Birds Doing New Things

While I head out to clear snow (yes it’s still snowing on and off in March- ah Spring in Upstate NY) from my own backyard birdfeeders to keep the early spring migrants well fueled against the return of Winter-like temperatures I thought my Fellow Travelers might enjoy a trip to a bird sanctuary in warmer climates. Sylvia’s blog keeps my birding dreams alive through our long cold season.

Tonji and Sylvia's Wildlife Refuge

Sometimes we see birds as predictable creatures of habit. They have favorite perches that they return to day after day. Their behavior becomes familiar and part of the flow of the day.

This has become a familiar early morning sight. 5 White Breasted Woodswallows perched on top of this Agoho tree.

Other times we get to witness entirely new behavior. I thought it was unusual to see a Philippine Bulbul perched on the round pen. They usually hide inside the trees. What was it doing?

This looks to me like a young Philippine Bulbul. Based on the sounds, I think there was a nest inside the aratiles and this bird is one of the young from the nest.

The Philippine Bulbul was carefully, drop by drop, picking up dew from the fence posts.

I’ve never seen other birds do that on the fence posts before.

Soon there was a second…

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Ice-ing

So fellow travelers, sometimes the detours which happen along the way lead to unexpected gifts like this lunch stop I made on the way to see my favorite band ,Switchfoot, play tonight in New Jersey.

Goyza and bubble tea at Mitsuwa

My road trips this season have been plagued by weather related delays and cancellations. It’s an “occupational” hazard which comes with being an “occupant” of the Northeastern section of the United States. The most recent casualty of this seasons series of winter storms (I believe this one was named Petra) was a much anticipated backstage meeting with the band

Back in October when I booked the event, I did so knowing anything in February holds the potential for winter weather interference. Still the event was during our mid-winter break, Philadelphia is a reasonable drive and it would be an opportunity to visit with family just outside the city.

Two days before the concert, I began to see winter storm warnings. so I proactively headed to my parents place a day early. The morning of the show, weather alerts popped up on my phone indicating the forecast now included heaviest snowfall right around the time I would be headed into the city. The show ended up being cancelled, but I knew they also had a concert scheduled two nights later in Montclair, so at least I will get to see them before I head back home. My ticket for tonight’s performance does not include the backstage pass I had for the Philly concert- but that will be honored on the rescheduled date.

The day of the Philly event, I had actually opted to drive into the city several hours early, so I would arrive at the venue ahead of the heavier snow. I had confirmed the the location of a Starbucks within walking distance of the venue, so I had a warm familiar place with good coffee and wifi to hang out until it was time to check in for the backstage event- which was several hours before the concert itself. About half an hour before check-in time I decided to head back to my car and just as I was pulling on my coat, a text message popped up on my phone. Show would be rescheduled, date to be announced.

Considerably more relieved than disappointed, I plowed my way through deepening snow back to my car which was miraculously clear; the parking area was located under I-95, providing better shelter from the elements than I expected. I noticed a handful of people, I assumed were others who would have been attending the pre-show event, walking from the venue towards the parking lot. I heard a voice comment, “It’s too bad you came all the way for no reason.” A thought I might have applied to my experience but for one encounter on the snowy drive back.

At a busy intersection where cars were slowly moving through, I had stopped to wait for the next light change. On the corner I spotted someone struggling to walk through the snow, carrying a tarp and a piece of cardboard. I reached into my bag, grabbed some cash, rolled down my window. He came right over, calling out “Oh God Bless you Ma’am” before I even handed him the money. “God bless you too sir and please get yourself someplace warm,” I told him “ Thank you Ma’am I’m trying, I will.” I watched him trudge down the sidewalk before driving away, not caring that a few cars passed around me- although they at least refrained from the usual horn blast one gets when you hold up traffic.

Every element of that crazy weather driven day aligned so I had that chance to share one act of kindness for someone whose situation far outweighed any disappointment of a postponed event. Better yet, the sleet held off until just before I pulled in at my parents home. A kind of Ice-ing on a day with surprising gifts of gratitude.

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

Atmospheric Pressure

Your thoughts are the atmosphere through which you move.” Hugh Prather

So fellow travelers, the quote above was the recent thought for the day from an inspirational calendar which sits in a spot I walk by several times a day.

It syncs nicely with this line from a book I am reading : “What are you saying to yourself ABOUT yourself?”  (Crabby Angels No Bullshit Guide by Jacob Glass*)

As one might surmise from the title, Jacob’s writing style is down to earth, pull no punches, cut through the C*R*A*P with a perfect balance of humor and genuine kindness. The message is, yes indeed, we can put on our grownup boots and get on with living our best life while being kind to others and more essentially to ourselves.

