Bookends

So fellow travelers, today marks the start of a new solar year in this grand adventure of life. Reflecting on the bookends of the first and last days

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Team Fairbanks-Rahalski at the summit of Pinnacle Peak Trail in Rainier National Park

I can see the origami of insights and growth created by the challenges weathered in-between two foundations: friends and family. As I embark fullspeed into the coming years of this sixth decade of solar returns I have my sights set on the adventures made possible by that foundation.

The road we travel

is made lighter by the Love

carried in our hearts

To all the beautiful points of Light in my community of family and friends here is a heartfelt haiku of gratitude for the love and support which has and will continue to bless my journey. You are the best gift anyone could ever receive.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready

Fading West*

So fellow travelers, a friend who reads my blog posts commented on the line I used at the end of a recent entry. Their point was well taken.

“Nothing in (my) life would ever be the same” is indeed a rather sweeping claim. Being aware of the hyperbolic aura it casts, I did not use it lightly. In fact I rewrote, deleted and retyped it several times, eventually coming to the conclusion it accurately reflected the impact of the week I spent in California.

Since writing is how I process my experiences, I am sometimes bound by self-inflicted parameters. An example of this is the prolonged stretch (five weeks, the longest gap since I began the blog in August of 2013) in my posts between the Verdi Requiem weekend and my current series of posts. When I returned home from that regenerative time with friends, I walked back into a malestorm of situations at work which rapidly escalated and deteriorated. It took every ounce of energy to stay focused, professional and compassionate. At day’s end I literally had enough left in me to walk our dog, eat a decent meal and tend to a handful of chores around the house, pond or garden before collapsing into bed.

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On weekends, my work at the dog rescue where I volunteer became my therapy; making a difference in one arena compensated somewhat for the frustration of not being able to get responses at work.  The affection and acceptance of these dogs who had been through so much in their quest to simply find a home where they would be loved became a beacon of Light and hope in a time of tremendous frustration. The sincere gratitude of the rescue staff for every hour I could contribute was a reminder that what I was able to do mattered, whether it was answering phones, cleaning crates, folding laundry or taking a challenged dog on a long respite walk.

Every Sunday morning I would rise early and write for a few hours but due to the confidential nature of my position (I work as a special education assistant in our local high school) what I wrote could not be posted. That I wrote at all came from the advice of several of my creative tribemates.  “Write,” they said “whether you can publish it or not, write for your own sake. Eventually you will find a way to share what you need to say.” I stopped worrying about the extended gap in the published blog posts.

 

So I wrote and walked dogs and got through the weeks, day by day and I focused on what became an even bigger adventure than going to Switchfoot’s 14th Bro-AM concert at Moonlight Beach. I signed up to spend four days with the guys who created the music which had kept me going for so long so I could thank them in person.

 

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

*The title FADING WEST is a reference both to the direction I traveled for my great adventure and a movie/music project the band undertook during their 2012 world tour. You can watch the trailer for the film, released in 2013  at this link .

 

Kateri’s Wisdom

So fellow travelers, setting the dial on the way back machine (any Rocky and Bullwinkle fans still out there?) we find ourselves on the road home the morning after the glorious Verdi experience.

Bennington Community Art Center

I’ve grown fond of the quiet college town of Bennington and it’s little sister North Bennington, home now to several friends from my creative tribe. It also boasts the distinction of being home to my favorite pizza restaurant in the world : Marigold Pizza.

My friends and I have shared many good meals of Marigold’s locally sourced (right down to the flour for the pizza crusts and the bottled sodas) ingredients and that afternoon was no exception as several of us gathered for a post Requiem reunion.

I eagerly took in the news of recent travels, new homes, photos of grand kids, funny ‘how me met’ stories and deeply appreciated the post performance reflections of both participants and patrons. I had a clear premonition this time together was a sandbar in a rising tide of looming stress.

What I did not foresee was the tsunami of chaos that would hit within days of my return to work.

Yet somewhere within me must have been an awareness of Something of Significance because on my drive home the next morning I made a spontaneous decision to detour off the highway to seek out a spot I had wanted to visit for decades.

