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Apr 14, 2023Liked by Antonia Malchik

Woof, three days alone in a USFS cabin sounds divine. And also scary! I’ve yet to travel 100% alone, but on overnight work trips, sleeping in my own agency bunkhouse room, or having my own tent set up next to my coworkers, or even my own hotel room, is still pretty bizarre. On one hand, I relish the personal space - reminds me of the almost two years in college when I lived alone in a studio apartment, and wasn’t there for much more than eating and sleeping, and that was what I needed it to be, that reprieve from socializing and structured time. On the other hand, it took me awhile to get used to falling asleep as the only person in my studio, and I think I’m more wary of doing so out in the wilderness where there’s no cell service. What if a wildfire starts? What if a bear breaks in? What if another human decides to be less than kind? I hate that I worry about those things, that I was taught as a small, femme-ish person, to feel guarded and unsafe when not under others’ protection. Blech.

And yet. I want that dense refresh of solitude, now more than ever. Even just one night away would feel incredible, I think, if I could settle in and relax. So my question is: how do you do it? Or rather, how do you train yourself to enjoy it?

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Oh my goodness. I read this question a couple of days ago and got swamped with other things before I could respond, but haven't stopped thinking about it! I am not kidding, I'm kind of obsessed with your last question. "How do you train yourself to enjoy it?"

I'm obsessed because I'm not even sure I can answer it. I was pondering it while I made dinner that night, and again while on a hike with friends today, and all the time in between. It made me reach way back into childhood because the reason I am not sure I can answer is because I'm not sure if I did train myself. I've had to ask, was I always like that? And I don't know.

My family always camped and hiked a lot. We were pretty poor and never went anywhere except camping nearby for vacation. But my mom was also very into hiking and cross-country skiing and that kind of thing, so it's how I grew up. BUT, also, they never went to any lengths to make it comfortable or fun for the three of us (my sisters and me). And it wasn't. I really don't remember particularly enjoying myself, and at some point I had to start sleeping by myself in the car when we were camping because I came down with hay fever and was, the doctor told my parents, "allergic to Montana." None of it was comfortable and we all had to make our own entertainment.

Even not enjoying myself, though, I must have gotten attached to that way of life because I really missed it living overseas and on the East Coast for many years before moving back here, especially living in cities. Cities are fun in a lot of ways but a part of me can't be alive without access to woods, mountains, and rivers.

So is this just an outgrowth of how I grew up? There are other factors. I talked a bunch with my sisters after this last cabin trip, and realized that a big part of why I sleep better is that there are no people around. And we talked about the difficulty we all have sleeping with other people in the house, just chronically. Which I'm afraid is also a symptom of how we grew up. At some deep level, I don't feel safe sleeping with other people around, even the best people, even my favorite people.

So I think there are a few different factors at play here, but I didn't even think of most of them until you asked this question! I'm going to be thinking about it a lot more. You've probably provided fodder for several more walking composition essays if I can think my way into some responses that make sense.

For the practical things: I do worry about wildfires. Consciously, I always note when I'm near lakes or rivers, especially when I'm camping with my kids. I do actually have a haphazard water-based escape route in my head. But that's not always a possibility. I think if I went somewhere without that option I'd buy one of those quick heatproof pop-up tent-type things that I think wildland firefighters use (and now you've prompted me to ask some firefighter friends for advice, which is very practical help, thank you!).

There are some campgrounds where humans are sketchier. There have been situations. If we're car camping somewhere, I tend to avoid places that don't at least have a camp host because you really can run into sketchy people. Way out in the woods I don't usually see much of anyone. But that doesn't mean the worry isn't justified.

And I literally never worried about a bear breaking in before until I read a newsletter about people staying in a cabin where exactly that had happened! Not with them in it, but previously. I don't honestly worry about bears all that much, even though they're around constantly. I'm careful about food and so on. I worry a lot about mountain lions, though. They terrify me. I love it that they exist and don't want to be anywhere near them.

I think that the seed of an answer to this lies in the fact that I never feel quite safe or relaxed around people, only alone. And as much as I value my alone time and think introversion adds good things to the world, I don't actually think it all comes from a good place or good experiences for me personally. But I do think it's a good thing to start to see our fears clearly, isn't it? Maybe. I don't know. But I'm going to another cabin alone next week so it looks like I'll have some time to think about it ...

It would be an interesting project to try with people whose judgment you trust, coming up with strategies for how to make one night alone a satisfying or fulfilling or not awful experience. Maybe kind of like someone with high social anxiety learning to manage anxiety in small amounts of interaction? I wonder.

