Coming Home from Baja California, Mexico

For the past month the FtG crew has been busy adventuring around the beautiful state of Baja California, Mexico. During our time there we had the opportunity for lots of:

  • Learning: about the culture, conservation, interpersonal/international relationships and sustainability.
  • Self-reflection: thinking and writing about our lives before and after Baja and how we plan to put all that we have been given to good use.
  • Service: helping an ecotourism project that could revive a rural economy and help to support the local people; helping to dig up a sealion skeleton for a local school; and cleaning the school road of trash.
  • Eating: amazing mole, tacos, fruit, fish and even a “Thanksgiving” feast,
  • And of course a healthy dose of play: swimming with whale sharks and sealions, surfing, rock climbing, fishing, and hiking.


The following blog posts are a mix of our reflections on our lives and our time in Baja. Enjoy!

– Ali


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Trip to Mexico

With my traveling school semester program Finding the Good we traveled to Baja California on a grand journey.

This trip to Mexico was great. It was amazing to be able to show my culture to people that hadn’t experienced it before, to show them how the people are. In the U.S. there is a lot of stereotyping of the Mexicans, and this makes us look like bad people. It was really good for me to realize that my friends didn’t think of us like that, and when they interacted with the people they got the right “stereotype”. They saw how warm and kind the Mexicans can be, and it made me happy to see that my own people will give their food and resources, even when they have very little themselves.

When we were in Bahia de Los Angeles, we went fishing and we caught many fish and it was incredible, because we were giving our community something to eat. When I caught the fish, I felt two things; the first was happiness because I accomplished my challenge and I was going to feed the community. The second feeling was a sadness to see a living creature die. So when I was in Bahia, I made a promise to the place, that I was going to be more careful with the living creatures. Before, I would kill a living creature without any regrets, so this experience made me realize that those living creatures are living creatures and we need to respect that, so my commitment to this place was to be more careful with the living things.

I have learned so many things in this trip, I have found out many things about myself and about my own country that I didn’t know existed. I’m grateful I was able to show the people that didn’t know my country how beautiful and rich my country is.
By Juan

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My Life Through Windows

When I was little I shared a small room and bed with my younger brother. Eventually I convinced my mother to set me free from the sweaty little koala bear that clung on to me every night. For a while my parents let me sleep with them but they soon tired of being punched by my tiny but forceful fists. At last I was given my own room. I soon realized the best part of my room was not the absence of my brother but the presence of a window I could call my own. The first thing I did after constructing my loft fort, courtesy of IKEA, was to decorate my windowsill. I carefully organized my collections of acorns and shells and set up elaborate scenes with my fairy statues. I suffered through the hot months because the act of opening my window often sent my fairies crashing to the ground.

As I grew older, but more importantly, bigger I began to realize my room was smaller then the average walk-in closet. After reading Harry Potter at the age of ten, I came to the conclusion it was time, just as he had, to move out of the closet under the stairs. Instead of letter-bearing owls frightening my parents into giving me a bigger room I had to do it with my own cunning. My convincing skills were weak but after months of effort they agreed to give me the biggest room in the house. Unfortunately this prime attic real estate had ceilings so low I could only stand up in half of my room. In my new room I started off every day with a forceful smack in the head thanks to my knee-high ceiling. The constant goose egg didn’t bother me because I could always rest my throbbing forehead on the cold glass of my new window. From this window I could see nothing but the innards of the tree that grew outside my window. In the winter when all the leaves were gone, I could peer through the branches to see the Mormon college girls next store during their baking parties. This way I knew when to expect some carrot-date cupcakes with dairy-free lemon glaze.

When I was thirteen, after a year of unemployment my dad got a job in Seattle. He was going to move there at the beginning of the school year and we would join him the following summer. We planned on renting out our house once we moved so we were in major house revamping mode. This meant repainting the trim, fixing the path that had maimed many a trick-or-treater, and trimming my beloved tree so it more closely resembled a bush.

The first few weeks were tough. With my father gone and my mother now working full time my carefully constructed rhythm was thrown out of whack. The first step in regaining my sanity was to organize my home life. My mom would wake up, put on a pot of oatmeal and run out the door. I would make sure my brother, who was easily overwhelmed by the complex tasks of waking up, getting dressed, and eating breakfast, remembered to brush his teeth. We were always ready with time to spare, sitting on the front porch eagerly waiting for our ride. When we got home from school we would sit at the kitchen table and do homework with occasional breaks to watch T.V. I would cook and my brother would chop so by the time my mom got home the chores and homework were done and there was a hot meal on the table. Every night I would sit and read by my window. As the weeks past my tree began to grow to its former glory, but there were still large holes and areas where the severed limbs refused to grow. This routine was the only thing keeping the spindly branches of my life from falling down.

