Sunday, October 26, 2014

Autumnal Adaptations, or How I Learned to Be Okay

If I am permitted for a moment to be ethereal and other-worldly, I'm going to do that. Although I suppose that there are not many things that would make me want another world; I quite enjoy my pale blue dot. It is perfect in its statistical unlikelihood, its divinely timed evolution, its pristinely non-poisonous atmosphere, and its ability to move and change and uplift, among other things.

Even though I know these things, I'm still surprised by them at times.

I've been taking myself on mini self-care trips lately, up to the hills that I'm going to miss terribly, especially in the middle of this sunny late-October. Before now, I'd only lived in Carolina during the summer. Upon moving back, I had mistakenly thought that I'd miss out my Midwest autumn in exchange for Octobers and Novembers in the soggy sunshine. On the contrary, I seem to have stumbled upon an autumnal wonderland whose resilience trumps that of any Michigan maple. And I am basking in it, soaking it up as much as I possibly can.

Today, I went up to North Carolina for a spell. As you probably are aware, I am a hoarder of roads; I have an incredibly insatiable addiction to asphalt. And right now I can tell you with nigh absolute certainty that Route 178 through South Carolina and Route 64 through North Carolina are now two of my absolute favorite roads, ever. Everything in the sun, under the sun, was on fire as I twisted my way through...each scene more lovely than the last; each turn, though, requiring that my eyes stay on the ribbon road, somehow.

Eventually, I made it to Gorges and a trailhead that took me to a waterfall. One would think that I'd be a bit more timid around waterfalls considering my altercation with the one at Hippie Hole in the Black Hills not too long ago, but as I've professed many times this week, I do not live in fear. I am incapable of being anything other than a feral weirdo when I'm alone in the forest, anyway. And when I take myself on these dates, I want everything. I want to let myself hear the leaves crunch beneath my feet, acorns falling to the forest floor, birds either singing greetings or screaming warnings-I'm never sure-as I pass. I want to let myself see every color of everything that absorbs and reflects light in the wavelengths that my eyes can perceive. I want to let myself breathe the thin aroma of soggy dirt and foliage set to ripen at 65 degrees. I want to let myself feel the tree branches and trunks that I gently graze, the waxy greens that brush my face, the pine needles in my hair, the water caressing rocks below. 

And the waterfall is no different. I made my way to the top and looked over, sitting on what I thought was a dampened rock. But when I laid my hand on top of it, it was completely dry...just miraculously smooth. 

And it was then that I realized: waterfalls can change. 

Of course they can change. Nothing in our planet's geological history suggests that they've always been or always will be. Come to think of it, the Blue Ridge has had a lot of time to grow; months ago, my crossing the Rocky Mountain Continental Divide at 10,000 feet and then today, my crossing the Eastern Continental Divide at just 2,000 feet could tell me that. But my sitting on a smoothed-over, water-cut slab of rock brought this truth directly to my fingertips, literally. Running my fingers over the rock, and looking down to watch the water rush over the rock below, then looking back up to the rock on which I struck me to realize that I was sitting where this very waterfall used to flow. Over the course of some amount of time unknown to me, this waterfall had changed course and left its fingerprints set in stone that would later serve as a resting point for a wide-eyed dreamer on a solo hike.

More than the fact that the waterfall had changed, though, was the glaring reality that something as mighty as a waterfall can change and still remain a waterfall. This holds tremendous implications for me. Even the strongest things, the things that can carry away and erode and shape and carve mountains, can change. They change, and they do not cease to be what they are. They adapt. They press on. They remain.

I was not rendered speechless today. I had plenty to say. And I don't remember many instances during which I had more honestly, desperately, deeply from the bottom of my heart thanked the Lord for giving me just a glimpse of the brand new waxing crescent moon stunningly situated above the sunset layers, above the silhouetted hills. I needed today. I needed to see change without imagining ruin on the other end. I needed to bring myself back to nature where I belong, and I needed nature to show me an example of what happens when you decide to be brave. Be brave, and adapt, and be okay.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Cómo Comunicar

I'm sitting in Santiago de Surco, south of downtown Lima, at a reasonable distance from an open window.

I say this because, long story short (a story which is both agitating and funny in equal parts) my phone is without a functioning LCD screen at the moment. And if you want to know, I can rehash the story of that event, and Juanita's patio, and my unbelievable lack of reflexes. Just ask.

At the moment, I'm trying to ignore the fact that I probably won't see the southern night sky down here. I knew it was a possibility, but now I know that it's quite a substantial probability. It is soggy here on the magnetic equator, and dusty up in Jicamarca, and Lima demands to be lit. Everything here is golden brown, like a ripening carambola; or hazy and conglomerate, like the pictures being sent back from the Curiosity rover on Mars. 

It's surreal. Beautiful in its resilience, its day to day trudging on.

Every morning, I and the others from the south of Lima ride to Jicamarca in a 15 passenger van. On the ride up, Lima is bustling with people going to work and sitting in roadside cafes; hijitos on their way to school dressed in immaculate uniforms to please the immaculate Santa Maria, no matter how much dust is stirred by the busses and taxis.

However in the evening on our return that almost takes twice as long as the ascent, Lima is everything. Lights from the auto district brighten the darkening haze, fireworks explode for whatever reason, excited stray dogs and people like sardines crammed onto walkways and into vehicles at a standstill on the road (a word which here is used very loosely), pointing in every direction, having reached that inevitable impasse. 

Here is where my perspective changed, permanently. See, I thought that I was a pretty good driver. I thought that it took an expert level of skill to drive 18 hours out of the day by oneself. Now, I won't discredit myself; that's pretty good; but that's driving endurance. Here in Lima? This is driving agility.

The champion who drives our 15 passenger van operates that boat like it's a motocross bike. Weaving in and out of three-lane highways sometimes with five cars side by side, dodging motorcycles and annoying taxi drivers, and then there's me. Me in the very back, finding my face mere feet away from the front corner of a semi truck at times, not ever needing to feel unsafe. Lima bumper to bumper, with vehicles still in pristine shape; people holding onto each other so that nobody falls out of the busses, people looking out, people taking care. Things here are handled with such enormous care, and it's reassuring to me that this whole world hasn't gone straight to hell just yet.


Before I left, I was thinking about human connection and how deeply it runs. Something that I've noticed over the past few weeks of mayhem is my ability to find serenity in feeling the essence of a person surrounding me, even if he or she isn't physically near. And now I'm laying on my bed in South America, thick golden Lima air rushing over me, and feeling pretty much at home. My first day here, I realized that there was a huge communication barrier between myself and my host family, as my Spanish is awful. However, I'm learning so many different ways by which we otherwise communicate as humans. One of the first things my host mom did was to braid my hair as we were sitting outside in the garden. She dances, she animates, she fixes the most remarkably delicious food, and she ties a scarf around my neck when it's cold outside. And we recognize each other as humans.

My Spanish is still terrible, but my Human is growing a little more every day.