Searching for Snow

Growing up, one of the things I enjoyed the most about the holiday season was the blustery, wintery days of Colorado. When I moved to Korea, I was not able to enjoy this as much. Yes, for all of you worried about the Winter Olympics, it does snow in South Korea, but not nearly at the same level that it does in Colorado. I am lucky to see a snow that is over three inches in depth once a year, and it turns into an icy mess that slowly disappears over the next couple of days. I do live in Seoul which is close to the Yellow Sea, so it does not experience the same snowy weather that a landlocked location like Colorado does, but if you go further inland to the mountains of Korea, it gets the cold and snow necessary for a big event like the Winter Olympics.

When Winter Break came around in my school, I decided to do something a little different than I had during my other two years of living overseas. Instead of taking a long vacation to a country that was far away and I had never been to before, I decided to go back to the place where I grew up because I knew that I would be able to find snow there. There was an added bonus to this, I would be able to experience a Christmas like I had grown up with, cold chilly nights, presents under the tree, and family to share the experience with. That is not to say that the other countries I traveled to did not know what it is like to celebrate Christmas; it is just that the warmer climates I had been for the last couple of years gave me a different holiday experience than I am used to.

I know that I can’t expect the world to celebrate Christmas the same way that they do in Colorado, especially considering that they have their own cultures and their own climates, and because of that, they are going to view their world in their own special way. It is funny to see the banners with pictures of Santa or Frosty the Snowman on a sunny day in Australia. It is even weirder to hear Christmas carols in New Zealand that praise the hot weather. But I should expect those things when I fly to the other side of the world during their summer months. I can’t expect snow down there.

That’s why when I landed in Vancouver and started to get closer to my destination, I started to get excited about what I would find in Colorado. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy spending time in hot, sunny climates, but I appreciate them even more when I get to experience a serious snow event every once in a while. Vancouver is not one of the places in the world that can really boast about its annual snowfall because of its proximity to the coast, but I could feel the nip in the air as I wandered around the airport, and I knew that it was only a few more hours before I got to see that snowy climate.

When I finally did arrive in the land of my youth, a strange occurrence happened. The snow I was hoping to see was not there. In fact, it was nice and sunny outside. It wasn’t as warm as it was my two previous holiday breaks in Australia and New Zealand, but it was warm enough where I could walk around outside with nothing more heavy than a hoody on. I had apparently forgotten about one of the main factors of Colorado, it is not always cold and blustery there.

Many people, when they think of Colorado, think of it the way that I had thought about it during the last couple of months before I got to return to it, snowy and cold all of the time. But there is a secret about Colorado that many of its citizens do not like to let out into the public. Colorado has more sunny days a year than Los Angeles. I know most people would call me a liar when they hear this fact, but it is true. Colorado has weather where one day it is cold and blustery, and the next day it is sunny and warm. In fact, when I first arrived back in Colorado, I was experiencing temperatures in the mid 60s. People have asked me that if this was the case then why don’t more people move to Colorado, and even though there are a lot of people moving there right now, there is still a good reason why they do not come. Denver is a really ugly place to be at during the winter if there is no snow around.

Unlike places that have mild temperatures during the winter and do not get to as much sun, they do get a lot of rain during those times. The only moisture that Colorado gets during the winter months is from the snow, and this snow is completely different than the kind that is found on the coastal regions. It does not contain a lot of moisture in it, so it is light and fluffy creating that amazing skiing powder that Colorado is famous for. Because of this, the trees out in Denver do not get a lot of much needed moisture during the winter months, and so the grass grows brown in it dormancy, and the trees look like bare stick protruding out of the ground. It makes for a desolate scene that can only be saved by snowfall.

This is in stark contrast to the other place in America that I visited during my trip, the Pacific Northwest. This part of the country does get snowfall from time to time and I was told on our trip that last year Oregon experienced many days of snow around the holidays. It did not get that much snow this year though. What it did get was more typical of a Pacific Northwest winter, rain. Even though it is cold outside, it is still really beautiful because the trees are getting the moisture they need to remain green giving the landscape a beautiful covering that looks as if life stills breathes through it.

