Tuesday, January 06, 2009

O! To be a peasant again - visiting Babcia's village in Poland

I'm not sure exactly what I had in mind when I decided I ought to visit the village my great-grandparents' came from.My great-grandmother - we all called her "Babcia", which means grandmother in Polish - lived to be 106, so she was someone I had known personally but knew little about. I figured I was now visiting Poland for the third time, and why hadn't I bothered to do this before? I'm not into geneaology or anything, but finding this village couldn't be too difficult, since my great-uncle Tony visited there in 1988.
That must not have been a very good trip, by the way. 1988 was not a good time in Poland; I remember him telling me not to visit Poland, because it was so poor. The people in the village had offered him a pear. It was the best pear they had, but Uncle Tony described it as a terrible pear. I think it was a sad experience for him.
But, it my two previous visits to Poland, in 2000 and 2001, I had nothing but good thoughts. Sure, there were large grey Communist-looking apartment blocks, as in the rest of Eastern Europe, but the people seemed filled with optimism. They were free of Soviet shackles, and about to join the European Union, the most exclusive club of rich countries. The skies may have been gray, but the future was bright.
And so, my motivating philosphy in visiting Kobylin-Kruszewo – Babcia's village – was, Why not? It was there, and I would be there, and by this point I was undaunted by traveling in Poland. Of course, none of my friends lived near Kobylin-Kruszewo (pronounced “kru-SHAY-vo” – w's in Polish are pronounced as v's), which is in northeastern Poland, near Bialystok. But surely this couldn't be much of an obstacle. Somebody would help me.
So I arrived in Poland with almost no information on my antecedents. A friend of mine had made a similar visit to his great-grandparents village in Slovenia a few years ago, and he regaled me with tales of old-timers who knew his relatives buying him beers and getting him drunk. Surely this would be my experience, too!
Everything started off fine. I had gone to the website couchsurfing.com, which is a place where travelers can find people willing to host them in their homes. I searched the profiles around Bialystok, and focused on one: Sylwia, who lived in a village somewhere near Lapy, and had a car that sometimes ran. She seemed nice person, who had similar interests in the outdoors as me. I sensed she would be willing to help me. I contacted her; she was a lawyer and very busy, but she agreed to help me, as long as I came on a weekend. This was no problem, I assured her.

The time arrived in December, after I had been traveling in Europe over a month, and was circling back to Poland to head home. Sylwia lived with her parents in a house outside Lapy; her father, a mechanic, raised pigs as a hobby and killed one on the day I arrived, so we had an excellent – and very fresh! - pork dinner. Sylwia amazed me, because she was in the middle of a big, important case and had to do tons of research over the weekend, but she still made time for my little project.
On Sunday, after Sylwia spent the morning in the law library in Bialystok, we headed to Kobylin-Kruszewo. It is a very small village, of maybe 30 houses. There are no store, bar, post office, or church. And, seemingly, no people. We saw some cows, and some dogs. Sylwia knew what to do; she found the house of the town's “head man” - it had a label on the front saying as much. After a fair amount of knocking, this person showed up, and Sylwia quizzed him on the whereabouts of Sikorskis, Grodskis (Babcia's maiden name), and anybody who might be related to them. The man said that almost everybody in the town was a relative newcomer, and that there were no Sikorskis or Grodskis. Sylwia asked me if I knew the names of anyone who had stayed behind; I did not. We wandered about the village some more – it was nice, really. The homes all faced a large pastureland with a creek running through it, and there were woods behind that. We encountered two elderly villagers, and Sylwia asked them similar questions. They didn't know of any Sikorskis or Grodskis, either.

We drove to the next village, Kobylin-Borzymy, which was a bigger village. We went to the church there, where the priest showed us a shelf full of antique books listing all the births, deaths, marriages, etc., that had taken place over the past 200 or so years. I knew Babcia had been born on July 2, 1879, so we looked for that... but the elegant calligraphy in the books was not in Polish – it was in Russian! Apparently this area was controlled by Russians at that time, and everything had to be written in that language and alphabet. Which was kind of difficult for all of us: me, Sylwia, and two priests. I even had the Cyrillic alphabet cheat-sheet I made in Ukraine, which was a little bit helpful... but it would have been more helpful if the priests in those days wrote in big block letters, rather than fancy script.

