Thursday, December 11, 2014

being back in civilization

I have now left the Village, for now, for a while, who knows what the future holds. So I feel another post is in order, especially since I don't have a slow internet excuse anymore. (ha!) I think getting used to fast internet again is not so hard. Getting used to being able to text and call people again is trickier. And if I hear a siren that sounds just like the wail, I still get twitchy for a few seconds and feel that I should respond. But the squirrels! Were they always so large? Or are the ones in the village just that small? I thought maybe just squirrels in Washington were weird, but now I'm in Minnesota and they look weird here, too, and I don't remember thinking squirrels looked weird the first time I came here. It seems like such an odd thing to have a hard time adjusting to, but really. The squirrels are huge! Why are they so large?
Squirrels aside, I took the train from Seattle to St. Paul, which was somewhere around 40 hours, and I still like traveling by train. The seats are more comfortable, it's easier to get up and walk around, and the views can be nice (depending, of course, on what part of the country you're traveling through. I have now seen North Dakota for myself, and can confirm the rumors that it isn't a whole lot to look at.). The best part of this trip, making it all worth it in case it would not have been worth it anyway, was waking up the first morning to the sunrise over Montana, and coming around the southern edge of Glacier National Park, with the mountains glowing spectacularly in the morning sun. It was breathtaking, it was fabulous, and I was perhaps overemotional from not having slept as much as I should, but I could have stared at that view for hours and not tired of it. It was the last best view of mountains, since Montana flattens out farther east, but now I know I must visit that park. I always thought mountains were nice in pictures, but having lived in them now, they have taken root in my soul and mean so much more to me than they ever did before. There is something so majestic, so wild, so primordial about them that defies description and can only be felt by experiencing them. I suppose much of nature is like that, each in its own way, but mountains have me now and there will always be a place for them in my soul.
And then I arrived in St. Paul. After visiting several people in places that were not familiar, it was nice in a way to arrive in familiar territory, though of course much has changed. Many of my friends have moved away, and the school has changed dramatically in the last year, which makes me sad for it (since these are not the happy changes of prosperity and good direction). But it has recalled to me the many good times I had here, for which I am grateful. The introvert in me is also thankful for the bit of respite during travels and some down time, time that is not full to bursting with socialization.
Soon I will be off again, on paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown, to ventures of which I cannot see the end. So here's to some faith to go out with good courage.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

the squirrels

The squirrels around here are quite squirrely. (and if you look at the word squirrel enough times, it looks squirrely, too) The chipmunks are a little spastic, moving very quickly and not letting you get too close, but the squirrels are a lot bolder (and dumber?) and are not very afraid of humans. Any time people sit outside they run the risk of squirrel invasion. I must admit I enjoy watching to see how close the squirrels can get to people before they get chased away. I saw one make it all the way to getting its paws on the edge of the coffee cup before the owner of the coffee noticed and shooed it away. That's probably not very nice of me, but it is fun. I had a squirrel jump up on my foot the other day when I was sitting outside with one leg crossed in front of me. I wasn't really paying attention, and my foot was just hanging there in the air, when all of a sudden there was extra weight on it and I look down and see a squirrel on it, looking up at me. It sat for a few seconds, then crawled up my leg onto my knee, but when I spoke to it it turned and ran back down and jumped off and ran away. The next day I was sitting on the steps in front of the Hotel talking to someone who was sitting next to me when all of a sudden I felt something land on my upper back. The person sitting next to me said 'don't move, there's a squirrel on your back'. I started laughing, and the squirrel crawled around a bit, sniffed my ear, climbed partway onto my head, and then jumped off again and ran away.
They also will chew into anything left outside that has food in it, and I encountered one sticking halfway out of a bag on the loading dock one day. I said something to it, but it ignored me and kept doing what it was doing (it couldn't see me, after all, and possibly couldn't hear me either, with it's head in the bag), so I poked it, and it jumped out of the bag and looked up at me like 'what did you do that for?' Then, of course, it tried crawling around the other side of the bag, like I wasn't going to notice, so I took the bag inside away from the squirrel.
There are little squirrels out now, though, and they are also cute. I know they're just rats with furry tails, but they are sneaky, pretty smart, and just cute little things, even if they are a mess. Life would not be as interesting around here without them.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

