Flying with the Falcon

Living Tiny vs. Trailer Trash

*Photo taken in Moab, Utah when we were traveling out to Nevada with our newly-purchased Airstream. Here we were just getting our feet wet with Airstream life, and Michael and I both miss it dearly. 

An Instagram post I saw over the weekend got me thinking about the difference between living tiny and living in a trailer park. Is there a difference? I mean, aside from the fact that the minimalist movement is huge right now, is there really a difference between choosing to build your own tiny home and having to live in a trailer? The Instagram post I read suggests that yes, there is a difference. As a baby, I lived in a trailer. My mother has pictures of my first year of life in our trailer, which in my mind was just one of the many houses or apartments we called home over the years of my childhood. We moved a lot, and in my younger years I never had issues with how my house looked. Usually my issues were around the jealousy of the toys other kids had, or the food their parents bought. Houses were not a thing I worried about much. I knew a lot of people, including both sets of grandparents, who lived in trailers by choice because they wanted to scale down from taking care of a whole house. So, my experience with trailers is vastly different than maybe some people who lived in a trailer park their whole lives, or who felt a need to escape the trailer park lifestyle for their own sense of happiness. Maybe I need to consider how hoighty it seems for me to blab about living tiny; after all, some people probably hate being trapped in their city apartments the size of postage stamps, or their run-down trailers on the wrong side of the tracks. Let’s get into this.

The biggest difference I can see between the two camps is money. Well, maybe. On the surface, if you go digging around on YouTube for videos about living tiny, you can find a vast array of fancy homes built for style, function, and the choice to live minimally. Lots of people choose living tiny for reasons like wasting less energy, wasting less time on housework and general maintenance, and wasting fewer resources by reusing products in the build. Many tiny homes are built to be eco-friendly in many ways, and it does take a good deal of cash to build some tiny homes that can be totally tricked out with electronics, solar panels, fancy lighting, and expensive finishes. People with the cash to pay for fancy stuff are certainly out there building tiny homes. On the other hand, I have seen lots of people building their own tiny homes because they can’t afford mortgage debt, need to share space with parents and would rather have their own home in the yard, or bought a house they can’t afford and need to get out from under it. I have watched a lot of videos shared by individual families or couples whose sole motivation for building tiny was to save money, not resources. Some of these people are building with a very small amount of capital, and are salvaging a lot of the materials they use in the build. Their reasons are financial…so what’s the difference between living tiny and getting a trailer? In this instance, very little.

When I think about the amount of space available in a mobile home as compared with the space in a tiny house, I actually think a trailer usually has more room. Some tiny houses are built bigger to accommodate the individual’s needs, but a trailer generally has more square footage than the typical tiny house you see built on a trailer. True tiny houses are meant to be moved, though some people do build them on foundations. A mobile home can be moved, but usually isn’t moved once you find a lot to rent at a trailer park (and I mean mobile homes, not RVs). One set of my grandparents who lived in a trailer had two full baths, two bedrooms, a space for laundry, a bumped-out living area, a screened porch, a shed out back, and more cupboards in the kitchen than I have in my current house. The other set of grandparents had a double-wide that felt more like a regular house than a trailer, especially since there were two porches on either side of the trailer, one of which was more like a family room because it had windows and was air-conditioned in the Arizona heat. That trailer was also equipped with two full baths, three bedrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen, and breakfast nook/foyer. Lots of closets, plenty of space. Trailer trash? Not either of my grandparents’ homes. My grandparents were more privileged than many people who live in trailers in the US, if for no other reason than they were white, but I know a lot of people who live comfortably in trailers.

When Michael and I were living in our Airstream, which was effectively a tiny house on wheels, we had no laundry, a living area which incorporated the kitchen and dining in one space, one closet for our clothes, a small bathroom which had floor space barely large enough for your feet, and a bedroom that only accommodated our mattress with no floor space at all. We had storage over our heads and a dresser built into the wall. That’s more what I think about when I think living tiny. In a trailer, you have room to move around people in the living areas without having to scoot past or move aside—unless you have too much stuff, which is only the fault of the homeowner—but when you live tiny you usually don’t have that luxury. Everything is scaled down to be as minimal as possible in tiny homes, from square footage to storage to what items you choose to have for specific reasons. Most things in a tiny house serve double duty, and must be cleverly designed. A trailer has more space and usually still feels more like a house than an RV or tiny house.

In general, I think there are two different types of people who buy mobile homes, just like there are people who build tiny. You have those who must live in trailer parks because they can’t afford a traditional home, and you have people who are tired of maintaining a traditional home and prefer the life of a nice trailer park where life is simpler. It’s the same with tiny homes. There are people who choose to live tiny because they want to make less impact on the planet or they prefer a minimal lifestyle, and then there are those who see it as a cheaper option to owning a home in an economy unfriendly to homeowners. Some people retire and buy expensive RVs the size of buses, sell their homes, and live the travel life. Other people work remote jobs, save up for an RV, sell their home or escape their city apartment, and live the travel life. I think if people want to see living tiny as a thing of privilege, a choice only made by fancy white people with money to burn, then they are allowed to believe that notion. I am not a fancy person with a lot of money, but I did work hard to plan the life I wanted to live, and I chose carefully with my husband to purchase a used model of a good RV. Airstreams last a long, long time, and we knew it would be easier to revamp an old interior than to build from scratch. It also gave us options to stay at RV parks, when many tiny homes are not allowed due to insurance limits.

My impression of the tiny house movement is that there are just as many reasons and types of people choosing to live tiny as there are reasons and people who live in trailers. Those of us living in the US love our stereotypes, we love to point fingers, lay blame, and stir up trouble. If you live in a trailer, the only reason you have to allow anyone the power to call you trash is if you believe it about yourself. I don’t think anyone is trash, and many of my favorite people lived in trailers. It’s not trashy to live in a trailer, unless you decide to make it so. Whatever other people want to think is up to them, but what really matters is what you believe about yourself. No one can do anything about that except for you. Whether you want to save money to live tiny, you want mobility, you want less work, or you want to use fewer resources, are any of those reasons too hoighty? Should we have to make rich people feel bad about living tiny because they want to be kinder to the earth, or just have freedom to live where they want without a big impact on the planet? If the discussion of living tiny as a thing of privilege is the concern, I believe that’s an impression some people are entitled to have if they wish. Maybe this is more deeply concerning because we see this as a white people thing, and not welcoming to people of color, though I generally think of white people when I picture “white trash,” not people of color. Is that just me? Maybe.

Considering the fact that it does seem to be more of a movement by white people (myself included), I have no doubt that class comes into the equation. If we’re talking about middle class people, then we are certainly talking about a group of people making the choice to live tiny. They may still have to make sacrifices to build a tiny home, but they are certainly more privileged than poor people who feel forced to live in trailers due to a lack of money. Rich people living tiny can live anywhere and buy anything, so of course their tiny homes are going to be far more fancy and upscale than one you build with your own two hands using repurposed supplies. This is the kind of debate that can be unending. We can go round and round about who gets to live tiny and why, but I still maintain that even if you feel you’re living tiny because you don’t have a choice, you still get to choose how you feel about it. We all do. I could allow people to make me feel bad about my choice to live in a shared home so we can save money to build our Airstream interior or purchase land for our tiny home. But what purpose does that serve? Why should I feel bad about saving money to make myself happy, and to live in the woods where I can be quiet? A trailer is a home. That is all. If someone else wants to cut down a person for where they live, it can happen even to a person who lives in a mansion—think about some of the most ridiculous mansions you’ve seen on TV, and imagine how much ridicule people get for building them. There are some wackadoodle houses out there, but if they make people happy, why do we care?

