My beautiful 20's: A Soil-Scientist's Perspective

Sherlynette Castro was born and grew up in Río Piedras, Puerto Rico. As the daughter of a deceased musician-drug dealer/addict and an extraordinary mother, she is also the oldest of four half siblings and the fifth of 25 cousins. She spent the first years of her childhood between public housing, and by the age of ten, moved with her mother (stepfather, and 2 half siblings) to a "safer place" in San Juan. She studied Environmental Science, obtaining a Masters in Soil Science shortly after. Sherly has a hard time declaring what exactly she is passionate about "out of respect for the real fans". Her favorite things are night sky objects, her partner, and learning new things. Hers is one of my favorite stories that you will read of love, passion, and family. I met her when she moved to Florida from Puerto Rico. I treasure my friendship with her and consider her like a sister. Her perspective and life experiences she has shared with me over the years make me feel incredibly lucky to know her and to have lived my entire life drowning in freedom. She has recently moved from south Florida, where she worked as a Soil Scientist for a Environmental Conservation Agency, to southern California and is now pursuing a PhD. 

When I asked her to contribute to this blog, to you, my readers on lessons she has learned in her 20's, this is what she sent me....

Dear Hippie by the sea readers,

Inside a private property close to the mouth of Caloosahatchee River, a wooden box containing disorganized numbered pieces of paper was discovered under a limestone rock and promptly exhumed from its bed of grey sandy soil.  After placing the pages in order, the following story was recovered. In addition to the manuscript, there was an astronomy book, a moon map, 10 glass jars filled with soil, The Life of Hungerby Amélie Nothomb, a tape recording, and a piece of laminated paper that said: “Tell me what have you done and I’ll tell you what have you learned”

“…And I turned twenty.

Numerically, it is just a terrible approximation of the Earth’s orbital periods since I was born. In the Nothombonian philosophy, it is the apocalypse of adolescence and the insurrection of society’s behavioral rules. From my previous decade, I brought two and a half losses: half of my innocence (I wrongfully still believe in the kindness of people, among other things), my biological father, and my virginity. I also brought two assets: a passion for the arts (which results in a passion for being passionate) and a pleasing others syndrome. There were three elements in excess during this first year of the approximate decade: the pursuance of danceable music, intoxicating substances (fermented saccharified starch: the protagonist), and people to love. I danced until I broke my sneakers, drank until I peed myself, and loved until I made a polyamory mess. I was diagnosed with a rare utopian disease and prescribed myself with submersions in the wonders of South American literature. Borges became Jesus, Cuca Canals his foreign wife, the Latin American Boom the disciples, El informe de Brodie the bible, and my two commandments were the elimination of possessive pronouns and the word NO from my vocabulary.  

By the time I turned 21, I was already corrupted by Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness and had to suffer the secondary effects of my religious disaffiliation. Everything turned upside down. Instead of pleasing everyone, I was hurting my favorite people to love (a sculptor, an arthistorian, and a dramaturge) by saying yes to all of them at the same time.  The sculptor escaped from our circle; after a suicidal attempt, the dramaturge decided to stay aloof and the art historian,the one that I choose to be number 1, transformed me into Kundera’s Tereza.  This time I auto-absolved me with an Egyptian retreat. With a red suitcase and Sexo,Surrealismo, Dali y yo by Thurlow, I boarded the Rose of the Nile in the search of 100 temples. By the time I got to the symmetrical Kom Ombo, I just finished Thurlow and felt a new type of love growing in me. The impersonal love or how I call it: Dalitruism. Idecided to see, hear, touch, smell and taste all things created by Dalí.Obviously, I had to start in Figueres and I was in Egypt. From Cairo, I passed Rome,Florence, Pisa, Venice, and Verona like they were just obstacles to my new lover’sland. Egyptian temples turned into ashes in the face of his theatre-museum and my heart saw his mirror reflection in his Tristan and Isolde painting. Barcelona and its Museu Picasso, Sagrada Familia Temple and Casa Batlló were added to the obstacles list. Only stumbling with Museo del Prado and Velázquez’ Meninas, I finally got into Reina Sofía and participated in the Dalí explosion: his 2004 Centenario. My love was consumed in the flames.

