Well, we’re back! I already miss Tennessee and am scheming ways to return as soon as possible. A testament to how much our group bonded is shown by the fact that every trip member came together to go out to dinner last night, even after spending an entire week in one cabin together! Now faced with the daunting task of writing about my experiences, I feel overwhelmed. There is so much to say! Firstly, I would like to start with our hosts, Ed and Arleen Decker. They welcomed us into their home, and continued to surprise and inspire us as the week went on. Whether it was Arleen jumping in the lake with us, or the fact that Ed built his house, our cabins and many other buildings on the site with only one other person helping, Ed and Arleen taught us about hard work, having fun and appreciating life and the world around us. The Deckers organized a breakaway experience that included both direct environmental service and more indirect service at places such as the senior center. We also had many opportunities for education, which I absolutely loved. I was able to appreciate things like a conversation with a woman who is able to speak Cherokee much more than I might have, because I knew how few people are still able to speak it. If I really had to pick my most meaningful experience, it would have been meeting a man named Shorty. Shorty is a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokees (the tribe that resides in NC and TN; the ones who escaped the trail of tears), and he took time out of his very busy life to talk to us, and teach us the fish game (the most fun game I have EVER played!), refusing to take anything in return. He talked openly and honestly with us about the troubles the tribe is facing. You may not know this, but Cherokee youth receive a very substantial monetary amount either upon graduation from high school, achieving a GED, or turning 21. In Shorty’s case, and many many others, this was wasted on cars, motorcycles etc. It is also true that the tribe will pay for full college tuition, books, a laptop, money for every A, less for every B, and Less for every C and money to go back and forth between home and school for anywhere they are accepted, and few utilize this opportunity. He also told us about problems with electing council, and about drug and alcohol abuse within the Cherokee boundary. However, what was more important than the negative things to me was Shorty’s story, which is about changing your life for the better, which he was able to do much later in life. He told us to just enjoy life, live life giving and not taking, being kind to the Earth and counting our blessings. This had a very strong impact on me, and if I keep nothing else with me as the years go on, I want to remember the Cherokee way of life; every action being from one open heart to another, without selfishness or ulterior motives. I loved every moment of this trip, from the education to the service to the fun things (like seeing a real bluegrass hootenanny, and meeting people I would never have run across above the Mason- Dixon line!), and I think the whole team would agree with me that we owe that to Ed and Arleen, who provided us with a truly special and inspiring spring break in Maryville (Mer-vul) Tennessee.