The Big Epic

Connecting with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: Stories (page 1 of 3)

Please Don’t Screech!

Please tell me I’m not the only one! Please reassure me that you, too, let out a yelp or a screech when you are startled by something out in the woods. I’ve done this forever, even when a moment later I KNOW there is actually nothing to be afraid of. But, when I’m leading other folks on walks to more deeply connect with Nature, I’m going to have to change this pattern of screech-first-think-later. Let me explain…

As a guide, I am learning to use language very carefully. It is important to let our guests know about possible challenges without causing fear. As part of our standard practice, in our introduction to the guided Forest Therapy Walk, we talk about “awarenesses” rather than “hazards.” A great majority of the time, simply being aware of our surroundings and of how to avoid problems is all we need to stay safe.

photo by Anabell O'Neill

However, they didn’t talk to us about controlling the involuntary screech when startled. I wonder why this didn’t come up in our training classes? After all, I suspect this reaction might scare the walk participants far more than using the wrong words in my introduction! (Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this?!)

Here are a few examples. I’m not sure I will believe you if you tell me you have never let out a screech (or at least a little whimper) when you unexpectedly face critters like these:

We used to live on a farm. Most evenings I walked out to the barn before bed, making sure the sheep and chickens were safely settled until morning. Some dark, moonless nights I would open the door and almost drop my flashlight when a glowing-eyed, pointy-nosed “demon” was sitting on top of the feed bin, hissing at me like a crazy thing. I always let out a loud, high-pitched “SCREECH!” followed by a muttered “Stupid possum!” And that furry creature sauntered away, snickering at winning round number 372 in the scare-the-critter game… (Photo taken by a friend when a possum was on their roof. I wonder what game it was playing?!)

photo by Susan Heino

Daughter Andowen and I take weeks long backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail. All hikers need to be very aware of black bears. (Read a story HERE about the trials of hanging food bags to keep our supplies away from bears at night.) We tend to talk or sing while we walk, so we rarely see bears during the day. (They prefer to avoid humans, if possible.) Last fall, however, daughter was standing silently under a large tree, waiting for me to catch up. She heard the noise of a hiker coming up the trail, then was started by twigs, leaves and a young bear falling out of the tree, landing right at her feet! She let out a “SCREECH!” and the bear took off running into the woods. She wasn’t sure who was more startled, her or the bear!

please don't screech and scare the bear!

When we are backpacking, the first one hiking down the trail has the pleasure of seeing scenery with no other humans in view. However, they also have the “joy” of clearing the spider webs that were built across the trail during the night. On beautiful crisp, cool, fall days, that front person sometimes finds a snake, warming itself in the sun. It really isn’t a problem when the reptile is just sitting there. It is easy to see what type of snake it is and what type of response is needed. (Often, if it is sunning itself on the trail, just banging trekking poles together will cause the snake to mosey on its way.) But sometimes, as the first hiker is walking along quietly, mind wandering, there is a rustling in the leaves beside the trail, and a long black slithery-snake darts across, almost under one’s feet. After a loud “SCREECH!” the hiker laughs, knowing the snake was harmless. (We actually like the non-poisonous snakes which keep the mouse population under control at shelters.) It still takes awhile for the heart to start pounding though!

actually black rat snakes are harmless

Most of the time when we sleep in the open fronted shelters along the Appalachian Trail, we are happy to see spiders sitting in webs high in the rafters. This usually means there are fewer pesky bugs to bother us. But one rainy night, there were tiny glowing eyes every direction we looked. Our headlamps highlighted what felt like a million spiders who had us surrounded. We could ignore the critters keeping to their own private corners, but when one walked toward us and couldn’t be scared away, the other hikers and I convinced my terrified-of-spiders daughter to kill the intruder. She shuddered, flinched, and let out a few yelps of fear. (Okay, so it wasn’t full-fledged SCREECHES! But I’m still counting it as a similar reaction.) She unsuccessfully tried to swing at the spider several times. Finally, she gathered courage, yelled “For GONDOR!” and flipped the spider with her shoe. Lord of the Rings to the rescue yet again!

sorry, I have to screech!

