Hiking & Hyperpolyglots

Let me introduce you to my fantasy self. She is an avid hiker. Weekends are spent camping under the stars, and she knows the trails in her area better than the roads to work. She can walk with a pack on her back for 20, 30, 40km without tiring. She spends more time outdoors than indoors, and when she is inside, dreams of inhaling fresh air and the light scent of gardenias floating through a field in the middle of nowhere.

I love my fantasy self. The problem is, she is not real. Don’t get me wrong- I have hiked before (500 miles*, in fact), and I spent much of my childhood running through the back woods of Maine: being covered in bug bites and scratches from blackberry bushes just meant it was a great day, filled with adventure and fun. I own a bevy of camping gear, and binge YT documentaries on the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, and Continental Divide from time to time.

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Yes to Pizza.

Once upon a time, there was a Spanish teacher who awakened very early one Friday morning and knew–without a doubt–that it was going to be an amazing day: no ifs, ands, or buts. As if cyberspace wanted to confirm this fact, by 5:30am the algorithms had led her to perhaps the #BestSongEverWritten.

She left the room and nearly missed the surprise ending, but ran back just in time to see it (watch to the end!). She felt an immediate and strong urge to share it with everyone who crossed her path that day; fortunately, she would meet with eight classes, so that wouldn’t be too difficult. It didn’t exactly align with the curriculum, but… yes to pizza. Always yes to pizza.

Then again, did it align? Could it? She wracked her brain. Classes were studying the Nazca Lines– massive geoglyphs in the Peruvian desert that appeared to be roads or trenches in every direction at ground level, but from the air… holy guacamole! They were designs of plants and animals, the longest a whopping 12 miles (20km) long!

The crazy thing was that they had been around for 2,000+ years, but weren’t really discovered or documented until aircrafts were invented. She imagined what it would have been like: “Flying over Peru, Roger that. Wait! A giant hummingbird, there is a giant hummingbird! And a spider! Mayday?!” [pause] “No, I don’t believe they intend to eat me.” “Should we send backup?” “No, I repeat–they do not appear to be an immediate threat. Over.”

In fact, drones and AI are helping to uncover new lines, previously gone unnoticed. In October of 2020, as explained by this article, a faint outline of a huge cat was discovered on the side of a mountain. 143 new geoglyphs have been discovered in the past two years, including one of a humanoid.

Students had been having difficulties imagining just how large these images were, so she planned to have them find the vehicles in the following photo. That would surely impress upon classes the immensity of their size. Wow!

Image Credit

So, pizza. Hmm. There had to be a way in; the song was just too good to hide away in a metaphorically dusty folder in the cloud. Another algorithm led to an animated gif, with a monkey, hummingbird, spider, and a… pizza?! Bingo!

The results of this Spanish lesson about pizza, ahem, Peru, speak for themselves, but she, for one, was very impressed.

Third graders tried making their own miniature deserts and geoglyphs with real sand and red paint (to mimic the reddish desert sand), but it was messier than anticipated: she wound up with red paint IN her hair, students all had red hands from dyeing the sand red, and thus the class switched from The Pizza Song on loop to Elmo’s Para bailar la bamba (because Elmo is red, in case you didn’t follow that non sequitur train of thought).

And since they were all in Peru, it felt like spending a moment at the sand dunes would be an inspired end to the week (best footage starts @3:09 below). After all of that virtual sand dune skiing, who’s hungry for pizza? Happy Friday! ¡Feliz viernes!

Teachers: Here is a more authentic/ traditional soundtrack for background music as students work if *gasp* you don’t like the pizza song.

Hibernation

A thick fog hangs like Spanish moss in the air. The air is cool; blurry palms stand quietly in the distance. Winter. Hibernation. Emerging from the cave–my cave–I squint as the first rays of dawn light up the horizon. How long have I been asleep? What did I dream?

We hibernate for myriad reasons. Sometimes this hiding away is a natural state: our energy slows with the seasons as we slide into a deeply restful period, refreshing and rejuvenating body and soul. Other times, we use hibernation as a means for safety or self-preservation, a sort of escapism, where–mandated or not–we become recluses to the world, avoiding and turning off a part of lives until we feel strong enough to reawaken, until we can face whatever it is we were running away from.

