Seven Wanders of My World

As we float into the thick of summer and the heart of vacation season, I’d like to finally do a post that’s been long in coming: the Seven Wanders of My World.  I’ll be heading out West soon on a road trip with friends culminating in a dear friend’s wedding in Portland while stopping at Glacier N.P., Whidbey Island, and other fabulous places along the way.  At the same time I’m dreaming of future adventures in years to come.

One of the many wonderful bloggers at Adventure Cycling wrote the original Seven Wanders of My World post, highlighting some great (albeit quite exotic) locales, and encouraging readers to make a list of their own.  Though I am now a committed bicyclist, my list is not limited to places I want to bike, because many of my dream adventures were established before I began bicycling.  In no particular order, I would like to:

1. Bicycle the Mississippi River Trail.  Benjamin and I hope to do this as a very belated honeymoon, though with shifting jobs it may be extremely belated indeed.

2. Hike the Appalachian Trail.  This has been a dream ever since I read A Walk in the Woods back in junior high, and was inspired by my father’s similar plan that has since been toned down a bit to do sections at a time rather than the 2,000+ miles in one go.  I still want to do the whole thing 🙂

3. Alaska.  Hike, bike, kayak, whatever.  Not wanting to drive might be a bit difficult though, considering the lack of a direct train route from the continental US to the Land of the Midnight Sun.

4. Hike the fjords of Norway.  I used to be infatuated with the misty moors of Ireland, but the heartstoppingly gorgeous vistas in I Am Dina convinced me that traversing one of the countries of my ancestry might be what I’m truly longing for.

5. Visit Prince Edward Island.  The land of Anne of Green Gables, a childhood heroine of mine, has always enchanted me.  Plus I have yet to go to Canada, and while my first trip will likely be to visit Ben’s family in Saskatchewan, hopefully PEI will not be far to follow.

6. Return to India.  I spent the fall semester of my sophomore year of college studying abroad in India, and while it was a beautiful experience, we visited so many cities that it was difficult to get a sense of any one in particular.  I would love to return and spend a month (or two, or three) in a city or two, likely Varanasi- the holy city of the Ganges- or somewhere up north in the Himalayas.

7. Canoe in the Boundary Waters.  I’m not as ashamed as a native Minnesotan might be at not yet having been to the Boundary Waters, despite being in Minnesota for almost six years, but the jewel of my adopted state is calling me.  Despite not being a water lover, the solace of the upstate wilderness area of Minnesota sounds glorious.

Now it’s your turn!  Do comment with a link to your blog if you do write your own Seven Wanders of My World post 🙂

The Creation of Home

This weekend marks the first visit back to Illinois since the winter holiday season.  Though still in the northern Midwest for certain, the culture of suburban Illinois is quite different than the urban landscape of my present homeland in Minneapolis.

The Land of Lincoln, place of my birth, childhood, and adolescence before leaving for college in Minnesota, was for a long time the only home I knew.  However, upon choosing to make a life in Minnesota after finishing four years of college and a year of Lutheran Volunteer Corps, I found that my adopted state and city quickly became more home in a holistic, feeling-of-belonging sense than Illinois ever was.

Minneapolis has art, theater, a surprisingly vibrant music scene, green space and biking adventures galore, and, most importantly community.  Maybe it’s that I happened upon both the biking and progressive scenes at just the right moment, but people share, create, and communicate in Minneapolis in a way that feeds my soul.  In short, I have become a Minnesotan, or at least a Twin Cities-ian.

I far too often badmouth my place of birth though, especially now that I’ve found a place and people that I feel so at home with.  Though suburban Chicagoland is just that- the suburbs, often sprawling, difficult to impossible to traverse via non-motorized transportation, nearly devoid of independent and local businesses- it made me, somewhat in spite of itself.  Now that I have extricated myself from the day-to-day elements of living in the ‘burbs, pleasant memories of unexpectedly formative experiences begin to float through my psyche.  I remember early morning bike rides around the neighborhood that I committed to for a summer.  Explorations of the ‘woods’ in several nearby parks.  Scavenging at garage sales.  The summer reading program at the library, where I almost always worked my way through all of the sheets and prizes the program had to offer.

