Letting Go of the Weight of The World

I dropped heavily into the back seat of the car, exhausted from a full day bouncing between production lines and meetings with factory engineers. The air conditioning was a welcome escape from the hot, thick air of summer in China. I stared out the window, trying to clear my mind. The streets were packed. People were everywhere, walking with umbrellas to fend off the sun, others driving cars, riding bicycles or tractors or some bizarrely constructed vehicle that seemed to be a combination of both. This place felt so heavy. For me, at this moment in time, China felt heavy and full; full of meetings, full of people, full of factories to visit, full of pollution, full of fires I had to put out, full of billions of things being manufactured in every single breath I took, full of potential and full of irreparable damage. It was Just. So. Full.

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A moment in the streets of China

My driver made his way aggressively down the crowded streets, at times pulling up onto the sidewalk (full of pedestrians mind you) in order to avoid the red lights and traffic jams. Oh how badly I wanted to teleport myself back to my tiny apartment in Hong Kong and retire for the day. Finally we made it to the highway onramp and began accelerating. I watched as the half-constructed sky-scrapers faded behind us, replaced by flat stretches of watery rice fields.

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The ever-present cranes line the skylines of nearly every Chinese city I have ever stepped foot in

Suddenly, without warning, my driver slammed on the breaks, threw the car in reverse and spun us around, quickly accelerating and flying past the ramp we had just used to get on. Startled, I leaned forward just in time to see a line of cars that were blocking the entire highway, sitting at a standstill. Apparently my driver was trying to save us from hours in this traffic jam, but as a result we were cruising the wrong way down the highway at 70 MPH. I sat deeper in my seat and thought, what the hell are we doing?

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Just another chaotic traffic jam in China

At that moment, this question wasn’t inspired solely by my driver and the fact that we were flying in the wrong direction way too fast. It was a much bigger question that had woven itself into my view of the world. It was a question embedded in the products my company was sourcing for our clients. It was a question embedded in my mind every time I walked across a bridge with water flowing beneath it so polluted I had to cover my nose and quicken my step. It was a question that taunted me after I began having to wear masks whenever I left my apartment in order to keep my lung condition from worsening. It was a question embedded in the realization that everything, every single thing, carries with it a cost when we choose to bring it into existence.

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I continue to struggle with chronic inflammation in my lung tissue due to the black carbon exposure while living in China

The weight of it all settled on me silently, almost unconsciously and even as I continued with my work, that “what the hell are we doing” question just wouldn’t let me be. And yet, what could I do? I was just one person, this massive system had been around far longer than I had, and “business as usual” just felt so… usual. The experience burned me out. It shut me down, stole away my fuel for inspiration and reinforced the belief that it was all too big for me to have an impact that mattered. It made me feel small and insignificant.

I felt this way the other day, as I walked the shores of the Rio Trancura, along the outskirts of Pucon. Since October 1st, I’ve made time everyday to get outside. Some days I have hours to spend out exploring. Other days I might only be able to steal away for a half hour or so. Regardless, I try to find new spots every day, and I am finding that it’s a beautiful way to constantly discover new angles through which to see this lovely place I call home.

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A sunny afternoon hike up the Rio Turbio outside of Pucon

In addition to getting outside everyday, I have committed to post a photo of any trash that I happen to collect during my adventure. My intention from the start was to raise our collective consciousness of the stuff we consume. The entire project has turned into a kind of experiment, and I can feel how radically it’s already shifting my perspective as my mental filters change and I continuously acknowledge the incredible volume of stuff around us, even in this wild and remote corner of the world.

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All of the trash I packed out during this same sunny hike up the Rio Turbio

As I pulled into the somewhat overgrown lot with a dirt boat ramp, my eyes immediately swept back and forth between the huge piles of trash. It looked as though the area was recently designated as the public dump. I was shocked. Throughout my efforts this month, I’ve picked up a lot of trash, much more than I have in the past, mainly, I think, because I just see more of it now. But this place was by far the most polluted and it just kept getting worse as I edged closer to the river.

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A discouraging site as I pulled up to the trailhead

I got out of the car, let the dogs out, put my backpack on and began walking toward the river. As I walked to the water’s edge, I looked to my left and right, trying to decide which way to go explore; but all I could see was trash. Everywhere. Instead, I walked back up to the car, took my gloves and trash bags out of my backpack and left my pack in the car. Today would not be about the adventure. Today was about the trash.

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I was so pissed off at the end of this day. I spent about an hour collecting trash along that incredibly beautiful river, and I was never more than 100 feet from my car the entire time. I focused on the trash closest to the river, along the trail and in the sand. I packed out diapers, paint cans, cardboard boxes, bottles, plastic, cans, clothing and by far the most styrofoam to date. 3 kayakers floated by, waving at me as they moved along; 4 large rafting groups also passed by. The sight of them discouraged me, as I felt indignant that they were not making more effort to care for this precious place we were all so lucky to enjoy.

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I lugged the two trash bags that I had filled back to the car, cursing that I hadn’t thought to bring more. I sat in the car with the engine off feeling heavy. Feeling that same silent weight I felt when I was in China, when I was just becoming so aware of the amount of stuff we were producing. Here the weight was tied to my heightened awareness of all the stuff we were consuming. My efforts felt futile, small and insignificant. The two bags of trash in my car didn’t even appear to make a dent in the garbage that remained. Yet again I felt like we were speeding the wrong way down a highway and I was sitting there wondering what the hell are we doing?

Over time, I have found that confronting big, heavy, challenging realities can be overwhelming and discouraging. I have also found that confronting them can lead to some of the most inspiring and motivating work I have ever done in my life. The trick, for me anyway, is to first get out from under the weight of it all, to begin by letting go of the weight of the world. We simply do not have enough strength or space to bear this weight while also imagining positive solution-oriented ideas that lead to incredible change. While the process of getting really pissed off and angry about a certain reality can be a pivotal catalyst for action, in order to be effective with whatever action you take, you have to let go of that anger and frustration to make space for all the creative juices to flow.

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I draw so much inspiration from wild places

For me, the most powerful way I have learned to let go and make space is to go outside into nature. After reaching an overwhelming state of cynicism during my first few years working in global manufacturing, it wasn’t until I retreated to the Appalachian Trail and removed myself from the discouraging environment that I really began to see how I could influence change in this space.

