it's one A.M and I'm heading south, heading home for the last reason I would ever want. I can see the red glow of a sunset directly north of me, while in the southern sky the moon shines, full, in a clear yet seemingly starless sky. looking prominently on the horizon is a mountain peak, with just the right combination of purples and blue, curve and cliffs to be straight out of Tolkien. How far south would I have to go to see a star? I wonder to myself. It could just be my imagination, but this single hour on the road has already brought me to lands where the sky is a shade darker... Would it be possible to drive south fast enough to see a star before the sun comes up? I don't know.
Have you ever found yourself in a moment that just seemed so perfect that you had to do something to record it, to preserve your memory of it before it fades away into just another forgotten day in the past? Sitting on the banks of a backwater in along the Dease River the night before last seems just such a moment, a scene worth sharing, if possible.
For the last several days I've been picking mushrooms, morels to be exact. It's my last weeks of freedom (backbreaking and crushing freedom!) before I start doing what I love in Bella Coola for the rest of the summer, followed by school, followed by work, and you see the pattern. I started by driving to northern Alberta, to the not entirely accurately named Zama City, where a large fire had attracted us mushroom pickers like, well, like some analogy that paints a nicer picture of both pickers and mushrooms than the phrase "flies to shit."
We all looked a little out of place, and by the end of the first day, I felt out of place as well. Zama is oil patch. Upon arrival I drove my little car past a few hundred new, large, pickups parked in front of a $200 a night hotel that sold showers to the pickers at ten bucks a pop. A ways up the road was a public campground filled with subarus, jettas, colourful clothing, tents, and inviting campfires - mushroom pickers the lot of them. It seemed roughly half the pickers were from Quebec, with the other half being from northern BC, only a small handful of locals.
As I said it was oil patch. Until I started hiking I had no idea of what this meant. The day I arrived the oil company had closed all the gates it could cutting off access to the fires. A week or so before that a pipeline had started leaking, apparently in or close to the burn, and spilled over nine million litres of "produced water" - essentially salt water with a slurry of oil and other chemicals mixed in - over half a square km of already saturated muskeg. All roads to that side of the fire were blocked as news of the spill was being kept largely under wraps. When I did find an access into the burn, I was confronted by cut lines criss-crossing the landscape left and right, water everywhere, none of which was safe to drink, no wildlife, and precious few mushrooms. The buyers were handing out leaflets on how to deal with H2S gas, nasty stuff that can pool in low lying areas and is highly dangerous. My first day out picking I smelled it twice.
Two days of this was enough for me, so I visited my way back south, then back north to Watson Lake, and south to the Boya Lake fire just in time to meet up with Tyler, Sierra and Gino and start picking, catching a scow up the river just after six in the morning, us and a father/son team hitchhiking north to prospect for the summer.
This fire is everything I look for in a fire - not enough water, tough access, and lots of mushrooms. We hit the burn, see mushrooms, and started picking - stooping, bending, hunkering, or squatting, we work twisted disorganized lines through clump after clump, scribing circles around ourselves and each other as we cut, pick, move, trying to streamline the slash of our blades and minimize the number of times we stand and stoop, even as we try to push faster between clumps. I try not to let my mind wander, knowing that if I lose focus my pace will slow. The mushrooms are small, but they are legion, and after six hours of up and down we have more than enough pails to make the hike back to where the boat is already waiting for us feel much longer than its actual forty minutes.
As we pick we meet other pickers; a group of young guys up there slashing trails for the west-coast wild foods buyer Billy, an old couple up from Kitwanga, several dogs, and a couple couples from Watson lake - carrying rifles on slings as they fill their pails.
We reach camp, feast like gods, and are asleep by midnight, since after all we do have to get up at 5 to catch the boat...
The boat is late. The driver Sydney is an older guy with a pirate demeanour whose face betrays (or just outright states) an amazing sense of grouch, with glimmers of humour popping through from time to time. He's been up till 3 waiting for a picker who never showed, and it shows when I go over to wake him up at eight. He's also heard of a much shorter route than the two hours up and one hour down that we took last night. While we sleep by our fire, he scouts out the new put in point, then we go up to the new access road and wait for him to come up, watching boat after boat head across to the fire. With the exception of us and the buyers, everyone there seems to be native, almost all of them from Watson Lake. There's a father / son team, both of them looking quite Johnny Cash. There's an extended family loaded into a little aluminum boat, grandpa down to a four-year-old boy who doesn't like his life-jacket. Finally our pirate captain arrives, but it's almost four by the time we start picking, pushing hard up and in, then racing each other for ever mushroom, every pail, pushing ourselves and our backs in an endurance race that doesn't end until we have to take our mushrooms to the waiting boat. We load up almost the same weight of mushrooms today as we did the previous day, but in far less time. Either the mushrooms are bigger, or we've gotten faster - most likely both.
