Coming Home & What’s Next (from Ben)

As we have both shared, over the last 4+ months (and hopefully over the last 30+ years together) feelings of gratitude have been somewhat overwhelming during this journey – which perhaps ‘officially’ ended with reunion weekend at Nobles earlier this month. So some thoughts about the trip – and about what comes next (if anyone is reading and/or at all interested).

First – the trip. I love data (simple data, however!). So here is some from the trip:

  • 11,448 miles driven on American roads
  • 50% (roughly) of miles NOT driven on interstate highway
  • 30 states traveled to or through
  • 2 incredibly beautiful countries – the US and Chile
  • 332 (approx) miles hiked
  • 440 (approx) miles biked
  • 14 Nobles graduates visited along the way
  • Favorite new national park – Capital Reef (UT)
  • Favorite new US city – Nashville (thanks, Ned!)
  • Most surprising/impressive state park – Palo Duro Canyon (outside of Amarillo, TX – go there if you can!)
  • Favorite new country – Chile. Wow. (It was also the only new country – but, man, it was amazing)
  • Best protest witnessed – International Women’s Day – Santiago, Chile
  • Most fun Sarah discovery – downhill skiing again! (Thanks, Parizeaus!)
  • Ben’s favorite Memory Lane moment – biking/hiking in Cedar Run, PA (the Bowdoin crowd will appreciate this)
  • Favorite hike – too many to name just one (we get asked this regularly)
  • Biggest physical challenges – the W-Trek/Torres del Paine and Cerro Castillo – both in Patagonia
  • Longest single drive – 833 miles from Hattiesburg, MS to Amarillo, TX
  • Most meaningful conversation – so many, but learning from the director of the Courthouse Museum in Monroeville, AL was an important one
  • Most powerful museum – The Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice (otherwise known as Lynching Memorial) in Montgomery, AL – a place for all Americans to learn
  • Coolest wildlife – elephant seals in Cambria, CA
  • Most generous hosts – Julia/T/Aunt Nancy in Santa Fe (thank you!) – who knew we’d swing by three times!?
  • Most patient person – Sarah by far for putting up w/ me. 

    A former colleague always talked about “getting after it” with young people – be it on a team, in the classroom, or in life. It feels like we “got after it” on this trip and looking back, it seems like we took pretty full advantage of the opportunity. 

    Second, home and my ‘next chapter’. 

    Certainly, this trip gave me time to think about what comes next. What was fairly easy to do was come up with five ‘buckets’ of priorities.

  • Bucket #1 – Family and friends – It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) the highest priority for this chapter is making time for the people who matter the most and having the flexibility to create the time to be together whenever possible.
  • Bucket #2 – Fitness, health, fun – For both my physical and mental health I need to put the time into this part of life and especially build in time to be outside. One of the best parts about the trip was simply being outdoors for big chunks of every day. 
  • Bucket #3 – Meaning – I’ve been so fortunate to have meaningful work be integral to my professional and personal lives. I need to land on something(s) that can be built into the day to day but not interfere with buckets one and two. 
  • Bucket #4 – Learning – There are so many things I’d like to learn. Where (in person? Online?)? When (daily? Weekly?) Experiential or academic? Both? Lots to think about. 
  • Bucket #5 – Community – One piece of the timing of stepping away from Nobles was to have enough time to build a community in the Upper Valley. We have a number of good friends yet need to continually expand the circle. 

To be able to live in this beautiful place (just follow Sarah on Instagram and you’ll see sunset after sunset) is a gift beyond compare. And to know that we have the resources to travel, to support a comfortable life, and to support some causes we believe in is something few people in this world have. 

At the same time, there will be two major adjustments for me. Other than sabbaticals, I’ve basically worked full-time (when not in school) for forty years – and to not have that routine will be both a welcome change and require some attitude tweaking. That said, my work life has been so incredibly interpersonal (literally hundreds of interactions every day) and has generated so much positive energy and meaning for me, that I need to figure out where that energy and meaning will come from. I’m not sure yet and while I know I need to be patient in finding those things, my natural impatience could get in the way. We’ll see…and the bottom line is that it’s good to be home, to sleep in the same bed every night, to marvel at the natural beauty, be with my best friend and person I love the most, and be grateful for all we have. 

