Thursday, May 23, 2013

Preparing to Work in a National Park

With less than one week left before I head to Bryce Canyon National Park for my seasonal job in the gift shop, I am busy making final preparations.

Living in a company dorm is always a challenge. You sure learn how to downsize when it's the only "home" you have! For me, this time this has meant getting rid of absolutely everything I cannot carry with me in two suitcases plus one carry on.

Trust me. Releasing material possessions is hard. Up until the past few weeks, I had always considered myself a pro at not owning "things".

This week, I had to throw away several years' worth of handwritten journals and fiction manuscripts. I had to toss printed photographs from my time in Florida. I've had to give away all my books, and my souvenirs from my travels abroad.

I keep telling myself, this is all for the best. One day I will be glad I did it. I have challenged myself to consider this a spiritual process.

I am also writing about about letting go of your worldly goods which I will publish on Amazon later this year!

Now, the uniforms are bought. Some parks provide uniforms or have a very casual dress code. Forever Resorts has a much more strict, formal (and expensive) uniform policy for employees. So far I have spent over $200 getting everything together, and am still not completely finished.

The plane ticket is paid for. I have booked my hotel in the city where my job's HR staff will come to pick me up.

I remind myself of all the positive aspects of this upcoming adventure. I am looking forward to being in nature, again. To long hikes in stunning landscapes on my off days. I am looking forward to meeting new coworkers from around the world.

Most of all, I am looking forward to at least of few months' worth of financial security!

I still have no idea where I will go at the end of this season. Sometimes I think I want to return to explore more of India. Maybe I will finally attempt to make a life in Europe, finances permitting.

Part of me wants nothing more than to find whatever it means to have a "home". To have a place to call my own, where I can sit in the garden with one (or three) good cats and drink tea.

I have bounced back and forth between 7 US states and various other countries over the past two decades. I will always love travel and exploring new places. But I also want a place to rest.

On a positive note, let me leave you with a few national park images I've taken over my previous seasonal jobs!

From Rocky Mountain National Park, where I worked in the Gift Shop.
Wildflowers Along Mount Ida Trail in RMNP

A Golden Marmot on Mount Ida in Colorado's RMNP
From Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming...

Jenny Lake, with Mount Moran in the Background
And last but not least, America's "favorite" park, a scene from Mt. Rushmore National Monument!

George Washington and Abe Lincoln on Mt Rushmore

Leave me a comment if you can relate to my adventures. Leave me a comment if you have ever worked in a national park! Or just leave me a comment if you have a particular topic you'd like me to cover related to this experience.

Thanks for coming along with me on this journey! Please share the post with all your friends!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

When I Went to Work in the National Parks

In 2007, out of work and floundering for something that would both interest and support me financially, I discovered the Coolworks website, which lists a wide range of seasonal hospitality jobs.

Every year National Parks, ranches, resorts and wilderness lodges (just to name a few) hire thousands of employees from around the world to staff their facilities. Jobs range from housekeeping and kitchen workers, to gift shop and front desk staff, to  the more "exotic" roles of ranch hands and trail riding guides! Employment terms start at a minimum commitment of 90 days. Occasionally you may find a full time permanent position. 

I sent out several applications. My first choice was retail staff at Grand Canyon National Park (South Rim). I don't recall how long passed before I received an offer from a fishing lodge in Alaska. I think I waited about another week, and when no word came from Arizona, I accepted the job on the Kenai Peninsula.

Of course, since the Universe has a sense of humor, I had no sooner sent my non-refundable $100 room deposit to Alaska than I was offered the position at the Canyon! After a few days of weighing options, I decided my heart really wanted to be in the southwest, cancelled my gig in Alaska, and made preparations for Arizona.

I arrived on the property, which is maintained by contract with Xanterra South Rim LLC, in March 2007. My assignment was retail staff at Hermit's Rest Lodge, a smaller historic property at the far western side of the popular Rim Road.

Porch Area of Hermits Rest Snack Bar and Gift Shop in Winter

Working at Grand Canyon changed my life. It gave me a lot of opportunity to practice my passion for photography (all images on this page are my own). It also introduced me to hiking and fueled my interest in ancient history and geology.

