The Big Epic

Connect with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: Art-Poetry-Music

Dare to LIVE in Empty Moments

Every one of us will have empty moments in our lives, times of struggle, pain, or disappointment. But those empty moments do not have to define who we are. My son shared this poem with me a few years ago—discovered for a presentation he made in college speech class. It continues to resonate for me, in various seasons of life.

Right now, our family is celebrating joys, walking beside each other through challenges, and dealing with unexpected medical concerns. (Reasons why I have been quieter than usual on both social media and here on the blog. I’m giving myself grace to rest when needed…) I pulled this poem back out a few days ago to remind myself of the important things in life. Perhaps it will be an encouragement to you as well!

The Invitation (By Oriah Mountain Dreamer)

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

Computer Geeks

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

OhioPyle State Park, PA

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon… I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.

pallbearers for my dad's funeral

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.

sunset at Nokomis Beach

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

Finding beauty in empty moments

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes.”

Banff National Park, Alberta

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

Grandparents rule!

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.

Firefighters are heroes

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

college graduation, ODU

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

pondering, nature connection

I always treasure hearing the stories of others. I would love to (virtually) sit with you as you share about your empty moments. And I would love to (virtually) dance with you to celebrate the moments you feel truly alive! Please leave a comment below!

You can read a story from my grief journey HERE. Or read a story about fun times HERE.

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Finding Fairy Houses

When daughter Andowen was little, she loved to read books about fairies. She loved the photographs in the wonderful series by Tracy & Barry Kane. When she was six years old, she found her first fairy houses in the woods—on a family vacation to Blackriver Falls in WV.

Tracy and Barry Kane

On that trip, Andowen spent hours wandering the trails, posing her fairy figures in front of (and inside) openings in the roots and branches of trees. Eventually, she decided this area was a special conference center where fairies come to rest and have fun together.

Fairies Rest and Have Fun in the Woods

Eventually, all of us started looking for fairy houses as we traveled the world! Big sister Nettie delighted Andowen by building a special stump house in a campground near Seward Alaska. She even included handcrafted woodland furniture. Andowen spun many tales about the fairy family who moved into such luxury accommodations!

Custom Built by big sister Nettie

As we backpacked along the Appalachian Trail in the past few years, there are a few locations that looked like possible fairy houses but we weren’t certain if they were still occupied. One afternoon in Northern Virginia, Andowen found a Fairy Marina where tree roots met a burbling stream. There were many protected slips for a variety of sizes of boats. She watched for quite a while, but the fairies stayed hidden…

AT discoveries, VA

The breakthrough occurred when we spent a few months in Germany. Apparently the fairies have been there so long that they have developed a good relationship with humans. Andowen was quite excited to discover the Royal Fairy Academy in the old Linden tree in the town of Frauenstein. One of the fairies told her that this tree became a training school for Fairy leaders in the 800s. It has been in continuous use since then. The guide explained that there are only a few training academies around the world. There needs to be plenty of entrances and room inside for hundreds of fairies to live, learn, and play. Plus each location has to have special features that set it apart. In this case, many of the suites at this Royal Academy have mossy balconies for fairies to enjoy the lovely setting!

1000 year old Linden, Frauenstein Germany

When we returned to the USA, Andowen kept an eye out, on a search to discover the secret location of the American Fairy Academy. Unfortunately, too many people here no longer believe in fairies, so the school is kept hidden from prying eyes. Finally, Andowen found the academy, camouflaged by hundreds of fake entrances in the walls of Ash Cave in the Hocking Hills right here in Ohio. One fairy guard realized Andowen was a friend and came out to talk to her. Americans tend to be active and exercise conscious—and our fairies are no different. They chose this location because it has a huge floor for sunrise yoga sessions and midnight dances when the moon is full, all serenaded by the falling water.

Ash Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, OH

Most recently, Andowen was excited to discover the Royal Canadian Fairy Academy. Although the location is one of the most crowded trails in Banff National Park, this school is found in the walls of Johnston Canyon. Apparently this place was chosen because of the wild white water rafting on moonlit evenings. Plus there are few tourists to interrupt treks to the frozen falls when the entire park turns into a winter wonderland. (see link below for photos)

Fairy Houses in Canada, Banff National Park

Fairies just wanna have fun

Read about other ways we have fun in the woods HERE. In case you missed the first installment in our series about the Lego Tiny-Mes who go on adventures with us, you can read about them HERE.

