Monday, December 22, 2014

With what little I bring

"Does the sun ask itself, 'Am I good? Am I worthwhile? Is there enough of me?' No, it burns and it shines. Does the sun ask itself 'What does the moon think of me? How does Mars feel about me today?' No it burns, it shines. Does the sun ask itself 'Am I as big as the other suns in other galaxies?' No, it burns, it shines."

 I am a practicing Latter-Day-Saint, but I grew up surrounded by Jewish tradition from my father's side of the family. The rituals and remembrances of holidays like Passover and Hannukah hold deep importance for me. This year though, as we lit the Hannukah candles and my brother retold the story of the re-dedication of the temple, I began to think of the story in a different light....
A long, long time ago, around the 2nd century BC, a group of Jews revolted against the Greeks who were ruling them in order to regain the ability to worship their God. The Jewish temple had been completely defiled by the Greeks - a statue of Zeus erected in it. When the Maccabees won the temple back, they had to re-dedicate it, which involved a process of lighting oil in the temple over a span of eight days. However, they could only find a single jar of oil which would only provide fuel for a single night. And this is where it gets interesting, because they decide to light that bit of oil anyway. The miracle is that it lasted for all eight days. That's what we celebrate. 

Hannukah isn't actually a high-holy day for Jews. I love celebrating it, but always thought of it as the Jewish holiday which was blown out of proportion because it landed close to Christmas. But this year, I take it as a reminder of trust, and moving forward with faith. 

There's a lot of situations in life, when we feel that we do not have enough to accomplish what we need to do. Or enough to accomplish what others may demand from us. That feeling can be paralyzing. Sometimes, we want to count ourselves out before trying. Hannukah is a reminder to us that what little we bring may be sufficient. A reminder to move forward, trusting and praying that the difference will be filled in. 

Next semester, I'm starting a highly competitive program in my University. There was already one application process to fill 40 spots in the pre-major classes. At the end of the semester I'll submit a portfolio of my work. This, in conjunction with my grades and a professionalism score, will dictate whether or not I get in to the Industrial Design program. 

If  you know me, I'm great at catastrophizing. I was hesitant to put in the first application - sure I wouldn't make the cut. I'm grateful for the encouragement of friends. It's funny to me, that after all these years of formal education in Math, Science and English - booky subjects that I've excelled in - I want to go into something which is a completely new kind of skill. This is a field where you have classes on creative thinking. A field where instead of taking tests you build things in a lab full of power tools. 

I feel like I only bring a little bit with me. I have outlandish, creative ideas, a good background in drawing and a diligence in pursuing my goals. Instead of thinking that this is cannot possibly be enough, and instead of focusing on everyone else's amazing talent, I'm just going to light my oil and see how brightly it burns. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

I Have Been to the Mountain Top

The walking was not always my favorite part of backpacking - especially in the first few days of acclimating to our new routine.

Looking down at my feet for so long became dizzying. The woods were just a vague periphery of blurring green as I focused on not tripping over rocks. I had no concept of distance or time - I couldn't have told you if I'd been out for three hours or one. Even more difficult was reckoning how far we may have (or may have not) traveled in a certain amount of time. The physical exertion of carrying a load - particularly up steeper ascents - robbed me of coherent thought and the ability to converse. Even if I was not gulping for air, all the energy from the single granola bar you'd eaten that morning (how long ago was that?), was channeled into movement rather than remembering that you know how to speak.

In those first few days, the views from the peaks of the mountains were our little victories. They justified the climb, because any landscape looks more stunning when you can feel the height in your legs. The tightness in my calves screamed, 'I've earned this.'

On our third day out, we stopped to rest, looking over a view of rural New York farm land. We spent a long time pouring over the scene, pointing things out to each other. Molly waxed poetic about the rustic red barn that was nestled under deep green foliage. There was a pale blue farmhouse nearby with white railings around its porch. A flag pole stood behind it, which looked to be about the size of a toothpick.

