Flying with the Falcon

Flying with the Falcon

Trees I Leave Behind Me, Trees Ahead

*Photo taken in Nelson, NH.

I’m posting a little later than I normally like, but going back to working with young children again is taking the strap out of my molasses. Also, I lost track of what day it is. Oops. The leaves are beginning to change. Fall promises to bring a welcome relief from sweaty, hot summer days with the light waning toward the equinox this week. Now that I drive from the woods to town for work every day, I get to watch the daily transition from green to bright yellow in the trees, with the occasional splash of red sumac or brush beneath the forest canopy. The hills around Keene provide a captivating backdrop for the color transfer, and I hope to find the energy for baking pies soon. This time of year holds all of my favorite aspects of living in the North, with pumpkins, mums, apples, winter squash, cider, and leaping into piles of raked leaves. My brother and I used to keep ourselves busy for hours when we raked leaves as kids. We loved heaping the leaves as high as we could, and then hopping into the pile over and over. Of course, we also often did other things like raking the leaves into mazes in the grass, wading through them like we would with snow, and eventually climbing atop the pile to lie in them when we finally got tired. Our yard in one of our childhood homes in the country was rather large, and we got used to having giant stacks of leaves in which to play. When we moved to Olean when I was in high school, the yard seemed like a postage stamp, and the leaves were nowhere near as plentiful. Raking then became a chore instead of fun, and neither of us enjoyed it much at that point.

Such is the way of life. We have times when life is a grind, and then other times when it can feel almost effortless and free. Over the summer, when Michael and I went to an amusement park with our families, it seemed so free and easy. Then we returned to the grind of working on our house and falling into bed every night completely spent. When we arrived in New Hampshire I had an idealistic hope that life here would somehow be easier, less grinding, but it’s still proving to be exhausting. Right now, though, I can look up at the view outside my window and see nothing but trees, hear nothing but sounds of the woods, and live by the light of what nature provides. It’s fascinating to me that when I come to the woods, my body acclimates to the sun and moon so readily. When the sun sets, I am tired within a couple of hours, and when it rises again, the light draws my eyelids open like shades on a window. A few nights ago, the moonlight cast its silvery-blue glow and provided the gentlest nightlight when I needed to use the bathroom during the night. And for several nights last week we had a few owls hooting in the woods, once in the trees right outside our door. I geek out on that kind of thing. Weirdly, I get excited when I get to hear or see wildlife so close, and I sort of think of animals and trees and plants as friends I look forward to seeing.

Back in Olean, I had certain walks I would take to restore myself, and one of those walks took me along the Allegany River. Ever since I first lived in Olean I loved walking there because it was fairly peaceful and quiet, and a track along the top of the dike allowed for a nice, easy walk. At one point along the river where the dike curves away from the river’s edge, a spit of forest grows along the riverbed—the place where there is now a paved trail which crosses over the dike and into the woods. In a triangular-shaped grassy bed at the forest’s edge stands a large, gnarled oak. Its girth is large enough that probably two adults could wrap their arms around it and not touch. As a teen I loved that tree, and every time I passed it I felt a warmth for its presence there. Sometimes I would sit under it and enjoy the shade. It was a nice spot to sit and think. For more than 30 years I have walked past that tree and been so happy to see it standing there in all its mossy, twisted majesty, and I hope to be able to return to see that tree still there for the rest of my days. That may not be possible, since the last few years have been hard on that old oak, and it’s showing signs of waning in its life. My fondness for that tree runs deep, and I worry for it like I might worry about a sick friend.

Going back even further in time, when my parents finally sold the home where my brother and I so enjoyed raking leaves, shortly after that the house was renovated into apartments, and then the yard was bulldozed, much to my horror. I will never forget the first time we drove past the house where I used to pick berries from a massive raspberry patch behind the barn, climbed a pine tree taller than our house, ate vegetables straight from our garden, and picked flowers from the many beds which bloomed over the seasons; it was devastating. That yard with all its many flora was a place of wonder for me as a kid, and I had grown attached to all the trees and plants which I could recognize: a dogwood which bloomed white and fragile over the courtyard next to the house, tiger lilies nestled into a stacked stone dividing wall in a section of the back yard, a jack-in-the-pulpit which popped up its head from a patch of ivy surrounding a lone birch tree, and our raggedy apple tree in the “very back yard” (as we called it) where my father attempted to build me a treehouse. Having all of that beauty lost made me terribly disappointed. All those lives I came to love as a child—gone. I was similarly upset when a tree in front of one of my homes in Savannah, GA was cut down. The tree once masked the balcony porch outside my room, and I loved the way the light filtered green into the windows. After that ugly incident, I felt like the subway might as well have been taped off like a murder scene. Is it strange that I feel such kinship to the plants and animals? I used to look forward to catching glimpses of a pair of mallards, a rabbit, a pair of finches, and a few red-winged blackbirds along one of my walks in Olean, too. They felt like little acquaintances I had made on my walks, like neighbors.

Right now, the sun is slipping toward the horizon, and its orange glow peeks through the leaves which are just starting to turn. The weather felt cooler today, and the woods is almost ready to take on the scent of falling leaves, that crisp, woody, mouldering aroma only fall delivers. Soon enough, we’ll catch the scent of winter in the air, too, but not yet. For now, we get to enjoy a slipstream of light jackets; bright, flame-like vistas rolling past our car windows; and the return of baking comfort food in the oven again. I may be exhausted from the grind of work and settling in a new state, but the woods cradle me to sleep every night in a magical whispering of birches and pines and oaks and maples all talking to each other in the wind. As soon as we get a clear night when the moon shines near full, I plan to take Michael and the dogs for a moonlit stroll under the trees. If you’ve never done so, I recommend it. When the moon is full or even a few days away from full, the light is bright enough to walk without a flashlight. Seeing the shadows of leaves on the road by moonlight is a treat. My lovelies, do yourself a favor and make a romantic evening of a walk by moonlight in the woods. To heck with the beach. Listen for the owls instead. Next week, I hope I have had time to explore the woods and share some fun from a trail. Be still my heart. Wouldn’t that be nice? Until then, my dears. Be wonderful, be loving, be true to who you are, and think kind thoughts to the trees for me.

Flying with the Falcon

Galloping Forward, Possibly Headless

*Photo taken in the woods of New Hampshire, overlooking the rolling hills.

