Soulshine Concert and Bali Green School

This is a photo story about a unique day we had in Bali. It included a giant bamboo structure, snakes, a concert and yoga. Grab a cup of cleansing organic tea and have a little holiday.

Before we began our Bali escapade, we selected our hotels, flights and vaccinations. The rest we left open, except one thing: All eight of us bought tickets to a concert fundraiser to benefit Bali’s Green School. They weren’t cheap tickets, but it was for a good cause… The only thing I knew above that, was it involved Michael Franti. He’s what I would call a free-love music front man, conservationist and yogi. He calls himself a poet, musician and activist. He calls Bali home, or at least spends a lot of time there. And he was headlining this fundraiser to benefit the school where it was held.

I’ve never been to a yoga concert before, so why not make Bali the place to try it out, right? As it turned out, it was the most Western of our adventures in Bali, and much of it felt comfortable, like a Hippie home away from home, in a gorgeous tropical setting.

The venue and grounds were one of the most interesting things about the evening: a school  called The Green School, it is aptly named. It’s a lovely, heartwarming idea, and also a great example of reverse innovation – creating solutions in developing countries that can also translate to developed countries. The sisters in this TED talk are Green School students talking about how they are making environmental change in Indonesia – a very populous, developing country (which includes Bali, Java, Borneo and Sumatra, among others). The central building of the Green School is a gorgeous two-story structure made entirely of bamboo. (Bamboo, being a fully sustainable building material, and readily available locally, made this a wise choice.)  But it’s also a unique form. Not a box, like most other schools – they sent packing the architects who suggested a cube-like structure and made it a double helix shape – natural, organic, open air. It’s called The Heart of School rather than the box-proposed “administration complex”. A very bold statement for thinking outside the box.

It’s a school where they make 70% of their power needs from solar.  I was impressed enough that I took a photo of a photo of their solar panels (which are tucked away, invisible to all but the sun). They do more than that, though. They grow their own food to feed the students, cook with sawdust and reclaimed methane from their farm animals, and they teach forward thinking about how their own students can become leaders to promote environmental change. It was voted the greenest school on earth in 2012. I love that a developing country is home to this. It is a hopeful sign. (In case this is intriguing to you, the founder of the school has a TED talk about why he did what he did.) My only further hope was that the school itself included local, indigenous folk as much as the expats who were there on this day.

Gentle marimba music trickled through the bamboo gate as we arrived. Late afternoon sun spilled through palm fronds onto the grassy center lawn. Spicy satay wafted on the air, and musical acts were entertaining gypsy dancers, half-dressed children and long blonde dreadlocks in the gathering crowd. It was the biggest Hippie party I’d been to in a while. Probably the biggest since that Hurricane Hugo raggae fundraiser I went to at some Minneapolis community center gym years ago, but back to Bali…  The event was comfortable, relaxed and low key, if not entirely attended by expats. I sat for a long while and thought about how it might feel to live on this island and send my kids to this school.


The audience sprawled comfortably on blankets across the lawn with naked babies, listening, and chatting (mostly in English) while their children played on rope swings and bamboo playgrounds. Ours blended in and did the same. It was a little taste of familiarity, a break in the middle of an otherwise very foreign trip for my kids.



Inside were jewelry vendors, artists, dancers, body painters (and related photo shoot) and as you would expect, snakes.

Just outside there was a pig. For eating.

And across the lawn… there were drum circles blooming organically on the grass, casting a warm, woody rhythm across the crowd.

The star of the show wandered among the people, randomly spotting aerial yoga poses. That’s Franti, on the right, drumming, (above) and on the left, spotting (below).

Across the grass, under another cover was the stage. As the sun fell, the volume rose, encouraging dance and revelry.



And as I had taken to capturing the food we ate…

This is locally grown (on the school grounds) raw-foodist pesto-vegan pizza, I think. Served in typical Bali style – on a banana leaf. Perfect Franti-concert fare, but I stuffed myself on satay instead.


Then the light faded and we faced a four-hour drive back, along thin, winding, dark roads, to the villa, so before Michael Franti even took the stage, we headed out.

Posted in Bali, Bali Green School, Michael Franti, Soulshine | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Blinders Off

I almost titled this “There is too much, let me sum up…” but that’s actually counter to the point I am about to make. There is so much to read now, so many people casting words and videos and snaps into the ether, that if you aren’t careful, you drown. And from what I’ve noticed, you tend to drown in a very narrow slice of the thoughts which are cast out. Meaning, all the algorithms that send us article after article of “you may also like” are doing us a disservice.

