Spirit of 60 Road Trip Part Nine: The Walk of Sages

So fellow travelers, the lush green winding drive north on the Taconic was the perfect counterpoint to two days of city traffic. It had been raining all morning and cloud dragons of mist sat mysteriously suspended above creeks and rivers in the narrow valleys.

20170716_145837edit.jpg

a photo taken in Vermont a few mornings later, with the same dragons

With a full tank of gas, a decent diner meal in my belly and plenty of time to get to my final destination I was in no hurry.  Driving mindfully through hills might not be considered genuine “forest bathing,” still I truly felt refreshed as my eyes drank in the peace and serenity of the view.

It also gave me time to process the many connections I felt during my time at Sagamore Hill. Parallel threads: my dad raised by an aunt when his mother died after giving birth; my drive to write, a deep reverence for nature, a love for gardens gifted to me when working alongside my Grandfather, an imposing man who, although more reminiscent of Archie Bunker than Theodore Roosevelt, would later in life challenge me to love others are they are with full knowledge of their prejudices. Ponderous thoughts.

No wonder I nearly missed the sign marking the turn for my destination, even with my GPS which indicated the turn was still ahead on the road. Spirit or sheer luck, however you choose to believe, sent a red tailed hawk swooping across the road to land in a tree by the sign to catch my attention.

The path from the parking lot led to a wide gravel walkway which sloped gently upwards towards the temple, flanked on either side by two towers.  One held a large ceremonial drum, the other a huge metal bell, signature elements of Buddhist sacred sites. Lining both sides of the pathway were statues of various Buddhist masters and teachers.

20170714_135903edit

While it is not uncommon to find statutes of masters at temples, these were by far the most unique and intriguing collection of sages I have ever encountered in one location. I could not help but chuckle and smile at some of their expressions and life stories, which were presented in both traditional Kanji and somewhat awkward English translations on signs placed before each one.  A few of their tales had me laughing right out loud, a welcome reminder that laughter can help us recover from suffering.

 

I thanked them with an offering of shiny new pennies tucked under their stone feet and continued on the path to the temple where Buddha sat waiting. (to be continued)

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

 

Spirit of 60 Road Trip Part Eight: With All Due Respect

So fellow travelers, it is most fortunate the evening with Chihuly’s amazing glass art was so vibrant and colorful because the next morning I woke to dense grey clouds which soon gave way to heavy rains.

20170712_184507edit

Clouds over Oyster Bay Long Island

In one sense the rains felt a fitting mood for my departure that morning as my route out of the city would take me by Woodlawn Cemetery where my paternal grandparents rest presumably in peace. Being a mix of traditional Lutheran regard for elders with equal parts of Japanese ancestral worship it would be unthinkable for me not to stop and pay my respects.

I have an odd relationship with cemeteries. I find them intriguing and mysterious rather than ghoulish. Perhaps this is due to the frequent visits we made to the cemetery when I was a child. Our family would stop after church before convening for Sunday dinner with my Dad’s family. Most of the time one of my parents would take me down to the pond to feed bread crusts to the geese who resided there year round.  Honestly I found these cranky anatidae far more terrifying than the quiet denizens of the nearby graves. To my best recollection, the geese were the only cemetery residents who ever chased or tried to bite me.*

My memory of these visits is so deeply engraved, I can find the family gravesites without much wandering or the help of the new Woodlawn Cemetery Ap.

Gentle rain fell as I stood by the graves, a serene mist of holy water, washing away some burdens I had carried there. A long drive with some promising discoveries lay ahead of me that day so I remained long enough to wish my ancestors well, ask their continued blessings on those still walking earthly paths and left small tokens on the gravestones in gratitude.  This last gesture is decidedly influenced by my Japanese heritage.

20170714_114320edit.jpg

When my husband’s schedule kept him from joining me on my road trip, it created an open end to the dates I could travel so I decided to combine the trip with a visit to catch up with some cherished friends in Vermont and New Hampshire. This extended my itinerary to cover over 700 miles of solo driving, including several runs back and forth on various expressways and bridges in and around New York City.

