07 April 2015

We interrupt these Peru and Haiti reflections...

I've been taking forever to tell you my stories from Peru and Haiti anyway, so I thought I'd tell you about something else kind of crazy: I'm going back to school.

I know, no one is surprised.

I'm going to Union Presbyterian Seminary in the fall, for a Masters of Divinity. That's the degree people get when they want to be ordained as teaching elders (pastors) in the PC(USA), the church that I already work for on a regional level.

Here are the answers to a few question you might have. Some have actually been asked. I made up the rest of them for fun. I'll let you guess which are which.

Wait, what?
I'm going to Union Presbyterian Seminary in the fall, for a Masters of Divinity. That's the degree people get when they want to be ordained as teaching elders (pastors) in the PC(USA), the church that I already work for on a regional level. Did I stutter?

You (are Presbyterian/ go to church/ believe in God/ etc)?
Oh, stop. If this really surprises you, you haven't been paying attention at all. I've been employed by Presbyterians on and off for over a decade, and I rarely stay out late on Saturday nights, and I'm almost always busy on Sunday mornings.

But, why?
I guess to make a long story short, I have this lovely background in geography and environmental stuff that I am deeply passionate about, but I've been doing a lot of this kind of work for the church for some time now, and it would be nice to have some basic theological understanding and vocabulary to better serve said church (and world) in this fantastic field.

Frederick Buechner said, "Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world's deepest need." Maybe in seminary, I will learn who Frederick Buechner is.

So what are you going to be, a pastor to the goats/rocks/trees/etc? Do they listen?

No really, I don't get it.
So there's a thing called validated ministry in the church I serve, in which people are ordained to stuff that isn't necessarily parish ministry. Ordination means you've got the church's blessing and affirmation in what you're doing. For example, Mr. Rogers was ordained by the Presbyterian church to spread a gospel of peace and love through his public television show. At the very least, I will have a different kind of education to support the work I am doing. If I survive the coursework and the paperwork, I might someday be ordained to it, too. Or not. We'll find out, won't we?!

Do I have to go around calling you Reverend now?
There's a lot of stuff I have to do before that's even allowed, but no.

Don't all YAVAs (Young Adult Volunteer Alums) go to seminary/into ministry?
No, but I am certainly participating in a staggering statistic. And ministry doesn't always happen from a pulpit, inside of a church.

What are you, a perpetual student?
I sure hope so, whether I'm currently attending some educational institution or not.

I'm not Presbyterian. Can we still be friends?
Of course! Some of my favorite communities I've visited and experienced in the past few years have not been Presbyterian, or even Christian. We all live on the same earth, don't we? It shouldn't matter.

I don't believe in God. Can we still be friends?
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In case you can't read it, it says, "We're from the same soil." The mural is in Itta Bena, MS, and I think it explains a lot. You are always welcome at my table, and I hope I can be welcome at yours.

What about that cool job you JUST STARTED?
I love it! So much! (I will continue working there as long as they will have me. It's kind of part of the reason I'm going to seminary anyway.)

Are you moving? Again?
Union is in Richmond, just a few miles from our current apartment. Mike said a better question would be, does this mean you're going to be in one place for several years? Yes, we will be staying in the vicinity of Richmond for now. I make no promises about staying in one place more generally though.

What are you going to do with that?
You know, people asked me the same thing about geography (and they don't like when I remind them that Michael Jordan was a geography major). I'm going to do my best to be a decent human being and contribute all I can to this funny world we live in. I like to think this is only going to broaden the foundation for my conservation-focused, hey-let's-all-get-along, environmental/ peacemaking kind of work (with a little soil surveying and goat herding and chicken zen-ing on the side, of course).

At what point do you stop getting Masters degrees and start getting Doctorates, nerd?
I don't know, not right now.

Are you going to hit me over the head with the Bible?
No more than I hit you over the head with anything else. Also:

How excited are you?
Yes, very nervous, thanks. But also kind of excited.

But I thought you love soil?
I do. That's why I'm going to seminary.