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Learning to let go of the weight of the world while thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail

Sometimes you have to go out to go in. After my angry evening on the river, I decided I should go climb a mountain the next day. I went to a remote area where I would have to work physically to muscle my way up. As I hiked up the steep trail, I spent time with all of my thoughts and frustrations from the day before. I acknowledged them, dug a bit to the core of what was motivating them, and then I let them go. The higher I climbed the lighter I felt. As I entered the incredible mixed coihue and araucaria forest I stopped repeatedly, leaning back and staring in awe at the huge trees. A child-like grin spread across my face as I was filled with delight and wonder by my surroundings.

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An amazing, massive araucaria reaching for the sunshine. This tree is around 1000 years old, inspiring awe and deserving respect

As I reached the ridge I stopped to catch my breath and take in the view of the three incredible volcanos on the horizon.

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I felt invigorated and strong. I continued along the trail and began thinking about different approaches I could take to inspire curiosity about the things we buy. I explored how I could motivate changes in behavior locally in a way that could also inspire others globally. I imagined tangible solutions I could contribute to immediately, and played with big, fantastic solutions that had huge-reaching impacts. I just let all of the creative ideas come in and excite me and it literally felt as though my excitement about these solutions was filling the space I had made when letting go of the anger about the problems. I didn’t feel heavy with this invisible weight, I felt lifted by this invisible force.

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I can do this. You can do this. We can do this. Whatever it is- whatever impossibly huge thing you want to tackle, whatever negative thing that you see in the world that you believe can be turned into a positive- it can be done. Don’t be discouraged by the weight of the world. It is not your responsibility to carry it. It is important to acknowledge it, to face it and see it for what it is, but then let it go. Let it go and get on with the good stuff, the stuff that excites and inspires.

A Small Ripple Steadily Grows

I fumble in the darkness to find my shoes, slip them on in the midst of furiously excited puppy licks and trip my way to the front door to let the dogs out. It is a quiet morning, finally the rain has stopped. I look up at the night sky and see the stars shining brightly, the moon sits low and in the distance the top of the snow-covered volcano glows orange below a cloud of smoke. It is a gorgeous morning and my grogginess is immediately replaced with motivation to get in a dawn hike. I close the door and run back to the bedroom to quickly change, swapping my house shoes for my hiking boots and my pajamas for layers that will keep me warm as the day transitions from cold moonlight to warm sunshine.

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Morning moon

The dogs pile into Super Burro and I toss an extra trash bag in my backpack as I top off my water bottle and grab a snack for the road. As I pull out onto the street, I sit at the corner, looking left and right- where shall we go? The thought of the glowing volcano is tempting, but I plan to squeeze in some snowboarding there tomorrow, so instead I decide to head to our favorite spot along the gorgeous Lago Caburgua.

As we cruise along the road the sky slowly transitions from night to day, and the stars begin to fade into the blue, one by one. We park along the quiet dirt road, walk a little ways down the steep, narrow trail leading to the beach and I take a deep breath as we arrive at the water’s edge.

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Misty reflections on the calm surface

It is such a lovely morning. The clear sky that greeted me earlier is now sitting behind a heavy morning mist, which is casting magical shadows across the still lake. The beach is silent except the sound of the calling birds. The shrill songs mix with the soft swooning sounds of the two birds that glide across the water. Everything is still and fresh. Slowly, with dramatic purpose and effect, the sunlight begins to spill onto the mountains surrounding the lake.

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An incredibly peaceful morning on the lake

I hike with the dogs across the sandy beach, hugging the shore until the edge of the water pushes us up into the forest briefly. The trail narrows between trees, then opens up again to another beach. We walk along the water’s edge, Curi and Check tackling one another in the sand and periodically racing into the water in rapid succession. We cross the river feeding into the lake basin and make our way further around the edge, enjoying the quiet of the morning and the beauty of this place.

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Check takes in the sky reflected on the water’s surface

Eventually we run out of trail and have to turn around. I sit for a while, drinking my yerba mate and writing. There is not even the hint of a breeze, it is so still. As I finish, I tuck my journal back into my backpack and pull out the trash bag and a pair of gloves for the hike out.

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Lago Caburgua is pristine, the water is incredible clear and the mountains that line its edges are simply breathtaking. It lies just east of the famous Parque Nacional Huerequehue, a huge draw for tourism, particularly in the summer months. It is surrounded on other sides by undeveloped native forests, a truly beautiful place. According to Wikipedia (this was news to me, so I can’t verify it), in 2007 the Fundación Lago Caburgua was founded to protect, rescue and preserve the heritage of the lake.

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Despite the fact that this lake borders national parks and is considered a protected area, the trash that litters its shores is overwhelming.

Despite it’s incredibly clear waters and obvious beauty, Lago Caburgua has a big pollution problem. Many blame this on the popularity of the lake during the summer months, and are quick to point the finger at the “lazy, dirty tourists”; but the fact of the matter remains that the garbage is here, long after the tourists have left. And it isn’t just a little bit here or there, it is everywhere; and it is heartbreaking.

Every since I discovered this place back in January, I have always brought with me on my hikes trash bags and gloves. With every visit I remove one bag of trash, which is all I can carry up the steep hill out to the road where my car awaits. I have never, once, felt as though I made a difference. There is just so much garbage needing to be hauled out, that it always seems to overwhelm my efforts as my bag fills up so quickly.

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I picked up six dirty diapers that had all be stashed in one corner of the trail. SIX

I know that this is a local issue in many ways- yes there are some easy changes we can make here that will make a difference- such as setting up easily accessible trash and recycling facilities, organizing community beach cleanups to really tackle it, designate people who will be accountable for keeping the area clean and educating folks.

But there is also a much larger conversation that we should be having as well- one that goes way beyond this local issue and delves into the responsibility of our global community. A conversation about why we are consuming this stuff in the first place, and why on earth, in this day and age, are we manufacturing (on a rapid, massive scale) anything that cannot be recycled or upcycled and therefore ends up in a landfill, or worse, once we are done using it.

Why are we paying for water that comes in a plastic bottle when we can save ourselves money using a refillable bottle and also save the incredible volume of energy, water, and oil that goes into making that plastic bottle in the first place?

Why are we manufacturing trillions of plastic bags to shuttle around the things we buy when there are probably enough reusable bags already existing on this planet for each person to own at least one?

Why isn’t all of the packaging that is wrapped around our food made from compostable or biodegradable materials?

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Fundamentally, I believe that in order for us to even begin to imagine a sustainable economy, whereby we have access to products and services that have either zero or positive impact on the planet, we have to begin by seriously examining our consumer practices- which in turn also means looking at our production practices. And, just as we locals can’t point and say “it’s just the lazy, dirty tourists”, we global citizens can’t point and say “it’s just the lazy, dirty companies”. It is up to every single one of us to speak up and be the change.