Thank you so much for reading, and for these thoughts that obviously prompted a lot more of my own!

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Apr 18, 2023Liked by Antonia Malchik

Wow, thank you for such a thorough response. I’m pleased to hear this question has been some good food for thought to chew on! It’s really amazing how the way we grew up influences the way we interact with the world. Sometimes we, collectively, think humans are hardwired for the same instincts, whether to be sociable or selfish or something else, and I just don’t know if that’s true. We all deal with a night alone in the woods differently. I definitely see what you’re saying about the campground host - the places I’ve felt safest in my own tent were either state campgrounds, or a privately run ranch that hosts ecotourists in a valley very off the beaten path. I like the idea of making it a little project, getting some friends in on it. And we are, indeed, also very malleable beings. I hate sleeping alone when my partner is away with family and I can’t or don’t want to go with them. Never mind that I used to sleep in an entire apartment alone all the time!

I hope your next cabin stay is restful, or fruitful, or whatever it is that you need it to be. Looking forward to reading more of your thoughts on this all, if/when you care to share.

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I did forget to mention that the cabin I like staying at most does have a resident mouse that often keeps me up by scurrying around the ceiling. But it never seems to come out to bug me and I keep all the food sealed up, so I'll take that over bears!

I think that point about thinking we're all wired the same way is really important. I've been hung up on the way many people write about winter and dark over the past few months. It's always "we hunker down;" "we start to emerge with the spring," etc., but that's not true of everyone! Some societies spend *more* time outside in winter, and I personally start to shut down when the days get longer and stay relentlessly sunny. It's winter when different parts of myself, including creativity, start to wake up.

What it gets me thinking is that perhaps more writers need to stop using the word "we," or at least really think about what we (ha!) mean when we're using it. Who's "we"? Do any of us really know others' desires, fears, preferences, realms of safety and insecurity? I suppose that comes down to listening more ...

Thank you for listening! And I will, certainly, share more, if only in photos if there's not enough time (ha again) to write it all down. 🧡🧡🧡

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Apr 21, 2023Liked by Antonia Malchik

Ugh, “we” rarely seems to capture the collective accurately. There are many things that a wide group of people enjoy or identify as, but woof, sometimes “we” really erases the pluralism that makes our world and each other so interesting.

I kind of feel you with summer, even though I could never live anywhere without four-ish seasons. I’m happiest and healthiest in spring and fall; otherwise it’s too cold and dark, or too hot and sunny. I feel like we (oops) are often too hellbent on extracting the most of whatever a season brings in terms of activity; I wish we allowed ourselves to fluctuate more throughout the year, and maybe not always in the same awaken-blossom-harvest-recuperate pattern at the same time.

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Yeah, it's interesting, it's so easy to think of "we" as "let's all work together!" but much more difficult to think of who the "we" excludes. Took me a long time to even begin thinking of that!

I like the 4-ish seasons, too, totally with you there. One of my sisters lives in a part of California that she describes as "70 and sunny all year round," and while it makes for convenience (not having to change clothes seasonally, for example), she misses having seasons and her kids really love going places with winter!

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Apr 14, 2023Liked by Antonia Malchik

Such a lovely and poignant essay. I recently read Jenny Odell’s Saving Time and so much of what you wrote here reminded me of it! Loved this line: “Felt like I was wallowing in time. Like it and the quietness were alive. Like they were animate and present with me in a way I couldn’t describe.”

As I get older I’m realizing that one of my personal, most precious privileges is time—time for leisure, flexibility of time, and peaceful time. Now thinking more about how we redistribute time and ensure more quality time for all.

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It really is! I'm in my late 40s, and more and more it's time that is most precious. This became really apparent after I had my first kid in my early 30s. I remember my father asking me year after year what I wanted for my birthday and every time I'd say, "Just time. I want time." Eventually he started answering it himself.

It's interesting that it's also one of the things that's hardest to give as a gift. How do you give someone time? There are ways to help out, or to help save time, but to give time as a gift ... that's a tricky one. I wish everyone could wallow in time in ways that feel restorative to them.

Thank you for reading!

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Apr 13, 2023Liked by Antonia Malchik

Finally got to this and it was just lovely. Motivation to rent a USFS cabin just went up, too. Thank you…!

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I hope you get one! And thank you. 🧡

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Apr 12, 2023Liked by Antonia Malchik

Wow. Loved this. How many of us must be able to relate? The idea, and the need for solitude and quiet.