Though I entirely intend to never again live in a suburb (I’m a city lady for the present, with rural living as a possible though distant future possibility), who I am and what I love is inextricably tied to my upbringing in the suburbs.  Having a safe space to cultivate that self and those joys gave me a nearly limitless future, innumerable possibilities that at the time I could not see (covered of course in the haze of disdain for the place of my upbringing).  Choosing college, a semester in India, a number of fantastic summer experiences, and a volunteer year followed by work in the non-profit world, certainly would not have been nearly as easy or obvious without my safe adolescent cocoon.

The Chicago suburb of my upbringing provided both a safe place to become as well as something to push against, an unyielding adversary and impetus for beginning to imagine what life and place I might want for my future.  It was home, and though the physical landscape has gone through many (in my opinion, distasteful) iterations, it provided a secure foundation for finding and creating a home to fully embrace and advocate for in Minneapolis.

A place of every emotion: my home for nearly twelve years.

Week of Joy, Day 7: Connecting with Strangers

Somewhat unintentionally I’ve saved the most difficult, but arguably one of the best, joyful things for my last Week of Joy post.  It’s best because in many ways, connecting with strangers encompasses most if not all of my other joys.  It’s the most difficult because it demands a deep vulnerability that is absent from the other items.

I am crazy passionate about hearing about the passions of others.  I do not need to share those passions to feel this way.  Example: my high school boyfriend got excited about physics on a regular basis, and barring abstract science-fiction like concepts such as black holes, other dimensions, and dark matter, this most mathematical of sciences makes me snooze.  But watching him light up talking about the subject was glorious and inspiring, no matter how quickly I lost the contextual thread of the conversation.

Everyone has something they love, something they can talk about with any number of people for any amount of time with boundless enthusiasm.  Or, if they don’t, they should.  Because it is these kinds of quirky passions that make people interesting, and make connecting with strangers about those passions one of my absolute favorite things to do in life.

But to address the deep vulnerability component.  In order to authentically connect with people you don’t know (ie, actually talk about something meaningful rather than the kind of small talk that is so common in any sort of polite society) you have to share a piece of yourself as well.  Exchange passions, so to speak.  One must balance listening with sharing, debating with relating.  Connecting with strangers is invigorating and terrifying at the same time, because by opening ourselves up to a new authentic relationship and the accompanying joys and synergies, we risk being rejected or taken advantage of.  But how often do the latter two happen anyway?

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For whatever reason I am hard pressed to come up with a particular example of an especially insightful moment connecting with a single stranger as of late.  However, in continuing to expand my interest in the Transition Town movement I have had a plethora of interactions with strangers who often become friends, or at least acquaintances.

Conversations around the Transition Town movement demand even more of an immediate connection and vulnerability than other chance interactions, largely because the movement is so personal and community-based.  For those who aren’t familiar with the concept of Transition Towns, the short version is that it’s a movement that started in England to brainstorm and practice solutions to build community and local resilience as a response to climate change and peak oil.  The long version involves a lot of creativity, diversity, balance between academic knowledge of likely the most challenging environmental issues our world has ever faced and practical, on the ground solutions.  To truly discuss these issues and how we come to care about them, it is absolutely necessary that one bare one’s soul a bit.  Sharing stories of the past and hopes for the future is integral to creating that future holistically, communally, and completely.

I’m now connected with the Transition Town movement through a multitude of ways- the group in the neighborhood I community organize for, the group in the neighborhood I live in, the Sustainability Conference, and occasional attendance at a weekly, informal Twin Cities Transition Town group.  Each and every time I attend a gathering I see at least one person I’ve met before and have a meaningful conversation with at least one person I’ve never spoken with.

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As with birds, connecting with strangers is a rather serendipitous joy.  Planning such a thing ruins the authenticity of the conversation- one cannot go out and hunt for strangers to connect with, luring them in with the sheer magneticism of one’s personality.

The vulnerability component, however, can be intentionally lived more deeply for sure.  I absolutely love it when strangers comment on something I say, something I’m wearing, or something I’m reading, but somehow forget that it is likely that others enjoy when I do the same.  I must remember, remember that everyone is looking for human connection, that we all need something like six interactions with different people per day to stay sane (a smile will do, a conversation or hug is better).

