26 Things I’ve Learned in My 26 Years

Here is the world.

Beautiful and terrible things will happen.

Don’t be afraid.

— Frederick Buechner

Canyonlands National Park Utah

Canyonlands, Utah

1. Not everything in life has to be hard.

Sometimes the easy path is the one you’re supposed to go down. Sometimes it’s the universe showing you where you’re supposed to go.

lily in sunlight


2. If you throw the candy wrappers away in the trash, Mom will never find them.

If you stuff them in the couch she will find them and you will get in trouble.


imageswhisper-words-of-wisdom_615x454 3. Let it be.

As in, the microwave/car/laptop/whathaveyou that is malfunctioning will probably start working properly again if you let it alone for a spell. Granted, this doesn’t always work, but sometimes it does. I have in fact “fixed” a microwave and a few car problems this way.


4. A sense of humor will take you far in the world.

I honestly don’t know how you’d get by without one. Life is ridiculous, there’s no getting around that. So just enjoy it. Laugh and be merry.

winter camping Wyoming

5. Go camping.

If you want to get to know someone really well, go camping with them. Hopefully you realize that they’re awesome, ‘cause if not it’s going to be a looong weekend.

Fundy National Park New Brunswick Canada

Fundy National Park, New Brunswick

6. Travel.

Traveling is imperative for any well-rounded individual. Even if you can’t physically travel to far-off lands, mental travel can be enough. Read a book, or watch a documentary/movie that transports you somewhere else and teaches you something about other people and the world around you. The world is a large place, but not as big as it seems. The people living on the other side of it are just like us. It is not as scary as you think out there. GO!

blue springs state park florida

Another travel perk: hugging manatees.

7. A good book is always worth its weight in your checked bag.

These are your reserve books for the travels home, because of course you will have finished the books in your carry-on bag. You should have a book to read on your person at all times.

8. It’s better not to tell Mom what you did until after you make it back safely.

Or ever. This includes skydiving, almost getting arrested in Washington DC for sleeping in your car, and picking up hitchhikers in foreign countries. Especially that last one.

skydiving Ohio

9. If you make cookies, they will be eaten.

Especially if you live in a bunkhouse with other field biologists. And especially if they are male.

10. If you simply expect things to work out, they probably will.

The world does not have it against you. It might not happen exactly how you planned, but it will work out in some fashion.

Adopt a kitten, get some sweet corn!

11. Going for a walk is an excellent way to generate thoughts.

galapagos islands

12. There are many people in this world who do not know how to put toilet paper on the holder.

Perhaps they purposely didn’t change out the empty roll because they wanted you to have the joy of doing so.

change toilet paper brain damage sign

13. Not speaking does not mean not caring.

Or not being intelligent. Sometimes we just can’t speak, or don’t know what to say.

Blue Ridge Parkway North Carolina

Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina

14. Just because that’s how it’s been for a long time doesn’t mean that’s how it’s supposed to be forever.

15. My family will always be odder than yours.

Therefore, there is very little you can do to weird me out.

Lauren and Grandad with hats

16. It is very hard for me to be happy if I can’t go outside every day.

Sunshine, trees, fresh air, blue skies, and some mountains would be preferable. That’s all I need. And some birds.

Nepal Annapurna

17. Sometimes you just want to do nothing.

And that’s okay. You don’t have to be working on something all the time. It’s okay to take a break every once in awhile and just breathe.

Teton Science School Wilson Campus bunkhouse

18. Though sometimes you might think otherwise, it’s probably better that you didn’t actually say what was on your mind.

Stupid can’t be taken back, and neither can unkind words (no matter how deserved they are).

Darn it, if only my parents hadn’t raised me to be such a polite and respectful person…

Grand Teton National Park Wyoming

19. Climbing up a mountain on your own steam is a powerful feeling.

The view is always better when you work for it.

trekking Mt. Kinabalu Malaysia

It is not always advisable to wear Teva sandals and socks to climb mountains. But I find them to be excellent hiking foot attire.

