me & the family of things

On one particularly warm morning early this year, I drove north along Queen Ka’ahumanu highway towards Kiholo Bay, a seasonal Hawaiian home for humpback whales. I arrived at Kiholo before the sun rose over Mauna Kea, but signs of the world waking were already multiplying by the minute: birds squawking in the trees; mongeese anxiously darting in and out of the brush; sleepy, tanned people emerging from tents at the beachside campground; and whales surfacing at the edge of the bay.

Whales. Whales were the reason I was there, and three of them seemed to greet me from a distance – perhaps a mile offshore – with tiny pinpricks of breath and spray popping above the gentle line where sea met sky. I smiled, excited that I spotted the whales so quickly, and turned my attention to finding Jeffory (who would be my whale guide for the morning) in the campground.

A few weeks earlier, while at Two Step (a Big Island snorkel / dive spot), my grandma and I had met Jeffory, a local who splits his time between Europe and Hawaii. Jeffory had a long career in environmental work and now runs a small nature excursions company with his partner Elisabeth. They lead all sorts of trips – perhaps the most special among them being whale adventures. When we met Jeffory at Two Step, he had mentioned that the seasonal humpbacks would be arriving soon, and if I was interested, he would be willing to take me out in a kayak to spend a morning with them above (and potentially below) the water. Jeffory said that the whales’ behavior patterns were difficult to predict, and their presence in any specific location was impossible to guarantee, but asked me to give him a call in early January and we’d give it a shot at the best place he knew – Kiholo Bay. 

And so I did, and here I was: at Kiholo Bay on an early January morning. I found Jeffory at a picnic table along the bay. He and I spent a few minutes organizing gear – snorkels, fins, kayak pedal drives, water, snacks, hats, GoPro, etc, before walking down to the water to load the double-kayak in the water.

Once in the kayak and past the shore break, we paused for a moment. Jeffory said a short blessing: for our safety on the water, for the openness of whales to come towards us, and for the gift of the ocean and Earth (it was beautiful and really just amazing). Then we were off, paddling away, away, away from shore and towards the whales lingering outside the wide mouth of the bay (2 miles wide, Kiholo is the second largest bay on the Big Island).

My sense of time was entirely distorted on the water, but it must have taken 45 minutes to reach near where we had seen the whales from shore. Once outside the bay, I felt especially small compared to the ocean swells – calm but substantial – that raised the kayak up and down. We paddled quietly, beholden to the rhythm of the swells, waiting for a glimpse of the whales surfacing. 

One of the strangest aspects of the experience – which I noticed immediately – was that from above the ocean surface, it’s nearly impossible to tell if a whale is twenty feet or two hundred meters away from you. Their only give-away is breaking the surface (the whoosh of a breath or the splash of a breech) or the eerie calm, stagnant top layer of water left after they dive (somewhat of a vacuum effect). They are silent, elegant, and simply surprising.

We paused paddling to sit and wait to relocate them. I searched the water at incremental distances, radiating outward from the kayak: 20 meters, 50 meters, 100 meters. The minutes ticked by. But no sooner had I given up and anxiously decided that the whales must be right below us, did I hear a faint whoosh in the distance. About 100 meters south one, two, three whales surfaced, headed back towards the mouth of the bay. 

My initial instinct was to pedal toward them, but Jeffory quickly explained why that was a lost cause: 1) the whales are far faster than the kayak, and they would go and do as they please – in effect, they had to want to come near the humans for them to be near the humans; 2) if we aimed for where the whales “were” we wouldn’t be able to meet them where they were “going to be” (duh, I realized later: physics, interception points, and such). So what did we do? We paddled slightly southwest in the direction they were headed, towards the mouth of the bay and then waited again, patiently, as the sun rose over Mauna Kea.

Only a few minutes later the whales reappeared, much closer this time: a momma, a few-day-old baby, and an “escort” (sort of a protector whale that keeps an eye on the pair). Their smooth backs glided along the surface, the heave of their breath cracking the still air, tiny barnacles scattered like stars along their school-bus-sized bodies. I sat in awe. Jeffory queued me to put on my snorkel, mask, and fins. If the whales decided to come closer, we’d be able to slip into the water and swim with them from a safe (but remarkably intimate) distance.

We kept moving, and settled into a rhythm in the kayak: paddle, wait, observe, paddle, wait, observe. Intermittently, Jeffory would gently slip off the kayak, under the water, to hear if the whales were singing. The whales continued to come closer and closer to us. I wondered: are they curious and trusting, or simply oblivious? (I highly doubted the latter, but it did cross my mind). Soon they were among us. Or, more accurately: we were among them. 

From the water, Jeffory signaled me to quietly slide off the kayak. The water was deep – we were far off the edge of the reef – and impeccably clear. I adjusted my mask and looked straight ahead. In front of me, headed directly towards me, were the whales: the momma positioned with the baby above her back, closer to the surface; the escort far below the momma, just a shadow in the depths. They moved towards us, dead on, so close I could have reached them in a few strokes, then cut a turn alongside us as if to nod us hello. 

It’s taken me months to process that first moment in the water with them: their power, their wonder, their sacredness. Mostly I remember how time froze, how in awe I was, and how deeply humbled I was by their scale and movement. I have always loved Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese,” which closes with the lines “the world offers itself to your imagination / calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting / over and over announcing your place / in the family of things.” But it wasn’t until meeting the eye gaze of the momma whale – for real! – that I understood in my body what being part of the family of things meant.

