Big Skies and Long Beaches

‘One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.’ -Henry Miller

A series of changes over the past couple months led to many small adventures throughout the spring months instead of my usual lengthy travels.

short15There were several factors. I quit both my jobs and started two new ones (general happiness level = 100000x greater). I had plenty of saved Delta SkyMiles which allowed me to fly farther & faster, as opposed to driving. I decided to lease my horse and wanted to say goodbye, for now. In addition, Seattle had the longest, dreariest, cloudiest winter on record. January, February & March had a total of four sunny days–I needed some sunlight in my life.

When I realized my besties Allison and Elias crossed paths in Bozeman (aka paradise on earth) for only two semesters, I knew I had to get out there at some point. I had hoped for the fall, but February works too. I saw their campus, met their fellow students, stayed in their apartments, played trivia with their teams, danced with their friends.

short2When keeping up with old friends, it is important to me to see their lives with my own eyes. I want to experience what they experience. Every individual is a complex masterpiece of facets and angles, and I want to see and understand every face.

Impossible? Of course.

No harm in trying.

February was just as good a time to visit as October, though perhaps a tad colder. I wouldn’t have minded the snow, but running on a sheet of ice proved to be poor exercise (but I was still sore the next day). My first run through the woods south of town on my old trails was a peaceful experience. Bozeman creates some of my best memories. Though running on the ice in town was a bit treacherous, passing all my old haunts was a great way to reminisce on scattered memories, like looking at a timeline of my own life: that one park, that one coffee shop, that one Thursday at Music on Main when we danced… oh Bozeman.

Another important factor led to a third short trip: my favorite band Journey was playing in Bozeman in March.

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Journey concert

This trip spanned the locations of the first two in the same amount of time: I flew into Missoula and headed straight to Bozeman. I was raised on rock & roll, and that legacy is slipping away as the band members age. I want to see as many of my favorite 60’s, 70’s, & 80’s bands in concert before they quit touring. There is a certain kind of exhilaration, sitting in the second row and singing your lungs out with your parents and a few thousand other 50-year-olds. Arnel Pineda makes for a highly energetic Steve Perry, and brought plenty of his own charm as well as imitating that of his predecessor.

Then it was back to the Home Place in Hamilton to visit my equine son and check in with him at his new home, and spend some time with the family, of course.

I had booked a short trip to San Diego in April before I knew I would be quitting the restaurant in the same week. They were going to have to do without me permanently soon enough, so I figured they could spare me four days so I could visit my Empress.

And anyway, #priorities.

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Miguel, Caslene, Empress and I hiking

Empress, my Italy-roommate, Hawaii-tour guide, Seattle-roadtrip-buddy, recently moved to southern California. I needed Empress, and I needed sunlight. I had not been to San Diego since I was very young, so Empress showed me around the Gaslamp Quarter and the hiking trails of Torrey Pines.

short14We made a day trip to Los Angeles to visit the ArtCenter College of Design high in the Pasadena hills. It looked like an old train bridge with no connecting tracks and felt like an ancient monastery with a modern twist. I napped outside on a giant bean bag while Empress went to interviews.

My roommate happened to be in Long Beach on the same day, so we spent the evening with him at the Beachwood Blendery. On days Empress had to work, I explored the Old Town of San Diego and went for a run on the Mission Trails.

Runner’s Note: Definitely a lifetime Top Ten. If you are in the San Diego area, Mission Trails Regional Park is a must. In six miles I ran up and down a lovely trail to one of the highest peaks in the area, North Fortuna, where I found an old ammunition box with a notebook registry inside. The views were breathtaking.

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Kevin took us to the Miller factory to sample a bit of Wisconsin beer. Note: the samples at the end of the tour were not this big.

In May I flew to Wisconsin to congratulate my brother and celebrate with him. I have visited him at his Concordia-Mequon campus several times, and it was strange to think that this would be my last visit to that beautiful cliff-side campus. Nonetheless I think Kevin was ready to be done, anyway. Being in Wisconsin, I had the opportunity to visit my other Italy-travel-buddy Anthony, and congratulate him on his graduation, as well.

There were several fractured pieces to my winter & spring 2017, but the travels and the jobs and all else worked out in the end and I was able to spend time with people I love.

These days I am currently in a mountain castle in Santa Barbara… but how I ended up here is a story for another time. Cheers!

 

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Haiti Mission 2015 — #avoidingCarla

Every journey, honestly undertaken, stands a chance of taking us toward the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need. -Parker Palmer

Riding to a clinic in the back of a pickup

The school bus was our main form of transportation

It started out as #avoidingcholera and somehow ended up #avoidingCarla as such things do, so we named it the unofficial motto of our trip. Thankfully, we never found Carla…and she never found us.