Find Andowen’s favorite Fairy House book HERE

For more information about locations of what we have found so far, check the following links:

Ash Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, OH

Blackwater Falls State Park, Davis WV

Frauenstein, Wiesbaden Germany

Johnston Canyon in the Winter, Banff National Park, Alberta Canada

We continue to look for new-to-us fairy houses and training academies. If you find any, please post photos and share the locations in the comments below! Let’s continue to celebrate our fairy-friends!

“Lovey-Dovey Day” — a Different Way

It’s “Lovey-Dovey Day.” Hallmark wants you to believe that on this day everyone has a soul-mate, someone who deeply loves them, someone to lavish affection on with chocolates and expensive cards. But what about all the folks who feel like their lives are a frozen wasteland? The ones who feel lonely, left out, or left behind? Aren’t they worthy of love?

To write or not to write? I’ve pondered whether to post anything today. Seems like everyone out there in internet-land is spouting lovey-dovey platitudes. Blergh! That’s not reality for most of us!

Some (like me) have a solid marriage with kids and grandbabies we dearly love. But we don’t really see the point of obligatory only-on-this-one-day declarations of grand love accompanied by fancy dinner or a huge box of chocolates. (Well, I never say no to good chocolates…HA!) We are a “not-so-picture-perfect” family. Love for us is a quieter long-term commitment to each other. It is day-in day-out supporting each other, encouraging each other, getting irritated with each other, challenging each other. It is having fun together and fighting together, cooking together and crying together.

Some (like me) have a broken heart. This day feels like a mockery when someone we love has died or a relationship is over or we come from a hurtful, harmful family. We are often paralyzed on holidays with their images of picture-perfect couples and families. We stare inside at our dry, desert-like hearts that have been ripped apart while life seemingly goes on for people around us.

Let’s choose a different perspective! Let’s find “love” in new ways and places. First, take time to see and acknowledge how our current realities are different from the Hollywood/Hallmark versions of “lovey-dovey lives.” We need to grieve the losses we have experienced, including lost dreams. Then we are ready to look around us, searching for little bits of pleasure, hunting for hidden beauty. Try some “Nature Therapy” to reconnect with love. Enjoy being outdoors. Pick flowers, find treasures on the beach. Go fishing or hiking or simply sit and soak up some sun. These simple things are a way to love ourselves. And, once we are at peace, we will better love those around us.

Here’s a reminder: each one of us are on a Countdown to Eternity. While we are still living, we get to choose our attitudes and responses. We can focus on all of the pain and woundings we have experienced. Or we can remind ourselves that our time here on earth is short. We can pay attention to the special moments and make a collection of treasured memories.

Savoring special moments and treasured memories is how I choose to celebrate “Lovey-Dovey Day.” How about you?!

(PS—if you want to know more about these two paintings I made a few years ago, you can read HERE about the process of making them  and read about my excitement at helping to illustrate a book for a favorite inspirational author HERE)

Walking in Beauty

The Appalachian Trail offers relatively few overlooks with stunning mountain views. Much of the time, the hiker follows the trail through the “Green Tunnel,” surrounded by woods. Occasionally, the trail wanders through pastures or over grassy “balds.” Wherever that simple path goes, however, the hiker is surrounded by splendor.

When I’m backpacking on the Appalachian Trail, I often think of this traditional Navajo blessing: “In beauty I walk, With beauty before me I walk, With beauty behind me I walk, With beauty above me I walk, With beauty around me I walk, It has become beautiful again.”

 Whether we are enjoying a brilliant panoramic mountain view or savoring small details along the way, hiking on the Appalachian Trail IS walking in beauty!

Happy Hobbies! (Combining Hiking and Scrapbooking)

It is a happy serendipity when two hobbies can be combined. I relax by being outdoors or by making time for creating vibrant art. Gradually, I’m figuring out ways to combine these two hobbies. (Sometimes I work at the dining room table. More often I head to a coffee shop or to my favorite fireside seat at the local library.)

AT_place to craft_Northwest Library

Taking hundreds of photos on our backpacking adventure on the Appalachian Trail this past fall felt reasonable at the time. However, every time I looked at those files on my computer, I was overwhelmed with how to best organize and use this many photos. For the first time ever, I used a scrapbooking “recipe” to streamline the process. (This means I used one basic layout, with different papers and colors and occasional variation in the orientation of the design.) Here are the pages I made to summarize our trip:

These first two spreads highlight the beauty found along the Appalachian Trail:

Title: “Walk in Beauty: for the one who has eyes to see…LET her SEE!

