Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Thinking Spot

There is a place near my house, some three blocks away, where I walk to several times a week to think. It is a local marina on Lake Michigan with a park and a beach situated at the botton of a steep hill. I did not begin to appreciate such a wonderful place (right near my house) until this year when I began to go there more and more. I go there to think, to dwell upon problems, to create ideas, to rid myself of the constant distractions of school, work, and home. It is a beautiful place.

I leave my house and cross the busy street in front of it, which serves as a reminder that I am, in fact, still in the city. I travel down the sidewalk that leads through a neighborhood of cape cods and ranches that were built in the 30's and 40's. I sometimes look at the houses and admire the unique landscaping in their front yards. I think that, if I could live in another house, I would pick a certain one along that road. The street is lined with trees--oaks and maples, mainly. The branches hang very low at some points so that I must duck under them or let them brush into my face. The people, also, are very friendly and must know that I frequently walk along their street. They wave and say "good morning" every single time I walk past.

The houses abruptly end at a road overlooking the lake, which meets another road leading to the marina. From here I can see a view of the lake from a high point and hear the gentle hissing of the waves. I walk down the roadway to the marina, where I notice the construction of the nearby water treatment plant. It provides a good supply of tap water to my home among others in the city. As the roadway comes to an end, it gives way to an arched, teal footbridge that crosses a wide creek emptying into the lake. People often throw their fishing lines off of this bridge but seldom catch anything besides sucker fish. I prefer just to stand on the bridge and watch across the mouth of the river.

A jetty juts out into the lake, just past the yacht club and the beach. There are chained railings on each side of it, but I like to cross over them and sit on the rocks below. From here I can almost see Michigan on the other side, yet it is still only a blurry haze. I can also see the beach and watch the people swim with their families and friends. A great number of the beachcombers are immigrants from Latin America, so I like to listen to what they are saying and attempt to understand it. But mainly, I merely prefer to listen to the crashing waves and be alone with my thoughts. Any thoughts, really. Whenever I am at home, I become distracted with anything and everything around me. At the lake, the only thing I can do is relax myself and clear my mind. I believe everyone should have a thinking spot and indeed does have one without necessarily knowing it. I have been doing a lot of thinking these past few months and have been coming to the lake several times a week. There has been a need to escape the constant stress of this summer and clear my head of it. And when I decide to turn around and walk back to my house, I know I have reached a greater understanding than before.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Some Posts are not Very Deep

What can I say about July so far? Another roller coaster of a month and, as always, very busy. Between work, band, the nature center, and trying to have a social life, I have not had much time to write a decent post. And this post, although decent, does not have a lot of significance besides informing everyone about how I am doing. As much as I would love to sit down and write about a certain topic (and I do have many ideas), this month has passed very quickly and much of it has been left in the dark on this site. So I am going to use a self-interview format like I do in similar posts. Later this month, I will write about something less generic and possibly put some photos in. Until then, I will fill in the gaps between my last post and this moment.

Q: Where have you been these past few weeks? You haven't posted in a long time.

A: The main reason is that I spent a week in Hayward, Wisconsin, with my family. My uncle rented a house on a lake in the area and much of my mom's family was there. I have never been in that part of the state--it's amazingly beautiful. Just the variety of trees alone is impressive: aspens, firs, red pines, oaks, and quite a few more that I can't name. The lake was also very pristine. And the sunsets alone were worth the trip. Since the house faced to the West on the lake, we got a postcard sunset every night. I'll admit it was nice to get away from the city for awhile, but it was also difficult in some aspects. In the end, we felt it was too soon to gather for a week. Everyone was still very emotional and we weren't sure if the subject of my mom was taboo or not. My dad mentioned it would be a good idea if he, my brother, and I went on a trip just by ourselves later this year. It seemed there were just too many people and too many emotions for one house.

Q: Marching band season has started and you have a new director. How has that been going?

A: In a nutshell, not so good. A few months ago, our middle school band director was laid off because of budget cuts. She was also our head marching band director. When her position was cut, the other two marching band directors turned in their resignation so they could spend more time with family. So, basically, our marching band was left with only our color guard instructor. We were able to hire a new director, who we have worked with for the entire season so far. He is very experienced (a Milwaukee police officer and retired Marine Corps band member) and has a lot of new ideas. These new ideas, however, are replacing the techniques which we had used in previous years. I have a lot of confidence in his ideas and don't mind doing something different, but many others are resisting this change and morale is very low as a result. He is also a bit out of touch and seldom listens to a lot of our own ideas. What I am afraid of is a mass dropout, which would ultimately destroy our band because of its already small size. I can only hope that we can reach a comprimise with our director and work toward a decent score at the State competition.

