Monthly Archives: January 2014

pulling up roots; planting new seeds

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photographs by Grace Lichtner

At the beginning of this month I was contemplating what it felt like to be “at home” in a new place. I questioned and discussed this with many people. The response that made the most sense to me was “to be at home is to be connected”. After this month of exploring new territory, I tend to agree with this statement. Whether it’s feeling connected to the land, the water, the culture, or the people who I am surrounded by, feeling at home really does come down to the connections that I make in my immediate environment.

In these past four weeks, I, along with my housemates here, have gone through a lot of changes leaving old patterns behind and creating new ones. (in eating, sleeping, and communicating). I am becoming aware of my own reactions while also watching and observing my good friend Jim gradually build the foundation for his new physical home. Pulling up roots from one place can feel like a shock to the system, but I am learning that if I am able to branch out in new ways I will quickly regain nutrients and energy from the fertile soil around me. Studying my natural environment here on the island has helped me feel more connected. This time has offered me valuable lessons including, taking the time to nurture new seeds and making sure not to rush the growing process.

Like coral branching out we all are testing our flexibility stretching our limits and reaching for new connections. As a part of my “field guide” creation this month, I was asked to connect with and collect knowledge from locals on the island through interviews. I have been lucky enough to find the most helpful and kind individuals who have gone out of their way to help me feel at home and feel informed about the foreign terrain and culture. I am grateful for their initial guidance in my first wanderings here. My interviews with them have been informal yet informative. Through our conversations, I am learning by absorbing what it is they love and want to share from their island living perspective, leaving the role of the interviewer behind and taking on the role of the listener, observer and new friend.

My first real connection was Trisa. New friend and “on island” confidant Trisa immediately connected me to good people, good eats and great ways to access the water through a paddle board lesson and snorkel excursion.  She also connected me to near by neighbors of mine Theresa and Aaron who are also working on a house remodel project. Theresa writes her own blog offering all kinds of tips for a field guide to island living.

Ty and Adrian of Bush Tribe Eco Adventures are two other fantastic connections. Through Bush Tribe, I made my first explorations hiking and exploring. Ty also manages an amazing place called Discovery Grove where I learned much about the history, plants, and native fruits and herbs on island. Through Ty I was also able to make connections with friendly visitors to the island who then introduced me to Captain Dee. Dee takes visitors sailing and snorkeling.  Our excursion brought us to a near by tiny island for some of the best snorkeling I had ever experienced. Ty also introduced me to Dale who runs the fantastic local Sejah farm.

I really have had such little time here, not enough to fully engage in the history or culture of the island yet, but I am seeing each new connection as a seed that has potential to branch out into a whole new garden of possibilities. My “field guide” for St. Croix has barely begun at the end of this month but I am looking forward to taking my time cultivating the exploration and watching it grow.

1/30/14

Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about. Check out the Chapter Summaries Page to get caught up to date.

 

mapping imaginary places

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I’ve spent many years mapping out my life, without the help of a compass or traditional navigational tools.  Through pictures, drawings and doodles on Pennsylvania diner napkins and dinner place mats I plotted out my future days.  Making lists of places I hoped to go and things I wanted to do, I ordered my scribbles in categories and columns, circling some areas and boxing in others. Then I would connect them with lines, arrows and sometimes numbers – ranking their priority.  On paper these maps would appear to be intangible destinations or imaginary places. In reality my “maps” sometimes led me to specific places  while helping me come closer to the goals I had written down. I believe that seeing my hopes and ideas visually on paper is the first step to making the impossible possible.

Creating these maps is not really about figuring out how to get somewhere or do something. It’s simply how I set my intentions, which for me is the best way to guide me to or through  any new experience. Returning to the drawings or lists solidifies my goals and reminds me of why I embarked on the adventure in the first place.

