{06.2016} The beginning of the end

Floatin’ and fryin’…

During the first weekend of June, most of the Big Sky JVs gathered just outside of Bozeman to camp for the weekend and float the Madison river. We had a fantastic weekend sleeping outside under the stars (never mind that it was in the 40s at night and that we had at least four empty tents sent up). I went for an early morning run (there’s no hope sleeping past 4:30 or 5am when you’re outside at this time of year), and enjoyed the backdrop of the mountains and the close fly-by of a bald eagle who settled in a field of cattle for the next hour or so.

On the morning we planned to float, all ~20 of us inflated our tubes (some more successfully/efficiently than others), and loaded our drawstring backpacks with beer and snacks. And then it came time to apply sunscreen. I suppose I’m in the camp of people who think their legs won’t get sunburned (if there is such a camp), so I foolishly put sunscreen everywhere on my body except my legs. After a few ridiculously fun hours on the river, all tied together, we crawled out of the river and onto the grass, and a whole bunch of us took a nap in the sun (yes, more sun)…after which I practically had to peel myself off of the tube, leaving a little bit of skin behind. I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know how bad at that point. That night, after having been pretty cold the last night, my sunburn helped keep my sleeping bag nice and toasty. The only positive.

The sunburn only got worse in the next week or two. I furiously and futilely applied lotion and aloe, but soon I was starting to bubble up and peel. Bad. Horrible. Really awful. One night, I got home after a really long day of work on the road, and noticed my left leg was particularly swollen. Odd. I sent off a quick Snapchat of amusement to some friends, of course, and then I went to bed and figured it would be better in the morning. Nope. Not at all. Absolutely not.

Enter: a text from Dani (nurse friend), suggesting I get it looked at because it might be a blood clot. Trust me, I was checking off the risk factors as she named them and it was reasonably convincing, so much so that I fainted in the living room. Lol. (If you didn’t know, I have an extensive history of nervous fainting about really random things like this). So I went to see a doctor, who pretty much laughed at me and told me I just had a bad sunburn and to wear sunscreen. Her dismissal of my concerns was upsetting, so I reiterated that I thought it might be more serious. To appease me, she rolled in the ultrasound machine and proceeded to be amazed by my calf muscles, as she could hardly find my arterial vein. She brought in a resident and some other person-in-training so that they could all gawk at it and have her show them how to find the vein in an area of such dense muscle. Really, a bizarre experience all around, but there was no blood clot! My legs continued to peel and took on a frightening purple hue as if they didn’t have quite enough skin on them. SO SERIOUSLY – WEAR SUNSCREEN.

Ranchers and radicals

I got to take a trip to beautiful Eastern Montana (yes, Eastern Montana is a gem, don’t listen to what people tell you!) this month for a seminar that I had planned with my coworker, called Solar for Agricultural Applications. We partnered with the local Extension office as well at the National Resource Conservation Services office, and had a great turnout of around 50 people.

SolarforAg_MilesCity_2016-6-6 018

After the seminar, we went to go visit some members a little ways out of town, who live in what’s known as an Earthship, which is exactly as hippie as it sounds – what? – essentially an off the grid house built from recycled materials. Seriously, it’s built out of old tires and empty pop cans and beer bottles. It uses both passive and active solar and wind power, with an impressive greywater system that moves collected rainwater between the kitchen sink or the washer, to the front-hallway greenhouse, and finally to flush the toilet. Notably, they had a two impressively colossal rosemary plants in their greenhouse. Back at home, mine just had a comeback from death, but is still the most pitiful rosemary plant I’ve ever encountered. Anyways, we went out to their “backyard” to watch an impressive sunset unfold before us. An unexpectedly beautiful and inspiring evening! I love my job.

Visitors and sweet summertime in Billings

I FINALLY got to see my sister this month!!!! It had been over a year! That’s wrong. She rented a car (bless her soul) and despite one minor traffic infraction, we had an beautiful weekend exploring the Beartooth Pass (the renowned scenic highway that snakes through the Beartooth Mountains from Red Lodge into Yellowstone), a chunk of Yellowstone, and Bighorn Canyon. We also spent a day in Billings which was really awesome – we went to the YAM (Yellowstone Art Museum), the Strawberry Festival (just a fun annual art fair downtown), the library, the Will James cabin and Four Dances (of course), and then cooked dinner.