Exterior of Historic Hopi House at Grand Canyon

Some of the difficulties for me were:
* being 75 miles from the nearest city, Flagstaff (maybe going once a month for shopping necessities not provided at the village's general store)
* cell phone coverage was slim, and even when available, calls dropped frequently
* long work hours (sometimes up to 60 hrs a week)

Other lessons included:
* living in close proximity to a lot of different personalities from diverse cultures and backgrounds, which was both fascinating and frustrating.
* helping customers from all corners of the earth
* trying to help educate the public regarding proper ways to interact with and care for the environment and wildlife (I'll talk much more bluntly, ie less politely, about some of those experiences in a future post!)

I have since worked at three other western US national parks (not including the upcoming job), but the South Rim will always be a special memory for me.

If you want to work for Xanterra at the Grand Canyon, or any of their other locations, you can check current openings and apply online at: Xanterra Jobs

Colorful Canyon Sunset Viewed from Yavapai Point

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Sojourn Continues

Here we are again, friends. The edge of another journey.
I am not heading off to India this time. But my travels and vagabonding seem destined to continue at least for the foreseeable future, so I might as well share the journey.

On May 29th I will be flying from Denver, where I have only been since the start of April, to work at the gift shop at The Lodge at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.

This is not my first national park hospitality job. In fact from 2007-2009, most of my jobs were exactly that. Seasonal work in the great national parks of the American west and southwest.
This time I will be working for a company that I have no experience with: Forever Resorts.

Many people have asked what working in the parks is like. I can tell you it sure isn't like any other job! There are unique challenges, and sometimes amazing rewards.

In the upcoming posts you will learn who my coworkers at Bryce are, where they are from and why they came to work there. You will discover what it's like to live in a college dorm room environment when you are well past college age. You will hear me talk about the trials and tribulations of dealing with tourists who give a whole new meaning to being on vacation!

It might be offensive to some. I will not be nice. But I WILL be real, honest, and hopefully entertaining.

In my next post, I'll tell you a bit about how I first entered this line of work, and what recent events have led me to go back to it.

Come with me on this rare glimpse into the world of a seasonal hospitality industry employee!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pashupatinath Temple Burning Ghats Photography Books

As promised in my last post, I am very pleased to share my first travel photography book, which is now available via blurb!

Pashupatinath Temple Burning Ghats is a celebration of Impermanence, a core concept in Hinduism and Buddhism. 

Pashupatinath Detail Page at blurb bookstore 
Shot from a distance so as not to intrude on anyone's privacy, this 32 page photo essay chronicles a Hindu funeral ritual from a perspective of reverence.
(All images copyright 2011 by Tammy Winand)

The book has minimal text, in the form of photo captions, which seek to explain scenes many viewers may not be familiar with. I sincerely hope that, as well as being visually engaging, it will be a learning experience for all who view it.

I continue to work hard every day to incorporate the teachings of Buddhism into my everyday life, becoming more and more open to being in the moment and accepting life's challenges.

Many fellow dharma students have told me that my practice is patience. 

Transformation via dharma practice can be excruciatingly slow. Realizations come and go. You may feel "enlightened" and "get it" one day but soon realize that with every new major challenge you need the same help and lessons that brought you there.

We can only stay on the path, bringing ourselves back THIS moment repeatedly.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Impermanence and Suffering

The months since I last updated this blog have been filled with unexpected challenges that have tested every aspect of my spiritual and emotional growth. Nagging illness of varying degrees of severity, emotional abuse and failed relationships, accidents which could have been life threatening had things gone just slightly differently. The move from Boudha back to McleodGanj. The move from McleodGanj back to the USA.


Learning that you are viewed as an object to be used by those you have devoted so much time and energy to. Learning that even a Buddhist monastic can act completely opposite than the Buddhist precepts dictate, causing deep harm.

Painful stuff.

Often working in a blur, not even sure what you are doing, just killing time. Every day fading into the next, and never feeling sure you are going to get through to see another one. 

One day it becomes clear that you are, in fact, still alive, and that progress has somehow been made, in invisible moments. Somehow the seemingly random bits and pieces have fallen into some kind of pattern. Healing has happened, even if only in small amounts. 
New projects have begun, and some have even been completed.

It often feels like I will never be exactly where I want to be. I often feel hopeless, too far behind in "work" to ever catch up. There are some paths which I thought would lead me home that now seem to have been dead ends. These days I don't even know where that longed-for "home" might be.