Above all, I must remember the importance of asking questions, for everyone has a multitude of stories to tell.

“I think people are trying to find a way to sit around and tell stories. I think that’s all any of us wants, is a place to tell stories to each other.”
~man at a party with The Rejectionist

Week of Joy, Day 6: Birds

As I near the end of my list of seven joy-bringers, I appreciate serendipitous discoveries that indicate which item I should write about on a particular day.  Today after browsing The Daily Dabbler and finding a post on birdwatching, I knew birds had to be my Day 6 topic.

Birds are free, grace and joy incarnate.  Their flight, their song, and their seasonality are for me inextricably tied to the thrumming cycles of the natural world that we all firmly inhabit but so frequently neglect.

At times supremely loud (think crows and red winged blackbirds) and others so quiet one must stop breathing and remain perfectly still to event discover them (nearly every earth-hued female protecting its nest in the bush), birds cover the entire aural spread and demand every sort of attention.

I have long been enamored with Stargirl, an exquisite young adult book by Jerry Spinelli.  Among other choice tidbits from the novel, I have long held the practice of noticing, of stopping to look at whatever ordinary detail of the world has captured my attention and spirit and pointing it out with zeal to whomever I am with (often Benjamin these days, who has delightfully taken on this practice himself).  More than any other element of the world, I notice the cheery song and joyful plumage of birds.

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Until the last few months I had always believed the chipper, nonplussed Black Capped Chickadee to be my bird daemon.  A year round resident of the northern Midwest, the chickadee is a tenacious little bird, settling in blue spruce and barren branches alike, singing enthusiastically through even the coldest months when nary another creature dares to venture out.

I still adore the chickadee, and frequently pause to bask in its winsome warble.  But a few choice encounters with a bird of an entirely different sort have led me to reconsider the identity of my bird daemon.

The Great Blue Heron is in many ways the polar opposite of the Black Capped Chickadee.  Large, stately, and nearly silent, the heron stalks the shore, waiting patiently for a meal or merely observing the goings on of its domain.  While the chickadee is who I am- enthusiastic, passionate, and vocal- the heron is who I wish to become- elegant and calm, a watcher of the world who contemplates deeply before acting.  The photo to the right was taken on a walk down where Minnehaha Creek meets the Mississippi River, and I had another similar rendezvous on the shore of Lake Hiawatha just this past Sunday.

Upon sighting a heron I instinctively crouch, slowly dropping to the ground to avoid startling the magnificent bird.  More often than not I spend the next five minutes watching it stand, perhaps turning its head a few times or languidly striding along a log.  To an impatient observer, nothing much happens.  But to my joyful heart these priceless moments with the heron are the epitome of presence.

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Part of what makes birds so lovely and joyful is that every encounter is complete chance.  While there are particular locations that one will likely find birds on any given day, specific species sighting is never guaranteed.  Consequently, my future actions for more bird-joy must be rooted in an embracing of that unknown.

I recently learned that a friend of Ben’s goes birdwatching from time to time, and I hope to join him sometime soon.  Similarly the Audobon Society has a Minnesota chapter that plans bird walks and other events (though I expect one must be a member to attend).  In the same way that my daily personal yoga practice can be bolstered by attending group classes from time to time, so my enjoyment and knowledge of birds that comes from personal observation may be expanded by occasional events with others.

“I hope you love birds too.  It is economical.  It saves going to heaven.”
~Emily Dickinson

Week of Joy, Day 5: Yoga

I’ve been doing yoga in bits and pieces since early high school, and finally began a daily morning practice in late 2009.  The joy I find in yoga might very well be the most convoluted, however, because if often does not come easily.

Far too often my morning practice of sun salutations (Surya Namaskara) and tree pose is done out of obligation and routine rather than joy and presence.  I do my best to notice this whenever possible, and know that even being in the present moment for a single moment during my practice is a success, and presence builds on presence.  But it’s hard.  It’s hard to focus with the plans of the day running through my head, thoughts of coffee brewing in the kitchen (or, conversely, if it isn’t ready yet, when the teapot will begin whistling), and Su-Su the cat rubbing against my legs.  But those moments when I let all of that go and just breathe and move, even a single breath with a single pose, those are pure joy.

