The final day of 2020 is rolling under our feet and heading out the door. Many of us are feeling the bruises from a year of fear, uncertainty, helplessness and — perhaps most of all — distance from loved ones. Yes, this year has certainly given us a swift kick in the arse; and we’d all love to return the favor as we slam the door shut on this most unwelcome intrusion into what had been a “normal” life just one year ago.
I know most people long for the days of “normal,” looking to the vaccinations as the magic bullet to return us back to the familiar, the predictable.
Oh, yes, I too long for the end of this pandemic. But I think if we wish life to return just as it was pre-tragedy, then we’ve missed the lessons 2020 could have taught us. It is often in the darkest moments of life that the biggest opportunities arise to shift gears and point ourselves toward a more positive future.
This past year has been tumultuous in nearly every way. Humans tend to think we are invincible. We think that we have the ultimate power over nature, but this year has shown us just how wrong we are. From an invisible pathogen to roaring flames whose smoke could be seen from space, Mother Nature put us in our place, though it has been our own actions that ultimately led us down this path. Mother Nature can also teach us balance and harmony, if we let her.
On the crest of this new year, when the grim numbers roll in for daily COVID cases and deaths as the vaccinations begin making their slow way into the bloodstreams of first the most vulnerable and down to the last of us, we have some important choices to make. The vaccines offer the sliver of hope in the darkest days of the virus, but what each of us does right now and in the coming months will have repercussions that last long past the virus.
What has this year taught you?
I read an article about how some people are taking the opportunity to turn obituaries for those they lost to COVID to plea for others to do the right thing. One stands out in my mind. A man wrote about the death of his father. He said that his dad was born into a country where WWII brought sacrifices from everyone for the good of all and died in a country where people feel like wearing a mask is a personal choice and that they shouldn’t have to sacrifice for anyone. The man was born and died in the U.S., but it was not the same country when he died as when he was born.
This country exists in an extreme dichotomy at the moment. Our political strife is merely a symptom of larger issues. On the one hand, we have those who think the virus is a hoax, or nothing more than a cold. True, there are those who get it who do not suffer much. But a lot of people die. And it isn’t just the old or the frail.
On the other hand, we have such amazing acts of courage, kindness, bravery and generosity. We have groups of people giving their time and resources to help those in need. The doctors, nurses, healthcare specialists, paramedics, cleaning crews, intake workers and all of their families who sacrifice each and every day to care for those who enter their hospitals are the biggest heroes of the year, without a doubt.
But there are other heroes, too. Like the service workers, mail carriers, police and fire department personnel, teachers and all other service providers who don’t have the option to work from home.
And then there are those who volunteer to help, simply because they want and feel the need to do something good.
The people who set up food donation locations outside their homes or in hard-hit areas. The folks who had the ingenious idea to take used refrigerators and repurpose them as a way to get fresh food to those in need. How cool is that?
The food bank workers and churches who go the extra mile to make sure the vulnerable are fed.
The kids who collected and delivered toys to other kids so they wouldn’t miss out on Christmas.
The list goes on and on.
We can easily get bogged down in how hard this year was — and it was, and still is, very, very hard — or we can choose to look at 2020 as the year we discovered what it means to be kind, how much potential we humans have to do good things, the value of sacrificing for the greater good when the situation calls for it and the gifts we have in our lives.
As 2021 opens its arms to us, we can choose to take the lessons we’ve learned and carry them into next year to make this world a better place.
Maybe this past year can be a different kind of kick in the pants. Maybe it can be the kind that gives us the nudge we need to follow our dreams, motivates us to live our best lives, encourages us to send love out into the world and beckons us to savor each and every moment we have on this Earth, not taking for granted the gifts we have and the people who love us.
What do you think? Which kind of kick in the pants will you choose?
Love and Peace in this New Year.
“There are as many paths to God as there are people.” – Maya Angelou
I’ve been spending a lot of time lately looking inwards. You have to go in to go out, right? I’ve never been a religious person, but I have been a spiritual one. Though I can’t say that I’ve always known what that meant, really. I have always felt that we are all connected on this planet. That there is more that joins us than separates us, even though we are all walking our own paths, on our own journeys. Knowing this and knowing this are two different things. The first is an intellectual understanding, the second is a heart knowing. I’ve had moments of heart knowings throughout my life, but most of the time I’d say I had an intellectual understanding.
Our brains often get in the way of our hearts.
We sit right now on the edge of transformation. I believe it’s why we are seeing so much turmoil in this world. In the U.S., even a pandemic has fueled division as much as it has cohesion. To me, this points to a spiritual struggle within humanity itself. The toughest lessons are the most important ones, and I think that is what this year is for us. One exceptionally tough lesson. Life has a way of bringing about the situations that offer the opportunity to teach us the lessons we need to learn, and it will do so
again. Until we learn. And sometimes we need to be hit upside the head with one whopper of a challenge before we reach that ah-ha moment. Before we cease to struggle against a deeper understanding and a deeper meaning. Before we realize that our head has gotten in the way every time, bringing us right back to the same lesson again and again.
This happens all the time in our individual lives, but I think it happens collectively, too.
When we release the brain trappings and listen to the whispers of the heart, I think we start to heal. When we open our hearts, we give ourselves the space to grow and connect with others in ways that can reveal who we really are underneath the fear, pain, anger, anguish, guilt, and shame that often shape how we operate in this world.
These are the understandings that have seeded in my heart over the past couple of years, and they’ve blossomed rapidly in the past few months.
