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.

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.