Looking for space

imageimage.jpegI’ve seen a lot of amazing places over the last week or so. I drove from the Columbia River Gorge through the rippling brown grasslands of eastern Oregon and Washington, through the sweeping evergreen mountains of Idaho, and into the big sky country of Montana. Each place I visited captured my imagination, but none so much as a Glacier National Park, where I have been for the last several days. There are no words to describe it and pictures cannot begin to do it justice. It is truly a wild place, where the purity of nature’s divinity is experienced in every golden aspen, every fragrant evergreen bough, and every crystal lake. The snow covered mountains rejoice upward into the sky, and my heart has found it impossible not to join them.

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It has been a challenging and incredible experience. I’ve had a lot of long cold nights. I’ve met many interesting travelers and characters, including a handsome older outdoorsman who offered to lend me his pistol – hello wild west! I got to test my tracking skills when I dropped my phone in a foot of snow and it was almost impossible to find my own footsteps amongst the tremendous tangle of wild hoof and paw prints. My mind wanted to panic and rush to find it, but it was only when I stayed calm and mindful and went painstakingly slowly that I was able to find what I was looking for. It was interesting to be aware that, although I might be highly inconvenienced, in the grand scheme of things what difference does a phone make anyway?

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I certainly realize that this trip is about so much more than the physical journey and destination. It’s about trusting myself that I will be OK and that I will figure it out if I am not. It’s about being on my guard, but also trusting in others and getting in touch with my friendlier side. It’s about freedom and a space to be, to exist, and to experience whatever life brings my way.

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I can hardly think of a more awe-inspiring place of discovery. I’ve hiked in pristine snow covered wilderness. I have watched eagles soaring over jewel lakes. I’ve heard elks bugling across a remote and untouched valley. I’ve come across a kill site where the remains of a deer marked the earth with the law of life and death – a law to which we are all bound.

And I’ve seen FOUR grizzly bears!

One of the things that strikes me most about this landscape as how nature exists as intended. It’s heartening to know that somewhere in our crazy mixed up world there is still a space to be wild – or simply a space to be.image

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No expectations

imageI spent the last few days visiting my good friend, Erin, in Portland, 0R, and now I am off on a brand new camping adtventure by myself for the next two weeks.

I’ve been so consumed with preparing and planning for this trip for the last few weeks that it is hard to just let go of it all. I arrived in the Columbia River Gorge yesterday afternoon, beyond exhausted from pushing too hard for too long. But the campground I am staying in an old CCC camp, with just 12 sites, and there is something sweet and reassuringly rustic about it that made me feel at home immediately. There is such a familiar look and smell to the old worn wood and beautiful stone work, laid in place like a puzzle by so many strong arms and backs so many years ago. These men, whose smiling faces peer back at me from a weathered park display, welcome me here, even though they, themselves are barely a memory.

The gorge is soft and rugged at the same time, with visible charring from the recent wildfires. There is an openness here that I hope will allow me to let go of all I am carrying, but I have no expectations. I have no needs beyond my most basic ones. I am simply here, living, breathing, being.

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Finding the point

I woke up this morning feeling depleted and bereft after pushing too hard against my natural rhythm all week.  The burning question in my mind was, “What’s the point?”  I honestly couldn’t say.

I went out into the garden, knowing that connecting with living, growing things is usually balm for my soul.  I picked raspberries, gently plucking the sweet thimble-like fruit into a well worn paper pint container – a simple and kindly reassuring task.  I harvested beans and tomatoes, and checked on the status of the rest of my nourishing bounty.  One corner of the garden has been rather over-taken by milkweed, which I left intentionally to attract monarch butterflies.  Lo and behold, this morning, I spotted 15 monarch caterpillars munching away on the smooth oval foliage.  What a heartening sight!

Shortly after coming back inside, I saw a movement outside my window.  A young black bear was out in the yard.  I watched as it made it’s way up the front slope, behind the woodshed, and up into the woods behind the house.  It was so calm, so unperturbed – just following its own rhythm and its own flow.  It wasn’t wondering what the point was.  It was just BEING and doing what bears do.

Soon the monarch caterpillars will have eaten their fill of milkweed and they will begin their transition to pupae, and then eventually emerge as butterflies to begin their migration back to warmer climes.  They too, have their own rhythm, and nothing can be rushed.  They do not question the point.   They simply go with their own unique flow.  But maybe that IS the point.  We all need to find the rhythm and flow that works for us.  Maybe it’s then that we can emerge as fully developed beings and soar to our deepest potential and purpose.

