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.

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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.

I am Very Blessed by Having Lagoons in My Life

On Tuesday, I had an unexpected and delightful adventure. A friend invited me on a picnic (though it wasn’t particularly picnicy weather, it wasn’t supposed to rain and that’s good enough). She told me where to meet, about ten minutes from my house along a random stretch of road. We parked in a little gravel patch on the side of the road and I followed her–and the snacks–into this sketchy little trail next to a power pole.

Surprise, there was this whole park place there. It was just a single trail, plenty of nature about, but it was a real thing. Not sketchy. A few minutes in, we encountered a fairly new-looking State Parks sign telling us not to leave trash. Huh. We kept going, following a teensy little stream toward the water. And surprise again, it was the beach! We saw a few little ruins among the trees (research after returning home revealed that this land was purchased for a state park a while ago but that it hasn’t actually been developed as a park yet–it doesn’t even have a name!). It was quite a place.

My friend and I had our little picnic–which is to say, we ate some snacks sitting on a blanketed driftwood log. Then we just wandered around the beach and lagoon for a while. The sun tried valiantly to shine, so it oscillated between a little chilly and relatively pleasant. I got a little wet trying to hop around the lagoon but it was worth it.

We spent quite a while designing, on a whim, our own Hogwarts-style school for the Pacific Northwest. We settled on a migratory island, very outdoorsy, very environmental, very involved with muggles (or no-majs or whatever). Instead of Ollivanders, prospective students simply walk along a beach until their driftwood wand catches their eye. We came up with all sorts of details, 10/10 would attend. Would definitely write that series if ever I became an actual author and I wasn’t infringing on intellectual property. All in all, a very pleasant day.

Suffice to say that I am very grateful for this place in which I was raised. The trees, the sun, the water, the rain, the mountains, the moss. The lagoons, even when I get wet without wanting to be.

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Unrelatedly this week, I was thinking again for a sec about potential. I’ve said before that I don’t really like the idea of potential, it doesn’t make sense to me, and I don’t think that it offers a great way to look at life. For me, at least. But I wasn’t sure exactly what I thought did. Saturday morning shower thoughts–it came to me in a snappy little phrase, which is always helpful. Not potential but fulfillment.

I have the potential to learn Arabic but not learning Arabic doesn’t mean I’m wasting my life. When I was at Target, it wasn’t that I was squandering potential but that I was unhappy. I felt undervalued and underutilized and generally underwhelmed by life. But if, for example, I was working in a podunk little bookstore in the middle of nowhere, making hardly any money, some might say that I was wasting my potential. But if it made me happy, if I felt valuable and fulfilled, then that’s all that really matters, yeah?

Not a monumental breakthrough, lots of people talk about fulfillment. It’s just a useful thing for me. Now I can put a name to something (embarrassing that it took me this long to come up with ‘fulfillment’) instead of just saying potential is a dumb concept. And, granted, this is how my brain works. You think about whatever works for you.

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Anyway, this month we’re back with random musical recommendations from Keegan. For now, I’ll return to contemporary, non-choral music. You probably have heard at least a couple of these. Selections range from old classics to top 40 to Eurovision entries (say what you will about that). I actually put my full list into a randomizer so I have nothing to do with the order, it’s a surprise. Give one or two a listen–especially if it’s not one you’re familiar with. Without further ado.

  1. Running on Air – Nathan Trent
  2. Boys – Charli XCX
  3. Hold Each Other – A Great Big World
  4. River – Charlie Puth
  5. Never Apart – Benny
  6. Пьяное солнце – Alekseev
  7. North – Sleeping at Last
  8. I Was Wrong – The Oh Hellos
  9. The Cure – Lady Gaga
  10. There for You – Martin Garrix & Troye Sivan

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.

The Literal, Figurative Shire

Because last week’s post was just a laundry list of fun things I did in Sydney, I thought I’d change it up a touch this week. I have just a few sections with observations mixed in with activities.

Concerning nature:
I will never not be obsessed with fern trees. They are everywhere and I love them. I could almost convince myself that I’m in Ireland, or maybe parts of England, but then I see a grove of fern trees or a field of pampas grass or a stand of palms. It’s very dinosaur-y. Haven’t encountered a lot of animals but I’m hoping the South Island will have some in store for us. Mostly kiwis. So far, it’s been pretty exclusively cows and sheep. The sheep thing about New Zealand is totally true, not that I’m complaining.

The weather has been mostly good. Apparently, the sun here is especially intense, so we’ve had our bouts with sunburns and all that. Recovered or recovering at this point, we’ll see how the next week treats us in that regard. Recently, it’s been quite rainy but nothing that we can’t handle. Besides, the low misty clouds make the mountains unbelievably magical. Also, the ocean is a very pleasing color.