But... we found her name! Teofila Grodska... or Grodskaya, as they Russianification would have it. (Okay, this photo is really blurry, but trust me on this.)

It was there in the book, and we looked for an address to maybe find out where she lived, but no luck. Sylwia wondered if I knew when she was married, or other names of relatives, but no. She also wondered how I could come to this village with so little information, but really, all my friend did in Slovenia was mention his name and the old-timers had a big party, so why should my experience be any different? Of course, my village had almost no people in it. (She also admitted that she didn't know the names of her great-grandparents, so it's not just me!)
So we went back to the village and took some more photos. Sylwia seemed a little disappointed, and said I should find out more from Uncle Tony and then she would return and find out more on her own. She was determined – perhaps more than me? It was odd. I was pretty happy to see my village and how they lived. I mean, they were farmers. It's something I figured out before, but it's interesting to see it in front of you – the land, the barns, the cows. Babcia's son Henry, my grandfather, born in the USA, was a New York City policeman, and my father is an engineer. Farming seems rather foreign to me. Yet here was the proof – Sylwia said no one could live here and not be a farmer, because that was all there was. And so, this is part of who I am. That to me was a success.
After returning home I called Uncle Tony and found out some more information. While he didn't have any addresses and didn't know the names of any relatives who stayed behind, he did tell me that Marcelli Sikorski, my great-grandfather, came from a different village, Sikory-Pawlowieta, farther down the road. The two didn't meet there, they met in America, and were married at a church in Brooklyn. Babcia had left from Bremen, Germany, on a ship called the Weimar in 1901. Uncle Tony had had copies of both birth certificates translated from the Russian, and confirmed that the parents had been part-owners of farms.
I passed this information along to Sylwia, who remains determined to figure out my past. It looks like I'll have to go back to Poland again. Sooner or later, there will be a party for me, I'm sure of it.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Istanbul to Rivne, Ukraine - The Hard Way

