Safe Places

 

Is home just a place to live?  Is it just a place where we feel most safe?  Is it a place that makes us feel most strong? Is it a feeling, a desire, to be our authentic self? My ultimate desire, my safest place-my querencia- is to be at or near the mountains. Walking in the woods. Pausing to listen to a rushing stream. Jumping rocks to cross to the other side. My backpack hugging my body. My boots helping me find my way. Time is suspended here. Distractions are few. Troubles fade. Hopes soar and the Divine presents itself.

Last summer, I completed my first solo day hike. I had not told anyone of my plans ahead of time. I told my sons the morning I was leaving. I knew the men in my life would try to discourage me, not because of my lack of ability but because of safety.  But jerks exist off the trail and the mountain was one I knew well, having climbed it twice before.

The hike is easy enough, with some hopping over stream beds and slight switchbacks. It doesn’t take long for the sounds of the parkway that cuts through the notch to dissipate. I remember the heaviness of the summer air that day. It didn’t take me long to work up a sweat. My legs easily climbed up and over tree roots. I stopped to pause now and then to take in the green canopy of hardwood trees. I took deep, deep breaths, grateful that the air I was taking in filled me with peace. Can mountain air comfort you like a warm blanket?

The higher I climbed, the more I felt the tension slough off my body. Each step made me feel lighter. I felt nothing but joy as I moved closer to the summit. With this mountain, you know you are getting closer. The sky comes into view above and the long granite slabs replace the dark dirt and fallen leaves on the trail.  Suddenly-it seemed- I reached the top. A long granite bed greeted me with views of four mountains in three directions. The ledges have steep dropoffs.  I gaze into infinity when I look below.

I am alone at the summit but not lonely. I am filled with wonder and awe as I am reminded of the love I have for these mountains. I leave the summit with a renewed strength and the affirmation that this is home.

Why Write?

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            Courtesy of: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/553802085399155400/

        Since moving to a new state 3 and 1/2 years ago, I have found it difficult to tap into my creative outlet on a regular basis.  Lately, I have wondered why- given that my life is filled with less responsibilities and a bit more time in which to write. I have moved away from the near daily reminders of my past into a space where I can build a whole new life for myself. Perhaps my expectations were too great. Reality has a way of biting into those beliefs, forcing a change to my mindset. So, what’s changed? A close examination bears the following: my job as a teacher pulls and drains at the energy required for such a task beyond the work day.  Each year my school community has challenged me with a new class to teach. The trust placed in me to create (yes!) another new course with its accompanying curriculum is both an honor and a burden, given the high expectations (there’s that word again!) that I place upon myself. I wouldn’t have it any other way, either.  When I moved here, it was important for me to cultivate a community-not necessarily replicate the one I left but it needed to come close. My work environment fits the bill.  It is a place of love and support and laughter as well as being intellectually stimulating.  And herein lies another obstacle to my creativity-a draining commute! I find the endless traffic lights and the strip mall landscape and multi-lane roads unbearable. The lack of investment in modern and efficient public transportation here borders on the ridiculous (no, it is ridiculous!).  There is no time of day when traffic is not heavy.  Local and state leaders truly have not had (and I would argue still do not have) the gumption and vision to move forward in this area. The only exception may be the desire to build highways in rural areas, which is nothing but a blatant attempt to further develop an already over developed fragile ecosystem whose drinking water problems may very well be the death of us. And given the fact that one has to travel over large bodies of water in order to get from point A to point B-not only to get to work or other destinations, but to also evacuate-you would think that this would be taken into account. But I live in a heads- in- sand-state; so again, I have lowered my expectations of things changing anytime soon. For now I have found a route home that is tolerable and calming for the most part.

 After a day spent teaching and a drive spent being grateful for not getting into an accident, all I can muster is a yoga workout and then meditation on my mat! Dinner, a bit of wine and a good British murder mystery is how I usually end my day.