If governments don’t get in the way, and if Wall Street doesn’t obstruct the finances, tiny homes could be the answer to a lot of problems created by the foolhardy greed of the housing market. Living tiny makes less impact on the planet, which is very, very important right now. If we allow agencies with the resources to build tiny homes for the homeless, we could change lives. A lot of lives. For all the people who still live with their parents because their school debt or inability to get work prevents them from having their own home, tiny homes are a possible answer. I looked at a few articles about the “privilege” of living tiny, and how it seems like a mostly white thing, a mostly middle-class thing. That may be true now, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If enough white people make enough noise about the stupidity of the regulations hampering the growth of tiny house communities, then people of color will have less concern about getting in trouble if they want to build. Sometimes those of us with privilege can make way for those who have less. That’s my goal, at least. I see it as a chance for freedom in many ways, and I think that’s for anyone who wants it, not just white middle class people. Most of my life I’ve lived on the edge of poverty, but I still know how to be smart about saving and repurposing. If I can do it, anyone can. Maybe I’m opening myself up to arguments with this idea, but my thinking falls into the camp of making one’s own way in the world. Ignore the haters, the stereotypers, the naysayers. Let them gripe about who deserves what. If you’re a person of color who wants to live tiny, go for it. Who cares what anyone else thinks? Make yourself happy, live free. If you’re a rich mofo with a ton of cash, go build a tiny house on a desert island and be happy living free there. Whatever floats your boat. And if you’re a person who can build tiny houses for the homeless and you have property where they can be parked…go for that, too. This is supposedly still a free country, so live how you like, trailer or foundation, tiny or big. Be yourself, and fulfill your own destiny. Own it. And if you want to call me either trailer trash or privileged, you’re welcome to your opinion. What I know is I’ve worked hard for what I have and I am happy to be where I am now. Get out there and live a beautiful life, friends. You only live once. Define yourself.

Comments are welcome, especially from those who feel I am being unfair in the content of my post here. Do send me your love letters, friends. I enjoy hearing your genuine concerns and am interested in keeping an open mind. All I ask is that we all take good care of each other, even if we disagree. I will love you no matter what your opinion. 

 

Flying with the Falcon

Drummer Hill before the Storm

*Photo taken from the window of our house in Nelson, NH after one of the recent storms.

The weekend has been wild and wooly across the nation, but we got lucky in Southern New Hampshire, at least in the Keene area. Projected snowfall was supposed to be in feet, but it all went North other than a few sugary inches. Cold temperatures are sawing into our tender flesh in the last couple of days, the kind that instantly freezes your nostrils and bites into your exposed skin as soon as you step out the door. Such days are not for hiking or outdoor play, but Michael and I got out on a trail before the storm. We had fun, but it was treacherous. I’ll explain.

For the first time since Thanksgiving, Michael and I had four whole days in a row off from work at the same time. Our plan originally was to drive up to Franconia Notch State Park, a beautiful park in the White Mountains, and home of the famous “Old Man in the Mountain.” New Hampshire prides itself on the famous profile of a man’s face (though I think it could just as easily be a woman—why not?) which can be seen from certain places below the peak. According to Wikipedia, the rock formation which made up the “Old Man” collapsed in 2003. It has since been repaired if you care to go there for a visit. You might want to wait for it to get a little warmer first; the White Mountains are known for their frighteningly bad weather. Needless to say, Michael and I are sturdy Western New Yorkers, quite familiar with snow and cold because we lived right next to the giant snow machine called Lake Erie most of our lives. Even though much of the worst snow fell to the north of us, we still saw plenty of it in Olean, and had lots of below zero weather in winter, too. We were prepared to head up to Franconia Notch despite the winter weather so we could enjoy a day trip out of town to a spot we both enjoyed when we went in 2016…and then the storm decided to make a mess of our plans.

As usual, the weather reports projected the worst possible scenarios, hyping up the amount of snow we should expect to fall, and then the wintry mix weather was supposed to hit…none of it really happened here in Southern New Hampshire. I know they saw more snow up North, but that is typical. Mountains draw weather like magnets attract iron. The weather always goes to the mountains. Either way, we realized that with such weather headed this way, we couldn’t chance the conditions of the road remaining safe for such a long day trip. From where we live in Nelson, it takes over two hours to get to Franconia Notch, and Michael does not rise early on his days off (he works nights, so early mornings are not happening for him). Thus, we knew the trip was foiled. Boo. Instead, we decided to take the same day and head out to a new trail locally so we could enjoy some new scenery. As luck would have it, we found an easy trail right in Keene in a conservancy called Drummer Hill.

I read up on the conservancy before we left to learn that there are roughly 30 miles of trails there, and that we could expect a 700-foot elevation gain from the bottom of the hill. That sounded perfect to me. I love a place with a bunch of trails to explore in a small area. It gives you a sense of variation when you go for a hike instead of always doing the same trail every time, something I loved when we were out in Nevada. Lots of conservancies and government land had trail systems running in a variety of directions, both along the desert floor and up on the peaks. Finding Drummer Hill seemed like we might have the same kind of luck, but this time in the woods. Getting there proved interesting, because the map makes it look as though you can jump right off Route 9 and go to the conservancy trailhead off Timberline Drive, but…not so much. If you head out to this trailhead, use your navigator unless you know where the trailhead is on the road. You have to drive through a mess of tangled streets to get to the trail from Route 9.

When we arrived, the entire entry point to the trail was a solid river of ice. We almost thought better of heading in, but we’re undaunted by winter conditions. Surely the ice would eventually dissipate as we got farther on the trail, we thought. Maybe it’s just an overflow from a nearby melt-off that froze at the base of the road, we imagined. Off we went with the dogs on leash, our Luna very happy indeed because the husky in her was getting to be outside in the white stuff. She loves winter and wilts in summer. Sasha, on the other hand, is made of pudding and does not love winter, but went along for the walk like a trooper. Up we went on the Old Gilsum Road Trail, which was apparently once an actual road used for vehicles. I have no idea how long ago it was turned into a conservancy, and since I never actually saw the “road” beneath the snow I don’t even know if the trail is asphalt or dirt. We had an interesting time of climbing up the hill, which never really cleared of the ice. It was several inches thick, and will take quite a bit of warm weather to melt it all. Still, we persisted for a good long time, often climbing up onto side tracks along the path to avoid some of the most slippery areas we simply couldn’t negotiate.

