Category Archives: Student Life

Chichicastenango, part 2


painting by the artist pictured below

After lunch we make our way as a group to the gallery of a local painter to hear his story and to talk with a local woman about Mayan beliefs as well as the symbolism in the local weaving. We enter into an enclosed courtyard, one side filled with glorious paintings of the local scenery, the other a small semi-circle of benches and chairs. In one of these, with a small table in front of him, sits the painter, working on a piece of canvas.

Our speaker come out, a traditional shirt called a hupil in her arms. The shirt is intricately woven.

She tells us something of herself and then begins to explain the weaving to us. The zig-zag pattern is to remind them that sometimes things are down, but they will always go up again eventually. Some weavings, like that of the women in Chichicastenango use the zig-zag pattern to represent the mountains; they also use a zig-zaged circle around the collar of the huipil to represent the sun. When the sun and the mountains are present on a woman’s hupil she becomes a symbol of mother earth, who along with father sky and grandfather sun, make up much of the traditional Mayan religion.

Middle is our speaker, left and right are our translators who stayed with us the whole trip

Their very specific calendars also plays a large role in Mayan society.   The Mayans use the alignment of the stars, the sun and Venus to build their calendar. The Calendar is a lot more than a time keeping system, it tells Mayan people what days are good for planting, what days are good for resting, what days are good for harvesting. The calendar also outlines the role of a person within society. People born on certain days are healers, while people born the next day might be priests and people on the next are farmers.

Now, she lets us in on a secret. The world is not going to end on December 21, 2012. It is only the end of a certain measurement of time used by the Mayans called a Baktun. A Baktun Consists of 5, 200 three hundred and sixty five day years. December 21 is the end of the 13th baktun, and the beginning of the 14th.  This day is so special because, the sun, Venus, earth, and the moon will all be in alignment. This alignment of celestial bodies will send high energy levels at the earth, the highest in 5,200 years. Humans may either benefit from this energy or it could destroy them, it is all up to how we use the energy given to us.

We can either use it to shift our paradigm to a more sustainable and holistic approach to life, or we can use it to accelerate the destructive path we are on. It may be used to cleanse the frontal cortex of the brain, which the Mayans believe to be the source of negativity and conflict in humans. This cleansing will only happen to people who are at peace with the three sides of themselves. In Mayan culture these are referred to as the emotional, spiritual, and physical parts of self.

As she informs us of that little tid-bit, my heart skips a beat. Here finally is a culture operating on the same thought plane as I am. Here are people more worried about the other two sides of life than will their material possession. The solid world is only 1/3 of what is going on around us, so why are we so concerned with it?

This belief in balance is the reason Mayan people are so happy, continues our speaker, the Mayan people know that despite their material poverty they are spiritually and emotionally rich. This trumps material wealth any day.

How are these people, despite losing family and friends and homes and living in poverty, so happy? That is the question I have wanted answered ever since our first meeting about this trip.

The rest of the speech is lost on me, as I was just handed the answer to my biggest question on a silver platter.

Guatemala, Chontala


The van trundles up the mountain, switch back after switch back after switch back. Painted all over the rocks that line the highway are the symbols and initials of the prominent political parties of Guatemala, a different one each couple of yards. All hastily spray painted. Out the other window the majestically lush hills of the highlands slide past. Farms, shanties, empty bottles, food wrappers, skinny live stock, the smell of burning garbage, dirty children and women with tanned and wrinkled faces; each with a smile on their face. Through all of this, a feeling of strange and wild beauty.

Our van turns down a dirt track and trundles along for several minutes before we arrive at our destination, Chontala. We proceed on foot through a corn field and down a steep hill until we arrive at a small, but cozy home. It is square, made of cement, and smells of something delicious. We walk through a short hallway and emerge onto a covered back porch. Hanging on parallel clothes lines around the perimeter of the porch are weavings of every size, and color, and pattern, each more beautiful than the last. Together they make up the most vibrant walls I’ve ever seen. Each piece was hand-made on a back-strap loom by one of the women in this town.

