It’s a Dogs Life

So fellow travelers, I am finally back in Portland Oregon, resting comfortably at the residence of Favorite Older Daughter and Favored Son-in-law. 

It feels like we never left. And it feels like an eon has passed. Time is strange like that. 

Caught this moment with the kids two rescue dogs, Zeus and Coffee. 

They go and they come

Mysterious human ways

We wait patiently

Simple moments are sometimes the best respite from the worrisome moments in life.

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

Spirit of 60 Road Trip: Conclusions

So fellow travelers, I can think of no better way to end a road trip than a day of visits with friends. My trip concluded with two days of such joys and I headed homeward filled with gratitude and a haiku in my heart

20170716_221645croppedHugs lunch and laughter

Tales of music grandkids dogs

Blessings of friendship

I arrived home in time to take my dog for a sunset walk.  It was good to be home, carrying a journal of notes and a portfolio of photos to sort through. Fodder waiting to form what became this series.

 

Writing and discovering the feelings embedded in the images I take helps me process my experiences. It is extremely difficult for me to weave together the narrative which creates the essence of the experience without sounding pretentious or full of hollow platitudes and trite banalities.

Take for example my experience with the Buddha at Chuang Yen Monastery.  When the experience began to crystalize into thoughts I could communicate I struggled with finding the words to do so.  I write often about seeking peace, finding joy, embracing hope and the Zen moments when I feel Light within me responding when I find them.  Honestly those moments are as fleeting and transient as the Light which inspires my photography.

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Most of the time I stumble through the commonplace pitfalls of getting through a day. Often I get stuck simply trying to get out of my own way.  Oh there have been periods of serenity and balance, times of joy and deep contentment;  I am blessed that they are becoming more frequent and inspiration is less elusive. Still a profound moment of near transcendence as I lived in the hall of the Great Buddha at Chuang Yen Temple is an exceedingly rare gift, something genuinely beyond description. I hope I did it justice.

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On the last morning of my road trip, which was a Sunday, I attended morning worship at Rupert United Methodist Church where my friend Tom Atkins is minister. It is a beautiful church with a small congregation of kind hearted people who are even more beautiful. Tom’s sermons are more spiritual encouragement and thoughtful discourse than exhortations for repentance.  If you have read any of his blog posts* which I have shared here, you have a sense of his honesty,  deep reasoning and lively sense of humor. He brings all that and more to his services at Rupert UMC.

By grace and good fortune, his talk that Sunday focused on the parable of seeds, a fitting reflection on the many kernels of insights I had gathered on my road trip.  The biblical narrative tells of seeds, scattered on different ground,  some landing on rocks, others on dry soil, others sprout but are choked by weeds and some land in just the right conditions to sprout, grow and bear fruit. Tom spoke about applying these analogies to our own spiritual environment. I saw rocks as hard and unrelenting anger, weeds as the habits which crowd out our potential and dry ground as fear which kills before inspiration can take root.  Tend to the condition of your spiritual dirt, Tom said, and you will find the seeds scattered your way will bring a plentiful harvest.  He had a flat of bright red salvia plants, end of the season “discards” from a local garden shop which he encouraged us to take home to plant as symbols of our committment to attending to our inner gardens.

Now I have several plants tucked in special spots around my pond and in my little herb garden, reminders of the gifts of friendship and the simple wisdom in the parable of the seeds. I sense there are many seeds gathered into my inner garden which will bear harvest throughout the coming year. There will I hope be much to share. Thanks for reading.

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

*Editors note: You can follow Tom’s blog on wordpress here.

 

 

 

Spirit of 60 Road Trip Part Ten: Drawing the Hat of Buddha

So fellow travelers, after gathering my koans* from the sages along the walkway, I approached the main temple and saw a path which lead through a small garden of wild flowers.

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Perched on a large rock at one end sat a fat round statue I recognized as the Buddha of  prosperity, health and happiness. (He’s sitting on the far left in the photo above) A wide flat rock offered the perfect place to sit among the flowers and meditate with this jolly Guardian of Joy.

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As I sat in contemplation, I became aware of the unaddressed burdens I still carried from the months of difficult experiences at work. Now in this graceful spot, quiet but for the gentle buzzing of bees I could let those emotions speak freely, seek to understand the fears that fueled them and ask for ways to heal, be more resilient and move forward. After some time, I felt something shift within me; exactly what the messages were I could not say right then but I felt settled enough to leave an offering in Happy Buddha’s open hands and continue on my way.