The easy way, of course, would have been to fly. But when you're short on money and long on time, a 40 hour journey doesn't sound that bad. Adventure in foreign lands! Indeed.
And really, it started off fine. My Turkish friend Selim Cor rode the city bus and tram through the middle of Istanbul to the bus company office with me, and we said our goodbyes. I was going to take a 12-hour bus to Bucharest, and the train to Ukraine from there. I was very early; there were two buses headed to Bucharest, and mine was slated for 3:30 p.m., a half an hour later than the other one. While waiting, I met a Romanian student on an Erasmus exchange at Istanbul University, named Bogdan Constantinescu, who was headed home to Bucharest. He informed me of three things: 1) the bus would arrive in Bucharest in the dead of night nowhere near the train station, which is where I needed to go; 2) the taxis would definitely try to rip me off; and 3) his sister might give me a ride... if I showed up at the bus station at the same time he did. He was on the earlier bus.
So, a race to Bucharest! But it wasn't much of a race, really – my bus already caught up to his by the time we reached the Bulgarian border. That's a two-hour stop, by the way – you have to stop at the duty-free shop, of course (a great place to buy Turkish raki), and then there's the getting out of Turkey, and then there's the getting into Bulgaria, with long waits checking passports and visas and whatnot, and somewhere there's customs, and of course most of the Turks on the bus were hauling tons of goods for sale in Bulgaria... although our driver must have paid off the right people, because at one point when we were waiting outside the bus, a passenger implored us to run back onto the bus, and the driver ran on, too, and we sped across the border... without customs checking out a single thing in the luggage compartment.
At this point we were well ahead of the other bus... but we gave them time to catch up to us at the next stop, a row of Bulgarian roadside stands. It seemed to be for loading up on bric-a-brac one might have forgotten to pick up in Turkey. Amply loaded, the next stop was for gas. I was pretty confident at this point that our speedy driver would see us to Bucharest before the other bus.
Oh, I also picked up a stray along the way – a New Zealander named Tom Welch who had bicycled from London to Istanbul, and was now on his way back. He had the same dilemma as me – needing a ride to the train station at 3 o'clock in the morning. And while he had given his bicycle away to a lucky young Turkish kid, he did manage to pick up several traditional Turkish musical instruments in Istanbul. Plus my ample luggage, and Bogdan's ample luggage, and Bogdan's sister brought their mother along to welcome his home, and this is not a very big car we're talking about here...
Did I mention that Bogdan had a party on his bus? I'm realizing this story is not traveling in a particularly linear fashion, but I mean, come on – while Tom and my bus was hellbent for Bucharest, Bogdan's assistant driver had broken out a bottle of champagne and was offering it as a prize to the best dancer. Dancing champagne party! This is what happens when you have a choice of buses in Istanbul, apparently: one is the fast one, and the other is the party one. Next time I'll know to pick the party one.
So where am I? Oh, yes, in a mysterious bus parking lot somewhere in Bucharest, Romania, creating a comedy routine of making big luggage fit in little car at 3 a.m. Lucky for Tom and me, the Bogdan family thinks picking up random foreigners in the middle of the night is highly amusing. Somehow we manage to cram everything, musical intruments and all, into the car's various crevices, and we're off... on a tour of Bucharest! Bogdan's mom points out the parliament building off in the distance, which is in fact the second-largest building in the world, by volume, after the Pentagon. All we can see are the lights on the roof, but that's pretty good for a free dead-of-night tour, no?
Railway station at last. It's closed till 4:30. We have an hour to kill. We – and by we I mean all of us: me, Tom, Bodgan, sister Andrea, and mother Luiza – visit a gas station/cafe. Despite Tom's and my desire to pay for coffee for them all, Romanian hospitality wins the night. The three of them all speak excellent English, and are happy to have this unusual opportunity to be our hosts.
4:30 – back at the train station. While we can now get into the building, the international ticket office doesn't open till five. We wait some more. Finally, the window opens. While I did my homework and diligently wrote down the names, numbers, and times of the trains I intended to take to Ukraine (I really wasn't expecting to have three translators!), Tom was flying by the seat of his pants, and really didn't have a clue as to where he wanted to go or when he wanted to go there, as long as he ended up in Dresden by whenever. Or something along those lines. He was up for pretty much anything, and he and Bogdan were having long negotiations with the ticket lady. Meanwhile, the young woman on line behind us overhead all the translating, and she wanted some of that good stuff, too. Can I tell you how nice it is to have someone translate for you during these sort of instances? Yes, I can – just you wait.
