After publishing my Glittery Unicorns store on Zazzle last year, several people asked me if I’d put together something similar for my botanical illustrations. Well, it took a minute, but I finally got one together. It’s called Botanically Inspired, and will feature designs from my #100daysofpenandplant collection, which is a hashtag I’ve used to jumpstart my botanical illustration productivity on Instagram. A first round of products has been created just in time for the holiday season, and now I’ll be working to add more each week. I invite you to take a look at my collections, there’s some pretty cute and classy glassware in my Botany in the Kitchen collection, and some lovely jewelry in my Adorn Yourself collection.
Upon finishing my season at the Lassen, I had the opportunity to spend 12 days in Mexico, mostly at Iztac, a retreat center about 2 hours southeast of Mexico City. When I signed up, I didn’t have much of an idea what I was getting into. Mainly I decided to go because the timing worked out really well, it was affordable for me, and it was supporting a friend who was co-hosting the retreat. The brief description I read about it also sounded great: yoga in the mornings, natural building learning and service during the day, and workshops on music and dance in the evenings, and a healthy diet of whole foods.
The magic that awaited me at Iztac was more than I could have ever expected. Arriving into this beautiful land, into a group of incredible people, I was instantly absolved of the feelings of missing community that had upwelled after living for the season in quite a bit of solitude, and I was launched into a creative space. Wendolyn’s morning yoga classes set the tone each day to be one filled with peace and light. Our meals were wholesome, healthy, creative.
We participated in evening workshops each day, taught by incredible instructors. Jaocobo taught percussion, Alejandro taught music and harmony, and Deva led international peace dances. Each of them were so engaging, and everything we did was appropriate for all age and ability levels.
The other thing that stood out to me strikingly was the amount of intention that was poured into each aspect of the retreat. Not everything was perfect - sometimes we’d run out of an ingredient of food and have to improvise, or have many more people than expected for a meal and make things stretch; sometimes things would run very very very late (it’s Mexico!!); sometimes we wouldn’t have the perfect tool for a particular task in building the temple. But the level of depth that the organizers (Deva and Wendolyn) had put into thinking through creating a community experience of service for a greater cause overrode any of the things that didn’t work out perfectly. The conversations we had around the dinner table were so much more than skin deep. The friendships forged with the other participants were raw and real and I know that these people will be forever friends, albeit not close-in-proximity friends. Love in its purest form was at the center of activity. The beauty and magic of each of the performances that we participated in and witnessed will stay with me for a long time. Being introduced to International Peace Dances (which I’d never heard of before) opened up a whole new world for me and I hope to participate in them again whenever I am in a place where they are occurring.
A personal challenge I had was that while I was there I realized I had an injury (a small tear in my rotator cuff) which prevented me from participating in some of the natural building activities. Anyone who has suffered an injury understands the psychological toll it can take aside from the physical pain that manifests. It took a lot of humility to do my best to walk in grace and service even as I had to accept my inability to help with some of the natural building projects. Instead, I spent more time in the kitchen, embracing the opportunity to nourish the group of people that was working so hard building the temple. In this I learned, not only about food, but about myself, and more about accepting and being content with what is being given to me and what I can give.
Leaving Iztac I was full of inspiration to bring back into my ‘off-season’, and I plan to completely throw myself into all of my things in coming back: developing my botanical illustration portfolio and applying the best of them to products on a new Zazzle store, continuing to improve my photography and offer yoga photography shoots and seek outlets for my landscape images, giving to the beautiful Double Gum Tree Farm in Three Rivers, and to offer yoga workshops when/where I can and set aside some time to spend at an ashram again this year during my off-season, so that my personal and spiritual growth can continue.
After my third day of Ashtanga during my yoga teacher training, I had a very clear feeling: it’s not for me. My first teacher training had been in the flowy and comparatively forgiving prana vinyasa, all done up in bhakti vibes, world music feels, and exploration of what feels good to you in your body.
Coming to the discipline of Ashtanga, well, I simply was not finding a lot of joy during the practice: the soreness in my muscles from the unforgiving number of vinyasas, the rigidity, the starkness in which our teacher would count down from five… four… three… two… two… two… two… having us hold asanas loooooong as he made slight adjustments in our postures…. Sometimes I felt like such a failure. So much was out of reach for me in some of the binds and advanced asanas (binds are difficult for my body, and there are quite a few in the primary series!). Never had I needed so much help from props. Our teacher threw in vinyasas not only between each seated posture but between each variation and between right and left sides. It was exhausting and I was humbled.
Over the four weeks of the course through, a transformation began to happen. Naturally, my body grew stronger. I saw changes in my flexibility and agility getting into bendier asanas. My alignment improved dramatically. But, no, something more… I was actually starting to like this practice.
It is so physical that it truly takes you out of your mind, and I found it to be a beautifully meditative practice. Following the same sequence each day is an insight into where the body stands for that day, in that moment: a check-in. There is so much discipline and routine involved in it (true Ashtanga practitioners practice 6-days a week) and I think that since I am not naturally drawn to routine in life, it helps to ground me.
