The Big Epic

Connect with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Category: Outdoor Adventures (page 3 of 14)

7 Ways to Fill Your Soul with NEW LIFE

It has been a long winter. I’m weary and lethargic; life feels stressful. Spring flowers are budding but my soul still needs tending. How about yours? Here are simple ways to fill our souls by connecting with nature:

1 – Spring CLEANING (physical & emotional)

Our physical gardens need pruning, raking, planning, organizing, and planting. Spring is also a good time to clean the “garden” of our soul: release guilt, let go of “should,” choose to forgive to make space for joy.

2—Choose a NEW RITUAL or routine for Spring

Put away candles, cozy blankets, and hot mugs of tea. It’s time for reaching out, for letting Spring into our lives. Buy yourself flowers each week; drive through nature on your way home from errands or work; open windows and doors and let in the fresh air.

3—REST

Winter hibernation is over, but quiet buds still come before blooms. Choose restful ways to relax as you fill your soul: get gentle exercise outdoors; re-read a favorite book; take a soothing bubble bath or relaxed shower.

“Your time here is short…it’s really important to do the stuff that feeds your soul.” – Paul’s Boots, AT Documentary

4—MAKE YOUR OWN Beautiful Things

I know, I know, this one is not a direct connection to Nature. But it IS a way to fill our souls! Don’t be passive but participate actively: make art, make music, try dance or movement, do some writing, re-decorate for spring!

5—CONNECT with others

Spring is the season for birds to migrate in flocks, for mating and raising young ones, for frisky animals chasing each other as they search for food. Spending time with our “flock” brings renewed zest for life!

6—PLAY with the exuberant joy of a child…or a pet

Splash in a puddle or walk in the rain; blow bubbles, explore a wild space. Throw a toy for a 4 legged friend; chase a squirrel; howl at the moon! (I tried to figure out how to get a photo of us howling at the moon…but you couldn’t have figured out what we were doing. We just looked silly!! HAHA)

7—USE EACH SENSE to find “treasure”

One of the best ways to feel fully alive is to experience life through all of your senses. Savor the flavors of the foods you eat; Notice beauty (once you see the obvious, go deeper); Enjoy sniffing a pleasant aroma (piney woods, flowers); Touch interesting things (pet an animal, put your hand in a stream); Listen to nature (birds, insects, spring peeper frogs).

What fills your soul with life? I would love to hear your ideas of what helps YOU to relax when you are worn out or stressed. Please add a comment below!

(Consider starting a practice of Sit-Spot… Read about it HERE.)

Let’s Run Away with the Tiny-Mes!

(If you are new and haven’t yet met our Tiny-Mes, read their introduction HERE.)

The Tiny-Mes apparently don’t like dreary, gray Ohio winters. (Hmmm…just like us!) They disappeared not long after we finished our fall backpacking trip. Winter doesn’t want to let go around here, but the Tiny-Mes showed up recently, just in time to help plan our next adventures. (I asked where they had been. All they said was “someplace sunny!” They won’t say if it was snowy sun or sunning on a beach. Either way, we are glad to see them again!)

At the first hint of spring, we start dreaming and planning. So many possibilities! So many directions we could go! So many people we could reconnect with! All of us love to study maps…

This year it looks like we will make an Epic Road Trip to son’s graduation in Montana. The Tiny-Mes had to get passports—we are headed into Canada to explore the mountains! Plus there will be a summer Appalachian Trail (AT) adventure in Vermont with a friend or two. And possibly, another fall trip to TN to fill in a section of the AT that we missed last year.

Now that we have a general plan, it is time to get out the guide books, the maps, and the computer. I’m sure I’ve told you before (HERE and HERE) how much I love making detailed plans and itineraries! As always, I have to cut out about half of what we dream of doing.  Hubby encourages our wanderings…but wants us back home sometimes! HA!