So this woman, whose name was Lutse, was Hugarian, from Budapest. Naturally Bogdan and company were enjoying translating so much they agreed to do it for her, too... and Tom had just decided to travel to Budapest, so he and Lutse could be train buddies! And, while we were all waiting at the platform, she even told him she would be his guide for Budapest. Lucky Tom!
Thus ends the English-speaking segment of my journey.
Which is not to say the honeymoon was over. My train, though by no means new, was uncrowded and more than amply comfortable. It was headed all the way to Moscow, and even though I was traveling during the day, I was given a sleeper compartment, which I had all to myself. Traveling in style! While Bogdan's family may be disappointed to hear it, I'm not ashamed to say I slept through all of Romania.
Till the border, that is. I'm always confused by border crossings – someone wants to wake me up, someone wants to know what my deal is, I always know six words in one language or another and I always use the wrong language for the wrong dude... The leaving of Romania wasn't bad, but the Ukrainians had very probing questions as to my business, what I was carrying, how much money I had, and they did a bit of poking around in my luggage. Not bad or anything, and their English was very good. There was this whole cast of characters who would show up, one or two at a time. At past crossing they'd always been guys, but Ukraine has a more progressive system, I guess. Two female passport checker ladies came one – one was very tall and beautiful and nice, and wore camoflage and a furry hat, and the other was straight out of central casting for the not-nice Ukrainian border lady. In fact, I could swear Cate Blanchette used her as the template for her character in the last Indiana Jones movie – right down to black straight-bang haircut.
So, the tall, beautiful border lady was very nice indeed. I told her I had left out the address of my friend Vova Lypchuk in Rivne on the form, because I didn't know it, and she sympathetically mentioned this to the not-nice one, who grumbled but let it slide. Then they left... with my passport in the nice lady's hand.
Which was fine – I figured they just had to go to the official stamping booth to run it under the official ultra-violet passport detector machine and give it its official stamp. So I just waited.
And waited. And waited. I grew concerned. When the train started to move, I grew extremely concerned, and made a desperate plea to the conductor: “Passport???”
“Passport, da, da, da,” she said dismissively.
What does this mean? I mean, I know it means, “Passport, yes, yes, yes,” but what did she mean by that? The train was moving very, very slowly. After 200 meters, it stopped. Then it started moving again. Then it stopped again. There only appeared to be two of us in this railcar besides the conductor – me and this little old bubushka lady. We were both standing in the aisle, looking out the window. I was looking out the window wondering what was going on. Was she looking out the window wondering what was going on, or was she just looking out the window? Had they taken her passport, too? Was she worried? She appeared calm. Why was she calm?
The train started moving again. Alarmed, I once again pleaded with the conductor: “Passport?”
This time she said, “Don't worry!”
Ah, English, Don't worry, music to my ears! No, I wouldn't worry. I would just sit there, not worrying at all.
The train stopped again. We couldn't have been more than 500 meters from where I last saw my passport. The train started heading back in the other direction – could it be? No. It stopped again. What was going on?
I decided that they were changing the wheels of the train to fit Ukrainian tracks. We weren't being jacked up off the ground or anything, but I was alone in my Anglophonicity and this is what I came up with. We went back and forth and stopped like this for about an hour and a half. That was when we every so slowly rolled back to the site-of-passport-last-seen, and the passport ladies came back on and gave me back my passport. Silly American!
But that is not where the fun and weirdness ends – oh, no. Not budging an inch from that spot, it was apparently determined that we were now officially in the Ukraine, and the old bubushka lady got off the train – she had to endure all that with her station right there! And some other ladies got on. I couldn't figure out what their deal was – they passed by, muttering something in a foreign tongue, and I just shook my head and they left. A few minutes later one of them came back, right into my compartment, and handed me a paper plate with some pierogies on it. I thought she was giving it to me for free, but it soon became apparent that she wanted money for it. Well, I was a bit hungry, and I had some Romanian money left over that I didn't know what to do with, so I inquired if she would take that. Affirmative. Of course, I was only in Romania for a little while, and hadn't quite figured out the money yet. I handed her some change. No, that wouldn't be enough... but then she