Category Archives: Writings

Welcome to the Spring Semester


The past few days I’ve felt like I was on the edge of a precipice, waiting for the students to arrive. And now…they are here! Jumping off a cliff has never felt so natural. Really looking forward to getting to know everyone better, do a little cooking and learning together, and spend as much time sitting outside in the sun as possible.

~Sarah

Transitioning into Finding the Good was surprisingly smooth. Everyone here is laid back, fun and understanding; it’s a very warm, welcoming community. I’m excited for all the adventures we’ll have and journeys we’ll go on together.

On another note, I’m starting to realize what this experience means. I know I’ll have to step out of my comfort zone a little bit, and being in a new place with new people will take some getting used to, of course. It’s overwhelming at times, but I know we’ll find our flow and that this will be a remarkable experience for me.

~Lily

After waking up to Tom’s melodic knock, we ate a simple breakfast of Granola, and then headed off on a four mile hike along the South Yuba river canyon. It is a beautiful day out, but somewhat chilly. I wore my new shoes that I had gotten fairly recently; they fit fine, except for a rubbing pinky toe on the right side, but this was easily remedied by a band aid. I am writing this entry on a large rock roughly 15 feet above the frigid waters of the Yuba River. The rock is covered in light blue lichen and dark green moss, and I am lichen the lichen. In a few minutes we will head out on the two mile hike back to the van. I have been enjoying my time here a lot, and I am looking forward to the next four months.

~Connor

Arriving at the banks of the Yuba, we are overwhelmed by the ladybug clusters surrounding us. We acquaint ourselves with our surroundings amid exclamations, explorations, and surprises, and share in a delicious lunch of sandwiches; avocado, cheese, carrots, peanut butter, GORP, and fruit. Scrumptious. Eyes and mouths full, we discuss the designation of “wilderness” from an indigenous perspective, and then disperse into different corners of the beach for some journaling, with the constant flow of the river serving as an auditory backdrop for our thoughts…

We began the semester with a discussion about the interplay of sanctuary and pilgrimage. Sifting through these dense topics, we established a connection between sanctuary and the hardships encountered during pilgrimage; this sense of an almost sacred place of safety coming from an understanding of the difficulties that exist in other parts of one’s life. The question that arises is one of time. How fresh do the recollections of these hardships need to be in one’s mind for a place to retain its state of sanctuary, rather than remaining just another physical location that we inhabit?

Our world has seen many variants of conservation and environmentalism, and with my interactions with the current state of these movements, it seems there is a heavy focus put on the state of dilapidation our planet is falling into. While it is certainly important to have a fairly concrete sense of the wrongs currently committed, I am curious to see how the rhetoric of our movements will change as they (hopefully) attain their goals. If we reintegrate with our planet and our communities on a healthier, more sustainable level, I believe our role will change from an endless consumer of natural resources to one of “moderate interaction,” a term used by the author Debra read to us earlier. At this level of experience, where human involvement in our surroundings is based on respect and integration, the term “conservation” becomes null and void. Our goals attained, the very concept of what we are now fighting for will disappear into the ether.

It appears that this is our greatest goal: to create a sanctuary for the future that, in their eyes, will seem merely status quo.

~Mike


North Canyon Spur.
Ladybugs cluster.
Humans move about, stomping, laughing.
Mike speaks to us of treading lightly, careful of the plants, the moss, the fragile soil.
Tender stalks. Lives and homes beneath our feet.

On our walk here, Chrissie and I pick bay leaves for sauces and soups later. We will pick more to dry and bring to friends in Baja later next month.

The river is quieter than usual, for January. The sun warm, but weak. Nine travelers are we. Four students, three teaching fellows, two directors. Nine students in all, nine teachers in all.

Travelers, seekers, everyone of us a rebel in some way, otherwise we would not be here. Brought together by circumstance or design, depending on your point of view. We have work to do and not a moment to lose.

Whatever has brought us here to this place, this unlikely constellation of souls, is a ponder. Our journey will unfold. Welcome.

~Debra

Too excited to get there.
Too scared of leaving things behind.
We go on a tour.
My mom cries when she leaves.
Seeing Fonzi reminds me of my dog Chuy.
After dinner I realize it’s going to be a fun four months.

