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Hello from the Grand Canyon!

2011 September 5
by shana

Desert View from Watchtower

Despite all of my best intentions to keep up… and get caught up… with this blog, I have found myself unable to do so for various reasons. The most prominent reason is the need to focus on things that have the potential to contribute to the monthly responsibility of bill paying. Which means that time not spent at my “day” job is primarily spent working on art or jewelry that will be either posted online for sale or taken to art & craft fairs when the opportunity arises. Currently, I am working at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Anytime that is not dedicated to those two primary aspects of my life is spent experiencing my new surroundings which is leaving me little time to write and edit photos.

After returning to Montana from Alaska last Fall, I didn’t know what I was going to do or where I was going, or how I was going to get there. I knew I couldn’t financially sustain a full time life on the road without the aid of winning the lottery, so I needed to explore other options. I started looking into seasonal work, with the idea that I could still see more of the country, but seasonally while working. I had originally intended on coming to Arizona after returning to the lower 48, so I applied at the Grand Canyon. I had never been before, and it would somewhat follow my original plans.

I have had some surreal moments where I find myself wondering how I ended up working at the Grand Canyon when I had originally intended on being a tourist at the Grand Canyon. However, I just consider it another experience and perspective. I enjoy exploring opposite ends of perspectives, and this is no exception. My experiences visiting the National Parks of the US and Canada last Fall were amazing as a visitor, as a passer-through. Now, I have the experience of being one of the people that makes those experiences possible. But, I will save those stories for another day.

What I will say now, is that I am trying not to lose sight of the fact, in my day to day, that I get to walk a path through the woods to work where I have a view of the Grand Canyon, and where I get to meet a variety of people from all over the world who are all here for different reasons.

I hope everyone is doing well and experiencing life to the fullest!

Koji looking out at Grand Canyon

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Little Victories

2011 May 24
by shana


My last post was November 25th and here it is nearly April May 25th. My, where does the time go? The funny thing is… I was, and still am, very excited about sharing my experiences in Alaska. I am not sure why I haven’t really. I am not sure why I haven’t been able to sit down and write, but I haven’t been able to.

A song came on the other night while I was doing some metalwork, and it got me thinking. It reminded me that often it is the little things that we sometimes take for granted that really are significant in our lives.

Sure, it would be great to win big in the lottery tomorrow. That would take care of some stresses, however it would probably also present some new ones. But, selling a piece of art or jewelry, that is one of the little victories; the type of little victories that can eventually compound into big victories.

Sure, it would have been nice to have a camper that was what it was presented to be. But, what it has lacked in functionality, it has made up for in character. The past few weeks, I have been busy gearing up to head to the Grand Canyon for the summer which has included getting my camper working on a higher level than existed on the Alaska trip. I consider things like: working lights, a new bathroom door that will not fall off the screws, a new grey water holding tank, and a nearly leak-proof exterior, all little victories. But, the help of family and friends in the pursuit of those things, those are the bonus victories. It is wonderful to have the camper in mostly working condition, but it is the help and the time spent that really makes it special.

A few more things I consider to be little victories: a smile from a stranger, a smile from a friend, the wag of a dogs tail, the feel of warm sun on the skin after a long cold winter, a good hug, too may things to mention really….. oh, and after 5 months, this post. What are your little victories?

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Confessions of a Grateful Heart

2010 November 25
by shana

As I write this, it is approximately 20 degrees with the sun shining and the wind blowing. This is a welcome respite from the below zero temperatures of the past week. My original plan had been to head toward Arizona this Fall. (But then, my original plan had been to keep up with my posts too.) I guess sometimes things don’t go as planned and sometimes life has something else in store for us.

I wanted to take a moment today to write an update, not of my trip to Alaska, but of my current place. You see, when I first set out on this trip I was full of grand ideas. I had it all planned out, or at least loosely outlined. I felt compelled, I felt inspired, I would even say I felt guided. The trip to Alaska was supposed to be my trial run. Would I like traveling solo? Would I like living in a camper? Would I like being on the move? Would I be able to manage the feelings of separation from family and friends? Could I make this work?