Coming home, I have found that many days my personal practice turns to Ashtanga. It is not the practice I do every day: I love that I’ve learned different styles and can choose to practice hatha, or vinyasa, or even restorative, deciding what my body and mind need in the moment. In my own home practice I’ll sometimes throw in related asanas that I love or am working on if I feel inclined. But a surprising percent of the time I find peace, inspiration, refuge, in Ashtanga.
This process of coming to love Ashtanga: the groundedness, the challenge, the rewards, and ultimately the development of a daily practice are why I am choosing to offer a series of foundational Ashtanga classes at Mountain Yoga Studio in Susanville through the end of October. We will take time in each class to focus in on a handful of asanas in particular, building each week so that by the end we cover the primary sequence. My goal is for students to walk away with what they need to develop and maintain their own home practice, one that they can take refuge in when it is not accessible to make it to class. Yoga is so much more than asana, and Ashtanga has a way of ripping open any blinders so that you can become that much closer to knowing your true self.
Well, big changes happening. Rather than have a complete summer in Cedar Grove, an idyllic little place deep in Kings Canyon National Park, I’ll be spending the summer botanizing in northern California in Lassen National Forest. Sequoia/Kings will always be so dear to my heart and I will be a part of it and it will be a part of me always. I’m always so sad to leave where I am, because I nearly always love it, but then almost always fall in love again wherever I arrive.
The position is one of those elusive GS-9 field-based seasonal botany jobs. It is a perfect balance of decent pay and doing what I love, packaged into 1039 hours. Unbeknownst to me when I accepted the position, the main focus is surveys for threatened/endangered, sensitive, and special interest species! Because of the volcanic and serpentine soils, and the meeting of the Sierra and Cascade ranges and the Great Basin to the east, there is a great degree of endemism and diversity in the are. This is pretty much what I’ve always wanted in terms of a professional botany position… as soon as I gave up desire for any advancement this too came to me (thank you, India).
As I’ve never been at all to the Lassen area (other than driving by on I-5), it is a brand new adventure and another nook of wild open space and nature to explore. Being based in northeastern California means that the culture will be about as conservative as Nevada and practically as remote. Upon arriving, I’ve found that the bumps they call ‘mountains’ are mostly little rolling hills in comparison to what I was accustomed to in the southern Sierra, and that just as many storefronts are closed as are running businesses. But even in the week that I’ve been here, I recognize there are gems to appreciate in being here.
I’m exceedingly grateful to have two friends help me shuttle my car and bus along the 8-hour drive to my new home for the summer. Simon and Rob erased any stress I may have had about the journey and it was a blast. I’d been prepared to either take a train or rent a car, but the White Whale (the current temporary name for my bus, credit goes to Major, until I one day come up with a better one. My last car didn’t get a name until 6 months before I sold it, after owning it for 10 years…), well, she seems to attract fans. Since that trip up here was so fun… I’m actually on my first ever weekend getaway with the bus… brought it up to Chester for a couple days. Cheers to more bus adventures, and exploring another piece of the world.
In late April I had the honor to be the official photographer for the marriage of these two beautiful and amazing ladies, Jen Shelby and Elizabeth Renew. The wedding was held at River Ridge Ranch in Springville, nestled in the foothills of the southern Sierra Nevada. The grasses were still green, the oaks with fresh new leaves on them, and the moon was full. The spirit and energy of everyone in attendance was abundant love and kindness and radiant smiles. The brides were so fun to work with. Thank you both for inviting me to help capture this moment in your lives: you did it!!
There are a couple of things that are particularly touching to me about this event. The very morning after Jen reached out asking if I was available and interested in working with them, a little tragedy occurred with my camera while in India (see instagram post), emerging from the other end of it feeling that it was symbolically blessed, albeit only through completely letting go of my desire to be successful. The way things have been progressing with my photography work in the last 6 months as I have been taking steps to develop from a hobbyist to a business, it certainly feels that way.
It was very meaningful for me to shoot an LGBTQ wedding. Even as a lot of things are going through upheaval in our country and our world, at least progress has concretely happened in this issue in my lifetime. There is still a long way to go, from eliminating hate crimes to ending more minor but still damaging discrimination that happens regularly to LGBTQ couples and individuals. The opportunity to act as an ally and celebrate your love in these images means a lot. These two are a perfect match and to witness your joy on this day was incredible.
Sierra is a dear friend who was one of the first people I did yoga with at Evergreen State College circa ~2004. I’d gone to some bikram classes before that in Seattle, but Sierra was certainly influential in introducing me to some classes that were happening in Olympia while I was a student. She has been on the path of yoga for a long time and is a certified yoga therapist based in Oakland, CA. She specializes in yoga for healing and also teaches partner yoga workshops.
Since she suffered a climbing injury to her ankle and has been unable to teach all of her classes as she recuperates, Sierra has been working on other aspects of her business: developing her website as well as coursework for new offerings. Because of this she was excited to create some new imagery to keep her social media and web presence fresh. What a great perspective she has in turning her injury into an opportunity to develop other parts of herself, and what an admirable level of vulnerability to get in front of the camera when she’s still working on her own healing. Since her specialization utilizes a lot of props and adjustments, she even used this as an opportunity to demonstrate her use of props, her commitment to her own practice, as well as her personal use of yoga in healing of her own self.
