Turning the Page on an Endless Summer

So fellow travelers, today is the final day of the 2017 Great New York State Fair .

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This photo is from 2011 because I won’t have photos from The Fair this year.  You see, for the first time in forty two years I am not going. This is a decision without precident and far out of character for me. I love the Fair! I’ve attended every year since I arrived as a college freshman, when free buses ran us from Syracuse University up to and back from the Fairgrounds during the week before classes began. I’ve been so many times I know about the Sheep to Shawl contest where teams sheer, card, spin and knit wool to compete for ribbons. I’ve enjoyed the Rooster Crowing Contest in the Poultry Barn an event which landed us a pet bunny (the girls got bored and wanted to see the guinea pigs and bunnies, you know the rest.) I’m a regular “People’s Vote”r for the table setting and wood carving competitions. I’ve seen more amazing things sculpted in butter and sand, wondered at intricate quilt designs and applauded teams of rescue dogs performing high jinx while raising awareness that shelter animals make great pets.

Then there is the food, around which I plan my intinerary.  Arrive early enough for a breakfast of Belgian waffles with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, conveniently located in the dairy building right by the afore mentioned butter sculpture’s rotating glass refrigerated display case. Snack on maple snow cones or maple cotton candy before checking out the astounding enteries in the photography and quilt competitions in the Home and Art Center. Peruse the ribbon winners of the flower of the day in the Horticulture Building, then grab a baked potato with the works (butter, sour cream, and cheese) while my feet can endure the long line at the booth, after all at a dollar it’s always been and still is the best bargain of the day. Walking the midway offers fresh squeezed lemon or limeade and fried dough at one end and at the other end, if I time it right, I get to watch young dancers and drummers from different tribes performing while I enjoy my favorite Green Corn soup at the Six Nations Cook House.  Eventually I meander back to the cool shade under the trees by the NYState Parks mini lake for dinner from either the International Building or Dinosaur Barbeque where the picnic tables are within view of Chevy Court where free concerts are staged.

So why am I missing it this year?  While our annual trip to Portland and a day of jet lag fatigue kept me out for nine of the thirteen days of this year’s run, I still had both time and advance tickets available. And I do love the Fair, it’s my annual end of summer tradition.

And there, when I woke up this morning on the very last day this year’s Fair,  I realized there was the key : End of summer.  It’s a reality I am in complete denial of, an inevitable shift in time I cannot stop even if I choose not to turn the page on the daily calendar sitting in my kitchen. If I don’t pass through those gates then this summer cannot end, right?

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You see, this summer has been extraordinary.  After the inordinate impact of last year’s challenges at work, I dedicated this entire summer to getting my physical and emotional health back. From the Spirit of 60 Road Trip to favorite trails rediscovered  and the adventures of our trip to Portland, I’ve focused on understanding why I veered so far off course, what I need to do to stay balanced, establish clear boundaries, reset priorities and how to thrive rather than survive the challenges of the coming school year. Every day possible, I woke up and asked “What would I most like to do today?” then followed that call as best I could.  I might find simple joy in a treat at a favorite cafe, wonder at a rare bird sighting, strength in hiking a difficult trail, healing in the hug from a loved one. It’s a routine I will continue as best I can going forward with the new school year.

So this morning when I asked myself what I most wanted to do the answer brought me here instead

Potters Marsh and Three Rivers, a favorite birding spot

It was a quiet, peaceful hike. Ducks, geese and sandpipers that nest along the banks of the marshes in the spring have raised their young and moved on the for season. Only a steady stream of dragonflies and bumblebees stirred over the still waters. Crickets shrilled their late summer chorus from under towering goldenrod.  A constant wind brushed the tree tops, the rustle of drying leaves sounded like waves coming ashore. Following the trail into cooler woods I was rewarded with the distant call of blackbilled cuckoos. On the way past the eagles nest also now empty, we came across a small snapping turtle struggling in a patch of sand in the middle of the path. After letting Delilah sniff to satisfy her curiosity, I gently set it on the edge of the big pond. One small act of kindness somehow settled the restlessness in my heart.

