The wisps of sunlight peer around lenticular lollipops of back-lit clouds and sneak into the comfort of the tree net. Beautiful and unique, retired ropes wound around the void between branches to create an intricately woven cocoon. I sway along with the limbs in the wind and open a wonderful story of my childhood: Jonathan Livingston Seagull. As I imagine that I am soaring into the colorful afternoon sky, cutting through clouds with wingtips, I recall a similar experience the day before under my bright blue parachute. Listening to the songs of golden finches and mourning doves, I feel at one with them in the tree here. The wind tickles my sunburnt skin and I strettttcch…… ahhh. The toes wiggle unprompted and curl beneath the layers of woven cord as my hands reach to the sky that I love so much.
Sometimes, when I breathe in on a hot July day, I feel the essence of the desert enter my lungs and pump into my heart, where it stays, glowing orange with desire and imagination. What a splendid place, with its great soft dunes and happy juniper and sage. Tempestuous bursts of rain fill the canyons anew and wash them clean to perpetuate history. I walk through the moist sand and gaze in amazement at the remnants of a happy and fastidious culture; their artifacts remaining untouched by human hands until this moment when I pick up a colorful arrowhead. A smile melts across my face in the midday heat…
The clouds glow red not because the sun is low but because
it reflects off the expansive desert below. If only to know this territory like
a bird! Perched high on the rock, looking down below to the tiny trees and the
green mountains in the distance, I watch a redtail circle with the warming
thermals from the slickrock around us. We catch each other’s eyes as I fall
into the sky around me. The bright blue parachute opens with a soft bang and
the lines hug me tight. For a few moments I am a marionette, suspended by strings and at liberty of the desires of the universe. For now I fly to safety back to the sandy earth. Far from the troubles of population, I am content alone
with my happy thoughts, with the wonderful friends who join my attempts to
rekindle wildness in a world of idleness and inactivity. Pursuing happiness in
ways not even known yet; an adventure each moment of the day.
So here I sit in this beautiful net, woven with the fabric of dreams and the colorful ideas of even more colorful people. As I sit here smiling, I grow into a happier being. Day by day life manifests in unique ways that I cannot preemptively fathom. Come join me in this tree, or in another place of your own design. Stop and listen to the birds, look to the sky, and allow the adventures in your future to unfold themselves in spectacular ways.
The phosphorescent essence of bioluminescence follows curve and crescent of the paddle of my boat. I am afloat in a sea of neon green, moving around me, breathing, up and down with the current; into the cave I go. The light of stars and a red full moon is lost, only the green outlines of the cave walls where the water meets sharp rock show the way. Submerged – swimming - fingers enveloped by strange green light. Treading water my entire body is enveloped by a milky green cloud of agitated algae – the sound of water splashing rock echoing through the small enclosure. Paddling deeper into the cave, the tide is rising and the small exit ahead is about to be fully submerged. With a last gulp of air, we swim through the iridescent cave, coming out the other side still engulfed in strange greenness. The full moon overhead casts blue shadows across the lagoon, now fully isolated in physicality, but more connected to the great unknown than ever before.
Small movements continue to create an ineffable glow of green rippling across the surface. A jellyfish floats by and we watch in wonder and amazement. Creatures of this earth are so unique and beautiful. The underlying drone of cicadas grows larger and softer, reacting to the tiny waves in the cavern. Bats emerge from the cave far above and flutter around looking for their eternally nocturnal insect feast. Geckos chirp, announcing their territorial boundaries to anyone who will listen. The cavern breathes in and out. Whoever said that the earth wasn’t itself a living creature was either blind or a fool. The life all around me is so uniquely in balance. We swim back through the indiscernible gap in the wall back to the cave and to our boats. Again, the living green waters illuminate the path and lead us back to the ocean. But first we sit on a rock, drying off in the moonlit breeze, admiring how this earth can be so large and full of wonder, but so small when compared to the vastness of the stars above…
The hike through the canyon is peaceful, climbing up past sandstone edifices and cottonwoods. I see markings on the wall from a lost civilization, abused and forgotten. The caves on the canyon walls to my left arch high above the red sand at my feet, ashen ceilings indicating ancient campfires; I imagine the deformed shadows excitedly dancing across the ground. A hint of trail continues upward towards infinite fins of petrified time. I wonder how many creatures were born and then died here. The wind tells me there will be many more. Birds mingle in front of me gossiping about the best places to find hibernating insects that have survived the warm winter.