If you get this far, thanks for reading, listening and being part of our journey.

So much good time together and with people we love
So good to get back to these two ❤️
And these two ❤️

Two weddings on the horizon—so fun!

Stay safe, everyone ❤️.

We’re Back!

Actually three weeks ago we rolled into our driveway in Vermont, but those weeks have been chock-filled. We’ve been back and forth to Nobles and Boston for fun and surprise for Ben, a wonderful three days with family, the best imaginable Mother’s Day of delicious diner fare (My Diner) including a table sharing stack of pancakes (thank you, Dave Barnes for that amazing idea), lovely cards from my kids, the presence of their fiancés, and the rest of the day wedding-dress shopping with Abby (yes, she said yes to a dress, and no, there will not be a photo of it below). All of that in addition to digging out of four months of mail and tracking down magazine subscriptions that have been returned or stopped. And I have begun to dive back into things I love and have missed doing like cooking and being immersed in poetry workshops and even one poetry reading. And Ben is now realizing that he’s actually retired 🙂 He is becoming the resident gardener.

I want to say thank you to all of you who’ve traveled with Ben and me around the country and to Chile and read our musings.

I may continue to write some pieces here, and I’m certain Ben will be writing, definitely one more entry here soon, and then he may start his own blog.

Below are photos from the end of our trip as we headed East, starting with our last night in Santa Fe where Julia, Ben, and I went to an Earth, Wind, & Fire concert. Beyond fun!

Earth, Wind, & Fire fun!
Hiking-in-the-Ozarks beauty
including the amazing fungus!
Onto Memphis
and Graceland
Then Nashville with Ned and Julie
To Cedar Run
hiking there
To Nobles for the retiring celebration of these legends: Nick Nickerson, Bill Bussey, & Ben
Best Mother’s Day ever!
And back home.

Thanks again for reading & following us. Stay safe, everyone. ❤️

On the Verge of Heading Home, I Can’t Stop Thinking of the Word “Oasis”

It would be a great Wordle word, by the way.

Ever since we hiked Fortynine Palm Oasis Trail in Joshua Tree National Park, I have been thinking about the word. It was such a surprising eruption of lush green giant palm trees in the middle of sand, rock, hills, & scrub. It was a miracle really, underground water surfacing just where humans and longhorn sheep need it. Oasis comes from Latin and Hamitic language, like Egyptian. It means a fertile spot in the desert, a relief, a refuge. It’s a bit like the mirror image of an island in a vast ocean: a small place of water in a sea of sand.

I just like the word (all those vowels), its sound, its meaning, and the metaphor it offers.

How a whole world can seem filled with suffering, and yet we find places of refuge. 

In the Trump years amid that pall of relentless sadness, Stephen Cobert was an oasis for me. During those first endless and frightening no-vaccination-in-sight months of Covid, huddling with friends and family in the snowy air on our light-strewn patio with tower heaters and beers in mittened hands, that was an oasis.

Poetry is an oasis for me every day. Writing is. Ben is. Bird song is. My children are. My family is. My friends are. Trees are. Breathing is—being aware of my breathing is because then I am thankful.

Oases are everywhere I think.

In the last twenty-four hours I have read two articles that seem so connected to the power of finding and seeing oases that I’d recommend: The Atlantic piece by Arthur C. Brooks “How to Want Less” and in The Marginalian by Maria Popova a piece about the vision and words of poet, Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights: Yearlong Experiment in Willful Gladness.

The first thing I’m going to do when we get home is buy Ross Gay’s book.

Seeing the oasis from a distance
In the oasis
More beauty in Joshua Tree
and from Zion National Park
and from Escalante
& from Capitol Reef National Park
on the drive to Santa Fe
more beauty!

Stay safe, everyone! ❤️

Thinking about Faith While Biking on Highway 1

I’ve had a fascination with religion ever since I connected it to my fear of death in college when I walked into Professor Geoghegan’s classroom and was mesmerized by all he knew and heard a new language, words like numinous and paradox, words I had to look up in a real dictionary back in my dorm room. So much grew inside me there, a love of stories, a compassion for all of us as we lived our lives knowing we’d die and finding ways to go on through stories and faith.