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Hey where did he go?

So, after I came home, when I finally did flip the page on that daily calendar in my kitchen one quote reminded me I have the power of asking the “right” questions. It read :

“We are either throwing our emotional weight into the balance of fear and anger or we are adding to the world’s measure of hope and kindness.  This is cannot always be seen, but it can certainly be felt.  Today, I will ask myself two questions: ‘How do I feel in this situation?’ and “How do I want to feel?’ ” (Hugh Prather)

What I want to feel is the warmth of an endless summer shining in a heart free to answer “What do I most want to do today?” and I know I have the choice to honor that no matter what the coming seasons bring. Besides, those Great New York State Fair advance admission tickets will still be good next year.

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

 

Mountain Spells

So fellow travelers, we have spent three days discovering the majestic power of the mountains in Rainier and Olympic National Parks in Washington.

Mount Rainier (above) and Mount Olympus (below)


They are spellbinding. 

 

Yesterday at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, Favorite Older Daughter and I hiked a trail leading to a lookout point. It was a mercifully short, but knee cracking steep climb.  My daughter patiently paced her stride as I stopped to get photos and catch my breath more than a few times.

 

The views from the top were worth every inch we hiked.

Even more precious was this rare time alone together. “Proud” barely describes the depth of joy I feel being with the amazing young woman my daughter has become. I have not written much about her because it is not often we get to spend time together. I head back home in a few days with an increasing sense that “home” is no longer where I currently live. It’s become this wild and wondrous place I return to every summer, this place our kids call home.

While trying to describe my experience at the trail’s crest I wrote what I thought was a run on sentence, until I realized it was actually a poem

The mountains are calling and winding tendrils of awe around my  heart

Ice fresh air seductively imbued with cedar fills my head with wild dreams of following endless ridges laced with enticing ribbons of trails 

I would walk on and on diving below the tree line plunging deep into forests of forgetfulness and forgiveness  where nothing matters but the next step

A raven calls

I turn and face the sun

and walk step by step 

 back home

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


Spirit of 60 Road Trip Part Five: Echoes

 “It is an incalculable added pleasure to any one’s sum of happiness if he or she grows to know, even slightly and imperfectly, how to read and enjoy the wonder-book of nature.”  Theodore Roosevelt

So fellow travelers, after the tour inside the house, we stepped out onto the grand porch over looking the grounds of Sagamore Hill to hear stories about the family.

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Our guide explained he usually told these colorful, candid stories as groups toured the family quarters through out the upper floors, but it was an oppressively humid day and the sweltering temperatures inside the Roosevelt home, built before the modern convenience of air-conditioning, made it uncomfortable to stay long on the upper floors.

We learned that Theodore fell in love with the area after spending much of his childhood summers visiting the summer homes of his grandfather and uncles. Soon after graduating from Harvard when he and Alice were engaged, TR purchased a large area of farmland on top of the hill which looks out on Oyster Bay. A few years later, both his mother and young wife Alice died on the same day, just two days after their only child Alice Lee was born. Heartbroken, he almost cancelled his plans to build the house, but his older sister  “Bammy” convinced him he and his daughter still needed the home on the hill. So when TR left to try his hand at ranching out west in the Dakotas as a way to quell his grief, his sister not only took over the care of  Baby Lee, she also supervised the construction of Sagamore Hill. While the house does not have air-conditioning (which would not be invented for another 20 years) it is in fact mainly due to Anna’s foresight and planning that many other modern conveniences of the time, like electricity, became part of the final plans. For example, she saw to it that the porch was situated to take advantage of the prevailing breezes which blew across the penninsula, breezes our sweaty tour group were most grateful for decades later.

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Since Sagamore Hill was at the time in a fairly remote location, the grounds actually incorporated elements of a small family farm including an orchard with many different fruit trees, milking cows, chickens for fresh eggs and flower gardens to fill the vases which Edith loved to place through out the house as a counterbalance to all the taxidermy which prevailed on the walls of almost every room (she got her say in keeping the master bedroom free from staring animal heads.)