Fortunately, the most common hazard (ahem, “awareness”) along the woodland trails in Ohio is poison ivy. I am confident I can help participants become more aware of this plant—both how it is high energy food for deer and other animals and how to avoid touching it as humans. Whew! No worries about inadvertent screams when I unexpectedly see this plant!

biggest hiking hazard

So what’s the point of these stories (beyond entertaining you)? I’m reminding myself that I need to curb my instinctive tendencies to SCREECH! I’m working to finish my certification as a Forest Therapy Guide and it is apparently not professional to scare your walk participants. Wish me luck!

(Wondering about our encounters with wild animals while backpacking? You can read a summary of the real hazards of hiking HERE. You can see photos and descriptions of critters we see HERE and HERE.)

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

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

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

The Tiny-Mes Visit the Big Apple

We recently finished a road trip to the Northeast USA. Our Lego Tiny-Mes, of course, joined us along with their new travel buddy, Tiny-Dox (TD). Today we tell the story of their adventures in the “Big Apple.” (If you missed their time in upstate NY and Maine, read about it HERE. )

When we got to New York City, we drove straight to our lodging on Far Rockaway. Our plan was to park the car, avoid traffic and use transit to get around the Big Apple. (Tiny-A is a growing teen who is always hungry—she wants to know why NYC has that funny nickname anyways?!) Both Tiny-Mes are a bit nervous about our navigation skills when there are no trails or white blazed trees to follow. They carefully studied the transit map to help decide the best mix of ferries and trains to get us to our chosen sight-seeing destinations.*

Tiny-Mes, Lego tourists, planning

Tiny-Dox (TD) took control of the ferry timetable. Who’s a good-boy?!

Doxie, Planning

We spent our first day following the path taken by floods of immigrants to the USA in the late 1800s. Good thing we had reservations—there are floods of tourists today. Lady Liberty is still the most iconic Welcome symbol in the world!

Big Apple icon

Tiny-Dox was adamant that we had to spend time exploring Ellis Island. After all, his ancestors might well have arrived at this entry point. Dachshunds ARE from Germany, you know! Tiny-A and Tiny-S were sad that THEIR ancestors arrived much earlier from Germany and Sweden and weren’t represented at Ellis Island…

Heritage, Ancestors, Lego, Dachshund

All of us enjoyed the ease of commuting by ferry to get to the Big Apple. The lower deck is enclosed, with plenty of seats, a snack bar, and plugs to recharge electronics. The Tiny-Mes enjoyed sprawling on the wide sill to stare out the huge windows. They were amazed at the container ships that lumbered past, looming above the ferry. They were thrilled by tiny boats with bright colored sails, and excited to go under famous bridges and gawk at the city skyline.

Lego travel buddies, East River, Big Apple

We all stayed dry inside when it poured down rain. But one sunny day, the Tiny-Mes begged to go up to the open top deck. They laughed at the gulls dancing above the ferry. BUT WAIT! Where is Tiny-Dox? Someone grab him, quick! It’s not safe to balance on the railing in the wind! Whew! Let’s go back downstairs…

Doxie, hudson river

After transferring ferries to travel further up the East River, we got off at the 34th Street Terminal. Entering the maze of tall skyscrapers with crowds rushing and taxi-horns blaring was overwhelming!** Tiny pocket-parks of green were a comfort. And the occasional statue or street art was entertaining. TD was quite excited when he saw this quirky Dalmatian statue. He ran around this way and that, trying to find a taxi to balance on HIS nose. Silly Doxie!

Doxie, Dogs rule!

We walked to find famous landmarks in the Big Apple. Grand Central Station is beautiful inside…but far less stressful to just enjoy it from a distance, away from the crowds. We noticed TD’s nose sniffing the air, but didn’t think anything of it. (Oops! Bad idea…)

 NYC transit, Lego travel buddies,

Oh, no! Come back, Tiny-Dox! He led us on a merry chase—dodging this way and that to sniff food truck after food truck and enjoy the wondrous scents coming from restaurants above and below street level. “Woof!” said TD when we finally caught up with him. He was right…that pizza was delicious!

