Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Boys of Summer

Here is Kevin and I this summer.
Look at my beard! Great beard huh?

Well we've been traveling around Pittsburgh, finding bowling alleys in the annals of an old church, being prophecied to by an old man named herbert(?) and cooking meals of spagetti squash and fried rice - all the while thinking of this coming semester!

You students for the fall semester 2008 have a real treat in store.
Get back here! and talofa lava and Sara Barret loves you.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

T-Shirts Came In!

Students. The T-shirts came in yesterday. I've been wearing mine ever since we left the shop. Here is a photo of the shirts. We are going to send them out to you all in a week or two from the States. Be stoked, they are delicious.

"Oh, C-C-S-P, we've become a family...."

I just like this picture. That's all.

ISP/Debrief/Too Brief

Friends, you are home. Back in the States, back in Canada, back in places you knew so well but which maybe now seem foreign to you. We have a couple more blog updates to give before we say goodbye to this small semester chronicle we've compiled together.

From the beginning, I think we've always known very well what the end would be like. For the students, this looks like a last week of jamming their fingertips into their keyboards and praying that an ISP project came out. For the staff, it is a time to craft opportunities to contemplate the semester creatively and uniquely.

The week really started with the end of the ISP projects. A few people from the community were invited, presentations were given on various topics, and a nice dinner was enjoyed by all following. Topics were NZ Forestry, Art and Culture, Oral Tradition and Story, and Suicide in Samoa and New Zealand. I was proud to make an appearance as a dog in Brett and Christy's presentation. I tackled and scratched Brett to death (he was a kokako). I was also proud of the students as they presented topics they'd been considering throughout their time here.

The Debrief week included a few night sessions of reflecting on the semester and preparing for the changes in the students' lives that were waiting for them in North America. We took a short night's stay a little further out west at an old schoolhouse lodge in Huia. Sara and Julie provided an opportunity for students to reflect creatively on a timeline of the semester, ran a nice slideshow, gave out student awards, and gave us a chance to play one last game of Murder in the Dark. Some students made their way out to Whatipu to explore and some stuck around the lodge and read books. [Thanks to Rachel and Allie for some of the pictures on this blog.]

Some people slept outside on the deck and had a nice sunrise to wake up to the following morning. We spent a slow morning at the schoolhouse, packed up and headed back to Knock Na Gree for an afternoon to rest or head into the city to do some last minute sightseeing or shopping.

The following night was a time for us to reflect on some of the stories we have made for ourselves through the semester. We had a fine time with the White Weta gift exchange, which is similar to traditional White Elephant gift exchanges. Each item brought by the students was to have some words going along with it explaining its significance for that student through the semester. Books, an old cherished water bottle, collections of significant poems, jewelry, coupons for spankins, and bundles of nice photographs were exchanged throughout the night. This was a time to tell and retell stories, to voice what was significant for each of us, and to share them in the form of a gift.

The third debrief session was a time for staff and students to discuss what returning to places everybody left in January means. The outlooks, world views, opinions, and thoughts of everyone on the program have undergone stress, change, and sometimes renewal. How will these changes be viewed by family and friends? How in the world is the Story of the semester going to be retold? What has been learned here?

For staff, this particular time was a highlight in our involvement with these students. Hearing students retell the impacts of this semester on their lives, the practicality of changes of lifestyle or thought they perceive in returning, and lessons they have learned this semester is full of meaning for us.

The truth of returning is that memories of the semester, the thoughts unique to it, and the small shifts in thought and character that may have occurred throughout may be elusive. Life will have its way of continuing, people will have their way of forgetting, and soon enough this experience will be distant enough to feel foreign again when it once was known as home. The debrief week was a chance to take a short look at what has happened here and to continue thinking about it. It marks neither the beginning or the end of these thoughts.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

And we learned together, in the forest

Folks, have you had an ice cream at Pokeno? Probably not. Pokeno has these two nice ice cream parlors where you can get two scoopers for very little money. If you really want, you can get what we named the "dodecascooper," which referred to a ten scoop ice cream cone. (Yes, I realized dodeca- means twelve). Some people said the photo showing the ten-scoop had been manipulated digitally, but I choose to believe in their reality. This photo is of our group, actually on our way to do Forest Ecology together. If you look carefully, you can see our prof Bryan Henson, standing to the left of the post. Looks like he's got a nice mouthful of ice-creamy. (Eileen, did you teach Brett to get ice cream all over his beard?)

Nevertheless, this group of eleven students(all pictured above), professor Henson, and the entire staff of the CCSP South Pacific Spring 2008 semester would need an ice cream stop off like this to prepare them calorically, physically, and mentally for the next 12 days of the highly anticipated Forest Ecology field trip. The following is a tag team recollection of our time spent in the ancient forests of Pureora, within the limits of Tongariro National Park, and upon the sacred whenua (land) of Otukou marae.