When I think about changing this broken system on a global scale, it is overwhelming- just like when I look at the shores of Lago Caburgua and I cannot imagine even one of my bags full of trash having an actual impact. But the reality is that I am having an impact. And although my efforts feel small, they are mighty. And even though I can only carry one bag at a time, I can use my voice and I can share my story, and I can share the stories of these things that I carry out and the places they are damaging.

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Have you ever seen a ripple in a lake get smaller? I never have, I have only seem them grow. I can start a ripple, I can throw this pebble and see how the ripple grows. Because you never know who your ripple might touch, who might embrace your small effort and join you, adding energy and force, and eventually creating the power of a wave.

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So this is my small ripple. I have committed to get outside every single day in October. No matter the weather, the agenda and to-do-list, no matter the deadlines; I am carving time outdoors in the wild places that surround my home here in Southern Chile. As usual, I will continue to carry out any garbage that I find during my hiking, surfing or snowboarding adventures. But this time I’m going to show you what’s in my bag. I am going to expose the stuff that has been discarded, and I’m going to do so against the backdrop of the incredibly beautiful places where I find it.

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This is my attempt to start the conversation. To peak your curiosity, and mine as well, and to raise our collective consciousness of the stuff that we consume and discard every single day that we live and breathe. Let’s talk about it- the what, the why, the how. Let’s consider what it is made of, where it has come from and where it will go when we are finished with it. Because everything goes somewhere. There is no “away” to throw it to.

If you would like to follow me on this adventure, and see some of the incredible places that I am lucky to have so close to home, please check in with this visual journal which I will be updating daily:

http://wanderwithgreta.vsco.co/journal/whats-in-the-bag

You can also find my daily hauls featured on Instagram:

https://instagram.com/wanderwithgreta/

While I would love to have you follow along with me, I would love even more for you to join me. This is a personal project, but it is a small simple thing that anyone can do anywhere in the world, every time you step outside. Some of you probably already do it. What I am asking is that you share your story, show us what’s in your bag, join the conversation! If you post via social media, tag it #litterati and/or #thereisnoawaytothrowto so we can all see the great work you are doing.

Remember, no one can do everything, but everyone can do something.

Cómo se dice “cancer” en español?

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The words in the email stared back at me silently as I wrapped my mind around their meaning. They were delivered with no emotion, offering no reaction to my receipt. They were just words, serving their purpose, delivering their message.

“Please let us know that you received this. Also please note that this is a skin cancer that will need treatment.”

The house was quiet, still dark as the sun was just making its way over the mountains to finally spill into the valley. Ale had already left for work, and I was alone. I opened the path report that was attached, sent from my dermatologist in the States, read the diagnosis, and sat back pondering what I should do next.

I guess I wasn’t really surprised, when I had originally noticed the pinkish spot that didn’t go away, I knew what it could be; and when I saw the dermatologist during a quick visit to the USA, he seemed pretty concerned. However, in all my years traveling and living abroad, I never had to face a medical issue in a foreign country. I never had to imagine the possibility of working with doctors and hospitals who didn’t speak my native language before I was fluent in theirs. I didn’t really know where to begin, sitting at home alone with no doctor in front of me to answer my questions; so I began with Google. And what was my first question?

“Cómo se dice cancer en español”.

As I typed the question into the Google search, I felt about as helpless as a lost child all alone in a new city. And finding out it was simply “cáncer” somehow made it worse. It was kind of a bizarre moment that sums up the essence of leaving the comforts of your home country. Being self-reliant, confident and independent have been attributes I’ve always celebrated about myself; but in that moment, my independence and self-reliance felt so insignificant.

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Learning to communicate in Spanish and have general conversations is one thing, but being able to find and talk about cancer treatment here in Chile is an entirely different kind of beast. However, as I learned more about my diagnosis and options, I actually found myself continuously reassured by gratitude, rather than fear.

First, my diagnosis was Basal Cell Carcinoma– a very common form of skin cancer (in fact, the most common form of all cancers), and one of the easiest to cure. As I learned more about this type of cancer and the available treatments, it was reassuring to know that the risks associated with it were not life threatening, and that treatment should be pretty straightforward.

Second, I have with me my incredibly handsome, intelligent and reassuring husband who also happens to speak Spanish as a first language. Although I have always managed my medical issues for myself, being able to lean on my husband now to help me find the right clinic, get the right doctors, ask and translate the questions and answers has saved me so much stress and confusion. It is humbling to really need someone when you are in a vulnerable position, but it is also empowering when you see your individual strengths and weaknesses collectively supporting one another.

Third, I am living in a country with a great medical system and have easy access to excellent doctors- even in our tiny little town in southern Chile (much to my surprise). To top that off, I have friends here who were quick to offer recommendations of trusted clinics and contacts of doctors who had treated other friends. It is a gift to live somewhere with access to great healthcare that is also extremely affordable. This fact is not lost to me when I think of so many loved ones in the USA who are buried under medical expenses associated with any type of cancer diagnosis. Part of me also cringes at the fact that this will now be in my medical history and if I do move back to the USA someday, I’ll have to contend with the discrimination of insurance companies there.

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The helplessness that I originally felt when I received the diagnosis shifted entirely when I began my treatment. My experience working with the doctors and hospitals here in Chile was so incredibly different compared to every experience I’ve had with hospitals and insurance companies in the USA- even with the language barrier. The feeling that was embracing me all along the way was one of sincere kindness. And that simple kindness really did make the whole process of having a piece of me cut out that much easier. The abundance of gratitude, just kept flowing.

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Throughout this process, one thing has really struck me- and it is something I hadn’t really expected. From the time I received the diagnosis, to the process of learning more about this type of cancer and discussing it with my doctor, all along the way I realized that somehow cancer has become kind of a “normal” thing in my generation. I remember this being different when I was a kid, when losing someone to cancer was a rare shock.

However, at the age of 31, I wasn’t entirely shocked that it happened to me. I have friends my own age and younger who have fought battles with many different types and stages of cancer. I know of young families who have had to deal with the devastation of a child being diagnosed with cancer. I have lost friends and family members to cancer. Without necessary rhyme or reason, these days cancer affects nearly everyone I know in some way or another.