Doxie, Dachshund foodie

Once every crumb of pizza was devoured, we insisted it was time to start moving again. We wanted to see the Empire State Building before rush hour clogged the streets and sidewalks with hordes of commuters. We walked block after block, but the icon never seemed to get any closer. Eventually, Tiny-S and Tiny-A sat on a step and refused to move. They insisted they needed something sweet to give them energy to continue. And Tiny-S claimed she *needed* to refill her coffee mug. Fortunately, we were close to a tiny bakery…

Dessert

Finally, we got to our destination. We loved the ornate, art-deco lobby. The Tiny-Mes preferred marveling over the sheer height of the building. (Daughter Andowen was excited to see the site of modern day Mt Olympus—made famous by Percy Jackson books…but that’s a story for another day!)

Big Apple icon, Lego tourists, Percy Jackson Mt Olympus

As we headed back to the ferry terminal, Andowen joined the Tiny-Mes in demanding yet another snack. (I guess teens and TMs are ALWAYS hungry!) This time we found a Tower of Fries…perhaps a fitting way to celebrate the many square miles of skyscrapers towering over this big city.

 Fancy Snacks, Sidewalk Cafe

Each evening, we enjoyed watching the city skyline pass by as we rode the ferry back to our lodgings. On the last night, we were a little sad to say Farewell to the Big Apple! We will be back again someday…but for now we are happy to be heading home. And Tiny-Dox is excited to get back to his family!

Big Apple skyline, East River, Tiny-Mes

NOTES:

*   Eventually we discovered there is a website to help plan effective travel in NYC once you get to town from the ferry. If you are ever a tourist in the Big Apple, you can find transit options HERE

** Read about how Andowen (and the rest of us) survived the chaos of the Big City HERE

Get to Know Me!

When I discover a new blogger to follow, I dive deeply into their website. I read all the pages, poke into their archives, and fully explore their explanations of who they are and what they value. (What? You don’t do the same? You mean everyone is not the same curious Story Seeker that I am?? Shocking!) I recently realized that many of my readers enjoy the blog posts I write, but have yet to discover the wealth of background information shared on my website. Pull up a comfy chair, grab a cup of coffee and join me. To get to know me and better understand my story, here are some of the highlights:

get to know me, coffee mugs

Let’s share stories and get to know each other!

Foundational to my life are relationships with family and friends—in-person and online. I surround myself with people who are supportive as I reach for my dreams and I love challenging others to do the same. Life is sometimes chaotic and/or painful. That’s when it is important to be part of a community for mutual encouragement and support. When I learn something, I can’t wait to share information and experiences—via homeschooling, classes and seminars, and regular blogging. (My current blog about the adventures of connecting with Nature is, of course, found HERE. You can also get to know me by exploring my archived blogs—about turning 50 HERE and about life in Navajoland HERE.)

grandma, mom, big family

I’m a family gal with treasured friends around the world!

 You can read my own summary of who I am and what I do on the “About” page (found HERE). Wondering how the Blog/Website got its name? My entire life can be seen through the lens of “The Big Epic.” (Read a brief explanation HERE. Links from that page will take you to more in-depth information about Epic Adventures in my life.)

get to know me, poppies,https://joblackwellphotography.co.uk/

I’m a Story Seeker who craves the pursuit of Big Epic adventures.

I keep talking about Nature Therapy and Forest Therapy Guiding. What in the world does that mean? (Learn about this practice by reading the answers to Frequently Asked Questions HERE. Read why I was inspired to become a Forest Therapy Guide HERE. And find a collection of my favorite resources about this subject HERE.)

sunset, Thomas Knob, AT hikers

I’m a Nature Girl who needs regular time in the woods for balanced living.

As my regular readers know, in less than one month I will start my training to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide. (Read more about this process and ways you can support me HERE.)

What else would you like to know about me? Ask away in the comments below so you can get to know me better. And, of course, I would love to hear YOUR story! Tell me more about who you are and what dreams you are pursuing.

(Formal Portrait above was taken by the wonderful Jo Blackwell. If you are ever in Britain, look her up! https://joblackwellphotography.co.uk/ )

Travel Buddy for the Tiny-Mes

We are traveling again—this time on a road trip to the Northeast USA. Our Lego Tiny-Mes have, of course, joined us. Here’s the next installment in THEIR adventures. They have a new travel buddy. (If you haven’t yet met our Tiny-Mes, read their introduction HERE.)