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Kateri National Shrine Auriesville NY

Kateri Tekakwitha (also known as Flower of the Algonguins – Lily of the Mohawks) lived in the Mohawk Valley region in the mid 1600’s (1656-1680) I have been intrigued by her story since I heard of the shrine located near her village.

It is a quiet humble site with several trails, a chapel and museum with detailed and well documented accounts of the Native American history indigenous to the area as well as Kateri’s own story. Serene, simple and rife with the odd juxtaposition of Native American and Catholic (Franciscan) heritage.

Yet from the tangled weaving of two seemingly opposed cultures, Kateri’s devotion to both her people (most of whom rejected her) and her adopted faith shines like a golden thread. I thought of how much suffering she endured to follow the Spirit that spoke to her heart. Orphaned, scarred and nearly blinded by smallpox, she managed to reach for Hope and Light. Perhaps this Saint, canonized in 2012, might have some guidance to offer me.

So I climbed the path that lead to the statue which stood high on the hill overlooking the grounds below.

If I am a believer in Anything, it is that Truth and Light can be found on many paths. No religious or spiritual belief system holds all the answers for every soul. None of them are perfect because all of them are orchestrated by humans and we are inherently both flawed and fearful. We are also given to profound moments of compassion and grace. Not all Christians are judgemental; not all Buddhists are non-violent.

Anyone who has followed my thoughts here knows I am more apt to find wisdom in the walking woods than sitting in a wooden pew. Still I have often been moved by the energy and insights I’ve been blessed to discover when visiting sacred sites. So I sat on the bench, taking in the view, waiting, wondering, listening.

Warblers sang

Crows called

Leaves rustled

Dogs barked

Children laughed

A baby cried

Sounds of life flowing forward undeterred by the growing storm which loomed ahead. No Voice with a Message, just a reassuring sense somehow Everything Will Be OK.

Accepting this seemed a form of madness in itself in the face of a situation we were facing at work. But I left a shiny coin at Kateri’s feet in gratitude, hiked down the hill and drove home.

Buddha rock encounter

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Make a Joyful Noise

So fellow travelers, navigating major highways in heavy rain requires a kind of intense focus which you don’t realize is exhausting until you arrive at your destination.

It’s an apt metaphor for the level of focus and energy my job has required for several weeks now. Often at the end of the day I arrive home so thoroughly spent, a nap is required to take Delilah out for our afternoon walk. Bless her sweet soul, she has learned to be patient, curling up on the couch with me. She even developed the habit of gently nudging me awake after about half an hour which is about the longest I allow myself to rest so I won’t be up too late that night. When I wake, no matter how tired I still feel, we leash up and head out, whether on a brief patrol of the neighboring streets or a longer hike of a nearby trail to scout for birds (me) and woodland critters (Delilah) these walks help me hit the reset button. A sudden scattering of light through newly leafed trees, the bright call of a warbler, a sight of an osprey gliding high overhead on a lakeside trail, auditory and visual moments of joy and wonder. They serve as reminders that the failings of the educational system are not the be all and end all of my purpose.

As I drove through the rain I let a whirlwind of thoughts rattle around in my brain like raw stones in a tumbler, hoping some gems of wisdom or at least chips of sparkling insight might emerge.

They didn’t.

The drive took a bit longer than anticipated; I had just enough time to check in at my Air B&B, change for the concert and head to the venue where I found two of my friends had graciously saved me a seat. My mind was still a swirl of contradictory lines of thought so it was just as well we did not have much time to chat before the first somber measures of Verdi’s masterpiece drifted over us.

