Mental Health

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It’s difficult to tell in this snap, but it’s really quite nice out for March in Massachusetts.  Not exceptionally nice like it was on Wednesday, but nice enough.  A bit of a cool breeze, temperatures in the high fifties at 9:30 in the morning, clouds, and a bit of sun.  It’s the sort of weather that makes me feel like all hope is not lost.  Winter will end, the Earth is not dead, and I don’t have to be a crazy shut-in who only talks to her cats.  A change is blowing in with the wind and I feel good.

But, for as good as I feel when Spring is knocking on the door, there are still things that bother me: Americans, for example, work too much.  I think we’re pretty much insane for working such long hours.  I say this despite being a bit of a workaholic: I’ve been known to only take breaks during the work day because someone placed a sandwich in front of me and said ‘Bex, you need to eat something.’ (Not too often, but it’s happened more than once.)  Regardless, people work too much.

A few years ago I had a temp job that got me up before the sun, and didn’t let me out until after it had set.  It was winter, so this wasn’t all that difficult, but, still, it was the most depressing thing I’ve ever experienced.  Except when I looked around the office at the people who actually worked there: there were employees who where already in the office when I arrived.  As the sun was rising over the Atlantic, they were already on calls with clients and customers.  These same people were still on calls when I left an hour after the sun had set way beyond the Berkshires.  Another temp and I rode the elevator together at the end of one day and we asked each other “How the fuck do they do this?”  This life was for neither she nor I.

Now, I’m not trying to be insulting or make anyone feel badly about their job.  If I have, I apologize.  A person is allowed to love their job, or choose to be at work before the sun’s up and stay until after it’s down. This is not a criticism of individuals, but of the system.  America seems to value working long hours and not taking breaks; and we are conditioned to expect to be punished for taking breaks while trapped indoors during prime tanning hours.  It starts in school when we can see the beautiful weather but are forced to stay inside.  Therefore, as adults we accept being trapped in cubicles, chained to desks, stuck in windowless rooms with bad lighting and poorly regulated air conditioning.  That’s why I was pleasantly surprised yesterday.

I’ve picked up some hours tagging and folding shirts in a warehouse.  It’s a pain, literally, to stand at a table and fold tee shirts all day, but it’s not the least exciting work I’ve ever done (that would be that temp job in the sales office).  Nor is it the most difficult.  It is physically taxing, but so was environmental ed. and summer camp.  It might be a bit more physically taxing because I’m older now and I’ve already put my body through years of environmental ed. and summer camp, but it’s nothing I’m not familiar with.  The other people who work there are pleasant, and there’s a window so we can see if it’s sunny or rainy.  In the afternoons, the older ladies who work there are replaced by a group of teenagers coming off their school day.

Yesterday, two of the boys were talking at the table behind me.  One asked the other why he wasn’t in school or at work the day before, the extremely nice day for March in Massachusetts.  The boy said simply that he had stayed home.  He told school he was “sick”, but in reality it was just that it was nice out and he spent his day outdoors.  The other teens were amazed and surprised.  One girl couldn’t believe his audacity.  I, however, couldn’t help being extremely proud.  This kid, all of sixteen or seventeen, understood that Wednesday was a Beautiful Day, and that Beautiful Days are meant to be enjoyed.  He’d even decided that this Beautiful Day was meant to be enjoyed out of doors.  The other teens went on and on about how crazy he was, but I couldn’t help but be impressed this kid chose his mental health over his attendance record, his grades, and a paycheck.  This kid has his priorities in order.

Take care of your mental health people, it’s more important than we Americans realize.

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A Story of Natural Consequences

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A little ways to the left of the dock above is a deep channel dug years ago for irrigation purposes.  Whoever was digging it gave up and now it’s just a deep, muddy ditch.  This wouldn’t be a big deal if it weren’t for the fact that the program I work for regularly brings students into that marsh.  Which isn’t actually a big deal: typically, our students listen to us when we tell them not to go into the mud because they’ll sink in up to their waists.  Typically they hear these instructions and heed our advice.  Typically.