While we were busy packing, Tiny-A and Tiny-S insisted we had to stop for a few minutes and meet their new friend. They introduced us to Tiny-Dox (or TD)—an adorable little dachshund. Like most “doxies,” TD is ALWAYS curious. Although he dearly loves his people, he was apparently a bit bored and was looking for new places to explore. They proposed he join us as their special travel buddy.

Doxie, Travel Buddy

We had no interest in taking responsibility for a pet while traveling. After all, we leave our own dog at home. But the Tiny-Mes insisted they would keep a close eye on TD. They pointed out he is well trained and quite obedient…at least MOST of the time! We have apparently become softies because we said, “Okay, Let’s GO!”

Packed Car, Let's Go!

 Our itinerary for this trip includes stops at a number of National Parks and National Historic Sites for Andowen to collect more Jr. Ranger Badges. Tiny-A and Tiny-S enjoyed learning more about the fight for Women’s Rights. “We would have joined the men and women marching for equality for women,” declared the Tiny-Mes.

NPS, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frederick Douglass

 Poor Tiny-Dox. He was awfully bored inside the museum. The movie was too loud. There were no critters to hunt. There were no comfy chairs for dozing. We reminded TD that we couldn’t leave until Andowen earned her badge. “Quick,” he woofed! “I’ll help you finish your workbook. Let’s get out of here!”

NPS, Tiny-Dachshund, workbook

Tiny-Dox much preferred our day-trips to the Atlantic Ocean and the Coast of Maine. The Tiny-Mes pose for a photo on the rocky shores below the Pemaquid Lighthouse. But where is TD going?

Pemaquid Light, Rocky Shore

“Woof,” bellowed Tiny-Dox from a mini-cave in the rocks. “Look what I found! It smells deliciously strong and salty…”

Tiny Dachshund, Doxies, Seashell

All that walking in the fresh salt air made everyone hungry. We headed to town, looking for tasty seafood. The Brass Compass Café in Rockland smelled perfect! We could hardly wait for the food to arrive at our table. The plates were mounded with wonderful food: fish and chips, a haddock club sandwich, “chowdah,” and crispy onion straws. YUM!

Brass Compass Cafe, Fried Food, Yummy

Ohhhh, Tiny-Dox! What in the world are you doing? … “Woof!”

Tiny Dachshund, Doxies, Seafood Stew

We have spent the past few days with friends in Maine. But we will be camping for most of the nights on this road trip. We all agree that the free camping in a city park beside the Erie Canal was the best (so far). Andowen and I each know our part of the “dance” of putting up our little tent. The Tiny-Mes stayed out of our way, trying to prevent TD from exploring.  Once the tent was set up, Tiny-A and Tiny-S decided to hang out at the little camp.

Macedon Canal Park, Tenting

Tiny-Dox promised to behave if we let him join us on our walk along the canal. Seems like he makes a good travel buddy, after all. He was shocked at how large the gates were for the lock. Even TD was careful not to go over the edge! That would be a long fall…

Tiny-Mes, Lock 30, Macedon Canal Park

As the sun began to set, we headed back to our little orange tent. Time to get ready for bed. But TD wandered off with the Tiny-Mes running to catch him. His powerful nose was teasing him with new smells. He quickly bounded into a hole at the base of a tree. “Come back, Tiny-Dox! The fairies don’t like visitors!”

Tiny Dachshund, Doxies

Tiny-Dox is a good little fella, but far too curious. It’s hard work for the Tiny-Mes to keep their travel buddy out of trouble… Finally, all three Tinies returned to the tent. TD immediately burrowed deep into the sleeping bag. Dachshunds love to find hidey-holes, especially for sleeping. Hmmm…I wonder what mischief Tiny-Dox will get into later in our trip?

To Be Continued…

(Get  more information about the Women’s Rights National Historic Site in Seneca Falls, NY,  HERE. Find more information about the Pemaquid Lighthouse HERE and about the Brass Compass Café in Rockland Maine HERE.)

