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

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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 

Birthday Reflections

Every year on my birthday, I like to spend some time reflecting on my life and who I am as a person.  Have I changed?  Have I stayed the same?  Often, the answer is both.

Today, I am feeling extremely grateful for the gift of life.  What an amazing thing, to be alive – to see beauty and experience suffering, to see yourself and the world around you change with each passing year.

I am grateful to my parents for bringing me into the world and caring for me.  I am grateful to the divine power that breathes life into all living beings.  And, on this day of my birth, I am grateful for who I am.  I am silly, sensitive, sad, tender-hearted, empathetic, harmony-seeking, fun-loving, introverted, anxious, creative, zany, and many other things.  But, if I had to pick one single thing that I feel defines me as a person, it would undoubtedly be the communion I feel with Mother Nature.  It is the one thing that makes me feel completely whole as a person, and for this, I feel truly blessed.

I have had such a wonderful birthday, just walking and relaxing with the one I love.  I can’t think of any better birthday gift!

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The Muir in Me: Birthday and Earth Day Reflections

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It’s my birthday!  I love birthdays – both mine and other people’s.  It’s the one day of the year that seems like your own personal holiday.  I always try to take the day off to do whatever I feel like, to indulge in the things that fill me with joy, and to reflect on my life and what makes me “me”.  This invariably means that I am spending time outdoors.

For years, I was tormented by the fact that my birthday is one day before Earth Day.  It seemed like some kind of cruel joke that I should be born with such an intense enthusiasm for nature just shy of this designated day of love and reverence for the earth.

But then I discovered that I share a birthday with John Muir – conservationist, nature writer, and above all – nature enthusiast extraordinaire.  Of all the writers and naturalists, John Muir resonates with me the most. I like to think that some part of John Muir was instilled in me when I was born, filling me with continual wonder and amazement at this remarkable world we live in.

For the record, I am having a wonderful birthday.  Rob and I spent the morning canoeing through the tidal channels of the Herring River in Harwich (Cape Cod).  Salt water marshes are one of my favorite wonders of the world.  Even this time of year, when the marsh looks like a brown sea of matted grass and mud, there are so many signs that it is teeming with life.  Clusters of muscles with perfectly ridged shells, and lumpy rock-like oysters appear in clumps along the marsh edges.  Wadding birds such as willets are camouflaged against the dull browns of the marsh grass, but even so, spikes of new growth can be seen starting to sprout upward.  An osprey nest towers above, and soaring beneath it, its owner scans the water for food.

Now, the sun is getting low in the sky, draping everything in a blanket of gold.  I’m sitting outside near a tidal cove watching and listening several dozen birds as they flit around in search of food.  Their feathers are such a soft array of tan, brown and gold, and their tiny feet and beaks are nothing short of perfection as the hop and peck, flutter, and cock their delightful little heads.

Just now, a rabbit hopped directly in front of me.  I can almost feel how soft and silky her fur is as she nibbles on the fresh new plant growth.  As I watch the tender shoots disappear into her mouth, I’m filled with complete love for this fellow being.

I guess it’s about time to head in and get cleaned up for dinner, but as I reflect back on the day, the year, and my life in general, I’d just like to take a moment to reflect on John Muir and the inspiration he has give me, so I leave you with these words:

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” – John Muir