Tag Archives: Learning

Greetings from the Rainforest

There is a song I used to love by an artist whose name I can’t remember. She sang,

“Home is a house you build with your bones.”

In my mind I hear the melody while walking barefoot across the concrete from my bedroom to the porch, to sit beneath string lights and gaze over the hillside. In awe I watch the clouds, breathe deeply and feel very much like myself. IMG_0991

For a woman who tends to define herself by her home and relationships, leaving and feeling secure is always a challenge, but a worthy one. I am realizing, or maybe remembering, truths that have been clouded for a while. Home is a house you build with your bones.

The air is warm and the rain has just stopped. Large green leaves are glistening as I walk past them. The chirps of the jungle are loud, as they always are when the sky grows dark.

I wonder if jungle creatures make noise all night just to make sure they still exist when it is too dark see themselves. Surely we do the same. Surely I have done the same.

It has been almost two weeks since arriving here in Puerto Rico, and I feel settled, at home in my bones, and happy.

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The night I arrived, I let my exhaustion and nerves drive me into hysteria.

My new roommate and now dear friend Wynn peered up from the book she was reading in bed and asked calmly, “You never went to summer camp as a kid, did you?” She could feel my energy as I eyed the small, basic room that we were now to share, indignant over the lack of shelves and wondering where the hell I was going to put all my stuff, and why I brought so damn much.

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That night I messaged a friend in Rincon and plotted my escape. I was petrified by the uncertainty of my new situation.

Over the next few days, with my hands in the soil and the sun on my neck, I shed my panic like old skin. On Tuesday I pulled stray ferns out of a vermillion plant. On Wednesday night Wynn and I wandered through old San Juan, stepping into cafes, chatting over Medalla Lights and getting to know each other. On Thursday I tended to a breezeway filled with orchids and tree ferns. On Thursday night our host bought more shelves for our bedroom, and I finally unpacked. On Friday we took the ferry to Culebra to swim in the turquoise sea of Flamenco Beach and mingle with island regulars. All the pieces nestled into perspective so incredibly, and I became more and more certain…traveling here on a work exchange is exactly where I need to be right now.IMG_0922

The climate is medicinal and the company is truly great. There is plenty of time to read and write. I wake up early in the morning and go to sleep pretty early in the evening, a routine that feels unsurprisingly…amazing. I am grateful to have been able to choose this on a whim.

A few words on a work exchange. It is an inexpensive way to travel and learn. If those are your priorities, you really do not need much else. In exchange for five hours of work five days a week, I receive meals and my room. The meals are healthy and delicious and my room, I have come to see, is perfect.

Earning my keep is not easy, but it is totally reasonable and rewarding. Today Wynn and I dug up a ginger tree to replant in a different spot. Picture two relatively small women hacking away with all their might, shovels and pick axes swinging. When the rain began we took a break for lattes and reading. In the evening we made dinner in the beautiful open air kitchen, to the sound of good music and falling drops.

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Earlier this week I read a particularly striking line from a book I borrowed from the inn.

“Uncertainty, on the other hand, is the fertile ground of pure creativity and freedom…In your willingness to step into the unknown, you will have the wisdom of uncertainty factored in.” -Deepak Chopra

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Traveling to Puerto Rico alone to work in the rainforest was definitely a step into the unknown, and uncertainty and I have become quite close. Having landed on the fertile ground of freedom and creativity, far from the familiarities of home, I am feeling closer to myself. For the next few weeks you may find me here, working on the home of my bones, focusing on patience and grace.

Unapologetic and open.

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Wynn before we begin a day’s work

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A few pieces of the salvaged ginger plant

IMG_1236The sea from Culebrita Island

IMG_1181Greetings from here

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Living In The Now

I originally wrote this for The Rutgers Review April/May 2014 issue. It is my last article with The Review, a publication that offered a home to the kinds of articles I love to write. To read other pieces I had published, head to my Writing Samples page, where I linked the Issuu to all of my articles. Today I am  revisiting the piece after a few months of not looking at it, making edits, and adding some images.