Although some cancers have specific and direct causes, many are still hard to pin down. Personally, I believe that the environments we have constructed in our maddening pursuit of a consumer-driven, industrialized society are huge contributors. We are of this Earth; and in our time on this Earth, humans have radically altered the environment in which we exist. Much of this alteration has been done with blatant disregard for the impacts on our Earth, directly threatening our own ability to continue thriving on this planet, of which we come from. We cannot damage this Earth without directly damaging ourselves. We must be stewards, not pillagers. It is our own health and the health of our children that we rob when we damage the ecosystems we live within.

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As I’ve been healing, I’ve spent a lot of time retreating to the wild places that surround my home in southern Chile. I’ve spent quiet time sitting atop mossy fallen trees that lie strewn beside waterfalls. I’ve climbed mountains that toyed with stealing my breath as I struggled up their steep inclines, only to have that breath taken away entirely when reaching to top and standing in awe of the view before me. I’ve sat quietly inside the trunk of a living Coigue tree, feeling as though I was sitting in the warm embrace of a womb. I have felt every single cell in my body rejoice as a warm breeze, the first sign of the coming spring, twisted my hair, and the smell of rain falling in a dense forest filled my nostrils. IMG_3929

So what can be done? How can we as individuals slow the progress of this degrading industrialized system? We can begin by demanding transparent information about the contents of the things we buy, and the manner in which they are produced. From the food we eat to the products we wear and use to adorn our homes, information is power, and the more we know about what chemicals and toxins are involved in producing the goods we consume, the more control we have when it comes to limiting our exposure. And, perhaps more importantly, this allows us to begin the conversation with the companies manufacturing these goods. It is up to us to hold them accountable- it is up to us to demand this information, this level of transparency, and to demand products that do not inflict harm on this Earth and our own bodies. If we do not require it, the things we buy will continue to be made with a focus only on higher profits and lower costs- at the expense of our health, our environment, and the health and vibrance of the people and communities who make the things we buy.

The Environmental Working Group has been publishing reports on chemical and toxin transparency for years- and their reports are hugely helpful to any consumer trying to navigate the barrage of “natural” and “eco” labels out there today. The latest Cancer Prevention Edition landed in my inbox the morning after I had surgery to remove my skin cancer. The irony of it is not lost to me, which is why I felt so motivated to share my little story, and take some time to speak up in the hope that others consider doing so as well. You can also join the conversation by checking out the Just Label It campaign working to demand greater transparency in the USA food supply. Together, we can find a better way.

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I Am a Little Bit of Many Thing

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The air is crisp this morning as I am shuffled forth into the sunlight. I yawn my way open, stretching widely and feeling myself settle in the morning light. The ocean sits quietly on the horizon, dropping beneath the edge of the cliff where I am perched. Just to my left, the sun breaks forth, a bright orange ball bursting from the coastline, as though it is suddenly released from the embrace of the mountains.

To my right, high in the sky, the moon sits peacefully, still residing over the ocean and the land, remaining bright in the moody dawn light, still untouched by the sun’s rays. Her evening watch is nearly done and she will soon retire; but for now, she remains with her waves and her breeze, with her meadows and her trees.

I did not know where this particular journey would take me. Yesterday I was picked up, carried off through the traffic of the city, cruising north beneath the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge. Quiet anticipation traveled with me as I wondered about the destination, about the sights I might see, about the tales I might tell. Now I sit and recount those tales, beneath the light of a setting moon and a rising sun. Lovely little moments lived are captured for future moments of reflection. My tale is also captured in these pages, but just one chapter of it- there is really so much more to tell.

I was born in several different countries spread across this world. Before I was what I am today, I was a little bit of many things. My pages are compiled from trees gathered from a forest in northern Oregon. My cover is a strong leather made from the hide of a calf born in the countryside of China. My binding is linen thread made from flax fibers grown in India. And these days my pages are tattooed with ink that is made up of carbon black, drawn from the deepest depths of this planet, either coal or oil, depending upon which of various pens were used. I now exist as many different parts of this Earth, all combined as one.

As a tree I stood tall, breathing deeply every day and night. When it rained, I drank the raindrops through my leaves and my roots. Animals and bugs ran along my thick bark, birds sang from my long arms, I danced with the wind and I stretched for the sun. Eventually, I was cut down, lifted with chains into a very long truck and hauled to a factory for processing. The air in this factory was different, and I no longer used my leaves to breathe. My bark was removed and I was cut into chips. These chips of me were then mixed with chips of others, and then with water and cooked into a paste. Afterwards bleach was poured on me along with chemicals- caustic soda, sodium sulfide and melamine- to give me the desired texture and a different kind of strength than the one I had that allowed me to stand so tall as a tree. After this process I was flattened, and all of the liquid was squeezed out of me. I spent hours drying until finally I was considered finished and was cut into individual pages.

After my brief life in this factory, I was transported to another where my pages were stacked upon one another and I was sewn into my cover, the leather embracing my outer pages. I came to learn my cover had traveled an even greater distance than my pages, first being born as a calf in the fields of mainland China. I had a brown coat and a rattly voice. I spent most of my time grazing and eating corn, I had strong hooves and enjoyed sunbathing on hot sunny days. I think other cows may have thought this odd about me, as they lounged about in the shade, chewing their cud with suspicion.

Eventually I was loaded up with many other calves, and taken to a facility where my life as a calf was ended, and my life as a cover began. The air in this factory was also different, and I no longer used my lungs to breathe. Once the skin was removed, I was coated with salt and sent to a leather tannery, where I was covered with chemicals to remove the grease and hair. After my chemical treatment, I was handled by many workers as they moved me back and forth between various processes. They breathed in the chemicals, and as it soaked into my skin it also soaked into theirs. Finally I was inspected for quality and deemed appropriate to live the life as a journal cover. I was stacked with many other hides, placed in a box and began my very long journey by truck and shipping container destined for the USA, where I would meet my pages and begin this next form of existence as a little bit of many things.

From the factory line where I was bound, I was stacked with others, wrapped in a thin plastic film and placed in a box. This box was lifted onto yet another truck which drove me to this next new home. The next chapter of my life would be lived in a side alley shop in San Francisco. Upon arrival, my plastic was removed and I took my place quietly sitting on a wooden shelf, stacked tightly between others who resembled me. I had a lot of time to reflect on the places I had been, on the pieces of this Earth that had been combined to bring me into this new existence. Little did I know my travels had just begun.

Eventually, my companion lifted me from the wooden shelf, holding me lightly, flipping through my empty, crisp pages. After so many seconds and minutes and hours and days I finally felt the warmth of the sunshine again as we stepped outside of the shop together. I smiled with delight, the sunbathing joys of my youth momentarily relived. As we sat together at the cafe, my pages breathed deep the warm breeze, flapping softly as my branches once had.