Only steep sandstone remains as I continue ascending to the highpoint of the canyon. Fear grips me and suddenly the winter climate is void of green and has a depressing pallor. I hear machines rumbling in the distance, cutting down introduced species of trees that have been choking the native population. The intervention of nature long ago has led to the prolonged suffering of native species. It seems ironic that in this place, of all places, history repeats itself. I hear the saws cut through the thicket, replacing death with death to control the erosion of the river below. As I take each step up the sandstone it becomes more puzzling to me that human intervention is seen as an appropriate action for endeavors of conservation. What will become of this wilderness when we are gone? Are we so powerful that we can ebb the forces of nature for our own purposes? Will the earth ever again be as peaceful as it was before the homo-sapiens discovered fire and consequently sought to control it?
I stand at the edge of the canyon rim, high above my starting point. I look out into the distance, reminded of the frailty of this landscape. Roads made long ago navigate the desert like deep scars. They will heal with time. I think about the gray coyote and his friend the jackrabbit. They dance in careful equilibrium, generation after generation supporting each other. What is my generation supporting? What will we leave behind? Standing at the top of the tombstone, I am reminded again about death. I sit and think about the meaning of my life, and those lives around me. Compared to the breathing stones around me, my life is incredibly inconsequential. However, the passion that the desert instills in us short-lived creatures is so brilliant that it is beyond words. One smile can power a dream, one kiss can fuel a lifetime of happiness. I embrace everything around me with a saturated happiness and listen to the wind as I ask a question: do you know that I am here? do you know that I appreciate you? do you know that I am listening?
The desert will survive, it is the toughest of climates; a habitat for the toughest of species. We will not. Death is inevitable. One day my dust will follow a rogue sagebrush as it bounces through the contours of this unique topography. My flesh will become fodder for flowers as yellow as the sun, and as blue as the sky enveloping it. But for now, I have two boots on my feet and a parachute on my back. As I step into oblivion and fall towards the rocks below, I smile, feeling the intensity of my passion for being here. My parachute opens and breathes along with me; for a moment we are suspended midair together. I fly down to the riverbed, tiptoeing on the dry grass and thanking the birds overhead for giving me the courage to try the impossible.
(not me, random photo of Tombstone from online)
The tombstone above me is not a mark of death, but a celebration of it. Many have lived and died in these tall canyons, and their connection with the earth was unmatched. They celebrated the sun, moon, and stars; they celebrated each of the rare creatures that inhabited this delicate landscape. The natives of the desert appreciated the beauty of life more than almost all of us do in this “modern” world. Each moment of this life is spectacular and ineffably beautiful. While it must end eventually, why not celebrate these moments? I’m not trying to seek out death, just beautiful glimpses of an understanding of true passion. When I find them I’ll be sure to share with you :-)
I've been living in a beautiful tree in Moab, suspended by miles of worn webbing and climbing ropes woven into a colorful cocoon. Each morning is unique and special, which inspired me to write this and share with those of you whom I have given my heart:
Behold - the vast desert around me, falling away in every direction. The sand molds between my bare toes while the rock holds me back from sinking into the sky. Wisps of white follow the circling birds of the vast blue, converging into shapes not yet discovered.
The stones I touch transmit the knowledge of the universe, a timeless seat of eternal observation; victim to the slowest of movement, master of concentration. The naturalness abounds, only I am out of place. Maybe a millennium past I would be accepted. Now my kind doesn’t sit and accept itself as a part of nature; instead we find creative ways to control it. Can I interact with my beautiful surroundings in a truly appreciative and natural way?
I remove my clothes and let the sun warm my body. I am joined also by the lizards, the desert fox, and his rabbit also naked and beautiful. I am joined by everyone who stood in this spot and looked towards the sky with a smile; I am joined by everyone who will do so in the future. Without my clothes I shed the inhibitions and illusions of my society. I empathize with the piñon and sagebrush, grounded in the earth yet wild with the wind.