The answer to all of those questions was a resounding yes. I loved it. I loved seeing new things and having new experiences. Traveling solo has both it’s advantages and disadvantages, but for this trip, it served it’s purpose well. Being on the move was balanced by having my camper – a space that was mine and was constant. I loved my little camper – even with all of it’s imperfections and ailments. Feelings of loneliness or separation was eased by emails, text messages, and of course, meeting new people. Sure, I would need to figure out my electricity and internet access a little better, but overall it was great.

There was just one flaw – one major flaw. Despite all my ideas, I had not figured out a solid plan to finance this trip. Sure – I had enough ideas that could have had money coming out my ears, but instead I found myself depleted. I had only a small reserve, and with unexpected camper woes, unexpected vehicle expenses, and things that I just couldn’t have anticipated before I set out, I went through that reserve quickly. I won’t analyze it here, but for some reason I just found myself spinning without gaining much traction.

The irony is, I found myself having some of the most amazing experiences in Alaska because of my financial situation. I won’t write any spoilers now because I want to give those experiences the space they deserve. Sure, I would have rather had the money I needed to comfortably travel through my days, and to allow me to continue on this path, but the truth is that I wouldn’t trade the experiences I had in Alaska for all the money in the world.

However, the reality of the situation had become that I needed to find a job for the winter. This was something I had considered a possibility as I set out, but had hoped I would be able to find a way to freelance or otherwise work online enabling me to work while I traveled. I started out looking for jobs in Alaska, but ended up coming back to Montana before it was too late to drive. It was sad leaving Alaska. It was beautiful, I had met up with old friends, made new friends, and loved the landscape and the energy there. There was a part of me that was worried that if I stayed I might never leave. On one hand, that would be great, on the other… I wouldn’t be completing what I had set out to do. Life is just a series of choices right?

When I got back to Montana, I started looking for jobs for the winter. I had applications out all over the state. I was about to go crazy if I had to fill out one more online application. Sure, it is easy if you only have to fill out one. But one after another, after another, after another… put me out of my misery!

As it worked out, I got back to Montana at just the right time to stay with my grandparents and help out as my grandpa was recovering from shoulder replacement surgery. With my open schedule, I was able to drive him the 30 miles to his physical therapy appointments three times a week.

While he was out of commission, he said I could turn his wood shop into a temporary art studio. I finished a couple paintings out there, and then started working with metal a little bit again. I hadn’t had the opportunity to do much with it for almost 10 years other than a small project here and there. It felt amazing! Everything flooded back to me in waves, and I found myself almost in a trance like state working in the shop completely oblivious to time, hunger, or weariness. And, with the prospect of posting them in an online shop and a small craft bazaar, it allowed me to feel as though I was being productive and proactive about my financial situation as I was going through the job application process.

This is one of the funny things about life. I had applications out everywhere. And yeah, times are hard, unemployment is high, there are more people applying for the same jobs than ever before… I realize all of that. But, I wasn’t having any luck and was trying to stay positive. I was trying to smother the feelings of anxiety of getting trapped in a cycle of barely getting by in a job that slowly suffocated my soul. I was trying not to fall into negative thought patterns and feelings of failure and defeat.

I know there are people who think that quitting my job and setting out on a trip like this with debt and without a solid financial plan was incredibly stupid. And, I realize that trying to explain to them that I “needed” to do it, that it was important for my soul, and my life experience, would be like speaking to them in a language they do not comprehend. But, I will say anyway that I needed to quit my job, I needed to pursue my dream, I needed to experience both the independence and the struggles.

A few months before I left on this trip, I had a dream about a leap of Faith. In this dream, I was scared, I tried to argue against jumping with reason, logic, research, and even proof. But sometimes Faith defies logic. I jumped. And in this dream I lost everything, but I came out stronger because of it. I woke with this dream so vivid in my mind, and felt it through my entire being. This dream had wedged itself in the back of my mind, and every time I felt as though I was failing, or was defeated, I remembered this dream and it gave me hope that it was all going to work out in the end.

