Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Winter Backpacking

I'm taking a class at UNH this semester called Winter Adventure Experience. The class consists of weekly gatherings on Friday afternoons where we review our winter camping skills and practice Cross Country Skiing. Ultimately, we'll be masters of winter camping and Level 1 Nordic Ski Instructors. It's been a great time on what little snow we've had in New Hampshire this winter. Last weekend, we headed out into Barrington, NH where we camped out at Medums Recreation area.

We all met at New Hampshire Hall to sort out group gear and get our personal gear in order. It looked like a gear yard sale outside of the hall. The weather was great, partly cloudy with temps rising into the low 40's. After getting everything sorted out, we loaded into the vans and headed for Mendums. While at the gate waiting for our Professor and TA's to square the car spot away, we got in our traditional circle and started doing warm up drills to get us ready for the ski in. Eventually, we loaded packs on our back, loaded up our sleds and started the short ski in.

My professor is Laurie who has successfully kayaked across the arctic and a whole boat load of other accomplishments too numerous to list; is probably the most excited of all of us. Her enthusiasm for what we do is contagious and she makes you want to be out there. As someone who hates winter, I was actually really enjoying myself. I had a 55lb pack on my back and was towing about 65 lbs in a sled. I was all smiles, a new way to train.

Once we made it into camp, Katie gave her lesson on Leave No Trace in Winter. This little gem was from the human waste station... I was demonstrating how to eat a pike of sh*t.

I set up my tarp to sleep under for the night, my bunk buddy was Laurie. The other teams set up their tents and tarps in a pretty wide area. Once that was done, I made a killer snow table to place my stove on with my cock partner. I made another table too as a prep station. On our next trip I hope to be a little more involved then this. For lunch, Allison and I made tomato soup with rice, butter and cheddar cheese.

From here we went out into the afternoon sun and enjoyed a wonderful ski tour. Rachel gave her lesson on local history of Mendums. We then bushwhacked through the woods on ski's, and then found our way into a sand parking lot (snow covered) where there was a large gravel pile covered in snow. One at a time, we climbed to the top and either crashed off or skied down practicing our tele landings. We had a lot of fun here. Our tour continued across the ridge of the park, where I led us to a bare spot, careening down an icy hill on my back side while my legs got hung up in trees. Not a pretty sight.

Our evening entertainment came courtesy of Will and Alyssa. The 8th Grade prom went off without a hitch. We all dressed in appropriate attire. Myself in a bo peep skirt, tuxedo shirt and my fleece bear hat. Life was good. We munched on appetizers of Shrimp Cocktail, chips and salsa, cookies and candy. The music was all of our favorite early 90's songs, and we all took turns in the dance circle before huddling around our evening fire. An amazing time was had by all before retiring to bed. Temps dipped into the 20's at night. I was in my negative 15 sleeping bag, not realizing that an insulated flap covers the zipper area. In turn, cold air flowed into my bag all night while I lay awake shivering trying to figure out why I was cold.

The next day we reviewed our Nordic Ski Lesson Plans.. and got ready to head on home. A short orienteering course on snowshoes, packing up camp and the short ski out saw the end of a successful weekend. Our next trip is the weekend of March 5th, where we'll spend 2 nights in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Boston Experience - Part 3

We woke up in Cambridge, from a sound slumber on the apartment floor of a complete stranger. The apartment is much cooler then it had been about 12 hours before. Our first task was to call our professor to hell her our plans for getting back outside. We slowly munched on muffins and continued to talk about what had happened the day before and try to get some real meaning out of it. Upon our return to South Station, we had to give a 10 minute lesson on what we'd learned on our journey in the city. We started to formulate a plan for our lesson.. and finally headed back out into the chilly city air. It was in the mid 20's this morning with a biting wind blowing in off of the Harbor. As we wandered down the streets through Cambridge, we passed a building with a large mural on its side. Upon looking at it.. it struck me. This idea of human needs.. dignity... all rolled into one mural. A painting depicting people helping people. Brothers, sisters, neighbors... in this mural it mattered not the color of your skin.. what mattered on the faces of those painted.. was the simple idea of a smile.

