Stepping Outside my Comfort Zone

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops scenes from Cayuga Milk Ingredients, a milk processing facility in Central New York.Remove anything with a stone, we were told. Jewelry. Watches. It all had to come off. Backpacks. Purses. Everything was to be left in the small conference room at Cayuga Milk Ingredients.

Hugging my pack close, I watched my classmates nonchalantly shed their excess belongings. Leave my stuff? No way. We were way out in the middle of nowhere. With people I hardly knew. My photography instructor and five other retired folks with flashy cameras who’d go anywhere for a good shot, and some young guy I’d never met before with a pale pinkish ponytail and blue polished nails. What kind of field trip was this where we had to abandon our things?

I’d thought we were going to photograph a dairy barn, but silver tank-trucks kept pulling up to deliver milk. This was a milk processing facility, I learned. No cows. No free ice cream at the end. The place was creepy, huge, with gigantic stacks towering into the sky. It was too late to flee. And now everything would have to be removed: my father’s watch, the necklace my mother gave me, my grandmother’s ring that would have to be wrenched off, the thumb-drive-pendant with poems written by my daughter who died, and my single earring that gets taken off only by my sister or a girlfriend since I’m squeamish about it. “I won’t be able to put my earring back in by myself,” I said to no one in particular.

It wasn’t like we had to strip ourselves bare; but for me it was. Who was I without the things I’d been hanging onto for dear life? We were given long white plastic coats. And green mesh hairnets. And a choice: eyeglasses or safety glasses. To complete the outfit, we had to put shower caps over our shoes. With the eight of us there to take pictures, it hurt to think of how many times I’d be photographed in this get-up. I gazed at the pile of my precious worldly possessions like I might never see them again, and began the tour.

We followed the milk that was pumped from room to room. Each room had a distinct climate zone and different noise patterns. There were vast hallways of empty sterile space. And fans, plastic vats, pumps, motors, … lots of sanitized chrome. I avoided the foamy puddles I later learned were sanitizing agents, meant to be stepped in; and watched as, behind bars, a robot packaged products and sealed bags. Mountains of plastic bags of powdered milk filled cavernous rooms. And mostly, there were the endless pipes. They reached up and out, obscuring any sense of ceiling. They pulsed with milk. And chemicals. And some of the pipes dripped. It was like walking through an enormous haunted house in a conglomerate of Disneyland and the Twilight Zone.

Then, suddenly, we were all herded out an exit, into the hot glaring sun. Dazed and blinking, we found our way back to the conference room and our belongings. I scooped up my backpack and jewels. The kid with the ponytail helped me put back my earring. Then, gratefully restored to my old familiar self, I rode in the school van with my fellow explorers, and agreed that THAT trip was The Best.


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4 thoughts on “Stepping Outside my Comfort Zone

  1. Elaine Mansfield

    Did you get great photos there? I agree, the door to adventure becomes narrower. With deafness, that’s doubly so, but this week I’m traveling to IL to give a presentation and will do a reading and another presentation when I get back. This is thrilling enough for me, especially as I flounder with sound. The best adventure was releasing 9 Monarch butterflies yesterday in the midday sun and watching them dive into zinnias and begin feeding. They’re on to their 3000 mile adventure. I read that returning here from Mexico takes a few generations, each living about 6 weeks and their progeny carrying on the trip, but going south, the 16 little ones I’ve raised inside at the end of summer will live all winter and fly all the way to Mexico on their own. They’ll hardly have a vacation before they begin the migration north in late winter and lay eggs somewhere. Now that’s getting out of your comfort zone. Or maybe not.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      No really? Raising Monarch butterflies? Then setting them free? Whoa, does that give me goosebumps! I got to help release a few butterflies one sunny fall day. They were so light. Like a tickling. Flitting in the sun before they flew off. Made me think of souls taking flight. Or fairies. Not at all like the releasing of doves, which was what we did at my daughter’s memorial. Or were they pigeons? Anyway, somehow, all the flapping and commotion of those birds really represented my daughter’s journey. A chaotic release. A time where you could hardly wait for the craziness to die down. “They’ll circle a bit and then fly home,” was what their keeper said. That too seemed appropriate for Marika’s case. I still think of her circling around home, around me. And now that it’s been over six years, she’s become a tiny tickling in my mind. A vague call to carry on. Yes, I got some interesting photos. Mostly of pipes and mounds of bagged milk product. Not as thrilling as traveling to give presentations. But. My turn will come. And hopefully I’ll be brave like you are, taking on the world despite the struggles and flounderings. Hugs!

  2. Lynne Taetzsch

    Wow, you had a real adventure, Robin! Neat photo, too!

    My comfort zone is narrower and narrower these days, but on occasion I take a deep breath and venture forth. It’s almost always worth it.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      That first step out of your comfort zone is the hardest. Like you, Lynne, I’ve noticed it does not get easier to venture out, that the door to adventure gets narrower and I get lazier and most of the time I sit in the living room with the dog and popcorn. But yeah, when I push myself out it is truly worthwhile. Mostly.


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