Tag Archive: travel

Here is another selection of photos from my travels in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. This selection focuses more on landscapes and scenes. This series is also featured in my calendars in my store. Enjoy!

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Like what you see? Buy greeting cards, journals, calendars and more featuring these photographs and other art by visiting my store: http://www.cafepress.com/sculptingearth


This slide show selection is of photographs taken by me during my travels in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador and is themed around the faces and people I saw and interacted with. They were taken during the year off I took between high school and college from fall 2007 to spring 2008. I had taken a few photography classes in high school and was greatly enjoying using photography as a way to capture some of my experience. At the time I wanted to put together a show of some of my photographs but life got busy and I have only recently been revisiting them. This particular series of twelve photographs is now featured in one  of my calendars in my store. I hope you enjoy them!

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Like what you see? Buy greeting cards, journals, Calendars and more featuring these photographs by visiting my store: http://www.cafepress.com/sculptingearth

My travel luck seems to be continuing. My bus from Seattle to Anacortes, where the ferry’s leave the mainland for the San Juan Islands, got to the dock just minutes before the 2:40pm ferry left. Had I missed it I would have had to wait until 4:30 for the next ferry, which would not have been the end of the world but given that I was filled with excited anticipation it felt good to make the earlier boat and be on my way.

I quickly camped myself at the very front of the boat where I could stand in the wind, looking eagerly out over the beautiful water at what lay ahead; a much anticipated opportunity to work one on one with a skilled natural builder.  I had heard lots from Peter about Ryan and his cob house that he has been building on his own for the last three years, but now I am finally going to get to meet Ryan and see and work along side him on this house!

A beautiful afternoon on the ferry from the mainland to the islands

The ferry ride over was beautiful. Islands dotted the horizon in front of me, the sun was out and the water was blue. A seal poked its head out and said hello, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a pair of dorsal fins disappear under the water.

As a lone traveler it has always been easy for me to make friends on my travels. On the bus ride over to the port I met a man who was on his second sail around the world! He had gone to University in Binghamton, NY, not too far from Ithaca but had gone to the virgin islands after graduating and had ended up staying 6 months longer then he intended, learned to build boats, and has been doing that ever since.

On the ferry ride over I talked with a woman who was a holistic veterinarian. She was headed to the islands to learn from and film this woman who works with horses, developing an equal partnership with them rather than having a domineering relationship over them. I love hearing the stories of people I meet while traveling.

Upon arriving at Friday Harbor I sling one back pack on my back an the other on my front and head out to meet Ryan. There he is waiting for me right at the top of the ramp, with unmistakable shoulder length blond hair. This is our first actual meeting, although we have exchanged e mails and skyped a bit, but we give each other of hug hello and my adventure on the islands has begun!

The first evening we drove around the island a bit and went on a short hike near and old limestone mine. The views are breathtaking and conversation is easy. My first lesson in plants begins with learning about the beautiful Madrona tree that has an unmistakable red-purple bark that contrasts with vibrant yellow wood. Apparently this tree has the ability to photosynthesize through its wood so it often purposely sheds its bark where the sun is hitting it to make use of the light. So cool!

Rocky outcroppings right in front of the beach house.

He treats me to dinner and then after running a few errands we head to his parents beach house. The approach to the house is long and windy but then we arrive. The house is sitting just a couple hundred feet from the water, with huge glass windows that face southwest. The waves crash on rock outcroppings and you can hear the wind blow through the open fields.

Over the course of the week I  learn that much of the grasses growing around the house are not native. There is also a Himalayan Blackberry that seems to be aggressively taking over, and although the berry’s are yummy, the thorns are vicious and they choke out all other plants. Ryan has been working to cut back some of these Himalayan Blackberry bushes and give some of the native species a competitive advantage. The native species include a type of rose and a shrub called snow berry.

The view from the beach house porch.

After calling it a night I retire to my loft that will be my home while I stay here. It is a nice big open loft from which I can see right out the big windows to the ocean. I wonder if I will be able to sleep as I am so excited to see the cob structures the next day!

Indeed I find myself awake at 4am with anticipation. I manage to fall back into a light sleep but am up as soon as I hear Ryan moving about downstairs at about 6:30, before the sun has even risen.

So we are up before sunrise, drinking tea and making eggs with some beans a cheese for breakfast. We eat a relaxed breakfast, pack some lunch and are on our way out the door by about 8:30 or so.

First stop is GD cat. I soon learn that Ryan is responsible for taking care of his parents cat, who stays at their town house (which I am thankful for as I am allergic to cats).  This means each day begins and ends with a stop at the town house to feed the cat and let it in or out. The abbreviation, GD, stands for a not so affectionate term that Ryan occasionally uses when the cat is being particularly difficult.

