Canvas Sky and Compatriots

We’ve got the boyscouts out camping with us today.

One in the afternoon and I’m in the lodge cutting up vegetables and making too much lentils and rice. A lunch turns into two crock pots full. Jess is coming up behind me and twerking on me while I continue cutting garlic. And Ryan’s using my water filter. And Ricky’s watching Juno. Alyssa and Carinne are bonding/fighting (it’s impossible to tell most days) and  Carinne’s contact just ripped in half. George is trying to walk to town with Carinne, and we’ve got Kris from campus in our kitchen eating a watermelon slice and talking with us about life. And Korey from another team is hanging around commenting on our huge stock of pancake mix.

“We have never made pancakes. Ever.”

Just laid back on the bench and look up. Humming bird flitting around the tree.

Everyone is leaving for town and I’m taking a meditative break of a day to write and read. No to do lists until later tonight.

Today we had our community service project at the camp. And at the end of it, one of the local volunteers, a docent I think, gave a wonderful speech sharing his knowledge of the environment. It was captivating. And I realized, I am an environmentalist. Finally. It’s been a long time coming, but I finally pieced it all together in my mind, in a rush of ideas that means I’ve latched onto something enough to be excited about it.

Anything that hurts the ecosystem also hurts that people that live on this planet. And anything that is unnaturally and a man made negative for human health, is generally negative for the environment as well.

He talked about how there are billions of life forms in a single teaspoon of ocean water. And how there are more different types of bacteria living on our individual bodies than cells of skin.

How when we use antibacterial soap, which is used on the regular in American society, we’re killing all the good bacteria as well. Something that I never really fully realized, or pushed aside in my germaphobic mindset, until this year.

Just how I got a yeast infected a month and a half ago from taking antibiotics and not eating enough probiotics, same happens when you use antibacterial wash on your skin multiple times a day. Kills the good, and leaves the worst of the worst to take over. He talked about cultures like in India, where bathing and washing is not a mandatory part of their daily life, and smell is not as big of an issue. Their bodies are actually more healthy because the good bacteria is allowed to survive. Smell means nothing in the grand scheme of things– it’s about going with what works with nature, not how our capitalistic soap selling society wants to make money off of us.

So, I’m down. I guess that was the big hurdle for me to build my hippie-cocoon. I was not okay with the hygiene of that form of thought. But now I’ve begun to see it in a new way. What my Mom was always telling me as I grew up: “A little dirt in your food just makes you healthier.”

And this detox from deodorant has been amazing. Life changing, even. It makes you question that much more, once you realize what an unnecessary and potentially negative thing you’ve been doing daily for your whole life up to this point.

Two months ago, when we got back to Sacramento, I was so self consciou of my smell. Taking two, three showers a day to make up for lack of deodorant. I couldn’t shake this smell. And I thought it would just get stronger and stronger as time went on.

But here I am now, mid May, taking showers every few days or so, haven’t used deodorant in three months. Haven’t worried about how I smell in a month. Actually, last week I came across my spare deodorant, and threw it away because I realized I would never use it again.

It definitely helps being in this dry, arid climate. And maybe back in the Midwest I’ll sweat more. But it’s really not that big of a deal. I am around other people who work in the fields with me everyday and camp in tents with me at night. But I can’t smell them, and they can’t smell me. So I think everyone is just a little too paranoid about smells, and I honestly think deodorant makes you smell worse, now. It’s addictive, and it makes your body need it. For the first month off it I did smell a little, and now I smell fine because my body has adjusted to it.

Cottonwood trees snowing.

My moccasins are still burned on the bottom from the countless fireplaces we huddled around in Silver Falls. See, back then it was impossible for me to go a day without a shower, and would take a full bird bath in the sink every other night since we were only allowed to shower on alternating days. And I was layering on that deodorant two or three times a day from all the field work we were doing. It’s crazy how my mentality could so radically change in half a year.

I have to give it to Willits, they really helped me find my inner dirt loving hippie. Even if they did probably give our team MRSA for their love of dirt and lack of showers.

Feels like so many miles have been crossed since both of those projects. Literally and metaphorically, which is the way I like it.

Let’s just say I learned to like it all this year. I’m staring out into a quiet campsite. Hear a squeaky bird above, and a huddle of gentle chirping birds to the left. Goose honking on the river. A twittering bird high above and behind me.

