We are so excited at Penn State about receiving an NSF grant ($1.7 mil.) to provide more services for STEM students. (For details, click HERE). This grant will provide services to four campuses, Altoona, Abington, Berks and University Park! Our goal is to help more students graduate and create the solutions that make our world better!
Coming down from the summit of Huayna Picchu, wet vertical stairs were traversed on our butts, holding each muddy stepping stone with our bare hands for Dear Life, leaning on the Mountain with one shoulder, trying not to look down on the other side. Occasionally, there was the odd metal cable, anchored into the mountain to give a hand hold for the faint of heart, but not often enough.
After five and a half hours of circling up and descending, we reached the bottom. The seat of my jeans were black with mud. Two receipts in my back pocket had been ground to wet paper mush. My legs still shook a little when I walked. We understood why people kiss the ground. We were glad to be alive, no broken bones, no missing people. Life was good. After this, other obstacles paled. On the next day, I thought I was Superwoman, sore back and legs notwithstanding. I knew what I was capable of and had discovered things about myself that I didn’t know before. A wealth of new lessons were learned in a day.
Before I started, I could only imagine the spectacular view from the highest peak, and the beautiful path at the bottom leading there. Had I known what it took to traverse the terrain, I would not have chosen the path I did. But now that I have, I understand that the Journey is where your life takes place and changes continually as you apply the lessons that can only be learned by climbing a Mountain.
I climbed Huayna Picchu. It’s a mountain in Perú near the ancient archeological site at Machu Picchu. I went with a group. We were told it would take about an hour to get to the top. It was a sunny day. The weather was nice.
We were surrounded by high steep mountains, over 8000 feet above sea level. The air was thin and life was built on stone terraces with structures that had survived for hundreds or thousands of years. It was clear that countless people had been climbing and living here for a very long time. The stair stepped path was made of stones of varying heights that had clearly been carefully carved and set when they were first placed. By now, the path was much covered by foliage on either side with only the well worn vertical path that zig-zagged straight up.
When we started, it was just stairs; this one six inches up, that one twelve. There were periodic flat landings where we thought we were safe, walking straight ahead- until it turned into a Mountain, tall, high, a rock wall against my shoulder as I watched my feet step carefully to avoid the unintended slip down the sheer cliff dropping thousands of feet just eighteen inches off the edge of the path.
Most of the group had gone well ahead moving at a faster pace, leaving a couple of us far behind. I didn’t care. After a few good pictures, I was ready to turn back, but each time I mentioned it, my host (who had climbed here many times) would gently say, “You’re half way there. You’re doing great. It’s not a race, take your time. Look, there’s a landing just ahead, we can rest.” At the landings, the views were breath taking. The world looked as I had never seen it before. And each view was enough to make me know that even if I turned back now, just the journey to this point was worth it with no regrets for not going on. But we did go on…
This was indeed the adventure of a lifetime; the views never seen, the birds of new colors, the sky with another face, the deep green of the mountains touching the clouds, the distant waterfalls from far away rivers. In that moment, I was content with what I had already accomplished, never mind the others. My legs had pulled a thousand stairs and rocks, the sky looked like rain, the air was thin and it took extra time just to breathe. When I finally reached the end of myself, I sat down. I said, “I’m done. It’s enough.”
And my host and good friend said, “Look up! That’s the top!” While I was reluctant to believe the man who had been telling us we were “halfway there” for the better part of an hour, I could see and hear the crazy people posing on the edge of a ledge, laughing and taking pictures just a few yards above us. We took a few more steps, went through a small cave, turned a corner, and there it was- The Top.
It was a large flat sloping stone that formed a ledge angled slightly upwards pointing to the beautiful sky in the far distance. The view was striking. We could see how far we had come. Other new travelers were but dots blending into the landscape far away. The details of our starting place were invisible. Like everyone else, we took pictures with the sign, marking our geographical place in the universe, to ensure that we were believed when we re-told the story to mere mortals back on earth.
I’m in Peru watching some of the brightest minds of North America solve problems with some of the brightest minds of South America. When I watch students interact, I always feel hopeful that the future of the world can only get better. At the end of the laboratory tours and seismic research areas at the National University of Engineering in Peru, our hosts had arranged for us to be serenaded by a Toca! (This is a small traveling band, something like Mariachi, that brings the happiness to you.) By the end of the evening, everyone was dancing and singing. On the following day, these twenty-something scientists and engineers were visiting a local community, working together trying to determine how to build more efficient housing. At the end of day, I see them solving world problems, not through war and unfortunate politics, but through the exchange of ideas and personal interaction, sprinkled with music, laughter and dancing.
Follow our Travel Blog at: http://pathwaysperu.blogspot.com/
Stuck? Do Anything! Ever have so much to do that you’re paralyzed? Just staring straight ahead at the mountain of things awaiting your attention? To do nothing seems like certain death- to do everything at once is impossible… Answer? Do anything! Pick something- a corner, a small 15 minute task, and start. It may not be the big problem that haunts you most, but the load is lighter even if you shake off a few ounces.
Sometimes this is just enough to open the pathway to the next thing, and the next. When I have something big to accomplish, a paper, a project, I always want to clean up the office, or go and garden instead. Occasionally, I’ll just go and do that. It wasn’t the project I should have been working on- but when I return I feel better, often spending less time completing the project than I would have with other things on my mind. This method doesn’t fix everything- but it can help. Don’t just sit there. Start anywhere you like- just start.
As Saundra Johnson Austin gave her acceptance speech to receive the College’s highest honor, the Outstanding Engineering Alumni Award, in her hand was a report she completed in high school entitled, “How to Build a House.” The cover was construction paper with carefully stenciled lettering. It was clear that she took a lot of pains with it, and that this was important to her, even decades later. For me, most inspiring about this Civil Engineer, is that she dared to be her true self at a time when girls were not always applauded for thinking such things. She attributed her career choice to several factors, including the teacher who received this report, and affirmed her dream to build the world. It was uplifting to hear, and a stark reminder that a little encouragement can change the course of someone’s life. Congratulations, Saundra Johnson Austin!
It was my honor to be counted among the 9 incredible honorees of the 2015 Way Pavers selected by Penn State’s Council of College Multicultural Leadership. There are so many who “paved the way” for me. It is my responsibility and my joy to continue to contribute to the future. Thanks, CCML!!!
Just when you think
that winter will last
three yellow flowers show up
in the front yard,
looking like sunshine
They never doubted
that Spring would return.
© 2015 A.L. Freeman
Get the Book & DVD