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 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 do the same.

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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.

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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

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

Welcoming Winter

Welcoming Winter

I have a confession to make.  I have been dreading winter since the last dreamy, verdant weeks of summer.  But as summer turned to autumn and then autumn to winter, I have found myself befriending the cold, quiet days and the long, dark nights.  The air feels crisp and invigorating on my face during my contemplative wanderings through the woods.  There is a stillness that fills the forest, which I find peaceful and soothing, and the early nightfall gives me permission to rest and relax.

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A winter landscape as seen through my living room window

Winter seems to have arrived well before solstice this year, and we’ve been enjoying a tranquil frosted landscape here in western Massachusetts. By the time solstice rolled around, I found myself ready – and perhaps even slightly eager – to embrace the ups and downs of the season.  My attitude about winter surprised me, given the level of dread and loathing I previously felt.  However, there is wisdom in nature – even the parts we don’t favor – and that feels too precious a gift to squander.

On the first day of winter, I saw a truck strike a wild turkey while I was on my way to work.  It tottered across the road while the traffic kept moving.  I slowed to a stop on the side of the road where the turkey piteously hobbled to the shoulder and collapsed face down into a snow bank.

I grabbed a blanket from my car and slowly approached the turkey, arms outstretched, and gently wrapped it up and put it in my car.  My initial thought was that I would contact a wildlife rehabber, but my first glance at the turkey told me that it wasn’t likely to survive.  I didn’t see any blood, but I could see the life slipping away from its limp body.

I called work to say I was running late, then brought the turkey back home.  By then I could see that its spirit had left.  I carried the warm, lifeless body inside and placed it on the kitchen floor.  I have never seen a turkey up close like that before, and I was struck by how beautiful it was.   It was magnificent, with gleaming iridescent feathers.  They felt impossibly soft and thick as I ran my hands through them.  The wings were wide and striped with a remarkably intricate pattern.  How could such an impressive and beautiful animal exist right here in New England?

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Big, beautiful bird

I felt confused as mix of sorrow, anger, and awe coursed through me.  How could someone just hit an incredible creature like this and not stop or seem to care?

I decided to accept this sad event as a gift.  I sat next to the beautiful bird with loving admiration, seeking to honor it.

While I’ve never hunted or farmed, I do eat meat, and I realized that this gift was a opportunity for me to connect with the land in a new way.  And with Christmas right around the corner, I knew this turkey would go to good use.

I plucked and dressed the turkey on tarp in the kitchen, as Rob read instructions to me (thank goodness for the internet!).  It was an unforgettable experience – one that gave me a newfound respect for our animal brethren and for the lives that they give to us so that we may have sustenance.  I also gained a newfound respect for myself as I took responsibility for cleaning and preparing an animal to eat.  Having had no prior experience with that, I wasn’t sure it was something I could do, but it connected me to nature in a way that I have never experienced before.

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Plucking the turkey

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Removing the insides of the turkey – an experience I’m not likely to forget anytime soon. The “blood” on my shirt is not from the turkey – it’s fake blood leftover from Halloween!

Today is Christmas eve, and a magical layer of ice and snow drapes the trees like fine crystal.  As I glance out the window, I can see juncos hopping from the rooftop to a branch and then back again.  Later today, I will be roasting the turkey and, as always, I will be giving thanks for the sacredness of life and the miraculous wisdom and divine harmony of Nature.

Wishing you all a safe and Merry Christmas.

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Summer Solstice

I’m finally relaxing after a long, draining day – and wouldn’t you know?  It’s absolutely beautiful out!  Actually, perfect is the word that comes to mind.  The temperature is just right.  A refreshing breeze dances through the treetops.  The sky is heavenly-blue with just the slightest wisp of white lazily drifting by.  The chipmunks are bolding claiming their territory, seemingly popping out of every nook and cranny.  I’ve just picked a bountiful load of peas and strawberries from the garden.  And flowers are bursting into bloom everywhere.