Concerning the landscape:
Lots of green hills. Not the rolling kind like I saw in Devon, a bit more rugged like around Galway. My sister described it aptly as some strange combination of Ireland and Hawaii. Definitely bears a strong resemblance to Ireland with palms and volcanoes. But whereas Ireland seemed to work really hard to be green, like the land was strained to its utmost limits producing that rich emerald, the countryside here looks just easier . I don’t know if it’s the stronger sun, the awesome volcanic soil, or what. But the green here is easy. I would describe Ireland as ‘verdant’ but New Zealand as ‘lush.’

Except for the barren volcano parts. Which, when we did a section of the Tongariro Crossing, were alpine and ghostly and awe-inspiring.

We’ve visited many waterfalls, all incredible and jungle-y. We stopped for a swim in a thermal stream which was relaxing and cool, made more so by the rain and thunder.
We spent a quiet afternoon on the beach, reading, while Thomas tried to surf having watched one instructional YouTube video.

Driving this afternoon to Wellington, we encountered a great deal more of what I want to call heath, though I’m not certain it’s accurate. Heather, low shrubs, and mountain-y hills. Beautiful.

Concerning adventures:
We walked and tubed through the Waitomo glow worm caves, which were incredible. It wasn’t extreme or anything, but it was fun to get all suited up for a fairly lengthy sojourn. The little maggoty constellations were made a little more mystifying and ethereal for me because I wasn’t wearing my glasses, courtesy of persistent and strong humidity.

Thomas pressured Kaitlin into trying bungee jumping for the first time in Taupo. Into a river. They both seemed to enjoy it though, certainly a rush if nothing else (though not the kind of rush I’m interested in chasing). There was also a cat at the bungee place, they seemed cool.

Concerning entertainment:
There is a TV channel called Giggle and it is just quick, like five second ads, sandwiched between little animated memes and dad jokes. Also, saw the official world’s coolest McDonald’s in Taupo.

Concerning hobbits:
On Wednesday evening, I had the distinct privilege to visit the Hobbiton movie set. Though most of the North Island that has so far been in evidence strongly resembles the Shire, it was amazing to see door after round door built into the hills. We toured the grounds, rebuilt for the Hobbit movies, and then had a fantastical feast at the Green Dragon. Just… a truly incredible time. It rained heavily, lightly, and not at all in random cycles, but it was warm enough that it didn’t detect one iota from the tremendous atmosphere. Definitely an experience to remember, the inevitable kitschy bits included.

We arrived in Wellington this afternoon and, being rather tired from our late night at the Green Dragon, didn’t do a whole lot of exploring. Even so, I feel pretty confident in saying that I would definitely be okay living here. Auckland, definitely not. But Wellington, or some small town in the countryside, yes. Yes. Yes.

Everything has been such a whirlwind and at the same time incredibly relaxing. This trip has surpassed my already high expectations and is, even though I’m typically uncomfortable with absolutes, probably my favorite ever. It’s just stunning, and it’s not over yet.

Go to Sleep and Dream of Snow

This past Saturday, I went with some friends back to Bukhansan National Park. This time, we went around the back way to climb up one of the lesser peaks. The weather was surprisingly mild, though in this case that meant it was around 5 C/40 F. There was plenty of snow, but only in the shade. All in all, it was a lovely hike.

It started out relatively calm but, as per usual with Korean mountains, it quickly became quite steep. The last slog up icy rock faces with only a rickety railing was less than ideal, not least because I am just not athletic to begin with. But we got to the top and, though it was a hazy day, the views were still gorgeous. We hiked up Jaunbong Peak (740m) and had a wonderful, if strenuous, time doing so.

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Baegundae Peak, my last trip to the park, in the distance

On Sunday morning, I awoke to a lovely blanket of snow. It was cold enough to stick even to the roads, for once, and I relished the chance to walk to church through snow. Of course, it was also raining and so I took the bus, but the walk to the bus stop was positively delightful. After church the rain had stopped and all but a scattered remnant of packed snow had gone the way of glaciers in the time of global warming. Nevertheless, I was well pleased with the weather all around.

After everything was sufficiently melted, the temperature, naturally, dropped significantly. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday had highs around -6 C and lows of -12 C (that’s ~24-10 F). Which is very cold. Much bundling was necessary even though I only live about an eight minute walk from work. The skies have been crystal clear and the wind has been pretty biting. I definitely complain about the cold but I would like to state once more, for the record, that I will ten times out of ten take too cold over too hot. You can always put on more clothes but there’s only so much you can take off.

There’s really not much else to report this week. I can say that I’m very excited to be nearing the end of my contract. I’m very excited about my upcoming trip upon the expiration of said contract. I’m very excited for Christmas. I’m very excited to finish the series I’ve been reading for the past while, though it will, of course, be sad when I actually do finish.

Feel free to send me details and/or pictures of your Christmas preparations because. Bonus points will be awarded for Christmas trees and baked goods, but all submissions will be thoroughly appreciated.