Haiti was an experience like none other thus far, a whirlwind of culture and language and clinics and beautiful views and mentally avoiding the heat by dreaming of our next swim.

We held medical clinics five of the days, and we were able to see hundreds of people. It was such a beautiful thing to be able to care for people in this way. Since I’m not pre-med like many of the students on the team, I took my usual scribal position, recording vitals and symptoms. We worked for three days at the school, one day at the church, and one day in a small town outside Thomassique.

More of the team riding in the pickup

In scrubs at the home base, gearing up for a clinic

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Some of our 22 checked bags, leaving from the Omaha airport

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A gathering storm

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Watching a volleyball tournament

We improved the clinic each day, learning more about one another on the team and how we could work more efficiently together. We had two doctors, one from Nebraska, and another from Thomassique. One of our nurses was also from Haiti. We had a team meeting afterwards to discuss what we could improve in the future: more of some medications and less of others, hopefully more doctors, and better planning of our days so that we can fit the entire clinic into a single week. This is the first time this team has added the medical side to the mission, so much of it was trial-and-error, but we learned a lot from our experiences.

Volleyball afternoon tournament

We also helped out with a high school-age volleyball camp, mostly in the mornings when the kids were practicing and working on drills. Personally, my volleyball skills were a little rusty, but I got better with practice, just as the kids did. The coach, Fritz, proudly showed us all of the awards his kids have won in the past five years since his volleyball camp started—including a number of national titles! We had two afternoon tournaments, Americans vs. Haitians, by Fritz’s request, which were quite competitive.

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Campfire one night where we made s’mores for our Haitian hosts

The volleyball camp was an important part of the relational building and cultural learning that Josias, our team leader on the Haitian side, stressed as a part of our trip. He was aware of the dangers of being a one-time fix-it crew, coming in and leaving without building trust in the community, so he involved us in the community as much as possible, such as inviting dozens of his family members over for supper and games one evening. Another night, they taught us Haitian dances, and of course we ate Haitian food every day, which was often an experience in itself. Except for goat tongue and intestine, I think I tried everything I was offered.

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Riding the bus with new friends

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Home base

One of the downsides of the trip was that our team burned itself out the first week. By the second week, many of us were sick or injured in one way or another. The heat increased from the first week to the second, which zapped our energy even further. One of our goals for next time is not to push ourselves so hard at the beginning of the trip.

haiti14However, our Haitian hosts gave us a couple days to rest and recuperate at a waterfall and at a spring where we could swim. Everything we did brought us closer together: with each other as Concordians but also with our hosts with whom we spent each day.

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Elisha is excited to begin the trip!

haiti2This trip was a lesson for our team of living out Proverbs 16:9, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” We were living on what we called “Haitian time,” when things happen when they happen, often is not how we foresaw it. But God works through everything, often making “better” from what we might have considered a “missed opportunity”—even from our first few moments in Haiti, when we discovered that all 23 checked bags, carrying medical supplies, volleyball supplies, and our team’s personal items, had been left in Miami and would not arrive until over 24 hours later. This situation “forced” us to get a good night’s rest in Port-au-Prince instead of taking the four-hour bus ride through the mountains, preventing an even earlier burnout, among other blessings.

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My home for two weeks–but we moved under the shelter when the heavy rains hit

Taking a trip to Haiti is expensive, which I learned during fundraising in the months prior to the trip but did not realize the purpose until I arrived in-country. Our team lived on a plot of land about three miles outside Thomassique. This was a huge blessing: we were able to sleep in tents, which helped keep us cool, and we had about 15 acres or so inside a cement wall where we could exercise and go for walks, or just separate ourselves from the group to have some time alone in the Word. However this required the use of the school bus to take us everywhere, which used fuel. It also required extra team members for upkeep of the land, as well as living expenses not only for our team, but also for our cook and her family, our bodyguard and his boss, our translators, and more bottled water than I ever thought could be consumed in the span of two weeks.

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Selfies with kids holding on to our bus on the way home from school

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My Haitian pen pal, Anide, who lived about five hours from Thomassique

At the end of the trip Josias shared with us the plans for the future of the Lutheran church and school in Thomassique. This project has been going on far longer than the time I have been involved, and with the help of a developing bridge between Seward NE and Thomassique, the plans for the future are bigger than ever. These plans include expanding the school, purchasing a second school bus so the 350+ kids have a safe way to commute sometimes several miles to the school, and more medical clinics for future trips, of which I hope I am a part, Lord willing.