Even though it is really pretty, it still did not give me the Christmas feeling I was looking for. Where were the piles of snow that would indicate that the holiday was right around the corner? It made for some nice chilly walks, but I still wanted to huddle inside a home with a warm cup of coffee as I watched the sky dump white stuff everywhere. But I should have expected as much when I came to the Pacific Northwest. Snow is not that natural of an occurrence out there.

But it was while I was traveling through the cold paths of the Pacific Northwest, that I started to find something else that reminded me more of the holidays than the snow I longed for. It was a little subtle at first, but the more I moved around the area, the more I was able to discover it.

It was with me, even in the darker corners of the bars and restaurants I went to. It was a warmth that was created by the holiday season that the lack of snow could not contain.

It was really strange to find this thing in bars, because there is a weird vibe that can be found at these places during the holiday season. It can be a group of friends gathered together sharing a good time, but at the same time, it could be a group of individuals huddled around their separate drinks, drowning their pains and sorrows in the moment. If you are having a hard time deciding which type of bar it is as you stroll outside, just listen to the music playing inside. If it is 70s Christmas music, then the bar is filled with the lonely because there is nothing more depressing than hearing “Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree” in a bar.

Luckily, the bars I wandered into were of the second kind filled with good beer, and good friends. This was when I started to realize that what I should be looking for shouldn’t be snow, but reconnecting with a world of people I had left behind, and a culture I had not gotten to experience for a couple of years. I needed to soak in the absurdity that is Americana, and enjoy it for every moment I was there.

When I started to look at my trip through this lens, the world began to change drastically. I quit searching the ground for flakes that would never arrive, and instead started to see the changes that had taken place over the last couple of years. By the way, the free water you get from the tap is better.

I also started to see the ever-present trends presented in a new way but which I could still embrace because of its comfortable familiarity. I know that C3PO has become an international symbol, but I believe only America could find him as a lawn decoration in celebration of Christmas.

It showed me the other really cool things that Americans did. Walking through a neighborhood, I came across a couple of the give one, take one libraries that bring a neighborhood together. Even though this is something that happens year round in these places, it did show me the true meaning of the holiday spirit. It is about the bringing together people under a single idea instead of isolating them behind the warm doors of their homes, protecting them against the cold that was piling up outside, but excluding them from society.

I spent a lot of this trip looking for something I had missed when I moved abroad. I wandered down many paths and looked in many crooks and crannies to try and find it. The sad thing was that what I was looking for was not what I should have been looking for in the first place. There was something bigger that I was missing from being away from America and when I came across it, I found that this is what I should have been looking for all along.

I wasn’t going to find it in the desolate landscape of Colorado, or the piles of driftwood found on the beaches of West Seattle. I could only find it in the place where I already was, and it was the greatest thing I could have taken away from this trip.

The warmth I wanted huddled inside while watching the snow fall to the ground outside a frosty window was already there. That warmth comes from my loved ones, and being able to spend quality time with them. It is these moments that I took with me as I came back to Korea. Being able to enjoy the company of a dog again. Dinners with family.

The next generation of my family enjoy Christmas the way I used to as a kid. It didn’t matter to them that there wasn’t any snow on the ground; they were just happy to be with their other siblings and cousins in the celebration of the holidays. It wasn’t about what they got, but who they spent time with and how they could be goofy around them. It was the tiny moments like this that made the holidays worth the long voyage.

We need to keep this in mind, especially around the holidays. We usually get so wrapped up in the commercial aspect of what the holiday season brings that we forget about what makes this season so great, spending time with the ones that we love. Too often we become like the salmon swimming upstream always pushing for that final destination without bothering to look around at the people around us and seeing that this is what is really important in the first place. I came to realize that I shouldn’t expect the holiday season to be a certain way, but instead just enjoy it for the way it was handed to me.

When I did that, the snow I was hoping for finally came. It made for the perfect trip back home, and one that I will treasure for years to come.

This post brought to you by Tag: A Cautionary Tale, now for sale at

 

 

Fare Thee Well

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This story starts a year and a half ago with my best friend, Bear. He was a great dog, and he went on many adventures with my wife and me. We loved him very much. This was, until like all of our furry friends must eventually do, he passed away. It was a devastating blow to us and even though this happened a year ago last February, there still isn’t a day that goes by when I think about his smiling face, his joy of walks and chasing squirrels, and his love of food. Like all animals, there were some things he did that annoyed me, but now these are the things I miss the most.

