Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Be Curious

"There is something which all the greatest artists and writers, naturalists and scientists, voyages and explorers, poets and pioneers, share. It is an interest in the external world and the ability to contribute something creative to human life in this world by means of taking parts of the world to pieces and putting them all together again. The ability to observe, and the ability to see the little things that seem trivial at first, may become amazingly important and meaningful. Out of little observations huge ideas may grow; and if a mind, made receptive by training in the use of the sense, can store away a mass of observations, the time will come when the whole collection can be unrolled, connected together as a great novel is planed, in a compelling pattern that tells us something new."
- Harold Gatty 

The themes of exploration and adventure are constant companions as we travel from place to place on this grand medical school journey. There have been places where curiosity comes easily and places where those themes seem to lose their hold. The trick is to keep them alive regardless of the ease or difficulty. 

We went from a developing country with Rastafarian farmers roaming among 9 volcanoes in tropical heat to an off season deserted and frozen beach town with flat farm land leading to endless ocean. Then we went from swaths of highways coating alligator filled swamps with faceless houses gated in on either side to hillside homes serving as an escape from NYC with classic bridge and skyline views. 

The places in between those temporary base camps were just as diverse. 

Each place requires a new curiosity and provides a fresh perspective. Much like people. In all of our moving I am working to cultivate the ability to see the little things amongst the larger happenings. Because, as Gatty says in the quotation above, "the ability to see the little things that seem trivial at first, may become amazingly important and meaningful. Out of little observations huge ideas may grow." 

Dominica (view from Segment 8)
Ocean City, MD. (bayside view from 32nd st.)

Everglades, FL. (view from the drive to Shark Valley)
Great Neck in Long Island, NY (view from a hill on my run)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

115 Miles of Dominica in 6 Minutes

Wonder what a trail over volcanoes, under waterfalls, and through rainforest looks like?

Here are the 115 miles of the Waitukabuli National Trail of Dominica condensed into 6 minutes! It was incredible and I'd do all 115 miles all over again if I could. (Watch on full screen for your viewing pleasure!)


1. short clip from Gilligan's Island theme.

2. You Make My Dreams Come True by Hall & Oates.

3. Wombo Lombo by Angelique Kidjo

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Mountains of Life

"Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Here grow the wallflower and the violet. The squirrel will come and sit upon your knee, the logcock will wake you in the morning. Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill. Of all the upness accessible to mortals, there is no upness comparable to the mountains."

Dominica was full of that "upness" that John Muir references in the quote above. The view of the volcanic mountains and the contrasting far sea horizon gave a glorious upness to the often difficult day to day in which we lived. (And our difficulties rarely compared to the Dominican's day to day.) The university gave us a cushion in many ways but the mountains too gave us a cushion, one that was harder to name, harder to recognize, and one that I miss dearly now. 

I stopped blogging in our last semester there. I think the idea of wrapping up a life somewhere that took real grit to settle into was difficult to comprehend. I had just figured it out and now we leave? Packing, crossing things off the Dominica bucket list, and saying goodbyes certainly didn't lend itself to a quiet stillness in which to reflect and write. Its been over a month now and I think those reflections are starting to show themselves. And the mountains are a recurring vision. 

In Dominica I was an outsider. I wasn't from there, I didn't recognize the foods, I didn't know their slang, I didn't share their history. There were figurative mountains I had to surmount in understanding how to cook there, how to buy food, how to get from place to place, how to communicate, how to be a foreigner in my day to day reality, how to live. Plus, in the med school community, I was in a sea of other outsiders struggling to do the same thing from their own experiences. 

I think some of it was just a little too much to wrap our minds around and so many of us climbed literal mountains, hardships we could see, name, climb, finish, and succeed. I think we needed those mountains, those concrete challenges and successes, in order to mentally surmount the day to day. Each mountain, each swim and run and yoga session, each physical venture pulled us out of ourselves, pulled us out of the insatiable desire to explain what was, at times, inexplicable. 

Being back stateside is full of delights (phone calls, blankets, baby spinach, affordable apples, potable water, book stores...) and many things are comfortable again, recognizable again. But after the shock of these renewed delights passed, the figurative mountains of the day to day returned. It is not foreignness but life itself that offers us daily mountains to vanquish. We exhaust ourselves trying to explain, reason, and think them away. In that exhaustion, I think of John Muir's idea of repose and upness; the woods, the sea, the mountains, the plains given as places of rest. 

Andy and I still live by the sea now but without any mountains for miles. Some days I run up to the ocean to look out on the waves and the horizon and run home again, once again pulled out of myself, slightly accepting the inexplicable and taking a deep breath in the reality that we are given work to do and it is ours to do it. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Work Hard, Play Hard

September is here, fall is not. Summer continues here on Dominica as we enter the last semester of med school island life. The last semester. It is hard to believe. And yet, the amount of crazy work we've put in, the hours of emotional stress, relational strain, exhaustion, and odd loneliness definitely adds up to more than these 9 months in my book. 

