the year of the snake, or a year of extremes

Originally published on 05/08/2014

Realistically, I know absolutely nothing about the Chinese horoscope.  The title simply had a pleasant ring to it.

After we returned from Krasnodar, our remaining time in Moscow flew by.  It was a bittersweet time, it was one of anxious expectation and calm regrets.  In short, we were stressed out, burned out, and doggone tired.

Our flight to Utah left early Sunday April 14th.  Since public transit didn’t run that early, we had planned to camp out in the airport Saturday night.  That doesn’t account for the craziness of the preceding two days.  We found out late Friday evening that we were not registered in our dorm and that we had move out by midnight that very day.  After some frantic packing, a good friend let us stay in his room.  After a sleepless night, Ashley went off to her last lesson with her favorite student Natasha and I went off to Saturday General Conference at the Moscow Stake Center.  After some interesting new acquaintances and some hard goodbyes, Ashley and I met up to go gather our things and head to the airport.  We decided to take a scenic route to the metro, via Red Square.  We sat facing the south side of St. Basil’s, basking in the beautiful light which peeked over the Kremlin and shined in defined rays on the square.  We were relatively alone, besides a few girls in short shorts and an old artist putting oil on a canvas.  As we sat there, I asked Ashley, “Do you think we’ll ever come back?”  Thoughts of all the people to whom I had just said farewell and even worse thoughts of all those to whom I hadn’t had a chance to say goodbye raced through my head.  I suddenly knew the answer.  No.  We surely would not.  That was the last time I would ever see them.

I felt sick.

Ashley looked at me baffled.  Whether she could sense my distress or was merely confused by the apparently absurd question, she looked astounded that I would even ask such a question.  A resolute “Yes” was her reply.  At least, she wanted to return.  She said that if we really wanted to we would of course come back.  What a profound answer.  If we wanted to we would come back.

I guess I was questioning how much I really wanted to.

More thoughts of Russia and Russians went through my head.  I knew we had to come back.  We would surely come back.

Metro.  McDonald’s.  Metro.  Train.  Sleepless night at the airport.  I couldn’t believe our time in Moscow was ending.  When the plane touched down in Paris, I didn’t even realize we were gone.  When we arrived in Salt Lake, I was so exhausted I couldn’t even think.  When I recovered and realized it was over, it was already all over.  I thought of the great friends Ashley and I made during our time in Moscow and the new friends we made, I thought of conversation Ashley and I had with a good friend.  Would we miss Moscow or just the people?  As I thought about those people, I realized that I didn’t just miss them.  I missed the land.  There some in thought of Russia as rodina that just has to be felt.

After two brisk weeks with the family (action packed, as always) Ash and I were on our way.  After a good week of sightseeing, hiking, climbing, and camping (for pictures check out facebook), we arrived in Cimarron, New Mexico.  One place in the world I honestly never thought I would live.

We arrived at Philmont a few hours before check in, and after exploring the 5 or 6 square blocks that make up the town of Cimarron we decided to do something more productive:  do our laundry at the local Laundromat.

Inside the Laundromat we met Jenny.  A local from a village (that is what the sign says) called Ute Park, just few miles outside of Cimarron.  Jenny introduced herself as an “animal activist.”  She told us all about her life, how she lives in a cabin with no running water, about how she kayaks in the ocean, about all sorts of things.  Sort, tan, and sun-weathered, Jess was our introduction in New Mexican life.  We chuckled as she said that New Mexico is the “third-world state.”  As Ashley and I were driving to Albuquerque to pick up Emily from the airport that night, we couldn’t help but chuckle at that.

Sorry, if you thought that New Mexicans live in third world conditions, that simply isn’t true.  We’re still in the US.

But things are different here.  The people are different.  Life is different.

For those of you who don’t know, Ashley, Emily, and I are working in the kitchen at Philmont Scout Ranch, the largest high adventure camp in the world.  It is huge.  During peak season, we have a population that rivals Provo.  That’ll be interesting.

We didn’t take the job because we have interest in the culinary arts or in being professional Scouters, but because we get almost half of the week off to go hiking and do awesome things.  There will be plenty of stories (the goal is a weekly adventure, and hopefully post about that adventure), so stay tuned.

As I sit in the shade, looking at my right to the Rocky Mountains and the left to the Great Plains, I think, “What am I doing here?”

It will be a year of extremes.

(A special shout out to Greg Bayles, the kind sir who prompted me to start writing.  I also have to say that any blog post, including pictures, involving Philmont Scout Ranch or The Boy Scouts of America does not represent their views or interests but are purely my own.)

march 8, happy international women’s day

Originally published on 03/08/2013

Today, as all of you know, is March 8th.  This perhaps is only significant to you if you are either an early twentieth century socialist or live somewhere in the in the former Soviet bloc.  Thus, as many of you may not know, today is International Women’s Day.

Despite the fact that International Women’s Day is today almost exclusively celebrated in Russia and Ukraine, it was first celebrated as a national Women’s Day in America after a declaration by the Socialist Party of America in 1909.  I suppose it may be less celebrated it in America due to the dissentient feelings towards all things related to communism over the next one hundred years.  But who knows.  Anyway, I had never heard of it until I started studying Russian back in 2008.

