After a summer of traveling - waking up every morning in a new land, eating with different people every day, seeing new horizons without and within as I walked, I wasn't overjoyed about being back "home". It was, as they say, anti-climatic, especially after the joy that was Greece. I was even less happy about the prospect of being back in Minneapolis.
I had stopped at the house briefly on my way "home" and had seen the room where I'd live, been greeted (unexpectedly) with a hug from Alina, been told by Noah it would be nice to have another pianist in the house and all these things warmed my heart with inklings of excitement. This could be good.
Yet, I tarried at home, though as you may have guessed, I couldn't do so for long.
|Finally, on the last possible day I left at really too late an hour. On the way down I stopped in the middle of nowhere at a Dairy Queen knock-off (todo) and met up with Kari. She'd appeared unexpectedly in my life the year before bringing great new perspectives, a unique personality, and adding tinder to the runner in my soul through her tales of biking exploits. She'd spent some time in Italy and Turkey over the summer, though we hadn't met up, and had been since been hitting up bike races, doing rather well. She also had her new boyfriend Mark to be excited about: he took her on moonlight walks and the like. Recharged, the journey continued.|
Arrived in Minneapolis around 11PM on 7th September - just nine hours before my first class. I spent that first night on the tatami mat, surrounded by boxes and crud. Sitting in the plane on the way home and then entering my room for the first time in so long, I'd felt deep inside that I wanted to own much less.
I've never thought of myself as materialistic, just conservative. I have stuff - indeed, I collect it - but very little of it has any true value for me. Some serve to connect me with memories in a planned way, rather than the haphazard trips of rain puddles and dark nights; others are supplies or elements of projects and art - resources essentially. You wouldn't pass up resources would you? The important thing is not to mistake the replaceable for the irreplaceable. Sometimes, some purging is necessary or the replaceables accumulate - I felt like doing a thorough job of this.
I spent the first few days cleaning out the EWB office. For those who don't know, I'm Vice-President of the university's Engineers Without Borders chapter now and facilitate humanitarian engineering projects in Ghana, Haiti, Guatemala, and Uganda. It's work that I feel very fortunate to be doing. This time last year I almost moved to Alaska for school - I was so taken by the beauty and freedom of that place - but, at the last moment, I stayed back on the inkling of a notion that I wanted to do EWB. Four months later I was a Project Leader, six months later I was speaking at an international conference in Milwaukee, and now I'm responsible for significant portions our operations.
For this reason, I found myself moving cartloads of derelict stuff (remnants of a different, now-defunct student club) out of our office while my room was still sitting unpacked. School started Tuesday and I unpacked my boxes on Friday.
That first night of unpacking, my friend PG came by the office late in the evening. We met years ago when I was making balloon animals at an open mic and have seen each other only infrequently. She's at the university now and it seems odd that she's suddenly so accessible.
She, Jusko, Eric O'Hara, and I all went out to Annie's for burgers, fries, and shakes. We sat on the deck and rotated the table so we could all stare at the city skyline. The waitress, walking by, said we were romantic, which is when we realised we were all single. Unoccluded skylines are, I think, a real benefit of this state.
Afterwards, I walked PG home, but we turned left instead of right and then down into the darkness of an odiferous alley. As we scrambled down a rocky hillside onto the rail tracks beneath the bridges she said she'd suspected this was where we were heading. A while later we'd crossed a bridge and headed down an abandoned road to the dark forest pathways by the river throwing out the ultimate parental commandment, "Don't go out in Cities after dark." We ended our walk by climbing up a forty-foot retaining wall by her dorm.
