The Big Epic

Connect with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: Exploring (page 3 of 3)

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…)

Looking for Treasures in the Every Day

I’m sure I’ve told you this before: I like adventure, Big Epic Adventures! But that’s not where most of us live our everyday lives. Realities of money, time, and responsibilities get in the way of wandering. What’s an adventurer to do? Look for treasures while exploring the local surroundings, of course!

“Walk your small town day after day, and you will find treasures along the way!”

Rather than mope around at home, after our backpacking adventure on the Appalachian Trail last fall, Daughter and I made a drastic change. We now WALK whenever possible. For local errands, our car is left behind, looking lonely and abandoned. (Poor car…) We walk to the library. We walk to meet friends. We walk to buy snacks…or fast food. We walk just to walk. We even walk to church…wait, nope, we take the car to church. We don’t want to be all sweaty and grimy by the time we get there. Haha!

Sometimes we walk in the historic shopping district of our small town; oohing and aahing over the treasures in the windows. Most of the time, however, we walk through neighborhoods. We notice little details on porches and around windows. We find tiny parks and pretty landscaping. We are learning to recognize where we are by what we feel under our feet: cobblestone lanes, broken sidewalks, upscale brick walkways, steep hills, flat rail-trails. Author Terry Pratchett describes this way of knowing place: “Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.”

When we slowly walk through town, we notice different things than when we whiz down the main roads in our car, hurrying to check errands off our to-do list. We learn about old buildings: this one was a hospital, that one was a tiny jail. We find out bits of local history: an early airplane engine was made here, civil war debates occurred, now empty land once held thriving factories. Other landmarks have been reclaimed and renovated: a new science center in a warehouse, a party center in a train depot, a walking path on an old railway.

Slowly, surely, we learn our little town through our feet and through the tiny details we see. We add landmarks to our mental map. We add stories to our memories. We have become a new kind of Indiana Jones as we find treasures in the everyday!

“Sense of place is the sixth sense, an internal compass and map made by memory and special perception together.” – Rebecca Solnit

Go for a walk in YOUR town. What small treasures do you discover along the way?

“The Peace of Wild Things”

Last week, we were living a favorite poem by Wendell Berry. We always enjoy the peace of walking in nature along the Appalachian Trail.

“When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, head to the woods_seek peace

I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. AT hiker_into the woods

I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. wild ponies_AT_Grayson HIghlands

I come into the presence of still water. AT_Laurel River_Still Water

And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. AT sunset

For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.” AT_mountain ranges

(If you enjoyed this illustrated poem, you may like to check out other poems and songs HERE.)

Wand’rin’ Star

“Not all who wander are lost” — JRR Tolkein

In case you haven’t noticed, I am a Wanderer. Sometimes I can fake “normal” and stay in one place for months at a time. But then the compulsion hits and off I go.  Even a houseful of kids never stopped me: traveling with a large family just meant more logistics for this queen-of-lists to organize.

Going on adventures has always been a guilty-pleasure. I love the planning and the going. I enjoy the coming home. It seems so reasonable…at least to me! But each return brings questions from family and friends: “When will you stay put?” “Did you get that out of your system this time?” “Why can’t you be stable and put down roots like everyone else?” I laugh about being a “free-spirit.” I joke that others need to look outside-the-box. But deep inside, these comments continued to erode my confidence. Obviously, there was something wrong with me. Surely I would “grow up” someday and be content where I was planted. the mountains are calling

There were times I wondered if I harmed my kids by doing so much schooling on the road. (Others certainly thought so…) Sometimes I imagined how my husband’s life would have been different if he had married someone who was more consistent and bound by routines. (Time after time family questioned how I could leave him home alone while the kids and I traveled…) I tried. Really, I did! But then the next adventure called to me; the next location pulled my heartstrings. I had to go, wandering again and again. AT trails

This summer, in an attempt to continue being outdoors as much as possible, youngest Daughter and I lived in an RV at a campgrounds close to a small town. We fell in love with the people and the places around town. We were welcomed and invited to dive deeper into relationships. We began to put down tentative roots. It felt right, but there was a feeling of grief as well. What would these new friends say when they discovered my broken urge to wander? RV travels

In the past few weeks, I’ve had some aha!-moments. Hubby sent me a link to a song and affirmed that I really was born under a wanderin’ star (and implied that this was okay…) See video clip HERE

Last week, I commented to the pastor of the new church we are attending (in the small town we love) that it felt like we are putting down some roots. And maybe I would finally stop running. He firmly told me that there is nothing wrong with wandering. It is a gift and a privilege that so many never experience. A few days later, Daughter’s psychologist affirmed the same idea, telling Daughter that it is a privilege that she gets to wander with her mother. Every time I remembered these words, I cried. Maybe I wasn’t broken after all. Maybe this urge to wander IS “normal”…at least for me. texas river walking

