How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
— Annie Dillard
Here is the world.
Beautiful and terrible things will happen.
Don’t be afraid.
— Frederick Buechner
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
11. Going for a walk is an excellent way to generate thoughts.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
19. Climbing up a mountain on your own steam is a powerful feeling.
The view is always better when you work for it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“I don’t much care for straight lines. Too lacking in possibility.”
– Craig Childs, from Soul of Nowhere
We are driving through Arches National Park, and it’s raining. There are big flashes of lightning here and there, but I can’t hear if there is any thunder. The car windows are rolled up against the rain. The gray clouds and sky make a different backdrop, one I like better than the normal clear blue skies. There is more emotion, more drama. This is what this place stirs in me, varied emotion, varied feelings, the gray mottled churning of the sky.
This place is not as simple as a cloudless bright blue sky.
Neither am I.
“To stare directly into the eyes of a place like this, to not look away, is nearly unbearable.”
– Craig Childs, from the book Soul of Nowhere
Max and I spent quite some time here, photographing and getting to know this place, in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. We also sheltered from a few rather large thunderstorms here, and watched some fantastic lightning shows from the comfort and safety of this cave in the canyon wall.
Check out his much better photographs on his website: Max Seigal Photography.
I am sitting in Natural Bridges National Monument, at Owachomo Natural Bridge, the last of three natural bridges in the Monument. It is after dark, and I’m waiting for the stars and my friend Max, who is photographing the night sky. In the distance, from their pools in the narrow rock canyon, I hear frogs that sound like sheep and chickens. Bats fly about in quick loops, swerving through the dusk.
The stars above and around Owachomo were visible first. The view through the bridge was cloudy for quite some time, the clouds trapped by the rock ceiling. The wind plays with my hair, and gradually dances my body heat away across the desert, through the bridge, out to the stars. I brought a cushion to sit on, and my sleeping bag to wrap around my shoulders. I have a book to read while I wait for Max to finish his pictures, painting the arch with light so it shows up in his shot.
Every few minutes I turn my headlamp off, let my eyes adjust to the dark, and look all around to the expansive sky of stars. I’d sit here and just watch the night, but I know it doesn’t take very long for me to fall asleep, lulled by the dark, the wind, the reassuring stars all around. I don’t want to fall asleep, not yet, so I read to keep myself awake, engaged, present, and yet not, with my surroundings.
This is the perfect place to read this book, The Soul of Nowhere, by Craig Childs. It is about these places, and blends with them. It gives me another way to connect with this space around me, through the words of someone else who has absorbed this place and knows how to articulate what it means.
“… I am hoping to become the same, a person who is changed by the land, who puts a pen to paper and tells what I have seen of this land.”
– Craig Childs, from The Soul of Nowhere
I’ve lived a lot of places, but I’ve never lived out here, in the desert of Utah. I wonder what it would be like, to wake every day to this. It looks like simple starkness in all direction, but looks can be deceiving. We drove past a man walking down the highway–on the wrong side of the road I might add, he should be walking against traffic. Not that it matters, with so few cars. We’ve only passed maybe 10 so far this morning, including all those in town where we stopped for gas, coffee, and the bathroom. I forgot to brush my teeth. The man was miles from the nearest building, at least a 30 minute drive from our direction, 5 miles in the other according to the sign he passed. It’s just after 8 a.m. Where is he going, and where did he come from?
This is a long road to walk to get to nowhere in particular, and probably even longer to get to somewhere specific.