Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The great unveiling

I've succumbed.
I told myself I never would.  I'm a Google fanatic.  I love having one place for everything of mine.

But man, WordPress is slick.

I've made the move from Blogger to WordPress.  I'm not disappearing, by any means, I'll just be updating the Wondering Wanderer from here now.  Please, please, please don't leave me just because I've left the Google!  This move is strategic: WordPress allows for a much more streamlined interface, for potential to own my own domain, and for an all-around more professional appearance.

Eventually, I want to be a published writer.  Consider this a step toward that--however vague and lofty--goal.

See you over there, and as always, happy trails. <3

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Goodbye...Again...and Thanks.

Two weeks ago I drove my technicians back to the field after they dropped off our work trucks.  I returned them to their personal vehicles at the check station and one by one they kicked up dust on our gravel road out of their summer home, on to the next adventure.  I spent the night, ensuring we'd left everything as we should: clean, empty, and ready for the next technicians, biologists, or wardens who come into the place I've made my temporary home for four years.  The next morning I said goodbye--again--to some of my landowners before leaving--again.

During my lunch with my last stop, we talked about moving on and being free.  He urged me to not settle, or settle down, or stay here.  Now is the time for you to get out there and see everything!  I told him that was my plan...eventually...I just am always conflicted between running away on an adventure and thinking practically and settling into a job.  Then, the second to the last thing he said was "I see something in your eyes, like it might not take much for you to stay here.  I hope I'm wrong."
That went all the way to my core.  Am I like that?  Is that true?  All my life I've striven to get out of Georgia, and yet a native Georgian can see it in my eyes, my attachment to this state.  How much would it take for me to stay here?  A plea from the family?  The friends?  A mediocre job, or a once-in-a-lifetime job?  Anything?  Am I that afraid of leaving, that I would risk my grand adventures for the safe option?  The last thing he said to me was "Don't take this the wrong way, but I hope we never see you again."  Of course, I knew what he meant: he knows there's more for me than what is here, and he sincerely hopes I find it.

Two weeks later, I'm still mulling over our conversation.  How many times does someone need to come back to a place and say goodbye?  I'd already done it twice.  Was he right, that I don't really want to leave?
No.  I think part of the impetus behind him saying that to me, was to light a proverbial fire under my butt, and make me prove him wrong.  Point well made, sir.  There comes a time when we must say that final, final, final goodbye to a place that has shaped us; it is at a time when we know that to stay in that place would leave us stagnant, when there is no more for us to learn or absorb.  So, we come back and back and back again to say goodbye and eat our last meals with the people who have helped shape us, but eventually, to keep growing, we must kick up that dust and not return to it.

But, how does one ever fit all the necessary parting words into one, or two, or five final visits?  Even for someone like me who enjoys language, stories, and conversations, I cannot pick my sentences carefully enough to ever be satisfied that I have said all of my heart's thoughts.  I think that is just life, though.  There's never enough time, or the mood is never quite right, or your brain just doesn't cooperate, to feel complete closure about a season in your life.  So we keep coming back, hoping that this time when we leave we'll feel better, or more peaceful, about leaving behind something that has shaped such a part of you.  Inevitably, we never do.  Some of us find excuses to keep coming back, either to relive a part of our lives that we miss, or to keep trying to find the last words to say.

Sometimes, "goodbye" doesn't just cut it.  Perhaps that's because we are, after all, leaving a part of ourselves there.  It is hard to say goodbye to yourself; we are selfish beings, we desire to keep ourselves, well, to ourselves.  But inevitably...we can't.  We leave a bit of who we were in the dirt from our childhood, the trees we fell out of, the first house we left when we were young.  We leave a bit of who we were in the freshman dorm during our first year at college: when our small town minds are exposed to the world at large.  We leave a bit of who we were at our first job: our first chance to prove ourselves, and the first hard lessons we learned that forever altered our personalities.
Every place, or person, that irrevocably changed you keeps the old you.  And more than saying goodbye to a house or a piece of land, saying goodbye to who you once were is difficult.  The old you will always immediately flood back into your mind when you pass through, no matter how many years separated you are.  --I think that is probably why it is so easy for us to slip back into old bad habits when returning to our hometowns, but that is a different story, for another time--