Why were you the last person to figure out you were going to do this?
You ask such good questions. When I told Mike, he was like, "Oh." and then, "Oh wait, was I supposed to sound surprised? Oh wow!" I had the same conversation with my parents, my bosses, and several close friends. Whatever, I figured it out in the end, didn't I?
All kidding and snark aside, this is an exciting adventure, and I have no idea where it's taking me, and I'm feeling pretty ok about that. Thanks for your encouragement, support, and love along the way!

20 March 2015

barriers and divides

Saturday, December 6: Lima to Huancayo, via La Oroyo

I have never traveled with such a large group before. All in all, there were about 25 of us from the US, between national staff, our "ModeRADA" of the General Assembly and his wife, people from the mission co-workers' supporting Presbytery, and a random assortment of us from all over elsewhere. We were joined on the ground by aforementioned mission co-workers, the amazing Jed and Jenny, as well as a current YAV, Kyle, as well as mission co-workers from Bolivia and Colombia and some of their young adults. It was a great group, just very large.

In fact, at first, I found the group too large to step out of my comfort zone, or perhaps our collective comfort zone, and experience the new place I was in. There were plenty of pale-skinned English speakers around me at all times. I didn't have to work too hard to understand our hosts, because someone could always translate. I didn't have to think too hard about where we were going, because someone else was always in charge.

At first, this felt to me like a hindrance to our purpose in Peru. It's hard to truly dive into and experience deeply a new place with such a large group acting as a buffer, though unintentionally. This concern of mine quickly dissolved; such a large group provided a lot of thoughtful conversation about the issues at hand.

I'd like to credit some of our primary translators for making these discussions possible: Jed, Kyle, Sarah, and Valdir were four of the strongest interpreters I've ever witnessed. I relied heavily on each of them, as my Spanish background is limited to Sesame Street vocabulary and my time in Mexico, where Spanish was just a mediator between English and the local Mayan language. It was a beautiful experience to have complete thoughts carried between Spanish and English, while preserving the emotional charge of each precious idea. This made for incredibly productive conversations, and I am grateful to each of them (and many others who helped along the way).

So on this day, as I settled into the large group and language barriers, we took a very long, winding bus ride through the Andes, across the continental divide, stopping in a town called La Oroyo. Here, as we sipped coca tea to soothe my altitude sickness, we learned about some of the problems that have lead to ridiculous economic and environmental hardship.

(There are a lot of arrows pointing everywhere on this page in my journal, so bear with me.)

Historically, this was a mining region, with some smaller scale herding and gardening. Through the 60s and 70s, agriculture and livestock became mainstays in this region of Peru. Unfortunately, so did guerilla movements and internal terrorism. Violence was addressed with more violence, and communities in this part of the Andes were too isolated to help or be helped. Many people fled to Lima, leaving behind unskilled people to work the farms. This lead to an unbalanced economic system and a lot of land sales, which lead to...

  • few rich families, many poor families, and a host of social problems in between
  • aggregation of land and mining businesses through the 80s, which makes access to land and resources more difficult for locals
  • talings and other mining waste contaminate lagoons and rivers-- you know, their source of water, of life, and the source of water for all those downstream in the desert coastal region
Mines were largely privatized by the early 2000s. It seems a lot of sketchy things are happening with contracts and deals between companies and individual families who might be desperate for something, anything at this point, since what little resources they have access to are contaminated. This becomes even more difficult and divisive because of that few wealthy families/many impoverished families detail. The rich have control of the contracts, the land, the access to resources, which only further divides them from their poor neighbors economically and socially. 

So these are local problems, but they start to spiral out of control into a much larger scale, only exacerbated by large, international companies like the Chinese mining group Chinalco. The company offer work to local residents, bringing in miners as well as supporting businesses like food and transportation, ruining all local economic activity with monopoly and corruption.

This isn't even to mention the environmental issues at hand. High production of minerals like copper around the clock has lead to respiratory, skin and eye issues for the people living here. Environmental impact studies ignore indirect consequences. Over 99% of the children in La Oroyo have lead poisoning, just from living there and drinking the water.