Running barefoot through the sand I reach the edge of a vast cliff. Below me, the valley holds water and life and grasps the remaining light of day. Am I privileged enough to dance with the fearless nocturnal creatures? They emerge happily, curiously, oblivious to my troubled mind. The tempest of my thoughts touches ground at this very spot, eternally and impeccably quiet. A fire shoots sparks upwards, mingling with distant stars and planets; the calm atmosphere settles upon the southwest. My breath lingers, trembling.
I awake to the miraculous emergence of the sun, the trumpets of finches and crows declaring its arrival. Walking from my solitude towards the world I know, my head drops. I put on my clothes and return to my home, full of love for that beautiful place I know; full of sorrow for the eyes oblivious to this beauty, focused instead on a flawed and corrosive world of our own design.
Well, I'm back in action and it's time to get the blog going again. I have lots of photos and philosophical musings to share, and random thoughts to get off my mind. Although I'm currently "unemployed" in the typical sense of the word, my life is full with action and I am living every day as a challenge, and a chance to improve myself in some way. I hope that the following entries, although perhaps a bit obscure on occasion, will help my friends and family become inspired to do the same. Our life is short and precious, but not that short, and we are capable of some amazing things. The key is to find your passion, and to devote yourself completely to it.
Without action, we are not true to our nature as animals. Without loving passion, we are not true to our nature as humans. Follow your heart with a smile :-)
With love to the universe and all my wonderful friends and family,
Last week was Buddha's 2555th birthday celebration, and here in Korea it was quite a party! Heather and I were able to visit Jogyesa in Seoul, surely one of the brightest Buddhist temples in the country. Shimmering in the hazy light pollution of the city, the lanterns cast a colorful reminder of spring, of beauty, and of the fact that we should never forget to smile.
Taking that lovely advice to heart, I smile, and am reminded of all the wonderful things in our world. They are far too easy to overlook. Bringing out my camera for the first time in several months, I am inspired to look through the eyes of a buddha, with a wild admiration for everything living and non; to see the joy that has ever touched any place, and the joy that ever will touch any place. What do I see? Nothing that a lens can truly capture, nor the cropped and dusty sensor inside my camera. The images that I create are simply rudimentary depictions of the action of happiness. The painter has her colors and brushes, I have my nikon; but these are just tools, and the products just combinations of color. The real beauty of these things lies within the actions which brings them about. The memories which inspire those actions. The people that help create those memories. The chain reaction of inspiration spreads through an interminable distance; everything I am doing now has an infinite number of causes, and likely an equivalent number of effects. By this I only mean that for each picture that I take, it is really the whole world taking this picture, everything that has ever existed. If we employ a method as simple as causality, this makes a little sense. But I know it is a little more complicated than cause and effect...
As I see Buddha's smile in everything around me, my internal wheels of happiness start to spin. I begin to feel uplifted and joyful. Simply by taking time to look around and truly focus on things around me, patterns, contrasts, the foils of the living and the inanimate, a smile arises, manifested by something I don't understand, but there none-the-less.
We have been in Korea for 8 months now, and things are going great! Teaching is so much fun, though I feel like I'm learning more as a teacher than I ever did as a student.
The dreary cold winter has ended, and April has brought bursts of color from the trees and the soil. The flowers are really spectacular this time of year. I haven't been taking too many photos, but inspired by the beauty around me, I thought I'd take out my camera. During the last few weeks, I've made some of these shots:
Heather and I started a new blog together where we can jointly contribute content and display the progress of our adventure in Korea. So far it has been really interesting. We are working hard, learning how to teach, learning a new language, learning the nuances of a new culture, and then trying to find time to learn about life as much as we can along the way. I am really happy to be here in Korea, and I hope you are able to take a look at our new blog if you can.
I will also probably try to keep this one full of new content now and again as well. I have been writing a lot, and my meditations on life continue to grow thanks to the help of my friends. We are all in this adventure together, and I am excited to share things with you!.
I am finally in Korea! Over the last several months, Heather and I have been planning and preparing to go to South Korea to teach English as a Foreign Language. It took a while to get all the necessary paperwork together, and the embassies and recruiter were kind of difficult to work with, but after putting in all the work, it is nice to finally be here knowing that it was all worth it.
