Back to the Beginning

So fellow travelers, back home from the last road trip of the summer, which brought me to the summit of several mountain trails.


Red Hill Fire Tower, one of two fire tower hikes accomplished this week.

Today, a turn of a calendar page, September arrives and just like that, summer adventures give way to another school year.  Back to the Beginning* we go.

Reflecting back on summer, it has packed so many good memories and peak experiences it somehow feels more than just ten weeks have passed. A measure perhaps of coming to the end of 73 days feeling satisfied not only with what I’ve done, but more essentially with how I lived those days. 

New friends

Time with family

Precious memories from a memorable event

.

Even a few wishes granted

Side Stage at the Fillmore, in Philadelphia PA. Watching Switchfoot on stage from the stage was incredible. Best view of Chad’s drumming in 13 concerts! Yes, my favorite humans even staged a snowball fight as a nod to the snowed out concert last February. And finally getting to see one of Jon’s legendary after shows, singing along with so many other people- community, FAMILY at its best.

.

Remarkably, this summer did not feel as if it flew by too quickly, making it unique to every previous summer I can remember.  The pace of life felt just right- a benefit perhaps to a conscious choice I made to live these months as if I am retired.

 Not that every day was perfect; mid-August brought an unexpected challenge in a long standing friendship which caught me off guard. Although the dynamics were not within my direct family, the fallout rippled through close relationships with people as dear to me as family. Navigating the emotional war zone felt like walking through a minefield, one wrong step and the collateral damage could be brutal.  

Or not.

The abandoned Overlook Hotel near the summit of Overlook Mountain

I could instead choose to not engage in the conflict, to honor my boundaries and create space for me to stay true to myself. 

Angry confrontations never resolve conflicts but choosing not to engage in confrontation is often seen as a sign of weakness. “Man-up” people say as if this stereotypical frame for confrontation as being “manly” aka “powerful and strong,” makes it more acceptable. It’s an expression which, if used in ernest, all but eliminates any respect I might have for someone.

Words spoken from anger rise from fear and people given to confrontation are always driven by their fears. Everyone is afraid and if we refuse to face those fears they become our Achilles heel.  Like an untreated wound, unknown fears will fester and eventually poison our choices with toxic dysfunction. Fear also blinds us to the goodness in our lives. It can harden our hearts and prevent us from giving and receiving love.

View from Overlook Mountain Fire Tower, a 1450 ft ascent, 3hrs 5min of hiking, 5.1 miles roundtrip and worth every step.

Sometimes the hardest crossroads are the ones where we must part ways from someone we care for deeply, yet we can continue to love them even as we move forward on our own journey, knowing they too can make a choice to change and healing will come. Standing in the shadow between then and now, I am grateful for the peace and strength gathered on this summer’s journeys. 

New season, new beginnings, let the adventures begin again.

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

*Back to the Beginning is one of my favorite songs by ( of course ) Switchfoot. I may not surf but it has carried me through waves of many changes.

Morning Glow

So fellow travelers, this morning Delilah and I headed out to walk just after sunrise to beat the heat.

Dew drenched grass sparkled in the early light. Cool, moderately humid air felt reminiscent of morning walks in my older daughter’s neighborhood.  Their house is located near the foot of Powell Butte (Portland, OR) so the air is blessed by mist which descends every night from the forest above. 

Early light has a radiant quality, hard to capture but oh so wondrous to behold, giving rise to some gentle words of gratitude 

Geraniums glow

Morning dew blesses the grass 

Birds sing hymns of joy

In the midst of diligent attention to the many details involved in coordinating a wedding for two very dear friends, this moment comes as a gentle reminder. The gift of peace can be found in the simplest things.

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

Faith Full

So fellow travelers, being aware it’s easy to pass off yesterday’s ardent post about my week with Switchfoot as the spellbound babble of a star struck fan I wanted to follow up

Photo courtesy of Switchfoot Getaway ©2019

because these exceptional musicians are such genuinely accessible humans they allow us to feel more like family than fans.

Drew Shirley gets some Millie Grace time with her parents.