 

 

Off to one side of the temple was another red tiled building which was the meditation hall of Kwan Yin, Goddess of Peace and Compassion. As Buddhism spread through out Asia, its priests incorporated elements of indigenous belief systems to encourage local populations to convert. Often, as with many ancient spiritual practices, these were matriarchal Goddess centric belief systems.  The evolution of Kwan Yin as a key figure in Buddhism is an example of this. I would have liked to see the meditation hall, but a hand painted sign in both traditional calligraphy and English informed me it was closed for “Redoing to prepare for coming soon celebration of Ancestors Anniversary,” so I walked over to the main temple.

As I climbed the temple steps, a gentle breeze stirred sending a wave of chimes from the small bells hanging off the corners. I stopped and closed my eyes, momentarily transported back to Japan by this welcoming, comforting sound memory.

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I left my shoes on the numbered rack outside the temple door and entered the great hall.

Immediately a stillness deeper than any worldly silence enveloped me. Circling around the offeratory stations dedicated to different Bodhisattvas, I gradually made my way to the center of the temple and sat on the floor. The vast luminous white Buddha rises 37 feet, sitting stoically in a giant lotus blossom, eyes closed, hands clasped in prayer surrounded by ten thousand tiny buddhas. Gazing at the Buddha’s calm expression for a moment I thought I saw a smile. Blinking I looked again and now I feel more than see this smile. Subtle, immutable, born of uncorruptable truth and radiating a wisdom beyond time and human effect. I closed my eyes, committing this Smile to memory, waiting for it to permeate deep into my consciousness.

A young nun seated by the doorway indicated I was permitted to take pictures, but I chose not to.  Somewhere within this meditation I received reassurance this Presence I had felt did not require a photo to be recalled.  I headed on my way, carrying a profound feeling of completeness I could not put into words.

Some hours later, seated at the table in the cottage where I stayed the next two nights, I discovered this reassurance was as real as the chair I sat in as I began a drawing of the Buddha’s face. Working on the round nodules of the Buddha’s head became a form of meditation. The harder I tried to get them just right, the wonkier they came out. So I closed my eyes, recalling the Smile with it’s serene wisdom. The feeling I had carried from the Buddha’s Great Hall was there. Writing about it now find I have the words to describe what I felt.

It was as if every moment of suffering I or any being had ever experienced had not only been acknowledged, but shared and transformed into pure energy, energy which now could be used to create change for the better. Hope and Light from darkness.

then I moved the pencil on the paper again letting the circles flow~

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

*Koans are riddles, used in Zen Buddhism to push seekers beyond logical reasoning to find enlightenment in the mystery of being.  One of the most famous is “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”  May vipassana bless you.

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.

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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.

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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 Seven: Glassy-eyed Wonder

So fellow travelers, in my first post I alluded to an event which guided the timing of this trip.

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Acquiring coveted tickets to one of the viewings for Chihuly Nights at the New York Botannical Garden had more to do with when I scheduled this road trip than it being my 60th birthday. In all honesty if I could have picked anywhere to be on my birthday I would have spent it with my daughters in Portland, Oregon. However an impending alignment of the sun and moon required choosing between heading west for a solar return in July or a solar eclipse in August.

The eclipse won so hopefully I will be writing about that adventure next week!

So the main lunacy of this expedition became a late afternoon drive from Oyster Bay to the NYBC, a trek which involved navigating both the Long Island and Cross Bronx Expressways, which I might note are not so “express” at that time of day. Allowing myself two hours to make the 35 mile drive turned out to be just about right.  No, don’t torture yourself by doing the math to figure out my average speed; I lived it, trust me you don’t want to suffer needlessly.  We are after all on a quest to seek the counterpoint to suffering.

What I will say is every minute on the congested roadways was absolutely worth it.

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Illuminated

Garden fantasies create

Glassy eyed wonder

 

 

 

But I’ll let you decide that for yourselves. Enjoy~

 

 

 

 

 

~ and these are just a smattering of the images I was able to capture.  There are many more, which will make appearencs over time as I discover the words embedded in them.

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

 

 

 

 

Spirit of 60 Road Trip Part Six: Signs

“Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.”  Theodore Roosevelt

So fellow travelers, in the process of writing about the time I spent at Sagamore Hill I struggled to find words which would convey my feeling of reverence without being trite or glorifying beyond reason a man I greatly admired.

