Elevated Perspectives

To see the top of a cloud.
A privilege unique only to the gods, now earned by mankind.
What was a dream for our ancestors is a reality for modern man.
Let’s sit back, enjoy, and fly too close to the sun.

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Finding Brogdon in Sydney

This will be a short one, as it’s not about finding wonder through wildlife or nature.

We’ve camped almost every night of our journey. We’ve stayed at one hostel, and at another hostel that turned out to be a hippie commune. That’s a story for another time.
I’m now downtown Sydney, in a hostel called Elephant Backpackers- an old, ex-hotel, run by travelers in their twenties. This weathered building sleeps over 200 kids every night. I ate dinner in a “dining room” where people yelled, laughed, and cooked their own meals. Afterward, my friends and I were invited into the TV room by a random French guy to play Fifa.

The TV room in all of  elegance

My bunkroom is shared with eight other people, the city bustling outside our window. I feel like a freshman at Texas State University, in a big, new place full of people from everywhere. A place where I haven’t yet earned my stripes. It’s refreshing.
The building is old and smelly. Paint peels off of the graffiti-coated walls. We busted out laughing when our friend Mike, from the UK, didn’t know how to ask the random girl he found sleeping in his bunk to move.
This place is as clean as any four-story building operated by traveling children will be. I’m running around with no shirt or shoes, while cigarette smoke and foreign languages float around the outside windows. The girls in my room line chocolate and ramen noodles on the window next to their bunks.

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As I walk toward the showers, I noticed people’s shoes lining against the wall in the florescent-lit hallway. On the shower ceiling, I found black mold, and I smiled. All the imperfections of this building give it so much character. My old freshman dorm, Brogdon Hall, had rickety pipes that kept us up all night during the winter. Mold, mildew, and community toilets forced us away from our (lack of) amenities, and into downstairs to the lobby. To bond over the building. To met, and to fall in love.

Brogdon built my college career. My best friend, whom I met in Brogdon, has been my roommate for six years and is now in Australia with me. The young lady who helped me create the H.E.A.T. non-profit was one of the first people I met in our dorm. I keep in touch with all of my Brog Dogs to some extent. I owe so much to that community, and this old hostel downtown Sydney has the same magic floating through its hallways. Goodnight Sydney, Australia.

Dueling Dimorphodons

To be successful in life is to wake up every morning without the aid of an alarm clock. That is all I’d require for life to be considered luxurious. -Ian Smith

Some of my travel group learning about the different bromeliads of the forest
Some of my travel group learning about the different bromeliads of the forest

I usually wouldn’t attend anything starting at 6am, but I promised myself that I’d grasp every opportunity available as I boarded the plane for my first study abroad trip to Costa Rica. A few days before the trip ended, our head coordinator announced a special sunrise yoga class in the rainforest, beginning at 6am. I said I’d do it, knowing I’d probably just sleep in and just act really bummed for missing it. My roommate Daniel made sure that didn’t happen, as he did not want to be the only boy at the event. I’m glad he woke me because otherwise, I would have been jerked from my slumber by the alarm on my IronMan sport watch. That high-pitched “beep” would ring in my ears every morning— as if a rogue mouse set off an alarm after breaking out of its tiny holding cell.

Me with my roommate, Daniel
Me with my roommate, Daniel.

Daniel and I, barely awake, stumbled to a clearing surrounded by trees and tropical flowers. We were dwarfed by the lush Arenal Volcano directly in front of us— famous for its hot springs, which we later visited. At this point, everyone quietly greeted each other. We hadn’t been outside longer than five minutes and I’d seen more types of humming birds than I thought existed.

The volcano leaked steam while the bromeliads around us collected dew from the morning mist. I inhaled a breath while the orchestra of a tropical morning danced in my lungs.

The view during our hilltop yoga
The view during our hilltop yoga

We went through an hour of intense yoga- more of a workout than I would have liked. It grew as the sun rose higher. We finished our yoga hour with the “corpse” pose, which is essentially lying still to feel your heart pump.

Though my eyes were supposed to stay shut, I felt the sun vanish behind my eyelids, so I cheated and opened an eye. Storm clouds rolled over the top of the volcano. Our coordinator was coaching us on how to breathe while in corpse pose, and we could hear her excitement as a light mist fell onto us from above. “Let the rainforest cleanse you as it washes away your negativity,” was the ad-libbed line that has stuck with me through the years.

Photos couldn't capture the feeling of jungle rain on a sweaty body, so here's me swimming under the La Fortuna waterfall instead
Photos couldn’t capture the feeling of jungle rain on a sweaty body, so here I am swimming under the La Fortuna waterfall instead

That moment was one of the few in my life where things lined up perfectly. As if on cue, the rain cooled us after we finished the most vigorous yoga of our lives. The symbolism was overwhelming. This memory is enhanced not by the flawless setting, but by the unexpected guests who joined us. As raindrops freckled my face, I peeked again just to take everything in. Once more, as if on cue, I saw perfection in motion. A Swainson’s toucan swooped onto the branch of a leafless tree, taller than the others. Everyone was calm, quiet, and experiencing a natural high in its purest form during our jungle rain yoga, but this was the first wild toucan I’d seen, so I squealed and sat up to get a better look. The sky was grey-blue, the rain misting down, and a multi-colored bird just perched above us. We pointed as the toucan bounced around the branches, acting a bit frantic- as if the rain was getting it really excited.