20. Be excited about something every day.

I learned this one from my dog, who, for all of his 14 years, was excited to the point of backflips for his food. I’m not sure I’ve ever been that excited about food, and, thinking about it, I’m not sure why not. Food is exciting stuff. Life is exciting stuff. So get excited about it, and don’t bother with what other people think.

food truck moab utah

21. You can’t outrun your past. Or a charging moose.

And of the two, I can personally attest that the charging moose is much more terrifying.

Fundy National Park New Brunswick Canada

22. Birds are cool.

Like really cool. For instance, migration. Ruby-throated hummingbirds fly non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico. RTHUs weigh 2-6 grams (0.1-0.2 oz) and are 7-9 cm (2.8-3.5 inches) long. At elevations of 2,000 to 5,000 feet, in 11-18 hours, the tiny birds fly 600 miles over the Gulf. Woah.


23. Send postcards.

Everyone loves to get mail. I mean really, is anyone going to say “Don’t send me any more mail, I don’t like getting a little personalized note that lets me know you’re thinking about me”? No.

24. People leave their brains at home when they go on vacation.

On that note, the middle of the road on a blind curve is not a good place to stop to take a picture when there is traffic coming from both directions.

Also, when the sign on the visitor center says “Hours 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.” that doesn’t mean we employees want to sit here another half hour while you use the bathroom, ask detailed questions about the refuge, and browse the gift shop. But by all means, go right ahead. I get the equivalent of 87 cents an hour for this internship, and no, I have absolutely nothing better to do with my time right now. I really don’t want to go home and eat dinner or anything like that.

south carolina hiking

25. Make music.

Sing. Play an instrument. Music is the language of the soul. And it just feels good.

Especially when it involves boomwackers and Call Me Maybe.

26. Love like sunshine.

Love should warm you, brighten up your day, help you to see things you didn’t before. It should be everywhere, illuminating everything.


Also, I wanted to mention that I have learned a great deal of other things in my 26 years, this is only a sampling. Just wanted to clarify.

Black Balsam

written in North Carolina, 2010. 

Memorial Day in the Mountains

It is listening that puts the world right again. When I listen to the wind, gently rustling the grasses, a feeling of peace pervades my being, as if I am absorbing the motes of tranquility that float in the air.  Occasional large flies and bees drone past, overlaying the background murmuring of grasses with percussive buzzes. An eastern towhee calls, moving further and further away, a penny-whistle of startling clarity. Crows caw dryly from among the mountains behind me, harsh sounds against the omnipresent breeze. They ride this wind, watching over places I’ll never see. But here, up on the top of the world, everything that I can see is enough.

I’m sitting on a rocky outcrop at the top of Black Balsam, a mountain just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. The rock under my hand is dark, shot through in some places with quartz, in others sprinkled with bits of mica that shine in the almost-setting sun. The rock is rough but worn, and I wonder how many years have passed since it first felt the warmth of daylight. More than I can fathom. Thousands of feet have passed this way, but this evening the perch and view are mine alone. My rock is an island surrounded by waves of bristling golden grasses, a bald above the tree line. Exposed to the world and the elements, I sit and breathe. The crickets have begun, their sounds the string section hidden among the dried grasses. The towhee still calls, now beyond the far ridge. It has found a partner and the two duet quietly, eventually fading into silence.

I like the mountains

I open my eyes and look up into the pure blue that is the sky. There are clouds, small puffs of cotton over distant mountains, too far away and wispy to be of concern. The moon is a translucent orb, suspended in the lightest blue above the darker mountain-defined horizon. All around me, as far as I can see, are mountains. Their smoothly rounded profiles deceptively hide distance and rock, making the world look soft. I imagine tracing their shapes with my hands, but it takes more than touch to know a mountain.

I glance up and a kestrel flies toward me, the only moving creature I can see. It disappears below the crest behind me, only to climb high again before eventually disappearing, a black speck absorbed into the sunlight and the blue of the sky. I wish to follow, but my mind is drawn back by the large, startling green katydid that lands on my bare leg. It takes a few hesitant steps on feet so small I can’t feel them before wiping its antenna and hopping clumsily away. It lands on the rock nearby, and as I watch it scrapes a wing against its back leg, beginning a solo not intended for my ears. I move closer but it leaps madly away, just out of reach. I don’t try to follow. I look back up at the moon and at my shadow on the grass, which remains still no matter how the grasses dance in the wind.