Still, I am continuing the journey, trying to "allow" surprises to appear.

In my next post, I will share one of those "surprises", a photography book from one amazing afternoon on the outskirts of Kathmandu.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What Am I Doing Here?

I have been in Kathmandu for just over three weeks. Today I found myself shaking my head at the strange blend of similarities and differences between life here and in the USA, and also comparing it to my life in India....  

I am not exactly feeling "homesick", although there are a variety of things I wish were part of life here. One source said I am experiencing one of the phases of "culture shock", where you realize that, even if you become accustomed to a place and learn a little (or a lot) of the local language, you will never really understand the local way of thinking.

As I write this, it is nearly noon, and I am under an awning in Nir's Toast Restaurant and Bakery's garden. A thunderstorm is getting into full swing. It's very refreshing, but, frankly, I'm not feeling very well. I rarely ever feel well these days. I'm plagued by headaches, achy joints and muscles, fatigue.

I find myself pondering, yet again, what I am doing here. By “here”, I mean on the other side of the world from where I was born and raised. Am I simply killing time? What do I want from this experience? I honestly do not know the answers.

What I know is that I am no longer satisfied with my work as a human rights activist and Tibet supporter, at least in the form that I have been doing it over the past half year. I feel used, drained. I am not sure I want to continue studying the language or even dharma. Both pursuits have brough more stress, less pleasure.
I feel like I need a long break.

The western woman with her back to me at the next table lights a cigarette after finishing her beer, and sun reappears. She's left her order of french fries virtually untouched. I leave my last bite of buff thenthuk as an offering to the hungry ghosts.

Blue and yellow prayer flag banners at the Kagyu monastery next door snap in the wind. No ceremonial music emerging, today. Only the “buzz” (more accurately a loud incessant grinding) of the generator during one of the daily scheduled power outages famous in Kathmandu.

Maybe there aren't even supposed to be any answers, though that thought makes me very uncomfortable.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Renewing my Commitment to this Blog

Once again, I have let life, or perhaps just laziness, get in the way of this blog. Somehow another 5 months have slipped by since my last post.

You'd think I had nothing to write about.

Despite my wide range of online pursuits, most of which are months behind what I'd like them to be, it's not as though I have no "free" time.
The truth is, I am plain unmotivated, as well as unorganized.
If only I could make a list of daily tasks and stick to it!
And, if only my internet connection cooperated at those times!
My connection these days, while I am in Kathmandu Nepal, is much faster and more reliable than most wifi spots in McleodGanj. It has been working the past few days without much issue, but there are still many times when I log in and see that yellow exclamation point announcing "limited connection"...or worse, the RED X.

I have recently asked some online friends to help me be more accountable for updates. There really is no excuse for letting things go for 5 months! I invite any and all of my readers to nudge me at my various social sites if they fail to see a new post at THIS page at least once a month (hehe, I'd like to say "once a week", but I don't want to scare myself!)

Meanwhile, my intent is to update Everyday Exile Project main blog at least twice weekly, and Everyday Exile Photojournalism once a week.

I welcome suggestions from readers on what they would like to see here. What kind of details interest you in a chronicle of a spiritual journey and travelogue?

If you read it here, will you still be interested in the "planned" book when it comes out?

Monday, November 22, 2010


A few years ago an online community forum I participated in had occasional posts called "randoms" in which people asked and responded to a set of random questions.
This post will be a series of random updates because I have no one particular topic I want to expound upon, yet I feel there is much to be shared.

*Regarding daily schedule: First, let me say, all things considered, life is good. I have not been sick this trip beyond a few minor inconveniences. Despite some discouraging events early on, nothing bad has happened. 
Life has taken on somewhat of a routine. I get up between 6-8am most days, enjoy a nice hot shower, dress and have tea and sometimes breakfast on the patio or (more recently, since a room change) on my private balcony, overlooking the Dhauladhar range of the Himalayas. Usually I leave the room by 9:30 and go either up into town to buy fruit or down and around the kora with a stream of local Tibetan exiles. By 10 at the latest I am usually seated in One Two Cafe having sweet milk tea and checking emails and facebook. By noon I have usually moved to another local restaurant which tends to have faster more reliable internet where I can actually upload pics and work on my online shops. I often have lunch there as well. Before 4pm I have usually finished and tend to drift around town depending on which friends have called or dropped by. Sometimes I go out for dinner, others I snack or cook back at my room. 3-5 days of the week, I tutor a Tibetan friend in conversational English from 6-7:30 or so, and we usually have a really good time. Most nights I am in bed by 9:30pm at the very latest.