We saw several trails leading into the woods from the main trail we took uphill, and a few times even talked about taking one to escape the treacherous ice river. Every trail looked fun, but none of them looked much safer than the one we were already negotiating. Rather than wander off in the woods without a map, we decided to stick to the main trail to avoid getting lost. The good news is that we know it exists now, and are quite keen to go back and hike it again to explore more. In any case, we got about half an hour of uphill hiking in when we reached a spot where the trail began going downhill, and that looked even more icy than the uphill trail we took. Both of us were somewhat disappointed to not be able to enjoy the view we wanted to see from the hilltop, but it was still fun to find this little gem of a trail system so close to home. The woods of the conservancy are a surprise to discover so close to the city, and I hear nearby Goose Pond is also lovely. I expect to do lots of exploring when weather improves, though I have to admit I was disappointed by the low snow totals, and then the horribly cold temperatures. Totally ruined my plans to get out and snowshoe in the woods.

Whatever happens with weather next, I usually find time to get outside, even when it’s freezing. I walked today, though it was short because even Luna started limping from the cold. My hope is that the temps get high enough to go for a little hike in my snow shoes without getting frost bite. We’ll see. Then again, if it gets warm enough for a January thaw, maybe I can try the Drummer Hill trails again over the weekend. Whatever happens, I will get outside one way or another. My life requires time in the woods, like food for the spirit. Some people need to run, some people climb granite cliffs, I hike in the woods. Everyone has a thing they love, and I hope you all find what that is and go do it as often as possible. Life will not wait for you to fall into it when you have time. You must make the time. If today is your last day on this earth, ask yourself if you did enough of what you love to be able to leave it behind without regret. If the answer is no, I suggest you fix that. Go enjoy the world, ignore the news for a while, laugh with friends, and forget the dishes piling in the sink. The dishes will never be done, the house will never be clean, and the paperwork will always need filing. I’m not suggesting you live like a slob, but I am saying give yourself a break from the work, even if it’s not all done. You’ll never wish you spent more time working, but you will regret not going out to see what the world has to offer, and the people you could have taken with you.

Flying with the Falcon

Hiking 102: Stay in Shape for the Trail

*Photo taken at Vernal Falls in Yosemite National Park. I took this photo during our hike up 600 stairs (at an altitude of about 4,000 feet from the bottom) to get to the top of the trail, a hike that would have been impossible if not for my regular exercise routine.

Hello, ducks. Winter probably has many of you hibernating, grouchy, sniffling, and feeling trapped by the cold and dark days. For the first time (maybe ever) I am sailing through winter this year. I think it’s because my doctor prescribed me vitamin D. It’s like I was living in black and white, and now I can see color. Have you ever seen those videos of people who try on the special glasses for color-blindness, or videos of people who are deaf and can hear after getting an implant? That’s how I feel this winter, thanks to vitamin D. Even without the vitamins, I still made a point of getting out to walk during the daylight hours every day. I learned years ago that living in the Northlands is unbearable for me if I don’t get outside for sunshine and fresh air. A lot of people use excuses about how icy it is, how cold, or that they can’t walk on unshoveled walks, but what I know about staying in decent shape is that if you don’t use it, you lose it. Waiting for good weather, especially if you live in the North, means you are willing to sacrifice your muscles, your hard work, and your metabolism. Stop doing that to yourself. You deserve to feel good about your health. Make the time to stay in shape, make it non-negotiable, and start immediately. Excuses will not get you on the trail for fun.

Last week, I wrote about prepping for the trail with ideas about footwear, food, maps, and other various and sundry advice. This week, I hope to whip you into a sense of urgency about maintaining your bodily health all year long so you can always be ready to get out into the world and enjoy yourself. If a friend walked in the door today and asked if you wanted to go on a trip to sunny California to visit a National Park, you would probably want to go, right? Let’s say you get the tickets and go all the way to California, drive to Sequoia National Park, and then just when you think things are about to be fabulous, you find yourself wheezing on the edge of the trail while everyone else speeds past. Is that really how you want to live? Did you used to be a mountain biker in your 20s, and now you believe that because you have kids you don’t have time to get out and ride? Do you work a gazillion hours every week and come home wiped out every day, so you tell yourself you don’t have time for exercise? Stop feeding yourself stories. You are the only person in charge of your health, not your spouse or your kids or your best friend or your job. No one is going to get your body in shape to go out and enjoy the world except you. Do yourself a favor and choose to commit to a few minutes of time every day, every other day, or even just three days a week to get in shape. No matter what anyone says, this is not a thing you will ever regret. Being able to leap tall buildings in a single bound is a wonderful way to be.

Here is what I know about being dedicated to consistent exercise: whenever I want to do an outdoor activity I enjoy, I am ready physically. The only thing that might stop me is whether or not I had a good night’s sleep. I eat to maintain my health as much as I exercise. This may sound like I’m a nutcase about staying on special diets and being a freak about getting to the gym. No. What I do is a simple behavioral routine. All week long, Monday through Thursday, I eat foods that nourish my body, no junk. I still eat chocolate every day, but only a little. Every morning I have my coffee, but only two cups. When I need salty food, I eat popcorn I pop myself. In general, I try to follow the Michael Pollan formula of eating food, not too much, mostly plants. Eating meat is something my body tends to require, so I eat it responsibly and mostly poultry and fish. I supplement with vegetarian meals now and then, too. Carbs, especially sugar of any kind, are off the table for the most part, except for brown rice, oat bran, and quinoa. Even though that may sound horribly boring, after eating this way for a while I have discovered that feeling energetic all the time is actually worth the sacrifice of being able to indulge in white foods that don’t give me anything but problems. On Friday night, I reward myself with ice cream, pizza, maybe some Thai food…a good meal I’ll really enjoy. Then on Saturday I might still allow for a little wiggling in the diet, and on Sunday I go back to eating well again. I find it makes a huge difference. Eat food that makes you feel good and stop eating garbage, and you will be amazed at the change in your mood, your energy, and your health.

Aside from diet, I take a no-nonsense policy to my exercise. Now that I have developed a habit of lifting weights every other day, I just make the time. You don’t have to go to a gym if you don’t want to spend the money, nor do you need to make it a big deal. Get some soup cans and do some flies while you watch TV, fill a couple of water jugs and do curls, start doing push-ups or squats, or even just some sit-ups will do wonders for your core. If you need encouragement, find a work-out buddy to keep you motivated. Try finding a group online to keep you honest. Keep a journal or mark your calendar. Do what you must to stick to it, because once you make it a habit, you’ll find it easier to keep going. If you need a reason, remind yourself that weight-bearing exercise tells your bones to be stronger so you are less likely to break them as you age. If you engage your entire skeletal structure, you are less likely to injure your back when lifting heavy things, or to injure body parts in general. Stretching before and after will also prevent injury during exercise, so make stretching part of the routine to save yourself some of the pain. Lots of programs out there can help with exercise from home, and depending on what you want, there are lots of choices. I have had good experience with DailyOm, which has some great yoga routines to keep you strong and limber (I like Sadie Nardini), and for strength training I had great success with DailyBurn. Both are low-priced options for streaming videos, and both have experts teaching their craft. The best way to get moving, I have found, is to do it first thing in the morning. If you start with a few squats, push-ups, and sit-ups (which you can do in less than 10 minutes), it gets you moving and jump-starts your metabolism. Start tomorrow. Why wait?