I have missed living in the woods. It is so very wonderful to be here again, and I am so glad we finally made it to New Hampshire. Our first couple of weeks in the Keene area are keeping Michael and I busy while we work on switching ourselves over from New York to New Hampshire. It’s a lot of work to change states, because it means changing your driver’s license, registration, insurance, employment, mailing address…you get the picture. I will have to register to vote, and do my research on candidates. A whole slew of homework came with my new job at the school, much of which I have to do in the first 60-90 days, and most of which is online course work. Yikes. Meanwhile, we still have work to finish at our Olean house, and this weekend we will have to return there to continue moving things we need with us, but didn’t have room on our previous trip. Can I just say here that I feel like I need a rubber room? Does anyone have a straight jacket I can borrow? My stress level is getting a little out of control.

Aside from getting settled in our digs, I am still trying to keep at my writing goals (and sometimes failing, which kills me). My heart has been telling me pretty much my whole life that I am a writer. The problem is that I still haven’t found the secret sauce for living on it yet. While that isn’t the end of the world, it does make me sad that I have to misdirect myself with pesky things like getting a job to have an income, and then take away from what I would much rather be doing: holing up in a room alone with my writing. Instead, I have been plundering my brain for my Montessori training of 30 years ago and spending my first week at a local school as a teacher’s assistant. It’s good to be in Montessori again, though I have to admit I’m really exhausted. Toddlers are a tough age for me, even though they can also be adorable and sweet. I do love their purity of motive and id-like discussions, since they usually just tell you the truth and rarely hold back asking about anything. It’s refreshing to be around such honesty, but it’s also challenging to try to manage some of the difficult behaviors. Over time, hopefully that will improve. We just started the school year, so we have a lot of learning ahead to help us all blend better. If it doesn’t, I might just keel over suddenly. Even though I take great care of myself and don’t really feel my age, I’m not 20 anymore. Getting up and down from the floor for six hours a day without a break is taking a bite out of me.

When I’m not running errands, filling out paperwork, or struggling to keep up with toddlers, I make time to walk my dogs. Though Michael does come with me when he can, I am usually the one with the serious walking schedule. Firstly, I HAVE to get outside every day. It’s a nearly religious ritual for me. All my life I’ve been an outdoor girl, and that is never going to change. My walk time is something I have to do for myself, and now that we’re back in the woods, I find myself absolutely delighted to walk this lovely, quiet dirt road again. The view from the top of the hill where we live is glorious. Birch trees, pines, oaks, maples—endless trees of the forest line the road, and now that fall is beginning, all the fields are turning yellow with goldenrod and purple from the asters. This road is where Michael and I lived when we first came to New Hampshire and fell in love with this state, and it feels fitting that this is where we are camped until we find a place to buy. This road almost feels like home, and I love the familiarity of the curves, the lichen-studded rock walls marking property lines, the boggy pond, and the farm at the top of the hill. Even if we move elsewhere, I think I will always enjoy walking up this road, and will probably come back here just to enjoy it when I can.

The trees are just now showing a tinge of yellow here, too, and I am beside myself with glee that this year Keene is bringing back its pumpkin festival. Fall is my favorite time of year, and I am over the moon to be able to enjoy it in New Hampshire. I have plans to go for a nice, long drive to see the gorgeous foliage when the peak hits, but I also plan to explore the fun of my favorite season. The pumpkin festival of Keene was once the largest display of jack-o-lanterns of all time (according to Wikipedia), but a few years ago a riot caused the town to stop having the festival all together. I don’t know what convinced the town to try again, but I am stupidly happy that I get to go see all the carved pumpkins. I might even carve one myself if I’m allowed. Now that the summer is waning, I am thinking about apple and pumpkin pies, Halloween, cider, haunted hay rides, and all the other wonders of autumn. When we lived in Olean, we went on a haunted hay ride, but it was only mildly scary. Maybe there’s a better one around here.

Last time we lived in Keene, we took a trip to Salem (yes, that Salem) because Michael was intrigued. Though it was interesting to learn about the history on a guided tour we took (there are several companies that run tours in October, and maybe even longer), I felt the rest of the carnival-like atmosphere wasn’t really my cup of tea. It was interesting to see Nathaniel Hawthorne’s home there, but I was largely underwhelmed. If you have a hankering to go, by all means, experience the town in October. Be warned: crowds are massive, parking is difficult, and tours are packed. Plan ahead, darlings. I actually might be more interested to try going at a different time of year, when it’s not near Halloween. Maybe exploring would be more fun without so many people plugging up the streets. In any case, I think I plan to seek out a good bunch of festivals and activities so I can fully enjoy my first official fall as a New Hampshire resident. It seems like the right thing to do.

Much as I would love to rattle on about all the many things I love about being here right now, my brain is fried. Are toddlers actually zombies in disguise? I think they might have eaten my brain—they had ample opportunity today while I was discombobulated by their silly antics. Still, there are those moments when the heart clutches, like when I asked one child to help another because one child was having a tough time, and without hesitation the help is given so sweetly and gently…such moments are priceless. Tears well up in my eyes once in a while when the little ones take care of each other. No matter what most adults think about the capabilities of young children, think again. They are blossoming with galaxies of compassion and kindness, even if in the next moment they are consumed with a tantrum. To see the meticulous care of those tiny fingers carrying a cut glass vessel of water without spilling a drop, or to watch them use a pair of tweezers to place tiny beads into small cups is a pleasure to behold. Even if they exhaust me, I learn multitudes from the littlest people. They are genuine when they like you, and they will not hold back when they don’t. Nothing but authenticity will do. Such clarity is a treasure, and I hope I can hold it together to do my work well. My body tells me it is time for rest, and so I hope next week will offer up more opportunity to explore. This weekend promises to be another lesson in brutality, since we must go back to Olean to carry more boxes, fix more things, and drive seven hours one way. No rest for the weary, but sometimes dreams take sacrifice. We’re keeping our eyes on the prize. Get out there, my friends, and enjoy the wealth of autumn where you live. Or perhaps help a person who must survive yet another monster storm. We’ll need to be all hands on deck in the next few years, methinks. Let’s take care of each other, shall we?

Flying with the Falcon

Bright Beginnings

*Photo from our room at the lodge in the woods with my birthday flowers gracing the space. 

