If I had a blog, today I would write about my hiking mantra.

Continental Divide Wildflowers webIf you polled avid backpackers, or even day-hikers, you would find that most of them have a mantra: A phrase they repeat over and over to help them manage the monotonous parts of the trail. I use mine to get up tall hills or to get through long stretches of hot, featureless trail. It focuses my mind so I don’t feel overwhelmed by the mountain or desert stretching before me.

I adopted my hiking mantra from a woman who wrote about thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail and it goes like this:

We are the thru-hikers,                                                                                                                                      Mighty, mighty thru-hikers.                                                                                                                            Everywhere we go-o, people want to know-ow                                                                                                    Who we are and so we tell them:                                                                                                                            We are the thru-hikers,                                                                                                                                     Mighty, mighty thru-hikers…..

073116_2088I was using my mantra this morning to get me through the sun-baked expanse of Big Valley, in a hurry to get through into the shade on the far side, when I saw the rose mallow. It has been blooming for a while now, but I’ve blazed by so fast, I hadn’t really taken it in its depth and breadth. It covers a whole side of Big Valley and in the morning it glows pale pink, its hibiscus-shaped blooms angled towards the sun. It was stunning – and enlightening.

Seeing the rose mallow made me realize the danger of using distraction to get us through the unpleasant parts of life: It can easily become a habit that robs us of the experience of being alive.

When I am chanting, I am focused inward. That’s the point, after all, but if I use my mantra all the time, I don’t see the landscape around me. I miss the flowers blooming along the trail or the chance to see a rare bird flit into the forest. I miss the sun on the clouds, the ripple of the trout stream, and the fragrance of moist earth, bursting with life.

I know this phenomenon extends beyond just my daily walks. Sometimes I get so focused on fast-forwarding through the uncomfortable parts of life, I forget to look around me and really live.

The Little Engine That Could had a mantra. His repetitive, “I think I can, I think I can,” got him up that mountain, but we can’t stay in that state forever. At some point we have to shout, as he did, “I KNOW I can!” and sail down the other side of sorrow, drinking in the glory of being alive.

So, I will save my hiking mantra for the really rough spots on the journey and take a chance being present for the rest. I will let myself be uncomfortable or bored or tired and still experience what is going on around me – in nature and in my relationships. From now on I promise I will stop and smell the rose mallow.09242014_084459 web

Walking Into the Sun

If I had a blog, today I would write about revelations on my morning walk.

It’s a dangerous thing, submitting to the ministrations of Nature. When such a pact is made, just stepping out your front door can have dire consequences. When I hide indoors for a long period of time, I begin to grow arrogant, building a belief system that says I know things, I comprehend the width and breadth of the Universe and have a firm grasp on the order of things. I become jaded and tell myself there is no need to get out in the heat, that I have seen forty-seven Missouri summers and I have seen it all, done it all, felt it all. Then, I go on a morning walk and I am remade.

09252008_184946 webThe valley was full of fog this morning. We’ve had rain showers off and on this week and the air is heavy with moisture. Mom, Gus and I walked down to the river valley again and once we left the barn lot, we descended into a world of pale pink mist where every blade of grass sparkled with drops of dew.

09192011_190311 webThis time of year, the main activity in the woods and fields is that of tiny spiders. Their species are many and they create a world of intricate webs through which we pass wherever we go. The most prolific are the orb-weavers: Minute, triangle-shaped spiders who weave beautiful round webs that cross our woodland path and that hang glimmering on the taller grasses in the fields. There are other weavers too: The pasture roses are draped with long festoons of web that hang like strands of diamonds in the dewy morn. Still other spiders make broad, thick mats of web along the ground, complete with little tunnels in which their creators hide. This morning, every gossamer thread was alive with color in the soft, misty light.

Coming back from the river, the sun had emerged from the fog and was beginning to heat the earth. Although it was nice to have the heat on our backs, not our faces, I noticed our world of webs had disappeared from sight. I knew they existed as the had just half-an-hour before, but that rare moment of misty morning light had passed, and with it, our moment of epiphany.

09252008_185405 (3)webTo experience the rapture of Nature, you have to be out there come rain or shine. The beauty of the natural world does not appear for our benefit, we must be present when the miracle happens, and miracles are happening every day. No matter how long I live in this little valley, there will always be something new, something rare and wonderful waiting for me if I will set aside my cynicism and get out in The Wild.

Naturalist John Muir knew the truth of these things. In the early part of the century he wrote, “I used to envy the father of our race, dwelling as he did in contact with the new-made fields and plants of Eden; but I do so no more, because I have discovered that I also live in ‘creation’s dawn.’ The morning stars still sing together, and the world, not yet half-made, becomes more beautiful every day.

I must read this quote each morning when I rise. I must remember that I haven’t seen it all. I must remember that all I have to do is step out the front door and walk into the light of the rising sun.