I downloaded his book to my kindle to take along for my recent trip to the Midwest, anticipating extended wait time at airports, as I was traveling through Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. I know, who does that midwinter, right? Still, I had a specific reason to head that way, at that time and I counted on those Crabby Angels, as Jacob calls the Inner Voice, to get me there and home again as needed.

In the book’s introduction Jacob describes how he came to find the inner guidance of these “angels” during a period of spiritual growth in the mountains and deserts of Palm Springs. Uh huh, the same mountains and deserts which gifted me with my own moments of awakening last year (cue temple bell.)

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Purple Mountain Majesty seen from Joshua Tree National Park July 2018

He says “they (the angels) are not really crabby, at all, just blunt and to the point.”  My kind of Inner Guides. Cut through the mystical mumbo jumbo and “JUST STOP… all the bullshit and manipulating and resisting.”

Now I do understand the mere mention of “angels,” “inner guidance,” “spiritual growth” or “spiritual” anything is mystical mumbo jumbo to many. If exploring this path is not comfortable for anyone right now, think of this post as a little walking path which you can easily circle back to your own main trail from. Feel free to by pass it or come explore the alternative views this side trail offers.

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Trail Marker at Buena Vista Audubon Nature Center Carlsbad CA

Some of my friends are continually amazed by my solo travels, as if I am some fearless explorer navigating the Great Unknown. In truth there is frequently a moment before I set out on any trip when I have to ride out a wave of anxiety. It does not matter whether it’s one day of scouting birding spots, a weekend at a familiar campground or a couple of weeks exploring uncharted roads or new vistas. The thoughts of all the things that could go wrong try to stuff themselves into the spare pockets of my backpack and, like the extra pair of shoes I inevitably decide I don’t need to bring, I have learned to unpack those thoughts and leave them behind.

Being fearless is not a state where one is not afraid; it’s a state where fear and doubt exist and you go ahead in spite of those feelings. One proceeds not recklessly, but mindfully, in full awareness of the reasons for those fears and equally aware of the reasons those fears have only the power one gives them. It is a state reached only through consistent practice, a way of being one can live in if we allow ourselves to grow into it. I am by no means a master of anything other than finally becoming more conscious of my thoughts and what they are telling me about myself in that moment. This trip was an extended period of practicing that kind of mindfulness and it turned out, Jacob’s book was the perfect companion for this expedition.


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Wall art at JFK airport

The journey out was amazingly pleasant and delay free, the travels home were more challenging.  The day I was scheduled to fly back East I woke up to a series of weather alerts and text messages. One flight was already cancelled and the rebooked flight was also delayed. This actually worked to my advantage as it gave me enough leeway to wait out a passing weather front so my drive from Decatur to Chicago would not be through freezing rain. By the time I returned the rental car at the airport, my flight itinerary was on its third cancellation. On the phone with a genuinely helpful customer service employee, I opted for any flight which would get me out of Chicago headed east to any airport by day’s end. The open ended approach granted me a seat on a flight which, if it got off the ground within two hours of it’s scheduled time, could get me home late that evening.

During the time we waited for the plane to be de-iced for takeoff, I read halfway through Jacobs’ book then slept for about an hour, a rest made possible by the miracle of sitting in a row by myself. I woke up when the captain announced they were pulling back up to the gate to allow people to disembark, a new procedure now required by federal regulations when passengers have been on board for two hours waiting for take off.  He clarified that once we did so the clock on the flight’s three hour cancellation window would be reset and as long as the de-icing was safely completed we would take off. Knowing the chances of getting on any other flight that night or finding an affordable hotel room within Lyft distance of the airport were slim to none and with a deteriorating weather forecast for tomorrow, I opted to stay on the plane. Heading east, away from the incoming Polar Vortex and snow had to be a better option.

20190128_104550[1]The vast windy plains of the midwest from Route 55

That flight, one of the last to leave O’Hare that evening, left four hours and twenty minutes late.  But the point is, it did take off.   

All of the details in this account relate back to the opening quote. At every point in all of the constantly changing scenarios, I had the option to choose the focal point for my thoughts. All around me I heard distressed conversations about missed business appointments, cruise ship departures, important interviews. Did I just want to get home? Absolutely. Was I frustrated, tired and hungry? Yes. Could anyone connected to the airline do anything about the weather? Absolutely not. So I focused on the things I could manage; I called my husband, emailed my administrator (who replied with characteristic good humor about trying not to reprise Tom Hank’s role in Terminal) and went back to reading Jacob’s “crabby angels” who assured me:

“All is well with you even when the circumstances are not to your liking…If you can relax even in the middle of a seeming crisis, you will find Alignment and therefore find your peace.” (Chapter 5)

Inner peace while navigating the realities of current day air travel- now that’s spiritual progress

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

*Since the first Crabby Angels Chronicles, published in 2010, Jacob Glass has written numerous books, including one for teens. If the ideas interest you, my favorite source for his work is found here.

