Flying with the Falcon

All Good Things Come to an End

*Photo taken at Sequoia National Park, where I really began chewing on the idea of writing a travel lifestyle blog in the summer of 2017. This picture was taken while a marmot chewed on the inside of the tree as I stood in the opening. 🙂

My lovelies, the time has come. After posting religiously every week since November 16, 2017, I have come to the realization that I must take a break from writing Flying with the Falcon. This may come as a surprise to those who follow me, as I haven’t even hinted in my blog about my growing frustration with finding subjects to write about every week, but the frustration has been there for a while. Now that the travel has halted for so long, my ideas wane, and I feel I am not serving my audience the way I could or should. I have so enjoyed writing this blog, and truly looked forward to sharing my thoughts with my readers every week. My heart has been here in every post, so grateful to have this platform, and so happy to offer my humble travel experiences with you. It’s been such an honor to serve as a gentle encourager of getting out into the world, to fall in love with nature, to hold this beautiful planet in our hearts, and to honor it with our care. I have shared my ideals on politics, taking a stand for justice, and taking care of humanity. As you probably know, I believe love and compassion are the only answer to make our future work better than our present. See it, believe it, live it. We can make it a reality. All the writing I shared, along with my conviction to living tiny, will all live on the internet on my new website, still available for anyone who wants to read them. For now, I will stop adding new content. I will miss it, but it’s time.

I plan to travel again, but I don’t know when that will happen yet. Things are up in the air with our jobs holding us down with time, and we need to focus on funding our dreams. We need a home, and rebuilding the Aluminum Falcon seems like a distant hope with no place to park it in New Hampshire, no place close enough to make it convenient for working on it regularly. Our Olean home needs to be finished so we can put it on the market. My writing business is in need of my attention to make it grow. So many things to juggle in order to move forward, and something had to give. I plan to hike this summer, and maybe I’ll write about it and share. If I travel, I will certainly write about it when I can. For now, though, I feel I am doing my audience a disservice by rummaging in the past for interesting material until new travel experiences come along in my present. It’s just not good enough. In the meantime, I still plan to write. I am working on ideas for a blog about writing, and still need to decide what I want to write about, and how often I want to publish. In this moment, I think I need a short break from the schedule to just live with my thoughts, find my new direction, and spend some time with my inner compass.

This week I read a little news, which I haven’t done for a while (because it’s been so horrid and hopeless, and I don’t want to feel that way). It’s awful, but also wonderful. Christchurch is grief-stricken with the massacre of over 50 people who wanted only to worship together in peace. Children all over the world participated in over 2,000 strikes, walking out of school on Friday, March 15th, to protest the lack of attention being given to climate change. They may just save us all. Meanwhile, the president of the United States falsely proclaims that white nationalism (aka: white supremacy) isn’t a problem, that the shooting in New Zealand is no big deal, and our southern border is still an emergency. He’s trying to crowdfund his wall now. I am mystified by the ability for anyone to ignore science, research, and real data. It’s astonishing, but it’s a problem humanity has had for millennia. We aren’t new to ignoring truth, we just share it more readily on social media now. For what it’s worth, I still feel hopeful for the future. I believe most people are generally good, and when faced with tough decisions, they will do the right thing most of the time. We all make mistakes, we all do terrible things sometimes, and we all are imperfect, but we all mostly want the world to be better, for people to be happy.

As I move onto a new platform for my website and do my best to keep improving content for my readers, I am excited to say that I have fallen in love with podcasting. If you think I’m leaving you because this blog is taking a break, think again. I will still be here in one form or another, whether writing, podcasting, sharing photos on Instagram, or making videos. My work is just shifting to another way to share, so come find me if you are compelled, or share with a friend. I always welcome sharing, and am so very grateful to all the wonderful readers who have come here weekly to read. There are a few of you I see here all the time, and I love you for your support. You are the reason I stayed as long as I have, trying to keep the flame lit for the Falcon. Who knows what the future will bring? Perhaps something much better, bigger, more valuable. Whatever it is, my mind needs time to dig it up from my subconscious so I can share it in the best way for you to enjoy it. I want it to be amazing. You deserve my best.

My friends, I want to leave you with a request that we all take good care of each other and our world. There are so many ways to make an impact, and even the smallest effort can change lives. Remember to hold doors for your elders, bring your own bags to the grocery store, look up at the stars at night, hug people you love every day, put down your phone more often, visit libraries and museums, plant a garden, go dancing, and above all, remember people usually have good intentions. Not all people are well-meaning, but most are. Trust that humanity has a good heart, and you will see the evidence everywhere you go. Enjoy this beautiful planet as much as you can while you’re here, because you never know what day will be your last. Live your life to its fullest every day, and regret won’t stand a chance. Be good to each other. I’m so sad right now, as I write this last paragraph to you. This connection has meant so much to me, and has truly become an important part of my writing life; I am going to miss it dearly. Can you feel me here? Can you feel all the love I am pouring into my words? It’s heavenly, this depth, this connection, this slender tether that ties us together each week. More than anything, I wish I could see you all out there to hug you goodbye until we meet again, but the words will have to be enough. May your hearts be full. May you love unconditionally. May you live with joy and abundance, and know that while you have shared my experiences with me, you have been cherished.

With all my love,

Elaine

 

 

Flying with the Falcon

My First Backpacking Trip: How Not to Begin

*Photo taken in the woods somewhere in the US. Memory fails as to exact location. 🙂

Many years ago, before Michael and I were married, he talked me into taking my first backpacking trip on the Susquehannock Trail System in Pennsylvania. Prior to this trip, my only experience was with car camping, the kind of camping you do when you drive to a camp site at a campground and pitch your tent, then enjoy the comforts of hot water and flushing toilets in the bathrooms provided. Of course, there are campgrounds which do not provide these comforts, but I didn’t go to those campgrounds. Up to this point, my idea of what backpacking meant was not at all what I expected. I had this kooky notion that backpacking meant the same thing as bushwhacking…like going out into the wilderness with a compass and a machete and hoping you don’t get lost. Little did I know how organized a backpacking trip actually is, and how painful if one is unprepared. So, when Michael talked me into going, and explained at least enough to help me realize how ridiculous my ignorant notions were, I was willing to try it. Let me just say right here that he was very surprised I was ever willing to go again.

 

Okay, cue the cheesy harp music to indicate a trip backward in time…is it playing in your head? Michael has driven us into the wilderness of Pennsylvania in summer, smack in the middle of the state, where all things green grow with an overzealous intent to take over the world as rapidly as possible. He pulls into a grassy area where a pavilion stands near a small stone building—the single pit toilet for what I learn is a small campground. The only source of water is a pump located near the pavilion, the kind you have to ratchet by hand. So, on our first night camping, we’re already roughing it, as far as I’m concerned. Since I don’t really roll with surprises, I already wasn’t very excited about what was to come, but I went with it begrudgingly. Michael got us situated with the tent and camp mats, and then we cooked a meal and went to sleep. Well, Michael slept. I laid awake all night with rocks poking into my back. The next morning we got ourselves up and onto the trail, me wearing a new backpack we purchased at Golite (a great store that went out of business, but the founder started another one, thankfully), packed with what Michael thought I would need for an overnight in the backcountry. I really don’t remember now what kind of hiker I was for that trip, but I have a feeling I was cranky. Have I mentioned I hate surprises? I really do, and poor Michael did his best to get me prepped.

 

Off we went on the trail, just a short stint on a portion of the Susquehannock from Cherry Springs area, starting from Patterson campground. We tramped into the woods, Michael leading the way. Immediately I began to attract the munching bugs. In those first few hours, I tried several strategies to keep them away, from swatting at them to trying to ignore them (yes, I was wearing bug spray), until I finally wrapped my head and ears with my bandana. That worked better than anything else to keep bugs out of my ears, and I do it to this day. I think I have it on my head in the photo I took atop Mount Haystack, if you care to go check out that story. Once I got the bug situation under control, I began to have trouble with blisters. Holy cow, did those hurt. Michael cut some moleskin for me to put on them, but that didn’t stay put with all the sweating. My poor feet were oozing and miserable. But that wasn’t the worst of it. Next came the absolute death knell for that trip: unbearable pain in my hip. I suffer from sciatica, and at the time I wasn’t as strong as I am now. It was so awful I could barely walk. Michael tried to help me loosen the muscles, but nothing worked. Agony is the only word for how bad it hurt, and we were miles out into the woods by the time this happened.