At 22, I returned to Puerto Rico to start a new discipline. I wanted to believe that if Dalí was born in 1983 from a traditional Puerto Rican family structure (single mothers and street survivor males), he would have been an environmental scientist. I studied air, water, energy, lands and laws; became the chair of an Eco-Environmental student organization, co-founded an art youth awareness group (with my old dramaturge friend), and even tried to clean La Perla. Reaching 25, I started dreaming about Henry Thoreau and Bernadette from Lourdes eating dirt, and decided to start my masters in soil science. This new discipline took me to southwest Puerto Rico.  


I was born and raised in the most populous town of my Caribbean third world Spanish then American colony. That made me almost unconsciously a suburban island girl. Hopeless, I carried to my new setting my suburban practices: Music, Drugs, and Loves. However, starting a graduate degree in an agricultural science faculty in a rural suburb, added something exotic to my suburban mind. And there it was, somewhere between the ñames of Coloso, the southwest cays and their surroundings waters, and the Salto Curet Waterfall, I felt for the first time in my life the Grinnellian Niche Effect. I discovered that I was born to have a complete incorporation with nature and that yearned to see, hear, touch, smell, and taste all things created by the Big Bang or God, whichever was deeper. The rest was going to be either obstacles or distractions. I met my biggest obstacle in Southwest Florida, close to the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River. A job offer as a soil scientist came from a government conservation agency.

It was not until 27 or until I got a professional job that I started a life subordinated by the same societal behavioral rules that at age 20 I thought I could avoid. If breaking rules was a way of decoying certain freedom, the consequences of rebellion by this age were a little bit embarrassing, especially in this country. I got kicked out of a bar,received a law enforcement notice, threw up in the hands of a random person,and even faced a job suspension. I started thinking about paying more attention to the rules, which resulted in the addition of dancing to the endangered species list and the extinction of drugs use.  

At the moment that I wrote the previous sentence, I picked up the phone, called my biggest distraction (the North American boy who was sitting in my living room waiting for my new North American roommate to get out of the shower) and committed to go on a Virgin Island retreat. I always saw the Virgins as a family of a Spanish man, a Danish wife, a British mistress, and 7 Ameribbean kids (all living together), and I needed to see them to have a first hand understanding of what they really are. We boarded his 14-feet wooden boat and started island hopping. In the chain of islands south of Tortola that forms the southern boundary of Sir Francis Drake Channel (Ruselland Bunzel call them "Ginger Cooper gave Salt Peter to Norman") I felt the Grinnellian again.

Tape content:
She was sitting on a limestone rock with a wooden box and shovel next to her. She was looking to the horizon, like talking to herself. No one else was in the setting. She was recorded saying the following lines by a camera that seems to be on a tripod. By the time she said the word profession, she stood up, laughed while looking at the camera and turned it off:

“On February 9, 2013, I went back to Puerto Rico to explore Sistema Vientos. I was with a crew that was in their 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. During the course of the day, their main conversational topics were the problems of our Caribbean third world Spanish then American colony (economy, taxes, la yupi, research funding, among other things). I remained silent the whole time. It always amazes me that a tiny volcanic rock with a few corals on top that is smaller than the neighboring Greater Antilles and Connecticut is often compared economically with Greece and socially with Mexico; I was not interested in being part of the conversation. And now that I think about it, I believe it was because this thing I have (a thing about the 20’ers?): I do not like to criticize what I cannot repair, kind of like one of those dalailamism. I even thought that democracy is never going to allow anyone make changes, that the majority of the people are always the most fucked up and with time they are going to fuck the rest of us. And then I saw it (inside Grinnellian and inspired in Dalai and Rainbow Gatherings): “If you cannot change the world, at least do not hurt it”.  Here I am now, in the terrible mouth of Caloosahatche River, reusing, recycling, growing my own food, and pursuing an educational profession...”

**Update: Sherly has recently road-tripped from Florida to her new home in southern California where she now lives with the love of her life and is currently pursuing her PhD in Ecology.