One of my favorite Marilyn Monroe quotes: “I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they’re right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.” I am not sure I necessarily agree with the trusting no one but yourself line, but I do like to believe that everything happens for a reason and that sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.

During the process of job hunting, I kept reminding myself to have faith that I would end up exactly where I needed to be. Oddly enough, I found that I had driven approximately 8500 miles to end up exactly where I was back in 2003. How did that happen? And even more odd, is that with all the job applications I had out, and the jobs I was waiting to hear back from, and only a few hours after I picked up a thick application complete with several additional hoops to jump through… I received a phone call for an interview just a few miles away from a place I didn’t even apply to. Life is funny, because there were so many different possible scenarios, I would like to believe that everything else was just stalling until the right opportunity came along.

I am not sure what the purpose is, or what the plan is, but I also realize that sometimes we don’t get to know. It is more about making the most of the situation you find yourself in. What I do know is that I have so many things to be grateful for on this Thanksgiving Day.

While I was staying with my friend in Missoula, she asked me if I missed having an apartment with a couch and a bed, etc. I immediately realized that I didn’t. It was nice to visit, but the thought of renting an apartment, signing a lease, and furnishing it overwhelmed me. If I wanted to continue traveling in the Spring, the last thing I wanted to do was sign a lease, and spend money replacing the things I had sold before I left only to have to try to sell them again in the Spring. I didn’t want to fuss with all of that. I am really grateful and have been really fortunate to have options and offers from family and friends to allow me to stay with them for the winter so that I can focus on getting back on track without having to sign a lease to live in a furniture-less apartment.

Again, I am not sure what my future holds at this point in time. I have barely had time to think about it between working a new job and working in the shop as much as possible while I have the opportunity. I am so incredibly far behind on my entries in this blog it is not even funny, but I do plan on continuing to post my experiences from the trip and hope that you will continue to share in them with me. I would also like to think that I will get into a better flow of posting after the holidays.

I want to conclude this post by sharing my gratitude on this Thanksgiving Day. I am so grateful for wonderful family and friends, for the time spent and the love shared. I am grateful for the open doors, open arms, and helping hands. I am so grateful for the experiences that this life has offered me, and the many it still has to offer. I am grateful for the friends met, and the friends yet to meet, the road traveled and the road yet to travel. I am grateful for all the blessings in my life, even those disguised as hardships for the lessons and strength they provide.

Happy Thanksgiving!
May you have a day filled with acknowledgement of your blessings, and shared love and gratitude.

(The present letter is a very long one, simply because I had no leisure to make it shorter. – Blaise Pascal.)

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Dawson Creek – Mile 0 of The Alaska Highway

2010 November 12

Alaska Building in Dawson Creek, Mile '0' of Alaska Highway

The temperatures had started falling at night. The mornings were chilly and it occurred to me that Fall might already be creeping in. I assumed that as I traveled North that the temperatures would continue to fall.

When I drove into Dawson Creek I realized my assumptions were wrong. The lower altitudes brought higher temperatures. I peeled off layers until I was setting up my camper in just a tank top and still had a few drops of sweat beading up on my brow and nose.

I had been spoiled staying in the park campgrounds. They were in the trees, along rivers and streams, and were peaceful even amidst the buzz of all the campers. The bathrooms were nice and were usually pretty clean.

Now I was back in the realm of private RV parks in more urban areas. The hustle and bustle was a different kind. I stayed at the Mile ‘0’ RV park on the way out of town. It was right along the highway so it was visible and easily accessible. However, as with almost any major highway, there was litter scattered between the campground and the road, some of which inevitably finds it’s way into the RV park.

After I had unhitched and had my camper set up, Koji and I went for a short walk around the campground to stretch our legs. As anticipated, there were others making their way to Alaska or on their way back home. The RV park was quite full, and I was able to get one of the last spots. I also started to notice there were a lot of color-coded groups. Adults and children alike wearing bold colored t-shirts with the likes of “Crazy Cathy’s” or “Jumpin’ Jim’s” in block letters that had been heat transferred on. I never did ask, but (using my keen powers of observation) I deduced that it was most likely a family reunion.

