Desert connection

Desert connection

The desert is sparkling with bouquets of wildflowers in shades of salmon and sunshine, striking violet, soft white, and rich velvety red.  Each day I notice a different kind of flower stretching toward the vast open sky, flourishing in the warmth of the sun with a flash of ephemeral beauty.  It’s miraculous to witness these blooms springing out of the dusty, dry soil.

I’ve been in southern UT for the past week, camping in and near Capitol Reef National Park.  It’s a remarkable place filled with formations of rock and earth that defy imagination.  Never before have I seen so many geologic layers, stripes, swirls, waves, ripples, and pockmarks in such a variety of colors.  It’s a holy place born of time and elements which I find to be calm and reassuring.  Dramatic changes on the face of the earth are evident here in plain view, and as I think about our planet’s future, I am reminded of how small a part humans play in the great pantheon of time and space.

I have been thinking a lot about our culture’s relationship to land – how it is viewed as a commodity, an asset, something to be developed, something to be exploited, or something to be preserved.  I’ve been filled with a sense of mourning as I think about all the living things that have perished on the land so that we can live our modern lives.

On the drive to the park from Salt Lake City, I saw hundreds, if not thousands, of butterflies sweeping across the landscape.  It was impossible not to hit some of them with the car. Seeing them hit the windshield filled me with such an awful feeling, and I was acutely aware of the loss of each precious life.  Throughout the park, the remains of butterflies were smeared across every vehicle, and it struck me as so so ironic that these gentle beings should be senselessly sacrificed so that we may enjoy our pilgrimage to rejoice in the beauty of nature.

And yet here we are, drawn to our homeland, our blessed earth, to marvel at all she has to offer.  Gazing across a canyon today, I found myself asking, “What do I have to offer?” I couldn’t think of anything other than placing my hands on the earth and pouring loving care through my body and into the soil.  I guess it wasn’t much, but it was something.  It was connection.  Isn’t that what we are all searching for?  Our hearts and souls long to be part of something larger and to be filled with a sense of community and belonging,

This makes me think of a quote I saw in the Captiol Reef visitor’s center, which was so beautifully said:

“We abuse the land because we view it as a commodity belonging to us.  When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”   – Aldo Leopold

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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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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

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 

Full Moon, Full Heart

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Tonight is the full Sap Moon.  As I look at my window, I can see the opal light glowing on the maples, brushing the buds with a soft celestial kiss.  It is rising steadily over the mountains of Wendell, up and up, arching over my humble home, and it will soon shine through my window, keeping me awake with its taunting lunar gaze. I imagine it saying, “Come dance with me.”

I think there is a little bit of Doug in this moon (my cousin who passed away a few weeks ago).  I found one of his poems that he sent to me, and it filled my heart with joy.  Here it is:

The Harvest Moon and I
By Doug Hancock

During autumn in the high country
we spent many evenings at my lakeside campsites
sharing the warmth of an open fire together
and watching the sparks spiral up into the broad sash of the milky way.
We often flirted there
with you sometimes winking at me
or staring full on with your bright face.
I could feel you tugging at me
drawing me toward you with your gentle hands
with the same firm fingers that move everything you see.
For hours we listened to the night sounds together
the two clear notes of the Poor Will in the needled branches
and the bugling elk traveling through the dark forest
the shush of the low waves on the lake shore
and the rustle of bush and tree
stirred by the evening breeze down from peaks.
We could feel the temperature dropping
sinking below the mountain shoulders into the valleys and across the lake
pressing the cold and fire smoke along the ground between us into my tent.
From there,  I could see you leaving
moving slowly away
slipping behind the distant mountains
as I fell asleep and lost you to my dreams.

 

Night Swimming

It’s nighttime and the perfect evening for sitting out on my deck and writing by the flicker of candlelight.

I’m feeling rather nostalgic, as I’m apt to feel on certain summer nights when the dampness of the grass clings to the air and the choir of crickets rises up singing the familiar song of so many summers past.

I just came back from a swim a short while ago.  The water was so still and soft, brushing quietly past the red pillars of cardinal flowers and the fuzzy pink umbrellas of Joe Pye weed.

I thought longingly of some of my friends from high school who I used to go night swimming with.  I can’t remember exactly who prompted it, but suddenly 3 or 4 of us would hop in the car and drive over to the abandoned railroad trestle that traverses the reservoir.  We’d hike down a little path, climb down to the landing, and jump off (frequently sans clothes).

I remember swimming way out, for what seemed like an eternity in the silky, black water, basking in the opal moonlight, singing and hollering under the concrete arch of the bridge, and reveling in the magic of the night.

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Sometimes our nighttime jaunts took us to the lake at Franklin D Roosevelt Park, which was also within walking distance of my house.  I can still see the stars so clearly above the silhouette of the trees, and I’ll never forget the enormous bright red shooting star I saw with a tail that seemed a mile long.