~Max

So much beauty—and the kind that I appreciate and feel inspired by!

 

I am sitting with history all around me (as Connor pointed out). The California sun is so nice!

 

We hiked about 2 miles (one way), discovering, learning/teaching, and taking photographs.

 

I like this set up of feeling responsible while still being supported.

 

In knowing that we are going to spend the next four months together, the first day of introductions and starting friendships is different. – I like it!

 

The sound of moving water is constant but not enough to make me have to pee all the time. Peaceful, yet strong.

 

I feel healthy: moving around, lots of outside time, laughing and learning, while living very much so in the moment. Sure I have thought of people that I am not with, but not in a sad way. I am where I am both mentally and physically, and the transition is coming easier than I had originally and realistically expected (although it is only day two 😛).

 

I am really loving the fresh, clean air. Even if I am not always not cold, the cool fresh air is really worth it. I will say I do miss my warm flannel, but I am extremely glad that I brought my blue fuzzy sweater.

The sun is setting. It is about to disappear over one of the mountains near the South Yuba River. It looks so amazing seeing the brightness of the sun shine and create countless tree silhouettes. There are so many different textures to look at.

I picked up an acorn cap while hiking, and it is very different from the acorn caps back in PA. (Mom would be proud: I wrote “different from” rather than the grammatically wrong “different than,” which she catches me writing and saying often.)

 

~Kiera

Yesterday the students arrived. The past several weeks have been about acquainting oneself to change, to new routines and new views out of one’s window. It’s like going off and finding that perfect place to write: a mixture of intuition and impulse and then a fair amount of readjustment and second guessing once you are there. The view you have of a place is never the view you have once you are seated in it. Each time I find myself somewhere new I have new information about how best I can create a home there, whether that means I want to know the most minute details of the Bay Laurel tree or those of a new roommate’s last apartment. This is a transitional moment for me, recently out of school and at once wanting to find something steady, reliable, constant, and also to keep moving and exploring: sanctuary and pilgrimage. Here are a few things I do know are important: warm bed, warm food, unconditional dog love, fresh air, a useful feeling, and – perhaps most importantly— a room full of people laughing so hard that their stomachs hurt. I’m looking forward to learning how to transition with everyone, from life here to life in Baja and back to here, on farms and on roads and on rivers.

~Chrissie


Skye’s Story, Fall 2011

Hello readers of the Finding the Good Blog,

Spring semester 2012 starts in 5 days. Chrissie, Sarah and Mike, this semester’s staff fellows have been here for two weeks (we’ve changed the title from “interns” to “fellows” to more accurately reflect the role they play here). The four students, Max, Lily, Kiera and Conner arrive on Sunday. Along with all of the other preparations that fill our days, the FtG blog is back online after a dormant period.

Soon the blog will be updated regularly. You’ll meet the new personalities, and follow our journeys and discoveries. We are so excited about this semester’s projects and team and can’t wait to share it with all with you.

Before we get into the new semester, there is a very important piece that we want to include, one that we couldn’t tell until a week or so ago.

Last fall, we had our first student-intern here at FtG, Skye Jang. Technically she was a gap year student, but since we didn’t run a full fall semester, and there were no other students, we created a “student internship” position and Skye filled it. Skye quickly became one of the “family” here – editing media, cleaning up server files, helping with the library, helping on the ropes course, recruiting new students, and learning how to interview and create educational media.

She also wrote five thoughtful, insightful and highly personal blog posts between October and December, the last one written literally the day before she returned home to Pennsylvania. They are best read as a progression of a series, which is how we wanted to share them. They illustrate a growth of self-awareness in a young person that is at once an intimate portrait and a universal story. And why did we wait till now to post these?

Skye used to joke that being at FtG was her “forced gap year.” Forced because she really wanted to be in college, and in fact had done everything in her power to get herself accepted into some of the top schools in the country. Everything in her power. But not everything was in her power to determine. You see, Skye and her mother immigrated to the US from S Korea when Skye was seven years old. Their green cards had not been issued at the time that Skye applied to college and she had no access to financial aid. Without that, she could not afford college. So she came here, to learn as much as she could, to re-apply to schools, and to do something resourceful while waiting for the green card.

