Well, at least not for a virtual run for the roses… Here’s how a 5’8″ trail rider and a fellow “twenty-something” Thoroughbred/Arabian cross are combining forces to make a big impression for a big cause.
It’s official: I’m a jockey now. Except, just for a week… and it’s a race against my fellow jockeys who are also racing towards the virtual finish line – through fundraising! Everything is tax-deductible and your gift, no matter the size, will have an incredible impact! Here’s everything you need to know about HALTER’S “Fun for the Roses” Derby Week.
HALTER: Healing and Learning Through Equine Relationships
HALTER is an incredible therapeutic riding center in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where I was fortunate enough to volunteer, intern and teach while in college. It’s a special place and they serve more than 125 children weekly with their even more special herd of horses. They serve local school programs, including the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind just next door, and are home to occupational, speech, and physical therapy programs in collaboration with the Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System. HALTER horses have also been used for unmounted counseling sessions and learning experiences – their impact is incredible!
Here’s a glimpse of the incredible horses, riders and volunteers I’ve known through HALTER, and why this work is so important:
“Fun for the Roses” Derby Week:
It’s a horse race! Seven pairs of “jockeys” and their HALTER horse teammates are “racing” to the finish line in hopes of raising the most amount of money possible between April 30th and May 5. The best part? the JM Smith Foundation is matching donations, so your gift is doubled! Plus, you can help me earn bonus bucks for HALTER just by having a long last name, or donating closest to the start, so stay tuned for new challenges each day! While I’d love to take home the roses at the end of the week, the overall goal is for the contest to raise *at least* $24,000 for HALTER! Let’s do it!
Bonus Bucks: Your gift of any amount can count for even more! Today’s challenges italicized.
The jockey to get a donation closest to the start of the race, 12:00am midnight EST Monday, April 30, will get a $50 bonus.
The first jockey to raise $1,000 in two or more donations gets a $100 bonus
The jockey to raise the most money between 5pm and midnight on Monday gets a $100 bonus
Monday: Each jockey who has a donor on Monday whose last name starts with D gets a $25 bonus
Tuesday: Each jockey who has a donor on Tuesday whose last name starts with E gets a $25 bonus
Wednesday: Each jockey who has a donor on Wednesday whose last name starts with R gets a $25 bonus
Thursday: Each jockey who has a donor on Thursday whose last name starts with B gets a $25 bonus
Friday: Each jockey who has a donor on Friday whose last name starts with Y gets a $50 bonus
Each jockey who gets all DERBY names gets a $100 bonus
Head to head challenge: on THURSDAY it’s businesswomen’s challenge! Winner gets $100 bonus. Sarah vs. Tracie vs. Susan
The jockey who gets a donor with the longest last name will get a $10 bonus for every latter of the name. If there’s a tie, the name that begins with the letter closest to Z wins.
Drummer is at least 24, but he’s one of my favorite horses I’ve used in therapeutic riding lessons because he is incredibly perceptive and quiet, and can be used for anything from independent walk-trot lessons to lead-line lessons with the smallest riders. His height makes him ideal for older riders (and taller volunteers!) who are focusing on communication and riding skills more than balance and motor skills, but I adore his ability to make any rider feel safe and successful.
Riding Drummer gives students confidence, because his height can often be intimidating at first, but he is literally a gentle giant and always tries his best for each rider. He prefers quiet energy and a slow pace, and I’ve been able to use this to teach students about their own energy, behavior, and learning styles. He’s taught students how to overcome fear, how to slow themselves down, how to ride independently, and how to self-regulate their emotions. I love him to death and am so thrilled to be paired with him in this challenge!
Some personal Drummer stories:
One of my former students dealt with fear and timidity when transitioning to riding independently and her vision impairment heightened her uncertainty. “L” and Drummer were a perfect pair – his natural tendencies made him gentle enough to allow her to explore independence without feeling out of control, but his size and stride made her feel like she was really accomplishing something amazing – she was.
Later, when navigating walk-trot transitions and dealing with fear, Drummer taught her to relax and what tense energy is – sweet Drummer and brave L cantered several times unintentionally, and once she realized she could handle the extra speed, she eventually became a class leader at the walk and trot. By the time she graduated from HALTER I received a video of her trotting independently around the arena more confidently than ever.