Sierra and I are going to coordinate a weekend for me to do a yoga photography intensive in the Bay Area coming up in late June or July. Stay tuned!
While I meant to contribute to the blog more while I was actually in India, between technological difficulties, time priorities (the intensive training was just that: intensive!), and the internal processing of what was happening as it happened, it really wasn’t possible. Instead, here are a few reflections.
I will say that the entire experience was completely transformative in a billion ways I wasn’t looking for and didn’t expect. In a lot of ways I feel like a whole new person broke through my old shell, shedding through old skin like a snake and leaving it behind.
Lots of things in India were not comfortable. Sometimes I got irritated with people in my class, or about how things were going in the course. Sometimes the noise in the streets or adjacent to my hotel would grate on me. The continual dodging of scootys, rickshaws, jeeps, bulls, and salesmen hocking their goods in the streets. Never knowing the language. Not knowing how to get around.
But it is in this discomfort that there is growth. The people in my class were all amazing and gave me such beautiful lessons, both when we discussed the material and as I learned about them and their lives; much of my irritation was of my own insecurity or ego or other personal thing. No course is ever completely what one expects and it is best to lose one’s expectations anyway; ultimately, so much learning and embodiment of yoga happened. Even with calamity all around one can go inside to find peace: relating directly to withdrawal of the senses, or the pratyahara limb of yoga. In the midst of being in a place that is so comparatively crowded to the places I choose to live, one just can’t help but have a sense of wonder at the diversity of life that happens in each glance in the street. Because I couldn’t participate in Hindi conversations I had more chance to reside in my own mind; I also know that next time I travel it is really important to me to learn some basic phrases. And slowly, I learned how to get around. All of the discomforts are discomforts of the mind.
India is magic. Being there, there was such an incredible sense that everything is following a greater will. I have one story I posted about this on instagram, don’t feel like repeating it here, but you can take a read if you like: https://instagram.com/p/Bf6F_VUBy5m/
Everything that was initiated in my first teacher training was elevated and taken to a new level here. My personal practice grew like I never imagined. In my physical practice, there are several asanas that I can perform now that I had either never attempted or never been able to do before. Ashtanga felt like a cruel punishment during the first week but by the end I elected to do most or all of the connecting vinyasas. My alignment is significantly improved, and along with that, my cueing and adjustments in teaching.
The mantras we learned in this class were almost entirely different than those we sang in my first YTT; it was great to learn new material. The pranayamas I learned about this time in much greater depth. I came to love morning pranayama and chanting even more, and really enjoy doing it in a group, especially a group that is studying and learning together and sounds increasingly beautiful from the time we begin singing together until the end.
Learning yoga philosophy in a place where temples are embedded in the cities and the hillsides and tops of mountains, and where shrines and imagery of deities are as common as the cows on the streets, really takes it to a deeper meaning. Our teacher’s stories peppered in with the discussion of the theories gave everything an anchor, and his ability to respond to our questions gave provided relevance. Studying the sutras here penetrated my outer shell and got me to question so many things about myself, my outlook, the life I live, the path I’m on. A lot of acceptance and release came about long-term stories that make up my life.
Interestingly I felt my old samskaras (patterns) hit me as soon as I came home. Between jet lag and these old patterns associated with place, it was instantly harder to maintain the wonderful routine I’d created for my days. This period of readjustment to normal life is special and its important to integrate all these good and positive habits I’ve just gained… especially since I’ll be going to back to work soon, and once that happens it will be even more difficult. Sometimes it’s already so hard to even feed myself healthy food, bathe, and keep the house tidy when working a 10-hour day!
India rocked my core innumerable times: Each soft footstep in wonder through the Neem Karoli Baba temple (the guru of my first yoga teacher) on my first day in Rishikesh. Sitting cross-legged with the humble baba and his friend while they smoked bhang just outside of Rishikesh in his hut that was just long enough for him to sleep in. Dipping in the Ganga and feeling its rejuvenating waters. Standing at a 4,000 meter peak at sunrise overlooking 6-7000m peaks in the distance in a mountain range I’ve longed to know for so long but never expected to be in this year. A beggar kissed my hand when I handed him a banana.
India is full of little moments, big moments, beauty and sadness, but most of all, love.
Three full days of yoga immersion program are now complete and I'm beginning to sink in to the cadence of things.
Chanting and pranayama begins at 6:30, followed by tea and then Ashtanga. I haven't done much Ashtanga before, and it is HARD! We've barely scratched the surface! I like the challenge of it but I don't see myself following that style of yoga much in the future as it is too rigid for me. For those who aren't familiar, there are 3 series, each progressively challenging, and you follow a set series of postures each time. It is unforgiving... no suggestions to 'walk out your dog' or flow into your first postures as you are warming up! I think that for now it is good training and our teacher breaks down each pose slowly, focusing on alignment and making adjustments.