Next, it’s time to pull out all our gear from the storage closet. We check to see that everything is clean and in good repair. We figure out what needs replaced or what we hope to upgrade. The Tiny-Mes decided try out a hammock this year. They say it will be the perfect piece of gear for a road trip.

We can’t wait to get back to the Great Outdoors! We love wandering and exploring new places. And we look forward to sharing more stories with you. May can’t come soon enough…

[UPDATE: This campaign is now closed. THANKS to everyone who generously supported me!!] The Tiny-Mes urge you to consider sponsoring my upcoming training to become a Forest Therapy Guide. YOU could win the drawing on May 7th to have your own personalized Tiny-Me join us on our summer backpacking trip! Wouldn’t it be fun to vicariously adventure with us?


BEWARE! Steep Roller Coaster Ahead…

Are you a roller coaster lover? Or are you like me—terrified of those torture devices? It doesn’t matter which kind of roller coaster it is, from kiddie ride to mega-coaster, I hate them all the same!

Along the Appalachian Trail in Northern Virginia, there is a 13.5 mile section called the Roller Coaster. This series of a dozen short steep hills comes with a “warning” sign at each end. We reached this area a few weeks into our first backpacking trip on the AT. It was intimidating, but we survived.

In the past few weeks, I have been on a different type of Roller Coaster. There has been an unending path of steep emotional ups and downs: bittersweet memories while sorting family photos, my parents first anniversary after my dad died last year, approaching the 10th anniversary of our son’s death (how in the world has it been that long?!), the upcoming first anniversary of my dad’s death, my dad’s birthday, my birthday that I share with my son…plus family gatherings, a daughter graduating from Pharmacy school, a son graduating with a bachelor’s degree, both kids and their spouses moving to new locations, a cross-country road trip and more. So many mixed up emotions hitting me all at once!

I know I’m not the only one walking a challenging path right now. Daughter and I conquered the AT Roller Coaster. Here are some lessons we learned that can help me (and you?!) more easily navigate other times of turmoil in our lives…

RECOGNIZE WHAT IS HAPPENING: It is much easier to handle difficult times when we anticipate the struggles. We can give ourselves grace, not expecting too much of ourselves in the midst of steep ups and downs. At the same time, we can make preparations to (somewhat) ease the challenges of grief and stress. The warning signs in the guidebooks and on the AT itself were daunting. But these warnings helped set our expectations. In reality, it wasn’t as bad as we feared.

LIGHTEN the LOAD: When chaos hits, it’s time to take a look at what we are carrying and lighten the load wherever possible. Eliminating unnecessary things allows us to have more energy to deal with the burden(s) we can’t avoid carrying. Which things can be rearranged in our schedules? Which chores and responsibilities can be left for later or delegated to others? This is a never-ending quest in backpacking—determining actual *NEEDS* versus heavy *shoulds* or little luxuries that quickly add up to draining burdens.

SET YOUR OWN PACE: Don’t compare yourself to others walking a similar path. Don’t let others dictate what (they think) you should do. Some folks best deal with challenges by keeping busy, not wallowing in messy emotions. Others need to step back and plan for times to rest, allowing themselves space to ponder what is happening. In the case of the AT Roller Coaster, we chose to stop in the middle at a pretty campsite and get good rest to finish the ups and downs the next day.

LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE: In the middle of the Roller Coaster it sometimes feels like things are out of our control and the upheaval will never end. It helps to step back and realize this turbulence is temporary…it will not last forever. And even in the chaos, we can find moments of beauty and rest. It was helpful when we were weary of endless ups and downs to stop at an overlook for a few minutes. Rest, a beautiful view, and some nutritious snacks gave us energy to continue down the trail.

LET OTHERS HELP: When we feel overwhelmed, there are often people around us who want to encourage us. We have to be willing to talk with them and accept their offers of assistance. Stubborn independence makes our own burdens heavier and prevents others from experiencing the joy of helping someone else. Often little things become huge encouragements! A simple granola bar offered by one day hiker, a brief conversation with some young kids walking with their dad, and the juicy sweetness of fresh fruit handed to us  gave us energy to keep going until we finished the Roller Coaster. (Thanks, Trail Angels!)