We could have posted her blogs sooner. But her story, told in the posts, includes her disappointment with the US government, the delays, and how at 18 years old, those delays translate into real restrictions. Restrictions not just on financial aid, but on international travel, and on work status. One night, about to post the blog entries, in a moment of doubt I called Skye’s mom, a PhD candidate at Drew University, to make sure she was comfortable with us posting. She hesitated. Maybe we should wait till the green cards come through, she said.

The irony was not lost on any of us. Nor the fear of oppression, no matter if it was real or not. We couldn’t take the chance. Not in today’s climate.

As we prepare for the upcoming semester, we will study democracy closely, and question what one is, and whether we have a democracy in this country. Perhaps most importantly, we will discuss and debate what a real democracy might look like, and if that is the best governance we can create for ourselves.

We invited Skye to come back for this semester, so she can experience a real semester with her peers. She misses California, but she’s moving on now. With her green card issued, she can get a job, and she’s busy filling out all those financial aid applications. We miss her so much, but we are very happy for her, and so grateful that those of us here at Synergia and FtG played a part in her growing up time, and helped her to land more solidly into herself. We wish you the best of everything, Skye, and hope that someday you’ll return to California and see us.

We’ve asked Skye to guest-post on this blog from time to time so you can follow her story as she moves forward into university life. She is considering traveling to Korea this summer to visit relatives and we are hoping to get posts and photos of her trip.

Skye at Bioneers with Lily Yeh and Annabelle

Skye at Bioneers with Lily Yeh and Annabelle

Read on for Skye’s full story, Fall 2011.

And stayed tuned for more posts in the coming weeks!

Warm Regards,
Debra

October 2011

My name is Skye Jang and I am a new intern for Finding the Good, a traveling semester program run by Tom and Debra Weistar from Synergia Learning Ventures in Nevada City, California. I actually live in Easton, Pennsylvania. If you didn’t know, that’s about a five-hour plane ride away. I graduated high school this past June without much idea of what would be next. I found myself here, at Synergia, with Tom and Debra, learning everything from knife skills to Final Cut Pro to rights of nature to taking pizza orders to operating a DSLR Camera. My next mission is to conquer a two-wheeled bicycle. I have convinced myself over the years that I know how to ride one, but my theory’s definitely been proven wrong… Anyway, I have only been here just over a month, and every single day feels so full of possibilities. That’s an amazing feeling you know.

For the past month, I’ve experienced the Nevada County life and much more. I’ve been exposed to so many things that, in a way, I thought were irrelevant before I came here. My way of life’s been dramatically altered. At Synergia, I live in a wood cabin made of recycled materials and have no cell phone service. I eat organic food and use composting toilets. I will also be the first to admit that I didn’t know much about recycling or composting. Moreover, I wasn’t aware that hog factory farms were immense problems in numerous communities right in my home state of Pennsylvania. Most recently, I learned about the Shoshone people and their dispute with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Barrick Gold Corporation over Mt. Denabo, a sacred site for the native people.

On October 6, 2011, I ventured to Reno with Tom, Debby, and Wyatt, a prospective student of Finding the Good, to report on a hearing, which was a small thread in the long-lasting controversy between the Shoshone people and the BLM and Barrick Gold Corporation. The court has already ordered in favor of BLM and Barrick Gold Corporation to begin the project. However, when the BLM and Barrick attempted to pump water out of the ground as part of the gold mining process, the Western Shoshone Defense Project filed yet another suit against them declaring the water was sacred and essential for their livelihood.

When I got back to home base, I watched the documentary “American Outrage” to further educate myself about the history of this dispute. Honestly, I found it hard to keep my eyes on the screen. The violence and force of the government in that documentary was mind-blowing, and at the same time completely heartbreaking. The film centers on the lives of Carrie and Mary Dann, two Shoshone sisters whose ranch sits on rich gold deposits. My heart broke when I saw Carrie and Mary’s life being torn apart for metals. I looked down at the gold ring and bracelet wrapped around my finger and wrist, and realized how insignificant they seemed compared to the Danns’ life. “When you buy your wife a gold ring, think about where it came from,” Carrie Dann says.  The BLM and Barrick Gold Corporation essentially demeaned the Shoshone people’s way of life and culture. Tom explained, “They’re trying to separate the human from the being.” Realizing this truth, I was saddened.