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See you on the trails, Victoria!

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Thank you for taking us with you <3

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Thank you for coming with me. 🧡

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You wrote a great number of delightful words about freedom and oppression and responsibility and love and they were all well received. Thanks!

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Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Chris, as always!

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A well-written share as we pivot to spring in North America. I have pivoted to commit time in a class I'm taking -- it is about a broader view of what civilization is, how we got here, the economic system and how we navigate to an understanding of how we can be part of a change and why -- it is natural when people take the time to ponder something as broad as the economic system they become curative and prescriptive (and likely wrong). I am rounding my opinions on that tendency also. For me, and only me, (I am not evangelizing yet) my sense is it simply begins in our heads and it is all about individual consciousness. My narrow take is we have a primitive and sensory brain built to keep us alive. It is fast and jumps to conclusions and is the source of our emotional responses like fear, frustration, and anger. We also get a 2-for-1 with a neocortex in front. Despite this luxury, the slow one in the front doesn’t get used nearly enough. This one is quite different, it is slow and in most cases comes to the same conclusions as the lizard brain in the back. It is too slow to keep us alive and thriving in this world. We, therefore, accept what the lizard tells us by default and rarely wait to let it weigh in on stuff that doesn't have to be decided in a split-second. Anything we consider settled that makes us angry and frustrated – perhaps like climate, perhaps resource allocation (including time) makes us angry and likely blocks the path to contemplation in the front.

A couple of opinions to consider. In the 60s Marvin Gaye and Rachel Carson felt strongly about what THEIR CONSCIOUSNESS was telling them. They, like all of us, are prisoners of their own minds. They were talented and creative -- their music and their writing became lightning rods. Their "conclusions" turned out to be largely off-base -- that is the nature of thought (I think :)). Whether climate, health, economics, or resources -- change will not come from one who leads with the false illusion of what the future will bring, it will come when individuals change one by one. One of the gifts of your writing is it gives the reader a CHANCE to shift and ponder what THEY believe. The temptation will always exist to “check the box” for reading On the Commons. The possibility to truly gain from the words is to prioritize the “precious time” to think about what you have read and assess what part of it to ignore and what part of it to build upon.

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It'll be interesting to see how AI changes how we understand our own minds. Though maybe it won't. But what happens when people think they believe something they're told is real, and then encounter its unreality?

Thank you for the kind words! We all have our biases. Time and space and encounters with the world allow us time to step back from them and consider them from different angles -- or at least we can try!

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I wrote today, what I largely believe will be an unsuccessful post about AI. So many opinions and I delayed till I felt I had something a bit different to say. Too long, too dense, and I couldn't figure out how to shorten it.

My sense of AI is our brains are mostly sensory engines while our special developed frontal cortex makes us "special". It was a great thing when the microscope and telescope displaced the limitations of our eyes. We have done similarly with all of our senses and in each case it was likely a net good for the exploratory nature of us. I think because we are bumping up against that "hey wait a minute, this is what makes us special" is a big part of the angst about AI. Thought as a conglomerate of many things makes us uneasy we might make a machine analog of it. When I look at the images from the James Webb Telescope I am glad there were not that many that fought the progress of the telescope but there certainly were some.

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I wrote today, what I largely believe will be an unsuccessful post about AI. So many opinions and I delayed till I felt I had something a bit different to say. Too long, too dense, and I couldn't figure out how to shorten it.

My sense of AI is our brains are mostly sensory engines while our special developed frontal cortex makes us "special". It was a great thing when the microscope and telescope displaced the limitations of our eyes. We have done similarly with all of our senses and in each case it was likely a net good for the exploratory nature of us. I think because we are bumping up against that "hey wait a minute, this is what makes us special" is a big part of the angst about AI. Thought as a conglomerate of many things makes us uneasy we might make a machine analog of it. When I look at the images from the James Webb Telescope I am glad there were not that many that fought the progress of the telescope but there certainly were some.

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I'm just starting to catch up on today's reading -- looking forward to it!

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It's too long -- if you give up i will understand.

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I could put that caveat on plenty of my posts. ;)

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I remain a fan

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Well, this is beautiful and visceral. Thanks so much for your honesty here, Nia. As a writer who treasures retreats, I so enjoyed how much you value that time alone with your ideas and opportunities to read and write. And I was sad when you expressed how often you can’t do that. And even though it’s something that so many of us have known for decades, capitalism is such a powerful barrier to what’s most important in life: love, art, music, literature, nature, community — you know … the stuff we write about. I’ve avoided that nexus long enough in my nature writing. The ascendancy and versatility of capitalism came first for land and labor (including slavery); its newest commodity frontier is our mind. Forest service cabins, even backyard nature, and the force of the written word are shelters from all that, refugia and antidotes.