We walked into a Dunkin' Donuts after seeing a Cambridge police Officer walk in. He stood in what little of a line there was for that time of the morning.. waiting to order his coffee. I walked up to him and told him about our class and asked if I could ask him a question. He turned to me with his black sunglasses still on... because it's so damn sunny inside Dunkin's... and said, "What?" I asked if Social Justice was a part of the mission of his Department or his job. He said, "NO" I turned my head and shot back with a sharp, "really?" He didn't care for my questioning his answer to much to which he replied.. "No... as far as we're concerned, you break the law you pay." I was so struck by his demeanor.. his answer... what a JERK!

We continued to walk down the street when we soon past two men standing under the awning of a local business. Both of these men looked hold, hands stuffed in pockets, shifting from side to side as they stood. I asked if either of them could use a sweatshirt to which one of the men said "No.. but my friend here could." I took out a red fleece sweatshirt and in following the rules, I asked him to tell me something about himself. He grabbed the sweatshirt and held it up in front of his face like any average shopper would do within the confines of a clothing store. He looked it over, turned it around.. and when I saw his face next.. all I could see was the gigantic smile he was wearing. So distracted by his new item he asked, "What do you need?" I asked him to tell me something again, "I just got out of prison.. I'd served 6 months." When I asked why, he answered with a smile, "Assault and battery on a Police Officer." I shook his hand and turned to walk away... it wasn't until we had walked a bit down the street that my group mates told me the man wanted a hug. I didn't pick up on it then.. but in hindsight I realized that indeed he did. So elated and happy was he.. that the form of payment he wanted to give was a hug. Imagine.. something so simple.. for something... so simple. This notion.. this idea has moved me in many ways in the days since the experience.

We headed down to JFK Street to find out who's office was at 51 JFK Street apartment 304. Upon entering the lobby we found a listing for Dewey, Cheatum and Howe.. Attorney's at Law. Of course, these would be the attorneys for "The Car Guys" on NPR... or are they? We walked across the Harvard Bridge.. and began our long walk back into downtown Boston.

We walked down Comm Ave past BU.. Past Fenway and right back into the heart of the city. Down onto Newbury Street.. we made our way to The Christian Science Center.. but it was closed. So we made our way into the Prudential Center Tower to see if we could get to the "Top of the Hub" restaurant, the most expensive place to eat in the city. The restaurant was closed, so we took a ride to the 50th floor.. the observation deck. Upon stepping out of the elevator we found out that it was $12 just to look out the windows.. the experience was starting to click in with me.. we asked what the price was upstairs for a certain Bottle of wine and the Caviar Appetizer... the total for just those 2 items tops out at $1,900... and there you have it.. This entire experience summed up in one stop. Out on the streets, a woman is homeless... getting kicked off the side walk for looking "bad." College kids are getting a free canoli.. and at the highest point.. the mecca of the city, you can blow 2 Grand on a bottle of wine and some fish eggs... The poor get poorer.. the rich get richer.. and that word Dignity.. is a farce and/or forgotten. I suddenly hate the city more now then ever before and my only wish is to go home.

We went to the Boston Public Library... but it was closed. I picked up a heart handband from a trash barrel and put it on my head in honor of Valentines Day. We walked into Cheers and got a few match books. Then across the common, past Make Way for Ducklings, past the ice rink and up into a burial ground. Here we ran into some classmates, also paying patriotic tribute to Mr. John Hancock.