Drummer would prefer to avoid any kind of pressure at all times, thank you very much – he gets along well with quiet souls and with subtle, slow cues. So what happens when your rider can’t use their legs to cue? It’s no problem for Drummer! I once watched a young student use tiny, almost imperceptible taps with his hand on Drummer’s shoulder to cue him to walk on – without any assistance at all from volunteers – and my jaw dropped while the student beamed as he struck up a careful, snappy walk. This was before I knew Drummer well – before I rode him and used him in classes – and I didn’t have to know him long before I absolutely loved him.
Here’s to my favorite big guy and a successful race next week – let’s race, and let’s raise as much as we can for a cause that will always and forever have my heart, whether I’m teaching or not.
*PS: Check or cash only kinda person? No worries! Contact me!
This post is really about publicly keeping myself accountable for my goals – which are not resolutions, but instead patterns I’m ever seeking to adopt.
There are many, but here are a few:
I want 2018 to be “mostly” vegetarian and less wastefully caffeinated, since we all know that I will never be less caffeinated. Especially not with less than 250 days to WEG.
By less wastefully, I mean that I want to avoid drinking coffee in a manner that creates waste. Brewing my own coffee in a french press is way better (and cheaper) than paying for my java in a paper or plastic cup.
I will pack myself a lunch more often! Working at a resort makes for some great food, but my wallet doesn’t enjoy it so much, and I end up eating meat more often. I’m always trying to avoid using plastic products, so this is a triple win.
Dancer and I are aiming for more arena time so we can ride more consistently and make real progress. We’ve been at quite the plateau and I’ve gotten out of riding shape as I’ve put more focus into adjusting to post-grad life.
I’m working on planning some van-in lessons so that Dancer can improve her trailering skills AND we can get some professional help. Win-win.
To help me get back in the saddle, I’ll also be devoting more time to the three “ladybugs” in my front yard – one of which is very rideable and could use a ten-minute walkabout every couple days just as much as I could. A little bareback never hurt nobody.
The long and short of it is that my goal is to ride as much as possible, because riding is always good, and by thinking strategically, I can actually afford to progress.
I want to create quality, commendable work. And also survive 2018. So most of my work-related goals have nothing to do with work. This category should be called NOT-WORK.
Sleep is a great, great, thing.
Piper and I want to explore more often, and I especially want to hike and camp. At the very least, I’m aiming to get the two of us outside and off property at least once a week. Even if that’s just running to the bank and stopping by Starbucks for a treat. At best, I want to explore each of my local state and national parks.
I’ll be investing in a dog trainer to help Piper learn how to relax around other dogs, horses, and new people. So our exploring can be even better.
When I’m not writing press releases or social media content or emails, I want to still feel like writing creatively, and I want to make space for myself to do that.
So far in 2018: I’ve written about 2.5 pages of new material for the second half of my novel – which puts me on track for about 45 new pages this year. Honestly, I’ll take it. 2019 will be much different; for now, I just have to maintain.
Actual work goal: don’t panic. Enjoy the ride.
So, now it’s about you, followers:
Do you have any similar goals for 2018? Are you awesome at anything on this list and willing to share your expertise? Comment below if we can cheer each other on!
A few weeks ago, on a busy weekend during which Piper and I spent more time at work than anywhere else, something beautiful happened. It snowed.
Though I was stressed about work, feeling the pressure of managing an event last-minute and scrambling to patch problems while almost all of my coworkers (and superiors!) were out of town, Piper was thrilled to be there. There were so many nice people to meet, so many things to sniff, and it was snowing, too!
She forced me to take breaks from work and go for walks. She made it impossible for me to ignore the best part about the snow. I couldn’t complain about the cold when she was leaping and snapping at flakes or skipping around me. Though the weather only made my life more complicated, it made Piper’s more exciting.
Our snowy weekend reminded me why I wanted to adopt a dog in the first place: I needed a friend to walk with me through the dark and cold, so that I wasn’t so alone.
I shouldn’t have ended up with Piper. I found her by “accident” – if you want to call it that – and several other open doors closed before I returned to the dog with three legs and first contacted her foster mom. I had doubts, but everything fell into place anyway.
Piper survived a traumatic injury at a young age, and recovered with the help of a devoted volunteer who fostered her off and on and did her best to get her out of a shelter environment. During that time, Piper became to her foster mom what she is to me now: a blessing in a lonely period of life.
I found out after my first visit with Piper that her foster mom would soon be moving, too far away to remain caring for her. She was worried about Piper’s future and was praying for the right adopter to come along.
I had been discouraged by the process of finding an adult dog who would adapt to my chaotic life, my weird schedule, my living situation and my career. I’d been searching local shelters for months, and each dog that seemed right initially was ultimately not a good fit. I sent an email asking about Piper anyway, and laid out all the details of my life that might have been red flags… Details, that in emails past, had prevented me from adopting other dogs.