On the far end of the grounds stands the beautiful home built by Theodore Roosevelt III, TR’s oldest son. Now known as the Roosevelt Museum at Old Orchard it houses an extensive collection documenting the personal and professional lives of the President and his family. It is also airconditioned, so I planned to take my time absorbing as much as I could of the treasures on display such as his Nobel Peace prize,* photos of historic and personal moments through out his life and letters, book drafts and documents like the ones which created so many National Parks (5), National Forests (150) and Bird Reserves (51).

But before I indulged in the luxury of steeping myself in the Roosevelt Family’s history on display in air-conditioned comfort of the Museum I had a trail to find and hike.

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Our guide mentioned Theodore had constructed a nature trail through the woods which lead to a beach on the shore, where the family often spent the day fishing and swimming in view of beautiful Oyster Bay. Just as with most of the grounds at Sagamore Hill, this trail remains in its original location and I could not pass up the opportunity to walk this favorite place TR explored with his children, teaching them about nature and listening for birds he loved.  It is located  behind the Roosevelt Museum just past where the large orchard once stood. Marked as an easy three quarter mile loop down to the shore and back, I disregarded the mounting midday heat and set out to walk in the footsteps of the Roosevelts.

 

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Within a few feet, the trail turns and dips down towards to the coast, the dense green canopy of old growth trees providing welcome relief from the glaring summer sun. Deep in the trees the melodious song of a woodthrush sounded, red squirrels and chipmunks chattered at my intrusion, a small toad hopped away when I stooped to look at a tiny mushroom. No wonder this was a favored place of the Roosevelt children.  I could hear them laughing as they ran along the path.

Wait, I really do think I hear childen laughing.

Turning to look up the path, I almost expected to see spirits playing in the filtered sunlight when two young boys came zooming by, laughing about who would get to the beach first. “Hold up boys,” a young dad called as he trotted after them. His wife followed, carrying a baby and said “Sorry about that” as she walked by me.

“Oh no worries.  Your boys just made my day,” I said earnestly and headed down the trail to find the beach where the Roosevelt family spent so many happy summer days.

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

*Theodore Roosevelt was awarded the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize for meditating the Treaty of Portsmith which ended the Russo-Japanese war over Korea and Manchuria. In keeping with the philanthropic mission his own father instilled in him, TR used the money from the award to start a trust to create a foundation promoting international peace. President Roosevelt was the first American to win any of the Nobel Prizes, one of many firsts in an outstanding list of his contributions to the greater good.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Detours

So fellow travelers, on a recent camping trip, I spent some time hiking one of my favorite trails near Lake Ontario.

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Delilah and our camping buddy Sammy hiking the trail a few years ago.

This trail is unique because it starts with a handicap accessible loop, a short gravel path through shrubs and new growth forest.  The loop has benches scattered about which provide perfect spots to catch glimpses of the many different birds that spent their summers by the lake.

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Midway along the loop, a longer trail branches off. This trail winds through an open field, over a creek, into a cool hardwood forest and around a wetland. Eventually the trail comes to a wooden bridge which crosses an inlet by a beaver dam and joins a boardwalk over the dunes to the lake shore. At least it did but flooding this year from high water levels has washed out the section which connects the bridge to the dune trail.

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The trail currently ends here.

The lake trail which leads back to he campgrounds along the shoreline is also currently underwater due to high water levels, so I knew when we set out on our hike that morning we would end up doubling back, but I had hoped to at least be able to reach the dunes. No matter, the bridge by the beaver dam made a nice stopping point for a snack and water break.

As Delilah sniffed out assorted critter news of the day, I reflected on how my thoughts on the hike out reflected my unsettled inner state.  The entire forty five minutes of the hike to the bridge had been filled with anxious worrisome thoughts about supplies (Oh I forgot to check if the cooler still had enough ice ) ticks ( Would the organic repellant I use on Delilah’s harness and paws be enough to ward off the battalion of ticks said to infest the trails everywhere this year?) incoming weather ( would I have time to get a fire going to cook with before storms predicted for the afternoon arrived?) the camper (Did I close the windows on the upper deck incase the rain came early?) on and on.