it got me

Since it's been exactly two months since I've written here, it seemed appropriate to write again. The internet here is sloooooow, I tell you. When I went out, and could use my cell phone service again, and it took merely seconds to check my email, I thought surely something was amiss. The other day I had about 20 minutes before the next thing on my schedule, and I had a couple of bills to pay online. In the outside world that would have been ample time. Here, I only managed to get logged in to the first website, and even then the page had not loaded correctly, before the 20 minutes was up and I had to give it up as a bad job and try again later.
Despite that, however, this place is growing on me in ways I did not expect. We now have enough power that we get hot water every day, though I must admit it's been a little weird adjusting to taking a shower daily. The place has its institutional quirks, like anywhere, and without guests the goldfish bowl gets a little claustrophobic at times, but overall there is much grace in this valley, and the people and the critters keep even the day to day monotony interesting.
The wildlife is now out in full force since the weather has warmed up (not as much as I'd like) and the snow is all gone and grass and trees and flowers are growing, so one must always keep an eye out for ambitious chipmunks and squirrels and over-curious deer. The chipmunks and squirrels are not afraid to steal food from you if you aren't paying attention, and they'll sidle up innocently as soon as you look away so that they are nearly in your lap when you look back.
I did learn about the squirrels; they are ground squirrels, and have similar coloring and markings to the chipmunks, and at first I thought there was something wrong with the chipmunks in this part of the world, so I was greatly relieved when I found out they are actually squirrels. It was almost like putting the world right side up again. Mutant chipmunks are a bit frightening, but ground squirrels are cute. So there's that sorted out.
I also have now visited Seattle, which was nice, though not terribly impressive in a lasting way. And I've experienced the daze of having left the Village and realizing just how big and commercial and noisy the outside world is. (let out on good behavior, as we like to joke around here) Even the grocery store gets overwhelming. Why, why are there so many different kinds of peanut butter? Or ketchup? What purpose does that serve besides sowing chaos?
So I suppose it's true, one generally leaves this place changed. I didn't really come looking for it, so I can't say if that would make it more powerful, but even the skeptic can find something new if even a tiny opening allows it to sneak in.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

hot showers are special

I never imagined I would live in a place where taking a shower would be a legitimate topic of conversation that could carry the conversation for several minutes, nor that getting a hot shower would be cause for congratulation and small celebration. It is common that at any meal one may bring up the fact that they successfully had a hot shower that day, or bemoan that the water was not hot. Discussions of the best times to take showers, how many people one must share the hot water with, and informing others of one's intention to shower in hopes that the water is hot are all commonplace. 
Nor had I imagined that I would live in a place where I could hike up the side of a mountain for an afternoon walk. Watching the clouds gracefully envelop the mountain tops, seeing the precipitation change between rain and snow multiple times in a day, as if quite uncertain what to be. Being so close to the snow line, so that I can see the snowy trees just a couple hundred feet above us when all we got was rain.
I finally am settling into the rhythms, being comfortable here, and wondering what it will be like to go out and come back in. The snow has melted significantly, and is back to what I can imagine as normal amounts of snow (with my gauge for that being Minnesota, so take it as you will). Small trees are reappearing, and several other things have also emerged that I never knew were hiding under the snow. Entrances to most buildings are once again near ground level. I have seen more birds. Spring is nearer, though still, it seems, a little uncertain about making a full appearance.
We seem to have survived March madness, which apparently plagues the village this time every year with cabin fever and the twitchies. I have had the opportunity to do a lot of reading lately, which has pleased me immensely. The library here is larger than I imagined it would be, and there are many things to choose from.
The mine remediation people are beginning to trickle in, and it won't be too long before that season is in full swing and the village will take on a very different character.
I suppose this isn't all too poignant, but a brief update for you, since I don't have my own computer and the internet is super slow, which makes it hard to write here very often.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

and still it snows

I could never truly have imagined this much snow. It has snowed at least 140" since I arrived here, and the snow is 81" deep, which means there are small trees buried under snow, and I have walked over them without even knowing it. Today is a stop day, which means the village comes to a halt as much as possible. It is a nice relaxing day in many ways, and I'm using the time to catch up on my introvert needs. It is still snowing, on and off all weekend, and I'm waiting for the sun to come out again. The sun has now made it over the top of the mountain Buckskin, which we celebrate here in the village by having a party, as it means (when we see the sun) there are several more hours of direct sunlight. The party was in the street, with music, dancing, and food grilled outside, and people dressed in all sorts of crazy outfits, including beach type clothes, never mind that it was around 35 degrees out. The importance of sunlight was something I discovered in Minnesota, but I have been reminded even more starkly here, as I have been here more than 3 weeks and may have seen full sunlight about 6 days. It really does make a difference on mood and health.
Living in community like this is fascinating, and in some ways like having a big extended family. You see the same people all the time, share space and food and work with them, as well as germs, as colds spread rapidly and can take out half the village in any given number of days. Everyone helps with the basic work of the village, like cleaning dishes and taking out and sorting garbage and keeping stairs and paths cleared of snow. Staff all have different stories and reasons for coming here, but I've been intrigued by the many variations of the same tune, namely uncertainty about where else to be in life (though a secondary tune is those who do not ever live in one place more than a few years and are often international teachers, going from school to school, country to country, and mission to mission).
The unreality of the reality of life here also often strikes me, as it is difficult for most to imagine that I do not just have bad cell phone reception, but that my phone actually says No Service (and said so halfway through the boat ride). And the internet is too slow for Skype or streaming. It hearkens back to dial up days in terms of speed. To explain that one has to travel down the mountain on a road that has to be cleared of feet of snow and has often been obscured by avalanches, then catch a boat that only runs three days a week, seems impossible to many these days. The boat company has a contract to bring us our mail, but UPS and FedEx do not accept that address, so an imaginary one that leaves packages with the boat company had to be created. Driving to a second stop on the boat route is possible, but when the mountain passes to get there are closed due to snow we don't always get all of our food orders. I've been told the closest emergency room is 4 hours away, but I don't know what kind of travel is required to get there.
There is a lot of grace to live in a place like this, a lot of sharing and patience required. We manage to get along quite well in spite of these things, but it also makes me think of the limitations that have been placed on us here to maintain an extra level of isolation that may or may not still be useful. For example, it is possible to have television here, we just don't. Some of the isolation can help one consider the necessity of all the things we have back in the 'real world', and give greater clarity to true usefulness and simple creature comfort. It is definitely an exercise in simplicity, and that could be useful to many these days.