We laughed at the scale of it all, and  grappled to wrap our minds around it. Conceptually we knew that if we were standing next to that flagpole, it would tower over us. The stars and stripes would be billowing far above our heads. Similarly, we understood conceptually that we could fit our whole bodies in the moving pinpricks which were actually cars on a country road. But at the same time, the notion seemed laughable.

I spotted a solitary white speck, moving along the treeline by the farmhouse. We postulated that maybe it was another hiker. We were ecstatic at the possibility that in the next couple of days we could become a part of this landscape.

Only a few hours later, I was shouting, "Look, look! The blue farm house!" We gaped at it in awe and turned around to look at the mountains behind us, guessing at which ledge we'd been sitting on before. We jumped up and down giddily filled with that crazy kind of excitement that demands to burst out of you. I knew exactly what I looked like from an aerial view! I was that tiny speck. The woods next to me were not as deep as they looked, but rather a strip separating this field to the next. To my right at a distance there was a small town with old cozy houses and ahead of us were the roads where those car pinpricks had sped along.

For days we'd been following the white blaze trail markers as if they were our glorified bread crumb trail. It was eerie to know so certainly where we were and what the context of that place was. I had never known before what came next.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

How to Fend off a Black Bear Attack

If you happen to see a bear, but it does not see you, quickly and calmly leave the area, or make a wide detour around it.

If you happen to have a close encounter....

1) Talk calmly and firmly to the bear, remain calm. Bears can smell fear.
2) Back away while still facing the bear - do not, however, make eye contact. Similar to hippogriffs, black bears may interpret it as a sign of aggression. Give the bear plenty of room to escape.
3)  Whatever you do - don't run. Running is likely to cause the bear to give chase. You may have run track in high school, but bears can hit 30 mph. The bear will win. The same goes for climbing trees, and despite what the lego model at the Ohio State Fair may lead you to believe, bears are excellent climbers.
Seen at the State Fair - demonstrates poor survival strategy
I'm not entirely proud to report that during my first encounter with a black bear, I only managed to follow one piece of this survival advice - by which I mean I managed to avoid ending up in a tree.

Molly and I were finishing out a longer day on the trail, when my Achilles tendon began to ache. I became slower and slower, practically hobbling by the last mile as the sun was getting closer to setting. To make matters worse, we were expecting some heavy storms that night as the cold front came in.

"We're within a mile of camp, go ahead" I told Molly, knowing storms make her anxious and we'd already figured out setting our tent up after dark was a poor choice. "Set up the tent, get stuff ready, I'll see you at camp."

"Are you sure?" she asked, looking at my ankle dubiously and clearly hesitant to leave.

"Yeah, do it." I said, and after taking a moment to consider, she quickened her pace and rapidly moved out of sight.

Having been a runner before I was a hiker, I think of miles as short little things. Miles are knocked out in six or seven minutes. Backpacking is an entirely different beast though. Each mile is more like an impossibly long eternity and you try to cram up to 15 of them all in one day.

Hiking alone wasn't too bad. The woods were eerily quietly at first without Molly there - no conversation, not even the sound of her footsteps crashing over rocks and through the layer of past year's fallen leaves. But the eery turned to a peaceful stillness and I thought, I could really do this, I could hike solo. 

And then the crashing returned. I heard a the snapping of sticks and the sounds of something approaching. I wasn't even concerned, the AT intersected with another trail, Pine Knob Loop at that point. It was probably just another hiker. Or maybe it was even Molly; had she turned down the wrong trail or thought this was the off trail for our campsite?

I stopped. I stood. I considered. I peered into the woods. I was about to call out her name, to check, and just then, the bear emerged. My first thought was, 'wow, that's a lot smaller than I imagined' and my second reaction was a sudden swell of panic rose which rose up inside me. Here I was, alone and injured, on a mountain, miles away from civilization, five to ten feet away from a bear. There was no nice bulletproof glass between us like at the zoo, when you just get to stare at the bear and coo over how beautiful it is.