 

My favorite books back then were The Courage to Be by Paul Tillich and I and Thou by Martin Buber. I loved Simone Weil and the Buddha. Everything I read and learned through mystics and Buddhists in those four years made sitting in a pew at the Presbyterian church in Moorestown, N.J. playing hangman with my sister on the back of the Sunday program seem so tame and uninteresting (though I did love the strength of a Mary saying she was carrying a child of a god). For many reasons I never embraced the religion I grew up with.

 

Today I have faith in something both invisible and real, something I feel while hiking and biking or just really listening and talking with another—the space between us sacred and spiritual.

 

And I realize the strong faith I have in drivers when I’m on a bicycle. While Ben and I biked down Highway 1 from Moonstone Beach in Cambria to Cayucos and back today, I was never scared. (I do wear bright colors, have lights on both the front and back of my bike, and only choose roads with wide shoulders).

 

And I know shit happens. Big horribleness. 

 

But mostly it doesn’t. The monarchs here in California somehow make it to Jericho Street in Vermont every year. Life mostly is good (though not for so many in Ukraine right now…). 

 

The planets and their moons stay obedient to some gravity. An invisible force tying us all together.

Ben with hills
And on the other side of us, the sea
Here’s both the ocean and hills (in mirror).

From yesterday’s hike in San Simeon

Elephant seals!

Stay safe out there! ❤️

The Gift of Grads (from Ben)

Most of us who made the choice of spending our professional lives working with young people did so because we simply loved being with them. Their energy. Their fresh take on the world. Their impulsive moments (both good and bad). Their idealism. Their willingness to open themselves up to trusted adults. All of those things gave us energy and hope and optimism. And maybe made us feel younger.

Yet few of us anticipated how those relationships would evolve and mature – and this week in the Bay Area has been a wonderful reminder of how meaningful those bonds formed years ago remain.

Sarah and I love going to Nobles alumni receptions. Seeing former students “all grown up” and gaining snippets of their current lives feel like gifts. Yet being able to linger over coffee or dinner with Morgan Henderson N’11, Chris Gaither N’93, Molly Dwyer Martell, Lucy Minott, Annabel Lippincott, Abby Mayer (all N’06), Lauren Kelley N’20, and Gigi (N’12) and Noelle (N’14) Anderson was, well, different. All of us have friendships that endure over many years – where we seem to pick up where we left off. Each moment with these folks felt that way. Sharing our collective life journeys – including vivid memories from high school (ie; Annabel falling off her bike in Vietnam and then ultimately getting back up and finishing the tough ride!), professional frustrations and opportunities, and personal victories – was a gift beyond compare. Each of these wonderful people is crafting a life with purpose, with care, with deliberation, and with deep appreciation for the relationships built because of Nobles.

So 30+ years ago when we arrived at Nobles we never could have anticipated what these relationships would turn into. Yet our time with these incredible people was another reminder of how lucky we are to have gotten to know them – and so many others – and we can’t thank this group enough for carving out time with us.

And the beauty and the weather and great time with close friends from college, all of that here in the Bay Area.

with Morgan
and Lauren
and Molly, Abby, Lucy, and Annabel
and Chris
and Noelle and Gigi
and the beauty of this place

Friendship…and life on the road (from Ben)

There have been so many things to be grateful for on this trip, and not a day has gone by where we haven’t reflected to one another on how fortunate we are on so many levels. Yet perhaps what has been the most moving is how meaningful some long-term friendships have been and what a gift it has been to incorporate them into this adventure.

A question we have often asked ourselves is “What couples would we be compatible with to travel given the kinds of things we like to do and the kind of values we have?” And while there are surely others, over the course of the last thirteen weeks we’ve spent time with friends we would do anything/go anywhere with.

The last week has been spent in Montana with Ernie and Kim Parizeau – Nobles friends who have simply wrapped us into their family for over twenty years. Their generosity, sense of fun, humility, spirit of adventure (including being pioneers on the first Nobles EXCEL adult adventure to Southeast Asia), and appreciation of those who do important work in education makes our time with them invariably full of laughter, relaxed yet meaningful conversation, hours in the outdoors, and opportunities to learn and grow together. This week has been all of that – and more. 