We soon realized he was displaying for another male that swooped onto the branch next to him. Everyone gasped. The show went on as he fluffed his feathers in the rain, pruning in front of his friend. As if my heart needed to pound harder, a third toucan perched atop the tree, prompting the two males to begin jousting with their massive colorful beaks for her attention. This was one of the most magical moments I’ve ever had the honor of experiencing. The rain, the bright, yellow chests of the birds against the green trees behind them- I was watching two delicate Dimorphadons duel for a damsel— a behavior the coordinators said they’ve never seen, even while growing up in Costa Rica.

Magic.
This was actually the fourth wild toucan I saw, but it is the same species as the ones in this story.

As an artist, I always appreciate the colors of nature. When I watched wild toucans spar in the rain, my appreciation evolved into teeth-gritting obsession. I’ve never been to an art museum and fallen in love with a piece of art, but there are connoisseurs who do, and who pay tens of thousands of dollars to experience that love. After this experience, I’ve finally been lucky enough to fall in love with a perfect scene, all because I peeked.

Me with some rescued babies at the Toucan Rescue Ranch. Not wild, but still marvelous little creatures.
Me with some rescued babies at the Toucan Rescue Ranch. Not wild, but still marvelous little creatures.cropped-pieces-of-pangea-logo.png

Introduction: The Capture of Wonder

Pangea can only be found by the star-gazers and sunset-chasers. The life-lovers and the wind-inhalers. The picture-takers and the memory-makers.

Traveling to sea kayak in Alaska
The mirror captures more than the camera. Exploring Alaska

From elves of fairy tales to Santa’s flying reindeer, mystical creatures entranced me as a child. My most gripping obsession was with Pokemon. I was quite literally in love with the shimmering scenery and the mentality that a ten-year-old and his friends could set out to capture and befriend powerful creatures. Looking back as a man in his 20s, I notice the crude Japanese elegance in the artwork, portraying both people and bright-eyed, magical “pocket monsters.”

Ash, the protagonist, saw a legendary Ho-oh fly over a rainbow in the first episode and no one could tell him what it was. He and his friends once discovered a rare moon rock surrounded by nymph-like Clafairy (their name is both singular and plural). A lurid scientist explained the peculiar connection between these small pink sprites and outer space. It was an enchanting episode.

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My surreal dreams of Pokemon adventures were innocent and beautiful. In my youth, I couldn’t bear to acknowledge that Pokemon were not real. I feel a bit disgusted with myself for even typing that sentence, as I reflect on my pseudo-scientific debates, eagerly trying to prove their existence to my grade school non-believers.

I still dream about magical creatures with super-powers. Today’s dreams are not fantasy, but rather, excited preparation for real-life encounters. From my work at a chimpanzee sanctuary to my trips around the world, I now devote my free time to experiencing fantastic creatures that give me the same giddy amazement as a child watching Pokemon.

My pet flying squirrel is named Feathertail. She has the agility of your average tree squirrel, but is a quarter of the size, has night vision, and glides through the air like a swift paper plane. Sounds like a Pokemon, right?

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Keeping my shirt pocket warm
Gliding from my shower curtain
Gliding from my shower curtain

The animals on Earth seem more miraculous every day. This planet is home to sharks—massive, prehistoric fish that continuously grow teeth for the sake of efficient killing, putting them next to our orange-stripped jungle cats and snow-white arctic bears—all designed for being bad-asses. These would be your strongest 120 HP Pokemon for all of you who played the card game.

The colors and patterns of ocean fish could inspire a 70’s hippie poster. Dart frogs, along with most amphibians and reptiles, could have been designed by a third-grader with a rainbow paint set. Have you ever seen a cassowary? Or any bird, really. Some parrot’s intelligence rivals that of a three-year old human. They can speak, and are capable of understanding some words and their context. How likely is it that a chameleon looks the way it does? A color-changing reptile with a prehensile tail and a missile for a tongue? An adult male Panther chameleon looks like concept art for a James Cameron movie.

I learned that people committed suicide after the release of “Avatar” because they felt that our planet could never be as cool as the movie’s planet, “Pangea.” We are floating in space, on a planet covered in oceans, swimming with some creatures science has yet to identify. We have deserts with dinosaur fossils yet to be discovered. Why are we not packing our bags and exploring our planet?  What an honorable position we’ve inherited from our forefathers: Earth Explorers – seeking the secrets of our planet and finding the secrets of our own history.

I’m not emphasizing the mountains, rain forests and other astonishing geographical settings. Let’s simply focus on how much beauty, danger, and wonder is hidden right here, under the leaves in the park down the street. Fantasy is free. We can atrophy as we live in our heads, but I prefer to emulate the Pokemon masters I looked up to as a kid, and capture moments of wonder.

Pieces of Pangea Logo

My trip to Australia begins in T-40 days.