Holy. Crap. Why did I choose this? I brought this upon myself! Usually, the black bears here are skittish. If they hear you coming, they avoid you. I had snuck up on him.

All of the advice for dealing with bears that I'd read sped through my head in a flash. And then, I ignored it. All of it. I turned on my heel and walked rapidly away, which would almost be alright... if he hadn't seen me. In actuality, the bear and I practically made eye contact. I was not quiet by any means as I spoke-shouted a fervent prayer to the almighty.

Please God, Bless that I will make it to the campsite safely. 
Please God, Bless that I will make it to the campsite safely. 
Please God.... over and over again.

The bear wouldn't have needed to smell the fear on me, because it already manifest in the wavering of my voice. That mile was infinite. I had begun to worry too that I had somehow passed the campsite when I saw a figure running toward me brandishing something - Molly, it was Molly, rain jacket tied snugly around her waist brandishing her big Cutco knife (it was still in it's sheath).

I was so glad to see her! I burst into tears.

I stood there, in the middle of the trail, crying. The tough, wilderness-ready person that I thought I was, any image of that, crumbled away. I felt more like the cowardly lion than Bear Grylls. I was hyperventilating, probably the closest I've been to a panic attack in my entire life.

"Judith, Look into my eyes, deep breathes, look at me, are you okay?" The words tumbled out of Molly's mouth like one drawn out sentence. I could tell she was concerned, but also uncomfortable with the situation, "Is it your ankle? Is it that bad? We can go home early if you need to, it's okay. Are you okay?"

I gasped out an explanation about the bear and the onset of darkness and the bear and the bear again... and then let out a couple more chocked up sobs.

"You saw a bear?!" A grin spread across Molly's face, "I know now is probably not an appropriate time to say this, but I am so jealous!"

Of course. Of course she was. I could only laugh.

Friday, February 21, 2014

No homework happened tonight...only cakes

Brandy's cake (she's turning 21 whoot whoot!)

Nathaniel's cake

Matt's cake
Three birthdays, three cakes, all on one day. Baking these was the most delicious way to procrastinate studying for my midterms.

Saturday, February 1, 2014


Nestled in the folds of the mountains,
I walk through a place reclaimed.
I am taken in by the sweeping curves of crude oil tanks,
and dilapidated walls of industry before me -
Riveting and soul-swelling as the snowy peaks that rise up behind them.

Graffiti is scrawled on every surface.
There are layers of images,
Paint on top of paint -
Thick extrusions from a concrete surface.

I can imagine the pilgrimage to this place.
A procession of figures,
carrying aluminum cans like sacrifices at the altar.
The crisp clear air filled with the reek of aerosol.
This place has a sense of sacredness, an ache of reverence.

If the human mind was tangible,
A place that could be wandered through,
it would be like this.

Our hopes, concerns, and experiences
imprinted and overlaid on walls that are crumbling down.
The relentless mind-chatter of the quotidian,
scrawled over our greatest insights,
obscuring them from remembrance.

A cartoon bear with his mouth wide open,
exclaiming “Set out and konquer!”

Friday, January 10, 2014

First Snow

Em had never seen snow before, and so as we exited our Anthropology into a morning that was thick with the stuff, her eyes grew wide with a child-like amazement. I couldn't stop laughing. Raised in the Midwest, it's difficult for me to remember that harsh winters are not entirely part of the common human experience. I was reminded of the student who'd moved from Brazil in sixth grade and how he stood up in the middle of class and walked over to the window at first snow. He'd had that same look of awe on his face.

'You've never seen snow before?'

'Nope. Southern California isn't really the place for it' she replied, voice dripping in sarcasm.

'So, you've never gone sledding before?'


'Or had a snowball fight?'

She shook her head

'And never built a snowman....' Now I was the one in shock...

The amazement in Em's eyes had been replaced with an expression that strongly communicated duh. But I was too caught up in how many activities we had to fit in this winter.

First Snowman! Built right then and there outside of Anthropology lecture.
Our attempt pales in comparison to this Michelangelic piece I saw in front of the Brittany apartments.