These are problems seem nearly impossible to overcome because of the discord within the communities, as well as between the communities, as well as between the communities and the government. These broken relationships make it difficult to come together to combat such powerful companies that are destroying everything here.

These were hard lessons to learn. I found myself grateful for the camaraderie of the large group I was traveling with and the hospitality at each stop. These things helped me to process these awful stories, and although I can't say I came away with any impressive solutions to these major problems, it gave me hope that there is a community that cares. Even more hopeful is the knowledge that this community extended far beyond our delegation.

Tomorrow, Sunday, December 7: village visits to "healthy homes", and an incredible tropical glacier.

19 February 2015

social-environmental context

These are still notes from my first day in Peru, but it is interesting and important to consider these issues in our own local contexts.

  • Most countries along the equator have a tropical climate, but the Andes, Amazon jungle, and cold Humboldt current moderating the desert climate of Lima and much of the coast makes for incredibly diverse climates and environments. 
  • 65% of the population of Peru lives in urban places, which requires more energy, has a more consumption-focused culture, becoming a "cancer for nature". Ack. Who said that? Why did I write that? That is really, really depressing. But if you think about how cities and suburbs sprawl out...
  • Economy grows by selling natural resources.
    • This brings me to the big reflection question for my week in Haiti, which I can't wait to tell you about: What is the value of soil?
  • There are, in fact, laws about consulting with indigenous communities before granting extractive rights to international companies, but these are rarely, if ever, enforced. 
  • Environmental standards are lowered in the name of commerce, to ensure that impact studies don't impede business.
  • Two words: eminent domain. Ok, eight words. A government that often uses eminent domain irresponsibly.
  • Peru has over 70% of tropical glaciers in the world; these melt into mountaintop lagoons that run down as a very important water source for most Peruvians.
  • After Cairo, Egypt, Lima is the second biggest desert city.
Ok, so some of those are incredibly specific and local, but stop and consider some of these themes in your own region. What makes your environment vulnerable to climate change? Is it an economic issue (threatened resources and livelihoods) or a public health issue (extreme heat/cold, affected agricultural rhythms, reduced access to important resources like water)? How does the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Peru affect us, so far away? (Hint: it does, and not just because we feel sad about these struggles.)

So in the context of a place like rural Peru, or even in busy, bustling Lima, consider that people can't just turn up the A/C or the heat, and can't just go out and buy water if anything happens to the source. Same goes for many people and places in Haiti, both rural and urban. Many of these places still rely heavily on local food sources, too, which are also affected by changing climate and environmental problems.

And while we may not feel the effects of climate change and environmental injustice as strongly in the United States, it's here. New Jersey can be broken into 5 climate zones, moderated by the wee little mountains and the great big ocean, among other factors*. To me, Virginia is just a bigger, slightly warmer version of that environment. It also has 5 climate zones, which don't exactly parallel New Jersey's, but there are some similar environmental modifiers. Peru, just a little smaller than Alaska, has 28 climate zones. (You could fit almost 76 New Jerseys in the area of Alaska. Alaska has 4 climate zones.) Long story short, Peru has a lot of different things going on with its climate, which means if some of it is changing, then it's going to snowball and affect a lot of different systems all so close together. I do not mean to be ironic talking about snow when Huaytapallana glacier has lost over half of its mass in my lifetime.

All of these systems are connected. All of these systems affect each other. Air affects soil affects water and so on and on and on. We are all connected. Or, as this mural I found in Itta Bena, Mississippi reads, we're from the same soil.

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Which brings me back to that same question... what is the value of soil?

*Northwest, northeast corridor, southwest, Pine Barrens, and coast. I hope somewhere, Dave the State Climatologist is very proud of me.

18 February 2015

Joining Hands! pilgrimmage, prayer, reflection

That's the first thing I wrote in my Peru journal. I think that's how the trip was introduced to us when we woke up in Peru on Friday, December 5. December 4 felt like a lot of hurry up and wait, ordering an early cab to get to Richmond airport to make sure if anything went wrong I'd have time to call another one, sprinting across Atlanta airport to meet my team and make the connecting flight, sitting on said flight for seven hours...

