but I just wasn’t feeling it for this week, I guess.

On Monday, I did go on a bit of an adventure to fulfill some Washington things that I’d been meaning to do for ages. We drove out to La Push and Cape Flattery, the northwestern-most point in the state (and the contiguous US). The weather here had been surpassing hot and I just had to get out.

First, La Push. It’s in this strange, stringy little arm of Olympic National Park out on the coast-coast. We went partially to escape the heat and indeed, instead of 93°F, the temperature fell as we approached the water, some places more along the way to the tune of 60°F though the beach itself was more like 70°F, very pleasant.

The other weather thing, though, we discovered on the short 20-minute trail from where we parked down to the beach. The last five minutes or so were blanketed in a sudden and dense fog bank. So thick, in fact, that is almost seemed like it was raining as the moisture condensed on needles and leaves and fell on us. Very spooky. The beach was no different, a mysterious and arcane view greeted us when we finally came out of the trees. Sandy beach, lots of driftwood, seaward boulders, all opaque and obscured and opalescent.

 

We walked along the beach some way, then returned before the rising tide stranded us on some rocks in the middle of nowhere. After a bit of lunch, we drove up the coast toward the Cape.

Upon arrival, we were greeted with sunny weather, no mysterious fog banks, and a gorgeous sight. The view on offer included a number of rocky islets, formed by the slow (or maybe not so slow, actually) erosion of the underlying bedrock. We stood, in fact, on top of a number of sea caves and that land would soon collapse and form more rocky promontories. We also could see a good chunk of Vancouver Island which seemed not at all distant and very beautiful.

 

All in all, 10/10 would recommend both destinations if you’re in the area. We were very blessed by great weather, the Washington coast spends most of its time gloomy, chilly, and just very, very rainy.

I didn’t want to do a ranty post this week, as I’ve said, but I do want to include a little something here at the end. I’ve continued to call this blog Journeyman because, MPhil or not, I’m still not a master at life but I continue to work on myself. In humility, I submit to you this: let us question our lives deeply, examine ourselves honestly, and put in the work, be it ever so laborious, to make ourselves–and the world–a better place. We may never do enough, but are we even doing at all?

Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nelson Mandela, so I’d like to conclude with a few of his words. About apartheid and about how we live our lives.

The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.

South Island Roads are Different

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A waterfall captured by the wind, Milford Sound

I know I spent years pining after Croatia only to relinquish that dream without much fanfare. But weaving through the islands and inlets of the Marlborough Sounds felt like home. Across this country, I’ve just felt a little more settled in my skin. It’s not perfect, of course. There are plenty of things that annoy, disappoint, and frustrate me. All the same, I would live here in a heartbeat. This feeling has only intensified over the past week.

I’m only going to share a few short bullet points from this week. It’s a summary, but describing each thing in detail would still fail to convey my experiences. It’ll be brief but hopefully you’ll still get the gist of everything.

Wellington is quirky and weird but in, like, a classy way. Would live there. I’d prefer the countryside, but it would be just fine.

Arrived on the South Island at night and the next morning, early, headed out and the sunrise over the mountains and water was delicate and opaline and exquisite.

Went kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park, a wonderland of turquoise water, bird sanctuary, and sunny beaches.

Driving to Greymouth, watched the clouds stretch their soft fingers over the mountains from the sea.

Driving through the Southern Alps across Arthur’s Pass was magnificent.

Arrived in Christchurch, where the 2011 earthquake is still very much in evidence– notably in the still mostly-collapsed cathedral. Would probably not live there, earthquake notwithstanding.

A trip across plains and foothills giving way to peaks. Visited New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki (Mount Cook), and the glacial lake at its base. And by glacial, I mean there were icebergs in it. One end of the lake was a beach, the other end was a glacier.

Arrived in Queenstown after a long journey, having seen the bluest water probably on Earth. In lakes, in rivers, just a lot of very blue water. Probably a cute town but very touristy, at least at the moment. Also, there are deer farms in New Zealand?!? I ate deer for a couple meals.

Long journey to Milford Sound (which, incidentally, is not a sound but a fjord). Beauty that absolutely defies description, appropriately obscured by rain and clouds. Profoundly incredible.

I’ve had a feeling that has been building this whole sojourn and it was cemented by our trip to Milford Sound today. You know that I’m not overfond of absolutes or favorites. And I still could not say what my favorite travel destination is (or my favorite part of this trip). But while beauty is subjective and comes in many different forms, and while I haven’t fully explored any single county, I can say without hesitation that this is the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen.

This trip has been altogether incredible. Starting in Sydney and basically every moment since. We have a few more days before heading back to the US and the great unknown which that entails. I’m planning on making the most of that time.

This is the longest I’ve been out of the US–thirteen months pretty much exactly. I rather wish I weren’t going back but whatever. If you know anyone hiring, let me know. Mostly if they’re hiring in New Zealand, but I’ll take what I can get.