To Venture; Sow Seeds

This might be an uphill battle.
Have you ever tried to build a fire in the wild, wild winter?
But if I don’t venture, I may lose myself.
More importantly —
If they don’t venture, they may never find themselves.

Can’t avoid the chilly hands of winter forever–shall we meet her then?
I’m nervous about the cold–never have slept on the ground before, nope.
Come, let us walk the road that goes ever on and on–so weary already?
I’m afraid of bears, she says.
But your eyes don’t seem to fear anything. What’s the real bear, then?

Fluctuating contours introduce her Are-we-there-yet’s and How-much-farther’s.
And he sure doesn’t give a spit about the type of Jerusalem we’re passing through.
Walking slow to prove it.
Maybe all of it really is just so many boring, boring, burned-out trees.
But I smudge my face with ash and carry on.

Hey, how hard could it be to establish a campsite?
Let me show you.
Traverse down a hill, discover a disappointing and slanted situation, then bear-crawl back up carrying the weight of your world in the pack strapped to your shoulders.
I wanna go back home now, he says.
My bad. I swear it looked decent from up top.
Story of my life, to be honest. (Wonder about yours)
Oh well, she cuts in like a cymbal’s laugh —
The same one who glanced shy at the ground when she told me her name means “beautiful girl.”

Moving slower than a mile an hour
Oh well
Forgot the menu of meal recipes
Oh well
Spilled the store of purified creek water with freezing hands
Oh well
The guys got their own tent toppled just in time for bedtime
Oh well

As for me, laid awake hearing coyotes in the blank night.
Silence too loud to sleep.
Sunrise met with a weak cup of coffee.
Oh well

Time to edge in a couple more miles.
From what I understand, the most nomadic he gets is walking to the 7 Eleven between his house and school.
But now two step with walking sticks to attend to the journey.
Destination: Footbridge.

Sun-warmed granite rocks, level ground above the banks of a rushing creek.
The view looking out towards the Valley.
Can we stay here?
The sunset glows pink and purple. I notice how he sinks into it.
You ever saw a spark ignite?

Speaking of which–
How about a fire tonight?
The smoke and crackle of gathered kindling now warming its crown of hearts.
And the same way a pinecone’s resin cracks open under the melting heat to release its seeds, their hands open.
See what we can do when Together, when Each Other.
You ever watch something grow before your eyes?

And now he’s smudged his face with ash like mine.
Topographic maps spread out with green.
Pointing to the path to El Capitan.
How far?
Nearly 6 miles away.
What happens if we don’t make it?

Has it been an hour yet?
Keeping a store of potential energy, granola bars unwrapped.
Summit, 5 miles away.
What happens if we don’t make it?
Tell me your favorite places to go to in San Fran.
My turn to be the leader, she says.
Summit, 4 miles away.
What happens if we don’t make it?
Retelling difficult stories to make this seem less difficult.
Summit, 3 miles away.
What happens if we don’t make it?
5,000 feet of elevation gain.
Can I borrow some antibacterial for my tattoo?
Of course.
Hey, we need to find water.
Summit, 3 miles away.

What happens if we don’t make it?
The sun started sinking long ago. Cursing the winter solstice.
What happens if we really shouldn’t hike downhill in the dark? Did anyone bring a headlamp?
What happens if we don’t make it?
What happens if —

Back down 5,000 feet of elevation. Maybe next time, kids.

Maybe next time.
Will there be a next time?
Well, will there? And why not?
He shrugs.
But I see him eyeing the cliffs the next day in the gaze of We’ll meet again.

Perhaps nothing quite so inspiring as the road towards home.
A rise at dawn to set out in the sweet air.
Quick enough to the trail to leave a stove pan behind.
But I hear him say, I’m gonna miss the views, though.

Perhaps nothing quite so inspiring as the road towards home.
Not thirst or even the fear of heights can deter.
Climbing over fallen trees and Talus fields.
But I hear him say, I like climbing down these rocks, though, as we race each other down the hill of boulders.

And when I glance back, I see a faint glimmer of Jerusalem in his eyes.


I drive up the mountain smelling like suitcases and sandalwood
And lay my blankets on the bottom bunk in the middle bedroom.

He hands me a compass to map out the trail to Taft Point,
Unaware that I wish it could just point me to where I lost myself.

Feeling like myself, feeling like myself

In 30-degree weather.
Let’s tread the miles that surround us. 
The snow shimmering like diamonds under a triple-A battery beam.
The privilege to be wrapped in down feathers and cranberry fleece.
Dried strawberries with walnut halves,
A feast at the top of Dewey Point,
Where I saw something so massive

I began to remember my existence.

Photography: In the mountains, there you feel free

“In the mountains, there you feel free. I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.” –T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland

Last fall/winter semester, I went on some awesome backpacking and hiking adventures in Yosemite and the Ansel Adams Wilderness. I took a lot of pictures of trees and big rocks and stuff…but seriously, it’s so amazing that trees and big rocks and stuff can be so magical and full of life. I hope you enjoy some of the pictures I edited up–you can click on them for bigger sizes. :)

The adventure isn’t over

I crawled into bed. The two roommates I had met four weeks ago breathed quietly in their sleep. Loneliness enveloped me with the darkness. I don’t belong here, I miss everyone, I hate this awful city air. I want my High Sierra home back. I cried to myself under the covers before lulling off into a somber sleep, feeling hopeless of surviving the transplant back to main campus life.