Choral music is rarely my first choice for musical repose, even when I am inclined to listen to classical music, which I do fairly often. Yet I have thoroughly enjoyed every concert I have had the good fortune to hear our friends perform in. This performance was a rare opportunity to see all three friends singing together. One sporano, one tenor and one alto tucked among over two hundred members of four diverse community choral groups, accompanied by talented student and long term musicians of the Putney Orchestra under the superb direction of Maestro Cailin Marcel Manson.  (rehearsal photo courtesy of The Keene Chorale.)

cailin

Seated just a few rows back on the ground level of Bennington College Greenwall Auditorium, we had a close-up view of all four star soloists. Cailin’s emotive movements did not “conduct” so much a conjure a vortex seeming to suspend the reality of space and time. Transfixed, we who listened were drawn into the swells of despair and hope as the music poured into every fiber of our presence. We felt the wrenching sorrow of Verdi’s grief, terror of final judgement and healing angelic blessing of grace as the words and music wound through the text of the Catholic Funeral Mass on which he based this tribute to his friend, Alessandro Manzoni, a much loved and publically revered writer of the time.

How significant to realize friendships had brought me to this moment even as friendship had driven a creative force so powerful and moving it was impossible to experience without feeling the Divine Presence behind Creation itself. I know I felt Grace and Healing completely enfold not only my own weary spirit but the entire performing space and every soul within it. Music affects me deeply, but rarely as profoundly as this performance. One week later I sense I am still absorbing the impact. My dreams have been intense and vivid, my sleep deeper and more restful than it has been in months and the fallout from continued chaos at work has rolled off my consciousness like wax dripping down the side of candles on an altar.

To remain under the grace of this experience for whatever time I am granted I remain profundly grateful for Verdi’s gift born from profund loss. I wish him Lux Eterna.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Verdi in the Woods

So fellow travelers, cool overcast conditions have not dampened the enthusiasm of songbirds this morning.

Sipping tea at the kitchen table of a favorite AirBnB I’m focused on the serenade echoing from the woods behind the cottage. It’s a glorious chorus of melodic phrases, punctuated by bright chirps and an occasional bass riff by a woodpecker somewhere deep in the forest.

Morning serenade
Woodland concert wakens me
Friendship sings again

This weekend’s road trip was set in motion when I received word of a choral concert which included three friends from our creative group. It was an opportunity not to be missed and well worth the seven hour round trip drive, which of course gave me the perfect reason to stay over at this favorite spot.

The only hitch in this plan was the schedule conflict of the concert date falling on the same weekend as the annual Birdathon marathon, an event I have participated in for twelve years, nine of them with Favorite Youngest Daughter.

Still this performance led by Maestro Cailin Marcel Manson would include a mulitude of choral and orchestral musicians taking on Verdi’s sweeping Requiem. It promised to be as rare as any of the unusual sightings popping up in my local birding reports (which so far this season have included an Avocet, a White pelican and a Western meadowlark.)

I reserved my ticket, booked my overnight accommodations and marked my calendar. Little did I know how crucial this respite would prove. (To be continued)

a little watercolor sketch of one of my morning greeters.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

The Twenty-first Crossroad

So fellow travelers, people often speak of kids growing up “in a flash.”

That has not been my experience as a parent.

The passage of three decades from the birth of our first child to this moment of Favorite Youngest Daughter reaching adulthood has felt more like a marathon, one I ran far more willingly than any actual foot race. My husband is the marathon triathlete. I am more likely found on a 5 mile hike than a 5-K run (yes, I am fully aware 5K is actually 3.1 not 5 miles.) But I digress.

Anyone who has undertaken the daunting responsibility of raising kids knows that parenting is not for the faint of heart. Yet nothing in this life I have accomplished has been as rewarding as the adventure of watching our two daughters grow from curious high spirited little girls into creative, independent young women.

 

 

And even as we skyped with Favorite Youngest Daughter last Sunday on her 21st birthday, it’s clear the adventure is far from over. In many ways our lives are beginning a new phase of this grand journey, a stage where my daughters and I relate as women, supporting one another as we take on the dreams and goals we’ve set for ourselves.

Still, as a awesome writer and friend of mine recently blogged “We are never quite the same after someone we’ve loved leaves our everydays.” While Ms Dingle is referring to her grieving the recent passing of a cherished family member, it occurred to me as I read her post I too have been grieving. I realized this process began the morning I left Favorite Youngest Daughter standing on the platform in a train station in Tokyo, two years and six months almost to the day of her recent hall mark birthday.

