Reaching

So fellow travelers, challenges at work are on the rise right now. Mindful of the toll stress took on my physical, mental and emotional well being last school year, I’m striving to counter act it’s effects proactively.

During my recovery this summer, I learned how significant simple moments can be and how important it is to attend to them by being present in those moments.

Moments like seeing light streaming in a window after a tough session with a student struggling to get through the day.

Reaching for sunlight

Plants know to turn from darkness

Learn from Nature’s ways

Focus on positives, use what’s working well to move forward one step at a time and for the joy in those moments of Light.

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

Autumn Zinnias

via Daily Prompt: Gratitude

So fellow travelers, today’s blog prompt from WordPress is Gratitude.

With a forecast for heavy winds, rain and plummeting temps I knew the flowers still lingering in my garden were better cut and brought inside to enjoy than left to the elements.

 

 

Gratitude today

Is gathering zinnias

So late in autumn

 

 It’s a rare treat to even have flowers so late in the season.

The zinnias greeted me cheerfully on my kitchen table this morning as wind and rain sent leaves scattering all through the yard. One last breath of summer to be grateful for.

 

 

 

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



Zen Moment: Park Bench

So fellow travelers, warm weather continues to linger and I’ll take it in as long as I can.

Yesterday a passing front left behind dramatic clouds, promising photo ops worth the drive to the other end of the lakefront park where Delilah and I often walk. It’s not far, but that end of the park is often more crowded and I usually prefer the quiet trails closer to my house. They are a go to spot for sorting through a challenging day’s residual impacts.

Delilah was delighted to have some new critter dens to explore while I stood in awe of the gallery which greeted my senses. The lake and sky had outdone themselves in creating canvases of light.

The smell of autumn leaves filled the air, a light breeze brushed my face. Laughter echoed from the playground where many families had gathered. Is there any sound more joyful than the sound of kids laughing? It lifted my heart which is carrying concerns for several friends facing life challenges.

Walking towards the lake I spied a bench where I could sit to watch the sun paint the sky with golden light as I sent some positive thoughts to my friends. This morning as I looked through the images from our walk I found one with that bench and this haiku with an extra line emerged from the memory of the moment.

 

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Park bench in my mind

you meet me here and we sit

in silent laughter

with the setting sun

 

Friendship is a treasure beyond worldly rewards. Like the golden gift of a beautiful sunset it’s value is beyond measure.

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

Undiscovered country

It is indeed “easier in the woods” Shared with profound gratitude for Jennifer’s ability to glean wisdom from grief.

The Trailhead

This afternoon, I received the news that my friend died this morning. I’ve known for some time that he had a deadly and rapidly progressing condition. So the news was not unexpected, but it was still surprising in how ferociously piercing it felt. He told me last week it was about to happen, but there was a part of me that clung fast to denial. That’s the part of me that sits here, now, and wonders how someone can send me a message one day and be gone on another. It’s perfectly plausible and entirely common, and yet it still seems amiss.

During these last few months, I strained to minimize the gap that had opened between us, the one that inevitably appears between one person who belongs very much to the world, and another who is preparing to exit it. It was important to me that we remain on…

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Sanctuary Song

So fellow travelers, today we celebrate Thanksgiving a holiday dedicated to my two favorite things in life: family and food.

This morning I took our dog out for a good long walk before heading on the road to dinner at my brother’s house. He’s set an essential rule this year :  “Please leave all politics at the door.” It says something about the challenges of current times that he even felt a need to do so, yet I am grateful he did. We all need to relax and enjoy being together, to be in a space where the most divisive questions are  “red or white with dinner ?”  and  “apple or pumpkin for dessert?”

For the record the answer to the latter question is simply “Yes, please.”

Delilah and I walked down a neighborhood street where the two feet of lake effect snow which fell a few days ago has buried the election signs left standing either in victory or defiance.

 For once I am grateful for the early snowfall.

As that thought rattled around my weary brain cells, I caught the sound of distant bird calls. Rounding a corner we came across a row of trees filled with birds. As I stopped to take in the welcome chatter I recognized a song among the passing migrants I had not heard for several weeks.

Scanning the bare branches towering above us I realized the songs were coming from a small Chinaberry tree right in front of us where a small flock of robins had paused for breakfast.