So, perhaps, instead of "goodbye," when we are pulling up our stakes and packing our final bags, on our final final final trip back, we should say "thanks."  Thanks for what what I learned, what I didn't learn, what you gave me, what you took from me, and how you shaped me into the new me, the one that leaves the old me in the dirt I kick up behind my truck.  If I ever need to see how far I've come, I'll come back, rustle the dust, see the old me there, and realize how glad I am that I was lucky enough to see it was time to go somewhere else, and change again.  So goodbye, again, and thanks.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

A Long Goodbye

This is my final summer working in middle Georgia with the bear project, and my final summer as a graduate student.
In 2013, I wrote a blog about coming here; much of my sentiments could be reversed in this post.

This is my fourth summer here, and I could fill a book with everything I have learned here, in this dirt and on this ground. I hope to do just that, someday.  But in the meantime, I'm trying to get my head around the idea that I'll be leaving here soon, and leaving the life I've built here.

The first few days I came down to the field site in June, I was here alone.  It's a good thing, because I was an emotional mess.  I was minding my own business, organizing supplies in our brand new storage building, when it hit me that all these supplies, the storage building, the check station, the trailer, the dirt I was standing on...was about to not be "mine" anymore.  This place has been home for my summers, some autumns, and some winters.  It's been the place I ran to for comfort, for mud, for bears, for new experiences, and for peace.  There's nothing that quite replaces sitting on the front porch watching the sun rise through those oaks in the front yard.

It's been a hard fought four years here: lots of blood, sweat, tears, pain, joy, dirt, rain, bugs, love, and laughter.  Before coming here, I'd never driven a truck (consistently), never driven a four-wheeler, never driven in mud, never handled barbed wire, never hauled a trailer, never touched a bear, never cried so much over bears, never plugged a tire, never cursed so frequently, never loved so profoundly, and never suffered loss so profoundly.

It feels like I've grown up here, even though I was in my twenties when I came.  In a way, I have grown up: I've learned what it takes to be a technician, crew leader, boss, team manager, research coordinator, go-fer, hunter, listener, and doer.  I've learned to deal with conflict that involves me, is because of me, and doesn't involve me at all.  I've learned how to talk to all sorts of people from all sorts of walks of life, and I've learned how to earn their respect.  None of these things have I done perfectly, and some I haven't even done well...but I've tried above all to be aware of opportunities to take lessons from every day I've spent here.  Whether it be learning mechanics, or history, fungus or tracking, hunting or wine-making, I have tried to keep both my eyes and both my ears open, holding my hands out palm up, waiting for whatever someone passed to me.  Not to say that was easy, or always fun.  It hasn't been only sunshine and rainbows.  But, my time here has been invaluable to me.
I think what has struck me the most has been the genuine spirits of everyone I've met.  If they like you, they'll give you the shirt off their back...if they don't like you, you know it--which I think is better than pretending.  Everyone I've come to know here is eager to talk about what they know and how they've learned it, especially if you're eager to listen.  I am forever in debt to the people here for taking me in, teaching me things, and pulling me out of trouble more than I'd like to admit.


I've successfully defended my thesis now, and all that remains are last-minute edits, format checks, and wrapping up the fifth and final season here.  After that, we'll all have pulled up our stakes from Ocmulgee dirt and moved on.

Only thing is...I don't know exactly to where I'm moving.  For the first time in my life, I have little direction.  I have, mostly, always known exactly what my next step is.  Now...I could take a step in any direction, and make something of myself.  It is terrifying.  It is also terribly freeing.  The world is my oyster right now: I could go anywhere, and be anything.  Some days I am okay with it: my free spirit soaring at the thought of riding into the sunset.  Some days...I wish to go backwards in time to when I had a singular path.  I know, though, that right now is exactly where I'm meant to be, whether I know what the future holds or not.