This week an absolute jerk (who doesn’t deserve to be named) proved to the entire world just what an asshole he can truly be, when he is at his best. The entire cyberworld paid attention and countered his idiotic thoughts, and much of the next three days was nothing but rallying, countering, counter-countering, ass-covering and miles of words cast into the ether about this one topic. I said almost nothing because clearly, it would have drowned unseen. My friends who cast a wider net were saying more effective things along the lines that I would have written. They were doing it better. So I let them, and I liked and shared it. Because I like and share those sentiments. Nota bene: What I am about to say should not be construed as me not caring or not taking a side in the above issue.

There are, believe it or not, quite a few other things going on in the world. The asshole above simply stole your attention. I’d encourage you to not let him do that. Just a quick trip down NPR’s top international stories, and a few other sources reveals much more intelligent and worthy content:

Saudi Arabia, one of the most repressive large countries, is allowing women to vote in this “partial election.”

The Climate Change Conference in Paris is making strides, in session overtime.

I am always looking for the bright lights after a black cloud is cast over media and the majority of our cyber-attention. I found one in this piece. One of our local philanthropist’s companies was integral in creating this beautiful campaign. You might notice that some commenters think it’s stupid. To which I’d reply with this piece.

Just in case you can’t stand all the positivity, and need negative headlines in order to consider it “news,” here’s your lede: India has been blockading Nepal’s borders for more than two months. The reason: Nepal wrote the country’s first constitution (following monarchy and civil war) and ratified it in late September. India didn’t like what Nepal’s constitution said, so it cut off the tiny land-locked country from supplies of fuel, food and medical supplies. The article above has a poignant snipit: “The impact of the Indian blockade on Nepal’s economy has now far outstripped damage from the earthquake.”

Me meeting the Prime Minister of Nepal in 2011.

“Oh, right… that’s the country that had 10,000 die in a 7.8 earthquake in April. I had forgotten….” Because perhaps you’d rather wallow in the attention-mongering asinine actions of certain presidential candidates. The UN has called for India to quit the blockade and they haven’t. I know a handful of Nepalis who are posting occasional images from nearby the border blockades. They’re showing up on Everyday Nepal. I’ve written more about my personal experience with this situation here. But my guess is, if you didn’t know me, you’d know nothing of this situation. Because of our cyber-blinders. Think I’m full of it? This should help. As  much as I hate that style of journalism, it’s a good teacher.

We view the world through our own very narrow tunnel, whether we mean to or not. And perhaps we’re taught to own our convictions. But that’s exactly what’s caused the polarization we’re experiencing now. Especially once we reach a certain age, we repeat very small circles. Media since the internet has encouraged and honed this because it’s algorithm-able. Pile more on what you clicked on. Add to the base coverage that was clicked on most yesterday, feed it to the people who ate it yesterday. I’m tired of the internet telling me what I should eat.

So after you’ve clicked on the tenth asshole-political-candidate article which supports your view, try clicking on one of the links above or below that you know nothing about.

I know I am in the minority of people who actively goes out and searches for information outside of my own interests, but I encourage you to try it. If you are a devout Christian, go learn something about Hinduism. If you are an animal rights vegetarian, go learn about the benefits of meat as a protein source, or about hunting. And I don’t mean the raw-vegan site that talked about it one time, in language you are accustomed to. Go to a hunting site and listen to what the other side has said. (Not about guns, for cripes sake, about meat as food… start reasonably.) And prepare to quell your own heart palpitations and red-faced denial. Sit outside of your own ideology for just a minute and listen. Or if you’re a hunter or devout carnivore, research a couple of meatless meals you would be happy eating. Find the intelligence there (and by intelligent, I don’t mean, “things that agree with you”). Find curiosity in foreign topics and figure it out a little bit.

Learn what people who are NOT like you know. Wait, read that last sentence again… I’ll wait here. Good, now I’ll place quite possibly the most intelligent of all these links. (Though, as an editor and like being inclusive, I’d change “Buddhists are not free of it either” to Athiests. Everyone. Humans.) It’s about how your own truth is no more valid or truthy than all those you hold counter to your own. It’s about being devout in any belief, and how that devoutness can damage you. Seriously, even if you didn’t click on any of the links above, you deserve the wisdom in this one.