I hadn’t shaken my camera blahs yet, but I did manage persuade myself to capture one shot of the brightly painted “Alaska” building downtown. I then gathered some water and a few groceries, filled up my gas tank, and then I headed back to the campground to try to get some work done that evening. The next morning I would be on my first day of traveling the Alaska Highway!

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The Picture-less Day

2010 November 4
by shana

Forest for the Trees - Mixed-Media Encaustic

The first night I hit the road, I took over 200 pictures. Thankfully that was not my daily average since I have a hard enough time keeping up with sorting through pictures and processing them. I have fluctuated from around five to maxing out my memory card at over 300. However, I think this was the first day that I continued on down the road without taking a single picture. In part, it was because I was driving most of the day. However, even after I got settled into my camp spot I still didn’t pull out the camera to take a picture. Not even one. I thought about it. I thought I probably should. But… I just didn’t.

Once I had left Jasper National Park, I was on a mission to get to Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway and get on my way to Alaska. I hadn’t anticipated spending so much time in Canada, but the parks and the landscapes were so beautiful and amazing that I couldn’t resist. I was intent on driving as far as I could in order to easily make it to Dawson Creek the next day. I passed several of the campgrounds on the way and it was 7:30ish by the time I pulled into the Kakwa River campground. I was getting tired and I wanted to grill up some dinner before it got too late.

You see, I was good about eating a small breakfast, but when I was driving most of the day I was not good about stopping and making lunch. With my refrigerator out of commission, I was relying on a small cooler, and peanut butter and honey sandwiches were getting tiresome. I would also try to make as much ground as I could, and this would mean that it could get pretty late by the time I had set up my camper and settled into a camp spot. So, often dinner was not that appealing if it was after 9pm when I started thinking about it. By that time, any feelings of hunger I may have been ignoring had subsided. And although on the days where I drove most of the day, and was only sitting, I still needed to eat more than a yogurt in the morning – at least have a couple small snacks spread out during the day to maintain blood sugar levels.

When I pulled in at Kakwa, there was only one other camper trailer there. I hesitated to stay because of this. It seems to me that a completely empty campground would be better than one other camper. There is safety in numbers, right? And although I was traveling alone, it was still safer to be in areas with groups of people. But, to be alone with one other camper, well, that was riskier. They would know that I was alone and there was no one else there to provide checks and balances. However, if someone came in after I was already there, they would most likely assume there was someone else there with me which perceivably would make me less vulnerable.

But I was tired, and wanted to make sure I ate dinner, and this was the last campground on the list I was given at the Visitor’s Center in Grande Cache. I didn’t know if there would be more along the way, or if I would end up having to drive into the night to get to Grande Prairie. So I started to set up on the other end of the campground closest to the exit.

Shortly after I had set up, a bicyclist rode in. I was relieved and excited to see another person. Not that he couldn’t have potentially posed just as much of a risk as the other person, as far as I knew, however this created the group dynamic that I preferred.

We chatted briefly and I invited him to eat with me. I had picked up a couple of small steaks and had planned on having the second for lunch the next day so I had enough for two. I continued fixing up the steaks, some instant risotto, and mixed steamed pouch veggies while the cyclist set up his camp and got settled in for the night.

I ate while writing in my journal. Once the cyclist was set up and settled, he came and joined me at the picnic table. His name was John and he told me he was cycling from Tennessee to Whitehorse, and how he came to do it. He was posting along the way with the help of his wife and friend. You can read about his journey here.

The next morning, I was intent on getting up and heading out. I wanted to make it to Dawson City early enough to get some work done. My neighbor was also up and set on getting on the road. But… we started visiting again.

We found ourselves discussing the subject of fear. We talked of the fears we had to dismiss or overcome to go out on the road. The fears I had about quitting my job and the fears everyone thought I should have about traveling alone. The fears he had about the consequences of unemployment and the forgotten demons that were unearthed during the many miles he pedaled in solitude and silence.

