Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Grad School Gives Way Around the Bend: Dreaming Life in Real Time

I can hardly believe that my second year of graduate school is half over. As usual, the time I've spent here seems both to span a much longer period than a year and a half, and it also feels like I just arrived yesterday at the same time. This paradoxical combination leaves me without words to describe my feelings often and at a loss when I struggle to explain to myself just how I feel about the experience, what it means to me, or piece it together into the story of "me." It's much easier, though, when I stop trying to do this and just accept the past and present (and future) for what they were, are, and might be. I am joyful. I'm celebrating life, and I feel incredibly lucky to be sharing my time here with such beautiful, loving and caring friends. I've had the good fortune to spend much time with my roommates over the past few months. They are dear to my heart, and we have made amazing memories together. I've been on weekend running trips to the beach, Thanksgiving ski cabin adventures, and holiday trips with my friend and roommate Katy, and I'm certain that I've found a friend in her to help me and motivate me to be the best that I can, all while we have an incredibly enjoyable fun time together in the process. Meeting her family was a beautiful experience for me, and all I can hope for is that I can be a good enough friend to her in return in order to honor the gift she's given me.

Katy and I jogging at the Oregon Coast near Newport

Loal Ocean Seafood Fisherman's Wives Stew: feast for two

I was a back-up dancer in the fall OSU drag show for my friend Thomas/"Varza"! It was an 80's workout theme. "Exercise your ass off!"

For Halloween we roommates (plus 1) where Spice girl Ninja Turtles in honor of our Tur-telle Team from Costa Rica ;) I was Posh-Michaelangelo

Ande and I enjoy dessert--and let it snow let it snow let it snow!

For Thanksgiving we headed out to a Forest Service cabin near Mt. Baily! Over 30 people came! We all built a kayak luge and had a jolly ol' time--even on the first night, when Katy and I arrived near the cabin around 10pm in the dark and a blizzard and weren't sure we were on the right trail. We decided to set up our tent where we were and wait it out til morning. We didn't realize we were only 150 meters from the cabin until a rescue party came out and found us. We decided to stay hunkered down, as we were already settled in and full of peppermint schnapps.

For Christmas, Katy and I both went to Moab to spend the holidays with her family! They were incredibly welcoming and we had a lovely time every day sleeping in, eating delicious food cooked by Katy's mom, going on hikes in canyon country and celebrating in town.
Moab Brewery


Delicate Arch, Arches National Park

Hidden Valley hike/run

Then it was time to head up to Park City Canyons resort and hit the slopes!

And we finished it off with some fabulous cross-country skiing. The whole trip was blissful, even despite a sore throat I incurred at the very end that caused me to miss the first couple of days back to work. Now we're planning to head out to Sun River near Bend, Oregon with our skis for another winter wonderland-filled weekend at a house some friends have rented there for the MLK holiday. I'm enjoying my last couple of seasons here in Corvallis for all they're worth, and I finally think I'm starting to experience them for what they are instead of just wishing I was done with grad school and looking toward the future constantly. I'm sure this is for many reasons, including my relaxed schedule due to my being almost done with my classes and thesis (!), my having found an amazing place full of love to live with beautiful friends and being able to take the time to appreciate and have adventures with them. I also credit more time do the things that I love to do that make my life feel more balances and me feel healthier: salsa lessons, reading yoga philosophy and doing yoga, studying French and sitting with the Corvallis Zen Circle for meditation. Not least of all, I'm very excited about the possibility that I'll land a job teaching in Europe (France or Spain) for next year. I haven't heard back from the Fulbright Committee yet, but I'm very hopeful. I do find it ironic, though, that it's just when my departure is in sight, when I have bright plans and graduation on the horizon, that my life here is starting feel that much sweeter. But I'm going to take it where I can get it, and just keep on smiling through the happiness, sadness and confusion of dreams lived out in real time. :)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Pura Vida and the Great Turtle Tour: Beginnings beginning all over again!

Chronicles of the late summer: saying goodbye and staying on the in-between side...

Just before leaving for Costa Rica with my new roommate Katy, I had to say goodbye to my good friend Michelle, who left for Kazakhstan on August 16th. She's not sure how long she'll be gone, but the total Peace Corps program is more than two years. I'm already missing her so much! She's been one of the most important people in my life up to this point, she's been kind of like a role model and sister to me, and I think about her often. It was difficult to arrive back in Portland after my trip and go back up for a wedding party last weekend knowing she wouldn't be there. I feel her absence in my life so strongly now, I am often moved to tears. But her brave example continues to inspire me. I've been thinking about my own next move. I'm thinking Europe!