Read something outside your own comfort content. Most of us haven’t done that since high school or college. Who knows, you might learn something new that opens you up to a more complete, fulfilled life.


Posted in Culture, freedom, happiness, intention | Leave a comment

On Interrupting Jimmy Buffett

I was going along, doing my normal house-mommy activities, washing dishes, folding fitted sheets – king size, alone – how does a person do that?… trying to decide if I’d started searing early enough to complete the roast before dinnertime. I was scrubbing the pan from yesterday’s attempt at baking and contemplating running out to the store to get a can of Guinness at 10 am. I’d woken up singing Magaritaville, but tequila doesn’t go in a roast. Guinness does. You know, your regular Monday morning thoughts. I was also thinking about socks; wondering why there are so many unpaired holey beauties and counting the hours that the roast needs to sit in the crock pot, because those are the deep thoughts I have when I am not thinking about discovering tertiary revenue sources and divergent directions for obscure online publications.

The phone rang, interrupting Jimmy Buffet-in-my-head and my morning routine. The caller ID let me know it was a telecall type of thing, and I answered it so I could tell them to remove me from their list personally since they obviously don’t understand what the national do-not-call register is. It’s okay, I am patient like that.

Inside of three seconds, the thick accent on the other end was frantically “ma’am, no ma’am, ma’am-ing” me while trying to convince me to give him details about my computer’s operating system. It’s obviously broken and he’s going to show me right now before anything else bad happens. Yes, apparently problems bloom on my computer and just in time, The Ether sends me people like this lovely angel direct via Ma Bell to fix it. So I thought I’d have some fun. He knows me intimately, of course, I am “Chriserika” and he has my registration number right here, “I’m just looking it up, one moment ma’am, just one moment while I look it up, please.”

“Which company is this?”

“Computer Services, ma’am and we have a record from Windows that your computer needs to be fixed.”

“Uh-hu.” I’ll invite a little fun, I thought. I like to mess with computer scammers whenever the opportunity presents itself. Turnabout and all that. I asked him the company name again. Now it was Computer Tech-something-in-California. I asked again why he was calling me. Obviously, it’s because I have problems with my computer and if I would just get on my computer, he would be happy to show me the problem, ma’am, with ma’am, ma’am in between every other word for politeness freaking sake.

After letting him know in no uncertain terms that I was in fact having no computer problems, he got pushy, and then we had our little dance again where I asked and he offered the name of his company, except it was Tech Center this time, not anything computer. So now I’m in the land of a million ma’ams and revolving company names. Isn’t that cute. He told me he knew exactly where my problem was, if only I’d look at my computer. So I asked which computer it was that was having the problem. Certainly if Windows gave him authorization to call and he had “my registration number” (that he was still searching for) then he would know which computer was troubled. Silence. Oops, he didn’t anticipate the fact that I have more than one computer. I let him ma’am-ma’am me for another moment before I interrupted his stream of frantic begging by threatening the BBB on him. Then I waited for him to relent and hang up. But I got tired of listening and did the hanging up myself.

My next objective will be to see if I can get them to hang up first. Now, back to my Guinness and roast.

Posted in humor | Leave a comment

The Good The Bad and the Ugly-Writing History

It was my job yesterday to write to my group of Nepali photographers that are working on Everyday Nepal and remind them that we’re not a news outlet or a political forum. That was actually a really hard thing to do because the people in that country are currently writing a very important page in their history.

The good: After a decade of shuffling prime ministers and trying to organize their government, Nepal has finally written a constitution for their country. Nepal was a kingdom from 1799 to 2008. After a decade of unrest with Maoist guerrillas hiding in the hills, riots, and the country trying to figure out how to recover after losing its monarchy, it settled into a parliament and prime minister. But it’s not easy for a country that is used to operating with a monarch at their helm to fulfill such a requirement. So they kept unseating their prime ministers (because they weren’t acting like monarchs) in hopes of someone who could undertake that large task. In 2011 I met the fourth prime minister that had taken the post since the monarchy was dissolved and a democratic republic was formed. Since then there have been three others, for a total of 7 in 8 years. I remember sitting in a room full of prominent men (myself the only female) and listening to the prime minister speak slowly and carefully in English about how it was his job to write the constitution for his country. And now it’s finally been done. Parliament voted to accept it in late September.