I still hate roller coasters, but looking back at our successful hike through the Roller Coaster on the Appalachian Trail reminds me that I can also successfully navigate the turbulent ups and downs  of grief and stress I’m experiencing right now. I’m off to listen to some soothing music while re-reading a favorite book. I can face these challenges again tomorrow…

(You can read more about my “adventures” with grief HERE and HERE.)

“Our Holiday” — Celebrating FORESTS!

You already know how much daughter and I love to spend time in the woods. After all, that’s the reason I started this blog to tell stories about our adventures! I discovered that “our holiday” was yesterday. On March 21, 2012 the United Nations declared an annual International Day of Forests. This day is a global acknowledgement of the importance of forests and a celebration of the ways in which woodlands and trees sustain and protect us. Woohoo! Folks around the world enjoy the woods as much as we do.

I just discovered a fascinating book: “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben. The author, a forester from Germany, makes audacious claims about life in the forests. Even better, these assertions are supported by new research being done by scientists around the world. Here are a few of the most intriguing facts I’ve read so far:

1-the “Wood-Wide-Web”

We have all heard about the interconnectedness of life. There is actually fierce competition between species—plants, insects, birds and mammals. But in fully functioning woods, deciduous trees of the same species are connected at the root level by soil fungi. This network allows sharing of both information and goods. These interconnected trees support young seedlings and saplings, share nutrients with other trees that are sick or struggling, and warn each other of impending danger from insect invasion or grazing critters. Occasionally, different species of trees network in similar ways for mutual benefit. Individual trees or man-made forests do not have these types of connections, and they live much shorter, sicklier lives.

2-Smart Trees

Scientists have discovered that trees learn from experience and change their later activity based on what they have learned. This was so unbelievable that I read the chapters more than once! One example: younger trees tend to slurp up huge amounts of water every day and in every season. However, after experiencing the trauma of a significant summer drought, in future years, these now more experienced trees take up less water in the spring which leaves more water available for use in the summer months when there might be another drought. In addition, they stockpile extra water during the winter months to be used in drier months.

3-It’s COOL to Walk in the Woods

It is literally cool to walk in the woods…research shows that on a hot summer day it can be up to 50 degrees cooler on the forest floor that has full, undisturbed bio-mass! Natural woods create their own micro-climates. Thick tree cover keeps the forest floor in deep shade. (This is one reason “parent trees” share nutrients with young trees, as mentioned above.) Masses of tall trees also slow down winds. Calmer air means less evaporation, keeping more moisture in the local area. Higher moisture levels in deep shade lower temperatures which keep the cycle going.  Again, individual trees and man-made woods with carefully spaced trees do not benefit from the microclimate effects of a healthy natural forest.

Let’s CELEBRATE the forests!

Trees are far more amazing than we ever imagined. Next time Daughter and I go to the woods, we will take time to stop, listen, ponder, and imagine what is actually going on around us. Will you join us?

One Gray Week_Two Stories (Part 2)

(Last week I had solo adventures in Nature. While wandering, I realized two different stories were playing out at the same time. You can read the first story HERE. Today, I share the second story…)

On Monday, my hubby and daughter were out of town for the day. I had the house to myself. It was a great opportunity to do things just for me, things I somehow never get around to doing. Perhaps get ahead on writing blog posts. Or teach myself how to make videos to share. Or go out to lunch at a real restaurant (rather than getting McTaco fast food). But, with nothing on my schedule that HAD to be done and with no daughter needing oversight for her work, I couldn’t find motivation to do anything. I sat on the couch, nursed a mug of yet another coffee and mindlessly filled in crossword puzzles.

Finally, I got myself off that couch and out the door into the drizzly, gray day. When I got to the forest walking trail in a local park, I felt somewhat lost. No-one was with me to turn my grumpy attitude around with a song, no-one to enjoy the surprising beauty of dead flowers with me. Hmmm…usually I enjoy time to myself!