But we made it. We began the week staying at San Jose de Cluny, a lovely convent near the ocean. I was thrilled to smell the salty air as we settled into our wonderfully small, simple rooms well after midnight. As soon as we left the airport, everything slowed down.

We started Friday morning reflecting on the following:
  • ¿Qué pasa? What's happening?
  • ¿Por qué pasa? Why is this happening?
  • ¿Qué hacemos? What do we do? 
Even the short answers are convoluted. What is happening in Peru? Extractive industries and climate change are leading to all sorts of natural resource and agricultural problems, which certainly leads to conflict-- and this is hardly exclusive to Peru. Why is this happening? Well... greed. But demand comes from somewhere, doesn't it.

So what do we do?

You ask such good questions.

The week of witness in Peru certainly provided some ideas, compounded by the week in Haiti. The Joining Hands program is "committed to justice, restoration of the Earth and the abundant life promised by God for all people." We spent a lot of the first day setting the stage for the social and economic issues that would permeate the environmental conversation for the entire journey, from Lima to Huancayo to the mountain villages to Huaytapallana glacier and back. We definitely live in a broken world. So what do we do? I wish I had the answer. In the meantime, I will keep learning, keep trying, and keep inviting you along for the ride.

One thing I know for sure out of all of this: peace and environmental justice kind of need each other. It's so, so complicated but very important.

13 February 2015

the greatest conversation in the world

I'm back from Haiti and can't wait to share photos, and tell you about all of the incredible moments from this trip and my trip to Peru in December, both of which were in support of the Joining Hands Network, part of the Presbyterian Hunger Program. I'm playing a lot of catch up with the rest of my life as I go through pictures and reread my journal, but I'm so excited and want to make sure these stories get shared. So here's an initial reflection--

We spent two of our days in Haiti in a mountain village called Dofine. When I say "mountain", I don't mean a highway to a higher altitude. I mean a difficult trip for our extraordinarily skilled drivers in Land Cruisers up and down and up and down and up and down and up steep, rocky trails. It took us a while to get there, but the visit was well worth it. We were welcomed with joy and love and lots of good food.

For lunch on Tuesday, I made an effort to sit with a table full of Haitians along with one of our translators, but as people got up to get different foods and drinks, they all left. A few youth and young adults took their places though. None of them spoke much English, and I had only learned how to greet people in Kreyol by that point, so we just kind of smiled awkwardly at each other and exchanged bon swa's, good afternoon's. They would say something short in Kreyol, and I would smile and shake my head, I didn't understand. I'd say something short in English, and get the same response.

Keheline, who I believe is 17, kept flashing me her beautiful smile. And I'd smile back. And after a while, we were just smiling back and forth and laughing with each other between bites of beans and rice and sips of lemonade. I finally got our driver/translator to come back over and ask her why she kept smiling, because I kind of thought the kids were making fun of me in Kreyol or something. Her response: every time she sees me smile, she smiles. Through the translator, she asked me the same question, and my answer was the same: I was smiling because she was smiling. We were literally just sitting there smiling at each other.

And that was our entire lunch conversation.

It makes me very happy to think about a world where that's the discussion we all have with people we don't understand, literally and figuratively. Thanks for the great conversation, Keheline. I'll do my best to keep it going everywhere I go.

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26 January 2015

long overdue

(I know.)

I've been trying to write for months. Really, since I left Louisiana. Really.

Writers blahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh block.

But other things too. Moving from Louisiana, starting a new job, planning and having a wedding. I was really busy. Not to mention the many adventures I've had since then: I spent a week at the beach in New Jersey before I started working; I went to Ghost Ranch in New Mexico for the YAV transition retreat (I'll get back to that) (assuming I actually finish writing this); back and forth and back and forth and back and forth to Toms River for aforementioned wedding (which was awesome); the wedding itself (I may have mentioned, it was really awesome); a trip to Kansas City a week later for a work-related conference (which was chilly but very good); extra visits to NJ before, during, and after Thanksgiving to be with our beloved Bill; oh, the holidays and all of the busy-ness that accompanies; and I went to Peru, and I got some sleep once in a while, and we unpacked our apartment and learned how to care for goats and chickens and bought plane tickets for a honeymoon that isn't for seven more months and I'm going to Haiti in a week and a half...