I’m sitting here in Champaign, still, and I’ve let go of the need to try to figure out what is next for me, for this country, for this world. Instead, I’ve spent more time resting in stillness, appreciating the now, and feeling grateful for all the gifts in my life. Those gifts include the tough times because they’ve taught me something valuable, even if it’s taken decades of the same lessons before I caught on.
A couple of days ago, I had the urge to make some cookies. The same cookies I get the urge to make every year when the weather turns colder. And, for some reason, it’s no-bake cookies I want to make. Rich, indulgent, chocolate no-bake cookies. I don’t bake sweet goods. When it comes to desert, I mostly prefer just a simple bar of dark chocolate. But every fall and winter, I want to make these cookies. I’m sure it is, at least in part, a bit of nostalgia from growing up, as I remember how special it felt to eat these no-bake cookies a few times a year, mostly in the colder months leading up to Christmas.
The night before I made them, something woke me up in the middle of the night, so I lay awake letting my mind wander. I thought about sharing the cookies, for some reason. It was just a small thing, this thought, but I just felt it was something I wanted to do. I thought perhaps I’d make a double batch.
When it came time to make them, I found I didn’t have enough of what I needed to make a double batch, so I kind of let the idea of sharing go.
The next night, however, I saw the campground owners, who have become something akin to family to us, in a way. They are just the kindest people. Really. They’ve got the perfect personalities for operating a campground. I quickly threw together a bag of cookies for them, trying to catch them before they left the neighbor’s, but ended up having to deliver them to their house. The wife opened the door, with her adult son close behind. The husband wasn’t there, but the wife said he’d be absolutely thrilled with the cookies because he’s a sweet fiend.
There is as much in giving for the giver as there is for the recipient.
When I got back to the rig, I brought up the thought of sharing these bites of chocolate heaven with a few neighbors that surround us, all of whom we’ve come to know because this small group are regulars every year. Gail smiled, knowingly, and responded, “so, should we give all our cookies away?” I, of course, knew she would be on board right away!
“Yes, we should!” I agreed.
I also added that I wanted to give a couple to these older ladies across from us whom we don’t know. They’re in their late 70s to early 80s, I’d say. We know very little about them because they largely keep to themselves. One of them has recently had hip surgery. They’ve been here for about a month. They don’t smile at people; they don’t really interact at all. But we do know that they are raising two little boys. We know that they are very religious. We know that they are on the opposite side of the political spectrum from either of us.
I still felt compelled to share with them.
I was in the middle of something, so Gail bagged up cookies for everyone and headed out to deliver them. Just this small gesture was greeted with gratitude and enthusiasm from them all. But the greatest joy was the response from one of the older women. I didn’t get to see any of this, but it made my heart smile when Gail told me what happened.
The woman who answered the door was the one who had had hip surgery. She wasn’t smiling. No. Not at all. Scowling is more like it. Gail apologized for interrupting her night and told her that we’d made some cookies and we just wanted to share some with them. And then the magic happened.
This woman’s entire demeanor shifted. Her face lit up. Her eyes smiled. She had a look of wonder on her face. The corners of her mouth turned upward.
“Thank you,” she said, almost breathlessly, “thank you. This…this is such a blessing. Such a blessing. Thank you.”
She gratefully received the gift.
But that response…that was our greatest gift.
We never truly know the path others walk. But when we connect in love, it can bridge the gaps between us, making what would seem great, yawning expanses passable.
There’s something else. Lately, whenever I cook, I give thanks to the plants that provide me nourishment, and I infuse the food with love as I create each dish. I did the same with those cookies, and then I shared them. It wasn’t just the cookies I shared. It was the love.
So, you see, love truly can heal. It’s what we all need. There isn’t a single one among us who doesn’t need love.
But, chocolate (infused with love)? Well, that can’t hurt!
Peace. And Love.
I have some catching up to do, and I promise I’ll get there. I have to admit, what I’m writing about in this post seems long ago and far away. In a way, I guess both are true. I am sitting back in Champaign now, earlier than I’d intended…but that’s a topic for a later date. When I last left you all, we had launched from New Mexico heading north towards Montana. The first stop was just a short hop to Salida, Colorado. We stayed just outside of town and, though I was only there for two nights, I took the opportunity to take a hike.
I discovered that the Colorado/Continental Divide Trail was not too far down the road. That made the decision on where to hike an easy one. Last year, I hiked ten miles of this trail at a spot not too terribly far from where I found myself at the beginning of July. This time, I started at Monarch Pass. The weather was blissfully chilly as I started off in the not-so-early morning hours. I love high mountains in summer. The fact that I had to don layers made me instantly giddy. Call me crazy, if you want. I don’t mind.
The parking lot was already fairly full when I arrived at around 10-ish. That had me a little concerned. I don’t mind seeing a few people, but I am not keen on crowded trails, especially not in these crazy times. Fortunately, it seemed there were a lot of bikers and...fortunately...many were finishing up their rides. Two 20-something girls on mountain bikes passed me as I started the first incline, but they kept on a Forest Service road where the CDT veered off. From that point, I didn’t see anyone else for the first half of my hike.
In the beginning, I was not sure if I would get the views I was hoping for, as the trail sank into the trees. Don’t get me wrong. I love trees. Yes, I have been known to hug them, even. But any of you who have read this blog over these past two years is aware of my preference for contrasts in the landscape. I like it best when I get a mix of trees and rock and water. Broad vistas and intimate surroundings. Meadows and rugged outcroppings. And, at that moment, I was in the mood to feel like an eagle perched on top of the world.
If only I could fly.
But…I’d be happy with the perch.