Rebecca Solnit creates maps in her “Field Guide to Getting Lost” in the form of  written chapters. Here in St. Croix, I am living out my chapters in a more experiential way. I am creating visual maps through photographs and written notes focusing on the intentions I set at the beginning of the year.  Like the scavenger hunt I created for the October chapter writer, I am using hand written notes and a series of photographs to uncover the different treasures of the island.  These photographs and written notes are my personal maps leading my exploration here.  Below are my intentions set for each map created.

  1. To feel at home with the unknown,
  2. To learn and absorb new knowledge in new places
  3. To explore uncharted territory

Map one: Feeling at home in the unknown – This month’s Wild Card Dave Schott asked me to take one photograph everyday that made me feel at home in my new surroundings.  Below are some examples:

Map two: Learning and absorbing new knowledge – By taking notes, making lists, and making marks, I am starting to absorb new knowledge and ideas about the new environment around me.

Map three: Charting new territory: Often I feel as though I am in an imaginary place here. I have to stop, think twice and look again to understand what I am looking at.  The images below map out the places I find myself in that feel more like waking dreams than living out chapters.

1/25/14

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field guide to being lost

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What does it mean to get lost, be lost, or feel lost? And why do we hold such  negative connotations with these ideas?  Rebecca Solnit explores these questions in her “Field Guide to Getting Lost” and I have pondered the concepts more and more each day here on the island.

In this 7th month of Living Chapters I am just now starting to do what I intended this project to do and I am beginning to feel like I’m actually letting go of the reigns and giving over control. It’s as if my environment itself has taken on the role of the chapter writer and is leading the process.

This month I have been asked to create my own field guide to the island of St. Croix. Chapter writer Ashley Duffalo and Wild Card Dave Schott both generously provided me with tools on how to create such a guide. They suggested I take walks, collect objects, record interviews, and make photographs. I am grateful for these guidelines. Following them has made me feel more grounded and has brought a bit of structure to my days.

Instead of an island field guide though, I feel as if I have begun to create my own personal guide for “being lost”.  Adapting to a this new environment, has been an exercise in allowing myself to be ok with the feeling of not knowing where I am exactly or where I am going.

When dropped in a new environment either for a short time or an extended stay, I always gravitate toward finding the things that are familiar or that I feel comfortable with: a routine or structure.  Upon arriving in a new place, starting a new job or meeting a new friend, I immediately want to uncover the unknown. I map out my surroundings, problem solve, or seek out answers to my list of questions.  Although these are great survival instincts when encountering new situations, I do believe that rushing to solve all the mysteries and wanting to know all the answers right away is not the best system for me. I must allow some time for learning in the uncovering.

We all desire to work from the knowledge we possess or the set of personal reference points we’ve identified but I am finding that it is counteractive to rely on that knowledge. Why try to prove what it is that we know when there is opportunity to learn something that we don’t know?

If I truly desire to learn something new and navigate new territory, I must become at ease with the unknown.  Navigating only with knowledge and reference points from maps I’ve drawn before will not help me reach new territory.

In Solnit’s “Field Guide” she comments on how getting truly lost has less to do with geography and more to do with questioning identity.  Depending on how you look at it being lost can be a bewildering or a wonderful opportunity.  It’s a time for one to “shake off the shackles that remind you of who you are, who others think you are” and allows you the opportunity to become who you want to become.

I’m taking my time, learning how to become lost here first before discovering every inch of the island. Letting go, I am not worried about knowing everything about where I am right now and trying to take the opportunity to work on learning about who I am right now.

I am still following my Living chapters guidelines though, tracking what I see, mapping where I walk, and soaking in my surroundings but enjoying it even more knowing that there is no wrong way of wandering when your quest is to become lost.

1/21/14

Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about. Check out the Chapter Summaries Page to get caught up to date.

Grace Lichtner has been a great partner for experiments and expeditions into being lost. Below are photographs of plants, objects, and creatures that we found in the lost parts of the house, our backyard and the North Shore that have explored thus far.