The memory is a vivid as if it has just happened this morning. I can still feel the effort it took to walk away after giving her a long hug goodbye.  My eyes tear up just as they did that moment,20150831_212415 as I willed myself not to look back, knowing if I did I might run back to stay with her and make the parting impossibly difficult for both of us. This was her moment to step onto the path she had chosen, I had to be strong enough to let go because letting go said “You can do it, I believe in you.”  Still, sitting on the train which would bring me back to our hotel, I had wild thoughts of not getting off, of riding the train until it circled back to her station, of  not going to the airport or getting on the flight that afternoon which would take me and my husband back home. My heart hurt so much I could barely speak when I did arrive at the hotel where my husband had remained to check out while my daughter and I made a pilgrimmage to a sacred memorial which held special meaning for both of us.

In retrospect I see now that was the moment when the heartstrings of full time motherhood fully broke. Yes once a mom, always a mom but from that moment on I would have to learn how to be a long distance mom for both my daughters.

Favorite Youngest Daughter had stepped into independence in a way far different from her older sister. Favorite Older Daughter’s crossing into independence was more gradual, evolved closer to home and by the time she left for college, she had already found her ally and partner for life, the devoted young man I now refer to as Favored Son-in-law. The moment those heart strings began to release came as I watched them get ready for her senior ball. In the way only a mother’s heart can know, I sensed it was a glimpse into her future.

 

 

Our younger daughter’s break from home came as an all-in-one major leap of faith which took her half way around the world for her first solo flight. She has never looked back. Oh, she’s been home a few times and those visits have been deeply rewarding, as have our visits to Portland each summer when we reconnect as a family with our older daughter and her husband.

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Recently the inevitable goodbyes felt surprisingly harder; I hugged my kids tighter, longer, my tears stung sharper. Insights from my friend’s writing granted me a fuller awareness of the grief embedded in this change from full time motherhood to long distance mom. Looking back I find it’s been there in my writing for a while.

With clarity comes the gifts of perspective and acceptance. Those “everydays” Lisa writes about are the void we must reframe and reclaim as our own and as I said before, our adventures as women on life’s path are far from over. Acceptance allows me to see the sign posts pointing the way to undiscovered adventures and whether I walk those paths alone or with friends and family I am eager to set forth on this next stage of my own journey.

 

 

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See you on the trails.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

 

 

 

Roots

I’ve come back to read Tom’s piece several times, it is so thoughtful and imbued with significance for my own journey of searching for “home.”
HOME has become for me more about the people in my life than a physical location, so I feel I am home regardless of where I travel to be with them. As I write this I am sitting by the window in the guest bedroom of the townhouse where my parents live outside Philadelphia watching the sunrise cast amazing colors across the sky.

Yet I have also come to appreciate the connections I have to special sanctuaries in the Upstate NY area where I have lived now for over 40 years.  It’s where our daughters and our son-in-law were born and raised. It’s where my husband spent most of his life growing up. It’s where I learned to bird watch, hike trails and rescue dogs.  It’s where I re-discovered my creative spirit and found a tribe of kindred souls who being spread out across many places are like beacons of homefires reminding me there’s a lot of  home out there for me to visit.

 

Quarry House

Rogers Store Museum.JPGFrom my journal:

I am home.

For the last week, the woman I love and I have been down in Virginia, visiting my family and some of the places that were once home.  We spent a day in the DC area with one of my sisters, a day in Richmond with another, and a day in Surry County with my aunt, my dad’s sister.

My bride, my love had met my sisters, but not until a day before the wedding. They came up to Vermont for the first time, rented a cabin on a small lake and we had dinner there the night before the wedding, along with many of Cindy’s friends. It was a wonderful send-off, but not a place where you really get to know people. Too many of us talking, the whole social bouncing from person to person, group to group to really get to know folks…

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Life in Black and White

So fellow travelers, there is a challenge trending on social media called Seven days in B&W. Here are the guidelines, which we use as the header for each post:

Seven days. Seven B & W photos of my life. No people. No explanation.  

Post and Challenge someone new each day.