I got my wish. The trail climbed out of the trees, and I was treated to the gray caps of 14’ers laced with remnants of snow dripping down steep peaks like melted ice cream running down the sides of a cone. The trail etched a path through high tundra covered in wildflowers, lichen, and rocks, and hugged the side of a slope that slid perilously down, down, down. Oh, and I got my perch in a spot where the ground rises up to meet the sky at the edge of a cliff. A perfect spot to pause and take it all in, and, of course, to grab a snack, before continuing on.
As had happened on my hike last year, I was filled with a strong desire to keep on walking until I reached the end. And then go some more. And I’d love to do it solo, though the thought terrifies me as much as it thrills me. Oh, I’d happily hike in good company, too, but there’s just something about the idea of solitude in nature that always appeals to me. Hiking the Colorado Trail seems more doable for the life I currently lead than hiking the entire CDT. I feel like I could step away from this life (and the cats) for a few weeks to hike 487 miles much more easily than I could manage the 3,100 miles of the CDT, or the PCT or AT.
We’ll see. Perhaps I’ll get my chance.
This time around, I only hiked four miles out and four miles back, but it was enough to leave me wanting more of those views and the peace and quiet I felt on the trail. It’s impossible to capture the magnitude and scope in pictures. I tried, but the images in no way do it justice. The lens can’t even begin to see with eyes that experience such grandeur. I still hope they manage, even if just a little bit, to transport you to a mountain top 10,000 feet above sea level, with a bird’s eye view of the beauty all around.
The nine trail miles I’ve hiked on the Colorado Trail gave me just a tiny taste of the adventure I could have, but it was enough for now. I’ll take my opportunities where I find them, and follow those paths wherever they may lead, even if only for a few short hours.
Perhaps, someday, I’ll make the remaining 477 miles.
New Mexico. It was just the place to go when we left Illinois. Perched between the mountains and the desert, a confluence of contrasts. Just like life out here now. With the coronavirus ravaging the nation and divisions of race, economics, and politics ravaging our spirits, the beauty I am fortunate to witness and to be a part of seems ever more poignant.
This time, the stop in New Mexico lasted just shy of two months. In some ways, I felt insulated from the happenings of the world. The case count in Taos County hovered below 20 until shortly after Memorial Day Weekend. The protests consisted of a few individuals standing on a corner in town, at the same location where people protested another cause a year and a half ago, when we were here last.
But, in other ways, I felt acutely a part of the events of the world, especially the virus, as the idea of community shifted to six-feet apart, no-contact friendships. And having to be the one to do the dance, shuffling left, right, and back when people approached maskless and without regard to social-distancing protocols. The virus didn’t seem quite real to people around there, it seems. Whether it was the (very lovely) campground owners, or the Harley riders that came for a cancelled rally, or the bazillion Texans who came through the campground. None of them took care to protect themselves or others, which made meeting difficult.
And then there were the few who got it. Like our dear neighbor. A person I feel lucky to have met on this journey, and even luckier to have been able to spend time with, in deep conversation. A connection that happened across the safe space but became no less important than had we been able to sit together over dinners or cups of tea or coffee while chatting for hours. There are people whose paths you cross who you understand have become part of the fabric of your universe. The pandemic doesn’t have to change that.
And maybe the next time our paths cross, we will actually get to hug hello and goodbye.
In the time I was in New Mexico, I felt the freedom of bursting out into the natural spaces. The pull for me this time was more to the alpine forests than the desert canyons. Sure, I was still awed by the expanse and rugged beauty of the Rio Grande Del Norte, but the stark landscape and heat made my spirit feel heavier this time around.
Instead, it was the steep climbs and tall pines that lifted me up with each step on a path leading upwards. Up to where the air was cooler and lighter. I again hiked the Columbine Trail, twice, though I didn’t get to go as far as I’d hoped because eventually a high river crossing, immediately followed by a gigantic tree fall, made me turn around earlier than I’d planned. But, my favorite hike this time around was the Middle Fork Trail.
This was a new one. Down past Red River, off of a dead-end road (through a valley where nearly every home belonged to a Texan…I swear, I saw more Texas plates than New Mexico plates in the whole of Taos County this year), the drive to get there was breathtaking itself. But the hike…was amazing. It, more or less, followed a rushing river until it landed on the banks of a mountain lake. Hardly a soul around, on the trail or at the lake. Just the rugged peaks rising above me on one side, keeping me company as I lost myself in the reflection of trees, snow, and sky in the lake. I sat there on the shore until fat raindrops plopped into the water, sending rings outwards from where the raindrops hit and me back down the mountain.
I thought I’d make it back to that place again, but it wasn’t to be this time. I did get a fun bike ride in, and we did manage a couple of beautiful drives. One took us to a prehistoric landscape, while another drive led us up a rugged dirt road through a gorgeous valley with a creek winding through it. The drive took us to a place where the air was clearer and cooler, the skies bluer, and the grass greener. It felt like a space apart from where we had been sitting for nearly two months, desert and mountains juxtaposed. This place felt wholly new, and wholly peaceful. No longer a space in between. And it felt like it was time to move on. The road began calling again.
So plans were made to finish out our time where we were, and then to point the rig north, to Montana. A new landscape to absorb. Mountains to meld into. And endless skies. Montana has been calling me for a while now. I’ve felt its tug, and I am finally listening to its pleas. It’s been a few years since I’ve ventured into the state where I was born, and I am looking forward to the new wonders that are awaiting me there.
In the meantime, I am enjoying the 16-day journey to get there. It’s a strange journey out here these days. I travel through a surreal dream that is part nightmare and part the stuff good dreams are made of. But I do know that the nightmare makes me appreciate the dreamy parts that much more. I also know that I wish the nightmare would go away, though I think the confluence of contrasts in the world right now is teaching me some valuable lessons about life, about this world, and about what matters most. I still have much to learn. I know. But that’s what this journey is for.