No sooner did the moment come than did it pass. Within a few minutes we could no longer see the whales below the surface. We pulled ourselves back into the kayak and returned to our rhythm of paddle, wait, observe. We did slip in the water a few more times with them, each different experiences at different distances, but nothing quite compared to that initial encounter. 

Once the water got siltier and visibility dropped, we stuck to our vantage point in the kayak, and followed them (or they followed us) across the length of the bay’s opening. We tag teamed with them for hours as they cruised past us, dove under us, and doubled back on us. For Jeffory, who would spend the rest of the winter season visiting this group of whales, these hours were (quite literally) a foundational relationship exercise with the highly intelligent creatures.

Late in the morning, we neared the north end of the bay’s opening. The whales surfaced a few times more and then, as if as content with the extent of the experience as we were, deliberately turned due west and charted out towards sea. 

In the moment, I was left with the raw emotion of the experience and a calm paddle back to shore. In the weeks and months to come, though, I found myself left with so much more: an experience with nature that was so serene and powerful it had imprinted on my consciousness…a memory that I return to frequently in the hustle and bustle of everyday life…and a reminder that as much as we humans have pulled away from the animal kingdom, there are still moments we can find ourselves fully enveloped in the family of things.

memories of island life

At the end of January, I wrapped up my three-month winter work-from-Hawaii (WFH?) adventure, and I headed back to the mainland. Since then, my tan has faded, my sun-bleached hair has darkened, my carefree island mindset has shifted, and my wardrobe has taken a drastic 180 degree turn from swimsuits to sweaters. I’ve regressed to winter-in-California-Cassidy. And while this has its own advantages, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t daydream about the endless goodness of island life.

Below, some moments, routines, and beauties of the experience that, with deep appreciation, will burn bright in my memory…

Returning to the “old” places I’d grown up visiting: Magic Sands, the Coffee Shack, Ho’okena, Turtle Beach.

Lots and lots of time with Grandma…and so much never-before-heard family lore.

Chocolate chip cookies, scones, cinnamon rolls and everything else from Kaya’s Bakery. Plus a shit ton of other good food. Like pumpkin pancakes and sliced turkey for Thanksgiving!

Swimming with humpback whales at Kiholo Bay (yes, this is a real photo!), and pods of dolphins at Two Step.

All the “new” places I hadn’t been to before: Waipio Valley, Mau’umae Beach, Kua Bay.

Momma visiting for a few weeks over the holidays.

Routine after-work solo hikes down to Kealakekua Bay.

Weekend snorkels at the Refuge followed by shmoozing with regulars and consuming ample amounts of coconut water, papaya, sardines, and chips.

Wearing t-shirts or tanks or swimsuits all day. Also a renewed love of wearing bright colors.

Visits (and adventures!) with family friends from home.

Stellar used bookstores. And ample time to read, write, be quiet, and channel my inner zen (seriously).

Celebrating turning a year older (mid-20s here I am!!!!) and Grandma turning a year older (80!).

Good weather: clean air, blue skies, tropical rainstorms, warm water, and stellar sunsets. Glorious background to everything.

(Contrary to what it seems, I was, in fact, working my butt off full time in between all this beauty.)

52 books, 52 weeks

I’m not one for New Years resolutions, but I do love a good New Years intention. And at the beginning of 2020, I decided I wanted to read more. So, I set myself a goal: 52 books for the 52 weeks of the year.

Spoiler alert: I finished my 52nd book last week…and my 53rd yesterday. You can see my entire reading list for this year here on my Goodreads account (the 52+ books I finished, plus the many others I started and abandoned).

Below, in brevity, are thoughts on how I managed to hit the mark, what I learned along the way, and “superlatives” for a few of my favorite reads.

How I did it

  1. I read multiple books at once. I used to only read one book at a time, but Gretchen Rubin recommended this strategy. Just like watching a few TV shows at once…when you’re not interested in West Wing you can watch Trevor Noah, or if both don’t fit your vibe you can always default to The Office. Same thing with books: reading more than one book meant that there was always one I felt in the mood to read.
  2. I read books that I liked. (I know, revolutionary!). I ended up reading lots of non-fiction, Israeli history/authors, self development, and *a bit* of fiction (but only fiction that came highly recommended by readers I trust 🙂 ). No forcing myself to read genres or authors I didn’t like.
  3. I “stacked” my new reading routine on top of another current, successful routine. I journal every morning religiously. I tacked on 30 minutes – 1 hour of reading to this existing habit. It worked like charm. Did that mean I woke up an hour earlier to read most mornings? Yep.
  4. I watched less TV. This one wasn’t really intentional, I just got into such a reading-groove that very few TV shows captivated me this year.
  5. I had some extra time on my hands with COVID. But, I was also working 40 hours a week and doing a million other things…so while COVID gave me a bit more time to read, it wasn’t much.

What I learned

  1. “I don’t have time” is not a good excuse for not reading. And it’s not even true. I can build time in for the things I love.
  2. Reading is a mediation: the more I read, the more creative, thoughtful, and inquisitive I feel in daily life.
  3. Returning as an adult to something (reading) that I loved doing as a child felt self-nurturing and soothing.
  4. Reading helps me develop my voice as a writer (like A LOT).
  5. I despise reading on the Kindle and screens of any kind (not a new realization…but definitely a reinforced one). Only real-deal books for me.