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The Roosevelt family motto over the porch doorway.  It literally translates as “Who plants preserves” which could be interpreted in many ways; to me it speaks both to the responsibility of  tending to as well as leaving a legacy by what one creates

Theodore Roosevelt was as flawed a human being as any of us. What sets him apart from many significant icons of history is his open recognition of his own shortcomings, something he wrote and spoke of candidly particularly in his letters to his family. In everything he imparted to his children, he was acutely aware of his own need to improve. Impatient, mercurial, and stubborn, his hawkish military policies, voracious desire to hunt, manipulation of the press and bellicose attacks on political enemies stand in sharp contrast to the leader whose missions championed the common citizen, family values, wildlife conservation and a desire to promote peace through understanding.

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Walking along the boardwalk leading back to the trail from the shore I thought about why coming to Theodore’s home had meant so much to me. To see the one place on earth which TR loved more than any, the haven his restless spirit called home, was to be within the energy which fueled his soul. Perhaps I hoped to be blessed even fractionally by what I found; certainly I was deeply moved by the unique vibrancy and living presence I sensed, something I do not often feel when traveling to historic sites. For me, TR embodies the struggle to reconcile who we are at our worst and who we strive to be at our best. He embraced life with its heartache and challenges. He heard and responded to the call to serve others beyond his own interests.

 

True greatness lies less in who we are and more in how what we impact others. To live with the integrity to be oneself yet still think and act beyond that self for greater good is to live an honorable life.

Just as I came up off the beach, a large white egret flew over the boardwalk and into the tall grasses at the edge of the wetlands, a breathtaking moment that stopped time.

Eyes to the skies,  feet on the ground. One of my favorite of his mottos.

The majestic bird moved too fast for me to get a photo, but it didn’t matter. I knew what I had seen and I gratefully accepted it as a sign of adventures to come.

So many National Parks are waiting.  Ride on TR, I’m on my way.

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Great Egret photo taken by my then nine year old daughter at Fair Haven State Park. NY  an image of another breath taking, timeless moment on one of our annual birding treks

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Spirit of 60 Road Trip Part Two: Comfort Food

So fellow travelers, a little over an hour later, I defied the GPS directions to stay on the highway and headed south on Route 17 because I knew full well what wonders could be found along this alternate route.

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There is something about a hearty meal of good comfort foods that fortifies a troubled soul. After a brunch of corned beef hash, poached eggs, rye toast and good strong coffee I definitely felt more settled.

 

Driving through the vibrant green hills, often alongside rushing waters which still retain their Dutch names for “creek” such as Fishkill, Mudkill or Littlekill, another Buddhist teaching came to mind.

In this story, two monks are traveling and come upon a woman standing at the bank of a river, afraid to cross because she cannot swim. One monk offers to carry her across on his back, much to the dismay of his fellow monk. Upon reaching the other side, the woman climbs down and bows in gratitude, thanking the monk for giving her safe passage across the rushing waters. The two monks continue on their way and after a while the other monk breaks his disgruntled silence, indignantly questioning how his companion could dare break sacred vows against touching women. To which the monk who had carried the woman across the river replies,

“For heavens sake, I left her at the bank, You however are still carrying her with you.”

Clearly he choose to be of service and let go of any “sin” incurred in so doing, but the other monk carried a burden of anger and judgment far longer than the first monk had carried the woman in need of help.

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Rounding a bend in the road, I caught sight of a tall barren tree, filled with birds perched on the dead branches. The image spoke forgiveness which my heart accepted gratefully. Then, as they so often do, words began to weave thoughts into form

 

Forest bones stand tall

Feathered ornaments adorn

Purpose beyond death

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Photo Note: the tree is a similar image which presented itself later in my travels when I could stop to take the photo.  Add birds of your choice.

Oh and if you ever have the good fortune to travel along route 17 through Roscoe New York, do yourself the favor of stopping for a bite at the Roscoe Diner.  It’s worth the trip.

 

Zen Moment: Woodpecker’s Haiku

So fellow travelers, I’ve just returned from a week of camping with a good friend at one of the wonderful State Parks we are blessed to have here in Upstate New York.

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Round Lake Trail at Green Lakes State Park

Lots of rain meant plenty of time to write, so I can promise a series of posts about my recent #Spiritof60 road trip will be coming up.  Between rain storms, there were some good opportunities to get out on the trails.  Cooler temps kept bugs at a minimum although the grey skies and flat light made for poor photo conditions. Still the sun put in an appearance bright and early on the last day and the birds responded with great enthusiasm as if to make up for so many hours of precipitation induced silence. From the glorious morning wake-up call of a pileated woodpecker and feathered friends came this grateful haiku

Drumbeats at sunrise
Songbirds join in harmony
Trails call rise and hike

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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.