But what exactly is Women’s Day?  Well, originally I suppose it was a day to recognize the women in the work place.  Or perhaps it was a struggle for women’s rights.  In the international scope, it may still carry some of these meanings.  But for the average Russian, March 8th is somewhere in between Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.  A day when we commemorate (but mostly the living) our women and express our gratitude for all that they do.

Finally, I get to the point of my post:  To express my deep gratitude to all the women in my life.

Living in Russia has given me a different perspective on womanhood.  This perspective is founded on three broad principles:  women are strong, women are teachers, and women are spiritual.  Of course, women are all these things in America, and everywhere else, too.  But living here has helped me see these things more clearly as I’ve searched for similarities between our cultures.

Russian women are strong.  First of all watch the YouTube video above.  Yup.  They’re strong.  If a babushka can kill a wolf with an ax…  Well, anything is possible.  But really.  Russian women are strong.  They have lived through so much.  Whether it was every fourth man dying in WWII or the military conscription of 25 years of the past, Russian women have frequently been left to raise families alone.  And even when there is a man to help raise the family that hasn’t always been a good thing.  Traditional folk music speaks of women being beaten by husbands, usually in connection with how their husband was a drunkard.  This has been around for a long time.  Seeing the babushkas here, being around the women, and knowing the history, has helped to realize how truly strong women are.  I would like to express my gratitude to women for being so much stronger than men; for enduring us and loving us men all the same, no matter how terrible we (men) are.

Russian women are teachers.  As men have left women to raise their families, women have become the main transmitters of culture and tradition.  Women, like tradition, are deeply important in Russian culture.  This love of tradition is the coalescent factor that holds the Russian family together; there is a different respect here for parents and grandparents, especially the mother and grandmother.  Women are the teachers, the ones who raise the traditional family.  Not just in Russia, but anywhere that holds that providing for the family is a male role, leaving the women to teach and nurture the children.  That takes a lot (women are strong), but says a lot about how particularly wonderful, and important, women are.  Women, in the end are the reason we all exist the way we are.  Thank you.

Russian women are spiritual.  Seriously, go to any Russian Orthodox temple, not only is the number of church goers is overwhelmingly women, but I feel like there are even more temple workers that are women – cleaning, changing candles, caring for the temple.  That implies a lot.  I think this is directly connected to the womanly attribute that makes women such great teachers.  In general, I think of Russian culture as a giant home with the mother the spiritual figure of that home.  Indeed, Mary, as the Mother of God plays a much larger role in Orthodoxy than other Christian religions.  She is the most important mother figure, connecting motherhood with holiness and womanhood with divinity.  Truly women are divine.  Thank you for the spiritual giants you are.

Anyway, a lot of blathering just to say I love you.  Russian women, American women, any other women, you’re all great.  I am grateful for all the women in my life who have helped me to know Christ, to know myself, and to know life.  I am grateful for all the things women have taught me about the world.  And I am grateful for the example of moral, emotional, and physical strength women are to me.

A special shout out on International Women’s Day to:  my mom, my beautiful wife Ashley, Elena Minyonok, my auntie Karen, and my grandma Ralston and Cardoza.  Obviously, I can’t name all the women that have played a role in my life throughout the years, but any women from high school, my mission, and post mission experiences, know you’re all loved and your memories are cherished as well.  Thank you all.

trust, an age gone by?

So, here we are, hurtling down a two-lane highway through a deserted section of New Mexican desert on our way home.  Outside there is no moon, rendering the desert blacker than crude, a darkness only people who have been to New Mexico or outer space know.  1:45.  We crest a hill and lights twinkle from Cold Beer, a random roadside bar, the only thing on 64 between Cimarron and Raton.

I see something out of the corner of my eye.  Wary because of the obsession deer have with headlights, I tap the brakes.  Suddenly, I stomp on the brakes as what looks like a zombie is hobbling along the side of the road 100 meters in front of us.  “What is that?” Ashley asks, fear in her voice.  As we slowly drive by a, ghoulish head turns and looks at us, cracking a smile that reveals less teeth than are on my left hand.  Ashley screams.  I can’t think straight and my mind plays tricks on me.  By the time it registered that this man obviously needed a ride, we were a good 50 meters down the road.  I stop and put the car in reverse and begin to back up down the road.  I squint, trying to catch sight of him in the passenger side mirror.  Ashley screams again as we almost run over the guy now standing in the middle of the road directly behind us.  I slam on the brakes and we screech to a halt, barely missing him.  He walks around to the passenger side of the car.  I roll down the window as Ashley gives me a look filled with such trepidation I don’t know what to think.  The man is a sight to behold.  Grimy overalls, red and black plaid shirt, wisps of dirty blond hair, and a plastic Target bag dangling over his shoulder brings me back to a time I’ve only read about.  Or perhaps he is a zombie.

“What on earth are you doing!?” is all I could exclaim, I don’t know if I even mean it as a question. Continue reading