Spirit of 60 Road Trip Part Three: Pilgrimage to Sagamore Hill

“The only man who never makes a mistake is someone who does nothing. ” Theodore Roosevelt

So fellow travelers, I wanted to mark my significant turn of decades by setting a goal focused on something new to experience in my next decade. Given the importance of nature to my well being, the idea of visiting each of the fifty-nine National Parks seemed a fitting choice.

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Crater Lake National Park,  from our trip to Oregon in July 2014 . Pre-goal, still counts.

No surprise then that one of the few heroes in my gallery of mentors would be Theodore Roosevelt, who created the National Parks system while serving as the 26th President of the United States. Setting forth on a pilgrimage to visit Roosevelt’s home at Sagamore Hill, now a National Parks historic site, felt like an apt beginning to mark my new goal.

After so many challenging trips around the sun if there is one lesson I have learned well, it is to cast a discerning eye when presented with alleged greatness. Therefore, those I consider true heroes are few and far between. Theodore Roosevelt sits high on my list. I am not blind to his many short comings but then neither was he. In fact, his willingness to admit his flaws and acknowledge his mistakes is one reason I hold him in high regard.

TR was also a writer, keeping a daily journal from a young age to record his thoughts and experiences. Writing is how he supported his family after most of his personal fortune was lost during his ranching years in the Dakotas. It was his primary source of income, his salaries from public office being more modest additions to his resources. He published three dozen books on a wide variety of topics and his writing styles altered to suit his subject matter from humorous to scientific to his well known “bully pulpit” blustering.

It is Teddy as father and head of the family he was known to cherish more than any public honor, which draws me in almost as much as the naturalist who published Summer Birds of the Adirondacks based on his observations over many years. It is in the letters written to his family, which have been published as a collection where he came to life for me.  His values and priorities, sense of humor, deep love for his family and passion for life itself even with all its challenges are put to paper so honestly I come away feeling as if I have been privileged to sit in on the talk at the family dinner table.

He brought this honesty even to his fractured relationship with his oldest daughter, Alice Lee, whose fierce independence and untamable anger created a rift they never breeched. It was a heartbreak second only to the day her mother (his first wife, Alice) and his own mother died within hours of each other. Roosevelt’s willingness to be open about his own humanity makes his leadership and wisdom more accessible. He led others through out his life as he taught and raised his children: by example. It’s a model I’ve been mindful of since I read his autobiography back in junior high school.

One hazard of holding great admiration when traveling to a historic site such as the Roosevelt Home at Sagamore Hill is the expectations and images we create hold tremendous potential for great disappointment.

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The instant I caught a glimpse of the house, with its sweeping lawn, wide wrap around porch and majestic trees I felt any doubts evaporate into the sweltering summer heat wave which had settled on Long Island that morning. Stepping out of my car, I caught sight of a bench under the gracious shade of a majestic cherry tree. I sat and watched small butterflies drift among the wildflowers scattered in the meadow, I had a reserved ticket for a tour of the house in about half an hour which gave me time to sit in gratitude for simply being there.

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It was a moment I like to think Teddy himself would have appreciated. To be continued

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

Spirit of 60 Road Trip Part Two: Comfort Food

So fellow travelers, a little over an hour later, I defied the GPS directions to stay on the highway and headed south on Route 17 because I knew full well what wonders could be found along this alternate route.

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There is something about a hearty meal of good comfort foods that fortifies a troubled soul. After a brunch of corned beef hash, poached eggs, rye toast and good strong coffee I definitely felt more settled.

 

Driving through the vibrant green hills, often alongside rushing waters which still retain their Dutch names for “creek” such as Fishkill, Mudkill or Littlekill, another Buddhist teaching came to mind.

In this story, two monks are traveling and come upon a woman standing at the bank of a river, afraid to cross because she cannot swim. One monk offers to carry her across on his back, much to the dismay of his fellow monk. Upon reaching the other side, the woman climbs down and bows in gratitude, thanking the monk for giving her safe passage across the rushing waters. The two monks continue on their way and after a while the other monk breaks his disgruntled silence, indignantly questioning how his companion could dare break sacred vows against touching women. To which the monk who had carried the woman across the river replies,

“For heavens sake, I left her at the bank, You however are still carrying her with you.”

Clearly he choose to be of service and let go of any “sin” incurred in so doing, but the other monk carried a burden of anger and judgment far longer than the first monk had carried the woman in need of help.

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Rounding a bend in the road, I caught sight of a tall barren tree, filled with birds perched on the dead branches. The image spoke forgiveness which my heart accepted gratefully. Then, as they so often do, words began to weave thoughts into form

 

Forest bones stand tall

Feathered ornaments adorn

Purpose beyond death

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Photo Note: the tree is a similar image which presented itself later in my travels when I could stop to take the photo.  Add birds of your choice.

Oh and if you ever have the good fortune to travel along route 17 through Roscoe New York, do yourself the favor of stopping for a bite at the Roscoe Diner.  It’s worth the trip.

