Becoming Stardust

So fellow travelers, next stop on this summer’s big trip : Joshua Tree National Park

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by day it is a fantastical place of mysterious rock formations

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and Seuss-like vistas

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but it was the discovery of  a little observatory   located just down the road from the JTNP Oasis Visitor Center which provided the experience of a lifetime when I drove there after dark to see the stars

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and after weeks of wrestling with futile attempts at capturing the moment I’ve concluded there are experiences so vast and expansive, words fail to contain them.  I have no choice but to surrender just as I did that moment I stepped out of my car, into complete darkness and looked up at a night sky so full of Light and Mystery everything I thought I knew exploded into a new universe which asked nothing but a total willingness to surrender to joy and wonder beyond mortal comprehension.

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This sunset taken at the observatory is the only image I have of that night beyond the one now embedded in my memories.

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

 

 

 

The Mom on the Southbound Train

So fellow travelers, reflecting on the many memorable moments which graced my week with this new found community, I could write posts for days to come.

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Who could ask for S’more than roasting marshmallows after the beach dinner concert?

There is the story of  the dog who came  to the movies, the fan who would have surfed from China, the girl with the grammy, the follower who took a leap of faith, the team who would not be beaten and then there is the  Mom on the Southbound train~

 

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This last title references a unique friendship which blossomed during my time in Oceanside. While waiting for my photo op with the band, I started talking to some of the people in the lobby and discovered one of them was staying at the same hotel.

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This moment of serendipity set in motion several chances to travel to and from various activties together throughout the week. Since I had a rental car and we were staying at the same hotel it just made sense to me to have Linda ride along to any of the events we would both be at.  She was a really good sport about my not-so-good driving; the rental car, which I nicknamed the Velociraptor* for the jolting surprise of it’s aggressively responsive brakes, had the distinction of the worst visibility of any car I have ever driven.  Those are two combinations not condusive to smooth cruising along narrow, winding Highway 101. Perhaps the scenic views made up for the carnival ride effect of me vs Velociraptor.

Linda and I got along so well, by the end of the week we had a routine down. We met in the hotel breakfast room (where the staff and many guests were captivated by the World Cup Soccer Games~ “Ve ve Mexico!”) and made plans on when to meet up for that day’s band activity and whatever else we might want to do together or on our own.  During our adventures I found out this trip was filled with many firsts for my new friend Linda, including her first plane trip but not her first Switchfoot show.  Linda had taken her kids to many concerts and this getaway week was a thank you gift from her son and daughter for all she had done for them as a hard working single mom when they were growing up.

Often we would look at each other and ask ourselves- “Wow, is this all really happening?” because we both found the whole experience truly uplifting and more than a little mind blowing. Neither of us knew what to expect from the getaway weekend events and we certainly never expected to connect so easily and personally with not only with the guys in the band and their phenomenal support staff but also with so many different people. From the young woman who traveled all the way from China, the fun loving parents of little sweet Millie Grace the chihuahua (who now has many fans of her own) to the bright young independent film maker pursuing dreams of her own, every day Linda and I would share stories after each activity of the people we met and the connections we made. Always we would come back to the miracle moment of our own meeting.

It was,I think, as Mom’s that Linda and I initially related to each other. Our kids are in the same age range, all in their twenties and as siblings go, very different from each other. Our desire to be supportive, while allowing them to be true to their selves and also shared emotions of how hard and sometimes scary it is to let go. I deeply admire her strength and dedication; raising two kids on your own is a great challenge in our society which lacks consistent committment to assist single parents.  Here too, in sharing our life challenges, we resonated deeply on the inspiration we drew from Switchfoot’s music through the years.

The morning we were both heading our separate ways- she back home and I on my next adventure in Joshua Tree National Park, I offered to drive her to the station so she could catch the train to San Diego.  I told Linda I had no specific timeframe for heading out of town and was more than happy to be able to help her with one last ride. In fact, I wanted to see her off safely on her way, as I would have for any good friend, because after all we were now solidly quite good friends.

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After her train left, I drove into town to have breakfast at a diner Linda recommended.  The song which came up on the Spotify playlist I had created for the Bro-AM weekend was Jon Foreman’s SouthBound Train.  I had to pull over and let the tears of pure gratitude flow because I knew of the many blessings I had been granted during this week, the gift of a new friend was the unexpected treasure, a form of grace I never expected to receive.

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

Postscript: Jon’s peformance of Southbound Train during his phenomenal 25in24 event is one of my favorite versions. Do take a few minutes to fill your soul and watch.

