Table of Contents
What's on Your Mind?
When you're seventeen, you're on the cusp of everything. You're almost out of school, almost an adult, almost able to buy scratch-it lottery tickets. And everyone sees this and begins asking questions: "Where will you go to school? What kind of work do you want? What are you going to do with your life?" These questions always leave me wondering. In fact, people have asked me so many questions lately that I've started to ask them to myself. The following excerpts from my late-night philosophical ponderings have been What's On My Mind lately.
What are my assumptions about my life? Everyone has subconscious assumptions that function as guidelines for their decisions. We are unaware of so many of our options and therefore don't consider them simply because they're outside our normal experience. I'd like to think I consider all the aspects of a situation before reaching a decision; I don't like to think there's some subconscious censor in my brain automatically ruling out possibilities, secretly influencing and biasing my decisions. For example, I always assumed I would go to college and settle down into some sort of a career. I never even considered dropping out of high school, not attending college, or working for only a couple months at a time and switching jobs whenever the mood struck. But now that I've experienced a little more, ideas keep popping up that completely contradict what I've always believed. What if I worked only six months out of the year‚ each year somewhere different‚ and the other six months my only job was having fun? I could kayak, backpack, road-trip anywhere, stopping only to earn enough money to take off again.
Just because I thought of these things doesn't necessarily mean I'll follow through on them. But until I looked beyond my assumptions, I didn't even see them as options. I never thought about fighting fires in Idaho and Montana over the summer. I never thought about leaving the familiar USA to hitchhike for three years from South Africa to Turkey like a friend did. But now that I've ferreted out these assumptions, I've been able to step beyond my supposed comfort zone and into a whole stew of adventurous possibilities.
Am I doing what I'm doing because it's what I want to do? Or is it because that's what someone else hopes I'll do? After living through seventeen years, I've drawn the beginnings of conclusions to these questions and have experienced a few revelations.
Amanda Marusich, 17, will be graduating from high school this June with honors. Also see pages 22-23 and the back cover for her contributions.
"I am an Indian American who tries to integrate his culture into his day-to-day life. I have been learning tabla, a classical Indian percussion instrument, under the tutelage of the renowned Pundit Swapan Chaudhary. After studying the art for seven years, I've formed only a basic understanding of the instrument, though I have performed a few times. In this poem I have tried to capture my emotions and thoughts during one of my performances. I felt overwhelmed when I entered the stage, but as I regained my composure, I was able to perform to my full capability."
-- Neil Bhalerao, 14, Cupertino, CA.
My older brother often dominates our family conversation by making nasty remarks about kids at school. Do you have a cure for an unrepentant gossip? -- N.D.
Dear N.D.: Likely, your brother is an unrepentant gossip because he is persuaded that his remarks are evidence of posessing intelligence and a good sense of humor. The following story may bring to light the damaging consequences of spreading tales:
There was once a well-respected, honest mayor in a small Czech village. He sought to be a helpful mayor, always aiming to work for the welfare of the village. In the course of a friendly conversation, a young woman confided in him that she would like to marry a certain young man, except for the fact that he was always talking about other people, freely telling tales about them whether the story was true or just rumored gossip.
The mayor decided to help the young man get over his thoughtless habit. He went to his attic and stuffed a few large handfuls of feathers stored there into a pillow case. He invited the young man to his house and addressed him in a serious manner, "Everyone in town is sick and tired of your gossiping. It brings pain and evil to our whole village. It's time to put an end to it! Now take this bag of feathers and go throughout our village placing one feather on the doorstep of each house. When you are finished come back to my house. I will be waiting for you!"
The young man did exactly as he was told. When he returned to the mayor, he was surprised that a second task awaited him. "Now," said the mayor, "retrace your steps and put every single feather you left at each household into this empty bag and bring it back to me!"
"But, Mayor, that is impossible! The feathers flew hither and yon. I have no idea where they landed. The wind will have blown them away. I could never find them again!"
"That's true," said the mayor. "Just as the feathers scatter in any and all directions, blown by the wind, so it is with the rumors you spread and the gossip you repeat! Once said, you have no control over the damage you have set loose."