Our month in Chile with Alec and Susan Lee was also reaffirming lifelong friendship and opportunities to build on that in the coming years. Alec and I were thrown together as first year college roommates and while he, Susan and Sarah were in grad school introduced me to Sarah (thank God!). We have lived on opposite coasts for over 30 years and fortuitously stepped away from long-time jobs (he founded Aim High in the Bay Area which has served thousands of middle school students from under-resourced communities) at the same time. While we have stayed in touch over the years, our month together simply picked up where we left off 30+ years ago – an appreciation for one another and the beauty of Chile, a shared commitment to young people, a bit of noodling over what comes next (although Sarah and Susan are fully immersed in the next chapter!), and excitement over what is surely ahead. 

Oh, yes – and let’s not forget the Barnes and Taylors (written about and appreciated earlier in the blog). Go anywhere, do anything with these friends of a lifetime. 

Finally, a bonus of these last few days has been (again fortuitously) to connect with Reis and Steph Alfond (Nobles grads), Jeff Schwartz (Nobles grad/trustee/parent), and Denise Dupre and Marc Nunnelly (Nobles parents). What a gift all of these friendships are.

Playing pickle ball!
Kim & I ⛷
Alec & Susan in Chile
With Steff and Reis

Be safe out there, everyone ❤️.

Downhill Skiing…again

Apparently, I am a downhill skier again. It’s been seven years and two new knees since I stepped into boots and clamped into skis and zoomed down a mountainside. I love being on the snow and making turns again, carving into what has just fallen. Here there’s no sound of ice scratching, just the shoosh of snow and that chair lift rumble of metal and cable and the bar you pull down. I’d forgotten about walking in ski boots and wearing a helmet and goggles. But all of it feels familiar and fun. Today is the first day of spring, and it’s full of snow and skiing. The sky is blue, the sun is out on a mountain of snow and my feet are locked in ski boots on skis. How my quads burn, new muscles forming or maybe they are remembered muscles of years ago when I had a body that moved down mountains with ease. Something new is ribboning through me, some kind of opening to what I can do that I thought I couldn’t. First the backpacking and trekking in Patagonia and now downhill skiing again. Something forgotten seems remembered and sheds years from me. Skiing down a steepness means I’m watching the snow, seeing each indentation and moving my body and the attached skis. I become a wave, a shallow shovel, scribbling new arcs in the whiteness. Skiing is another way of being right here. How grateful I am.

Early morning moon and mountain
At the top with Ernie, Kim, me, & Ben
Evening light

Happy spring, everyone! Stay safe out there. ❤️

There’s Something About a Cairn

First of all, I had to look up how to pronounce “cairn” correctly. I vacillate between ‘carn’ and ‘karen’.  Apparently, it’s “karen” almost hiding that ‘e’ at the end so it’s one syllable.

 

Anyway, there’s an utter necessity of cairns in desert hiking. For the last two days we’ve been on amazing trails in Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, but without the cairns, we’d be lost. There’s an almost divine intervention feeling about them to me, the way they are stacked by a (seemingly invisible) hand of another, a kind person (or god) who wanted to help me find my way. They give me joy. I feel like a kid finding one, a little giddy when I search and scan for one on some smooth surface of sliprock or in the wide sandy indentation of a dried riverbed. And there it is. A little gift. And my immediate satisfaction of having found it and knowing I am on the right path, like the whole hike is some scavenger hunt in a stunningly beautiful world. And what if I looked at life like that, even when it’s tangled and feels empty, or especially then. What if there are cairns out there for me; all I need to do is find them, follow them.

Cairns are beautiful, too. I like to add a rock on top sometimes as I go by to make them a little taller, a little easier to see.

 

Here are some photos from Canyonlands (Needles) and Arches National Parks, but nothing…nothing can capture the enormity of beauty there.

Landscape Arch

Stay safe everyone! Hope you see the cairns in your life, on your path. 😊❤️

Just a few more things about Chile…

We love being back in the US, seeing my sister, T, Isaac, and the beauty of Santa Fe. We’re so grateful to Nancy for sharing her home with us. And we met some new friends.

