life of m

Sustaining the Self and Beyond


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I am not a victim; I will not be a victim

I know the universe is mysterious and may possess the traits of trickster raven while also embodying the softness of freshly fallen snow. I know there is much that is beyond my control in this life.

I have learned that wondering why people do what they do and how they justify hurtful, malicious behavior does not lead me to happiness. Nor do I ever seem to find answers.

The only real answer I seem to find is that it is far easier to play a victim than to take on the role of empathy for oneself and for others.

If one is a victim, there is responsibility required. How could there be? One is the innocent player in a deviant scheme devised by other—the universe, God, and who knows what other mysterious forces—destined to live a life of injustice.

What I have learned from experiencing both sides—victim and empowered—is that playing the victim does not bring me happiness.

For the past several years, I have come up against one victim after another. I have tried to reason with them, to explain my side, but to no avail. When one person is a victim, the other automatically becomes the antagonist.

The most recent situation that has provided much practice for my soul and many reminders of the kind of life I do not with to lead. I have been a landlord from a great distance to a woman who uprooted herself from urban Colorado to my home in bush Alaska. It was not a smooth transition, and it seems to have been one rife with idealistic, romantic visions that were perhaps more pleasant than the unanticipated reality of this life shift.

I spent hours on the telephone with this person before she moved. I listened to her talk about the challenges of selling her home in Colorado, of packing up her life, and of traveling with her cat across the many miles from a familiar home to a foreign land where she would have the opportunity to begin her life anew.

Was she escaping a place of pain? I cannot say. I do not know this woman. I know only what she has confided in me and only what I can conjure from her increasingly aggressive behavior toward me, her name without a face landlord.

From the moment my renter moved in, maybe even before, there was tumult. I turned the water off to save her moving in to a house with potentially frozen pipes or water pump. I had been given the go ahead that we would split the cost. Without warning, she changed her mind and refused to abide her promise.

Was there a miscommunication? Perhaps. I let it go.

Then came the tumult of emails and photographs. Is the toilet water meant to be this color? Is the water safe to drink? I am afraid to take a shower because my porous, blonde hair may turn orange.

Reading these emails, I took many deep breaths. I composed responses and wallowed for a while before sending them. I have learned from experience never to send the first email you compose because it likely will only serve to stir the cauldron of negativity and aggression.

I bought a new filtration system and new filters.

I bought a new microwave.

I read letters and emails rife with accusation and slander, most of which did not seem to come from any kind of place of accurate foundation. My home had not been built on a Laundromat. I did not rent my home and intentionally withhold information from my renter.

Time and again, this would happen.

I recoiled and felt my entire body tighten when I would see her name in appear in bold in my email inbox.

I began to response with only kindness. What else could I do? Responding with truth, advocating for myself and what I thought were the best of intentions for renting a home that I thought was in good condition, seemed to have little effect on easing her ire.

I spoke with my partner about it.

“I don’t understand it,” I would say. “Why is she doing this?”

His response, as usual, was clear and in its clarity nothing short of brilliant.

“You are not a real person to her,” he told me. “It is far easier to make a person into a monster when you have never met them before.”

She was operating from a place of fear and also from the place of being a victim.

And I was the enemy, the ruthless, uncaring, faceless landlord. It was all beginning to make sense.

Explaining to her that living in bush Alaska was not the same as urban Colorado would only serve to kindle rather than cool the flames of her frustration. She was not hearing the information I was providing. She was only hearing them through a filter.

So when I would explain that one could not expect the systems in a home in bush Alaska to function on the same level as an urban, developed area she was perhaps hearing the words:

“I do not take your concerns seriously. Your pain is not important to me. I am an unfeeling, unyielding person without morals or ethics.”

Who wouldn’t be upset by this? I know I would.

One of the saddest repercussions for me from all of this soul practice is that my love affair with Gustavus has come to a complete end. I know that my renter has talked about my character from her perspective of being a victim to people all over town. There are individuals who have unfriended me on facebook and explained that they simply do not see the world the way I do.

This response is also a choice, the choice to see me through another person’s eyes rather than trying to see me through their own.

What can I do? I choose not to fight this element of the universe. I know I will not win. I am not sure winning is even part of the grand plan for a happy existence.

What I can do is recognize what may be causing my renter to behave this way. I can practice seeing her a person in pain and try to empathize. I can practice energy tai chi and not allow her projection of pain to infiltrate my own sensitive being. I can choose to respond only with kindness. Most importantly, I can be reminded of how thankful I am that I have chosen not to play a victim in this life.