From here... it was back to South Station where we met up with our class. We all got in a circle while the Professor laid out a spread of food on the ground. She gave us freedom to attack... and boy did it. I was starving.. having survived my own personal challenge of not eating or drinking munch. I put kit kats on plain bagels and munched down. So yummy for some odd reason. From here.. all groups gave their 10 minute presentations. For ours.. we asked the class that if anyone had any money left of the $2.. to take it out. We gave them 4 options. 1.) Do Nothing 2.) Give someone in the class a huge 3.) Give someone in the class your money, or some of your money. 4.) Give a hug and money. The class did their thing.. even welcoming a stranger into the circle whom I gave a dollar I received to. We then spent our time talking about this idea of dignity and why some folks gave their money back to those whom gave it to them. The money, representing something they worked very hard for and to keep through the last 24 hours.. so willing to give it away... receive it.. or not.. We talked about the idea of capitalism and how it is ruining this idea of dignity and denying humans of their basic needs. How the rich are getting richer and are uninterested in helping us unless it benefits themselves.. and how the poor.. and suffering more now then ever.

Mission accomplished... the experience was eye opening for me and in some cases life changing. A hug means more to me now then ever and so does simply saying hello.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Boston Experience - Part 2

Continued From Part 1
We left Haymarket and headed North into Boston's historic North End by continuing to follow the Freedom Trail, a red brick trail that traverses the historical roots of Boston. Once we leave the Quincy Market/Fanuel Hall area of town, it's like walking through a time warp into Boston's Italian North End. Little Italy is quaint, cute and expertly painted from top to bottom and provides you the feeling like you've just walked into a mini-venice. We stroll along the sidewalk until we reach Mike's Pastries, a staple Italian Bakery which usually sports a line out the door and half way down the block. A this time of day, there is little business inside. Katie and Marion head inside to get us a Canoli for the Scavenger Hunt.. John and I decide to interact with a homeless woman. She sat on a milk crate with a single brown clove cigarette in her hand. She's wrapped up in 2 or 3 zip up sweatshirts, no hat, no gloves. John kneels down next to her and asks if she could use a pair of gloves, "Yes." "Do you mind if we ask you something about yourself?" She begins to tell us about herself. She's been homeless for 5 years, originally from the Chelsea area. Her family lives in Virginia. We decided to ask her more questions to fulfill other assignment obligations through the investigation of the Socio-Econimic make-up of the city. We asked her if she had a job, "Yes" What is it? "This is it.. I sit here and collect change." What do you like most about your job? "People watching.. talking to people." "What do you hate most about your job? "When people tell me to get a job... this IS my job. This is my job." When then had to ask her what she felt was the biggest day to day issue facing the people who live and work in Boston. "You can;t sit outside Haymarket from 12 to 3. If you do, they kick you out and fine you $100... that I don't have." We then asked how the business owners of the North End treated her, "they'll kick me off the sidewalk in about 5 or 10 minutes." We asked where she slept to which she told us about the shelters with no beds, no pillows, no covers. Just homeless people herded in like cattle and sleeping on the floor. We had a discussion about being homeless, "Do you own a lease?" "No.. I signed a lease." "Then you're homeless," she says, "You're homeless unless you OWN a lease. Just then.. the girls came out with the canoli and we thanked Chris for her time.

As we began to walk up the street the girls told us they had gotten the Canoli for free. They tried to barter for it with a womens size 8 Golite Shows.. but the baker at Mike's decided that it was an unfair trade and gave it to them for free. I was outraged because of this. A homeless woman simply trying to get some change on the sidewalk, get kicked out because she looks bad for business.. while the young college kids can score a free bite to eat. I wanted to head back and give Chris the Canoli, but we decided to hang onto it incase we needed it. This definition of Social Justice...basic human needs with a sense of dignity.. our interaction with Chris continued to challenge my thoughts and inner most feelings.. I was becoming rather emotional and for the first time in awhile.. empathetic. We continued to walk through the North End, past Paul Revere's statue and past a memorial for Afghanistan soldiers. We stopped to take it in and as the wind blew.. the dog tags all chimed. We walked past the Old North Church and into Cobb's Burial Ground, down Rutland Street.. and then finally across the Bridge into Cambridge.