Now I'm getting to THE SCENE, the "I wish I had a camera" moment. I'd like to reorder the narrative, to tell the next day first, then put the scene at the end of that day, but that's not how it was.
We arrive, load our mushrooms onto the boat. People are setting up camps along the trail into where our boat is, and there are a couple little girls playing at the top of the trail, going up and down, playing with a little husky pup who find mushrooms, our mushrooms, both fascinating and tasty. There's a big cottonwood standing by the shore, and our driver's brother is relaxing at it's base. We sit down to wait for Sydney (who's gone picking as well), then out of a small tent structure at the back of another boat crawls Billy, the other buyer. He looks like he's been beat with a stick, and tells me that there's no messages for me (relating to the reason I'm heading south now), and we discuss the state of the fire.
Gino and Sierra decide that they're too destroyed for a night pick, but my curiosity has gotten the better of me so at nine, I head up the hill once more, meeting group after group coming out; young guys packing a couple baskets, the family from the boat trailing out behind a quad carrying mushrooms, an old lady working slowly with a cane, and the couples from the day before They're all heading out to sell as I head in to pick. In two days of picking we have yet to leave the lowest ledge, so I cut a beeline for the top of burn, tracking my direction on the GPS as the daylight dims slightly. The ground is beautiful - big poplar, big spruce, moose and elk sign all over, and mushrooms, not just sign but there in person, surrounding trees here in there with large circles of Two hours of hard going I have another pail and head down, hoping to get to bed by midnight.
Now for the scene. I know that we're camped (and moored) well beyond the end of the cut quad trail, but as I push on through the trail it never seems to end. Then I burst out onto a patch of parked Argos and quads, surrounded by tents and tarps, and realize that in the last hour the trail has been pushed forward a few hundred yards, and everyone has arrived to sell. I drop down onto the little patch of shore shelted below the cottonwoods on the banks, and find a place to sit down just up the bank towards the back of the line.
It's midnight. The full moon is shining through the cloud cover, lighting the resting clumps of pickers and assorted family members. Although it's midnight, the longest day of the year is tomorrow, and at this latitude it's still not dark enough to see any stars. It is dark enough to draw attention to the warm glow of cigarettes here and there among the perhaps forty people resting, chatting, and doing a little low-energy milling on the bank. My eyes track a line through the clumps over to a fire around which several guys are standing, some with cans of cokes, others with beer. The husky pup is lying just past my feet, his legs kicking as he dreams. The water is smooth, the beaver having left the area. They then track back to the centre of attention, Billy.
He's crouched, trapped, a victim of his own success in the midst of the as much of a storm of activity a crowd of exhausted pickers can muster at midnight. On an upturned basket in front of him his scales cast a faint green glow, but the batteries are dying as he tries to set tare on the last basketfuls of the day. He's calling around trying to find someone to take the boat down the river to start ferrying pickers back to their camps. Mushrooms are stacked five or six baskets deep all around him, yet he looks so shaky on his feet, and the baskets are so precariously stacked, that I'm sure he'll topple over one way or another, sending mushrooms flying everywhere. He doesn't have to, however, as a little girl runs by and knocks a basket off. He grabs it, sits it back on the pile. It slides off and he grabs for it again, sits it back in the same spot, with the same result. Someone else grabs it and puts it on the ground.
The buyer finishes weighing out a man's mushrooms, reaches into a charcoal coated backpack filled with stacks and counts out three bills off a stack of hundreds. "Oh, your wife beat you bad!" a guy teases, and the crowd laughs quietly. "Nah, I was taking care of the kids all day," he replies, picking up a little boy. "Not bad take for baby sitting." The banter continues.
