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

Deep Dive

So fellow travelers, as we hit the long slippery slope leading to election day here in the not-so-United States I reached a point of near desperation to comprehend what madness is driving the hatred flying around.

When the demise of my 02RavCamper kept me home bound for several weeks back in September, I found myself needing a diversion to ward off the depression brewing from giving up several weeks of camping plans. Since retiring last June, I’ve looked forward to Fall camping because this year I could finally camp for  long stretches of weekdays when the campgrounds and trails are quieter. While my search for an affordable vehicle did take up much of my focus, I found myself with just enough spare time to become increasingly aware of the high emotions flying around as election campaigns ramped up, inspite of my consciousness choice to limit time on social media or TV news.

“Get Curious,” is a phrase I hear often from a trusted mentor in personal development. As a kid with an insatiable curiosity about everything I was often told I asked “too many questions.” Finding a path of growth where curiosity is not only encouraged but brilliantly supported has been a gift beyond measure.

So, what better way to master the anxiety driven by vitriolic emotions than taking a deep dive into the psychology of hate. It’s like the moment just before I start a particularly challenging hike.

Until I take the first few steps there’s always the option to get back in the car and drive to a diner for a cup of coffee and a slice of pie. But, seriously, I’ve come all this way, going back without exploring what’s ahead just seems pointless. Those first few yards on the trail become my commitment to take on the challenge and meet the source of any fear head on. And that pie and coffee will be waiting when I get back down. (Photo: Blue Mountain Trail hiked in August 2018)

The past six weeks certainly have been vastly different from my original plans for this first Autumn in retirement. To be honest, this research “dive” into the psychology of hate has been exhausting and would have been impossible to manage if I was still working. I regret nothing, not the sleepless nights, not the painful personal insights, not the intense frustration of even needing to be excavating this graveyard of systemic dysfunction. I am exhausted yet profoundly grateful to have reached a point of comprehension.

Earlier today I came across this quote from Neale Donald Walsh which summarizes my conclusions:
The impulse to help each other is built into our genes; it is coded within our species. We have a “soul contract” to help each other. I’m convinced of it. We all, each of us, feel this impulse.”1
I know the immediate reaction is to think it’s impossible to believe this is true for people spreading hatred and engaging in violence.

However, the deeper I dove into the research on hatred the more evident it became that because humans are “wired” for connection, whenever we deny it and try to cut off that connection, it creates a downward spiral of shame, guilt and eventually an overwhelming fear. Left unacknowledged and unhealed those feelings fester until they explode as anger. On some level we have all been in that spiral; part of my exploration has been uncovering and healing those emotions within my own psyche. 

Understanding this has allowed me to step back from engaging directly in the fight around me. It is futile to try reasoning with anyone living with that level of fear and it is not effective to employ guilt in an attempt to change people already steeped in shame. People acting out of hatred are always in a defensive mode and that is not a state of being conducive to change.

Understanding does NOT mean I accept hatred nor does it absolve people who have chosen violence, oppression and fear mongering. Understanding has simply given me an acute awareness of when engaging is a waste of precious energy, energy better directed towards being an active participant in the kind of society I want to live in.

Angel sighting Sunset view from Cadillac Mountain Acadia Natl.Park 9.30.2020

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

 

1 The Storm Before The Calm. Book One: Conversations with Humanity series. Neale Donald Walsh. Random House Publishing

Back to the Beginning

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


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

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

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

New friends

Time with family

Precious memories from a memorable event

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Even a few wishes granted

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

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

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

Or not.

The abandoned Overlook Hotel near the summit of Overlook Mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kane Mountain

So fellow travelers, this happened today !

Ms Delilah about to summit her first ADX mountain

When we set out this morning, our intended destination was Caroga Lake State Park. I didn’t plan on tackling the Fire Tower trail at Kane Mountain but much to my surprise, after driving two hours to reach Caroga Lake, the NYS park employee at the entrance asked me if I had a camping reservation and since I did not, then informed me, “We do NOT allow dogs in the day use areas of the park.” 

In all my time as a resident (this month marks 44 years ) in Upstate New York, I have never encountered a park** where dogs were not allowed unless you are camping and I have spent many weeks in dozens of state parks and Yes, most of them have areas where dogs are not permitted- for example our two favorite campgrounds on Lake Ontario (Southwick Beach and Fair Haven) do not allow dogs on the public beaches and one has a playground where dogs are not allowed and of course all NYS parks require owners to keep dogs on a leash no longer than 6ft; all perfectly reasonable limitations.  However, I have never been told that I was not allowed day use of the park because I had a dog with me, even after I explained I had come to see the park and campgrounds for a possible future visit. 