SUPERLATIVES: Best bookS I READ IN 2020

The most important (for me, for you, for society, for everyone) — Know My Name (Chanel Miller)

The one I’ll read over and over again — A Gentleman in Moscow (Amor Towles)

The most thought-provoking story — The Book of Longings (Sue Monk Kidd)

The biggest adventure — Undaunted Courage: The Pioneering First Mission to Explore America’s Wild Frontier (Stephen E. Ambrose)

The best sorta-autobiography — A Tale of Love and Darkness (Amoz Oz) *only b/c Know My Name was the most important book

The one that was small but mighty — Talking to My Daughter About Capitalism (Yanis Varoufakis)

The favorite modern-history of Israel — My Promised Land (Ari Shavit)

The one that made me confront my white-privilege the most — Hood Feminism (Mikki Kendall)

The personal mindset changer — Untamed (Glennon Doyle)

The random thrift-store purchase that became a page-turner — In the Company of the Courtesan (Sarah Dunant)

The one I didn’t want to like, but really, really did — Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations (Ronen Bergman)

Thoughts or questions on these books, the reading challenge, or what I learned? Give me a holler. I’ll be over here chipping away at a few more hundred pages before the end of the year, and I’ll start fresh with my next 52 on January 1, 2021 (hopefully…as long as the below doesn’t happen!)

thankful (a list)

I ❤ making lists. Sure, I love making long to-do lists to feel the joy of crossing things off (is this not a universal human satisfaction?!). But I also find comfort in making lists of things I’m anxious about, or what I’ve learned from xyz scenario, or moments I’m excited for, or topics I wish I knew more about. Perhaps someday I’ll make a list of why I love lists 😉 .

For now, though, I’ll just share an unedited, stream-of-consciousness list I wrote in honor of Thanksgiving. 2020 has been such a doozy. In the words of my wise mother, “Let’s not forget to count up the good things, too.”

In 2020, I’ve found myself thankful for…

  1. the humor that gets me thru the hard days
  2. clear, clean skies after wildfires
  3. COVID testing
  4. masks, gloves, PPE
  5. front-line workers
  6. books (Know My Name, A Gentleman in Moscow)
  7. FaceTime, GVC, technology to support us
  8. my health. really, more than ever before.
  9. the oldest, truest friends
  10. the colors pink and olive and blue
  11. access to healthcare
  12. clean, safe water
  13. a sturdy, reliable home
  14. employment 
  15. new coworkers
  16. women-of-waymo/x
  17. mentorship from wise folks
  18. mint tea
  19. toast and apricot jam 
  20. my strong body
  21. yoga, meditation, all of the things
  22. podcasts (On Being, Becoming Wise)
  23. the sound of wind in leaves
  24. the smell of laundry detergent (calming)
  25. people who believe in me
  26. grandparents 
  27. sisterhood 
  28. travel despite corona (OR, WA, IL, HI)
  29. brave voices + mvmts for equality
  30. simplified schedules (how did I ever do so much?)
  31. soft, forgiving clothes
  32. second chances
  33. opportunities to grow into being more me
  34. community…despite + in spite of COVID
  35. acts of remembrance
  36. fresh starts
  37. standing desk
  38. good ear plugs
  39. long hikes
  40. proximity to the ocean
  41. “thinking of you” texts
  42. liberal uses of “I love you”
  43. all the things that didn’t happen
  44. the kindness of strangers
  45. the things that fell thru
  46. financial stability
  47. more books (Four Agreements) + bookclubs
  48. long-distance friendship
  49. ice cream (tgod that exists) 
  50. a backyard
  51. a quiet space of my own to work
  52. Netflix 
  53. comedy shows (TY, Trevor Noah)
  54. JBiden and KHarris…big time
  55. and their families ^
  56. new neighborhood acquaintances
  57. dogs. dogs. dogs. 
  58. time in nature
  59. sky blue pink
  60. cameras + photos + videos
  61. journalists + freedom of the press
  62. tortilla chips (yum.)
  63. my relationships
  64. the shattering of perceived timelines
  65. people who are patient with me
  66. all my mental tools
  67. winter where it’s warm
  68. backpacking. alpine lakes.
  69. new cities. old friends. a new tattoo.
  70. holiday at the lake. forever friends.
  71. cousin time. road trips. PNW.
  72. time, resources, privilege to keep learning
  73. activism, freedom of speech + demonstration
  74. the places we return to that don’t change
  75. and those that do
  76. linen 
  77. no shoes while working (since March!)
  78. pesto. ya. so yum.
  79. siblings + siblings-of-circumstance
  80. working with brilliant, kind people
  81. Instagram (love/hate. but love.)
  82. people who tell me when I’m wrong
  83. my height (weird. but true.)
  84. Anthony FLIPPIN Fauci 
  85. dinners outside with friends
  86. strong local gvt 
  87. serendipity
  88. chances to change my mind
  89. journaling + writing
  90. big, fun earrings
  91. my parents’ generosity + love
  92. social services (the mail, garbage)
  93. libraries
  94. Amazon Prime (JBezos, I don’t like u, but…)
  95. models of vulnerability
  96. music
  97. friends that are family
  98. the growth that sprouts from grief
  99. opportunities to share + receive
  100. the twisted blessing of experiencing this year. history. this moment in time.