The same week my dad left, my best friend’s father died suddenly of a heart attack. I did my best to prepare myself for how she would react. When instead of crying she laughed, and instead of wanting to be with friends she preferred to be alone, I had no clue what to do and we began to drift apart. Instead of attempting to regrow those branches to fill those holes in my life, I left them barren and continued to cultivate the one part of the tree I knew I could: my life at home.

It was near Christmas and my homemaking skills were at their best when I learned that my dad had been laid off. It was nice to have him home for the holidays. It was the first time I realized I missed him. Soon came those dreaded days after New Years when all you can think about is returning to school. Unlike my brother who spent those days deep in mourning I was eager to return to my routine. Little did I know Routines place in the house had been replaced by my father.

My dad was home all the time, and instead of letting the emotions of unemployment take over he took up tasks like herding my brother, cooking meals and trimming the tree. I was left with nothing to do and a pathetic shrub in place of my tree. I attempted to defend my territory but failed miserably and ended up in many heated battles with my father. Eventually I surrendered and retreated to my attic cave where I could stare wistfully out my window and long for the day when my tree stood tall and strong. Soon the battles became skirmishes, then a thing of the past. Even after the arguing was over I still held some resentment towards my father but over the years it has abated and turned to realization.

My dad was simply going through the same thing I was at a much more intense level. He left his family, his home, and his window from which he had a full view of the street. He could see the Mormon college girls bundled up in Christmas sweaters and know when to expect carols and vegan cookies. From his new window in Tacoma, Washington he could see nothing but fog and occasionally the apartment dumpsters. At his work things were a bit less dreary and he had a nice view of the trees outside. From his management office he watched as the leaves turned from green to red then fall from the tree till the branches were completely barren and he was laid off. For the second time that year he was stripped of his management position and preceded to control the only thing he could, our home. My mother had taken his place as key provider and I had taken my mother’s as homemaker. There was nowhere for him to fit in and when he tried he was met by a stubborn preteen who wanted nothing to change, but it had to and he knew that. I shouldn’t have to get my brother ready for school and make dinner every night but that had become my job. Instead of realizing my father was laying me off out of love I thought he was firing me from a job I had done well. Eventually things returned to normal. I made dinner on busy nights, helped my brother with math homework once it became too difficult for my parents and watched my tree grow.

Four years later, at the age of seventeen, I am attending a traveling semester program. For the past three months I have been staring out the window of a fifteen- passenger van. There is no windowsill on which to place my shells and acorns. The scenery is constantly changing, from the vast mountains of the high Sierra to the coastal deserts of Baja California, Mexico. The only thing that has remained the same is the people in the van, but even they have grown and changed since we left our home. Personal struggles are quickly revealed in such close quarters and addressed with stark reality. As the scenery changes so does your relationship to these struggles. It is easer to see the untended path you have been struggling down and the carefully maintained trail you are now on. My whole life I have been looking out my window waiting for a change. But it is not the scenery outside that changes your life, it is the reflection in the window looking back at you.

By Sierra


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Wyatt is currently working on his radio piece that focuses on his home life and his relationship to his father.

Hamburger Help-Me

I remember sitting half-awake inside my dad’s white Honda Civic hatchback, covered in an old blanket that smelled of spilled beer and mold, wrapped up like a baby. It was late, sometime past midnight. I had lost track of time.  We had been cutting firewood since 8:00 that morning. As I passed in and out of consciousness I heard my dad grumble to himself as he worked outside the car. After awhile we drove down some random dirt roads to different locations, searching for deadfall.  The Honda Civic almost didn’t make it a few times. The roads, which were more like trails, were littered with fallen trees, landslides and deep ruts from many years of erosion. After hours of this sporadic behavior we finally decided to head back to camp.

The camp was off the main highway down an old logging road, nestled in a small grove of pine trees. My dad shared this camp with four other people: Deaf Gabe, half man-half ape, a living wonder. A drug addict who only signs in Ebonics, it is truly amazing he’s made it this far. Jesse is a former chef from a rundown bar-and-grill. He has “Thug Life” tattooed on his abdomen, enough said. Melissa, a superstitious gypsy woman, is 6’ 2’’ and has more hair on her chest then I do. Melissa’s son, Cyrus, was five at the time. He is hell on wheels, running about terrorizing anything that paid attention to him.

After arriving at camp, we built a fire and started to cook dinner. We had a box of Hamburger Helper and four chicken thighs to split between us all. It was growing late and I was getting mighty tired.  As Deaf Gabe and I went to collect firewood, my dad started to prepare the chicken. Tossing all the seasoning we had at it – soy sauce, salt and pepper. My dad placed the seasoned chicken on the blade of a shovel and placed it in the coals. The Hamburger Helper went into a pot, missing a key ingredient (hamburger) and was mixed with water.  The dinner was great. I have always been surprised by what my dad can cook, with so little. The chicken was cooked to perfection, the skin was crunchy and light on the outside but soft on the inside, the tender flesh fell easily away from the bone. The Hamburger Helper was gross. I am not sure if you have ever had Hamburger Helper but it resembles cat puke, with slimy noodles and a thick coat of over-salted sauce. But I was hungry so I ate it, and to tell you the truth, it was pretty good.