“I think you might be a match for her,” she wrote back.
Even after my first meeting with Piper, I was skeptical that we’d work together. But none of my concerns meant anything to Piper or her guardians. Honestly, it wasn’t until after she came to live with me that I understood what I had to offer Piper was exactly what she needed: a dog-free, cat-free household; a backyard perfect for lounging and nature watching; a cozy couch to snuggle on; brief walks; a dog-friendly job and a small army of friends willing to help out when needed.
I smile every morning when she looks at me out of the corner of her eye and wags her tail furiously, waiting for me to say “breakfast.” She makes me laugh, think creatively, and go outside more often. She keeps me from getting ANY work done when she’s snuggling with (and on!) me, but when I am ready to go out, she’s ready to come with me. She doesn’t hold back; she makes her opinions known and loves with her whole heart, instantly. She makes me feel safe – she is a ferocious guardian against every twig that falls on the roof or gust of wind that sounds like a footstep on the porch. I say it often: I can’t believe I ever lived by myself.
Piper is a beautiful reminder of grace, resiliency, and love. For me, she is a promise kept, and further proof that God will always provide exactly what we need.
I went looking for a four-legged friend and didn’t quite find one. Instead, my three-legged angel found me, and I’m so thankful for how merry and bright this season of my life has become because of her.
While I’ve got family within drivable distance, Piper has made my house a home, and she’s definitely family. She’s learning never going to get along with her equine sister, as well as the three “Ladybugs” in our front pasture, but we’ll keep trying. Maybe one day we’ll behave well enough to get a real family photo.
For now, we’ll be on the couch if you need us.
Edit: we tried family photos anyway. Neither of my children behaved, and both attacked the other. Such is my life. Enjoy.
Fun fact: If there were a third picture to this sequence, it would show all three of us standing on two legs.
Yes, 2018 will involve a dog trainer. But it will also involve so many adventures, and I’m thrilled to see where we end up!
I’m more than two months in to my new position at Tryon Resort, serving as PR & Marketing Coordinator at Tryon International Equestrian Center. Livin’ the dream and still pinching myself that I get to grow horse sport and work with the people I work with.
In the winter, however, most of my coworkers are based in Florida, so things are starting to get quiet* in the office… really quiet when Michelle is out of office and I’m the only one there! And then I go home to an empty house. Sure, there are three horses down the driveway, but they’re no good at indoor snuggling. But you know who is?
World, meet Piper, my new snuggle buddy and 3.14-legged roommate!
She’s a four year-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier and Boxer mix who has spent most of her life in foster care or at a shelter. She was struck by a car at a young age and broke two of her legs, eventually losing one because she went so long without treatment.
She doesn’t seem to mind.
Piper loves car rides, short jogs, lounging on the pool chairs and surveying the farm. Her favorite thing in the world is meeting new people and greeting them with a kiss. Her cuddles are the best.
She has no IDEA what horses are or that she should be very, very afraid of them, but we’re working on that. For now, she loves to supervise them from afar.
Our bucket list includes various camping and hiking destinations, visits to family and friends, and definitely checking out all the outdoor dining we can find (she found new fans at The Crepe Factory most recently). I can’t wait to adventure with her!
On a very real note, I’ve found that despite the chaos of transitioning her into my life, as well as her recent virus that required two vet visits and WAY too much cleaning of my house, Piper has drastically improved my quality of life. I can’t believe I lived without her before!
If you live or work alone, you should definitely have a friend – dog or otherwise. Trust me, it doesn’t even need to have four legs!! 10/10 would recommend.
I’m so thankful to have a new member of the family… and I apologize (a little) for all the photos still to come.
If you actually want to see more of Piper, follow me on Instagram for regular snuggle snaps. We’ll see you there!
Et al: There are now less than 300 days til the World Equestrian Games (find us @tryon2018 on the social medias), and it’s highly probable that I’ll be working almost all of them. You’ll probably catch me there more than here.
October 2018 is going to be soooOo sweet. I’ll sleep for most of it.
*Team: if you’re reading this, I miss you! See ya soon.
I had a cute postgrad blog post planned, but today I have something more important–and something more urgent–to say instead. This post is inspired by a Facebook post I saw from multiple people in the past week, three-hour drives to and from Winston Salem, and lots of coffee.
“Great Barrier Reef dead at 25 Million” reads a New York Post headline from Oct. 2016.