Then we are off to The Pump House. The pump house is exactly that, a cob pump house that Ryan is building for someone on the island whose old pump house had partially burned down. When we pull into the driveway I am amazed to see an almost finished, adorable little round structure with a cedar shingle roof on it that makes me think of an owl’s wings. Yes, something about the structure makes me think that it is just going to lift off and fly away! It is absolutely wonderful.

The pump house from the front.

Ryan begins with a bit of an orientation to the site, the project, where he is at and what he has left to do. He points out to me the little stone borders he has used to create walkways, reminders to himself

and others to stay on the path and minimize impact to the area. He shows me how he decided to build the pump house right on top of the water tank, which already had a cement top, there giving him a pre-made floor and preventing him from having to create much more disturbance to the site. Then we get down to business and do a bit of cobbing, just adding a few more inches around the windows and the door. You can’t put too much on at a time without giving the cob time to dry because the wall will slump with all the weight. Because Ryan is pretty far along now he likes to do just a little bit of actual cob work each day, sealing up holes around windows, doors, and ceilings, and doing finishing work.

The pump house from the back.

Now it is off to the “Mud Hut,” or the real cob house that I am SO excited to see. After a short drive we are there. Before we pull into the driveway Ryan asks me if I can see the house. I look, but all I see is woods. This is what he hopes for as he wants his houses to blend into the landscape. Then we pull into the driveway and walk down a short little windy path, also bordered by stones. And there it is! Tucked back into the hill, an adorable little cottage!


Although it is not quite finished it is beautiful, with a living roof, earth bermed in the back, and as inviting as any little cottage in the woods I have ever seen. As I enter the house there is a large blue stone inset into some beautiful sunburst woodwork in the floor – quite impressive. On the right is what will be the kitchen area, with a water and electrical line already coming in, and a large wood stove that Ryan obtained for free from someone

Approaching the cob house from the path.

replaces theirs. Then in the right back is what will be the bedroom; a kind of raised loft with a partial wall. This structure wraps around a little atrium that Ryan calls the tree room; a little out door room with a tree standing in the middle. He thinks the tree will have to be cut but he may put a little table and an outdoor hearth there. From a separate entrance a root cellar wraps around the back of the structure helping create an air barrier between the cob structure and the living roof that becomes the hill. Lastly, the roof extends a bit on one side giving Ryan a bit of a covered shed where he can store stacked wood and other things.

The cob house from the front, in all it's glory.

But before I go too much into the building itself I must tell you that Ryan spent three months on the land just deciding where to site it. He wanted the building to blend in and he wanted to create as little additional disturbance as possible. He tells me how he knew the site had been quite disturbed previously from looking at the soil horizons, the plants that are growing, and some of the clearly chain sawed stumps that are around. Ryan also has an amazing ability to see and anticipate succession. He points out a few pines that he says aren’t very happy and are probably on their way out. Also there are a few deciduous that he anticipates will be shaded out soon by the Douglas Firs  that dominate the island. He explains how the fact that the trees are rather small and still growing quite close together means that it is a young forest in which it is basically a free for all race to see who can survive. But as the forest matures it will thin out and probably lose some of its diversity in trees as early transitional species get shaded out and die.

All of this is fascinating to me and as the week goes on I find that I will be learning lots about not just cob, woodworking, and building, but also plants and ecosystems. By the end of the first week I am learning to be able to tell the difference between a Douglas Fir, Grand Fir, and Pine up close and even at a distance as we drive by. Ryan is also really good at identifying what kind of tree a piece of driftwood came from – that one is more difficult for me.

Working on the mud hut and pump house is slow and steady work, but it feels like it is

Sunburst woodwork in the floor. I can't wait to see what it looks like when it is sanded, stained, and varnished!

feeding my soul. I like the rhythm of our days a lot. We go to bed early and get up before the sun rises. We eat a big breakfast, take a lunch break and eat yummy dinners. Each day we probably do a bit of cob mixing (two buckets of sand mixed with a bucket of wet clay, add more of each to taste and then some straw. All mixed with your feet of course.) and a bit of cob laying on one part or another of the wall. Right now the priority is to try and get all the holes filled before winter really sets in we have been working on getting windows how we want them and installing them. Ryan is a perfectionist who values craftsmanship so we work carefully, seeing how each modification to the window framing and the cob affects the light, the aesthetics of the window etc. At the end of each day we try to do a reflection, noting everything that we did that day and giving ourselves a pat on the back for our hard work. We also seem to work really well together, bouncing ideas off each other and trouble shooting together. I find myself not wanting to stop and we often work past sundown.

All in all it has been a fabulous week. I am a bit sad to leave honestly and excited that I will be coming back after the holidays. The first week, which was meant to be sort of a trial week, has been a huge success. Maybe I could do this for a living….!