Korea is a very interesting place. I didn't have many ideas of what Korea would be like prior to getting here, probably because there isn't a strong presence of Korean culture in Colorado. California has a bit more, but there is a great difference between the presence of American culture in Korea and the presence of Korean culture in America. Once I got here, I realized that they have adopted so much of American culture here, that it is almost the same. I like to think of it with the following allegory: Korea is like someone took a small but very populated part of America, turned it over, shook out all of the people, sprinkled some nicer, more pleasant people, replaced all the signs with signs in the Korean language, and then called it Korea. Seoul is literally like a big New York City, with more nice people, with less crime, and with greater cleanliness and population. It was very fun to explore Seoul for a week before coming to my new hometown, Hongcheon.
Hongcheon is a small town of about 50,000 people right on a river in the Gangwon province (Gangwon is like the Colorado of Korea: highest percentage of mountains and national parks with the lowest percentage of people). It is great here. Just last night Heather discovered an awesome network of trails behind her apartment that go up into the mountains. We are very excited to explore there. There is also a lot of local paragliding and rock climbing, so we are right at home!
My daily routine is pretty simple so far. I just bought a bicycle for 50,000 won (about 40 dollars) so the commute is a bit shorter, but if I don't have a ride to school from one of the other teachers (carpooling is really popular here), I can ride my bike to the bus station and take the bus for between 20-50 minutes to get to one of the schools I teach at. Because it is so rural here, instead of having one central school with lots of students (in which some would have to travel a long ways to get to), instead there are several smaller schools with fewer students. As such, I teach at 4 different schools throughout the week. Hwachon Middle School (my main school) for 2 days per week (there are 34 students here), Naechon Middle School for one day per week, Pallyeol Middle School and Pallyeol High School for 2 days per week. If I had a car, it would only be a 25 minute drive to the furthest one, Pallyeol High School, but taking the bus is a little slower. I am certainly excited to be working at all of these schools though, as the students are all so different and in some they are very eager to learn English!
Teaching English as a foreign language is a little difficult to do effectively, but it is a very necessary thing in the schools in Korea. Recently (in the last 10-20 years) there has been an epidemic of English Fever, which is very detrimental to the stability of Korean society. As Korea has grown from a very 3rd world country (it had an economy the same size as Ghana right after World War II) to what it is today (13th largest economy in the world, and bigger economy than all of Africa, excluding South Africa), the demand for English skills has increased tremendously. It is so important in Korea, that if you are Korean fluent in English, you will generally earn $20,000 more per year than you would if you were not fluent.
Families who are well off can afford to send their students to private English academies to learn English for 4 hours a day, and these students excel quickly. But as it is a foreign language to them, the students are not fully immersed in a native English setting. Some parents are able to send their children to the US or Canada to study for a year or two, and the students come back being very very proficient in English, as it turned from English as a foreign language to English as a second language, or as I call it, English as a survival language. This has created a large gap in the English levels of children in rich families and poor families (most of the families in my province are poor, compared to the families in Seoul and the other big cities). These students can't go to private academies, or travel to Canada to study for a year. But they still need that native English instruction in order for them to have the same opportunities as those in the upper class.
The Korean government has put great emphasis in this, and is funding all these English programs, such as EPIK, the English Program in Korea, under which I am a teacher. We teach in the public schools and give the public school students the same or close to the same opportunities to learn English and prepare them for their professional lives. It is good that the government recognizes this problem and has done something to act on it, because from what I have observed so far, Korea has become so successful by collaboration, not competition. It seems that this competition to learn English is starting to tear parts of the country apart, and who knows what might happen because of it.
Anyway, my job is very important, but also very difficult. When I was learning Spanish in High School, I actually retained very little from the class. In a whole year I learned only a fraction of the language and its application. However, when I was finally able to travel to Spanish-speaking countries, I learned at light-speed. Being in Ecuador this year I definitely saw incredible growth in my Spanish skills. For my students, they probably won't have an opportunity in the near future to travel to an English speaking country, so they will probably have the low retention level that we all have when learning a foreign language. If I am able to give the students a more realistic "Second Language" experience, then maybe they will be able to learn faster and retain more. But that is the goal for now, time will tell if it is attainable at all in the next year.