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Finding New Brushstrokes

By Kayla 

It’s been a year and a half since I’ve visited a museum. Walking around the galleries, I love to take in the artwork around me and explore the paintings that most deeply resonate with me. The pandemic has changed this experience, but it hasn’t erased it completely.

I recently visited a small art gallery at the Orange County Great Park. The gallery’s current exhibition delves into the theme “Home,” showcasing local artists’ interpretations of the complexities and comforts of personal and collective homes. The pieces ranged from a wide-scale mural highlighting iconic global structures to ceramic sculptures of strawberry Pocky. The normal bustling from room to room is nowhere to be found, and the only clicks of camera shutters that I can hear are from my own phone. The emptiness of the gallery is odd, but simultaneously rejuvenating. With COVID protocols in place, the gallery allowed me to absorb the artworks’ messages deeply and reflect on my emotions. Art is a communicative discipline, and I enjoyed taking my time to explore the exhibit.

The gallery reignited my love for art history. I took an art history course in high school, and I want to continue learning about the subject. Curbside pick-up at my local library and YouTube art documentaries help me learn as much as I can about incredible artists and art movements. In order to grow as an artist and dancer, I know that consuming a variety of art forms will stimulate my creativity. I’ve really enjoyed watching livestreamed performances by the Royal Ballet, and I’ve started comparing the fiction books I read to their television counterparts. Investigating this myriad of art forms is propelling me to develop my creativity further.

With more free time during my gap year, I’ve been able to explore my creativity in different ways. I don’t typically create hands-on art projects, but I’ve delved into a couple new activities during my free time. I started an embroidery project, which I’ve found requires a lot of precision (albeit a different type of precision than what I use when I dance). I also began a relaxing painting project, and I’ve continued to experiment with classical and contemporary choreography as a dancer.

Finding new artists and meaningful creations inspires me to reflect on my own creativity, and to keep forging my artistic identity.

Quarantine Chronicles: The Silver Lining

By Lhamo

I often think back to March, the last month of New Hampshire snow. I remember ending winter term and vacationing in Maui, Hawaii, where I first heard that my school year would end abruptly. In Hawaii, the gyms and restaurants were open, people strolled on the beach without masks, and our hotel remained largely unaffected. I felt like I was in a euphoric oasis where everyone was safe. Soon, the news hit the vacationers, and I began seeing a slow change from normalcy to something quite unexpected—a masked, distanced world, cold as last month’s snow that I had escaped from for the final time. 
When I think back to March, I count the months on my fingers and think of how fast time flew by. Nothing has changed since then. It feels like the days have drifted by and I haven’t saved the world or cured cancer or done anything extraordinary. At least I now know where I’m going to college. I can do a few more push-ups. I’ve started my yoga teacher training. I’ve even found out that I can resume the rest of my gap year in January. I can go to Madagascar, Costa Rica, Australia, and South Africa. Right now, there’s a silver lining, even though I’ve been waiting patiently through tumult and uncertainty. 
I’ve spent this past week at my Grandfather’s retreat center in Northern California. It’s a large, picturesque home, overlooking rolling hills and the distance Pacific Ocean. I drove up there on a scorching hot Tuesday morning and passed through three fields burnt to the ground. I spent most of the week indoors because the air quality made it hard to breathe, and the sky outside was tinged yellow, throwing strange hues atop the Buddhist temples I knew as home. When I could find Wifi, I scrolled through articles on the wildfires. Some were close, eighty miles away.
Being with family in these uncertain times was both comforting and concerning. What if a fire passed through our community? And I lost all of them? I thought of this as I sat across from my aunties and Grandpa, still somewhat at peace with the way this all turned out.
Right now, if it weren’t for COVID-19, I’d be trekking the Druk Path in Bhutan. I reflect on that a lot. How I missed out on unlocking the door to my heritage. 
Over the last month, I’ve traveled up and down California several times. I swam in the cold, clear Lake Tahoe waters and paddle boarded across emerald green coves. I biked through forests and small towns, over sand and on dirt paths. I took care of my four month old bunny named Dior who steals Lucky Charms from my bowl (she’s a diabetic, I’m sure). 
The silver lining from this pandemic resides in how I see things now. I’m actually okay with things not going to plan. I trust the process.

Dang, That Was Unfortunate

By Ray

Hello readers, 

This is Ray, and I’m starting to write my second blog. Since my last blog, I’ve hiked the Lost Coast Trail, planned a thru-hike of the Tahoe Rim Trail, and hiked in the Trinity Alps Wilderness.  