Beartooth Pass and Yellowstone National Park

The Strawberry Festival (featuring a 65 ft long (!!!!) strawberry shortcake, strawberry people, chocolate covered strawberries, and strawberry balloons):

Will James Cabin and Four Dances

Bluegrass Breakfast at the Owl Cafe in Laurel, MT





At the same time Emily was here, my dear friend Michelle and her boyfriend, Michael, came through town and stayed a few days as part of their road trip. They joined us on our day in Bighorn Canyon. Michelle will be starting her year as a JV in Gresham, Oregon in just a few short weeks, and I am so proud of and excited for her!!!!!

Bighorn Canyon

Billings is a happening place in the summer! There are weekly free outdoor concerts called “Alive After 5,” various festivals, movies in the park, frequent minor league baseball games to watch for $5 (GO MUSTANGS!), music festivals, rodeos, and soon, the farmers market will be back! Oh, and of course, the brewery patios. Although three of my roommates are leaving in a week, which will be heartbreaking, Lo and I will have no shortage of things to keep us busy in our last month!

Goats galore!

As part of the annual WORC board and staff meeting, bringing people together from WORC’s network of eight grassroots organizing groups (of which Northern Plains is one), this year held in Red Lodge, I got to visit a really awesome ranch. A young couple owns this land on which they raise goats to control weeds, and then walk their goats (yes, walk them), to other neighboring ranches to do the same. As part of this lil field trip, we also learned about the basics of ranching and about the important of healthy soils.

Mostly, I tell you this to share some pictures from the afternoon:

Becoming a Ragnarian

One of the coolest parts of June was something that just sort of fell into my lap unexpectedly. I got a text from Sarah, an FJV in Billings, saying she needed someone to fill a spot on her Ragnar Relay team for a race in Utah in two weekends. What is Ragnar? Basically, I soon found out that it’s a team of 12 people running 3 legs each to total about 200ish miles. A team is split between two 6-person vans, and at an average 10 minute mile, the race would take us around 30 hours. This particular race would be in the Wasatch Back which is a beautiful mountainous region in Utah. So, naturally, I figured out how to work a few extra hours here and there so that I could go, cuz if it’s a race, you can count me in!

I told my new team that I didn’t care which set of three legs I got – I am an endurance runner so I didn’t mind the distance. The three legs I got were 2.2 miles, 8.1 miles, and 6.1. No problem. BUT WAIT – I live in Billings, which is ridiculously flat and pretty low altitude. Utah is neither…I forgot about that. Plus, it was sunny and in the 80s all weekend, and I’m used to running at sunrise when it’s still cool out, so heat would be another unaccounted for factor.

The 2.2 miles were a breeze – although in the afternoon, so it was hot, but I was done in less than 20 minutes. My 8.1 were run at 10pm, when it had significantly cooled down, and on rolling hills that I felt surprisingly prepared for, with about a net gain of 600 ft. Once our van of runners was finished at 4am, we crawled our tired bodies into a high school gym and passed out in our sleeping bags with a couple hundred other people (such an odd experience), and slept for maybe 2 or 3 hours. Then we had some pancakes for breakfast and were back at it! My third leg was actually named the Ragnar Hill (originally listed on the race app as “YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME”, that’s nice), and it was a 2900 ft climb in 4.5 miles up a ski mountain in Park City, and then back down for the remaining 1.5 miles. Basically nobody ran it, save like two lanky cross-country-esque boys who passed me, because it was soul-crushingly steep and never-ending. I love a good hike, so once I had accepted that running was going to be impossible, I went into power-hike mode and had a great (albeit painful) climb. The view from the top was unbelievably beautiful, and I suddenly felt like I really lucked out getting the worst leg of the race. The rest of my team crushed their runs, despite a few minor setbacks involving heat exhaustion and rolled ankles, but it was an overall incredible weekend with new friends.