I keep telling myself, in my moments of panic, that as long as I can wake up each morning, remember how it is that I'm here--not through abilities acquired on my own, but through what I've been given--give thanks to God for what He has done, and step out of bed knowing that I. can. do. this.  It's not going to be easy, or straightforward, but it will be good, so help me God.

"9Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.  10And in fact, you do love all of God's family throughout Macedonia.  yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, 11and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody." 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

Let it be so with me.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Flat Squirrels and Choices

This quote has been popping up all over my internet surfing in recent days.  It's a timely reminder, really, given my current situation in graduate school, and in life.  Every day I'm faced with decisions about what kind of models to write for analyzing my data, what kind of food to cook for dinner, when to do something to enrich my personal life vs. when to head back for a late night in the office, when to run off to another city vs. when to stay here in my town and work, whether or not to say that thing that's been on the tip of my tongue for months, whether or not to keep planning that walkabout across country, when to leave or when to stay, when to put down roots and when to close myself off from temporary places and people.

Ever since I was little I've been plagued with indecision.  Everyone who's ever been around me for long enough knows this to be true.  I agonize over every angle of a decision and it's outcome before coming to a conclusion, often to the chagrin of whoever asked me.  This includes everything from dinner plans to weekend plans to whether or not to buy that dress I love.

I imagine that everyone experiences indecision, particularly those with even the tiniest amount of self doubt.  I have a lot of that, especially when faced with choices that have unknown outcomes.  Who knows how far the ripples of this decision will go?  Who knows what will actually happen if I choose this option, or that option?

My mom calls it "fear of success," instead of "fear of failure."  She's right, I'm just as much afraid of it as the other.  What happens if we do this thing, and it is great?  Then what?  What do we do when we've accomplished that thing we've always dreamed of?  What happens if we accomplish it, then  we realize we're in over our heads?  The decision is already made, you're committed.  It makes me just as nervous as the potential of failing at whatever I decide to do.


I have to admit though, I don't exactly agree with the implied morality of this quote.  I don't know that it's advisable to go around being decisive without considering ramifications.  Sure, if after careful thought you make a decision you consider wise, and it turns out to be the worse of the two options...I understand that.  We all make mistakes.  But to say, "I'm going to do this regardless of the consequences," is a different story.  I've done that, and let me tell you, it can leave a swath of destruction in your path.  Perhaps that is part of what often paralyzes me prior to deciding upon a thing.  I've done the hasty decisions, the forgoing all consequences lifestyle, and I left a lot of damage behind, and within.  I can't, won't, do that again.  The hardest part of this kind of realization is that for me, it also comes with self doubt.  I've seen what my quick-decisions yield, and it's not the kind of person I want to be. can I trust myself to make the right decision, then?

While this is immediately applicable to personal lives, it is also present in work lives: I find it particularly present in graduate school.  Every day I make decisions about models, variables, scale, data formatting, literature to include in review, people to consult, edits, accuracy and power of analyses, and biological significance of all of it.  I often will decide upon a thing, consult 3 experts, and receive 3 different opinions from my own.  That make 4 options, all of which (well, 3, anyway) are sound and significant.  How do you pick?  I still hold to my hope that my Master's Thesis will be a document of which I am proud, a document that is useful and accurate, rather than a document that people will scoff and reanalyze for publication.  But...writing a perfect thesis means I'll be here forever, and no one--especially me--wants that.


So how, and when, do we compromise between a quick decision and the best decision?  Sometimes consulting experts, elders, more experienced individuals helps...sometimes it muddies the water.  Meditating on decisions helps, sometimes; sometimes it just keeps you in the holding pattern for longer.  Closing your eyes and throwing a dart works, sometimes.  Or you just end up stabbing yourself in the foot.

Sometimes, usually, a combination of all three works.  And a whole lot of prayer.  Sometimes, the right choice has a neon arrow pointing to it: we shouldn't be flat squirrels then.  But sometimes, it's a little fuzzier, our depth perception--like the squirrels'--is a little off, and we have less time than we think to dicker about which side of the road at which to jump.