Such a barrage of nervous thinking is uncharacteristic; when I set foot on a trail, my mind customarily focuses on the immediate sights, sounds and even smells of the experience. It was not until just before we reached the beaver dam bridge that I caught how frantic my thoughts had become.  A rumble I thought was thunder almost had me turn back until I realized it was the pounding of waves .

Woah girl, stop and settle.

Unable to reach the boardwalk leading to the dunes, I  sat on the bridge, letting the water running over the beaver dam soothe my rattled brain. Once my thinking slowed, I laughed at my worries everytime a wave boomed in the distance. I shook my head in amazement at how easily I had slipped into fearful thinking. My eyes stung a little at the thought of being so far off balance. Just how much of a detour had the stress of the year set me back?  Perhaps sensing my emotions, Delilah relinquished her pursuit of a moth and sat next to me. A gentle nudge of my elbow reminded me we had snacks and water in my day pack.

 

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So we sat, Delilah and I, munching and listening to birds and bullfrogs and the boom, boom, boom of waves through the trees lining this side of the dunes. A few moments of serenity and grace. I even found myself smiling in anticipation of a good summer afternoon thunderstorm.They can be quite a spectacular sight rolling in off Lake Ontario.

“Now that’s more like myself,” I thought as we packed up to head back to camp. I realized I was not even a full week into summer break. I need to give myself time to regain my balance. The hike back was peaceful and slow. I walked mindfully, noticing wildflowers I had missed, heard more birds and caught sight of this grand wooded cathedral.

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Walking back to the trailhead words reflected the lesson within.

Time brings endings and

All which has passed falls away

Healing follows grace

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

 

 

 

 

Road of Omission

So fellow travelers, a zen moment of awareness from yesterday’s trek in spring weather.

 It’s late February

Here in Upstate NY, if spring weather shows up in March, we consider it early. 

Spring weather in February is well, it’s just so unnatural, frankly it’s unnerving.

Then again these days what isn’t?

Don’t get me wrong. This birdacious seeker of sanctuary is deeply grateful to be walking paths usually buried in several feet of snow and hearing red wing blackbirds not due to return for a couple of weeks.

Signs of a changing world.

Not a comfortable thought.

Then again these days what is ?

Here’s the haiku which emerged as I walked the path processing recent interactions.

It’s safe and smooth this

Road of omission a straight

Line to the desert

Often more meaning is present in what’s not said than in what is.

Walk gently on the path my friends for kindness matters.

Treasure Hunt : Looking for Lewis and Clark

So fellow travelers, I first met Lewis and Clark  at PS 26 in Yonkers NY.

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Faded filmstrip images from third grade history lessons peaked my interest. Soon I was scouring the shelves of my local public library, reading everything I could find about their journey. The details of their expedition ignited a lifelong desire to wander in nature.

Yet it was the story of the extraordinary friendship between William Clark and Merriweather Lewis which drew me in.  As a bookish “slant-eyed” kid who preferred climbing trees to dressing Barbies it was easier to go solo than fit in. Lewis and Clark’s tight well balanced camaraderie intrigued my solitary spirit. Since the longest we lived anywhere was four years, any close friendships I did form were left behind like unforwarded mail (although the advent of social media has forged some reconnections from my childhood and teens.)

Twenty years ago I visited the Museum of Westward Expansion at the base of the St. Louis Arch. I could have wandered the exhibit for hours and the view at the top of the arch (yes, if you get there, it’s worth the time and effort to make the trip up) with its vast horizons stretching  east and west put their journey into mind bending perspective.

And I have been to the historic locations in good old Philadelphia where they gathered supplies for the expedition. Whenever we get stuck at an airport on our coast to coast travels I remind myself a 24 hour delay is nothing compared to obstacles like the month of portage it took for the expedition to make their way around the Great Falls of the Missouri River.