All photographs taken by Grace Lichtner and Beth Barbush.

january: writer reflection

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By: Ashley Duffalo

I was standing in the golf course opposite my apartment building looking at the traces left behind in the snow. I imagined a scene where all the skiers, sledders and hikers who made these marks were inhabiting the slope together at once, like the foreboding chaos of a  Bruegel painting. This was my first Field Guide excursion into an unknown corner of my new universe—a private country club turned public park over the winter months.

As my mid-month reflection for Living Chapters I thought I’d share some observations I wrote down after my walk taken on Saturday, January 5th. I hope they’ll give you some sense of my new found place and transport you temporarily to St. Paul, Minnesota.

***

I felt like Alice in Wonderland passing through the gate and climbing up a steep hill into unfamiliar territory. The sun was bright and it was one of those radiant winter days that helps make this season bearable in Minnesota. Needless to say it was cold, even colder than normal with the Polar Vortex on its way. There was not a cloud in the sky, it’s blue was warm and gem like, and the white desert of snow reflected so much light it took a few moments to adjust my eyes.

The first thing I noticed: there were tracks everywhere—bootprints, ski paths, and sled grooves—with the densest overlay on the large hill, the prime sledding spot. Although no one was out playing today I decided to walk away from where the action would normally be found and descended down a series of undulating hills. I came across a partially frozen stream filled with brown autumn leaves that held a perfectly preserved dead frog, floating belly up to expose its pearlescent white skin. Time seemed to stand still here, if it weren’t for the run of water that cascaded from pool to pool to remind me that time and earth are always moving.

The landscape was full of bumps and valleys unlike most of the flattened prairie land around here. WIth the snow cover it was easy to forget that this topography was artificially created to give way to long fairways and challenging par fives. The white underfoot was uneven, sometimes hard enough to  support my weight other times I crunched through the top crust into the powdery stuff below.

The other blue that caught my attention was a cooler, more purplish one, found in the shadows cast by the trees. The silhouettes barely captured the intricacy of the branches. One tree’s veiny bramble brought to mind the delicate outline of flora found in Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of Ginevra de Benci that I had been looking at earlier after reading a passage by Rebecca Solnit, who referenced it in her Field Guide to Getting Lost.

If I were to account for the sounds I heard, a sensory experience that admittedly is less developed for me than the visual experience, I took note of the distant and constant drone of traffic, my own breath and footsteps in the snow, and the wind blowing into my faux fur-lined hood whirling around my ear canal.

If I turned south, the wind was at my back and it was warmer, thus I set off in that direction to climb another hill. My reward at the top was a small igloo, the exterior of which was made hard and glassy-looking from the elements. So much so that it almost appeared to be a permanent structure made of some futuristic material. I sat inside this cozy cave, protected, staring out towards my living room window before heading home.

1/17/14

Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about. Check out the Chapter Summaries Page to get caught up to date.

january: wild card

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During the time that I began to know Beth, she was immersed in a number of projects in Baltimore.   These included: “Speaking of Silence”, “Middle East Baltimore Stories”, and “Remington Youth Community Radio” . These endeavors centered around uncovering voices and stories that had been purposely silenced or ignored as unimportant, or they were designed to give an outlet for those who don’t normally get to share themselves.  I remember spending time with Beth and plunging into questions around how these topics and people had been marginalized and silenced.  Something that I realized about Beth, was that as she was undertaking these projects, she was forging a connection to place, which helped to create an even deeper feeling of home for her in Baltimore.

This month you have been asked to investigate your new home of St Croix and share some of the things that you see, hear, touch, taste, and smell.  As you make new discoveries, you are connecting in different ways with your new environment.

