Fall semester of my junior year, I was at the Oregon Extension, a non-traditional semester in the Cascade Mountains. The following are things I learned either from the West, travel, living intentionally, or living off the grid.
1. You don’t (always) have to take your backpack off to pee. (What!) Think about it. I learned this backpacking with 40 pounds on my back—something you didn’t really want to take on and off all day. I’m just saying.
2. Color. When you travel, color changes. The foliage holds different shades of green, yellow, red, even brown. Picture the colors used in a Mediterranean painting compared to one of the American dessert. The pinks are different. It’s because they are different.
3. Trails aren’t always marked in the West. They’re just not. To them, putting trail markers in the wilderness is as good as littering. So if your plan is to hike up boulders to reach the top of the mountain, you better have a good sense of direction.
4. Dichotomies are incredibly dangerous: masculine/feminine, introvert/extrovert, classic/romantic mind/body, and so on. To function, we need both extremes. Go back to the rural vs. urban. We need both places to function. Neither is better, objectively. They need to know how to work together on a spectrum. This concept is larger than this list.
5. Silence is healing. Allowing yourself to observe, walk, move through space without the need to speak is freeing. Do things alone. Be silent. It fills spaces.
6. Quality grocery stores are life altering. I think we forget how colossally important food stores are. They distribute life! Okay, maybe that's exaggerating, but once you have to drive 45 minutes down a mountain to get to the store, you’ll realize what I’m talking about.
7. Similarly, the urban needs the rural as much as the rural needs the urban. This was a hard one to come to terms with, but there is no such thing as self-sustainability. (Nut-uh!) Ya-huh. Even Thoreau had someone doing his laundry.
8. I am now openly addicted to caffeine.
9. Passion is like a wood burning stove. Unless you are tending to it, it might go out without your realizing it.
10. Splitting wood is meditative and wonderful. I don’t have anything else to say about it.
11. I don’t need to wear push-up bras. As people who are bombarded with sexual images in advertisements and media, we feel the pressure to meet them (in sexy bras and panties). This is unhealthy and uncomfortable and constricting, and as unhealthy, uncomfortable, and constricting as the padded bras themselves. Women should not obtain attention through sexual power. This concept is larger than this list.
12. Fall is my favorite season. In the high desert in Oregon, we missed what I, as a Midwesterner, would call True Fall. Pine needles don’t turn red and yellow, see.
13. Also, soup is awesome. Soup is awesome.
14. Cell phones are stupid. Our community gave our phones up to a cardboard box from Monday morning to Friday afternoon, a sort of phone jail. Look! People’s faces!