Warriors’ Welcome

On our trek across Papua New Guinea, we walked 8 hours every day through jungles, through rivers, through mud, and up and down mountains. The landscape was rugged and pristine. But whLRG_DSC02125.jpgat made the trek even more meaningful was the isolated villages along the way. As we approached the villages, children covered in mud would spring from dense thickets of brush, shrieking as they charged us with spears, sticks, and machetes. At first it frightened us, but it was a ritual the children loved, and one we encountered each and every time. By the end of our trek we came to expect it and were no longer alarmed.

LRG_DSC01182.jpgOnce we entered the villages, which were often nothing more than a dozen thatch huts surrounding a dirt clearing, the colorful ceremonies began. We’d walk under an arch made of vines, leaves, and petals while women and men, adorned in red paint, headdresses made from bird feathers, and pig tusk necklaces pounded on their kundu drums.  Then the women and young girls of the village would drape flower necklaces over our heads and lead us to the center of the village where the real singing, dancing, and drumming began. That was followed by a series of speeches, which were translated by one of our native guides. 

LRG_DSC02814The gist of the speechess was that the villagers looked forward to seeing more outsiders and to the prospect of eco-tourism. Then the prayers began. After the last blessing, they lavished us with food and coconuts and treated us to more dancing. Though exhausted we felt lucky to be among the kindness and generosity of our Papua New Guinean friends, who had so little but gave so much.


In the Wildness of Alaska


alaskaIn Last Child in The Woods, Richard Louv writes, “Nature calmed me, focused me, and yet excited my senses.” I know exactly what he means. Last summer, I participated in a NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) course in the Talkeetna Mountains. I thought I understood remoteness until I went to Alaska. My family and I spent a lot of time in the Mountain West and I grew up on a small farm in rural Wisconsin, outside of a town without even a stoplight. We have chickens and bees, a cat and dog, a garden, fruit trees, and fifteen acres.

IMG_5444 (2)I love home, but I found a different kind of bliss in the Alaskan wilderness. I found simplicity. I carried everything I needed in my backpack: food, hiking clothes, a sleeping bag and pad, a WhisperLite stove, and a poop trowel. And I loved the routine, too. After waking up and taking down my tent, I would trudge the 100 yards to the makeshift kitchen, cook, eat, and then clean up. Then I would repack my pack, and set out on the trail with the rest of the group for the next 6-7 hours. When we reached our destination, we would scout out the flattest, driest spot and set up camp. As soon as I could, I would take off my hiking boots and put on my camp shoes and a fresh pair of socks. Only then would I relax and read or write, and sometimes, we would sit around and talk about the food we missed and how nice it would be to have a hot shower and a real bed. Some nights, we would listen to our instructors read and recite poetry and around 11, with the sun still up, I would crawl into my sleeping bag. Often, in the middle of the night, I would wake up and peer out of my tent to see the mist filling the valleys. By morning I could see the Chugach Mountains again and I would sit outside my tent, enjoying the beauty. But I knew that soon I would have to put on my wet, stinky hiking clothes and prepare to trek across mud, rivers, and boggy tundra. We were in grizzly country, of course, and that scared me, but I loved the beauty and wildness of Alaska. It excited my senses.