AT_walk in beauty_scrapbooking_leftAT_walk in beauty_scrapbooking_right

Journaling: We both enjoyed being surrounded by beauty and pointing out new discoveries to each other. Whether it was miles of mountain views, jumbled boulders, a dancing stream or tiny wonders, it all became scope for imagination. When we quit noticing nature’s beauty, it was time to get off the trail!

Title: “all of nature is AFLAME: Be fearless in the pursuit of what Sets Your Soul on Fire!

AT_nature aflame_scrapbooking_leftAT_nature aflame_scrapbooking_right

Journaling: We loved the peace and tranquility of hiking in the cool, green woods. But the surprising “pop” of bright oranges, reds and yellows made our hearts sing with joy at the brilliant, flaming colors. Quote: “Give me a spark o’ Nature’s fire, That’s a’ the learning I desire.” (Robert Burns)

Whenever possible, daughter and I chose to stay in shelters. That was less work, we met more people, and it kept us dry in bad weather. However, we also enjoyed the times we camped in solitude at official camping places or in the woods between shelters too far apart for us to reach in one day of hiking.

Title: “SHELTER: [shel’ ter] something below, behind, or within which a person is protected from adverse conditions

AT_shelter_scrapbooking_left

Journaling: There are more than 250 Backcountry Shelters along the A.T. for use by hikers. Most have only 3 walls, come in a variety of sizes & styles, have a privy, and are near a water source. Accent: “Haven, Hideaway, Protection, Refuge, Sanctuary: No matter what you call it, it’s a WELCOME SIGHT at the end of the day!”

Title: “Happy Campers on the Appalachian Trail: “inTENTS” adventure in the WOODS

AT_tent camping_scrapbooking_leftAT_tent camping_scrapbooking_right

Journaling: We enjoyed the social aspects of staying in shelters. Chatting around a dancing campfire was a bonus…but there was something special about being alone in our little tent, all cozy and comfy, away from everyone!”

The next pair of spreads celebrates the partnership between my daughter and I on our hiking adventure. As I have commented in other posts, I wasn’t sure how well this would work. However, we learned to use our strengths to balance the other’s weaknesses. I was frustrated that when we took selfies, I couldn’t figure out how to turn off “beauty face” so edges were all blurry. But I like how it became illustrations for a dreamin’ page!

Title: “Hiking Partners: my mini me

AT_hiking partners_scrapbooking_leftAT_hiking partners_scrapbooking_right

Journaling: We are well matched. We both love to be outdoors. We find beauty—and whimsy—around us. We enjoy meeting other hikers at the shelters. Daughter has more physical strength & agility. I have more mental determination. She sang songs to life me up. I made her smile when she was grumpy. good partners Accent: “Storyseeker (53) and Andowen (13): 1st AT adventure 9-7 to 10-21-16”

Title: “dreaming of the Trail: Nothing stops the Dreamers: fairytale fun

AT_Dreaming_scrapbooking_leftAT_Dreaming_scrapbooking_right

Journaling: Obstacles or Opportunities 1-meandering trail, 2-beware the “roller coaster,” 3-singing in the rain, 4-fern “fairy crowns,” 5-mountaintop exhilaration Accent: “wandering in the woods: fall 2015”

The final two spreads focus on my experience and my daughter’s experience of this adventure. For me, this trip was a way of expressing that I am moving from a focus on family to making time for me and my dreams. For my daughter, our adventure became her favorite imagination-land come to life! (She is a huge fan of Lord of the Rings and other fantasy books and movies.)

Title: “it’s time for ME! the middle passage: …if you can’t leave ‘em behind…BRING ‘em with YOU!…

AT_ME time_scrapbooking_leftAT_ME time_scrapbooking_right

Journaling: Time for DREAMS to Come True I’m tired of waiting. I’m ready to reach for dreams—long backpacking trips, making art, writing stories. With just one child still at home, she can join my epic adventures! Accents: “finally finding my own way,” “go into the world, explore, LIVE,” and “free yourself”

Title: “nature girl—wild child—forest fairy: andowen

AT_Nature Girl_Wild Child_scrapbooking_leftAT_Nature Girl_Wild Child_scrapbooking_right

Journaling: Anna has always loved being outdoors. 6 weeks of backpacking on the Appalachian Trail took this to a whole new level! As an equal to everyone out there, she gained confidence & had FUN! Accent: “Explore”

What are YOUR favorite hobbies? And how can you combine those interests with adventures you pursue?