To be honest, the park attendant’s firm and rather unwelcoming manner was more a deterrent than the actual restriction itself. You would have thought I had a snarling, barking beast seated next to me; but Delilah sat quiet and poised in her well tethered car harness, collar and tags clearly visible. I have had attendants request proof of proper license or vaccinations, all of which I carry in both the glove compartment and my day pack. This person made it clear I would not be admitted into the park unless I had a camping reservation.  So I simply said “ Well, no problem then, I guess we cannot visit today.” I drove around the ticket booth and headed back to the main road.

The trailhead to Kane Mountain was only five miles back on the road we had just taken to reach the now forbidden state park. Once hiking season starts, my gear is always stored in my vehicle and because I had planned to have lunch at the park, I had plenty of water and fuel for a quick trail adventure. So back down the road we went. A change into hiking boots and a brief pit stop at the trailhead privvy  (lunch was not the only reason I had stopped at the State Park) and we were soon making our way up the well marked trail. 

The trail we hiked was the shorter, but slightly steeper trail- just over half a mile, but it is a half mile of steady vertical climbing with an elevation change of just over 600 feet.  Delilah and I have logged a good amount of trail mileage this year, but very little of it has been vertical. Vertical hiking uses different muscles and while Delilah forged ahead nimbly leaping around rocks on the trail, I felt the pitch immediately. A few minutes in I slowed my pace knowing tired legs are more prone to a misstep, particularly on the downward return trip. Delilah did not seem to mind, as this gave her more opportunities to thoroughly sniff out every whiff of critter news along the way. 

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The base of the fire tower just visible through the trees at Kane’s summit

There was only one drawback to doing this trail with my favorite hiking companion: I would miss out on the view from the tower, because it is not safe for dogs to climb up to (or even worse climb back down) the tower’s top platform. And the ONLY view from Kane Mountain is the view from the tower, because the summit is not above the tree line.

Some hikers leash their dogs to the base, and go up solo, however Delilah can be counted on to be quite vocal about my leaving her alone in an unfamiliar setting.  No big deal since this trail is an easy day trip from home, one I can return to on my own another time.  Waiting for that summit view is an easy trade-off for the fun we had taking on this trail together and there are many summits without towers to be explored. Besides, it was time to head back down before the rain clouds we left behind at home caught up to us.

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

Note: ** it occurs to me that dogs cannot visit the NY State Park exhibit in the NYS Fairgrounds which has a pond and picnic area and is in fact an official State Park ( albeit the smallest State park in the system) although that is actually a restriction inherent to the NYS fairgrounds itself.

Adventure Calls

So fellow travelers, our morning walks these past few days have been blessed with crisp blue skies and cool, dry air .  Indeed there is a hint of autumn in that air, a brisk reminder I have only a handful of days left to squeeze in any road trips before work intrudes on my freedom.

The view at Seventh ( or was it Eighth?) Lake in the Adirondacks

Every summer since my Spirit of Sixty Road trip I have journeyed to at least one new area in New York. Last year I hiked my first of several Adirondack Fire Tower trails, a challenge I found both exhausting and exhilarating. The experience opened  an inner well of motivation I was glad to tap in to and I was grateful to discover my body was still capable of persevering through the short but steep, rugged inclines I encountered on the “moderate” trails I had chosen to try first.

Fire Tower at the summit of Blue Mountain, ADX

In the month since returning from my trip to the West Coast, I have not been able to fit in another road trip. I was first occupied by my commitment to help coordinate the wedding of two close friends and then focused on a series of diagnostic processes designed to keep my trusty RaVan on the road.  The term “RaVan” is how I refer to my little 2002 Toyota Rav road warrior, which my husband has been helping me convert into a camp-able vehicle. He has built a bed, a small storage table, custom made blackout panels for the windows and will be installing a power station with a deep cycle battery wired so I can run small electronics and keep my phone charged without running down the main vehicle battery. All I need now is to solve the mystery of the “check engine” alert.  How lucky am I to have a brother-in-law who is one of the best mechanics (and owns two repair shops) in town?  One component at a time we’re getting there.

Oppressive humidity has also kept Delilah and me off all but the shortest of local trails. You know it’s bad out there when you come home drenched in sweat just from a ¾ mile walk around the block at 7am in the morning. So the change to cooler weather is most welcome, even if it is a harbinger of the coming change in seasons.

Time to fire up the RaVan and hit the road for new vistas from summits yet to be explored…..Stay tuned.