*The rental was actually a Hyundai Veloster. Suffice to say it’s unlikely I will ever own or voluntarily drive one again.

 

 

 

The Crow Who Came to Dinner

So fellow travelers, our first day of events came to a close with a marvelous dinner and concert by the band at an open air venue by the beach.

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Sitting around the tables, hearing the stories of how people first found Switchfoot’s inspiring music, what song was their favorite and why, where they came from and how they came to be at this event – so many connections made, fans becoming friends and family.

Switchfoot is a faith based band with the rare ability to express their beliefs inclusively. They have been criticized by so-called christian groups for not being more outspoken in their music; in some areas of the country fundamentalist christian protestors demonstrate outside the venues when they perform. Jon usually goes over to talk with them, to engage in a dialogue about love, acceptance and being defined by the compassion (or the lack thereof) in our actions and how we live our lives.

People who know me, or who have been following my thinking out loud here know I am more likely to seek wisdom and grace on a hike than by sitting in a church pew. I am more a follower of the Way than the Word. As I reflected a few posts back, if I have to identify as a believer in something, I say I believe that Light and grace and healing are found on many paths and no one teaching has the answer for every person.

To be immersed in a faith based community for five days of close interactions and feel completely at home with being myself, with sharing our stories of struggles, losses and hopes, to feel accepted without judgment is a rare experience. No one proselytized, no one questioned my beliefs or tried to impose theirs. It is a measure of the genuinely accepting spirit these talented musicians and their support team truly embody.

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During the dinner, we had an unexpected visitor at our table, when a large black crow landed on one of our tablemates. The bird literally seemed to fall out of the sky and just crash onto her. Jessica screamed in panic because it turns out she is petrified of birds. While the people on that side of the table helped her, I turned my attention to the crow, which had taken shelter under our table. It appeared stressed and possibly injured, as it hopped around with one wing askew. We did our best to gently encourage the bird to move away from our terrified tablemate, eventually we were able to guide it towards open space where other people helped it reach some bushes near the trees. Reassuring Jessica that the bird had moved away from our table helped her calm down. She told us she has no idea why they scare her so much, there is no specific reason, no point of trauma to explain it; birds just scare her into a panic. Naturally this incident wasn’t helping to ease her fears. I watched with great concern for both Jessica and the crow, until that bird gradually got to higher trees where it sat vocalizing as if laughing at us.

Ah! zen moment!

A message of how the things we fear will find us and confront us and challenge us to face them.

When I saw Jessica the next day and checked in with her, she said she felt a little shaken still, but was ok. She even laughed a little at how, of all people, this bird had to land on the one dinner guest with an intense fear of birds. From the moment comes this haiku.

 

Fear is like a bird

Crash landing when least welcome

Taking flight when faced

 

 

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

Photos courtesy of Switchfoot Getaway staff.

Crow image from stock photos and sketched in photo editor.

The Diner at the End of the Pier

So fellow travelers, traveling solo there are moments when the reality of being alone washes over you.  Eating in restaurants as a single patron is one of those times, so finding a spot with a welcoming vibe is a blessing.

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Eggs on toast done right

Comforts of home with a view

Diners are a gift.

 

Nothing feels like “home” more than a good diner. To find one at the beginning of my week was a good omen. Oh and I kid you not,my waiter’s name was Jesus.

 

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

 

The Fan with the Switchfoot Sneakers

We play music because we love it, but we also play music because we want to see things change… within ourselves and in the world around us. These are songs of hope and new beginnings, and we’re always trying to get better at living that out.” Tim Foreman Stories Behind the Songs: Vessel Bags Interview April 14, 2016

So fellow travelers, those moments when a new acquaintance says or does something and you both feel the “click” of Inner Spirits connecting and you know you have found another member of your tribe.

Linda V. fellow Friend of the Foot taking in the ocean view

I have written about them before and I am overwhelmed with gratitude to be writing about them again. Of all the bright, fun filled experiences in Oceanside, it was the always the moments of personal connection which brought the most joy.

Not long ago, when reflecting on the changes retirement and relocation will bring, I realized how much farther I would be traveling to get to family events or periodic gatherings with my creative tribemates and how much I would miss my phenomenal support team of friends at work

37630Toasting the last day of the year (the mugs say it all)

At every event during the Switchfoot Getaway I found connections and made new friends. Whether we were surfing, sharing meals or participating in a service project, over and over again the theme of community emerged. We extended beyond fellow fans and grew into a family.