After some self study time, 300 hour students have a yoga philosophy class with our teacher Siddhartha, who spent considerable time at the original ashram of Neem Karoli Baba. Coincidentally, Neem Karoli Baba is the guru of my American teacher, Monica Mesa, and at her suggestion I visited and had a very powerful experience at his other ashram here in Rishikesh on my first full day here. I'm hoping that the yoga philosophy sessions continue to be so helpful as this is where I seek to have such a better foundation of knowledge, especially from a traditional perspective.
After lunch we get an anatomy class, followed by a Hatha yoga class. The first class was pretty chill (and exactly what I needed!) but yesterdays was intense and today we started advanced poses... (being sore after a bunch of chataurangas didn't help)! After studying Prana Vinyasa style yoga, I fell in love with the movement and flow, but I now have a new appreciation for the subtlety and depth of a good Hatha class and it is really exciting to think about how my practice as well as my teaching style can expand and diversify. I also think about working with people with limitations due to injury or surgery and Hatha is better suited to accommodate people with many levels of ability and flexibility, and for yoga as a therapeutic tool.
After more self study time, we have dinner, then are free to go study more. Some people are taking long breaks to go to the river or go to the city during study time. I'm sure I will too once I get restless but right now it seems so valuable to make use of my time as much as I can. This is truly one of the greatest gifts I have ever given myself. I've never had the opportunity to study without worries or obligations; in college I always supported myself working and also had a million extracurricular activities too. It feels so indulgent, and I am so grateful to each puzzle piece of life that has allowed me to Be Here Now.
After my first introductory day of my yoga program at the Chandra Yoga School, Inamovible moré tan happy with my decisión to come héroe, and to have chosen this school. When this school was founded, there were only 14 schools of yoga in Rishikesh; now there are a couple hundred. While the instruction has not started, I can tell from how things were conducted in the first day that there is a high degree of professionalism, a great deal of knowledge, and high expectations for how we embody and integrate this experience into our lives as students. Also, the food is good.
There are 12 of us students. We are from 4 continents, and many countries. There are the two Beatrices (best friends, same age) from Sweden, a young German couple, Helena and Toby, who are studying textile design and geology, Laley, an aerial silk dancer from Mallorca, Spain. A couple who teach acroyoga in Indonesia, Julia is a lawyer by day and Alex is originally from Ukraine. Saren from Singapore who has Indian heritage, Claudia from Peru who has studied in Prague and worked three winters in Aspen, Colorado. There are two other Americans: Joseph is a music teacher in Michigan, Leslie is a body worker from Colorado. And me. The collective energy as we gathered for the first time was very positive, easygoing. It promises to be a good group.
We gathered sitting cross-legged around the meal table and a a great spread of Indian lunch: rice, okra, a potato and pepper dish, yogurt, daal, some raw vegetables, chapatti, and tea. We met our hosts, and then they took us to another ashram on the other side of town which is currently under construction.
After a quick tour of the building being constructed, we had a fire ceremony to initiate our time together as students and to call in the deities bless our practice. A Hindu priest led us chanting Sanskrit, reading out of pages of a torn and battered book scarred from countless ceremonies around a fire. Garlands of marigold flowers were draped around our necks by Kali, a teacher at the school. We symbolically cleansed our hands and our inner bodies with water, and then repeatedly offered a collection of earth, herbs, incense onto the marigold-ringed fire as the school's leader, Sushil, poured ghee and small portions of food offerings into the flames. This represents giving nourishment to the deities; as they have no physical bodies, the way they take in the offerings is through the smoke. While there was a lightness to the energy of the ceremony, and laughter was allowed, you could feel a definite vibrational shift from the beginning to the end of the ceremony.
Afterwards, we walked around the land surrounding the ashram, which is a national park where elephants, tigers, buffalo, cows, and all sorts of other creatures roam. It is a beautiful landscape and I was more than grateful to be out of the the city bustle and surrounded by the lush greenery of the countryside. As we drove back some sort of small peacock took flight in front of is which was the most beautiful sight.
Snacks of samosas and sweet honey balls were served back at the main facility and that's when we got an outline of our coursework. There are just me and two others who are doing the more advanced 300-hour training, the rest are completing a 200-hour course. For everything, it was like this: "for 200 hours, you will learn 2 mantras a week, for 300 hours, you will learn 3. For 200 hours, you will do all of these uncomfortable practices like snort a string up your nostril and exit it down your throat, for 300 hours you will do all that plus stick a pipe down your throat and pump water out of your stomach." I am sure my colon will be so cleansed by the end of this (Sushil said we won't have any gas problems for the following 6 months! 😉), but these things evoke the most resistance in me. Overall though, it looks intense and I am elated to begin learning.
The alter, covered in marigold flowers
Every traveler I know who has been to India has told me it is a whole other world, an assault on the senses, that it will blow your mind, no matter how many other places you have been. And it is true.
