Alpine County sparks a love for adventure
June 3, 2016
You can actually feel their presence before you see them. They radiate warmth and love, and their smiles are contagious. They are the sort of family that lets you know there is hope in this world. With people like this around, it is obvious everything will be as intended, true warmth and altruism do exist, and are made manifest by every member of the group. They see a richness of opportunities to assist others and grow within themselves each and everyday.
Bob and Tera Wattles are patriarch and matriarch of the clan and are living examples of loving kindness. Tera discovered Alpine County in the late '60s and fell in love with the area. She felt a sense of peace and connectedness to the geothermal activity and the high meadows. With son Sterling and daughter Ash they spent weeks every year camping in Grover Hot Springs, hiking, and star-gazing. Tera always looked for cabins, but they were never for sale. As the years passed, Alpine County became a part of the family's fabric.
After daughter Ash graduated university she ventured abroad. In the winter of 2001. Ash went to India by herself to experience the spirituality she had always been curious about. She came back from her travels with strange, funny and often unbelievable stories. There was a young man she met while hiking up Gwanak-san Mountain in the middle of winter in Seoul. His name was Maciej Flisak, and they talked about these stories while walking up to the peak.
Ash had never traversed such steep mountains in winter conditions before and fell roughly 35 times while chatting with Maciej. As the hike grew more difficult, an older Korean woman, feeling quite sorry for Ash, loaned her one of her cramp-ons. When they finally descended the mountain, Ash was soaking wet from head to toe while Maciej was surprisingly dry. He hadn't fallen once even while wearing flip-flops. Ash was certain that she would never see Maciej again. She feels she was uncharacteristically clumsy, not the mountaineer he was, and she had told him stories that he just couldn't believe. But, Maciej wanted to hear more of those tales and he called Ash the next day. They developed a close friendship and within two months they became a couple. They remained in Seoul another 10 months, camping every weekend, staying in temples and hiking, until Maciej's contract ended with a local hardware company.
They set off to backpack around the world on a shoestring budget for 12 months. Ash and Maciej explored New Zealand, Japan, China, south east Asia, Egypt and the majority of the countries in Europe, living off a meager budget of $30 a day and their chosen footwear: flip-flops. They ended their journey in New York and then San Francisco. They were married in city hall in 2004 on Chinese New Year with Ash's parents Bob and Tera as their witnesses.
They talked about having some semblance of a wedding the following summer, but when they compared the experience and cost to traveling again, they opted for another journey and no rings. Instead, Maciej created a ring of seaweed from the beach where he proposed. They were already living what was to become the family's motto: "Consume less, share more, live simply".
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It was during their travels that they realized what was important to them and how they wanted to contribute to society. Once back in San Francisco, they both pursued their teaching credentials and began working in SFUSD. Ash taught as a special education teacher and Maciej as a math teacher. By 2006, they had saved enough money to set off again on another world trip for 12 months, this time with a budget of $36 a day. They backpacked through central and South America, Turkey, India, Nepal and south east Asia. They then returned to San Francisco and in 2008 they explored Japan's small towns, parks, and shrines for the summer. It was here that they decided they wanted children and committed themselves to becoming the exemplary parents they are today.
While in South Lake Tahoe for the 2008 Thanksgiving break, Bob and Tera took an extra day to camp in Markleeville. It was on that day, after 40 years of looking, that they discovered a cabin for sale in Shay Creek. They called the realtor immediately. When they went to look at it, Tera found a bat in one of the bedrooms. The bat is one of Tera's favorite animals, and she took it as a sign. Bob felt a deep presence of tranquility also. There was an incredible meteor shower that evening, and they were convinced. Bob and Tera felt this should be a decision made by the entire family, and had Maciej and Ash come to confirm their intuition. They knew Maciej and Ash would feel at home with Alpine County's low population density. It is a wonderful and close-knit community, which naturally attracts artists and writers. The family pooled their resources together and purchased the cabin on Shay Creek.
Ash and Maciej's first son, Rai Sequoia, was born in San Francisco in 2009. Their second son, Kotaru Sequoia, was born in 2010. With Rai, they decided to begin a new family name. The name that was originally going to be his middle name, Sequoia, became his last name. When his brother Kotaru was born, he was a Sequoia, too. Soon after, Ash officially changed her last name as well. Maciej hasn't legally changed his name yet, but considers himself a Sequoia.
Coming up to the cabin in Shay Creek has been a constant in the boys' lives. They were there every chance they got, and the cabin became a place of refuge. They would blast French Canadian music and dance until late in the night, explore and find incredibly beautiful meadows bursting with spring flowers, canoe on pristine lakes, hike sacred mountains, discover local treasures (inspired by local water tsar and nature guru Rodney Pryor), swim beneath beautiful waterfalls, and fall in love with a community that would become their extended family.
They knew everyone not only by their name, but by their car, and they would shout to one another while driving: "Here comes Amy down the road!". They would immediately honk and frantic waves could be seen out all the windows. They grieved with others when a local elder passed away, and got unnaturally excited when simple things changed, like the new stairs that were built going up to the General Store. Ash connected with the swarm of natural healers and midwives and it was these women who guided and influenced Ash in her early stages of motherhood. They were surrounded by people who embraced them and Ash and Maciej felt uplifted and liberated as individuals within the community. Ash is a beautiful mother, and has a natural grace and flow about her. Maciej is steadfast and true, a man at ease with himself and the world. Together they make stellar parents and their sons exhibit all their life-affirming qualities combined.
Ash and Maciej were aware that they felt down every time they had to resume their lives in San Francisco. After a few years of the same cycle, by 2015 they knew they wanted to make some drastic changes. They felt at home in Alpine County, and they weren't connecting with people in San Francisco even after 10 years of living there. They made the decision to move. They talked about the possibility of living in Alpine permanently, and feel that someday they will. They also knew that living abroad would give them what they loved about life in Alpine County: feeling completely detached from their previous lives and all the aspects of humanity that they felt were difficult to understand. It would be an opportunity for them to bond as a family in a new way.
They registered with a teaching recruiting company and noted in their profile that they were were open to going anywhere in South America, Asia, the Middle East and Europe. After one international job fair in San Francisco and many interviews via Skype and phone, they were both offered jobs at ISS International School (http://www.iss.edu.sg/) in Singapore.
They have been in Singapore for ten months and are thriving. Parents Bob and Tera made the trip out for a visit, and acknowledge that a good decision was made even though they miss them terribly. Ash and Maciej love being part of an international community, using a new approach to teaching and learning within an "International Baccalaureate" curriculum, and traveling to unexplored destinations. They have been to Bali, Java, and Sri Lanka in just this short time. This summer they are going car camping in Australia for six weeks. Sons Rai and Ko love the efficient transit, all the adventure playgrounds, learning Mandarin at school, museums, waterparks, beaches and skateparks. However, there isn't a week that has passed that they haven't asked "When are we going to the cabin?". They beg to know when they can live at the cabin permanently.
Alpine County, with it's wild mountains and natural adventures, offers the possibility of an unencumbered childhood. It has shaped both Rai and Ko, from their love for nature to their sense of community. They are incredibly grateful for this. Their fondest memories are of being welcomed as family. Alpine County remains in their hearts, and on our end, we miss their joyous energy, authenticity, and kindness right here with us. Even so, their collective light is so bright, it can be felt all the way from Singapore. A deep thanks to Bob and Tera Wattles for finding and noticing the unique qualities of Alpine County, and for being such loving parents themselves. As we all know, a strong family can reach beyond the sanctuary of home and help renew the face of the earth.