Here's our classroom! For much of the time during the trip, students were asked to do some plant identification, some forest tramping, and endure a couple of sprinkles of rain. I was hanging out with Brett, Rachel, and Ben while they took their time working along a rolled out tape measure and flipped through their field guides to identify plants they had never seen before. Most of the plants in New Zealand are found here and nowhere else in the world.

We spent four illuminating days and as many dew filled nights right smack in the center of Pureora forest, a protected and mixed aged forest. At times walking through this forest we would find ourselves surrounded by 800 year old Rimu trees. Other times, we'd be greeted by little cutie whitehead's (lovely birds) in the younger, regenerating portions of this forest. Early each of these mornings, different groups of students made the forest edge their classroom as we listened keenly for the epheral call of the Kokako, a stately forest bird that is extremely rare (most native New Zealanders haven't been lucky enough to hear its call! But we heard it, and saw it in clear sight on our last couple days! Epiphanic moments for students and staff alike! In between lecture and field experience, we managed to invent an invigorating game called "pole ball", managed to wander around the forest at night searching for glow worms, and even had a kitchen dance party lead by the headlamp blinking prowess of our dear director, Mark "body" Pierson.

Oh "Body", you're fantastic.

Although forests are known for their diverse species of both plants and animals, there are always notable individuals amongst the system. The above picture if an enormous Totara we visited, stood around, and admired. I overhead some people saying that the tree was "as old as Jesus," but...seems to be some theological difficulties with that statement. Nevertheless, this is an old tree, over 1500 years old I believe. We also came across a creature known as a velvet worm. Velvet worms are theorized to have remained unchanged throughout evolutionary time for some 65 million years (depending of course, on how old you believe the earth is). Regardless of how long creatures may have remained unchanged, it was quite a thought to consider what stories the trees or the worms could tell us---stories of humanity, stories of the world, ancient stories.

Just as we started to begin comprehension of such stories, we were on the move again. This time, an hour and half drive to the east to the fabled National Park named, "Tongariro". We had only two short days in the little lodge called Whakapapa, but our days within those walls were cozy. Outside of them however; our group became a rugged and ready outfit of searchers, of summit searchers. A highlight of these few days must be the summiting by our entire group of Mt. Ruapehu. Certainly, we were not out to conquer the mountain. No, not by an means. Rather, our group participated in a community hike with more than 100 other keen souls (gathered to celebrate Sir Edmund Hillary) and we spent our best energies' to get to the top of the 2800 meter beast. The icy winds howled upon us, and through us as we tip-toed the ridge line and ended in a cloudy huddle upon the rim of the volcanic crater lake that marks the summit of this legendary mountain. Emma carried her computer bag with her, Bryan cut his jeans into jean shorts, and Sara was ready with the med kit and any extra gear. It was certainly one of our shining moments together this semester, plus we got tea and scones at the base.
This is Christy and Allie walking along the rim of Ruapehu. The third person is a ghost.

As we rested our weary bones from the summiting of one of the world's tallest peaks (not true), we passed good time together in our lodge. There developed a very keen interest in a game called "Murder in the Dark," which had all of us walking around in the dark, running into each other, and trying to avoid being "murdered" by the "killer". Bryan did his fair share of damage as a "killer," I punched Nicole in the face, and Christy decided to take some liberties with what she "accidentally" contacted with her hands while all the lights were turned out. The picture to the right of this writing was a place we stopped at for a nice lunch, some rock jumps, and sunshine.

Above, in a calming black and white you will see the Wharenui (the meeting house) also known to us as the Wharepuni (house of peace, house of rest). This building is part of the Otukou Marae - a sacred area to the Maori people who have been living upon that land and guarding and caring for the mountain area for hundreds of years. Those very people welcomed us for the final part of our trip. After an official powhiri ceremony where honor and thanks were given to our respective ancestors and familial lineages, we were fully accepted into the family, essentially into their lineage where we were given full liberty to live comfortably on the marae. The rain came down in buckets and we never did quite catch a glimpse of the mountain ranges that were dwarfing us due to the clouds.

But those days were meaningful and we were blessed with the presence and history and knowledge of "Guy," Bubs and Daisy (these are the common English names of the people of this marae that took wonderful care of us during our time there. Daisy even gave Kevin and I 3 HUGE Rainbow trout that she was apparently preparing for her dinner that night - she just gave them to us!) Even though the ground was soggy, the mist was heavy, and the mountain hues eluded us during our time there, we were covered with the powerful light of hospitality, love, and learning that were so SO kindly bestowed upon us by our friends at Otukou. We were certainly blessed to be witnesses of that place.