These things have all been beautiful, and I owe everyone a lot of stories, but the truth is I had a very difficult time transitioning from life in Louisiana to life in Virginia. Mike has been a great, no, phenomenal companion and support. I think he would agree, it was not easy to figure out how to coexist in the same state again, much less the same household, but we're finding a lot of success because living across the country for the better part of two years made us really, really, really strong communicators, and also Mike is just awesome. But settling into our new lives was not really so much the challenge.


The challenge was hard for me to put my finger on. Why on earth was I so sad about all of the amazing and beautiful things happening in my life? A job that I love in a place that I adore, surrounded by friends and not too far from family, so many great travels and opportunities... and yet, I was trapped in some kind of foggy dimension in which fake-it-till-you-make-it wasn't really making it.


I was spending all, and I mean ALL of my energy in September getting out of bed in the morning and doing my job as best I could. That was about it. I wasn't settling into my apartment, I wasn't exploring my neighborhood, I wasn't planning my wedding, I wasn't sharing my stories of the success and joy I'd had as the wetlands YAV despite the many bumps and challenges along the way. I wasn't cleaning either, which was probably a healthy change of pace from the crippling concern over germs and clutter I'd developed over the course of my year in service. But I wasn't doing anything, and I wasn't really interested in thinking about considering doing anything any time soon, either. Outside of work, I was mostly interested in staring into space and going back to bed.

So I got out of the habit of writing, even though writing has always been a way for me to reflect and process what's going on in the world around me. Well, that, and I wasn't really going on any adventures except for my job, and I was trying to protect that from the rest of the whirlwind I was feeling at the time (and not a good whirlwind, either).

But a lot of things helped shift the tide. The Young Adult Volunteer program has a great retreat at Ghost Ranch (see, I just had to keep writing, I knew it'd come up again) to help process the transition. I spent some time with a counselor there, and just her acknowledgement that the struggle was real was helpful. I had a wedding that we still needed to do most of the planning for, and thankfully I had an amazing support system to help pull it off (not to mention a band that didn't really require any preparation to make that party infreakincredible)-- but that was a happy project to be distracted by.

When I started to truly acknowledge how blue I was really feeling, it was easier for me to notice the many little things that helped carry me through, little things people said or did, little snippets of beauty in each day, how powerfully zen watching my chickens makes me feel, how much I missed writing but didn't know what to say or if I should say or who cares if I say, some really lovely lattes as a reward for walking a few blocks to pick up our glorious CSA, and slowly giving far less a care about run on sentences and oversleeping and forgetting appointments and worrying that I'd find the write words again or that I actually needed to explain this, and it's ok to miss Louisiana every day, and I'm settling settling in...

and here we are. Here I am. And I have a lot of really incredibly beautiful stories to catch you up on. Really.

05 September 2014

Nana korobi ya oki

Nana korobi ya oki (down seven times, up eight) - Yamamoto Tsunetomo

I graduated from college over six years ago. Since then, I have applied to over 250 jobs (really, I have a database you can look at, and many of them were single announcements for multiple openings). I have over 100 rejection notices in my email, and those are just the ones I heard back from. Needless to say, it's been a discouraging few years, and I've fallen down a few times.

I've also gotten back up a few times. I've been able to do some really cool things since college. I did research in Mexico and got a Masters degree. I taught as an adjunct professor. I have volunteered with the USDA. I went to Arizona and a zillion national parks. I moved to Louisiana for an incredible year.

And now, I'm the Director of Youth, Environmental, and Service Ministries at Camp Hanover! I started my new job this past week, mostly sorting through old notes on these things and getting to know the livestock--

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(I have four goats and fourteen chickens under my care!)

but there are many exciting things I'm getting started with. I'll be the coordinator for a Presbytery-wide youth council that will have high school students learning leadership skills and helping plan programming for the Presbytery; I'm establishing an outdoor education and land stewardship program, which includes the aforementioned critters as well as a big garden and a lot of other big dreams; I'll be working to establish some long term volunteer mission arrangements for the camp, too.