Hello Seattle!

As I walked towards baggage claim in the Seattle/Tacoma airport I reviewed in my head where Penny had told me to meet her. She doesn’t have a cell phone so we had made plans for a very specific rendezvous point. Penny was my babysitter was I was little, but we haven’t seen each other since I was 7 years old, 15 years ago! Honestly, she was much more then a babysitter to me. She was part of the family, a mentor and a teacher. She was not your typical babysitter; there was never a dull moment with her. I remember going on many outings with her and doing many arts and crafts projects, including some amazing ones that I look at in wonder even today and don’t know how she got me, as a seven year old, to create such amazing things!

When I was seven years old Penny decided to move to Seattle and we have not seen each other since. But, amazingly enough, we have kept in touch. Penny, like me, is also a wanderer and traveler at heart. So when I took my first year off between high school and college and decided to travel through Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador I exchanged many e mails with her, asking her questions about what it is like to travel as a woman alone, what were some of her favorite places in those countries, and general travel tips. Since that year we have talked about someday seeing each other again, and now finally, almost four years later, I am in seattle.

I spotted Penny immediately, sitting in her silver-grey prius right where she said she would be. After big hugs of hello we she takes me on a wonderful little driving tour of Seattle and her neighborhood. The air here feels warm after being in Minneapolis. The city look modern and clean. Penny’s neighborhood, Ballard, feels cozy and progressive, with lots of cute little cafes, restaurants, and places advertising massage, and other holistic health practices. It is right on the water with the beautiful, snow covered olympic mountains visible across the Puget sound.

Penny and I are getting along fantastically. When we arrive at her house she shows me the amazing little cocoon  of a room that she has created for me. It is so adorable, with a bed, desk, lots of plants, and shelves full of books, many of which look interesting to me. We heat up a delicious meal of black bean soup, home made chick pea – edamame hummus, and some sweet potato salad. Mmmmm, so yummy. And of course, I got to try her delicious energy bars that she plans to soon be selling. They are rich and flavorful, almost like chocolate, but not too sweet and not at all dry. They taste healthy, but not too healthy- just like they are made of real, high quality ingredients, which they are. I think they might be the best energy bars I have every tasted!

Even though I have just arrived, the next day I will be heading out to the San Juan Islands for four days to learn the ropes and get a feel for my cob building apprenticeship with Ryan (more on this later). Then I will be back in Seattle for thanksgiving and more adventures with Penny before I go back to the islands!

There are two first impressions about Seattle that have struck me. One is that the people here seem really friendly. I have already had a conversation with with someone on the bus, a man who builds boats and is on his second sailing trip around the world, and a woman on the ferry, a holistic veterinarian who is thinking about moving to the islands. And people have been happy to help me find my way to the bus station, navigate the ferry’s and answer any questions I might have. The second thing that has struck me about the Ballard neighborhood in particular is that something about the aesthetics of the place remind me of Japan. Maybe it is the influence of the many Japanese people who do indeed live in Seattle, but I swear that something in the layout of the streets, the buildings and architecture, and the landscaping make me feel like I could be in Japan! I have a feeling that I will enjoy my stay here, especially if it is a strange melding of the two cultures of my parents.

Highlights from Minnesota

I am now about to leave the heartland of the country, St. Paul Minnesota. I first came here a little over three years to start my undergraduate career at Macalester College. When applying to colleges my father had jokingly told me I had to stay on the east side of the Mississippi and so, being a restless young teenager, I had ended up right on the Mississippi.

But being as restless and eager to experience the world as I was, this small liberal arts college in Minnesota felt too small and insular for me. It felt like it didn’t quite have the myriad of cultures and people that the big cities of the east coast had and it also didn’t quite have the natural beauty of a rural campus. And I found myself frustrated with an environmental studies program that strongly emphasized policy and politics when I really wanted to be doing science. And so by my sophomore year I was applying to transfer and ended up at Cornell in Ithaca, NY.

But now, as most of my freshman class is in their final year I find myself back at Macalester, visiting old friends and old professors. There is something to be said for the bonds created during the first years of college, when all of you have recently left home and are trying to figure out your separate identities. It has been wonderful to feel welcomed back by old friends. The people at Macalester are truly wonderful people; independent, critical thinkers, and loyal and dynamic friends. It’s also amazing to see how our interests have grown and changed but many of us are thinking about similar transitional things now. Many of us are asking ourselves what is our purpose in this world? What do we want to do once we graduate? It is comforting to know that we are all asking these similar questions now and that most of us don’t yet have the answers.