“Bring it on,” said my Inner Kid from da Bronx when I laid out the maps.

I created various routes using both on-line mapping and a trusted well worn Road Atlas. While I appreciate the programmability of a good GPS (mine’s a Garmin with lifetime updates) just like hiking, I rarely leave home without a reliable set of paper maps. While mapping a trip online allows me to bookmark a nice list of coffee stops and diners along a given route, my GPS does not tell me Route 25A is an excellent alternative to the Long Island not-so Expressway.  This later fact courtesy of my road atlas, surely saved my sanity on the multiple transits back and forth across the Bronx and Throgs Neck Bridge going to and from Long Island where I stayed during the New York City leg of my journey.

On-line mapping does however offer some unique perks. Take for example a serendipitous discovery made as I planned the current leg of my trip heading north to Vermont. Planning this stop at Woodlawn Cemetery gave me the option of taking the Taconic Parkway to Vermont.  It’s a scenic, slower paced and far less congested route than going north via 87. However, unlike highway 87,  there would not be any rest stops or gas stations on the Taconic so I wanted to plan my break points accordingly.

That’s how I found the Chuang Yen Monastery.

20170714_141323.jpg

Who knew there was a Buddhist Monastery near Carmel New York?

Some intrepid researcher working for Google maps did and plunked a nice pin which popped right up for me to see while doing my route planning. Sometimes the stars and algorithms of social media align and there you have it:

“Site of the Largest Statue of Buddha in the Western Hemisphere.”

Wait what? (it is, I fact checked the claim) and just a 20 minute side trip off the parkway?

Given all my recent reflections on suffering and compassion it would be outright disrespectful to even consider passing up an opportunity like this. Who knows maybe my ancestors were pointing me to this hidden sanctuary.

I’m deeply grateful I made the side trip, otherwise I would have missed meeting some very mindful masters~

20170714_143211edit.jpg

(to be continued)

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

*On a personal note:  Some 37 years after those Sundays at the cemetery, I visited Woodlawn with Favorite Older Daughter who was at the time simply Favorite Only Child and just about the same age as I had been back then.  Spying the geese on the banks by the pond, she asked “Mommy can I chase them?” I hesistated for less than a nanosecond before nodding and waving her on. There is no way to measure the satisfaction I felt watching my own child scattering the geese left and right.  Revenge can indeed be sweet.

Spirit of 60 Road Trip Part Three: Pilgrimage to Sagamore Hill

“The only man who never makes a mistake is someone who does nothing. ” Theodore Roosevelt

So fellow travelers, I wanted to mark my significant turn of decades by setting a goal focused on something new to experience in my next decade. Given the importance of nature to my well being, the idea of visiting each of the fifty-nine National Parks seemed a fitting choice.

IMG_0900

Crater Lake National Park,  from our trip to Oregon in July 2014 . Pre-goal, still counts.

No surprise then that one of the few heroes in my gallery of mentors would be Theodore Roosevelt, who created the National Parks system while serving as the 26th President of the United States. Setting forth on a pilgrimage to visit Roosevelt’s home at Sagamore Hill, now a National Parks historic site, felt like an apt beginning to mark my new goal.

After so many challenging trips around the sun if there is one lesson I have learned well, it is to cast a discerning eye when presented with alleged greatness. Therefore, those I consider true heroes are few and far between. Theodore Roosevelt sits high on my list. I am not blind to his many short comings but then neither was he. In fact, his willingness to admit his flaws and acknowledge his mistakes is one reason I hold him in high regard.

TR was also a writer, keeping a daily journal from a young age to record his thoughts and experiences. Writing is how he supported his family after most of his personal fortune was lost during his ranching years in the Dakotas. It was his primary source of income, his salaries from public office being more modest additions to his resources. He published three dozen books on a wide variety of topics and his writing styles altered to suit his subject matter from humorous to scientific to his well known “bully pulpit” blustering.