*Regarding "Practice": I have gone through a series of views on daily Buddhist practice. I set up a shrine in my room and make offerings and do prostrations, albeit somewhat erratically. I may go to kora 3 times a week, depending on weather and energy level. I try to go to the temple at least 3 days a week, as well. I have started reading 2 more books on Tibetan Buddhism, but as is often the case with me, I read when the mood strikes, not daily. I've decided not to beat myself up over this because it just doesn't work for me. I try to do at least one mala of Om Mani Padme Hum daily and sometimes also Green Tara and Medicine Buddha, and on occasion other mantras such as Vajrapani, or Vajrasattva, creep in there. A few of my Tibetan friends have told me it's not what I do as ritual but what actions I do that make the difference.

*Regarding weather: So far it has been mostly pleasant weather. Daytime highs are still in the low 60s Fahrenheit with overnight lows dipping to the low 50s. I haven't bought my heater yet and am still only, usually, wearing a single layer of pajamas and socks! (last year in the depth of winter I was in double and even triple layers!). We had 2 days of showers with heavy rain during the pre-dawn hours, and on the 2nd day the snow level dipped below Triund, but other than that it has been mostly sunny.

*Regarding "curriculum": I am friends with a fellow American who speaks &/or understands 5 Tibetan dialects and who has been teaching me the alphabet and some very useful phrases. I would say my Tibetan language usage has increased two-fold since beginning to hang out w/her. Still, I frequently flounder trying to make simple conversation, and it can be very discouraging.

*Regarding Everyday Exile Project, my initiative to increase awareness of Tibetan exile issues and main reason for being here: Things have been erratic. At times I gather many new pieces of information and hold impromptu interviews, at others I feel very discouraged at the lack of local interest on the part of people I have spoken to, and the difficulty of making progress. Things here are done differently. Emails and phone calls often produce little if any interest or result. You literally have to plant yourself in front of someone to get something done. I have, admittedly, not made a huge effort to get down to the government offices, mainly because I am not sure exactly what I want to say. My questions are diverse and rather unfocused. I need a lot of information on a wide range of topics and have no idea where to begin. Even finding out which person I need to contact has been complicated.

Those are the main things I wanted to cover for the moment. I feel things evolving, but am not sure I can clearly describe how. The best I can say is "stay tuned" for updates! I will try not to be so inconsistent in the weeks ahead!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I Was Asked to Describe India...

For those who asked, a bit of descriptive prose about my India experience, round two.

For anyone who has never been here, the best way I can describe India is “in your face”. It is radically different from western life in so many ways. Sights, sounds, and smells come at you full force, non-stop. By the time your mind has processed whatever oddity you have just seen, something else is zooming nearer.
A rikshaw carrying 16 people.
A Hindu temple lit with neon lights.
Chai wallas and roadside vendors of every imaginable variety.
A drunk falling down crossing six lanes of traffic, being helped to safety, and immediately getting up to do it again.
Donkey carts and horses jostling with motorbikes, taxis and vividly decorated long haul trucks.
A dead rat belly up in the middle of the sidewalk.
Cows sleeping on the edges of a busy highway.
Rubbish of all types strewn on the ground.
Electrical wiring hanging in knotted bundles on the outside of buildings.
Women in dirty ragged saris carrying babies beating on your car window at every stop.

India is a place you will either hate because of its unkempt nature, or a place you will learn to love because life thrives despite that nature. Some of my Indian friends have called it “organized chaos”. I don't know about “organized”, but there is a sort of system, once you come to recognize it.

There is a beauty here that defies explanation.

India is ALIVE with music, prayer, joking, arguing, singing and dancing.
It took me more than 3 and a half months on my first visit to come to terms with the experience. By the time I left, a month after that, I had come to think of it as home.

Yes, I still find it difficult and exhausting more often than not. Many things still make me sad and angry, but nothing shocks me, anymore. I have come to expect the unexpected and to not judge what is.