Q: Are you still working at Hollywood Video?

A: Yes, although I am not glad to say so. The main problem is the store manager. She is constantly disregarding my schedule requests and is giving me more hours than I can handle. I had told her that I need Wednesdays and Thursdays off for marching band, yet she has scheduled me for Wednesday the past two weeks. I gave her my band schedule to reference, but she also managed to have me work during one of my parades. And when I trade with someone to work around those days, she gets angry and asks why I can't work. I also have not gotten a single raise since I began eight months ago, even though the company policy is to offer a raise after ninety days to workers who pass their performance review, which I have not gotten either. I'll be bringing these issues up with her next time I see her...If she doesn't change anything, I could always bring it up with the district manager. The silver lining is that if she fails another store audit, she will likely get fired. We can only hope.

So that's my update on the last month in a nutshell. There's much more to it, but I don't have much time to write about it. Sorry if this sounded a bit like an angry rant at some points. There really are a lot of negative things in this post, but this summer has not been going so well. On a positive note, the past few days have been quite good. I have had a bit more spare time to be with friends and relax. Hopefully, my up cycle will last awhile longer.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Nature Project

At times, I can feel imprisoned while living in the city. At night, I fall asleep to the sound of motorcycles and ambulances rushing down our street. On my way home from work, I pass through five stoplights, three of which I am stopped at every single time. A few times a week, I usually go for a walk in our littered park, which has been a slight reminder that I still have access to some type of environment.

Since I started volunteering at a nature center roughly a half hour away from my house, I have seen it as a brief escape from the city. I am not sure how large it is in acres, but I would say it is at least fifty if I were to guess. I feel at peace when the sun radiates upon me in the prairie, when the blooming spiderwort creates a sea of purple that rocks in the breeze. I love hearing the water crash down into the river from the waterfall at the edge of the lake. The mosquitoes are especially vicious this time of year, yet I have somehow grown to appreciate them as they symbolize the roughness of nature. They show how not everything in nature is beautiful or perfect--they just are.

My first day at the nature center was just over three weeks ago. Each day is centered around a certain project. Mondays, which I usually attend, are dedicated to the phenology hike, where a chart is filled out to show which plants are in bloom. I am the youngest person in the group, by at least fourty years. I was taken aback by their age at first, feeling slightly out of place.

"Who needs to use a big pen for their arthritis?" one of the volunteers had asked.

I simply smiled politely and declined her offer.

The rest of the group, though, contains some of the friendliest and smartest people I have met. Many of them are retired teachers, who have a great knowledge of the local flora and fauna. On Tuesdays, the projects require more manual labor and attract a younger crowd. It is focused around trail maintenance--things like spreading woodchips, pulling invasive plants, and repairing broken bridges and boardwalks. A few weeks ago, after the local flooding had done incredible damage, I helped to repair a broken footbridge and clear the sticks and debris that were damming a creek. Yes, the work is quite exhausting, especially when it is humid and the mosquitoes are dense. But it is the rewarding kind of exhaustion, the kind that lets you know you've worked hard and accomplished something. And there is always something new to accomplish.

I was reluctant to start volunteering at first. After my mother had passed away, I didn't feel a desire to do anything--work, band, seeing friends. I thought my entire summer would be drastically altered. Everything I wanted or had intended to do would be put on hold until the situation would clear up. But I knew such thoughts did not make sense. Change is sometimes inevitable, but the results of change do not have to be. I knew that if I let my grief consume my summer, I would regret it and learn nothing. I knew that my mother would have wanted me to make the best out of my summer, despite the situation. So I decided to give the new project a try and make something of the next few months.

Thus far, I am very satisfied about my decision to start volunteering. It is an important step to becoming an environmentalist, if that ultimately is the field I go into. I have met some very interesting people there and listened to their stories. Some of them are teachers, some are environmentalists, and others are everything from software engineers to construction workers. One of the things I have noticed is the diversity among the volunteers. Before I started, I expected everyone to be either an environmental scientist or a teacher or a naturalist. Contrary to what I first thought, everyone there is decicated to something different and has different stories to tell. I am happy, now, to be a part of that group and preserve a chunk of nature for others to enjoy. It helps to know that I am able to escape the concrete jungle I call home whenever I need to.