Home on the Range

So, because of friend/sister visits, a three-day WORC meeting in Red Lodge, and my impromptu trip to Utah, I was out of the office for something like 11 days (including weekends). When I came back on Monday, our big carport solar array in the parking lot was fully installed! To celebrate this new addition and 10 years in this building, we hosted a 10 year anniversary party! The solar panels are incredible, and our office is now net-zero!!! While prepping to give building tours for the celebration, I think I finally came to fully appreciate how awesome this building is. And built 10 years ago already? We were the first LEED-platinum building in Montana, and now there are 13. Man, we really set the bar high! I am so going to miss working in an office where we have so much natural light that we rarely turn on any supplementary lights. Oh, and the people, but I’ll gush about them next month when I actually have to leave here :””(

June reads:

I borrowed I Am Malala months ago from a woman in my book club/bible study, and finally decided I needed to read and return it. Despite it gathering dust on my bookshelf for far too long, I really loved this inspiring recount of an amazing young activist.

Kyle got me The Magicians for my birthday, a really fun story that’s been dubbed an “adult Harry Potter,” which I can confirm, as it’s essentially a group of borderline-alcoholic, horny students of magic. I liked it enough to get the second book of the trilogy from the library, so we’ll see how that is!

Citizen: An American Lyric, on the other hand, is a sobering read about living in a raced body in twenty-first century America, told through hauntingly eloquent and poignant prose, poetry, and art. It’s a collection of encounters and experiences of racial injustice in daily life and the media. While Claudia’s words were so carefully chosen and assembled to seem effortless that I might have just devoured them, I think I reread every page at least twice to let it sink in – it was not a book I ever felt the need to rush through.  It was our JVCNW book of the year, so I’m glad I finally picked it up off the bookshelf again. Highly recommend.

The latest from the babe cave

We’ve been working on a short, last-minute bucket list, involving the visiting the Will James cabin (two babes hadn’t gone yet; see outcome below), going to dance at a nightclub called “The Island” and Lo wearing her heels, living room and basement sleepovers, and having some of our support people over for dinner.

We also spent a day last weekend doing a self-guided “Dis-O” or disorientation, to help us start to process this year and get some closure. Of course, Lo and I still have a month left, but MK, Carol, and Elle ship off July 7th. JVCNW provided us with a really nice packet to guide us through the mini-retreat, and I think we all really enjoyed it!

Oh, also, Carol got an iPhone back after trading it in for a “dumb phone” all year, so our texting has involved a lot more voice memos and unflattering selfies. #BlueBubzClub

What’s next for me, you ask?

As I near the daunting stage of life known as FJV (former Jesuit Volunteer), I am beginning to search for jobs in the Midwest (Madison, Chicago, Philly, Detroit) and the East coast (DC, Boston, Baltimore)…oh, and Nashville (hi Dani and Bells!). I’ve decided I want to move back closer to home for the time being and to hopefully move somewhere where I have some sprinkling of my community (hence, Madison – Lu and Ju (college bffs) are there now, and I have friends and fam in Milwaukee). I’m looking for jobs with environmental nonprofits or public environmental offices, whether in organizing, planning, communications, whatever – I’m willing and able. If you have a connection or know of a job opening that you think might be relevant – please let me know! xoxo.

But, before I start working (God willing somebody hires me), I am going to spend about 10 days in Montana with Kyle! We’ll be camping and hiking in Yellowstone and Glacier, taking a leaf or two out of Michelle and Michael’s book. I was pretty resolute about not leaving MT before visiting Glacier. After that trip, I’ll be driving home in my new (used) car, taking my time moseying through places like the Black Hills (Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Wind Cave National Park) and Badlands National Park, plus maybe making a pitstop in Madison to see the biddies (Hi Ju and Lu, can this happen?? Talk soon.) I’m really looking forward to it – plus, it will make getting my stuff home much easier, especially things like my viola and bike. I’m really looking forward to spending a little time at home with my parents and pup before striking off to somewhere new again.

Stay tuned:

  • My other sister, Katie, visits in July!! WOohoO!
  • …Which also happens to be the same weekend as the MISSOULA MARATHON. Super pumped, as I have only heard great things about this race.
  • I’ve been planning a benefit concert called “Rhythms by the River” — super stoked!
  • I have been working on prepping for the MT Local Food Challenge for a couple months, and it’s finally here!!! This July, we’ll be encouraging people to eat more local foods and support Montana agriculture in a bigger way. Really excited to see how this goes and to see what local food adventures I find myself on!
  • I finish my year of service…………………………………………………………….that’s all. Goodbye world. I plan on reflecting lots more in my final blog post next month!



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