Snopes says it’s not true… yet. That doesn’t mean that the world’s largest coral reef system isn’t about to flatline in the next few years, especially since 2016 was an especially devastating year for the GBR:
A survey of the extent and severity of coral bleaching between March and June 2016 conducted by the Australian Government’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and released on 13 October 2016 found that:
22 percent of coral on the Reef died due to the worst mass bleaching event on record. Eighty-five percent of this mortality occurred in the 600 kilometer stretch between the tip of Cape York and just north of Lizard Island (Snopes).
Also according to Snopes: “The latest surveys indicate that 93% of the individual reefs in the GBR have suffered some degree of bleaching, with reefs in the north the most severely affected. Australia’s marine biodiversity, and the jobs and economic prosperity that the reef supports, is under grave threat.”
I have three things to say about this situation and one multi-faceted response:
Firstly, prematurely declaring the GBR dead could impact efforts to save it… doomsday thinking is usually more harmful than helpful to environmentalists, as much as we love to talk about thresholds from which we cannot return. I’m reminded of Christian rhetoric in particular that calls us to “fill the earth and subdue it,” a phrase which holds a very different connotation than stewardship, and implies very little respect for the earth. This is specially true when combined with end-times doctrine that perpetuates greedy usage of what’s here now instead of preserving for the future. Understanding the dire nature of a problem is important. But we cannot declare something impossible to save if there’s something left to try (Like, I don’t know…. supporting the Paris Agreement, or recognizing that CO2 is definitely a huge contributor to climate change, or allowing scientists to study climate without censoring them or cutting their programs entirely. Just a few ideas.)
Secondly, the visibility of this issue matters… and it should move people to action. I grew up learning about the Great Barrier Reef in school, hearing that coral bleaching was becoming a problem and that an increase in global temperatures was changing the acidity of ocean waters and creating a nearly irreversible trend in bleaching. But many people don’t know about coral reef bleaching at all, much less that the Great Barrier Reef is in danger of succumbing to it. On the one hand, it’s a great thing that so many people are now concerned about the GBR, whether or not they’ve been there. I’m hopeful that the attention it’s getting moves people to make a change, now that they’ve seen what we’re in danger of losing. This is a serious, visible result of climate change… maybe some people will finally be convinced that human actions do have consequences, and that climate change is something to pay attention to instead of ignoring it.
With our current administration denouncing the Paris Agreement (despite more than 343 cities, more than 900 businesses and almost 200 colleges and universities and three states pledging to uphold it anyway), the GBR is seriously threatened. And climate change will have much more direct impacts on our lives than anything that happens to the GBR: coastal cities around the world are more likely to be submerged under rising sea levels… directly impacting more than 40% of the world’s population (40% of the world’s population lives within 100km of the coast as of 2010, and that number has only increased).
Thirdly, we have got to stop believing that actions do not have consequences. I don’t understand how the same people who:
appreciate mankind’s ability to level mountains and blast through them,
clear entire landscapes for development,
know what an oil rig looks like and/or enjoy the use of electricity,
marvel at engineering achievements such as dams and bridges and highways and industrial agriculture, as well as countless other examples of anthropogenic forces on our globe,
fly in airplanes and look down on enormous cities–especially at night–and see how significant they are on the landscape,
or understand how rapidly our country has been developed compared to others, and how significantly different our lives have become in the digital age
are the same people who deny that all these actions could possibly have negative impacts somewhere outside the financial statement. Climate change might not have the same, immediate effect on an individual as touching a hot stove, but its larger systemic symptoms are overwhelmingly supported by scientists, and our impact on the globe is worth considering simply due to its rapid (and rapid increase in) pace in the last few centuries alone. We are transforming our planet, and we at once seem to believe that our impact is possible and also not provable. I’m baffled.
How will I respond? On one level, by redefining what Christians call “filling and subduing the earth,” and on another level, by “keeping” the Paris Agreement in my own ways. Here are some springboards for action from various aspects of life:
Plastic Free July: In case you missed it, plastic is incredibly hazardous to aquatic ecosystems and there’s actually a trash gyre the size of Texas floating in the Pacific as we speak. Plastic bioaccumulates up the food chain, causing carcasses to be found with stomachs clogged with trash. Plastic Free July is an initiative started in Western Australia, and its goal is to highlight just how much single-use plastic we consume and see how much we can reduce it. The objective? Don’t use any single-use plastic for all of July (or forever, if you get attached to saving the planet). Cut out plastic straws, utensils and flatware, plastic water bottles, shopping bags and cling wrap, and you’ll find that you use a lot more plastic than you thought you did. It’s difficult sometimes, and I’m not great at it, but I’m enjoying the learning experience.