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Thank you so much Bryan! Your own work on Chasing Nature is a regular reminder for me that it's possible to give this kind of attention to our everyday lives. And especially appreciate the point about our minds being a commodity frontier. I still think too few people truly understand what that is or what it means, not to mention what kind of effect it's going to have on all life going forward. I suppose it's like propaganda. Most of us think we're immune and don't understand what's really going on when data harvesting or misinformation change our perceptions of our own choices and decisions and relationships, much less reality. Thank goodness there are still antidotes for us to turn to!

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Hi Nia,

So much food for thought here; many thanks as always!

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Thank you, too, Greg! (And thank you for the recent book contribution, which I am looking forward to reading.)

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Apr 8, 2023Liked by Antonia Malchik

Hi Nia,

Timing is everything! I'm just settling into my week long break and still deciding how I will use this time to myself. Home alone is not the same as being away alone which is not the same as being away from all kinds of modern comforts and distractions and finally, truly alone. Thanks for this meditation on all of these aspects. I still wonder a lot about what it means to create without a specific mandate. Similar to your question about walking, I wonder: who is able to make use of their right to create and what are the barriers for those who wish to but cannot?

As usual, you have given me lots to think about. Also, Cannibal Capitalism might be right up my alley. Take care, S.

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Seeing your name always brings a smile to my face, Sherri! I like thinking of those different kinds of alone. I'd probably get a lot more out of work time at home if it were alone, but I am rarely alone at home these days. I miss it. And yes, I think you'd get a lot out of Cannibal Capitalism. I'd love to talk about it with you if you read it.

Ooh, that question of creating without a specific mandate feels even bigger than all of this. People will create without it, but who needs more support and encouragement? Or, is a need for a mandate something that embeds within us as we learn to be "productive"? (This might be just me. I've been really struggling with making time to write a book without a contract. Just write the book! But but but ...)

Two things came to mind reading this, the second one slightly random: I remembered a residency I was at where there were these two poets, young (literally half my age) women who'd until recently worked as poetry editors at a Canadian newspaper literary supplement. They'd been told there wasn't really money in writing, or to pay writers and editors anymore. They accepted that as a fact of the writing life. This was right when a lot of #MeToo cases were coming to light, which included things like big-name men in media getting payouts of like $30 million or $60 million to leave. It was so enraging to me to juxtapose those things. The money is there, it's just being sucked up by a very few people who are doing very little to make the world a good place.

The second, slightly random, was remembering in how many memoirs or essays about "becoming a writer" I've read of people being advised in their MFA program or by a mentor to find a job that lets them read, or gives them more life experiences. Parking attendant was one of the jobs that's stuck with me as a suggestion, because you can read a lot.

These stories have always bugged me because, okay, fine, go live a little if your life has insulated you from, I don't know, waiting tables or working at a poultry farm or being a parking attendant for a living. But what about all the people who work those jobs not because they want life experience but because they have to? How many of them want to write stories and poems and deeply investigative nonfiction books and will never get the support or time?

I get really stuck on this. It's whose stories get told, but it's also what kinds of lives and worldviews shape accepted societal narratives. AND, as you point out, it's who gets to spend time creating.

I could go on and on so should probably stop. And I know you know all this anyway! It really makes me think of that thing you said in our interview about how unnoticed advantages and privileges play a role in persuading people that they're living and succeeding in a meritocracy. I talk to people about that all the time.

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I enjoyed that. You've inspired me to search for a similar cabin in the United Kingdom (I believe the Scottish have something like this). And capitalism, all too true.

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Bothies! Is that what I’m thinking of?

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That's the one!

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Bothies are scattered about the Highlands, yes! We found some along the West Highland Way.

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Now I wish I'd sought them out the times I've been around Scotland. They sound delightful.

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I hope you find good options! Scotland has the huts? That’s not what they’re called, is it. I’m blanking but I’ve heard the Scotland Outdoors hosts talk about them. Those places where you can just stay when you’re out hiking?

My husband’s from Nottingham, and when he was younger he did some cycling trips to hostels with friends. Not quite the same but there must be options around the UK that provide this kind of space and time without costing a fortune.

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Brent and I have no children or parents who need our help, work unconventional jobs where we set our own schedules, and yet I still feel constantly overwhelmed by all that needs to be done -- including carving out just me time.