But I just want to think about Chile a little bit longer; here are a few random thoughts:

1. E-biking is like biking but more fun. The hills return to the earth and release their dread.

2. Some People in Patagonia:

The kindness of Angel (yes, that’s his name) the owner of the hotel in Coyhaique who knew I was a poet.

Rogelio talked about getting caught in an avalanche and realizing he can’t be so reckless anymore because he is a father of two girls, how he and Camillo (who helped me descend the steepness) are not married to the women they love, how I may have encouraged them to get married, said I’d practice the proposals, how we never did. But I left Chile and sit here imagining Camillo and Rogelio proposing, can almost see the lapis lazuli ring Rogelio said he might buy, almost hear Camillo’s girlfriend saying yes as she holds him.

Marcella, the biologist we met told me this: There have been studies to measure what happens to water if it is spoken to with kindness or meanness. Then the containers are frozen. The ones that received kind words and tone freeze into lovely formations like snowflakes. The ones that hear a mean voice freeze into a darkness.

That little boy who had to touch the carved spiral on the wall.

I remember looking into all of their eyes and that feels like touching.

3. The Birds in Patagonia

The woodpecker has more force in its beak than a human hand with a hammer. Its tongue wraps around the brain to cushion it from damage. It makes small holes in the tree for bugs and spiders and worms to congregate, sustenance to return to.

A kingfisher perched on a rock at the edge of the water in the fjord.

There were big birds with yellow necks and thin arced beaks out my window.

Every bird I saw there seems lucky to be in Chile.

As I biked along the side of the road there was a denseness of bamboo, beech, cypress, and giant ferns feathered in birdsong. And one bird laughed.

And here are a few photos of Colorado; we drove to Mesa Verde National Park today where I got to use my free senior national park pass for the first time!

The trail was beautiful albeit muddy, snowy, and a bit scary 😊.

Be safe, everyone! ❤️

Parallel Universes: our last day in Chile

From Ben:

One of the great gifts of travel is that (at least for us) it takes us out of the daily routines of following the news. Having days filled with outdoor activities has kept us off our phones, and we didn’t turn on a tv for over a month. Yet we couldn’t help taking moments here and there to catch up on the war in Ukraine.

On our final day in Chile we decided to figure out the subway system to visit a museum dedicated to the Pinochet years (closed when we got there because the president was visiting on International Women’s Day and speaking to hundreds of school girls) and to visit a local artisans market. While waiting for trains to arrive, I couldn’t get out of my head the thousands of folks in Ukraine who are now living in subway stations while we enjoyed the adventures of Chile and finding our way around a foreign city. It is only by accident of birth and education that we were in Santiago and not in Mariupol. A sobering thought – and how strange the world is to have us living a dream on one side of the world while the other side is experiencing such tragedy.

As someone who has taught classes about war for twenty years – and focused not on the military history but on the human costs of war – events of the last two weeks have been disturbing on many levels. On the one hand (at least in a general sense) the response of the west has been encouraging and the determination of the Ukrainian people inspiring. My classes always have begun with students reading Tribe by Sebastian Junger (worth a read!), and one of the things we always take away from that is the long term importance of the motivation of combatants – which often leads to different outcomes. In this case, the signs of Ukrainian resistance points to long term optimism, but the toll will be catastrophic.

Our final day in Chile was also International Women’s Day, and we were able to experience the demonstrations and solidarity of women in Chile. Yet that solidarity and strength was of course contrasted by the hundreds of thousands of women (and children) turned into refugees from the war – or having to live in fear in a war zone. Some readers of this will know that my mother was a Holocaust refugee having fled Berlin for Holland after Kristallnacht and surviving the war in a state of semi-hiding and fear. That experience reverberated throughout her life and certainly had an impact on mine. And the contrast between the power and energy of Chilean women with the terror of war couldn’t be more stark.

So – again – this day and these last five weeks have given us so much to be grateful for and so much to think about. Next stop – Santa Fe and on up the spine of the Rockies.

Our last morning in Santiago
subway in Santiago
International Women’s Day in Santiago
Santa Fe after snow last night
my sister’s (Julia) studio
her newest obsession (brooms are still happening, too): Polish Pajaki (pompom chandeliers)

Stay safe, everyone ❤️.