And multiple mysterious birds flying across the pure blue skyline in front of me.

Where I previously saw nothing moving– now I see surprise.

I volunteered at the women’s shelter yesterday. Carinne and I served dinner with silly little hairnets perched atop our heads.

Circle of life. Birds chasing bugs above the grass.

The sound of cottonwood trees blowing in the wind.

Look up and sneeze. Trees or sun? That’s the mystery.

I’ve got hives and swollen fingers and toes again as of the past two days. So could very well be the cotton. Wet rainy spring days, the days during and following I’m always a hive person. What is that allergy?

Little black bird with yellow splatterings just flew out of a hole in the lodge above me. I’m sitting at a picnic table outside of the lodge, The bird is making a twirling sound.

Back to volunteering at the women’s shelter last night.

Canvas Sky.

This woman, out of all the woman we served, her smile stuck with me. It was so full, like she had the secret to knowing peace. Serene and present.

After we finished serving seconds and dessert, I asked Carinne if she wanted to get a plate and go out and eat with the women. She did, and she picked a spot right next to the woman with the smile, who was sitting alone. Later Carinne told me she had felt the same draw toward the woman that I did.

And we sat down next to her, and she asks where we’re from. And we tell her, and ask where she’s from. And she’s from a little island out in the Pacific ocean that I’ve recently learned a bit about. But talking to her took it so much further.

She spends the next twenty minutes or so telling us about her home, painting a picture with words while also showing us a real painting she’s made of the ocean out there, to the East.

And she sells it to us, and now I have to go. She gives us her email at the end, saying once she gets back on her feet she’s heading back out there. That vision of that canvas sky– endless ocean and her time-less people with polychromatic culture are what keeps her going.

She had us in a daze– we’re right there with her as she fishing in deepwater for the first time, no boat, just swimming. And comes across her first shark.

“You never want to swim straight to shore. Swim at a diagonal so that the current will carry you.”

We’re there with her as she sees every color of the rainbow in the noontime sky. East meets West, North meets South. We’re there with her as she learns to compare the way her people look at time, and Western society looks at time. She tells us the history of the island and the neighboring islands. She speaks with a flow that should land her on stage with a microphone and half the world as her audience.

She talks about oneness, and knowing the Earth is just a part of you just as much as you are of it.

And the ocean is actually magic.

When we arrive to volunteer earlier in the day, there are six international students volunteering as well. I see one of the girls keeps making eye contact with me and smiling, so I decide to do what I do best, and walk over to a group of foreigners and introduce myself.

“I love your hair!!” The girl who has been smiling at me comments on my faux hawk, which is particularly pronounced today. I ask where they’re from, and they’re all from Saudi Arabia. From different cities. I get really excited because I learned so much about Saudi Arabia from Waleed last summer, and tell them this.

“He’s from… the city with the really big mosque…”



One of the boys says with a smile that he’s from there, too. I tell them I’m from Kansas, you heard of it?

(Little black bird just flew into the hole in the wall again. They have a nest in the girl’s bathroom wall. We hear the babies chirping in the morning when we brush our teeth.)

My teammates don’t come over and talk with the international students,  and later tell me that they thought I knew the students the way I was interacting with them. Even at the end of the day, dehydrated and exhausted, I still find that natural impulse to understand new cultures. At one point while talking to them, in my dehydrated state, I started choking on my water midsentence, and was unable to carry on. Very awkward. And unavoidably funny, looking back.

The students share the traditional Saudi food they have prepared for dinner with us– chicken and potatoes in a tomato curry with cilantro on top. Amazing looking. Wish it wasn’t a meat dish, but realizing that most things in Saudi culture are for meat eaters. I try a little spoonful of the curry on principle. Always try an international food prepared homemade for you.

I don’t know what it is, but sitting out here in this spot, I always get globs of yellow gunk falling on me. Just wiped some off my hand as I’m writing. Carry on. ; )

But I remembered my love again last night: international students/ study abroad students. And my career must involve that in some way for the rest of my life. And social work, and women. It’s what comes naturally and what I love, why fight it? It propels my writing and fills me with motivation.

You know I’m going to have to fly every chance I get. And I’m going to have to set myself up to make those chances happen.

Another drop of yellow gunk on my shoulder. Hand hurts from writing. Time to type this up. x


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