I sit in New Mexico, feeding my soul with mountains, desert, and expansive skies that express themselves in a different language nearly every hour of the day. Today, those skies are speaking of darkness. They are rumbling in anger and can’t hold back their tears. They speak to me of what is happening in our country, right now.
I just received a text from my mother. They’re rioting and looting here, she tells me. Stores are shutting their doors, hoping to keep the violence from visiting their premises. And black people are out there begging the rioters to stop. I understand the anger over this situation. I really do. I understand, as well, that I’ll never know what it is like to be black in America.
We live in a country where it has become okay to hate the “other.” We live in a country where the conditions for people with non-white skin have resulted in proportionately more job losses and deaths from the coronavirus. And, then, an unarmed black man loses his life at the hands of a white officer, in an abhorrent manner. Again. It was the spark that lit the tinder.
So many people are (rightfully) angry and saddened by an event that has become too common in the U.S. Others are angry because they’ve lost loved ones, jobs, security. Most people are out there in peace, demonstrating solidarity. Others have found an excuse and an outlet for their pain and pent-up anger. This is a tough time in our world.
Now is a time when we should all be coming together, instead, it seems the hole in the fabric of our world is getting bigger.
My stepdad is a retired police officer. He is also a good man. As are so many who take the oath to protect and serve. But the ugly face of racism can wear a peacekeeper’s uniform just as easily as any other. And, when racism holds positions of power, it feels righteous in its actions. Justified in its beliefs.
Peaceful protest is a right, and violence is never right in a peaceful protest. It’s sad to me that there are those who would take advantage of a horrible event such as this to do the kind of damage seen in a growing number of cities across the country, turning peaceful protests violent and dishonoring George Floyd in the process.
And it gives people the idea that the crowd that gathered to protest and grieve engaged in the same acts as those who came to destroy.
I came out here looking for the good in our world. It still does exist. Even now.
It exists in all of you who care that a man lost his life because of the color of his skin.
It exists in all of the people who are helping neighbors in need during this pandemic.
It exists in the words of encouragement given to those on the frontline who are relentlessly doing the hard work of trying to save lives.
It exists in donations of food to those who can’t afford it because they lost their jobs.
It exists in everyone who took this opportunity to rescue an animal.
It exists in all of you who stay home, mask up, stand six feet apart, all in the name of saving lives.
It exists in the hope that somehow, we come out of all of this better people. This virus is showing us where we need to do better.
It exists in those of you who dare to hope, and to love, at a time when the world as we know it is changing before our eyes. When darkness perhaps covers all that you had previously taken comfort in. It is now when we need hope the most., and acts of courage, gestures of kindness.
“Hope is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chilliest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.”
These are some crazy times, and that is a huge understatement. I hardly even know where to start with this post…
When my RV journey began nearly two years ago, I had this idea about what shifting space meant to me. My worldview at the time centered on the negative aspects of society. The divisiveness, hatred, destruction, and inequalities took up the entire lens of my focus. I used to not be this way, I realized. I used to see more good and beauty in the world.
I recall a time, many moons ago, when I waited tables at Planet Hollywood in Chicago, and a friend and I were on our way to work. We were running late, or traffic was bad, or something along those lines that should have been at least somewhat stressful. The situation was so for my friend. In the middle of whatever frenzy existed at the moment (funny how I can’t recall that part of this incident), I exclaimed, “Wow! Look at that amazing sunset!” My friend turned to me with an incredulous look and made a comment something along the lines of, “How do you always do that? It doesn’t matter what is going on, how bad it is, you always stop to notice something like that?” She seemed almost angry. I didn’t know how to answer. I doubt she was expecting one anyways. I never realized until that moment that this was something I did. But I lost the tendency to notice the good somewhere along the way. I buried my ability to see silver linings and beauty amidst chaos, and I’m not sure why. It wasn’t just because of the recent polarization and violence that had erupted across my country. It had happened before that.
So, there came a time when I realized I’d lost that ability, and that coincided with the time I was coming to an understanding that my spirit always felt stifled in the regular work-a-day world. Hence the decision to chuck it all, buy an RV, and take off for a simple life on the road. With zero clue how to make a living out here. I just trusted I’d figure it out. (I’m still working on that part, by the way.) And shifting space was born. I wanted to get back to seeing good things. I believe negative breeds negative and positive breeds positive. We humans have a propensity for dwelling on the negative. A component of our problem-solving skills that can serve us well for survival but isn’t so good for our everyday well-being.
I set off with my best friend and four cats to discover the good in people and in our country.
Fast forward a year and a half. I find myself down in Texas teaching at my graduate alma mater when the world is blindsided. We shouldn’t have been. There were shouts that something of this magnitude was coming. There were screams when the novel coronavirus devastated China and spread outwards. But in addition to seeing the negative in front of us, humans have an equally strong and contradictory tendency to think that the worst can never truly happen to us. If it happens “over there” to “those people” then we are safe. We are smug in our security that life for us will go on as it always has. Until it doesn’t. We’ve been conditioned in America, especially, to think this way. American Exceptionalism runs deep in our collective psyche. But this virus is teaching us some lessons.
We are human. Every last one of us. There is nothing exceptional about us Americans that isn’t exceptional about people in every other country on this planet. We can’t get around the fact that we are all in this together, though some still try. COVID-19 has shown us exactly how inconsequential the boundaries are that we’ve drawn between countries and one another.