When we weren’t swimming, sometimes we would take night hikes up Turkey Mountain to go camping.  It wasn’t about partying or drinking or getting stoned.  It was about soaking up life’s adventures.  It was about being with friends.  It was about seeing and experiencing the intense beauty of nature, and loving it so much that it ached.

I miss those times and those friends dearly. I wish mightily that I still had friends who would show up at my house and coax me out for a nighttime adventure.  Can those times really be over?

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Goofing around at the high school track at age 17

It seems that we’ve all grown up and become busy with our responsibilities to our families, jobs, homes, and loved ones.  Then why do I find myself still feeling like that same girl with the same longing for adventure and the same sense of wonder at nature’s beauty?  How is it that I can still stand at the water’s edge and be so in awe of the reflection of life all around me?  And will I ever be able to share that with friends in the same way again?

When I was at my 20-year high school reunion last year, a few of us cut out early and drove down to our spot by the reservoir.  Our little path is now much wider and paved for usage by walker and bikers,  and there is a parking lot where before there used to just be a patch of weeds.  The path goes all the way across the bridge, where before there used to be just rail road ties.  But just for a moment, that same magic was there, because really, it never actually left.

I know things aren’t the same.  But I also know that my sense of wonder will always be a part of me. And I hope beyond hope that many more adventures lie ahead – with plenty to be shared!

Maritime Adventure Part 3

Saving the Best for Last

Today was my last full day here in PEI, and arguably the best.  I left the national park a day ahead of schedule, and spent my time exploring and going wherever whim led me.

The day started with a tranquil morning hike through old farm fields, woodlands, a fresh water wetland, and dunes that swept out to the ocean.  As I came through the wetland, I encountered many birds, including several great blue herons which emerged one by one, flapping their wide grey-blue wings, as they heard me approach.  One didn’t notice me until I was practically on top of it, at which point we both startled each other.  I guess my human presence hassled their buzz.  I can’t say I blame them.  I usually feel that my buzz has been hassled when there are other people around, especially when I’m out enjoying the serenity of nature.

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I continued to poke along through my day, randomly driving down a dirt road, which led to a deserted beach – the perfect place to stop and have lunch, catch up on a little reading, and go for a swim.

Towards the mid to late afternoon, it started to cloud over, threatening to rain.   I figured if I was going to get wet, I might as well be out on the water, so I found a little inlet (also down a random dirt road) to go paddling in.  The marsh grasses popped vibrantly against the dark clouds, and as I paddled out into the channel, something white and partly black caught my eye.  I thought it might be a washed up buoy, but I wondered, maybe, just maybe could it be a bald eagle?

I paddled closer, as noiselessly as I could.  When I was about 30 feet away, I still couldn’t make out what it was (if only I had my glasses!), but I thought I saw it moving.  Suddenly, with a great flapping of wings, a bald eagle arose from the marsh, flashing its crisp white belly as it winged effortless to a nearby tree.  What a sight!

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Heading out for a paddle

As my day’s adventures continued, I found myself setting up my tent in the cooling mist of a light rain, climbing to the top of a light house, and sitting by the ocean shucking oysters in the golden evening light.  And now, as I sit wrapped in a blanket on the satin sand, I gaze out at the pewter water, watching with a light heart as it gurgles playfully on the shore.  The sky is cloaked with violet and rose, and a perfect half moon glows mystically in the damp night air.

All in all, it’s a perfect end to a perfect day.

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Yours truly on top of a lighthouse

Heading Home

It’s nighttime here at my campsite in Maine, and I am exhausted from a long day of driving.

I left PEI yesterday afternoon, just as the rain began to fall.  Good timing, I guess!  Yet, despite the gloomy weather, I still felt that I had to pry myself away.  Even though my stay was short, I really fell in love with that gentle island.  I will miss the soft red earth, the deep green fields of potatoes speckled with creamy blossoms, and the gilded fields of hay where giant spools of distilled sunshine sit wrapped in tightly spiraled bundles.   I will miss the meadows of wildflowers in their blissful shades of yellow, ivory, purple, and blue, fringed with the dark green of feathery spruces.  I’ll miss the open sky, and the soft sound of the wind and water.

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Yellow fields of PEI

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Red Point, PEI

Last night, I stayed in Bay of Fundy National Park.  When I awoke this morning, I went for a hike, a paddle, and a swim before hitting the road.  As lovely as it was, I felt that my efforts were a bit half-hearted.  I guess I left the other half of my heart in Prince Edward Island, but I’m sure it will catch up to me soon.

Tomorrow I will head home.  I have mixed feelings about this development.  It will be good to have the comforts of home once again, but I dread facing the responsibilities of my life.  I guess that’s normal.

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Bay of Fundy National Park

At any rate, I’ve had a really amazing trip, so I can’t complain.  As I reflect back on what I wanted to get out of this trip, I would say it was an overwhelming success.  In fact, I got something else out of it that was probably the best thing of all – a chance for my brain to empty out.  What a blessing!

And now I’m off to all the blessings that await me at home!

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Bay of Fundy National Park

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A foggy marsh in Wells, Maine