Saturday, October 1, 2016

Finding the Northwoods in Mongolia


Birch and Aspen in Mongolia
I spent my childhood and early youth in the Northwoods of Michigan--both the lower peninsula (home) and the upper peninsula (where we had a rustic cabin for deer season and holidays). The earth was often damp with precipitation and layers of decaying leaves created a soft cushion for one's feet. Those woods were a mix of deciduous and evergreen. While I've enjoyed discovering other biomes--from the desert of the Southwest to the steppe of Mongolia--the sounds and smells of the Northwoods will always be my first "nature home." Too many memories of building forts, hiking trails, playing on silty riverbanks, fishing for perch in lakes, wiggling toes in Sorel boots to stay warm while deer hunting, feeding chickadees from my hand, and climbing trees to have it be otherwise. 

The Secret History Camp
A girlfriend and I traveled last weekend to the Secret History Camp located just 70 miles north of UB to enjoy our brief fall before winter sets in. I went there a year ago for the first time with my fellow American Wives and knew I'd return. It's tucked into a mountain valley just a couple of kilometers off the paved road. My favorite feature is the trees-- birch and aspen that show the colors of fall. My friend being from Minnesota and I from Michigan, we both felt an overwhelming sense of home--of NOT being in Mongolia--as we hiked farther into the woods behind the Lodge. We traveled a newly constructed two track trail, breathing in the dark and organic smells of the land as it prepares to go dormant. It had rained the night before and there was yet moisture all around us--in the air, on the leaves, on our pant legs and hiking boots. It was divine.

Fall has always been my favorite time of year--partly because of the beautiful colors that descend with the cooler temps, but also because I am a forever student and September means back-to-school. I love the buying of new notebooks and pens, meeting new teachers and getting syllabi, learning what amazing things I'd be adding to my personal hard drive. Of course now I am one of the teachers--but you see, that's the thing about education. As teachers, we are also students. We learn so much from the students we teach AND as we prepare to teach them--looking for ways to show the relevance in our content. This fall I also opted to participate in an online 5 week Writing Boot Camp through Creative Nonfiction (at the suggestion of a stateside colleague). We just completed week three and it has been good to have outside motivation to write. While I do journal most every morning, that's to clear my mental and emotional fog away for the day's tasks that lie ahead. This has been writing with a different purpose--to finish a piece I intend to submit for publication. No spoilers here--stay tuned to hear about rejections or acceptance. 

It's October 2nd as I write this and Zorig and I celebrate our first year of marriage today. The year has gone fast. I'm thankful for so many things, so many people. I have meaningful work, good friends and colleagues, and my unexpected family in Zorig and Enkhjin. Our lives are always evolving and morphing. 

Phone number displayed in cars
I want to leave you with this interesting tidbit of life in Mongolia. Parking can be tough to find in Ulaanbaatar--a city that was built for 500,000 inhabitants and now has nearly three times that--1.5 million. Parking outside in winter can be tough on car engines with -40 temps at night. There isn't much street parking and parking garages, though they are starting to pop up in the city, are yet rate. People often double-park in parking lots, blocking people in. You can imagine the rage this would cause in America--but it's not the case here. Nearly every driver has their phone number posted in clear view in the front window of their vehicle. See the photo examples here--from plastic placards (in both side and front windows) to fancily carved wooden digits. While Americans are hugely private about protecting their contact information, Mongolians put them right out in the open. Are you parked in? Well then call the number in the window and the driver will come and let you out. Bonus--you can take his departed parking spot. 

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