After a long, hard month of constant work, finally my husband and I are rewarded with a small respite in the woods of New Hampshire. It’s been two years, nearly to the day, since we began our travel life in Keene. Both Michael and I fell in love with the region around Mount Monadnock for so many reasons, not the least of which was the woods; being here still feels like a dream or a vacation. When you dream about doing something for a long, long time, it can take a while to believe you’re actually doing it. We took a lot of time to deliberate the decision to come here to make ourselves a home base, a safe little cove in the woods where we hope to be able to enjoy the splendor of the outdoors for the rest of our lives. Our eventual goal is to build a tiny cabin in the woods, along with another cabin or two for guests, and to have plenty of acreage to preserve against development. We want to make as little impact on the woods as possible, to be able to enjoy it and hand it off to future generations of our family to enjoy, too. That’s the goal, eventually. For now, we are renting a pair of rooms in a lodge, the same place we rented when we first came to Keene, and we are searching for property to buy. Meanwhile, we still have lots to do.

Last week my birthday came and went with only a quick dinner at a local ice cream stand in Olean (Twist ‘n’ Shake on Constitution Ave. is my favorite spot) in the midst of a flurry of packing what we would need to take to New Hampshire the next day. Michael still worked on a few finishing flourishes around the house while I ran from room to room digging through the many boxes containing what’s left of our worldly possessions. It amazes me how much stuff we still own, despite selling the majority of our furniture and giving away so much of the unneeded clothing and household junk. We’ve had a lot to sort and shuffle from place to place, and we will have to do it again when we find a home to buy. Though I think a lot of people are stressed by such circumstances, I honestly feel excited about where we’re headed with our lives. It’s a lot of work, sure, but I get to wake up every day now to the sound of trees and birds, the fresh air, and the green. Even if this place isn’t mine, I have a screened porch where I can sit and enjoy the quiet anytime I want. What could be better? I actually enjoy the fun of exploring new homes, too, so as we get to imagine the possibilities for where we plan to live, we get to tour lots of places with a real estate agent. I love it.

Since our arrival in New Hampshire only a few days ago, it’s been a whirlwind of activity. We did take a day off from work to give ourselves time to recoup from all the hard work, but we had to unload our supplies and find a place for everything in the lodge, and then I had a job interview while Michael squared away paperwork for his new job at the hospital. Since he’s taking a big pay cut to have a regular position at the hospital (travel pay is quite a bit better), I am taking a job at a local Montessori school as a teacher’s assistant to help make up the difference in income. It won’t cover all the loss, but it helps, and I’m excited to be around little ones again. Young children help us remember what’s important in life, and remind us of the delight of exploration and the wonder of discovery. I’ve missed that energy lately, and I began my education career at a Montessori school in Olean nearly 30 years ago. Working at that school gave me the foundation of so much positive influence for parenting and teaching later, and I am thrilled to begin serving as an educator in that environment once again. It makes me smile to think about getting civilized about school again, and look forward to the positive influence of the orderly, creative, and intelligent design of Maria Montessori’s legacy in my life. Years and years ago I discovered that Maria Montessori’s birthday is the same as mine, one hundred years to the day. She was an incredibly ambitious woman who revolutionized education so much that even decades after she developed her scientifically-proven method, it still seems progressive to most of the education world in the US. Working in public schools squashed my spirit, especially after being in the calm, nurturing classrooms of a well-run Montessori school. And now I shall return to my education roots. It feels right.

Though we still have plenty to do to settle ourselves in the Keene area, we also still have plenty to do in Olean. It weighs heavily on Michael, because he is the one who really has to do the hardest work on the house. We still have siding to finish, a big job which will require help, and we’ll need to do it in what little time we have on weekends. It’s not going to be easy. Plus, we still have the Airstream sitting patiently, waiting for us to come to its rescue while it sits forlorn in a friend’s yard. The innards having been removed may make it impossible for us to use it as a means to transport the remainder of our belongings, since we aren’t actually sure how roadworthy an Airstream is without the structure of walls on the interior. If anyone knows, we’d love to have you comment below. We don’t want to compromise the Airstream’s integrity with too much weight inside it, especially since we have to travel over the Green Mountains of Vermont to get here. Hopefully when we buy a house here we’ll have a driveway or spot in a yard where we can park it. We still want to rebuild the interior so we can travel with it again. Baby steps. The Aluminum Falcon will be reborn one day, better than ever, a phoenix from the debris of demo.

Now that we are living in New Hampshire, I will be grateful to have more time to dedicate to my writing again. It’s been such a grind every day with the Olean house that I haven’t had much time to write. After years of building my writing up to the point of publishing and daily goals, it felt awful to give up so much time to reno work. I hated it. Though I needed a little break for a week or so to get back some creative flow, after a month it almost felt as though I was crushing my creative energy under the exhaustion of so much physical exertion. I’m so glad to finally be away from that house and getting back to a routine of what I really need to be doing. Writing is what I do, it’s when I feel most myself; without it I am a rudderless boat in a fast-running current. Don’t get me wrong—I didn’t give up writing entirely, but a lot of writing I would have been doing needed to wait until the reno work was done. What I discovered in the process, however, was that I need to have more work balance so I can stay true to my writing goals, even when we later have to build our cabin in the woods. I dropped the ball on a lot of projects I had started, including the publish date of my sequel, and my August newsletter to my email list. These are bad things to let go, and I have already decided never to do that again, not for any reason. When you work for yourself, it can seem to others as if it’s okay to do other things, especially if your work is still not putting out big financial returns. Mostly I’m good at ignoring what others think I should be doing, but I allowed the reno work to consume me for the last month. Never again. Mistakes are how we learn, and so I shall move forward with knowledge and experience.

So, while I stare out the window at the trees as they wave in the wind, and I continue to enjoy the flowers my hubby got me for my birthday, I think about what’s next. Day by day we inch forward into the life we want to build. We are finally living where we want to be, we have jobs secured, we are in the woods for the moment. While we consider homes to buy and time for finishing the Olean house, we also must still sally forth with the mundane tasks of cooking meals, shopping, walking the dogs, and cleaning. Balance is a fine line, a tight rope of stability where you have to focus on every step carefully, rather than thinking about the height. It’s hard to stay in the moment, but it’s worth the attempt. Living in the now means enjoying the taste of your food, breathing deeply, being grateful for what you have around you right here and now. Though Michael and I feel relieved and happy to be in New Hampshire—and it does matter where you live—I still believe that mindset is the biggest asset in any situation. No matter what is happening around you, if you can center yourself with goals, be present, find even a small tidbit of gratitude, and see the good…all things are possible. All things. Begin by finding your strengths, and build on them. Find your worth in what you’ve survived, and be the good. When we look for ways to help, look for the moments to be of service to others, to contribute in even the smallest of ways, beauty arrives at your doorstep. I stand at the threshold of possibility now, just as I did two years ago, and again 30 years ago. The cycle of what we learn returns in many ways if we pay attention, and none of our mistakes are wasted. We carry them with us as unpolished stones until we decide to take them out and notice them again. Life is a river full of stones. Ride the current without a rudder, or stick your hand in the water to find out what’s beneath the surface—the choice is yours.