As we finished up dinner it was time for me to go to bed. As I went to make my bed, underneath the stars, my dad still had a lot of work to do. He grabbed his glass pipe to smoke one more shard before heading back out to the woods.

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Lecciones de Vida


Habiendo crecido en México como parte de una familia alternativa, creyendo ser los únicos vegetarianos, que no iban a doctores convencionales, ni creían en una religión organizada; pensé que ninguna parte de mi vida sería “normal”. A los diez años, cuando vivimos al otro lado del mundo descubrí que no era así. Había más gente como nosotros y creo que fue el momento en el que pasó a formar parte de mi realidad el hecho de que sí podía tener experiencias o vivir situaciones “normales”. Sin saberlo mi perspectiva sobre mi vida y mi realidad habían girado ciento ochenta grados.

Aunque en mi casa nunca lo viví, en México la infidelidad es tan común que crecemos con la idea de que es “normal” y al tener ese cambio en la percepción de mi propia realidad he vivido este tipo de experiencias en mis relaciones.

Hace unos años conocí a un hombre que me enamoró, con quien me divertía mucho y con quien pensé compartiría el resto de mi vida. Después de unos años tumultuosos y llenos de emociones encontradas empecé a recibir mensajes de texto de un desconocido invitándome a salir. Cuando no respondí y traté de investigar quien me los estaba mandando comenzaron a cambiar, eran menos “¿quieres salir?” y más “él no te merece”. Con el progreso de los días me empecé a sentir extraña y a desconfiar un poco. Finalmente pasado un mes me llegó un mensaje diciendo “si no me crees que te está engañando entra al Factbook de fulanita”. Este fue el mensaje que ya no pude ignorar, el cual me llevó a las pruebas irrefutables que me hicieron reflexionar y tomar la decisión de nunca volver a ponerme en esta situación.

Con el tiempo y aprendiendo de mis errores me doy cuenta que no tengo porque repetir patrones negativos que han sido estereotípicos de la sociedad en la que crecí. Esto no fe una revelación fácil, ni mucho menos rápida. Me tomó cuatro relaciones fallidas e innumerables momentos de enojo y sufrimiento llegar a esta conclusión. Supongo que no que no quise ver la realidad o que las primeras tres veces realmente me pegó más en el orgullo que en el corazón. Supongo también que las primeras tres veces no me afectaron tanto porque me enteré de las infidelidades después de un tiempo de haber terminado con esas relaciones. Pero en la cuarta relación me sentí como una idiota total por pensar que había encontrado a la persona con quien pasaría el resto de mi vida, sin embargo fue una burla total. Él obviamente nunca mereció tenerme.

Entiendo que yo fui la que quiso ser “normal”, pero he cambiado mi enfoque y ahora decido volver a ser “diferente y alternativa” porque yo merezco estar con alguien que no necesite estar con nadie mas que conmigo. Quien no solamente crea que yo soy suficiente para él, sino que se maraville ante el privilegio de despertar junto a mí cada mañana y que por supuesto el sentimiento sea mutuo. Merezco alguien que me merezca.

By Alicia

Lecciones de Vida 2 Lecciones de Vida 1


 Utopía Personal

Sentada en la cabaña con toda la gente moviéndose a mi alrededor, tratando de encontrar su cuaderno, su lápiz, su lugar para estar, su lugar en la vida recuerdo mi propia trayectoria, recuerdo los lugares en los cuales he vivido.

¿Cómo, cuándo, dónde encontramos nuestra utopía personal? ¿Será cierto que si no se encuentra a los 40 pasas el resto de tu vida vagando?

Interrupciones, en este momento, en mis pensamientos. Supongo que las interrupciones de la vida también sirven un propósito y son éstas las que irrumpen en el curso de nuestro destino, son los momentos en los que podemos decidir si seguimos sobre el mismo curso o tomamos una vertiente, si trabajar con mariposas monarcas o tortugas laúd.

Las decisiones que he tomado cuando encuentro un Y en mi camino me han traído hasta aquí, Baja California, Bahía de los Ángeles, Campo Archelón. La utopía de una persona inigualable, esporádica, impulsiva, extremadamente inteligente, la chispa que prende para hacer que el motor funcione.

Movido por la labor de sensibilización cultural ofrece copas de vino o tazas de café. Me ayuda a recolectar historias de amor, queriendo ayudarme a encontrar la mía propia y definitiva. Ve la belleza interior de la gente y el potencial en todos. Es un torbellino de energía.

Rostros concentrados a mi alrededor, lápices y bolígrafos dejando huellas sobre papel, plasmando historias, relatando experiencias, escribiendo poemas. Se siente la calma mientras afuera las nubes envuelven al día y la lluvia humedece la tierra saciando su sed y haciéndola reverdecer y dando lugar a nueva vida, nuevas oportunidades, nuevas vertientes en los caminos del destido.

