bye felicia.

Hold on to the memories, they will hold on to you

New Years Day, Taylor Swift

Hey it’s 2021.

Like many people, my plans for 2020 got upended, twisted, broken, bent. I was supposed to be back in Edinburgh. I should have been halfway through my MSc in Architectural Conservation. In another life, I might have been writing this while drinking coffee in Roseneath’s yellow kitchen after spending Hogmanay with my dearest friends.

Instead, I had to defer my masters. Stay on this side of the ocean. Add another year to the time I haven’t sat across the table from my dearest friends or walked the cobbled streets of the city where I buried my heart. I had to find another path, another way. Take Anne Shirley’s classic bend in the road. But, like I wrote in July:

Not being able to get back to Edinburgh this September is not a setback.  It is just a slight bend in the road.  We’ve all been there and all we can do is continue to move forward.

So, instead I set out to do something on this side of the ocean. I learned how to work with glass and created dozens of stained glass things… windows, flowers, boxes, sun catchers… I also set time aside to write. For the first time in ten years, I finished a manuscript.

I shaped a magical world filled with glittering stained glass and magic mirrors. I saw a young women deep in her fears and anxiety and wrote her journey as she found herself back. The end product was a 100,000-word thing filled with memories and magic. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll get to hold a copy of it yourself.

Then, I joined AmeriCorps as a Team Leader and spent two months working with the Missouri State Parks Department building fire line and restoring native glade environments. I took out my frustrations by kicking down trees and throwing logs in the Ozarks eight hours a day, five days a week. But, as I hung lights and drank my coffee on the porch swing of our little cottage in the Ozark, I knew I was helping our Earth heal. Then through 1 prescribed burn certification, 2 months sleeping on a cot, 8.2 miles of fire line, 10 humans to feed and coordinate, 31 acres burned, and 700 acres of forests, mountains, and glades enclosed I started to mend myself.

hey, this little place is probably going to inspire a book one day. isn’t it?

me post project completion. bruh, she’s ready for a nap.

I saw what lifting up and reaching back really meant. I realized this was how I could make a difference. Here. Now. In the future, when I look myself in a mirror I could say that I was there. Despite everything I was doing something. Using my skills and helping where I could. Being a part of something greater than myself.

It’s together that we are going to get through this.

It’s together that we can create the world of the future.

The kinder world, the smarter world, the beautiful world.

I realized that maybe things suck. But, not entirely.

Historical precedent would tell us that after the plagues of the 14th century, we had an extreme period of creativity, worldly exploration, rebirth. The Renaissance. Humanity’s fear and loss and frustration overflowed into exploration and celebration and memory.

We aren’t there yet, but I can imagine it.

I imagine the day that I can go to my favorite coffee shop again. I’d sit in window. Taking in the golden afternoon sun with a warm mug in both my hands. Or, when I get to browse in a bookshop again. All the stories of hope and love pouring out from worn, wooden shelves. Who knows, I might even find my own words singing out. Or, when I can finally hug my dearest friends after three years. Sing loudly in the car. Kick stones down cobbled streets. I imagine the day when I can finally plant my own roots and move from boxes scattered around my parents’ house, a locker in Colorado, or an attic in Edinburgh to a quiet place with a green velvet sofa with brass fittings. Ivy growing up trellises. Rolling moorlands and roaring seas out the backdoor.

We aren’t there year, but I can imagine it.

So, I guess on this New Years Day I’m holding onto my memories. And, I guess my memories are holding onto me too.

Anyway, bye 2020. Please shut the door on your way out.

belated thanksgiving on a snow day in the ozarks

hello pals!

It’s me, here again to give you another insight into the life of a liminal-space-living-service-minded-individual-in-the-middle-of-a-global-pandemic. As I joked with a few archaeology pals from Bamburgh, the service coverage is a tad better than Northumbria but definitely worse than wading along the Danube in Romania.

The team is heading into the final week before the Southwest Region departs for Winter Break. It’s a lazy Sunday here. Snow is collecting on the cars and I’ve been reading and drinking copious amounts of coffee. You know the like. Tomorrow, we are back out in the mountains building fireline.

Since October, my team has constructed near on 8.2 miles of protective fire line and enclosed over 700 acres of land for the Missouri State Parks Department at the new, underdevelopment Bryant Creek and Ozark Mountain State Parks. The two parks were acquired in 2016 as part of an environmental land settlement due to corporate pollution into public lands and waters. We also worked to clean native plant seeds for a prairie revitalization project happening in the north-central part of the state. Additionally, the entire team was certified with Level 1 Fire Management through the Missouri State Parks with the Missouri Department of Conservation and just this past week assisted with a prescribed burn of 31 acres at Roaring River State Park. Between carrying 45 lbs of water and using the drip torch to set fires… it was a pretty exciting day. Busy stuff, but I am doing what I can to develop future leaders and help America build back better from a safe distance.

At both locations, we are housed out of two vacant houses located within park boundaries and a good drive from the nearest town of any size. I hung up fairy lights over my Government issued cot and between a plastic folding table, metal chair, and a stack of Young Adult fantasy novels, I’ve set up a cozy little space to drink my morning coffee before setting out to throw logs and jog through the forest and mountains eight hours a day, five days a week.

Things have been going. Some days things move quicker. Other days, the weed eaters run out of cord and the chainsaws are blunt. But, that’s the gig ain’t?

Since you’ve last ~officially~ heard from me, the team celebrated Thanksgiving in our ‘lil house in the Ozarks and being the sentimental piece of shite that I am, I got to thinking. Philosophizing. Using my pretentious Edinburgh degree. You know the like.