I want to be happy. I want to be empowered. I want to empathize with those who feel victimized without being drawn in and overwhelmed by their energy.

I would love to not have to pay to fill my propane tank, but that may be the price I pay to keep a safe distance from the self-diagnosed victims of that cross my path in this life.

And to you, dear renter. I hope someday you can find happiness without projecting such aggression onto others.

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Tales of sleepless nights

My parents claim that I was a very good sleeper as a baby. I wonder sometimes if I was just putting on a really good show. I do have a flair for the dramatic and theatrical, so it could be a real possibility.

In all honesty, I cannot recall a time that I sleeping was easy. I can remember lying awake for hours as a child, my mind fixed on the hours of sleep I would get if I fell asleep at different times of the night. The running dialogue in my head went something like this:

If I fall asleep now, I’ll get X number of hours of sleep.

…..

and if I fall asleep now, I’ll get X number of hours of sleep.

…..

And if I don’t fall asleep immediately, I will be so tired tomorrow.

And so it would continue, my child’s mind worrying ceaselessly until I wore myself out and finally fell asleep.

As a child, if I had a nightmare, I would call out to my parents or sibling. My dad would rise and go into my sibling’s room.

“Marieke had a nightmare,” he would whisper in the dark.

My younger sibling would crawl out of bed and walk down the hallway to my room, blanket held up close to one cheek in a tiny fist, the remainder dragging on the floor behind them. Index and ring fingers from the other hand held steadfast between delicate lips, and a tiny pinky brushed repeatedly in sweeps against their cheek.

Once in my room, they would lie down on the floor beside my bed. Relieved by the presence of family, I would instantly fall asleep. It was years later that my sibling confided in me that they were terrified of the large, wicker bureau in my room and would lie awake, looking up at its towering features in fear until finally the morning light began seeping in.

As an adult, I tend to sleep better with a trusted companion, be it human, canine, or feline, but even then I do not always succeed. My mind can easily become active with even one thought entering the premises. One thought turns to another until I am held captive by a spiraling vortex of images and emotions from past, present, or future.

Most recently, the thoughts that have kept me awake have been from my life in Alaska. I imagine this has to do in part with my recent transition from Lowell, Massachusetts to Prescott, Arizona. Moving reminds me of the circumstances that surrounded my departure from Gustavus, Alaska. It was not a happy uprooting but felt more akin to a fleeing from a prison in the dark of night, hoping to get a headstart on whoever might be following suit.

Dramatic?

Well, I did not warn you I had the flare, did I not?

At the time, it felt like I was running for my life. There were a few friends who shared love and laughter and incredible support as I made last minute getaway plans. There were others who were less interested in the details of my departure.

Did I hear a sigh of relief from my supervisor and upper management in my division at work? I have met many people who claim that no one could dislike me, but I will be the first to tell you that this simply is not true.

I can be loving and generous and all heart toward people who embrace me for who I am; but when threatened and made to fit into someone else’s vision of reality, I become defensive and lash out in a desperate attempt to preserve my sense of self.

This is exactly what transpired at my job and with several members of the Gustavus community in Alaska. I have written about it a lot in an attempt to understand my own behaviors and those of others. I do not hold ill will toward anyone because I think we all did our best in difficult times with ways of being and perceiving the world that were at wildly different ends of the spectrum.

I am not a traditional kind of person. I am impulsive and emotional. And my practice, particularly since moving to Alaska and going through a divorce and a doctoral program in sustainability, has been to be as honest about who I am as possible while respecting and honoring other perspectives and ways of being. I do not always succeed in this endeavor, though I would like to think that each situation I move through I learn something and improve.

I was so desperate to maintain a tenuous grasp on what felt like the beginnings of discovering my own self, I cannot claim to have done well with managers at my job who seemed themselves to feel threatened by my journey to sustainability. They did their best to contain my independence and re-assimilate me into the fabric of tradition in small town Alaska where there are many big fishes in little ponds.

I played their game while biding my time and planning my escape.

Suffice it to say that my escape came at a time that has since become dark and painful when it resurfaces from the depths of my memory.

There were beautiful moments and connections with people and place in Alaska, but my leaving was not one of them.

Since leaving my connections with members of the community dwindled to a handful and then fewer people still with the passage of time. It didn’t help that I had two friends vying for the opportunity to rent my home and my choice please some and angered others so much so that my name was slandered around town.