Our next stop was the USS Constitution, or better known as "Old ironsides." We walked through the security checkpoint and into the museum where we met our tour guide naval officer. We had some questions to ask him and he shared with us his favorite dessert recipe. We stepped onto the boat and took a short tour before deciding to head on out. From here we walked towards the top of Bunker Hill... We'd spoken to the middle class earlier in a Barnes and Noble... the biggest issue facing the people of Boston in their eyes is "getting their coffee order right." Now, in the higher end neighborhood near Bunker Hill.. we sought out one last social group. A man came walking down the street with his dog Lucy. We stopped him as he allowed us to ask our questions. In receiving his answer we found out he was the local pastor on his way to the church. We asked if he had any volunteer work for us to do... and we soon found ourselves in the basement of the rectory. While here, the women of the church fed us Key Lime Pie in return for our helping them load and unload food for the after church buffet. We carried the food upstairs, loaded it into one of their cars and then headed down the hill to unload. Here, we entered St. Mary's Church, carrying food... and upon our walking upstairs.. we were stunned by the beauty and architecture. We were fed a finger sandwich each before thanking them for allowing us to help, answering our questions and eventually even offering us a place to stay. it was only 3pm.. we had much more ground to cover.

We left the church and headed for the Bunker Hill Monument. Ever since I could remember, I recall seeing this monument on the way into the city from the North. Finally.. here I was at the base and then climbing the 300 step concrete spiral staircase to the top. We had another question to answer "Where does the stainless steel staircase go at the top." Answer: No where! We took a few photos, turned around and headed back down to the bottom. We stopped in the park below and reflected on what we'd accomplished so far. It was now 3:15ish... and we decided to head for Harvard.. some 4-5 miles away.

We started walking.. and we walked... and walked and walked all along the Charles River from one end of the city to the other. While walking Marion called a friend of hers who lived in Harvard trying to find us a place to stay. We scored! We arrived at Harvard sometime after dark... We stopped at the Harvard Lampoon whose most famous grad is Conan O'Brien. Then, off to central square to find the apartment of Marions Friend.

We checked in with our professor so she knew where we were, entered the warmth of this classic Cambridge College Apartment, and settled in for some good food. Marions friend made us stuffed eggplant, pasta with alfredo and mushrooms, and raw carrots. Bread, butter and cheese abound.. .all I ate was a few slices of bread, drank some water and a few handfuls of Pasta.. avoiding the mushrooms. I hate being a picky eater.. but then again.. I wasn't THAT hungry. The muffins that were made were warm, filled with apple and nuts.. and delicious. The apartment was warm and friendly. We reviewed the day before turning on the olympics. I put on a leopard print snuggie.. and settled in on the floor for the night. I'm safe.. I have a roof over my head.. and now broke. I fell asleep with my thoughts on capitalism, corruption, homelessness, winter, weather, people... humanity. I'm more lost now then when I first stepped out of South Station.

Continued with PART 3 HERE

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Boston Experience - Part 1

This past weekend I, along with my classmates, was dropped off in the middle of Boston. My group consisted of Marion, John and Katherine. We each had on our person $2, something patriotic we were willing to relinquish, an article of clothing we were OK with giving away, an item to barter with, $40 in a sealed envelope and one charged cell phone to be used to communicate with our instructor and/or emergencies only. Upon arriving in the city, we were handed a large packet explaining the actual assignment as well as a 2 page list of scavenger hunt items. Each item was worth a predetermined amount of points. I'm not sure how to go about telling you the tale of 24 hours in Boston.. I couldn't possible give you ALL of the info from this amazing experience. I am determined to do my best to relay to you the journey we took, the places we went and to tell you a little bit about my thoughts post event. The major assignment was to investigate, on our own, the large disparities in the socio-economic status amongst the residents of Boston and Cambridge. We also needed to explore the many different cultural communities of the city and explain how they contributed to the fabric of social/cultural/economic life in Boston
The bus from Durham brought us right to South Station where we received our assignment. After viewing the scavenger hunt items, we decided to head to China Town first give its proximity to our current location. Before going there, we scoured South Station for a free map of the city. Imagine if you will being dropped off in the city with nothing more then $2. Part of what makes a city tick is the idea of consumerism. Everywhere we turned and looked right from the get go, we saw nothing but people spending... spend spend spend.. and for the first time in the hundreds of time I've been into this city I could do nothing more then watch it happen. It's hard not being able to participate in it.. and frustrating just the same. We finally found a few free maps that would do us just fine, after time spent browsing through maps that cost anywhere from $4-15.