So here I am on my second extended stay. I successfully navigated Mumbai and Delhi's Tibetan colony and am now back in my heart's home on a ridge of the Himalayan foothills, where the first snow of the season fell just two days ago above town and gleamed like a white beacon in the moonlight as the bus wound its way up the tight switchbacks in the wee hours of morning.

Daylight arrives, first bathing Moonpeak in golden light, then pouring into the valleys. Birds are screaming, dogs are barking, the sounds of people cooking and starting their day are all around.

Soon I will make a walk around town to see what has changed, what's the same, whether I encounter any familiar faces.

It is so good to be home.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Feels Like it's Been Years

I arrived back in India not quite 36 hours ago. I'd only been gone seven and a half months, but it felt like it's been years. In many ways, it felt like coming home, like my life has been on hold for this.

Oh yes, there are still things that boggle my mind about the place. I can barely make my most basic needs known in Hindi. I haven't a clue about the rituals and meanings of Hindu festivals. I still shake my head at the vast differences between life here and in the States (and probably always will).

Jet lag does not seem to be as severe this time. The worst of it so far has been sleeping several hours in the afternoon, a headache in mid-evening, and waking this morning at 2:30am without being able to go back to sleep. Compared to my constant aches and nausea of my first week in country last year, I'm feeling fabulous.

Although I am not terrified of the strangers and strangeness of much of Mumbai this time, I still have no real desire to wander around the city. My budget is extremely limited. There are internet contacts I've made here who I'd love to visit, but even getting to their side of town from where I stay would cost more than my weekly budget allows.
My greatest plan is to return to Leopold Cafe, possibly tomorrow, and hopefully meet a friend from McleodGanj there who is now studying in Mumbai.
My time in Mumbai allows me to regain a feel for things and let my body adjust to being on the other side of the world.

I head for Delhi 5 days from now, staying in Majnu ka Tila Tibetan colony for a few days. It will be an entirely new experience.
After that, I'll catch the overnight bus to my Himalayan home of McleodGanj. Things will be very different, this time. I have a new project, a new mission, a totally new agenda. I come armed with a lot more knowledge.
I look forward to learning so much more about the culture, languages, history and way of life of the region.
It will be interesting to see how things unfold this time, and where the journey takes me.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Moving Ahead with India Plans

My visa was approved and I am moving ahead with plans for my return to India.
I plan to arrive in Mumbai on 14 October to visit my friend, recover from jet lag, and remind myself that, well, I'm truly back in India.
There are so many differences, both subtle and direct, and it will require shifting mental and emotional gears.
It doesn't happen over night.

I plan to spend about a week there before flying to Delhi. Last visit I did not spend any time in the city. This go round I'm thinking I'll spend a few days in Majnu ka Tila, the Delhi Tibetan colony. Something different. A more in depth view of exile life in India. Hoping it will lead to new contacts, new knowledge, eventually new material.

I aim to catch the bus from MT up to McleodGanj  at the start of the following week.

In all honesty, I can no longer remember what it was like, there. The feeling has left me. I am both eager and excited, but I am also nervous. I cannot really pick up where I left off. I will have different priorities, this trip. When I arrived last autumn, I was not looking for the specific things I am this trip.
This time, my goal is to find a Tibetan language tutor, and also someone who can guide me on the Buddhist path. Yes, I will still teach English conversation, but not at the same place...maybe only as a private tutor.

Mainly, I am looking for more details on the situation of Tibet in exile. I want to get a better feel for the views of the community regarding the future.

And, of course, I am hoping to further explore the interpersonal relationships which developed and meant so much to me.

One way or another, this trip will determine the course of the rest of my life.

After India, next spring I intend to spend 2-3 months in Nepal. Beyond that, nothing "concrete"...I would love to spend some time in Ladakh, maybe more time in MT, maybe back to Mclo...maybe something as yet unforeseen.

Over the coming week I'll be putting more effort into organizing what still remains to be done on the Everyday Exile project, which is still very much in planning stage.

To be honest, with less than 5 weeks til planned departure, I realize slowly slowly how much remains to be done. I've been in a holding pattern regarding planning, organizing, pre-trip shopping, and of course packing.
I really need to sit and breathe and figure out exactly what still needs to be done.
And then start doing.