Big Game, Hunting, Cowboys & Rugged Stuff…………..
I pride myself on my ability to adapt well to my surroundings, especially when visiting new places that are extremely foreign and different. Certainly when one spends life traveling to various parts of the world (outside vacation spots), you get used to this need to adapt. I remember my first big challenge in adapting on the travel circuit. My father, my four brothers and me jumped into a red Chevy pick-up truck with a camper shell, a decked out bed in the back and pulling a travel trailer (you know the type with a kitchen, bed, and a tiny little place for a bunch of people to camp in). It was our home for about 4-6 months after our initial journey began. We were headed to Nicaragua on a venture my father has always called (and still does) “The Pierson Fight & Flight for Family Freedom.” We left from Palmdale, California and next thing you know us four American kids were sitting at the border of the United States and Mexico in Mexicali, crossing the border in an experience that would shape all of our lives and the lives of the many others we came across. As my father went into “La Migra,” the immigration office, a word we became super familiar with on our long journey to Central America, my brothers and me stayed in the truck in a state of utter culture shock.
I should probably first give you a bit of background on us four kids, to make the nature of the shock more understandable. We grew up technically poor all over the Los Angeles surrounding area, born in Santa Monica and then moving to Venice, Westlake Village, Agoura Hills, Acton, and finally ending up in Palmdale. We played sports, were good in school, but our parents fought (the divorce being the catalyst for the venture to Nicaragua – technically it was a kidnapping but we never looked at it that way, and no one ever asked!) It was me, 12 at the time, and my 3 brothers; Axel, who was 13, Olof 8, and Gustav 4. We were a tight knit group of siblings with a massive need for freedom and we still are (close but independent). Our general upbringing and all of that moving around certainly required us to be adaptive, but this was different. The journey to Nicaragua not only was our first major experience of adapting outside of the US, it was an experience that went on to change our lives forever, allowing us to broaden our perspective on what adaptation really means, and has proved to us all that it’s an essential component in moving our lives forward.
To get back to the pick-up truck, there we were waiting for my father who was in the office of La Migra on the Mexicali border. Everything was written in Spanish (not too foreign for us being from Southern California), and there were tons and tons of small children that appeared homeless running all around like nothing we had ever seen. Almost immediately after my father left the car, about 15 kids rushed to the windows of our truck, banging on them and speaking to us, holding out their hands. At the same time, about 6 more of the children jumped on the windshield and started to wipe it with dirty and greasy rags (which we learned later were useless when it rains and you’re in the nighttime jungle and can’t see a thing!) We of course were confused and somewhat angry, being territorial of our truck, and were repeatedly telling them no, learning that we couldn’t communicate as we understood very little Spanish at the time. This lasted for about 30 minutes until my father came out, when the children rushed around him, putting their hands out. He gave them all coins: nickels, dimes, pennies, and maybe a few quarters. When he got into the car we told him we didn’t ask them to clean the windows and he said, “It’s ok guys, it’s just a part of what we are about to experience.” He smiled at the kids and we – my brothers and me – were baffled beyond belief at what had just happened. Two months later, by the time we finally made it to Nicaragua, we were all well versed in this occurrence and knew to give the kids coins before they wiped the windows so that we could avoid the smeared and greasy windows in the rain!
It didn’t take us long to adapt to the strange new cultures we are experiencing every day. As we drove through Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and into Nicaragua, it wasn’t long before the American culture began to seem a strange and distant memory. Upon our return 3 ½ years later, we had to adapt gravely yet again, and I am not sure any of us ever really adapted back to the American way. I think we all still hold a large part of Central America inside of us. We learned of the need for adaptation and the importance to try and quickly understand the surroundings and the people you are around. As I continued to travel the world as an adult into small rural areas of South America, Mexico & Central America, Europe and the Middle East to visit subsistence-based locations, I realized I would always use this skill, and that to be able to adapt has given me an openness that allows me to have a full experience of each location I visit.
This year for Christmas I stayed a bit closer to home (at least staying in the United States), and went to Wyoming to visit my brother and his family. I had been to Wyoming before and knew that it was a desolate and somewhat isolated place. My expectations were pretty clear going into it and my priority was spending time with my family. But what I discovered through this trip is how my ingrained ability to adapt has given me an amazingly unique way of looking at and absorbing my experience of the world, as well as really being able to take in and understand the people that inhabit the area. As a New Yorker, we get pegged as city folk, and while I like that, I know that deep down the person I have become is a product of the world. This recent trip to Wyoming allowed me to contemplate again the idea of adaption and the necessity of truly adapting with openness.
The kitchen is no different. Adaption plays an integral part in the process of preparing food. It is a process that I have always been comfortable with, and one that I try to teach to my students. Adaptation is not only integral to how one approaches cooking and the ingredients used, but in how one approaches eating as well. I had come to Wyoming at a time when I was really trying to make a push towards eating less meat, but Wyoming is filled with meat and a meat philosophy that was a new experience for me. Yes, they have grocery stores filled with mass market factory farmed meats, which is the real problem with meat and the reason I had wanted to cut back. But what was so amazing about my Wyoming experience was coming closer to an understanding of the hunting mentality, which has always been one that I don’t understand, but once in Wyoming it started to make more sense. There is literally nothing around in terms of development, and people hunt and eat bear, elk, moose, wolf, deer, sheep, and other things in the wild, and they eat it and cook it using recipes that utilize the whole animal – nothing goes to waste. It is indeed their “local movement,” and the actual experience and concept of hunting, for the first time in my life, began to make more sense. I could feel myself being open to things that I didn’t previously understand by allowing myself to see and experience the perspective of others. I believe this process of adaptation and openness is the key to moving through life. It is so important when moving around and meeting other people from so many diverse backgrounds to be open to trying to understand their perspectives, knowing that like almost everything, our perspectives have to change in order for us to adapt.
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