Still, there are two things I truly fear most about hitting the keyboards these days. First, that it will be an endless lament about how much I miss my four season home state and the nearby mountains. If I couldn’t get to a higher altitude, I had the woods and hills. THE QUIET. Florence Williams reveals her own writing challenges in her book, The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative.  In her introduction, she writes of her family’s move from the majestic mountains of Colorado to the “Anti-Arcadia that is our nation’s capital.” She states: “I yearned for the mountains. I felt disoriented, overwhelmed, depressed.” (p.8)  After reading that bit, I realized that I was not alone; my emotions were validated.  And while I cannot escape the din more regularly, I find myself seeking out the trails in a nearby park. If I turn up my headphones just enough, I can almost not hear the sounds of the sirens that seem to drone on several times within a half-day’s span. Moreover, I head north as much as possible ( five times in 2018!). My soul is fed by time spent with the boys and my closest friends-not to mention mountain hikes and walks in the woods!

     My other fear is that I will devote most of this blog’s posts to the current political climate in our country. When I first started the site nearly 7 years ago, I wanted a space where I could explore and grow my writing as well as offer a forum of hope for anyone who was experiencing an abusive relationship. I wanted to write about my new life in order to convey a message of  triumph and joy and profound appreciation for resisting and overcoming personal tyranny. Well, that is done! But what about the oppression of these past two years? What about the culmination of the hard right turn this country began taking in 1980?  I cannot not write about it.  Writing is an act of resistance that is just as affective as the activist work that I have participated in since November of 2016. Writing clears my mind. Writing raises my voice. Writing sends a message of resistance to the abusive and repressive power structures that seek to quiet us. Writing raises the vibration and gives us energy and hope. So write I will.

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Mountain Crawl


Easter rose

We alighted to nature’s sanctuary

Our place of peace and resurrection

Away from the egg hunting crowds and feasted tables of obligation

The route took a detour

The conditions too muddy

A sure sign of Spring in mountainous country

A quick check on the GPS found a return to the ledge ridden twins of Welch-Dickey

We could not afford to be too picky!

Granite slabs in various conditions

Some slick with snow melt made the ascent a chore

 Forcing at times a climb on all fours

Still others were bone dry

 Standing straight in momentum

Surely we could fly!

Then what looked to be easy was deceptively so

As we found ourselves down on our backsides in the snow

Trails puddled and muddy

Leaf covered and ruddy

Narrow passages filled with slippery slush

Our day grow longer than we would have planned

 Yet it was worth it, as it ended with beers in our hands

Day 17. I should be asleep. The hike was exhausting but absolutely fantastic! Our original hike to Morgan-Percival had to be cancelled due to muddy conditions. We returned to another spot which was hard the first time due to rainy conditions. For some reason we thought it we be easier this time around. Not so much! My last full day here in New  England with my sons. Both boys were along for the trek today with blessed Izzy with us as well. My oldest gets the Mountain Goat award!

Mountain Oasis

 

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View of Mt. Lafayette from the deck of the house

We’ve just come off a 12 day trip to New England, most of which was spent in the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire. I had been looking forward to the trip ever since we planned it in back in February. Not only were we to take up the challenge of a half-marathon in the heart of the Green Mountains, we were also reconnecting with our tribe-our children, sister, niece and closest friends.

Emily and I at the summit of Artist’s Bluff

I love the new life I am building with my husband. He makes me laugh every day; we are true partners in our relationship. I am grateful that I am in a situation where I don’t I have to prove myself with every breath I take. Also, I have really enjoyed exploring some parts of this new landscape in addition to re-establishing myself as an educator in a supportive and positive school community. But hiking and being in the mountains is one of the things I miss the most about living up north.

If you are neither a hiker nor a runner, it may be hard to understand the joy found in the challenge of a long hard run or a long hard climb. Or even the purpose of arising early in the morning to begin the trek! Although my half-marathon time was slow and the hills nearly impossible to run, the landscape raised me up and the weather cooperated by staying cool. I was so happy to be there! Rolling hills, farm houses, red barns, fields of green and friendly folk enveloped by misty mountains had a medicinal effect even during the hardest parts of the race.

One of the best cures for post-race muscle fatigue (besides yoga) is a good, solid, short hike. My husband and I chose the Sterling Pond Trail at the top of Smuggler’s Notch. At 3000′, it is Vermont’s highest trout pond. With a 1000′ elevation gain, it proved to be the perfect antidote to the previous day’s rolling roads. Slippery, wet rocks and muddy paths were rewarded by the view at the summit.