Even though this story starts with the passing of Bear, it is not about him. This was just the catalyst that caused Christine and me to make a life-changing decision. As I have mentioned before, Christine and I love to travel the world. It is a lot of fun to see other cultures, but when you visit a place you are not really experiencing everything that the place has to offer. You are not really absorbing yourself in the culture and you come home knowing something new about the world, but you still feel like you are missing something. The only way to truly experience a culture is to go and live in that country. This is something Christine and I always talked about doing some day. We are both in education and we knew that there were many great opportunities overseas. There was only one thing stopping us from doing it, Bear.

There was no way we would have left Bear behind. He meant too much to us. We couldn’t take him with us either. Too often in these overseas excursions, the country won’t allow you to have your dog with your right away. In many countries, they will quarantine your pet for up to six months before you can enjoy their company again. I couldn’t do this to Bear. He would have been miserable living in a cage while Christine and I were free to roam the world around us. We were happy to enjoy Bear in Colorado while keeping the idea of working overseas in the back of our minds. This was until he passed away. Then this dream of ours started to grow again. We could now look for jobs overseas, and this is exactly what we did.

The process for looking for teaching jobs overseas is long and complicated and I won’t bore you with the details. But in February, Christine and I were able to land positions at Korea International School in Seoul. This started the process of saying goodbye to our loved ones.

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It is a scary prospect letting go of everything that you have become familiar with, but in life, you really don’t live unless you do this from time to time. This is exactly what Christine and I did. Just as the wise Transcendentalist stated we simplified, simplified, simplified. I had been preaching this message to my students for years, but I never knew how liberating the process of doing this was. Of course, the process of simplifying is complicated. It takes a lot to get rid of the big things in your life, but at the same time it shows you how much junk you truly own. We had two garage sales and sold both of our cars and our house.

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It was the most liberating experience in my life. You never realize how much your possessions own you instead of the other way around until you get rid of them all. A house needs constant care. Things fall apart, and grass continues to grow. Even though you would love to let it go, society won’t let you do that because it does not conform to the expectations of people they have created. A car is the same thing. We put too much stock into these things believing that we can not live without them. Even though, at times, they make life easier and bring us closer together, they are constantly demanding our attention. They want you to clean them, both on the inside and the outside. They scream for gas at least once a week, and if that wasn’t enough, you do have to take time out of your busy schedule to maintain them. Even though it was hard to give these creature comforts up, each time we did, a weight lifted off our shoulders that we never knew was there. We were happier people without all of these possessions possessing us.

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As the process continued, we found that everything we needed fit into a couple of bags and a few boxes. In fact, before we sold off our last car, we were able to load everything in the back of our Subaru Outback to travel across and do the thing that was more important than the accumulation of things, seeing the ones that we loved so we could say, “Fare thee well.”

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I was raised in Colorado, and this is where Christine and I had lived together for the past thirteen years. It was hard to say goodbye because this is what I’ve always known. Even though I have lived a couple of times in California, I don’t have any memories of that place. All of my experiences have taken place in one of the most beautiful states within the U.S.A.

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It is where my family lives.

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It is where my friends are.

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It is where I have worked my whole life.

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It was not going to be easy to say goodbye. I know I will miss many aspects of living on the Front Range. I will no longer be able to find west by searching for the outline of the mountains. I will no longer be able to go on extended hikes through some of the greatest terrain that this world has to offer. I won’t be able to ski through the powdery slopes of the Rocky Mountains. I won’t be able to order a Mountain Pie at Beau Jo’s. I won’t be able to stuff myself with the cholesterol packed burgers at Crave. I won’t be able to find green chili to smother my burrito with. I won’t be able to cheer on my Broncos with my friends on a Sunday afternoon. There are a lot of things I will miss from my hometown.

Then why would I leave it? Because I find danger in complacency. Yes, all of these things made me comfortable and I was happy within this feeling. But if I didn’t get out of my comfort zone, I would never grow as a person. I would have stopped at that moment in my life where I had a two car garage attached to a house that slowly filled itself up a little more every year. I really do believe that we need to purge every once in a while in our lives and go find some place that makes us struggle a little bit. This is how we grow as people. If we find ourselves in a comfortable position we are no longer living.