Maybe one day decisions will come easier for me.  For now, though, by the grace of God, I'm grabbing my tail and narrowly avoiding life's tires...hopefully...for another day or two.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Forever Family

Aunt Mary Jane gives the best hugs.
You can ask anyone who knows her, family or not.  She gives you a big ol' squeeze that's long and heartfelt: one of those hugs where you immediately understand what it is to be truly loved, one of those you kind of wish you could pull out of your pocket anytime you need encouragement, one of those where you feel welcomed home, even if you're the one welcoming her into your house.

Good hugs are great, but great hugs can be life changing.  Every time I get the chance to see her, or any of the Ashley family, the reunion is full of hugs, kisses, and standing with our arms slung over each others' shoulders.  These are universal signs of acceptance, pride, protection, support, grace, and love.  Upon first observation, it might be assumed that we are just a touchy family: some people just are that way.  However, upon first-hand experience of the Ashley love, I'd bet money you'd change your mind about it being that simple.


We come from Quincy, FL, by way of Gadsden, AL and somewhere in Virginia.  Grandpa was one of 11 kids in Alabama, and Grandma was from a blended family--her step-sister we have always called Aunt Claire, and to all of us, she really is that.
Grandma and Grandpa raised 4 kids in Quincy, living in the same house to the Anderson's.  We shared meals with the Andersons often enough that I (and everyone who knew her) vividly remember Lulu's cookies and pound cake, and Mr. Anderson is kind of like a great uncle to me, even today, years after both Grandma and Grandpa are gone.

I'm the daughter of their youngest son, so my brother and I were always much younger than the rest of our 6 cousins.  However I can tell you that I always felt like an equal among my family, even though I was far smaller and younger than they.  We sat around the dinner table late into the night playing Cribbage: I on someone's lap, everyone else cracking jokes about terrible hands, amid shouts of "fifteen two, pair for four, ain't no more," and jovial threats of getting skunked.  As an adult, I've found a few friends who know this game, but none seem to have experienced the great joy we had playing as a family.  It's easy to turn Cribbage into a gambling, cutthroat game, but even Michelle, our star player, is the sweetest winner you'll ever meet; it's actually a joy to lose to her.

I could write pages on the memories I have of that house, this family, the experiences we had there: wallpapering the kitchen, playing in sun-catcher rainbows, building the backyard fence, playing tag, raking leaves to jump into them, eating muscadines out of the pool after throwing them at one another, collecting sweetgum balls for Grandma (and watching her actually put them into a vase and set them on the table), or hiding my stuffed animals for fear that Grandpa's threat of rabbit stew would come to fruition...but the undercurrent of all these is a fierce love for one another, a forever love for family born and family chosen.

Grandma and Grandpa weren't rich or powerful in the traditional senses, but you run into anyone in Quincy, even today, 18 years after he's gone, and they'll tell you how Grandpa always whistled when he delivered their mail, from where they knew him or Grandma, how he always helped the high school with homecoming floats, or what his nickname for them was.  Grandpa was famous for his nicknames...the good, the funny, and the loving.  
(Mine was Sweetpea, and to this day no one else calls me that.  If they did, there's a good chance I'd melt into a nostalgic puddle right in front of them.)  
I won't pretend that they were perfect: I've heard stories about the younger years.  But I can tell you that my and my cousins' memories of our grandparents were overwhelmingly beautiful.  I can tell you that if you ask anyone about them today, they are remembered as wonderful, giving, people.

They were both famous for their practical, kind, steady, servant-heart kind of love.
And I am so, SO grateful that this kind of love was not lost when we lost them.  It lives on in their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.  It lives on in our hearts and actions because they taught us how, and because we can honor them through serving and loving others.  It's an Ashley trait now, to welcome all and love people.  Yep, I have pride in my family.  But more than my feelings of pride are my feelings of gratefulness for being born into this, and humility to be called an Ashley next to these beautiful people who also share the name.  It's a blessing to be born into an family who's understanding of family is so broad it covers anyone we meet.  It's an honor, a privilege, and a gift to be part of a family who's collective mission is to love on one another and love on you with those fabulous hugs.  