Of course, after I wrote this list in my journal, additions came to mind. Namely: our military and veterans, planes and cars and bridges (can you imagine a world without them?), museums, [mostly] reliable WiFi, firefighters, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, National Parks and State Parks and ALL the outdoor spaces.

2020 updates in our new, wild world

Hi wonderful people— I hope you are healthy and safe.

It’s been a minute (or a few months!). My last post from November— written on the tail end of my most recent Israel stint— simply seems so long ago. You might empathize: 2019 feels like it was a different era.

Like so many of us, I predicted that 2020 would be bright and light, with its aesthetically aligned numbers and decade of fresh promise. I thought things would go one way. But then, for better and for worse, they went another. (Is that not the story of everything, always?). In the midst of COVID-19, I relay the following updates not to garner pity or congratulations, but rather as a reminder that beneath the hysteria of the pandemic, there are other sorrows and joys that 2020 has brought each of us. The world, indeed, remains spinning.

So here we go…

🌟 The first week of 2020, my best friend’s mom had emergency open-heart surgery. The operation was surprising and stressful, but successful. Instantaneously, I recognized the fragility of life, more intimately than I ever had before. After she made it through, I clapped my hands and hugged people tighter. With relief, I closed my eyes and thought, “This will be the biggest thing of our 2020”.

🌟 The second week of 2020, I turned 24. I reflected on my 23rd year with pride and gratitude. Following tradition, I brainstormed 24 happy things to do in my 24th year and started down the list. I celebrated with friends and family, hikes, art projects, Pakistani food, dog walks, and coconut ice cream Sundays.

🌟 The third week of 2020, our life-long neighbor (who was more like my cousin-brother, a “sibling of circumstance”) died tragically and unexpectedly at 19. I closed my eyes and knew definitively, “This will be the biggest thing of our 2020. Of my entire young adult life.” The mourning was (is) profound. I grieved and grieve for him, for his family, for us, for our family, for me. For the loss of innocence. For the lack of second chances. For the realization that none of us are necessarily entitled to a long life.

🌟 The seventh week of 2020, I dove into the job search. After a few months of working as the assistant manager of a (beloved) Palo Alto yoga studio, I was ready to find a full-time role. I wanted back into the fascinating world of transportation and sustainable environmental design. Coached by wise parents and brilliant family friends, I started having my “50 cups of coffee.” The networking and interviewing process was relentlessly exciting and exhausting. Within weeks, I found myself with the very privileged choice between a few incredible companies. And on the day before the COVID-19 forced Silicon Valley tech to 100% work from home, I signed an awesome offer from Waymo (formerly the Google[x] self-driving car project). The timing couldn’t have been better. I closed my eyes with excitement and relief, and said, “Yet another big thing for 2020.”

🌟 The eleventh week of 2020, as COVID-19 hit the Bay Area full-force, and the yoga studio closed its doors, our management team scrambled to transition to Zoom live-streamed classes. In a matter of days, the 25-year-old small business resembled a fully remote tech start-up. We reinvented how we operated, staffed, monetized, communicated, and taught. It was scrappy, fast-paced, and remarkably rewarding: 300 people tuned in for our first live-streamed class. Thousands more people— mosaics of little smiling faces on the Zoom window— have joined in since (join us, HERE!). And while I’m wrapping up my work with them to go to Waymo, it gives me great pride to know that at such a critical time I helped provide our community the movement and meditation they needed. In the past days, I’ve frequently closed my eyes, smiled, and thought, “What a big, positive thing for 2020.”

🌟 It is now the fourteenth week of 2020. I had planned to be in Israel right now, spending five weeks with friends and family— namely with my sister who was living in Jerusalem. But now she’s back in California. And I’m not going anywhere— never mind leaving the country. Instead, very soon, I’ll start my job with Waymo (HUGE silver linings!). Until then, I am in the privileged position of taking things slow— walking, reading, cooking, sleeping, tackling a long list of over-due to-dos, and taking extra time to focus on the personal positives, lessons, and “ah-ha” moments of our world gone awry.

In 2050, I imagine people will look back and exclaim, “Oh, 2020, what a year!” And I know (or at least I hope) I’ll be there too, nodding in agreement, for all my own reasons— COVID-19 related and not. You can likely empathize that even now, I nod. I know it’s only April. I know it’s only the fourteenth week. But I already feel like I can say with confidence, sadness, grief, excitement, hope, and happiness, “What a year. What a world.”

top 10 moments: a SUMMER-y

The days are long, but the months are short! Somehow I survived 2.5 months in the Davis heat (thanks to the pool, ice packs, & an absurd amount of coconut water) & snuck in a few extra special summer moments. Here are the top 10:

  1. Fourth of July: This year was the 40th annual Ray Avenue block party! Wow. It was a reliably good time celebrating w/ games, dogs, ALL the food, and the best family and friends. We’re so dang lucky.
  2. Darla: Two weeks of house sitting & dog sitting Darla in Alameda. Lots of fur, cuddling, walking along the waterfront, and bonding time with Darla, who I affectionately came to call “Honeybee.”
  3. Angel Island: FINALLY checked this Bay Area classic off the bucket list in July with friends. A quick ride from Tiburon on a Sunday afternoon + a few hours of walking around abandoned buildings & island bluffs = a HIGHLY recommended adventure. Next time we’re backpacking overnight!
  4. Minnesota: After 5 years, Maggie, Jack, Katie, Christian, & I all managed to coordinate a Minnesota weekend at Christian’s grandparents’ lake house in Pequot Lakes. We ate like kings & queens, flipped thru old yearbooks, squished into one bed to watch Insta stories together, and bickered like kindergarteners. The best.
  5. Montecito Sequoia Family Camp: We visited my art-director sister, Hannah (or “Mae” if you’re in NYC, or “River” if you’re at Camp…we just call her “HMR” these days) for a week in Sequoia National Park. I hiked a sh*t ton of miles, swam in lots of lakes, ate my weight in delicious camp food, and enjoyed the always glorious mountain air.
  6. Everything Davis: My love letter to Davis would be a mile long. Needless to say, summer was hot but SO darn fun. Weekdays were spent working for the UC Davis Policy Institute. Evenings were spent cooling off at the pool, walking around the grocery store, slacklining in the park, picnicking at the Farmers’ Markets, and sitting in the unairconditioned apartment in our underwear w/ a rotating circuit of ice packs from the freezer. It took strong doses of humor & friendship to get thru the heat. Luckily I’m blessed with a surplus of both.
  7. Fam Bam: A surprise visit from cousin David (from London/NYC) & a months-long stay from Tham & my Uncle Stephen (from Vietnam) were the perfect accents to family meals & outings.
  8. SF w/ Emma & Clara: Managed to get a little “BFF-triangle” (new favorite term) time in last weekend in SF. Five years after meeting on freshman move-in day, we’re still a goofy, witty, best-of-friends trio.
  9. Hiking: ALL the flippin’ hiking…more Berryessa & Windy Hill trips than I can count, interspersed adventures in Jenner, Point Reyes, Folsom & the Sequoias. I’m repeatedly enamored with the beauty of our home.
  10. Nasvhille: Rounded out the summer w/ a trip to see my Israel friend Mimi (1/2 way thru her Jewish Studies Masters at Vanderbilt) in Nashville. We ate a lot, yoga-ed a lot, & laid on the floor talking A LOT. Time w/ her is so good for the soul (especially good prep for my return to the holy land!).

What now? 72 hrs of recouping at home before heading to Israel (!!!) for a few months. I’ll spend the first 2 weeks bopping around (my friend Kia is visiting for 10 days) before throwing on a backpack & some sturdy shoes in an attempt to walk 1000km, north to south along the Israel National Trail (Lebanese/Syrian border to Egyptian/Jordanian border).

I’ll be posting spontaneous, infrequent blog updates on all the trail hoopla. If you want to follow along, click “Follow” in the bottom right-hand corner of this window.

Sending love to all you fabulous humans & best wishes for a fruitful, fun, fabulous fall season. XO Cass

…and she’s done!

After five years and hundreds of hours of work (and fun!), it’s over. Done. Finito. נעשה.

Yesterday, I graduated from UC Davis with a BS in Sustainable Environmental Design and minors in Jewish Studies and Professional Writing. And while I have gained a degree, the diploma itself pales in comparison to everything else I’ve experienced: the challenges that have changed me, the people who have supported me, the big ideas and little moments that have made me more “me.”

Here I am, on the other side, feeling privileged, relieved, excited, confused, and damn NOSTALGIC! Below, in brevity, are the best moments: the things and people that make my heart sing.

YEAR 1: Moved into the Tercero “cow” dorms. Met Emma and Clara who lived next door and let me sleep on their floor after my roommate drama. Met Kia serendipitously in an elevator. Immediately decided to be besties. Studied bio, slept 12 hrs a night (not a normal freshman), and ate A LOT of chocolate chip cookies and rice. Experienced the famous “butt cut” (sliced my butt open while skiing) and eff-d up my hip joint. Dropped out of school for the rest of the year and raised two ducks (April and May)!

YEAR 2: Lived on Brown Drive in a janky house with five girls and two boys (Maggie + the flippin’ BEST squad). Took random classes that were awesome (like the one where we milked cows for our lab final). Briefly did triathlon team. Worked for the Graduate School of Education. Hiked a lot. Yoga-ed a lot. Applied to go abroad. Took a leap and switched my major to Sustainable Environmental Design the final week of spring quarter.

YEAR 3: Spent 11.5 months studying and living in the middle of the Israeli desert. Met more best friends (Mimi, Maya, Hannah, Felice!). Suffered thru learning Hebrew. Ate an obscene amount of tahini. Got yelled at (and loved) by a lot by Israelis. Yelled at some Israelis myself. Studied transboundary water conflicts and Jewish stuff. Added a Jewish Studies minor. Traveled to 10 other countries (ridiculously privileged). Survived four months abroad without a phone (sorry, Mom). Came home wittier, blunter, more loving, more humble, and more Jew-ish than ever.

YEAR 4: Lived downtown with Danna in the best apartment ever. Worked as a peer advisor at UC Davis Study Abroad with fantastic humans. Wrote a lot. Added a Professional Writing minor. Fell in love with copy editing. Took a boatload of sustainable design classes. Formed a fantastic community in Hunt Hall during the exhaustive hours of design projects. Missed Israel every. single. day. (So I went back for a hot sec).