I sit and listen to the moon and the mountains, and, sometimes, I think I understand what they say.

I like the mountains

I like the mountains

I like watching the cloud shadows move across the mountains. I like seeing only mountains for hundreds of miles in all directions. I like the baking sun and the cooling wind, making me cold and hot alternating. I like this rock that I sit on, an exposed bit of mountain skeleton, rough beneath my arms and legs.

I like listening to the birds; towhees, warblers, thrushes, claiming their own small section of the world. I like that I can hear waterfalls, hidden in the valley crevice somewhere before me. I like the ravens riding the air, circling and diving. I like imagining what it would be like to leap from this rock to join them, soaring from one mountain to the next, a scrap of dark dancing in the sky.

I like the blooming rhododendron, their fuchsia flowers beacons of color in the verdant undulations of mountain. I like the flies that look like bees, gently probing the sweat on my arm. I like sitting here, silent, knowing that all is right with the world.

I like how as soon as I step out of my car I feel again that joyful peace of the mountains. I like knowing that whenever I come back all this will be here. The rock and the birds and the flies and the sun and the water and the wind will never leave this place. I like that even when I leave I take the essence of this place with me in my soul.

Memorial Day in the Mountains

For the long weekend (last weekend, it took me a while to go through all my pictures) I went up to North Carolina, to the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest. Two years ago I had an internship at The Cradle of Forestry, which is just off the Parkway. It was about a three and a half hour drive from South Carolina, but worth every minute.

I spent most of the time during my internship wishing I could climb Looking Glass Rock. One of these days I will. Hopefully.

I spent many hours hiking around and exploring the area during my internship, and I wanted to go back and see if it was as beautiful as I remembered. I also needed to get my altitude fix, as I’ve spent the past 6 months in flat flat Florida and semi-flat South Carolina. It’s good for running and biking (because I don’t do hills on my bike) but I miss being able to see into the distance.

I drove up on Saturday and spent two nights camping up near Black Balsam, which is just off the parkway. Sunday morning I got up and reveled in the misty mountain view. The rest of the morning I spent hiking along the mountain ridge and getting sun burnt. After a leisurely lunch with a spectacular view I drove south along the Blue Ridge Parkway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After I called home and talked to not only my mother, sister, father and brother but also my two grandmothers (and all at the same time, too. Ah, the wonders of speaker phone). Then I made my way back to Black Balsam for a second night of camping in my new favorite camping place in Pisgah Forest.

The trail along the mountain ridge. One of my favorite places to hike in the area.
Art Loeb Spur, one of my favorite trails.

Sunset in the mountains is beautiful, and I was very tempted to just stay up there forever (or at least another few days, until my food ran out) and become a mountain woman. I had half a loaf of bread, half a chunk of cheese, and a hard-boiled egg. Definitely could have lasted at least another few days.

Campsite the first night, on the mountain side. I took this picture in the morning, when everything was misty and covered in dew.
View from my tent (taken later in the morning, after the fog burned off).

Sunday night I drove back to my new favorite camping spot up on Black Balsam, this time setting up camp on the edge of some pines, which was a little more protected from the wind (and turned out to be much less dewy). Monday morning I drove down into Brevard to buy postcards and check out the White Squirrel Festival. I missed any white squirrel-related activities, but I did have some excellent gelato and a nice conversation with the New Zealander who owns the gelato shop. On my way back up to the parkway I stopped at Slick Rock Falls.

Slick Rock Falls
Cedar Waxwing

After Brevard, I headed north along the Blue Ridge Parkway to Asheville, where I stopped for lunch. After that it was a straight shot south to South Carolina and Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge.

My campsite the second night.

I was very tempted to stay in the mountains, but the red-cockaded woodpeckers were calling and so I had to head south again. Hopefully it won’t be so long before I can visit the mountains again.