Flying with the Falcon

The End Is Nigh, and We Begin Again

*Photo of the tile mosaic I created for the foyer to our Olean home.

By this time next week, Michael and I will be in New Hampshire. It’s exciting to be in the final last days of renovations on our Olean house, though it’s been a horrible grind to get all the work done. Despite the fact that Michael had already done so much work prior to this summer, we still had a lot to finish. Trim work is a beast, and even though a lot of it was done already it became apparent how much still needed to be done when it came time to complete it ALL. On top of the trim (which Michael is making himself, very painstaking and detailed), we also have to paint EVERYTHING. If you’ve ever painted the interior of an entire house, you know our pain. It’s just the two of us doing all the work alone, so it’s slow, grueling, and both of us crawl to the bed each night groaning with aches in our necks, hands, and backs. I’ve been employing liberal use of pain relief meds and creams to get through this month. Michael also created a last bit of concrete countertop for the kitchen, a step for the back patio, finished out closets with drywall, and cut thresholds for several doorways. Months ago, I created a tile mosaic for the foyer, and that came with its own set of problems to be solved. Now, however, we’ve been enjoying it for the short time we have left in the house. In my mind, I hope it will be a deciding factor for someone who walks into the home and, upon seeing it, will have to buy it.

As we continue the endless bits and pieces of reno around the interior, we also have work on the yard (like digging up a garden, trying to clean up all the yard waste, trimming trees, and pulling weeds). The one really big thing left, though, is the siding. Years ago Michael started the siding, got about half-way done with it, and then he had to stop either because he ran out of time and money, or he went to the hospital—he can’t remember which. One of those things stopped the work, and so it sat waiting while he went back to school for nursing, had to start working right out of school, and then subsequently had no time or energy for construction work. We expect to have to wait until we start our new jobs in New Hampshire before we can come back to Olean and finish the siding, which we hope we can complete in a couple of weekends. We’ll see what happens. No home improvement ever gets done in a timely fashion; usually these jobs are double what you expect to spend in both time and money.

The hardest part of all the last-minute balls-to-the-wall work is the fact that I really want to see people before we leave town. I have a lot of friends I want to see, and so little time to do it. I did get to have a last supper of sorts with my family over the weekend, and they threw me a little surprise birthday party. They made me cake and gave me gifts, and then we played a round of “Dictionary,” a game in which a person chooses a word from the dictionary, and we all make up definitions. It usually results in a lot of hilarity. Though dinners like this will not be so frequent anymore, we will only be a day’s travel away. We can always come back to Olean when we have a free weekend, or we can have people come visit us. A lot of people would probably think of a seven-hour drive as long and tedious, but after traveling across the country and living in Nevada (where several hours of travel between cities or towns was absolutely normal), seven hours seems like nothing. It’s a short stint. Already I find myself dreaming of life in New Hampshire, now that we finally made our decision final, and my heart is full. What fun it will be to wander the woods, take roads trips through the country, discover new parks, and meet new friends. We have a temporary place to live until we find a more permanent home, and the excitement of building our own place in the woods promises to be an adventure, even if I know the work will be hard.

Monday I met with my niece to work on our children’s book together, a project I had hoped to finish over the summer. We spent the afternoon in the library, drawing furiously in a quiet corner, whispering ideas to each other like kids in a classroom. Alas, we still have a good deal of drawing to do, but I am excited that we got to spend this summer in Olean to be able to start some of the collaborations I got going while we were here. I am lucky to know some very smart, inventive, wonderful people with whom I can create all kinds of art, especially my niece. She has been a delight to work with over the summer, and she has made my original idea so much better because of her creativity. Today Michael and I drove a washer to my sister-in-law in Jamestown, NY, and got one last dinner in with Michael’s family. Once upon a time, I might have felt sad about leaving behind the people we love, but now that we’ve spent so much time on the road already I feel as though distance no longer matters. Love travels long distances, connecting us regardless of where we go or what we do. Love doesn’t care how far away people live, and those people who truly cherish our relationships readily pick up right where we left off, even after years of not seeing each other. I know so many people who choose not to leave a place because they believe they will miss their family and friends too much, but now that I have gone away and returned, I find that those people who really matter to me are still there, still care, and still love me. If anything, the distance has made it more apparent that relationships matter, and we must make that special effort to keep them alive. If we spend time with those we love when we can, those moments become that much more poignant, rather than blending into the rigamarole of daily life and being forgotten.

For me, it’s more important now that I taste life with vigor. Ever since I hit my 40s, I have risen to a desire for more. Perhaps it has to do with a sense of oppression in my past, in which I felt I didn’t have the freedom to live the life I wanted to live, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters now is that I want to see beautiful places, to work with people who are excited to make the world a better place, and to share this beauty with those who want to enjoy it with me. I want more art in my life, and less time wasted doing things for people who don’t value my effort, my time, or my input. For a long time, I used to believe the people in my life who told me I shouldn’t expect to enjoy my work, money is the root of all evil, and life is hard. Life isn’t easy, but it doesn’t need to be devoid of daily joy. Yesterday I ate strawberries over my sink, thinking a silent thank you to the person who plucked those berries from their vine so I could eat them. Farm work is hard labor, and I don’t think many people in today’s world appreciate it enough. In making an effort to just think to myself that I am grateful someone else is willing to do that necessary work so I can do the work I must do, it somehow draws to mind the importance of paying attention to details, living in the moment, and just appreciating the little things, like good food.

What I feel most happy about on the cusp of moving is that a new effort to be more mindful in my life began in Keene, NH while we lived there for our first of Michael’s nursing contracts. We were just beginning our travel life together, and both of us fell in love with New Hampshire while we lived there, especially the woods. But I also began visiting a meditation center in Keene, and became enamored with the Monday night meditations because of what I began to learn from the insightful conversations and subsequent inner discoveries. In those months of meditations, I learned a great deal of priceless knowledge about the way gratitude changes a person’s inner landscape. I learned a lot of other deep-thought kinds of things, but ever since I began the habit of going to those Monday night meditations I have gone on an inner journey which has been just as important as the outer one in the last couple of years. It’s as if the travels we took somehow reflected the wandering of my thoughts, or maybe vice versa. The philosophical jumble is moot. I am changed. The world is still scary, lots of people have it tough, most people live with a lot of stress and anxiety, and bad things happen to good people every day…yet even though the world is the same, I am not. Instead of the dark, somber side of things I might once have chosen to see, I now stand at my sink and think a silent thanks to the person who picked the berry I am eating.