The Bad: Not everyone is happy with the constitution, of course. There are 125 different languages and cultures in the tiny country that’s about the size of Tennessee (with China and India surrounding it on all sides). As a result, some of the cultures who look to benefit the least (or be most marginalized -the Madhesi in particular) are rioting down by the Indian border.

The Ugly: This is creating problems for supply routes and supply trucks entering the country, as Nepal is dependent quite heavily on Indian supplies like gasoline and produce. India claims the rioting groups are keeping the trucks from passing the border, but the rioters (and much of Nepal) place the blame squarely on India for blockading the crossing, to enforce the laws they believe should be changed in a constitution that isn’t even theirs. (News articles from The Times of India, another view from BBC, and My Republica/HuffPo – clearly blame is being traded far more than gas and food). As a result of the blockade, currently Kathmandu is without gas or enough food to feed the people of the city. Half the restaurants in the city are closed, as well as hotels. Many people are not working. Many don’t have fuel to run their cook stoves to make dinner for their families. And this after only beginning to rebuild from the devastating earthquake that killed 10,000 in April. Deep breath.

Now back to my little job of telling photographers what to portray on a non-political non-news site. Several of them live down near that border crossing and have done a fair job of reporting and posting photos without taking too much of a political bent, even though it most certainly affects their family and entire village. My words included ‘history’ and ‘together’. It felt really big. I was pretty nervous when I pushed the send button on that email. I waited, with a stone in my gut, to see the response. It was really refreshing to get an almost immediate note back from one of the more active photographers, “Thank you, Erika. You just spoke my heart here, I’ve thought the same.”

Shortly afterwards, one of my Sherpa friends messaged me that they were out of fuel for cooking and he had just walked from Kathmandu to his wife’s village and back (because there is no other way) and my gut tied in knots again. India and China may well bat Nepal around  like a ping pong ball. So I sit on the far sidelines, cheering silently for the tiny country full of heart to make it through this piece of history: Go Nepal! You can do this.


Posted in Government, Kathmandu, Nepal | 1 Comment

Girls Work: From School to Government

The air is thick and hot and hazy. It’s ninety degrees. Mary Beth and I are in a circle of makeshift chairs. We’re outdoors on a dusty patch of ground with a dozen community leaders from this group gathered around us. We drove for eight hours over treacherous roads, in rugged landscape, through valleys, across ridges from Kathmandu to get here. There is a slow, steady hum of human activity in the village around us. The lazy market entertains a few locals bargaining, and a bus carrying too many travelers is offloading luggage and passengers from its roof. Chickens are being gathered from the compound next door and beheaded in preparation for dinner. We’re here in order to visit a school. We’re on a project for a non profit organization that is helping this local school to expand its classrooms because they can’t accommodate the the children they currently have. They house many of the children in an attached, affiliated orphanage and those kids live on the school grounds. They grow vegetables on the roof of the orphanage, which resembles a barn as much as anything else. We’ve walked the grounds of the school, stood in the classrooms, each of which is open air, edged with woven palm fronds and bamboo windows. The playground in the center of the school grounds is dusty orange clay with an outhouse building on the far side. The painted sign on it reads, “Investment in children gives us good return,” in English, as if it’s an advertisement just for Western visitors.


Our circle of chairs have been moved from a meeting room in one of the village community buildings, so we could sit in an outdoor space to get to know each other a bit after an intense meeting and negotiation about the school. This border town on the south edge of Nepal is in plain sight of the Indian border which divides the two countries by invisibly crossing a hill in the distance. Sitting with twelve community leaders was meant to cement negotiations and build trust on both sides.


img_8076_std img_8068_std img_8042_std img_8027_std

During a break, when one of the village women went to gather tea for us, I walked to the corner of the building to take a look at the surrounding area. Rolling hills faded quickly into the haze of the sticky afternoon. One of the community leaders followed me, as is customary, to show me around and make me feel comfortable. He began describing the village and territory around it. “Do you see that hill, there? That is the Indian border. We are so close to it, but the kids walk across many kilometers to get here every day.” It was less than five miles away. We turned to head back to the chairs as people were reconvening, and he finished the story while the rest of the circle listened. “We’re close enough to India here, we sometimes lose children to human trafficking while they’re walking the route to school.” A few others in the group nodded in agreement, eyes low, solemn looks on their faces.