YEAR 5: Lived downtown with Kia (finally!) in the same apartment. Worked for the UC Davis Policy Institute (read a lot, wrote a lot). Mentored students in my major. Completed a Wilderness First Responder course and a 200 hr Yoga Teacher Training. Did design projects up-the-wazooooo: Portland beaver habitat restoration, UC Davis Student Farm Production & Learning Facility, tiny homes community, etc. Met the greatest friends and designers who put up with me thru all the work (shout out to my three-quarter-long best-project-partner-ever, Abraham). Was supported by incredible staff, faculty, and family. Graduated!

FUTURE: Working for the UC Davis Policy Institute thru the summer. Praying I survive the heat with help from an office with A/C and friends with pools (SOS). Moving out in September and headed to Israel to hike the Israeli National Trail for two months (stay tuned for blog posts, or just come hike with me!). Will be back in November…and then???!

Looking back on college with the biggest smile. Looking forward to the future with the same. I love you all. Onwards and upwards!

2019 ta-da list (thus far)

After a whirlwind winter quarter, nose to the ground, I looked up and realized 1) it’s spring + gorgeous,  2) so much has happened since January, and 3) I haven’t written a post in far too long. Demerit to me. Here I am, making up for lost time with an abbreviated “ta-da list” (a twist on the to-do list) of 2019 thus far.

  • Started a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training @ Akasha in Davis with nine other wonderful humans and three incredible instructors. Queue lots of vinyasas, alignment, sore shoulders, yoga philosophy, chakra convos, and personal growth. It’s just as woo-woo/enlightening/wonderful/exhausting as it sounds.
  • Completed a Local 30 challenge (supporting local businesses and farms by focusing my grocery haul on as much food grown w/in 200 miles as possible for 30 days). Admittedly, I spent most of this time reflecting on the enormous privilege associated with being able to afford and access local food. In many ways, I felt guilty exercising this privilege, especially when a large percentage of the UC Davis community is food insecure. But, I also felt empowered by the ability to support local farms, the Farmers Market, and our Davis Co-op.
  • Did some school work (well, a lot of school work!). Despite being “part-time” this quarter, I immersed myself in a community engagement course (where we designed a new UC Davis Student Farm Production and Education Facility), completed the final course for my Jewish Studies minor, and wrapped up internship units for my Professional Writing minor. The undergrad check-list is rapidly dwindling…I’m frantically stuffing in all the information and growth before the “garage door closes” in June.
  • Mimi, my dear friend from Israel, visited for a California weekend. We hiked, ate, talked, walked, and did ALL the fun things while enjoying the gorgeous spring weather. A few of my friends from Davis and home joined in on activities. While this “clashing of worlds” is most people’s worst nightmare, it’s my favorite thing on Earth. The best!
  • Headed south w/ Momma to Joshua Tree for a quick desert camping/hiking trip. Repeatedly enamored with California’s beautiful and diverse landscape. It really never gets old. Cherry-on-top was a stop @ Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve on the way home yesterday. Truly other-worldly.

Now, back to Davis for the *final* quarter of my undergraduate career. Time to soak up all the goodness of this special place, while also 1) contemplating the intimidating future of life and 2) feeling ridiculously grateful for where I’m at. Such is life at 23!

sayonara ’18, shalom ’19

Happy (belated) New Year, wonderful humans! We have a general distaste for holiday letters in the Craford household (so I won’t bore you with an exhaustive list of everything 2018 sent my way), but I can’t resist documenting the past month of travel, festivities, and learning. It’s been a blast!

Austin: After wrapping up a slew of projects fall quarter, I met my friend Mimi from Israel in Austin. Mimi lives in Nashville (and I’m of course here), so Austin seemed like a perfect half-way meeting point. While we thought this was a unique idea, nearly every Lyft driver we had remarked that there are “so many bi-coastal friends meeting in Austin these days”. So much for our revolutionary thinking…

Anyways, we spent four days eating at the best foodie places (Picnik, Josephine House, the original Whole Foods, JuiceLandNadaMoo), shopping at vintage stores, exploring museums, going to yoga and acupuncture (classic), logging some significant walking miles, and talking each other’s ears off. Needless to say it was super fun to traipse around a new city and it almost felt like we were abroad again. Ah, nostalgia.

XMAS: For the first time in what felt like forever, we spent Christmas at home. I’m always partial to skipping town and traveling as a family to avoid the hoopla of the holidays, but it felt extra special to be home this year.

Festivities included hosting Mom’s holiday work party (10+ physical therapists and remarkably minimal muscle/bone/treatment talk), an epic crab feast and secret Santa family gift exchange at Grandma Dianne’s (popular items included CBD chocolate, a Trump Dammit Doll, and a dinosaur lamp) and a combo of Christmas Day festivities at our house and Grandma and Grandpa’s in the hills.

Monterey: We did manage to skip town as a family after Christmas…during that weird time before New Years when the Christmas-celebrating world is in limbo no one knows the day of the week. In a mix of productivity and rest I completed four books in four days (Tripping with Allah, Better than Before, The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Hostage), did handstands on the beach, and spent quality time with Taxi…And we celebrated Grandpa George’s 80th birthday. Mazel tov!

New Years: We spent New Years Eve with the Miro/Weiss family in Alameda, making sushi rolls, watching the Warriors, eating those charming little Japanese rice candies that melt in your mouth, and falling asleep at 10:30 pm (per usual, at least for me!). New Years Day was spent with yet another set of friends-like-family walking around the Baylands in Palo Alto…sometimes I forget how gorg our little corner of the world is– this was a good reminder!