By Alicia

Utopía Personal


 Mi Camino

 Era un septiembre hace al rededor de un año, cuando era un joven adolescente borracho. En esas fechas me dedicaba a tomar cada que tenía la oportunidad y pelearme con mi mamá. Me encontraba perdido, influenciado por la sociedad y sin aceptarlo me sentía infeliz. Un día mi hermano mayor me invitó a un viaje que haría con sus amigos, un grupo de escaladores de alrededor de 28 años, iríamos a Cañón Tajo.

Cañón Tajo en Baja California, un hermoso lugar con gran biodiversidad, cañones impresionantes y montañas de granito, unos de los lugares más increíbles donde he estado. Íbamos a acampar, escalar y hacer caminatas.

Salimos de Ensenada temprano para alcanzar a escalar el primer día, cuando llegamos conocimos a un estadounidense llamado Gregorio, un escalador que se fue de Estados Unidos a vivir y escalar por Baja California; sobreviviendo de la naturaleza. Nos invitó a quedarnos en su campamento en el cual llevaba viviendo más de cuatro meses solo, escalando y disfrutando del lugar. Después nos llevó a escalar; más tarde nos contó de unos túneles creados por rocas gigantes que cayeron de la montaña y al romperse crearon un mundo de pasadizos debajo de éstas. Para hacerlo más interesante decidimos ir de noche.

Era una noche estrellada y sin luna, así que no había mucha luz. Pocos de nosotros teníamos lámparas y yo no era uno de ellos. Yo sabía que la claustrofobia era uno de mis mayores miedos pero quería superarlo.

Al entrar en los túneles Gregorio iba hasta enfrente y yo detrás de él, porque él si tenía lámpara y me sentía más seguro. aproximadamente 15 minutos después me di cuenta que Gregorio no tenía idea de donde estaba, entré en pánico, me di la vuelta y me regresé. Ya afuera les grité que me regresaría al campamento. El campamento estaba como a un kilómetro, no había camino y era de noche, yo sólo sabía en que dirección estaba. Empecé a caminar dejado un rastro en la arena con un palo por si tenía que regresar a donde estaban ellos. Unos minutos después estaba perdido y solo en el frío desierto, sin luz ni agua. Entonces decidí regresarme siguiendo mis rastros hasta escuchar sus voces. Llegué a los túneles y en lugar de meterme por entre las piedras como ellos lo habían hecho las empecé a escalar, siguiendo sus ecos llegué hasta el punto en el que ellos estaban justo debajo de mí. Después de un tiempo de seguirlos por arriba encontré varias salidas y entradas por donde pasaban, bajé por una chimenea y me reuní con ellos. Superé mi miedo y aproximadamente una hora después salimos y volvimos al campamento.

El siguiente día escalamos un multi-largo de cuatro largos subiendo una montaña de alrededor de 100 metros. Hicimos grupos de tres y subimos por dos rutas paralelas que llegan a un mismo destino, en mi grupo iban Pablo Truco y Lucía. Yo punteé el primer largo, de ahí seguimos a la cima para reunirnos con el otro grupo. Al llegar a la cima mi hermano Pablo me esperaba, cuando los demás se reunieron con nosotros, comimos un pequeño snack. Esa experiencia fue asombrosa, el estar en la cima de la montaña viendo un hermoso paisaje, con mis amigos y mentores, es algo inolvidable. Después bajamos a rappel y continuamos nuestro día escalando.

Este viaje ha cambiado mi vida, aprendiendo de mentores, siendo independiente, teniendo la vida y la muerte en mis manos y con mis decisiones. Nunca me siento más vivo que cuando estoy cerca de la muerte. Me ha cambiado el camino, de ser un joven adolecerte confundido me ha encaminado a lo que quiero hacer en mi futuro siendo más feliz y sano. Éste fue el comienzo de mi cambio y aunque todavía cometa errores y a veces me cueste trabajo tomar las decisiones correctas, aventuras como estas me hacen saber lo que quiero hacer con mi vida.

By Andres

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Finding the Good returns to home base, Nevada City for the last ten days of the program, dusted in white snow.

Students Reflect on Shelter

What is shelter? The first thing that comes to mind is protection, not only from the elements but also from other people and their actions. It is not just a roof to live under but a sanctuary as well.


The moment you find that perfect place where you feel at home, it’s amazing when you can take what’s around you and build your own sanctuary. Meeting people who have built their homes gives me hope for the future of our planet and inspires me. Yet I can’t help but feel for the land where we decide to build our shelter. It is important to remember the natural world and take its feelings into consideration. If you live in a natural environment where the plant life has been nurtured and the trees are flourishing you can feel it, and it adds to that sense of sanctuary.