handed me a beer. Why yes, I could use a beer, thank you! Oh, right, she hands things first, then wants money for them. I wasn't used to this system. I handed her some one lei notes... she'd take a bunch of those, yes, but more. Somewhere another beer got handed to me – thank y... right. More money. I was having trouble this. Somewhere along the line I discovered that the word “Nyet” is in my vocabulary, and it seemed to work quite well. “Nyet. Nyet. Nyet.” I just had to keep doing this. I wish I had figured this out sooner, though – I had already paid, what? Eight, 12, 15 dollars? For two beers and some cheese blintz things? The total value is probably less than $2, now that I know what I'm doing. Well, heck, Tom gave away his bicycle, I could at least give away some Romanian money for no apparent reason.
Onward. It wasn't long before the train stopped in the small city of Chernovcy, Ukraine, where I had a four-hour layover. I also had to reserve my sleeper bed for the next train, to Zdulbunov. After that I had a five-minute layover, then a ½ hour train to Rivne.
Simple, right? No. The train lady seemed a bit baffled by my list – of course, she didn't speak any English, nor did anybody, apparently, in Chernovcy. I'm not sure how much she cared for the Latin alphabet, either. This was my first real immersion into the world of Cyrillic spelling, and if you think not understanding the language is bad, try not being able to read it, either. Exciting! Especially if your train ticket person has an idea that it would really great for you to have to wake up at 4:12 a.m. and switch to another train in the middle of the night in some random location. Which appeared to be the case. She also wanted to charge me for the sleeper bed, although I thought I had paid for that in Bucharest. Ah, well, maybe not... but that meant I would have to find a Bankomat or money exchange place, and there didn't appear to be one in the train station. Did I mention that my rolly suitcase has a flat tire? Yes, it happened in the Czech Republic, the wheel bent and got jammed, so I started dragging it, and that flattened it out... 8 countries later, give or take, the wheel is now triangular, and not very pleasant to drag. Especially on cobblestones and up and down sidewalk curbs, of which Chernovcy has plenty. But the Bankomat was not too far, and I was soon back to the ticket lady. Who, I think not only charged me for the sleeper bed, but gave herself a tip as well. It's hard to say for certain.
Ah, well. I still had a few hours in Chernovcy. What to do? The station seemed mildly entertaining: There were a lot of stray dogs who lazed about on the chairs, and a cleaning lady who threatened them with a mop. Then she threatened the drunks who were sleeping with a mop. Then she threatened me with a mop.
I had a mission: to find a telephone card so I could call Vova with an update. There was a pay phone with telephone card slot at the station, but the lady in the shop right next to it had no idea what I was talking about. She got a policeman to help, and he asked to see my passport. They were amused by my mime routine of me phoning Vova on a pay phone using telephone card, but baffled as to how they could help.
I left my suitcase at the train station storage area, and headed up the hill into town. There were pay phones every 20 meters or so, and plenty of small shops of the type that sell telephone cards in every other city in Europe, yet none of these shops sold telephone cards. I went to the town square. There were young people walking around, with the women wearing knee-high stilletto-heeled boots and tight pants or miniskirts. This, I've discovered, is the official uniform of Ukrainian women.
I went into a restaurant that had a picture of something resembling a pizza on the sign. There was a teenaged boy working inside. I looked at a menu – all Cyrillic, no pictures. “Pizza?” I asked. The boy nodded and pointed to the whole menu. It was completely incomprehensible. I just pointed at something and hoped for the best. How bad could it be?
It turned out to be ham and cheese and ketchup and sour cream and maybe a few other things. Not bad, really, although it smelled like pickles even though there weren't any pickles on it.
The town wasn't very exciting, so I headed back to the train station and waited there. Eventually the train showed up, and I found my seat, although it appeared it wasn't a sleeper bed. But... a guy spoke English! He looked at my tickets. It turned out that I didn't have to switch trains in the middle of the night – my two tickets were for the same train. And as for the last leg, from Zdulbunov to Rivne, he informed me that Zdulbunov was only a few kilometers from Rivne. He let me borrow his mobile phone and I called Vova, who was already planning to pick me up there. All was well! And, even better, the guy showed me that my seat, which was located in the aisle across from the sleeper beds, actually folded out to a bed. It was about four inches too short for me, but I slept like a baby, and Vova was waiting for me at the station when I arrived.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Sometimes you just have to let Johnny Cash do the talking for you.

