Red Angel

So fellow travelers, when I reach the edge of emotional resilience nature is the sanctuary which brings my energy back to  center. 

One special find on the Acadia trip.

In general, I proactively make healing time in nature a regular part of my routine, even if it’s just the daily walk times with our dog. Since our  return from the early October trip to Acadia, my creative focus has been in total disarray just like the trip’s blog entry which remains in narrative limbo. Like the haze from wildfires, there is a peripheral anxiety which permeates my days and a growing awareness that this energy I am feeling is far larger than my own. It comes in unrelenting waves so persistent I have been pushed to seek a more powerful arsenal of coping practices. That quest has led me to profound discoveries about myself, which in turn have brought me to a place of clarity about what’s happening in the world around me as well. This awareness has not quite coalesced into description yet, but a moment on a long hike created an experience which reflects what it feels like.

Trekking along a path, my dog and I rounded a corner and there, illuminated by a ray of sunlight, was a tiny red angel standing perfectly upright among the fallen leaves. Feelings quickly flowed into these words

This one chose to stand
small but fiery bright lit by
compassion and love

The world is changing; there are multiple narratives playing out. We are alive in this crucial turning point for a reason. That reason differs for each of us and none of us can say what is true for anyone but our own self. Yet collectives are made of individuals so the choices we each make matter more than we give ourselves credit for. There is power inherent in every act of kindness and compassion, in each word spoken to raise awareness of injustice and each hand extended in peace. The power of many individual actions builds into a wave  which can overcome fear and hatred with the unstoppable force of unified Love.

I’ve only surfed a handful of times, but if the tide is changing and surf’s up, I’m willing to ride the waves.

Walk gently on the path my friends and let Love Light the way

Actions Speak Louder

 So fellow travelers, in light of recent events, I held off publishing the last post I wrote, choosing instead to immerse myself in coming to a better understanding of what the voices speaking out need me to do.
The process left me with what fellow writer, mentor and friend Tom Atkins refers to as an emotional hangover from the anger which rose within me. I am tired, but surely not as tired as the families of too many black men, women and youths lost to senseless racist fueled violence. After a day of rest and much needed time on a newly reopened walking trail, I realized to move forward I need to start where this new path begins:

June 1, 2020
This morning,  I woke up to a new life experience.  

My first thought  was:
“What day of the week is it?”
I am sure many of you whose routines have been upended by the pandemic can relate to the experience. When you don’t get up and go anywhere for days on end it is a challenge to keep track of the days, because everyday is the same.
And if you, like some of my friends, are one of the many working on the front lines, you too lose track of time, in a far more desperate way while battling to save lives or keep essential services running. “Thank you,” seems barely enough acknowledgement for that.
So, I clicked through my “what did I do yesterday” prompts all the way back to “Ah, we had our Sunday call with  Mom and Dad, so today is Monday.” My next thought was “ Hey even though it is Monday, I do not have to “go” to work today- because I am R E T I R E D!”
“How does it feel to be retired?” people have been asking me.
Well, to use a common point of reference, it feels like the first day of vacation, filled with joyful anticipation with one key exception-
—there is no pre-set end date 
———— there is no pressure to “fit in” all the things I want or need to do now
It feels like the freedom I yearned and worked for through so many decades is finally mine.

——————————————————————————————————-

At this point, my original post included a haiku about that glorious sense of freedom and the instant I signed in online to access my blog page, the entire post felt completely and utterly void of significance. The recognition that a revolution, fueled by the senseless murder of George Floyd was gaining global momentum superseded any relevance my personal sense of freedom might hold.
I hit “pause” on this post, along with any adventure plans, and got down to figuring out how I can make a difference and turn intention into true change. Because as I affirmed in my Memorial Day post, my own freedom means nothing if it is not equally available to all my friends.

After a week immersed in the dialogue of outrage and calls for reform, I at least know this:
I do not profess to have the answers or even to have the right words to offer yet. I understand this is a time for me to listen to my friends and the black community; it is not a time to speak over those voices which need to be heard right now. I also believe silence implies complicity, whether intentional or not. So, if silence is not an option, clearly it is time my actions spoke louder than my words.  
My Words:

Unless we speak love
Hatred will destroy us then
Freedom means nothing

My Action:

Walk mindfully on the path my friends, may Love find you ready.

