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Archive for the ‘hiking’ Category


FebShell1Another month has gone by and now six months have passed since I started this year-long conscious living project.  The shell that comes out of my bowl of 12, signifying a month lived, is dangerous looking and prickly.  The little sea animal that used to live inside did its best to stave off predators.  Any one bold enough to try to snack on this creature risked injury in the process.  I guess it’s sort of like life in that you never know what each day will bring.  It could bring joy, sorrow or danger.  It’s filled with risk of varying degrees.  One day you’re healthy — and the next, maybe you’re not.  Of that I’m acutely aware.  A little farther down you’ll read why.

FebShell2This month though, more than the others, has come and gone with little hindsight awareness of how I spent my time.  I know I enjoyed each day and meditated at the start of most.  There was time spent at the horse rescue, with my hospice patient and her husband, celebrating my husband’s birthday, exercising, reading and other assorted mundane activities of daily living.  And I spent quite a bit of time with my dear friend who’s living each one of her days with a keen awareness of the cancer in her body and wondering what that will ultimately mean.  Talk about awareness of life!

Mostly what I feel these days is appreciation for my health, my life and everything in it.  Turns out that my age has something to do with that.  Research shows that wisdom and a sense of well-being grows as we age, with the middle-aged brain reaching its peak potential in those areas.  In fact that research shows us 50 somethings to be happier in this decade than others.  You can find out details in Barbara Strauch’s breezy read called “The Secret Life Of the Grown-Up Brain”   She covers health and medicine for the New York Times and has written other books on health related subjects.  You can hear a lecture from her here.

It’s soothing to know that as we age our brains respond less to negative stimuli and, according to Strauch’s book, lean towards accentuating the positive as an almost automatic reflex.  I like that.

Barbara Allen

Barbara Allen

I saw it in action in early February while attending a lecture by Barbara Allen who, at age 71, recently completed more than 2100 miles of the Appalachian Trail.  Alone with a 30 pound back pack.  She told us that her friends tried to dissuade her from the solo hike by pointing out all the potential dangers for an, ahem, older lady hiking alone.  She told them, and us, that she’d rather die doing something she loved than be paralyzed by fear and alone in her house.  That’s quite a case of accentuating the positive, wouldn’t you say?

You can read a story about her here.

And see some photos from her six month adventure here.

She was a captivating woman who inspires me to continue hiking, though I doubt I’ll ever do a solo expedition like that.  I’ll continue to succumb to my paranoia about being eaten by wild animals and attacked by scary people.

But I do live my life my way albeit on a less grand scale.  Even before I started this awareness project I’ve known that after a finite amount of time my experience as a human being will be over.  And the older I get the faster the time seems to fly.  Instead of my whole life looming ahead of me like in my 20s, now I hope to get 25 or 30 healthy, vibrant years under my belt before whatever’s next comes next.

What I know today, different from a few years ago, is that making a connection with life, many forms of life, is what draws meaning for me now.

So long February.  May March continue to bring health, happiness and a peaceful brain.

And you?  How did you spend February?

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As I substituted my Capri pants and tank tops for long jeans and sweaters, I realized that October is a month about transitions, especially here in East Tennessee where we’re most fortunate to experience four distinct seasons.  Fall here is exquisite and lasts longer than the hiccup it takes for our northern neighbors to go from hot to cold.  Here the leaves tease us before bursting forth in splendor.  The days surprise us with their fickleness between hot and warm before adding cool into the mix of “guess what you’re getting today?”  And now that it’s my job to pay attention to what this month offered my life, I’ve realized how this season created transitions of all kinds that define the rhythm of life.  October means I take one more shell out of my bowl of 12 that bids farewell to another month of my life.  Amazing how they’re flying by.  The older I get the faster they fly.  Hmmm, didn’t my  mother always tell me that?

Let’s start with the colors because our landscape of forested mountains and meandering rivers invite tourists from around the country to leaf peep with us.  I often marveled to my hiking partner, Jo, that “we live here!”  After calling ETN home for 16 years I’m still breath taken by the kind of scenery most people vacation to see.

Autumn in the Smoky Mountain National Park should be considered among the natural wonders of the world.  Each Thursday in October Jo and I drove an hour to reach a trailhead for our 7 plus mile hike.  The most talented landscapers in the world would be challenged to match the natural magnificence we experienced each week.