Each one of these innocent women was personally affected by the war. Most lost husbands or sons or fathers, but some lost their entire family. Left with no one and no way to support them self the women went to the church seeking help. However the church had also fallen victim to the military, surviving a bombing and poverty as extreme as the women’s. What the church did have however was thread, which it donated to the women so they may make clothes and bags and journals, and all kinds of beautiful things to sell. In this way the Ruth & Naomi project begun.(Want to see more? all their troubles and the material poverty they live in these women have lights in their eyes. The moment we arrive they smile at us. They share their personal trials with us, each story heart breaking and inspiring. They do not cry, they simply tell about what once was, eager to share. The hope and the happiness in these women’s eyes is what I’ve come to see.  I just want to know that people, despite dire circumstances, still are happy.
Once the stories are told, the ladies reveal to us the source of the delicious aroma; the best fried chicken I have ever eaten and soft warm hand-made tortillas. When we finish they whisk away our dishes with bright smiles.

Despite not being able to exchange words with them directly we can feel in the air how happy they are for us to be there listening. We feel welcome.

Where the Heart is


Music: The String Cheese Incident, Naive Melody (This Must Be the Place)

It is odd how a place can turn into a home so quickly. I lived more or less in the same house for eighteen years, and it only took a couple of months for Steamboat to become my home. It took exactly one day for me to be comfortable in this town and with the other kids in the dorms.

But the meaning of home runs deeper than comfort. This is the place my heart aches to be. This is where I plan on returning when I am old and tired to lay my head down for good. The air in this valley meets my lips sweeter than anywhere else. The sky is a better shade of blue here. I couldn’t live in a more perfect place even if I thought one up in my imagination and it sprang into being.

Roughly ten days into my winter vacation my heart began to itch for this valley. Seeing my family was  wonderful and I was grateful for the time with them, however ten days was too long to be away from my home. My heart longed for the wide open skies and sweeping winds, and for the trees completely encased in snow so that they looked like a most delicious white chocolate treat.

Upon my much awaited return I spent two days where everyone was excited. Smiles and hugs were exchanged all around, people greeted friends whom they hadn’t seen in a month, although it felt like years. Everything it seemed, was perfect.

And then,

As this new semester began we all flexed our mental muscles, stiff from a month-long vacation and found it to be uncomfortable. Simple habits had to be re-learned, like going to class and keeping a somewhat normal schedule. The first week was a struggle for everyone, I could see it in their faces and their longing glances out of windows during class. I could see it in the way they walk. I as well found it hard to readjust.  We drank more coffee, and tried to fix our schedules to be somewhat bearable.

We embraced our home, even if it meant a full-time schedule yet again.

And now, a week later everyone has relaxed again into the busy season of mountain life. For it is indeed necessary to relax into it. It wont due to be stressed in the winter time; this is after all the reason we live here.

The Tire Swing Project


Music, Joyful Sound: The String Cheese Incident

A few nights ago I gathered with about fifteen other people to participate in a nationwide art project. Thanks to the generosity of several foundations we were lucky enough to have over 100 tires and over 100 ropes donated to our project. And so splitting into teams we set out in down town Denver to hang tire swings in unexpected places.

Our mission: to encourage people to slow down and play.

The sky was clear and dark, and the air was becoming crisp as we gathered to receive our instructions.  By the time we set out with tires under arm and ropes in hand each breath was visible in the night air. Our group split into teams and we went our separate ways. Several minutes later found my friend Simon and I standing under a bridge, giggling like school girls as we played on our newly erected tire swing. I felt a surge of joy and contentment wash over me.

We ran from location to location, hanging up our swings and trying not to be seen, and also fighting to not be overcome by our laughter.

This type of playing is good for the soul.

I remember the day when ‘playing’ became uncool. Instead of playing together, my friends and I started ‘hanging-out’. Our activities didn’t really change overnight but the terminology and most importantly our attitude changed. Now playing was not the cool thing to do. I think this happens to everyone at some point in their life, however we should fight to avoid it. Playing is exercise for the soul, and for the body.

It is a way to relax without sitting around on your butt and getting fat.
It reminds us not to take ourselves so seriously; to enjoy our lives.

This life is truly not worth living unless it is enjoyed. As far as I am concerned, whether there is more after this life or not, this is still the only time you are allotted on this magnificent planet. It is therefore the responsibility of each individual to ensure that their time here is happy.  The best way I know of to be happy is to play. Through play we form relationships with other people and with our place. Both people and the environment benefit deeply from these relationships. Play also allows us to connect with our own souls more deeply and awakens an innocence that normally eludes those over the age of ten.

