Self-Care

I wake with a foot planted on me. I am immediately angry. So is the owner of the foot. Who’s to blame: me for sleeping on a trail or them for stepping on a sleeping body?

 

I narrowly avoided the above situation. We had just come back from caves filled with tragic stories of indigenous exploitation and deep darkness. I was tired, so I dipped out, dodging camp prep to hideaway in my sleeping bag.

 

You see, for the 3 nights before our camping trip near Lava Beds National Monument, I had stayed up far too late talking. Talking is good and I’m often conflicted about bedtime as the best conversation seems to happen late at night, under the blessing of the stars. This week I’d thrown caution to the wind and now it had caught up to me.

 

So I slipped away and settled down on a trail. I’d figured there’d be less bugs around there and that no one would use said trail.

 

What I didn’t see then, and I see now, is the irony of my chosen spot. In my lack of care for myself, I had blocked the trail for them..

 

In my time here at the Oregon Extension and our reading about mushrooms, I’ve realized our inter-connectedness. We are not, and have never been islands.

 

In our modern lives we can delude ourselves into thinking this is not the case. Two summers ago I had convinced myself it was. Selfishly suicidal, I figured my life had little impact on anyone else. If I took my life or continued to live as if my life did not matter to others, I felt there could be no impact.

 

Here I see clearly the fallacy. With chores spread across us all to keep the place running, any absence or laziness must be made up for by another.

 

If I decide I don’t want to wash dishes today, my roommates bear the burden. If I neglect my farm chore, someone else must move the giant compost pile.

 

Here, I cannot skate by under the impression that I am independent of any other.

 

In modern life, it seems we can. A book we read, Nature’s Metropolis, broke down the fallacy that is the separation between the city of Chicago and the surrounding country. Often, they are viewed as entirely separate.

 

But a catastrophic crop failure in the country or paltry demand for food in the city will quickly expose this faulty premise. In fact, we see a parallel here. If the country is treated poorly and fails, then so too does the city.

 

So we come to a paradox. In order to care for others, you must first care for yourself. After all, a sick Jimmy can hardly move a giant compost. Nor can a sick Jimmy do without lots of tea and hot herbals and naps, none of which are very productive (though they are all enjoyable).

Wes

Today a close friend of mine died.

 

He seemed to be ever present, ever entertaining.

 

He was a calming presence and knew just when you needed a lift up.

 

In a word, he was consistent.

 

He will be dearly missed.

 

He was a wasp named Wesley.

 

My wasp friend, though we never really spoke, did bring a sense of meaning to my life (and of all the lives who came to his funeral). I think it was his consistency that did it. Every morning, sitting down to breakfast, Wesley greeted us with a buzz. Now I’ve seen plenty of wasps in my time here and none have meant anything to me.

 

I think the difference is consistency and I think this consistency gives meaning. I’m going to talk a bit about why I think this is based on my summer experience and then dive into how consistency is a huge part of the Oregon Extension (which we call the OE).

 

This summer, I lived at the base of Rockies in Boulder, CO. Coming from the flat farmland of Indiana, the landscape was breathtaking.

 

Every day, as I drove home from work; I was in awe of towering figures crowding the sky.

 

Why?

 

Was it the fact the landscape was so unusual?

 

Coming home to Indiana after a long summer away, I cherished seeing the red bricks, red porch, and red car I associate with home.

 

Why?

Was it the fact the landscape was so familiar?

 

In either case, I think consistency is the bedrock fo our source of meaning and wonder.

 

Without my lifetime of exposure to the flat farmlands of the midwest, I would not be shocked and awed by towering mountains.

 

Likewise, without my consistent exposure to and then absence from, home, I would not give meaning to silly things like bricks and deck paint and car color.

 

Here in Oregon, this sense of consistency is deeply present. You stay with the same 25 people for a whole semester. You are in a new, breathtaking place.

 

You are consistently challenged in your thinking (yes even in the first week).

 

You are consistently cared for by professors and peers alike.

 

There’s a stability here. A calm.

 

I hear the same gravel crunch on my way to class every morning, hear the same rooster interrupt lecture an hour later, see my favorite dog (her name is Kuma) shortly thereafter during discussion at a Prof’s house and I make a killer meal with my cabin mates to end every day.

 

Our days are full of good books, good food, and good thinking. It’s odd because I worry if I will be able to bring these consistencies home.

 

But maybe I shouldn’t worry so.