Chinaberry buffet for migrant robins.

I stood silent, eyes closed, breathing in the clear cold air, letting the sweet, harmonious “cheeriup, cheeriup, cheerio” fill my soul with the hope of spring and joys of summer. I stood  a long time, embedding this sacred moment into the roots of my existence.
Tears ran down my face in a river of deep cleansing gratitude.

Gratitude for awareness

Gratitude for the healing powers of nature

Gratitude for family near and far, here and in Spirit

Gratitude for the gift of being alive.

“Fly fast and free feathered friends,” I whispered before moving on, “If it’s not too much a burden, please carry our prayers for hope, strength and solidarity to the Heart of God.”

One solidarity robin flew out from the tree, swooped overhead then circled back to settle again in the branches. I’ll take that as an affirmation for hope.

Blessings of gratitude go with you all, fellow travelers. Walk gently on the path and may adventure find you ready.

Zen moment The Mahjong Tree

So fellow travelers, I have arrived at a quiet retreat center for a weekend of creative adventures with several friends.

Early morning bird calls had me out walking a dew laden trail where I came around a corner and startled a small flock of goldfinches.

They swooped up to the shelter of a large tree at the edge of the field  where they twittered loudly at my intrusion. It reminded me of a phrase used in Mahjong to describe the sound of the tiles being mixed before stacking “the twittering of sparrows”.

Twittering tree song

Yellow dots dash branch to branch

Sweet morning greeting


Giving thanks for this zen moment I left the little feathered chorus to resume their morning routine and walked on along the path for further adventures.

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

Haiku for Monet

So fellow travelers, I am eternally grateful for those moments when the Light stops me in the midst of life’s craziest hurdles.

I had one of those moments this afternoon.

Water lilies in

Perfect afternoon sunlight 

I feel like Monet 

As I sat transfixed by the play of light and shadows on my little pond, I was deeply grateful to be reminded things of this life may pass yet that which is of true value always remains.

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

Left Coast Dreams: Trailing Thoughts

So fellow travelers,

“When the Rational part of our mind becomes too dominant our entire focus stays trained on our needs and accomplishments. Everything becomes stressful, competitive and ultimately unfulfilling because we believe we have to skew everything to fit those needs.”  Angelic Messenger Cards by Meredith Young-Sowers.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach… I did not wish to live what was not life. ”  Walden Pond  Henry David Thoreau.

I first read Walden Pond in seventh grade; I was just twelve years old. I am sure I didn’t grasp it’s full significance on that first read through but it did have an impact on me and I came back to it several times. I grew up in a family whose idea of “roughing it” was staying in a hotel without television. Make no mistake, I am grateful for the phenomenal experiences we had traveling throughout Europe and Asia. Still to this day, I am the only member of my extended family who considers camping enjoyable.

Somehow through those formative years I managed to glean enough experiences in nature to realize it’s importance in keeping me centered. I know when I feel my focus slipping into the realm of anxiety, it is time to get out of my head and get outdoors. Sometimes it’s as simple as a ten minute meditation by my garden pond, where the sound of a little waterfall brings me back to center.

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Sometimes it takes a day hike to a favorite vista to shift my perspective.

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Hang Gliders Point, Tinker Falls Trail  Tully, NY  (For the record I don’t hang glide,  I just admire the view)

Once in a while it requires a more extensive expedition, perhaps a few days camping where there’s access to several trails. I attribute my relative contentment with life in Upstate New York to the abundance of place where I can connect with nature.  This diversity and accessibility of parks and trails from the wild Adirondacks to the wine rich Finger Lakes, not to mention the shores of one of the Great Lakes

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Southwick Beach, my favorite NY State Park on  Lake Ontario 

less than an hour drive from my front door has kept me content even through the harsh winters we endure.  Content, at least until this past winter when record breaking cold and snow finally pushed me across a line. Call it The Winter of My Discontent, if you will, but this was the year I officially joined the “planning to retire anywhere but here” club. Looks like my “to be hiked” list of ADX trails will need some prioritizing.

Partially by intention and mainly by association, I have raised our daughters to value the gifts of the natural world.