Now, I knew AC was being really careful with us down in this area. He had told us before we went that he was uncomfortable because he hasn’t spent as much time down here as his own territory, and he knew some areas were sketchy. He always wants his travelers to be very safe. As part of that, he usually guides conversation by only talking about certain things. But there was genuine concern in this circle that the children were not safe in walking from their homes to school. They weren’t safe from being abducted and taken across the border into India where they’re sold into slavery or prostitution, never seen by their families again.

I swallowed my shock, then managed to ask out loud of the group, which spoke some English but very broken, “Do you teach in your schools, how to keep the kids safe? So that they’re less likely to be taken? Are there measures in your community that you can take to keep your children more safe?”

An answer came back, “We cannot get the government to agree to that.” From my view, it wasn’t surprising, since the government wouldn’t even agree to funding the full school rebuild, which is why we were there in the first place. Over discussions right then, AC interpreting on both sides, an interesting exchange of culture and information played out. Several of them, especially the women in the group lit up at this and spoke among themselves, working it out for a moment before they calmed down. I only got the sense of what was going on but it seems to me that the government gal, the Minister of Tourism’s assistant, was one of the most vocal and concerned. She had flown in the day before and driven the last two hours in a jeep with us to the village as a representative of the central government in Kathmandu. The community revered her and appreciated her willingness to support their school project. (As a side note, I remember feeling proud of her in her position, a woman in such a male dominated culture. She was outspoken and firm, unlike most of the other women we’d come in contact with.)

I offered up another suggestion, thinking as the words left my mouth, “There must be away for your community to become more safe. Can you… Is there a way to educate the children in your school without involving the government? Can you just talk to small groups directly, and would that help?”

There was a short silence, then multiple conversation rumbles through the group, all in Nepali, with AC moderating and explaining my meaning. They hadn’t considered presenting a unique local message, a curriculum without universal sign off. I was amazed that they hadn’t done the troubleshooting to figure out how to save their own children from this. Mary Beth and I sat silently while they exchanged thoughts and ideas. After AC translated my words for them, the group got quiet, then one of the leaders spoke. AC didn’t translate for me but what he said to me in an aside was, “They are not used to working in this way.” It must have been a delicate dance with a member of the central government sitting in on the whole thing. A few moments later the conversation turned back to the school buildings.

In the following weeks, with AC interpreting the government and the culture, I came to understand further what they meant. “The government will not allow us to teach those things in schools.” They had said. Because it’s a cultural faux-pas, an unmentionable. It’s not spoken about among adults, much less children and as such, many don’t even acknowledge that it happens. But also, I asked AC why they don’t push for a closed border. He explained that Nepal’s economy (and government leadership) is intrinsically tied to India and that border with India must stay open or Nepal would shut down. This sort of information always stops me cold, how an entire country of 33 million people could operate day after day under that premise, then I remember that Nepal is the size of Tennessee, surrounded by the two largest countries in the world. India and China, no one else. It still messes with my head to think of being in that tiny village in that smallish country in that particular position, so culturally and sociologically different from my own. With problems that seem so accessible, so potentially fixable when seen with Western eyes.

Since that meeting and since that moment I’ve wanted to go back to Nepal and work in human trafficking and work on the problems of the border crossings and all the girls that get stolen across every year.


Posted in Chitwan, Nepal, victims, village, volunteer work | Leave a comment

What’s Left of the Glacier

During the last week of June I led a single overnight to the south foot of Mt Baker in the North Cascades. Anyone familiar with the hiking trails in that area is reading again. Yes, the trails, usually not accessible until late July or early August were open and completely snow free before June was out. It seems California is the height of climate fashion and we’re following suit with the lack of snow and rain.

We camped on Railroad Grade which is one of the ascent paths to Mt Baker’s summit. It was beautiful and wild, and on a weekday when we did this, wasn’t cluttered with too many people. One pair of skiiers passed on the way up as we rested. They were optimistically porting splitboards and smiles while they chattered up the trail. Their round trip had about eight miles to hike in to get to a 10 minutes slide down, then a long hot dry haul out. Seems ridiculous, but our ski resorts weren’t open very long this winter so local skiiers are hard up for any snow – even crusty slush ten miles in.

Next we passed a pair of climbers descending as we headed up. I asked how the climb went and how conditions were.

“There’s not much water until you get to the glacier… and I am surprised every time by how much the glacier has receded each year when I come up.”