When you take the time to work your muscles and eat well, it means you get to have the freedom to live your life in whatever way makes you happiest. At any time, you can hop up and hit a trail, go for a bike ride, climb a mountain, go sledding, ski the slopes, or even just enjoy outside time with your kids. Imagine being able to keep up with your young children while they run around the back yard! Whatever your reasons for allowing yourself to make excuses, just stop. You can tell yourself the story that you don’t have time, but that’s not true. If your doctor told you that in order to keep yourself alive, you needed to start exercising daily, you’d find time. Well, the doctor’s orders are in: you need to exercise to keep yourself alive. Seriously, your body requires the exercise anyway, so you might as well make it fun. Get out on the trail even in winter. Buy snow shoes, learn to ski, go sledding, build igloos, get out and shovel the whole block (and make your neighbors happy), or find some other way to make snow fun. Instead of using your energy to complain about how you feel, go move your body. Get outside and find a place with a view of the snow right after it falls in the woods, see the mountains topped with white, or go for a picnic hike with hot food and drinks you bring in a thermos. If you have the right clothes to keep you warm, it will be a lot more pleasant.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to make year-long exercise a deal-breaker. Once you make the commitment to feeling good, you won’t ever want to go back to being a couch potato. Your excuses will melt away as soon as you realize how great your life can be when you embrace taking charge of your time and your health. If you love the woods in summer, love it in winter, too, and then when summer comes you won’t have to bust your can to get back into hiking shape. You’ll be ready to enjoy those gorgeous weather days in the early spring as soon as they happen. Imagine climbing a peak as soon as the buds appear on the trees, when the color is still bright lime-green, the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and your hike is just as easy on this early spring day as the last day of summer fun. A few minutes a day can keep you there, but you have to be hungry for it. Magical thinking will not give you muscles or stop you from eating stale Christmas cookies. Oh, yes, I see you over there! I was you once. Trust me, I used to eat very badly in my younger years, but middle age has forced me to behave better. If you’re young, take care of yourself now. If you’re older, the sooner you keep what you have, the better. It will not get easier with age. Love yourself enough to do what you love. Get out there and enjoy the beautiful world while you make muscles, and treat exercise like a religion; your body is a temple.

P.S. If you might be interested in backpacking, but need some help deciding if it’s for you, I have a course for backpacking beginners. It’s called “Take a Hike!” and even if you’re a novice, you might find some useful stuff in there. I have it set up as a donation-based course, so you can pay as little or as much as you want. It delivers to your mailbox every day for a week, with all kinds of goodies about gear, meals, getting in shape, tents, animal encounters, and more. Here is the link to the page. Happy trails, my friends!

 

Flying with the Falcon

Hiking 101

*Photo taken at Jack’s Valley Conservancy in the Carson Valley of Nevada. You can see Michael and our sweet Luna walking the trail into the sunset. The mountains covered in snow to the right are the Sierra Nevadas, where Lake Tahoe is nestled.

Hello, my lovelies. I hope wherever you are right now, you’re having a moment of respite, a deep breath, a seat in the sun. If not, I hope you can make time for it soon. In the past, I’ve written up some good hikes I’ve taken, some of which I have done alone, others with company, but I thought it might be time to write up a quick little set of tips for people who might not be hikers yet. I know you’re out there: the people who love the idea of getting out in the woods on a trail, but you never quite get there, or maybe you get there but you don’t go very far. When you go hiking without the right shoes, without simple things like a little water or bug spray, a hike in the woods can become a nightmare instead of an adventure. If you’ll indulge me for a few minutes, I would love to offer a bit of advice about getting out in the woods (and this is not just for you newbies—folks who love the woods and don’t make time for it, this is for you, too). Let’s get into it!

First, let me regale you with the real reason I hike. It’s not just because I’m some kind of granola-munching, tree-hugging nature lover who wants everyone to save the pandas. I like pandas, I have hugged trees, I do love nature, and I actually make my own granola, but I go in the woods for two reasons: 1) I feel calmer and happier under the trees, and 2) it’s a lot more fun to walk on a trail than on a sidewalk. If I’m going to get exercise (which I like getting, because I would like my body to work when I’m 90), I prefer having some fun. A trail in the woods is a wondrous thing to get your heart pumping, and every trail offers different things to see. Just today I talked with one of my coworkers who was delighted that I shared a new trail with her, a trail right down the road from where she lives, and she had never been there. She told me her kids loved it! The view at the top of the hill, the fun little bridges, the foundation of an old historic cabin…all of it was such fun to them that she said they’ll probably go back again and again to explore and enjoy it. It made me happy that I took the time to tell her about it because it brought her such joy. That’s what I find on the trail.

When you get out in the woods, the sounds of water running over stony creek beds, the wind rustling the leaves, birds singing, and vistas of hills and valleys all delve into the part of your brain that still remembers how to be part of the natural world. Even if you live in a city, your body still remembers the rhythms of hunting, gathering, and living under the trees. If you have trouble finding that part of yourself, you may just be underprepared for the experience. For me, it all begins with a good pair of shoes. I love my Adidas Swift R hiking shoes (no, I am not getting paid to say that—they are just awesome shoes). They offer great support for your feet, which is good for the rest of your body’s alignment, they are also waterproof (a must for me, because wet feet while hiking equals blisters), and have great soles for climbing up and down inclines. The soles grip rock surfaces very well, which I love. Recently I got a good pair of insoles for my shoes, which I now use in place of whatever comes inside any of my shoes. They have changed my life. I no longer have hip pain, and my knees are improving now that they are more properly aligned from the proper foot placement. It matters. Get good shoes. I advise going to a place like EMS or REI if you can, because the people who work in those stores actually go out in the world and do the things you want to do, like hiking, backpacking, cycling, mountain biking, canoeing…you catch my drift.

After shoes, I would say the next biggest thing for me is clothing. If you’re going on a long hike and it’s hot, don’t wear jeans and a hoodie. Avoid stiff jackets or pants, or any clothing that restricts your movement. I shouldn’t have to say these things, but I’ve actually seen people going out on trails—in the Adirondacks High Peaks area, no less—in dress clothes. Please be smarter than those people. What I love most on the trail for my own comfort is a good pair of stretchy cotton pants that are loose, have lots of pockets with zippers, and also either roll up to capri length, or zip off the legs. When on the trail, conditions can change to be warmer or cooler than when you start. Wear loose layers for ease of moving, climbing, and even sitting down for a rest. My favorite shirt is actually a cotton tee, though my husband swears by his “breathable” polyester shirts and nylon pants. I do not get along well with synthetic clothing, so cotton and wool are my standards, but you have to try things to know what you like best. Whatever you do, save your money and just use what’s in your closet for now. It’s hiking, not a night at the gala. Nobody in the woods cares if you wear Northface or LL Bean or whatever other outlandishly expensive brands you think you need. Be sensible. That goes for socks, too. I wear my wick-away cotton or wool socks. Not fancy.