As destiny would have it, I would travel all around the world with my companion- we climbed mountains in the Trinity Alps, we paddled rivers and traversed glaciers in Alaska, we visited strawberry harvesters in the fields of Morocco and Mexico, we even spent time walking the floors of factories in China, factories similar to those where parts of me had been created. I’ve flown across the oceans more times than I can count. I’ve opened my pages to capture and share memories on ferries, subways, monorails, cars and airplanes. I hold all of these details within the warm embrace of my soft outer cover, they have become another part of me. 

This cover has been worn soft from such constant travel, and a few of my pages have begun to pull loose. Heavy ink is now scrawled across all of my pages, and I spend most of my time on that windowsill, sitting in the sun. My life as a traveling companion has evolved into the role of an old friend to reminisce with, to share laughter and learning. 

I am no longer the tree, or the cow, or the coal or flax that I once was. I am, however, still here. I am, after all, a little bit of many things. I cannot determine how my life continues. I cannot determine how my shape and form may change if I am discarded, retired to a landfill somewhere no one will again open my binding and spread my pages. Perhaps I will be recycled, my pages pulled from my cover, and again melted to mix with others in chemicals and water, these stories washed from my folds, bleach replacing the ink, a brief chapter of my life washed away. Who knows, I cannot tell the future. I can only embrace this moment to bask in the sunshine, and each time my cover is parted, my pages breathe deep the wild air, and I will continue to hold tight the stories of this life.

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Ever since I first stepped foot on a factory floor and witnessed the thousands of workers hand painting the simple packaging of a plastic toy we were manufacturing, I realized what an incredibly complex system we had created to make the things that we consume. I was taken aback by the realization that every single thing has encountered a remarkable journey to come into existence- from the fields, mines or forests where the raw materials were drawn, to the factory floors in countries all around the world. All for the sole purpose of their arrival to us, the become our possessions. Some of them are tools, some are used to bring pleasure, some we hold onto for years, others only for moments. Regardless of the purpose they ultimately serve, our things share this world with us, and their existence, our demand for their existence, has a direct impact on the state of our planet.

Personally, I’ve gone through all the phases of emotions when it comes to my “stuff”- the guilt of knowing the negative impact the production of that thing likely had on this Earth; the helplessness in my own ability to change the bigger picture, and have any measurable impact beyond my own buying decisions; the ultimate justification for buying things I want but might not need. I don’t believe that feelings of guilt and helplessness inspire change in behavior or a better understanding of practical solutions. I believe curiosity does. I believe that seeking knowledge about the lives of the things we own can inspire a whole knew vision of the world, our place in it and how we choose to interact with it.

I’ve written other pieces about conscious consumerism, about how my own perspective on buying things changed as I learned more and more about the actual cost to our planet and the communities making them. Now I am exploring another perspective, one I hope you might find interesting, a perspective that might ignite a curiosity within you as well. This story is a glimpse into the life of one of my things. It is bottled up in about 1500 words, hardly enough to do the life of this beloved journal justice, but it is meant to only be a glimpse. Just going through the act of writing this has me curious about many of my other things, and the secret lives they’ve lived before coming into my possession.

What kind of stories do the things you hold dearest to your heart carry with them? What kind of a life have you given them? What do you know about where they originally came from, what parts of this Earth were combined to create that one special thing? Who had a hand in bringing your thing into existence? Where will it go once you are finished with it?

Are you curious?

Midnight Mussel Hunting and Other Food Reflections

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Kicking off our midnight mussel hunt with incredible Alaskan views

The sunlight reflected on the glassy surface of the water as our skiff motored its way out of the harbor. I was still awestruck by the fact that it was nearly midnight and the daylight was still going strong. The air was crisp, but the “night” was young, or perhaps the “day” was old?  Either way, we had time to get in one more adventure for the day before the few hours of summer darkness settled over Homer, Alaska. I sat back in the skiff, laughing with the rest of the girls as we picked up speed, the water splashing up along the edges as we gobbled up the incredible view. Jagged snow capped mountains reached up from the horizon, incredibly dramatic and massive against the long flat surface of the bay.

We were on our way to China Poot Bay, taking advantage of the hour of low tide to harvest wild mussels for dinner the following day. The tides here move incredibly fast, faster than any I had ever witnessed, we had to be quick as the water began to recede. We cut the motor, jumped out of the boat, buckets in hand, and stomped through the ankle deep water to the countless mussel beds quickly revealing themselves as the water level dropped. The sheer volume of wild mussels resting at the bottom of the bay was simply incredible, and the experience of seeing all of them as they exist in this brief moment outside of the water was pretty wild.

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This sure beats running to the grocery store for dinner!

The water lapped gently alongside the skiff, the air that was previously loud with the purr of the motor was briefly quiet. That quietness shifted as we jumped out and walked among the tidal pools. Everything was alive, there were gurgling bubbly sounds coming from the suddenly exposed mussels, crabs, shellfish and algae. The mud squished beneath our muck boots, the birds chirped loudly, swooping low and having their own midnight feast in the low tide. We hike about, squatting to pull out the large loose mussels, tapping them to be sure they were not filled with sand, wiping off the mud and then tossing them into the bucket.  Our buckets filled quickly, but it was impossible to see any dent we had made. We spent a good half hour or so picking mussels until we saw the water rising along the sides of the skiff and realized we didn’t have much time before the water swallowed up these mussel beds, us with it if we couldn’t get back to the boat in time. Not looking forward to a freezing cold midnight swim, we combined our buckets, hoisted them up and carried them back to the skiff quickly.

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Hauling our bounty back to the skiff before the tide could catch us

The ride back to the harbor was pure magic as we raced toward what felt like an endless sunset. It was nearly 1:30 in the morning by now yet the sky was still light.  The sun appeared to be setting on the horizon but it just refused to take its light with it. The water was quiet, but the birds called to one another loudly, disregarding the late hour and instead conversing as though it were midday rather than midnight. We tide a rope to the buckets of mussels and once we had picked up speed we dropped them into the water to be drug along behind the boat, one of the quickest and easiest ways to clean the rest of the mud out of them. Back in the harbor, we hauled the buckets full of mussels and fresh bay water up to the house where we would all get some rest during the few hours of darkness.