Last week, the final week of our program for the school year, we had a school from the Boston inner city area.  With urban schools, my main objective is to get the kids out into nature, to try to get them to connect with something, anything, in the outdoors.  Now Boston isn’t New York in terms of nature, but my goal remains the same.  This is mud, those are trees, bug spray goes on you not the insects.

Regardless of where a school is from my rules are simple: we stay together, we have fun and learn something, don’t get hurt.  This last school had a little trouble with the rules.  None of the students got hurt, but half were having trouble with the “have fun and learn something” rule (“it’s so cold!”, “there are so many bugs!”, “I’m gonna get wet!”), while the other half was disregarding the “stay together” rule.

Tuesday, we’re in the marsh, about four girls have informed me they have to pee (these muffins are not prepared to go in the trees), I am attempting to get us as close to an actual bathroom as possible.  This is proving difficult as the kids not into the exploration are dragging their feet, and the kids who are into finding animals in the marsh keep finding really cool crabs and asking questions about the various species, and I’m really pumped to stop and examine and answer their questions.  However, slowly, but surely, we are getting closer and closer to the dock above (which is a short walk to the dining hall and, therefore, toilets) but we are still on the far side of the channel.

And I don’t realize that I’m not going to be able to get up ahead of them to warn them about the mud.

There I am, standing in the marsh, looking around to make sure all students are moving with the group, while staying away from the osprey nest on the point, when I turn back around to see, up ahead, K—-, a small, fifth grade boy in a clear plastic poncho, jump off the marsh, into the channel, and run/crawl up the far bank back onto the marsh.  I yell to them to stay where they are as the rest of the students and I make our way to the channel.  Miraculously all the students come gather around.  Mostly due to other kids yelling “K—- LOST HIS SHOE!  K—- LOST HIS SHOE!  MISS BECKA, K—- LOST HIS SHOE!”

K—- had, indeed, lost one of his shoes.

Very calmly, to the gathered students, I tell them that I am now going to tell them the story of the girl who jumped in the channel.  She didn’t listen to me, got ahead of me, much like K—- did, jumped in the channel and sank up to her waist in the mud.  She was lucky, however, I told my students.  Unlike another student who lost his boot in the mud.  When his teacher reached in to get it out, she pulled out a boot, sure; but not that kid’s boot.  A different boot.  K—-‘s shoe is gone.  K—-‘s shoe is no more.  There is no shoe.  It’s gone, baby; gone.

And I couldn’t be mad at him.  Couldn’t yell at him.  I couldn’t give him a warning or a strike for running ahead.  The boy lost his shoe in the mud.  Forever.  I wasn’t about to jump in there and try to retrieve it, especially after the kid told me he had another pair in the cabin.  I did tell his teacher when we got back, however.  He agreed with me: Natural Consequences.  Now the kid knows if he jumps in the mud again: he might lose his shoes.

This child is destined to lose shoes, though; I’m convinced.  The next day, that same student almost lost his sandal to the ocean.  Another kid fished it out with a crabbing net.

The Day Before My Grandmother Dies

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The day before my grandmother dies
I’m on a bus heading for a celebration.
The bus is full and quiet,
it reminds me of another bus,
on another continent,
on a trip that solidified a friendship
I’d be worse-off without.
The memory makes the bus ride
less heinous than expected.

The day before my grandmother dies
I sip hot coffee and watch CNN in a bus station
waiting for a ride to a celebration.
A young man asks to use my cellphone;
His has been stolen, along with other things.
He’s wearing someone else’s shoes.
I am happy to help him get home safely.

The day before my grandmother dies
we are on the road to a celebration.
We chat about cotton candy machines,
puppets, and art.
The GPS interrupts our conversation, KITT
desperate to be included.
We ignore him as we discuss
the beauty of nature.

The day before my grandmother dies
a man gives a friend a precious gift:
a stack of ancient comic books.
We are preparing for a celebration.
Although they are old, the books
foretell our evening:
Aquaman assured enjoyment, and
Hulk-sized fun.