We've celebrated 2 breaks from school since January. Literally. There are no nights, no weekends. At the end of April/beginning of May, we flew to St. Vincent with Steve and Jenny (another med school island couple) and sailed around the Grenadines, learning how to sail and navigate the breezy Caribbean waters. Seeing these raw wild places from the sea almost seemed more natural than living on the islands. The Grenadines have a similar vibe to Dominica but a different history that makes up their own complicated social and cultural fabric. 

Sailing is not for the faint of heart and much more complicated than those peacefully billowing white sails suggest from the horizon. Our instructor, Bob, and his wife Sueno, patiently taught us the intricacies of the boat and the ways of boatmen. Local boats, painted bright reds, yellows, greens, blues, pinks, and purples, pulled up along side when we moored and offered us fish that hadn't even been to shore yet. We swam with sea turtles and sting rays and finally dug our toes in the famous white sands of the Caribbean. (Dominica only has black sand). We slept in tiny, hard cabins under the boat a few feet from our boat companions, cooked like we were camping, and ate family style meals around the small boat table. We pulled lines in, let lines out, and felt the wind push us from wave to wave. We jumped off of the boat and swam each day, an act which Andy and I counted as our shower... leading to my hair being almost naturally dreadlocked with salt water by the end of the week. 

This peaceful struggle to sail preceded the hardest semester here. I wonder if the sailing experience somehow added to our ability to calmly push through, to adapt, and loll with the waves of the semester.

Our second break, at the end of August /beginning of September was also full of colorful beauty, enthusiastic activity, and exploration together. This time we ventured back to America for a dose of culture shock with friends and family. Our people in Chicago and Minnesota reminded us of the love and comfort of home. It was nerve-wracking to drive on an incredibly fast highway with so many cars. There were so many things, just things, everywhere. Customer service shocked our socks off. My mom surprised us in Minnesota and I dropped all of my things and cried at the airport when I saw her. We talked and shared meals and walks and drives with people that looked at us with familiarity. I loved seeing leaves that weren't shiny and wet and bigger than me... only because thats what feels like home to me. Chicago and MN? Neither of those places are home to Andy and I. But the people there are. 

And there is nothing quite like home. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Hiking, Climbing, Scrambling, Sliding

These four words sum up the majority of land activities in Dominica. This volcanic country is tiny but each excursion into the depths or outskirts of Dominica redefines those four words. This geological drama is breathtaking and humbling. Dominica is part of The Lesser Antilles (see map) which are volcanic islands dotting their way south to South America. Dominica is at the center of these islands and, while they all have one active volcano, Dominica has NINE. (Read here for more info on that.)

To showcase this volcanic wonder, Discover Dominica created The Waitukubuli National Trail, a trail that spans the island, south to north, covering 115 miles of the some of the most diverse hiking, climbing, scrambling, and sliding you can imagine. This trail is fairly new and yet to be discovered by world traveling hikers. The trail is made up of 14 segments, each with its own personality, as the path winds up, across, and around the volcanoes, beaches, waterfalls, and 365 rivers of Dominica. While that trail is incredible, it doesn't even cover it. There are peaks, falls, volcanoes, springs, beaches, rivers, and valleys with jaw dropping hikes all their own. Since January, I've covered 10 of the 14 segments and a smattering of other hikes (which sometimes feel more like swims if its been raining...) and I'm not sure I've seen a quarter of the island yet.

Yesterday, we went to Aba Wavine, a short hike that packs a big punch, on the East side of the island near the Atlantic. It is hard to say this definitively but I think it is my favorite visual experience on Dominica to date. After the climb straight down a cliff to a black sand beach and a spout of a waterfall, we headed to Rosalie to see endangered sea turtles hatch and make their own epic scramble to the sea. I wish I had remembered to take more video but here is a little video compilation plus some photographs.

Nicodemus cutting bark off of a cinnamon tree. 
Starting the short but dramatic decent down to Aba Wavine.  

The Atlantic crashing on the black sands below us. 

Waterfall sighting!

Gorgeous black sand on the Eastern Shore of Dominica.  

Rosalie Bay Resort property.... 
We're going to see the Sea Turtles!!  
Simon digging up the nest of eggs... 
Recording the findings for Simon's turtle records.  
These are endangered species, these beautiful turtles, and Simon does all he can to help them hatch and make it to sea without being poached or eaten. He even sleeps here to keep an eye on the nests...  
One little gal dug her way out of the sand and we got to hold her before letting her make the epic shuffle to the ocean.