Packaging can throw some kinks in plastic-free shopping for groceries or household products, but the benefit of initiatives like these is they expose how prevalent plastic is in our lives, and the more mindfully we consume, the better. Plus, there’s always recycling. Plastic Free July–and all environmentalism, for that matter–is about participating as able. There’s a really cool list of ways to live plastic free, which you can find here.
One of the cool ways I’m ditching plastic wrap and plastic bags is by using Bee’s Wrap, a plastic free way to package bread, veggies, snacks and food products for storage or transport. I just purchased some and I love it already! I’m also participating in Plastic Free July by bringing cloth bags to the grocery store (especially when buying veggies!) and carrying a reusable water bottle with me instead of purchasing bottled water or sodas in plastic containers. This goes for coffee, too–I can bring my own thermos, or I can do without. Regardless, I can do without plastic straws! I carry my own, reusable utensils around, too–something I started doing during my senior year of college. It feels good to imagine how many times I’ve been able to opt out of plastic since I started!
Meat… Less: I love meat, but I don’t eat it every day, and I much prefer to know exactly where it came from. Industrial agriculture has developed a system that relies heavily on corn-fed cattle pumped with antibiotics–an unnatural and water-intensive, highly polluting process that also emit about two billion metric tons of CO2-equivalents per year–more than the entire transportation sector. The less meat we eat, the better off the environment… If you don’t believe me, this list from The Natural Resources Defense Council of the most environmentally destructive foods starts and ends with meat-based products, and to the credit of my vegan friends, contains only one non-animal product. While my personal life choices might not offset the entire American culture of meat at every meal, cultural shifts happen in increments, and I’ll be one of them.
Check out this startling infographic below from CulinarySchools.org, then keep scrolling for more ways I’m combatting climate change in my everyday life.
Boxed wine: I can hear some of my friends groaning across the internet, but as a person who loves to drink a glass of wine at dinner when I get home from work, it is much more environmentally friendly and economically feasible to drink boxed wine… and I think it’s great. Unfortunately, the wine does live in a plastic bag, but cardboard and plastic are way easier to recycle than glass around here, so I’d say it’s a step in the right direction. And with some boxed wines, there is no bag–it’s like buying a carton of milk, or a juice box… An adult juice box. I’ll drink to that.
Coffee: This deserves its own category because I’m a writer and I can’t write without coffee–and whether I’m buying it in a plastic/paper cup at a shop or using a Keurig at home, I’m creating a lot of waste. So when I graduated college I transitioned to making coffee in a French press every morning, eliminating any paper or plastic waste, and using a thermos to keep my coffee hot all day, so I never need to buy an afternoon pick-me-up that comes in a plastic cup or bottle. If I do run out of coffee, I show up to the barista’s counter with my own container. Some places even offer a discount for bringing your own mug–the intern on an intern’s salary loves that!
Cosmetics and feminine products:Uh oh… she just went there. Yup, I did. But ladies, there’s a LOT of plastic floating around in our bathroom cabinets, and there are alternatives for everything we currently own, including makeup and cosmetics. Make sure your habits aren’t preventing you from exploring new options, like applicator-less tampons, period panties or diva cups. I’ve also learned to be aware that cosmetics, shampoos and exfoliating scrubs might contain microbeads: tiny pieces of plastic that accumulate in waterways and can bioaccumulate in the seafood we eat later (!!).
Microbeads are almost impossible to clean up, but many cosmetic companies use them in their products because they’re cheap. Skip the microbeads by checking labels for words like Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) or Nylon… or by using the Beat the Microbead app to scan labels and know what you’re up against.
Clothing: Thrift shopping is one of the most environmentally friendly ways to buy clothes, as the clothing industry is notoriously heavy on both natural resource usage and worker exploitation (think sweatshops, which are still totally a thing). Turns out the majority of our clothes are created in developing countries and transported across the globe before reaching retailers–an environmentally negative system in and of itself–but the processes are also less regulated for environmental hazards or workforce welfare. Like most systems in an industrialized world, it’s a non-knowledge system that the consumer isn’t supposed to pay attention to. But buying or donating used clothing and extending its life by even a few months saves precious natural resources, among other environmental benefits. Check out five reasons to thrift shop more often here.