On the day before my grandmother dies
I wear a blue dress made in India,
purchased in Rhode Island.
My hair falls in natural curls,
I wear almost no makeup.
A fellow guest is excited, I
am wearing flip-flops too.
Another compliments my sweater,
she calls it: The Everdeen.
I am dressed for a celebration.

The day before my grandmother dies
I watch two people I love
mentally, spiritually, and legally
become a family.
They are the reason for our celebration.
The groom makes us smile,
the bride makes us cry;
a bridesmaid makes us laugh
when she pulls a reading from her bra.

The day before my grandmother dies
I witness the bitchin’est father-daughter dance
in recorded history.
They teach me how to celebrate.
I drink champagne and mead, and
am a party to lewd acts
committed by stuffed animals and men
who are often boys;
Which only makes me love them more.

The day before my grandmother dies
I, uncharacteristically, do not feel like dancing.
I celebrate, In Spirit, as I watch them
move, and groove, and twirl.
I want more champagne;
but if I had the energy to track down another bottle,
I’d be dancing.

Because the day before my grandmother dies
has been a long, exhausting one.
I hug my friend so tight.
I traveled far to help her celebrate;
Because, and it’s been weighing on my mind,
Life is sweet, and
Life is short.
Too short for them not to know
You Love.
Because you do love
even when you can’t dance,
and you do not spend the night.

On the day before my grandmother dies
I am overwhelmed
by Love.
From the family who invite friends
to a celebration that honors their only daughter,
to the stranger who lends her cellphone
to the boy who’s been mugged.
Love creeps in every word, and Love
oozes out of every action.

Because
on the day before my grandmother dies
we are built
out of Love.
From the bride to the groom,
to the guests, to the dog
pressed against me as we leave
the celebration behind
the day before my grandmother dies.

— Bex, August 2014

Found this gem this week.

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Not really certain what it is; it’s some sort of larva, but for what exactly we don’t know.  Our insect guide had something that looked very similar to it that was a dobsonfly larva, called a ‘hellgrammite’, and, according to the internet research I’ve done, what I found is most likely some sort of variety of hellgrammite.  Which means, since I’m most likely going to live here for most of the year, I might see this monstrous larvae in it’s fly form.

Insects are weird.  The fact that they undergo a metamorphosis during their lifetime is so very strange to me.  I think I really should finish reading that Kafka story this summer if I’m really dead set on searching for and collecting bugs all summer with little children.

Sneaky, sneaky universe.

Days after I wrote my last post (and by “days” I mean one) I was invited by the camp director of the property where I work to come talk to him about the Nature and Gardening position for the summer camp.  He explained the job to me and how it essentially aligns with my personal manifesto about getting kids in nature (without actually knowing my personal manifesto about getting kids in nature).

I am strongly inclined to do this, assuming he is actually offering me the position (those words were never actually stated) – essentially because I would be able to do a lot of the things I do during the fall and spring and I would have the freedom to design my own programming as long as it is age appropriate and gets children to interact with nature.

I like this guy.

I like the sound of this job.

I am completely baffled by what the universe (god?) is throwing my way, but I like it.

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth?

Something.

Stream Stomp!

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Stream Stomp!

I really like my job. People don’t understand this. People who don’t work at my job, I mean. People who DO work at my job wholeheartedly understand why I keep coming back despite the long hours, isolated locations, close quarters, bad camp food, (sometimes) terrible coworkers, little pay, and seasonal employment. But we love our job.

We love it, for one reason, because kids are weird. Kids are freakin’ weird. Children have asked me the weirdest questions over the years, made the funniest statements, and generally made me laugh. This past week we got the tiniest child to wear the banana costume during dinner (yes, we have a banana costume).

Another reason is because we, the teachers, as well as the kids, are constantly learning new things. Our first season doing outdoor ed, my friend said to me: “This job is great! We get paid to LEARN!” (we’re very nerdy here).

Also: we get to do really REALLY fun things like stomp around in the river and look for animals. When I worked at the ocean site, I could take my groups down to the docks with a few buckets and nets, string, and a bag of leftover meat and spend a few hours catching crabs. Now that I’m back in the woods, along a Connecticut river, I get to take buckets and nets to the water and spend a couple hours catching crayfish and frogs. Do you get to do that at your job?