“Hibernation: a dormant state in which no food is taken; here, there is no need to nourish ourselves; we are already full and recognize the necessity to take time to digest thoughts, feelings, our past, present, and potential future. As animals- only occasionally rational, I would argue- hibernation is healthy; but rising from the ashes, like the mythical phoenix, remains imperative, a vital, compulsory, requisite aspect of living. So rest and recuperate, and hide away from the world- just don’t forget to come back! We return to the same place, but it is suddenly brand new, brilliantly alive and sparkling like the ocean waves on a hot summer’s day.

I stretch, and memories frozen in a past long ago begin to melt, ice sculptures suddenly visible, now vanishing: Platonic Forms. Bears are both powerful, herculean creatures and cuddly soft, a beautiful tension and delicate balance. Good morning, world.

“We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.”

-T.S. Eliot

Southern Spain ~ Andalucía

The unrelenting Spanish sun beat down on me as I wiped the sweat from my forehead for the umpteenth time, wondering what in the world 44*C was in Fahrenheit. [It turned out to be 110*F.] So this is why they have the siesta, I thought. My brother and I were the only ones walking around the city streets of Granada that afternoon, foolishly searching for tapas and a place to spend the night, when everything was very clearly closed. Scholar-me knew that the siesta existed, knew that it was a part of Spanish culture, but to live it was something entirely different. The “CERRADO” (closed) signs weren’t really necessary: heavy iron doors and gates prevented anyone from even looking inside.

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Black Sands

THE SADNESS rolls over me in waves, intermittent pulses gradually washing away the shoreline. I reach down for a handful of the volcanic black sand, and marvel at its odd grainy texture. Farther on, the sand turns pebbly—small, smooth stones pepper the ground mosaic. It is difficult to grasp how this ash was once part of a mountain: hot vapor, rock fragments, lava, and gas have transformed it into a bewitchingly beautiful landscape.

And yet, I also understand completely. It isn’t merely a matter of transportation, that of moving from one place to another—magma inside to volcanic ash outside; but rather this activity of an internal explosion, a pregnancy of creation, a fiery process turned cooled product. These constant bursts are my ultimate composition and makeup at my deepest level. They are me.

I cannot move away from or flee the sadness, for it will remain a part of me always in varying forms–memories etched into basalt columns of the heart; but I can transform the ache into something beautiful. Drowsy numbness, Keats? Begone! As the sadness cools to ash, I feel stronger. Lighter.

Nearing the shoreline, white frothy ocean spray nearly knocks me down this time; but I respond gleefully now, jumping in the waves.

The day is a cold, smoky gray, but I am warm inside. Just like the mountain.

Favorite Shirt

RAINY DAYS usually felt cozy, comforting: grayness squeezing her in a tight metaphorical hug, drops pelting the windowpane in a steady rhythm, staying inside with people she loved. But today was different. She was frustrated. Overwhelmed, perhaps. And for a seemingly nonsensical reason: her favorite shirt didn’t fit anymore. But everyone had one. You know the kind. It was the soft, stretchy, steel blue one, the one made of rayon that never wrinkled or shrunk in the dryer. It was the one that had a history all its own—one that had survived spaghetti sauce, Sharpie markers, long runs through the woods, and even a short bout with a toner cartridge that exploded when she shook it one summer afternoon (whoops). It was the one that made her feel loved, even when times got tough—one that helped her through tears from ex’s, a hypochondriac phase, and infuriating drama-filled emails and texts. And it never made her feel fat, even after she gorged herself on Chipotle and a pint of ice cream. No matter what day it was, she always felt good in it. That’s what made it her favorite shirt.

Except that now it was getting a little tight, and it itched sometimes, and even though it was her favorite, she had worn it to shreds. She needed a new one. Badly. But she didn’t want to let go. She needed to; she just didn’t want to.