Photo Courtesy Switchfoot Getaway 2019 ©

Take for example the day on the itinerary which I most look forward to which, it may surprise you to know, is not necessarily one of the musical performances the band graciously shares with us throughout the week

My front center view for the sunset concert cruise

nor is it the outstanding fun and excitement of the beach day where the guys hang out with us decorating souvenir magnets, building sand castles and surfing right alongside beginners as they navigate the waves~

Photos courtesy Switchfoot Getaway 2019 ©

or the tour when they invite us as small groups into the sacred space of their private recording studio and each member takes time to share their creative process, answer our questions and let us experience the joy of recording a little chorus, which they will mix into a song and then send us to download as a keepsake~

Photos courtesy Switchfoot Getaway 2019 ©

all these bring waves and waves of joy which will carry me through the challenges of the space

Content

So fellow travelers, it is a gloriously lazy Sunday afternoon. A graceful breeze wafts down from the pine clad sides of Powell Butte tickling a gentle song from the sparrows in my daughter’s yard. Bird song and after effects of a hearty brunch have cast a spell upon us.

Ceiling fans spin as

dogs snore at my feet and I

am content to nap

The days have been filled with family dinners, heartfelt conversations, a bit of shopping at our favorite second hand shops and bookstores ~ ordinary moments which fill my heart with the simple joy of just being together.

I am indeed profoundly content.

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

Home

So fellow travelers, last night, at a small music club, Switchfoot gave a special performance for the fans who have gathered for their 2019 Getaway week leading up to the Bro-Am beach festival later this week.

It was a once in a lifetime concert experience.

Honestly, every concert I have seen them play since the first time I saw them live (Sept 4, 2009 at the NY State Fair) is a profound experience; that’s why I go to as many shows within my reach as possible ( nine so far and many more to come.)

This is music with a message of hope, words which speak honestly of the healing and joy possible if we reach out to one another and choose love in the midst of the struggle, the doubts, fears and losses life brings. Make no mistake, these are not quiet church hymns. Switchfoot is a faith based group but they are a rock band through and through. The driving rhythms of the drums and bass and the electrifying guitar riffs make it impossible to stand still. These songs transcend inspiration; at times they have quite literally saved my life and every show is a baptismal healing which renews my soul.

Last nights’s performance of a set list picked by us (that’s right, they had people attending submit requests before the show) featured many songs they have not played live in a while, one of which was a song written for the Disney movie Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. Jon Foreman spoke of his love for C.S. Lewis’ writing which resonates with the longing for a true home beyond the bittersweet experience of this world. Every one of us feels that longing, whether we are fully conscious of it or not, this is what drives every choice we make. Jon’s music has that same thread running through it, a thread which has become deeply woven into the fabric of my own experience.

This is Home is the one song which always guides me back when I am so lost I don’t know how to find that Light and Love which I know calls me forward. Hearing it live for the first time last night was a blessing beyond words, an experience I am infinitely grateful has become a part of me.

And the week has just begun.

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

Relentless

So fellow travelers, the rain this Spring has been relentless.

I tell myself I can’t complain if I truly intend to move to the PNW, so, I take it as a kind of meteorological training program and I say things like, “At least we don’t have to shovel the driveway or brush off the car.”

Persistent optimism. It annoys people as I am frequently reminded by the eye rolling, snarkiness going around .  It rolls off my consciousness like the rain sliding down my driveway, washing the abundant maple and elm seeds into the roadside ditch. Away they sail in the rushing water to who knows where, perhaps some will take root and grow into their own little forest.

To dwell on the negativity thrown about too easily thanks to the sparsity of verbal moderation (perpetuated, I believe, by the anonymity of social media) is to allow oneself to become mired in the other peoples muck. 

No thank you! 

My own spiritual guidance pushes me to see this negativity as coming from the storms within these people. Their feelings become so uncomfortable, they project them outwards to rid themselves of the pain and anger.  I can see this compassionately without sinking into the same quagmire.

Restless storm clouds race

Dumping rain then dashing off

Leaving muck behind

Proceed mindfully

The Buddha may teach “No Mud No Lotus” but I prefer to choose what seeds bloom in my consciousness. Making mine an attitude of gratitude has over the past few years truly changed my perspective, which in turn has created changes in my life I would never have predicted.  So let rain, I’ll splash in the puddles to wash the mud off my boots.