For this month’s wildcard I would like to combine this exploration of your new environment, with the exploration of silence and marginalization.  As part of your discovery process you have been instructed to conduct three interviews.  During one of these interviews I would like you to try and interview a Crucian.  Along with the general questions you ask about the area that will help in completing your field guide,  I would like you to delve into some questions that will uncover something hidden within the fabric of life on the island.  This could be linked to the environment, culture, history, etc.. but must uncover something that has been  marginalized or silenced (possible examples:  crucian language and people, agricultural resurgence, cultural heritage, diversity of climate, water scarcity, bio-luminescent bays, hovensa oil refinery).  As this uncovering process helped you during your Baltimore projects, the goal is that this exploration of silence on St Croix will be a way for you to discover the depth of your new home, and possibly even uncover a creative project or interest for you there in the future.

As your field guide continues and as you use one interview to uncover something hidden about your new home, I would also ask that you take one photo per day of something that makes you feel at home there and to publish at least five of these at the end of the month on the living chapters website.    You can add short captions to each one or leave them to speak for themselves.

As a final link between home and silence: try to take ten minutes per day (you are welcome to extend the length if time allows) for yourself where you calm your mind in your new environment and just breath and relax.  I know that in previous chapters you have been asked to take on similar awareness exercises, and this is just a small continuation and reminder of that, as I know from my own life that when I am moving around and adjusting to new places, I forget to take this time for me, and have to be reminded to do so.

It is clear that there is much happening with your settlement on St. Croix (long plane rides, unfinished living space, remote roads, hindered communications and/or internet).   Don’t let this month’s chapter or additional wildcard challenge overwhelm or add difficulty to your life.  Instead, continue to adapt to each moment as you have before to see what it holds for you and how it can further your integration there.

As this is a busy time with adaptation and logistical considerations, let this also be a time of exploration, awareness and relaxation .

This chapter has set a direction and goals for you this month………but reaching the destination, as always, is not the important thing….

1/15/2014

Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about. Check out the Chapter Summaries Page to get caught up to date.

on “Her” island by the sea

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At the start of this new year I was ready to dive head first into island exploration, with my blank field note-book in hand, I was prepared to record – stories to hear, places to visit, food to eat, and people to meet. St. Croix is only 28 miles long by 7 miles wide. Being a relatively small island, I was sure I would have no problem creating my own field guide in four weeks time. Well its now 12 days into January and I am quickly realizing that even with an appetite for exploration, I did not calculate “Island time” into my preplanned schedule. It took us the first week of this month to even arrive on site, I should have known that it might take a little longer to settle in and branch out into exploration mode.

Unlike prior vacation visits, this time we are setting up a new home at the end of a very long and bumpy dirt road in the tropics. There are many other things that needed to be attended to first before new exploration. Basic survival was number one on the list – figuring out how to eat, where to sleep, how to get around, and how to live among a new community. Simple adjustments need to be made to understand the different, geography, climate, communication patterns, access to technology and transportation. Making all these changes in a short period of time can feel like strenuous exploration in itself. At times this past week, this initial adventuring has left me feeling a bit overwhelmed.

But in those stressful moments its best to banish panic and doubt and simply remind myself that this is the year of letting go of past patterns and taking on new challenges. I wanted to push my comfort zone this year and this move is certainly doing it. In transition times like these there is nothing more important than keeping a healthy, positive, and peaceful mindset. The best way that I can accomplish this is by starting exploration in my immediate environment from where I am and slowly radiating outward.

The house we are living in is a beautiful construction site being put together piece by piece, day by day. It is nestled on the side of steep hill on the north side of the island close to the rainforest. The view is spectacular overlooking St. Thomas and St John Islands in the distance. The house is like an island in itself separated from the rest of the island. Even with a four-wheel drive vehicle it is difficult to navigate to and from the house to other places on the island.

With this in mind I decided to start exploring my own personal island in this new environment. The first exploration was the house itself – where will we eat? Where will we sleep? And when the construction inside home is too much where will we find refuge? Ashley’s simple suggestion of taking walks this month to get acquainted with the environment was the perfect excuse to get to know my own backyard.