 

Wesley, a wasp I only knew for days, imparted enough meaning for me to write about and remember him. I think the chances are good I will remember the consistent thought and care I give and am given here.

 

Connected Travel

There is something magical about the combination of adventure and strangers. We let people in we normally wouldn’t, bond over details which would normally be meaningless, and in my case, are forced to unplug by the stunning lack of service in the Western US.

On my way to Oregon, I did a lot of traveling. Instead of taking a flight out like a normal person, I wanted to see the US. So I took the train. For 68 hours. Which left me a lot of time to get to know a diverse set of new friends.

I met Allen, who plundered Whole Foods with me on our brief stop in Denver. He’s a former Navy man who spent most of the ride hammered, but still managed to talk down his friend the conspiracy theorist (who ended up sounding more sane as he was sober).

Then there’s the conspiracy man himself, who gave his name as Strawberry Santa and spun tales of Burning Man and USO’s (unidentified submersible objects). Whoever he is, he was a great storyteller and entertained me for hours during my second day of the journey.

Next is a nameless woman who calmed drunk and sad Allen and who reminded me of my mother, sweet and kind and genuine. She told me about her son, a freshman in college and I attempted to give advice and reassure her he’d be fine (she’s a worrier like my mom). In turn, she told me of the plight of immigrants in the US (her parents came legally from Mexico before it was so damn hard) and how to calm a worrying mother (you can’t).

I mistook Tom as the son of a friend from Kentucky (she hooked me up with snacks – the second person to do so). He sat quietly with headphones till he was pulled over by Allen to discuss conspiracy theories and weird physics with Strawberry Santa. Once you got Tom going he was a hoot, a New Zealander who loves sailing and is planning to do fancy robotics in Switzerland but decided to travel around the US for a bit and help with a summer camp.

Tom is like my other 4 friends in that they all come from abroad to help at summer camps in the US (and watched a bunch of rich kids for a summer). The 4 girls were from England, New Zealand, and Australia. We stayed up late talking of weird phrases and restaurants that are different (McDonald’s is apparently Mackers). Along the way I learned that Aussies don’t say anything fully – they can’t even do Converses – they call em Connie’s.

My 4 friends were bothered a bit on the way out by the man I call Sweater. He’s always got 3 or 4 sweaters on and talks to himself. He makes me uncomfortable, but he mostly just nods at nothing and stares. He took a liking to the girls though, and got very chatty with them. I’m keeping an eye on him. Some folks you just don’t trust and sometimes it’s best to trust the gut.

Jamaican man has treated us all to great songs along the ride – mixed in with randomly yelling what I took to be another language (it’s just very Jamaican English) into his phone. He’s going to see a “shorty” in Cali and stated pretty frankly his intentions there.

Random woman #2 stole my seat. My friend Allen tried to hold down the fort, but RW2 just plopped down in my beautiful window seat. After a little digging I found out she hunted deer and elk and other large animals. I let her have the window seat. Her grandson plays for Notre Dame hockey and won player of the year, so that’s cool, too.

Then there’s Vincent, who is the kindredest soul I’ve met in a long time. I’m trying to convince him he’s not lazy. I had the same mentality maybe a month or two ago until I worked myself to death and realized my problem wasn’t that I was lazy, it was that I did too much useless work. Anyhow, Vincent is a philosophy and politics major at a small school in Oregon. He and I shared a trip to Sacremento and spoke with an interesting Russian homeless dude at the train station, as well as our friend Sarah, who went to Oberlin but took a year off to travel.

There were some experiences along the way that heightened the sense of togetherness inherent in traveling. The Rockies brought everyone together. Something about the views, the awe, connected us. Stories about moose and elk were exchanged. Hometowns were discovered and described. It was magical.

The non-magical thing is the way I describe my study “abroad” trip. I still haven’t found a good way to do it. Well I have but it’s less than ideal. My family calls the program a cult, since you don’t go home and don’t get your cell phone most of the week.

It’s out in the woods and I’ve found that comparing it to Thoreau works for Americans, but not for international folks – they had no idea who that was. But I tend to ramble about questions of life and figuring it out and thinking and reading in the woods. People find the cult more compelling for some reason. It’s funny how people would rather something fake but weird and interesting than something deeply meaningful and thought out.

A quick update: I made it and I am loving it. I will write more about it, but there is a sense of peace and home here. I’m not sure if it’s the people or the landscape, or both.