#0 – Who I am, What I’m doing, and Why.

Hey there, web surfers. Hopper here! Thanks for checking out my blog.

Some of you may know me as Hans. I adopted the nickname Hopper as a field instructor at outdoor school in Oregon, because I had lived in 7 different places in the past year. Plus, I was living on a property called Frogsville, and have a love for fellow hoppers like rabbits, grasshoppers, and frogs. So voila! I’m Hopper now.

What’s this blog about? Well, many things. It’s about life’s adventures. It’s about the way the outer world affects the inner world, and the way the inner world affects the outer world. And how as time brings the two worlds together in different ways, real growth happens. Naturally some philosophical and ethical questions arise, and this blog will put a handful of them under a microscope.

In just a few weeks this blog will have stories and insights from adventures on the opposite side of the planet – India. Then eventually Nepal, Thailand, and likely a few others as I travel around Southeast Asia for about 3 months while volunteering at schools and on permaculture farms. In order to explain why I’m going on this journey, let me give you my backstory first.

I grew up in a suburb near Detroit, Michigan. As a kid I was quiet, yet adventurous. Withheld, but curious. Polite, but mischievous. I loved traveling with family, and as I grew older and wanted more responsibility, I had such a lust to experience new parts of the world on my own. Partially because I was nicknamed ‘naive’ thanks to my sheltered upbringing, I just had to break free. My home life was very comfortable, perhaps too comfortable, and my best hope of shaking my naivety was living in different parts of the world without guidance from parents, or even friends.

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The roof of my home in Hoboken

Though I loved my family and friends dearly, I fled my parents’ house at 19 to study Music & Technology in Hoboken, NJ. I was so intrigued by the vitality (and music scene) of New York City, but I soon discovered that I’d rather be peering at it from my rooftop than actually in it. I preferred solitude, for I found myself exploding with grand philosophical ideas, and realized that more than anything else I want to somehow share this glory that I’ve found with the rest of the world. I knew then that my life purpose extends past making music full-time.

 

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Outside my home in Iceland

So at the start of the next school year I was off to an eco-village in Iceland for 3 months to study abroad through a sustainability program called CELL. I gained a new appreciation for community and culture, but learning about how much trouble our planet is in and realizing how much my loved ones & I were ignorant contributors to such harm was super disheartening. It put ever the more strain on figuring out how I should live in this world. I hoped that focusing my philosophy studies on ethics at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor would help. It did somewhat, as it widened my awareness of ethical perspectives, but how I thought I should ethically guide my life didn’t change much. Still, I needed a big change in order to feel accomplished with anything, so once I finally graduated in December of 2017, I shaved my head, packed up all my stuff into and RV I bought a month prior, and drove out to the Pacific Northwest to live indefinitely. Only a few days into 2018 I landed in Monroe, WA and parked on a property called Frogsville where I was sitting when I started to write this blog around a week ago.

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My home parked near Salem, OR

This was the most terrifying hop I have ever made. My only connections out there were 2 friends who I lived with in Iceland, and plans to attend a wilderness school in 8 months. That’s it. I hoped I would find an outdoor education job. I really, really hoped to finally be doing something purposeful and pleasurable. Thankfully, the stars lined up for me, and I was able to work with one of my best friends down in Oregon for around 6 months – in the spring at Northwest Outdoor School as a Field Instructor, and in the summer at Boy Scouts of America as an Aquatics Director. It was inspiring, humbling, exhausting, and eye-opening. After each job I was more sure that I want to continue to teach and be outside, but not necessarily with my previous employers.

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The frogcave/tiny home in Monroe, WA

That fall finally brought around being a student again, this time at Alderleaf Wilderness College in Monroe, Washington to study primitive & survival skills, as well as permaculture and outdoor leadership. I wanted to become more sustainable & self-reliant by developing a naturalist’s lens for viewing the world – for my own gain, and to become a better teacher. I achieved those goals and developed plenty of new ones along the way. I sold the RV, got rid of plenty of stuff that was just weighing me down, and moved into a tiny home in December of 2018. Eventually I was put to the final test of surviving for 5 days in the woods with no tools (and by choice, no hair) before I graduated in June of 2019.

Thanks to Alderleaf, this summer I became an instructor at Wilderness Awareness School, with the mission of fostering connection in youth to others, themselves, and their environment. So I’d take a group of 5-11 year olds out for adventures in public parks near Seattle, play games with them, and teach them about nature. I loved the freedom, the playfulness, the singing, the nature, the school culture, and especially the folks I worked with. But the more I enjoyed the program, the more I wanted to be doing something similar back in southeast Michigan, where nature connection is sparse and limited.

Thus, last week I drove across the country for the 5th time with a guitar, backpack, and snowboard bag strapped to the roof, and a bike strapped to the rear. Today, I’m back in my Michigan hometown visiting friends & family for a few weeks before I fly all the way across the ocean.

So why do I keep hopping around? Well, each hop has a different springboard. At first it was mainly to attend different colleges as I switched majors. Then it became wanting to grow by pushing my edges in foreign situations.