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The skunk under the bridge

The skunk under the bridge

The following is a guest post by Rob Fletcher, originally written for his blog At Your Best. It is about our experience rescuing a stranded skunk, and I couldn’t have written anything more perfect about this beautiful and poignant moment.   I’ve also included a video of some of the skunks I have been caring for at the wildlife rehabilitation facility that I volunteer at. Please enjoy. 

Another 90 degree summer day, another work day done, another evening summer swim in the books. I left the water at the base of the bridge of the Millers River and started up the bank when a movement behind me caught my eye. I turned and saw an adolescent skunk huddled on the concrete ledge about four feet off the ground. It peered at me for a moment then tucked its head back into its body, flattening itself against the wall and shaking lightly. A list of swear words had been spray painted sometime earlier in the summer above where it lay – a neat juxtaposition of the priorities of importance of animal and human realm.

I called Laura. Laura volunteers at a wildlife rehabilitation place locally and is studying to get her license – she’d know what to do, how to help. Then I sat on the bank looking at the skunk while waiting for Laura to arrive. It was beautiful. A white crown and broad white striping on its young back. It was quiet down there, just sitting and being near this scared, stressed, uncomplaining little animal. Something settled in me that moment.

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Young skunks having a meal at a wildlife rehabilitation facility. See below for video footage!

Laura arrived with a pet carrier, a broom, a blanket and a can of cat food. It took a while, cat food in carrier, open door, blanket over the carrier to create a safe, dark cave, and Laura quietly, calmly, patiently sweeping near the skunk until it finally backed into the cage. Laura carried it upstream and found a quiet spot in the woods near the water’s edge. She opened the carrier door but the skunk didn’t want to leave. She had to tilt it until it finally came out. As soon as it realized where it was it shuffled into the underbrush, vanishing to the human eye back into nature.

Laura thought that it may have been stuck up there a while. Skunks can climb a little bit , and it probably scrambled up to escape something attacking it. But the smooth surface of the concrete, surrounded almost entirely by water, probably made it too difficult to climb down. It was probably hungry and dehydrated, and definitely very stressed. I was proud of Laura – her first successful rescue mission.

I had had a good day of work previously – lots got accomplished. But nothing felt like the skunk experience. The work had me at one level, then the skunk helped me sink way down. Its quiet vulnerability released an internal wall and I felt such a deep tenderness. And to help, to be of use, felt so powerful. I could see why Laura is attracted to this kind of work.

And I was reminded again of the deep power of purpose – of aligning our actions with helping something beyond ourselves. Seeing vulnerability makes it easier to do. It unlocks that tenderness we’re all capable of. How can we be of use? How can we notice vulnerability around us? How can we let down our guards to show our vulnerability? Vulnerability is the cornerstone of trust, of connection. There is some part of each person we meet today that is huddled into itself, scared and shaking. After all, we are all animals.

Going backwards into Summer

Going backwards into Summer

Summer is here! I went for a paddle on Laurel Lake in Erving with a neighbor this evening, which was a great way to ring in this vibrant season.

As I started paddling, I found myself veering off in a weird and unexpected direction, unable to control myself.  It took me a few seconds before I realized that I was on my paddle board backwards.  I laughed and said, “Well, that basically sums up the way my day has been.  What a metaphor for life!”  It was funny because it was true. I really did feel like I was going backwards today, and most certainly did NOT feel in control.

I love these little moments of wisdom in life, and it’s especially great when they make you laugh.  Let’s face it.  We all have days like this – heading in an unexpected direction, or feeling fear or frustration when we seem to be going backwards instead of forwards.  Hey, it happens.  But, eventually, we straighten ourselves out and move ahead through the calm, clear waters.

Being out on the lake was so peaceful and serene.  The mountain laurel is in bloom all along the shore line, and it looks like little while and pink candies dotting the dark green foliage.   A loon was swimming at one end of the lake, and watching it dive under the water inspired me to do the same.  The water was so sweet and cool, like liquid velvet gliding across my skin.

I’m excited for summer.  Even if I find myself veering unexpectedly, out of control, or going backwards, I know I can always depend on the gentle magic of nature to set me straight.