I am not saying that adults do not play. However our play consist of going to concerts, snowboarding, skiing, river rafting, hiking, biking, fishing or similar activities. However, these lack the sheer joy of laughing and playing like children.

The only reason I’ve been able to come up with as to why people who live in the mountains are so happy and friendly is because we are all so obsessed with our play. We choose to live in little communities hours from the city, all so we are closer to our play ground.

But even people obsessed with playing fail to stop and really play like children. Laughing, running, jumping, being silly, all in order to remember a little bit of the sheer bliss of childhood.
This type of play is what we should all be doing.

Get down in the dirt and make some mud pies, stomp in some puddles, and swing on the swings.

You just might like it.

To learn more about the tire swing project, click the link below to view a video made by the artist who thought up the project.

Occupy: Christmas


Music, Put a Little Love in Your Heart: Al Green and Annie Lennox

Candy canes, trees hanging with tinsel and ornaments, mistletoe, little porcelain nativity scenes, wrapping paper, poinsettias, stockings hung by the chimney, nut crackers, gingerbread houses, really bad T.V. specials, even worse music everywhere I go, children’s magazines with every other toy circled, parents lying to their children to make them behave, lists of what people want, bells on every door, fake icicles, giant inflatable Santa Clauses, plastic reindeer, enormous electricity bills, presents upon presents upon presents.



24 HOUR SALE!!!!!

These are the things that haunt my Christmas season.

These are the things that make half of me (the rational half) despise this time of year. It is a glorification of rampant destructive consumerism. It is a wonderful excuse to go out and spend money on things that no one needs and mostly nobody wants. It’s a time of year to stress out over the perfect gift. Unbeknownst to you, that perfect gift from last year is still sitting in their closet, forgotten, and un-touched since it was placed there the day after Christmas last year. What a waste.

So while you again wander aimlessly through every store you can think of looking for SOMETHING, anything really that will please whoever is next on your list, Toys-R-Us and Wal-Mart and Best Buy are raking in more cash than anyone can imagine.

Whoever you are, no matter what you believe about the meaning of Christmas, this is a debasement of that belief. Whether you are celebrating the birth of Christ, the winter solstice, or simply having Christmas because that is what you’ve always done, this celebration of our consumer culture is not part of the meaning of Christmas. If it were we would call it Thanksgetting; the national holiday to celebrate money and greed, and to inspire those values in our children.

So I challenge you to stop this gross dehumanization of Christmas and put people back in the holiday. This year, instead of celebrating objects; celebrate beauty and charity and grace. Celebrate joy, longevity, and mercy. Rejoice in the beauty of the world around you for it is the only pure thing left. Celebrate innocence and remember when you had some; celebrate the children in your life who still do.

But above all celebrate love. That is what this season is about after all.  It is a time to celebrate the people you love by showing them how much you love them. It is about demonstrating that there is still love and compassion in the world. In our society rend apart by hard economic times, big businesses only concerned with their wallets and not the people or the environment, wars on Obama-only-knows how many different fronts, and an unsatisfied 99%, it is hard to see any love in the world anymore. Therefore I am asking everyone to find a little love in their heart, and do something unexpected to show it.

Take a meal to someone you know who is down on their luck. Donate some of your presents to families who have none.  Shovel your neighbor’s driveway. It really doesn’t matter how you show love, as long as you put some of it back into Christmas.

It is bad enough that we have to save a time of year to be nicer and show love, and even worse that it has morphed into a consumer holiday. And so I entrust you all with this task: Occupy Christmas.

Homeward Bound


Music: Complicated, Yonder Mountain String Band
This song has got me through my finals.
A couple weeks ago, something strange descended upon our little slice of heaven.  People’s faces went pale, their eyes grew bloodshot, and their hair stood on end. A dark mood seemed to posses everyone in sight, each person complaining about the same thing. The cause of all the unrest, finals week; the pale faces are due to stress; the blood shot eyes from sleep deprivation and caffeine overload.