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In the midst of a deep conversation, a good date, a life-changing book, or a fun party, sometimes, I pause for just a moment and think to myself, “I am in this experience right now and this is great.” This personal practice is my way of reveling in an experience, my attempt to slow down the passing of time, and my method of actively being grateful. Well aware that one day I will fondly remember these days once they have passed, my ritual allows me to think that I have already outsmarted the chance of future nostalgia, and it puts me at ease. To be fondly appreciative of an experience as it is happening does away with the possibility of taking the moment for granted.

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Wine-O’clock in Long Beach Island last week was not taken for granted.

My imprecise version of Zen is pieced together from the teachings of a few books, lessons learned while traveling, and the words of my oracles, my friends. I first consciously thought about “living in the now,” in high school. Back then, on quiet weekend nights in our hometown, my friends and I shared a ritual. We would pile into someone’s car and drive a mile down Atlantic Avenue to the Manasquan Inlet. Once parked we would roll down the windows, listen to our latest favorite music, smoke an occasional performative cigarette, and stare out at the thin stretch of water that separated the Atlantic Ocean from the Manasquan River, and Pt. Pleasant from Manasquan beach. Sometimes we played headlight tag with the cars parked across the way. We would sit here, making plans, texting whoever was in the know about where a party was.

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Meggo’s car aka “the volv” parked at the inlet.

We spent hours there, asking, moaning, stressing vowels, “What are we going to doooooo tonight?” On nights when there were no plans to be had, we stayed at the inlet all night, just talking. Sometimes we felt a sense of disappointment that we were not out enjoying ourselves, talking to potential dates, making “the best” out of our high school years. My friend Vin especially, was usually first to leave the inlet on nights when the promise of evening plans fell through.
“I’m tired you guys, if we aren’t going to do anything I’m going home.” We all felt like that sometimes, we all got bored of the inlet. “Don’t you always hope that there’s going to be a keg and a party waiting for us at the inlet one of these nights,” Vin asked me once. “Isn’t that why we always come here?” His words speak shamelessly to the priorities of bored suburban kids in a beach town. We did not know exactly why we always returned to the inlet, we just knew it was our spot.

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My friends Miss America-ing in my old Cabrio.

“At least we live near the beach, so we don’t have to park in like, a mall parking lot or something when we have nowhere else to go,” I would sometimes offer. I doubt the comment helped Vin’s perpetual disappointment. Somewhere buried in my words may have been the beginning of awareness that the inlet, with its choppy waters and seagulls overhead, was more than just a place for my friends and I to wait, it was our reality.

“Live in the now, Vin,” my friend Kat suggested one night. Her simple remark resonated. She meant be present. She meant enjoy our company. She meant sit in this car and smell the salt air and hear the melody coming from the radio and watch the boats that glide by in front of us and feel the cool breeze as it drifts down into the open sunroof. She meant to say that this moment is all we have, so be here now, rather than letting concerns for what will happen next consume you. In those days our concern was the possibility of being invited to a party. Today the concern is about how our lives will look and feel, and what truths we will live, when our time at college is over.

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Just a few finger sandwiches away from it all being over.

When a certain life event, a fun night out, or an incredible novel comes to a close, the pressure to appreciate it feels heavier. In my final weeks as an undergraduate at Rutgers, I find myself remembering Kat’s words to Vin; “live in the now.” It’s not always so simple, especially considering the small talk questioning from neighbors and uncles asking, “so what’s next after graduation?” While I research careers and graduate programs at my desk beside a window that overlooks Easton Avenue, I pause to remind myself that this is my reality, and it is best to simply take delight in being here. It is a practice in balance, making preparations for the future while being present for all the little moments. It is a welcomed pleasure, the awareness and practice of just living in the now.

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