Out of the last six Thanksgivings, I spent only one in Kansas with my parents, sister, and grandmother. The other five, I was… somewhere, elsewhere, everywhere, and nowhere. Sometimes, I seemed to be in the place I needed to be, but not maybe the place I wanted to be. Or, if I am in the place I wanted to be, I might not be in the place I needed to be.

Each year, somewhere in the world, someone left an empty chair setting for me. This year I received well wishes from Americans, gal pals in England, some rowdy Scots, my dear Norwegians, a lone Lithuanian in the Emirates, and a beetle-chasing boy in Taiwan. 

Over the past six years, Thanksgiving (and I guess the Holiday Time in general) has become a time to understand the sometimes long but all too often fleeting impact I leave. You might never know what you leave with a person, but legacy, impact, whatever word you want to use is all about planting trees you will never see but trusting that they might actually grow. I’ve never been one to plant small trees and I tend to hold a little too tightly onto hope.  

That is what the gig is about, isn’t it?

A home isn’t always a place. Sometimes it’s a group of friends or a state of mind created with something as simple as fairy lights strung over a Government issued cot deep in the Ozarks.

I do feel sad knowing chairs were left empty for me, but I rejoice in knowing that in some way a single, obnoxious American was able to leave enough of an impact on a bunch of rowdy foreign nationals for them to leave that chair.

So, maybe this time of year has become liminal for me. It didn’t matter if I was in a flat in Edinburgh, a bothy near Skye, a farmhouse in Kansas, or a cabin in the Missouri Ozarks so long as I could still look around the table and understand the significance of those gathered. Nationalities represented. States accounted for. For beliefs, race, creed, age, sexual orientation, and gender.

That’s what it’s all about isn’t it? Putting faces to the unknown. Understanding what we don’t. Lifting up and reaching back. Creating spaces to foster new thinking. Helping to move the world forward, together.

I mean, I did decide to do a year of national service and mentor a group of young people during a global pandemic… what did you expect? 

Like I wrote in 2018 when Roseneath hosted a group of 40 odd humans with me acting as the sole American representative: 

As I looked around at my friends, I said that I was thankful for the hope that I saw around our living room in Edinburgh. I was thankful for the hope I saw for the future. I was thankful for the hope vested in my friends from all over the world. I was thankful we were all able to sit down together for a meal. Looking to each one of them, I know that together my friends and I will overcome the bigotry, hatred, and fear seemingly everywhere these days. Even when things seem the darkest, I hold onto that hope I saw in my friends’ faces.

So. Here’s to the place I find myself next week, month, year and the people sat at that table. I’m sure we’ll find something to chat about. 

Right boyos, the team’s just called out me outside and I need to go win a snowball fight. Catch ya l8tr. XD

round 1 project: fireline and forest management

Hey friends! It’s me your community service minded friend here again to let you know the haps and situs I am currently experiencing.

It’s been a while and there’s a lot of ground to cover (hahaha that’s a joke you’ll get a bit).

As you know, I’m currently working as a Team Leader for AmeriCorps NCCC. My team of ten departed from the AmeriCorps Campus a little over a week ago in our black Goverment 15-person van in convoy with our Government issued cargo truck. We drove across Colorado, through Kansas (with an overnight stop in Junction City), before cutting down south to the Ozarks for our Round 1 project. Round 1 covers 6 weeks and we’ve just finished our first full week.

So. What have I been up to? My team is working with the Missouri State Parks department to construct 8.2 miles of protective fireline across two new state parks in the southern Ozarks we are also going to focus on removing invasive cedar trees to clear the land for native plant species. We are going to be receiving Fire Management Level 1 training through the Missouri Conservation Department! Both parks are newly acquired and are vast expanses of predominantly untouched Ozark forest and glades.

Prescribed burns have been used in the area to help protect the natural environment and also prevent wildfires. By scheduling controlled burns, park management can ensure that there isn’t a build of of burnable fuels (leaves, branches, fallen trees, etc) on the forest floors. It also helps to remove invasive species and germinate native plant seeds.

After equipment training and lectures about the science behind prescribed fires, my team set off into the forest. Using backpack leaf blowers, weed eaters, hand saws, and chainsaws we’ve been clearing away previously burnt areas as well as venturing into untouched woodland to connect new lines. This week we constructed roughly 2.2 miles of fireline within the first of the three burn areas.

Firelines are constructed around burn areas to contain flames and also serve as channels for fireteams. To construct one you need to clear a six to eight foot path through the forest, removing all burnable debris until the dry, mineral soil is exposed. Without fuel to burn, the fire will stop at the line. However, this also means that you need to be aware of hanging branches or hazard trees that could collapse or throw embers. That’s were knocking down dead trees or the use of a chain saw comes in.

I spent most of the week with a backpack blower wandering through the forest laying the foundational line or removing debris to widen the line. I also kicked down plenty of dead trees and threw them down a ravine. You know, #justgirliethings.

We’ve been living close to the parks themselves near beautiful areas of untouched nature. Beautiful night skies and quiet, dark forests. It’s been a well received welcome back to the field for me. I’m always happiest outside and surrounded by dirt it seems. Service is limited however, hence the lack of uploaded photos. Soz, babes.

But, it’s all for the greater good.

By helping now to repair and manage these two new parks, my AmeriCorps team will ensure people in the future will be able to enjoy the natural beauty of the Ozarks. In the midst of a global pandemic, it’s about what we can do to help and right now America’s natural environment needs my hands to build it back better.