Familiar Stomping Grounds

Perfect Evening
Originally uploaded by lizpurdy05

Note: Part of this post was written while in Grand Teton National Park and it was finished upon my arrival in Seattle.

As I write this I’m sitting on the deck at Dornan’s, one of my favorite spots in all of Jackson Hole. It isn’t much use trying to use words to describe the beauty of the Snake River and The Tetons in front of me because it won’t do this scene justice. Buck Mountain is staring at me wondering why I haven’t climbed it, and the south face of The Grand looms in my peripheral vision. Looking at these mountains now, I regret never having written about my experiences of my first summer here–my first rafting trip on The Snake, my climb up South Teton, celebrating my 21st birthday at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar (while having mono and not knowing it yet). But those memories still exist here. This place has gotten in my blood, and I’m confident that I’ll always be proud to say that I spent two of my college summers here.

Pictures of this place may look impressive and give a glimpse to those who haven’t “seen,” but when I drove in town on Wednesday night and made my way up into the park, these mountains looked even more majestic than I remembered. And on that drive north on the inner-park road I discovered again what it was that drew me out here that first time for the summer of 2008. Though the curves of the road are more familiar now, the exploration and discovery are not over.

As I progressed farther north toward my dinner destination at Signal Mountain Lodge, I started to get confused, wondering how it was possible that this place was more beautiful than I remember.

Last summer, after the chaos/excitement of the final weeks of college, graduation, and a trip to Zambia, I returned to Seattle and attempted to debrief it all before running off to The Tetons again for a second summer of work there. Little did I know I wouldn’t actually process many of those recent events until many months later. But a question I stumbled upon in the process, and have since continued to revisit, is: Which is better: A moment or a memory of a moment?

I’ve asked several people this, and I’ve more or less decided that it is in fact a memory that is better. But in this drive along the base of the Teton range, I felt my fragile understanding of this idea being challenged. These mountains were BETTER, BIGGER, and more DEMANDING of respect than the mountains I had talked about and remembered in the months since I last saw them in October 2009.

While the mountains were, in a way, different than I remembered, I traveled up to Jackson Lake Lodge, where I saw many familiar faces and everything was exactly as I remembered it, in full swing for another summer season. The lobby was filled with the usual suspects, the same questions were obnoxiously being asked by the tourists, and the pantry where the conventions crew assembled to receive our daily tasks smelled the same. The man-made is stale, the God-made is alive.

When my friend Brett (whose WONDERFUL wedding I attended in Jackson on Saturday) asked me how it was to be back in Jackson Hole, I could only think to respond saying that paradoxically it was exactly the same and totally different than last year. Having spent a few summers here himself and starting another one, he expressed his acknowledgment and understanding with a simple but firm nod.

So how is it that these places get inside of you? And you return and find them the same . . . but . . . different?

I don’t really understand how it is that when I arrived at Jubilee in January, I proceeded to talk to Don Mosley (who is 71-years-old but spent three summers from ages 19-21 leading the trail maintenance crews in GTNP) about the Tetons for hours… because, I guess, somehow after all these years it’s in his blood. And I don’t quite understand how it is that I obsessively talked about Seattle/Washington/The Pacific Northwest for the entire 5 months I was in the South (my apologies to all, thanks for tolerating!). . . . because this place I still call home, despite rarely ever being here, is just in my blood. It’s me. And now I’ve returned, feeling SO GLAD to be back in the Northwest where I “fit” (let’s be honest, I just wasn’t ever going to be the “done up” southern girl in a sundress), and yet I see a Georgia license plate on the interstate and I get excited. That is simply ridiculous. What was once an objective dot on the map goes from a few geographical coordinates to months’ worth of conversations and unquantifiable memories. Go figure. The next dot on the map to become my new stomping grounds? Sitka, Alaska!

Welcome Back to Consumer America

One of my favorite things about Jubilee was that I could avoid consumer America almost entirely. I didn’t spend money. I didn’t make money. No grocery shopping. No advertising. No impulse purchases. Every Friday at lunch we received our $15/week living allowance. After lunch, I proceeded to put it in a pile on my desk in my room, where it wasn’t touched until we made an outing to Athens, most likely for some of the local brew. Each week I repeated the same Friday routine and rejoiced each time I placed the money on my desk, realizing how little value I placed on those slips of paper.