Aside from clothing, make sure you bring water. I love my Camelbak because it sits well on the back and shoulders, and has pockets for snacks and other little things you might want. It also keeps your hands free so you can walk without carrying anything. If you don’t have one, just use a good backpack you have at home and carry enough water to be able to drink about 8oz an hour. If it’s hot, bring more water, but use your own common sense. You don’t want to carry gallons of water for an hour-long hike. You won’t need that much water even in the desert, unless you left the house already dehydrated. For longer hikes, use your best judgement. Even when I hiked in the hot Nevada sun for a couple of hours, I never emptied my full Camelbak bladder, which holds a liter and a half of water, and I tend to drink a lot when hiking uphill. Save your fancy sports drinks for when you get home. You are unlikely to need the electrolytes unless you’re hiking in Death Valley in midday sun. Of course, you know yourself better than I do, so use your best judgement of your own body’s needs.

When heading out into the woods on the East Coast, expect bugs. You are going to be very unhappy in the woods without bug spray, even if you wear clothing that covers everything. Ever encounter a mosquito in Maine? They’re more like helicopters than bugs. Black flies in New Hampshire will feast on your flesh, and leave you covered in pock marks. In Western New York the mosquitos rely on sheer numbers to eat you alive in swarms. Farther south, the bugs get longer life cycles, and are often rather diligent when getting after their victims. Trust me, wear the bug spray. I actually like the Herbal Armor from All Terrain or even the “Natural Insect Repellent” from Repel. Both contain Geraniol, which is what I believe is the secret ingredient that keeps the bugs at bay. You do need to apply it every few hours because sweat will cause it to run off your skin, just like sunscreen. Both of these brands are DEET-free, which I recommend. DEET is a fairly frightening chemical. I avoid it at all costs. For the record, I know several people who have used Herbal Armor in Africa, and said it kept the bugs away even there—so I think you’re covered. Spray yourself before going on the trail, and then bring the bottle with you to reapply if you plan a hike for more than an hour or two.

Bring snacks. It gives you an excuse to sit down when you catch a nice view. So many of my favorite moments on trails has been sitting on a log or rock snacking on something while I looked out at a rushing stream, a stretch of mountains, or listened to birds calling across the forest. I love those peaceful moments of well-earned rest on the trail when I can put up my feet and refuel for the walk back. Enjoying a picnic can be even more satisfying, especially if you know a really beautiful spot on a trail you’ve already traveled. I can’t think of many more lovely ways to spend an afternoon. Many of the best meals I’ve ever had were on the trail, if for no other reason than food always tastes best when you’ve worked hard to carry it. I don’t know what it is, but the satisfaction of hauling a meal on your back is like none other. A word of caution, though: if you plan to bring a picnic, pack it in a bear can or Op bags. The bear can will ensure that animals cannot get your food, even if they try, and bears in some places of the country already know the scent of bear cans and will leave you alone. Op bags, if used correctly, can be bought at EMS (last I knew) and are military grade plastic to prevent odor from escaping. I tried these with my dogs, so I know they work. I put a raw steak in one of the bags and put it on the floor; my dogs walked right past it without any clue that a steak was sitting right under their noses. Believe me, if they knew the steak was on the floor, they would have eaten it. Really, you’re smart to carry any food in an Op bag if you can, just to be safe.

Once you have all these ducks in a row, now all you need to do is find a trail. All Trails is a fairly good app to use on your smart phone, though I have found that it doesn’t always show all trails near you. I know several trails near where I live now that don’t show up on the app. It does, however, have good maps and directions for hikes, as well as geeky stuff like elevation gain and difficulty level (which I totally love). I use the app in combination with Google searches for parks and hiking trails. If you’re not an experienced hiker, try a state park near you. Park rangers are full of knowledge about the trails in the parks, and they can give you great directions to pick a trail right for your level of ability. Usually I like a moderate to difficult level with a little elevation gain, but some people prefer a flatter walk in the woods. Whatever your level of interest, I guarantee you can find a surprising network of trails near where you live. Almost everywhere in the country is covered in trails, and you may not even realize they’re around you unless you go looking. I also like finding trails in books at the library, on websites set up by local trail conservationists, or even local hiking groups (which you can sometimes meet at the local library, just ask the librarians—they may know). Please remember to bring a trail map with you. Print one at home on paper, or make sure your phone is charged with the screen of the map still up when you leave to hike—once you get in the woods you may not have cell service. Keep that map saved on your phone as a screen shot. If you aren’t certain you know how to use trail markers or follow the directions on the map without getting lost, please bring a more experienced hiker with you until you learn the ropes. Getting lost in the woods is not what you want, so be prepared with either knowledge or help to stay safe.

With all these resources and tips, I hope you feel inspired to get out there and see beautiful things. If you lack in motivation, remind yourself that you need to live for today. We never know if we’ll have a tomorrow. Don’t wait for the perfect time. Just go and do it. Make a plan for the weekend or a day off from work, and just get everything together by the door. Have it all ready so you can just jump into your clothes and walk out the door into the bright morning sun. You’ll be so happy you took the time to appreciate what the earth created near you, and the sense of pride you’ll have when you realize how good you feel while you breathe all that oxygen from the trees. Nothing cures the blues like sunshine and fresh air, unless you combine it with endorphins from exercise. 🙂 Be good to your body and stretch before you leave, and if it’s been a long time since you hiked, plan a nice hot bath when you get home. Savor all of it, and remember to save the camera for just a few snaps here and there. Appreciate the time under the trees, at the top of the hill, or alongside the stream. Make the time, and you may discover that you want to make it happen more often.

For anyone interested in learning about backpacking (not to be confused with day hiking, which is what I describe above), I happen to have a course for beginners on my “Resources, Courses, and Short Stories” page. The course is titled “Take a Hike,” and is an email course delivered over several days. I set it up as a course offered by donation, so you can pay whatever you feel it’s worth to you. I go over gear, food, clothing, tents, sleeping apparatus, animal encounters, and much more. If it interests you, here is the link to the page so you can check it out for yourself. Do send me love letters, readers! I enjoy hearing about your experiences in the outdoors, and getting feedback about my content. My aim is to please.

 

 

 

Flying with the Falcon

Begin the New Year with More Than Resolutions

*Photo taken near Ely, NV. 

Social media is full of New Year’s resolutions right now, an infinite number of promises people will probably break in less than a week. Why are we so willing to give up on taking care of ourselves? The layers of suffering we inflict on our own bodies, minds, and spirits are incredibly heavy. In the last several months, I’ve been getting very serious about getting my mental and emotional house in order—even though I have actually been working at the problem for a long, long time. Like since I was a teenager. And I’m middle-aged now. Interestingly, something about traveling had a lot to do with it. Ever since Michael and I hopped into our truck and drove to Casey, Illinois to pick up our Airstream, my life has been drastically altered. Obviously, traveling across the country is going to change anyone’s life, but when we traveled, we stayed away from our hometown for a long time. Years. Throwing miles and miles in our rear-view mirror became so much more than just a fun adventure: it became an opportunity to realize the mirror would force me to see myself in stark relief, and the dark places in my head finally got yanked out into the bright Nevada sun.