We are now being forced to put very real boundaries up in order to preserve our very human nature.
Shelter in place.
Remain 6 feet apart.
Quarantine for 14 days.
Boundaries that are literal and not figurative. These extremely necessary actions that all of us need to take to save lives (perhaps our own and definitely those of other people who are particularly vulnerable) are waking us up to the figurative boundaries we have drawn. Prior to this pandemic, you could look around at any social gathering and see just about every individual in the group more engrossed in their devices than they were present with the company they kept. Now, when our devices are the only way we can maintain many of our relationships, we suddenly realize how much we need real connections. Nothing can replace the warmth of a real hug. Virtual conversations are no match for the energy shared in the physical company of family and friends. Death is hard for those left behind, whether they live in our neighborhood or on the other side of the world.
COVID-19 has polarized us in another way. This state of opposition is more personal than intrapersonal. Many of us are now experiencing a polarization of our emotions. Normalcy competes with surrealism. Despair intermingles with calm or even joy. As the numbers we don’t want to see march rapidly up a steep incline, so too do the acts of kindness, the messages of love, and the moments of inspiration and hope. We are, if we are following the logical recommendations of medical and public health experts, forced inside. While we are forced into isolation, we are also being forced inside of our own minds, without the distractions that keep many of us from this inward journey on a regular basis. And it can be a hard place to find yourself when nothing has prepared you for the trip. But maybe, just maybe, we will come out the other side of our struggles the better for them, and the difficult sacrifices that have been forced upon us will not have been for naught.
This time is painful for many. We cannot negate that reality. But there is a coupled trend in sharing beauty that is so beautifully wrenching as well. It seems to me it first began with viral videos of Italians singing, collectively, from their balconies. These scenes touched us all. Now, amid the heartbreaking stories of unimaginable loss come new appreciations for art and music and laughter. And kindness is blossoming in the storm, too. We are becoming more grateful for things that we maybe took for granted before the world turned upside down. There are countless stories that recognize and acknowledge the bravery of our healthcare professionals and grocery store employees, of teachers and stay at home parent. Of restauranteurs providing food for schoolkids or the newly unemployed who can’t get through the staggeringly long wait times just to begin the process for unemployment benefits. We are newly discovering what the arts do for our souls. If you saw John Krasinski’s most recent episode of SGN (and if you haven’t, please do yourself a favor and watch it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oilZ1hNZPRM), you saw the magic that can come from spreading joy through art. There are countless magical musical montage videos out there that will move the hardest hearts to mush. Authors reading their stories to entertain kids. Art lessons. Dance outs. You name it. So many of us are finding that the way out of our dark moments is to explore our creative sides. Most importantly, we are discovering what generosity does for our own spirits.
I moved into this rig going on two years ago. In so many ways my life doesn’t look much different now than it did PP (pre-pandemic). I am ever so fortunate that I am working in a virtual setting. First, in teaching university courses that moved online after spring break, and second as a contracted writer. I am only just scraping by, and I fully recognize that that makes me luckier than so many others right now. My life might not look much different now, but I know that all of this is tenuous and the real strength for me, and for any of us, will come from our larger sense of community, from love, kindness, and connection. We are all in this together.
Whatever you’re feeling right now, be kind to yourself. If, like me, you want to cry at any given time for seemingly incongruous reasons, allow it. It is perfectly okay to be happy and sad at the same time, to laugh through your tears. And it’s okay too to not know exactly how to feel sometimes. Give yourself permission to just be. Let the love in any time you can, and then let it flow outwards again. We are all shifting space right now, and we are all in this together.
Sending out warm, virtual hugs to you all.
I'm going to leave you Zen a minute.
Until next time.
Warning! This post will not be full of pics of beautiful places or contain tales of hiking or travel. It will just contain some thoughts I’ve been having today and that I wanted to share here. I hope it resonates with some of you.
Last night we had a powerful storm. So, did much of the Midwest and South. I was nervous about it beginning the night before and worried about being able to keep me and the fur babies safe. And about our home staying safe. Weather is experienced differently when you live in a home on wheels. It can be much more present than in a sticks and bricks house. I obsessively watched the weather all day, anticipating whether or not I would have to load the four kitties into their carriers and cart them over to my friends’ house. By myself. The weight of the worry was heavy. I still somehow managed to do some prep for my classes and write an article for a writing job I am just now beginning. And eventually, the weather app alleviated my worries by taking the threat of severe weather out of the forecast for here. Phew! We could stay put in our cozy little home under a tree that would not have the potential to be blown over and on top of said home by straight line winds or a tornado or damaged by large hail.
I breathed easy, thinking, why was I worried? It got me nowhere! I know this. Worry does absolutely nothing to help you. It solves nothing. It changes nothing. Our biology gives us fear, in a healthy don’t let that lion eat you situation. That’s survival. Our brains have co-opted our biology to give us fear and worry over situations that are not life and death. Granted, if a tornado is indeed heading straight for my home, I’m sure going to hope my biological mechanisms are in full functioning order. But worrying and fearing the possibility? It did nothing to change any outcomes for me.
And then, out of nowhere, the warnings went off. Severe thunderstorm warning with winds of 70 mph, large hail, and the potential for tornadoes. The clouds in the sky tipped their loads of water onto this place just as the warning was going off. Biology kicked in. I quickly rounded up four protesting kitties and placed them in carriers. The rain took a pause, but I was running them over to the house two at a time across a darkened yard lighted on occasion by the lightening moving in. I made a third trip out to grab my computer (because if something happened to the rig, I could not risk losing everything on this computer!), got into the house and spare bedroom, and the rain, the wind, the thunder, and the lightening unleashed their fury. I kept going to the window to check that the tree over the rig and the nearby pole remained steadfast and upright. They did. We waited for the storm to rumble its way east, and then made our way back home.