And then…while I was pondering how to celebrate my wandering spirit, an artist friend posted a painting for sale. I’ve wanted to buy something from this artist for quite a while, but couldn’t decide if I wanted a mountain scene, a view of red mesas from Navajoland, or a southwestern landscape. See Sharon Baker’s art HERE. When I saw the title of this particular painting, I just KNEW this was “my” painting. It is called “Wandering Star” and was painted many years ago in response to the same song my husband sent to me. I will hang this painting with great pride in my home, to remind me who I am… Painting by SKay Art

I’m no longer lost. I am a WANDERER!

(Read about my legacy of being one of the Wandering Women HERE.)

The Pursuit of Happiness

“Happiness is the settling of the soul into its most appropriate spot.” – Aristotle

According to the founding documents of the United States, along with Life and Liberty, the “Pursuit of Happiness” is an inalienable right. Common wisdom says each of us needs to find our happy place: the place where we feel at peace, where we relax and let the worries of the day slip out of our mind. For some this renewal is found at the beach, for others it is felt in the mountains or the woods or the barn. Sometimes we need to retreat to our happy place alone. But other times, we want to share that joy with our loved ones. But what happens when my favorite pursuits are “meh” to my partner…and vice-versa?

By now you know that I love to be in the woods. I am invigorated by a day hike. I find peace by backpacking for weeks at a time. I am fortunate that my youngest daughter finds restoration in nature. (I’ve blogged about that HERE and HERE.) We are a good hiking team together. happiness_hiking partners_zaleski state forest

For me, there is something hopeful about seeing a path leading to unknown destinations, heading further and further into the woods and mountains. I enjoy the anticipation of what lovely things I will see around the next corner or over the next hill. I love to feel the ground under my feet and see the details of trees and rocks as I slowly hike on by. happiness_hiking trail_zaleski state forest

For my husband, walking in the woods is a means to an end, a way to get to the destination. His mind tends to focus on the goal. Even though it brings him no great pleasure, he occasionally joins me on a day hike, knowing this is my happy place. He supports me in my pursuit of happiness defined by weeks in the woods, driving daughter and I to our starting point, taking care of things while we are gone, and picking us up when we are ready to return home. happiness_hiking together_my passion

On the other hand, my hubby loves to explore the world by flying his small plane. Many times he takes to the air for only an hour or two. Occasionally he takes an epic adventure, flying across the country to see new places from above. happiness_flying_cessna 172

When hubby is flying, he finds freedom in knowing that he is not accessible. When the night is clear, he loves the feeling of flying among the stars and watching the lights twinkling across the horizon. When the winds are calm, he finds peace as farmland or mountains or canyons slowly unroll under his wings. happiness_flying_farmland

Unlike some wives, who are afraid of going up with their pilot husbands, I don’t mind climbing in the cockpit with my husband. I know this is his happy place and he wants to share his joy with me. From the air, I notice the signs of humans, a very different feeling than being comforted and awed by nature itself. I don’t often choose to fly with him, but I support his pursuit of happiness defined by flying above the world. It may not be an inexpensive hobby, but it is worth the cost for him to find peace and happiness in a stressful, busy life. (And I love that our youngest daughter is discovering the joy of flying with him. She is gaining the best of both of our worlds!) happiness_flying together_his passion

It seems to me that this mutual respect is part of the inalienable rights described in the Declaration of Independence. I can’t define his happiness and he doesn’t define mine. We each have the individual right to our own pursuit of happiness. And we gain joy as we support and encourage each other along the way.

Wandering Women

I am a wanderer—sometimes physically, sometimes in imagination. Somedays I wonder where this nomadic, gypsy gene came from. And then I realize my mom has always enjoyed travel—with her family, with her husband, or alone. I guess it is no surprise that the wandering hasn’t stopped with me. My daughters have been well trained and continue the tradition: exploring the world near and far, physically and in imagination.

My oldest daughter recently sent me this poem. It describes our family well…

Among Women By Marie Ponsot

What women wander? Not many. All. A few. Most would, now & then, & no wonder. Some, and I’m one, Wander sitting still.

My small grandmother Bought from every peddler Less for the ribbons and lace Than for their scent Of sleep where you will, Walk out when you want, choose Your bread and your company.

She warned me, “Have nothing to lose.”

She looked fragile but had High blood, runner’s ankles, Could endure, endure. She loved her rooted garden, her Grand children, her once Wild once young man. Women wander…As best they can.

