Sunday, June 14, 2020

heart-searching


It’s quiet in my house.  Tim is sleeping.  Penny is in the window, not meowing for once as she looks into the back yard she hasn’t been allowed to roam for weeks now.  Outside I can hear birds and airplane noise.  There is always airplane noise in Anchorage.  Always.  Days ago I sat quietly at an estuary, listening to the tall grasses moving with the breeze while gulls and Sandhill Cranes made occasional sounds across the flats.  I thought about how nature is a balm.  How the absence of human sounds is a blessing.  How simply sitting amongst bird calls and sunshine and trees and the sound of water is where I wish I could be most, if not all, of the time. 


I looked back on my best days in Yellowstone and how so many of them were when I was completely alone in the wilderness.  Sitting by a river with my feet in cold water, sketching or writing in a journal.  Walking on and off trail, finding things like animal skeletons, broken bird eggs, colorful insects, and unexpected wildlife sightings.  Just listening to the sound of the breeze amongst the sage and grasses, watching stems of wildflowers buffeted by the wind.  Glimpsing soaring butterflies.  Observing herds of elk grazing or bison meandering through a geyser basin.  So much of my time there was spent solo, exploring, learning, discovering, moving my body along paths marked and unmarked, enjoying the grand scale of life in a place so splendidly wild. 

I miss it terribly.  I’m not sure that I’ve ever felt like I belonged anywhere as much as I belonged there.  The quick friendships formed over shared meals, hikes, and camping trips.  The comradery with people also in love with the natural world.  The visceral fear of living in a place with wild animals being ever present but sublimated by the sheer wonder at seeing them in their historic, natural ecosystem.  Getting to live where bison and elk roam, mate, sleep and give birth within sight of where I worked and lived.  Spending much of my days outdoors.


It’s a place that changed so much for me.  For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel burdened by my family, my history, my story, how I never fit into the molds set up for me by any number of people – teachers, my mother, a sibling, aunts, grandparents, uncles, friends.  I no longer had to be that version of Kelly.  I was free to be the emerging Kelly, the one who always felt behind the curve of what a girl my age “should” be doing, seeking, wanting.  I could freely be the Kelly who wanted people to know me for who I was, not where and who I came from.  I was, well, just me.  And surprisingly, the me that I was allowing myself to become as I drove across the country en route to Yellowstone and allowed myself to show to the world once there, was well-liked, happy, adventurous, excited, eager, and unbound by my past.  No one cared that I was a fatherless daughter.  No one cared that I was in my late 20s and unmarried.  No one cared that I wasn’t a career woman with a five-year plan.  No one cared that I grew up poor in a single parent household with a mentally ill mother and severely dysfunctional extended family.  I was just Kelly from New York.  Take me as I am or don’t bother.  It was that simple, and I couldn’t believe it could EVER be that simple.  I was so caught up in being defined as the person everyone back in Schenectady deemed me to be that I had never before really questioned why I didn’t know for myself who the hell I was.
 

I met a woman in my hometown after my second summer in the park who told me I was brave for choosing to move across the country by myself, away from everyone and everything I knew to be familiar.  (This was right after deciding to pack up all of my possessions and move out west for good.)  I was flabbergasted.  Me brave?  You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought.  Brave people marched for change.  Brave people stood up to authority.  Brave people explored the world.  Brave people started businesses from scratch or were the first to do something monumental.  How was moving to a national park where I had already spent two summers anything remotely akin to brave?  I blew off that comment then and for years afterward. 

Looking back now, I think perhaps it was a little brave.  To leave behind a life that I had envisioned for myself prior to my time in Yellowstone as bleak at best.  I was sure I would one day marry a jerk.  He would be “useless” or a “cheat,” a “drunk” or “only good for his paycheck” or any number of negative things the women in my family had always assured me were typical of all men.  I would have kids I didn’t want.  I would be unhappy, likely working a job that was unrewarding and unfulfilling while also doing all of the housework because women were, above all else, martyrs.  This is what I could expect, and it’s completely possible that had I not taken the opportunity to work seasonally in the park, I would have done all of those things.  After all, I would have been following the example of every single relationship within my family and most of those of friends, parents of friends, neighbors, and colleagues.  It wasn’t even an unspoken expectation – it was spelled out explicitly – expect to live a life of toil and disappointment because EVERYONE does, especially women.  It took traveling across the country and meeting people from all walks of life to make me unlearn those insidious messages.  In the unlearning, I realized how unconsciously I had accepted all of those messages as soon-to-be my truth instead of what they actually were – expressions of sadness, grief and anger by people who didn’t or couldn’t change their own path.


Well, fuck that.  Sure, my life hasn’t been without hiccups or sad times or lonely times.  I’ve made mistakes.  I’ve said stupid things.  I’ve hurt people.  I’ve been hurt.  I’ve made people uncomfortable.  I’ve avoided tough conversations and allowed people to say racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and mean things without reproach.  I’ve loved and lost and taken years to get over failed relationships.  I’ve let potentially amazing opportunities pass me by.  I’ve failed people who needed me.  I’ve not communicated well.  I’ve let once important friendships fade away.  I’ve not believed in myself.  I’ve not spoken up or listened as often as I should have.  But through it all, I have learned a lot.  And I continue to learn.  I continue to unlearn.  I’m working toward enlightenment and change.  I’m doing the work.  This is the journey. 