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Photo Note: This is not the Missouri River, but it is a fitting image. This is  the Crooked River which runs through Smith Rock State Park in Oregon. Photo by Emma Rahalski

The historic Lewis and Clark trail ends on the northern coast of Oregon. By a serendipitous bit of good luck , the little Air B&B beach cottage I found available for two nights was located at Sunset beach, on the northern coast of Oregon….

on Clark Road, just past Lewis Road

 a mere fifteen minute walk from the one end of the Fort to Sea Trail.

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I would have the chance to walk in the footsteps of my life long heroes.

The Fort to Sea trail runs between a quiet stretch of the Pacific Coast and Fort Clatsop, the shelter built by the expedition when they arrived at the Pacific Coast in November 0f 1805, knowing they would have to winter over before beginning the trip back East. It turns out the trail is a six mile hike each way over some tough terrain, so most hikers arrange for a drop off at the Fort and pick up at Sunset Beach  rather than hiking uphill back to the Fort. So hiking the full trail would be an adventure for another time.

I decided to walk from the coastal trailhead up the trail away from the beach. I simply hiked until I could no longer see the parking lot, then  stood taking in everything I could see and hear at that vantage point.I made myself a promise to return and hike the full trail from the Fort down to the coast.

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It was a cloudy and misty day, a flat light not great for photography, but good ambiance for historic imaginings. As I walked back towards the ocean, I passed a large exhibit which described a massive coastal storm which hit the Northern Oregon coast in 2007.  It destroyed much of the coast line snapping huge trees like match sticks. You can still see the aftermath nearly ten years later.

stormbonesedit trees like bones scattered on the hillside

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As I came out of the coastal brush to seagrass covered dunes, I made note of the point where I first heard the sound of waves

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and I turned to look back at the hills

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before walking the final steps

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to the great Pacific Ocean

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


Solace and Solitude

So fellow travelers, there are moments in the steady onslaught of things which must be done when every fiber of my being cries out for respite.

Late this afternoon was one of those moments so Delilah and I headed for a park which I knew would have less foot traffic than our usual walking trail by the lake.

Finding just one other car in the parking lot made good on my assumption.  We set out for the path which wove through the woods, I seeking solitude and Delilah seeking critter scent trails.

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Take heed denizens of the forest, the Huntress is on the prowl

As she zigzagged across the path from promising brush pile to hollow log I listened to the sweet songs drifting down from the trees. Vireos, thrushes and song sparrows warbled a chorus punctuated by the sharp bright alarm calls of chipmunks startled by our wanderings.

This small sanctuary so peaceful and gracious, allowing me to take in the softness of wafting popular seeds

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the magic of light on the green canopy

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the sweet smell of wild blossoms

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all reminders there is solace from the harshness of humanity’s inhumanity found in the solitude of the sacred spaces. Keep seeking, it may be just ahead on the path.

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

Return to Sterling: postscript

So fellow travelers, a few more thoughts rattling around my brain about the first hike of the season.

I returned from my Spring Equinox hike feeling more peaceful than I had in weeks. As I said in my earlier post, I didn’t know what shifted, I just know something settled in my heart which eased my troubled mind and lifted my spirits.

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That night I woke around 3am from a dream so lucid and powerful it took a few minutes to understand why I was laying in a dark room. Just seconds ago I was sitting at a picnic table next to my camper, writing notes in my journal. Everything, I mean everything, made sense and I was writing it all down in concise, clear phrases.

Of course the knowledge of what I had actually writing faded with the dream, so unlike Einstein, who discovered his famous E=MC2  in a dream, I have no worldly wisdom to impart yet the sense of clarity stayed with me.  I settled back to sleep feeling content and solidly grounded.

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A few hours later, I would wake to my phone buzzing with an emergency message from our High School crisis team. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt my ability to be fully present through the difficult day ahead came from the grounding experience of my Equinox hike and the resulting dream. This kind of mysterious, almost mystical alignment is not the norm for my trail adventures. As much as I enjoy hiking, most of the time it’s simply a good long walk with a few bird sightings and maybe even a handful of photos worth keeping. I think this is why I didn’t write about it originally.