(source: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/245898)

Here are some photos of the wandering women in my family:

My mom backpacking with her grandson, Summer 2000

My mom backpacking with her grandson, Summer 2000

My mom backpacking with me, a decade ago

My mom backpacking with me, a decade ago

My mom continues to dayhike on the Appalachian Trail with my sister (photo by Jo Fischer)

My mom (in her 70s now) continues to dayhike on the Appalachian Trail with my sister (photo by Jo Fischer)

I've been in Europe with each of my daughters.

I’ve been in Europe with each of my daughters.

My oldest daughter has lived and worked in Central Asia and has wandered in Europe.

My oldest daughter has lived and worked in Central Asia and has wandered in Europe.

My middle daughter has wandered Europe and parts of Asia.

My middle daughter has wandered Europe and parts of Asia.

And as you know, my youngest daughter and I have been adventuring on the Appalachian Trail!

And as you know, my youngest daughter and I have been adventuring on the Appalachian Trail!

(Read more about my being born under a Wand’rin’ Star HERE.)

Running Away to Middle Earth!

It is midwinter in the Heartland—gray, dismal, cold, and rainy. It is definitely time to ESCAPE! A warm, sunny beach sounds lovely, but we are longing to return to the woods. In consideration of Daughter’s recent birthday, we have decided to make a brief trip to Middle Earth.

2016_0208_middle earth_SAM_8388_whitebalance_web

What? You didn’t think that was a real place? I assure you, if you listened in on conversations around our house, you might change your mind. Daughter certainly talks as if it were true.

 

2016_0208_middle earth_20150917_175002_web

Daughter’s trail name while backpacking the Appalachian Trail last fall was “Andowen,” based on an elven name from Middle Earth. When hearing the explanation of her name, fellow hikers told her about a “Hobbit House” for rent at a nearby campground. Andowen was immediately certain that we haaaaaaadddd to go stay overnight. She was very disappointed that I wasn’t interested in checking out the rumors. My arguments that we already had non-refundable reservations in nearby Harpers Ferry didn’t sway her. Neither did the fact that there was full resupply available in Harpers Ferry but only convenience stores near the campground. I’ll spare you the details of the whining, the begging, and the tears which failed to change my mind.

Fast forward to our upcoming trip to visit friends on the East Coast for a few days. A quick phone call to the campground and a look at the bank balance confirmed that an overnight stay at the Hobbit House is feasible. The forecast says it will be cold and cloudy. But we won’t notice. We will be surrounded by woods and will be basking in legend.

2016_0208_TreehouseCamp_HobbitHouse

Don’t worry if we disappear for a while—

Middle Earth is calling and we must go!

(Photos of Hobbit House from website for Treehouse Camp–check it out HERE)

(Andowen enjoys playing out roles in her imaginary worlds. Read about her fun HERE and HERE.)

Ever-Changing Trail

Many folks assume the Appalachian Trail must be similar from start to finish—a dirt path meandering through the woods. That’s not wrong, but it only describes a small portion of the AT. In reality, we backpacked an ever-changing trail.

The stereotypical "walk in the woods"

The stereotypical “walk in the woods”

In the 150+ miles that we hiked, we encountered changing elevations, varied plants and trees, and different views. Sometimes it felt like we were walking through an unending green tunnel. Other times we saw glorious layers of mountains beyond a patchwork quilt of farms in the valleys. Here are some of the many trails we walked while backpacking on the Appalachian Trail in Maryland and Virginia:

Boggy ground is crossed with a series of boardwalks...

Boggy ground is crossed on a series of boardwalks…

A few streams are crossed on a bridge, some are waded through, and most are crossed by balancing on rocks.

A few streams are crossed on a bridge, some are waded through, and most are crossed by balancing on rocks.

Sometimes the trail follows the side of a road.

Sometimes the trail follows the side of a road.

Sometimes it winds through the center of town! (This is in Harpers Ferry WV...not Narnia as some might suspect...)

Sometimes it winds through the center of town! (This is in Harpers Ferry WV…not Narnia as some might suspect…)

Some trail sections have gravel; some sections require climbing over boulders; and some are just a jumbled path through loose rock.

Some trail sections have gravel; some require climbing over boulders; and other sections are just a jumbled path through loose rock.

No matter where the white blazes lead, it is always interesting to follow the ever-changing trail.

(Note: we finished this year’s hike on October 21 but will continue to share stories and photos from the trail for another few weeks.)

(The Appalachian Trail is definitely not simply a “walk in the woods.” Read about it HERE.)

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