(See photos from our travels illustrating a poem HERE. This was a much simpler way to combine art and wandering!)

Nature’s Cathedral

natures cathedral 1

Soaring trees, reaching for the heavens.

Sunlight glowing golden through the leaves.

All is hushed, waiting in silence.

natures cathedral 2

We quietly enter, soaking in the beauty.

A bird trills a liquid melody of praise

and the insects join in chorus.

natures cathedral 3

(a poem written at the end of a gorgeous, sunny fall day on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia — October 13, 2015…a sharp contrast to the current frigid cold weather in January!)

(Enjoy other photo illustrated poems HERE and HERE.)

Art from the Trail

Both of us look for beauty in our surroundings. Even though every ounce adds up on a long-distance backpacking trip, we chose to carry a small camera, sketch paper, and a variety of pencils. Here is some of the art we brought back from our time on the trail. Enjoy!

Daughter spends hours creating imaginary characters. While on this trip, she worked hard at adding action to her drawings.

tree climber

Influenced by spending so much time in the woods, she drew both whimsical and realistic images of things she discovered along the trail. One afternoon she dissected a number of acorns and drew what she found inside the shell.

bug in bed

oak and acorns

acorn dissection

Scenes like this one near the Blackburn Trail Center led to both a drawing and a poem:

gap from blackburn trail center

the gap

Up! Down! Up again!

Steeper up!

When will we be there?

11:00. 11:45. 12:00. 1:00.

Finally!! (Oh,nice view…)

I prefer to use color in my drawings, like this reminder of a rainy day:

dripping leaf

Daughter remembered the day this way:

Storm

Wet, Cold

Pouring, Sloshing, Sliding

Walking in the rain

Drizzle

My heart sings when I see beautiful colors in nature, especially when the color “pops” out from a darker background. When trying to capture those scenes on paper, I love the saturated colors I get from Derwent Inktense watercolor pencils:

bright leaves

fall leaf

butterfly on boot

butterfly

sunset

sunsetFinding beauty and making art on the trail added to our enjoyment of our grand adventure!

(HERE‘s a post with scrapbook pages made after another backpacking adventure…)

Music Therapy

Home-grown music is a significant part of our hiking adventure. Here’s a taste of what we can be heard singing as we walk along…

On misty, foggy mornings, daughter often starts with this song from Lord of the Rings: Edge of Night

Misty trees

We sing this song back and forth when we are having fun and hiking with lots of energy: Hallelu, Hallelu

Happy hikers

We sing this one when we are intimidated–facing shifting rocks and clambering over boulders on a trail that is not clearly marked: Psalms 56:3-4, When I Am Afraid  

Rock jumble

Sometimes I am just DONE and it feels like I can’t possibly take another step. This is when I ask daughter to sing for me. Somehow this song keeps me going: Overcomer

It's a long trail

When the footing is hard or we are getting tired, daughter likes to sing this song, and sometimes she changes the lyrics to fit our adventure: Brother

Stream crossing

One hostel we stayed in had a piano available for hikers to play. Daughter played a few songs she knows. Then I sat down and played through a book of folk songs. Ahhhh, a wonderful way to relax after a long day of hiking!

Playing piano

In addition to making our own music, there have been a few times that our spirits have been lightened by music by others. One morning I was having a “gray day”–feeling like I was in a fog, with no energy to hike, but having to keep putting one foot in front of the other. We got to the shelter early and found “Hillbilly” settled in for the night. He hesitantly asked if it was okay to play guitar for awhile. He had written wonderful folk songs about growing up in Appalachia. As he sang, I got teary…and eventually the gray lifted and all was right with the world again. Thanks for the music therapy, Hillbilly!

Hillbilly

What is your favorite music to get you through tough times or to give you energy?  We would love suggestions in the comments for us to check out!

(Note: we finished our adventure on Oct 21, but still have plenty of photos and blog posts to share with you about our epic adventure!)

(See photo illustrations to a Psalm/Song of David HERE.)

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