Frisbees and Friendship

When my dad and I were packing for Papua New Guinea, we put a lot of thought into what gifts we would carry with us to give to each village. My dad suggested that we bring Frisbees, one for each village that we would stay in. He recounted how my mom and he had brought a Frisbee with them when they visited the island in 1995. They had only brought one, so they could not leave it behind, but the whole village had turned out to play or to watch the magic disc floating on air. So, along with our other gear, we packed into our backpacks 12 colorful Frisbees.LRG_DSC01610

After arriving at a village, reaching our designated grass hut, and settling in, my dad and I would grab a red or blue or bright yellow disc and venture out toward an open area. The plastic toy immediately caught the children’s eyes and they would follow us, excited for a game. My dad would fling the disc as far as he could, and the children, never having seen this object before, chased after it. It took awhile for us to teach them the art of a good backhand or how to finesse a forehand. Some were naturally skilled at it and some were not—so much so that I would often have to cover my head and duck. 

After a few village visits, this became the ritual: unpack, unwind, rehydrate, present the Frisbee, teach, play, and then, the following morning before departing for the next village, get in one last throw, before we left the Frisbee in their hands.

PNG Frisbee #2Playing Frisbee with the kids (and adults) of the village was a way to build a bridge, to gain each other’s trust. We were largely unknown to each other, divided by our dress, our language, our customs, the color of our skin, our education. But through the simple act of play, we could connect with one another, and that gap narrowed. In the process of sharing this flimsy circular toy, flinging it, dropping it, watching it roll, laughing, instructing, and, finally, successfully passing it back and forth among us, we felt more alike than different.

Gritty Sis

My sister Aidan turned 202nd pic of girls for blog.JPG this summer and is working as a river guide in Gardiner, Montana. We just got back from visiting her there, where she treated us to a rafting trip down the Yellowstone River and to some hikes in Yellowstone National Park.

In many ways, Aidan is my role model. When she was my age (15), she made three, five-week trips to Arctic Alaska with my father and wrote about her experiences at her blog grittygal.com. Growing up, Aidan and I attended the same small school, where, despite my admiration for her, I grew increasingly tired of being known as her younger sister. Occasionally her friends would even call me “Little Aidan”, not because we resembled each other, but because that’s how they saw me. I was proud to be Aidan’s sister, but I wanted to be known for my own accomplishments. But that seemed impossible because everybody knew Aidan as a star: as the girl who won state her freshman year in the 800m; as the girl who survived living on an island with a polar bear; as the girl who got into Yale.

For a long time I wrestled with being in Aidan’s shadow until I realized that I had to define my own path, using Aidan as my inspiration. Aidan had followed her dreams and became the person she wanted to be; I was determined to do the same. I started Thai kickboxing classes after school; I joined a sailing club and raced; and I took up phoaidan and rachel blog.JPGtography. These things were mine. But while struggling to define myself, I also needed to allow for the fact that Aidan and I had some of the same interests: Nordic skiing, Indie Folk music , and a love of travel–especially to remote places.

Last summer I took a NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) trip to the Talkeetna Mountains of Alaska and was as taken with the landscape as Aidan had been. Like Aidan, I am now inspired to write about my adventures–in Alaska, this summer in Papua New Guinea, and wherever else my dreams may take me.

I believe in following my bliss and this is the first in a series of blogs about that. I am hoping that some readers might be as inspired by me as they were by Aidan. I will try to blog as often as I can this summer from the jungles of New Guinea and this fall and winter from the woods of Wisconsin. I hope that you will follow me on my journeys.