When I do buy clothes new, I try to know as much about the company as possible. Try looking at RankaBrand.org and see where your favorite clothing lines stand on sustainability, including climate change and carbon emissions, environmental policy, working conditions and fair trade. This website can be useful for almost any brand, from technology to food, but I find it particularly helpful when I’m shopping. If a brand isn’t on the site, you can suggest it, and you can “nudge” companies to better their scores with an easy-to-use pre-formatted email. Capitalism at its finest! 😉
Some companies are even learning how to recycle clothes, such as H&M’s clothing recycling program. If they bring in clothing to be recycled, customers can receive a discount on their purchase. Not only is this a good deal for a young person on a budget like me, but it could spread throughout the entire clothing industry over time, and that’s something I want to support. Any clothes that I don’t want at the end of each season and that wouldn’t sell at thrift shops, I’ll be bringing with me when I go shopping for more work attire. While H&M doesn’t have the best rating on RankaBrand, it’s definitely made improvements in recent years and it’s certainly important to me that these kinds of programs become the norm!
Travel: This one is tough for me. I live close to work and my horse, but living in a semi-rural area means there’s no public transportation system I can use, and I end up driving hours at a time when I deliver promotional materials for work. On the bright side, I still drive a minivan instead of a truck, so my MPG is pretty decent and I’m able to carpool with friends whenever possible–and usually I can fit everybody. But it’s something that I’m learning to be more conscious of as I settle into routines and explore my new home.
Equestrian activities and products: I did an entire capstone on environmental horsekeeping, and I still find it difficult to make a dent in my habits as a horsewoman. Almost every product I buy for my horse comes in a plastic bottle, box, or bag, and some are even dangerous to aquatic life. Recycling is key, but there are other things I can do, too: I can limit how much water I use by only hosing down my horse when necessary, or using a sponge and bucket instead of a hose; I can sell or donate used equipment instead of trashing them; I can “carpool” when trailering my horse or choose destinations nearby to limit vehicle emissions; I incorporate barn visits with other errands so that I limit my own traveling time; and I purchase environmentally conscious products whenever possible. Equine science is a little behind some other fields, and environmentally focused equine science is even farther behind, so I’m excited to see what products develop in the next few years. In the meantime, the practice of horsekeeping is mostly about mindfulness and intentionality with recycling.
Another challenge in the area of horsekeeping is the fact that I do not manage my own facility and have limited influence of larger-scale practices impacting the landscape, such as manure management, pasture rotation and pest management. In that way, I am somewhat limited. But again, it’s enough to do the best I can with what I’ve got.
Recreation: Supporting National Parks is a great way to promote environmentalism, and luckily I’m surrounded by state parks, national parks and outdoor attractions. Plus, hiking does great things for the mind. It’s not just about working out, fighting boredom, or getting a sweet pic for the Insta!
That’s all I’ve got in me for this season of my life… or at least until you all give me more ideas! Please please please leave thoughts below if I’ve missed anything you know about. Don’t worry, fam… I’ll post that cutesy, postgrad life blog post another day.
This January I spent three weeks hiking, camping, and hostelling through iconic California landscapes, and I am forever grateful for the experience. I’m blown away by how much there is to share and remember–and how much there is that I can’t put into words, but here’s the “short” list:
I learned to pitch a tent and cook dinner on a camp stove/fire in the dark, hiked through waist-deep snow with avalanches falling nearby, fell in love with Pinnacles National Park and its incredibly diverse ecosystems, drove “the one” along the Pacific coast until a landslide forced us to turn back, walked among massive elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Park, camped next to strawberry fields at Sunset Beach, went tidepooling with marine biologists at Carmel Point and later by ourselves at Point Reyes, panned for gold and gemstones and visited Sutter’s Mill site, where gold was first discovered.
I hiked with elk on the coast near Point Reyes, walked among redwoods in Big Sur and giant, two-thousand year-old sequoias in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, toured Cline Cellars and enjoyed a wine tasting after petting their donkeys and learning about their sustainable farming practices, visited a petrified forest, squeezed through Yosemite’s spider cave in total darkness with no visibility and only the person in front of me to guide me, spent an afternoon on the beach at Point Reyes enjoying the sunset and campfire conversation, and greatly expanded my taste in music thanks to our lonnnnnnnnnnnnnng hours in the vans and our collaborative playlist.
But the true highlight of the month was the wonderful humans who put up with my stench, made sure that I had nut-free food to eat and managed to avoid sending me into anaphylactic shock, loved me well when I got sad news from home, made me laugh with impersonations and rap battles, and were sources of endless deep and encouraging conversations about everything. I signed up for this trip entirely independently of my friends, and really, I didn’t know anyone well going into it. These four gals and nine dudes are family now, and while I never would’ve picked us out, I’m so thankful for them. We’re a diverse bunch, but we all share a passion for adventure, the outdoors, and the environment–and that bridges all other differences. If you’re reading this, team, I love ya. So much. Thanks for being you. Let’s go camping soon.