The following day was filled with beach hiking and adventure prepping as we loaded the boat with all the gear we would need to head up to the glacier the following day.  The mussels would be our dinner for the night, our harvest easily able to feed all six of us. Around 8pm we jumped in the skiff cruised out across the bay to the inlet where we would set camp that night, allowing us an early start the following day. We pulled all of our gear out of the boat, set up camp and got to cooking. We sauteed some fresh garlic in olive oil, added water, white wine, lemon juice and dumped in our bounty of mussels gathered the night before. The mussels cooked in a massive pot over an open fire as we passed around beers and shared stories and exclamations of the beauty of this place we were so lucky to be enjoying. Once the mussels were cooked, we sliced up the freshly baked bread, doled out hefty spoonfuls of broth and mussels and dug in. DSC_5336 DSC_5331

Bliss. Divinity. Rich delicious tasty sensations filling our mouths and kissing our taste buds with every single bite. Words cannot do this meal justice. The memory will forever be etched in my mind and my heart- that moment sitting by the fire, shoveling in spoonfuls of broth with freshly baked bread and meaty mussel goodness, a rushing creek bed to our right, a quiet bay to our left, the sun quietly resting on the horizon, cold beer, sounds of laughter and joy and oh so much goodness packed into one single moment. We feasted until our bellies were too full to fit one more, hauled the leftovers down to the cold creek to sit for the night, and cooked up incredible mussel scrambled eggs for breakfast the following morning. It was a simple meal, harvested by our own hands from the land surrounding, and it was incredible.

Growing up on a farm allowed me to establish a connection with the food I ate from a very young age. We raised cattle, pigs, chickens and turkeys for meat. We cared for the animals, loved them, and were taught to thank them for sacrificing their lives so that we could have food. We delighted in the taste of the first fresh tomato of the season, of the crisp burst of sweetness from a freshly peeled ear of sweet corn, we laughed at the purple color our milk turned when freshly picked blackberries were sprinkled atop our cereal. It made me deeply aware of our interconnections with nature, and all of the other living creatures on Earth. It established a practice of appreciation for the life of what I ate- be it a vegetable, fruit or an animal- as well as the life I had as a result of this food.

When I left the farm at the age of 18, I had a different relationship with food than most people I knew. My life has taken me all around the world, and I have lived in many different places that impacted the food I ate and the food I had access to. I witnessed the lack of connection many people had to food, to the source of food, the lack of understanding where it came from and how it was processed, a lack of understanding of how food affected their bodies, how pesticides and chemicals and additives impacted our cells. In some places, I personally experienced a lack of access to fresh and healthy food, and a lack of access to information about where the food came from and what was in it. With a food system focused on mass production, we have become more and more disconnected from the sources of the food we eat. With that lack of exposure, many of us have lost our curiosity and gratitude for that food as well.

I have a lot of stories about my experience from food all around the world- from harvesting food in our organic gardens to witnessing the working conditions of workers in fields in countries such as Morocco and Mexico. My hope is that my stories might inspire others to think back on beautiful moments they have experienced with their food- that first fish you ever caught and cooked over an open fire, the taste of your grandmother’s homemade raspberry preserves, the fun you had with your siblings picking apples in the fall as a kid. If we all think about it, there is a good chance we all have a wonderful story connected with the food we eat- and if you don’t, that doesn’t mean you can’t make one. There has been massive growth over the years of local and slow food movements, and there is nothing stopping you from getting out and meeting your neighborhood farmers. Get to know the source of your food, not only will it change the way you experience your meals, it will bring a deeper level of appreciation for this incredible Earth that makes our life possible. At least it did, and does for me.

I recently made a pledge to know the source of my food, because I do believe we have to power to influence positive change- and that power begins with access to information. I grew up on a certified organic farm, having a rare (these days) understanding of where my food came from. We planted, we weeded, we harvested. We loved, appreciated and respected our land for our food. Now my career focuses on building transparency in supply chains- and this doesn’t just mean at the factory level, but also food production in fields around the world. It is incredibly shocking how far removed people have become from their food sources. I cannot begin to say how important it is that we have access to information about what is in our food, where it came from and how it was produced. It matters. Supporting local food options has incredibly powerful potential for positive change in our very broken food system.

We literally are what we eat, shouldn’t we know what that is? If you want to lend your voice, to stand up for your right to know, I encourage you to check out this fantastic campaign that 1% For The Planet is empowering through Takepart– simply click here to learn more.

In the meantime, go have an adventure involving food, I’ll bet you come back with a really great story!

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Leigh and I making a memory cleaning mussels and checking for duds

The More You Know, The Less You Need

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Stuff…so much stuff

“The more you know, the less you need.” These eight words stared back at me as I chewed tirelessly on them, sitting on my couch in my 400 square foot apartment in Hong Kong after a long day visiting factories in China. In my lap sat Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s “Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant BusinessmanI leaned back in the uncomfortable couch, taking my eyes from the page to stare out the window, almost in a daze.

The more you know, the less you need. Oh how true those words suddenly rang in my ears, how heavily the tugged at my heart. The more you know. Let’s start there. The experiences of the past year had been beyond any limits my mind may have constructed in terms of what I thought I would know by now; as well as all I thought I knew. The “education” I received that first year out of college working in Asia had challenged every ounce of my fortitude, my agility, my comforts. It had rocked my pre-conceived perceptions of how the world worked that had been constructed mostly by society and the consumer-driven mentality of my country. It exposed me to the way things were, rather than the way marketing agencies and departments had portrayed them.

Stuff. It is actually a heavy word, “stuff”, taking on the feeling of something unloved, not wanted enough to be cared for or properly named. Images of little things tossed in drawers and junk closets, ending up in the garbage or boxes at the thrift store. I intimately became aware of the weight of “stuff” at this time, spending countless hours in factories churning out millions of components and products that would eventually end up in the grouping of “stuff” when referred to by their owners. Promotional products, toys, mugs, pens, too many items to list, but items all the same that were made with no real purpose.

The point was, the more I knew, the more I realized no one really needed this shit. We were here, negotiating to the half a penny, pushing suppliers for unrealistic timelines and cost points that would encourage outsourcing, overtime, poor wages and bribery, in order to make more “stuff”. And we were just “doing business as usual” in comparison to the many other random companies purchasing products from China.

At the end of the day, the products coming off those production lines would be wrapped in plastic, shipped thousands of miles and eventually find their way onto a store shelf or product promotion bag. Once purchased, the owner might find delight for a brief moment, or perhaps the item would just be something given along with some marketing brochure in a product promotion; either way, the life of this thing would be fairly short without much love. The toxic chemicals used in the manufacturing process, breathed by the workers and dumped in the nearby river…those chemicals would actually sustain a much longer life.