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Of course, not everybody feels the same way that I do. Some people have a hard time with change because it requires them to visit the unknown. Not every change goes smoothly. Sometimes it is a big mistake that you wish you never took the risk on, but sometimes it takes you to a place that is better than any you have ever experienced before. But you can’t take the unwilling on the voyage that you go on, and you need to respect their decision to stay where they are at. At the same time, I couldn’t just leave without saying goodbye. This is why Christine and I took the trip across the country to say goodbye. Otherwise, we would have the same problem with the ones we loved that Cooper has now.

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Yes, Cooper is another dog. He is the loyal companion of Christine’s parents who live in Portland. His best friend in the world was Bear. They had a mutual respect for each other, and Bear was one of the few dogs that Cooper would go out and play with. This was probably because they had spent a lot of time together. Christine and I would go out and spend a month with her parents every summer. This is one of the perks of being in the education field, and Bear was able to benefit from it. Cooper loved having another dog in the house with him, and Bear got to believe that he was the alpha dog by being around Cooper. It was a match made in Heaven.

The problem came when we visited Cooper the next summer after Bear had passed. Cooper came running out of the house to greet us after we had arrived. He jumped all over us and then started looking behind us. It was the greatest greeting we had ever received from him, and at first we couldn’t understand why. Then it hit us as he looked in our car and all around our baggage. Cooper was looking for Bear. It was the one friend that he always felt comfortable with.

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But Cooper’s problem is humanity’s problem. We are all looking for that moment that makes us comfortable. It is a nice feeling to be comfortable with the ones we are with, but reality is that we can’t always find ourselves in that position. If we expect ourselves to always be comfortable then in fact we will never be able to achieve that high standard of living. The fact that we can’t achieve this in our lives will make us feel uncomfortable all the time. This is what happens with Cooper. There are very few people, and even fewer dogs he can find companionship with. He always comes across as being a little nervous, and any small change to his environment will set off nervous ticks within him. This constant alert feeling never allows him to unwind and enjoy the world he is in. He needs everything to be perfect before he can let himself go and just enjoy the moment.

We can learn something from this behavior. We need to quit finding that perfect place of true comfort and instead try to find comfort in the uncomfortable situations. I am trying to take it even further by no longer searching for the comfortable situation, but instead the one that makes me uncomfortable. This will allow me to explore the world that we live in, and recognize that my culture is not the only one there is. It is a humbling experience to do this, and I will learn not only a lot about myself, but also the people who I meet along the way. I will learn about their beliefs, passions, and cultures. This new perspective on life has been inspiring over the last couple of months and I am excited to see where it takes me.

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It leaves a lot of questions about my daily routine. The way I used to organize my day in the past has been destroyed, and I have been searching for a new routine. I will admit that sometimes I fall back into my old one, but the way my life is structured now, this is not always possible. The world looks different now because of it. The little things that I would have missed in the past become spectacular and I find myself looking at the world as a whole.

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My Fare Thee Well travels took me to San Francisco where I got to spend a few days taking in the sights. I have been here before so many of the touristy areas I had been to earlier. I needed to find new little corners of the city that I had not seen before. Because my mission was to find these nooks, I was able to discover a beach that I never knew existed. Of course, I have seen the Golden Gate Bridge before. It is impossible to go to San Francisco and not find this landmark, but I always stood at the doorstep of this marvel and tried to find the best way to take a picture of its magnificence. It is impossible to do from the tiny park that most cars stop at before they make the trek across the bridge. But in my wanderings I was able to see the view that you find on all of the postcards. If you want to see this view, you have to go to the North Beach. I wandered there by mistake because I was looking for the Presidio. It was a place I heard about on my last trip to the city by the bay, but I had never seen it. I’m glad that I went in search for it because I would not have experienced this view with the fresh salt water air filling up my lungs if I had not taken that chance.

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Of course some of the places remained the same as the last time I saw them. It might have been a different set of tourists taking pictures of Lumbar Street, but the principle remained the same. The cars lined up to take their turns winding down the street, and the people who watched wondered what it would be like to live on such a spectacle.