 

I think Michael finally took pity on me and called it a day as soon as he found a spot to camp. That night we slept in a nice spot by a stream, where we had easy access to plenty of water for cooking, and I was actually amazed by the way backcountry cooking worked. Watching him get out the cook kit, light up his little soda can stove, and heat water from his drinking bladder opened my eyes to a whole new world of camping. Brushing my teeth using the water bladder was probably the most interesting part of the night, but I was also impressed with how he washed up the dishes, and then we even heated water for washing ourselves after dinner. He had never done such a thing in the wilderness before, since he was used to camping without washing himself other than maybe splashing his face with water. I turned my nose up at this practice. Why be gross, even in the backcountry, if you have clean water and a little soap? I brought along a tiny container of castile soap we used for all the washing, including ourselves, and because it has tea tree oil in it, the bugs hated the smell. A double win. Michael was delighted to wash with the warm water after the long day of hiking, so the evening was quite nice, until I tried to sleep.

 

Once again, I laid awake all night, unable to sleep well on the camp mats he brought, and without any cushion for my head. After all that hard work, I needed a good night’s sleep, but couldn’t get it. When morning came, I could barely function. I think that’s when we decided it was best to turn around and go back, but I can’t remember. It’s fuzzy now, because I think we originally expected to spend two nights in the woods, but my hip pain, lack of sleep, and blisters were just too much. I wasn’t prepared for the rigors of the trail while carrying so much weight. What’s worse is that Michael had packed my bag for me because I had no idea what I needed, and for some reason packed too many clothes. I had other stuff in there I didn’t need, either, and my pack probably weighed close to 40 pounds. Way too heavy, especially for a first trip. Back to the car we hiked, stopping constantly to rest because of all the pain I was dealing with, on top of being hungry. So hungry! Michael packed what he thought would be plenty of food, but I was starving. Eventually we got back to the car, sweaty, stinky, and struggling, but we made it out in one piece. Fortunately we didn’t see any timber rattlers on the trail, a lucky thing, nor did we have any trouble with other animals on that trip. Very lucky, or I might not have wanted to try it ever again. With all the difficulty I had, I’m surprised I wanted to go back. To this day, though, the actual worst part of all of it for me wasn’t the pain or the hunger or the lack of sleep, it was the lack of reward in the woods. For the whole hike, we never saw a view, a waterfall, an interesting rock feature, nothing exciting to enjoy other than trees and ferns. It was that lack of seeing anything interesting that made me feel motivated to go elsewhere to hike so I could get the reward of beauty.

 

After the trip, Michael fully expected me to say I would never want to hike again. How fortunate that I don’t run from a challenge. Instead, I told him I wanted to try again, but this time on my terms: 1) We will have coffee in the morning, 2) Better comfort for sleeping was a must, 3) I needed to carry less weight. I also told him I wanted to know where we were going and how far so I could plan how much food to bring. No more going hungry. It took me a long time to tweak my backpacking rituals and gear to finally get things the way I like on a trip, but it was all worth the hardship. Nothing feels as good as getting out into the wilderness, where the air is fresh and full of oxygen, the world curls around you while you walk the miles listening to wind or water or birds, and the accomplished wonder of surviving on what you can carry on your back. In a modern world full of so much ease, it’s a good feeling to pare back all those amenities and see how easy it is to live with so little. In the wilderness, there is no news, no phone ringing, no business meeting, or traffic blaring. There’s just you and your feet plodding along, and the enchantment of what is to come ahead. What might be over that ridge? Will the stars be bright tonight? If I get to the top of the mountain, what will I be able to see? When I get to the waterfall, will there be a rainbow? Will I get to see any animals today? It’s just you and the trail.

 

As a quick aside, the Susquehannock has some very fun features of the trail if you ever get the chance to try it. The whole trail system runs in a loop of about 85 miles, and I don’t know if it’s the conservators or just hikers with a lot of energy, but there are often fun rock tables and chairs created for campsites near the trail. It’s amazing to come upon these creations, as they are often made of fairly heavy stones which must have been found in the woods and hauled to the sites. Sometimes you get a lovely and surprisingly comfortable chair, often a table or two for cooking or eating, and there’s typically plenty of water nearby the camp. If you haven’t been to Pennsylvania to hike, I recommend it. The wilderness is gorgeous, and the night skies are lit up with plentiful stars. Cherry Springs is known for its dark skies, in case you want to try to plan a backpacking trip in tandem with a night of stargazing. There are often astronomy events in the summer, but you have to book them in advance if you want a spot. Look up Cherry Springs State Park if you are interested—it’s a very popular program if you like celestial events. After you hike, you can drive into Coudersport, PA for food at Olga’s café downtown.

 

To plan a backpacking trip on the trail, the Susquehannock has a website with a map and hiking info, which you can find at www.stc-hike.org. Get out there for a trip to enjoy the backcountry this summer. If you can’t get to Pennsylvania, find a trail system near you. And for those beginner hikers who need help with backpacking prep, I have a course you can take if you’re interested. Right now it’s available for a donation, but the price will be increasing soon when I upgrade to video content and offer takeaway sheets to plan a trip. You can wait for that if you’re more interested in video, or take me up on the donation-only course you have to read and do your own homework sheets. Either way, the info is there if you’re interested. Here is the link to the course as is. Later I’ll come back to this post and put up a link to the new course for those who want it. Happy hiking, readers. Get out there and see something beautiful!

Flying with the Falcon

Humble Travel Beginnings in Nevada

*Photo taken near Ely, NV, showing cloud formations before precipitation falls.

**Important Notice! My website is getting a face lift, and will be moving to a new server beginning Thursday, March 7, 2018. For a few hours, the website may be down while it gets transferred to a new address. It may take time over the weekend to finalize all the changes, and then the whole look will be refreshed. Get ready, readers! Please bookmark my URL (elainersnyder.com) so you can still find me, just in case the current server doesn’t link you to my site directly from here. I am so excited to get a new look and feel, and to streamline the whole website to make it easier to find what you need. See you on the other side….

It’s hard to believe that it was almost two years ago when Michael and I bought our Airstream—sight unseen—and drove across the country to Ely, Nevada. We had already spent six months in New Hampshire on Michael’s first travel assignment as a nurse, and Ely would be his second. Little did we know what we were getting into when we drove to that small mining town after spending only a week in our Airstream. Our lives would change so much over that time, in some ways for the better, in other ways for the stranger. I’ve written about bits and pieces of our time in Nevada, particularly the time we spent in the Carson-Tahoe region, but I don’t think I’ve really written much about living in Ely. Bear with me while I describe the town itself until I get to sharing some of the hiking and parks we visited while we lived there. When we arrived in Ely, it was already dark, and we had come from Moab, a place we both adored enough to wish we could stay. Moab, the small and unique town in Utah near Arches National Park, was warm, nestled against a red rock mountain, and had just begun blooming with spring flowers. Our delight with Moab gave us cause to have a good outlook for living in Ely. What we didn’t realize was how very misguided we were about where we were headed.

 

Despite the darkness, our drive through the town was not encouraging when we first rolled into Ely—even the dark of night couldn’t hide the decrepit buildings and outdated facades of businesses. When we arrived at the RV park, it seemed slightly forlorn. Nevertheless, we parked for the night and got the Airstream hooked up to the electric, water, and sewer, and then settled in for bed after doing all the chores of getting the RV stabilized and battened down. At that point, we still didn’t know where we were or what we would find, and it wasn’t until morning when we ventured out to find a grocery store that we realized we were in for a rude awakening. The town appeared to be trapped in the 70s, as if time stopped in that decade and froze all the businesses from attaining modern progress. We found a diner downtown that had such an old interior the Formica laminate on the tables was nearly worn away. The food was mildly edible, and I think we may have eaten there only one more time before leaving town. Finding a grocery store didn’t happen on that first trip to town, as even Google didn’t seem to exist there, and all we could find was a ratty old shop with broken shelves inside the coolers holding the milk and eggs, and the vegetables appeared nearly rotten. We didn’t dare purchase anything perishable, so we picked up a few things wrapped and canned and headed back to our Airstream in despair.