It was a late night last night. I’m usually in bed by 8:30, lights off by 9:30. It was past 11 when I shut off my light. Sleep was also interrupted. But by the time I woke up, it was daylight outside, rather than the still darkness of early morning that I usually wake up to. And it was perfect. The skies were cloudless, and the sun was shining bright. The air had that crisp clear quality that follows the cleansing of the rain. A glorious morning!
I usually meditate for 30 minutes in the morning. Or, at least I’ve been getting better at it. And I do the same in the evening before bed. Rather than meditating this morning, I discovered that I had to run to the pet store. Getting litter was imperative. Pine dust was being dispersed throughout the rig and I didn’t want to spend my day feeling the need to constantly sweep that up every time a cat went in the box (because, if I don’t, I’m picking it up on my feet and dragging onto the futon or chair or bed) when I wanted to be working on my book. So, I left for the store.
On the drive, I had a thought, as I was feeling bad about not meditating and not getting right to my writing. The thought was this: this is what you are supposed to be doing just now. Now is always the perfect time for whatever it is you are doing, so be present for it. Enjoy it. Live it. Just, now. And so I did. I enjoyed the drive to Petco. I noticed the new shopping carts they had and was thrilled with pushing a cart through the store that did not shake and wobble and clank and grind on protesting wheels. I took pleasure at hearing a couple discuss whether they should just go ahead and get both of the guinea pigs they were looking at because they couldn’t decide on one.
When I got home. I still didn’t write. I took care of some things around home, and then I took a nap.
It was 4:00 before I started writing. Here. For this post. Not my book. But I don’t feel like I wasted my day. Far from it. I lived it. Or, I let myself live. Each “just now” is always going to be the right time for whatever you are doing if you are present for it, even if it is napping or running errands or talking to your children. I think that if you are truly present to the now, you cannot help but be positive. So much of our negativity comes from the fears our brain creates. Those fears are almost never rooted in the now. The precise moment we are living. This isn’t to take away from the physical pains and illnesses and trauma that people really do experience. But in our day to day lives, being present to what we are doing just now gives us, I believe, a deeper connection to our lives. To life in general. An appreciation of the gifts we are given each day we open our eyes to begin anew this journey we are on. Living in the now opens us up to living free. Just, now.
I can’t recall the last time I was out here. It’s been years. A number of years before I left Texas, actually, so probably at least 12. By the end of my tenure in Central Texas, I was not finding much joy in my surroundings at all. The area was in the middle of a severe drought that actually got even more critical after I left. And it was hot. All the time. Hot, hotter, and hottest. That’s how I defined my days. Wow, it’s hot out here. February. This month is hotter than it was last year. June. This is the hottest I’ve ever felt. More months than I can count. When Harvey spilled its devastating rains across southeastern Texas, we saw not a single drop in Central Texas. It would be cloudy. Gray skies taunting us from above, only to stingily hold onto their water until they’d moved on from here. I’m sure Houston would have loved to have shared some of the water. The differences between the two places, less than 200 miles apart, was dramatic. And so was I. I used to say I had to leave before someone took me out of here in a straight jacket.
By the time I left here, I had forgotten how beautiful parts of Texas could be. Most especially, Hill Country. I’m in the area now until the middle of May because I took on the opportunity to teach two classes in the department where I did my doctoral work. That takes care of winter in the rig. And spring, too. But we’ll be cutting out of here before melting season begins. I hope. And until then, I plan to hit up this area’s beautiful natural areas as much as I can. I started with one of my favorites: Enchanted Rock. Enchanted Rock is a giant pink granite dome, surrounded by other almost as giant pink granite domes, formed from the upthrust of a cooled pool of lava.
Gail accompanied me on this trek, but before we hit the rock, we hit up the town of Fredericksburg. Fredericksburg is a German town and always makes me feel nostalgic for my time in Garmisch many moons ago. Some of the citizens of the town still speak German as their first language, although it is, apparently, and older form of German held over from when the German settlers first came to the area in 1846, establishing the town under the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas. In the town’s park sat German Christmas decorations, but, sadly, no Kristkindl Markt. Or glühwein stands. It does, however, have Rustlin’ Rob’s. Not German. But still the place I must go each time I’m in the town. The reason? It’s all about grazing. I never visit Fredericksburg without planning a trip into Rustlin’ Rob’s for lunch. Most of the products in the store are at least regionally made. Dips, sauces, hot sauces, marinades, jams, relishes, pickled this that and the others (pickled Brussel’s sprouts was a first this time around, and far and away my favorite. I could have sat with the whole jar!).
After this snacking lunch, it was time to drive the almost 20 more miles to Enchanted Rock. We did not know what to expect. When I was there last, you simply paid your entry fare, drove into the park, and started exploring. Now, they’ve limited the number of visitors each day to protect the park’s sensitive ecosystems. A great idea, but I’d not purchased “save the date” reservations, so I was hoping that because it was the Wednesday before winter break would mean that anyone not working or in school would be more preoccupied with holiday goings on than hiking. They now have signs on the way in informing you of the park’s closure, should that be the case, so you can turn around before driving the 18 miles. Thankfully, the yellow lights weren’t flashing, meaning the park was open to people arriving.