2013-05-03 10.34.15This week I tried a class that had previously terrified me.  I never really understood it.  But we had second through fifth graders this week, many of whom did not speak much English, and I figured I could take them to the river and have them catch creatures for an hour and a half and it would be fun and (sort of) educational.

2013-05-03 10.47.24And I was right: my students had so great a time, on the last day I took my group down for our final Field Group to the river to catch animals.  They got wet, they picked up animals, they slipped on rocks, they climbed on everything, and had a wonderful time.

2013-05-03 11.24.18I had girls catching frogs with their bare hands, naming them, falling in love with these wild little creatures, wishing they could bring them home to New York with them (which they cannot).  It was wonderful to see Girly Girl types bare-handing these precious amphibians and having zero qualms about getting dirty and tromping around in the mud and holding frogs.

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One kid had brought this net case for capturing animals.  We used it more than once for frogs and aquatic insects that we discovered while exploring the streams and the river.2013-04-30 10.41.02_1

I had another student, a boy, who caught a shit-ton of crayfish with just a net and his bare hands.  He collected them all in a bucket and was determined to show them to his teacher even though we HAD TO RELEASE THEM AND GO BACK because they were loading the busses and they had to go home.  But it was adorable that all he wanted to do was see just how many of these weird, tiny lobster, crustaceans he could collect.

2013-05-03 11.51.01It was almost exactly like catching crabs, which I also had to warm up to doing myself, and I loved every second of it.  My mission, now that it’s warmer and nicer weather here in the northeast, is to take the buckets and nets out at least once, if not twice, a week and see how many of what my students can collect out of our waters.  It was, by far, the most fun I have had in a very long time.

2013-05-03 10.46.55And, quite frankly, there’s really nothing greater than watching children do something they might never get to do at home or with their families, or in their daily lives; either because they simply don’t have the opportunity, or because their parents won’t let them do things like go down to the stream and catch frogs.  I always was intrigued, as a kid, by characters in movies and books who just ran around the neighborhood and rode their bikes to bodies of water and caught frogs and fish and tried to bring them home.  As a kid I never would have known how to do these things.  No one ever showed me and I wasn’t allowed to leave the yard, unless I was riding a bike (not my bike, a bike, I never had my own bike) and even then I could only ride it around the portion of the street where we lived.  I assume many kids get an upbringing like mine, one where I had many restrictions on what and where I could do and go, and I want those kids to be comfortable in the outdoors and open up to things like getting dirty and being knee deep in a river solely for the purpose of scooping up a tadpole or fish or crab or whatever.

While I had restrictions while at home, I also have an outdoorsy mother who did take me places where I could get dirty and encouraged me to spend time in and appreciate nature.  She made me environmentally aware and for that I am forever grateful.  I am glad that I figured out how to be in the outdoors on my own, as a grownup, but I do appreciate her appreciation and passing that on to me.  I don’t plan on having children of my own and therefore the best way I can pass on what my mother gave to me is to work with children in the outdoors and help them be comfortable exploring the outdoors.

I know I can’t do this forever, but while I still have the energy I am very happy to be doing this.  I do wish it were more year round; however, I am still very happy to be doing what I can.  I really do love my job.  My job is not odd; it is not stress-free; it is not “normal” — all that is definitely part of what keeps me coming back.

“Advice” :: written 4/26/2013

Potential Text for a Sketchbook Project.  Or something else entirely.  Read, comment, enjoy.  <3 Bex

ADVICE

At twenty eight my mother had four children, a husband in the Navy, and a house she wasn’t expecting to live in for the next thirty four years. My life took a very different path. Even though we think alike and share similarly simple life goals, my life at twenty eight is very different from hers at twenty eight. She in Suburbia with a station wagon; I in the country, childless, my only transportation my own two feet. (What is it about the youngest child that she always seems to insist on taking a very different route from her family?) I have no spouse, no steady work, no car, no children of my own, and no desire for any of the above.