On the Road Again… an epic road trip

On the road again, Goin’ places that I’ve never been, Seein’ things that I may never see again, And I can’t wait to get on the road again” – Willie Nelson

Daughter and I have gone a-wandering again. This month’s adventure is a three week long Epic Road Trip through the West. The specific event is attending our son’s graduation from university in Montana. But, you know, once we head out the door it takes a while to wander our way back home again! (I write about being born under a Wand’rin’ Star HERE.) There are so many places to explore and people to see…

True Confessions: when I’m not limited to what I can carry on my back in a pack, the luggage area fills up with all sorts of things we might *need* for a wandering road trip: tents, sleeping bags/pads, cots, stove for hot water and plenty of food, things to read, cold weather gear, and “only” 5 outfits (changing clothes every day until the next laundromat? Decadent!) Of course, we threw in our swim suits, just in case. (Read about my mom’s rules for travel HERE.) So much for simple living! I assure you, however, I DID leave the dog and the kitchen sink at home…really!

True Companions: My mom will wander with us for all three weeks. My middle daughter has joined us for the first 4 days of our road trip to Montana. I’m so glad we continue to make memories of adventures and misadventures together! (I’ve written about some of the places our family’s women wander HERE.) Our travels are fueled by plenty of caffeine and lots of conversation. (I’ve heard rumors of hours of silence when kids travel with my hubby…but I’m certain that *must* be in some strange alternate universe. HA!)

caffeine fuel, coffee, travel companions

True Story: On even the best planned trips, there are misadventures that are eventually spun into tall tales and campfire yarns. We haven’t had any unexpected happenings…YET. One of the best things about wandering is having epic tales to tell. I will keep you updated on the fun we have on this year’s road trip! (To see the latest photos and stories from our current adventures, “Like” and “Follow” the new Facebook page for The Big Epic found HERE.)

last dinosaur, dinosaur art

Robotics–a Different Kind of Adventure

Daughter Anna just finished a hectic two months of Robotics. There was a steep learning curve; there were tears; there was exhaustion; there was excitement and a cliff-hanger final match at regional competition. But…did this qualify as an “adventure?”

Contrary to common definitions of adventure, joining a robotics team does not involve being outdoors or traveling to exotic locations. It is not particularly physical or hazardous (even when requiring safety glasses). It tends to gather the brainy “nerds” or “geeks”…not super-fit “jocks” or members of the “in-crowd.”

Here on my website I define a “Big Epic” as something larger-than-life that I’m pursuing.  It might be physical but it also includes facing unexpected challenges in life. (Find more explanations and examples HERE) With more research and pondering, I propose the following elements are needed to make an enjoyable activity become an Adventure:

  • Personally stretching
  • Big enough to require planning, finding mentors, and learning
  • Extensive hard work
  • Perseverance (Never Quit on a Bad Day)
  • Uncertain Outcome
  • Makes a good story later!

Let’s take a look at how well participating in Robotics with the local “Red Plague” team fits these criteria:

Personally stretching: Check! Anna had personally never done anything like this before. No one else in our family has any experience with Robotics, so this was uncharted territory for all of us.

Requires planning, mentors, and learning: Check! Everyone one the team was involved in brainstorming designs and planning how to build their robot to be both sturdy and able to complete required tasks. Mentors patiently helped Anna learn the basics of programming the robot. YouTube and I helped her design the team “avatar” (used at the competition and on badges).

Extensive hard work: Check! Anna was at the shop almost every time it was open for work. More than 130 hours were logged by the team during the 6 week build schedule, and the week leading up to regional competition. Anna received a “workhorse” award for jumping in and doing whatever work needed done.

Perseverance: Check! Toward the end of the grueling two months, Anna wanted to quit a number of times. Even at the competition itself (3 long days in a city across the state from home), she wanted to go home a few times. Each time, she and I talked about the lessons she has learned while hiking the AT—choose your attitude, focus on good things not on pain, never quit on a bad day. In addition, she learned the importance of considering what her team needed from her, not just individual desires. (At the competition, Anna was the “Safety Officer” – spending most of her time down in their team “pit,” making sure team members were following safety rules and ready to pull out the safety spill kit or the first aid kit, if needed. This is not a visible glory-job, but is an important team position.)