When we first took the Airstream across the country, I threw a horrible fit one night because I lost my shit and couldn’t handle the stress anymore. Granted, the evening was not going well. I can’t remember the exact turn of events, but I was beyond exhausted, we had no where to park the RV to have power for anything, lots of other things went wrong, and I fell apart at the seams. At one point I actually bashed my metal water bottle on the table so hard I dented the bottle (kudos to Airstream for building a table that didn’t even chip when I slammed that bottle on it repeatedly). Ridiculous. In a year’s time, on our way back across the country again, we had another bad series of events which I wrote about while we were driving. You can look back through my blog posts to find some of the stories about the drive back in the beginning of March of 2018. It was brutal, but this time I didn’t come unglued. In just a year of being on the road, paying more attention to my thoughts, and being more mindful, my head is now in a different place. Five years ago I never would have expected to be moving out of Olean and living a dream, but we are doing it. We didn’t need to become independently wealthy to drive across the country, but we did it by getting creative. So much of what we want out of life requires only that we SEE what is around us, waiting for us, ready for us to take it into our attention. It’s a magic of becoming aware of possibility, to see what can happen if you don’t just dream, but DO things. Plan. Seek. Enjoy. Such verbs are more than just action, they are possibility. Am I always happy every minute? No. Am I generally content? Absolutely. And there is room for more, for better, for bigger. More love, more gratitude, more joy. Always.

In a matter of days, we will travel again. Off we’ll go to the mountains, to the woods, and to the quiet. Fall is my favorite season, and I am beyond ecstatic to spend it in New Hampshire. I am also beyond ecstatic to not have to paint anything for a while. My body is ready for a break from all this reno work, and I will be so glad to finally be able to get back to writing in earnest again. The computer calls to me from the pocket of my bag, begging me to come type out my thoughts, tell my stories, finish my novels, and start the new ones. I have lots of projects waiting in line, rolling eyes and tapping toes while I slog through yet another coat of paint on the woodwork, slap more joint compound on a nail hole, or shift yet another box from one location to another. Sigh. It will be done soon. Days instead of months. The curtains draw closed slowly, but they are closing. My dear readers, go make a wish upon the lovely, glowing orb of Mars in the heavens. Tell yourself how lucky you are to see that planet without a telescope, its bright orange presence one of many beautiful things to enjoy. No matter where you are or how you live, in your life I have no doubt there is at least one thing for which you can be grateful, one thing that made your day better. Look for it, and it will be there. Like a wish. Like magic.

Flying with the Falcon

Looking Back to Look Ahead

*Photo taken from Tahoe Rim Trail, overlooking the Carson Valley from Spooner Summit area.

A year ago in early July, Michael and I were just getting to know the Carson Valley of Nevada. It’s hard to imagine a whole year has passed since we crossed the Martian landscape of Nevada and arrived in the much greener valley near Lake Tahoe. This week of renovations has been brutal and exhausting, as we now have a deadline towards which we must push hard to get ourselves to New Hampshire with a finished house to sell in Olean. The soul-sucking nature of the tedious work over the last week has caused me to think about where we have been, and where we are going, because it helps me to dream a little to get me through the present moment. I decided to offer up an old memory from our early days in Nevada last year, a particularly lovely memory of hiking the trails there. Several trails became regular spots for me, but I think my absolute favorite was the Tahoe Rim Trail. Along with a pair of hiking experiences, I share that I learned a breathing and stepping technique which helped me hike more efficiently. I’ll put a description at the end of this blog post in case anyone is interested in trying it. Enjoy my little drop of honey from last summer!

July 7, 2017

 I believe I am falling in love with the Tahoe Rim Trail in much the same way that I fell in love with the Adirondacks. Today we hiked along part of the Rim Trail for the second time since our arrival in Minden, NV, starting from the Spooner Summit parking area and heading North this time. This trail covers over one hundred miles through the forested mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe, with well-marked paths which are well-traveled. The smell of pine fills the air, and one catches frequent glimpses of the incredibly blue lake as you hike between the trees and large rock formations which litter the trail’s edge. Though the trail itself is fairly easy to moderate hiking, it does require some acclimation to the altitude if you are not accustomed to being above 6,000 feet. After spending three months in Ely, NV at an elevation of 6,500 feet (and hiking there, too), Michael and I are quite used to the elevation by now.

 As we made our way through the woods, yellow swallowtail butterflies flitted atop the scattered foliage, ground squirrels and chipmunks scampered under the brush, and a light breeze blew the pine aroma to our noses. I find it quite refreshing to hike the Rim Trail, as Carson Valley below the lake is hot and exposed, and hiking in the sun there can be brutally punishing. Being in the trees and up a little higher, one gets both a breeze and shade, a boon in this desert climate. The beauty of the woods here does remind me somewhat of the woods in the Adirondacks, though there are not as many rocks to climb, and certainly none to scramble up and over on the trail. Still, that alpine quality of the high desert, along with lots of rain and snowmelt to supply the plants with flowers and green is very welcoming.

 Less than a week ago I hiked with a former mountaineer I met at a meeting (a spin-off from the Women’s March in January, called “Huddles”). She offered to take Michael and I hiking, so I jumped at the chance to find new trails. As it turns out, Michael was much too tired to get himself up early enough to get out for that first hike, but I made it there by myself. It was a good thing, since the day was hot, the mountain had absolutely no shade, and the hike was all sand up a rather steep slope. The dogs would not have done well with those conditions. Nevertheless, I hiked up Hot Springs Mountain with the group, and learned a tip which I already feel may have utterly changed my athletic life. For my entire adult life, I have suffered from exercise-induced asthma, a condition which isn’t terribly serious, but is annoying when you want to hike mountains, ride fast on your bike, swim, or run. Well, anything that gets me breathing hard when my heart rate goes up is going to get me turning blotchy and red, and then my lungs start to shut down. I mentioned this fact to my guide, and then she graciously taught me a breathing technique which mountaineers use “to get up Everest,” she said. In trying this technique, I found that my stunted oxygen intake was vastly improved. Long before my lungs gave out, I was finding my legs locking up with lactic acid! Wondrous! I can’t remember the last time THAT happened.