The fire flares up, and it's my turn. I pass over my pail, and look around. Some I know, some I don't know, but many I will know soon. I realize that this crowd is why I love doing this. The shared camaraderie of exhaustion, the joy of watching someone get a big payout, and the sense of living just off the edge of the map, not just geographically, it all comes together for me right now.
For this to be a perfect story, my friends and I would have showed up at this scene with a few hundred pounds of mushrooms, but we didn't. After three days of working towards it, building up a shared language of inside jokes and references, Gino, Sierra and Myself made a push for summit the third day, achieved the double crown, picking twenty six baskets, and hobbling away from the buyer with our biggest take ever, and the desire, if not the ability, to show some spring in our steps. Still, for me, the culmination of the week was the night before on the beech. So maybe this isn't really a story at all, and just an attempt to convey a memory, a feeling, along with the sense of belonging, safety, community, excitement, openness, laughter and exhaustion that accompany it. Either way, I'm going to sleep now, and I'll sleep contented.
Saturday, June 22, 2013
Friday, February 22, 2013
(the following is a combination of fact and fiction, and is a short story that I decided to try telling in Michif as a way to make myself practice. I'm not a fluent speaker, so don't take my grammar as God's truth either! :-)
Ooma listwer nimoshom-ipan nkiiachimik, kiiachimiko nishtam oopaapaawa, moñ naryer graañ per, pii nawach taar aeñ shovaazh mina kii-achimiko, neete kaa-ayaayit eetikwe ashpi ee-ishpayiki ooma kaa-wii-achimoyaan. Namoo eekwanima piiko, maaka nimoshoomak kii-atawaakimeewak Wop May soñ airplane aeñ Tiger Moth 1948 chii-apachitahk ee-taashooheet daeñ li nor, pii ekoshpi miina kii-pehtamwak Wop May listwer ee-achimoyit.
Ooma taanishi kaa-kii-ishi-achimoyit aawa li shovaazh, aeñ gwichin. Kii-itwew – nishtam nkiipehtawaaw aawa Albert Johnson mon kozaeñ nkii-itiyik ee-pashkishikot awiyak, pii mina nkii-itiyik saañ miil kaa-pimbahtaachik lii pwalis peeyak aeñ zhornii – kiyaamiko sis lii shyen ee-nipoyit. Niya maaka, baeñ ashkaaw nkii-atoshkawaawak lii pwalis kom “special constable” eekohchi ee-wehchii-kakwechimikoyaan chii-pee-wiichiitohteyaan kaa-otinamaachik aawa miseu Johnson. Boy kshinew! Mwaeñ sinkaen, pii Nkiipimbahtaanaan teut la shmaeñ eeka chii-ahkwachiyaahk.
Kaa-tahkoshiniyaahk niwaapahten kaa-miyo-waashikahikanihkiishtamaashot, mashkoch saañ pye la rivyer ohchi. Shipwehtee! Kititaanaan, aata makeekwee itwew, itiko. Ndatipashkishichikaanaan – aawa Johnson neeyap pashkishwew. Mitoni kwayeshk pashkishwew, ndohchikshkeyhitenaan ee-kshkeyihtahk keekwaay ee-oshitahk. Bimishinenaan ee-peehoyaahk li dynamite chii-tihkiteek, pii apre peeyak niiyanaan, aeñ pwalis nditeyihten, kiiashtaaw oñhi li dynamite aañ diseu daeñ li kovarcheur. Metoni kiimishipooshkopayin!
Nkiipimbahtenaan aañ navaañ chii-kanawaapahtamaahk keekwee ee-ishpayit avik wiya. Toudaenkou kiiyapich ati-pshkishichikew aawa Johnson! Baeñ, iliti den trou etikwe kaa-poshkopayit kahkiyaw, pii peepimbahtaayaahki eekwa kii-ati-pashkishwew soñ fiizii kiiyapich. Namoo nawach li dynamite nkii-ayaaanaan ekohchi ee-kiiweeyaahk dan l’aklavik ishi – por awa li Mountie, King kaa-ishinikaashot aashay li trwazyem fwe den semen.
Kiyuashpi neetee kaa-ayaayaahk makeekwee kii-itwew awa kaa-taashochiket ee-kiishkwet, peeyak keekwee piiko nkiipeehtenaan, kii-kihchii-paahpiiw kaa-ati-kiiweeyahk, tashkooch eei-kishkeyihtahk aashaay makeekwee chii-oshitahk chii-miyopayihk kahkiyaw.