Even the long walks I do in the mornings on my own whenever possible are partly about our Substack because I'm always looking for interesting things to photograph and write about.

And when I'm feeling overwhelmed, I often say to Brent, "How do people with kids write their newsletters and have kids?"

And reading this newsletter, I see how you do it. And am in awe of just how much you do.

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Your comment about walks and Substack hit home—that’s how I used to feel about Instagram. It was weirdly depressing in a mild kind of way.

That’s very nice of you, though I feel like I crapshoot just about everything on a daily basis! And there are things that I wish I could do more of but know I don’t have the time for. When I started travel writing many years ago, I realized that I had time to get good at the writing or good at taking photos, but not both. I would love to take better photos (and am actually working on it here and there), but know it’ll never be something I have time to do seriously. And other things, like learning more languages (I love learning languages! There is no time and I am actually envious that my son is learning Japanese online at school) and playing music more seriously and writing many more books … there just isn’t time for all of it, so mostly I have to learn to be okay with that. I’m not always, and get frustrated, but I have a good life and do a ton of things I really enjoy. It’s hard to complain.

You and Brent do so much it really impresses me! The logistics of being digital nomads sounds like about 3 or 4 whole jobs all on its own, without even counting the writing about it and photos and online engagement … it’s a lot!

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We're lucky in that we get to divvy up the work. But I'm still not sure that even combined we do as much as you do.

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Apr 8, 2023Liked by Antonia Malchik

So much of this essay resonates with me that I hardly know where to begin. Or shall I simply take a nap?

I was reminded of the last full solar eclipse visible in North America, It was in August of 2017. I had pitched a small tent in the yard of some friends who live in a very small mountain community within driving distance of my predetermined destination. I arose well before dawn and drove in darkness to an isolated area in the backcountry where there wasn't another soul for miles. The spot was in an area called "Cougar Flats," right next to "Bear Creek." So there was that.

After napping in the truck for a short while to make up for a poor nights sleep, I set up my camera on a tripod so that I could take pictures of exactly the same scene at regular intervals throughout the event. At those same intervals I recorded in a small notebook any changes in light, temperature, direction and speed of wind (approximate), and occasionally what I was feeling at that moment.

When totality finally came it was probably (except for watching the home birth of my youngest daughter) the most profound moment of my life--all alone, in the backcountry, with no phone or internet, and an uncanny feeling of oneness with the infinite. Having planned ahead, as the sky began to dawn for a second time that morning, I set the timer on my camera, stood in the frame next to the creek, and toasted the universe with a glass of Jameson Irish Whiskey. It was, after all, the least I could do to demonstrate my gratitude for the celestial show.

My solar eclipse experience was only for a day, and not two or three, and I got absolutely no work done, but it was nonetheless transformative. I crave times of quiet and solitude.

I'm going to read your essay again. Once was not enough.

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Kenneth, I hope you are compiling all of these life stories somewhere because I am immersed in them every time you share one. What an incredible experience of a total eclipse. I remember how eerie and beautiful it was seeing the partial one a few years ago, but this story is something else. And it's better than getting a bunch of work done! The times for reasons of attention to the world are far, far better.

Cougar Flats and Bear Creek -- nothing if not adventurous 😉

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Apr 7, 2023Liked by Antonia Malchik

Beautiful sites, pleasant to read ☺️

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Thank you! Hope you have something that makes you feel similarly. 😌

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Apr 7, 2023Liked by Antonia Malchik

Sure do ! ☺️

Have a great weekend Antonia, Happy Easter to you and your family! 🙏

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Same to you! Hope it’s a beautiful one!

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Apr 7, 2023Liked by Antonia Malchik

Never an incovenience!!

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I did cut 1500 words from the original version, so hopefully less so 😂

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Those pictures are just gorgeous (and I agree that the creek does look like Ithilien 💜). Those cabin visits are also beautiful and seem like small anchorholds--places where the limitations are actually what is freeing. I've become poorer monetarily but chose instead to be deliberate with time, and realize how much ideas of wealth are rarely discussed in areas of life that are unrelated to capital. I think acts of refusal, however small we can manage, of empire, the institutions that keep all of us distracted and oppressed in so many myriad ways, are so important--and each time we do find times of anchorholds, of refusing the noise and demands, we chip away at what we can. At least I hope so. I loved reading this today.

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I hope so, too. And whatever you are doing with your life has certainly managed to make mine richer. 💚 Thank you for being here!

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