The streams, wildflowers, forest and waterfalls offered the kinds of pictures that inspire great painters.  It’s awe inspiring to recognize that no human put this landscape together, other than to clear out debris blocking trails.  In fact, cascading falls are so impressive that a tourist was rumored to ask a ranger when the water gets turned off.  Surely something so impressive couldn’t have just appeared!

Paying attention put me in touch with the awe-inspiring power of nature and the recognition that we are of it too.  Like the natural landscape, humans go through changes when we allow our bodies to dance with the season.  So do animals.

Horses at the Rescue started growing their winter coats.  Their turnout shifts changed from staying in to escape the daytime heat to going outside and loving up the chill.  Horses become quite playful when temperatures drop below 50 as though their sleeping pills wore off, freeing them to kick up their hooves in glee!

My 11-year old dog Pogo came alive too.  He had a resurgence of energy on his morning walks, running up and down hillsides as though his joints no longer ached.  Nine years ago he was the canine version of the Energizer Bunny, running all day only to finally collapse into sleep.  Crisp fall mornings allowed me to experience this joyful pup again.

I also found that my interest in heading to a favorite greenway with my bike seemed to wane, even on the warm days.  Instead, my walks grew longer and my yoga classes more frequent.  Beverages changed from ice water to hot decaf, and for lunch, soup replaced a sandwich.  I traded my sandals for shoes and socks and pulled my jackets out of their hiding places for those chilly mornings.

Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners have long recognized body changes with the seasons.  So do yoga practitioners.  I’ve found that by paying attention, I’ve felt those transitions too.

What did October bring you?

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Our campground here in Stone Mountain was surprisingly empty for our final two days in Mr. Bus.  It’s divided into pods of sites and we were the only rig in our pod of maybe 20 sites.  We’re nestled in the woods of hilly Georgia, east of Atlanta and it feels good to be among the pine and hardwood trees again.  I’ve always loved the moodiness of the forest.  As much as I adore the ocean and its vast power, the woods and all its creatures are where I prefer living

Hiking here is good.  The Cherokee Trail traverses five miles around the bottom of Stone Mountain, an unusually barren dome of granite jutting up out of the trees toward the sky.  It reminds me of the Spielberg film, “Close Encounters,” primed for a giant UFO to land at the top.

I hadn’t realized how much I needed those solitary walks along the trails.  My initial intent was to ride my bike along that trail until I discovered I’d need a mountain bike and some really strong thighs for that plan.  So off on foot I went, rather slowly since sleep had evaded me for most of the night before.  The walk may have taken me longer but because of my pace all kinds of detail was exposed that normally goes unnoticed.  Sounds, tiny flowers and critters on land and water  went about their daily lives oblivious to my intrusion in their world.  I needed the solitude after weeks of going and going and going.

Jutting into the lake were a few dead trees in various stages of decay  that offered the perfect platform for eight water turtles to perch in the sun.  Toward the base of the trees, still on land, were the beginnings of mushrooms or some other sort of fungus marking a stage of metamorphosis into soil.  That process takes 10 years from tree to dirt.  Incredible isn’t it?  Poised on a nearby branch was a vivid red cardinal whose crest was taut and proud for reasons I don’t know.  But he was a beauty with his matching red beak.

chipmunk on log upper right

fungus on dead tree

I found myself relaxing into the mood of the land, soothing a sense of impatience I’d been feeling in the bustling, endlessly bright atmosphere of Florida tourist destinations – away from my dog and his endless scratching to relieve his incessant itching no matter how many possible solutions we offer to soothe his allergy ridden skin.  His discomfort has frayed my nerves and has been keeping me awake at night.  This walk in the woods has quieted my irritation and helpless feelings.  And it’s reminding me how infrequently I’ve been meditating and practicing yoga poses, both crucial activities for my peace of mind as almost daily rituals at home.  On the road I haven’t made time to include them with regularity.  The quiet of the woods is calling attention to that.

Crystal clear mountain water. Those rocks are underwater.

It was Rick’s idea to push our typical three-hour drive to closer to five so we could get to this public park and stay put for a couple of days, recharging our batteries before heading home to undertake the mundane chores of settling in again.  And I’m glad for that.  It’s being the ideal transition between the two worlds.

Tomorrow morning we leave for home and three hours later we’ll arrive.  I’ll start Pogo’s daily regimen of antihistamine and local honey, a winning combination last year.  Wish me luck.

See you at home …

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