The government’s abuse of power made me all the more empathetic towards the Shoshone people. I have lived in the United States for almost eleven years. My mother and I came to this country believing in proclaimed opportunities for happiness, freedom, and success. For the past eleven years, my mom and I have struggled with the government over our legal status and still do today. We are not citizens. We are not even “registered aliens.” We are immigrants, restrained and leashed by the bureaucratic policies of the United States government. We are, in other words, foreigners, unrecognized and ignored. It wasn’t until this past school year that I realized the personal impacts of this reality. I applied to college, and naturally I applied for financial aid, as all my peers did. By the time college decisions came out, I grasped that I wasn’t in the same position as everybody else. I was notified that I was classified as an international student, and that I couldn’t receive federal financial aid. The government’s denial of me and my mom’s existence in the United States had trickled down to affecting my immediate future. Out of respect for myself, I took initiative to do something with this gap year, and here I am, three thousand miles away from home. In the past six months, I learned how naive I had been, how much I have left to learn, and ultimately, how important it is to take action out of awareness and courage.

Knowledge always has consequence, whether it is good or bad. Learning about the Shoshone, the environmental impacts of certain activities such as eating meat, and even the problems existing in Pennsylvania make me more aware of the world. It also opens the gate for cynicism and pessimism. However, we must never let the world make us hard. Instead, we can take pride in newfound knowledge and desire to learn more. Debby articulated, “It matters that [the Shoshone dispute] makes you sad.” Despite grasping the injustice that occurs everyday, the extraordinary life of the forest and the stars sparkling in the night sky are reminders that the world is a beautiful place. We, as dependents of the earth, have a responsibility to preserve it, just as the Shoshone people have done.

-Skye Jang

November 3, 2011

8:00 AM: Skye wakes up

8:00:10 AM: Skye decides to sleep for fifteen more minutes because of the comfort of her bed

8:37 AM: Skye wakes and panics

8:41 AM: Skye decides to get out of bed

9:11 AM: Skye finishes getting dressed and brushing her teeth

9:13 AM: Skye enters Tom and Debby’s to find Tom eating breakfast at the table

9:15 AM: Granola and milk

9:24 AM: Skye goes to retrieve dish soap from storage room

9:29 AM: Skye calls her Mom in Pennsylvania

9:35 AM: “I love you. I’ll see you soon.”

 

You’re probably wondering why I took you through a short segment of my morning. It seems completely uninteresting and mundane. If you read in between the lines, you’ll learn more things about my life than at first glance. I have a comfortable bed to sleep in. I have clothes, and running water. I have food to eat. I have access to a telephone. I have a mom who loves me more than I can hope to understand. I know some of you are asking, “So do I. What’s the big deal? “ The big deal is that most of the world doesn’t have half the things I have. If you’re reading this on your computer right now, then I hope you come to appreciate it all, including the technology you’re using right now.

Last night was an ordinary movie night at Tom and Debby’s. We watched a movie called A Better Life. Carlos Galindo, the father of a teenage son named Luis, works incessantly to move out of East LA, hoping to get his son into a good school and away from gangs. He must avoid deportation and keep his son from falling into trouble. There are depictions of immense poverty and migrant workers begging for work on the street. They live crowded in one flat. Illegal immigrants do whatever they can to earn money for themselves and their families. Many face deportation after being caught by the authorities. Ultimately, all they wanted was an opportunity to live better, as was with Carlos Galindo. Near the end of the movie, Luis visits his father in a detention center. Carlos pours his heart out, apologizing for failing his son, admitting that he loves him enough to give up his entire life. Carlos is sorry that he couldn’t give Luis any better. I cried.