AND Mike and I are living in a really cool place in Richmond. We live in a renovated tobacco warehouse on the border of two pretty sweet neighborhoods. We can walk to the grocery store, to restaurants and coffee shops, and tons of historical sites. We even have some parks nearby, along the old industrial canal and the James River. I think we both like it here.

So, it seems I'm settling down in one place for a while, which is new and exciting unto itself. I've had this quote on my blog for several years now, from my wonderful friend Becky, "There is something therapeutic about putting your toothbrush in the same place every night, right? Earp, I know you're not familiar with that experience." Mike and I signed a 15 month lease, so I have a place for at least that long to put my toothbrush! Except I'll be bringing it with me on my next trip, which is in two weeks, and again on a trip the weekend after that...

01 September 2014

Pro tips: 9 ways to stay awake behind the wheel

I don't know if you know this about me, but I travel a lot.

I spent the past week in New Jersey on "vacation", alternating cleaning and packing up the last of my things at my parents' with wedding errands and going to the beach. I drove back to Richmond early this morning, just the most recent of my marathon drives. Thankfully, it wasn't too much of a marathon-- I think everyone is still enjoying the rest of the long holiday weekend. But I have many strategies to keep myself alive, awake, alert and enthusiastic as I drive everywhere:

1. Nerd stuff. I learned to listen to public radio when I lived in a rural part of New Jersey, when my job involved driving all over the place and that was the only station that really came in there. I have taken to saving up my favorite NPR podcasts for long drives, and in listening to WNYC on this last trip home, I learned about smartbinge.org. Game changer.

2. Mike's deer game. This is a good one at dusk and nighttime on rural roads, as one should be keeping an eye out for deer anyway. When you spot a deer or many deer, count them out loud. Next time you spot more deer, you have to start counting from where you left off. This is a good game to play with a passenger if you're competitive, or to get them to help you remain vigilant for our white-tailed friends.

3. The song game. This is another one Mike taught me, and requires a friend if you're driving (we use this one on long flights, too). Let shuffle choose a song on your mp3 machine. Then, before the song is over, you have to pick out a word or theme or phrase that is in another song, and switch to that song, and repeat. Surprisingly kills a lot of time.

4. Accents. An anonymous man I am related to once told me that while he was waiting in his car one day, he sang Jerry Lewis's "Great Balls of Fire" with the most fake English butler sort of accent he could muster. I usually just stick to reading signs in funny made up voices. Today's drive south featured me repeating "Thornburg" in various iterations of southern drawl.

5. Back stories. Mike is good at this one. It usually happens because someone around us is driving poorly, and then we pass them and learn that it's a really sweet old couple. Mike will make up voices and stories about where they're from and what they're up to. Spoiler alert: most of Mike's characters' voices are some kind of Jewish New York, nasally old lady, or nasally teeny bopper.

6. Scan the radio. One time, Mike and I drove the church's luggage van to a retreat, and couldn't agree on a radio station, and just let the scan button run the. entire. time. Actually, that's a lie. We stopped every time Cee Lo Green's "F You" came on, which was 15 times during the course of a 2.5+ hour trip.

7. Alphabet game. Yes, this old standby. Search for each letter of the alphabet on signs and license plates, in order. One round of this game featured my friends' sweet daughter on the way home from dropping her grandparents off at the Allentown Airport in PA. She thought XXX was a very strange name for a store. Yes, sweet child, yes it is. But we did find the whole alphabet.

8. Mental math. This is a good one. When I was a kid, my dad took my brothers and me to visit his grandmother in the hospital. We asked him how much longer, because the drive from Toms River to Montclair seemed forever long. He said we'd arrive at 1:13. We arrived at 1:13. He later taught me that going 60mph means a mile per minute. I read the mile markers and try to math how long it will take me to get to my destination, or to other places along the way. It has greatly improved my basic math skills as well as my travel superpowers.