We headed back after all this time to our home here at Knock Na Gree. Students had a few days of rest (or intense work, rather) before our last class began today. God and Nature II. With Bret Stephenson. Bret who tried to swing a hearty swing at a kickball but missed and ate it. Bryan did that too one day playing soccer. Bryan, don't be embarrassed, just own it.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

A very special sushi occasion (Ode: to Kevin Saiki and Miki)

Every so often in our calendar year, we get to celebrate birth day of our friends and kin. And if you haven't heard yet, birthday's at CCSP are a big deal. It usually means that staff members here show no or little regard for the budget categories that we've been given (which we usually show no or little regard for anyway) So basically, when it comes to celebrations, we have the liberty to "imagine" up all kinds of events and participatory endeavors, and we occasionally break the bank (more on that later.)
Kevin Saiki, Student Life Coordinator and all around staff mystic was thinking probably, that his 24th birthday celebration would be held in quiet and humble regard. Not so.
Kevin loves sushi. His dad and him have a sushi roll named after them. "The Saiki Roll" they call it. People in Bakersfield, CA are still enjoying it to this day. Kevin is half Japanese, and we decided that to kick off his big day celebration, we would call up our dear friend Natsuko Miki (or more affectionately called by us, "Miki") to honor his Japanese heritage and his love for sushi. Miki won our hearts right away as she taught the CCSP program (in very few English words) how to make sushi rolls of all types and shapes.

I met Miki a few years ago, when I was a student here and she taught our group to do the same. She has a wonderful way with relating to people and is as sassy in her 90 year old body as she was in her 25 year old frame that entertained Japanese soldiers as a jazz musician and singer. Kevin certainly reaped Miki's musical talent as she sung a soaring rendition of Happy Birthday in very broken English, it was awesome. She had no shame telling Christy that her roll was sloppy as she promptly turned around to tell me that my beard was itchy (but she liked Brett's and Nate's!)
The break the bank part I mentioned before was that I bought WAY too much rice (I even sprung for the organic sushi rice, so it was a little more heavy on my purse, and I thought it'd be a nice treat - IT WAS FOR KEVIN OK!) We certainly ate our fill and got loaded up with energy for the remainder of Kevin's big day.
Sara, Jess, and Jules had prepared a heavy Wine Cake for "saik dawg" and as we ate it together in the failing evening light, we began to drop cryptic hints to Kevin, for what was in store for him later that night.

Kevin, an avid fan of the "X-files" a late -nineties sci-fi television series - would be later abducted by his fellow collegues and friends, greeted by "the smoking man" (nate) and ushered into a dark room under all kinds of poking and probing stressors, and eventually as a cohesive group, we would all watch the Xfiles movie that we rented in honor of our good friend, Kevin.

So, there you have it. Just another day at CCSP? No, I don't think so.
So as I ready myself to walk over to dinner, I see the clouds moving fast to the west and a fantail flitting itself around as if it were dancing for me and I know that somewhere, "the truth is out there"
Happy Birthday Kev!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Pantherball 2008

Before I give this blog post over to Kevin Saiki - the creator and lover of Pantherball - I wanted to call attention to this photographed image of our very own, David Cutter. Before you let little children see this photo, I want you to be advised....this picture of David is like something out of the Xfiles. All we can do to explain it and describe it is to say that Cutter was giving 174% to this game, he was intense, he was screamin, he was going nuts. His team won the championship - and perhaps it was because Cutter morphed into the alien bounty hunter who's sole purpose for existence was to defeat the opposing team - check this out!!

Thanks Matt, that was great.

In considering this post, I have to ask myself: What is Pantherball? I mean, what is its essence? What does it represent? What does it do?

Pantherball does everything you can imagine. It gives you an outlet for raging frustrations with either all the papers you have had to write, all the times you've wanted to bash your friend, and all the times you went to the Nutella jar and found that once again, someone had taken the last scoops before you could get to them. It gives you exercise, which modern society tells us is going to make you live longer and better. It gives you insight into the parts of your friends you've never seen before (e.g. Cutter in the picture above). It teaches you patience as the ref (me) calls ridiculous calls. It teaches you that perhaps you are more violent than you thought you were (Sara punched Matt and received a "ten second on the couch" penalty), and thus, you begin a short night-long journey on a path of rapid self-discovery. But most of all, Patherball brings the people together.

I cannot and will not take complete credit for the idea of Pantherball. I learned about Pantherball from a friend of a friend while I was in University. His name was Josh and he was studying at Cal Poly SLO. That's about all I can say about origins.

But what I will say now is that Pantherball has evolved and will continue to evolve. It is no pointless activity, but it is the product of hours of long and arduous thinking about Community and how to bring everyone together. If we were all pieces of dirt lying on the floor, scattered about the room, Pantherball is the stiff whiskered push broom that suddenly pushes us all together into the dustpan.

Meet the teams. Then meet Brett, who wins the award for My Outrageous.
Top: Spanktops
Next: Panthermals
Monkey Brains (Spring 2008 Champs)

Brett, hands down, wins best costume. Who has ever made a newspaper jock strap? Who has ever made a cardboard helmet, plastic bag tank-top, and wore what look to be business socks in Pantherball? No one has, that's why Brett is the best. Also, he was fierce. Also, he had to bite the cardboard helmet to keep it in place.