Opal Creek, Oregon-July

I went to the Oregon Country Fair with my new roommates, Ande and Katy. They're beautiful and inspiring, too. I moved in with them at the beginning of August, and we have 11 chickens in our backyard. I feel so lucky to be living in a supportive communal house with them this year.

Hiking with Katy and Dana at Iron Mountain, Cascade Mountains, Oregon

Goodbye Michelle! I love you! (of course we'll keep in touch by using Skype)

There were a few really nice hot days at the end of July. Wow...it's only the end of August now and I already feel like fall's here. Dreaming of heat...

Costa Rica:

This is the pool at Backpackers International hostel in San Jose where I arrived first and waited for Katy's flight the next day. I walked to a street fair and a bustling pedestrian thoroughfare. It's a big city, not especially clean-feeling, but comparable to most large Latin American cities I've visited before. The cathedral is pretty and the city has its charm.

The first day at the hostel, while I was waiting on Katy to arrive, I sat down with Dennis, the hostel's tourism guide, and created an extensive itinerary for us to follow on our journey, complete with bus times. I then promptly threw out the itinerary, after I met JB, Colin and Nicolas on the first night at the hostel (three guys from France traveling Costa Rica with the same travel plans and time frame as us girls and with whom I hit it off immediately), and we all decided to go to Turrialba in the mountains south of San Jose the next morning.
View from the bus

In Turrialba, we arrived in the afternoon and hit up the biological reserve, as it was open until 5pm. There were so many interesting plants, birds, and flowers, they likes of which I'd never seen before. It was a good choice!

A little photogenic run through the reserva biologica.
You can see smoke coming from the volcano at Turrialba just behind Nico. The French government had actually put out a no-travel warning to citizens because of the volcanic instability (which we didn't check until our second night at the cute little Herza Hostel on the corner), but it was fine for us! It did prevent us from being able to hike up to the crater rim as we had planned.

The time in Turrialba was beautiful. We got to spend plenty of quality time with our fantastic new friends, including a sunrise photo session for me and JB. The light was perfect for exploring the just-waking-up cute little Latin American mountain town. While Costa Rica felt similar to other Latin American countries I've visited in terms of language (of course), architecture, signs, roads, etc, the people and culture definitely have their own very unique attitudes and ways of life. I noticed how uncommonly friendly and cheery almost everyone we came across was to us visitors. Warm people. In Spanish: Una gente calida In French: Ils sont tres polis.

That day we visited the Mayan Archeological Reserve and site. It was unbelievable how old some of the ruins we saw were. So long ago...When that amount of time passes again, will there still be people..or anybody...who'll wonder about our own record through time?
JB, Nico, Coco

We found a vine and swung!

At night we went out salsa dancing. I had a lot of fun dancing with JB especially. A good dance can make a nice kind of magic.

On to Parismina! After Turrialba we took a fantastic rafting trip down the class 4 rapids of the Pacuare River and floated all the way to the Caribbean! We wanted to check out the Tortuguerro turtle and wildlife research station and reserve, but the official tour made it an expensive option. Instead, we made our way to the little coastal town of Parismina, which we had to take a boat to and which had dirt streets and was mostly all locals. We went out dancing there, too. We also met Crystal and David, a fun couple from California. Some of us went fishing, some of us had a small boat crash on our way into the Tortuguerro reserve and to the ATM there, and a few went on a nighttime tour and saw turtles laying eggs and lots of crocodile eyes looking out of the swamp. We all saw and heard the howler monkeys calling away. OOooooooOO!
The beach was not crowded, except for some locals

You only live once! Nico thought he'd test his luck in the alligator swamp, and he emerged unscathed. Coco juggled some coconuts to celebrate. Whee!

Even though everything always had sand in it, our private room in the beautiful beachside hotel ($10/person) where we stayed was thoroughly cleaned daily, so we still felt great sleeping in the comfy beds. This picture makes me dream of heat again...
Mono ("monkey") took us on a boat ride to Tortuguerro where we could withdraw cash. Everyone on either river bank seemed to know this guy. He's quite a character. Pura vida, cara picha!

Yes, that's me driving. We each got our turn. The local gals were just along for the ride.

Next, we took a boat back to the mainland and headed south to Cahuita, just north of Puerto Viejo. It was just like the typical picture of "paradise" that I have on file in my own head. The ocean was clear blue and--deceptively--calm. We rented our own cabin with the guys and had our own kitchen and music setup! It all felt perfect. Except...
When a rip tide seemed to come out of nowhere and start sucking me right out into the ocean! After about two minutes of furious swimming, I realized I was still getting further away from the shore. I had been able to stand, but with the sand getting swept out from under my feet I was just below standing height! I began to scream for help, and JB and Coco leaped from the shore to come rescue me. They pulled me back to safety. When they deposited me back in the sand, I was full of an incredible rush of adrenaline--and I felt extremely grateful to my friends. I love you guys!