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All photos courtesy of Switchfoot Getaway2018*

At the registration photo op** with the band, when they commented on my “cool” sneakers and I mentioned I wore them because I thought they looked like “Switchfoot sneakers” to me, it was a remarkable moment to connect and tell each of them how significant their music has been while I walk this path of seeking Light.

And the week was only just getting started~

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

*Photos from various events are provided by the Switchfoot Getaway 2018 team and used with permission.

** When I first saw my band photo, I was surprised I don’t seem to be smiling.  On closer inspection I saw it actually captures the look I get when I hold my breath as I feel a wave of absolute joy washing over me. It happened several times a day on this trip.

Coasting

So fellow travelers, grab some sunscreen and a towel, we are going to the beach!

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There is something sacred embedded in that moment of catching a first glimpse of the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean.  This time, that first glimpse came while riding the Coaster, a local train which runs between San Diego and Oceanside. The train is a local icon; numerous residents I met spoke of how much their kids/grandkids loved to ride it. Jon Foreman has song in his repertoire called Southbound Train, it ran as a continuous loop in my head while I took in the scenery up to Oceanside.

Those moments of sacred connection would manifest in unexpected ways through my week on the coast.

 

Blessings and grace beyond anything I could have anticipated or dared to expect.

Pack Lighter, Go Farther

So fellow travelers, packing ten days of traveling through multiple climates into one carryon and a backpack was easily the most difficult logistic to solve of this entire trip. My husband would be bringing a larger suitcase for the PNW segment of my travels so I had to coordinate which things to send ahead and which I most needed for the coast.

Which ones to pack or wear.

Space vs comfort.

Decisions, decisons.

 

Planning extended adventures is not new for me; last year’s was a road trip to mark my sixth decade, a pilgrimmage if you will, to Sagamore Hill, Theodore Roosevelt’s home in Oyster Bay Long Island. Friends called me brave for setting out on my own, yet I don’t seem to see my solo expeditions in that way. My determination to experience new vistas stems from the wanderlust embedded in my soul during my family’s travels in my childhood and teenage years. If there is something that peaks my interest, having to go alone rarely prevents me from exploring, whether it is an art class in town or a chance to tour the hometown and studio of my favorite band.

When I decided to get to the Bro-AM event at the end of June, I had the option to sign-up for a series of special events with the band. I’ve done “meet and greets” at previous concerts before. Those events are about much more than the autographs; they are opportunities to thank them all for the inspiration their music contributes to our deeply troubled human existence. The “Switchfoot Getaway” events would be a sequence of more extensive time with the band in a variety of settings, including a give back day where everyone attending would participate in a service project in nearby San Diego.

So I gathered my resources, both factual and financial and set the logistics in motion. After the Switchfoot Getaway* event in Oceanside and a side trip to Joshua Tree National Park, I would fly to Portland and meet my husband for our annual summer visit with our kids. The trip became the guiding Light at the end of the long dark tunnel of the final weeks of the school year; I seriously doubt I would have gotten through without it. I don’t toss that platitude out there lightly. I am at a point in my career where I can retire at anytime, but just because I can does not mean I will. It would take a significant calamity to push me to the point of leaving my team and my students. We drifted perilously closer and closer to that point. This was my chance to stand on the home shores of the music which pulled me back from the under currents over and over again.

 

As the process of preparing unfolded, I realized the lighter I packed, the easier it would be to find the Light I sought on this quest for renewal. You cannot move forward towards hope if you are weighed down by the burdens of anger and despair. Like Jon Foreman* often says “Don’t let the past rob the present of it’s potential for beauty and joy.”

Time to let the chaos of what had been fade into the brilliant rising sun of the present moment.

 

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

*You can watch a 2016 Ted Talk Jon gave about living our inherent purpose here.

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

Fading West*

So fellow travelers, a friend who reads my blog posts commented on the line I used at the end of a recent entry. Their point was well taken.

“Nothing in (my) life would ever be the same” is indeed a rather sweeping claim. Being aware of the hyperbolic aura it casts, I did not use it lightly. In fact I rewrote, deleted and retyped it several times, eventually coming to the conclusion it accurately reflected the impact of the week I spent in California.

Since writing is how I process my experiences, I am sometimes bound by self-inflicted parameters. An example of this is the prolonged stretch (five weeks, the longest gap since I began the blog in August of 2013) in my posts between the Verdi Requiem weekend and my current series of posts. When I returned home from that regenerative time with friends, I walked back into a malestorm of situations at work which rapidly escalated and deteriorated. It took every ounce of energy to stay focused, professional and compassionate. At day’s end I literally had enough left in me to walk our dog, eat a decent meal and tend to a handful of chores around the house, pond or garden before collapsing into bed.