Over the next two weeks, trails called to me in a more meaningful way and I continued to seek guidance and solace by hiking in whatever location came to mind, drawing strength from solitude. I sense a deeper level of awareness has been opened and wanted to acknowledge this. Even as a kid growing up in the Bronx I felt a strong connection to nature, although my experience was mostly limited to simply climbing a favorite tree by our apartment. Yet now I feel more deeply attuned to the little sacred moments which will fill my heart with hope and keep my footing steadier on the Path.

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

 

Return to Sterling: Lakeside

So fellow travelers, if there is one lesson I have learned and taken to heart, it is this:

When my soul is restless, when something is amiss, when my body, mind and spirit are out of sync there is only one reliable remedy I can take.

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I take a hike, or at the very least a good long walk, where I am likely to encounter more birds than humans.

This is not a remedy unique to me, as I know from reading the most excellent writing of other bloggers, many of whom I am blessed to also count as friends. In fact it is not uncommon for someone to write about an experience which happens in sync with one I have just had. The synchronous posts used to deter me from writing out of a self imposed concept that being authentic had to also be completely original. Gradually I realized this synchronicity was actually a hallmark of how connected many of us really are.

After all my standard salutation “fellow travelers,” is a reflection of my true belief that we are all on this journey together, whether we walk parallel or different paths. We all need joy, yearn to love and be loved, seek peace and want to be heard. Allowing myself to put my experience into words and images, even when they were similar to other posts was a conscious choice to acknowledge my experiences.  The more I do, the clearer my voice has become to me, because when I started this blog I had no idea how to write with “voice.”

Even before our school community faced the challenges of coping with a student suicide, I was struggling with a vague feeling of foreboding. Reading pieces from my creative friends told me I was not alone,  a reassuring and clear directive to listen to my restlessness and seek calm where I knew to find it best.

So it was I found myself on the trails at Sterling Nature Center.

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The eerie sights and sounds at the heron rookery did nothing to calm my uneasiness.  As water, even in stormy weather, is my favorite centering element I decided to head for the Lake Trail. Along the way I watched an ermine dart along the opposite edge of a creek, too elusive for me to photograph clearly.  Some moments of joy are not meant to be held.

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Ermine, hiding behind the logs on the far side of the creek.

I spotted salamander egg bubbles on  another creek’s surface, a sure sign of spring which fortified my resolve to face the single digit wind chills I knew were blowing in off the lake.

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The rhythmic pulse of waves grew louder as I approached the shore. Signs of winter’s force blocked one trail, so I headed towards the beach. Weird ice formations in random spots decorated the shore like a mad artist’s sculpture garden.

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Flat, grey lighting made it difficult to capture the full impact of these images. At least the shoreline provided a colorful array of stones, rolling like gems being polished in a tumbler.

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I sat for a while on a large fallen tree and let the waves wash through my mind. I sat, I am not sure for how long, feeling the waves shifting and rearranging my jumbled thoughts until I sensed my face had gone numb from the cold winds.

I stood and headed to the trail leading back up the hill, yet my feet trudged past the trail and kept going up the shoreline, climbing over more fallen trees, walking, walking, walking on tired legs until I reached this view

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A sharp cry above me drew my attention to an osprey flying inland from the lake, pursued by several gulls intent on stealing the fish clutched in it’s talons. They were moving too fast for me have any chance of getting a focused shot; I made a conscious decision to watch rather than reach for my camera.

And suddenly there it was ~  I felt the jumble in my mind shift, like the tumblers of a complicated lock clicking into place.  In that decision to consciously be in the moment whatever it was I seeking settled in my heart.  I had no idea what it was, only that it was there and my spirit was calm.

Suddenly aware of being tired, hungry and quite cold, I headed for the trail leading back to my car, promising myself one stop on the way home

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Comfort food from Rudy’s a Lake Ontario legend.

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