You know that “sticks and stones” phrase they teach children? Well, names do hurt, especially when you are not there to even defend yourself.

Periodically, thoughts of the darker memories from Alaska resurface. They tend to return with the sting of a more recent happening.

This most recent happening has been building for a long time. It came with a simple attempt to “tag” an Alaska friend on a facebook post. Her name did not come up.

“Huh,” I thought. “Must be something weird with my internet connection.”

I went to her profile and saw the option to send her a friend request.

“That’s odd,” I thought again, the stirrings of something deep down beginning to rumble.

I sent her a friend request and sent a short, friendly message inquiring after what could only be a misunderstanding.

I waited.

Several hours (was it a full day?) later, I received a response, stating without any kind of sugar coating that it did not seem to be worth keeping touch as they had come to realize that our ways of perceiving the world for so very different.

I read the words once, twice, and a third time. Though I was not completely surprised by the response (her previous responses to my emails had become shorter and less personal, until all I received was one-liners), I still felt an emotional punch to the gut.

This person had been like family when I lived in Gustavus, and I had spent many hours with them and their children, in their home, hiking trails, and drinking tea.

In my mind and heart, the message read, “your perspective is one that I disagree with and am disappointed by; thus, you no longer exist to me.”

I had known this would be coming. Gustavus is small community. If you root yourself there and make attempts to belong, people embrace you. If you walk a different path, people shut you out. I had already been shut out at my work and in the music community, where I had long since stopped receiving invitations to play at music nights in people’s homes (yes, that one really hurt and is a story for another time, if at all).

When behaviors run counter, a cognitive dissonance occurs, and one must make a choice. Ignore the new information, find out more and make an informed decision, or find a comfortable way to incorporate it into your worldview.

My friend had made her choice. I had uprooted myself and others had spread word of my deplorable behavior as a landlord. We were different or at least my perceived behaviors were counter to her way of being.

I cannot say that I blame her. I know that I have made mistakes and hurt people’s feelings. Her words still hurt and hit at the part of me that even now feels raw from my time in Alaska.

So each night since that interchange, I fall asleep beginning with thoughts of my former friend. These thoughts spiral into a vortex of negative memories of other ways I felt hurt and abandoned by those who had offered fleeting support and professed to understand what I was going through, only to turn on me and project their unhappiness at my attempts to create my own.

Last night, the pattern began anew once more.

After several minutes of allowing my spirit to become awash in this storm, something clicked.

You do not have to put yourself through this, a voice told me. Haven’t you suffered and repented enough for whatever ills you have caused others and your own self. You are loved. Lowell loves you. Think of Lowell.

And I did. My thoughts turned to images of smiling, loving faces; to brick and mortar; to ghost signs and painted walls.

I felt a calmness begin to sweep away Alaska dust and cobwebs.

Hours later, I woke up to morning light beginning to seep into the room.


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You gave up Alaska for this?

from the airplaneWhen I headed north for Alaska, I was searching for something. I left with anti-depressants and panic pills in my pocket, certain that I would continue to experience difficulty filling my air with lungs and breathing normally. I was afraid of leaving my life in Washington behind. I had not set off on my own for many years.

By the end of my first summer in Alaska, something inside of me had changed.

“You are different,” an friend told me. “More confident and grounded in yourself.”

There was truth in her words. I had survived the summer. More than that, I had thrived. I had begun to envision a new identity as a musician and started playing music again. I felt the thrill of life in a new place in a remote corner of the Alaskan wilderness.

This confidence was newly rooted and still shaky.

I spent a painful two months in Washington.

During that time, a friend wrote to me in an email, “it will be darker when you get back.”

It was.

Alaska sun

I headed north once more at the end of a cold November, thankful to have my sister with me on the journey through the Inside Passage.

I left her at the Juneau airport a few days later and continued the remainder of the journey to Gustavus alone.

On the ferry were familiar faces, young and old. I was thankful for the company. The community of Gustavus is remarkable and unlike any other I have experienced. It was a gift to be a part of it for a time.

The winter was a dark and difficult time.

Another friend had told me that when she first got word of a job in Alaska, her coworker had chided, “Alaska? Be careful. The odds are good, but the goods are odd.”

I experienced this first hand. Of course, I am odd myself, and for a time I did not question the odd treatment.