Needless to say, when I walked into Wal-Mart last Wednesday for the first time since being at Jubilee, I felt a little short of breath. It was bright, crowded, loud, and full of crap. I paused at the door as my grandma put her sunglasses away in her purse, did a 180-degree scan of the scene before me, and said to myself, “Oh, yes, I remember. Welcome back.”  TV screens all around different shelves advertised the newest products, and speakers from the ceiling aimed at the aisles pulsated with worthless information about the most recently discounted items. The 30 check-out lanes were practically filled with a tunnel of little last minute grab items and were plastered with magazine covers full of gossip and “beautiful” people. “I DO NOT CARE!” is what I want to yell to the editors of every one of those magazines, “AND YOU SHOULDN’T CARE EITHER!” to everyone actually looking at them in the aisles. Did I really just see Jennifer and Brad on a cover again?

Well done, Wal-Mart. Well done. You’ve managed to make retail a corporate art as you daily ruin the souls of millions of Americans.

Too harsh? Let me know. I’m happy to entertain any argument to the contrary. (Just as a side-note I recognize that it was popular to openly bash Wal-Mart about five years ago, and I’m really not (entirely) saying it’s horrible. I’m just using it as a perfect example of American consumer culture. It lends itself to the task. )

And I can’t even begin to comment on the parenting, or lack of, I witnessed there. As I walked in the door, I literally passed a mother dragging her son out the door by the wrist, yelling at him, “I can’t trust you anywhere! I can’t believe you just tried to steal in front of me! GET IN THE CAR! GET IN THE CAR!” I’ll let that speak for itself, and I’m going to take the “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all” approach to that topic.

I never went to Wal-Mart growing up and to this day, the only times I ever go are in Missouri when I am helping my grandparents with errands. My grandma and I have perfected this system over the last several years of my visits here, and I come very well knowing what our first day together will entail.

Each person shopping seemed to be buying more and more to comfort himself. Maybe it was the  2 24-packs of Dr. Pepper in one man’s cart, the piles of new clothes being paid for at the next check-out stand, or the big screen TV being loaded into the back of a new SUV that brought a sadness to the whole scene as more and more and more was being consumed, valued, loved, NEEDED by everyone around.

While looking up and down all the aisles (all I wanted was a damn roll of packaging tape), I was reminded of when I talked to Father Dominique, the priest we worked with in Zambia, during his visit to Gonzaga this spring. I, of course, wasn’t there to join in on all the fun they had with him since I was in Georgia, but I was privileged enough to have a 10 minute conversation with him on the phone. The day before our conversation, the Gonzaga crew that showed him around had taken him to Costco. When I asked him what he thought of such a huge store, he told me how sad the store had made him saying that it was difficult to see so much “excess” when he knew many of his own people in Zambezi didn’t have enough.

And so I look at the list I made a week before I left Jubilee and I wonder how possible are all those idea(l)s? Stop spending money? Well . . . ok, I’ve spent some. Buying clothes? The cute halter top was 50% off! And I said clothes… not shoes. Fast food? My grandma wanted a fish sandwich from McDonald’s today, so, if I got one, too, does that really count? Starbucks? Ha, I’m posting this blog entry from a Starbucks. Where else was I supposed to get Wifi?

So, I anticipated the transition away from Jubilee to be a bit jolting, but I guess I look at this, think about it now and say, uh . . . so where do I go from here?

The Road, Again.

The Road, Again.