On Freedom, Honor and Birds

So fellow travelers, until 1970 the traditional date of Memorial Day was May 30th and until this year, our tradition steeped village continued to celebrate Memorial Day on May 30th,

Yep, regardless of what day of the week it fell on or what weather Mother Nature might throw at us, on said day, the village of Baldwinsville, NY staged a parade along the flag decked “four corners” route, across the steel bridge by one of the still operating Erie Canal locks and out past the town cemetery along the Seneca River. And every year, the stream of first responders, dignitaries, veterans and local celebrities (some from as far away as the Big City of Syracuse NY) were cheered on by the loyal residents of our district who lined the streets with their lawn chairs, kids, dogs and an occasional leashed kitty.

I will confess until I became a Marching Band Mom, I was one of the residents who stayed home to avoid the gridlock of closed streets. But there was no way I would miss the chance to catch this view of the kids who would one day also march in the Macy’s Day Parade

Favorite Youngest Daughter on the bells Memorial Day Parade 2014

So, as I mentioned, the “this is how we have always done it” tradition of a May 30th Memorial Day parade continued until this year when the Pandemic of 2020 cancelled, well pretty much everything we “have always done.” Still, parade or not, our little village is lined with flags and hanging baskets of red, white and blue flowers to honor the servicemen and women who gave their lives in the name of freedom.

Freedom right now is a much debated topic: the dialogue about how to reopen areas which closed down to slow the spread of Covid19 has become quite heated. Fueled by trolls and bots whose sole purpose is to derail any progress towards productive discourse, the terrible tendency to revert to divisive language is disheartening and disturbing to me. Navigating “virtual school” already pushed my blood pressure higher than normal; it has been necessary to “unfollow” or, in a few extreme cases, “unfriend” folks on social media.

Understand I am choosing to eliminate rude ignorance and disrespectful bullying which shows up in my media feed, not avoid challenging issues. I am willing to have a civil dialogue about difficult issues like public safety vs government overreach, anti-vaxers, conspiracy theories or global warming and the effects of climate change.

Once again current events have brought the menacing immorality of racism to the forefront in ways which, frankly, I am damn tired of seeing our society tolerate. The veterans whose lives we honor every year on Memorial Day did not give their lives for the freedoms of some Americans- they gave their lives to uphold and defend the rights of ALL Americans- every single one of them. So I sat down this morning to try and write about this, sensing I might struggle to find the right balance of reason and indignation to write words which could make a difference.

Turns out I did not need to struggle, because my friend Jennifer Bowman wrote a powerful blog post which cut right to the focal point of why Christian Cooper’s experience while simply birding in Central Park even happened. I hope everyone of my followers reads it and takes to heart the insights Jen so brilliantly brings to this issue.

https://jenniferkbowman.wordpress.com/2020/05/29/birding-race-and-the-freedom-to-enjoy-nature/

Walk bravely on the walk my friends, the journey is about to talk us where none of us have ever gone before.

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

Westward Home

So fellow travelers, this past week brought waves of joy, healing, grace and some damn fine rock and roll

I am still integrating the experience and as the insights begin to take coherent form those will be shared with my favorite images of the week’s events and memories.

For now, having traveled to PDX, I am supremely content to catch up on rest, laundry and time with my kids. Greeted by the welcoming sight of Favorite Older Daughter’s guest room, these words rose from my grateful heart.

If adage is truth 

And home is where the heart is

Then I have arrived

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

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.

20170415_110010

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 .

 

Until

So fellow travelers, this early morning image of our recently thawed pond feels like a metaphor for things evolving around me.

 

Darkness

smooth as glass

deep as night

soft as velvet

deceptively inviting

mesmerizing

until

a spark of Light

ignites hope

tread water

listen

love calls

from the illuminated shore

hear

follow

swim

breathe

live

All problems have root causes and I firmly believe if we are not part if solutions, we become part of the problem.

I endeavor to be part of the solutions. More to follow.

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

Enough

So fellow travelers, this post references issues of current concern in the United States. It is my perspective, based on my personal experiences. The topic is difficult yet it has become impossible for me to move forward in my daily creative routine until I address it. Even after extensive editing, it is long. It may be difficult to read; I know this is by far the hardest post I have had to write.

On the morning of March 13, 1996, I put my not quite seven year old daughter on the school bus, waved goodbye from the porch and went about my morning routine of finishing chores and then walking our dog. At lunchtime, I turned on the TV to catch the midday news and weather. Instead of our local news team, I found network reporters covering a horrific incident which had occured a few hours before. It was my first encounter with a school shooting. My plans for the afternoon fled my mind, as I sat counting the hours until our daughter returned home, bounding off the bus full of the chatter and news about all the goings on in first grade that day.

