Posted in Photographs, Travel, Unschooling, Updates and Musings

Reflections on Joshua Tree

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Growing up in New England, I had a vague image of what the desert would look like, and feel like—and it didn’t necessarily bring to mind an image of abundant life and color.  However, it took Joshua Tree only a matter of moments to begin to reveal to me the magic that is life in the desert.

Sunrise turns the mountains purple and the sun greets the morning sky with vibrant colors.  I climb from the tent and walk around the house to lean against the Joshua Tree.  A rabbit flits across the ground in front of me, and I breathe deep—this is the first morning I spent in Joshua Tree back in November.  I had arrived at night after many days of travel and fallen fairly immediately to sleep.  Although I spent only a few days at Opuntia Garden Farm in November, by the time I was thoroughly enchanted and knew this place would feed my burgeoning fascination with permaculture well.

Arriving again in Joshua Tree in January, the colors welcomed me again. The pastel shades of green on the shrubs and trees, the browns of the ground, the yellow straw in the swales, the deep green of the leaves in the kitchen garden, and of course, the vibrant blue sky.

On my first evening of my internship stay, Maya and Damian and Oliver welcomed me into their sweet desert home, filled me with delicious food and warm tea and over candles we each set intentions for my stay.  Then it was time to wrap up in sweaters and scarves to head out to a cozy camper to sleep.

My days in Joshua Tree floated into a sweet feeling of timelessness. Early mornings were greeted with delicious green smoothies or sometimes pancakes. Later mornings would be filled with projects on the land, and then time for lunch and an afternoon lounge in the hammock underneath the old mesquite tree.

Through talking and eating with Maya and Damian I began to gain a greater understanding of using trees as a truly sustainable food source. Though I have often enjoyed treats from trees in Vermont, such as maple syrup and apples, the trees in the desert are vastly different than the trees in Vermont that I know well.  Inspiring in their abundant life with little water intake and their ability to take in and utilize so much sunlight, it was lovely to learn about the different species around the property.

I got to collaborate on many projects during my stay.  It was lovely to dive into building happy compost, brewing compost tea, digging a channel to harvest rainwater, and making bread from acorns I helped process.

There were countless joys in each day, from digging my hands into the bottom of a swale to feel moisture even weeks after a rain, hearing joyful children on the trampoline, feeding the chickens, getting to know everyone who lived on the land, gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, and even pulling the last spine of a choya bud out of my bare feet.

Ultimately, there are no words to capture the wonders of my stay, but I feel blessed to be able to begin to convey the gratitude I feel for my time spent on the farm, getting to know the land and the people, and getting to throw my body and heart into every project, conversation and moment I was a part of.  With a little water, some beautiful plants and a whole lot of love Opuntia Garden Farms is a place overflowing with what I can only describe as magic.

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Posted in Photographs, Travel, Unschooling, Updates and Musings

Home

My back against the window, the hostel living room is filled with the gray light of snow.  It is a quiet day here, most people slept late and everyone seems to be hibernating in their beds or behind the screens of electronics.

As the days here are numbered, each moment seems infinitely more precious than the last–and even though I love to sleep, it’s hard to persuade myself that sleep is more important than staying up until 4a.m.  When I came down at 3 last night, with the intention of making more tea before bed, I ended up cleaning and washing dishes. The half lit hostel was heavy in its silence, and it was strange to be among the last people who were awake.  As I was drying dishes and putting them away, it hit me how much this place has grown into a home for me.

Even though there are still so many people who I have not talked to as much as I would like, I have succeeded in making so many deep connections with many people, and I feel so blessed to be around this talented group of people.

I have learned more through living with 31 people for almost a month than I have in a long time. I’ve learned when I need my own space, and how to be quiet with other people, and what happens when almost everyone leaves the hostel (I bounce off the walls).  I’ve learned that trying to force myself to write poetry doesn’t work.  I’ve learned that it’s okay to write things I don’t like.

I’ve pushed myself in ways I never would have guessed–I have climbed a mountain that was over 12,000 feet tall. I went a walk that was 23 miles long.  I have fallen in love with so many people, and learned how to support people in ways I never have before.