This month was full of the unexpected, but it was also full of rest and reflection. We rarely had service, and I was free to experience every day in the moment without the pressure of work, school or the ever-intimidating job search. Even the little things, like not wearing makeup for an entire month and not feeling any pressure to shave, was so freeing. I signed up for this class in order to fill some missing holes in my outdoor and environmental education, but also because it’s something I know my late classmate, MacGregor, would have loved. I wanted to honor her somehow, and this adventure seemed appropriate. It was–beyond my imagination. As we left Yosemite, I wrote this in my journal:
I feel that a bear has been watching us as we walk. And maybe it has… maybe MacGregor is with us. We’ve shared so many trails before–it feels wrong that she is not among the small cohort of women amidst the mostly male class. She should be here… she would be here, were she still alive. I’m convinced of it. So maybe she is here. Maybe she was the condor we knew was above our heads but could not see; maybe she was the bear hunkered warm in its winter place while we stomped and stumbled through waist-deep snow, pelting each other with snowballs and overflowing with laughter. Maybe she was in the wind, or among the redwoods in Big Sur where we found banana slugs on the slopes and hoped to spy the largest. Her adventurous spirit certainly was. Either way, I feel that something in me has been restored, though I can’t yet identify what. Maybe I should just keep walking.
That’s what last year was for me: a long and unexpected walk among avalanches that seemed to barely miss me; bruises from falling through crusted drifts and dragging myself back to the compacted trail; gratitude for the trailblazers ahead of me and the satisfying crunch of snow beneath my feet; an exhausted body that protests my every effort to continue on the trail; crisp air that at once thrills and drains me as I struggle to drink it in; despair as I turn a corner to find yet another steep slope with no resting place in sight; the sudden, unexpected weight of snow dumped by a tired tree on my head, and the slow thawing process afterwards; and wonder–absolute wonder at the joy that comes from trusting your guide and briefly, finally understanding the purpose of the hike we’ve endured. And we have endured. We were made to walk this earth, to enjoy the view, to face plant in the snow, and to keep walking, however harrowing the climb.
Jesus taught me so much about trust this January, and an old promise that once felt limiting is now so sweet to me: “The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent” (Exodus 14:14). There’s a lot in this world that I feel called to fight, and it’s easy for me to feel overwhelmed by the sheer scope of these battles. I feel so small–the kind of small that we feel when submerged in the natural world, such as in the high peaks at Pinnacles or on cliff-lined coasts of Point Reyes, with waves crashing in a continuous thunder at their base.
But there is such freedom in this smallness, too: I can faithfully, joyfully do what I am called to do, and no more. The Lord will fight for me even when I am silent, and he will certainly work through my work, too. I just have to trust that my seemingly fruitless efforts are not in vain–that there’s so much going on around me that I cannot see, but will understand one day, some day.
So now what?
I hope I never forget the lessons and memories I gained this past year. I hope 2017 far exceeds my expectations–though January set the bar pretty high! I’ve got one more semester at Wofford before I’m on my own–with my horse in tow–but otherwise, the real world is coming up quickly. Before I graduate, I’ll have a novella published (through Wofford) and hopefully some creative nonfiction as well. We’ll see. I know this semester’s going to be a hike of its own kind.
With the EPA and National Parks Service (and basically all scientists) under attack, I’m convinced that environmentalism is as important as ever before, though I’m not sure what I’ll be doing a year from now. But that’s okay. I’ve got a whole three months to figure out where I’m going next… I just have to keep walking. No matter where I go, I know the view will be great.
Writer, horse lover, Jesus-loving environmentalist for hire!
Someone told me recently that I seem like I’m doing “so much better” this semester.
While this statement was so encouraging to hear, I laughed a little, surprised. It’s true that physically, I am in a much healthier state than in years past. I can’t point to the reason excepting the grace of God… my current health is such a blessing after the past seven years. With that said, this semester has been anything but easy, and I’ve spent a surprising amount of my time crying. Ugly crying.
Somehow, I think this emotional turmoil is what’s made the beginning of my senior year so special. I am [forever] learning to be vulnerable with my peers. I am totally okay with not being okay. And, more importantly, I’m learning to take time to take care of myself in the very moment I need self-care, and not a moment later.