Sterling Pond, Smuggler’s Notch, Vermont

I knew this was only the beginning of finding my joy and, despite my aches and pains, I was ready for what the White Mountains had to offer us for the rest of the week.

Upon our arrival at the house in Franconia, we were greeted  by this view:

Mt. Lafayette on a sunny afternoon

My eyes welled up. I felt as if I was coming home. And indeed, home came to us in human form as well. My friends rented a place five minutes down the road and we shared many a meal and hiking paths together that week. My sons and stepdaughter arrived a few days later along with my sister-in-law and niece. We had girlfriends, boyfriends and other young adults added to the mix. At times, it felt like herding cats for hikes, but in a good way. Emily and my youngest  and his girlfriend (along with my sister-in-law) were always up and ready to go. And truly, everyone else was a good sport about heading out and attempting (and completing) the climbs.

We talked a lot about finding the joy in the challenge. For me, it isn’t only about reaching the summit, but in touching the earth along the way.

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Wildflowers across from Cannon Mountain

Being in the mountains makes it possible to be embraced by nature in ways that living here does not. The silence, the evergreen scents and sounds and the refreshing tingle of cool air are a reminder of how blessed we are to live on this planet and the need to preserve it.

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Arethusa Falls, Crawford Notch

 

Gatherings, Gratitude, Guidance and Gumption

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Photo courtesy of D. Jacavanco (jacavancostudios.com/blog)

I’m writing this piece looking out at my new back forty; a verdant park is now my backyard instead of the long expanse of grass and thick woodlands. The journey to my new life is at once complete and just beginning. We were married in late June on the beach with the roar of the Atlantic and soft tunes of a love song in a circle of friends and family.

 The day was picture perfect-the bluest of skies, the warmest of suns and greenest of grasses. The party was held outside in the backyard, a culminating celebration and the best way to say goodbye to my house and land that survived loss and was revived by love.

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The boys had moved to a beautiful apartment on the other side of town earlier that month. We had time to adjust to being apart before my own big move a thousand miles away. Although I had been in the house alone before, it was never so empty. I had trouble sleeping, not out of fear but in the sense of knowing it was permanent. It was difficult to work with all the emotional upheaval that comes with making five life changes at once. I was saying good-bye to everything.

I went for one last big hike in the mountains with my youngest during that time- a necessary reprieve from the planning of the wedding and packing whatever I needed to bring.

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I said good-bye to my therapist- a woman who provided me with strength and courage  for a decade and helped me get back myself.

So, two days after the wedding, we hit the road with everything I had- and all that I needed- packed in the car. Books, clothes, photos, paintings and two cases of wine arrived safely  three and a half days later.

And, two weeks after the wedding, my house was sold. My husband and I are  at last making our own home together. At times, I feel like a stranger in a strange land. The climate is different-and I am not just talking about the humidity! I will leave the details of my observations for future posts; they are stories unto themselves.

Until then, stay tuned!

Red Hill Resurrection

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Red Hill Summit: Lake Winnipesaukee in the distance

 

Morning broke with sunrise Alleluias at The Rock

Acoustic accompaniments to the voices of

altos, sopranos and those out of tune

Weary pilgrims shivering in the cold Easter dawn

Reflecting and reciting in the woods’ spring hush

Midday brings a bolder journey still

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The steep brilliant hike up a slush covered hill

Mother and sons make the 2000 foot ascent

Breathing deep

Each step more steep

The oldest using his powerful speed

The feast at the summit consumed in near silence

The youngest reminding us as we view the tranquil vastness

of why we do this:

We can’t let life pass us

The gang of three leave this sacred place

Hearts full, feet moving at a dancer’s graceful pace

 

Day 5. A little late after a great day with my sons.

 

 

A Hike in the Whites

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Summit of Mt. Willard: Crawford Notch

The backpack sits on my shoulders and hips

  A welcome relief

A warm hug from an old friend

               I smile

        A new climb commenced

Early April-a snow packed path

Standing in contrast to the hoar frost

of October’s last pass

           The rise is not steep

Yet our hearts burst with exertion

Our skin glistens

        Our hams beg us to listen

        222 steps to the summit

Spike rimmed boots keep us from slipping

The view is grand and glorious

We bask in Mother Sun’s heat

 

Day 4.  My fiance’ and I spent Good Friday hiking. A wonderful start to the spring season!