It is Teddy as father and head of the family he was known to cherish more than any public honor, which draws me in almost as much as the naturalist who published Summer Birds of the Adirondacks based on his observations over many years. It is in the letters written to his family, which have been published as a collection where he came to life for me.  His values and priorities, sense of humor, deep love for his family and passion for life itself even with all its challenges are put to paper so honestly I come away feeling as if I have been privileged to sit in on the talk at the family dinner table.

He brought this honesty even to his fractured relationship with his oldest daughter, Alice Lee, whose fierce independence and untamable anger created a rift they never breeched. It was a heartbreak second only to the day her mother (his first wife, Alice) and his own mother died within hours of each other. Roosevelt’s willingness to be open about his own humanity makes his leadership and wisdom more accessible. He led others through out his life as he taught and raised his children: by example. It’s a model I’ve been mindful of since I read his autobiography back in junior high school.

One hazard of holding great admiration when traveling to a historic site such as the Roosevelt Home at Sagamore Hill is the expectations and images we create hold tremendous potential for great disappointment.

SagamoreHill Edit

The instant I caught a glimpse of the house, with its sweeping lawn, wide wrap around porch and majestic trees I felt any doubts evaporate into the sweltering summer heat wave which had settled on Long Island that morning. Stepping out of my car, I caught sight of a bench under the gracious shade of a majestic cherry tree. I sat and watched small butterflies drift among the wildflowers scattered in the meadow, I had a reserved ticket for a tour of the house in about half an hour which gave me time to sit in gratitude for simply being there.

20170713_132559edit.jpg

It was a moment I like to think Teddy himself would have appreciated. To be continued

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

Road Markers

So fellow travelers, today I stand at the road marker of six decades on this journey of Life. While I’m rarely inclined to make much of milestone ages, I admit approaching this point has felt different.

Sunset reflection @ Onondaga Lake 

It’s not about getting older, that is after all something we do from the moment we are born. Yep, newsflash : none of us are getting any younger!

The turning point from young to old is a relative perspective. I’ve known octogenarians who still run marathons and young adults who dread turning thirty. Age is a number, being old is a state of mind. I embraced my fifties by saying “I’ve been around at least half a century,” when the question of age came up. The comment often surprised people, a few of whom professed disbelief until I told them my actual year of birth*. Eventually I started saying  “Well, I’ve passed the double nickle mark,” because my mid-fifties was the first point when stating my age felt uncomfortable.

Reflecting back I realize I was coming to grips with accepting the time I have left to live life’s adventures is considerably less than the time I have already lived.

And that is perfectly ok. I’ve lived a good life so far and I’m nowhere near done yet. So at sixty, yes that is 60, my mission is to mindfully go forward seeking adventures and experiencing all life has to offer for as many years as I am granted. Whether those are two or ten times that, it is not the number which matters but what we do with it that counts.

#Spiritof60roadtrip is off to a joyful start. Stay tuned.

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

*That would be 1957.

Parting Thoughts

So fellow travelers, one song bird is packed and ready for the next leg of her journey.

The image brought waves of emotion. As I sat on the porch in the morning sun  to be with the feelings, a bluebird sang out bright and clear.  These words floated up on the tears

Sunrise comes

Bluebird sings 

New horizons call

Heartstrings stretch

Weave a bridge 

Reaching coast to coast

Love abides

Boundless strong

Paving journey’s way

Parting moments are so bittersweet yet holding tight beyond the moment would cage the beautiful souls I’ve raised to fly free.

Besides hugs will always be waiting wherever we call home.

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


Lighting Their Path

So fellow travelers, this last day of a long hard school year is filled with some tough goodbyes.

There are always shifts in staffing at the end of each year. This time around those shifts are hitting a group of friends pretty hard.

Today’s goodbyes are a reminder of another parting tugging at this Mom’s heartstrings. Rather than dwell on what’s to come I want to be deeply present in the time remaining.