I don't even know how to start my first impressions because there are so many and they are constantly forming and shifting and shaping. First off, there are about 10 billion things happening in each and every moment and every side wards glance you take gives you a glimpse into a whole new world. There is culture and tradition, there is beauty. There is poverty, deep spirituality, love. The food is everywhere and amazing, the blaring horns are incessant for 12 hours a day in the cities. It is overwhelming but not too overwhelming to enjoy but so much so that it is nearly impossible to process before you are presented with something new. In the 2 days I have been here I feel I've had 2 months of experiences. As my neighbor on my flight said, if you are super Type A and need to control things, you will have a harder time enjoying yourself in India, whereas if you can go with the flow, you may just love it.
Let's start with my taxi ride. Hands down weirdest taxi ride ever. I'm not sure exactly at this point where the mix up happened, but the taxi driver with my name on the sign was not there at Exit Door 6 when I arrived. Typically I'm a pretty intrepid and DIY traveller but I didn't want to mess around with anything after 30+ hours of travel, terrible sleep, and landing in a massive city where I don't speak the language or know much about navigating my way around. I knew I wanted to get straight out of Delhi, and not be ripped off or have my safety in peril by a swarthy taxi driver. But, the best laid plans flew away on my flight out of LA, and I was stranded at the airport at 8:30pm, not terribly late, but after dark with no arranged accommodations in the city.
I remember my very first solo overseas trip when I was 22 and arrived in Frankfort and it took me an hour to get out of the airport because I didn't understand the signs that directed me to the public transit I needed, finally collapsing and crying and questioning wtf I was doing to travel solo, before I found my way. Somehow this time, amidst the chaos surrounding me with a thousand other passengers milling around reuniting with friends and family, taxis soliciting me, in my solitude I was able to stay calm. I needed the Internet, to get the phone number of my yoga program, found a man operating a pay telephone, and worked it out.
Nitin, the taxi driver, arrived about an hour later, and we navigated the absolutely insane streets of Delhi. I sat up front, as during the typically 5-7 hour taxi ride to Rishikesh it seemed rude to just sit in the back. This also gave me a front row seat to the most truly indescribably insane driving I have ever experienced, and I've traveled all over Latin America which has its own reputation for terrible driving. There was a little screen playing music videos to Indian pop songs that entranced me and was a good distraction when I needed to take my eyes off of the swerving and near misses left and right. We talked a little, but his English was limited. He talked loudly into his cell phone. I drifted in and out of sleep.
Then, things got weird. He pulled over to the side of the road. "I have to pick up my friend, that's okay?" This is one of those things that is typically NOT ok. That is when you get kidnapped, raped, robbed, killed. These are the scams you read about. What choice did I have then though? Nitin had seemed nice, sweet, a soft kind face, young. By this time it was after 10pm and we were in who knows what part of the city. My program had hired the taxi for me so it should be a reputable service, right? I had to trust in that moment.
We drove around with this guy in the back for what seemed like forever, I was still drifting into half sleep; though in the moments I was awake, hyper aware. Then we were on some side street, backing into an alleyway. "I have to pick up something for my friend here." They got out, opened the trunk. My backpack was in there. Only possession in it I cared about was my Sony alpha camera with my literally brand new lens. Oh well. Backpack was the least I was worried about in the moment, keeping an eye on the men in the rear view mirror. They loaded in several small boxes. The friend got back in, we drove all around in the still-congested city streets until we dropped him off. "You ok?"
We drive, finally leaving the city. At this point it is nearing midnight. We stop at a cafe, got some tea. My first tea in India. It was delicious. I was ready to just go, but thought that if my driver was needing caffeine and a bathroom break, I was ok with that. Surrender to the experience, I told myself. He bought some chocolate, giving it to me in the car. "It's chocolate day!" he says enthusiastically. The last thing I wanted was chocolate right then but I opened one and shared it to be cordial. We talked some more about our families and our lives with the little English he had. I began to drift in and out of sleep again as the traffic and lights and chaos of the city slipped away and we proceeded through smaller towns and countrysides.
I woke as he pulled the car over next to a building (a hotel perhaps?) at 2:30 in the morning. "Sorry, I need some rest." I could tell he was tiring because the aggressiveness of his driving had slowed and the other traffic was passing us, the music was softer, he wasn't talking. "It's ok?" What were my choices? We still had a few hours to go and I didn't want him falling asleep at the wheel.
He leaned his seat back and closed his eyes. I did the same, but did not feel very restful. I curled away from him facing the door. He was a little restless. In his restlessness I felt him, at first for a brief moment, and then his forearm against my back, or hand just touching my hair. Somehow at 37, even though I am more guarded, I am still naive. 'He's tall and lanky trying to get comfortable in the cramped car, doesn't mean it, it's an accident.' A million of these things I was telling myself, at the same time thinking just how weird it was to be taking a rest stop in the middle of the night with my taxi driver. As I started to feel him I was also beginning to come up with an exit strategy in case things escalated. At this point it was truly the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. If things got weird, how would I diffuse the situation, and still stay safe and keep my belongings which were locked in the back of the trunk?