Oddness is one thing. We are each odd in our own ways. Abuse is quite another. And after some of the worst abuse from a once friend and supervisor, I decided that my shaky confidence would not survive if I stayed for much longer.

Alaska sunsetBack to the lower 48 to take refuge in Arizona and then to a new life in Massachusetts.

It is from Massachusetts that I write on this overcast morning. It may be cloudy, but the sun is working its way into view.

This past weekend, during a busy Lowell Folk Festival, I walked across town with two visitors. When I told them I had moved here from Alaska, one of them chastised, “You gave up Alaska for this?”

I did. There are moments when I miss the wilderness and the sense of community. There has not been one moment when I have missed the abuse I received for being odd in a way that some individuals found threatening.

I am in Massachusetts. I am who I am. And I am my own blessing.

footprint in Alaska sand


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Oh the dreadful wind and rain

Winter is coming, and I am wary. Once more, the sky has commenced to darken early in the evening. In fact, this darkening is moving along much faster than I am prepared for.

I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but I guess somewhere in the recesses of my mind I imagined I could escape the darkness in my prison break from winter in Southeast Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.

Will I fare any better in Massachusetts than Alaska or Washington?

What does winter mean in this corner of the country?

I have memories from my childhood in Massachusetts.

In elementary and middle school, winter meant piles of snow at the end of the driveway, sledding down a steep hill and getting tangled in blackberry thorns, “snow days” off from school, and clear, bright skies in dry, chilly air.

In high school, winter meant less exercise and weight gain.

In college in Maine, winter meant a serious slip on the ice at least once a season. I would be walking along and then suddenly find myself on my back on the pavement. I might look across campus, see someone walking across the quad, look again, and see an empty space where ice had brought them to a supine position. Negotiating the pavement the winter I dislocated my shoulder and tore my ACL tendon was particularly tricky.

Last winter was the first I spent in a chilly but sunny clime, and it was the first I can remember not being overtaken by melancholia.

The depression can be gradual. At the outset, I imagine that I am doing just fine. I tell myself that the darkness isn’t so bad. I take my vitamin E. I nest in fleece and slippers and curl up on the couch.

In Washington, my ex and I placed headlamps in strategic locations and filled jugs of water for the inevitable and frequent power outages, repercussions of living in a remote, rural area along a state highway with dense copses of conifer and deciduous trees with heavy limbs just waiting to snap off under the weight of frozen rain and snow or the coax of northeast winds.

Any venture outdoors meant myriad layers of synthetics—silk, polyester, wool, and fleece. These were covered by layers of Gore-Tex rain gear—rain pants, raincoat, and rain hat. And you can forget fun, fashionable footwear. Insulated boots were pulled on before hands were covered by glove or mitten.

My ex bemoaned the winter. He spoke with romantic, dark, and sardonic intonations of the blessings of the winter months—flood, snow, nor’easter, darkness, power outage, and water system failure. He told me stories of winter winds blowing snow under the sink in the upstairs bathroom when our questionably renovated barn turned home was a bachelor pad for him and another fellow who used to work seasonally on the Skagit side of North Cascades National Park Complex.

I wondered if winter would be any more kind on my psyche after I left him, but alas. Of course, I don’t recommend combining the pain of separation and divorce over any kind of winter, particularly Southeast Alaska.

In Alaska, I had a happy light in my office with an unreal, luminous glow. I sat at my desk with silk long underwear beneath my uniform and brown leather slippers on my feet to keep from shivering.

I went to music and movie nights around town, hosted women’s nights at my home on Same Old Road, played my guitar and sang sad love songs. I was offered invitations from my sister and a friend to spend the holidays away from Southeast, but I declined. I had little vacation time to spare, and I thought I was doing ok.

The tiny headquarters at Glacier Bay emptied of other humans over the holidays. I drove to work in the dark, awaited the return of light to the sky by midmorning, went for a brief and tenuous walk in snow boot and Yaktrax ice guards issued by the park safety officer, and drove home in the dark. I kept a headlamp in my glove compartment and one in my jacket pocket to find my way from the car to my front door. When the sun went down over Gustavus, it was DARK!

I just barely survived that winter in Southeast Alaska. And spring came with little relief.

Life in Lowell has had its challenging moments—noisy neighbors, awful landlord, moving expenses, auto vandalism and theft—but thankfully these are ills that mean little in the bigger picture of sustainability of spirit.

I feel valued here. I am happy to return after my days off each week. My colleagues greet me with open arms, smiles, and kind words. They tell me they miss me when I am gone. And I am encouraged to write and perform songs from the stories of men and women factory workers.