And there’s so much more that I’m only beginning to understand.  It feels strange to me to think about being home in a week.  And saying that I’m going home feels strange to me, because right here, right now, this is my home.  But the house where my family lives is my home, too.  This morning I contacted a family that I hope to stay with when I travel internationally and if it works out, that place will likely become a home to me, too.

I hope I am lucky enough to have many  places I can call home for all of my life. I don’t believe a home has to be a house, or any one place. A home is a safe place where I may or may not return, but can be my full self in. I home is a place where I love and feel loved.

While it’s all too easy to count the days or hours left before I have to leave on Tuesday, I feel unbelievably blessed that I have this home right now. That I can listen to the laughter and the tears and the silence of the people here with me. That I will continue to learn from these experiences every moment I’m here, and even when I leave.  And though my heart will break when I have to leave on Tuesday, just like it broke when I left to come here, it will break open. It’s the kind of pain that is not only worth it, but is beautiful because it means that I found a place where I belong.

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Part of my family here. (Photo by Damian Damato)

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The top of Mt. Crested Butte (elevation 12,162 ft)

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Quiet mornings writing letters.

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Snowy mountain view on our 23 mile walk.

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Eric making apple fritters.

Posted in Unschooling

Update from last week….

I woke up this morning to a beautiful view out my window. After last week’s perpetual sunshine and blue sky it was refreshing to wake up to gray clouds and wet pavement. Through the gray clouds I could just barely see a hint of blue, and there was one cloud nestled at the foot of the mountain. Just outside my window is a lovely aspen tree with golden-brown leaves still attached, occasionally fluttering to the ground.

It’s a sleepy kind of day that makes me grateful to be able to curl up with tea and a book of poetry.

I’m so grateful to be in this place, beginning to make genuine connections with some of the people here. I look forward to the next few weeks of cuddling and talking and writing and making deeper connections. But for now it’s nice to be half asleep in my bed just thinking about the magical things to come.

Posted in Unschooling

I can do it, so can you.

Despite the fact that I have never been to school, nor had any burning desire to attend school it took me quite a while to come to terms with the fact that I don’t want to go to college. But here I am at almost 19, decidedly not going to college and instead sitting in the sun in a youth hostel soon to be filled with over 30 other unschoolers who enjoy writing as much as I do.

It took me many years to be comfortable telling people that I did not want to attend college (at least at this point in my life), although I think I knew, at least on a subconscious level, that college just wasn’t meant for me.  I feel incredibly lucky that I was able to come to this conclusion with the support of my family and many of my close friends. I think if it weren’t for the understanding of people surrounding me in my day to day life, as well as meeting other unschoolers and talking to and befriending them (whether they went to college or not) it would have been a much more difficult decision, or possibly one that would never have occurred to me.

When I finally did start finding the courage to tell people what my actual plans were (instead of mumbling something about not being sure where I wanted to apply yet) I was amazed by the amount of people older than I am who said “I wish I had done that when I was your age.” But what surprised me even more were my friends and peers who are going to college who say “that’s so amazing, I wish I could do that…” and then often go on to complain about their homework.

While I totally understand that college is a good choice and makes a lot of sense for some people, I think many people don’t realize that going to college is, in fact, a choice. Or that not going to college does not, by default, make you a failure.

Some people I know want to go to college to find out what they love and to learn things. I completely respect that, because I love learning, and finding new things that I enjoy. But college is not the only, or arguably even the best, way to do that. And for people like myself who don’t enjoy spending so much time (and money) in one place there are so many alternatives.

Instead of going to college my plan has been to travel, write, explore my passions and accept adventures as they come to me. I still cannot really believe that I have been able to begin manifesting these dreams. But here I am, over 2,000 miles away from my house ready to spend a month writing and getting to know new people.   Because I am not in school, I can travel wherever I want, however I want. I can work to get money for the things I need. I have time to figure out what I like and dislike. And maybe eventually I’ll take a few college classes just to experience what that is like.

It is scary to take control of your own life and decide to do what you really want, especially if what you want is out of the cultural norm.  And yes living can be expensive…but it will almost always be cheaper than an average college tuition.

So while you may not know exactly what it is you want to do, if college isn’t feeling right for you there are other options. And people try them all the time. It’s okay to make mistakes, and ultimately isn’t that the only way to figure out what you really need?