Kaa-asheekiiweeyaahk neetee, araañ la rivyer li raadoo, ashaa kayaash ashpin awa lom, soo ngii-ati-pimichishahikaanaan. Lii shyen ngii-ayaanaan, wiya maaka makeekwee. Lii sleigh ngii-wiichi-oochipitenaan, wiya kiitahkonew deu saañ pwa daeñ soñ doo. (nayoomeew?), maaka kiyeuashpi peyak aeñ mil itohteyaahki, djeu kii-pimbahtaaw aawa – itwew.
Mashkooch 50 miles par zhour , avik sii rachet pezaañ. Apre dzii jeur aashay saeñ saañ mil kii-itohtew.
Ooma la zhornii ngiipehten awiyek ee-pashkishwet eetikwe. Kshinew, kahkiyaaw peehtakoshiw wahyaaw ohchi, soo nd-ati-pimbahtaanaan. Ee-pee-tahkoshiniyaahk behtenaan Millen-wa kii-pashkishwew. Piiko wiya aeñ pwalis neete, soo neeyap Aklavik ishi ndoo-itohtenaan chii-ohchi-kshkeyitamaahk keekwaay eekwa chii-oshitayaahk.
Ooma li swer enn taañpet pee-pootachikeemakan, aeñ vre vre taañpet. Sis, set –tikwe jeur ati-pootachikeemakan. Ati-ndonamwayaahk awaa kiiyapich mooya nkiikshkeyihtenaan taandee ishi ee-itohtet. Ndihteyihtenaan mashkooch ekwaana kiishipwehtew oo seu, maaka ee-ndonamwaayaahk neetee namawiyek ngii-mishkawaaw. Eekwa eesa moñ boñ frer, dan li nor eagle plains ohchi ee-maachiit, lii pist waapahtam. Waapahtam neete ita awiyek noo kwayeshk lii rachet kaa-apachitahk ee-pimohtet. Itohtew pii wiihtamaaw lii pwalis keekwee waapahtahk. Noo taapweemiko eesa – noo taapweehtamwak kashkitahk awiyak chii-aawaachimehk oñhi lii moñtaaygn, maaka kii-oshitaaw – kii-itohtew lot bor lii moñtaaygn richardsons den graañd taañpet, mwaeñ swasaañ ee-kshinaak, ee-tipishkaak.
Awa l’om namateew avek pat traes aryeñ etikwe, soo ngiikiiwaanaan dan l’aklavik ishi. Makeekwee ee-pehtaawayahk zeuskataañ moñ boo frer waapahtam Johnson sii traes-a. kii-itiko
Nimooshom kii-itik eeka oñhi lom kaa-aawaachimeeyit lii moñtaaygn, maaka kiinakishkaweew kotak aeñ nom neete amiskiwachiyawashakahikanihk, Edmonton kaa-ishinakaateek. Oñhi lom wop may kii-ishinikaashow, pii nimoshom kiindaweyihten soñ airplane shii-atawet. Chii-taapweetamaan apre kiiataweew maaka nishtam kii-kakwechimew apishiish por ooma kaa-kii-oshitamiyit ee-ndopakimaayit oñhi kaa-kiishkwyit. Wop May kii-achimiko por taanishi chii-pimiyaat lot bor lii moñtaaygn ishi, nawaach mina kii-achimiko.
Kaa-peetahk King mashkooch lot bor lii Richardsons ee-pimipayiyit, kii-itwew, nkii-shipwechitchishaayik avek li maanjii por oñhi lii special constable. Aeñ reporter Edmonton ohchi kakweechimeeyik kiishin kashkitahk chii-wiichiiyik, soo ngiidoopmiyaanaan chii-ohchikanawaapahtamaahk ayaachi ayiyek neete keema inoon. Kii-itwew.
Kaa-tahkoshiniyaahk neete ite kaa-waapahtahkik lii shovaazh sii-traes-iwaaw Johnson niishtanaan ngii-waapahtenaan oñhi. Maaka! Kiyaamiko chii-miyaahk aan iitii neetee, maaka nookach ndaweyihten kiyapich chii-pmiyaayaan neetee aan niver. Kii-itwew.