So overall, life is good. That I will struggle with the grey skies, liquid sunshine, and increasing and impending darkness may be inevitable, but I know I will find a way to carry on through those dark moments to the lighter ones ahead.


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Ways of knowing

I started this blog with the intent of writing about the human relationship with place. I have spent hours writing of the beauty of Gustavus and Glacier Bay, the community of people who still feel like family, and the love I hold for my home and more than human neighbors. I have written of the pain of divorce and separating from place and community.

Over the past few months, I have sent emails to a friend I parted on less than sustainable terms when I made my final move from Gustavus this past January. When I was offered a job in Massachusetts and knew I would be moving, I had entertained hopes of renting my house to this friend. For months, emails were sent back and forth, always with things left up in the air. In the end, the prospect was too scary for me to enter into, and the abusive, verbal berating I received from the third party potential renter sealed the deal.

I have never received a response to these emails, which have been my attempts to send positive energy and love and forgiveness. I have heard word via the Gustavus grapevine that the third party person expended energy communicating with people around town about what an awful human being I was.

Yesterday, I finally received a one-liner. It wasn’t mean. It wasn’t friendly. It was abiotic. Nevertheless, it sent me reeling.

I posted two “updates” on Facebook in an effort to reach out and find support from my virtual community.

Post #1: I have been trying to send loving energy to people in my life whose feelings I have hurt or who have hurt me in the past. What do you do when they just send negative energy in return? Practice energy Aikido and pretend it doesn’t make you sad?

Post #2: Or let go and focus on the people who love you?

The response came within moments, with words of love and wisdom from a dear friend I met my freshman year in college.

I sent one final email to my friend of old, filled with words of love and remorse, and I left for the ever cooling waters of Walden Pond.

Upon my return from my weekly meditation, I sat down to write, fully intent on purging the negative thoughts that continue to grip me since leaving Gustavus a year ago today with descriptions of the negative things I experienced during my time there.

Before opening a blank document, I decided to check my many email accounts. I opened Yahoo. Nothing there. Gmail. Still nothing. Facebook. Jackpot!

I could feel love, support, and wisdom travel from the many posts from people who care about me beyond the virtual realm and into my own heart.

I read a book called Synchronicity for one of the foundational courses in the Prescott PhD program. In it, the author writes of the response he nearly instantaneous response received from the universe when he channeled his own desire for a change to happen in his life. Since then, I have observed this energy exchange in my own life, and I have come to pay attention and listen closely to them, for they can be subtle and can take on forms you do not anticipate.

It seems a propos that I should once again be hit with painful memories of a place I left one year ago today. I left at the start of a month of transition. October. Moving month for the fairies. I can feel change around me even in a cityscape.

When I left Gustavus, I packed my car as full as was possible given that I was traveling with an additional human and canine companion. I think I knew that I would not be returning after my furlough. It had been a painful year. I was newly divorced. I had just barely survived the spring and summer months my status at my job had gone from most valued to most threatening employee.

In this journey toward self-sustainability, I have made many discoveries. A recent epiphany occurred when I looked at the table of contents from a book on feminist theory I have been reading and found myself in it.

Here it is:

Introduction: To the Other Side of Silence

PART I

THE WAYS OF KNOWING

1 Silence
2 Received Knowledge: Listening to the Voices of Others
3 Subjective Knowledge: The Inner Voice
4 Subjective Knowledge: The Quest for Self
5 Procedural Knowledge: The Voice of Reason
6 Procedural Knowledge: Separate and Connected Knowing
7 Constructed Knowledge: Integrating the Voices

Silence

For years, I have accepted situations and unethical and unkind treatment. There were times when I recognized the unhealthy influence on my level of sustainability. There were other times when I did not. Hindsight is a funny thing and paints clarity onto many blurry images from our past.

I began with relatively silent acceptance of this treatment. It was something I needed to endure for whatever the end goal of the time—a permanent job, for example. Sure, I complained to my partner and a select few friends and family members. But the face I showed the world was one of acceptance.

It wasn’t until I started the Prescott PhD program and began learning that sustainability meant far more than making the world a cleaner, healthier planet in an environmental context. From this realization came deeper discoveries that have led me in varying degrees of change in mind, body, and physical location to my living room in Lowell, writing a dissertation on my own journey toward self-sustainability.