No advice, neither, for others searching for their path. Because, just like when hiking, I walked right off mine and don’t plan to stop bushwhacking until I find my place beside the shimmering sea. I’m so deep in the wood now I couldn’t find a path if I tried; I’ve got to just keep on walking until I can walk no more.

I love my life, surrounded by white pine, white, black, and yellow birch, mountain laurel, and musclewood; eastern hemlock, oaks, maple trees, shagbark hickory, apple, spruce, and fir. I like stepping between the skunk cabbage, across the moss covered rocks that litter the streams I come across. There are frogs, insects, and salamanders hiding underfoot; red headed woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks, tufted titmice, and chickadees overhead; while rabbits, deer, coyote, squirrels, and foxes share the middle spaces.

Sometimes there are snakes and other creatures that seem a whole lot scarier than they actually are. Eventually, though, you live amongst the unfamiliar long enough you come to understand them and how to coexist in apprehensive peace. But the sunlight filters through the glossy green leaves, their ancestors crunching beneath my feet as dirt and humus cake the hardened callouses of my soles.

And I know there is going to come a time I stumble upon a path so attractive I won’t be able to turn my feet from it and it will lead me through well lit floral archways and into deep, dark, ominous passages but eventually will end at the wide, vast, ocean. Until then I am barefoot in the woods, roasting hickory nuts over open flames and drinking water from the streams.

You, my friend, like so many before, are standing at a crossways, the signposts pointing in all directions, complete with compelling reasons why you should take each one. And the only way you know you can’t go is back. As to which trail you ought to take, I could not say.

My advice will be inadequate from my position so deep in the woods I can only tell direction by the angle of the sun, but here’s what I’ve got to say to you:

  • Don’t forget to laugh; this is very important, laugh everyday: it’ll keep you sane.
  • Do what brings you joy. Know the things that make you happy and make time for these.
  • 90% of the time if it feels wrong it probably is. The other 10% of the time it’ll feel wrong because it’s something new and unfamiliar. If that’s the case, it might be worth it to push through the discomfort if for not other reason than growth and experience.
  • Sometimes up is down; but if you keep going the world will righten itself again.
  • Feel free to make mistakes just so long as you learn from them and live without regrets; because while life is short, it doesn’t move as fast as a 200 page novel or a two hour romantic comedy.
  • “This above all: to thine ownself be true”. If it doesn’t feel like you, if you don’t feel like you, it might be time to leave the path behind altogether.

The land is meant to be explored. So much is missed by sitting in one spot, or worse, holed up indoors. Get out there, my friend, and explore the woods. The journey might bring you to a desert, or the mountains, or the snow. Wherever you’ll end up, you’ll end up exactly where you are meant to go. We won’t follow the same paths as our mothers, or even as each other, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. We’d never be happy on someone else’s path and we shouldn’t settle for one that isn’t us. I love you, friend, let me know where you end up.

<3 B

Oh, p.s., also it’s important to remember the aquatic manatee is more vicious than the land manatee; but both should be avoided at all costs.

Fragment.

“Welcome to the complex.  My name in Cyndi and I am in charge of the store.”  Cyndi pointed to a building with the sign Country Store emblazoned on it in bold red lettering.

Karla shifted her duffle from one hand to the other.

“The complex?” she said.  “I thought this was Pollialis Campground?”

“Oh that’s just our little nick name for this place.  Those of us who have been here for forever.  It was actually Manuela over there who gave it the name.”

Cyndi pointed at the palest white woman Karla had ever seen.

“Manuela, huh?”

“Yeah, she’s been here since she was a little girl.  I think she was actually conceived at the campground. Her daddy was the head ranger here for well on thirty years.  Her mama used to bake the bread and cakes and pies in the diner over yonder.  My auntie moved my brother and I up here when we were just kids and we’ve been here ever since.”

“Ever since.  All three of you.”

“Well, Christopher went to school for conservation and forestry for a spell and I took classes at the community college in town and got my business degree.  Manuela, she went off and read books and traveled a bit, longer than Christopher and I were away, but she’s been back for a few years now.  Her sister is Fredericka, she’s in charge of this place when Phil’s away and gave her a job, any job, just to keep some money in Manuela’s pocket.”