There’s this great part of the drive, when you round a curve and crest a hill, and before you lies granite country, and then more of hill country beyond that. It’s a spectacular view. And on this day, it was enveloped in clear blue skies. Well, all except for the plumes of smoke rising up around the park. Something was burning. That something, we discovered, was the park. It was only a controlled burn, but it meant that the only trail open was the one to the top of the rock. This was fine by us, as that was all we’d have time for this trip anyway. We also discovered a not too full parking lot. An added bonus. Thankfully, the winds were calm, and the fires were burning on the opposite side of the rock from the main trailhead.
When you get to the trailhead, there is a sign warning of the steepness of the climb. Climbing up the rock is like climbing a 30-40 story building, but all on the steep face of granite. With no trees and just a vast expanse of rock, it’s not a good place for people with a big fear of heights or open spaces. And going down is more nerve racking than going up. I had on my nice grippy Altra trail runners, and it’s the most secure I’ve ever felt on this rock. When the time came, I wanted to gallop my way down, but I refrained. The climb up caused me to pause for breath more than once, as I’d not done any hiking in quite some time. Plus. Did I mention it was steep? The stops happen anyway, because each pause gives you new perspective on the landscape falling beneath you. The views are glorious. You are an ant and a giant, all at once. The rock all around you threatens to swallow you, while you feel as if you could reach your shoe out in front of you and flatten the nearest trees (though who would ever want to do that?).
Whenever I’m in a place like this, I want to explore it all. I want to be a part of every nook and cranny in the rock face. Every vernal pool teaming with life. With the wind brushing across the top of the peak and the sun warming its surface. Instead, I wandered over to the far edge to watch the controlled burns, joining in the crowd of visitors doing the same, sitting on the edge of the rock, spectators to restoration disguised as destruction. And then we wandered away from the smoke, where I sat and enjoyed another view while adding more fuel to my own fires of exploration. As well as fueling my body…Rustlin’ Rob’s fare doesn’t stick around long.
Daylight would be growing dim before long, and the cats would be sitting in a rapidly chilling rig (it would be a cold night that night), so it was time to make our way back down the sloping granite to the car and begin the 2.5 hour drive back to Bastrop. Enchanted Rock was the perfect place to go for my first trip back into the Texas Wilds. It reminded me of what is beautiful about this area and got me excited to revisit other old favorites and to visit for the first time some of the places I never made it to in my 10 years of living here. So, while a temporary job opportunity will keep me here for a few more months, the prospects of seeing Central Texas from a renewed perspective (and in the cooler months!) will keep me going until it’s time to get going again.
Here we sit on the precipice of a year and a decade. In our minds, we place so much significance on this changing of the calendar. It’s a funny thing, isn’t it? We love this time of year. It’s all about making new promises to ourselves, and maybe to others as well. It’s about change. Humans fear change so much, they’ll stay in unhappy or unhealthy places in their lives because the idea of change is so much scarier than the pain they know. But give us a new year, and, better yet, a new decade, and we embrace the idea of change. Our minds allow us to picture change and lessen the fear that surrounds it because we’ve created this symbolic space in which we, as a society, say it’s okay to want change. A new start. A clean slate. We can begin anew. Brush off the old and welcome in the new. It’s utterly freeing when we have the permission to do so. Think about how you feel when you anticipate what dreams might unfold with the coming of a new year. Or how the new you will feel when you shed an old habit for a new, healthier one. When you let yourself go there in your brain. The heart feels lighter, and you feel like anything is possible.
It’s also that time of gratitude. Where we acknowledge the beautiful spaces we’ve been in, the hearts who have touched ours, the gifts we’ve been given. We pause for breath, no matter where we are, and nod our heads to the year past, and say thank you. Thank you for all that I’ve seen, done, and learned that has made me a better, kinder, gentler person; saved my life; or met my spirit. Even if we choose to celebrate by partying the night away in reckless abandon, most of us, at some point, take that breath. It might be before the carnage begins. It might be as you’re raising a toast (after perhaps 100 more prior) to the ringing in of the new year, lifting your glass, and seeing the moment frozen in a real-life picture. Or it might be at that moment when you glance around your cozy little home and the living creatures you share it with, just before you turn off the lights long before the midnight hour rings in.
We are generous with ourselves and others, as we hang upon this particular precipice.
Today ends a year and it ends a decade. I have lived a life of change over this past year and a half. Some of it has been a struggle, but much of that struggle has led me to appreciate the beautiful all that much more. I know that sounds cliché, but it is also very true. I embarked on this journey purposefully. I knew it wouldn’t always be easy. I acted, and still do, in spite of the fear I sometimes experience. But, some of it is easier than I imagined, and the fear is lessening all the time. There are those who do not understand this decision I made or the life I have chosen. Who think that I made this decision because I had to, or who think that this life I lead is confining or less than. And that’s okay. We will never all understand one another, but we can all appreciate one another and love each other where we are.
Over this past year, and with increasing rapidity as of late, I have learned to let go of so much that I have been holding onto. So much of the anxieties and worries and fear that express themselves in middle of the night wakefulness, in a clenching jaw, or in tightened muscles. I am learning to let go of trying to control it all. I am learning to see and to accept the gifts I am given every single day. I am learning to slow down, and to breathe. To live in that moment. Each moment. And now I am on that precipice of the changing of the year, I, too, find myself even more present to this pause we all take now. It’s a heightened expression of what has become my life out here, and I welcome it for what it is.
But what if we could stand on this precipice every day? Where would we be if we embraced the beauty of change, the heartbeat of our dreams, the gifts we can give and receive every single day? What if it weren’t just a New Year’s Resolution, but a new day’s resolution…every single day. Every. Single. Moment. What then would our lives become? What then would our world become?