And, then I took that oopsy-daisy sliding fall on the slick leaves, flowing water, hilly trail. Getting covered with mud made me laugh! But…I realized I also missed my daughter who would have given me a hand up, laughed with me, and teased me the rest of the day…

As I explained in the previous story, I got to travel with middle daughter to Virginia for a few days. While she went to interviews, I found my happy place in a quiet, beautiful, peaceful cave. And I ended up in tears…no-one to enjoy the beauty with me, no-one for me to point out little details I noticed. Ugh… “empty nest” hits with a vengeance—even before the youngest “birdie” actually leaves!

After the cave tour, I wandered the trail beside a peaceful river. I sat on a rock and pondered this second story. Yes, Nature is healing. Yes, I love to be outdoors, soaking up the beauty and the peace. BUT…the sense of loss I was feeling on these solo adventures reminded me how much I also enjoy helping others make their own connections with Nature and find their own healing and peace.

Thinking about both of these stories, affirms for me that training to become a Forest Therapy Guide is the perfect next step for me. It will allow me to continue helping others in ways I have been practicing with my own children for decades!

UPDATE: This campaign has ended. THANKS to the donors who gave generous support! (Please check out my go-fund-me campaign and consider how YOU can help me get to training to become a Forest Therapy Guide! You can read about different ways to help me HERE. You will be helping me find purpose out of upcoming “empty nest” and, at the same time, help me help so many others find peace in stressful daily living.)

(elephant photo from Strange Travel dot Com)

One Gray Week–Two Stories (Part 1)

(Last week I had solo adventures in Nature. While wandering, I realized two different stories were playing out at the same time. Today I share the first part…)

Last Monday was a gray day; a dismal, dreary, drizzly day. It was a stay-on-the-couch-with-a-mug-of-coffee sort of day. I used to easily find color-filled activities to turn days like this one upside-down. But after the death of a son ten years ago, I just wanna crawl in a hole on gloomy days.

So I burrowed under the blankets on the couch, feeling sorry for myself. As I mindlessly scrolled through Facebook, I glanced at a friend’s post. Mariah described a very difficult day including a trip to the ER. Then she said “One plus, it’s raining! I love rain!!! It’s calming, slows the world down a bit, and gives you an excuse to stop and enjoy life.” That stopped me in my tracks.

I was alone in the house for 24 hours. That should have been an opportunity for doing things just for me—whether writing, making art, or pampering myself. But instead I was having a pity party. My friend’s words woke me up. I forced myself off the couch and out the door into the rain.

By the time I got to the local park, the rain had turned to mist. I started down the leaf-covered, mud-smeared trail. I noticed this jumble of dead branches. I took a photo since it was a good illustration of my day.

But then, Nature started its healing therapy. When I looked beyond the mess, I noticed a beautiful tree with golden leaves dancing in the breeze. And when I looked more closely into the pile, I discovered the quiet colors of lichens on the bark.

I kept walking, following the sounds of a rushing stream at the bottom of the hilly path. It was invigorating to find that the heavy rain had turned the trail into its own unexpected waterfall.

You can, of course, guess what happened next…mud, slick leaves, flowing water, hillside path… Yep, I slipped and ended up covered with mud! Now, you might guess that would have made my day worse, right? But somehow, I started laughing. That muddy fall turned my day around! I felt alive again, back to my usual “Susie-Sunshine” self.

Later in the week, I had a last-minute opportunity to travel with my middle daughter for a few days in Virginia. While she went to interviews, I was free to explore the area. The dismal, gray weather continued, but I had learned a lesson. Instead of hanging out at a coffee shop, working on writing projects (or feeling sorry for myself), I decided to get outside. I didn’t have energy for a full hike, but found a nearby cave tour. Ahhh… Since I was a little girl, I have always loved being in a cave. Beauty, peaceful quiet, a sense of timelessness… somehow, I fully relax in a cave.