 The Lost Coast was a really nice way to re-enter the backpacking world. I went with one of my close friends; we finished the 26-mile trail in three days and two nights. We finished our four-hour drive Saturday afternoon and hiked 9 miles or so. We then trekked 17 miles the second day, and barely hiked anything the third day to finish early in the morning. Some of my highlights were jumping into swimming holes, eating dinner after a long day, and tidepooling. The lost coast is normally super foggy and cloudy, but we had clear skies the entire trip. The views were crazy! 

Our First Campsite

After the Lost Coast trip, I was super excited to keep on backpacking. I set my sights on the Tahoe Rim Trail – a 160-mile loop around Lake Tahoe. I planned on finishing the hike in eight days, hiking 20 miles a day. It would be my first-time solo trip, and I was pumped for it. I made myself a resupply box to pick up in Tahoe City and got my permits. Instead of a tent, I brought g a bivy sack (an enclosed sack for your sleeping bag – there’s only room to lay down). I don’t have claustrophobia, and I don’t really see the purpose of hanging out in a tent by myself. My back welcomed the change from a 3 pound tent to a 1 pound bivy.  

A day before I wanted to leave, everything took a turn for the worse. Wildfires in California were absolutely destroying Tahoe’s air quality. The idea of inhaling smoke 24 hours a day for a week wasn’t super appealing, I’m not going to lie. I called an audible to shelf the Rim Trail and wait out the smoke. (California is still on fire, so we’ll see when this happens). This is/was a huge bummer and very unfortunate. On a broader note, my trip cancellation is trivial compared to the people who have lost their homes and their lives from the fires. I need to be aware of my privilege.  

After postponing the Rim Trail, I started to research the air quality in the rest of California. While cross-referencing air quality maps with open space, I found the Trinity Alps Wilderness – a small wilderness by Mt. Shasta. The mountain and the current wind conditions had created a small pocket of breathable air. I found a weather report, a trailhead, and left the next day with four days of food. I was itching to get out of the house.  

“I’ll get a map on the drive up,” I hoped as I pulled out of the driveway.  

 I arrived at the Trailhead late at night (with a map) and prepared for an early morning. At 5:30 am, the air in the Trinity Alps wasn’t perfect, but it was much better than the rest of California. I reached a lake two hours in and stopped for breakfast: cold instant oatmeal, a bar, and some jerky. Breakfast of champions. 

From a high ridge, I could see heavy smoke in the distance. The smoke on the horizon combined with an uncertain air quality forecast pushed me to turn my trek into a day hike and find my way back to the car that night. I let my mind drift while I hiked: calm hiking is fast hiking. My water filter proved its worth at multiple streams and lakes.  

I finished 12 or so miles by noon. After a snack, I stood up, took a swig of filtered creek water, pulled my pack on, and continued to walk. I passed more lakes, traversed more ridges, and saw fewer people. After hiking many more miles and jumping into a lake, the sun started to set. With five miles left, I started to hustle. Hiking sucks when you start thinking about how much you have left. The last five miles sucked. I expected to see the trailhead at every turn in the trail. My calves cramped.  

I was ecstatic to finally reach my car. 14 hours and 25 miles later, I was wiped out. While I thought it was an awesome experience, my calves disagreed. See you all in the next blog! 



Getting Ready To Leave

By Hannah

I was always the kid who would stay up all night before any kind of trip. Whether a field trip with my school or a family vacation, the idea of going somewhere has always excited me. This time around, it’s more than one night of excitement. Considering what the world and my life have looked like since March, I can’t begin to express how much I look forward to stepping on a plane in 7 short days.  

In exactly a week, I will be making my way—mask and negative COVID test in hand—to spend two months exploring Hawaii, Oregon, and California. I will be camping the whole time, living with 12 others from around the country. We will be spending two weeks in quarantine on a macadamia nut farm before exploring the Big Island, getting a scuba diving certification, hiking, surfing, volunteering, and more. Then we will make our way to Oregon where we will visit national parks, take a Wilderness First Responder course, and work with many different organizations as we make our way down the coast before ending in Los Angeles.  

While the itinerary makes the trip enticing, the part I am most excited about is that I will be doing it all with a completely new group of peers. It’s been hard saying goodbye to my friends from high school and watching them as they head off to college and meet new people, so I’m looking forward to doing the same. At the same time, this is also the part I am most nervous about. Going into this not knowing anybody feels like a bit of a leap of faith, though I have no doubt it will pay off.  


 While I spend this last week at home balancing the conflicting emotions and the struggle of packing my tent, sleeping bag, snorkel, and everything else into one duffel bag (the picture shows a fraction of what will need to fit), I still feel those same night-before-trip-jitters. I can’t wait to embark on this journey and am really grateful to have the opportunity to do so!