Friday, February 14, 2014

living in the mountains

I have moved to a mountain village for approximately 6 months. It is a new experience, both in terms of scenery and activity. Any window in the village I look out of has a view of mountains. Snow has fallen nearly nonstop since I arrived, stacking inches upon inches and making it so that paths are carved through the snow between buildings, with snow walls on each side gradually getting higher. To leave a path means stepping in snow up to the knees at least. Trees and buildings are covered with it, and when it snows the mountains are obscured so that the village sits in a snow globe, isolated from the world. Places where snow has slid off roofs and joined what's already on the ground leave buildings half buried in drifts. The sun only makes it over the tops of the mountains for a few hours a day (when it's not snowing).
Hot water for showers is only available during the day most days; the rest of the time it's lukewarm or cold. There is less power now that the water is half frozen because the village uses a hydroelectric plant. So when the village is full, there is less power to go around and the potential for power outages. Many things have been unplugged to conserve power for the winter. Some of the trails have risk of avalanches when there is fresh snow, but there are still places to explore, either by walking, snowshoeing, or skiing.
The community is full of people from various places and life stories, with many different talents. Everyone eats together and nothing is locked. Buildings are always open and we did not get keys to our rooms. People constantly come and go, visiting, volunteering, or headed out of the village to get a break or use technology. We have staff internet, but it is slow.
The mountains hold a majesty and mystery, and sometimes it still seems unreal that I am living in a place nestled in mountains. To get in and out is quite an affair, and not to be taken lightly. So care is taken to make the place safe and enjoyable. It will be interesting to see the place after the snow melts, though, to find out what things look like and what might be buried under snow that I haven't even seen yet.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

entertaining angels

Today was kind of an off day. So on my way out of town, I decided to stop and get gas at the station I usually stop at, rather than one down the road a ways, though I had originally intended the latter. My windshield was dirty from the tree I'd been parked under, so while I filled the tank I cleaned the back and front windows. In cleaning the front window, I realized there was some fresh sap on the front windshield that I wanted to get off, so I went back and grabbed a paper towel and started cleaning it off. I was almost finished when a woman called 'hey sweetheart', and proceeded to ask if I would be able to buy her some gas. I asked how much she needed, and she said whatever I could give her.
Now, running through my head briefly were all the safety concerns, the worries about being conned or finagled or whatever. But she wasn't asking for money, but gas. So she pulled up to the pump, and I pumped some gas into her vehicle for her. She got out and chatted with me while I did this, telling me she was taking her kids (who were in the car) and all her stuff (apparently also in the car, she said) (there was also mention of her husband, but I think I missed what it was), and was headed to stay with her mom for a while til she could get a fresh start.
I'm not much for small talk; as an introvert it's not really something I find very natural. But after a moment of pause, she suddenly said, "Some people say life sucks. But I think it's really what you make of it. It's what you do with it that matters." This kind of caught me off guard a bit, but I told her she was right.
I finished putting some gas in her car, wished her luck, and she drove off. I got back in my own car, and drove off, thinking about the whole thing. Thinking about how I almost didn't stop at that gas station today. How, if I hadn't had sap on my windshield, I would've already been gone before the woman came by. I don't know how many others she had asked before me. I don't know how much of the story she told me was true. But it doesn't really matter. It was a moment to imagine the best in someone, to do a good deed in hopes that it was a good deed and might make a difference for someone, or several someones. An opportunity to live out hope for humanity. Something I hope I never stop doing.