But (my favorite word), it's not just because of the grandparents that we are this way.  It's because of what the grandparents, and we, believe.  Today, of all days, this resonates with me.  Today, we remember the Last Supper, but more importantly--for me, anyway--we acknowledge that Jesus was indeed a servant King.  He first gave us the example of what it means to humbly love others.  
He first.  We later, and poorly.  
It is astonishing to think that even my grandparents couldn't touch the servant love of Jesus, for even 18 years after the death of Grandpa, I still cry to think how much we loved him, and how much he loved...everyone.  What an honor that I have his likeness in my own father!  And what an honor that my own father has the likeness of Christ in him! 
Oh how wonderful to know that this gift is not reserved for the Ashleys, but for all who would see, and likewise humble themselves!
I am overcome.


"So, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.  
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.  Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.  Likewise you should also be glad and rejoice with me." - Philippians 2:1-18.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016


This day comes around every year, and every year it makes me nostalgic for kid's books, summers rolling in the grass, and a strong sense of discomfort.  Seems a strange combination, no?
Today is March 2nd, Dr. Seuss's birthday.  Every year on this day, I read The Lorax, and every year that book and what it stands for becomes more important to me.
I'll try not to spend time re-typing it, or quoting a ton of it, except for the ending:

"That was long, long ago. 
But each day since that day 
I've sat here and worried and worried away. 
Through the years, while my buildings 
have fallen apart, 
I've worried about it 
with all of my heart. 
"But now," says the Once-ler, 
"Now that you're here, the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear. 
UNLESS someone like you 
cares a whole awful lot, 
nothing is going to get better. 
It's not. 
Catch!" calls the Once-ler. 
He lets something fall. 
"It's a Truffula Seed. 
It's the last one of all! 
You're in charge of the last of the Truffula Seeds. 
And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs. 
Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care. 
Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air. 
Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack. 
Then the Lorax 
and all of his friends 
may come back." 

I cannot read that without being filled with fear...and hope.  Today, especially today, after our -ah-interesting Super Tuesday, the Lorax's message screams to me.  Yes, I know that Dr. Seuss was primarily talking about deforestation, preaching a preservation message, railing against consumerism, but every year, this passage speaks to a different place in my life.

Sometimes it's about our natural resources: we are soon to be in dire straits in the energy and climate discussion.
Sometimes it's about relationships: we forget to nourish one another quite often.
Sometimes it's about faith: the seeds of truth should be planted and nourished, helped to grow in love and mercy, and flourish. this's a little bit of everything: our environment is in trouble, our relationships are struggling, our integrity as a people is failing...
It's no wonder the Lorax lifted himself up by the seat of his pants.
It's no wonder the Once-ler hides in his Lerkim on top of his store.
It's no wonder our culture wants more, more, more!

Part of me wants to run away with the Lorax,
to disappear into the air with one sad, backwards glance.

But.  (That's my favorite word, "but," there's so much potential, so much hope in that one little word.)

But, I can't.  I can't just leave.
While I identify with the Lorax, and speak for the trees,
I can't just leave, because
I'm also in charge of the last Truffula seeds.
So are you, and you, and you!

Whether it's nature, or faith, or people, or space,
It's up to us to improve this place.
We use what we have,
and learn what we don't.
and hope that one day...
the Lorax, he won't:
won't look at us with those sad, oldish eyes,
won't look at us in a way we're despised,
instead he and his friends,
they'll come back.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Valentine

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgement, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who did not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God, must also love his brother. -1John 4

The whole world cries out.  Hear us: we need you. We love you. We long for a higher calling, a greater purpose, a perfect end.
The earth trembles with anticipation at each sunrise, each fresh breath of air.
People yearn for it. We look everywhere for it.
Look around. The earth is proof of your Valentine. The mountains, the valleys, they are here for you, for your heart. Look and see, his love is written in the stars, the sun, the moon. Open your eyes that you may see how great the Father's love for us.
On this day, the world celebrates love. Lord help me remember how I know true love. Lord you made it possible. You are love. And perfect love drives out fear. Oh Lord let me be your messenger of love and mercy, and let not my intentions stand between your message and the world.