 

Spirit of 60 Road Trip Part One: an Inauspicious Beginning

So fellow travelers, a few weeks ago I embarked on a road trip, a pilgrimage of sorts to an historic site I’ve wanted to visit for many years. As an added bonus I happened to obtain advance sale tickets to a special event at the New York Botanical Garden, so the timing of the trip was built around that fortuitous find.

20170713_191811editSneak preview of adventures to come

As the time for departure approached I found myself feeling a kind of heaviness about the trip which I am unaccustomed to.  It took a few long quiet meditations by our little fish pond to realize I had started to imbue the trip with monumental expectations. Like those heavy ornate frames one sees around famous paintings in museums, gilded mantles which almost overpower the masterpieces they contain, I was framing the trip with the aura of my 60th solar return which would arrive at the end of the journey. As I noted on the eve of my birthday, I rarely made much of my advancing age before, yet approaching this milestone felt different. I questioned every aspect of this trip as if it had to provide some kind of deep insights worthy of this life marker.

“What if you just head out and let the adventure happen?  Be open to the experience as it unfolds, like you do when you’re hiking or birding.”  In other words, I told myself, stop over thinking everything.

So I packed, charged my camera battery, stocked up on water and snacks, filled the gas tank and headed out early enough to, hopefully, beat New York City’s rush hour traffic at the other end of the first leg.

Then as I drove up the ramp onto the highway which runs through Syracuse, a tiny little bird flew across the road directly in front of my car.

I slowed down and swerved a bit to the right but with traffic so close behind me there was nothing more I could do. I felt a dull thud and, even worse, in my side view mirror saw a tiny feathered ball tumbling towards the edge of the road.

It was heartbreaking.

I gasped, tears blurred my vision. I pounded my steering wheel.

NO! NO! NO!

As I merged into the traffic traveling at highway speed, my mind spun in a thousand directions.

Did the bird suffer?  I hoped it had died instantly but I thought I saw it trying to hop around after it landed. Oh God. This was a very bad start. How could I possibly drive over 700 miles after this? I need to turn around.

Turn around and do what? Go look for the bird?

Even if I found it how would I get to it?

If I managed to get to it, what would I do? Hold it while it died as traffic raced by?

Then what? I can’t take it with me; I would drive home to bury it.

After that do I stay home or leave again on this obviously doomed expedition?

Because I have caused an innocent creature suffering.

NO! NO! NO!

Why hadn’t I left five minutes earlier or later so this didn’t happen.

Or would it have happened no matter what?

Ok the exit to loop back is coming up. Got to make a decision.

Except this tractor trailer is making the decision for me since it won’t let me off in time.

Dammit.

I kept driving, tears rolling down my cheeks. I knew this was an unavoidable incident but that did not make my heart feel any better. If this was a harbinger of the experiences this trip had to offer I was not sure I was willing to continue. I could not get the thought of the little bird’s suffering out of my head. Slowly as I drove on, letting thoughts flow with the tears, a ripple of responses began to echo in my consciousness.

Suffering is inevitable, it is part of life.

But suffering, like all aspects of life, is not permanent.

Suffering, ours or that of another, is a call for compassion.

Compassion recognizes there is no line between the suffering of others and ourselves.

The bird’s suffering is mine too.

The pattern follows a line of thinking based in Buddhist teachings intended to shift the habitual focus our minds have developed over centuries of negative thinking. Even after many years of practice I still have to remind myself to apply what I have learned but what matters is the moment of awareness, the call to become mindful of what I am experiencing so I can work through the process.

All this mental drama may seem melodramatic in relation to a not uncommon death of a small bird. That is certainly the kind of judgment such thinking would have evoked if I voiced such thoughts as a child. I am the master of my own perceptions now; the lives of even the tiniest of creatures have value. It is a belief of great importance to me, one I have tried to pass on to my own daughters, a tenant I am soul-bound to respect.

Gradually my perspective shifted from remorse and self-directed anger to acceptance and sadness. I could not change the death of this little bird by being angry with myself for my part in its final moments of suffering. I could continue to berate myself and let the pall of death infuse the remainder of my journey or I could choose to find reflections of suffering calling for my attention, look mindfully at the sources of this suffering, and then seek ways to offer kindness and compassion to others and myself as a way to honor the bird’s spirit.

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I pictured the bird in the moments before it dove down from the shrubs, imagining it’s spirit soaring high even as the tiny body tumbled across the road from the impact of my car.  I ran this image over and over until my tears stopped. As I drove on, a red tailed hawk swooped up from a roadside tree, circled a few times over my car soaring higher into brightening skies. A moment of zen I gladly accepted as a sign I was on course and headed where I needed to be. to be continued

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

Photo note:  the bird pictured is a very distant  cell phone shot taken last spring, obviously not from the recent roadside encounter described.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Finding the sunshine

Gentle mindfulness from a friend who lives there. Her perspective zooms in beyond News to the hearts at the center. May peace come to all affected .