9. Lip sync contest, inspired by Jimmy Fallon. This is one I play by myself, because Jimmy Fallon does not tend to take roadtrips with me, nor do John Krasinski or Paul Rudd. But I play my music and do my most enthusiastic lip sync, leaving all of the drivers around me impressed with my zeal. I specialize in Motown (The Temptations, Stevie Wonder and Jackson 5) and rapping (G. Love and The Roots), although today I think I offered a very convincing rendition of "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego", which yes, is obviously on my ipod. Other highlights: Elton John's "Philadelphia Freedom", Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now", and I almost have Johnny Cash singing "I've Been Everywhere" down.

So I'm back in Richmond now, and starting another adventure tomorrow: my new job...

14 August 2014

Life since Louisiana

One word: whirlwind.

More words:

Leaving Louisiana, a place I came very quickly to love almost a year before, was very, very hard, so I made an adventure of it. I decided to visit a few of the towns mentioned in O Brother Where Art Thou, one of my favorite movies. I visited Yazoo City and Itta Bena on my way to staying with a friend in Nashville for my first night.

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Self explanatory, Itta Bena, MS

Before I got to Yazoo City, I passed a sign for the Mississippi Petrified Forest, which I'd been meaning to get to. I think petrified wood is cool, and it was also about time to stretch my legs.

The private park is small, and the only trail was about a half mile loop. As I walked it and stared at the different pieces of petrified wood, I contemplated the cosmos, as one does. (Warning, geography vocabulary blitz ahead--)

I noticed right away that the petrified wood in Mississippi looks very different from that in Arizona, like my ring. In Arizona, it's very colorful, and in Mississippi, it's very plain. I thought about the environmental differences that caused these appearances.

The petrified wood in Mississippi is believed to be driftwood from further north in North America. I thought about how the trees, probably spruce and maple, grew in the local soils, fell for whatever reason, and traveled down prehistoric ephemeral streams to central-ish Mississippi, where water high in mineral content passed them over and replaced biological matter with stone, slowly but surely. I thought about the loess bluffs, created by wind blown sediments. I thought about the erosion process that revealed the petrified wood. I thought about the process by which stone breaks down into soil over many, many years, first as saprolite and later as the fine grains that form different kinds of soils. I wondered about the different between a rock eroding into soil and petrified wood eroding back into the earth. Are they different processes? I thought about the movement of minerals from up north to this region, how the original trees in question carried all of these things and changed the environment, and were changed by the environment...

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petrified wood in Mississippi

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eroded sandy bluff in Mississippi Petrified Forest

and I felt very small, but in a cozy sort of way. Like, ultimately, we're all part of this earth, and we move and change things around, but we're still part of it, and maybe that's part of the reason that I feel so connected to the environment and want to work to care for it.


I drove from Mississippi to Tennessee through Alabama via the Natchez Trace Parkway. I stayed with a friend in Nasvhille. The second day, I drove to Kentucky and stayed with my cousin and her wonderful family, who served as bookends to my mission year by hosting me both going to and coming from Louisiana.

I drove through southern West Virginia, passing over the New River Gorge. I spent a few days in Virginia, where Mike met me. We found an apartment and set up all of the electric, gas, cable, internet, etc. and drove back to New Jersey.

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It's been a little crazy since I got back. Day one: soil survey up north. Day two: made 15 lbs of potato salad. Day three: went to the beach, and hosted a big family party (hence the potato salad).

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Pequest Wildlife Management Area

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the consonants in the ocean, South Seaside Park

Did I mention crazy? Grandma has been in the hospital all week (is doing much better now). I had a meltdown over a bit of a dental crisis (threatened a root canal, but so far seem to be surviving with just having a tooth ground down to alleviate some nerve inflammation and sensitivity issues). Mike is getting a new transmission in his car (thankfully THANKFULLY thankfully just barely under warranty). 

And now, in a few hours, I drive to Richmond, my new home.

New Jersey will always be home, but I'm excited about the adventures ahead in Virginia. Things are a little crazy (I may have mentioned)-- Mike and I will both have two moves under our belts this summer, plus new jobs, plus oh, getting married soon.