I’ve made arguments on this blog on plenty of occasions that travel will benefit anyone who gets out there to see beautiful things in our wondrous world. What I don’t think I’ve explained very clearly is how the world changes you when you make yourself a part of it with fresh eyes. Staying rooted in one place your whole life isn’t a bad thing—lots of people happily live in the same town their whole lives—but if you want to really explore who you are and what you want out of life, the road will show you. Countless movies and books and songs and poems have been created to describe the experiences of people who went on life-changing road trips. It’s not just to give us all a sappy night out or a cutesie song to sing at school events; it’s to send out a message that the road will change you if you allow it, and if you don’t, it might just wreck you. When Michael and I first came out to New Hampshire for his first travel job, we loved it here. But our travel adventure had just begun, and we were itching to get out and see where else we could go. We never really intended to go across the country right away because we weren’t sure how much we would like the travel life, but then the jobs Michael found on the East Coast weren’t paying as well as those out West. It became necessary to follow the money, so we ended up in Ely, Nevada. Holy cow, was that strange.

Our first month of living in Ely came as a rude awakening. Both of us struggled with normal, everyday things like making the bed or walking up a slight incline because the altitude is 6,500 feet. When you’re coming from about 1,000 feet or less, that’s a lot of height to gain. We struggled with everything for a while because we weren’t used to the thinner air, and then it wasn’t very warm. Like many East Coasters, we had absolutely no idea that Nevada is the state with the most mountain ranges in the contiguous US (only ranked behind Alaska for the most peaks), nor did we realize that much of the West is high elevation and quite cold. Living in our Airstream in what amounted to winter right away was not easy, but we managed. We’re resourceful. What really made the trip to Ely hard, though, wasn’t the elevation or the weather, but the fact that the town was so isolated it took three and a half hours to get to the next town. The local grocery store was always out of things, even staple items like bread, milk, and eggs. Sometimes it would be a week, sometimes longer before shelves would be restocked. We only found one restaurant—a pizza joint—that had food either of us was willing to eat. In general, the town had little to offer in terms of entertainment, either. While we were there, I generally went out and explored the wild places near town. If nothing else, Ely had lots of hiking. It’s the only thing I miss, and surprisingly I miss those wild places now. They grew on me while I lived in that lonely, forgotten place.

After Ely, we next ended up in the Carson Valley near Lake Tahoe, very fortunately stationed just below the chain of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and every morning when we woke up we pinched ourselves over the view. Even in Ely I would pinch myself to see the mountains across the road from our RV park, and I studied the odd cloud formations that formed around the mountains, creating strange patterns of rainfall, wind, and visibility. While living in the Carson Valley, we were introduced to wildfires, even occasionally seeing them up close. It’s an eerie sight to see the hills glowing red at night while the fires burn through the brush on the mountainsides. Once a set of fires were started alongside the road near our RV park, and on each side of the park the fires were burning close to the gas station and propane tanks. The firefighters were hasty about getting those fires extinguished rapidly, and we were thankful. Meanwhile, Michael worked his hours at all these hospitals, and I worked hard on my writing, and after a while I got lonely. Even though I loved the road, loved the places we were exploring, and truly felt amazed by how much I began to feel a part of all these places, I realized I took for granted the relationships I had when we were rooted in one place. And yet, at the same time I began to change. I became more of who I always was meant to be.

Spending so much time away from where we had lived for so long really drove me to be more open and vibrant. Without expectations of the familiar people in our lives, it’s easier to just be who you want to be. No one is going to walk up to you and ask why you’re acting so strangely, because they have no idea what you used to be like. They only know you in that moment, and then you may never see those people again. It’s both delicious freedom and terrifying loneliness. And in that loneliness lies your lack of self-love, your willingness to accept less than you deserve, all the promises you ever broke to yourself, all the opportunities wasted. You both free yourself and have to face what you have allowed to happen over the years of your life. All the crud you allowed to be heaped upon your heart, it all rises to the surface. My poor, wonderful husband had to listen to me rant about the misery of my soul on many occasions over our time on the road, and he was mostly very patient. What I came to realize is that I had work I needed to do to clean house so I could start living the life I was meant to live, instead of the life everyone else expected of me.

Now that we’re sort of full circle and back in New Hampshire, it’s a good time to get my house in order. We have plans to build our tiny house in the woods as soon as we save enough to buy land. The plans for the house are hanging on the wall, a constant reminder of where we want to go. I’m meditating my brains out so I can clear my mental clutter. Recently I decided to go on a news diet so I could stop hearing constant negative streams of information, and instead I listen to either music or audio tracks of inspiring thought leaders like Tony Robbins, Jim Rohn, and a wonderful Instagram account called Her Namaste Life. I don’t always agree with everything they say, but they reinforce the positive thought processes that are instilling in me a new sense of purpose, a means for letting go of the past, living in the present, and enjoying my life instead of always wishing for the future to hurry up and get here. No matter how old you are, it’s never too late to start really living your life. What I love most about what I learned from the road is the fact that I fell in love with this country in a way I never expected, and now I feel as though Nevada mountains are as much a part of me as Western New York hills and New Hampshire forests. My heart grabbed onto those beautiful places, the endless miles of empty desert, the caves, the rock formations, the rivers, and especially all the animals we saw roaming through all of it. I loved every minute of looking out the window of our truck to take in the open spaces still left, smiling to see our Airstream coming along behind us. I am so ready to do it again. This time, I might even be ready to do it with my head on straight.

Listen, if you’re in a place in your life that allows for you to travel, don’t hesitate. Get out there and see the world. I think about how so many astronauts have come back from their trips to outer space and felt a new sense of awe and responsibility for the planet and all its peoples. Their hearts were ripped open by seeing the earth from space. When you get on the road and roam the countryside, travel to new places, have to contend with new situations and people, and you’re totally out of your comfort zone…it changes you. The air you breathe will smell different, the weather will surprise you, the plant life will make you wonder, and you’ll be uncomfortable in the best possible way. Nothing will be the same after you step onto the dirt of a new place. It gets under your skin and becomes a part of you. Because it’s part of you, your heart will want to take better care of it. While you stay rooted, we forget to look at the beauty of where we live. We forget to see the things we see every day, but even if you’re good about paying attention, the familiar allows us to take things for granted. Getting out into the world once in a while can give you a sense of both how big and small the world is, and how very important it is to treat it with love. Step gently in the desert to avoid killing the biomes in the sand. Keep hands off the ancient trees so they might stay healthy and live another thousand years. Only slip your canoes and kayaks into the clear lakes so they can be free of the oil and gas of motors. Pack out your trash in the woods. These little loving gestures make such a huge impact to save the wild places of our world, and if you see these places, you won’t want to spoil them. They become part of you, and you are part of them. We are one. We give and take. Oxygen and carbon dioxide. Water and air. Rain and soil. Ocean and land. Humans and plants. We rely on each other, and it becomes so clear when it’s you and a ribbon of road that leads into distant mountains capped with snow.