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Hiking at Pixley Falls State Park with favorite oldest daughter and favorite youngest daughter. 1998

The variety of  hiking trails and camping spots within a days drive of the city is one of the reasons my daughter and son-in-law moved to Portland. These are after all the kids who had their post wedding brunch along the shale rock shelf at Ithaca Falls.

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Since access to an abundance and diversity of nature would be a requirement of any area I might consider moving to, I planned last year to check out as many hiking trails and scenic locations as possible during our trip to Oregon. We did several hikes, some on the coast,

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Cape Kiwanda,  Orgeon Coast. We trekked along this rock ridge out to the ocean .

some in the breathtaking Columbia River Gorge

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Elowah Falls, our favorite find along the Columbia River.

and an unforgettable spectacular sunset hike at Crater Lake.

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Cascade Mountains at sunset, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.

The proximity to nature, even when within the city limits of Portland made a deep impression on me. How could I not be affected by catching a view like this when I was just driving to a grocery store?

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Typical roadside view of Mt. Hood.

As part of my quest to test if my feelings were well founded, or merely the effect of first time impressions, I had plenty of potential hikes on this year’s itinerary. Tillamook Forest was a first priority because it was on my younger daughter’s list of things she wanted to do on this trip. We had driven through the forest on our way to the coast last year and it left an impression on her. Since she was only staying in Portland for four days then heading home to get back to work and her other summer plans we made sure to fit in as many of her requests as possible. So we planned a day trip with a stop at Tillamook Forest Center on the way to our older daughter and son-in-law’ s favorite beach.

My preliminary research indicated there were quite a few trails in Tillamook Forest, some under a mile and others which connected to trails extending beyond the park all the way to the coast about 25 miles to the east. Our plan was to stop at the nature center and pick a short hike from the trailheads there.

Sometimes things do not quite go according to plans.

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closeup of the relief map at Tillamook Forest Center

to be continued…

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

 

 

 

 

 

Swamped by Gratitude

So fellow travelers, as I alluded in a recent post there’s a story to be told about an annual event known as Birdathon.

Once a year our local chapter of the Audubon Society holds a day long birding challenge known as the Birdathon. Birders have twenty four hours (midnight to midnight) to find and identify by sight and/or sound as many different species in a set region as they can.  It is a “one and done” checklist, which means it doesn’t matter how many robins you see, once you spot a robin, that species is checked off. Teams can also use it as a  fundraiser for the OAS, by taking pledges towards their checklist totals.

Birdathon takes place on the Saturday in May following Mother’s Day Sunday, which used to conflict with a major music event my daughters participated in. Family first and the need for mom’s support to calm nervous soloists trumped crazy birding events, until ten years ago when the NYSSMA solo weekend was permanently moved to April. Suddenly free to participate, but acutely aware of my inexperience, I emailed the event coordinator and asked if there was a team I might tag along with.  “Sure, meet us at Onondaga Lake Park, near the marina at 4:30.”  Folks that’s 4:30 AM  and for the record considered a “late” start by Birdathon standards. Turns out I was meeting the team at their third stop of the morning.

Its not hard to recognize a birder, even in the dim pre-dawn mists of 4:30am. They’re the ones wandering the paths, heads cocked to one side listening, eyes to the tree line, binoculars the size of small canons draped around their necks. The  local Birdathon Coordinator, spotted me right away, probably noting my cute little pocket binoculars which looked more like decorative jewelry. Two other teams, a pair of older gentlemen and three women about my age soon joined us.

As we scouted around I caught sight of a signature long black neck and head moving submarine like above the water of Onondaga Lake. “Is that a loon?” I asked tentatively.  Five pairs of binoculars and one spotting scope swiveled towards my line of sight. “Might be a cormorant, they are more common on this lake.”  “Hold on, I see a collar ring. ”  “Yep, that sure is a loon.”  ” Nice spotting Deb.”   Birders are quite welcoming to newcomers, still a good sighting always creates a kind of instant camaraderie.  Dave asked if I wanted to ride along with him, since he was running solo.  I said I’d be honored.  I offered to drive indicating I had four wheel drive and would not hesitate to use it if called for.  Besides I knew Dave placed in the top three of final counts every year, we’d be safer if I focused on the road and he focused on spotting.