The grayness squeezed her with doubts, consuming and strangling her thoughts: what if she couldn’t find a good replacement? What if the new one was only good, and not great? She had already gone shopping at several stores, but returned home exhausted and miserable. She couldn’t find what she was looking for.  Everything paled by comparison. Perhaps she didn’t know what she wanted. And yet, she knew that when she saw it, there would be no indecision, no question, simply a gut feeling and intuition that this was her new shirt. Sighing, she surrendered to the metronome-like pulse of raindrops outside, and decided to hope for the best. She would find a new favorite shirt. She had to. She would still keep the old one forever, and always remember it as her favorite shirt, but she had to go find a new one now.

My throat is parched and dry.  I thirst for adventure. مكتوب (Maktub, “It is written”).

River of Joy

She took one last, lingering look around, slipped into the canoe, and pushed off. Aside from a few light water ripples, it was quiet that morning. The birds must be tired. She was tired. A coral sunrise painted wide brush strokes over the placid waters, bringing tears to her eyes. The woman wouldn’t admit to crying, though; she preferred thinking of it as, “liquid sunshine” [rain] rolling down her cheeks. It had been a wildly memorable year thus far, with extreme emotional roller-coaster rides for even the most even-tempered of characters. The quarantine seemed to have sped up life’s timeline, urging people to make difficult decisions and pursue projects they had been delaying or procrastinating on. It was probably for the best, this urgency, albeit an odd way to push the universe forward.

As she paddled, a light breeze wafted past, clearing the thick molasses of air for a moment; this was a humidity southerners knew all too well. She was going to miss this place. But in time, she had realized that she would miss the people much more: and yet, people didn’t simply frequent a place, they became the place, and the place became them. It felt like pieces of her were simultaneously spread out all over the world and also held deep inside. She kept a piece of everyone she had ever met in her soul, and she also left a piece of herself everywhere she traveled, somehow. It was an oxymoron of sorts, a puzzle–but also a comforting thought, that she was never very far away, and neither was anyone else.

In fact, she was exactly where she needed to be, and always would be, flowing on the river of joy. The stop on the bank had been longer than expected, but now the winds were picking up; it was time to get going. But oh, what a lovely place! Blue skies, fields of green. A true gem. A diamond. A rose. She would never forget. How deep the river runs…

When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” -Rumi

The Struggle

I stared at it from across the room. It stared back, refusing to blink, trying to lure me into the game, stubborn as all get-out. Why were we at odds again? The gray mist had descended a few days back: tornado skies, sucking me into the center of their dangerously calm vortices: like the penny chutes at the airports, round and round went the coins, sans control and yet perfectly controlled, under the power of centripetal force until pfff–they were spat out, minus their dignity but exiting the funnel at last. Except that I was still swirling, furious at it. Emotions rocketed through my body. I won’t. I shan’t. I can’t. I refuse.

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Winter in Brussels

The flakes fell fast and heavy, quickly transforming the city skyline into an incomprehensible, wintry blur. She stood still inside the moving tram, watching silently; there were no words in her mind; she was absorbing the scene into her being.

Icelanders called this, “window-weather” (gluggaveður)—beautiful from a distance, provided the distance was indoors, adjacent to a fireplace, and within arm’s length of a hot mug of cocoa, of course. 

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Minimalism

There has been an effort in recent years to quash inaccurate definitions of minimalism–to streamline, to declutter, to get to the heart of what exactly this movement and philosophy are all about. While extreme minimalists and ultralight packing lists may be awe-inspiring and provide shock-value, true minimalism is about one thing: getting rid of the superfluous in your life so that you can concentrate on what is most important.

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Privacy & Tech

I have a very strained relationship with technology. On the one hand, and in light of the current circumstances, we are very fortunate to have this tool with which to communicate and share information around the world. And in general, I enjoy blogging and researching, and appreciate having an infinite number of resources at my fingertips. It is amazing what humankind has been able to accomplish.

On the other hand, there are several serious societal ramifications that keep me up at night. I put them here in list form to pose questions, not solve the world’s problems. They are simply to consider.

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