John mentioned that he was not afraid to die. He realized the risks of this journey for him, and for him the benefits of doing it outweighed those risks. This was something that I had realized just a few weeks before I left as well. I was not afraid of dying, and this trip was more important than the risk for me. There is a certain peace that is achieved when fear is removed. It is like a shackle being released and having freedom of movement. The freedom to… live. Whether that fear is a fear of embarrassment, failure, pain, or even death.

We talked about this shackle of fear as well; of the understanding that we could easily let ourselves be consumed by fear and the raging flow of fearful possibilities. Or possibly even create these things because we would inadvertently and unwittingly seek them out by constantly focusing on them.

We talked of the way fear can control people and their behaviors. That reacting to fear, preparing for what you fear, can, in some ways, give a person a false sense of control of their environment and life. And how these fears can become real to them when that much energy and focus is devoted to them.

In many ways, John and I were from and were living in separate worlds. He had served active duty in the military, was married and had children my age. And yet, despite the many differences, in some ways we were on parallel journeys. But in this sometimes strange passing through of time and space, our paths crossed at Kakwa campground in Alberta. John, it was nice to meet you and visit. All the best to you.

(ps – the image is a mixed-media encaustic painting I finished last week, as inspired by driving through miles and miles of trees where all you can see from left to right is a forest of tree trunks. It is titled: “Forest for the Trees.”)

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Athabasca Falls, Jasper National Park

2010 October 27

Athabasca Falls, Jasper National Park

Another stop during my second day in Jasper National Park was Athabasca Falls. It was a very beautiful and interesting place. Which combined with the proximity to the highway and easy access meant that it was pretty populated. But that didn’t take away from the beauty of the place at all, at least not in my opinion. Sure, if you just happened upon this area on a remote hike it would be pretty spectacular. But, if that were the case I, and the majority of travelers, would not have had the pleasure to visit this place.

Athabasca Falls, Jasper National Park

Athabasca Falls, Jasper National Park

There were walkways over the falls and around the side which provided for many different angles and views. One of the things that I really love about waterfalls is the reminder of how powerful water is – you can hear it and sometimes even feel it. And as was the case with these falls, you can see the pathways they have cut for themselves through the rocks.

Athabasca Falls, Jasper National Park

There was a stairway in one of the crevices that lead down to the river below. I really loved this. It was like discovering a hidden stairway, even though it was far from hidden.

Athabasca Falls, Jasper National Park

The rock cliffs meeting the river below:

Athabasca Falls, Jasper National Park

Just above the Falls, the sun was just right to create rainbows in the mist.

Athabasca Falls Mist Rainbow, Jasper National Park

I would definitely recommend this as a stop along the way if you find yourself in Jasper National Park!

After a fun morning of sightseeing, I spent the afternoon in the town of Jasper sitting in the laundromat. I felt it was a shame to sit inside doing laundry when there was so much beauty outside, but it had to be done. There was also a bakery and coffee shop in the corner which provided delicious fragrances to mix with the great music they were playing for a surprisingly lovely ambiance. They had tables and benches set up with outlets so I could sit and work on my computer while my clothes were sloshing about. I am not sure that I have ever enjoyed doing laundry this much.

Once my laundry was done and my battery was charged, I went back to camp. I laughed about using my laptop on the picnic table in the campground. But that was the difference, others were recreating and I would think it would be foolish to take my laptop with me if I were going on a camp trip or going to a national park on a vacation instead of taking advantage of the experience. But for me, the lines between recreating and working were blurred and I had to find a way to merge them.

This would be my last night in Jasper, and one of my favorite places!

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Leach Lake, Jasper National Park – Photo Edition

2010 October 25

Leach Lake, Jasper National Park

On my second day in Jasper National Park, I drove down the Mount Edith Cavell Road and stopped at Cavell Lake. I hiked down to take a few shots then drove up to the glacier parking lot. It was pretty full and pretty busy, so I decided to head on over to Athabasca Falls.

