“If there is meaning in the past and in the imagined future, it is captured in the moment. When you have all the time in the world, you can spend it, not going somewhere, but on being where you are. So I stretch out, close my eyes, and listen to the rain.”
– Robin Kimmerer, in Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants
A year has passed since graduating from Duke, and I feel incredibly lucky for the experiences that I’ve had so far: the people I’ve met, the places I’ve lived, the work I’ve done, all those things that have changed me.
I have given up trying to plan out my life. I’m learning to slow down. I fell in love with qualitative research. I am energized by travel. I feel drawn to collecting stories. I practice a lot of yoga. I read a lot of books. These are things that I have begun to thrive on, that I feel myself slowly, since graduation, beginning to build my life around.
Spending this past year in Costa Rica as part of the Hart Leadership Program, I just recently finished an independent research project examining the challenges facing sustainable fishing and agriculture there.
Since arriving back home to the United States in early May, it’s been a whirlwind of planning and preparing for the next adventure ahead.
When people ask what I’m doing next, the best I can explain is that I’m following a dream—hoping to see more of the world so that I might better engage and live within it.
Bitten by the travel bug, it already feels time to get back out there again.
The chance to travel (especially alone) has been one of the best, most transformative parts of my life so far. To be in a place so unrecognizable from the one you know is like suddenly being gifted new eyes. The novelty of your surroundings brings your intuition back to life, and (consciously or unconsciously) seems to refocus your mind on little but the simple tasks of survival.
In some ways, you become like a child again—soaking up the world around you with wonder. Through traveling, you must learn to accept sometimes feeling totally uncomfortable, but also to trust. Traveling has led me to question all of my beliefs, taught me how to both love and let go in turn, and shown me how to ask good questions.
I’m amazed always by the extraordinary diversity found on this planet, and yet also by the universality of certain aspects of human experience–of life. I’ve enjoyed working to try to connect the dots: digging beneath the surface of small-scale environmental problems to identify global themes. Local problems tacked onto a map reveal themselves as global issues. In this way, our work in one place transforms us into global citizens.
I’ve loved this last year in Costa Rica, but now back in the States, it does feel as if I’m at a bit of a crossroads again. It’s a graduation-type feeling.
I know certain things about myself now. I know that I want to dedicate my life to healing our planet. In particular, I want to change the ways in which we produce, hunt, process, raise, eat, and value food. I want to stop agriculture’s relentless contributions to global warming, and its role in environmental destruction as a whole.
I want people to be healthier and happier. I know I need to start with myself. And I need more time and experiences to see what I’m really going up against.
To do so, like Alexander von Humboldt, over 200 years before me, I’ve decided to go on a trip. I’m interested in experiencing the freedom of yet another year of life on the road, in learning to be present, in exploring what is left of the unspoiled natural world, in investigating environmental issues around North America, and in deciding in what capacity I could best serve this place moving forward.
I’m interested (during my travels around the United States, Canada, and perhaps Mexico) in investigating North America’s most immediate environmental challenges, meeting and corresponding with activists in the field, engaging with local ecological movements, and getting to know people with lifestyles, perspectives, and dreams that I can learn from.
My goal this year is also to live more sustainably than I have ever before—eating a vegan diet, attempting to create close to zero waste, utilizing solar power for electric needs, reducing water usage, and planting trees along the way. My hope is that aspects of my personal lifestyle could provide a model of more sustainable living–decisions easily accessible and adopted by a larger populace.
I am trying to figure out how to wrap my arms around this beautiful planet, and around this incredible continent that I am lucky enough to call home, so that I might best see where and how to go to work for Her.
What is my next step?
My next step is to listen and observe, I guess. I am putting my trust in the road, and hoping if I pay attention that it will show me where to go next. I’m tuning into my heart and the new spaces around me–letting my experiences guide that next footfall professionally and personally.
As someone interested in public policy long-term, I feel the responsibility to learn and come to understand the people and places impacted by such work—to understand what happens on the ground—how laws and regulations function in practice, what needs to be, and what needs to change.
So, off I go in two weeks—traveling with my boyfriend, a backpacking pack, climbing gear, fleeces and snow boots, inflatable kayaks, and a lot of hope and excitement all packed into a four-wheel truck camper. It’s time to breathe in North America for a while—the place I’ve lived in for so long, while knowing so little about her, really.
I’m ready to go as far and for as long as we can. My only expectation is to come back different.