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Medical clinic day

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Caves near the waterfall

For me personally, this trip was an incredible exercise in trusting God hour by hour. I can see now how He has been preparing me throughout this year so far in my other travels. He was also teaching us about the necessity of prayer and the importance of being joyful. I plan to go back someday, but I will have to wait and see where the Lord guides my steps.haiti1

On Motion: January Roadtrips

“To me–a blank fortune is…an open sky on the horizon. Fill in the blank. A fortune no one’s ever written up ahead of time, because no one could imagine a life as strange and as beautiful as the horse you’re about to jump on.”  -Sarah Ruhl, Late: A Cowboy Song

There is something beautiful and exhilarating about constant motion, something powerful. Motion accomplishes something that stillness cannot. Perspective changes: physically, and then psychologically.wisco1

Such were my thoughts as I pushed through the West, then the Midwest, changing landscapes falling behind me and looming before me, one after one after one, the blue hood of my Dodge pickup pressing on in front of me like the prow of a ship.

January was full of time in the car, most of it alone. I didn’t mind: in fact, I had been looking forward to the trip for weeks.

I get excited when I drive. Sometimes a good song comes on the radio, or a prayer rises in my heart, and I laugh. It bubbles up, and I roll down my window and lean out up to my waist, feeling the wind and the tears running out of the sides of my eyes, and I yell at the world in happiness.

This was my first drive from my home in Western Montana to Nebraska in the winter or alone. I have made this same trip eight times before, but always with someone else, and always sometime between April and August (although we still hit white-out blizzards even in that time frame). I needed to get my truck and my college belongings back to Nebraska for the upcoming semester.

I looked around for a driving buddy for a while but I wasn’t too disheartened when none surfaced. Every brain needs a rest from constant interaction.

I began my journey January 2, and that first day on the road was glorious. I missed being behind the wheel while I was in Italy. I spent 14 hours flying across beautiful Montana and south through Wyoming, leaving my beloved mountains in my rearview mirror for seven months. I had heard there was a storm on my tail, but I had a good chance of outrunning it for the first day.

I always make a few calls while I drive, catching up with old friends. Some people tell me it’s dangerous, but if you have ever driven alone across eastern Montana and all of Wyoming in one day, you know it’s much safer to be on the phone: otherwise you risk falling asleep out of sheer boredom (although as long as you keep the steering wheel straight you may still stay on the road at least until you run out of gas, probably 30 miles from the nearest gas station).

wisco2I found a tiny motel in Cheyenne for only $55. I could hear the man snoring next door, and there was a wind (not draft) coming in through both the rotting wood around the window in the bathroom and the 3/4-inch gap around the front door; but all I really needed was sleep, and I can sleep through anything. I just used an extra blanket or three.

The second day was a white-out blizzard. I spent six hours gripping the wheel as the wind whipped white sheets across the road, erasing any remains of asphalt to my view. I arrived at my apartment in Nebraska exhausted.

But the next morning, I was up early and out on the road for another 10-hour adventure: I wanted to visit a friend from Italy before the semester got started.

I spent four delightful days roaming around Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It was in the single digits all week, and the wind chill put us deep in the negs. However my friend Anthony, who had also studied in Florence last semester, still managed to give me a grand tour of downtown Oshkosh during my stay.

wisco3We hit up Peabody’s where they offer live jazz every Sunday night, and we attended The Traveling Suitcase’s debut concert for their new album. Anthony knew the lead singer/drummer Nicole Rae (he knows everyone in that city).

I also stopped for a night to see my brother Kevin at his school in Mequon, and he treated us to Panera. We don’t have those in the West. I also hung out with his college buddies, some of whom I remembered from my visit last March.

Over the week, as I socialized with Wisconsinites, one thought pervaded my mind:

Wisconsin is the South of the North.

I am always struck by Wisconsinites’ superb hospitality. I know the Midwest is known for this trait in general, but Wisconsinites’ love for their Home and their Guests is a thing to behold.

The drive to Nebraska was blessed by good weather, although I counted over three dozen cars and six semi trucks off the road in mangled fashions, a result of the storm the previous day. I heard about a 190-car pile-up in Illinois just east of where I passed through.

I was home for only one weekend before I piled into a car with six other people and drove through the night to Louisville, Kentucky, for a travel conference (ironic, I know).

wisco4There is not much to say about this weekend except that I experienced my first two all-night drives, and that I got to spend a Saturday evening in downtown Louisville. We all grabbed a few drinks at Sully’s downtown. There were so many lights in the walking district that it reminded me of what I imagine New York City to look like (a future bucket list location).

In true college-student fashion, we managed to fit 14 people into two hotel rooms, 10 in one and four in the other. Thankfully I had a sleeping bag with me: the gypsy life, my friends, and the beauty of constant motion.