Aasha kii-ponipayiw li taanpet, maaka kiiyapich li vaan kiipootaachikeemakan. Djeu fwa keekach aeñ aksidaañ nkii-ayaanaan li vaañ ohschi. Ngii-iteyihten pa graan saans chii-waapamak, pii wahyaaw maana ngii-miyaanaan eeka ee-waapamayaahk, maaka piiyish ngiiwaapahten sii traes-iwaaw, li bor la rivyer eagle kii-ashteyiwa. Kii-itwew. Ekohchi ngiikishkeyihten taanishi ee-oshitahk, kaa-peeshihk pa lwaeñ la rivyer ohchi lii swer, pii pimbahtaaw lii zhornii aan diseu dan la rivyer daeñ li kariboo sii traes-iwawa, kii-itwew.
aeñ kariboo awa tashkoch la bish, maaka enn pchit – pii nawach oshamayetiwak dan li nor ashpichi dan li sud.
Eekoshe, kii-ati-achimiko maana.
La sis fevrii, keekach aeñ mwa i demii apre kaa-kii-paashkishwet Johnson Millen-wa, nkii-mishkawaanaan. Deu saañ mil a lest la rivyer li raa doo ohchi nkiimishkawaanaan, maaka noo ngishkeyhten tamayikohk lii mil kaa-kii-pimipayit ekwana, mashkoch hwit saañ mil?
Kaanatoonikechikeechik kii-peepichinaan Johnson ishi. Peyakwaaw ee-waapamikot kii-machi-paapashkishwaatiwak. Peeyak aeñ shovaazh kaandonikechiket kii-pichiw aan aryer Johnson-wa, pii kii-pashkishwew. Kaa-poni-pashkishweyit kii-kanawaapameewak taanshi ee-ishinaakoshit – hwit fwa kiipashkishwaaw, maaka moo kii-poni-pashkishwechikew. Kii-itwew
Apre kaa-tohtahayaahk dan li Aklavik ishi niishta niwaapamaaw. boy siit iifreyaan. Yaenk aeñ pchi ekwaana, maaka keekach saañ pwa kiipimohtaataw. Kiipimohtaataw mil pyas nawachiko, pii en swis rouzh por li maanzhii. Ekooma piiko. Kii-itwew
Eekwanima kahkiyaaw ee-kishkeyihtamaan por eekwanima li trapper kaakiishkwet. Namoo ahpo eekishkeyihtamaan kiishin Johnson soñ vre nom, maaka shpaans namawiyak eekishkeyihtahk. Nimooshomipan tahpitaaw kii-itwew “aeñ vre lom awa." Nkii-itik teut lii zotr saseur dan li nor ohchi metoni kiikishiiteeyimeewak ekoñhi por ekooma kaakiikashkitamiyihk, ee-taapaashiiyit lii pwalis, kiikischiiteyimewak wiya eekohchi, akooz wiyawaaw ohchi wiiya, aeñ saseur. Apshiishiiyaani niya nkiiachimik por oñhi, por gunanoot, por kahkiyaaw oñhi ishiyiniwa kaakischiiteyimikaashoyit.
Friday, February 15, 2013
I got on the bus today, or rather tonight, and fumbled to scan my bus pass with my tired hand.
"How's it going?" the driver asked.
"Not bad," I answered. Then after a pause - "Sort of sore."
"I just finished working out, and my arms are so tired I can barely hold my pass."
From there, we were talking. We discussed various jobs we'd had, growing up on the farm, His time in the US army, our dads, introduced ourselves, and then I hopped off at my stop with a promise we'd continue our conversation next time I was on his bus.
One of my friends asks me how I end up talking to people all the time, and why. I try and answer, but there doesn't seem to be a nice pat response. A couple weeks ago I met one of his friends, and the two of us (his friend and I) ended up talking about his work on the production line of a fairly interesting product. I had a connection, as about two years ago I talked for a half hour with a guy who had worked redesigning the product. I had connected with that guy because I knew some people from the town he'd been working in, because I had just spent several months working in a neighbouring community. I'd gotten that job because I'd spent a few minutes talking to a girl after a presentation she did for my class, and when she was contacted by the person trying to fill the position, she recommended me. So part of the answer is that connections breed other connections.
Another part of the equation is that I talk to people, a lot. I visited with a girl today who was using a microfiche machine next to me - we talked about how cool microfiche machines are, and our experiences exploring rolls of film in the stack. Is it normal to have a conversation with strangers in the library? I think so - and in fact in this case she started it when she told me the machine I was going to use seemed to be broken - but generally I start these conversations, but how?