Yeah. That second part was especially hard to see, even after the warning.

Easton Glacier Mt Baker

The movie Chasing Ice turned me on to comparing glaciers across years. I took the above photo on June 25 of this year. The photo taken below is from my friend Orion Ahrensfeld. His was taken July 1, 2009. Note the exposed dirt on the right of his photo. It’s the same ridge that runs across my photo, just above the middle. Even though my photo was taken a week earlier in the season, his clearly shows a thicker, fuller, healthier glacier.

Orion Easton image

I spent a long time staring into the ravine that the Easton Glacier carved (photo below) and imagined the massive amounts of snow and ice that must have been there to create such a ravine. It’s now empty except a small muddy stream trickle from the bottom of the melting glacier tail.

Glacier studies have been recorded since the turn of the 19th Century, but seeing the whole spectacle with  your own eyes brings it acutely into view.

Easton Ravine

Posted in climate change, climbers, climbing, hiking, Mt Baker, snow | Leave a comment

Little Hero

My youngest has been at camp for a solid week. It was at a YMCA camp, staffed the way they usually do the big summer camps – lots of imported students or fresh Uni grads, who agree to herd masses of rowdy kids through obstacle courses, swim tests and talent shows six days a week for an entire summer, in return for the “time abroad.” Sunday off, that’s it. This was the first week of camp, since school just quit last week, so the counselors were all green and expectant as we dropped kids off last Saturday.

This was the first time he’d be away from friends and family for so long. This particular camp week was for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s kids, to help them be a bit more self reliant and learn more about it in the safety of nurses and docs, with a group of similar kids. So after I prepped the nurse with all the injections, pills and regular other stuff that the other kids were also dealing with, I jumped in with his other “thing.”

My 9-year-old, besides being an ulcerative colitis patient, also has PKU (phenylketonuria) which means he is restricted from eating protein, and required to drink a special formula to provide amino acid replacement for the whole proteins he can’t ingest. He’s relatively easy for an afternoon playdate or even a sleepover (I send snacks and his formula and keep it really simple), but a whole week away from anyone who had managed him before had me a little nervous. Camp policy said no outside food is allowed. Rats, mice and peanut allergies out in the boonies, and I can see why.

I don’t prep people on PKU protocol very often because the learning curve is steep. I always follow, “Well, can he have…?” with, “he doesn’t eat: meat, fish, eggs, dairy, legumes, nuts, soy, whole grains, pasta, or anything that has lots of wheat flour in it.”

Yes, then they look at me sideways, white-faced, blankly (like you might be now) and ask what he CAN have. “All fruits, most veggies, except the ones I just named.” It’s the dance. We’ve done it for almost ten years. I often forget how much I had to learn before I could condense it down to that short list. But the nurse and I had gone back and forth for several emails and phone calls before camp. She was confident they could feed him and substitute from the kitchen when they ran into a meal item he couldn’t have. It ended up that every main course was something he couldn’t have.

Today I drove back to camp to fetch him after a week. I met with the nurse to see how the week went. She was in the middle of gushing over his effervescent personality when he appeared with one of this cabin counselors in tow. “Mama!!” He wrapped me in a waist-hug, beaming. I asked her how the foods went. She smiled and said he did very well except when they had to correct him a couple times. No bagels, no noodles. She motioned to the counselor who had followed saying that he had taken on my son’s extra food requirements personally. He nodded and stood silently behind my son. His name tag said Umear. I remembered meeting him at drop off. He was soft spoken, from England, with dark, gentle features and heavy glasses. I shook his hand and thanked him, then turned to leave.

“He’s an amazing kid,” he managed to say before pulling off his glasses and wiping his eyes. I was shocked. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a college guy tear up. Then he collected himself and said, “he has given me a greater appreciation for life. He has been so uplifting for me…” then he broke down completely. He’d wiped his face twice already and was presently fighting himself to follow protocol and let us go, or tell me more. I hugged him, told him it meant a lot to me to hear that, and asked him for more. He sobbed openly and wiped his eyes again.

“What he is doing is so hard. I mean, he couldn’t eat anything, but he was still so happy every day….”

“Yeah.” I teared up too.

“That is so hard! I mean, I am fasting right now, so I know how hard it is to watch everyone else have what you can’t have. And he is so good about it!”