As you likely know, people who gossip often sense that they are thereby raising their own self-image. Spreading rumors about others may actually cover up their own sense of inadequacy. So do you think you could be helpful to your brother by taking him aside and discussing why he needs to churn a rumor mill? Giving support and affection may be your best ally.
Odds & Ends for Aspiring Artists (and Environmentalists)
Many things around our homes look like junk at a first glance but could easily turn into fabulous art and hours of fun! With a little imagination, we can save lots of money on art supplies and turn would-be garbage into creative expressions. There are no limits or rules to art; everything counts. The following are a few ideas to get you started, but don't stop here. Anything can be a work of art waiting to happen.
Old clothing and fabric scraps hold many possibilities. (Make sure not to choose a shirt your sister still wears or Mom's sentimental old dress):
You don't need professional canvases, horsetail paintbrushes and a beret to make beautiful paintings. (Spills and splashes always happen, so wear old clothes and cover the floor with newspaper or a tarp.)
Make a book:
You don't have to work at Skipping Stones or any other publishing company to make your own book or magazine. The most basic format is to find some blank sheets of paper, fold them in half and staple them together. If you are more ambitious, you can punch holes in the pages and sew them together with twine, yarn, etc.
Finally, one of my favorites, found object sculptures. This concept was made popular during World War I by a zany Frenchman named Marcel Duchamp. The idea is that any object or group of objects can be art; it all depends on what the artist sees and how she or he puts it together. So sift through the recyclables (Stay away from tin cans; they tend to give nasty cuts to unsuspecting artists), scraps of wood, broken toys or that mysterious pile in your garage and start sculpting. The items can be attached by glue, staples, tape or nails. Anything goes!
The Paper Bag that Touched my Soul
Along life's journeys there are those relationships that not only enrich our souls but also teach us valuable lessons. Such was the case of my friendship with Thu Thuy Nguyen during my senior year in high school. She was Vietnamese, petite, painfully reserved and pure-hearted. I was able to win her confidence and convince her to open up to me. Her family had moved to the U.S. when she was eight years old. They had escaped the atrocities of war in her country after an arduous and frightening voyage.
Despite all the turmoil in her life, she was able to begin school with students her age, even though she knew no English! How terrifying it must have been for her to be surrounded by people that she could not understand. I suppose it was a sink or swim experience that propelled her to learn the language so that she could keep up. She not only kept up, but by the time she was in high school, she was excelling.
Her intelligence was fascinating and personally challenging. We shared several classes, and as we discussed the course material we were able to engage on a refreshing intellectual level. Yet all the while her modesty was always prevalent.
In those moments when she felt comfortable enough with our friendship, she would share some of her family's customs and traditions. Her father owned a print shop where the whole family worked. Also, at an age when dating was so important, I was shocked to know that she was not able to date or even speak to guys without her father's approval. Despite the fact that she longed for more freedom, she conveyed a respect for her father and a real sense of unity with her family.
Another unusual practice was the fact that she was expected to cook for the family regularly. In an era when most families rarely cook to begin with, much less require the teenagers to do so, I was admirably amazed. One morning Thu arrived to my English class with a small paper bag.
"Here, I cooked this for you," she said quietly, placing the bag on my desk.
"You cooked this for me?" I felt the bag. It was still warm. "What is it?" I asked with anticipation as I peeked inside.
"It's kind of like a Vietnamese egg roll. I fried them this morning."
I not only couldn't wait to taste the treat, I was truly honored that she got up at 5 a.m. to cook for me. I thanked her and put the bag away until later.
When I told a friend about my unexpected blessing, I was given a rude awakening.
"You're gonna eat that?! How do you know it's not dog meat?"
Her words stung as if a wasp had just pierced my heart. At first I was stunned, but then I began to get angry. There were lots of things I wanted to say to her like: "And this is coming from a Cajun who sucks mudbug heads!" or "When was the last time you got up at the crack of dawn to fry breakfast for your friend?" or my worst thought, "I hope it's your dog." I controlled my anger, "You better believe I'm gonna eat it!" I opened the bag and began eating the savory snack. My friend just walked away.