 

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

 

Late Bloomers

So fellow travelers, those reluctant lilacs I wrote about several weeks ago have finally come out of hibernation.

Given the constant rain and chilly temperatures I surely do not blame them for holding out as long as they could. For goodness sake, it was 45° this morning! Refilling the suet feeders my hands were so cold I almost dashed back inside to grab some gloves!

I snapped this quick shot with a bit of poetry in mind. With overcast skies it’s not the best of lighting,  but sometimes we just make do with what we have in the moment.

Blossoms bursting free
Flooding my senses with joy
Grateful once again

With the school year coming to a close, I too feel ready to burst out of hibernation. The promise of summer adventures is as heady a rush as the perfume of my late blooming lilacs. All in good time,  they tell me, all in good time.

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

Spring Ahead

So fellow travelers, Delilah and I just returned home from a quick walk.

It is a luxurious 58 ° , the air smells like spring and the sun managed to sneak in a brief but brilliant appearance before the incoming front from the west shrouded the golden light in deep grey storm clouds.

High over head, wave after wave of migrating geese called out as small lines merged again and again into ever larger formations. A distant chatter grew suddenly louder as a massive mixed flock of smaller birds filled the sky with hundreds of black specks. The sound was almost deafening but I stood absolutely still, mesmerized by the vibrant urgency of this annual push for survival. I have seen these migrating bird clouds before but always far above me on the trails. Today I was engulfed in the sight and sound of this tsunami of flight a few dozen feet overhead. Even Delilah seemed intrigued, sitting still on a patch of newly recovered grass by a not quite thawed snow pile. She looked at me, then up at the noisy intruders, scanning the trees where dozens of birds were landing for brief respites.

The wave seemed endless, although I am sure we stood and watched for only a few minutes before all but a few stragglers flew off towards the tree lined river nearby. Ears still ringing from the high pitched cacophony, I started walking towards home. As we picked our way around patches of snow along the edge of our yard, I heard bright and clear, for the first time this year, a familiar call.

Cackling V flies

Cloud of black specks darts and chirps

Robin sings at last

Yes, there in my neighbor’s chinaberry tree sat a robin calling out between pecking at dinner. Finally! The Vernal equinox does not occur until next week, but I will gratefully take this sign that spring is on it’s way.

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

Ice-ing

So fellow travelers, sometimes the detours which happen along the way lead to unexpected gifts like this lunch stop I made on the way to see my favorite band ,Switchfoot, play tonight in New Jersey.

Goyza and bubble tea at Mitsuwa

My road trips this season have been plagued by weather related delays and cancellations. It’s an “occupational” hazard which comes with being an “occupant” of the Northeastern section of the United States. The most recent casualty of this seasons series of winter storms (I believe this one was named Petra) was a much anticipated backstage meeting with the band

Back in October when I booked the event, I did so knowing anything in February holds the potential for winter weather interference. Still the event was during our mid-winter break, Philadelphia is a reasonable drive and it would be an opportunity to visit with family just outside the city.

Two days before the concert, I began to see winter storm warnings. so I proactively headed to my parents place a day early. The morning of the show, weather alerts popped up on my phone indicating the forecast now included heaviest snowfall right around the time I would be headed into the city. The show ended up being cancelled, but I knew they also had a concert scheduled two nights later in Montclair, so at least I will get to see them before I head back home. My ticket for tonight’s performance does not include the backstage pass I had for the Philly concert- but that will be honored on the rescheduled date.

The day of the Philly event, I had actually opted to drive into the city several hours early, so I would arrive at the venue ahead of the heavier snow. I had confirmed the the location of a Starbucks within walking distance of the venue, so I had a warm familiar place with good coffee and wifi to hang out until it was time to check in for the backstage event- which was several hours before the concert itself. About half an hour before check-in time I decided to head back to my car and just as I was pulling on my coat, a text message popped up on my phone. Show would be rescheduled, date to be announced.