Journey

So fellow travelers, I find myself navigating airports, car rentals and unfamiliar highways this weekend on an unplanned journey

This is a trip prompted by a calling of the heart, a response to a feeling, an inner directive this is a time when hugs need to be given in person.

After two consecutive major winter storms which disrupted air travel and shutdown major roads in the Midwest and East Coast, Mother Nature blessed my flights here with clear weather.

Even with a snowy drive to reach my destination last night, the morning brought a cold but beautiful sunrise, complete with a halfmoon cookie in the sky.

The memorial I am here to attend is a tribute to a friend’s husband, a man I never met in person yet feel as if I now know well through the wonderful stories his colleagues and friends gave at the celebration.

And what a beautiful celebration this has been. A room full of so many people, of all ages, ethnicities, backgrounds, callings and professions all touched by one extraordinary human whose life has been dedicated to kindness, family and joy.

Oh yes, and pie

~ lots and lots of pie because he loves pie just as he loves others, all kinds are equally awesome.

“Loves”, in the present tense because as a family friend said in her tribute, the essence of who he was as a person, his energy, still is. She referenced the Law of Conservation of Energy, a basic principle of physics and her words proved true.

Love, kindness and joy filled that room, embraced my friend and her two young daughters, already working to mend their broken hearts. Their lives, forever changed, will go on supported and surrounded by the “bigger circle” he created for them.

Ducks at a park nearby.

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

Walking Towards the Light

So fellow travelers, even after hitting “publish,” the last entry felt incomplete, yet I had resolved to start writing again, so I pushed an ending onto it and posted the first entry for the year. It felt more like the final entry for last year and on thinking so, this quote came to mind:

So the last shall be first, and the first, last: for many are called, but few chosen.” (Matthew 20:16 ) King James Bible

It is no less mystifying to me now than when I first heard it in Sunday school over five decades ago, so rest assured I am not going to veer towards biblical pontification here.

All I know is when the phone call came this morning saying due to weather (ice this time instead of snow) school was closed, I grabbed a cup of coffee and the opportunity to sit down and review. After the final edit, I rarely re-read entries once they are posted because like an art teacher once taught us, there comes a time to put down the paint brush and walk away. Yet as I said there was something which felt incomplete, so I began re-reading and as I did, two things became clear
~ I am tired of being upset and angry about the past “situation” at work.
~ I am processing grief on several levels, past and present, and this process is weighed down by the unresolved anger so I need to attend to that first.

Traditional Japanese New Year’s decorations

Early in my exploration of spiritual paths, a group of friends and I learned a technique for working with challenging emotions. After going through the basic breathing for focus and relaxation, we visualized ourselves in a safe and sacred space. Once settled there, we would invite the emotion to enter the space, where it would be present but unable to hurt us in anyway. This allowed us to have a dialogue with the emotion to discover what it “needed” from us. The session had fascinating and for some, profoundly moving results. This morning I decided to sit with this unresolved anger and see what it had to say.

Often when I practice this technique, my anger appears as a restless, pacing tiger. Today it showed up as a snarling badger. My first thought was “I miss my tiger,” probably because while I respect the potential danger of a tiger’s power, they are after all simply big cats and I have almost as much affinity for cats as I do for dogs. We would have several if our current resident Diva was more accepting of cats. My tiger has become familiar, this badger was a mean, unpredictable intruder and it let me know in no uncertain terms it was RAVENOUS. When I asked what would satiate it’s hunger, it told me it wanted to eat my heart. No, I said, my heart holds all my hope and joy and you cannot have that. The badger screamed so loud it startled me,  but I also felt myself propelling all my frustration into that scream until there was nothing left. The badger** looked at me calmly, turned and walked away. I came out of this meditation with my heart racing and sense of release so powerful, I started sobbing.

It is time to relinquish my efforts to get any response from the district adminstration about the systemic failures which allowed a volatile situation to continue for so long. I will walk away from my career next year knowing I did what I could and hope the changes needed will come before any one is seriously physically harmed.

My time and energy are better given to other needs calling for my attention. Last year ended with a heartbreaking loss for a colleague, a young teacher whose first child was stillborn at seven months, something very close to my own experience 31 years ago. We began this year saying goodbye to an elder family member who had made the passage beyond life just before New Year’s Day. The carnations at her burial brought sudden memories of her sister ( my mother-in-law) who left this life two and a half years earlier.  A few weeks later our younger daughter returned to Portland, to continue her search for a way forward, her future more uncertain than this mother’s heart can abide. So those tears ran wild until there were none left give, running with my hope their salt can heal the fractures into a stronger spirit. Strength I will need for the journey come, because life goes on and it is time to set out on the path again.