 So I once again used this technique to head up the Rim Trail, also employing the “rest step” as taught to me by the former mountaineer. As if magically transformed, I was charging up the switchbacks, straight up the path which only a week ago would have had me gasping for air and stopping every few minutes to catch my breath. Instead, I found myself nearly freed of the confining trouble my lungs have cost me for decades. I walked up the mountainside with what felt like the agility of a mountain goat, and then when it was time to turn around I gleefully RAN down the slopes, once again freer than ever before. What a gift! For such a long time I have struggled with this silly condition, never really wanting to use an inhaler because I just don’t want the expense nor the hassle of medication, and I also really don’t want to have to use chemicals to treat a condition which isn’t really a medical emergency. Instead, I keep at the exercise and try to make my lungs stronger, but this new breathing technique has done more for me in a few minutes than all my hard work since I was a teen. Hooray for oxygen!

 In any case, Michael and I have thus far been enjoying our return to civilization. Being in the Carson Valley has proven to be a delight with all the sun, trails to hike, places to shop and eat, and friendly locals who keep inviting us to do things with them. I find myself often missing the green of the Northeast, particularly missing our first home away from home in Keene, NH, where Michael fulfilled his first contract as a travel nurse. However, I really don’t miss the frequent clouds and rain, and this year the Northeast seems to be suffering from some particularly bad weather for this time of year. Lots of cold and gloomy and rainy days since winter supposedly ended. [This summer has been rather rainy and gloomy, too. Ugh, climate change….]

 I suppose weather concerns are part of what drives me to see the country now before it changes too much more. Before fires have a chance to destroy the Sequoias, I got to see them in their natural habitat, vast and majestic and impressive as they are. I am seeing the desert while the weather still allows it, before temperatures become intolerable for humans (like Death Valley already is at certain times of the year, with temperatures into the 120s at times). I hope to see glaciers before they melt, see the Arctic Circle before it turns to mush, and see some of the beautiful coasts before they vanish. Our trip to Louisiana in the spring, just prior to leaving New Hampshire, allowed us a side-trip through New Orleans. Though I didn’t feel the same desire to sightsee in the city that most might, I am glad we drove through the French Quarter and that I got to eat a meal in the city which has a very special history with food. Really, I feel so lucky to be living on the road right now. Michael and I both still come home from a little jaunt and see our Falcon parked in its temporary home and remark on the fact that we still can’t believe it belongs to us. Both of us feel completely thrilled and fortunate to be doing what we do, especially to truly experience a place for long enough to fall in love with it and to stop seeing it as just a vacation. We end up seeing a place as home, which really causes a different sense of being in a place. Vacationing is nice, but I am loving the chance to not only find the fun, but also get to know the people, enjoy the life of a place, and feel part of the land under that section of sky.

I found it serendipitous that I was looking through my past writing to discover my glowing desire for New Hampshire to be home has been there all along our travels for the past couple of years. Now that we are moving there to call it home for a time, and to plant our roots before hitting the road again, it is a joyful ambition. My heart yearns to finally live in a place where I feel fitted to the region, the people, and the love of what I can do and be there. As an artisan, New Hampshire promises to kindle a new opportunity for my art and writing, and the woods calls to me like a barely-heard humming in the wind. When I was a child, I read the Chronicles of Narnia over and over again, never getting enough of the excitement, the magic, and the aching sweetness of good deeds being done. Somehow, New Hampshire feels that way to me, like a magical place where at any moment, the wood nymphs will come out to play, satyrs will dance, and the animals will laugh and sing. When home calls, it’s a delight to answer. No matter how impossible it may seem to reach for the stretch of sky you want to see overhead, the river you want flowing in your yard, or the view you want to see out the front door, it is possible to have it. If you can see it in your mind, keep it there like an eternal flame, a beacon for your soul. Trust that if you know it will make your heart happy, you are meant to have it. I truly believe this life is meant for happiness, no matter how hard it may be now, or what you may have already endured. There is room for joy. Find it. Create it. Nurture it. Be alive right this minute, because you never know when this life may end. Live it like today is your last.

 

 

The exercises: First, I must credit Trish Ackerman for sharing these hiking tips with me. She attended a program to become a mountaineer many years ago, and has since retired to offering guided hikes with locals around the Carson/Tahoe region. I will do my best to describe the techniques she taught me so that anyone else who suffers from exercise-induced asthma may find the same freedom I found. First, the breathing: Take a deep breath in through your nose, and do your best to fill your lungs. When taking a proper deep breath, your belly should pop out a little, and your shoulders remain square. If your shoulders go up, put your hand on your belly to focus on making the belly pop and the shoulders stay down. When exhaling, force the air out of your lungs as hard as possible, using your diaphragm to push the air out hard. It may feel almost like coughing, but instead of a cough, you make a “ch” sound when you exhale. The exhale is the most important part, as this is what causes your lungs to utilize all the alveoli and have a higher exchange of oxygen and CO2. If you get working really hard, it’s fine to inhale through your mouth, but keep going with the hard exhale.

Couple this breathing with a “rest step,” which is similar to what you might do when climbing stairs. This is especially useful when hiking up steep slopes with a lot of scree, loose sand or dirt, or snow. Stab the toe of your shoe into the slope as you would when stepping on a stair. The back leg should now straighten as you place weight on the foot you “stepped” forward. As your front foot takes the weight of your body, the back leg is now “resting” to use less oxygen and less energy as you climb, and the main work is being done by the strongest muscle in your leg: the quadriceps (large muscle of the thigh). By using this stronger muscle to pull the body up instead of pushing yourself upward with the back leg, you save energy and can climb more efficiently. Combine this step with a breath, one to one, and discover the wonder of how athletes climb Everest.

 

Flying with the Falcon

Change Is in the Air, and Stars Fall from the Sky

*Photo taken from Hogback Mountain in the Green Mountains of Vermont

It’s been such a busy week I can barely remember everything we’ve done since I last wrote a blog post. Michael and I have made some life-altering decisions in that short time, and we have a serious amount of work to do in order to get ourselves out of Olean once and for all. After our weekend excursion to New Hampshire last week, we got ourselves back to work for a couple of days to paint and finish more trim on our Olean house. We really have to put the pressure on now that Michael has been off work for so long, especially since we came home from New Hampshire more certain than ever that we are ready to buy property there and make it home base. Traveling the country for the last couple of years has been a delight, but Michael has had to apply for a nursing license in every state where he works—it’s expensive and time-consuming. For the time being, we feel it’s important to get ourselves established in New Hampshire so Michael can have the benefit of the compact licensure they offer their residents. This means that in the other approximately 30 states which are part of the compact, Michael can simply go there and work without applying for a new license. That is huge. It also means we can take the time to get the land we really want if we’re living there for a while, and then start building a tiny house-style cabin. The Aluminum Falcon still sits patiently waiting for us to continue work, and it looks like it will be a while before that work can be done.