Houses reflect the people living inside them and others can sense that. It’s very noticeable when you walk into a person’s house and see that the owner doesn’t feel happy with it. There can be lots of negative vibes. On the other hand, if you walk into someone’s house that is the right size for them and they designed it, you can tell how happy they feel in it. But what really makes home, “home”? Is it all the nice things inside or is it the people you share it with?

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Finding the Good goes to Bioneers


This past weekend we had the opportunity to attend the Bioneers conference in San Rafael. This conference brings together professionals who are involved in social, cultural, and environmental change, to inspire others and share the good work they have been doing.

The weekend started out with JU4FJ (Just Us 4 Food Justice). This day brought together youth food justice groups to talk about the work they are doing and learn about new techniques to share their work, from spoken word poetry to Participatory Action Research Projects.

Next the three-day Bioneers conference kicked off.  It included many inspiring talks from past Brower Youth Award winners, environmental, sustainability and social justice leaders, as well as performances from poets and musicians. There were workshops on a variety of issues, to expose people to new ideas and help them reconnect with the earth. During this conference FtG had the opportunity to interview several of the presenters to gain deeper insight into projects they are working on.

After a whirlwind weekend of brain packing we had a few “decompression days”. We visited the ocean, the redwoods and the Exploratorium science museum in San Francisco. Following that we attended the Brower Youth Awards where we met the recipients and learned about their award-winning projects.

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                                                                                                                              Andres                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          This past week the Finding the Good Traveling Semester attended the Bioneers conference. Bioneers is a three-day gathering where environmental educators and professionals come from all over the world to give conferences and workshops.

Before the conference there was a workshop called Just Us 4 Food Justice, that works with youth to show them the importance of organically grown food, and to raise awareness of food injustice around the world. People that work hard to help people that don’t have the opportunity to have nutritious food. It also inspired me to see many youth that care about food justice.

Bioneers lasted three days. It started early in the morning in the main theater, with great speakers that spoke about social justice and environmental problems as well as solutions. All had done awesome things, mostly for the environment. In the afternoon there were several workshops. The workshops I chose were about Native American culture and environmental issues. But what I liked the most was interviewing some of the speakers, like Darren Doherty. Darren is working in the regrarian movement rebuilding depleted soil ecosystems all over the world. There is something different about hearing someone speak at a conference and having a conversation with him. It was the most inspiring experience to have him give me advice and tell me about his life. He spoke about how he wasn’t very good in school and failed some grades when he was a teenager. He is a very smart guy and has accomplished great things in his life, so this makes me realize that since school can be challenging  for me it doesn’t mean that I’m not smart. Instead of feeling like giving up, it gives me inspiration to keep going.


After Bioneers we had a “decompression” day to relax, journal, and meditate in a beautiful redwood forest, and at the beach. The next day we spent the day in San Francisco at The Academy of Sciences which is a hands-on museum. We learned about physics, biology and the history of California. We had dinner in Chinatown, and in the evening we attended the Brower Youth Awards, an award for youth that are doing projects that help the environment.


This past week definitely changed my life in some way. I heard very good presentations, workshops, and met great people. But what I think changed my life the most was the overall experience. It has opened my eyes to a whole other world of opportunities. Before I thought that there was only one thing I was to do when I finished high school, and that was to go to college and study engineering or something like that, that I didn’t want to do. Now there are so many things I want to do like travel and work on environmental solutions. I even feel the desire to go to college, because I have seen so many colleges and careers that interest me, and I have the opportunity to do all of these things.

I feel extremely privileged to have all these opportunities. I don’t want to feel bad that I can do these things and others can’t, but I want to recognize the privilege, not waste it, and do something good with it.

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At Bioneers I learned not what is wrong with the world; I am already well aware of that. I learned about solutions and what I can do to help. When people ask me, “What is an event that has shaped the person you are?” I will finally have an answer. Thanks to Bioneers I am now more certain of what I want to do. However, until I do those things I am floating in the void between the ‘me’ I had cast many thoughts ago and the ‘me’ I am still in the process of molding. Being at Bioneers shifted me from that old mold into a place of creation, which is exciting but also terrifying.

 Last summer I took a service trip with Global Student Embassy to Nicaragua. I worked with the people who live there, who do not have access to their own seeds, building gardens. Subsequently, part of my new-self creation has revolved around my desire for food justice.

Then, at Bioneers I got the chance to interview Maya Salsedo, a passionate youth leader. Through her work with Food What she was awarded the Brower Youth Award. She is now the youth coordinator for Rooted in Community (RIC), a national grassroots network that empowers young people to take leadership in their own communities. Maya has the unique and powerful position of being both a youth and a mentor to many, including me.