Sure enough, he slipped his hand a little too high on my thigh for it to be an accident and at that point I looked over, and shook my head: "no". He started shaking his head too. "Have you had enough rest? Can we go?" He covered his face with his hands, leaving them there for what felt like an eternity. "Yes, we can go." But he didn't move. Then he reached out and took my hand and told me he loved me, that he needed love. It sounds so stupid to describe but in the moment his face and his eyes were so sincere, and every vision from Shantaram and Eat, Pray, Love came to me about how India is the country of love and of heart and suddenly tears were in my eyes too. He held my hand between both of his and looked me in the eyes with such sincerity that I didn't know what to do. Really, I just wanted to go, but his words were heartfelt. "I am not a rich man, but I am a man that has so much love in my heart, I want to share it with you. You love me too?"
"I like you, you seem sweet. I don't love you."
"Maybe one day you will love me? You are beautiful, my feelings are so strong, you are my jaan (life)..."
The wrong answer felt like it could get me left on the side of the road in the darkness, but I'm not a good liar. "It takes me a long time for me to love," I told him.
Finally we were able to continue. He took my hand and held it much of the rest of the way and navigated the morning traffic in his stick shift toyota one handed. We stopped for tea again as the morning light dawned over my first views of India. I saw a fox, eagle, monkeys, temples, and hundreds of men and women walking in pilgrimage to Haridwar carrying water vessels attached to a decorated stick that they carry over their shoulder to collect water from the ahold Ganges River for the upcoming festival to Shiva.
It was solidly morning by the time we got to Rishikesh. Our first top there was at the home of the man who we had picked up in Delhi. The boxes were dropped off there. The man invited us in for tea, but I turned him down, the taxi that should have been 5-7 hours was now a full 10 hour ride, on top of all the other travel. And the Nitin was fully convinced he loved me in those 10 hours despite lack of any depth of conversation. I was ready to decompress on my own.
I finally did make it to my accommodations, safe, sound, and ready to begin the next step of my adventures in India.
As I write this I'm sitting solo in the Shanghai Pudong airport, wishing there was wifi but it's broken and no one really wants to help, and I don't really need it except to get the address in India where I will be going. I'll be participating in a month long 300 hour yoga teacher training immersion in Rishikesh. My layover here is 7 hours; It's mildly annoying to be unable to connect but I'm reminding myself to just be present in the moment. I thought about venturing into the city but chose the transfer line instead of the customs line and then when I asked security about going into the city I was told I couldn't leave the airport, and also I'm not feeling too adventurous, even though not too tired.
It is so foreign, so weird, to feel so barely able to communicate here and now. If there weren't English subtitles underneath the written Chinese symbols I would be so lost! Looking outside the window from the airport it looks likes any other big airport with vast flat land, jumbo jets, traffic mixing on overpasses; it is drab and grey outside. This end of the terminal is not busy and I'm thinking about doing some yoga if I can find a nook where I won't look like too much of a freak.
My road trip concluded with a flight in a small little plane over Sequoia national park. An exhilarating end to a perfect adventure. The pilot was a man I had met out in Saline Valley, he and his pilot friends had flown out to Chicken Strip (the name of the backcountry airstrip out there) for the new year and my friends and I had been running all around the airfield, chide toy creating safety hazards. Despite all of that, we made a good impression and I got an invite to fly over all the lands I have explored so extensively on foot. I've gotten a couple of chopper rides in the past but they were always on search and rescue missions, so this opportunity to go wherever my little heart desired was truly awe-inspiring.
[Unfortunately, as I post this internet is dinosaur turtle and I am having trouble posting pics so you'll have to look at my Facebook or insta posts... lame, I know, but I've been struggling to post just this text for 2 hours...!]
We flew from Woodlake up and over to Three Rivers, circling the north fork twice so that I could find my farm and my bus. I didn't realize the orchard next door was so extensive! The first thing I keyed into from the air was the Roping Arena and was able to trace my way around via the rivers and roads from there. Mandy was waving at me from the farm but I couldn't see her. In my photo you can see all the sheep and pigs and Charlie the donkey though!
Then we went up towards and over Shepherds saddle and then up to lodge pole, Moro rock, flew over broccoli sequoia trees and the meadows and en up towards Alta Peak, views towards Valhalla and Hamilton Lakes. Then north towards the tablelands, one of the few places covered in snow...
The Kaweah range is my most favorite in the world, my beloved, so elusive, so majestic. We flew right in front of it, close enough so I could not capture them all in my camera lens, Black Kaweah so astounding, tears to my eyes, this was the closest I've come to its summit. And then around to the north and peer down the Kern, no snow in the entire canyon, as we approach the monsters of mountains along the Sierra Crest: Russell, Tyndall, Langley, Whitney, flying at 15,000 feet in this tiny little plane that held the two of us and not much more. And over Whitney, down amongst the ruggedness on the eastside, overlooking the snow-covered Siberian Outpost, and south to tunnel and monache meadows, as he told me the story of the airstrip there.
We began heading west again and I recognized the forest service land that I've hiked in on the approach to the Kern via Coyote pass, and then suddenly we were. Over the Hockett. First I saw Mitchell Meadow and then recognize Sand Meadow by the circular sand formation I knew from my first backcountry trip in the Sierra. And the Hockett Meadow and the ranger station, barely with any snow cover.