Ending my mini-practice with a namaste to the day and a chakra check-in has also proven joyful in many instances, though on occasion it too is fraught with other buried emotions and distractions.  Rather than necessarily feeling energy distinctly in each of the seven chakras (though this has happened), my check-in is a time to examine my emotional response to the different areas of my life represented by each chakra.  Particular ones are balanced- my red root chakra has felt good for the past year or two, and my blue throat chakra (the location of communication) has historically felt fulfilled and balanced.  Others are confusing- I have yet to feel as though I have a good sense of my yellow solar plexus chakra that represents power.

Joy in practice of something like yoga is just that: joy in the work of practicing.  Yoga, as with any meditation or spiritual or even exercise practice does not have an end, rather it is an ongoing practice toward betterment and ease.

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For months I had been musing over a desire to return to some kind of regular, instructor-led yoga practice in the interest of supplementing and refining my daily morning sun salutations.  This past Friday I finally did, and I’m excited about making a regular thing of it.

At the suggestion of a friend (who also attended the Friday class) I visited the Om Yoga Collective.  As you may have gathered by now, I’m somewhat of a sucker for any co-op/co-owned/shared space or endeavor, so the collective nature of this particular yoga studio was enormously appealing, on top of the great instructor.  Nikki, a friend of my friend, only teaches a handful of classes, but if this Friday was any indication she does them well.

The pace and challenge level was lovely, for I am not one for holding poses for many minutes, nor do I enjoy rapid fire flow type yoga.  After asking for permission to do physical adjustments during the class she stopped by each attendee from time to time to gently pull up hips in downward dog, straighten alignments in standing poses, or provide ankles to hold for this challenging yet surprisingly successful pose:

This is wheel pose, and coupled with several other back stretching and heart opening poses, it left me a bit sore yet satisfyingly worked by the end of the session.

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Practice alone is a joy, one that ebbs and flows with mood and stamina and presence.  The most important specific thing I can do to increase this joy is of course work toward being more present.

I have also considered extending my practice, however, likely to include another mini yoga session at another point in the day.  Has anyone done an end of the work day practice?  How about a just before lunch practice while at work?

Lastly, I can truly commit to attending group, instructor led yoga classes, at least once a week.  Whether they are at the Om Yoga Collective or one of the many other studios in South Minneapolis, by practicing with others I will not only nourish my body but my community-minded spirit as well as I meet and learn and connect with others.  Namaste, friends.

“The wave doesn’t have to seek out the water.  Water is what the wave has to realize as her own foundation of being.”
~Thich Nhat Hahn

 

Week of Joy, Day 4: Growing Things

If I had to choose which of the seven joy-bringers from my original list is the most longstanding in its exuberance, it would be growing things.  My mother has had a lush garden for my entire life, and a substantial number of my favorite memories of childhood involve climbing trees, creating museums in my treehouse from found natural objects (pinecones were a favorite), and playing ‘Boxcar children’ with my cousins under our enormous spruce tree in the backyard.

My joy in growing things may have grown in sophistication a bit over the years to include cultivation and wild collection of edibles of various sorts, but it is still just as instinctual, an almost primal connection to that which is green and filled with life.  The peas I planted in a pot on the front stoop are a favorite- they are incredibly dynamic, verging on having an actual personality as they grow what seems like inches every day.

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The breadth of my joy in growing things has grown in the past few months as I become increasingly interested in and cognizant of the medicinal and edible value of an extraordinary number of plants.  Many of these have been in my path and yard and travels for my entire life, but until recently I have never really ‘seen’ them.  Example: to the right is lamb’s quarters, an incredibly pervasive weed to most, a tasty snack and remarkably healthful addition to salad to those who know.  And it’s growing in my own backyard!  Right next to the garden!  Though I certainly won’t be cultivating lamb’s quarters any time soon (and wouldn’t ever have to because it grows EVERYWHERE), it’s excellent to know that this buttery green is available as an herbal snack.