On my way back toward the campground, I stopped at Leach Lake. It was another of those fateful circumstances that I seem to fall into. The only reason I stopped was because there was an outhouse at the pullout there which I all of sudden desperately needed to use since leaving Athabasca Falls. And I figured, as long as I was stopped, I may as well walk down to take a look at the lake. Koji and I wandered down and found a little dock. Before I even took a step out on it I saw fish on both sides of it.

I told Koj to stay on the shore.  For a dog that goes at water like it is some kind of doggy crack, he was surprisingly nonchalant about the whole lake thing and just wandered around sniffing things out. I walked out on the dock and started taking some pictures. The water was so clear. I wished I had that polarized lense filter I had meant to pick up before I left for this trip, but I had fun taking photos regardless:

Leach Lake, Jasper National Park - Feeding Fish

Zoomed in:

Leach Lake, Jasper National Park - Feeding Fish

The weather was going over head rapidly, bringing up some wind and stirring up the water. I turned around to the other side of the dock and saw rain drops starting to fall in the water and rippling through the reflection of the trees, sky, and clouds. I set my shutter to multiple release and captured some of the action.

Leach Lake, Jasper National Park

Raindrops & Reflection on Leach Lake, Jasper National Park (click the link to view the motion pictures, it is only a couple seconds long and looped, just click the back button when you are done watching)

Leach Lake, Jasper National Park

Leach Lake, Jasper National Park

Leach Lake, Jasper National Park

Leach Lake, Jasper National Park

Leach Lake, Jasper National Park

And, when I was done taking fish pictures Koji took a quick dip along the shore. He then came out on the dock and did some fish watching himself. He didn’t bother the fish and the fish weren’t bothered by us. It was a nice little stop along the road.

Leach Lake, Jasper National Park

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Losing It

2010 October 20
by shana

Yellow Balloon in Sky

Before I left for this trip, my Dad, in proper dad form, told me to make sure I was prepared… and I said I was. He said that didn’t mean art supplies and I made a joke that if I were to break down at least I wouldn’t be bored.

But, all joking aside, I had tried to prepare for a variety of circumstances. I had screwdrivers, a hammer, hose clamps, wrenches, duct tape, caulk, leather gloves, and even discovered I had three bottles of WD-40. I had lanterns, flashlights, matches, and candles. I had First-Aid kits, band-aids, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, neosporin, and benedryl cream. I had clothes, shoes, and enough books packed for a variety of circumstances and weather conditions.

As for art supplies, a friend of mine had helped me pack up my art studio as I sorted through what I was keeping, what I was giving away, and what just needed to be thrown away. I had three boxes of crayons and decided to give them away. She asked me if I was sure… maybe I wanted to keep a box… I hesitated but then said, “No. I have to draw the line somewhere, and I am drawing the line at crayons!” But crayons ended up being almost the only thing I didn’t pack along. I had packed acrylic, oil, and watercolor paints. I had several bottles of ink, pens, and felt tip markers. I had graphite, watercolor, and colored pencils, conte crayons and charcoal, and both chalk and oil pastels. I packed tracing paper, notebooks, and several sketchbooks.

What I realized (as I could have probably anticipated) was that I was over-packed. It was hard for me to throw away things that I thought I might need, and since this was a new adventure for me I just didn’t know what I might or might not need. But I knew that I needed to sort through to make room and lighten the load on my camper and vehicle.

I started the first weekend by giving Linda and Gary a can of WD-40. From that point on, I was on a mission. I tried to give away what I could because I hated to just throw things away. However, I also felt it was a little awkward approaching strangers to offer my personal possessions regardless of how useful they might be. It was also hard sorting through things that I felt were important enough to bring with me but were no longer important enough to keep with me.

So, I resolved to pack a box of things that I wanted to keep (but didn’t need) to send back to my parents to store for me until I got back from Alaska. And then… I resolved to throw away a bag of stuff at every campground or RV park that had a dumpster.

The thing is, I was a terrible pack rat. I held onto things because of sentimental reasons – because of who gave it to me or what it represented. I held onto things because I worried of regret and not being able to replace something. Or I held on because it was useful and it made more sense to keep it so I didn’t have to pay for it twice if I decided I couldn’t live without it. And as an artist, I also held onto things because I could see the potential in it. There were several times where this proved to be true which only reinforced the belief. You can probably see where this can snowball over time.