“Yeah.” I puzzled for a moment about how a 20-year-old guy could possibly wrangle camp kids all day without food or water during daylight hours, and whether Allah considered his followers above the 45th parallel when he decided Ramadan should ever fall in the month of summer solstice. Then I wondered if the camp was accommodating him by feeding him before 4 am and and after 10 pm. I didn’t ask. We walked together toward the pile of sleeping bags and gear as he continued.  “I had to take pasta away from him one dinnertime because he thought he could have it and then we found out he couldn’t. We saw it on the sheet you sent.” And this is when it occurred to me how much he had undertaken. My apprehension in the weeks before wasn’t in filling out piles of paperwork, sending refrigerated meds, or worrying that my bubbly, gregarious son would make friends. It was this. That someone else would have to take this on and succeed at it.

“You did my job this week. I know how hard that is, and I’ve been doing it for nine years. We’ve had a little practice. But it sounds like you did great!” I thanked him again and asked what he was studying in school.

“General nutrition medicine. But now, after this week, I think I want to work with special diet nutrition instead.” By this time we both had tears running down our faces. We exchanged information. I ask him to write to my son and began listing nutrition and special diet medical contacts, off the tip of my tongue, in case that might be of interest to him. He promised to write. My boy was standing between us, smiling and looking at both of us sideways, wondering what all the fuss was about. He hugged Umear, to which Umear said, “you keep drinking that shake of yours, okay?” then turned to me, “he was a leader all week. He was the front of the pack everywhere we went and helped the other kids all the time. He’s got great energy and enthusiasm… a great kid.” Then he turned to my son again, “you come back next year, okay, and I will try very hard to do the same.” They nodded at each other from across the parking lot.

All the way home I asked about camp, with Harry Potter Number Seven muffling answers and stories. My kid has inspired a college kid to be something special; something more than he would otherwise want to be, if he hadn’t spent a week with my kid. I think I was teary about the whole exchange until we were off the peninsula, over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and stuck in Tacoma traffic. And yes, he had a great time at camp.

Skills Rec 3 104-XL

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Twenty Four Hour Escape

Written Sunday morning at 5:40 am, after dawn, before the sun crawled out from behind Cascade ridges.

I had a mouse on my head last night. I had just faded to sleep with the white noise of an alpine cascade at my feet. Something brushed my hair. I flipped over to see a small dark shadow rocket silently under my rain fly. Fuzzy from new sleep, groggy from the evening hike in, I wondered if I imagined it. It was past midnight, one week from solstice. There was still twilight on the west horizon. Bellingham and Anacortes glowed orange below it. The entire Milk Way was streaming out of Mt Baker’s summit, just over my shoulder.

I’d dreamed a mouse. He climbed up the mesh screen of my tent door and brushed my head. I checked the tent for holes. Mice can chew right through tent material to get inside. Then they chew through your food bag and get to what they want. But there was none of that. No proof of any of this. It must have been the wind pushing the screen into my hair. It must have been a dream. I drifted back to sleep.

A while later, I woke to the screen brushing my hair again. I opened my eyes. Starlight off the glacier snow cut the silhouette of a mouse hanging from the outside of the screen, directly above my face.

-He’s back! I yelled, waking the next tent. I smacked the screen, sending the furry nuisance flying to the far side of the rain fly where he landed and scurried away.

Faint gray-blue light from the coming dawn illuminated my tent before 4 am. The nip and moisture in the air led me to believe we were fogged in. I unzipped to check. Clear blue. The magnificent Coleman glacier rests in its moraine just 100 feet away. Occasionally we could hear it groaning or cracking as it flowed slowly down the mountain. I crawled out and grabbed my camera to wait for sunrise.

We’re at 5600 feet. Climbers are ascending from Hogsback, which we passed last night before reaching the lookout at trail’s end and setting camp. The strong smell of sulfur wafts through camp. Baker is an active volcano, I’m even pretty sure there used to be a sulfur mine up there early last century.

-That’s pretty strong. All the way from the summit? I ask.

-Nah, probably from fumeroles further down. My resident volcanologist suggests. But the breeze is precise and after half an hour, it shifts, sending the smell elsewhere. We watch puffs of steam appear and rise from the northwest corner of the summit before vanishing moments later.