Here’s to all of you. I wish for all of you that you will greet each day of this new year as if you are standing on the precipice of a fresh start and a clean slate each and every day. I wish this for all of us. And I wish for all of us to know love and kindness, that we can express it and receive it openly and with gratitude. Happy New Year!! I love and appreciate you all.
I know. I disappeared for a while. The last I posted I was still in Colorado, and that feels like many moons ago, though it was not even three. I am in Texas now, which surprises me even now. It is a decision that felt right when the idea came to me at some point while I was still in Colorado, but the route to get here was different than I’d planned, and my best friend and her cat have rejoined me and the boys again. Yet, here I sit, parked in a beautiful location with the kindest of friends hosting me. I am right on a river. The ground rolls away from Knight, gently falling into green reflections that carry away troubling thoughts when I allow myself to let go of them long enough to be caught up in the slow-moving current. I am not always successful, holding on with a grip that belies my desires. But I am learning. I think. I hope. Learning to occasionally release my habitual mind from its deeply ingrained patterns. When that happens, I truly feel free.
I’m not sure why I needed to disappear for a while. It wasn’t entirely planned, and I didn’t think my silence would last so long. All I can say is that I felt the need to crawl into myself for a time.
It’s strange being back in Texas. I spent ten years in this general vicinity. With this visit, I’m being given the gift of a colorful autumn. In all the years I lived here, I don’t ever recall seeing as colorful a fall as the one I’m seeing now. Since I’ve returned to central Texas, I’ve retread old haunts and stomping grounds. I’ve been pulled back into nostalgia one moment, only to ricochet into recognition of how much I’ve changed since leaving here.
Austin still holds a bit of an allure for me, as a visitor. The explosion of vegan-friendly eateries astounds and delights me, even though I’ll likely only hit a small handful while I am here. I have already indulged in delicious vegan pizza and buffalo “wings” that were so close to the texture (from what I recall) of the real thing—including a strip of jicama for the bone—that it was almost disturbing. I went to a vegan deli and cheese shop. I was so excited by the prospect of this place, only to leave incredibly disappointed in the vibe, as well as ridiculously lighter in the wallet to boot, and still hungry. I’ve been giddy in the discovery that the co-op here rivals, if not surpasses, the one back in Urbana, Illinois. And that’s hard to do. It’s the first co-op that has done so on this journey thus far. I sank down deep into the comforts of a hot oat milk latte and a comfy chair by the window at one of my favorite coffee shops in my old neighborhood. And I’ve briefly perused the shelves of an independent bookstore that still feels like home. I dive into the hustle and bustle of Austin, get my fill for a few hours, and then escape.
I escape the dizzying energy of the city to the calm of the land where I am staying, in a town that has surprised me in the open and friendly nature of its residents. This I did not expect at all, and the experience warms the heart. I make my way back to the quiet dead-end street where my friends’ house sits on the river and is surrounded by trees. I am filled with gratitude for the generosity they have given so easily. My initial intent, when offered the option to stay, was to do so only briefly while I sorted out what was next. But then opportunities arose for pet sitting for the neighbors for two trips spaced two weeks apart and some finishing work on my friends’ garage. Three weeks later, I’m still here, because of their continued welcome, which I hope I do not inadvertently overstay.
When I began this RV journey one year and four months ago, I did not know what was in store for me. I had hoped for adventure. I got it. But I was also seeking something. I’m not entirely sure what. Myself maybe. Seeking the me who is not afraid to be me. The me who accepts myself and others where they are at. The creative self who does not fear revealing her work. The self who does not feel inadequate. Lacking.
Since I began this RV journey, I have been asked consistently about how I make money on the road. It seems I am asked that question more than any other single question. I hate that question. What we do to make money seems often to define to others who we are and whether we are a success or a failure. I worked two full time jobs for a time in order to not have to work for a while when I began my travels. I wanted to focus on learning the traveling and living in an RV bit. I wanted to focus on finding out what I wanted to do next with my life. I had a sense I wanted to write, but I didn’t know what and I was scared as hell for others to read my writing.
When I was young, I wrote all the time. I kept a journal beginning at age 8. But I also wrote creatively. I would write in spiral notebooks or on napkins or scrap pieces of paper. Sometimes just phrases or ideas. Sometimes scenes that popped into my head. I kept my writing hidden, and eventually I just quit writing creatively. I got the idea that using my intellect was more important and the way to become “successful.” Not from my parents. I’m not exactly sure how I got that idea, really. I just know that somewhere along the line, I came to believe that being creative was not good enough for this world. I now think it’s what we need more of. It’s the most important thing. We are creative souls, and to make art (even in the quiet of your own room, with the door closed and for no one else to see or hear or read) is to reveal your soul, to know who you really are. But in a world where people keep the television on or keep glued to their devices in order to avoid keeping company with their innermost selves, we risk losing entirely our relationship with our deepest selves. With our humanity.
It is my hope that someday in the near future my creative soul will mesh with what this world requires to put food on the table and keep me out here living a simple and quiet life in our country’s spectacular landscapes and connecting with the rich diversity of humans and other animals. I still would rather hear people ask, “What is the most moving place you’ve seen?” or “What is it like to live the kind of life where everything you own fits in a 30’ house on wheels?” or “What was your most memorable meeting of a stranger?” or anything else that gets to the heart of why I live the way I do or how I currently see my place in this world I inhabit. I might be broke. I might have to clock in, in some form, to a job in the near future (unless my book sales suddenly skyrocket or some other miracle occurs…but, hey, I’m not one to count either of those out!), but I’m all the richer in all the important ways for the experiences I am having on this journey mine.
Until next time (which will, I hope, not be so long from now)…