small potatoes

This week started off auspiciously; days that were projected to be consistently rainy offered bouts of sunshine and few droplets for most of the work week, and though we were all working 44 business hours each, the time seemed to fly by as we chipped away at endless blackberry thickets, tore away the choking ivy from countless trees, and fed branches and logs into a chipper, marveling at the satisfying whirring crunch as the larger material transformed into pieces no larger than a thumb.

I was exorcising the mud from my work pants (and shirt, and pretty much all else worn this week) via the community laundry room where I live. I sat cross-legged on the counter-top and checked my email for the first time in several days. I sorted through junk & spam, and one email immediately caught my eye – ‘twas from the grad program at Penn State!

Some background here: In February of last year I was accepted into the RPTM PhD program at Penn State, planning to earn a dual title focused on experiential education and human dimensions of natural resources & the environment. I had deferred a semester in order to graduate from undergrad, and then in January of 2016, had deferred another semester in order to retake a calc class that I had failed this fall. Throughout this process, the support & communication I had traded with my program had been nothing but positive.

So, I was expecting an email regarding assistantship funding beginning this fall, beyond excited to begin research and expand upon what I’ve been learning in my current professional context. Instead, I was greeted by the following: “I’m sorry to have to do this by email..” Uh oh, definitely not good. Seems that even though I was accepted with a 2.9 cum GPA a year ago, and even though I had explicitly asked whether being below the 3.0 cut off would be cause for concern (and was reassured it would not be a problem), it was suddenly an issue. Just like that, the next five or so years of my life that had seemed so planned, so set in stone in terms of place, disintegrated with a formally polite electronic interaction.

I’m writing this because we do not often share our failures publically, on social media or otherwise. I’m writing this because I am endeavouring to be as proud of not pursuing a PhD (at Penn State…….) as I was when I found out I’d have the opportunity to do so. I’m writing this because I think it’s increasingly important to know that failure, and the apparent loss of opportunity, is merely a seemingly shitty way of another opportunity knocking, dressed as a wolf at the door. I’m writing this because high school me needed desperately to hear that her identity was not wrapped up in an ivy league acceptance, and nor was her happiness. I am writing this because I think there are likely others who may relate. I am writing this because I am enough, with or without a doctorate degree opportunity from my undergraduate alma mater. I am writing this because this is how life really is sometimes.

I had a similar experience with the commencement of my undergraduate career; I often refer to ending up at Penn State as my happy accident. I would not trade that journey for the world. And so, despite this apparent set back, I couldn’t be more excited to see what new adventures lay ahead. I’ve no doubt that some sort of grad school awaits in the future (thanks to those of you who’ve already graciously answered my curious inquiries on trust & how we perceive risk; if you’re curious, or would like to offer insight or commentary, messages are welcome!), but I’m excited to pursue further adventures in this incredible place that is now my home for as long as I’d like it to be. I no longer have an expiration date on my time out here in the PNW: There is a certain excitement, a joy, an anticipation, a wonder that sets in when a space becomes a place, becomes a home, for the next installment of forever.


Despite my conscious attempts to forestall the senses of potentially impending doom & looming existential crisis that accompany the settling gravity of any such loss of opportunity, the next few days seemed to pass as well as the two before.

It was 6:15am on Friday morning, and I had finally kicked my ass out of bed early enough to visit the local coffee shop ( but not early enough to make my own /: ) before heading to work. I slid back into the car with coffee in hand, as a steady drizzle dampened my windshield & my rain jacket, if not my mood. As I pulled out of the parking lot, en route to HQ, and an 814 number popped up on my phone’s cracked screen. Hoping that it was my advisor from Penn State calling to have a chat, I answered immediately; after all it was a reasonable 9:15am phone call for someone back east. Rather than an explanation of the not-so-bueno news I’d already received this week, it was something that made the other news seem much like small potatoes; a real perspective changer. It was the receptionist from a doctor who I’d seen in State College shortly before leaving, for a routine check-up and procedure. I hadn’t heard from them in a month and a half, so I’d assumed that all was well.

In fact, all was not well. The routine procedure had found some strange squamous cell growth, and necessity of further testing, as soon as possible, was impressed upon me. And just like that, my identity as a healthy human, who was more worried about the ability of my body to take on grueling expeditions & outdoor pursuits than whether or not I’d get sick, for whom cancer had never entered the realm of actual possibilities… that identity was now teetering on the edge, not needing much more impetus to fall into that abyss of anxiety & shatter wherever it landed.

The past few days have been strangely amusing in that I have never felt more aware of, or more grateful for my body, and its incredible abilities to exceed my expectations and desires for movement. It can climb roofs in the gym, suspended upside down; it can run long, long distances, longer than my mind thinks are remotely possible; it can ski in wildly variable conditions (frozen water, people, it’s nuts!); it can explore dark, deep expanses; it can kayak big drops & roll up when I flip; it can dance, on summits and in valleys; it can carry me up to those summits, and safely back down to those valleys; it can embrace challenges & triumphs; it can embrace my fellow humans; it can embrace the world with positivity & light & humour & happiness everyday if I choose it to, regardless of how the world tries to dampen it.

It can radiate love & kindness & compassion for all humans. It can revel in the beauty of a light rain, in the gentle caress of the wind before a storm, in the joy that accompanies the sight of green trees & sun-lit fields & flowing rivers.

It is strong. It is enough, as it is. And for this, I am grateful.


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