 

Later we discovered a real grocery store, but even the more updated interior did not deliver the goods. Consistently during the time we lived there the store would be out of things for weeks at a time, even staples like bread, milk, eggs, or butter. Often after such a long time of being out of certain items, people would then buy large quantities of whatever was shipped, leaving the shelves bare again. One had to be lucky to arrive at the right time to get groceries. Just as disturbing as the lack of food in the grocery store was the lack of restaurants. I don’t eat out much, but I like to have a meal out occasionally to have a break from cooking. Nothing fancy, but at least once in a while I like not having to cook and clean. We tried a few places, and rapidly gave up on eating out, other than having the occasional pizza from the one half-decent place in town. Everything else we tried was either cooked poorly or the place was filthy. It’s a sad state of affairs when a town brochure puts the local Shell station on a list of places to dine. That’s an actual fact. The final and most frustrating aspect of shopping and eating in Ely was the prices. Everything was priced double what you would expect to pay in most places, even cities. In fact, we could go to Vegas and buy cheaper groceries and food. So, we found that aspect of living in Ely difficult, but we knew it was temporary. The isolation was a whole other ball of wax.

 

Ely is located on Route 50, which is dubbed “The Loneliest Highway in the World.” I don’t think that’s actually true, since there are a few small settlements along Route 50, even if they are spread hundreds of miles apart. That’s the way it is out on the West Coast when you drive through the interior of the country. You never leave town without a full tank of gas, and you’d better have tools in case you break down—there are a lot of long, long stretches of desert where you won’t get any cell service at all, and it may be a long time before another car drives through. So, living in Ely meant it was fairly isolated from other towns. It took several hours of driving to get anywhere else where a large enough population lived to support grocery stores, movie theaters, restaurants, and shopping of other kinds. This dismayed us at first, especially when we learned that not only was Ely a mining town, but also the home of the state penitentiary, where all the most dangerous criminals of several states would be sent. We learned that the lights we could see across the desert from our RV park belonged to that penitentiary, a sobering thought. I didn’t dare ask if anyone ever escaped, preferring to remain ignorant and blissful when I brought my garbage to the dump at night. All this disappointment was only compounded by the fact that it was just as cold in Ely as it was back in Western New York, not at all what we expected after the pleasant stay in Moab. Well, we didn’t take into account that Ely is 6,500 feet. And that caused us other problems.

 

For the first six weeks of living in Ely, both Michael and I struggled with energy. We both felt so tired all the time, especially at first. Just making the bed was a horrible chore which left us huffing and puffing, as if we had just run uphill full tilt. Regardless of all these drawbacks, I quickly found the places where I could get out and hike. Egan Crest is a trail system on BLM land owned by the government, and became one of my favorite places to take the dogs for walks on the undulating desert hills. Michael and I rode our bikes there once or twice and discovered a surprisingly vast view of the valley behind the hills. Walking on those trails I saw my first antelope, a real treat for me, and also jackrabbits that were big enough to be kangaroos. I never saw any snakes, but I did find evidence of a wild cat of some sort, whether it was a lynx or a mountain lion I won’t ever know. There was, however, a mountain lion that had been skulking the area for a while, according to the locals. I also fell in love with nearby Garnet Hill, another recreational area made up of government land, but open for anyone who wanted to go mine for garnets. We never bothered to try, since the area looked fairly picked over already, but I met a few people who had enjoyed digging there and had actually found some nice gemstones.

 

Really, my favorite place came to be Cave Lake State Park, an absolute gem itself. The park, just outside of Ely, also had a lovely set of trails, one of which ran along the stream where people often fished in the valley, and others which led over the mountains to allow for a view of the scenic chains of Nevada peaks. Though it stayed cold in Ely for much of the time we lived there, right through May, I still made regular trips to local spots for hiking. At least it was usually sunny, even if the air was cold. We did enjoy the view of the mountains all around us, too. Though Ely is at 6,500 feet, there were still peaks that ranged 2,000-3,000 feet above the flat desert steppe. It was a strange and alien place at first, with the lonely stretches of empty desert, little color to be seen from a distance, and then the odd mountain weather that could whip up in minutes. On many occasions we would observe the cloud formations sweeping across the steppe, hugging the sides of the mountains like veils of rain or snow, often accompanied by high winds of 60-70 mph. Curtains of precipitation would race toward you from miles away, and suddenly envelope the area for a short time, usually passing almost as quickly as they came. Rarely did the snow stick for more than a couple of hours, as the sun would immediately melt it away as soon as the clouds dissipated. The rhythms of a place begin to reveal themselves slowly, but taking the time to observe the weather, the plant life, the animals, all of it began to seem familiar after even a month.

 

Since we’ve left Ely, I actually miss certain things about hiking there. Typically I had the trails to myself when I went out into the wild spaces, and it was unusual to run into other hikers. It was peaceful to get out onto the slopes of the hills and wander for an hour or two, usually in the sunshine, being able to stop and enjoy the surprising bright flowers and plants which grew in the sandy soil. What looks lifeless from a distance will light up your senses up close in certain desert biomes, particularly in Nevada. It appears barren and brown while driving through it, but get out and look at the plants growing close to the ground, and you can discover dozens of small flowers, colorful leafy succulents, and plenty of juniper and other evergreens. One of the best surprises about living in Ely was driving what was called the “Success Loop,” a 30-mile road which traversed a mountain pass through some of the most beautiful scenery I ever had the privilege to see. Aspens robed in brilliant green, wildflowers in bright orange-yellow and purple, streams winding through the trees, and bright lush grass all defied logic at that elevation. One must wait until the end of June or early July to drive this loop, since the snow keeps it inaccessible until then, but once the snow melts, the whole mountain is alive in an idyllic dreamy scene. Michael and I could hardly believe the beauty, and we were so grateful to have discovered it after the length of cold days and biting winds, not to mention the drabness of the desert. We were starved for green by then.

 

While we lived in Ely we also made a trip to Great Basin National Park, which I wrote about in a blog post a long time ago. It was nothing more spectacular than what we had already been seeing in Ely, but we were glad we went anyway. We made the mistake of going in May, which meant the snow still had Wheeler Peak locked up in snow and ice, and we were unable to go up to enjoy the full view. Also unfortunate was the typical factor of dogs not being allowed on the trails (which is true in all the National Parks, sadly), which meant we could not get out to hike there because it was too hot in the car to leave the dogs behind. Our attempt to get out to the one place where the dogs were allowed on a trail was foiled by a washed-out road. If you happen to be driving through Nevada and will pass close to Great Basin in the summer, it’s worth a trip to get up to Wheeler Peak (we were able to get most of the way up before encountering the road block) and to hike the trails. Snake Valley was especially lush and green due to the river there, and is a pleasant spot to walk. The visitor’s center is excellent, and will offer up the usual fantastic educational material about what you can expect to see and discover when you go out into the park, so get there first. Be forewarned that Great Basin is very remote, and you should prepare to come with a fully stocked cooler, along with any other supplies you may need during your stay. There is virtually nowhere to shop for many, many miles around—in fact, Ely might be the closest town with any sort of actual grocery store at an hour away. Also to be noted, the campgrounds are primitive, so prepare to boondock.

 

Honestly, we were glad to leave when it came time to go to Carson Valley, but now in retrospect I actually miss the hiking. I don’t miss the weather, but I miss the sunshine. I don’t miss the shopping, but I miss the mountain view. Maybe one day I’ll pass through that area again. If I do, I’ll be sure to stop at Cave Lake or Egan Crest for a hike. I might even go see a movie in the cute old theater that a local family has kept preserved in its original 1920s décor, a classy era if ever there was one. If you’re passing through Ely, spend the night and enjoy a visit to some of the trails or special scenic spots. Have a pizza. Go see a flick. Just don’t go shopping. And save your visit for summertime, when it’s easier to enjoy some time outside. You might even see a herd of wild horses or antelope if you’re lucky.

 

*Remember, bookmark my URL: elainersnyder.com to be able to link to my blog and resources after my move!

Flying with the Falcon

Discovering Nature, a Writing Exercise

*Photo taken in Nelson, NH.

Last week I posted a writing prompt on Instagram: discover nature. I’ve been sharing weekly writing prompts to help get people motivated to be more aware, focus on having a positive mindset, and to encourage personal growth. This is a relatively new thing I’m trying, and it’s been interesting. Over the last several weeks I’ve been doing the weekly prompts, too, and having some fairly interesting results. My last week of discovering nature provided me with an opportunity to focus on how nature already fits into my regular work days, and it opened my eyes to how much nature is in my everyday life. Since it made me so happy to explore this aspect of my life, I thought I would share it in a longer form of writing. For those who don’t know what my writing prompts are about, I typically post a short video on my Instagram TV channel with the week’s prompt and a brief explanation or thought. The idea is to write the prompt at the very beginning of the day, right after you wake up, like this: “My intention for today: discover nature.” At the end of the day, right before bed, the challenge is to write a reflection on whether or not you adhered to the intention for the day. It’s meant to be short, nothing more than a few minutes.