Last semester had been a dream come true; even before I set foot on campus as a freshman, High Sierra was in my study abroad plan. Joining 39 other students to live in Bass Lake to study the Humanities, adventure in Yosemite, and wear flannel shirts and hiking boots as much as I pleased sounded like an ideal college experience for me.

By the end of those three and a half months, I found myself amazed at how fast my fellow students and I formed a family-like community and how much I grew individually. Together, we backpacked through 20-something sweaty miles of the Ansel Adams Wilderness, strained our minds through intense academics, broke down and cried over the pains of life, and laughed ourselves sore at all the moments in between. I learned how to adventure, how to be a scholar, and how to make friendships by trusting people enough to share my life stories with them and then listen to theirs. But winter quickly caught up with summer, and soon after the leaves fell from the oak trees, we left to move back to our “normal” college lives.

I expected my return to the main campus to feel just like any other time of transition. I trusted my adaptability. I felt excited to reconnect with friends, to move into an apartment, to go on beach trips, to ride freely around the town on my longboard. I barely read the email of suggestions for coping with “re-entry” struggles that the Study Abroad Office sent out.

By the second week of going through the motions of school, I began wondering what was wrong with me.

Instead of enjoying my classes and tackling homework with the usual I-am-such-an-honors-student attitude, I felt mechanical every time I went to class. I didn’t know my professors and they didn’t know me—none of them were going to sit at the same dinner table with me after class, take me and my friends mountain-biking, or write a heartfelt poem for the entire class. Homework seemed more like a chore rather than a mental workout; I missed the tough conceptual questions the texts challenged us with to apply to present-day life.

I dreaded coming home to my apartment after class to receive either an awkward “Hey” from one of my roommates or just the blank quiet of a place void of memories. I used to be unable to escape from a friendly face. Instead of eating every meal with my big family in the dining hall, I found myself eating alone on my roommate’s shabby living room couch, either staring at the walls or occupying myself with homework.

Few of my non-High Sierra friends asked about my experiences or how my adjustment fared, so I began to subconsciously rate the quality of my days by how many people from High Sierra I had a chance to hug or say “Hi” to as I traveled between classes. I made a playlist of all the songs that reminded me of last semester and listened to it religiously. I started running around the track at night to stare at the moon, to forget how uprooted I felt, and escape from the bombardments of everything demanding my attention,.

By the fourth week of school, one of my friends asked if I wanted to go visit High Sierra and see our friends that were attending the Spring semester—two of which also attended Fall semester. I packed up my sleeping bag and wolf shirts.

When I stepped out of the car into the brisk mountain air and saw stars in the sky for the first time since December, I felt my spirit say “Welcome home.” Then my friends and I ran up the steps to the dining hall to find our friends and hug them as tight as possible. My body trembled from all the emotions of anticipation, nervousness, and happiness and my face began to hurt from smiling so much.

The presence of seventeen alumni of Fall ’11 made the place feel even more like home, especially as we sat around the dining hall tables at the end of each night, laughing and sipping hot drinks as if we had never left. Some of us wore the tank tops we had ordered to wear at the concerts for our personal five-guy hardcore band, “We Are Ansel.”  On Saturday, some of us hit up the local thrift stores and the family-owned coffee shop in Oakhurst while others rock climbed in Yosemite. Later, a familiar study session took place around the little furnace in the meeting hall. After dinner, a big group of alumni went to a professor’s house just to hang out and eat ice cream.

After church the next morning, I found myself saying goodbye again to my friends and the sweet-smelling pine trees. As we drove over the Grapevine pass into L.A., resentment churned inside me, followed by the deep sadness that caused me to cry myself to sleep that night.

But the next morning, I had to wake up, eat breakfast, and go to class. Longboarding over the white sidewalk wasn’t much like feeling the wood and dirt under my bare feet, but the breeze and warm sun against my face felt good. On Wednesday, I met a bunch of girl friends for lunch, and it felt like an ordinary High Sierra meal—though in a different context. I began to wake up to the idea that if I missed my community so much and wanted to grow in those relationships, I could find ways to deal with it. As I continued to experience little reunions with people, my motivation increased to make my semester back at APU worth the struggle.

I started with designating a meeting place to eat lunch together on Mondays and Wednesdays, and determined that this semester should have as much adventure as the last, I made a list of all the activities to plan—beach trip included. For the upcoming weekend, I organized a hike up a local trail, followed by a homemade brunch.

My friends seemed to catch the fever, and my days started filling up with activities—a Pasadena trip, a Titanic movie night, pancake breakfast, game night, and a big almost-all-nighter at one of the senior’s houses. Four other girls and I now meet once a week for a Bible study, and the guys’ band We Are Ansel is scheduled to play at a benefit concert on campus.

One day as I was leaving the gym, I passed the High Sierra representative that helped connect me with the program a year ago. I related to her how I was doing, and she smiled, saying:

“Yeah—it definitely takes a while to get used to, but you’ll get there.”

I may never “get over” my feelings for High Sierra; my roots grew strong there. But now I am able to prove my adaptability—not by ignoring the heartache, but by finding my way to flourish in spite of it. Facing the challenge to take the time to foster stronger connections with my friends has resulted exactly in what I wanted in the first place—strong relationships and exciting adventures. My High Sierra experience didn’t just end in December; it continues as long as the friendships keep growing, as I keep learning, and as the adventures keep coming. There my heartache finds remedy, and everything that High Sierra called me to be lives on.