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Other places put me in the uncomfortable situation that I had been looking for. I took a short trip over the Bay Bridge to watch a baseball game at the Oakland Coliseum. Some people might wonder why that would be an uncomfortable situation, but the folks from Denver know that this is walking into the lion’s den. It would have been a little more dangerous if I had worn my Bronco’s gear, but I wanted to return to my bed at the hostel that night, so I elected to wear a green and gold t-shirt, and blend in by buying an A’s baseball cap as soon as I got there. I almost wish I had taken that chance because it would have made for a more interesting experience.

I had gotten a ticket in the cheapest seats I could find, the bleachers. I didn’t know that this is where the craziest A’s fans gathered to watch a game. One of my goals in life is to see a baseball game in every stadium, and even though I have only been to five stadiums so far, I would have to say that the Oakland A’s fans are the most passionate about their team. I know I have caused some people to stand up and puff up their chests to prove me wrong, but keep in mind I have 25 stadiums to still go. When I saw the game, the A’s were at the bottom of their division, and still they had a lot of people at the stadium. Where I was sitting, they had brought flags to wave, they had cheers that they performed, and the camaraderie among the people had me believe that they were about to win the World Series. I just sat back and enjoyed the whole experience.

This brings me to the man who took that chance that I didn’t take. The Oakland A’s were playing the Kansas City Royals that night. With the Royals being in the World Series last year, fans started to emerge from every corner of the United States. One such fan decided to attend the game that night, and he was determined to show every person in the bleacher section what a fan he was. In a sea of green and gold stood this lone person wearing white and blue. He was even bold enough to jump up among those in attendance as he cheered for his team loudly. It didn’t help that his team was winning the game. There were many A’s fans who wanted to take this guy behind a shed and beat him until his face matched the color of his hat. The amazing thing was he was able to overcome this adversity and endure himself to those around him. By the end of the game, he had become friends with those around him, and it added a little fun to the game. The fans now had a person that could fuel a rivalry for them and spark their competitive nature. He was able to create a moment, not only for himself, but also for all those who attended the game by willing to feel uncomfortable for a while.

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I learned a lot from that Kansas City fan. We need to take those chances in our lives. Though the path through the woods may be daunting, we don’t know what we will find around the corner, but we need to be up for that challenge. We might run into a crazed group of fans that wish to pummel us, or we could find that moment in nature we weren’t expecting to find.

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The further we walk away from our door, the more we experience. The people that are willing to do this are the interesting people that you meet in life. They are the ones who have adventures all the time and these are the ones whose lifestyle you covet. You wonder why these same kind of adventures do not present themselves to you, but the thing is, you too can have these adventures. It is all a matter of choice.

Are you the type of person who has to have their cell phones with them at all times? Is your greatest desire to make it home so you can continue to participate in the video game you haven’t finished playing yet, or to continue watching the television show you are binge watching on Netflix? Do you need to spend your weekends making sure that your home is clean in case some visitor decides to drop by? If you said yes to any or all of these questions, then you are probably one of those people who find themselves jealous of others who happen to have strange things happen to them. You need to quit worrying about these small things so much and go outside of your house to see what adventures you might find.

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There is a whole world out there to explore, but it takes those first steps out of your door before you can go out and find what the world has to offer. But this is not enough. You need to sometimes take a right when you usually take a left. Try new things and it will make your life more rewarding. At first the large things will present themselves to you.

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Then you’ll find places that you never knew existed.

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If you keep on looking and following this philosophy, you will start to see the small things pop up, and every moment will become one of joy because you will be experiencing something new every time you go out your door.

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Even though this is a story about saying goodbye to the ones we love, it is also a story of saying hello to a new adventure. It is time for a change in my life, and if I am going to make a change, I am going to make sure that it is so big that it will be a remarkable milestone I will always look back upon with great fondness. I will miss Colorado and all of the people and terrain that makes it a wonderful place to live. I will also miss all of the people and places that make Oregon such a wonderful place to visit every summer. But I cannot continue to do the same thing all the time. I will come back again next summer to revisit these people and places, but for now I need to go in search of an adventure.

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I also miss Bear every day, and the smallest things remind me of his smiling face.

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But I am also grateful for the opportunity that his passing has given me. It is time that Christine and I go off to Korea to teach students there and learn about the way they see the world. For those we leave behind, collect those stories so when we meet again we can tell them to each other and laugh and enjoy the moment that we are given. Until then, Fare Thee Well, and have an amazing year. I know that I will.

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