Instead of a new year’s resolution, maybe try new things, or maybe jump into a love affair with finding out who you really are. Forget the gym membership and that stupid diet. Eat your vegetables, drink your water, and go for the road trip. You only live once, and you never know when your time will end. The world is here for you. Really, it’s all for you. Go enjoy it.

Flying with the Falcon

Tradition!

*photo taken last year at the Wynn in Las Vegas, a holiday display in the lobby.

Hello, wonderful readers. I hope you have either survived or thoroughly enjoyed your holiday festivities to date, and have plans to find fun before you must return to the grind of daily routine again. Yesterday was Christmas, and I spent it—gloriously—alone. I watched movies, read books, ate pizza and ice cream, and generally goofed off all day. No one expected me to be excited about getting presents I don’t want, nor did I have to navigate a harrowing family affair. Those days of my past are long over, thankfully, and I am quite content to have spent the holiday petting the cat I am caring for until the owners return from their vacation. When I mentioned at the school last week that I would be alone for the holiday, one of the other teachers felt bad for me, but I quickly informed her that I was very happy to have the day to myself. Being alone on a holiday doesn’t have to be miserable or sad. Last night I took the dogs out in the yard, and the moon had just risen. The sky was still mostly dark and filled with stars, but a strange cloud formation gathered at the edges of the dome of the heavens to frame Orion overhead perfectly. Clouds surrounded the constellation in an eerie silver glow of moonlit wisps that resembled Northern Lights. I stood in wonder for a few minutes, just marveling at the sight. Later the moon rose higher and lit up the woods again, bright enough to see into the trees down the hill. It filled me in a way no holiday gathering ever did.

After years of giving to others on every holiday, I decided that being alone on certain holidays is not a bad thing. I used to slave over the stove cooking enormous amounts of food for gatherings, baked dozens of cookies, wrapped hundreds of gifts, traveled hundreds of miles, spent time with people who didn’t really like me, ate food I didn’t enjoy, and often felt sorry for my poor exhausted children when they were young. Some people are fortunate and have wonderful families who laugh and play games and enjoy each other’s company. Some people struggle to get through the day with dysfunctional people who trigger troubling past memories. Either way, the holiday traditions do not require you to honor them as they are. Traditions are not written in stone. You are not bound by law to go to gatherings you hate. If you feel sick at the thought of going to spend yet another Christmas with your in-laws, your own extended family, or anyone else, why do it? And who says you have to go? What’s the worst that could happen if you simply say no? Would your family hate you forever? If they did, would that be terrible? I know that may sound harsh, but I cut a lot of ties with people who brought me down because I no longer wanted to waste my energy trying to get along with people who clearly detested me. Family does not mean I have to put up with abusive, hateful, cruel, or dysfunctional behavior.

While we still lived in Olean, I gave up worrying about doing anything on Christmas once I split with my ex. My kids spent Christmas with their father, which left me free. For a while I felt sorry for myself because I missed my kids, but despite missing my kids, I felt immediate relief that I didn’t have to go anywhere. I didn’t have to pretend to be happy when what I really wanted was to escape the loud parties, the endless Christmas music, and the atmosphere of constant activity. Some people love the boisterous excitement of being in large families, but I don’t. I like quiet. Rarely do I enjoy a large party where I have to mingle with people—only when I get to have meaningful, interesting conversations do I actually want to engage. Small talk is not my thing. Put me in a room of people who want to talk about books, science, writing, social justice, equality, or any number of other interesting topics, and I could stay all day. But this is a thing I had to learn about myself after years of suffering through conversations that sucked my soul. We don’t have to suffer, not even for our mothers. We can say no to holiday traditions if we want, and even if your family gets angry about it, maybe one day they will realize they don’t like the traditions, either. Maybe in a few years everyone will decide to do a getaway holiday in the Caribbean, you’ll ditch giving each other useless gifts no one needs, and instead enjoy a trip that restores your spirit.

Then again, maybe you enjoy your holiday tradition. If you are one of those people, more power to you. It’s wonderful to meet people who are self-actualized enough to be doing what they already love, and embracing a holiday with joy. Such people are like unicorns to me. I think most of us have to create new traditions for ourselves in order to enjoy holidays, but whatever makes you happy is what should drive the vehicle of where you spend your time. Often I believe we get locked into doing things because we believe it will make others happy. Over the years I have learned that making other people happy doesn’t really work. If I am going to an event to make someone else happy, but I feel miserable about it, then my entire time spent at that event will be energy wasted on pretending to feel good, faking smiles, and watching the time until I can escape. Even if a person who wanted me to attend accepts my faked enjoyment, my lack of authenticity won’t really make that person happy. Pretending doesn’t make anyone happy. Only when we express true joy, and are sincerely excited to be somewhere does anyone in our company benefit from our attendance. Being joyful is contagious, and the more your time is spent fulfilling that joy, the more people will sense it and feel it, too. Likewise, even if people refuse to see how unhappy you are at a gathering, they are only denying what is obvious—that you don’t want to be there.

People often avoid change because they are fearful of what might happen. What if the holiday dinner we’ve been having for 30 years stops? We might never see our family for the holidays again! Everything will be different, and we won’t be able to sit around the table with all the grandchildren while we pretend that Santa is coming later. No one will be there for the Christmas ham, or eggnog around the tree! We won’t sing carols by the fire! Who will fill the stockings? Who will hang the lights? If you love all that stuff, go for it. Go crazy with lights and mistletoe. No one’s stopping you, but don’t do it for someone else. Do it because you love it, and because it makes you happy. But if you hate it, ask yourself what you’re getting out of doing it. Tradition? Shall we talk about where all these traditions came from? Many Christmas traditions originated in Pagan celebrations of the solstice. No one can actually pinpoint the date of the birth of Jesus; December 25th was appropriated by the Romans (according to some sources, but I encourage you to dig for yourself) as a former holiday to celebrate the return of the light. They used to give gifts and decorate their homes like we still do today. Lights were a popular part of the décor, honoring the sun’s return. Go read up on all the origins of our “traditional” Christmas decorations, and you might be surprised about why they got started. Then again, most people know a lot of things like trees, wreaths, holly, and lights are Pagan in origin. My point is mostly to suggest that maybe we attach too much emotion to worrying about honoring tradition, especially if we don’t even know why we do it. If your purpose is to honor and spend time with the family you love, that’s the best kind of tradition. If you spend the holiday feeling like you’re in a straight jacket, it might be time to find a different way to celebrate.

We live in a new economy now with the advent (pun totally intended) of the internet. With Amazon bringing every last whim to your doorstep, we don’t even need to leave the house to go shopping anymore. I know a lot of people who are limiting their holiday spending to avoid too much expenditure at the holidays, are choosing names in large families instead of spending on everyone, or are forgoing purchasing presents in lieu of handmade goodies. Now that everyone can buy whatever they want for so much less, giving at this time of year seems unnecessary to me. Donating to a person’s favorite charity has become popular, along with naming celestial bodies after someone you love, buying a brick for a foundation, or just buying lottery tickets. Whether we like it or not, times are changing. Traditions change with the times, and that’s okay. We get to keep what we like and ditch what we don’t. Honestly, I believe that when we take care of ourselves, follow our hearts, and follow happiness and joy, we are led to a better world. When we stop torturing ourselves for the sake of others, we do the world a favor. Give your best to the people you love, instead of your fake smile while you suffer through another year of traditions. Today I feel rejuvenated because I spent the day in solitude and reflection. I still baked cookies and sent out gifts to those I love, and I sent out messages to the people I miss. Before you spend one more day doing for others, ask yourself serious questions about what you’ve done for yourself lately.