I finished that day by sitting beside a quiet river. This dreary week held an important reminder. Nature brings peace and contentment when I make the effort to get outside!

(You can read the second story HERE…)

Lessons from my Mama

In January, I participated in a snail mail group. Each week, we were given a topic to exchange notes with our assigned partner. The final assignment was to summarize life lessons we have learned from our mothers (or other women/mentors in our lives). Here is some good advice for anyone dreaming of living a life filled with “Big Epic” adventures:

Never Travel Without Your SwimsuitBe prepared to say yes to unexpected opportunities!

If needs be, Travel Cheap! There’s always a way to reach for dreams, even if you have to adjust your expectations to make it happen.

Spread the Love—Invite Friends to Join YouOne year even the mailman came to Thanksgiving dinner! … yes, really! (It’s a long story… )

Here’s the summary of Big Epic Advice I have learned from my mama: Be ready for unexpected opportunities to reach for your dreams—and invite others to join you along the way. THANKS, MOM!

(Click HERE to read another post about my adventuresome Mama! And click HERE to read about my family’s heritage of women who love to wander.)

Nature Snob

Hi, my name is Jill, and I discriminate against boring views. I’m addicted to changing scenery and epic locations. Do you also belong to this group for recovering Nature-snobs?

I long for the beauty of walking in the mountains. I’m homesick for the brilliant blue skies and the mysterious fog-bound trees found along the Appalachian Trail. At least give me a beach with crashing waves! I hate the flat farm fields and always overcast skies that have surrounded me in Central Ohio. Such a Nature-snob!

It helps that we recently moved to a small town in a hilly county northeast of Columbus. As I explore local parks and wander trails in nearby forests, I am challenged to change my snooty attitude. There truly IS beauty all around me when I look for it! 

“Finding beauty here or there; Finding beauty anywhere!”

The beginning of a new year means it is time to organize the thousands of photos on my computer. This year I found interesting similarities in the views I have captured as I explore Nature-places both “here” in Ohio and “there” on the AT. Take a look… (In the following sets of photographs, the first one is along the AT; the second photo is close to our new home.)

Enjoying early morning light streaming thru the trees:

Noticing farmland shrouded in fog; waiting for the rising sun to bring crisp, clear views of the hills:

Walking along a stream, listening to it burbling and gurgling along its merry way:

Stopping to wonder at the roar of rushing, cascading water falling over boulders:

Looking for small pleasures and tiny bits of beauty:

Reflecting on the beauty of seasonal changes:

Taking time to notice the colors of sunset over nightly shelter:

I’m working hard to stop being a Nature-Snob by “finding beauty anywhere.” What have YOU discovered near you? I would love to see your favorite nature places. Please leave a photo in the comments!

The ABCs of Nature’s Healing

Have you noticed how you feel better in your daily life after spending time outdoors? As we immerse ourselves in the natural world, we become more whole physically, mentally, and emotionally. Plus, the better we know the world around us, the more we enjoy spending time outside. Continue reading to learn about the three different levels of connecting with Nature…

A – Have an ADVENTURE in Nature

“Nature” refers to the outdoors, the natural world, the places not made by humans. Everyone has an emotional response when they hear that word. For some of us, it is a place of comfort or adventure or pleasure. For others, it is a place that is dangerous or boring, a place to avoid. At this level, Nature is something separate from the adventurers, something to be explored or enjoyed in and of itself.

We enjoy extended backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail

So exciting to see wild ponies up close and personal!

B—Use Nature as a BACKDROP for Therapy

There is growing interest in adding nature to traditional counseling or psychotherapy practices. In this case, the natural world is seen as a beneficial alternate setting for client/therapist interactions. There are variations in how this is applied, with names such as Ecopsychotherapy, Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare, and Nature Therapy. Although these activities are set outdoors, the focus is on the therapy itself as it is directed by the specialist. There is acknowledgement of the ways Nature lowers stress but this is merely seen as complementary to the traditional health practices. A few individuals participate in specialized programs that push them to their physical limits to more quickly and radically change their emotional and behavioral choices.