The more I knew. I continued with this work for another year, justifying that the work experience was too unique, too priceless to let go of. What other 22 year old did I know who was based out of Hong Kong working by herself to establish a sourcing devision for a US based company?  What other 22 year old did I know who had access to realities only otherwise hidden behind closed doors, who could learn first hand the ropes of doing business in China?

None. I knew that I had a team in the USA that was trying to sell products to our clients and needed factories to do so. I knew I had a team in China who was trying to place production in factories so that we had product available to sell. But I also knew the beginning of the life of these products, I knew the challenges of tracing where the raw materials had come from, I knew the working conditions in which they were made, I knew the lax enforcement by the local government of environmental and labor laws. I knew we could do better. But I also knew that we were making things that I didn’t want or need. The more you know, the less you need.

The less I need. Aside from the full-speed-ahead consumerism that threatened to suffocate me, I also began to know more about the simple lives that those around me were living. The tiny living quarters of the workers, cramped dorm rooms where several workers lived, their small pile of belongings neatly stacked in the corners of each bed. One bathroom with two sinks available for the 100+ workers living in the dormitory, all of whom were expected to arrive to work on the production floor at precisely 8am- and would wait over an hour each morning to reach that bathroom. Simple meals consisting primarily of rice with the occasional vegetable, prepared on the floor of the bedroom or around a small fire on the street.

I began buying less things. As I would stroll through the countless markets in Chinese cities, I would find myself retracting inward, find myself pulling back, leaving empty handed. There were many moments when the volume of stuff that surrounded me would be absolutely overwhelming. The neat, far-extending production lines filled with countless workers, heads down, hands quickly and precisely moving were one thing. But the markets, the malls, the shops and stores, the trade shows, all simply overflowing with stuff. The result of our collective efforts. Meanwhile I strolled down streets choked with pollution, crossing bridges over rivers that smelled so putrid I held my breath as I passed.

I began to look more closely at my own belongings, the items I had collected over the years, some gifted, many bought. At the time I was living quite light as I traveled all the time and only had my small apartment in Hong Kong; but I still considered how much “stuff” I had acquired over the years. I thought about my car, sitting in the USA, awaiting my eventual return. I thought about the boxes of items I had moved back to Pennsylvania after I graduated college and put almost immediately into storage. I went through my wardrobe and my books, through my household items and my memory boxes. I looked at my bank account, at my credit card debt, at my loans and my income. I evaluated what I needed, why I needed it and what purpose every single thing was serving. It wasn’t an easy task, it wasn’t a comfortable process, confronting all of my stuff, confronting my motivations in acquiring that stuff, my methods of acquiring it. Yet I had to acknowledge it, I had to confront it, in order to truly understand what it was that I needed, now that I knew what I knew.

A year and a half after I read Yvonne’s words, I found myself in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, traversing the Presidential range around the fourth of July, a little over a month into our five month long Thru-Hike. On my back I carried my little bear, as I referred to my Gregory backpack, containing literally everything that I needed.

I wore boots that protected my feet from the rocky trail, and dry during the rainy days. I had gators to keep the sticker bushes from scraping my bare ankles and to keep the dirt from tumbling into my socks. I had shorts that were made from quick drying material and could be converted into pants. I had a t-shirt and long sleeved shirt that offered UV protection and a hat to shield my face from the strong sun. In my pack I carried my rain jacket, a fleece, a shirt and pants to sleep in, 3 pairs of socks and 3 pairs of underwear, a warm hat and gloves, a water pump, my camelback bladder filled with water I had taken from the stream, 6 days of food,  sunscreen, toilet paper, biodegradable soap, a spork, a rain cover for my pack, a pocket knife, headlamp and a plastic baggie I used as my “wallet” containing my license, cash, and debit card. A pair of crocs hung outside my pack by a single carabiner. Oh, and of course my journal and a pen. Ale’s pack had similar contents but also held our hammock that we slept in and a lightweight tarp for the rainy nights. That was it. Well, that and countless moments of laughter shared with people I loved, surrounded by the incredible beauty and magic of the wilderness. I knew that I had exactly what I needed, and it was way less than anything I could have ever imagined.

As the years have passed, the simple act of knowing how little I actually need has made it so much easier to pursue opportunities to make memories rather than acquire things. It has motivated me to invest in myself and my life experience rather than investing in stuff. It has inspired me to take big risks and let go of things that I might have loved once, but have moved on from. I may not know entirely what inspired Mr. Chouinard to write those words, but I sure as hell know that I can relate, that they ring true to me and the way I choose to live my life, and that I continue to hold them close as I consider what I really need these days. As my work in the industry continues, and I have gained more knowledge about issues in countries far beyond China, and about the impact of products across many industries, I continue to take comfort in my steadfast understanding of how little I actually need, and how liberating it can be to be free of too much stuff.

It’s easy to be saddled with stuff, even if you are trying to be conscious of your consumption- and especially around the holidays! If you do want to confront those drawers, those closets, those accounts and the motivations behind all that has gathered there, I encourage you to do so. It isn’t always fun, or comfortable, and it takes consistent effort, but it can be incredibly liberating and enlightening.  You might actually feel lighter once you begin letting go.

If each of us starts here, if we each begin to examine what we have, why we have it and take a stance to limit the consumption of stuff we don’t need (or really even want), then maybe, just maybe, we can begin to influence these companies placing production orders to start making things that matter. It takes more than not buying things, it takes action, it takes communication, raising your voice, telling your friends and family what you believe and telling the companies you buy from the same. You might feel insignificant in this effort, but you are not. You are essential. And now you know. So, what do you think, when you look at your life that you’ve lived, and you look at the future you hope to live, what do you really need? Do you see a lot of stuff in that picture?

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Living light in the White Mountains along the Appalachian Trail, wearing or carrying every single thing that I needed 🙂

 

If You Don’t Love It, Don’t Buy It: The Shift to Consuming Consciously

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There is great opportunity when we realize the impact of our individual actions, and collectively choose to engage.

The audit report sat heavily on my desk, the weight of it bearing down on my heart.  The situation sounded like a recipe for disaster…the perfect storm for the next tragedy on the front page of the morning news.  Thoughts of the recent fires at Ali Enterprises filled my mind, the lives lost due to working conditions similar to those documented within the report I had just read.  Locked exits; barred windows; children as young as 12; no fire extinguishers or fire drills conducted; unsafe electrical wiring; the list went on and on.  I felt powerless, this factory was not my factory, it was not manufacturing any products that I was directly ordering.  I did not own the relationship with this factory management, nor did I have any opportunity to directly influence them.  My client, who was manufacturing product in this factory, would immediately halt production and move it elsewhere as a result of this audit report, the risk of a future factory fire or child labor scandal being too great to manage, the need to ensure their products were not being manufactured in this type of facility, the foundation of their company code of conduct blatantly disregarded.