Oh no! Because of a slight mishap involving a night out at the local bar, Katy lost her passport (or had it stolen?). So it was back to San Jose with the two of us while the guys headed down to camp out near Puerto Viejo. We split up for a few days. It was hard to say goodbye even for a little while! But we agreed to meet each other back at the Backpacker's in San Jose.
And Team Turtle Power was born! Hooray for Les Tur-telles!

But there was no stopping Katy and I. After a half-day jaunt to the embassy we headed straight away for a girls' trip to Montezuma and the Pacific Coast by bus and by boat (and another bus!).

Murals in Montezuma.
Go turtles go!

We stayed at an inexpensive little hostel right on the beach and got in some quality souvenir shopping time. We also booked a snorkeling tour, but rough waves that day caused a cancellation, so we made good use of time relaxing, running five miles to the national park and picking up trash on the way back.

Yay! Then we met up with the guys again, and they rented a car to drive us all to the mountains near Monteverde and the reserve there. The canopy ropes course was a blast.


On our way down to La Fortuna, the hot springs and the erupting volcano Arenal, we met a beautiful older woman hitchhiking back from her trip to retrieve medical plants in town. With a bright shining smile, she welcomed us into her cozy mountainside home full of flowers and chickens where she lives and works alone. The owner of the land (a gringo, she said) has promised her that she can stay there indefinitely, even if she becomes too ill to work. She struck me as a very brave and optimistic lady. And the fresh juice and chocolate bread she offered us were delicious and very welcome by our empty stomachs!

We arrived in La Fortuna just after dusk--just in time to see red lava flowing from Arenal! It seemed like a special and auspicious sign to herald our arrival and punctuate our journey. This place also brings back feelings of sadness for me--it's where we said goodbye.

One last supper! After Katy left for San Jose, we shared one last night together. I also met Lydie and Michel, from Switzerland. We wished we had met them sooner, too! I ended up catching a ride with them back to San Jose, as they were also leaving the next day. It was great getting to spent the last couple of evenings in such warm and fun company!

Back in Oregon...
I flew back to Portland feeling great sadness and missing my new friends very much. It's so hard to say goodbye knowing that there might be a great gulf of distance between us until our next meeting. But we're trying to keep in touch. I'm planning my next trip: France.

Luckily, I caught up with Steve and Cedar for their weekend plans and we drove down from Portland for an Oregon Coast camping trip! It helped keep my mind off of my goodbyes and got me re-oriented to my life here a bit.

This is the bar-cafe-country store on the Smith River, southern Oregon Coast

Our friend Michael Henry led us to some good singing with his banjo.
Cedar and me!

After picking chantrelle mushrooms in the local woods, we cooked 'em up and ate 'em! mmmm...
The lighthouse at sunset in the dunes reminds me of memories from other times I've been to the Oregon Coast, the places I've seen, and, inevitabley, the differences: the time that's past between then and now, the changes in my life, in who I know, and in who I am. It seems to be harder and harder for me to identify a place I can say with confidence is my "home" anywhere in the world. But I'm also excited about the freedom that letting go affords. I love Oregon. But it's this Oregon, now--it can never be the magical place that existed in my memories, and it's futile to pretend it can be--or at least it's painful to imagine it and then realize that it doesn't exist anymore. But I do exist. The friends I love and cherish change, just like I do, but we can continue to braid our lives together like threads of love and warm regard wherever we happen to be. It will just always involve letting go too, because it has too. But I do know one thing: love is love is love and it is just as real for me now as it has ever been. And I'm continually grateful for that gift each day, just as I'm grateful for the gift of the day itself, knowing that it's far from permanent and it isn't guaranteed to me by any kind of justice. It's just here, all the same, and so it's beautiful and ready to be appreciated the way it is right now.

Currently I'm applying for scholarships to teach English and study (possibly in France) or in Spain. All the sudden I feel like a course of action (for the next couple of years, maybe), has become more clear to me, laid out as a map of goals and uncertainty together of the road ahead. It's amazing to me how what seems like a frightening void, a maze of the future, can suddenly come alive with hopes, aspirations, and plans. I'm so excited to meet what comes up on the voyage ahead, and I'm trying to remember to stay open to the gifts that I haven't yet asked for and cannot yet imagine giving and receiving! Au revoir!