Considerably more relieved than disappointed, I plowed my way through deepening snow back to my car which was miraculously clear; the parking area was located under I-95, providing better shelter from the elements than I expected. I noticed a handful of people, I assumed were others who would have been attending the pre-show event, walking from the venue towards the parking lot. I heard a voice comment, “It’s too bad you came all the way for no reason.” A thought I might have applied to my experience but for one encounter on the snowy drive back.

At a busy intersection where cars were slowly moving through, I had stopped to wait for the next light change. On the corner I spotted someone struggling to walk through the snow, carrying a tarp and a piece of cardboard. I reached into my bag, grabbed some cash, rolled down my window. He came right over, calling out “Oh God Bless you Ma’am” before I even handed him the money. “God bless you too sir and please get yourself someplace warm,” I told him “ Thank you Ma’am I’m trying, I will.” I watched him trudge down the sidewalk before driving away, not caring that a few cars passed around me- although they at least refrained from the usual horn blast one gets when you hold up traffic.

Every element of that crazy weather driven day aligned so I had that chance to share one act of kindness for someone whose situation far outweighed any disappointment of a postponed event. Better yet, the sleet held off until just before I pulled in at my parents home. A kind of Ice-ing on a day with surprising gifts of gratitude.

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

Digging Out

So fellow travelers, Winter Storm Harper has me spending this extended weekend digging out in more ways than shoveling snow.


“Pixie Dust ?” Really, Mike Seidel? Because S*N*O*W by any other name is still a four letter word which needs to be repeatedly shoveled.

When I sat down to write my end of the year letter to send with my holiday cards, I re-read what I had written the year before:

“Reflecting back on this year of tremendous change I wonder at the grace which carried us through the challenges.”  

I could have cut and pasted those words right onto the page for this year’s letter, but that letter remains unwritten because the transition from last year to this has felt unsettled, as if both everything and nothing had changed. I simply could not or maybe would not muster my usual namaste vibe to pen an end of the year review with good wishes for the coming year. Worse yet, whenever I sat down to write anything it was like trying to surface from the bottom of a pool of sludge.

“No mud, no lotus” Thich Nhat Hanh*

A fellow writer and creative tribe friend posted a New Year’s blog which spoke about “unpacking the boxes” which held the emotions she had neatly packed away during the previous year of change and loss (you can read Kathy’s post here) and being snowed in over this extended weekend, I retrieved her brilliant idea from the “to do” file I had tucked it into.

As I started working through the blocks, pushing myself to write, I realized I had been ignoring the depth of fear and grief embedded in the some of last year’s experiences. When I returned to work in September, thankfully I was given assignments where I can truly support the students I am working with. I was simply grateful to enjoy my job again.

A few days in, I started having powerful dreams, terrifying and disturbing re-enactments of things we had endured the previous two years. I became increasingly aware there were emotional contusions in need of healing. Fortunately I had given myself the gift of signing up for an extended weekend at a spiritual retreat so within a week of these dreams arising I found myself in the California desert, not far from Joshua Tree National Park where my star gazing “moment” had occured.

The Sky’s the Limit Observatory located near Joshua Tree National Park

Reflecting on it now, I accept that as a truly mystical experience, a moment when the magnitude of what I was seeing literally generated a physical experience in my brain that awakened every cell and layer of my being. For that one moment I was no longer a body, I was Light traveling along the stars and I felt absolutely connected to everything and bound by nothing all at once. It was a moment of pure joy from simply being alive.

The Dance of Life, garden sculpture at sunrise RW Retreat Center

Healing has come, yet it’s slower than expected and I sense there is more to be done before I am ready to move on to the next stage of life. Digging out from under the doldrums, I see the disappointment at postponing my retirement another year was more pervasive than I wanted to admit. Now I am aware there is work yet to be done and I finally feel commited to completing it.

I am increasingly aware of the daily blessings of grace and healing which carried me through some truly terrifying moments and brought immeasurable joy. Highs and lows navigated by finding crucial balance points reinforced with faith. Every day I feel a deep gratitude for the sacred network of friends and family, near or far, who bring Light and Love into my life. They are the reason faith and hope are alive within me.


View from Blue Mountain Fire Tower, Adirondacks

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

*Thich Nhat Hanh has been an essential influence on my spiritual journey. The book, Peace is Every Step is a wonderful introduction to his teaching.