Let me leave you with this thought: just like a paycheck, you should always pay yourself first. When you earn that money for which you traded your precious time, the first portion should always go to your savings. Pay yourself first. Whatever is left, then you pay your bills, buy your groceries, fill the gas tank—you’ll make do with whatever amount remains. Do the same with your time. Before giving time to others, give to yourself. The first part of every day should belong to you and your betterment. If you take those few minutes to yourself every day, and truly use it to reflect on what you plan to do, you will waste less time and energy on what steals your joy. If you can also end your day reflecting on your intentions and whether or not you honored them, imagine the change and the growth. Moments a day is all it takes. Traditions melt away in the face of truth, and we keep only what we love. If you’re interested, I plan to start a weekly reflection on Instagram every Sunday. I haven’t decided if I plan to worry about a time when I’ll post my videos to my channel, but Sunday is the day I’ll post, starting after the New Year. The reflections will be writing prompts designed to get participants thinking about intentions, becoming more self-aware, and investigating what brings us joy. I’ll be doing them, too, so it will be a communal effort. You can find my Instagram in the sidebar to the right of this post, and if you follow me you can join. All are welcome, and I plan to include at least one post a week on Instagram where you can share your progress if you want.

My beauties, I am so happy you came here today. Thank you for taking the time to sit with me, read my thoughts, and honor my message with your visit. I think of all of you out there in the world, and I wish you love, joy, peace, and laughter. While I work on myself, I will keep sharing because I want to give back what I learn. If it helps you, I’m glad. That’s why I share. Now I need to get outside in the sunshine with my dogs. How will you fill your spirit today? Go out there and get after it. Don’t wait. Now is the time.

Flying with the Falcon

An Abundance of Moonlight

*Photo taken at Sprague’s Maple Farm in Portville, NY. I know, it isn’t a picture of a moon–my camera takes lousy photos of the moon, so this is the best I’ve got. :/ At least the photo is festive, right?

After a long day at the school on Tuesday, I had to go shopping and get gas, which meant that by the time I got home it was dark. Typically I walk my dogs almost as soon as I get home from work because I prefer walking them during the day. Our road isn’t lit at night, and some parts of the road are narrow and difficult to find a safe place to stand when cars need to pass. It makes for treacherous walking at night, though most people who drive the dirt roads here seem to be watchful of their neighbors. A lot of people have dogs to walk here. In any case, I pulled onto the road which takes me up the hill to our rental home in the woods, and just as I turned around the first big bend, the moonlight blasted me in the eyes. My face lit up like a Christmas tree, because the clear sky, the snow, and the moon waxing toward a three-quarter fullness all meant I could walk the dogs without a flashlight. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know how much I love walking by moonlight. It’s not a thing you have to worry about if you live in a town or city, but when you live in the woods, walking by moonlight is enchanting.

When I got the groceries unloaded, I immediately encouraged the dogs out with me (though it didn’t take much more than me saying the word “walk”). Off we went up the hill, the tough slog up a couple of inclines and little valleys that bring out the burn in your legs. Mostly, I chose that direction because the moonlight shone so brightly on that part of the road. I was simply drawn to it like a moth to a flame. Wind blew in the trees, still dragging in the cold Arctic air which kept us inside at school instead of going out to the playground. A constant whooshing of the wind combined with trees groaning in the cold, but the light was about as bright as a distant floodlight shining into a yard, except it was the moon shining across the whole woods. All the snow lit up silvery-blue, and as we walked up the hill, golden lights from houses tucked deep into the woods peeked out from between the bare trees. Despite the moon being so bright, a few stars still managed to compete for their place in the night sky. I happily spotted Mars, still such a bright orange orb it almost looked like it wasn’t real. Usually I can spot Orion this time of year, but he either hadn’t risen yet, or the moon blotted out the recognizable stars. I’m not enough of a sky observer to know; I just like looking up and enjoying the view.

We must have walked between twenty and thirty minutes in the brisk night without a flashlight. Perhaps there are people who think this is crazy, that it’s dangerous because I might run into animals or get hit by a car. I had a flashlight to turn on in case a car came, and I had my two dogs with me in case of animals. Even a bear would probably hesitate to bother me with my two dogs by my side. I can imagine why some people might be afraid to walk in the woods at night, because I think about diving deep into the ocean with nothing but a wet suit and a tank of air and my belly gets squishy with fear. The ocean is not my bag, but get me out in the woods and I feel alive. Some people live for the ocean. Maybe some of those people imagine going into the woods at night and their bellies get squishy. We all have things we love, and fear is part of life. If it really matters to me, maybe one day I’ll challenge myself to go snorkeling or take a trip across the ocean. Or maybe not. If I find a good enough reason, I’ll try almost anything at least once.

By the time I neared the house to get inside to cook dinner, a smile had plastered itself to my face. I felt so refreshed by the magic of my walk in the woods under the stars, I can’t imagine anything that could have made me happier. On Monday, I went to meditation and our Sanga leader shared with us a lovely idea about shifting the way we think about new year’s resolutions. Instead of making a resolution, he suggested we consider making an intention. With intentions, we don’t feel quite the same pressure to uphold a promise, and the mind recognizes it as a more relaxed kind of state. We might be more likely to keep up with an intention, he said, so as I sat and listened to his ideas about intentions, I realized a perfect intention for me was to notice abundance. I have a nasty tendency to notice scarcity, as so many of us tend to do when we take things for granted, and I felt immediately the shift in my own mind when I imagined how beneficial such an intention could be for me. Since then, I have had moments where I swim up from my unconsciously busy thoughts and realize I have a chance to notice abundance. Yesterday as I drove my car up the highway, I realized what an abundance of freedom I have with my car, and to even have a car was a load of abundance. As I cooked my dinner today, I realized what abundance it was to be able to eat such wonderful, healthy food, and that I didn’t need to check my bank account before I went to the store to buy it—I just went and paid for it. Once upon a time, not in the too-distant past, I would have had to count my pennies to scrounge for a meal like the one I ate for dinner.

Noticing abundance will hopefully open my eyes to all the good things in my life, and to be grateful for them. I could just try to practice gratitude, but I’ve tried making lists and didn’t stick to it. I think instead I needed to find something a little deeper and more true to what I need to balance in my own life. After enough experiences with scarcity, it can be scary to let go of the feeling that at any time scarcity could return. But I don’t live in scarcity right now, even if I may have to do it one day again. I’ve survived some fairly rough times. I think it’s okay to let go of the survival mindset for now; those skills are still there if I ever need them again. Either way, even in times of scarcity we can find abundance, and I’m glad for the idea to try a new year’s intention. And why bother waiting? I decided to start as soon as I left meditation.