When my anger over my friend's prejudice subsided, I began to feel sorry for her. Her racism would keep her from marvelous relationships and experiences that come from knowing others with backgrounds different from one's own.
After graduation, I lost touch with Thu. I went to one college and she to another. Ten years later, I met a mutual acquaintance, quite accidentally, while on a plane to attend my high school reunion. The lady sitting next to me was a co-worker of Thu's. She filled me in on Thu's life. After graduation from Tulane University on a full scholarship in chemical engineering, she was employed in a chemical plant. She had married a European American and had changed her name to Jane. I wondered if she had changed her name to avoid discrimination. I don't know if I will ever be able to see Thu again, but her memory is forever etched into my heart.
-- Denise Rousell, Beaumont, Texas.
Pedal Power! Bicycles for a Healthier World
What happens when the ultimate paperboy grows up?
If the paperboy is Jan VanderTuin, the answer is all of the above. Jan (pronounced Yan) is the founder of the Center for Appropriate Transport (CAT), an alternative transport mecca in Eugene, Oregon. CAT promotes community involvement in manufacturing and using human-powered transportation.
The motivation for a car-free lifestyle grew out of Jan's three-and-a-half year stay in Zurich, Switzerland. During that time he got around on bikes, trams, buses and trains. He almost never used a car, yet the quality of life he experienced surpassed anything he had previously known. While in Europe, Jan got involved in a community farm project. He realized the need for an alternative to truck delivery, so he began researching and building cargo bicycles. Thus the idea for Pedalers Express was born. "You can replace a car for many jobs," Jan said. "In any city there are lots and lots of fossil fuel vehicles moving small packages around. It's kind of absurd."
The Pedalers Express courier service was just the beginning. The center, which opened in 1992, now includes a community bike repair shop, a bicycling magazine, a "Ridable Museum" with unusual bikes for rent and purchase, and a full curriculum of classes for middle and high schoolers. Students can attend the school either full or part time, and they learn the basics of bike building and running a business. They help with everything from welding and sewing to frame design and marketing strategies. Everything is a team effort. Jan stresses the importance of hands-on experience. "Are we going to have a culture of people who can pluck away at a computer or a culture where people can actually make things?" John Tripp, 19, has been attending the CAT school for three years. He values the experience-based approach of the school and especially enjoys teaching others to repair bikes. Some of the bikes he helped design include the Dragon Wagon, the Cyclone (a 3-wheeled recumbent) and a folding recumbent. John appreciates the laid back atmosphere of the school, the small class sizes and the one-on-one attention. "This is much more relaxed [than a traditional high school]. You get a smile while you're working." Founding a school requires an extraordinary amount of dedication and hard work, but you can help in your community through much simpler projects. "My personal take," Jan says, "is that if you do something good in one locale, it will be copied and spread." He says it is important not to have a greedy approach in activism projects. Just put a good idea out there, something simple that people can duplicate, and it will spread.
Some projects that can be started in any area include a community bike repair shop, bicycle education programs, cycling clubs, and of course, the best way to help—riding your bike! More bicycles on the road equals less pollution and better health for you and the environment.
For more ideas and information about the Center for Appropriate Transport, check out their web site: www.efn.org/~cat.
-- Michelle Lieberman, assistant editor.
Whitewater Words: Kayak-Speak
"Marten's Rapids were pretty pushy yesterday, and there was a little wood above Clover. Brown's Hole gets kind of sticky at this level, but don't worry; it'll still flush you out." Huh?
Didn't catch all of that? Don't worry. Kayak-speak is like a foreign language, and it's learned best through total immersion. In this case, that means getting wet.
My first boating trip introduced me to all sorts of words and phrases like those above. A great number of these slang words are kayaking euphemisms for ugly (dangerous) river situations. Instead of saying, "Watch out for those strong, swift currents; they'll flip your boat," most kayakers say, "That rapid is a little pushy today." Or instead of "There's a recirculating hydraulic at the bottom of that hole," one hears, "Yeah, such-and-such rapid is sort of sticky." If a certain rapid is "sticky" enough, like Brown's Hole on the McKenzie River at low water, then it transforms into a "keeper." In extreme forms, this is what's known as a terminal hydraulic: what goes in does not come back out. Or it only comes out after a long time‚ longer than the average adult's two-minute lung capacity. Fortunately most rapids aren't keepers and, like the kayaker said, will "flush you out." Perhaps this euphemistic slang makes the danger seem less dangerous, or the crazy boaters halfway sane. But if you're serious about river running, steep creeking (paddling narrow, highly vertical creeks), or playboating (pulling off whitewater rodeo moves in river waves or holes), kayak-speak is a prerequisite.