I vacuumed out my car today and thought, now I just need to get to the beach and get some sand in here. But I buckled in the Lorax, as ever, knowing I'd be back soon enough to accomplish that. Next weekend, actually, for a good friend's wedding.

We have a long enough lease that the dust might actually settle.

I'm ready, dust settling or not.

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The Lorax, buckled into my backseat as ever, ready to go, too.

01 August 2014

love is going to lead you by the hand

Yesterday was my last day in New Orleans.

Lindsey wandered around the city with me all morning. As we walked through the Vieux Carre, we had buttermilk drops and coffee at Wink's, the bakery owned and operated by Dwight Henry, who played Wink in Beasts of the Southern Wild (and was also in 12 Years a Slave); we sat on Jackson Square and watched the birds and tourists; we visited the Presbytere, which houses a Louisiana State Museum with an incredible exhibits on Katrina and Mardi Gras; we had mimosas as we walked through the French Market, where I bought a little fleur-de-lis charm; we eventually drove around town and sat along the shore of Lake Pontchartrain for a while, enjoying the waves lapping along the cement steps over by UNO.

After she went into work, I went to Audubon Park and enjoyed some quiet time with the Tree of Life, a gorgeous nearly 300 year old unencumbered live oak. I was grateful that no one else was there to ruin my peace. I walked the labyrinth one last time. My heart skipped a beat as I rounded the final curve toward the center, so I decided to walk it backwards to exit it. My heart skipped a beat again as I neared the end.

I really love Louisiana.

I packed my car yesterday afternoon and spent the evening with my amazing host family, laughing and joking as always. Lindsey and I enjoyed some final brews (for now) at the Avenue Pub, and I enjoyed a final, dark drive down the live oak lined St. Charles Ave.

I never had a snow ball. There is no way in a lifetime of living here that I would be able to see, smell, taste, and hear it all, much less in a single year. As much as I'm mourning my imminent departure, I suppose I kind of like a few things left undone, because it means I can always look forward to coming back and visiting.

I'm really excited about moving to Virginia.

Some moments last forever, but some flare out with love, love, love.

I'm really, really grateful that such great love leads me to all of these wonderful places.

31 July 2014

the WHOLE POINT of my YAV year

Since my last post, I have continued the trend of communion twice a week, except this week, I've helped serve it. That's right-- I'm now an ordained Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). This is my first step in figuring out how I'm going to follow this call to serve the church as an environmentalist. I had to make a lot of promises about my commitment to the church and to furthering the church. It was a very sweet and meaningful parting gift from my beloved friends at First Presbyterian Church of Bayou Blue.

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My last official day of work was July 23. On Wednesdays I give wetlands presentations to Project Homecoming volunteers, either as a walking tour of Bayou Sauvage if weather permits, or as a lecture at the Volunteer Village. It's been a really cool way to spread the story of South Louisiana and give a little geographic context to the people rebuilding New Orleans.

On Wednesday, July 23, the skies weren't looking promising, and the forecast showed scattered thunderstorms. I was very disappointed to spend my last evening of work, my last presentation, indoors. I was still very excited to talk about the wetlands and environmental conservation.

My talks last about 45 minutes, going over how the landscape of South Louisiana was formed, what has gone wrong with that environment, and what is being done to make it better. I get really, really excited. Sometimes I jump up and down a little. Sometimes I yell a little. But sometimes people find my enthusiasm inviting and come to ask me questions afterwards.

This is how I met Adam. He's from Georgia, and he's really excited about the church. He's really excited to stay with the church and do things in the church. We talked for at least half an hour about all of the different things we've been working on-- energy conservation in his case, natural resource conservation in mine, and what kind of ways we can connect to further this work in the church and beyond.

That is the whole point of this stuff.

The saving the wetlands stuff is important. The ministering to the sweet people of Bayou Blue is important. The intentional community is important. The exploring the incredible city of New Orleans and so much of South Louisiana and learning as much as I could and doing as much as I could is important.

But furthering the church-- I think that's the whole point of this year of service. I'm so glad I could take part in it.