A collection of some of my daily life in B&W photos

The admins of an on-line creative forum posted a similar challenge adapting the theme from daily life to #ordinaryextraordinary. Those guidelines read as follows:

*Your challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to post one black and white photograph per day here that represents the extraordinary in your ordinary, everyday life. Look for these things, smile at them, shoot and post with *one sentence* telling us why what you shot is extraordinary to you.

Creative challenges spark my interest and jump start my brain by giving me a focal point. A challenge like this encourages me to experience the world around me from a different perspective. Framing common elements of my day in just the right light so they make an impact when rendered in black and white as well as finding deeper meaning in ordinary components of my life has unveiled a rich array of  treasures whose value I now appreciate more fully.

Some of my images from the #ordinaryextraordinary challenge*

I’m also quite certain I would not have had the fortitude to stand up and speak my truth in the Me too campaign without this gift of uncovering extraordinary beauty in my daily experience. The B&W challenges gave me some solid touchstones. Because I was already  committed to those challenges and dedicated to continuing the process, the images I found became trail markers back to normalcy. The mere existence of  joy woven into my every day life helped me find my way back after diving deep into long silent emotions.

This is why art and creativity matter. When society fractures at rates beyond comprehension we scramble to hold on to something, anything, familiar. Creative processes can teach us how to shift perspective to see our lives from different vantage points. Creative expression gives form to feelings we cannot bear to carry within ourselves any longer. It helps us face the unthinkable acts of our inhumanity to each other and embrace the hope we can change the immutable.

So challenge yourselves. What are the extraordinary elements of  your daily life?  Go find them and see them reborn in the clear contrast of  mindful awareness. Maybe take a photo or two and share them. Who knows what ripples of inspiration you may create.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready .

*Note: The #ordinaryextraordinary challenge  can be found on Facebook, under The Crazy Ones  page . It runs through October 22nd.

 

Sinking In

So fellow travelers, one of the things I value highly from being part of a creative community are the moments when one person’s contribution generates another work.  We call it the ripple effect.  Jackie Campbell,  a friend and fellow haiku writer (she posts one almost daily in her thoughtful blog) shared a story with a photo that caught my attention right away.

JackiesDock

Photo courtesy of Jackie Campbell

The image matched a haiku I wrote a few months ago but had not posted  because I had yet to capture an image to match the words.

Tide rises waves come
Hold fast to the shore my friend
Light and love are near

Most of my haikus are created out of the experience embedded in an image I capture, so the visuals usually preceed the words.  This haiku came out of some challenges another friend was experiencing. When I composed it, I sent her a copy on a hand decorated card and kept the original words in my blog drafts waiting to snap the right photo to go with it. Then this morning while wrestling with another post that felt heavy and awkward, I came across Jackie’s candid story and photo. Often when I feel I’ve hit creative quicksand, I will take a break and scroll through my WordPress Reader’s feed or check in on Instagram if only to lift my mood. Most of the time savoring the creativity of others not only raises my spirits, it sparks my own process and I get back into the flow of writing, just as Jackie’s piece gave me the boost I needed today.

Jackie’s honesty about feeling daunted by the process of learning to “get out of manual” mode when using her camera reminded me of how easy it is to doubt our ability to acquire new skills, particularly when technology is a component of the tools we are using. I’ve had my digital slr camera for several years now and there are still settings I have not ventured to experiment with. In fact on my last trip to the Pacific Northwest I chose to leave that camera behind and rely on my phone for photos. With trips planned to two national parks, it was an almost unthinkable choice, one made only because I know I will return to those those parks again in the next few years.

On recent trips I have felt burdened by the bigger camera and noticed most of the photos I like best were ones I captured with my phone. This trip I felt more present in the adventures I had, letting the experience really sink in without the requirement (admittedly self imposed) of capturing it “on film.” There were only a handful of moments when I missed the capabilities of my dslr and the depth of experience I gained by being present without it were well worth the trade off of less impressive shots taken by phone.

20170826_120556.jpgMt Olympus from Hurricane Ridge in Olypmic Natl Park.                                                         One of the moments I missed my dslr and extra lenses.