I was taken back to my very first time stepping onto a factory floor in China.  I was 22, juggling the shock of all the sites, sounds and smells I had been experiencing since entering the manufacturing-driven factory cities where we would be sourcing our products.  As I walked down the production lines, young workers looked up at me, staring as they continued their monotonous task, watching me walk along the line inspecting their work.  I can only imagine the thoughts that ran through their minds, the looks on their faces entirely unreadable.  Later I sat in the sample room, watching my boss negotiate the cost of our tooling and per piece product price, down to the half cent.  We had three priorities in that room- timeline/production turnaround, material and product quality, and price.  Those were the priorities during that initial negotiation, that was all that would determine if we placed production in that facility.  The faces of those workers were not yet a part of the conversation.

My experience during that first visit is not necessarily the status quo of how every brand and retailer chooses to source product globally, however, it is the reality of the priority for most companies when they begin building relationships with factories.  The company I was working for was not a “bad” company with ill intentions, actually it was full of well-intentioned caring individuals who were raising families and simply doing business as usual. I have spent years working with companies to manage the challenges that are uncovered by audits, the poor working conditions or environmental practices, the lack of systems or understanding of requirements.  More than anything, this work has shown how critical that very first meeting with factory management is, that very fundamental establishment of priorities, establishing what matters most.  Had my client taken into account the zero tolerance issues that were a part of the audit in the very beginning of that factory relationship, production would never have begun. But, does that mean these people working there would have been safer as a result? No.

Getting back to this moment, sitting in my office in the city, the evening turning dark, contemplating what to do with this Pakistan factory report.  My struggle was not that my client had begun production in this factory in the first place; my struggle was that there would be no one left caring once my client left.  My client’s own ability to influence change would be limited even if they did choose to engage with this factory, as their production orders only made up 5% of the factory’s output, and would be limited to one production run anyway.  This report would be sent, production of this product would be stopped but the production of the other factory customers would continue; there would be no one asking any more questions, evaluating conditions and pushing the management to create a work environment that was safe and positive. I left the office in tears, frustrated with my lack of ability to keep those people safe, my lack of ability to directly motivate positive change.

From all of these years spent working in this industry, I have a pretty unique view into the complex and dynamic environments  in which most of the products we buy are made all around the world. I have inevitably adapted a cautiousness to consumerism, bearing this weight of my conscience in knowing the conditions in which a product may have been harvested or manufactured, depending on the country of production as well as the monitoring practices and messaging of the company.  So much exposure to so many problems, challenges, and complex social and environmental conditions can be discouraging, but it can also be a huge motivator for influencing change.  Knowledge of this reality presents a profound opportunity to rethink the broken model, to come at these challenges from a different angle, to motivate and inspire change that will enable consumers as well as business executives to be conscious of the impact of their buying decisions, but will also engage them as citizens, helping us all to realize that we are all connected to the products we choose to buy and the places we choose to go.

At this moment I write this blog from the top of a cliff overlooking the Pacific coast along a stretch of sand lining the middle of Chile.  The products that I carry with me as I travel and explore must serve multiple purposes in order to make the cut.  They must be durable, resilient, fixable and reusable.  Out of bare necessity I need these products to function in this way, if they don’t serve a purpose daily, I don’t really need them.  I adapted this perspective while thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail- where every single thing you carry literally weighs you down, and when you feel the physical weight of all the items you own, your priorities shift dramatically.  Efficiency and purpose are core.  The companies manufacturing the products you use must stand by them and be prepared to support in the repair in order for the product to last through your journey.  If you extend your vision of “this journey” to be your time spent on this Earth, now you have a standard to hold them accountable to.  Even now as I now backpack through the Andes of Chile I carry on my back my Gregory backpack that I bought six years ago and have carried literally thousands of miles, across multiple mountain ranges all around the world.  I intend to pass it on to my children.

We all want to buy things without the weight of negative realities that challenge our own ethical boundaries bearing down on us.  We all want to have access to products that can reassure us that this product did not make the lives of those who made it worse, it did not contribute to further damaging our Earth.  So, what can be done?  Most simply put, if you don’t love it, don’t buy it.

Consider the life of everything you purchase- question how, where and why it was made.  Consider how where and why you will use it- how often and for how long.

Consider where it will go when you are finished with it- will it go in a landfill?  Can it be recycled?  Better yet, can it be upcycled?  Could it be composted?  Has the company who created that product also created a path for it to follow once you are done using it?

How does the company who sells this product talk about its supply chain?  Do they have a Code of Conduct, and more importantly how do they explain it to their suppliers?  Don’t demand perfection, demand transparency.  Begin asking questions, challenge companies to provide answers, not public relations soundbites or flashy sustainability reports. Become conscious of your actions and acquisitions and believe me, everything will change.

I try to put forth every effort to consider whether or not I will really love a product once I have bought it- from that essential waterproof jacket to the kitchen chopping knife.  Believe it or not, I am by no means a minimalist, I understand and appreciate the comforts of “things” that I like to indulge in, and I believe that there are many products that bring people joy and do generally improve our lives. However, I hope to inspire others to join me in this path of conscious consumerism- to evaluate our purchases with a greater sense of purpose, and to truly consider the impact that every dollar spent on a product has on the past and future of humanity.  To demand more of the companies we buy from, but to remain conscious of the fact that they are wrestling with incredibly difficult and complex realities of a global supply chain and therefore perfection is not what must be demanded, progress and transparency is.  Because it is all connected, I have witnessed it intimately and whether we like it or not we all have a hand in the futures that our children will live, as well as the present day of others halfway around the world.

So with that I ask…what is the last thing you bought that you stopped and thought, “Man I am going to love having this”?  How much do you know about the manufacturing practices of the companies you buy from, have you ever wondered about their ethical philosophy?  Just to begin, check out this great little rundown created by the Story of Stuff Project to encourage conscious consumerism.  I encourage you to begin asking, to start the conversation and continue it, because we can make a difference one at a time, we can influence change directly in a positive way, we simply need to choose to do so. There is vast opportunity to join this revolution, to change the way that we interact with our environment and with one another, to reevaluate and align our priorities with what truly matters most to us.  I don’t know about you, but I am diving in headfirst.