Form South Station we made our way into China-Town. We decided that our first task was to buy some Egg Noodles (4 points). We walked the streets of China town and really had an opportunity to see how this neighborhood works. There is a hustle and bustle here, fueled by both the Chinese and tourists. We ended up walking into one of the many markets on the hunt for our noodles. We found some here for $1.. and I decided to spend one of my $2 on the bag of dry noodles all the while taking in the scene of chinese culture in Boston.

Back on the street, my team mates were trying to find us a place to volunteer at. This was one of the bigger point getters of the hunt.. to volunteer at a place for 30 points for each half hour. We had to do work that would not normally earn someone a pay check. We were pointed in the direction of the local shelter and continued to walk the streets. China Town continued to be an interesting place.. I won't tell you what restaurant this little piggy went into, nor how far it travelled in the basket, nor how many times it was touched in an unsanitary way.

We made our way into the St. Francis House. Upon walking into the front door we encountered a medal detector as well as a few guards who were scanning people down. We explained our desire to volunteer some time to which they allowed us to enter. I set the metal detector off, given the fact that I had a knife in my bag.. they never even looked. After walking through the metal detector we stood next to the Front Desk being manned by Boston Police. As we stood there it wasn't hard to think about how the underprivileged/homeless were being treated like criminals. (More on this later) The director of the facility came down to talk to us about volunteering. We immediately discovered the volunteers have to go through an extensive application process. In other words... volunteering our time for an hour was NOT an option. Instead we asked if Social Justice was a part of the mission of St. Francis.. it is.. and how the woman would define Social Justice. Her definition was basically "providing people with basic human needs with a sense of dignity." This statement became the basis of my weekend.. my every investigation was centered around human needs.. and dignity. After an interesting discussion with a male prostitute.. still trying to figure out what he said, we made our way back out onto the street and headed north.

We walked through Down Town Crossing, past the Old South Meeting House. I stopped into a gold shop to get my bartering item appraised.. convinced I'd sell it there to get money for food. The gold dealer laughed at the watch I gave him.. what I thought was an expensive Christmas gift turned out to only be worth $10. Thoughts of re-gifting floated in my head. We continued to make our way towards Fanuel Hall/Quincy Market. Fanuel Hall had it's usual luster today. Tourists walking everywhere, looking for ways to needlessly spend their money. I'm all ready beyond disgusted with the idea of capitalism. I'm disgusted with people... I'm homeless broke.. and my mind is spinning. We walk into Bill Rodgers Running Center where we acquired a piece of Boston Sports Memorabilia. I took this photo of Rami the Salami.. something about how simple it is to share a smile.. in this case with a young one.

We then made out way over to the Holocaust Memorial. Our task was to find a quote there that resonated with us. Such a sobering place to walk under the pillars of the holocaust memorial. We stopped and read everything... even finding the quote that matched perfectly with this adventure... and perhaps even the adventure known as life. So I found this one.. that moved me deeply.

"Ilse, a childhood friend of mine, once found a raspberry in the camp and carried it in her pocket all day to present to me that night on a leaf. Imagine a world where your entire possession is ONE raspberry and you give it to your friend."

We left the memorial and headed for Haymarket where one of our tasks was to buy something from a vendor there. I was starving at this point.. and I used my last dollar t buy 10 Bananas. Yes, 10 (TEN) Bananas for one dollar. I carried the bag away form Haymarket sharing my new wealth with my classmates. We started to think about plans for a place to stay for the night.. we had none. While some of my classmates brought food and had friends to call in the city for a place to stay.. I was determined to experience the life of poverty. We left Haymarket and started heading for the North End.. our adventure still new was only just beginning. We've been wandering the city for a mere 3 hours... with more then 20 to go.

Continue to part 2