Quilt of Missing Memories

“I’m crabby,” I told my pup Rex early yesterday, but he wasn’t listening.

He seems to know when Sunday’s rolls around again, and that day is his fun day.

Rex wasn’t going to let my foul mood and gray skies get in the way of his plans.

He knew an extra long walk was already on the morning agenda for just the two of us.

Just like we do every Sunday.

With my senior canines softly snoring in some kind of post breakfast bliss, Rex and I quietly snuck out the back door.

As we got closer to the lake where we typically walk, my mood was still heavy.

The heat and humidity generated during the week hadn’t come from just the weather.

Ignoring his usual stop to smell sweet cinnamon bread cooling from the oven at the bakery, Rex’s nose instead led me to a display of flowers on…

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Thoughts on Being Lost.

While I am weaving the threads of images and words from my recent road trip leave it to my friend Tom to find words that set the tone for whats to come.

Quarry House

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I am sitting in a little diner called Nicks in downtown Athol, Massachusetts.  It is a bustling place, with people coming and going and all talking to each other as I sit in the corner and write.

I am in Massachusetts every week now. The woman I love, my new bride, lives and works here. So until she finds good work up in Vermont, we are sort of a migratory couple. I spend 2-3 days a week down here, working out of diners and her apartment, and she spends three days or so up in Vermont over the weekend.

It’s not ideal, perhaps, but having her in my life, day to day, each morning and night, is worth the extra driving. Fortunately for me, she seems to feel the same.

So, every week for the past couple of months, I’ve found myself in Athol.

Athol is one of those Mill Towns…

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Road Markers

So fellow travelers, today I stand at the road marker of six decades on this journey of Life. While I’m rarely inclined to make much of milestone ages, I admit approaching this point has felt different.

Sunset reflection @ Onondaga Lake 

It’s not about getting older, that is after all something we do from the moment we are born. Yep, newsflash : none of us are getting any younger!

The turning point from young to old is a relative perspective. I’ve known octogenarians who still run marathons and young adults who dread turning thirty. Age is a number, being old is a state of mind. I embraced my fifties by saying “I’ve been around at least half a century,” when the question of age came up. The comment often surprised people, a few of whom professed disbelief until I told them my actual year of birth*. Eventually I started saying  “Well, I’ve passed the double nickle mark,” because my mid-fifties was the first point when stating my age felt uncomfortable.

Reflecting back I realize I was coming to grips with accepting the time I have left to live life’s adventures is considerably less than the time I have already lived.

And that is perfectly ok. I’ve lived a good life so far and I’m nowhere near done yet. So at sixty, yes that is 60, my mission is to mindfully go forward seeking adventures and experiencing all life has to offer for as many years as I am granted. Whether those are two or ten times that, it is not the number which matters but what we do with it that counts.

#Spiritof60roadtrip is off to a joyful start. Stay tuned.

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

*That would be 1957.

In This Spot

So fellow travelers, yesterday was a landmark day.


The experience of being at Theodore Roosevelt’s home was deeply moving. It will take some time to find words to give form to my thoughts. In the spirit of TR who was a writer long before he was a conservationist, RoughRider or President, I will let those words find me when ready. For now these will suffice.

To stand where he stood

Let his vision fill my soul

Hold nature sacred


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

Zen moment : Morning with a Wren

So fellow travelers, sitting by the pond enjoying my morning coffee, I hear a little wren has discovered the house we put up last week. 

New wren house in morning sunlight. The tenant stayed hidden in the shrubs while singing.

 

It may seem late in the season for adding a birdhouse yet I must take advantage of my husband’s assistance when he’s available. Good weather usually finds him out on a golf course or in the garage restoring a classic car.  For him the yard is something to mow and weed whack. Still, I am blessed he recognizes it as my sanctuary and I’m honestly  grateful for his efforts when I need them.

Our pond for example, where I spend so many moments gleaning peace, was a birthday gift built one hot summer, eight years ago.True it came at the urging of Favorite Youngest Daughter, but it would not have been accomplished without his hard work. 

Listening to our newest yard tenant’s joyful bursts of song I am reminded of the importance of simple joy.

Trilling proud and loud

Inspired morning wren song

Seek joy live each day

Finding joy in each day, living the moments with simple gratitude. Lessons to carry with me forward on the journey.

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

Zen Moment: Small Things

So fellow travelers, today someone made a difference in my day with a simple “thank you.” It came via email, as I was working through an unrelated problem born from a minor misunderstanding. The misunderstanding itself was minor but carried an emotional impact because it is part of a serial communication problem that surfaces periodicially in a key relationship.

The simple note of appreciation allowed me to feel heard and understood, even though it came from someone else. In turn, that moment of grace gave me some insight on how to move beyond the impasse I felt caught in. It was a gentle reminder healing and hope can be granted if we ask and release any expectations on when and how they are granted.

Forget not small things

Acts of kindness and thanks~ Grace

given and received

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Walk gently on the path my friends and remember kindness matters.

Editor’s note:  The photo is from a hike I wrote about in this preview post.