Thursday afternoon, two o’clock. I sat in my Wilderness and the American Ethics class and realized that I was sad for it to be over. Never before did I have a class that I was thoroughly excited about. I learned that there are like minded people out there, people who actually care about the planet they live on and are working to help it. I feel a sense of family with the people in that class even though; we never really learned each other’s names. I know I could walk up to anyone from the class and feel comfortable talking to them like a friend. We all have the same goal; we are all here for the same reason. I think it is people like the ones in that class that gives this town the sense of community we have, everyone just wants to preserve our valley and love it the best they can.

For two weeks in a row our cozy mountain life turned into a whirlwind of studying, tests, papers, presentations, and free coffee. However, slowly and one by one, everyone took their last test, turned in their last paper, did a victory dance, and went home.

I went back to the dorms at eight o’clock last night and the parking lot was emptier than I’ve ever seen it. A peaceful lovely quiet had descended upon campus.  Street light reflected off the sheet of ice we call a parking lot, dusted with snow. I felt the stress of the last two weeks leave my body; my first semester of college, in the books, a shining moment in my academic career. I did better this semester than any other semester of my thirteen years of school, and I had the most fun. As I thought these thoughts the place in my heart for steamboat and CMC grew a bit bigger. This really is a magical place.

Happy Holidays everyone, I hope you get to spend this time with your families, both related and not. In this time of year that is easily consumed by rampant greed and consumerism, I encourage everyone to put those thoughts aside, and put the people you love in the forefront of your mind, and your heart. Things will break and come and go, however true family will always be with you.

The first thing I did when I got up today; high tailed it to Grand County to see my family.

Bluegrass on The Yampa


Music: Full Moonshine, Old Town Pickers                                                                                                                                               This song should be played once you have read the post, it could be a bit distracting to do both at the same time. Enjoy!

One of my favorite things about Steamboat is all of the musical people who live here. There is live music everywhere you turn, whether it be hippies in the parking lot of the gas station beating their drums, or bands playing at bars and even on the mountain. More than once I have walked into a house party only to find the people throwing it sitting behind various instruments ready to jam. This kind of musical atmosphere is ideal for people, like me, who positively thrive off the energy and the movement that comes along with live music. If it was a viable lifestyle I would leave on festival tour tomorrow. It is great for me then, that live music is abundant in Steamboat.

Last Saturday I had the unique pleasure of seeing one of Steamboat’s local string bands, Old Town Pickers, play at a bar in Hayden. Hula-hoops in hand, my friend Tabatha and I set out to enjoy our evening. And it was even better than I expected it to be. I hooped until I was too tiered, and too dizzy to move. Later, I got to spend some time talking with the band, whom are all amazingly cool people and fantastically talented at their various instruments, which included; a dobro, a banjo, stand up bass, and of course, an acoustic guitar.

Everyone at there was as nice as the sunshine in spring, and really interested in how Tabatha and I learned to hoop. We talked with them for a few hours, everyone huddled around an enormous bucket of peanuts that none of us could stop eating. They were more addicting than potato chips. And toward the end of the night, Tabatha brought me a very nice older man to dance with.

Little did I know that dancing in this bar meant swing dancing. I was twirled around like a toy top, my partner demonstrating amazing coordination and skill, so graceful. I however felt more like a drunken ballerina, tripping over my own feet and his, than anything graceful. Despite my difficulties, that is one of the best dances I have ever had. My partner, Scott, was pro. As he twirled me back and forth and to and fro an enormous smile spread across my face. I relaxed more and more the longer we danced, and I was finally able to let him lead. After that it just got better. I must have been twirling and smiling and tripping over feet for five songs before I was too exhausted to do it anymore. And through the hooping and the peanuts and the swing dancing, the Pickers played away in their corner, one of the best displays of bluegrass musicianship I have ever seen in a town this small, and better than a lot of acts i’ve seen in Denver. Without them, my night would not have been possible, and I look forward to many like it in the future.

I don’t know how I got so lucky to live in such a beautiful place with such beautiful music and wonderful people.

Old Town Pickers are playing again this Wednesday, December 7, at Carl’s Tavern on 7th  street and Yampa. This is an all ages event so there is no reason not to come out! I’ll be there and I hope to see you, bring your friends and your dancing shoes.