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A shipping-container home in NE Germany

Hence the summer before I graduated from college I used my German studies as an excuse to voyage to a farm in northern Germany for a month where only German is spoken, and to a farm/Krishna Consciousness Temple in southern Germany for another month where they wake up to chant Hare Krishna at 4 AM every day. I guess I’m driven by some insatiable desire to experience other cultures, in hope to further delineate what’s common and unique in human nature around the world. Amidst that I seek to develop a more informed opinion about what ways of living are “better” or “worse,” and why. 

In fact, I started to write a book in which I argue that a lifestyle of connectedness to others, self, and environment is what makes for a truly good life. I contrast this ideal with modern society, where I feel as though we are in general terribly disconnected from all three of these essentials. I want to argue that in more traditional ways of living, those connections come naturally. For after attending a wilderness school where we revitalized some native practices, I strengthened my inclination to believe that a life of less possessions and a deeper reliance on community and the immediate natural world to provide for one’s wants and needs is just as “good,” if not “better,” than the way that most upper and middle-class American folks are living.

But who am I to make such a claim? For one, value judgments of what ways are “good” and “bad” are subjective. I firmly believe that one must trust themself to determine good and bad, which means what’s right and wrong is different for everybody. It furthermore seems inevitable that value is determined by one’s will. And since I want to live in a planet with wild spaces full of biodiversity in 20 years, I deem it good to consume less and care for nature. But another’s want to drive a fast car or live in a big home might trump their want for some strange animals to stick around through the age of human domination. One could argue that my desire for biodiversity is just as selfish as another’s desire for expensive belongings. How do we compromise? How can I say I’m right and you’re wrong? I can’t. But if advocating for my values can lead to any sort of mutual solution or better understanding of each other, I’ll at least try.

For two, I can’t claim that a more traditional lifestyle is better than a modern one because in some ways I’m still just a privileged suburban boy whose always had a safety net and doesn’t know what it’s like to be poor. But by placing myself in situations where I forgo many comforts that I was accustomed to growing up, I hope to widen my perspective enough to speak with some authority. By living in the Pacific Northwest I’ve made progress, but until I leave the western world for a while, I simply don’t have enough experience to make the claims I’d like to.

During the year I spent at Frogsville out in the foothills of the Cascade mountains, the only running water I had in my home was undrinkable rain captured water. And when winter hit Seattle this year, for over a month my pipes were frozen and my home rarely reached above 55 degrees. Since the start of 2019 I’ve probably showered around 15 times and swam in fresh rivers and lakes over 50 times. I did laundry about once a month, and slept on a thin blowup mattress with spider webs decorating the walls adjacent to me.

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A decent dumpster harvest

I drink all of my bean water, pasta water, potato water, etc., and have dumpster dove for around 95% of the fruits & vegetables I’ve eaten in the past few months. Yet no matter how much of a eco-hippie I become, no matter how many modern conveniences I cut out or how many things I give away, I lack perspective on living off of less out of necessity. I’ve generally always been able to buy what I want when I want it. I’ve started living off of less by choice, not out of necessity. The way I’d emotionally process my lifestyle if I had to live this way would be very different. I hope to get a taste of such a life in India and Nepal.

I need an extended stay in a 3rd world country to contrast with my home life if I really want to claim that consuming less is generally better than consuming more. Though I was born with so many blessings, as I grew older I realized that having lots of nice things wasn’t such a blessing if they kept me from finding value and purpose in life. I was thankful for loving family & friends and a healthy body, and I’d try to be thankful for the nice things that were handed to me, but I didn’t feel so thankful for them. And then I’d just feel worse for not being able to appreciate it. My parents were a prime example of the American Dream, and what did and didn’t result from their achievements was frightening. Eventually I saw a version of the Dream warped into this dark fantasy to keep our economy running, rather than a healthy goal, which if you achieve it, you’re guaranteed happiness. Ironically, I dreamt for practically my whole adolescent life of taking over the company that my parents started together, but became disillusioned with the whole lifestyle when depression hit me in a living situation far nicer than that of the standard American. I couldn’t get over the fact that I had what so many millions of people are breaking their backs to acquire, yet I was somehow so unhappy. Eventually, I realized that I was lacking something that money can’t buy, and that generally becomes scarcer the richer you get: connection with others, myself, and my environment.

So I’m going to Southeast Asia to see if those who have these 3 essential connections, and very little else, are genuinely happy. Either way, I’ll write about my findings – by blogging, and eventually by book. I venture in order to achieve personal and career goals, but also simply because there’s something comforting about being on the move. I love seeing and trying new things. I thrive off of surprise. I’m forced to trust myself in difficult situations, and to discern when to trust others. As a part-time nomad I’m invigorated with all sorts of emotions that make me feel that everything, including myself, is in the right place. Plus, I’ll gladly wolf down some Indian and Thai food 🙂 

If you’re curious about my next update, scroll up and click the “follow” button on the right to receive emails about my future posts.

Peace and hoppiness,

Hopper

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North Cascade Mountains, near the Gothic Basin

 

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