Part of the answer is that I choose to step out of, well, not my comfort zone - I choose to step out of the easy path, the socially proscribed path that leads me through my day without ever having meaningful connections. When someone asks how you are, you aren't supposed to actually answer, but the opportunity is there, the opportunity to open up and share something that seems interesting to you, are better yet, to ask a question that the person you are meeting looks qualified to answer.
This brings me to my next question - how does this approach play out in a world that is increasingly online? It seems that developing connections to people online is a lot harder than it is in the real world.
Let me give you a scenario. You've met someone somewhere, and exchanged facebook info. You add each other (I won't get into the politics of who adds who) and then the process begins. I go and look at their pictures, making the odd comment, so they know that I'm genuinely interested in them. They perhaps do the same, but if they don't comment, I don't know. I post something, and tag them in it, as a way of forcing a connection. They come, perhaps comment on it, or maybe just "like" it as an acknowledgement that they've seen it and condone your tagging of them. And then you spend the next ten years randomly liking the odd thing on each others' walls, having the odd small discussion, but never really going much further in developing a friendship. The friendship will be developed mostly in those chance meetings offline, when you actually are free to discuss your mutual friends, hash out ideas, and see each other. The few times you send emails to each other will be mostly about planning events, but you can't really bring yourself to send an email, unsolicited, because the pretext just isn't there.
A second scenario. You're on an online forum. You meet someone who shares your interests, so you start discussing random ideas. You never really discuss things with each other - you just end up on the same side of discussions, and back each other up from time to time. Because of the context, every discussion you ever have will be related to subjects brought up by other people. You might snoop a bit and reply to the odd old comment they've made, just so they know you are taking a deeper interest in them, but it's a fine line between interest and strange. Still, there really isn't any other way to show that you value the connection that you've been building together.
Now that I'm looking at these situations analytically, I wonder if while I know how to jump the ruts to real connections in my day to day life, I don't know how to in the online world... Or maybe I'm just not single-minded enough.
The end result of my love of connecting to people has been that I am well networked - I have connections in many places, many fields, many communities - and the assumption would be that the online world, with its focus of connecting people, would be even better - but for me it's not. The reason it isn't, is because while "networking" my be the result of my proclivity to connect, it was never the goal.
Much of the online world's tools for connecting people seem to fall into three groups - they are designed specifically for developing business connections (think linkedn), they are for maintaining the connections we already have (think facebook), or they are designed to help us connect to a subculture of people who think like us (think every online ghetto you have ever seen focused on a specific TV show). What the internet has done in making connecting so easy is that instead of creating connections with the stranger on the bus (though I did meet a cool guy while reporting a bug in a website he was maintaining) we are either connecting with those we already know, or we are connecting with those who are like us. The more we are connected, the less we have to connect to anything that is different, that is "other" to our worldviews.
At one point ICQ (Iseekyou!) allowed us to randomly connect us to new individuals, and I met everyone from Bulgarian office workers to HongKong music stars (Twins!). Skype had thousands of chatrooms, and I would go online and listen to new languages, meet new people, but as the world migrated away from ICQ and into MSN (designed to keep random connections to a minimum), Skype decided that it was more important to protect its clients' bubbles than to allow them free range to interact. Facebook really represents the pinnacle of this progression, with a culture where not only do we not randomly connect with new people, but we can't do a meaningful people crawl from friend to friend. This has all been done for a reason, I know, but the net result in my opinion is that the entire online world is becoming ghetto-ized in a way that we usually try to avoid in our real lives. Connections are encouraged within our circles, but discouraged without.
And that is part of why I find myself talking to strangers. It's because as my life seems to migrate onto the internet I start to feel disconnected from the disconnected - all my connections are with people I already have connections with, and it becomes to easy for me to sink into the comfortable net of who I already am to the detriment of who I am becoming, of who I want to be. It's too easy for me to turn my existing life into a rut that I roll through with predictability, rather than exploring new connections, and bringing the new back into the old, allowing me to explore who I and my family and friends already are in new ways, even as I weave in new threads.
So many parts, I still don't think I have the whole of an understanding as to how and why, but I am further along than when I started writing here. How do you connect to new people? And why do you choose to do it?