Wilderness First Responder: I jumped right into Wilderness First Responder (WFR) Training with NOLS and Rescue SF on January 2nd alongside 27 other epic, outdoorsy people. We spent ten days straight and 80 hours (!!!) at Crissy Field learning boatloads of info about backcountry emergency medicine, completing endless real-life scenarios, trading harrowing injury stories, and becoming awesome comrades. I can’t sing the praises of the course high enough– truly worth while for anyone who likes to get themselves in sticky-backcountry-out-of-cell-range situations!

Birthday: Half-way into WFR training I turned 23. All I can say is that 23 feels very old.  When I told this to my friend Jack, he responded with, “Well, Cass, then your age is finally starting to match your personality!” Eeeeek, he hit the nail on the head with that one!

After my birthday and WFR training, I headed back to Davis (only one quarter left after this!). So here I am, settling into 2019, 23, and all that fifth-year-senioritis has to offer. To make the most of it, I made a list of 23 happiness-inducing things to do while I’m 23. A picture of the list is included below– hit me up if you want to join in on anything!

Love you each and a very Happy New Year to all of you. XO Cass

 

 

 

Undercurrents of War

In this second itteration of follow-up essays about Israel and the Middle East, I’ve departed from my casual, “bloggy tone” and take an academic approach. If you can stomach that for five minutes, then read along! Below is a cause-and-effect essay that I wrote for a course this fall. Titled “Undercurrents of War,” it explains the role water played in the 1967 War and shines a light on the often cast-aside influence of hydropolitics in regional conflicts.

While it is often overlooked, the water conflict between Israel and surrounding Arab states that began with Israel’s establishment in 1948 significantly heightened regional tensions that lead to the 1967 War. The root cause of the water conflict between Israel and the Arabs can be traced back to the management and use of the Jordan River, a central water source running along the Israeli-Jordanian border. Israel and the Arab states’ uncompromisable positions regarding each other’s use of the River eventually climaxed at the Arabs’ Cairo Summit in 1964 [1]. Following the Cairo Summit, the water conflict became increasingly political and violent as Arab states unified and international involvement in the Middle East grew. Consequently, a series of violent counter-retaliations between Israel and the Arabs began, setting off a chain of events that led to the 1967 War.

Central to the water conflict was the understanding that whichever power dominated the River’s water controlled the strength of the newly established Jewish state. Israel knew that water “was the very lifeblood” of their new state and that access to the River was necessary to expand agriculture, accommodate a growing immigrant population, and develop a strong national economy [3]. Thus, upon Israel’s establishment, access to the River became a top priority.

For the Arabs, allowing Israel access to the River required Arab states to recognize their enemy’s existence as a sovereign state and to watch Israel grow. The Arabs were unwilling to do either. They worried that a growing Israeli population would lead to increased water demands and ruin any future possibility for Palestinian refugees to return to the land they lost in 1948, perpetuating an already challenging refugee crisis [2]. The Arabs also feared that Israel’s development and territorial aspirations would escalate and infringe on more Arab land [4]. Finally, the Arabs knew that the stronger Israel grew, the more difficult it would be to defeat should an armed conflict arise. Consequently, the Arabs sought to prevent Israel’s access to and diversion of the River.

Conflicting positions on water use resulted in regional tension during the construction of Israel’s National Water Carrier. Israel had designed the water carrier to transport water from the Jordan River Valley south towards the Negev to expand agricultural land. In 1953, construction of the water carrier began in a zone that was demilitarized in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War [5]. While Israel viewed the demilitarized land as its own, Syria felt that the construction encroached on Arab land and water rights. In response, Syria filed a complaint against Israel to the UN Security Council, garnering global attention [2].

The Syrian complaint and water carrier conflict aroused concern in the United States regarding the stability of the Middle East. The United States favored a stable Middle East to maintain Western oil operations and prevent the Soviet Union from gaining influence in the region [2]. As a result, the United States sent Secretary of State Eric Johnston to Israel to establish a resolution between Israel and the Arabs [4]. The resulting 1955 Johnston Plan allocated 39% of the River’s water to Israel, with the remaining percentage divided between surrounding Arab states. The Johnston Plan also required Israel’s diversion of the River to be rerouted outside the demilitarized zone [6]. While both the Israeli and Arab technical teams approved the plan, only Israel gave the plan overall approval. The Arab coalition did not formally respond, as doing so would infer that they acknowledged Israel as a sovereign state [4].

Ignoring the lack of Arab approval, Israel resumed construction of the National Water Carrier in 1956, complying with the Johnston Plan and avoiding demilitarized zones [5]. This undoubtedly increased Arabs’ frustration, but no concrete Arab response was formulated until the Cairo Summit in 1964. But, by the time the Cairo Summit was held, the construction of the National Water Carrier was nearly complete [1].

In retrospect, the Cairo Summit proved to be the catalyst that escalated the water conflict into a cause for the 1967 War. While Arab states generally disapproved of Israel, prior to the Cairo Summit the states had disagreed with each other regarding the specifics of Israel’s existence and regional hydropolitics. Differences in opinion had intensified in 1961 when the historical Egyptian-Syrian unification crumbled and Arab powers turned against each other [4]. This falling out had changed the water conflict on the Arab front from a “Pan-Arab cause to a controversial issue between Arab camps” [4]. Thus, it was not until three years later at the Cairo Summit that Arab powers would regroup, creating an solidified Arab front that was coordinated enough for war.