As I work through these daily prompts, I am learning all sorts of things about myself and my tendencies, and it’s helping me to pay attention in general to my own thoughts and actions. It helps to keep me aware of what I’m doing, especially if I have goals I want to accomplish. Though I’ve always been a writer, and tend to write reflectively a lot, I haven’t always been dedicated to reflecting daily. Strange, I know, but true. What I love most about this daily prompt experience is the way it tends to draw out the good aspects of a day. It leaves me feeling inspired, empowered, and accomplished. When I started out my week of writing about discovering nature, my Sunday bubbled over with outdoor fun. Michael and I had a blast getting out for a hike with the dogs—me on my snowshoes, and the dogs happily romping through the woods off leash, a real treat for them. I wrote about our Sunday adventure in last week’s blog post. After that day, on Monday I didn’t have the chance to get out other than for a few minutes. But what beckoned me outdoors was the sunset. I think because my intention was set, in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but dash out with the dogs for a few minutes to appreciate nature’s most fabulous show. As I stood at the edge of the driveway, the sun sank toward the horizon, lighting up the trees and the air and the snow with an orange-pink glow. In my reflection later I wrote:

“Gorgeous orange fire lit up the pines as I walked up the driveway, the trees alight as if shedding the spectre of the illusion of our world, our inability to see the [full spectrum] of light with our eyes…every once in a while, an astronaut sees the death of a star, its light driving through their bodies in a gasp, a whisper for the magnitude of such a distant end traveling so far….” I wrote that last phrase about the astronauts after having seen the incredible show called One Strange Rock on Netflix, a truly captivating love story about the planet from the eyes of astronauts. If you have time to watch it, I recommend it. I continued to write farther down the page, “The snow painted itself salmon…” but what I couldn’t capture in words was the single moment in which the sunset actually set the air aglow, turning everything in that light the color of the sunset. Such moments do not come often, and when we are lucky enough to witness them, how can we not stand in awe?

On the following day, I got out for another snowshoe hike and wrote, “Four o’clock, getting dim amongst the trees. Sun touches only the top halves of the trees; gold above, silver below the line of shadow. Turkey tracks drag through the light snow, the marks of three-pronged feet prominent and perfect. Sunset astonished again. Supermoon tonight, hope I see [the] moon at dawn again—saw the moon slipping yellow-faced behind the cross hatch of bare branches. So big I could see it without glasses.” For me, that’s incredible. My eyes are terrible enough that even seeing my hand a few inches away from my face is blurry, and I can’t recognize people in the same room with me. If you didn’t get to enjoy the super moon last week, go check out some photos online. It was a remarkable marvel of nature, to see the moon so large in the sky. What I also loved, though was that I paid closer attention to what I was seeing as I hiked in the woods, noticing the quality of the light and then taking the time to write it down. Sometimes I do that anyway, but this week I did it with purpose, and it made me appreciate it more. And coming across the turkey tracks was just fun. I love seeing signs of animals in the woods, like a little surprise present.

At work the next day, when I was out on the playground with the toddlers from my class, we investigated icicles that had clung to a bush near the porch. I wrote, “…noticed how clear and glassy one icicle was, then how bubbly another was…” and we had fun inspecting the ice and how it felt so smooth. One of the toddlers was especially interested in the way the icicles looked where they had dripped down the branches of the bush, a large cluster of ice hanging low to the ground. I have to admit, I am so happy we get outside almost every day when I’m at work. That’s one part of my job that I love, and I know the kids appreciate the time outside. We usually play right along with them when outside, jumping on sleds with them, building snowpeople, pointing out snowflakes, or even dusting them with snow from low branches. It’s not easy getting several toddlers into snowsuits and boots, but once we get out there it’s totally worth it.

For some reason, my reflection from Thursday was short, and I wrote that I was tired. I wrote briefly that I had watched Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Sequel to get myself passionate about saving the planet. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend you do, regardless of your politics. He makes a good case for getting all hands on deck to make sure we handle the planetary crisis we’re all facing now, and I do think everyone needs to be informed by this point. The next day, I wrote about getting out into the woods with the dogs again after work, but this time I went alone. Here’s what I wrote: “Took dogs in the woods after work, wore my snowshoes, let them off leash…blammo, dogs are gone in the woods. Called them for half an hour, had to go all the way back down the hill (thank goodness I’m in good shape and didn’t really mind) where Luna came running up the path looking glad to see me, but upset. I said out loud, ‘Where’s Puppy?’ [that’s what we call Sasha—it’s a long story] and Luna nearly hauled me off my feet to run down the hill some more to find Sasha. Sasha probably got lazy and didn’t want to walk, so Luna probably stayed with her, not wanting to leave her there alone.” That was a little adventure I was glad didn’t last very long. Having the dogs lost in the woods in winter is a bad thing, especially since I could hear neighbors out shooting when the dogs were lost. Talk about nerve-wracking! Fortunately, the dogs were fine, and Luna is a good mother hen. She didn’t leave Sasha alone, always concerned about keeping her pack together.

On my last day of the week, I wrote very little again, but I was in need of rest. I wrote about how I needed to get better because I had a sore throat starting and didn’t want to get sicker. I did get out and wander in a couple of hardware stores to explore ideas for tiny houses, just because. Ever since I went to Thoreau’s cabin, I can’t get it out of my head how small that space was, but how cozy and perfect it looked to me. When I stood in that room and took in the sense of calm, I knew that could be my life, my dream, my ideal way to be in the world. A tiny house in the woods with only a few of life’s necessities at hand. When Michael and I lived in our Airstream for a year, I felt the same way. When you live tiny, you get outside more and have less to keep you secluded from the vast glory nature has to offer. I am more determined than ever to make that dream a reality again, no matter what else happens. Could my week of discovering nature have been more glamorous and exciting? Sure, but I wanted to be real. I have a job and responsibilities, and the point to my writing prompts isn’t necessarily to go out of my way to seek out special experiences, it’s to notice the experiences I already have in my daily life. What the daily writing has helped me do is to pay closer attention to what I have right now, and to enjoy it. If you care to join me in my weekly prompts, you can go to my Instagram feed in the right side bar and check my IGTV channel for the video prompts. Sunday afternoon is when I usually post a new video, and I try to post a reminder on my feed so people know it’s there. Even if you aren’t a writer, this is an exercise designed for anyone who wants to have a more positive focus in daily life, so check it out if you think it might help you. I’m excited about how much it’s helping me, and I like sharing things that work. Have a wonderful week, friends, and get out there and enjoy our beautiful world.

*Just a quick note: I am in the process of changing the look of my website, so next time you visit my blog it may have a new look. Don’t worry, my content will all still be here! It’s just getting a little TLC. 🙂

 

 

 

Flying with the Falcon

Dreaming of Backpacking and Mountain Climbing

*Photo taken in the woods of Nelson, NH.

A couple of weeks ago, as I was brushing my teeth, I had a sudden attack of desire for backpacking. I closed my eyes for a few moments, imagining myself in the Adirondacks (one of my favorite places in the world) and I could smell the gorgeous alpine air. It reminded me how very much I value the beauty of slipping away from the rest of society, letting go of all the electronics and lights and noises, and just fall into the rhythm of walking a trail in the woods. If you hike, maybe you know what I mean. It’s almost a meditative experience once you get yourself adjusted with the pack settled just so, your shoes are tied right, and your belly is fueled with food. Your feet find their own way through the ruts, roots, and rocks. Thoughts come and go, the bugs whizz past your ears, birds sing across the spaces between the trees…you connect back with the primordial self which knows how to be in nature, no matter where you live in the world. Backpacking brings your body back into the rhythms of the sun, the long hours of travel by foot, the awareness of life in every inch of the world around you.

