Monday, April 23, 2012

A weekend of sun for Oregonians

The weather man said it would 70-75 degrees (which was enough to get any Oregonian pumped.)
He was wrong.
It was 85-90 this weekend in the valley, and it.was.incredible.

Oregonian outdoor enthusiasts went to bed Friday night daydreaming of their weekend expeditions ahead. Mentally cross checking gear lists, questioning if they had remembered to fill the tank for the Subaru, visualizing trail directions, etc.; a process that allows an overwhelming sense of relaxation to wash over them, guiding them into a deep sleep preparing their bodies for the weekend ahead.

I was one of them. Friday night I fell asleep dreaming about the Silver Star South Trail Loop that I would conquer with my friend Karen and youngest sister Madalyn the next day.

Despite the fact that I didn't get home until 2:30 a.m. Friday night (technically Saturday morning) from a night out with my friends in the Athletics dept., I bounced out of bed Saturday morning at 7:00 like a kid bounces out of bed on Christmas morning. After months of waking up and having to drag myself out of bed, it felt wonderful to spring out of bed again. I finished packing up and hit the road picking up my passengers and Dutch Brothers along the way.

Driving to the trails is always a refreshing feeling, but driving with the sunroof open, music loud, and sun beaming on your face is the ultimate energy. We headed north to Washington and navigated our way through the back roads that would leave any GPS unit "searching for route", and after a stunning 2 hour drive, we were there. A simple 9 mile hike through the trees....and snow.

Karen surveying our snowy situation.
We accounted for snow as we packed up by bringing our waterproof hiking boots and figured that through some parts of the trail we would need to stomp our way through; Afterall, we were 5,000 feet up (and the trail itself was a 2,000+ elevation gain) and it was still April in the Pac NW, but we had no idea what was ahead for us. As we climbed our way north on the trail, the snow patches became more frequent and a hell of a lot deeper. Thankfully--Karen, Mads, and I all have a great sense of humor where we were able to laugh at the snow as well as our inability to cross these straights without sinking knee deep in snow. After about another two miles of snow trekking, we got to the point where it was obvious that we should have brought our snow shoes and we couldn't continue on. So we hiked our way back down and got ourselves back down to the car, studied some maps and found another trail (snow free!) and spent the rest of the afternoon hiking and playing around there.

We got back into town around 5:00 and the sun was still scorching. There was no way I was going to call it a day just yet, so I called up my friend Danny (who is always down for a bike ride), and switched pack for pack and headed out with him. We went up to an old part of town that my friend Adrienne introduced to me our senior year of college. It was the back side of a cemetery just outside of town that overlooked the surrounding valley. I hadn't been there since the previous summer season and the grass and cherry blossom trees welcomed me like an old friend. Laying on our backs looking up at the tree, rich with pink blossoms against the vibrant blue skies, we noticed all the life above us. Bees actively went flower to flower drinking in the pollen, as we similarly drank in the sun. We spotted lady bugs along the branches, crawling with ease as they wandered around with what seemed like no place to go. It was the perfect way to wind down to the day. The picture I took of the moment doesn't begin to convey the sights and sounds; then again, why would we ever want to capture that essence completely?

Lisa with Alma Desnuda
I finished off my Saturday celebrating my friend Lisa's 30th with our friends and one of her favorite bands Alma Desnuda who were playing at a local bar in Salem (followed, of course, by finishing out at the pub for a night of celebration and karaoke).

Sunday we regressed to the days of our youth. I awoke to the rays of sun on my face and again was quick to get out of bed and treat myself to a pancake breakfast. The morning was easy company, and in the afternoon I headed over to Danny's with the Athletic Dept. crew for an afternoon of beer, yard games, and homerun derby. We played as if we were 10 year old neighborhood kids. I stand by the fact that sunshine does in fact bring the most genuine laughter and smiles. Desperate for the sun, our pasty white skin soaked up the sun, leaving us scrambling for aloe vera at the end of the day. It's funny how out of routine you get when it comes to sunscreen.

As I sit here in my office, I wear my smile and my sunburned shoulders proudly. But I am not the only one. Campus today seems a bit lighter, the smiles on the faces more prominent, the "hello's" more genuine. Bike racks become polluted as we all retire our cars and pedal our way to work/school. Any one who lives in Oregon knows this love for the sun. When we get it, we feel spoiled and take full advantage of our days. We pray to the weather gods to please let this sunshine stick around forever, yet none of us dare remove the fenders from our bicycles.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Beauty of Reality

"Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like."
-Lao Tzu
Photo Courtesy of: Blinded by the Sun

Thursday, April 12, 2012


The sunsets of the desert remind me of the fresh fruit market vendors adjacent to my apartment in Athens.

Closing each day with purpose, the market owners pulled down their metal gates with experienced ease.
Without words, they were sending a kind reminder that tomorrow, we open again.