I directed us towards Mineral King and up over Columbine Lake, then down upper Lost Canyon, and up the Big Arroyo towards Kaweah Gap. I think this was when he put on the music, music which would've been cheesy at any other time but in that moment it felt like I was in the most heart-opening part of any movie ever made that touches you. We stopped talking much and I just absorbed how beautiful everything was. Just. Breathe. Just be.
And we began to head back... We circled Dinley this time because I wanted to see the Ranch. Here I didn't realize that the pond next door was so big! She later told me saw me and waved but I didn't see her. And we went on down through the valley haze descending back to Woodlake. Even though my feet were on the ground, I was soaring for the rest of the day.
Looking at my photos later though, the lack of snow really became apparent. Although I noticed it in the sky and we made some comments, it didn't sink in until I was later processing the photos to publish, and compounded by seeing my friends comments about them. Aside from having an amazing experience, it was pretty special to be able to capture in photos showing the state of the drought. This winter is currently the lowest (or pretty close to it) year of recoded precipitation on record.
This was my Groundhogs Day 2018. If there is a day that I get to live and repeat forever, I would love it to be this one.
The last month on the road has been amazing. It is hard to think back to my first day out, meeting Sierra and David at Remington Hot Springs, and realize I have not been 'home' since then. I miss my bus! I started missing it about 10 days into this trip. Triplet lamb babies were born at Double Gum Tree Farm today. I can't wait to see them.
Thankfully, Missoula has been amazing just as everything else. The backcountry ski day with Abigail and Jeremy was... an experience... type II fun (the kind that is fun in retrospect). Heavy and deep snow made what would have been great terrain into a challenging situation and we made it out of the Lolo pass area at the border of Idaho and Montana after dark with headlamps, punch-holing to our thighs when we finally took our skis off for safety reasons. As a still-novice backcountry skier, I felt very humbled several times throughout the afternoon.
While this entire trip has been meaningful, I'm ready to go home. I'm ready to lay my head in my own little space, see the pups and the pigs and the sheepsies and laze around for a couple days. I'm so grateful for hospitality that has been offered to me, and to the myriad of adventures I've been on. So genuinely happy for every connection I have had, whether reuniting with dear old friends, running into unexpected acquaintances, or the new souls I have had the pleasure to meet.
My goals this winter were to develop the creative aspect part of my life, ski, live/work on a farm, and attend an ashram or yoga program. As disparate as all of these may seem, somehow this is all going to work out.
Yoga photography was something I was able to offer many of my yoga sisters in Durango, Colorado, and what gorgeous results emerged. Many of these sweet souls also participated in my YTT-200 hour Prana Vinyasa training with Monica Mesa and Lily Russo. It was such a joy and honor to work with them to create beautiful images that I am already seeing posted on social media and their promotional materials. I love so much to be able to create something beautiful that someone is happy with. As it turned out, I did about 8 shoots over the course of 10 days and have a ton of new material I'm working through: will hopefully get through all of it before I take off next week to India. A huge thank you to everyone who supported me!
Having so many shoots in a week was amazing: I learned so much about working with each individual. My upcoming focus will be to arrange some spring and summer photo tours to gorgeous places throughout the west. If you have a studio or want me to come to your area, please contact me! Here's a few shots I really like from the last few weeks:
What started out a few years ago as an adventure with friends into Saline Valley for the new year has now become almost a pilgrimage for me. As I drove the distance around mountain passes and down long dirt roads, I realized I had no other idea of what I'd want to do for the New Year than leave the daily-humdrum, soak in some springs, and be ready for the next step, wherever 2018 decides to direct me. Saline Valley is always magical, and always provides what my soul needs to soak up, as I look backward, forward, and inward.
I took time to reflect on the changes in the past year. So much had changed over the course of 2017. Everything felt right.
This road trip so far has been full of amazing experiences: hours of soaking in the most beautiful pools, with the super moon rising over wide desert expanses, small engine planes landing right next to us as we approached the airstrip, with the opportunity to explore them; the harrowing and formidable 4wd Lippincott road up to the Racetrack (a geological feature in Death Valley); the loss and finding of my good friend's much-loved pup; more hot springs, cool springs, and unexpected encounters in Bishop; skiing in June Lake, and a surreal 12.5 hour drive in a day to Colorado.
But the truth is, aside from all of the natural wonders, the things that touch me most are all of my friends' individual truths and stories that I hear along the way. Everyone encounters such different challenges, and yet we are all connected by common threads. We all live these different parts of a massive collective story, and fill these roles, and make choices that propel our lives further down the paths we walk. I genuinely value each opportunity to connect and learn from the people who I encounter at all of these junctions.
The New Year is here... Time to reinvent yourself, they say.
Personally, I'm not sure about the whole new year's resolution thing, but I highly value taking time away to meditate and reflect about where I am, how things progressed over the course of the year, and what is ahead. I do 'intentions' more than 'resolutions.' The New Year is a time to recalibrate, to look within, and identify places to readjust, and other places to reaffirm. What is going well, what do I want to leave behind? For me, 2017 was incredibly transformative. Last year I was locked in a job that
Looking over my own past written reflections, my intentions do not sway much: I want to be healthier, do things in life that make me happy, and release negativity, stagnancy, etc. I want to grow in all of these other ways that keep me inspired.