I started with the realization that my job was unsustainable. I resigned from my seasonal position. I put energy into the universe that I needed to make a change. The universe responded. I was offered a permanent job in Alaska.

So began the tentative end to my silence.

Listening to the Voices of Others

I continued this journey by looking within. I saw musicians perform at open mic in Gustavus, and I felt an intense desire to be up on the stage. I started playing music. I started listening to friends, who sensed that all was not what it seemed in my marriage.

I participated in Story-to-Song for the first time and told a seemingly simple story that had resurfaced many times over the years to the forefront of my thoughts. After writing a song, I began to realize the story was about more than it seemed. It was about the silent sacrifice I made in my relationships with people in my life, particularly lovers. I left my husband.

The Inner Voice

Finding my inner voice was a tricky and messy process. I smoked many clove cigarettes, drank more than my fair share of wine and vodka tonics, and wept in my corner office. I woke up in the night panic-stricken. I worried that every single person in my community was judging me.

The Quest for Self

I went to a training for permanent NPS employees at the Grand Canyon. At this training, the staff told us to advocate for ourselves and our careers because no one else would do it for us. They told us to go forth and effect cultural change in the NPS and at our workplace.

So I did. I went back and requested the trainings I had been told were to be included in my job description. Granted, I got a bit carried away and listed a number of conferences and workshops I would like to attend, imagining a conversation would follow. What followed was a Venn diagram being drawn out for me to demonstrate my lack of dedication to my job and preference for prioritizing “college.”

I was labeled a “problem employee” and required to write out and turn in everything I accomplished on an hourly basis at work. I was told that I had “lost my way” and that it was necessary to “get me back in line.”

The Voice of Reason

The funny thing—funny in hindsight, at least—was that I felt as though I was finally finding my way for the first time in my life. I think I was finally beginning to learn a way of intuitive knowing.

Part of this way finding and intuitive knowing has been to recognize and find ways to either distance myself physically or through energy Aikido from the people who treat me in ways that are unhealthy and that do not fit my definition of how one human being should treat another.

It has meant traveling thousands of miles and spending thousands of dollars. It has meant taking anti-depression and anxiety pills to help me breath and to lessen the tightness in my chest.

It has also meant discovering the people who truly love and support me in my ever-growing global community.

To these individuals—I hope you know who you are—I send much of the love and gratitude in my heart.

To those I have hurt along this messy, ungraceful path, I send some of the remaining love.

To those who have hurt me, whether in their own self-defense or out of fear or malicious intent, I send love and forgiveness and the hope that you find peace and sanctuary.

I keep the rest of the love for those with whom I have yet to cross paths, for I know that my journey is far from over.

And I thank the gods that love is a renewable resource!

Joseph Jaworski. (1998). Synchronicity: The inner path of leadership. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Mary Belenky, Blythe McVicker Clinchy, Nancy Rule Goldberger, and Jill Mattuck Tarule. (1986). Women’s ways of knowing: The development of self, voice, and mind. New York, NY: Basic Books, Inc.


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It’s your nature

If Thoreau were to visit Walden Pond today, I wonder what he would think. Would his spirits be lifted by the absence of the sound of motor craft and the sight of so many people recreating in the waters of the pond when they could be shopping or watching television in cool, conditioned air? Of course, there is also a shop at Walden Pond where you can make Thoreau-related purchases in the comfort of A/C. My personal favorite was the “What would Thoreau think” tee shirt. Irony, anyone?

Henry David Thoreau and his brother John took a trip along the Concord and Merrimack Rivers in 1839, for which the treatise A week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers derives its title. In this text, Henry bemoans the taming of the Merrimack with the rise of factory towns along its shores. One could argue, and many have, that it was all downhill from there. Ever after, the way our culture has defined and dialogued with regard to nature has shifted away from the romantic and modest toward possession, control, and use for the benefit of those with the means to procure it.

Ignorance or an inability or decision to ignore signs from our surroundings seems to be another tendency we as a species has inherited over time. Is this also a result of the Industrial Revolution, which shifted our culture away from self-sufficient, agrarian communities, to anonymous workers on a line?

Just today, while walking around the shore trail at Walden Pond, I overheard a fat, balding man who was sitting partially submerged in a shallow shoal of the pond telling another man sitting in a kayak about the awful state of politics in this state.

“They won’t teach creationism I the schools, but they will teach that man came from a baboon. Yeah. Right. Politics!”

I won’t point out the irony, as I do not wish to insult the baboon species.