The further I delve into herbalism and wild collection, the more resources I discover, sometimes almost by accident.  It began with the excellent EXCO herbalism class I’ve been attending.  Then I discovered a plethora of books on herbalism, plant identification, and alternative medicine, a couple of which I owned already thanks to the fantastic Interpreting the Fall and Spring Landscape classes I took in college, taught by the wonderful Jim Gilbert.  Finally, I find that I pick up many tidbits in random conversations where I happen to mention I’m interested in herbalism and an acquaintance or friend of a friend shares their own herbal medicine or wild edibles knowledge.

Through herbalism and learning the names of wild edibles, plants have become friends, confidants of a sort.  Our exchange is a conversation, one of research beforehand, lots of walks, learning when to take and how to prepare, and being in constant awe and gratefulness for the beautiful diversity of the natural world that surrounds us.  Knowledge truly is power, but a mutual exchange of it rather than any sort of hierarchy.

Left to right: wild ginger, marsh marigold, bloodroot (all photos taken along Minnehaha Creek)

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In my present life there’s only so much I can do to extend the joy of growing things- one only has so much time in the day for wild collecting and space in the yard for cultivation.  However the future holds many possibilities, some more extreme than others.

A journal entry from January 28, 2011:
I want to be an herbalist and a poet and a community builder.  I want to infuse all of my work with spirit.  I want to be more in touch with my body, to do yoga more frequently, to dance freely.  I want to know my food, to remember my dreams, to share with others.  To do all this I will have to not work one day.  When, I do not know, but the day will come and my soul will BE SET FREE.

Such a life is my heart’s true joy, and is coming I think, with time.  But for now, I’m off on an expedition to search for some skullcap along the creek to make an anxiety-reducing tincture ❤

“Earth isn’t this what you want: invisibly
to arise in us?  Is it not your dream
to be some day invisible?  Earth!  Invisible!
What, if not transformation, is your insistent commission?
Earth, dear one, I will!”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

Week of Joy, Day 3: Cooking

There’s just something about the creative yet often methodical process of making good food that calms my heart and gives me joy.

First, creativity.  I am emphatically NOT a recipe follower.  With the exception of baked goods and bread (though I’m even starting to stray from the Holden Village and 5 Minutes a Day bread recipes on occasion, now that I have a feel for both) I rarely if ever even consult a recipe.  Sometimes I’ll look at a blog post from Not Eating Out in New York or The Heavy Table for inspiration, or to figure out what to do with a random left over ingredient I have lying around.  Generally though I’ll hem and haw for a moment, pick some kind of carbohydrate to start from, and go where the wind and spices take me.  It also helps that I grocery shop every week and try to have some idea of a couple of meals I want to create for the following week.  Which brings me to the joy that comes from being methodical in cooking.

Whether it is shopping or chopping, cooking has a rhythm, a pace, and a heartbeat.  Various elements combine in my cart or in my pan to make something [usually] delicious.  I know this will happen, and I often surrender to my intuition, both in purchasing where other than trying to get as many P6 items and as few packaged items as possible, and to always have enough coffee I just go with whatever looks good, and in cooking where I taste and add, smell and sprinkle.  At least for me, cooking often takes care of itself and releases often previously unnoticed tension in the bargain.

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Unfortunately I’m running astoundingly short on time today, but fortunately I have several posts about past joyful cooking adventures.  So rather than put together a new story, I direct you, joy-seeking blog readers, to:
My Tastebuds are Loving Winter
and
Scrumptious Simple Salad
(I should note with the above story that I have since heartily enjoyed asparagus, often with balsamic reduction)

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More joy in cooking is in more doing, and summer is certainly the season for it.  I hope to experiment with new spices, and particularly learn how to make spicy Asian food of various varieties that has the right balance of flavor.  And maybe some new kinds of greens as well?

I also eagerly await the cooking class at The Chef’s Gallery in Stillwater that was promised via homemade gift certificate as a wedding present from Ben’s brother and his fiance.

Lastly, I am enormously excited for the next Thursday and the first pickup of the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share that I am splitting with my dear Benjamin and my housemates.  If you don’t know about CSAs or have considered joining one but haven’t yet taken the plunge, I have two bits of advice:
1. Learn more and find an extremely extensive list of CSA’s at the Local Harvest website
2. Find a friend or two and DO IT!  You will absolutely not regret the super fresh vegetables, new friends, and [more likely than not] great volunteer opportunities.

“Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.
~Harriet Van Horne