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On weekends, my work at the dog rescue where I volunteer became my therapy; making a difference in one arena compensated somewhat for the frustration of not being able to get responses at work.  The affection and acceptance of these dogs who had been through so much in their quest to simply find a home where they would be loved became a beacon of Light and hope in a time of tremendous frustration. The sincere gratitude of the rescue staff for every hour I could contribute was a reminder that what I was able to do mattered, whether it was answering phones, cleaning crates, folding laundry or taking a challenged dog on a long respite walk.

Every Sunday morning I would rise early and write for a few hours but due to the confidential nature of my position (I work as a special education assistant in our local high school) what I wrote could not be posted. That I wrote at all came from the advice of several of my creative tribemates.  “Write,” they said “whether you can publish it or not, write for your own sake. Eventually you will find a way to share what you need to say.” I stopped worrying about the extended gap in the published blog posts.

 

So I wrote and walked dogs and got through the weeks, day by day and I focused on what became an even bigger adventure than going to Switchfoot’s 14th Bro-AM concert at Moonlight Beach. I signed up to spend four days with the guys who created the music which had kept me going for so long so I could thank them in person.

 

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

*The title FADING WEST is a reference both to the direction I traveled for my great adventure and a movie/music project the band undertook during their 2012 world tour. You can watch the trailer for the film, released in 2013  at this link .

 

Kateri’s Wisdom

So fellow travelers, setting the dial on the way back machine (any Rocky and Bullwinkle fans still out there?) we find ourselves on the road home the morning after the glorious Verdi experience.

Bennington Community Art Center

I’ve grown fond of the quiet college town of Bennington and it’s little sister North Bennington, home now to several friends from my creative tribe. It also boasts the distinction of being home to my favorite pizza restaurant in the world : Marigold Pizza.

My friends and I have shared many good meals of Marigold’s locally sourced (right down to the flour for the pizza crusts and the bottled sodas) ingredients and that afternoon was no exception as several of us gathered for a post Requiem reunion.

I eagerly took in the news of recent travels, new homes, photos of grand kids, funny ‘how me met’ stories and deeply appreciated the post performance reflections of both participants and patrons. I had a clear premonition this time together was a sandbar in a rising tide of looming stress.

What I did not foresee was the tsunami of chaos that would hit within days of my return to work.

Yet somewhere within me must have been an awareness of Something of Significance because on my drive home the next morning I made a spontaneous decision to detour off the highway to seek out a spot I had wanted to visit for decades.

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Kateri National Shrine Auriesville NY

Kateri Tekakwitha (also known as Flower of the Algonguins – Lily of the Mohawks) lived in the Mohawk Valley region in the mid 1600’s (1656-1680) I have been intrigued by her story since I heard of the shrine located near her village.

It is a quiet humble site with several trails, a chapel and museum with detailed and well documented accounts of the Native American history indigenous to the area as well as Kateri’s own story. Serene, simple and rife with the odd juxtaposition of Native American and Catholic (Franciscan) heritage.

Yet from the tangled weaving of two seemingly opposed cultures, Kateri’s devotion to both her people (most of whom rejected her) and her adopted faith shines like a golden thread. I thought of how much suffering she endured to follow the Spirit that spoke to her heart. Orphaned, scarred and nearly blinded by smallpox, she managed to reach for Hope and Light. Perhaps this Saint, canonized in 2012, might have some guidance to offer me.

So I climbed the path that lead to the statue which stood high on the hill overlooking the grounds below.

If I am a believer in Anything, it is that Truth and Light can be found on many paths. No religious or spiritual belief system holds all the answers for every soul. None of them are perfect because all of them are orchestrated by humans and we are inherently both flawed and fearful. We are also given to profound moments of compassion and grace. Not all Christians are judgemental; not all Buddhists are non-violent.

Anyone who has followed my thoughts here knows I am more apt to find wisdom in the walking woods than sitting in a wooden pew. Still I have often been moved by the energy and insights I’ve been blessed to discover when visiting sacred sites. So I sat on the bench, taking in the view, waiting, wondering, listening.

Warblers sang

Crows called

Leaves rustled

Dogs barked

Children laughed

A baby cried

Sounds of life flowing forward undeterred by the growing storm which loomed ahead. No Voice with a Message, just a reassuring sense somehow Everything Will Be OK.

Accepting this seemed a form of madness in itself in the face of a situation we were facing at work. But I left a shiny coin at Kateri’s feet in gratitude, hiked down the hill and drove home.

Buddha rock encounter

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