Originally uploaded by lizpurdy05

It’s not that I had a craving to go on a road trip again, but the fact that I drove my car to Georgia at the beginning of the year makes it somewhat necessary to jaunt back across the country to return my car to its registered state of Washington. So Leslie, Caleb and I set out from Jubilee almost three weeks ago and now find ourselves in Ohio at Leslie’s family’s house. I can almost see the moisture as I look outside. If I’m not at Jubilee, then I’m really not interested in being in a place with humidity. Sorry, Midwest…

The road trip had to be a bit modified with my last minute knee injury (an MCL tear for those who haven’t heard the official word), but we’re still managing to see some great places. Our first stop was Clarkston, GA where many of the refugees are living once they leave Jubilee. We were able to see two of the families we got to know at Jubilee, ate some great Karen food (we thought rice would come out of our ears there was so much!), and even joined them for church in Karen. It was a little taste of our own medicine as we didn’t understand a word they said until a familiar hymn was sung. Our next stop, a trip to the Smoky Mountains was ditched due to the inability to hike, so we redirected for a few restful days in Toccoa, Georgia at Leslie’s friend’s house.

After catching our breath there and reconnecting with consumer America (Barnes and Noble, baby!) and modern-day technology (we watched several movies in one day!) we split up. I dropped Leslie and Caleb at the Gesundheit! Institute where they spent a week volunteering in West Virginia. In the meantime, I drove to Washington D.C., left my car at Lucas’s house and jetted off to Spokane, Washington for the Krista Foundation Annual Conference. I could explain the Krista Foundation in detail, or I could make this entry a little shorter and say, “Hey, if you want to know about that look here: http://www.kristafoundation.org/ ” It’s a great organization and I’m excited to be a part of it.

So I headed back to Washington D.C., picked up Leslie and Caleb, stuffed Lucas and his things in my already packed car and we all headed up to Portland, Maine for the weekend. Lucas and I spent time in Portland with our great friend Emma from Gonzaga who is currently living in Portland serving with JVC. Emma was a spectacular tour guide leading us to Cape Elizabeth to see the Portland Head Light, eat some lobster, and she showed us around the “Old Port” part of town. It was an EXCELLENT weekend! Leslie and Caleb, in the meantime, headed up to Caleb’s great-uncle’s lake house just an hour north of town. I got to join them for dinner and a sunset boat ride. Every house along the lake was worthy of appearing on the cover of “National Geographic Traveler.” It was a beautiful place to say the least. Lucas and I finished off the weekend in Portland by attending his cousin’s wedding. I just accompanied him as his “plus one,” but I ended up playing a crucial role when we were the life of the party at the reception, getting the dance party started. Lucas had all his aunts and uncles up dancing with him to Lady Gaga. It was a beautiful sight. I practiced my one-leg dance moves, and I think by the end of the night we had made quite an impression. Based on the number of camera flashes I saw go off and the people who were holding their phones up to video Lucas’s moves, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some documentation of it online somewhere.

So from the far corner of the country, after dropping Lucas at the airport to return to D.C., the L.C.L. crew continued on to upstate New York, I mean we were really upstate, we might as well have been in Canada, to visit our friends Ted and Jan, who are retired high school teachers and were volunteers with us at Jubilee. Ted and Jan happen to live in Adirondack Park in Saranac Lake and are excellent tour guides! After a great dinner and game of hearts on Monday night, we headed to the top of Whiteface Mountain. OK, we drove to the top of Whiteface Mountain… again, no hiking for me yet. GREAT view of Lake Placid up there, beautiful green mountains everywhere, and it was 35 degrees, no humidity, just windy 🙂 Just right! T&J continued our tour with a trip to the Olympic ski jumps and a jaunt around town. Beautiful place, great people. All-in-all, we agreed it was a wonderful stop!

Wednesday morning we hopped in the car and a short 13 hours later we found ourselves nearly in Kentucky. I mean, we found ourselves outside Cincinnati, Ohio at Leslie’s house. And here we are still today. We have been taking it pretty easy, catching up on sleep, enjoying meals together, and of course the pool in the backyard. So after all this sitting inside on the computer, it seems like about the right time to jump in. Or slowly wade in as the case may be for me and the knee…

Next up, Sunday we’re headed to Wisconsin to visit Caleb’s family where we will then say our goodbyes in a few days. I’ll head to Missouri for some family time with the grandparents and dad after that, and Leslie will return to Ohio. We’ve left Jubilee, but we miss it a lot. And that’s all I’ll say about that for now 🙂