Winter Light on a favorite path

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

**Postscript: In fairness to the many taxidea taxus who inhabit our region it should be noted that although they are omnivores who consumer small rodents and birds when they can catch them, their diet consists mainly of earthworms. I think my heart is safe.

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

As the Crow Flies

So fellow travelers,  the other morning, while refilling the bird feeders in my yard, I heard crows calling back and forth from the tall pine trees in a neighbor’s yard. The raucous uproar was probably an alert that breakfast was being served. The sound immediately brought me back to the residential neighborhood where my family resided during the years they lived in Tokyo.

 

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I spent several months there after I graduated from college and the crows which lived through out the city were an iconic pervasive presence. I could not set foot outside the house without setting off a cacophony of ominous calls. Annoying as that was back then, this is now one of my favorite sounds.  It creates a cascade of memories, all of them rich with emotions.

Crows call suddenly

I ‘m transported back in time

Tokyo dreaming

 

 

I dream often of returning to the land where I was born, a place which has always felt like home but never actually been my home, at least not yet.

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

 

 

Being Mom

So fellow travelers, a few weeks ago this photo showed up in my messages.

It took a little while for all my feelings to sort themselves into haiku rhythms.

Little house on wheels
Home is where the heart finds peace
Under stately pines

Favorite Youngest Daughter and her partner have set out on their quest to explore “Whats next?” in life.

True to the one promise I asked of her, she’s been keeping in touch and sending me photos of their journey.

The vistas are glorious.

Favorite Older Daughter and her husband also took a trip this month coming East to visit family and friends. Having them home has been wonderful and provided a chance to spend time with our fellow inlaws and their family. Inclement weather cancelled my plans for most day trip hikes but we did fit in a girls afternoon, chatting about our outlooks on things current and future.

These glimpses of the lives my daughters are crafting for themselves are just enough to put a mother’s heart at ease. Reminders of the blessing it is to be called Mom.

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

Finding the Shore Again

So fellow travelers, oh hey yes, I am still here, wandering about the trails of life’s journey.

20180821_132019Summit Trail, Mt. Arab  New York

Someone asked me recently if things had “become so terrible,” because I have not posted in quite a while.

“Oh No,” I replied, “quite the contrary- my life is truly wonderful these days,” which is ironically the reason I have NOT been writing much lately.  I’ve had less of a need to process life by writing, because I am deeply immersed in fully living each day.

A lot of amazing experiences happened during my summer travels, some of which I shared here.  More recently I journeyed back to the West Coast to attend a spiritual gathering where everything came together on many levels reaching beyond anything I could have imagined.

 

I know- another hyperbolic statement- like my awakening while star gazing in Joshua Tree National Park.

Yet the depth with which I am now living these transformations in my daily life from the simplest of moments to more complex challenges is astoundingly authentic.  Listen, I am no stranger to the “afterglow” effect of spiritual conferences and meditation retreats. Over time, this ethereal high fades as the din of life’s more mundane demands takes over.  Something this time is clearly different; it feels less like a major shift and more akin to a clicking in place of several altered areas of consciousness.

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This retreat I attended a few weeks ago was one I signed up for late last spring, in a moment of true desperation, when the very volatile situation our team was dealing with at work ratchetted up several notches and started spiraling beyond any semblance of reason. I needed to set a beacon in the distance to shine glimmers of hope I could reach for. Even as I did this,  a conversation ran in my head of how crazy it was to plan a trip all the way across the country for just one weekend, right after a new school year started, after having already spent a good chunk of travels funds throughout the summer. Crazy maybe yes, but no more so than the insanity I was trying to cope wth daily at that time.

It was a committtment I made as an affirmation of my intention of survival, a committment I kept even after word came soon after sumer began that the situation at work had been, to use the adminstrative terminology, “resolved.” Returning to work in September has actually been agreeable yet I knew there were residual impacts I needed to address to move forward. Even in this climate of “mental health awareness” when we have a multitude of programs and training to help us support students, impacts on staff are rarely addressed. After issues are “resolved,” we seem to be expected to move along as if nothing has happened.  So I knew it was up to me to clarify my feelings of what we had been through and as it happened this retreat I intended as a life preserver cast into the dark waves of a future storm, turned out to be an actual life boat which brought me to the shore.

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Hiking trail at Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve, Newport Beach, CA

It is a truly a blessing to stand on that shore every morning to greet each day and the words to describe that “boat” and our journey together are beginning to find me, asking to be heard.  Thanks for waiting around to hear them.

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