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

.

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.

.

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. 

.

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

20180715_154449

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.

Turning the Page on an Endless Summer

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

IMG_0431

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?

20160828_111631.jpg

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.

20170904_120810

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.