When I breeze into that city, people gonna stoop and bow. (Hah!)
All them women gonna make me, teach 'em what they don't know how,
I'm goin' to Jackson, you turn-a loose-a my coat.
'Cos I'm goin' to Jackson.
"Goodbye," that's all she wrote.

But they'll laugh at you in Jackson, and I'll be dancin' on a Pony Keg.
They'll lead you 'round town like a scalded hound,
With your tail tucked between your legs,
You're goin' to Jackson, you big-talkin' man.
And I'll be waitin' in Jackson, behind my Jaypan Fan.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Chinese react to Ray's article

Remember this article, about itinerant artist Jim Mott? Well, Jim sent me the following exchange, which he tracked down somehow from a Chinese message board. It's amazing how word gets around.

Notes: I was doing a Google search for “itinerant artist project” a couple of weeks ago and found the Christian Science Monitor article about it being discussed on a Chinese website. A friend’s daughter, who is living in China, was kind enough to make a translation of the Chinese forum posts (below).
She mentioned also that the name of the Web site, Laosanjie, means "three old classes." The term refers to people in the high school graduating classes of 1966, 1967 and 1968 whose education was interrupted by the Cultural Revolution. Meanwhile, of course everyone sends infinite ripples that end up going all over the world, but it's fun to have something that lets me see that in action. Plus, without the "ripple" back from China and its mention of xiaosa, I would have forgotten that my thinking and my project had been influenced at least a little bit by a class in Taoism, particularly a reading of Chuang Tzu with its concept of “free and easy wandering” – something my project would seem to exemplify (although, in reality, I’m an anxious and constrained traveler). Anyway, this is an interesting peek into a chat group from another country and culture:

HOW AN ITINERANT ARTIST* INSPIRED ME (postings from 4/17/08 – 4/30/08)
[*the Chinese could also be read as “vagabond artist”] translated by Stephanie Schubmehl

Merry Deer (discussion leader):
[Merry Deer has posted the photo and opening paragraph from the CS Monitor article, in it’s original English]

Soaring Crane:
Very interesting. I guess you’re telling me to work on my English, Merry Deer. That’s great! I think I’m going to need a Chinese version, though. Ha.

Merry Deer:
Hadn’t quite finished posting yet. You got the first reply in, buddy.

The photo and opening paragraph above are from an article in the Christian Science Monitor. The article is titled “Itinerant Artist Will Paint for a Bed and a Meal.” The painter’s name is Jim. Influenced by Odysseus, the hero of the Roman [sic] epic poem, he has found a unique way to live and travel in the United States. He plans to live a life free of monetary exchanges, traveling and learning by staying with ordinary people who have an appreciation for art. Jim’s host provides a meal and a place to sleep, and he creates a painting in return. He repays his host’s hospitality by painting a picture, creating an artistic representation of his host’s surroundings for the host to enjoy on the wall of his or her own home.

I want to follow this painter's example. What I’m thinking is that I could go to people’s houses and help them learn English. Think that would work? Any volunteers? Hee hee....

I want to find this kind of people, or this kind of school. The school here wanted me to teach classes, but I’ve resigned. I’ve thought about starting a completely different life. Maybe this June I’ll start off in Kunming. I can support myself until I find something.

Running in Circles:
That should be doable. You’re all set up if you've got a professional skill. A lot of people want their kids to study English now. Living conditions usually aren't great, though. Find a school first and then find suitable candidates through them.

You’re all such useful people. I feel so inadequate! I can’t do anything.

Gong-chang Zhang:
Yep. The forgotten generation.

So just go as a tourist. Let Merry get on with his work.

So what you're really saying, Merry, is that you’ll start off teaching English at Plateau Gentleman’s [one of the site administrators] house. He’ll give you room and board. I’ll join you in Yunnan and teach Plateau Gentleman’s kids English and nursery rhymes. We can discuss photography, too.

Not a bad idea.

Merry Deer:
I know you’re a painter, too, buddy!

Soaring Crane:
Hahaha, I didn’t notice the discussion raging here until today. If you’re coming to Yunnan, Merry Deer, let me know so I can make plans. Come and have a look. It will do you good.

North mentioned my grandson. He really is a bundle of joy. The funny thing is that he can’t write yet, so he dictates letters to me and insists that I reply. When he visits he’s forever pestering me and asking to play. Apparently I’m his idea of the perfect playmate.

Itinerant educator vs. itinerant artist? Haha, this rocks. That’s just the kind of thing you’d come up with, Merry. You always have a unique take on things.

Merry Deer:
I bet an itinerant dancer would have no trouble getting by.

I want to be a ganma [adopted mother], a sweet old ethnic-minority mommy. I’d give them love and find out what I’m truly capable of.

Open Field:
This itinerant artist is a genuine free spirit [xiaosa, “natural and unrestrained”].

Merry Deer:
No one thinks of “free spirit” as a derogatory term, but in order to truly be a free spirit you have to give something up.

But you gain something in return.

[Untranslatable and not especially relevant joke that relies on punning interpretations of the Chinese words for “free spirit” and “latte”]

YZ Traveler:
[Reply to untranslatable joke: Literally translated, it goes something like: What’s the difference between a free spirit and a latte? One is watering the flowers, and the other is holding barbells in a weightlifting competition].

Clad in white, adorned in red:
I want to be a free spirit too, but I can’t give anything up. It’s not that easy. Maybe Merry Deer can arrange things so that all of us retired teachers in the thatched hut [a Laosanjie literature discussion board] can travel around giving classes?