I can't watch a desert sunset without thinking of the fluid motion and downward glide of those gates.

As I play in the deserts rich red soil, and run alongside hills of sage and juniper; I  am truly living.
Outside and free, I am powered by daylight as it re-energizes and stimulates my soul.
This same daylight stimulation fuels the hustle and the bustle of the ayopa (market).
The dance of life's balance continues.

Though eventually dusk approaches, streaking the darkening skies with orange, red, and yellow;
The distant mountains and buttes become silhouettes in this quickly developing canvas of color.
A message to all outdoors, that dark is approaching. It is closing time.

Desert sunsets, much similar to the fluid glide of those closing gates act as aids of transition.
Making promises to return tomorrow.
Leaving us with a comfort and a trust that tomorrow, we become alive.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


"Giving simply means, I'm healed enough to help"

Yesterday I got home from one of my most moving expeditions to date. 

Awhile back my friend Lisa and I signed onto being Alternative Break advisers on campus. Alt. Break is a program for students to go and serve in diverse communities during their summer, winter, and spring breaks. The students get no credit for their hard work, and have to fundraise for the cost of the trip.

Spring Break 2012: 8 girls, 2 advisers, Missoula, MT.  We were set, until the snow came. The passes from Oregon to Montana were looking brutal, and due to the fact that Lisa and I were in charge of safely transporting the girls from A-to-B (in a 12 passenger van) and back, we decided as a team to cancel Montana (less than a week from when we were supposed to depart) and instead, quickly find service opportunities within the homeless community in nearby (and snow-free), Seattle, WA.

During our week of service we had the opportunity to work with 4 great community organizations, some we worked with for only a day, and others that we spent multiple days with, such as Operation Sack Lunch where we split our time between their Compass Center shelter and their outdoor meal site. (I have listed the links and mission statements of all four organizations below, if you would like to read up the organizations.), but what I really wanted to write about tonight was:

What I learned during my service within the Seattle homeless community:

-You can work hard your whole life and suddenly have everything taken away from you. Homelessness can happen to anyone, not just those who are battling drug/alcohol abuse. Because of this, spend your life living. Your 20's will rocket past you, your 30's will come too soon, your 40's start the cycle of aging, etc.. Do what makes you happy, and be grateful (while still remaining humble) for all you have.

-Most shelter clients feel the need to fake elation when volunteers come to do service in order to avoid pity. When it comes to picking a partner to share your lunch with, bypass the charismatic jester of the shelter and go find the real people, and respect them enough to show then your real self as well.

-As a volunteer, the greatest gift you can give is a smile. Sure the warm food and warm words are great and all, but all day these community members are looked down upon, so take the time to see them as your community members and be genuine.

-Listen to their advice. Just because they don't have a place to live, does not mean they have not lived.

-The number one thing that nearly all of my lunch partners told me was to "get educated."

-Often most homeless men and women have jobs, and some even have multiple, it.just.isn't.enough.

-Some of the girls on the trip would get worked up because some of the shelter clients would tell them "lies" about their days before homelessness--Let them lie. This is the story that they want you to hear. Don't question this, allow yourself to ride along on the story. Never take this story away from them.

-We are all on this journey together.

I will never forget the lunch conversations and meals that I shared, with Leon, Martin, and Carl, and they'll never know the impact of their words and honesty.
I will never forget the tone of the hundreds of "thanks" that I heard all week. I have worked in the non-profit world for nearly 5 years, and never have I heard such genuine "thank you's".
I will never forget the pride in their faces as they spoke about home

The essence of being a volunteer is to make a positive impact, but the power of service is in the positive impact that is given to us by those we've served.

Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets (PSKS)
Mission: "To provide support services to Seattle area homeless youth and young adults. Our committed efforts are targeted at providing stepping stones to transition youths from the streets to self-sufficiency and productive roles in community." 
To learn more about PSKS, click here. 

Operation Sack Lunch
Mission: "To provide dignity, care and compassion through action with the example that each person can make a difference. To educate and advocate acceptance and understanding of each others differences. To ultimately bring about the realization that we are all a part of this world and with extended effort put an end to homelessness, hunger and hatred"
To learn more about Operation Sack Lunch, click here.

Operation Night Watch
Mission: " Operation Night Watch is an interdenominational ministry serving the poor and homeless by providing food and shelter to 150-170 men and women every night. We also operate 24 units of low-income housing for seniors, and have been reaching out to those on the streets since the 1960's."
To learn more about Op. Night Watch, click here.

First Church Men's Shelter: Blaine Center
Mission: "Blending compassion and caring with effective programs and unique services, the people and programs at each of Compass Housing Alliance's locations promote dignity, self esteem, and respect for self and others. One-on-one case management identifies the issues that led to street life and helps each person set his own goals. The Men's Inn Program at the Blaine Center provides overnight shelter for sixty men, including case management, shelter, meals, and storage."
To learn more about the Blaine Center, click here.