The Arabs’ actions at the Cairo Summit indicated that the water conflict had quickly become a top priority. At the summit, a joint technical team drew up plans to prevent further Israeli water diversions and to reroute the River in Arab favor [4]. Meanwhile, the Arab states also established the Unified Arab Military [2]. This merge of military power demonstrated that the Arabs thought that the water conflict was not a simple skirmish with Israel, but a substantial conflict that would require military power in the immediate future. Thus, the Arab states’ involvement at the Cairo Summit transformed a previously fragmented Arab world into an established, confident front prepared for war.

The Cairo Summit also increased international involvement in the Middle East, providing both Israel and the Arabs with the political support, money, and arms needed for war. The United States, in particular, worried that the newly unified Arab front would incite violence and threaten regional stability. In response, the United States affirmed its plan to defend Israel and continue to supply Israel with weapons [2]. While initial arms deals between two countries were established years prior to the Cairo Summit, the summit demonstrated the need for extensive Israeli military power to combat the Unified Arab Military Command. Thus, the reaffirmed alliance between Israel and the United States reassured the Israeli military that they had the support of the United States. With this backing, Israel was determined to secure its future as a state and stop any Arab counter-diversions of the River.

Interest from the Soviet Union also grew after the Cairo Summit. The Soviet Union, in the midst of the Cold War, saw the Arab-Israeli water conflict as an opportunity to act upon their “expansionist ambitions” and gain influence in the Middle East [2]. While the Soviets had sided with the Arabs as early as 1955, they reestablished their support following the Cairo Summit, condemning Israel’s diversion of the River as a preemptive act of war. Additionally, the Soviets financially supported the Arab counter-diversion plan and increased arms supplies to the Arab Unified Command, bolstering Arab strength [2].

The boost in international support Israel and the Arabs received allowed each side to become increasingly uncompromising and powerful. This resulted in a cycle of retaliatory attacks, pushing the region further towards what appeared to be an inevitable war. Following the Cairo Summit, the Arab forces began construction on their counter-diversion plan for the River. This plan threatened Israel’s water access, causing great concern in Israeli society. By late 1964, Israel was desperate and the Israeli government felt that all peaceful methods of mediation with the Arabs regarding hydropolitics had been exhausted. On its own accord, Israel used military force to prevent the Arab counter-diversion of the River, launching an airstrike against Syrian counter-diversion sites [5]. In response, Syria mobilized soldiers to wreak havoc on Israeli water carrier sites and demilitarized civilian zones [5]. Syrian aggression would eventually prompt further Israeli airstrikes and air battles between the two forces. This shift from diplomatic disagreements and smaller land operations to aerial combat marked a significant escalation. No longer was the water conflict simply a regional political disagreement, but a situation that both sides felt necessitated the use of serious military force.

With counter-retaliations growing increasingly frequent, war seemed inevitable. The Soviets, worried the Arabs would not win a war against the Israelis, warned Egypt of Israeli threats to attack Syria on a “much larger scale” [2]. The Soviets hoped this warning would lead the Egyptians to mobilize the Egyptian-Syrian Defense Agreement, intimidating the Israelis and preventing war. Egypt, however, had already begun to secretly deploy its forces. As such, the Soviet warning only served as further Egyptian assurance that military action was necessary. Thus, in May of 1967, with the belief that Israel was ready to strike Syria, Egyptian forces entered the Sinai Peninsula, setting off a sequence of events that began the 1967 War [2].

In conclusion, it is undeniable that the Arab-Israeli water conflict escalated regional tensions that led to the 1967 War. Rooted in each group’s uncompromisable position on the River, the struggle over water became progressively violent as Israel continued to build water infrastructure, Arab states became a reunited front, and international involvement in the Middle East increased. While this sequence of events is evidently unique, the path from conflict to war in the Middle East offers up broader lessons for today’s global community. As the world population grows, infrastructure development expands, and the demand for natural resources increases, it is not unreasonable to speculate that the greatest challenges of our time will stem from a struggle over the one thing we cannot live without: water.

References

[1] Wolf, Aaron. Hydropolitics Along the Jordan River; Scarce Water and Its Impact on the Arab-Israeli Conflict. United Nations University Press, 1995.

[2] Gat, Moshe. “The Great Powers and the Water Dispute in the Middle East: A Prelude to the Six Day War.” Middle Eastern Studies, vol. 41, no. 6, 2005, pp. 911-935.

[3] Haddadin, Munther. “Negotiated Resolution of the Jordan-Israel Water Conflict.” Journal of International Negotiation, vol. 5 no. 2, 2000, pp. 236-288.

[4] Shemesh, Moshe. “Prelude to the Six-Day War: The Arab-Israeli Struggle Over Water Resources.” Israel Studies, vol. 9, no. 3, 2004, pp. 1-45.

[5] Neff, Donald. “Israel-Syria: Conflict at the Jordan River, 1949-1967.” Journal of Palestine Studies, vol. 23, no. 4, 1994, pp. 26-40.

[6] Elmusa, Sharif. “The Jordan-Israel Water Agreement: A Model or an Exception.” University of California Press on behalf of the Institute for Palestine Studies, vol. 24, no. 3, 1995, pp. 63-73.