Post walk treats for my best trail buddy

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

Digging Out

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


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

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

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

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

“No mud, no lotus” Thich Nhat Hanh*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


View from Blue Mountain Fire Tower, Adirondacks

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

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

Reflections

So fellow travelers, 2018 draws to a close and time spent sorting through photos has me reflecting on the vast expanse of experiences this year brought.

Sunrise in the High Desert

For all the darkness of the low points which framed the first half of the year, I am beginning to glean the significance of the growth and insights gained. There is still healing and integration in progress, but this year definitely concludes on more hopeful, uplifting notes.

Seventh (or was it Eighth Lake?) in the Adirondacks

The last few weeks have brought some losses for people around me, and I have felt their grief more intensly than expected. Perhaps this is a measure of the extent to which challenging experiences have deepened my capacity for compassion. Yet at the same time, this intensity has not thrown my equilibrium off as it might have; I take this to be a measure of personal growth, not that I am resting on any laurels. Six decades plus a few more revolutions around the sun have taught me to avoid complacency.

Idyllic summer morning

Spending time with extended family over this holiday week points to some indicators of changes to come. A change in options at work has pushed my retirement plans out by one more year; it’s ok, I accept it as more time to bank resources for a future cross country road trip I’ve been plotting out.

Meanwhile there are plenty of adventures on the itinerary for 2019. Fortified an attitude of gratitude, a desire to continue seeking joy, and a deeper committment to practicing kindness for myself as well as others I will turn the calendar page with a heart wide open.


METEOR sculpture at the Oasis Visitor Center Joshua Tree National Park

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

Autumn Glow

So fellow travelers, a few days ago a vision of wind driven golden light caught my eye from an upstairs window.


I had taken a mental health day to reset my perspective and that day had brought sunshine and milder temperatures, rare gifts for November in upstate NY.

I’ve been working on tying up some loose ends left unattended while my energies were hijacked by situations my team at work had to deal with for so long. While that concern has been “resolved,” allowing work to become once again a fulfilling part of my day, I am still addressing the residual impact two years of continuous, escalating stress had on my health and marriage. My husband, good man and devoted father that he is, struggles with knowing how to support me when I am in a crisis. Wounds from his own past have left scars which bind his heart and emotions, something I do my best to be mindful of but easily lose sight of when I am in turmoil.

Blessed with several solid groups of friends both at and beyond work, I managed to get through the worst moments. Now I can see while we tried desperately to get help for someone slipping into darkness just how hard I had to fight to keep from being pulled over that edge too. Love for my family guarded my heart and friends became my lifeline. So when a misunderstanding threatened to fracture some of those friendships, it sent a shock wave through my current peace of mind. It’s disheartening when genuine apologies generate more hurt than healing.

Taking a day for reflection and self care meant I could chase that glorious vision outside my window. I grabbed a daypack and headed for a favorite trail to track the elusive light of changing seasons.


Bright leaves, so late to put in an apperance this year flew everywhere, urged on by an unseasonably warmish wind. County Parks workers were hard at work getting the annual Holiday Lights on the Lake displays in place for the season.

Santa’s flying sleigh is a favorite, sure to elicit “oh’s” and “ah’s” when driving through .


Park residents  reserving their spot for the kick off event early next week

 

As Delilah stalked fat squirrels who were too focused on foraging to mind the many dogs passing by, I caught tantilizing glimpses of Light everywhere.

 

 

Perched on a picnic table, watching sunlight dance on the water, I remembered an important lesson: Reactions of others are more about them than us. When we ask ourselves “What is this person’s response telling me about their inner landscape?” it often clarifies and helps us separate our personal issues from others. Taking responsibility for our part of a misunderstanding and acknowleding another person’s feelings does not obligate us to take on someone’s hurt, anger or sadness. If we offer peace it will return to us all in good time.

 

Feelings come and go

like leaves blown about by wind

only love remains

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

Bookends

So fellow travelers, today marks the start of a new solar year in this grand adventure of life. Reflecting on the bookends of the first and last days

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Team Fairbanks-Rahalski at the summit of Pinnacle Peak Trail in Rainier National Park

I can see the origami of insights and growth created by the challenges weathered in-between two foundations: friends and family. As I embark fullspeed into the coming years of this sixth decade of solar returns I have my sights set on the adventures made possible by that foundation.

The road we travel

is made lighter by the Love

carried in our hearts

To all the beautiful points of Light in my community of family and friends here is a heartfelt haiku of gratitude for the love and support which has and will continue to bless my journey. You are the best gift anyone could ever receive.

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

Hidden Losses

So fellow travelers, sometimes the trails I traverse are haunted.

Footsteps crunch on snow

Hidden birds burst from branches

Regrets and losses

Scatter like feathers

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