I have lived a privileged life. As I enter communities of those who have lived in poverty without the right to healthy food or even the right to save their own seeds, that privilege has turned to guilt. Because I felt comfortable around Maya I was able to ask the question I felt nervous even asking myself: in a world were the majority of environmental youth organizations focus on helping underserved youth and youth of color, where do I, as a white middle class female, fit in? Her response answered so many more questions I didn’t even know I had. She allowed me to realize that privilege is the freedom to do all you can to make a difference without worrying where you get your next meal. We talked for a bit after the interview and she said that she appreciated the questions I asked her because they made her think more deeply about these issues. 

My talk with Maya mixed with the inspirational environment at Bioneers forced me to think again about questions I had previously mulled over then abandoned. The most prominent is what is my role in our world? I arrived at several different conclusions.

The world with all its environmental issues, social injustice and corruption is here to shape me. Underneath the layers of pollution and devastated soils the earth is telling me and anyone else who will listen what it needs to survive. Some of us are told to educate underserved  youth, start political campaigns, fight for food justice, or create alternative ways of living. I am not sure what the earth is telling me to do quite yet but something became quite clear to me at Bioneers. I think what the earth is telling all of its listeners is that its time to join everything together; all the movements, all the people and all the solutions. I could have easily misunderstood Mother Earth through the layers of chemicals and co2 but until I get better reception or a different message comes through I hope this is what I can call one of my “conclusions.” Without my interaction with Maya I think the flood of emotion and realizations would have remained unexamined. I wish I had gotten the chance to tell her how much my talk with her shaped the person I am and the person I want to be.

 Sierra and Mya



Letter to my dad and mom

 This last week I attended the Bioneers Conference near San Francisco and I wanted to tell you that it is an eye opening experience. It was amazing and at the same time it was sad, because I can see that humans don’t care about the environment except

how it can make them money. At this conference I met many people that do care about making this a cleaner planet, and this was something that was mind-blowing for me because they are not solely interested in making profit, they are making projects to help the world.

An architect from Canada, Jason McLennan, gave a talk about living buildings. Living buildings don’t need an outside source for water or electricity, instead they create their own electricity with solar panels and they capture water from rainfall. This was something that really inspired me and I found it astonishing how much can you help the environment and at the same time make an incredible project.

I want to invite you to come and see this for yourself and realize that there are a lot of ways we can help this world. It starts in our house, in our way of living. Mom and Dad, I know you like this world so why not try to make it better for the next generation?

Hugs Juan

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Fall Semester Beginnings


This is the story of cleaning the river.

It started when some friends and I went to this beautiful river, to swim and look for a place to clean up on The Yuba River Cleanup Day. We were swimming and having a wonderful time. On the other side of the river we saw what appeared to be a little shack, so we crossed the river and went to the shack using a difficult trail full of trash and poison oak. When I got there I was shocked. I felt was strange. I wasn’t sad or angry but very impressed; it was something I had never seen before. So much trash and useless stuff; heavy metals, broken glass, and batteries spread through the entire place I couldn’t think what it was all for. The amount of work and effort we had to do did not even cross my mind, all we knew was that we needed to rally an army of people to get it done.

So the next day we got on it and prepped for the following weekend. We recruited as many people as we possibly could, got food to feed all those people, made equipment to carry the garbage, got a big dump truck and three pickup trucks to haul the trash away.

The hard work started on Friday, when a few of us went there to set up camp and get everything ready. We started by making trails on both sides of the river, and cleared all the poison oak, because of that my body is covered in it. We set up a raft to make it easy to get stuff from one side of the river to the other. By the end of Friday we had everything ready for the next day. We started early on Saturday, ready to do all we possibly could. Some of us focused on separating the garbage, and getting it to the other side of the river, while others carried stuff for half a mile through a steep and narrow trail to the dump truck.

The river cleanup was supposed to be only one day. Although I had already worked two days, the amount of garbage was so massive, we decided to come back on Sunday. We worked carrying garbage until around four o‘clock – exhausted, we had filled a big dump truck and three pickup trucks.

And in the end I wasn’t angry at the miner, or complaining abut all the work we had done, but felt happy that we had done so much good and gotten so much help. It also made me think that this wasn’t the end. All the work we had done did not compare to the big picture. Where was all this trash going? How much energy and work will it take to recycle these materials? How much does one person need? How much can he accumulate?


By Andres Jaimes Noriega



Liquid Gold

Sitting, nestled in the rocks was a glass jug full of golden liquid.  The jug caught the light and made the translucent fluid sparkle. If you could capture the sun’s rays into liquid form it would be the glistening contents of this jug. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the substance in this jug was not molten sunbeams but pee.

For the past few years I have participated in the Yuba River Cleanup. Our group has focused mainly on clearing out abandoned mining claims on the Middle Yuba. The miners who inhabited these claims had the legal right to bring large amounts of mining equipment to the site. As time passed many miners brought in non-mining related stuff in order to construct a somewhat permanent residence. These camps are full of peculiar objects, ranging from toilets and ovens to bedpans and barrels of batteries. The most outrageous artifact I have found so far was the jug of miner pee.