Merry Deer:
That would mean setting up a mobile school. Find a school in the mountains, teach there for one semester and then move on? Is it okay if we all live in a dorm?

Find a school in the mountains, teach there for one semester and then move on?
That’s been my plan from way back : ) It would be beyond great if a lot of people want to get in on it : ) I’m with you : )

Merry Deer:
I have a friend who’s actually setting me up with a private tutoring position. Last week was pretty hectic, but now I’m in Shanghai for the May 1 holiday.

Little Bit:
Haha, someone actually wants a university professor for a private t

Of possible further interest to fans of my Christian Science Monitor articles: the current (June 2008) issue of Wired magazine has a feature on Bernie Krause. He was the subject of my first Monitor article back in June 2007.

Back in the Tetons again

As of last Friday, I have returned to Grand Teton National Park to work. I'm in Moose this time, at the park's south entrance. The reason for change? I had applied to my old place very late in the season, and all the positions had already been filled. The same was true here, actually, but they had a cancellation, so now I'm in. I've been working four days, and aside from a few curmudgeonly coworkers, it's been fine. It's great to be back here, that's for sure. Both Bozeman and writing had been getting a bit too complicated for me, and I longed for the simple life that only comes from living a 30-second walk from work and being on the meal plan. Speaking of which, this place (I'm purposely not naming it to avoid getting in trouble) has an excellent meal plan - we can eat anything off the restaurant menu, and sit in the restaurant itself. I guess that's because it's a small place, and it doesn't make sense for them to build a whole dining facility just for employees.

There's been tons of snow all winter and into spring (and into yesterday). The weather was nice and sunny and warm earlier in the week, and I did some road biking into the Slide Lake area east of the park, and also to Jenny Lake and String Lake, which were both still covered in ice and snow. Yesterday and today have been snowy, sleety, rainy, and chilly (see photo below, same view as above), and the same is forecast for the next few days. I've got two days off coming up, and it looks like I'll either be holing up here in the dorm or making my first foray into Jackson. I'm not really looking forward to either. I should look up Black George and hang out with him.

On a related note, I've got some goals for the summer. One is I want to save enough money to travel in the fall. I want to go to Nepal and Ladakh in India, where my friend Deb will be. I've been looking at air fares, and I think it might be cheaper and more flexible to get one of these around-the-world fares. And I'd like to spend a good two months away, so I really want to make and save some money here. With that in mind, I've been trying not to drive much, and haven't driven at all since I got here (one week). That's a good start, but I'd also like to do a lot of hiking, climbing, and kayaking, so I will be driving a certain amount. Just hopefully not too much. But I'd like to avoid going to town as much as possible.

I also haven't had any coffee or caffeinated tea since arriving. And I started jogging today. I'm trying to be all healthy, you see. We'll see how long it lasts.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Vernon Gliko

I was really busy in March with writing assignments, which was great but drove me a little bit crazy. Here's one of the results (of the writing, not the craziness), which ran in the High Country News on April 14.

A Montana rancher stands his ground against subdivision
High Country News
April 14, 2008

Also recently appearing in print are articles in Outside's Go, Via, Distinctly Montana, Montana Magazine, and the Tributary.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Pandora's Box photos

It turns out I didn't win any of the categories at the Equinox Theatre One-Act Festival, but, really, I'm not upset. I can honestly say that I was impressed with every single one of the plays, and the winners totally deserved to win.

Here's some photos taken on Friday, January 18, by Gerald Pape, Jr., the director of Bob Hendricks' "Let Your Dog Be the Judge." Thanks, Jerry!

(Note: I'm having a little trouble loading more photos. Stay tuned.)

New Year's Resolution (a little late)

I'm finally getting around to this: The one thing I want to say for 2008 is that I want to make $10,000 more from writing than I did in 2007.

Which maybe sounds outrageous, but really, I think it's doable. (Can you keep a secret? I really didn't make that much from writing in 2007.)

Plus, I'm up to $2 a word now! Honestly, when I started doing this I had no idea people got paid that much. Now making a living actually seems feasible.