This Zen moment from an evening spent with Favorite Younger Daughter at a traveling exhibit brought these words to Light.

Finding the courage

To send young ones on their way

Mothers love stay strong

Being present in the moments we have for as long as I can and finding joy in simple things like a walk through magical lanterns of Light.

lantern walk

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

Threads

So fellow travelers, the importance of family has framed many of the choices I’ve made. Those choices have in turn directed which paths I followed on this journey.

IMG_3471edit

Navigating crossroads is rarely easy. In times when we struggle against an inevitable change, our resistance can blind us to possible options. Other times we are so to open new experiences, the options quickly become an overwhelming muddle of open ended questions with no clear direction. Either way a kind of mental-emotional paralysis sets in requiring some outside assistance to help us move forward.

As the mother of two bright, independent, strong willed daughters who are now in their twenties, I try to be an ally as they navigate the twists and turns of their adventurous lives. Sometimes that means taking a deep breath and standing in quiet support alongside them at a key crossroads. Nearly six decades of life experience might give me some perspective that things have a way of working out, yet I have not forgotten the feeling of uncertainty embedded my own crossroad moments.

Threads of life experience tie us together as a family. On Father’s Day evening, Favorite Older Daughter skyped with us from the top of a trail where she and some friends were rock climbing. I listened with a full heart to the passion in her voice as she described their hike and climbing adventure.

Up she goes (Photo Credit Mike Goris) This is not the spot she was skyping from. It’s a shot from a climb on a different day.

The next morning I captured this moment between my mom and Favorite Younger Daughter who is visiting for a few weeks.

 Her visit home feels like a long cool drink drawn from a deep well after a hard journey. Long distance motherhood is a tough gig. I am grateful for the precious time together. It strengthens the sacred threads which secure our hearts in love.

More than memories

The past becomes a compass

Future paths unfold

 

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

 



Camping with memories

So fellow travelers, found this golden washed view of a day’s end in my “drafts and edit” file. It was an auspicious moment which blessed a camping trip taken last year with a dear friend soon after my mother-in-law died.

It captures some of the feeling I am often struck by when a trail brings me to a spot of magical Light.

I remember coming out of the woods to this view released a flood of emotions. It was so reminiscent of the many old postcards we found that summer when clearing out my mother-in-law’s house. The moment gave rise to deep thoughts about the long process of shifting through the mountains of things collected everywhere; my mother-in-law, God bless her, had thrown almost nothing away. Ambushes of memories and emotions were embedded everywhere, many of them dark and sad, yet there was also much love and joy and healing, oh so much healing in that process of release.

It has been a year since Joan left this life. Time and memory are tricksters of the heart and mind. The year which has passed since both daughters and our son-in-law flew home to bid their Grandmother goodbye has a distorted feeling, like an image viewed in a carnival mirror. Parts passed by so quickly the recollections are blurred, others extended so slowly the effect is painfully distorted.  Even though he rarely speaks of it, I know my husband misses his Mom and the fractures in his family left by her death are growing deeper. I am grateful one of our daughters will be coming home to visit later this week and we will be visiting my family over Father’s Day weekend.  My family is far from perfect, yet we stand by each other, just as my daughters stood with me in the church when I read the words I had written to honor Joan’s memory.

Dawn comes darkness fades

Pain becomes mere memory

Light calls Welcome Home

We are all in one way or another, together or alone, seeking the path which leads Home.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may peace bless your journey.

 

 

Solitary Loonacy: One Bird at a Time

So fellow travelers, the preliminary tally results from last weekend’s birding marathon just came out.

20170519_224715

While my final tally of 73 species is not in the top ten on the team list, I felt a little swell of pride seeing my tally listed higher than several teams of seasoned birders. Not a bad showing for my first solo “flight,” given the challenges of being afield without my longtime Birdathon teammate aka Favorite Younger Daughter.

Little did I know how sparsely scattered those tallied sightings would be. Our basic strategy has always been to hit known hotspots as early as possible giving us the option to track unusual sightings at locations in between throughout the day.