Michael and I walked so many trails in the Adirondacks, but one of our favorites is Avalanche Pass, where you get to enjoy the fun of scrambling over boulders, running across bridges, and climbing short ladders. It’s an absolute blast, like a playground in the woods. The water along the trail is the color of jewels, and the mountains rise upward on either side of the lake, their rocky ribs bared by erosion, too steep for any life to cling long. Taking this trail leads to many of the High Peaks most popular to climb, and it also leads directly to Lake Colden, where a lot of hikers tend to camp. If you hike Avalanche Pass, you can hike over Mount Colden as a day hike from this trail, but it’s also a good way to get to Algonquin, Wright Peak, Mount Marshall, Cliff Mountain…it’s a long list. Somehow on that same trip we also hiked up to Indian Head, where you get a gorgeous view of Gothics (one of the 46 High Peaks) and get to enjoy the top of the waterfall. To see the bottom, I don’t know what one must do, but I wasn’t willing to do it. The falls disappears over a steep cliff edge I was unwilling to scale, even in my braver state of climbing ability. We also hiked Little Marcy (I have yet to hike Marcy itself, as we didn’t want to deal with the crowds—it’s the most popular peak there because it’s the highest in the state), and during that same trip we got ourselves up and over Haystack. With packs. Zowie, but that was a feat! One of my favorite spots of all, though, was stopping at Panther Gorge, where a delicious roaring river lulled us to sleep, and only one quiet couple had hiked out that far into the wilderness.

This summer I have every intention of getting back to the Adirondacks for more hiking, especially since last summer got eaten up by work on our house in Olean. I had high hopes for hitting several peaks in one trip (pun totally intended), and had a route all planned out to hit some of the mountains in the more northerly area of the High Peaks. We’ve been back on the East Coast for long enough now that we can hopefully handle the blast of humidity which kept us from the summit of Monadnock last summer. Now that the nymph of spring is starting to knock on Old Man Winter’s door, I definitely am also getting revved up to hike up Monadnock again. I wrote a blog post about our failed attempt to climb it last summer, and both Michael and I were taken aback by this. We had hiked much higher mountains out in Nevada and California, and it was humbling to come home to the East Coast and be unable to summit a peak not even 4,000 feet high. It was especially frustrating for me, since I was out hiking every other day in Nevada, and one of my favorite hikes was out at Jack’s Valley Conservancy, where a 6,500-foot peak was one of my regular weekly hikes. I only hiked to the summit a few times while there, but I certainly hiked up a good 2/3 of the slope regularly—a demanding hike made up mostly of loose sand. It was not easy to get up that peak, and yet Monadnock pummeled me. Well, I have been forcing myself uphill quite a bit since coming back east, and I fully plan to reach the top of Monadnock again as soon as weather breaks enough to allow it. Right now the trails are probably sheer ice, and I have no doubt the wind up there is brutal. Generally, Monadnock is fairly windy at the summit, and even on a day when it’s nice at the base of the mountain you’ll be chilly at the top. This time I plan to douse myself with bug spray, unlike my last hike. Black flies ate me alive, and we were swarmed by mosquitoes. Regardless, I am going.

To solace myself until I can get into the mountains to conquer more peaks or backpack an escape from society, I have been hiking in our “back yard.” Yesterday Michael and I took a trail behind our house, following a sort of road whacked out of the trees and brush down the hill. In the spring it will probably be a marsh with all the water running off the hill to the watershed below, but right now it’s all locked up in ice. I slapped on my snowshoes and Michael bravely let the dogs run off leash in the woods while we picked through the tree branches grown over the trail. The other day I had taken this trail until I encountered a road block and had to turn back: a giant tree had broken about 12 feet up its trunk and fell right across the trail. It seemed too difficult to get under, over, or around it, so I didn’t think it would be easy to discover what lay beyond that point. But Michael brought along a hatchet and hacked away a few of the branches to make a sort of tunnel beneath the fallen tree. We got only a short way before the trail pretty much petered out entirely, but we sallied forth into the woods anyway, following the trail of one of the waterways through the woods. Eventually we turned back without ever getting the reward of a view or any very interesting trees or boulders, but I had a grin on my face the whole time. The sun was out, the dogs were thrilled, and my husband was with me in the woods. It doesn’t get much better than that.

When we returned to our house, we even got out my new bow and practiced shooting. I’ve never shot a bow before, even though I’ve wanted one for years. For a newbie, I was proud of myself. I actually hit two out of five targets. We didn’t shoot long, though, because the snow kept eating my arrows. That led to buying a cheap target block so I would have something bigger to hit, and I will be less likely to lose them in the woods. Still, it was fun, and I’m excited to get out there and do it again. Today in Southern New Hampshire we had some new snow fall, so maybe I can get out with my snowshoes again, too. If you’ve never tried it, I highly recommend it. I was able to hike up and down slopes with no trouble—but my snowshoes have claws (I’m totally making that term up because I have no idea what they really are) on the bottom, and they dig right into the snow and ice. Even though the snow was mostly iced over, my snowshoes didn’t care. My intention was to use the snowshoes as a means to keep hiking in winter, and when we’ve had enough snow to keep me off the road, I was able to do that. Mission accomplished. Now that we’re deep into February, I’m getting that itch for spring. It’s always this time of year when I get tired of piling on the layers of clothing to go outdoors, tired of shoveling, tired of having to clean off my car, tired of the short days. This may very well send me into a lifestyle as a snow bird far earlier than retirement age, but for the moment I plan to enjoy the snow if I must live in the North.

As always, I hope you are snuggled up somewhere warm and have the contentment of being able to enjoy nature in some way. Find the wild places in your neighborhood. Scout out the places where you can watch birds, fish, chipmunks, or deer. Almost every town has a park, even if you live in a massive city. Take the subway there if you must, but do it. Give yourself the gift of green or natural places at least once a week if you can. It refuels your mind and spirit in a way nothing else can. Allow yourself to drink in the filtered light from beneath a tree, find where the flowers grow in a botanical garden, or enjoy a community vegetable garden in a greenhouse. In winter, get out to parks and watch the cardinals or crows, listen for the return of the blue jays and robins. I learned from watching the stunning series Blue Planet II that peregrine falcons have made their homes in New York City, and actually delight in the canyon-like spaces between the skyscrapers. What fun to look up and see one of those magnificent birds soaring like a bullet between the buildings! And the added bonus is that they eat rats and mice, the perfect street food. Maybe if you live in the city, you could see them from a rooftop or bridge. I imagine that would be a treat. Wherever you are, there nature will be, right under your nose. Find it. Explore it. Enjoy it. The world will turn whether or not you notice, but your life may be the better for you taking the time to breathe, see, and appreciate even the littlest things, like the way the snow sparkles when the sun shines.

 

 

 

Flying with the Falcon

Walden Pond, Minuteman National Park, and the Old Manse

*Photo taken at Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts.

Saturday morning, without an alarm clock, I woke at 6:30 am. Despite the early hour which usually goes against my grain on the weekend, I couldn’t wait to spring out of bed and get dressed. Earlier in the week I had come across some information about Nathaniel Hawthorne which led me down a rabbit hole of history about his life in Concord, Massachusetts. When I looked it up on a Google map, I discovered several interesting monuments dedicated to famous authors, and on a whim decided to make a day of going to see said monuments in person. So after dressing and breakfast, coffee in hand, I headed out to Concord. The sun shone brightly, not a cloud in the sky, but the wind cut like a knife across exposed skin. Bitter. I didn’t care, even though I had to fight the wind as I drove through the countryside toward Massachusetts, where the land grew gradually flatter, and the wind blew a little harder. I arrived at Concord with a loose plan for where I wanted to go, starting with Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (yes, that’s really the name of it), where visitors can walk along what is called “Author’s Ridge.” On Google maps, it only shows the grave of one famous author: Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, to name one of her most famous works. I am amused that only her grave shows up, despite the fact that the other three authors buried there are famous white men.

 

I followed the foot path up the ridge, coming across Nathaniel Hawthorne’s grave almost immediately. It surprised me that his grave would just be right there next to the path, the stone quite weathered and worn, and readily accessed by all. No walls or fences to keep anyone out, other than a low chain easily stepped over to enter the grave site. People obviously had done just that, as the gravestone was covered with small trinkets, mostly various sorts of pens. It struck me as sweet that perhaps other authors enamored of the works and character of a man such as Hawthorne would come to adorn his grave with the tools of their trade in homage. Next, and equally astonishing in its simplicity and small size, was the head stone of Henry David Thoreau. His grave had quite a few more trinkets, flowers, and even scattered stones, pine cones, and branches heaped on the ground surrounding the small stone marker which reads: Henry. The only way I knew it was Thoreau was due to the family’s name on a prominent marker on the plot. Farther up the hill I came to the slightly more elegant Alcott family plot, where Louisa May Alcott’s grave is located. Again, however, her own stone marker was even smaller than the others, a simple rectangular stone sunk into the ground, but again decorated with a haphazard array of pens, pencils, stones, and flowers. Lastly, I came to my favorite of all the headstones: Ralph Waldo Emerson. His was more difficult to find, but I knew it was there because signs at the bottom of the hill pointed in that general direction. When I finally found it I laughed: a boulder, uncarved and rough, stands on his plot with a copper plate as the marker. Of all the graves, his was my favorite.