Posted in Unschooling

Talking to Children

When I was little bagels were my favorite food.  I was about six years old and sitting in my favorite bagel shop with my mom and brother.  On the table right in front of me was a little pitcher with a lid on it.  I was curious about what this pitcher might hold so naturally I picked it up. I had just opened it and seen the cream that lay concealed beneath the lid when out of nowhere the pitcher was snatched out of my hands by a tall mean-looking waitress.  “Don’t touch this, you’ll spill it,” she said.  And was gone before I could get over my shock at what had just happened.

I couldn’t believe that a stranger would just grab something out of my hand.  I had never been treated with such disrespect before. It was a harsh realization that some adults invalidate the feelings of children because of their age.  Twelve years later I am still upset when I think about that day.  Up until that point I had been very lucky to be almost exclusively surrounded by adults who treated me with respect.  Never having been in school I had never had the experience of adults enforcing rules that made no sense to me.

Since that time I have witnessed children’s feelings being disregarded by adults countless times.  This begs the question: if children are disrespected, told their feelings are unimportant, and forced to mindlessly obey rules that make no sense to them how will they learn to be respectful, healthy, independently-thinking adults?

Is being happy as an adult so very different from when you were a child? Or being sad, angry, confused, or any other emotion?  Just because children perceive the world in a different way than adults  does not mean their feelings deserve any less consideration than that of another adult.

Children are human beings and they deserve to be treated as such.  The opinions or interests of any given child are not wrong by default.  A child’s curiosity is a sign that they are engaged with the world around them.  Instead of fixating on all the things children cannot do, we should believe in all that they CAN do.

Every child I have ever spoken to has astonishing imagination and creativity.  Whether or not you are able to relate to this creativity on any level is up to you.  To talk to children don’t treat them as inferiors just because they are younger than you.  Listen to them like you wanted to be listened to when you were a child.

Children are wonderful, beautiful, intelligent people and have every right to be recognized in that way. If they are taught that they are not respected and unimportant that is what they will grow up believing.  But if instead they are taught that they are trustworthy and important, then just think of the possibilities that will open up ahead of them.

“All I am saying…can be summed up in two words: Trust Children.  Nothing could me more simple, or more difficult.  Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.” 
John Holt

Posted in Unschooling

How I Make Friends (Without School)

One of the first things people ask me when they find out that I’m unschooled is “how do you make friends?” While this question is most frequently asked by evidently well-meaning adults the truth is that I’ve found it to be one of the most frustrating questions I’ve ever had to answer.

When I was younger I wasn’t able to articulate why this question bothered me so much, and because of that I would always respond in ways that didn’t feel quite satisfactory to me.  After all, I didn’t want to hurt the person’s feelings…but it seemed like such a silly question because I had lots of friends.  Although I get asked this less frequently now that I’m older and almost out of “high school,” I still find it incredibly annoying.  The reason this question frustrates me so much is because whoever asks it–whether they realize or not–is assuming that the only way children can make friends is in a pre-assigned group of children their own age.

I think there are a million and one ways to make friends, and no one should be limited to only making friends in a classroom.  That’s one way to do it, but not the only way, and  probably not even the best way.  I think the best and easiest way to make friends is do what you’re interested in and find other people who share those interests.

I have made friends by volunteering, going to camp, acting, taking classes, working, going to homeschool groups, traveling, and just interacting with people in my day to day life.  Everywhere I go I meet new people, and I think there’s always a potential for friendship. Because I have never been limited to interacting with the same people every day I find it fairly easy to connect with a variety of people, of all sorts of ages and backgrounds.  My friends’ ages range from toddler to adult and everywhere in between.  I have friends across this country, and in other countries as well.

Because I’m not in school I’m able to devote my time and energy to things I love, as well as travel and work during the week.  My free time isn’t taken up by homework, and I’m not exhausted from spending seven hours five days a week indoors learning things that don’t interest me.

I’m not trying to say that there aren’t disadvantages of the social life of an unschooler. For instance, many of my friends live an hour or more away (although part of this is due to living in the middle of nowhere) so I don’t get to see them as often as I’d necessarily like to.  But I personally find it more gratifying to have friends from all over whom I don’t get to see as often, versus friends from the same group of people I’ve been with my whole life.

I don’t feel deprived of a social life because I am not in school. Instead I feel lucky that I can have so many wonderful friends from so many different places.