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Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

Hi!

Hi folks,

I’ve been meaning to put a few words together introducing myself for a while now, but between getting the flu and being on the road I just never got around to it — oops. Also, congrats on graduating Izzie and Josie, and to all others in the group about to do so. Such a cool decision to make.

I committed to my gap year in mid-July, inside this tiny shack on some rainy Alaskan beach, the realest place in the world. We’d just finished setting our nets, and it was the first day after a month of fishing that I’d done it all near right — pulled our skiff into the deeps without assistance, grabbed and brought in all 12 buoys and slack line at speed, let out all the line without something really bad almost happening, didn’t miss when we came up on a net and pulled it up. Even cleaned out the boat without getting any comments from the other deckhands. Nobody noticed or said anything too mean, and it was one of the best hours I’ve ever lived. I didn’t talk with anyone about that morning for a long time, just emailed my school of choice, told them I’d be taking my time getting there.

I stuck around till September ended, I’d been there four months, felt like long enough. I’d walked the docks, found work where I could while the salmon season lasted, but winter was coming in like a lion and I couldn’t find work on any Bering sea boats, so I said goodbye to this family that took me in like one of their own, packed my bags, and flew back east. I’d done well for never having had a job before going north. I was only a little sad.

I spent a month at home, had my birthday, did some things that needed doing, led a quiet life. I thought a lot about what had happened, how I’d changed and how I hadn’t. Before heading out, it was as if I’d spent my whole life at Walden pond, where everything was A-Okay, and after, like I’d come out of some dark, damned woods, same forest, just a different way at looking at things. I concluded that it’s true what they say, that wherever you go, there you are. The impression on me of New Canaan, my hometown, resists erasure: it remains in my gesture, my words, and my voice, even when I put a continent between us. I wonder, and perhaps this is something we can discuss as a group, if others have had a similar experience in acting out of character.

I headed south when November started to Cartagena, this hot Caribbean city that got its start as a Spanish slave port. I volunteered there as an English teacher for two months at an orphanage for victims of child trafficking, or physical abuse, or something awful. I went down expecting to be working with little infants in a pretty city and got caught totally off guard by everything. Being there was as like getting a cosmic kick in my pants. I probably should’ve been wearing iron underwear. The whole thing felt like I was being undone, like someone untied my haystacks and I was starting to fear the wind. But sometimes you just have to bite your lip and put on sunglasses. Learned that in Alaska, learned it again in Colombia.  It was the hardest work I’ve ever done and the most lonesome I’ll ever be.

Anyway, I’ve written way too much (big problem of mine) and made it all sound horrible and depressing without saying anything too concrete (also something I do), so I’ll just save the happy notes and what really happened for later.

There’s not much more to be said, and to end, I’d just like to say how excited I am to meet and get to know y’all as we journey to things remote.

Rob