New Year

The calendar tells me that Christmas was about a month away, but it feels so much longer than that. The entire month of December flew by. I was blessed to be able to spend hours and hours with encouraging and patient people. It really makes me consider regularly stopping through the Midwest during my travels. Giving yourself time to recharge and be re-equipped by those that care and hearten is something not to be taken for granted.

Immediately after the holidays, I set myself up to drive down to New Orleans for New Year’s Eve. The winter weather had other plans for me, though. A crazy blizzard seemed dead set on flooding, icing, and otherwise incapacitating every road between Minnesota and Louisiana. After delaying the journey a day or so, I decided to make a run for it. The roads in Iowa were nigh impassable, but the snow turned to water by the time I hit St Louis, where the highways were lapped by overflowing drainage ditches.

Entering New Orleans under a dark sky.

I stopped by a climbing gym in St Louis (Climb So iLL – definitely worth a visit), and spent the night about an hour south of the city. I got an early start the next day, the morning of the 30th, so I drove straight through the cloudy weather into the swamps outside of New Orleans. As I began the miles-long bridge journey that welcomes drivers to the Crescent City, I received a welcome phone call from a prospective employer.

It was great news – I landed a job in the mountains of Southern California. But there was a catch – it would begin on January 4th. Since I wasn’t about to miss out on a New Orleans New Year’s Eve, it meant that I was going to have a heck of a drive in front of me to start out 2016.

To sum up the next 36 hours: New Orleans is the place to go for a party. We saw Usher playing a random street concert, a couple of parades, and enough brass bands to rouse John Philip Sousa from his grave in the Congressional Cemetery. It really was a good time, and I was fortunate enough to have a rented house in which to crash while I was there, occupied by two old friends and several more new friends. A day and a half well spent.

On Friday, January 1st, I left the city around 10 AM with a clear head (something of which I’m fairly proud), and merged onto Highway 10. Except to stop for gas, that highway was my home for the next 1800 miles. Sunday night, I rolled into Lake Arrowhead without a clue where I was supposed to report the next morning. To encapsulate the moment that I arrived, I’ll include an excerpt from an email that I wrote to a dear friend while I was trying to figure out what was going on:

“Hope this message finds you well. As I write this, I’m in the van, parked on a steep driveway in the mountainside town of Twin Peaks, California. Supposedly, this is where I’ll be living for the next 6 months, but I have no house key and there’s no one home. There’s also no cell service, unless I take a bewildering road 20 miles back down the winding mountain. It nearly killed my poor diesel engine getting up the blasted thing (and gave me a new check engine light – yay), and I’m not looking to do that again any sooner than is absolutely necessary. So I’m just going to sit here and see what happens. Worst case scenario, I spend the night in the neighborhood and head to my first day of work in the morning. I have a vague idea of where the camp is located from here.”

The camp to which I refer is Arrowhead Ranch. The day after I arrived in California (for the first time), I started as a Naturalist for them. The camp is an outdoor science camp for 5th and 6th graders from the surrounding area. It’s a bit of a departure from the environmental service that I’ve been pursuing, but the combination of science teacher and camp counselor is a role that I think suits me well. I’ve long had an underlying desire to teach, though I don’t think I could ever do it at a true professional level.

It took so long to shovel out. So long.

It took so long to shovel out. So long.

As a new (Southern) Californian, I was extremely excited about the weather. The only thing I knew about that part of the country was that it has a climate that is gorgeous, consistent, and warm. What I didn’t know was that the weather up on top of the San Bernardino Mountains does not conform to the rest of the inland empire’s meteorological bliss, especially during el Niño years. Day 2 in California was a downpour. Day 3 it had turned to a full blown snowstorm. As upset as I was at the weather, I have to admit that the snow on a mountain is a different kind of animal. Unlike the gloomy winters to which I’ve accustomed myself, the sun shines on beautiful powder as soon as the precipitation ends. The massive pines sparkle and shed their icy loads as the entire peak basks in the beauty of the day. Pretty inspiring.

Training week: finding out just how waterproof everything you own is not.

After my third week, I’m feeling more comfortable with the mountain weather and with the job itself (both of which proved to be fairly overwhelming). The people here are interesting, unexpected, gregarious, and caring, which is more of a community than I was expecting. I’m also about 40 minutes away from one of my very best friends, who’s getting married this fall. That alone is a huge blessing of which I’m trying to take advantage.

I haven’t done much traveling in California yet, but I’ve got grand plans. Hopefully some of those plans actually pan out. The weeks have already flown by and the weekends are surprisingly full. But with a little more planning (and once the van is out of the shop), I should have some good travel destinations that are easy weekend trips.

I’m not promising to get back on a regular blogging schedule, but now that I’ve settled in here, it should be easier for me to find time to write. I appreciate all of the encouragement that I received in December, and the people that have been in contact more recently. I’ll get better at returning calls once I find the places up on this mountain that have cell signal.


-Austin

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