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Pink and white candy blooms of mountain laurel

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Yours truly on Laurel Lake

Innocence Regained

The other day I saw a puddle on the pavement that was mixed with gasoline leaked from a car. It looked like a big, swirly iridescent rainbow.

I remember seeing these kinds of puddles when I was a kid, and feeling a great sense of delight as I exclaimed, “Look, Mom! A rainbow!”

And so, we go from childhood to adulthood. The simple things that delighted us become weighted by knowledge and reality. A pretty puddle that once made me happy now makes me sad, as I think about the toxins entering our watersheds and harming our wildlife.

The loss of innocence can feel devastating, even if it’s just the happiness we felt at something seemingly so small. But the Season of Spring is a time when innocence is regained. Tender green growth is all around us, flowers bloom in a myriad of hues, birds sing out with clear, sweet voices, and animals give new life to their precious young.

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Yesterday, Rob and I watched two juvenile squirrels running up and down a hollowed out tree. It looked like they were playing hide and seek as they darted in and out of different cavities in the tree trunk. And in that moment, I felt that same pure delight I did as a child.

Childhood is a time of innocence, growth, and learning. But maybe adulthood is too, in its own way. It is a time when we get the opportunity to consciously welcome all the experiences and feelings we encounter in life – sadness, excitement, anger, elation, confusion, wonder. What will we find on our journey? And how will we greet it?

Today I greet the world with a mix of exhaustion, wonder, and perhaps a little sadness. These feelings seem like friends visiting me – like the pair of mourning doves in the garden this morning, or the cheerful goldfinches sitting on the telephone line. They are the gifts of adult life, and they are welcome here.

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Smoky Mountain Birthday

Smoky Mountain Birthday

It’s my birthday!  And that means it’s time for my annual birthday blog post.  This year, I’m spending it in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where we are camping and hiking for several days.

Our campsite is right on the Little River at Elkmont Campground, and apparently, we lucked out by getting what veteran campers here refer to as “the primo site” (Site F8, if you happen to be going there).  And I can see why!  It’s private, quiet, and absolutely stunning.

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Having a cup of coffee steam-side at the campsite on the morning of my birthday – it doesn’t get much better than that!

Spring has sprung here, with tender green leaves unfolding with each passing moment and wildflowers covering the forest floor like sweet, delicate confetti, helping me to celebrate what it means to be alive.

At this moment, I am sitting at the edge of a mountain stream, watching the water tumble over a huge heap of rocks and boulders.  I can’t help but wonder how long this seemingly endless gush has been going on for and how long it will last – a course gradually changing over time.  A rhododendron bush is growing out of a crack in a boulder in an audacious attempt to survive.  A little further upstream, a fallen tree rots, giving life to moss, ferns, and other plants.  Butterflies and other insects zip about, full of mystery and wonder.

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Stopping along a mountain stream

Spring is the time when the miracles of life are most apparent to me, including my own.  I feel so lucky to be alive and experiencing this immensely beautiful world.  I find gentle reassurance in the life pushing forward around me.  But I also find quiet reassurance in the death and decay.

As I push forward in my own life’s journey, I find myself more willing to greet the varying experiences I find there, knowing with a calm heart that my journey, like all others, will someday end.  In the meantime, it continues flowing, changing course along the way.  And hopefully, the banks will continue to be rich and resplendent, with many places to stop for quiet reflection and perhaps an occasional refreshing swim!

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The “Walker Sisters Place” – an old homestead from the 1800s, where 5 self-reliant sisters lived until the last one passed away in 1964.

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Pamela, one of my oldest and dearest friends, came to visit for a day hike with her husband, Bryan. Here we are in front of the Walker Sisters Place!

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The view from Mount LeConte

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The lovely view of Little River from our “primo” campsite

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Happy Birthday to me!

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If you like abandoned buildings and ruins, then you will LOVE the area of Elkmont, which was a thriving vacation community in the 30s.  Many of the cabins there have been torn down, but many are still standing and in various states of disrepair.  You could easily spend hours exploring their spooky interiors and imagining what they used to be like.

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We saw a trillion trilliums!

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Birthday hike through Cucumber Gap

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A magical birthday rainbow – or perhaps a Laura Aura!

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Forest fairy land

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A lovely waterfall along our hike

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A carpet of wildflowers

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One of many mountain streams 

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Dwarf violet irises after a rain