Uncertain Outcome: Check! There were 61 teams at this regional competition. Many of these teams had far more members and exorbitantly deep-pocketed sponsors. At this first competition of the season, no team had prior experience with the obstacles, equipment, and tasks on the field. Alliances had to be made—guessing which other teams would best complement her team’s strengths and weaknesses. The “Red Plague” participated in 9 matches during the qualifying rounds, reached 4th place overall, and made it to the semi-final round.

Makes a good story later: Check! Ask my daughter about her team’s cliff-hanger final round. It included an alliance robot which wouldn’t run (arghhh!), a time out to try to help fix that robot, a last moment reprieve and being able to run the match with all three alliance robots after all (whew!). Then part way into the round, “Red Plague’s” robot froze (ARRGGGHHH!) The other two teams/robots in the alliance pulled the match to a tie in the preliminary score… (woohoo!) But then they lost by a handful of points in the official scoring. (oh noooooo!) Now THAT’s an emotional finish!

Looks like joining a team for a season of Robotics meets all the criteria for a “Big Epic.” Yes, it IS a different kind of true Adventure!

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!

(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…)

New You, New Name…What’s in a Name? (Part 2)

It’s a new year. Sometimes that brings a longing to become a new-you. It can be a long process to radically change who you are. But if you head to the woods, you could quickly gain a radically different name! Perhaps this post will give you some ideas…

In a previous post (which you can read HERE), I explained the significance of “Trail Names.” I told the story of how we got our names as “Story Seeker” and “Andowen.” Now I want to share some of the names we remember from other hikers we met on the Appalachian Trail.

Trail names often have entertaining history behind them. Usually, they give insight into a hiker’s personal journey. Tales are often told when sitting around a campfire in the woods or at a table in town. “How did you get your name?” is a good way to get the stories flowing…

Campfires…heart of conversations and gatherings

Trail names are given (or chosen) for many reasons. Perhaps the hiker is similar to a character from movies: Elle (from Legally Blonde), Long John Silver (complete with swirling cape and sword!), Gandalf or Frodo (from Lord of the Rings). Sometimes the trail name is a related to the hiker’s real name: Comet (Hailey) and Sunrise (Dawn). Physical characteristics are often commemorated: Big Foot, Long Legs, Tiny, Bean Pole. Trail clothing can also affect names: Blue Bandana, Green Knight. Favorite foods might also become a trail name: Honey Sticks and Java. Most common is probably hiking style or mishaps which occur in the early days of the hiker’s adventure: Jack Rabbit, Strider, Stumbles, Wrong Way, Muddy.

Here are a few of our favorite Trail Names and the stories behind them:

BEETLE started hiking with her daughter who was named Spider for how quickly she climbed steep sections of trail. Mom struggled in those same sections, legs and arms and hiking poles flying every which way. Daughter said she looked like a beetle…and the name stuck!

(from iNaturalist.com)

BLAZE headed to the trail without map or guidebooks. He found his way by following the white blazes that mark the Appalachian Trail. In addition, he carried no stove and made fires each evening and morning to heat water and cook his food.

IRON HEART has a striking story of transformation. His life was in chaos and he was in terrible shape when he had a massive heart attack. He died and was revived multiple times on the way to the hospital and in the operating room. As he recovered, he made radical changes in his lifestyle. Eventually, he decided that he wanted to take on an epic adventure, and he headed to the Appalachian Trail. He didn’t finish the first year, but went back again this year and hopes to finish the entire trail by next season. He has an Iron Heart—in the physical implants that saved his life and in the determination that has changed his life.

OLD SCHOOL is a dentist who headed to the trail during a time of transition. He hadn’t hiked for years but still had his old gear. It worked fine decades before and he saw no reason to waste money upgrading everything. Younger hikers were bemused at the metal frame visible around his pack and at his old-school stove. Thus a name was given…

(photo from an ebay listing)

PROMETHEUS… We thought this might have been because he liked to light a campfire most evenings. Wrong! Early in his thru-hike the alcohol stove he was using blew up and lit the picnic table at the shelter on fire. He was the hiker who brought fire to the people… HA!

So, if you are longing for a change this year, what “trail name” would fit you on your journey? I would love to hear your ideas in the comments!

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