10102013_183150 web.jpgIf there is one thing I’m good at it is resistance. Give me a good reason to dig in my heels and you’ll need a tow truck (or two) to get me moving again. Recently, my resistance has been to the heat and humidity of our Missouri summers. It happens to some extent every year, but this summer we no longer have any livestock, so being outside is purely a matter of choice, and my choice has been to stay indoors.

For a while it was all good. In my spare time I watched movies and worked on photo projects and lounged around with my dog, Gus, but now the party is over. I’m bored and feel more than a little claustrophobic, even in the air conditioning. So, despite my refusal to acknowledge the existence of summer, yesterday I decided to go for a walk to the river.

08112013_122313 webWe live about a mile from the Little Piney and the walk is fairly easy in terms of terrain. Not much upping and downing. So, when my mom started on her walk yesterday morning, Gus and I decided to give it a try and, much to my chagrin, something amazing happened: Despite the sweat and the bugs and my determination to dismiss summer as entirely useless, I felt better for having done it.

The key, it seemed, was in the hardship itself. Spending an hour getting soaked with sweat, feeling like a chicken under the broiler was worth it because it felt so amazing to rise to the challenge and return victorious. Not only did I have a sense of accomplishment, I also got to enjoy the bliss of returning to the cool  house, taking a shower, and slipping into soft, clean clothes. It was the contrast that made the experience an epiphany.

Web of Purpose

I don’t know if it is true for all people, but for me, going out into the uncomfortable, uncertain natural world without resistance is life affirming. I need to get my hands dirty, rip my jeans on a greenbriar, get bitten by bugs, and become soaked with sweat as a sort of daily baptism – dying to the ease of modern life and being reborn a child of nature. It is an exhilarating experience.

I will have to push myself to go back out there every day. The dark coolness of my office says, “Just stay here and check Facebook or work on a blog,” but I have to get out, go wild, get messy first or the pleasantry of my life loses its meaning. I need The Wild to keep me strong and in love with life.

So I go forth in hope, hope that I can remember the bliss nonresistance can bring. I will fall open-armed into the discomforts of summer and emerge a creature of joy.




I Got A Dog

Gus' first day home2If I had a blog, today I would write about my extended hiatus from the blogging world. The cause for my absence can be summed up in a single phrase: I got a dog.

In March 2015, I bought a baby yellow Labrador I named Gus and since that time, every moment of every day has been about me and Gus. It seems as though I should have known getting a puppy would upend my world. My family has always had dogs: Labs, border collies, Great Pyrenees, a beagle, but what I didn’t realize is the difference between a family pet and a dog of my own.

Having a puppy was, for me, akin to having a baby. I am single and work from home, so Gus and I have had the opportunity to be together 24/7 since he came into my life and his joie de vie has turned my world inside out.

Gus on his first day home.

Gus on his first day home.

I knew about the basic things like: Puppies don’t sleep at night, they make messes, they need constant supervision, and they need daily walks and training. No problem. But none of the books, nor my previous experience, prepared me for a Lab who lived full-throttle from dawn to dusk. Michael, our first Lab, was laid back from the start. He played with my brother and me, laid on the couch to watch TV, and just kind of melded in with family life. Not Gus. He was like a hyena on speed. He leaped, he bounded, he ran at the speed of sound through every event of my day. He ate reams of paper, shoes, shirts, socks, and dryer sheets. I spent most of my time removing some potential danger from his mouth: Rocks, wire, even a piece of broken glass. He seemed to have a knack for self-destruction and I was all that was standing between him and an early departure from this life.

Of course the biggest problem was: I was madly in love with this dog. By bedtime the first day I knew I’d die if anything were to happen to this gregarious pup. I was hooked and there was no turning back.

Consequently, along with the loss of any free-time, my creative muse took flight  upon Gus’ arrival and I began to think she would never return. There was a moment, late in the fall, when I thought we were making headway, then came November.

051115_0692In November 2015, Gus’ insane energy finally got the better of him and he broke his shoulder running into the corner of the greenhouse at the speed of light. Surgery looked imminent, but a wonderful orthopedic surgeon at the University of Missouri Vet Clinic said it could be avoided if I could commit Gus to 4 weeks of complete crate rest. The decision was clear, but no less challenging. Keeping the Tasmanian Devil still 23 hours a day for a month seemed impossible, but it had to be done.

Keeping Gus in his crate for 4 weeks was hard. Keeping Gus in his crate for 8 weeks just about broke my spirit. There was one setback after another and I thought if I saw him go downhill another time, I would need to be put in a crate – permanently.

To make a very long story short, the vet was right and Gus did heal, but by the time I’d gone through that trauma, I didn’t have a creative cell left in my body. It is only now, nineteen months after Gus’ arrival, that I find myself creating again. Today, as I write, Gus is finally sacked out beside me, giving me time to put my thoughts out into the ether once again.

So, at least for now, I’m back. Thoughts are flowing and hope is rising. As summer turns to fall, I look forward to sharing my blog with you once again.