Daughter is proud of the survival skills she has learned–including building a fire

Being in the mountains is a good place to practice meditation and self-calming skills

C—Make a Deep CONNECTION with Nature

There is growing research focused on the therapeutic value of connecting directly with Nature, not merely pursuing beneficial activities in an outdoor setting. Scientists are learning that Nature itself can fill the role of “therapist.” Most of us aren’t comfortable interacting at this level on our own. We aren’t sure what to do or how to build these relationships with the natural world. It can be helpful to have a “Forest Therapy Guide” facilitate a personal connection to our environment by using all of our senses to immerse ourselves in Nature.

Close your eyes and focus on what you feel and hear and smell in the woods

Taste wild fruit; Feel the ferns when making and wearing a “crown”

What’s Next?

Stay tuned! I’ve been accepted into the Forest Therapy Guide training and certification program. In the coming weeks, I will share more about the specific health benefits of immersing oneself in Nature. I can’t wait to tell you more about why this is my “dream job” and how you can help me start this practice in my online and local communities!

New Year–New Adventures

Raise your hand if you have (yet again) set New Year’s Resolutions. Raise your hand if you have (yet again) already broken those resolutions two weeks into the new year. Tired of repeated “failure,” I decided to try something different this year. Rather than setting big goals, I chose to find what is working and build on that. I took time to look back through my planner and summarize the activities of past year. Next, I decided which things I wanted to continue in the coming year, and which activities I wanted to change or add.

Far too many days, I find myself wishing for something new, something different,  something more exciting. (Please tell me you do the same?!) The most interesting thing to me about this reflection process was realizing how content I am with my current life, overall. There actually isn’t much I really want to change!

LOOKING BACK:

  • Regular activities included church, getting together with friends, and taking Daughter to the city for church organ lessons (and visiting) with my Mom.
  • Significant time was spent getting Daughter to 4H meetings, homeschool co-op, Equine Therapy, and finding her an emotional support dog.
  • We continue to put down roots in our friendly small-town. In addition, hubby found a local job (after 4 months of unemployment) and we eliminated the hassles of commuting and of home ownership in multiple locations.
  • Family time included wonderful visits from grown kids, spoiling grandbabies, having our future daughter-in-law live with us for the spring, and celebrating their marriage when son got home from a semester spent in Ireland. On the other hand, there were far too many deaths this year (my dad, an uncle, and parents of friends and extended family).
  • Daughter and I had wonderful adventures last year: a few days at the Outer Banks for Spring Break (thanks, Sis!), taking my mom on a mini-adventure to celebrate her 80th birthday, dayhikes and local camping with friends. Of course, we spent time on another month-long AT adventure!

NO REASON TO CHANGE:

  • We enjoy regular contact with others and will continue most of the activities in the first three areas listed above.
  • Family will see changes this year as grown kids visit, graduate, change jobs and move around the country. But spending time together never gets old!
  • We are committed to enjoying Nature and going on adventures large and small. We will continue local exploration, hiking, and camping.

NEW ADVENTURES: We have a few big things planned. These are things you can expect to read about here on the blog in the coming year.

So many new possibilities to explore!

  • We anticipate an extended road trip to attend son’s university graduation in Montana in May. There are a number of National Parks we haven’t yet visited. We are updating passports so we can head into Canada for additional sightseeing. Heads up friends and family along the way—we hope to stop by for coffee, late night chats and sleeping on your couch!
  • Our AT Adventure this year will likely be a summer trip through the 100 Mile Wilderness in Maine. Looks like we may also get to introduce another friend to the joys of backpacking!
  • I found my “Dream Job” and can’t wait to tell you more about it! I’m working out the organizational details right now. I’ll share details soon…

What about YOU? What are your plans for the coming year? What things are going well enough to continue largely unchanged? What new adventures do you hope to have? I’d love to hear YOUR story in the comments!

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