In the meantime, we need to get at least the interior of our Olean home finished before leaving town, and then we have the exterior to complete. So we worked for a few days in between things we were doing, because it’s summer and we made plans, and also because we want to make time for friends. Recently a friend had to put down his dog, and then he called to see if we wanted to do an overnight at a nearby campground. Due to our upcoming weekend trip to Boston, we almost declined, but then thought better of it. You only live once, and when a friend loses a pet, it’s like losing family. We decided to go. Off we went to Patterson Campground near Cherry Springs, PA, which is known for its dark night skies, and often attracts amateur star-gazers for events. The Perseid meteor shower has been active in the first half of August, and while we camped we had the good fortune of seeing a few “falling stars” in the twinking star-studded skies overhead. We followed our typical protocol of making food over the fire and chatting late into the night while we watched for meteors. I hope it won’t be the last time we camp for the summer, especially after our backpacking trip was foiled, but it might be. At least we got one night in the tent. :/

For anyone interested in visiting Patterson Campground, it’s primitive car camping with fresh water you hand-pump from a well, has a single pit toilet, and there are a couple of pavilions which can accommodate larger groups meeting for picnics. The campground is actually a great spot to overnight before heading out to the Susquehannock Trail, which is accessed right from the campground. Michael and I did a couple of nights on the Susquehannock several years ago, and it’s a well-maintained trail system which encompasses 88 miles of trail through Pennsylvania forest. A fun aspect of the Susquehannock: the chairs and tables you come across along the trail, probably built by campers or trail groomers, are made entirely of large rocks found in the woods. Whoever built these delightful spots to camp had an industrious work ethic, but we appreciated them every time we came across them. This forested loop of hiking trail has plenty of access to water, and there are lots of entry/exit points to be able to hop on for an overnight or weekend trip. Timber rattlers are widespread in this region, so be wary while hiking here. Carry a bear can for your food, as you may come across black bears, and please also note that recently a photo of three mountain lions was taken near the Jake’s Rocks recreation area, which is near the Kinzua Dam. If you hike alone, be prepared with bear spray to ward off the animals if they get curious, and remember to do your best to scare animals away to discourage interaction with humans.

After our overnight in Patterson, I made a point of seeing a local show in Salamanca at the Ray Evans Theater. Beauty and the Beast was performed by a local group, and my daughter was in the cast as part of the chorus. The show was fairly good for a local production, and I was impressed with the lighting, acting, singing, and choreography. Some of the sound issues made it hard to hear all the actors on stage, but with limited funds and limited microphones this is bound to happen. Overall, the show was fun and an enjoyable evening, and the theater was a pleasant atmosphere to take in a show. Despite my late night out for the show, we had to head out in the morning for Boston, a trip we’ve had planned for quite a while. Months ago I bought tickets to see Ben Folds and Cake at the Blue Hills Pavilion in Boston. I didn’t expect to still be goofing around with finishing work on our house at this point in the summer, so fitting in this trip around all the work was especially frustrating. My cousin lives in the Boston area, and I was hoping to use our concert tickets as an excuse to spend time with her because it’s been years since our last visit. With only a few days planned for Boston, the visit was much too short. We also had to bring the dogs, which limited our ability to be able to spend our day in the city as we originally intended. Luna couldn’t be left behind after the last two trips, since she made a nuisance of herself by howling all night long.

Though we didn’t have the day in the city, we did get to enjoy at least a little time with family, and we had a nice dinner with them while we were there. The concert left a little to be desired, as I saw Ben Folds on another occasion, and he was much more engaging than this last concert. I think it probably had to do with the people he played with this time, but that’s just my guess. Either way, his energy wasn’t quite as good as the last concert, but at least we enjoyed seeing Cake for the first time. They were fun, and the lead singer amused us with his audience banter. Now that Cake is producing from their own label, they are back in action and in charge of their own destiny—hooray for artistic independence! I am a fan. Though the concert was a bit of a let-down, we still enjoyed it. I don’t think I would be likely to go to another concert at this location, though, after the prices we paid for the tickets, only to get there and discover the expense of all the food vendors. $7.50 for a bottle of water seems more than just steep—it’s highway robbery. And a beer for almost double that price? No, thanks. I didn’t even bother to look at the food. We went home and ate leftovers. It rained through the entire concert, and I felt bad for the people at the edges of the pavilion, where the rain splattered down onto the seats. Most annoying was the fact that anytime anyone needed to get up, the entire row of people had to stand to let them out, which meant everyone behind that row couldn’t see until they sat again. This happened so frequently, I almost stood for the whole concert. At least public transit to the venue was very easy and convenient.

On our way home from Boston, we drove through New Hampshire and took a tour of a potential home to purchase. Though our realtor was thoughtful about choosing a property around our desire to live in the woods, the house we toured didn’t meet our needs. At least we got the ball rolling, and it looks like we have some tentative plans, a move date, and a sort of schedule. It’s going to be an interesting couple of weeks. Though we probably won’t find a place before we head to Keene for Michael to start working at the hospital there, we do have a place we hope to stay for a short time so we can get ourselves in the area. I have to find some extra income to supplement the loss Michael will take on his paycheck (travel nursing is much better pay), but as long as we get ourselves there, all things are possible. The dream is alive. We are on the cusp of making our New Hampshire retreat a reality, and also in freeing ourselves from our Western New York homestead. Honestly, I am getting so excited to become a New Hampshire resident. Ever since we lived there in 2016, I have felt drawn there like a moth to a flame. It feels like home, and I can’t wait to call it by that name. The wonder of the woods there is a happy thing for us, and the pleasure of owning land we can preserve for the future will be an opportunity of a lifetime.

 

 

 

Flying with the Falcon

African American History, Freedom, and Finding Home

*Photo taken of wildflowers at sunset in Walpole, NH.

Michael and I have had a busy week. Work on our Olean home continues relentlessly, but we may finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. I wrote up a newsletter for the community garden on Green Street in Olean, went on a tour of Olean’s African American history (more on that in a moment), and over the weekend we drove to New Hampshire for some hijinks with the ER crew in Keene. Today we are back in Olean again, and have a lot to accomplish on the house. We have goals now, and our hope is to complete the interior of the house this week. That will leave us with the exterior, which needs to have the siding finished. Our house has been an eyesore on the block for years because Michael started siding the house, then ran out of money to finish it. He went to school, had to work, and the house stayed unfinished. Now we need to sell it, so it must be done. I can’t wait to see it looking like it should, since Michael has done such beautiful work on the whole house. It deserves to look its best, and someone is going to be a lucky home owner soon. Everything has been done, down to the plumbing and electrical, and he made excellent choices in décor and finishes. Really, I am excited to show it when it’s complete.