My first walk upon arriving was into the overgrown garden in the backyard. I started photographing the plants, trees and flowers that I saw with every step there was something new to see and learn about. On my second outing, Grace Lichtner my new housemate and former Living Chapter’s player, accompanied me retracing the same garden path. Grace is almost 10, game for exploration and full of knowledge on plant and animal life, a perfect partner in creating a field guide. She helped me learn the names of the flowers and trees that I had photographed the day before. We made up new names for the ones she didn’t know and took notes on what we thought the plants might be good for. This time we walked further down the path than I had gone before but returned when the sun started to set and our stomachs started to growl for dinner.

Grace and both her parents, Mike and Agnes accompanied me on the third walk on the garden path. Together we went just a little bit further and discovered a star fruit tree at the end of the path as well as an opening to the road leading to the ocean below. 15 minutes later winding down a zig-zagging nearly vertical road we reached the beach for our first visit with the sun, sand and surf. We marked the adventure by collecting coral and rocks from the beach to take home to the house island.  This felt like the first accomplishment in true exploration, a bridge to the outer circle of the island and the first path of many to chart for the field guide.

1/12/14

 Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about. Check out the Chapter Summaries Page to get caught up to date.

escape to the tropics

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We left Western Maryland with a one-way ticket in hand to the tropics. What could go wrong? Well… a lot if you say something like “what could go wrong?” I’ve learned to never utter words like that when leaving on a trip to go anywhere. However I found myself breaking this unspoken rule and subsequently a pawn in the musical airplane game that the east coast plays when caught amidst a winter storm.

It took us four days in total to finally reach St. Croix (a trip that normally doesn’t take more than 10 hours by plane). I did say I wanted an adventure, I just didn’t realize it would start before reaching the island.

I actually don’t mind traveling and airports in general. I find them to be fascinating places (outside of the poor color scheme choices and bad decor). They act as crossroads for many of us – a place where a metaphorical life path decision becomes a physical reality. Or in my case maybe the physical diverted path became the metaphor that in a sense gave us a preview of what the lifestyle might be like moving to an island. This difficult travel itinerary was just breaking us in? Acclimatizing us for how life could be? Testing our flexibility?

We had plenty of time to ruminate on what this four day long process could mean for us. Thinking about the delay in this way made the time much easier to pass and less stressful. We had reflective conversations with each other and met a handful of kind, helpful and unique individuals, including a cosmic Bangladeshi cab driver, a wizard of all traveling tips and stories, and a financial analyst named “Blessing”.  In each airport, hotel, and form of transportation we gained valuable perspectives all making up for the inconvenient snow, ice, delays, lost baggage, angry passengers and the general chaos that entails when thousands of people congregate all vying to reach different destinations.

In this time, I also began reading Ashley’s suggested text for the month Rebecca Solnit’s “A Field Guide to Getting Lost”. It seemed appropriate, as our travel itinerary map had been abandoned by day one.  Solnit says there’s an “art of being at home in the unknown so that being in it’s midst isn’t a cause of panic or suffering” So I guess it takes a certain amount of practice to feel at home while being lost. I have been crafting this skill, my entire life and needed to be reminded of this sentiment at this precise moment.

It was perfect timing to remind myself that reaching the destination, as always, was not the important thing. The destination you are traveling to will not bring the sense of peace or the feeling of home that I seek. The only thing that could conjure that feeling would be my own reaction to my environment, (the people and actions around me) and my response to the unknown itself.

I have to agree with Solnit when she says that getting lost “seems like the beginning of finding your own way or finding another way” It’s a clean slate of how to make decisions coming from a new place in a whole new way. I am very happy that we have finally reached St. Croix, but am also aware that arriving is not the goal in the field guide to getting lost, its the wandering, connections made and lessons learned from accepting that sometimes we just don’t know where we are or exactly or where we are going.

1/7/14

 Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about. Check out the Chapter Summaries Page to get caught up to date.