PG playing Noah's wood flute
|Last year, living alone, I started a club called "Dine With Dick" in an effort to keep myself from eating alone in my big empty house. The tradition's continued this year. My first meal saw Becca, PG, her roommate Michelle, and Jusko over at my place. We picked up supplies from the Seward Co-op down the road (my house is a member!) and made up a fantastic spaghetti while having marshmallows over a campfire in the back yard. Noah played accordian, his friend guitar, and I the pennywhistle while we sang civil war songs and the fire crackled and pumpkin vines spread themselves across the yard. Afterwards, I got a much-needed backrub while watching David Bowie in Labyrinth. There's something truly magical about listening to Bowie sing while having countless airplanes, trains, buses, and cars extracted from your muscles.|
|I've been to many churches. Most seem incomplete architecturely, spiritually, or both. Augsburg's Halverston Chapel manages to incorporate architecture and spirit: high windows admit glowing sunlight, ruddy dusk, or soft moonlight which, filtering down from high above, sets the wood and stone afire or, alike, swathes them. A wonderful organ is incorporated into the wall behind the exposed alter and a fourteen foot grand sits apart to one side. Dr. Gabe, the organ professor here, once told me that I could play these instruments whenever they were free and I've been sure to do so. Whether it be late at night in the pitch dark or during mid-day, I like to go and content myself filling the reverent space with my music. Noah didn't know about this so I took him one day and we played organ for each other for more than an hour. He is an excellent musician and a fine person.|
Noah in our house
My uncle has been the most helpful of people during my many moves to, from, and abouts the Cities. Many of the furnitures in my room and the plants which appear randomly on my step come courtesy of him. So a word of thanks to him here!
I managed to unpack more during the weekend after I arrived, but found myself interrupted when Noah, Vera, and Beth decided to go to the farmer's market. We bought a giant zucchini, pepper jellies, and I found some nostalgia-inducing Alaskan salmon to sample. A honey maker was vending specialty single-source honeyies and I excitedly tried them. My quest to be a beekeeper continues and provides justification for purchasing little tubs of honeycomb - et cetera. By claiming honey as a hobby, I can legitimize spending on it! I must swear not to use this knowledge for the purposes of evil.
Vera at home
|Amid all this, the sun shines in through my many windows, waking me around 7AM every morning. Alina and I chat about THC concentrations in hemp plants. Beth is teaching me about tea and how to long-board. Our former roommate Mickey visits on the weekends. Noah and I share anatomy books and sheet music. Vera and I speak with her Irish farmer friend (who lives in Greece) and try to speak Greek to one another. After four years I feel that I'm finally living with people and, thus far, I'm enjoying it! It's too bad I don't manage to spend more time at home.|
I ran into Cordelia the other day and learned about her summer camping trip. While Montana is, no doubt, one of the best story tellers I've ever met, Cordelia's expressions and gesticulations - at once child-like in enthusiasm and freedom, yet sophisticatedly adult in content and timing - draw me in equally. She also told me about a Climate Modeling seminar, so now I spend my Wednesdays listening to mathematicians digest the charts scientists and politicans use to scare and, we hope, better us.
|I've been lucky to bump into some interesting people this Fall. The one on the right accidentally discovered the EWB office and asked if she should be creeped out when I wanted a picture of her bag. Jusko told her no as we all crowded in for the shot. I thought it would be a little strange to ask about taking pictures of cool tattooes, but, after trailing my subject half way across campus, I realised that avoiding doing so led to things stranger still. The tattoo reminded me of Christine's (more on this later) - I think the organic/nature theme make them more palatable.|
|On Halloween night, Becca, Brittany, and Kari decided I should have a little birthday celebration, so we had some wonderful pasta and cake. It was the first time I'd been in Britt's house since Kari and Steph moved out. The place looked good, but, with everything rearranged, there was an odd sense of dislocation.|
|After the meal, we got all dressed up and headed down to the river in Hidden Falls park to watch the Barebones Halloween Show - this required dressing up. This year the show was a dance/opera of sorts with no words. The main character died at the very beginning and we then followed their descent to the underworld where their heart was weighed against a feather. The show featured specatular fire, huge phantasmagoical dogs, people on stilts dress as butterflies, and so forth. It was the first time in three years I haven't been part of the production, so there was an element of the bittersweet. The performance finished by going down to the river to sing and cast names of loved ones onto a burning raft which was borne away by the waters.|
I travel regularly for EWB to give speeches, gather information, and maintain our presence at events. I've spoken at MISF's Educator's Conference, the E3, and others.