Karla nodded not too sure what she was getting herself into by taking this job.  She liked that she wasn’t going to have to pay room and board, she liked that she was going to be able to be outside as much as she wanted.  She even didn’t mind the idea of taking visitor kids on hikes.  But the gossip was a little strange.  She’d worked some jobs that came with drama built in, but she got to go home at the end of her shift and get away from it all.  By living at the campground she worried she was getting in over her head.

“Looks like Freddie has you staying in the Blue Cabin.  That’s a nice one.  It’s right next to Tommy and Bert’s, they’re in the Gold Cabin.  They’re good guys, shouldn’t bother you.  Right now, you’ve got the place to yourself, but it is set up for two so you might get a roommate later in the summer.”

Cyndi made like she was meaning to say more, but the women were interrupted by a shout from over by the Country Store.

You’re a fuckin’ toad, Christopher Montgomery!”  Manuela was screaming at a tall, good looking blonde man that vaguely resembled Cyndi, who let out a deep sigh.

“That your brother?” asked Karla trying not to smirk.

“Yes.” Cyndi sighed again.

“Just give her a few pointers!  Please!” Christopher was saying as Karla and Cyndi approached.

“It’s not my job to babysit your bimbos, Christopher!”

“It’s not babysitting!  She wants to learn!”

“She wants to learn so you’ll keep buying her things.  If she really wanted to learn because she actually fucking wants to learn she’d buy a book or watch more games.”

“No, no, that’s not it at all.  Why do you always think they’re so shallow?”

“Because they are.  You’re just too wrapped up in their looks to care about their lack of substance.”

“Your kidding me,” Christopher mumbled.

“Look, it’s not my fault your girlfriend doesn’t know who Carl Yastrzemski is.  And it’s not my fucking job to educate her!  You want a girl who is into baseball, find a fucking girl who is into baseball!”

“They used to date,” said Cyndi to Karla.  “If you hadn’t picked up on that.”

Christopher muttered a final comment to Manuela and stormed off.

“Yah, same to you, wanker!” she screamed after him.

“Manuela,” said Cyndi cautiously, “This is Karla.  She’s taking Terence’s position this summer.”

“Oh, hi!  I’m so glad you’re here.  Freddie has been talking you up ever since you first interviewed.”

“Thanks,” said Karla warily trying and failing not to look in Christopher’s direction.

“Sorry about that.  We’re unfortunately like that all the time.  I’m actually really nice.  I’m only mean to him.”

“You talking about me?” Christopher called over to them.

“You wish!” Manuela snapped back.  “Where are you living.  She doesn’t have Terence’s old place does she?”

“No,” answered Cyndi.  “Karla is in the Blue Cabin.”

“Well, come on, let’s get you moved in.  Let me carry something for you.”

Manuela took Karla’s duffle from her and started up toward the staff cabins.  Manuela was very friendly as she pointed out all of the other buildings and pathways and told Karla where they led.

“This is Rainbow Hill.  That’s you down at the end there.  Tommy and Bert are next door in Gold.  Then there’s Cyndi and Martha in Green.  Christopher and Ricky are in Purple.  Lily and Jane are next to them in Orange.  I’m at the end in Red.  Or Casa de Crimson, as I like to call it.”

The women let Karla check out her new home.  There was a nice solid looking porch in front of each of the Rainbow Cabins.  The door led down a center hallway with a bedroom on either side and a bathroom at the end.  There was a back door out the bathroom.  It was clean and tidy for being in the woods and having not been lived in for quite some time.

Since she had the place to herself she had her pick of bedrooms.

“If you like morning sun I’d take this one.  If you want sun in the afternoon, I’d go across the hall,” said Manuela.  Karla settled into the western facing room.  It had a bed, a bureau, a chair, a nightstand and a closet.  It was snug like a dorm room, but somehow more open.  She liked it, she decided.  It was exactly what she needed.  And she had it all to herself.  No more sharing a room, no more dividing a closet.  This was going to be a good summer.