 

Author’s Ridge was a good first stop, a sort of beginning at the end, as I said in my Instagram Post, shared in real time as I took the trip that day. As soon as I finished visiting the sites, I uploaded my pictures to Instagram, too excited to wait. My next stop: Walden Pond. It only took ten minutes to drive to the pond from the cemetery, and because I went in the dead of winter I practically had the place to myself. This is one of my favorite travel tips, to go places in the off-season to avoid the crowds. If you don’t mind being out in the cold, sometimes you get the luxury of taking your time with a place, which for Walden Pond was a perfect experience. When I pulled into a parking space, I could see a building that looked like a visitor’s center, so I took myself there first, much like my trips to National Parks. I have found that visitor’s centers are a wealth of good information about a park so you can discover what all the best places are to see before you go running around to all the most visited spots. Sometimes the park rangers can offer tidbits of gold about where the best places are to capture a good view or enjoy a quiet moment. In this case, a park attendant told me about a movie produced by Ken Burns, featuring a tribute to Thoreau. I gladly took the card with the info so I could watch it later, and then off I went to peruse the displays which offered up a wealth of highlights about Thoreau’s time at the pond, and his overall life. One thing which surprised me was discovering that Thoreau’s family owned a pencil factory, and that they were the first to use numbers to categorize the hardness or softness of the graphite. Apparently ecologists also appreciated the copious notes taken by Thoreau while he lived at the pond, because they later utilized these notes to help document effects of climate change. I had no idea.

 

After perusing the lovely visitor’s center, I walked down to the pond. The water had only a thin skin of ice which was broken against the shore in chunks. A sandy beach made me wonder if the beach were man-made so people could come swim in warm weather. I could see an opportunity to walk around the pond on a trail might be nice in warmer weather, and with less to do, but I had too many places to visit to take time for a long hike. Another day, I thought to myself. I need to go back. Next, I went to the cabin built by Thoreau’s own hands, a tiny house furnished minimally with a small bed, a desk, a table, and three chairs. A stove at one end for cooking and heat stood directly across from the door, and light filled the small space from only two windows on the other walls. “Snug” is all I wrote on the guest book. Exactly right, and a man after my own heart. I sort of fell in love with Thoreau while I stood in his cabin. A simple life by the pond, his “only appointment with a birch tree” he wrote in his notes, or maybe a maple or just to sit by the water. I could see myself doing such a thing, to live in a tiny house in the woods, observing nature and writing, reading books, and occasionally venturing out into the world when I need food or company, maybe inviting over a friend for tea. Yes, exactly this kind of life would be the life for me, which is what I plan to do.

 

I could have easily spent the day at Walden Pond, but my belly needed food, and I wanted to scoot over to the Concord Museum to see their modified display during renovations. Into the car I went, uploading my photos to Instagram. Back to downtown Concord, I found a busy place called the Market Café. When you find a place where the locals flock, you can bet it’s probably good. They seated me at the bar in the back section of the restaurant, and I ordered one of my favorite things to eat out: fish tacos. I wish I could say they were delicious, but I’ve had much better. It disappointed me to eat such a lackluster meal, since I sort of expected something yummy, but maybe I got unlucky in what I ordered. I know if you go to the Beef ‘n’ Barrel restaurant in Olean, NY and order fish, you are going to be disappointed; any beef-related meal will be fabulous, and it’s what they do best. Maybe the Market Café is known for their sandwiches, and I just ordered the wrong thing. It happens. The fries were good, at least. After lunch, I drove a few minutes down the road to the museum, which only had a few rooms of items on display. Still, I paid $5 for a tour from a spectacular storyteller who regaled the small group of us with information about Concord, mostly based on European settlement. At least he mentioned our forebears with a discussion about the ancient tools and weapons discovered in digs, and at least talked briefly about the Wampanoag, who interacted with the settlers. After that, we learned a good deal about English settlers’ way of life, and, of course, the Revolution.

 

It did interest me to see Thoreau’s desk on display prominently in the foyer, probably the most interesting item of all those I saw on the tour. Almost as if Henry reached out from beyond the veil to nudge me, connecting me to the place, to be present, to learn. I listened avidly to the historian and did learn a good amount of interesting detail about the Revolution which began in Concord, a story I had heard for many years during my public school education. Good to be able to match the stories with a real place, and the history bonded a little deeper later in the afternoon. More on that later, but I did come away from the museum with a sense that the white people are beginning to get clued into the fact that we mustn’t always insist on being the center of attention in every story. The last room we visited on tour centered around a freed slave whose belongings were preserved. We were given an inventory of what was left when he died, and the historian mentioned that life must have been difficult for him with so little liberty. Well, life hasn’t changed all that much since then, in my opinion. And yet it struck me that I had just come from Thoreau’s cabin, which had not even half the supplies we saw on the list of belongings of a former slave, and Thoreau learned what I also know: you need very little stuff to live a full life. In fact, the less you have, the easier your life can be. More photos uploaded in the car, a happy smile of glee on my face.

 

With my head full of Revolutionary history, I dashed over to a home called “The Old Manse,” so named by Nathaniel Hawthorne after he lived there. I actually went to Concord for this very reason, not realizing I was about to learn an even more surprising history of that house than the one I expected. Fortunately I arrived for the last tour of the day, and I got the young historian all to myself. We had more of an interesting conversation than a canned tour, which I absolutely loved, and he told me afterward that he enjoyed it as well. The first room he showed me contained a gorgeous old Steinway and Sons rectangular piano, a true gem of an instrument because so few were made. The shape of the piano made it difficult to tune, so Steinway discontinued the line shortly after production, but there sat the golden wood-framed piano, all its ivory keys still intact, and the bench still there as well, preserved for centuries. I learned that Hawthorne’s children, along with Emerson’s children, all learned to play piano on that very instrument, in that very room. As I stood admiring the piano, I could just imagine the scene of the children running their fingers over the keys with an adult sitting on one end of the bench, while the child’s legs probably hung, dangling over the foot pedals. On a sunny day, that room must have been a joy for listening to music. A standing desk—which I didn’t even know was a thing in the 1700s—took up space along one wall, the desk of the Emerson family’s patriarch. Indeed, I was surprised to learn that the home was actually the property of the Emerson family, not the Hawthornes.

 

For the first couple of generations of Emerson’s family, the Old Manse was their home. Emerson’s family legacy was that of the church, as both Emerson’s father and grandfather were ministers of the church, and enjoyed a sizable income due to the number of parishioners who attended services. Once the Unitarian Universalist Church split away from Christianity’s old values, Emerson’s father lost half his income when half the church left to become UU members. It was quite a blow to the family, and Ralph Waldo Emerson convinced his father to rent the home to Nathaniel Hawthorne and his new wife, who needed a place to live. Thus, the Hawthornes came to Concord, but they were apparently terrible tenants. Oddly, his wife, Sophia (and apparently Nathaniel himself), carved inscriptions into the window panes with her diamond ring, destroying the integrity of the glass. Now it seems amusing, but I’m sure the Emersons were horrified. Nathaniel also didn’t pay rent for the last two years of living in the home, which is what most likely forced the Emerson family to kick him to the curb—the Hawthornes only lived in the home for three years total, but the Old Manse remained in the Emerson family until 1939. At that point, the house held so much history it was handed over to the Massachusetts Reservation committee.

 

Interestingly, I learned that it was behind the Old Manse that the first shot of the Revolution was fired. Emerson himself stood watching the battle take place, in the company of his mother and other siblings, from the window of the study where he would later write his famous work, Nature. From that window, you can still see the bridge where the British and American soldiers faced off in that famous battle coined as the “shot heard ‘round the world.” That same room where I stood looking through the window with the inscription from the Hawthorne couple was also where Hawthorne composed Mosses from an Old Manse, his collection of short stories which brought him fame as an author. Emerson apparently also penned a letter to his sweetheart, asking her to marry him, in that same room. Who can guess what other acts occurred in that room, what feet walked on those floors, or what words were spoken? I felt happy to be in a space where I knew so many influential people once sat, worked, and loved. Later I found out that even Thoreau was involved in the little triangle of friendships, as he planted a vegetable garden for the Hawthornes as a gift for their wedding. An appropriate gift for a man of nature to provide.