In between painting and drywalling and sweeping and moving boxes from room to room, I was invited to go on a tour of Olean’s African American history. A dear friend of the family, Della Moore, is a local history expert who started the African American Center for Cultural Development, which is due to be relocated in one of Olean’s oldest churches soon. The exciting new center will be on a main street in town, where it will be visible, and will serve as the preserver of a part of Olean’s interesting architectural history by using the old Christian Science Church. When I agreed to join the tour, I didn’t expect to gain so much exciting knowledge about Olean’s history with the Underground Railroad, nor did I ever consider how much the Allegany River, which flows through Olean, really played a part in that history. Della told us stories about Sarah Johnson, a runaway slave who was the first woman to own property in Olean, and Sarah’s influence on the town in her day. We visited Union Street, our downtown, to learn that tunnels exist beneath the street, connecting businesses to the now closed bank on the corner. Apparently a judge in Olean took part in the Underground Railroad and helped escaped slaves to achieve freedom, utilizing his downtown hotel as a “station.” And Sarah Johnson supposedly sat in the bedroom of the house she purchased down the hill, watching the river for new arrivals on their road to freedom, the same river on which she arrived in Olean.

What surprised me most was learning the history of Oak Hill Park, which is at the head of the block where we live in Olean. I knew that Oak Hill used to be a cemetery many, many years ago, and that the graves were exhumed and moved to Mountain View Cemetery across the river. Lots of kids used to love telling spooky stories about hearing the swings move themselves at night, typical urban myth stuff. What I didn’t know is that the cemetery used to be a portion of the Underground Railroad operation in town, and that runaway slaves hid behind the gravestones to avoid capture by bounty hunters. While I sat on a park bench listening to Della tell the stories, I felt chills thinking about how terrifying it must have been to flee the way so many slaves did, forced to trust in total strangers to achieve their freedom, much like the people escaping Honduras and Guatemala today. Della explained that Olean has a deep history of helping African Americans, which made me terribly happy. It’s good to know our city has such a heart. At the end of the tour, we chose to visit the cemetery to look for the graves of a few soldiers who served in the Civil War Colored Troops Infantry, because after Della mentioned that the graves had been moved and she had never found them…we had to go look.

Mountain View Cemetery is one of the oldest in the Olean area, and has some of the oldest graves in the area. I have no doubt there are historians who know a lot more about this than I do, but there are graves there from the early 1800s which are readable, and then there are graves whose markers are either much older or are just softer stone because erosion washed away the carvings. I need to take a piece of paper and some charcoal there one day and see if I can get anything to show up from rubbing over the stones. Such things fascinate me. In any case, we wandered through the military section of the cemetery and found three graves marked with “CT” for Colored Troops. We were so excited to find them there amongst others who had served in the Civil War, and it reminded me that the ground on which we walk every day is etched with the lives of so many people. Sacrifices made by so many hundreds of thousands over the centuries have created the possibility of the lives we live today, for good or ill. Imagining bounty hunters prowling the town and the people of Olean thwarting their ability to find their prey made me glad. Later, when the war was over, the African American community started a church, and they suffered from fires twice before finally relocating to their third building in town. Guess which church it was? Oh, yes. Serendipity is a thing. It’s the church where I recently attended meetings for the community garden.

With my head full of history, we headed for the hills over the weekend. It’s almost as if I cross a line of where I connect more closely to the land when we go to New Hampshire. I can’t describe it very well, but something about New Hampshire pings in my heart, and I feel a magnetic pull, a sense of rightness as soon as we drive into the Green Mountains in Vermont. A friend of Michael’s from the hospital where he worked in Keene hosted us for two nights so we could attend a barbecue for the Emergency Department of the hospital. Everyone was surprised to see him, as they knew he finished his contract long ago, but they were thrilled. It was lovely to finally meet all the wonderful staff Michael has told me about, and they welcomed me into their little family. We had so much fun eating, telling stories, watching kids enjoy the bounce house, and then later having smores over the fire. The sun even deigned to shine by the time the afternoon came around, and most of the day was sunny and warm. While we threaded through the conversations and stories, Michael and I both just grinned and enjoyed it. What a beautiful day.

The morning of the day we drove home, we took some time to look at properties there again, as the dream of having a tiny house in the woods is still a shining point in our future. I believe we will fall into it somehow, a lucky break will strike and the stars will align to bring us there to the right place at the right time. It will happen because we both want it. When we ditch the anchor of our home in Olean, perhaps that will be the trick. Or some other little trigger we can’t know is out there. Who knows what it will be? We cast our nets outward, and eventually we capture what we are meant to hold in our lives, our hearts, our hopes. The love is the guide, and that’s all we can keep. Nothing else really belongs to us, as I was so recently reminded while walking the streets of Olean with a whole new image of my home town. Once we freed slaves here. I believe the struggle remains, even if the slavery has a different name, but the glimmering achievement of human connection still remains, too. We still love even if we still fight hate. I’m so honored to have learned so much about Olean’s history, and that new connection I feel to the park up the street from my house. It’s a good, cleansing kind of love for the kindness and daring of the people of the past. And it counters some of the dark history I learned when I lived in Savannah, Georgia for a short time. That river where thousands of tourists now walk in Savannah to see the original cobblestone street, eat pralines and shop—the Savannah river is a bed of bodies where slaves were brought ashore for sale, worked to death, or died from disease. From the bottom of the country to the top, from darkness to light, from slavery to freedom, I have traveled. And in my lifetime I have freed myself from the prison of my own unhappy past. Freedom is my favorite thing, and I value it above all else. I fought hard for my freedom, and I do my best to help others do the same. I hope everyone reading this now has found freedom, or is on the road to it. Prisons and slavery are not only physical, and those limits of the heart and mind are often the most difficult to break. May you be brave enough to break through whatever limits you, readers. It’s worth the work.

In case anyone is interested in learning more about the African American Center in Olean, or you want to read about the walking tour I took, you can find out more here. Della is actively seeking donations to help raise funds for the new center, which is still under construction to repair the historic structure they are saving. If you would like to donate, contact Della at aaccdOfOlean@gmail.com. Any amount is welcome.