“Mommy are you ok?” she asked when I hugged her a little tighter and longer than usual. Maybe she caught the tears in my eyes. “I am fine, I just missed you a lot today. How about a snack while you tell me what you did in school today.”

It did not matter on iota that the Dunblane School Massacre happened over 3,000 miles away, far across the ocean, in another country. I did not sleep much that night and it took every ounce of willpower to put my child on the bus and send her to school the next morning. I could not keep a morsel of food down all day, in fact I ate very little for several days until the weekend thankfully arrived. It had never occured to me that my child or any child would be shot in cold blood by by a total stranger while attending school. I felt completely and totally helpless, there was nothing I could do short of keeping my child home to protect her. I seriously considered it, even researched the process of applying to home school her. But she liked school and home schooling would deprive her of the socialization of being with her school friends.

At the time, my husband was working in another town, commuting home a few weekends a month. He had taken on the job as a short term contract, but the project had stretched far beyond the intial six weeks he said it would run with no defined end date. The long periods of separation were putting a strain on our marriage; I still have the note my young daughter wrote in crayon on a scrap of paper “Plese dont get a devors.”

I knew pulling my daughter out of school would take away much needed normalcy her school day provided her with and as the days passed and I watched the quick response of the British people as their Snowdrop Campaign successfully pushed for changes in Britain’s gun laws, my own fears began to ease.

Fast forward to 1999. Our marriage has weathered the storm (the note from my daughter had a lot to do with that) we now have a second daughter and I am considering making a move from active PTA volunteer to a full time staff position at our local elementary school. Then, late on the morning of April 20th, two boys open fire on their fellow students at Columbine High School. At the time it was the one of the worst mass killings and the worst school shooting in our history. Yet it was not until after the tragedy at Sandy Hook that lockdown drills became a routine practice in our own school district. By then I had been working as a special education teaching assistant for just over twelve years. Having started at our local elementary school right up the road from our home, the heartbreaking stories of the terror and loss of life at Sandy Hook was beyond my comprehension.

But not as incomprehensible as the complete lack of action by our legislators to take any steps to address the issues of escalating gun violence, particularly the issues surrounding civilian access to assault weapons, the arsenal which had become the firearms of choice for shooters intent on mass killing. Year after year we would go through our mandatory lockdown drills, feeling like sitting ducks, fully aware if an intruder managed to enter our building, there would be casualities. And nothing, no amount of carnage seemed enough to jolt our elected “representatives” into action, not even the terrible events in Las Vegas which left over 500 people injured and a devastating loss of 58 lives.

Nothing that is until the survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, stood up, called “BS,” took to the media and the streets and said “Enough!” If our elected so called “representatives” think these kids are going away, they have seriously underestimated the tsunami about to hit them square in the ass. Because its not just the Columbine generation standing up and calling their inaction out. It’s the survivors of decades of mass shootings, the friends and families who have lost loved ones to any form of gun violence, it’s the educators like myself who have now become the front line of prevention who are standing up with them to say

E N O U G H

We speak, finally, because these courageous young people have helped us find our voice.

And anyone who knows me well, knows I’m not about to shut up anytime soon.

Walk gently on the path my friends, and remember kindness matters, it may even save a life. ( more on that in the next post)

Sunday’s at the Rescue : The Beat Goes On

So fellow travelers, one small downside to the extended trips we take to the Left Coast each summer is I miss all the action for a couple of weeks at the local dog rescue where I volunteer.

adoptionpending.jpg

‘Cuse me, are my people here yet?

Going into my sixth year of volunteering (I started seven years ago back in November 2010, but took a year off to attend to important family responsibilities) it does not take long to get back into the swing of things no matter how long I am gone. So bright and early this Saturday, I headed off to help welcome sixty new furry arrivals seeking homes. When I pulled into the parking lot just after 7:30am the big truck was already in position, ramp down ready for the our transport team to get the dogs out and settled in.

adoptersline.jpgThanks to the dedication of a hardworking staff and a solid core of trained volunteers, Helping Hounds Dog Rescue has become a well organized operation. Transport shifts are hectic. Cooperation and flexibility are essential. There’s a lot to get done before doors open to the crowd of potential adopters who line up well before Noon.

Adopters waiting for doors to open.

Before the transport dogs are brought in, all the dogs currently on site have to be fed and walked, crates cleaned, water replenished and laundry started.  Thanks to the “Morning Marauders” weekend team this happens with good humored, coffee and donut fueled efficiency so by the time the Transport Team shifts into gear the new dogs will have the full attention of everyone on hand.