I spent my first night here with my freshman year roommate! It is crazy to think that already almost 4 years has passed since those first days in college. We went out to a delicious hole in the wall Turkish restaurant, the Black Sea, that she has discovered sometime in the year and a half that I have been gone. I then went to Carleton college where I visited a friend I have known for eleven years! She is a friend I have known since middle school and who I have, if anything, grown closer with over the years. Having friends who have known you for so long is truly a gift. There is a certain trust and stability in such friendships. We have seen each other grow and change and have known each other through both good and bad times. And you are just so comfortable around each other! It is a similar bond to that of family, but it takes a bit more effort to maintain since, unlike family, we have no reason to cross paths if we don’t want to. Instead we have chosen to make each other part of our extended family. The four days I spent at Carleton with her was probably the longest chunk of time I have spent with her since we were in middle school together! And it was quite wonderful. I did art with her as she worked on her final senior project in ceramics. And it’s funny, many of our afternoons together in middle school were also spent doing art together in my mom’s studio!

Upon returning to Macalester I stayed with the crowd that had lived in the coop my sophomore year. This was truly wonderful as well. I felt so welcomed by these people who gave me big hugs and said “welcome home!” when I walked in the door. Sometimes I wonder if I had ended up living in that coop my sophomore year would that have changed my decision to transfer. And then what a different trajectory my life would have right now… I do think Macalester has some wonderful people, but the place itself as a kind of surburbia that still does not appeal to me.

From this home base at my friends house I have eaten almost every meal with an old friend, I have done my best to show my gratitude for their hospitality by baking pumpkin pie and bread for everyone, and I have just had a jolly good time 🙂 Thursday night two of my friends and I went out swing dancing- why did I never discover swing dancing in the twin cities before?! It was such a good time. No bar scene, or pressure to be good. Just pure, fun, funky, goofy swing dancing. And I don’t even know how to swing dance but it was SO much fun. Only one of us actually knew how to swing, so she taught the other two of us the basic steps and then we just went for it! It is amazing how much fun dance can be when you are able to just let go and have a good time. We danced with each other, we asked guys to dance, and we got asked to dance. Sometimes I felt like I had no idea what I was doing and sometimes I got compliments for my dancing, but it was always a fun, friendly atmosphere.

It was also great to have lunch with my old advisor. Having an adult during those first years of college who took the time to get to know me as not just a student but as a person was truly a blessing. He guided me and listened to me as I made the tough decision to transfer, and we have been in touch just a few times a year since, but that has been enough so that I felt able to e mail him and plan a lunch date during this visit. And we just caught up on everything from school to family and home life, to plans for the future and it was so nice! I am very glad I still have that relationship as I have found it difficult to build a relationship with professors at Cornell.

Having only turned 21 after leaving Macalester, we have gone out to the Tap, a little bar nearby bar, to experience some of the over 21 scene. I have also climbed a campus building while here, an old tradition that involved an easy scaling of the building. From the top the campus looks quiet and peaceful at 1 am in the morning and you can see the sky dotted with stars. It was a full moon night, the perfect night for such an adventure with old friends. They also, conveniently, always leave a door open on the roof from which to enter the building; A smart decision on the colleges part as I think it would be much more likely for students to hurt themselves trying to climb down. So an old friend and I tromped around the inside of the building a bit, finding a nice lounge to sit and talk. At this hour it is hard to find many indoor spaces to hang out, and the outside air is getting cold enough in Minnesota that you would rather be inside, so this was a good option. Eventually we headed back to my friend’s house, ate some pumpkin bread and parted ways. It was a good evening.

Friday night I got to see someone who took my permaculture and green Building course with me this past summer; Kaitlyn! Her and her mom drove into the twin cities for a day on the town and we all went out to dinner at a cute diner in Minneapolis. This was Great as I had wondered if I would ever see Kaitlyn again, and hearing what my fellow alumni from Living Routes are doing is always inspiring and motivating.

The weekend came and Saturday was a beautiful relaxed day. A few friends and I took a nice walk in the Louise Butler Wilder Flower Gardens, a nice pocket of wilderness in the cities.  Then the evening was spent brewing some beer, talking and just hanging out. Sunday I made vegetarian chili and another pumpkin pie for a potluck in the evening that we hosted. The potluck was lots of fun and gave me an opportunity to see some faces I hadn’t yet seen, including some mac grads that had welcomed me to the campus and shown me the ropes as a freshman. The potluck soon turned into a jamming session later in the evening and someone even had a violin that I could play so I was very happy!

Now I am sitting in the Humphrey terminal of Minneapolis/St. Paul airport waiting for my flight that will take me to my next stop: Seattle, Washington. It is a bit bittersweet as I am very excited for my next stop but also sad to be leaving friends again. My visit to Minnesota was a great success. Although keeping in touch is always hard and can take away from present experiences, these friends here will always have a place in my heart I will welcome them with open arms wherever we again cross paths. And having revitalized these connections I feel confident that many of us will again cross paths.

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