A few years back I had a lesson in letting go. It was difficult but, as most difficult situations have the potential for, it also proved to be valuable. After that, I found it was the most effective to sort through my “stuff” when I was moving. I had moved twice since then and felt like I had made some progress. Yet, before I left for this trip, I still had two storage units in addition to my art studio and some storage at the house where I was living.

I had a huge yard sale as I was preparing for this trip. In some ways, it felt great to not be burdened by so much. In other ways, it was really difficult to let go of things that I had treasured or had some meaning for me. Whenever I started to get clingy to things and started to consider not selling them, I had to ask myself whether it was more important to keep this “thing” or start out on this trip. The answer was (almost) always that the trip was more important. We all get to pick our priorities and decide what is most valuable to us in our lives. Going on this trip and having experiences along the way was what had become most valuable to me.

I got a little sentimental about my guitar. This is an example of the ridiculousness of attachments that can be formed… because I really can’t even play guitar. I wish I could, I have taken lessons even, but all I can play is one song and not very well at that. Here is an example of what I mean, circa 2007, if you care to subject yourself to choppy playing and crackling singing…

Birds & Ships

I had set the price high (for a yard sale, although a great deal for the guitar and case all considering) and fully expected for it not to sell. I was probably secretly wishing for that. But then towards the end of the day, a man walks through and says he will buy it if I throw in a couple of the lamps I had. Whoa! That was a tough one for me, because I was kind of attached to the lamps too. (I know, I know…) But, it had been a long, tiring, hot day and I had to decide what was more important. (Guitar I can’t play, lamps I rarely used, or… a trip of a lifetime?) I made the deal. Well, as it turned out he was LeGrande Harvey ( and he had written the official ballad for the state of Montana and offered to sing for us while playing my (his) guitar.  My friend captured a little clip on the Flip cam:

As you can see, the guitar is in better in his hands than mine. He mentioned that he was buying it for his daughter, and hopefully she will be able to strum the potential out of this sweet little guitar better than I could.

By the time I had made it to Jasper, I was glad that I had started scattering stuff in dumpsters along the way. And other than once or twice, I didn’t notice what had gone missing. I even listed a few things on ebay while I was on the road.

And although many of the things I had to let go of were irreplaceable in one way or another, it felt good. I could have held onto those things, but I chose to let go and collect memories and experiences instead. I think I made the right decision.

(I feel I must note, however, that I still have 1.25 storage units in two different towns. They will soon be consolidated, but I am, at least, moving in the right direction. There are just some things I am not willing to part with such as furniture build by my Grandfather and a hand-built forge given to me by the friend who taught me how to weld and blacksmith. Let’s just not forget the massive amounts of things I have either sold, donated, or thrown away in the past three years, ok? I am only human…)

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Jasper & The Subject of Chance

2010 October 14
by shana

Jasper National Park

As had already happened a few times on this trip so far, I had considered stopping at a campground before I reached the town of Jasper. The Wapiti campground had wedged itself in my mind however, and before I knew I had bypassed the other campgrounds and was turning off the highway in that direction.

I had asked for a site with electric because I needed to get some work done, but the woman at the campground kiosk told me that it was basically a parking lot. Hmmmm… “Are there any good places in town to sit down with a laptop?” She replied that there were and I said I would go without electric then.

She scanned her reservation board and said she was going to give me one of her favorite sites. She said she was surprised that there were even any of these sites left this time of day, but I was in luck. There was a site available next to the river, but she said that she liked the sites by the creek better and was going to put me there.

I found my spot and got settled in easily. Level. Hmmmm, maybe I should consider staying an extra day. I was also right across the road from the bathroom. It is funny, little things like this, because when I first heard someone say they would put me near the bathroom like they were doing me a favor, I thought… what was the big deal? But as time went on, I realized that I did appreciate being next to the bathroom. After all, we are creatures of comfort and convenience.