I have a tendency to dwell on the hurts of other people; my ability to see and observe the people around me is something that I often take for granted. Sometimes, though, the pain of other people is overwhelming, especially when there’s nothing I can do about it:
When friends and classmates die by suicide, and the empty chairs in [senior] classes are so distractingly heartbreaking.
When friends and classmates are so consumed by anxiety that they struggle to engage on campus.
When friends and classmates are homesick, sick, or just tired.
When neighbors are annoying and difficult but also destructive.
When I can see that something is wrong, but the pain is so deep and so secret that it will never be brought to the surface—or at least never revealed to me, the quiet girl on the other side of the classroom.
When family members need me, but I can’t come home to comfort them.
I can’t do much to fix any of these things—at least, not directly or wholly restore the situation like I’d love. The world is just too big and too complex. But I can love the people in front of me.
I can write newspaper articles to help people or causes I care about. I can be the kind, quiet girl on the other side of the classroom, and maybe I can even cross the room. I can be available to those who need me, over and over again. I can tell people that I see light in them, even as I see their pain. I can help students with their papers and show them their hidden giftedness with words. I can show them their own brilliance—one of my favorite jobs as a writing center tutor. I can take care of my Wofford family in so many ways.
But I must take care of myself.
It’s hard for me to say no. Selfishness is the last word I want attached to my name. I dislike selfish people. I don’t ever want to disregard or silence the needs and voices of others. I don’t like saying no, especially when saying yes helps someone else.
And yet, I’m learning to take care of myself first. I’m learning to be more “selfish”—in a new way. The kind of self-care I’m seeking after isn’t watching Netflix instead of studying. It doesn’t mean forcing myself to do more [good things] for self-care, like exercise: it’s allowing myself to do less.
Self-care is allowing myself to do less.
Sometimes that means I skip meetings of organizations that I love and enjoy. Sometimes I sleep in instead of finishing my homework… something my former self would abhor. Sometimes I turn in a paper that’s not my absolute best work, because it is the best work I could have produced in that moment. If something more important comes up, it takes precedence over my homework, and that’s okay. As embarrassing and difficult as it is to admit my own finiteness, it’s also exhausting to try and keep up with my own expectations.
Friends, I know what it’s like to trust that another cup of coffee is all you need to borrow against tomorrow (Believe me… I drink a lot of coffee!). I know what it’s like to abandon responsibility and call it self-care. I’ve done it for most of my adult life.
But self-care, itself, is our responsibility. Our bodies are temples, right? Let’s treat them like it! This looks differently for everybody, but it’s important. It took me a while to realize that forcing myself into deeper exhaustion with [excessive] exercise was just burning the candle from both ends, so to speak. Yes, self-care involves physical health, and exercise is so important! But are we making a deposit rather than a withdrawal in our self-care? For a while, I wasn’t.
Self-care is sleeping. There’s no other way around it. We are so much more resilient with sufficient sleep. I believe that we cannot even begin to exercise or wean ourselves from excessive energy drinks or achieve any other health/self-care goals unless we are sleeping. It took me more than three years to admit that I wasn’t being honest about the way my sleeping patterns were affecting my health. It’s still difficult. But it’s worth it.
Self-care is taking a break… A real break. Outside, or at least away from all forms of work or screens. How long can we go without our phones? Is it truly restful if we are still planning out our week in our break times? How many times have I sat outside without homework, just for the sole purpose of enjoying my surroundings? Not enough. The in-between can be great, but it cannot be our only source of relaxation. Let’s go relaxing, friends.
Self-care is processing with friends. I am so grateful for my friends and the way that we intentionally set aside time to check on each other as a group. In one particular circle of friends, each person gets to update the others on how things are going—how things are really going. It is one of the most wonderful practices of self-care that I’ve found.
Being vulnerable with friends allows for me to receive care as I give it to others. It’s beautiful, no matter how you slice it. I’ve got a lot of people in my life that love and care for me every day, in big ways and in infinitesimally small ways that I appreciate so very much.
It’s really hard to live restfully as a senior with four jobs, two majors, a capstone project, a team, and a four-legged child. I’m really bad at it, most days. I am tragically busy and overcommitted, still. But when my dear friend told me I seemed so much better than before, she was right. I can talk about difficulties in my life with such relief, now. I get to share the deep, deep grace of God as He works in my life. The healing and restoration I’ve seen around me is precious and beautiful, even if I don’t notice it at first. It’s there, friends. It’s there.
Ask me about it. Or don’t. But at least know that when I tell you I’m not having a good day, I am somehow also on my way to being very, very well.