Snow is gone early from this area, bringing July and August wild flowers early. Penstamon, lupine, Indian paintbrush, yellow asters are all blooming now, surrounding my tent with color and luxury. Some are a full two months early. Vertical patches of snow cling to high meadows. Our drinking water comes from the waterfall creeks below them. I am sitting against the base of a huge solid basalt hill several steps from our tents. The side of the rock has been rubbed smooth by glaciers which have long since retreated. I run my hand over it again and again, imagining the massive ice that ground it like glass.

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Waterfalls along the path


One of many creek crossings en route to the destination.


Reached the Coleman glacier just before sunset






Camp with Mt Baker and Coleman glacier


Resident volcanologist, glacier enthusiast, sunset chaser


View looking northwest (Am I seeing Canada?)

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Glacier rubbed rock with remnant glacier below.


Top of the basalt rock


Backlit glacier ice.


A marmot before heading home.




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Our group walked through a flat, red-rock area in Arizona. There was nothing for miles. We’d just come through Monument Valley and stopped our six-van caravan at a dirt pullout to let 23 kids stand on the freeway and do “the Forrest Gump running pose” all together. Most of them really wanted to do it, it didn’t mater that many of them had no idea what Forrest Gump was. But it was Route 66 (or darn near) and there were so few cars, we set up adult lookouts, then cleared the kids to “go play in traffic” (shhh, don’t tell the school district) so we could get a pic of them all running in that same spot ala the important plot point in the film. I haven’t seen the movie in 20 years and it’s a little foggy, so we shot a couple takes, clearing them off to let semi-trucks pass, chimp shots and repeat. “Can you get one a little wider?” “Let’s do it again.” “Yaaaaay!!!”

It’s pretty amazing to watch kids who grew up in mandatory car seats and seat belts, who’ve never been on a bike without a helmet, who’ve never heard of Jarts or played at a park without supervision, run free on an active highway. I highly recommend it.


Shortly after that we pulled into another dirt flat of red rock. Two ladies emerged from a wooden shack (the only structure in view  all the way to the horizon) and greeted us warmly. Christine was smiley and round with a long braid down her back. Marie was smaller, older, quieter.

Moments later they were telling us stories in the style of Navajo legends as we walked over the fossilized footprints of velociraptor and dilophosaurus. Colorful stories rolled forth about chases, rubbing bones in the dirt, and a print of the mighty T-rex, who may or may not have wandered through a group of velociraptor nests, scattering the smaller bipeds and crushing eggs as he went, “See the crushed egg here, preserved forever in the red earth.” Peyote was missing as far as I know, but the stories were thick and deep and rich.

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As we were leaving, one of the girls in my van asked “What is that shape in the middle of the Navajo flag?” I explained the borders of the Navajo nation as we drove toward Mesa Verde. For the rest of the drive the kids discussed the idea of a nation. They wondered how it was formed, when it had grown in size beyond the original reservation boundaries, and then spent a long time pondering whether they had left their own nation when they visited this one.

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Outside a gas station, a Navajo girl entertains herself on the pay phone. No adults around.


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Sunset at the Grand Canyon

Let is be known that if you catch a 5:20 am flight out of Seattle, you can shoot sunset at the Grand Canyon that same day. Even when you have 23 teenagers in tow. That’s what I did last month. I chaperoned a school trip which toured the desert Southwest, including the South Rim.


Airplane sunrises give such a neat range of color. I havent color touched any of these, really.

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Rest stop number 327… yeah, you try to coordinate 23 kid bladders. This one had cactuses in bloom and a nice vista, anyway.


Elk showed up at the water spout next to our campground … because it’s the desert, and elk are pretty smart.


And after we pitched tents (for 30 people) we scampered to this overlook and watched.

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As is the way with this school, the kids are keeping a journal which is graded at the end of the trip. The teacher asks them to use word descriptions to describe the feelings of sunset here, overlooking this Wonder of the World. It was made more effective (to teens who might be a tad distracted from their present moment, by the chattering of their peers) when a Muslim man knelt down right at the edge of the precipice in front of them and said 5 minutes of chanted prayers as the kids were writing. Then the teacher (being as awesome as he is) invited the man to come over and describe what he was doing for the kids. I’ll try to summarize his beautiful words: As a Muslim I am required to pray right as the sun does down, wherever I find myself, to be thankful for all the beauty in the world and realize how small I am, you are, as an individual, but how we are all the same, no matter where we come from, and even through our diversity we can work together. It takes work, trust and kindness, but working all together toward peaceful  lives is the way. And that is what I was saying when I prayed in this beautiful place.


It was well taken.

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