The day that followed was one wild and crazy adventure. We trekked from one hot spot to another, driving across fields (making good on my promise to kick it into four wheel drive numerous times), finding,  losing, then finding trails through woods and wetlands. I saw my first hummingbird nest while the team chased an elusive warbler through a thicket.  I learned the difference between red tailed and broad winged hawks.  We were fooled by countless catbirds and mockingbirds as they teased us with their mimickery throughout the day. The highlight of the day came at sunset, as dozens of teams converged on a field to find a bird so rare it had not been  seen or heard in our region in over thirty years.

I came home late in the evening, beyond tired and yet so full of stories of the long day’s adventures, my then eight year old daughter was intrigued and asked if she could go with me if I went the next year.  So began the seven year run of Team Loonatics.

Our first year out featured some of the worse weather conditions possible for birding. Driving rains, blustery winds and unseasonably chilly temperatures made it feel more like November than May.  It made our chosen team name seem all the more fitting but we were on a mission and it would take more than typical Central New York weather to stop us. Armed with nothing more than several pairs of binoculars, a reliable atlas (these were pre-GPS years) a good color birding reference and a couple copies of the official checklist, we hit the road well before dawn.  Our only defense against the elements were several layers of clothing, topped by rain jackets a thermos of hot chocolate and a sizable stash of road snacks.

We braved gale force winds on the coast of Lake Ontario , waded through puddles at our local nature center and were chased by cantankerous geese at Onondaga Lake Park. At any moment I expected my little adventurer to say she wanted to head for the warmth of home, especially because the birds were so few and far between. Not once did she complain. Every bone chilling moment only made each find more precious.  She kept checking and rechecking our list on which I had highlighted the species we would most likely be able to find and identify to help us reach our goal of fifty different birds before days end.

There was the moment as we waited out torrential rain sitting in the car sipping hot chocolate that Emma spotted a small warbler hunkered in a bush.  Or the one where we thought we spied an eagle sitting on a fence post only to realize as we crept slowly closer that is was in fact a wooden carving, which as realistic as it was, could not count towards our total.Our funniest moment had to be towards sunset, as we sat in the car eating pizza parked by the canal at Fair Haven State Park.  Spying a bird I knew we needed but too tired to speak a complete sentence I blurted out “Tern, Emma tern!”  Baffled, she looked at me saying “What?  Turn? Why? Which way?”  as she shifted left and right until she followed the line of the frantic gestures I was making with my half eaten pizza slice.  Cruising up the canal was a Common Tern.  “Oh that kind of TERN” she said and we both dissolved into helpless laughter.

By the time we called it done, our checklist count totaled fifty six species.  When I woke her as we pulled into the driveway sixteen hours after we set out, she yawned and said ” That was great. Can we go again next year?’

We did take the challenge the next and every year after for seven consecutive years, each time adding to our goal. We braved voracious mosquitoes tracking down swamp sparrows and marsh wrens, skirted poison ivy to catch a glimpse of an elusive pair of nesting red headed woodpeckers, marveled at an osprey catching it’s dinner, one year we were one of only three (out of 80) teams to see an egret on its brief stopover at a local wetland park, another year Emma spotted a warbler so rare we doubted the find until other birders confirmed the same sighting. By our last run in 2013 we just topped the 95 mark. We had our sights set on hitting the one hundred mark however a change in date for a significant marching band event ended our official birdathon run last year. She was honestly disappointed, so much so that she opted to spend most of Mother’s Day birding with me.  It might not have been an official Birdathon count, but we had a great time. We still bust a smile every time we spot a tern.

As for me I am simply grateful to have had at least one day every year where my daughter willingly spent an entire day with me.  Each year as she grew through the turbulence of pre-teen to teen years, my heart would leap for joy when she asked if we were going out for Birdathon.  That’s something you wont find on any official checklists but it will always count a great deal to have on my life list.

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The elusive egret, captured by Emma on my little pocket camera.

Editors note:  for another Mom’s perspective on passing forward the love of nature, check out my friend and fellow CGBF blogger Jennifer Bowman’s entry about her trip to see the Silver River Monkeys with her son Sean.

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