In the past two weeks, I have visited two different nature preserves with signage requesting that pets and dogs be left at the gate or at home, yet individuals seem to either take no notice—you might call it being completely oblivious—or to selectively choose what their direct and peripheral vision discovers in its path. Or perhaps, those with dogs under a certain size and weight do not meet the minimum requirements to fit under the same respectable, canine category as a husky or Labrador. They are certainly cute, but are they really dogs? Really?

So, I know this post has taken on a rather intense, dare I say sardonic, tone. Please accept my humblest of apologies. I would prefer to vent my frustrations in prose than reflecting it back to whence it originated, which is, namely, Massachusetts drivers.

Leaving Thoreau for a moment, what do you suppose Darwin think of evolution gone awry in eastern Massachusetts? I mean, seriously. Massachusetts drivers are an entirely unique brand of Darwinian beast in a taxonomy all their own. When I lived in Alaska, I flew in tiny Cessna Air Taxis to travel between Juneau and Gustavus. At the end of each flight, I would thank the pilot for my life. I am not sure who to thank now, but I am certainly relieved each time I survive an excursion that requires vehicular travel and/or perambulating in areas in close proximity to automobiles with Massachusetts residents at the wheel.

Just the other day, I was nearly run off the road by a gentleman who was reclining far back in the driver’s sit and engaging in the most intense (and downright disgusting) nose-picking activity I have ever witnessed. What a way to go! The romantic obituary writes itself.

This morning, I turned at a light onto a tiny on-ramp. This lane was joined by two other lanes of traffic held tenuously back by a yield sign. The couple in the car joining me were incredibly put out and seemed to take little heed of the yield sign—maybe in this state it is only meant as a suggestion—and decided to lay on their horn for a full 30 seconds, tailgate me for what felt like a mile, and then sped around me as soon as it was possible to do so.

Now, I am not saying that I don’t give in to the temptation of road rage at times, but this was a bit much to take. Not to mention that the couple were of the age that one would consider to be wise, sage elders of the community. Is this kind of behavior we should be modeling to present and future generations of Massachusetts drivers?

I have oft wondered these past few months about the hidden wisdom and intent of the universe in providing an opportunity—should I choose to accept it—to move from the wilderness of Gustavus, Alaska to the urban wildness of Lowell, Massachusetts. I have a number of working theories.

For one, it is fascinating to me that I can work for an agency so varied in its telling of the American story that one can interpret these stories from wilderness areas feeling the affects of climate change to an urban park where the industrial story set in motion a far-reaching ripple in the social and ecological fabric of this nation and the world.

I was afraid that in returning to Massachusetts, the fears and behavior patterns of my youth would resurrect themselves, overwhelming everything I have learned and all perspective gained living overseas and in remote, rural areas.

Growing up in a Massachusetts suburb, I never felt like I fit in, and I was haunted by this awareness. It was like a genetic and social defect. I didn’t wear the right clothing, I wasn’t popular, I didn’t live in an enormous home on the rich side of town, and I didn’t go the “cool” temple. I spent a lot of time wishing I could fit a certain mold. It wasn’t until high school, when I started running cross-country track that I met a group of strong, fiercely independent young women who welcomed me into their circle for who I was. Though I don’t keep in regular touch with these women, I am thankful for the time in my life when we were inseparable.

For much of my adult life, I have been searching for a community where I feel valued and loved for the strange being that I am. I have found this in bits and pieces. Gustavus seemed to welcome oddballs, the more charismatic and idiosyncratic the better. The irony was that these qualities were not embraced in the professional realm where I worked to the point where they seemed to be interpreted as threatening and potentially hazardous.

How ironic then to move to an environment where the fast-paced culture keeps my nails bitten to the point of bleeding and my heart rate quickened, yet my artistic and creative skills are thriving and nurtured. I still don’t feel like I belong, but different from a younger version of myself, I don’t feel like I need to. I am proud to be myself fully and to project my marieke-ness without shame.

Venting complete.

Fondness for Massachusetts, its wooded havens, the luxurious waters of Walden Pond, and the many songbirds who somehow are able to survive in this frenetic corner of the world, may resume!

Perhaps, Thoreau would even be able to plunge beneath the surface and embrace this quirky culture, though I have my doubts.


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Moving Day

For many years, I have wished I could claim familial ties with the fairy realm. The term “moving day” instantly brings to mind images of fairies around the world marching in procession as they move to a new location, which they will inhabit for the next year before moving once again. Though the official moving day for the fée happens at the end of October, I seem to have been following my own fée journey around the globe.