Is it a little close to home for me? Probably. I really respect single parents. They have to be two different people, a mother and a father. More than that, I really respect single parents who are immigrants. My Mom’s effort to give me a great childhood as a single parent becomes clearer and clearer as the years go by. My Mom strived to keep both of us out of poverty for our future even before we came to the United States. I was too young to understand, but now I am learning of the struggles she overcame for me so my life would be changed for the better. For that reason, I grew up privileged.

I always believed that I had less than I deserved and other people suffered so much less. I didn’t have the fancy new cellphone or the $300 bag. In reality, I have so much more.  I have basic necessities, and conveniences that are in fact unnecessary for survival. However, I have my life. A few days ago, Debby said, “All those superficial, material things could never compare to who you are and what you’ve experienced as an immigrant from South Korea. Your perspective of life is something that can’t be replaced by plastic things.” She articulated something so apparent to her, but not me. Hearing this gave me the best sleep I have had in a while. I woke up this morning feeling chipper, but most of all awake. I don’t mean physically feeling conscious, but really feeling awake.

How about we all take a moment to imagine what it would feel like not to have running water or to have a hungry stomach before going to bed?

-Skye Jang

November 6, 2011

The original Social Security Act was passed in the 1930s, the era of the Great Depression, to combat skyrocketing poverty rates, economic instability of senior citizens, unemployment, and the struggles of widows or widowers. The Social Security program uses social security taxes paid by the nation’s citizens in order to provide economic security to the previously mentioned groups of people. Your personal Social Security Number (SSN) often times gives you identification and presence in the United States. Therefore, a common way identity theft occurs is when someone steals your SSN. I guess this means I received my identity last night.

Quite contrary to how momentous the occasion was, I felt quite apathetic about the whole situation. I haven’t taken the time to really reflect on how wonderful it is to have a Social Security Number. Wait a second…am I actually supposed to be happy that the government finally gave me a SSN? Maybe you can help me find the answer to that question in the next few minutes you take to read this.

When I first got here in September, Debby asked me to read an article titled “Help! I’ve Been Colonized and I Can’t Get Up…” by Jane Anne Morris. She addresses this phenomena occurring in the world concerning the public’s tendency to not take action against corporate exploitation of the environment, rather choosing to complain and blame other people. Jane Anne Morris describes the population in three parts. She explains that one of the three thirds “are preparing testimony so you can be persuasive at a generic regulatory agency hearing while you’re begging them to enforce a tiny portion of our laws.” I call that “groveling,” as Morris puts it, begging, sycophancy, being a toady, maybe kowtowing, even for the smallest of results. After seeing the fruit of all your efforts, you rejoice for the killing of 600 trees, not 2000. The government has us under so much oppression that small, minute outcomes produce celebratory parties with champagne. That is being “colonized.” So yes. I have a right to be apathetic that my SSN came in the mail last night. I have a right to question whether I should really be happy.  When it comes right down to it, are we living in a true democratic nation, when we have to beg for things that should be granted, such as an “identity”?

How about the other side of the story? An enormous number of immigrants are working day to day, and paying their taxes, praying that an opportunity to receive even a Social Security Number and eventually their Alien Registration Card crosses their paths. Do I really have a right to say that I am apathetic now? Let me take some time to explain to you what it would be like if I had never come to the United States. I would be living in a crammed, overpriced apartment complex with my Mom. I would be taking about an hour commute to school courtesy of the Korean subway system. I would be going to school and returning home, in the dark. My Mom would be working almost 24-hour workdays. I wouldn’t know how to speak English. I would have never known that there were bigger opportunities outside of my country. Ultimately, I would have never questioned the status quo. I’ve laid out both sides of the debate. Should I be glad about this next step towards citizenship? Should I question the government’s limitations on its source of power, the people of the nation? What do you think?

Now I realize that I talk about immigration and the government a lot. Maybe it’s because this has been such a large part of my life. Maybe it’s because it really matters that people know. Maybe it’s just because I’m eighteen and I’m pissed. No matter what the reason, it’s safe to say I’m still perplexed. However, in this post-911 era, I am well on my way to receiving an Alien Registration Card. That’s a minor miracle.  Oh, the irony…

-Skye Jang