During a jaunt into the town of Jasper, I grabbed a bite and got online quickly, then Koj and I strolled around town. We came across an art gallery in an old fire hall. I situated Koji at the picnic table outside then wandered in to take a peek. It is always interesting to see what art is happening in different places.

Jasper Art Gallery

On my way back to camp for the night, I stopped at the kiosk and arranged to stay an additional night. There were things I wanted to see around the area before I left, and it would just be easier if I stayed another night. After all, I wanted to take advantage of being there since I didn’t know whether I would ever have the opportunity again.

Now I am not sure yet what my beliefs are for concrete sure on subjects like coincidence vs. purpose, but I do find it interesting how people going different directions at different speeds with different destinations can find themselves momentarily sharing the same space and time. How one person heading South can be told that there are no river sites left and end up by the creek. And later, the other heading North is told that there are river sights but ends up next to the creek anyway, can end up just a couple camp sites from each other.

Jasper National Park
When Koji and I got back to camp, we went for a long walk. I noticed the other campers. Most of them had RVs or camper trailers, and only a few had tents. Most of the campers were couples, some young while others might be retirees. A few groups of friends and/or couples, and of course, there were families with kids.

As I walked, an overwhelming urge to play cards came over me. I am not sure why and couldn’t explain, but it was strong. I realized I might have to figure out a way to socialize while on this trip on a deeper level than campground and store transactions and quick bonding of dog lovers. I was hesitant to approach people. It wasn’t necessarily because we are taught our whole childhood not to talk to strangers. And not because, as I was leaving for this trip, people kept asking if I was scared to travel alone. But, in this recreational environment I was worried more about barging in on the vacations of others, so I had mostly kept to myself. Occasionally I would end up in some small talk for a brief minute or two, but I was longing for something with more substance than that.

I noticed a couple other people who looked like they might be traveling by themselves, but thought maybe they wouldn’t want their solitude interrupted anymore than a family on vacation, so I headed back to my camp. I couldn’t shake the feeling however, and I found myself walking a couple camp sights down the road and awkwardly striking up conversation with the guy who was sitting in front of a small fire.

I say awkwardly, because although I can almost always have a conversation with almost anyone who is interested having one, I am not very good at initiating them. I am not good at coming up with a good reason to approach someone unless I have a very legitimate reason or purpose. This is an art that I have not yet mastered, and find myself admiring in people who can do it with such ease and sincerity.

Although I sensed he wasn’t that interested in company initially, I also couldn’t shake the urge to continue talking to him for a bit longer. I never suggested playing cards, but we ended up having a good conversation. We talked about life, expectations, circumstances, the roles we play in life and relationships, family, and our interpretations of those things. We talked about finding peace in the chaos of our lives, sacrifice, and the pursuit of dreams. And after awhile we said it was nice to meet each other, and Koj and I headed back to our camp.

Now, I realize that believing everything happens for a reason conflicts with the idea of chance and coincidence, and that even if everything happens for a reason that sometimes, well, it just isn’t important for us to know what that reason is. And maybe it is easier for us to dismiss those things as chance or coincidence if a reason isn’t readily available to us.

But then, maybe things that appear to be coincidences are a signal for us to pay attention.

I don’t really know, and I guess ultimately it is not important for me to. What I do know is that life fascinates me. These “coincidences,” or whatever they are, fascinate me. Such as the conversations we have because of “chance” meetings that plant seeds that can, even if only in a small way, change your life from that point on. Conversations that make you consider things you hadn’t previously considered, or that create an understanding that was previously unavailable to you, and that help you sort out the things that are conflicting in your own mind.

So, if you happen to read this, stranger I met in passing, thank you for allowing me to interrupt your solitude, and thank you for the conversation. It was a pleasure to meet you and I wish you all the best.

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A Quick Update

2010 October 12
by shana

Wow! Time has really been flying by. It has been a bit of whirlwind for me lately, but I just wanted to write a quick note to say that I am working on posts and hope to start posting again in the next day or so. Thank you so much to everyone who has taken the time to visit me here, I really appreciate it!

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