 

After touring the manse, I went out to the bridge behind the house to see the monuments in what is now called Minuteman National Historical Park. I stood at the grave of the British soldiers, then crossed the bridge to the monument dedicated to the American side. By that time, the bitter wind had killed my phone battery and was biting right through my clothes. I had no choice but to return to my car, numb and chattering. Again, I believe it would be a nice day to enjoy going back in warmer weather to actually walk around Walden Pond, perhaps walk the path of the National Park, and this time tour the home of the first freed slave. Either way, I drove for a look at Louisa May Alcott’s former home to take pictures of the outside, through the windshield of my car because I had to charge my phone. I had already determined I wasn’t going to tour Alcott’s home because the fee of $20 seemed a little high just to walk through a house, especially since other homes of famous writers were much cheaper. I did learn that yet another remake of Little Women was filmed at the house recently, so I won’t need to pay a fee for the tour—I’ll just go see the film. Back downtown once more, I found myself standing at the door of the chocolate shop. Of course I had to buy handmade chocolate. I was even nice and bought some for Michael. It was delicious.

 

The capstone of my entire trip came the next day when I read the famous essay titled “On Duty of Civil Disobedience,” which has become an emblem of many civil rights movements over the last couple of centuries. From women’s liberation to Ghandi to Dr. Martin Luther King and beyond, Thoreau’s essay written after spending a night in jail for not paying his taxes informed countless movements on the importance of abiding by one’s conscience, especially in the face of the people in power. It filled me with awe to read that essay, especially now. We do not live in a special time of harrowing power struggles—this has been a problem for millennia. It’s just that now we have a taste of freedom, of democracy on our tongues, and we see how deeply it affects us when liberty is denied. We are growing as a global community, and getting ever wiser and more knowledgeable as science and medicine and technology widen our horizons. I watched a movie produced by Ken Burns, called The Walden Woods Project, and it briefly shares the impact Thoreau had on the world, both through his writing and his way of life. It astonishes me that I know so little about a human who probably could have changed my life, too, if I had known to read his work in my younger years, but time reveals knowledge when it is needed, I suppose. In any case, if you love literature and history, Concord is a delight for the mind. Plenty of shopping is to be had in the downtown, right along with all the historic spots to visit. I imagine you could spend a whole week there to really take in the vastness of the stories, but I was happy to have my day to touch down on each author’s residence, grave site, and to take in their lives as I did. It was quite personal, and maybe I’ll even fork out the $20 to go see Louisa May Alcott’s home if I go back again. As I sit here and think about the impact of seeing the other homes and hearing the stories, it might be even more wonderful than I imagine.

 

Friends, I encourage you to go find adventure, feed your mind, make a balloon of your spirit. You only live once. Transcend the doldrums of daily grinds, and go make space for growth. And if you care to see my Instagram posts from my day in Concord, you can click the link in the sidebar of this post. Enjoy!

 

 

Flying with the Falcon

For Love of the Earth

*Photo taken in Devil’s Postpile National Park in California.

I grew up a child of nature. As young as two I would be left to my own devices outdoors, back in the 1970s when it was still considered acceptable for children to play alone outside. Maybe it was unwise of my parents to send me outside for hours on my own, but I never felt any fear about it. To me, the grassy yards of my childhood were a wonderland of activity, and kept me very busy. One of my early memories occurred in the back yard of an apartment building in Hamburg, NY, a suburb of Buffalo, and I distinctly remember one day opening the heavy steel door, through which I had passed so many times, to discover a miraculous transformation. The cement pad outside the door, a sort of square well which often filled with rain, was alive. Caterpillars crawled over literally every inch of the surface of the cement, their brown bodies wriggling like a living carpet. I was utterly fascinated by this sudden appearance of the creatures on my doorstep (because even though the building housed several apartments, few others ever used the back door, so I claimed it as my own). Where did they come from? Why were they there? The mystery remains, well over 40 years later. I don’t know how long they stayed. Only the filter of that miraculous moment remains: opening the door like a curtain to reveal that astonishing revelry of life burgeoning, beckoning me to come out to witness their departure. The oddness of their transit as they scrunched and stretched upon eraser-like stubby feet caused me to watch a long time. Later I learned they were wooly bears, and I recall stroking their backs in wonder at the softness as they undulated toward the grass.

For as long as I have been alive, I can remember being in love with the earth, even when I moved to cities for a time. Countless hours of my life have been spent lollygagging in the grass, digging in dirt, scrambling over immense rocks, climbing trees, splashing in streams, wandering through forests, watching clouds, enjoying storms, and eating the green things that grew in my yard. As children, my playmates and I would adventure the yards in a grand discovery of what was good to eat or do. We tasted the sweet ends of tall fronds of grass, plucked carefully from the crook of the stem, and the gentle sourness of clover when it’s young and bright. We found the touch-me-nots in summer to be an endless joy, the jewel weed bushes which grew on the property line of our Fillmore, NY home would produce fat seed pouches which would spring open when squeezed. It was like a game to pinch them and laugh as the seed pods would roll backward into curls after releasing the seed as a projectile. Even as a teen I loved the outdoors still—at a time when many youth my age were far more excited by MTV and experimenting with drugs and alcohol, I was terminally geeky and read books and played D&D—my brother and I often went to the park around the corner from our house, spent hours outside riding bikes or playing badminton, and we still sought out animal life to observe like self-appointed scientists.

Those were the early days of my teen years, and they didn’t last. I was riddled with misery as I aged, very self-absorbed, and quite depressed. I hated the town where I lived, school gave me stomach aches, and I became obsessed with fantasy as an escape. I thought I wanted to live in cities to experience all the fun of things to do in those hives devoid of wild magic, thinking perhaps that I would find some other kind of magic in its place. So I spent my college years testing out the life of a city girl. Eventually I came to realize the city didn’t nurture my true self, the child who grew up wandering barefoot outside, camping in several states and many places in Canada, and visiting state parks often for fun in all seasons. Still, even while I lived in the city, nature didn’t leave me completely. I remember living in Savannah, Georgia and being distressed by the lack of ability to see the stars. Even though Olean was a city, you could still see a few stars bright enough to compete with the street light pollution. And I will never forget living in a townhouse where I rented a room with a lovely balcony screened by a gigantic live oak tree. I used to relish sitting on that porch from my perch above the street, a sort of tree house away from the world. One day I came home to the scene of what felt like a murder: my beautiful old friend, that elderly, wizened oak was being cut down. I still can’t help but think of cutting trees with that same sense of utter loss for its life. To me they are sentient organisms, and I have felt so since I was young. Everywhere I go, I find at least one tree I grow particularly fond of, like a unique tree in Olean by the river where a trail meets the dikes. The tree there is an old, gnarled oak so massive that it would probably be difficult for two long-armed adults to touch hands around the trunk. I know I’m not the only person who feels this way about trees or animals, but few people will admit it out loud.

Wherever I lived as a child, my family always did two things: planted gardens in the yard, and frequented the nearby parks. I remember many of the homes where we lived through the lens of vegetation that grew on the property, and then by extension I grew to know the nearby state parks as friendly neighbors we would visit regularly. What comes to mind are the open, sunny grasses surrounding the apartment buildings in Hamburg, and the rough scratchy sensation of the crab grass on my skin. It usually left red marks on my arms and legs when I went out to play. Our home on Highview Parkway in Hamburg reminds me of the pale lavender and yellow bearded irises. They smelled faintly sweet, and fuzzy bumblebees would lazily enter the inner sanctum of the massive blooms, their heads weaving in the breeze. The bees would silence themselves during the reverent gathering of pollen, their legs rubbing the yellow fronds of the stamens, and then maneuvered out to the opening of the blossom as if standing on an extended tongue touching a chin, then once again taking to the air in a slow, meandering pattern. Our Fillmore home was my favorite yard, and it still saddens me that after we moved the entire yard was bulldozed in order to put in a new sewer system. For years I learned to love that yard, with the delicate dogwood at the edge of the flagstone courtyard, the forked birch at the center of a triangular field of ivy, the jack-in-the-pulpits beneath the birch, the orange spotted tiger lilies as tall as my child’s height where they grew next to the stacked stone wall, the pine tree taller than my house which became my first teacher in overcoming fear of heights, the patch of rhubarb under the log fence, the patch of raspberries behind the barn where the dark pink berries would grow as big as my thumbs, the vegetable garden where my brother and I often snacked on green beans or tomatoes or peas, and then finally the apple tree where I was first stung by a yellow jacket as I picked up a fallen apple in the grass. Other things, splendid and scary, happened in that apple tree, too.

