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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Homes, Here and There

Today is July 1st and it marks the beginning of my 5th month in North Africa. I can't believe so much time has passed already, but there is plenty of time still ahead, 22 months of time in fact. My end of service date is the 5th of May, 2012, and that means I have almost two summers and two long, hard winters to deal with. We apparently don't have a spring and fall here, just a sudden transition that is characteristic of any high mountains, be they in Colorado or Africa.


Talking to home, I hear that the flowers are blooming and the grass is high, my mother is debating whether to let the horse out to graze on the lawn or not, and the dog is so dusty that my parents have to brush him off when he comes in the house. The indoor cat is shedding, and the outdoor cat is still successfully hunting small animals despite his advanced age and senility. My brother is home from his college in Seattle for a few weeks; he is enjoying seeing his friends and mine and just spending time at home and in our hometown.

According to the local paper, spring runoff is beginning to slacken in the Animas River and the rafters and tubers are out in force, enjoying the two month window of heat that you can actually swim in the river without getting hypothermia. The Farmer's Market is in full swing with local foods, meats, and vegetables, not to mention live music and fresh gossip. The tradition at the Farmer's Market, at least mine, is to get a cookie from my favorite bakery, and a glass of Hibiscus Juice from the tamale cart and then stroll around talking to the farmers that I know and running into friends. When the sun gets too hot, I sit in the shade of one of the trees by the side of the bank building and listen to the live music and watch the kids chase each other around.

My parents and brother are headed to Lake City for Independence Day, it is a small community of 300 high in San Juan Mountains, about 8500ft, and we have a place there that my parents like to spend much of the summer. It is cool and the people are kind, the small size of the community means that everyone know everyone else, and that everybody has a role. They are meeting with a family of our friends from Helena Montana and will stay there for about a week enjoying the company and festivities of the fourth. There will be games, food, and a parade which my family will be in, the dog dressed up in red, white, and blue and loving all of the attention. I will miss being there with them, Lake City is one of my favorite places.

Several years ago, I lived in a three-room guest house there for the better part of a summer, working as a fishing and hiking guide for an Lake City outfitter. I had just graduated from College a month before, and was using it as a time to decompress. I spent three solid months there; two of those entirely in the mountains with my blue heeler, who had never hiked that much before or since. All day was spent in high basins on the edge of sparkling lakes or trekking through dark forests of fragrant pine, spruce, and fir. These days were punctuated by vast fields of nodding wildflowers, and the jags of mountains on every horizon. Thunderstorms came most afternoons in towering blue-grey pillars of cloud. A solid-seeming landscape of swirls and billows, they were often visible for several hours crawling over the lands below, trail curtains of rain illuminated by forks of lightning. When they broke, it was with a beautiful, shattering violence that was both frightening and awe inspiring; only rarely did they last for more than a half hour.

I learned to Flyfish while working with the outfitter and it remains one of my favorite things to do, and is high on the list of things I miss most. Many golden afternoons were spent making cast after cast into streams smaller than the one lane road used to access them. I fell in love with the sport because it was silent and beautiful; it allowed me to be outside for hours at a time watching my line curl and loop over the riffled water's surface and watch the fly land delicately in a quiet hole, suspended there in the still eddy before a fish took it or the current swept it away. Evenings were spent walking in the canyon or sitting at the bar of the saloon named for the Colorado Cannibal, Alferd Packer. As the light died on the peaks, I would sit on my stool nursing a good beer and talking to people around me, who quickly became my friends. On cold days I would light the woodstove and read a book while the exhausted dog snored at my feet. Then Grand Teton National Park hired me on and I was sucked back into the park ranger whirlwind. I wouldn't have it any other way but I still consider my months in Lake City as one of the most peaceful times in my life.

I will always remember the sunny days and quiet evenings of home, in both Durango and Lake City. Memories of place and also of people; memories of friends and family talking, laughing, and sometimes crying, together. These are strong memories of the one place that have been most open to, the most involved in, and the place that has the left the most indelible mark on my soul. It is that piece of a soul, the piece that is affected by place, where you forge connections with a land and its people; intimacy through vulnerability and then understanding through intimacy. It is these connections that create the concept of home and the sense of belonging that comes with it. Some people never feel this, some never open themselves and allow their souls to be touched by the places they reside. But this has always come easily to me, and I have many connections to places that have touched me in some deep way. My parks: Mesa Verde, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Big Bend, and Cape Hatteras; those were all home, they all became places that I understood, loved, and now miss. The mountains and the deserts of the Colorado Plateau, as I have said before, are always an unshakable first for the place that I love most deeply, understand the most, and to which I will always return to. These places have all left their mark, and have contributed to who I am as a person, each one in a unique way. From Mesa Verde I learned of time, from Yellowstone I learned of wilderness, from Teton I learned of beauty and serenity, from Big Bend I came to know austerity and balance, and Hatteras I learned of the quiet and deep mysteries found only on the edge of the sea. What do I learn now? As I feel Morocco's mark being etched in slowly beside the others, I wonder what I will take away from this place?


I have moved out of homestay after four months spent with a Moroccan family, two in the desert and two in the mountains. Today is my second day independent and alone, and the first full day I have to do whatever I wish. Yesterday I spent with my host father in the Land Rover, we went down to the town of Tinghrir to buy some appliances, like a refrigerator and oven, things that I would have a difficult time obtaining for myself. It was a long day and I crashed hard, falling asleep without dinner or evening ablutions. This morning, I woke up with the sun and took advantage of my two hours of water by filling every water container in the house. Eventually, when I have the water tank and heater installed, I will have water round the clock and hot showers; a thing invaluable in the single coldest site in Morocco. A treat for guest and other volunteers who visit. I made coffee on the butane stove and and sat on my roof with a cup watching the clouds form over the mountains.

I like my house, it's five rooms (including bathroom), and made entirely of various forms of concrete. The central room, my living room is illuminated by a skylight (which currently leaks, but is being fixed next week.)it has two ponjes, which are like Moroccan couches, and will eventually have a central low table for tea and entertaining Moroccan guests. My kitchen is one long counter with a sink and gas stove; a gas oven sits below. There is a chest of drawers for dishes and the refrigerator sits by the door. The stairs to the roof lead up from here as well. My office is off the living room and consists of two windows, my desk, one ponj, and a bookshelf of crates, on the walls are maps of Morocco, a map of Colorado, a poster of Grand Teton, and a poster of the endangered mammals of Morocco. Eventually there will be a woodstove in the corner and this will be my wintertime retreat; the "warm room". My bedroom is simple, a metal shelf of clothes and camping gear, backpacks in the corner, and one large bed in the middle. The whole place is the perfect size with the perfect amount of furnishings; plus it's utterly impregnable when locked.

After my coffee, I went to the post office and picked up a package for a friend, I am waiting on one myself, but it looks like it will come next week. Kids don't badger me as much anymore, I think they are used to seeing me around and there is always someone around who knows me. My Tam gets better every day and I sound less and less like a moronic 1st grader. Now I am sitting at my desk, surrounded by books, with a window that looks out on the mountains. After this entry is finished, I will read or practice my mandolin; maybe I will pick out a soup recipe of some kind for dinner tonight and go buy the ingredients, haggling with the merchant as vegetables are weighed by the kilo on a rusted scale. I may go sit in a Cafe later, write letters, and people-watch. I will clean some more as well and contemplate my place here. I am enjoying the peace and quiet already and, while it is not Lake City, I can see it becoming a home.

Thanks For Reading,