What this translates to for me as the beginning of 2018 arrives, is that I will be offering yoga photography opportunities at a discounted price in January throughout Colorado. Mostly I'll be basing in Durango but am planning trips to Crested Butte, Salida, Telluride, and Pagosa Springs and would love to work with anyone who is interested.
If you've ever tried to document your progress in yoga through photography on your own, you know it is possible, but a real frustration to use the self-timer on your camera. Aside from having to make any little adjustments to lighting, alignment, capturing good angles, your flow is interrupted and you are lucky if you get the shot just right without a million takes. You can bug your partner or your friends, but if documenting your progress means something to you, it's a great idea to invest in some pro shots now! Imagine what inspiration it will be to review them in another year to see how far you've come!
For teachers, I can audit and photograph a class or workshop you are looking to feature, as well as work with you in one on one sessions to get just the right imagery to capture your authentic self to use in your marketing and outreach materials. Let's create something together that makes you shine!
It's finally here - just what you've been waiting for: a shop featuring the best of the "Unicorns of the Sierra" glittery unicorn paintings collection, applied to a wide range of useful and whimsical items!
Check it out on Zazzle: www.zazzle.com/glittery_unicorns
So, if you missed out on one of the original paintings, or have secretly wished you received a different one, or can't imagine one more day without a unicorn nightlight or wine stopper, please take a look at my store!
It's still in the works, and I'll also be developing another themed store soon featuring botanical drawings. I'm sure I missed the holiday rush, but please share with any unicorn lovers in your life.
During my last days at Southwest Conservation Corps (which, at the time, I wasn't certain were my last days), I was organizing for my crew to do invasive weed surveys in the Little Colorado River Gorge. I was working with Native American youth, primarily of the Navajo Nation. The gorge was a sacred place to the Navajo and Hopi tribes, and its inner depths only accessible in a handful of places throughout the 75 mile length of the canyon.
Mike Wight (Regional Director, Ancestral Lands Program, Southwest Conservation Corps) and I were leaving from the Conservation Legacy All Staff Retreat. He was sick as a dog. We both wanted to descend into the canyon do do reconnaissance for our crew to be able to work in the area. We both deliberated on if we should go, due to the cold that was plaguing him so terribly.
At the last moment one could turn, he looked at me, and said, "Fuck it - let's go."
We turned left of the 89N onto a dirt road, and began our way out into the abyss. Open lands lay in front of us, with unseen gorges of the canyon fingers dipping down in the distance, the San Francisco Peaks moving in the distance to mark our traverse of the landscape.
We hiked down the three mile, 3,000 feet descent, following a loose trail over boulders, deep down into the canyon. The beauty rose above us.
Upon finally reaching the canyon floor, Mike collapsed in a flat area near the helicopter pad. I explored to see where it may be possible for my crews to hike when their field season would start. I also took note of the helicopter pad and stashed supplies at the bottom of the trail, and was able to contact the USGS and arrange helicopter support for the crews after we returned from our trip.
It was awe-inspiring to explore this hidden place, this sacred land, these holy waters. My legs hurt for several days afterwards as I'd not been in shape and the incline was so dramatic.
A friend of mine from grad school, Jill Polstich, inspired me. by using the tag #100daysofpenandplant on her instagram. Every day, she drew another plant illustration in pen and ink.
Botanical illustration is one of my passions, but in the everyday doldrums of working it had slipped from being a focus. After asking her, I attempted the same project, to get into practice. In falling into a daily discipline, I have failed miserably thus far, only completing 28 from January to November. But, it has gotten me to have a goal, to begin drawing again for a purpose (of sharing with an Insta community, and building a body of work I can showcase in a portfolio to sell myself). We can only improve, right? Check out my progress (and Jill's awesome drawings as well: #100daysofpenandplant
I've thought about putting words on a blog again for a little while. Certainly, I write when there are big changes in my life, which comes about relatively often since I seem to constantly be doing something different. These writings are stored on my 10 year old MacBook Pro (which needs upgrading) in rough form, little word documents that get opened up every so often for reflections of tidbits that make me who I am.
Back in 2009 I started a blog with my bf at that time, to document our travels in Latin America. It was (and still is) called diversidad-de-vida.blogspot.com (if you want to check it out - there is a great entry on our experience during the 2010 earthquake in Chile!). It was fun writing. People viewed, commented occasionally. Though I wasn't sure how many people would read it aside from my mom (thanks for your support, mom!). Coming back to the USA I mostly stopped. In part, I often have little digital connection. And when I do, I tend not to prioritize it.
Looking at where travel writing and blogging has skyrocketed to in the last 8 years, I would probably have a pretty good thing going on by now if I'd been more disciplined about documenting my journeys. The road has been long and winding. So, perhaps it will continue to be interesting, and I'll continue to add things on this page. Or perhaps, this page will be deleted after cobwebs collect. We'll see!