The mountain laurel alone is something to celebrate.  The hillside is positively glowing with the sweet blossoms like delightful pink-white candies.  I feel like a kid in a candy store just looking at it!

I admit, I am sad to see spring go.  After all, it is my favorite season.  But as we enter this sacred season of exuberance and abundance, I offer my heart in gratitude.  Let this soak in.  Let me savor every moment.

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Mountain laurel blossoms that look sweet enough to eat!

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Garden beauties

Birthday Adventure

April 21, 2017

Today, I am honoring myself.  It is my 40th birthday and I am spending it outdoors in the wilderness of Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas.  I can think of no better way to celebrate than by reveling in the wonders of the natural world.  I cannot think of anywhere else that I would feel such a sense of peace and connection with the grand web of life – a connection which particularly bears reflecting on as I look back on my own life these past 40 years.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is in west Texas, and it appears that most people haven’t heard of it.  As a result, it is less trodden than some of our other national parks, but that certainly is not due to a lack of beauty.

In fact, these mountains are more spectacular than I could have possibly ever imagined,  I’m generally not drawn to desert climates, but I am completely enchanted with the rugged beauty of this landscape.  These mountains rise up out of the desert with such strength and force, and they seem to be alive and breathing with the wisdom of the millennia.

I am also surprised by the incredible diversity of plant life here and the amazing array of textures.  I am enthralled by the tender leaves of the maples and oaks, and I love seeing them juxtaposed against the spiny desert plants.  And the wildflowers are just incredible!  You wouldn’t believe how many different kinds and colors there are!  You simply have to take the time to notice.

I love being exposed to so many different and unfamiliar living things.  I feel as though I am meeting many new friends, all of whom are helping to ring is this new year and new decade.

Here are some pictures from my week long camping trip, including a day excursion to Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  Enjoy!

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Birthday hike! 

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A jackrabbit

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A rattlesnake! (Rob zoomed in with his phone to take this photo.)

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Blooming prickly pear cactus

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Hiking on a chilly day.  Daytime temps were between the 60s and the 80s.

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Sunrise in the Chihuahuan desert

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Draperies in Carlsbad Caverns National Park

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Carlsbad Caverns National Park

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“Mirror Lake”

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These formations reminded me of long slender trees 

Starlight

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I have a skylight above my bed.  It’s my own rectangular slice of of sky.  I usually wake up many times during the night, and each time I see a slightly different configuration of stars winking at me, keeping me company as I lay awake in the dark, quiet night.  Sometimes I fall back asleep right away, and other times I lay there watching as the sky slowly shifts with the earth’s rotation.

Today, I went for a hike with a friend, and I found myself talking about people who have touched my life in some way.  I am talking specifically about people who are, for all intents and purposes, no longer in my day to day life.  Some of them are old friends, and some are people who may have just passed through my life for a day, an hour, or just a moment.  Some of them I am friends with on Facebook, and some have vanished from my life for ever.  But I am grateful for all of them.

It’s funny how just even a small interaction can impact a life.  I have thought many, many times about a man who was standing in line in front of me when my mom took me to get an ice cream cone when I was five.  I think I was telling my mom what flavor I wanted, when suddenly the man turned around and exclaimed jubilantly, “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!”  I was a very timid child, and I’m sure I must’ve appeared very shy and nervous, but for some reason, that gleeful gesture touched me in an inexplicable way, and made me feel a little better about the world, even at the tender age of five.

In some way, it pains me that these people are no longer a part of my life.  But they ARE still a part of my life, and their very presence in my life, at whatever point, is something that still fills me with gratitude. They are still giving to me, even though they, themselves are gone.  As I said to my friend, these people are like stars.  Even though their presence in my life may have burned out, their light continues to shine on.

Insomnia can be a troubling thing.  It can very easily snowball into anxiety and panic, (“How am I going to function tomorrow if I can’t sleep?!”)  I try as best as I can to stay calm in these moments.  But now, as I lay awake watching the stars through my skylight, I will think happily of them as all the people who have blessed my life with their presence.  And as I count each winking star, I will count my blessings.