The moment I realized the true contents of the jug my mind was flooded with questions. The most pertinent of which were, who was this man? And more importantly to me why did he save jugs of pee? Throughout the day I pondered these questions and discussed them thoroughly with the others who helped to clear out the camp.  I know a jug of pee shouldn’t occupy the entirety of my thoughts, but it did. To me it was a symbol of all the things we as humans accumulate at the cost of others for little to no purpose. By the end of the day I had come up with several conclusions. Maybe he was crazy or refused to leave his shack to urinate or maybe like me he liked the way his pee shimmered when struck by the sun’s vibrant rays.

I now realize that this man’s reasoning and identity is not as important as I made it out to be. Sure it would be nice to solve the mystery of the miner’s pee but in the grand scheme of things this man’s daily habits are irrelevant. The important part of that day is that we cleared out thousands of pounds of waste, some of which was leaking toxins into the environment. Instead of finding this man and attempting to punish him for the mess he had left behind we joined together as a community and did something about it.

It is easy to fall into an interrogative state just as I did and forget what your real purpose is. It is imperative that we take a step back and look at the big picture. What does it matter why this man had barrels full batteries? What matters is that we work together to dispose of them properly. Many of us are privileged enough to live a life where we have the time and energy to combat these problems, but not nearly enough of us chose to. Until every able body is out there cleaning up the jars of pee left from those before us, we will never make a difference that will stick. It is my dream that one hundred years from now my great grandchildren won’t be on a river cleanup disposing jugs of golden liquid marked 2013.

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By Sierra Berry



I search the camp looking for clues to the man who once lived here, completely distracted from the task at hand. Who is he? How did he come to be like this? To be living in one of the most beautiful places, but to trash it instead of tend it. Did he have many friends? Did he live by the river by choice, or was he forced by life circumstance? What’s going wrong with our society that sights like this one are not uncommon? I consider the possibility of mental illness due to over exposure to heavy metals, and any other in a long list of excuses for why he would live like this. Or, is he just another casualty of our broken society? In our “dog eat dog” world, not enough of us are willing to reach out and care for those in need, whether that is our fellow man or our favorite river spot. Our social and ecological problems are reflective of each other, and all we want to do is keep them “out of sight and out of mind”, blame them on someone else so we can feel okay with our lack of action.

For this weekend, we are breaking that cycle. Taking the time to tend to one of our favorite river spots, helping to heal one of the many scars left by mining’s toxic legacy. And, what a joy it was to spend time with friends tending to a place we love, excited to leave something better for future river goers to enjoy.  Although it meant two days of carrying heavy loads of rubbish up a narrow, slippery trail, getting bruised, scraped, covered in poison oak and having thousand of flies trying to dive into our eyes and mouth. Nothing can compare to the sense of accomplishment we all felt tying down the last bits of trash and heading on our way.

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By Alli Stefancich

Mining for Batteries

 So, we participated in the great “Yuba River Cleanup Day”, which for us turned into a cleanup weekend. At first, due to the weather I thought no one was going to show up, but as we were waiting in the van one by one the few people who were truly committed did appear.

We made our way down the narrow rocky road just as the rain stopped. We hiked down the thin path, which had so kindly been cleared of poison oak the day before by part of our own crew and made it to the beautiful middle fork of the Yuba River.  We had a raft set up to cross over to the other side.  As we hiked up the river bank on the opposite side I started to get this overwhelming feeling of despair and sadness when I saw the towering amount of waste that was left behind in one single mining claim. I’m pretty sure that had I been alone at that very moment I would have been crushed by these feelings and wouldn’t have been able to do anything about it. I wonder, it might be possible that this is exactly what happened to the miner who owned this claim and one day he simply abandoned it.

However this wasn’t the case this time, we were many, a small community of people ready, able and willing to clean up this mess. Some people who have cleaned up camps like this one before went straight for the big stuff, like the wood stove, chain saw motors or the generator. I on the other hand started small, digging out batteries from the soil, because to me that was one of the most toxic things there. I was astounded by the amount of batteries one person could accumulate, and that was extremely depressing.

As the day went on those initial feelings slowly washed away and were replaced with motivation.

On the second day, I no longer thought of the mess.  My mind was purely focused on loading the raft, getting everything across the river, loading the containers, hiking carefully back up the trail, and loading the trucks. I was pumped!

By the end of day two when we had three pickup trucks full of trash and recycling, and one dump truck full of scrap metal I was left with this great feeling of accomplishment.  We made a difference!

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By Alicia Ralero



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Chaffin Family Orchard

Even though our five days at Chaffin Farm were full, the experience as a whole felt like meditation. Before we even left our base camp in Nevada City I was looking forward to our time at the farm, kind of like a five year old patiently waiting for Christmas morning. Our days were loosely set up and consisted of: getting a farm tour (of the 2,000 acre family farm run and maintained by just 6 full time farmers), designing and painting a school bus that was themed sustainability, participating in a chicken processing day, and eating as many oranges and or grapefruits as we wanted! There was so much going on and yet the air constantly felt calm, relaxed, and joy filled.