Those hot spots were unusually quiet, missing many of the songbirds that pass through during migration season.  In most of these spots I would find more memories than birds.

Sterling Nature Center Heron Rookery where Team Loonatics scored our first owl sighting last year.

So I spent a lot of time scouting side trails and second guessing possible back up locations. Some sightings of more common species I probably missed because I could not simultaneously drive and watch along the roadside. There’s where that second pair of eyes has always been a crucial part of our teamwork.

Perhaps more than any individual sighting my most significant discovery on this solo quest was the joy embedded in the process we had laid down in our years as a Mother-Daughter birding team. My fellow Loonatic may have been several thousand miles away yet her spirit echoed in every favorite moment of this solo run.

Hidden in plain sight

One bird’s song gives voice to love

Echoes in my heart

20160521_140601

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

 

Solitary Loonacy: First Solo Flight

So fellow travelers, a year ago I posted a photo and poem about a  heartfelt moment during an annual birding expedition with Favorite Youngest Daughter. This weekend I returned to that spot and captured this image.

It was my first stop on this year’s Birdathon challenge, an annual event I joined for the first time in 2005. ( it’s background is in a previous post too) . As excellent a spot as Potter Road Marsh can be for birding, I had a more personal reason for starting my day’s adventure there. Like the mist on the water that morning a year ago, emotions embedded in the moment I had captured drifted through my consciousness as I prepared for this year’s expedition.

For the first time in ten years I would be flying solo. I had no illusions of breaking our tally record of one hundred and one species without my Team Loonatics partner, Favorite Youngest Daughter, whose expert ear for both pitch and cadence and accurate note taking skills were a major contribution to our final tallies. Still I had strong hopes of being able to find most of the species I could confidently identify independently and I wanted to fuel my “can do” attittude by starting the 24 hour challenge at the spot where inspiration had left a powerful memory.

Windows wide open inspite of the chilly morning temperatures, I drove towards the marsh, counting every song I heard along the way.  By the time I reached the trailhead just fifteen minutes from my house I had tallied nine common birds which I carefully marked on the checklist. Bear in mind first light was just emerging through cracks in the night sky, so I was finding birds only by calls

Stepping out of my car, I heard the sweet melodic song of a wood thrush, so loud and clear, I knew it had to be close to the trail head.  Binoculars in one hand, I moved along the trail as soundlessly as possible. Just a few steps past the trailhead I found the bird sitting in plain sight on a tree branch a few feet above me, so close I never had to raise my binoculars, I had such a clear view. Clear that is until sudden tears blurred my vision, ambushed by a memory from one of our first birdathon trips when a wood thrush had hopped out of the brush and onto a trail right in front of us. My daughter and I instantly froze in place and watched as the bird tilted its head as if looking quizically at these odd big shapes in the path. It hopped a few more steps then flew up into a tree and sang it’s signature flute like melody loud and clear before retreating deeper in the woods.

Left speechless, it had taken me a few breaths to answer my then ten year old daughter’s question of what bird that had been. Inspite of finding wood thrushes many times before, an actual sighting had always eluded me.  I remember, as a new birder taking a guided walk at a local nature center where everyone in the group I was with was able to spot a wood thrush in the trees. Everyone, but me that is, as the elusive songster kept zipping from branch to branch hidden behind leaves as I frantically focused and refocused my binoculars to get a clear view.  This “heard clearly, almost but not quite saw it,” moment was repeated for several years over many auditory encounters until that first full view on our second Birdathon adventure. The wonderful memory of that shared moment rose as clear as the notes filling the morning air and I whispered just as I had ten years ago “wood thrush, it’s really and truly a wood thrush.”

WoodThrush

Wood Thrush song spectrogram from Birds of North Ameirca Online; music from Oiseaux Exotiques © 1959 Universal Edition (London) Ltd., London/UE 13008. Photo by Janet Heintz via Birdshare.

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