“As you grow older, it dawns on you that you are yourself—that your job is not to force yourself into a style but to do what you want.” – Beth van Hoesen

“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.” – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Thursday, May 21, 2020

avifauna

I think the most important quality in a birdwatcher is a willingness to stand quietly and see what comes. Our everyday lives obscure a truth about existence - that at the heart of everything there lies a stillness and a light. - Lynn Thomson




My husband and I spotted this Whimbrel over the weekend and excitedly watched as it repeatedly stuck its long bill into the mud along Knik Arm.  Their diet includes mollusks, crabs, worms and insects, and occassionally we saw it successfully pull something from the muck to consume.  We returned to the area this afternoon and were delighted to see three Whimbrels rummaging in the mud.  Lucky us!  

Sunday was our first ever sighting of a Whimbrel, and we also had first time sightings of Black-bellied Plovers and Bonaparte's Gulls that day.  Unfortunately, we didn't get any clear photos of these other birds, but we sure had fun spotting and identifying them.  We're quite blessed with avian life here in Anchorage.  Today we also watched an Arctic Tern fishing, a Mew Gull defending its nest from a Black-billed Magpie, a nesting Canada Goose, a foraging Sandhill Crane, and a wading pair of Wigeons among other birdie riches.  
  
view from the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail across Knick Arm to the Talkeetna Mountains

Saturday, May 9, 2020

deluge


Beginning in early March, I started signing up for free online summits ranging from using creativity (in its many manifestations) for healing to learning how to write my story, from trying new ways to revive energy levels to painting big, bold flowers.  My intentions were ambitious, and I actively watched instructional videos and interviews while signing up for more and more content from various presenters.  I was feeling positive and motivated for the first several weeks, and then, suddenly, I wasn't.  I've allowed my inbox to reach an overwhelming number of read, starred, and unread emails while actively avoiding doing anything about it.  Instead, I now only look for specific emails about mail order prescriptions or those from friends and family.  The number of tabs open on the laptop I share with my husband has also gotten a bit out of control.  So what gives?


I'm in overload with the deluge of artists, makers, writers, life coaches, advocates, and teachers whom I've invited into my inbox by signing up for free classes and subscribing to interesting websites.  So why have I done this?  Because I'm always looking to learn new things and watch new things and discover new creative people and their work.  Because so many people have been offering access to ways to cope with how our lives have changed amidst this pandemic at no charge.  Because each new website I subscribe to gives me links to even more creative people that I want to know about.  It's me grasping at loads of learning potential, but maybe a little too much learning potential.


Overwhelm sometimes comes easy for me as someone who identifies as highly sensitive so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that I'm feeling it now in the midst of social isolation and a constant news cycle about the coronavirus and COVID-19.  The thing is, however, that my life hasn't really changed all that much since this pandemic began and restrictions were put in place.  Or so I thought. 


I'm a homebody now, and I was homebody before this.  I don't have a wide array of friends that I socialize with in person on a regular basis since, truthfully, I just haven't met that many people in Alaska since my husband and I moved here two years ago.  (My long-term friendships are with folks scattered elsewhere around the US and beyond.)  My infrequent outings have been with co-workers of my husband and their partners.  Also, I'm not someone who is missing getting my nails done, getting a haircut (it's been nearly three years since my last one), eating out, going to the gym, getting massages or shopping.  I enjoy some of these things, but I'm okay not getting to do them just now.  Thankfully, my husband is an essential employee and has additionally taken on the role of grocery-getter.  Therefore, my time is spent largely at home with my forays outside limited to walks, bird watching, or taking our cat into the fenced back yard. 


But maybe there are some things I haven't been acknowledging about my feelings of saturation and overload.  By that, I mean the stress of how much things have actually changed + the unknowns + the worries about my loved ones might be making too much learning potential feel like a burden because those opportunities are, well, more things to think about.  Added to these things is my status as someone with an underlying condition which puts me at greater risk were I to fall ill from this virus/disease.  There is a level of fear inherent in any outing now, something I'm not sure I was recognizing until these last few days. 


There are loads of folks out there, pretty much on a daily basis, telling us that it's okay to feel all of the feelings we have.  It's okay to not do anything, to put things off that can be put off.  It's okay to not be productive.  It's okay to feel sad or mad or fearful.  It's okay to feel overcome by responsibilities and to do lists.  And it's okay to feel like creativity can be put on hold until you're really interested and focused.  So that's my plan for now - stop worrying about what's not getting done and allow feelings to come and eventually go.


Coming from a place of privilege in knowing my husband and I still have savings and money coming in, that we have the means to keep ourselves entertained, that we live in a beautiful place, that our well-being remains stable, and that we have health insurance, it would be arrogant entitlement to wish for more than what I currently have and can do while so many are suffering.