My father attempted to build me a tree house in that tree, but it was a terrible disappointment to me. He labored to place several boards across a pair of branches, boards he retrieved from the barn, possibly as old as the barn itself, and then placed several smaller slats up the trunk so I could climb up to the crooked platform. Because the “fort” was so disappointing, I didn’t spend much time up there, which probably disappointed my father in turn, but I don’t remember him saying anything about it. What I had wanted was more of a house with a roof and windows, a protected place which could offer privacy, much like the balcony I so enjoyed in Savannah. Instead I got a platform which only served to sit me up in the low branches of the old tree, quite visible from all sides. Later my cousin came to visit and we ventured up to the treehouse, where I had left a few items long forgotten. She upended a container and out skittered a large-eyed field mouse that scared me more than it should have, but I believe now that I learned a fear of mice from my mother, who often got upset about them getting into the house. Still, that apple tree produced more apples than we ever used, many of which hung from the upper branches unpicked, and then would later fall, rotten, to the ground. It seems a waste to think of it now, and I thought it even as a child. With a bit of resourcefulness, we could have learned how to nurture the tree to help the fruit to grow healthier, and then we could have either sold or shared the apples with our neighbors. It would have been a bounty for anyone who wanted them, and I’m sorry I didn’t think of it back then, for the tree is long gone and its days of bearing usefulness of any kind are far in the past.

After Fillmore, our first Olean house had a comparatively small yard dominated by forsythia bushes in back, and ugly evergreens in front. My mother planted tulips under the evergreens. Two old cedar trees grew right behind the house and were easy to climb up to the roof which allowed us entrance through the window of the bathroom. Whenever we were locked out (which wasn’t often—we usually didn’t bother to lock the doors back then), my brother or I would climb one of the trees and open the window to gain entry to the house. In each of these homes comes also a wash of memories of all the parks we frequented. In Hamburg, we visited Chestnut Ridge, where I remember one particular day of sledding, hot cocoa, and a warm fire at a lodge with a large group of families. Deep in my memories I can recall picnics there in warmer weather, but I was young then, and the memories are dim. In Fillmore, we drove to Letchworth, by far my favorite of any state park I ever visited, a utopia of natural beauty and history. I loved Letchworth, and came to know it almost as well as my own back yard. It was filled with the sweetness of playing in cool creeks with our pants rolled up, our shoes and socks tossed on the bank; of wandering the paths next to the rushing river which fed the misty set of falls; enjoying picnics at Wolf Creek, which was my favorite place of all because of the cascading falls and the footpath nearby; on special occasions eating at the fancy Glen Iris Inn and watching the fountain at the pond; being thrilled and terrified by the dizzying depths of the massive gorges; and dreaming about the history behind the old cabins of the Seneca Tribal Council and Mary Jemison (a hero to me), or the museum which still houses the bones of a mastodon which was originally dug from the ground of a nearby farm in Pike, NY. When we lived in Olean, we went to Allegany State Park, and typically picnicked near either Red House or Quaker Lake, where we could either swim or canoe. Lots of spots at the park became sites of family events like birthdays or weddings. The stone tower, Thunder Rocks, and the various trails all became frequent places to explore.

So much of the natural world informed my spirit about how to be a good human. Without ever meaning to, I fell in love with the trees, who became my staunch and reliable protectors. I fell in love with the food I could pluck from the gardens, nourishing me when I was peckish. I fell in love with the blossoms which rose up mysteriously, but without fail, every season, often scenting the air with perfume both heavy and light. I fell in love with thunder storms crackling across the hills, pouring sheets of hammering water on everything it touched, and left the clean fragrance of ozone and hot earth in their wake. I fell in love with waterways where they swirled both rapid and lazy, clear and cool over stony beds full of secretive gray crayfish, darting silver minnows, awkwardly graceful frogs, and darkly elegant snakes. I learned how to skip stones on the streams of Western New York. My body remembers all the seasons, embedded in my cells which are still informed by the redolence of coming weather on the breeze, the color of the sky, the rise and fall of the sun’s hours of the day. When the wind barrels through the woods, I still feel excited, as if in expectation of something spectacular about to happen. The damp, mineral-heavy aroma of lichen-spotted boulders still fills me with a sense of adventure. A path leading into the woods always tugs me forward with a desire to discover where it will lead.

My heart is magnetized by love for this earth. Mary Oliver has just reminded me of it more desperately, more deeply, along with several Ted Talks about climate change and oceanic health. Once I became a mother, I did my best to gingerly open my palms to gift to my children the same serene pleasure of exploring outdoors. We walked daily and often visited nearby playgrounds, sometimes walking along the river or having meals outside. We went camping nearly every summer, many times returning to Fish Creek Pond in the Adirondacks, usually a whole week in which we parents insisted they put down the electronics and enjoy the woods and rivers and ponds. Those days were glorious love affairs of pine-scented walks, hushed canoe rides in the unspoiled wilderness, and reading in a hammock tied between two trees. We played cards in a screenhouse erected over the picnic table or later in the camper my parents bought, and toasted marshmallows over a roaring fire my brother often enjoyed building. As my son got older, he developed a love for building a good fire, too. Stars glittered in a vast light show overhead, a reminder of our remoteness in the rapidly spinning galaxy. I did my best to water the germinated seeds of love for the earth in the hearts of my children, but only time will reveal whether or not I succeeded. My son, at least, seems to appreciate the wilderness. He has always been a willing camper, even joining his step father and I for a backpacking trip once. I hope to do it many more times while my body allows it. My daughter, sadly, seems less enamored with outdoor interests, and is far more content to live her life indoors. But when I was her age, I was somewhat like that, too. At that age I was convinced I was more interested in what excitement cities had to offer, until I finally came back to the center of my compass of the natural, wild world again. Maybe she will, too.

Within the starry nights, the sun-studded afternoons, the fog-shrouded mornings, or the purple-hued evenings, our bodies have a way of remembering our legacy. If we give ourselves time to sit, walk, or paddle within the wild places, the green spaces, that dormant love can be rekindled, even after generations of life in tall buildings which battle the wildness tooth and nail. The fire of old memories from our ancestors can light up pathways in our biology like a trail of gasoline touched by a match. Is it the mitochondria at work? I don’t know, but some ancient knowledge still chants deep in our physical forms, hidden in the ladders of our DNA and waiting to be unlatched from its moors. Release the river of your love if you can. Look at the quality of the sunlight while you walk from your car to the door: is it the wan light of late autumn or the hopeful energy of lime-green spring? Is summer filtering leafy patterns on the path ahead, or is winter creating a cross-hatch of branches over the road? Be present. Cultivate your awareness of the aroma swiftly carried from far places, the scent of rain or snow, the encroachment of grass at the edge of the driveway, or the unexpected and sudden flourish of the yard popping with colors overnight. Notice the wildness of nature rushing against you, nudging like a cat against your leg as you open the door. The earth suffers us unconditionally; our symbiosis, however, is temporary. At any moment, earth can deliver herself of us entirely if she wishes, and we would have little to say or do about it.

Volcanoes, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, tidal waves, forest fires, draughts—any of these choices are hers to employ, and despite our tyranny on her oceans, forests, rivers, lakes, ice floes, and alpine spaces, she endures us with patience. For how long is uncertain now. She has been warning us for a while that the balance is upset. The animals rush up to heaven and down into the depths of the soil with rapid and frightening numbers of merciless extinction. Garbage even fills the space surrounding the planet, floating in the finite gravity of earth’s orbit and becoming a hazard to the eventual hope of expansion to new worlds, if we ever get the chance. We who still love the earth can still use our voices, our pens, and our hands to communicate this love to the rest of humanity. Do not wait to balloon with boldness; it isn’t boldness that will reach out with a golden finger of perspective or trust. Rather, nurture the wildness of your heart, the crisp apple of your youth, the rich amber sap on your hands, the dirt and grass on your knees, even the burrs on your jacket when you returned from your adventures in the yard, the park, the forest, the desert, the field. Let it enter through your throat and thunder in your chest. Climb the lofty branches of your childhood and sway in the height of your mastery, from the security of the branch, that tree which lovingly supported your weight and made you fearless. Give that to the people you know. Carry them in your boat in the silent slip of waterways. Walk with them under the open skies of birds. Bring them to see the curious rock cairns carefully stacked by willing hands which love the paths into the wild as much as you. Let the wildness spring from your eyes when your heart melts for what you see and know is disappearing. You are the messenger of love now. Be a good missionary of nature’s temple, go forth with flowers as gifts, and watch the joy blossom on the faces you love.