By the time the dogs arrive here, they’ve been through a lot. Whatever the circumstances (strays, puppy mill raids or owner surrenders) which find them in held in high kill shelters, its a terrifying experience for any animal. The lucky ones are “pulled” by rescue organizations in Texas and Alabama, given vet care including spay/neuter and sent to foster homes to wait for an available opening on the transports headed to other states.  When a slot opens up, the dogs are loaded onto the transports often traveling several days (yes they are fed and walked and cared for along the way) to reach their new home state. So by the time we meet them coming off the truck, they are understandably a bit stressed and disoriented.

 

Some of them bound down the ramp, thrilled to explore this funny smelling new place. Others have to be coaxed or carried to the stations where they have their arrival photos taken and are fitted for collars with official HHDR tags. It’s not uncommon for us to end the shift a bit damp but we all agree it’s worth wearing a little eau de pee in exchange for a gentle lick on your ear as you comfort a trembling little chi-mix or shy puppy. A good breakfast, a few walks and extra buddy time for any dog in need of comfort does wonders to soothe nerves and settle fears.  Most are ready to meet potential adopters by the time the doors open and people start streaming in.

naps992017

Pups resting before the doors open to the public

At that point I usually switch roles to answering the phones, freeing up the staff to focus on processing adoptions. Other volunteers act as tour guides showing people around and answering questions, bringing dogs out to meet interested adopters or at any moment assisting when a call goes out for a “crate cleanup in the puppy room.” Staff approved volunteer team members assist with “meet and greets” a required process of introducing a family’s established dog(s) to the dog they are considering for adoption. Transport Saturdays are crazy busy, people can wait over an hour to finalize their paperwork and go home with their new companions. A few grumble, but I’ve never heard anyone say it wasn’t worth the wait once they’re walking out the door with their new companion.

 

Bags

 

One nice benefit of working the phones is I get to see a lot of the dogs go home. I always have several favorites in each new pack, dogs who touch my heart for one reason or another.  My heart fills with joy as I pull their “Going Home” bags made by their foster families, then watch their new families eagerly pick extra toys or treats from our donation shelves, tucking them in with the things sent up from the families who so graciously gave them a place to rest and then let them go to make room for the next foster. To give love and let it go takes some resilience, I know, I’ve been on that side of the rescue process. Its the ability to focus on keeping space open for the next dog which makes sending them on their way ever so slightly easier. There’s no shortage of dogs needing homes so fosters know there’s will soon be a new furry guest to love.

One new addition to our transports are the Kelly Dogs, whose transports have been sponsored by a fund started in memory of Kelly Wilson, an avid HHDR volunteer who died in a tragic accident. Kelly’s enthusiasm on transport days even on the coldest, wettest of days was contagious. She and her new husband had just adopted a puppy from Texas just before she died; her family and friends wanted to help make more adoptions like that possible. Many people don’t realize there are substantial costs involved in pulling dogs out of high kill shelters and getting them to areas where the demand for adoptions is higher than the supply of available dogs (*see notation below.)

Kelly’s fund makes sure her love for these dogs lives on.

Kelly Dogs : DaVinci, Wynken, Marco, Blynken & Frida getting ready for their official photo

By the time my shift is done I’ve fully embraced the expression “dog tired” yet as tired as I am, when I leave at the end of a shift to head home and walk our own rescue girl (herself an HHDR alumni) I leave knowing I have done something to make a difference. That’s a feeling which refuels my spirit and I am grateful for the opportunity to  live it.

Walk gently on the path my friends and remember kindness matters.

*HHFB_IMG_1471630236490DR works with several rescue groups in Texas and Alabama to bring dogs up here where very eager families are seeking to adopt. The process is not without concerns. There is always the question of how this impacts local dogs in need of homes. I addressed this aspect in a post from a few years back.  The issue of finding a solution to the over population of certain breeds in local shelters is not a problem any community can adopt its way out of.  Education of the general public and cohesive communication between rescue organizations is essential. Our area is fortunate to have groups working towards a brighter future for breeds, I for one am blessed to have in our own family. Photo : Zeus and Coffee, our daughter and son-in-law’s rescue pitbulls. 

Editorial Note: Sunday’s at the Rescue is a series of posts about my experiences working with rescue dogs.  It is named for Sunday, a sweet young dog who came through the rescue where I volunteer, stole a piece of my heart (as so many of them do) and got herself adopted into a great home. If you like this piece, you can search the blog for other posts with that title.