To begin with, there's the character of the river: pool-drop or continuous. As you might guess, continuous means nonstop, while pool-drop denotes alternating rapid and flatwater sections.
Then there's the type of rapid. Most rapids are ledges, chutes, holes, wavetrains, or boulder gardens, which translates as lots of rocks interspersed with big waves. However, some rapids contain a combination of these elements. For instance, a rapid may have waves leading up to a ledge and then a monster boat-eating hole at the bottom. Marten's, which houses the local boat-eating hole on the McKenzie River, is a prime example of such a rapid. The key to running it is staying between the hole on river-right and the rocks on river-left‚ river-left being the part of the river to your left as you move downstream. If you judge your line just right, you will encounter splashy waves on top, followed by some boulders, a small(er) hole in the middle, and then a rewarding wavetrain‚ a succession of four to five foot waves‚ at the bottom. Once while running Marten's in an inflatable kayak, I missed my line and ended up augering-in to the notorious hole. Needless to say, I swam the rest of the rapid. Kayakers, out of necessity to explain what's around the river bend, have also invented a whole litany of words to describe the internal features of a rapid. There's pile, boil, curl, riffle, whitewater, greenwater (the unbroken part of a wave), shelf, slot, chute, horizon line (an unnerving rapid characteristic which warns of an imminent drop of indeterminate height), eddy, eddy line and eddy wall. An eddy is where the water passes around an obstruction like a rock and circles back upstream; the line where the opposing currents visibly brush against each other is called an eddy line. An especially strong eddy line is an eddy wall. If a boater isn't careful, or isn't paying attention, the turbulence will flip the boat.
Once you have learned the basic vocabulary and armed yourself with such safety words as "self-rescue," "throw-rope," and "T-rescue," it's off to the pool in search of the elusive roll. After several weeks at the pool, many novice boaters are dismayed to learn they've only mastered the most basic roll, the onside roll. Now they have to learn the offside and handroll as well. But you're a quick learner, right?
Standing on the bank of a rushing Class II river (rivers are classified on a scale of I to VI; Class I is anything moving, Class VI is for experts only at "high risk to life"), you may have some second thoughts. Don't. Kayaking is actually quite safe as long as you are prepared and sensible. So pull on your paddling gear (dry-top, life jacket, helmet, spray skirt, booties, paddle, and of course, boat—perhaps the Kinetic, Amp or EZ?) and get ready for the really fun stuff: playboating.
To be a true playboater, or better yet paddle bum, not only do you have to paddle five days a week and live for rodeos on the weekends, but you must also be fluent in rodeo-talk, the predominant dialect of kayak-speak. Die-hard kayakers, in their ceaseless search for bigger thrills and spills, have created their own words for the new moves. "Stern squirting" is sinking the stern under the water and pirouetting around. The "cartwheel" is pretty self-explanatory, and a "wavewheel" is a 180 vertical cartwheel off of a wave. Landing a "tricky-woo" means throwing a "splitwheel" followed by a "wingover" in the same direction as the first end of the "split," finished up with another vertical or off-vertical end. (Picture a wild whir of plastic, paddle and paddler.)
Now you speak the language. You have your roll (onside, offside and everything else!) You've seen the pros. So get out there and shred it up! I want to see you sidesurf, backsurf, flatspin, cartwheel, wavewheel, blunt, boof, pirouette, pop some stern squirts, throw a bunch of ends and finish your ride with giant ender. And remember: when you're running Marten's, the boat-eating hole is on your right.
-- Amanda Marusich, 17, Eugene, OR. Amanda and Erica Benedict-Barta, 17, co-wrote the Paria Canyon article on this page (also see back cover).
Skipping Stones Magazine