The fear we have of not creating work that is “good” enough, not getting it “right” comes from self imposed expectations. We just don’t give ourselves the benefit of making mistakes which are after all how we learn to do things better. Our expectations and tendency to compare ourselves to others not only in creative endeavors, but in many, too many, areas of life, fabricate quagmires of doubt. This is why I am grateful for the creative community I am part of.  Encouragement, advice and even an inspirational challenge from time to time (more on that in an upcoming post) are lifelines along a sometimes rocky journey to creative growth and deeper self expression.  We may not always walk side by side, but we are never truly alone. It’s a blessing beyond any measure of perfection.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

 

Bridges and Walls

So fellow travelers, one day last week I had some time to enjoy a rare morning walk in the little Upstate NY village I live near.

The trees have been a bit shy about changing into their autumn colors this year. September was so hot and dry it seems most leaves simply curled up and dropped. It’s as if they were saying “We give up. We’re just too tired to get through the change this year.” My lawn crunches as if I am walking on broken glass, dark green rafts float across my pond, trees rattle like old bones in the afternoon breeze. As much as I love summer for all the adventures it brings, Autumn is my favorite season. Finding a pop of color by the bridge in the village gave my heavy heart a much needed lift.

Just as I lifted my phone to capture the image, gulls burst into flight over the river. I stopped to take in their raucous energy as they swirled in wild circles, laughing cries echoing over the water. Gratefully I let their apparent joy, ease the heartache of current events. So much sorrow, so much loss, so much violence and anger, so much judgement and blame and most of all, not enough listening.

Those feelings weighed heavily on me as I drove to an even smaller village further “up”state to spend a weekend with several good friends. We met originally in an on-line creative group which eventually began gathering at several annual events giving people who attended a chance to meet and get to know each other. The experiences generated both wonderful connections and, as often happens when communities grow larger, some challenging dynamics. Some of those dynamics seem to resurface once in a while in ways many of us find confusing. Our gathering of friends pondered some of these challenges during our time together this weekend.

When people are hurt, shamed, excluded or ridiculed by others the pain leaves a wound which can linger for years. When we are hurt by someone we trust, we yearn for the violators to acknowledge the pain they have caused, we want to hear them accept responsibility, offer a sincere apology and even promise not to hurt others.

Occasionally this does happen, though only in circumstances where the hurt is a result of a genuine misunderstanding, Most of the time the cycle of betrayal and hurt result from actions of people whose behaviors reflect internal issues they are either unaware of or are unwilling to resolve. So most people are left trying to deal with unresolved pain. “Walk away, move on,” people are told over and over without being offered an answer as to how one does that.

 

Art with a message found in a little garden 

The topic of bullying and toxic relationships comes up frequently when you work at a high school and being on a special ed teaching team it’s something we encounter all the time. At a workshop during one of the professional development sessions our school district holds each year, one of the facilitators presented the empowering work of author Kari Kampakis.  Kari teaches young people that everyone in our life serves a purpose and has something to teach us. When it comes to the way we are treated by others, some people teach us about the kind of people we want to be and others show us who we do not want to be.

We tend to create bridges connecting us to the people in the first category and build walls to protect us from the latter people, but Kari talks about “leaning into” the feelings from hurtful experiences. By this she means being aware of what they did to make us feel the way we did; was it their words, the tone of voice, their actions and what specific actions affected us? Then, take what we know and promise we will learn from their mistakes. “Make specific pledges,” she encourages kids, “Say ‘I will make sure others feel included,’ ‘I will listen when other’s are struggling and comfort but not try to fix them,’  ‘I will not expect more acceptance than I myself can give.’ “

Walls protect but they also confine and we can easily become trapped. When we allow the hurtful actions of others to teach us specific ways of how we can treat others with more kindness and compassion, we reclaim control over our experience because chances are the perpetrator is unlikely to change and the apology we seek will never come. Instead of constantly reliving the hurt, we draw strength from healing pain, take responsibility for our feelings and turn anger into positive action. Consciously choosing to judge less and learn more empowers us to walk away, move forward and get on with our own journey. Bridges, not walls aid that journey.

Here’s to walking bridges over no longer troubled waters

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.