I journaled briefly during a lesson with Chris, the farm manager and while this meant that my attention was divided it was a moment that needed to be saved and remembered. “Chris’ voice is traveling through the air as the sounds of moving water and bird chirps fills the remaining spaces. An endless meadow of beauty lies behind us. Animals surround us thriving in their natural habitat as we visit them placing our feet gently with open eyes, carrying a strong eagerness to learn. Education and learning is my life! And I love it so much.” This farm is one of the many places in my life (though not typically common in other lives as I believe it should be) where learning is a constant: it truly is unavoidable. Our ‘lesson’ about raising goats, which consisted of Chris sharing his knowledge and experience with us and answering the questions we had, took place standing in a pasture amongst goats—some just days away from giving birth. What a great environment to learn about goats in. Classrooms are everywhere. The Chaffin farmers really understand this and make it part of their lives. If you cross paths with a Chaffin farmer you should feel honored—they are very special people. The farmers directly and their family are the type of people that the world would benefit greatly from having more of.

My bare feet touched the earth everyday while at Chaffin and it felt so exceptional. Nearly everywhere, nearly all day: the skin of my feet connected with the ground beneath me directly. I was barefoot even while picking oranges in the dark. Lily, Tom, and I were the gatherers for our family that night, returning from the orchard with bags bulging of freshly picked oranges. I had never picked an orange before. I was pleasantly surprised at how natural it felt even though it was something new to me. Everything at Chaffin farm felt natural. When we were painting the school bus and being suffocated by the smell of oil based paint I could look into one of the countless tunnels of olive trees and to return to the natural farming world. It also helped the chemical-filled paint job feel better when the olive orchard would erupt with laughter as our faces wrinkled and the sound of joy left our open smiling mouths. During chicken processing day, when chickens are slaughtered and prepared for consumption, feeling the disposable apron around my waist, which I was using to prevent my clothes from getting bloody, I felt unconnected in an oddly connected way. Killing your own food, living on a farm, and yet being in an environment that felt as inviting as a hospital. I was reassured and re grounded by knowing that I could (and did in fact) leave the chicken scene and sit in the grass by the sheep with a view of Tabletop Mountain just behind them.

Chaffin Farm had an indescribable feel to it. Many farms I have visited and worked on have a great feeling but this was different. Seeing the faces of the farmers as they took time out of their busy days to check on us and see if we needed anything or if they could join in the fun we were having and interact with us was special. In knowing someone for just five days, having not met them before and unsure if our paths will cross again it is quite fascinating to share experiences with them: laughter, hiking through poison oak, swimming under a waterfall, standing on the hood of an old bus and spreading the blue paint, being involved in the chicken processing day and the emotional feelings included there, breaking bread together, and much more leaves me with a unique good feeling. Experiences and openness to share are what makes this world so valuable to me: Chaffin was a great reminder of that and I am excited to see how I hold onto that energy and spread it through all that I interact with in my life.



As soon as we take a right turn into the olive and orange orchards, I am pleasantly smacked in the nose with the pungent scent of sweet orange blossoms. I try inhaling as much as I can, fill my entire being with the smell, but unfortunately, as humans have been created, we rely on exhalation as well.

As if our introduction could get any better, we are welcomed to our camp site with rows and rows of olive trees, beautifully entwined with 100 years of history. The fragrance, the lush green coloring my entire surroundings, the endless tunnel of arching branches in every direction, made me feel like I had finally found a Utopia on Earth.


To continue the magical experience, we meet Chris, a partner of Kurt and Carol, the owners of Chaffin Farm, who entertained us during our stay. Chris is so friendly and easy to get along with that I knew we were going to have a great time. We hiked around Table Mountain, from where we could see the whole orchard as well as Chico fading off into the horizon. There is a peaceful, quiet, vernal pool surrounded by grazing cows and vibrant wildflowers. Table Mountain is breathtaking and I’d love to go back there someday.

Chris had bought an 89’ Bluebird school bus to tour classes who are visiting the farm around and trusted us with the task of painting it. Since being at Finding the Good I have been acknowledged as “the artist,” which is pretty shocking because I have never been in that position before. I directed the project as best I could, with a lot of help of course, and we’re all proud of how the job turned out. I never really took my art seriously, it was just a hobby I enjoyed occasionally, but being put in the position of “the artist” is making me reconsider. Painting the bus was a valuable experience for me and helped me continue my thoughts on going to art school.

We arrived at the perfect time; the staff, students and Tom got to paint the bus, the orange blossoms had just started blooming and the weather was beautiful. We were sad to leave, but the trip felt well-rounded, full of good memories, and the rain encouraged our journey home. I would love to visit Chaffin Family Orchards again, and if you are reading this, thank you for having us!