Saturday, June 1, 2013

Unstuck: Three years of life's lessons and packing tape.

Four years ago, about this time, I was hired for my first fantastic un-real job (seasonal position, doing what I love to do, with people who love doing their jobs too) in the National Park Service at New River Gorge.

Three years ago, we packed up the house in Kentucky with the help of my mom, and I brought all our junk across the country with my brother, to sit in my mother-in-law's garage until we settled down again.  And then, we were off.

First adventure: Peru and Bolivia for Spanish lessons.  I learned about cold and dry weather, high altitude, crazy geology, and a quietly fascinating people.  Next, Rock Eagle 4-H in Georgia - learning to live communally, to work crazy hours but still like the job, to get extremely excited about the same skit over and over, etc.  Then our first season in Stehekin: learning about real community linking a wide variety of people, about the mountains that I took for granted as a kid, and about backpacking for real.  Next up, Nicaragua, which has become the second home of our hearts.  Then back to Stehekin, learning to never take for granted what I have learned before - my brain is very good at mixing things around until I don't know what I know anymore.  The most recent winter was one of quick transitions, with a month in Nicaragua, three months in Ecuador, and a month in Utah - rapid-fire changes and learning a lot quickly, but gaining confidence in my ability to do so, and to speak Spanish, and to schlep large quantities of vegetables on my back down muddy trails.  And now, to Stehekin one more time, which feels like coming home to rest for a while.

That rest has made me think about what these last few years have taught me.  I've learned a lot about myself, of course, including how flexible I can be, what makes me happy, and how lucky I am.  But there are lots of little things that make up the whole, for example:

- I've gotten used to remembering to look up and around at the faces nearby.  In small communities, it is of utmost importance to say hi to people you know every time you see them.  Anonymity is not a good thing.

- In places where there's always room for two more on a bus, you get used to being close to other people, even when they're sweaty and stinky - or you are.

- Crazy stuff happens, when traveling, when applying for jobs, when moving - but worrying and stressing about it won't help at all.  I am so much better at going with the flow than I was even five years ago, not to mention ten, that I hardly recognize myself.

- I'm a whole lot better at a lot of things than I figured.  I'm a better communicator, a better travel guide, a better grocery donkey, and a better worker than I had imagined.  This is not to say that I'm the best I know at any of these, and I still have a lot to learn about all of them, but I can trust myself to do what I need to more than I used to think.

-Packing is an art.  We are learning this art well, but there's so much more we can do to perfect it.

But there are a lot of things that I do miss from our old life - a personalized house (Jeff just kept personalizing them, before I made us move over and over again - sigh), with our own good dishes, furniture, art, etc.  These things are just not movable in our car, or possible to carry around without breaking the dishes or our backs.  I wish I could babysit my nephew (shockingly, since I left home, my niece got to old to be babysat - shoot!).  I miss being able to take interesting classes or dance with a group, to plant a garden, to pick up a new hobby without worrying if it's portable.  I really, really, really miss having our pets around all the time.  I feel awful every time I leave Penny's house and Subira's nose hits the floor, or when I leave Mom's house and Leo sulks (haaaaaaaaaahahahahaha!  he's a cat.  but I still feel bad).  I don't exactly miss my family more, since I now see them more than before, but I feel the distance when we're farther afield without the regular phone service.

But we can't have everything in this life, and the benefits of our current lifestyle so far outweigh the costs that I am willing to say this is the best place I could be right now.  The ability to be in this position relies heavily on a lot of people though: I definitely need to acknowledge a few people who make this possible:

- Our moms. I know, this is obvious, since they birthed us and all, but seriously, these women are incredible.  They help us by taking in our pets, helping us store stuff, helping us pack, helping us move, keeping rooms for us to use as landing pads, being our permanent addresses and phone numbers, making appointments for doctors and dentists, taking care of and upgrading (!!!) our car, keeping us up to date with the goings-on of our families, and being our foundations.  They are superwomen.

- The bosses that took a chance on us: Dave Bieri, Matt Hammons, Kerri Olson, Caitlyn Peake, Dusti Becker, and Kevin Poe.  You all rock.

- Jeff.  He put up with so many ups and downs, supported me in so many transitions, and then decided to join me for these crazy adventures.  He's my sounding board, dream-sharer, reality check, and co-pilot.

I can't believe I'm so lucky.


  1. Kate, This is so beautiful. You made me cry. I love how you put everything together and shared your insights. Yes, life is about growing and learning, adapting and fitting in. Over the past few years your life has been so rich, it's like you've lived 15 years in depth, if that makes sense. I am so privileged to be a part of your wonderful life.

  2. i just love this. i love to hear you describe how much you've grown and i love being able to feel the deep appreciation and joy that shine through your words.

  3. Beautiful ! I pray that we all live our lives as fully as you are doing. No matter where or how we do it - we should all feel like we are right where we belong - or at least on the way... Life truly is short, and precious, and we need to appreciate all of it while we can! (I mean that in a positive way - not in a morbid or sad way.) :)
    You are awesome and we are very blessed to have been a part of your life and to be able to stay in touch! You and Jeff are wonderful ! Keep enjoying every minute!

  4. Kate & Jeff, What a Life; What Class; & with What Style you both have shared your adventuresome spirit, support of each-other's 'wanderlust' & the American Way -- of lending aid & expertise to your neighbors here at home, as well as strangers on foreign soil.
    Your family loves you & so admires you both -- 2 genius/scientific minds bound in love & dedication to bettering the lives & environments of everyone you touch. And sometime soon, we hope, you'll settle down here in the PNW -- & generate yet another little "Z", who will continue your legacy into 2045 & beyond! Love, Aunt Peggy