For the past decade, I have been making figure eights around the world. I have spent time traveling and living on five continents. This wandering began even before I graduated from high school. I would spend summers at overnight camp or touring the southeast region of the United States with the American Civil Liberties Union, following in the footsteps of civil rights activists. My first year in college, I lived in two different dorms. I then transferred to another school for a semester, moved back the following semester, studied at another school in a language immersion program that summer, and hopped across the Atlantic puddle to live in West Africa for 6 months.

I often wonder where this penchant for travel derives its origin. Am I one of a long line of gypsies? Is it simply the modern application of the wandering Jew cliché?

David Orr has written about the loss of community and sense of place in the country and claimed that the average American will move at least 11 times in a lifetime. What does this mean for me having moved twice that many times in just over a decade? Has my soul been completely lost in this wild shuffle? Do I belong everywhere or nowhere?

I have struggled with this transient lifestyle to develop a sense of belonging and community in the places where I have lived. There have been periods of time when I have staunchly put my foot down and refused to leave. There is pain involved in uprooting oneself from home, wherever that home may be. In leaving my home in the upper Skagit Valley of Western Washington for a permanent job in Alaska, I shed many tears for sacred places I would no longer be able to visit daily or seasonally. I cried over cherished chickens I adopted out to dear friends.

Not two years later, I found myself making plans to move again. I spent time in Arizona during a furlough from my Alaska position. Before leaving, my life in chaos, I made a hasty decision to part with one of my four beloved cats. Four cats seemed unsustainable, and I bowed to recommendations from friends and family to find a home for at least one of my cats. So I did. I watched an overjoyed family walk out my front door with Izzy in their arms. I felt initial relief that I was sending Izzy to a place where he would get all of the love and attention I wasn’t able to provide with the limitations of my life. As the months have worn on, this relief has grown to regret. I miss my cat, who had been as close to a child as I have known and am likely to experience for some time to come. I know I am being selfish wanting to still have him and that he has long since forgotten who I am, but when my life turns to one where limbo, transience, and instability are the norm, I begin to cling to those tangible reminders of home—critter comforts, familiar furniture, photographs.

This past fall, I put down tentative roots in what has become one of many transient communities in my world—Prescott College in Prescott, Arizona. Toward the end of my brief tenure in Arizona, I was offered a position at Lowell National Historical Park in Massachusetts and prepared, planned, and conducted an incredibly complicated (and expensive) move from Gustavus, Alaska to Lowell via the Inside Passage; Seattle, Washington; Prescott, Arizona; and Sharon, Massachusetts.

I spent two months in an apartment on the edge of the ghetto in Lowell in the community known as “The Acre”. A colleague described my current landlord as “The Slum Lord of Lowell when I told her where I was living.

So I have paid—financially and in emotional, physical, and spiritual exhaustion. Tonight, with thunderstorms looming on the horizon, I prepare for yet another moving day. Here’s hoping the next place I call home will offer a modicum of normalcy and tranquility for however long I stay.

Were I to write a book on my travels in search of sustainability in the personal, professional, and community realms, I could begin each chapter with a photograph of a cat peeking out of a cardboard box.

This priority mail box has been a kitty favorite for over a year, and it has traveled from Alaska all the way to Massachusetts!

I also would not have succeeded in relocating on so many occasions without the support and assistance of incredible friends and family from the communities I have called home. Thanks to my upriver North Cascades friends, one of whom picked me up on a dark night driving on an ice and snow-laden Highway 20 this past January when the whole of Western Washington had closed down from extreme winter weather conditions. I barely made it with the U-haul I drove off the Alaska Marine Highway to a moving company in south Seattle. The runways were just being cleared and reopened so I could fly back to Arizona, pack my car, and continue the journey by automobile to the east coast. My parents have been unbelievably supportive during the crazy and complicated journey east, along with the most recent upcoming move from one locale to another in Lowell.

Along the way, I have been blessed with hugs and love, and I have adopted a traveling gnome I call Jerome, a gift from a dear friend in the upper Skagit.

I have also been able to reconnect with old friends of the human, as well as furry and feathered variety, and I have been reminded of how lucky I am to have communities around the country and the world that I have been and can continue to call home.

I may move around more than I care to recount, but I am never alone, I am always loved, and I get to make new friends along the way!