|I've been directly leading work on plastics recycling, which is why I found myself in Iowa giving a demonstration on the process for EWB's Midwest Workshop. We can make roofing tiles, shin guards, and separating toilet seats.|
Andrew, my probable successor, and I with the aforementeioned
|We can also make sandles, which is why the U's Institute of Technology has my group and I speaking to high schoolers for recruitment purposes. This January we're hoping to take this process out of our offices, labs, and these meetings and use it to make a difference down in Haiti. It's not enough just to speak…|
|Publicity and advertising has brought me to the unlikely milieu of football games where my hat attracted the attentions of ex-military types with stories about covert warfare in the Middle East.|
|I went to Mankato and spoke to a group of students there hoping to get their own chapter of EWB started. After the meeting their core group of four (there's always a collection of die-hards behind any good effort), John Frieski (from the U), and I went out to supper. Their chances were, I told them, pretty good. A month or so later, in Iowa, I watched as they got the good news.|
|One weekend, Jusko and I drove up to Michigan for the D80 conference. On the way we made a detour to visit my friend Alijak at her cranberry farm.|
|And it was on this detour that we made an amazing discovery…|
|Arriving at the cranberry farm, my friend Alijak brought us on a tour of the farming process and we were impressed by the fact that cranberry farmers design all their own equipment for this highly-specialised harvesting process. Many of the machines they used looked not so much made as grown. We learned that there was a time when people didn't know that cranberries floated, so harvesting them was back-breaking pick-by-hand sort of work, rather than the flood and corral process used now. We also learned that it was impossible to make single-source cranberry honey. It's too cold for the bees when the cranberries bloom and to warm for the cranberries when the bees collect. I decided on the spot to solve this problem and make the world's first single-source cranberry honey, even if it meant knitting a thousand little sweaters.|
|While walking through Dinkytown late one night I happened to bump into some highly unexpected people - people I knew from Alaska! Rikki and Morgan were passing through Minneapolis on their way to Nebraska for a wedding. Playing on the serendipity, they joined me on a tour of the physics building roof, Walter Library, the river, rail tracks, and we ended the night at Annie's for malts and fries. When I dropped them off at their host's house we all drew crayon pictures. Both of them drew pictures of glaciers and mountains and spoke about how much they missed Alaska, though they'd only been gone a few days. Inside, the satisfaction and contentment I'd gleaned from knowing this was likely my last year in Minneapolis wilted… I missed Alaska too!|
|One way of warding off such wilting is to travel, as I'd learned so well in Bristol. So travel I did - to Michigan, to Iowa, and to Duluth. In Duluth, Tegal and her roommates cheered me up as we celebrated her birthday with the usual merry-making and dancing.|
|In addition to woods-wandering, catching up, bonding, and other good things, the weekend was improved by the opportunity to practise my German with Tegal's visiting exchange student Tabia and by rock climbing with Danielle (Tegal's roommate) at Vertical Endeavours.|
|I'd brought Jusko up with me and the weekend proved fortuitous for him when he and Tegal took a liking to each other. Since then, he's been to Duluth more frequently than I.|
|Further work this semester has gone into a means of sanitising human waste and turning it into fertilizer and cooking gas.|
A biodigester design
|With all this going on, you might wonder if I'm spending time at home. But, you see, I had a reason to stay away.|
Gas from waste
|I came home one day to find my house surrounded with orange fences. Not too worried, I went to bed. This was a bad idea. The next day the U.S. Government stole my yard.|
They claimed it was because my yard was a superfund site. They claimed it had unacceptably high levels of arsenic from an old fertiliser plant. But I knew the real truth. My grass was just so lush and beautiful that they wanted it for themselves. They replaced a foot of topsoil and sprayed on some grass seed before they left, but I think, deep down, that someday they'll be back. My yard is that good.
|Becca, Britt, and I got together one night for some DDR and sundaes. We're all living farther apart this year and don't meet up as often as we used to, so these are good times.|
I generally find myself walking home after dark - the more so now that winter's come. Though such walks can be lonely, they provide time for reflection and exercise.
After all this writing, I think I'm going to go get some exercise now!
Tegal and I during the first snow