Tag Archives: writing

Lost & Found

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Although normally an optimistic person by nature, there are days when the relentless little disappointments of life wear me down and leave me feeling discouraged.  When this happens, my instinct is to do what has always brought me comfort: retreat to nature.  Whenever I am feeling lost, I can always find myself again in the woods.

Throughout my childhood, my family used to spend the summer on a small little island in the middle of a fairly large lake in Massachusetts.  There were about a dozen families that owned cottages on this little rock in the pond, but the island isolation helped to create our own little paradise.  It was very rustic; there was no electricity, running water, or flush toilets.  We floated tanks of propane over to the island to run our refrigerator and stove, but otherwise, there were no modern amenities.  Water was pumped by hand from the well and hauled up a hill where our cottage stood overlooking the lake, and our outhouse was, well, it was just something you got used to.  When it rained, we entertained ourselves with endless card games.  When the weather was nice, I was out in the woods.

I could hardly help it. The island was heavily wooded from shore to shore.  Just being there meant being among the company of trees.  I learned to climb them, and run among them in the dark without breaking my toes on the roots.  (That lesson took a few years and many broken toes.)  I learned to listen to their whisperings and tell when the weather would change by the sound they made.  I watched trees grow up, and sadly, I watched trees fade, fail, and die.  Summer after summer after summer, it was me amongst the trees.  I watched birds build their nests, and squirrels raise their families.  I watched bats roost among the branches, and a legion of insects make their way in and around the leafy canopy.  Trees were ever-present, and although it may sound unusual for a child, I counted the trees among my friends.   I was a woodland creature as much as any squirrel.

I still am.  Now, as an adult, I find myself returning to the woods again and again whenever I need to find comfort and peace.  Our family no longer has the cottage on the island, but I still live in the extensive woodlands of upstate New York.  I do not lack for woods or trails to hike through them.  So when the going gets tough, I grab my walking stick and instinctively head into the shelter of trees.

I was feeling discouraged and depleted this week.  I needed to find my internal reset switch.  So I took up my walking stick, filled my knapsack with what I would need to sustain me, and made my way to the nearest trail head.  I started my hike with a bit of yoga stretching.  Sun Salutations became a moving meditation as I used them to get grounded and open myself to being present.  Then I sat at a picnic table and took out my journal, where I wrote for a bit to clarify my intention to cultivate peace.  It’s hard to drop baggage that you don’t know you’re carrying, and I find journaling to be a good process to identify the things that are weighing down my journey.  This wasn’t just a random hike, but a journey to find myself again.  Thus prepared physically and mentally, I entered the woods.

I chose a path through the mountains above my home on a trail that crossed over many streams that carved their way through the landscape seeking sea level far below.  The trail began at a waterfall splashing down merrily among the fossil-laden limestone, evidence of an ancient inland sea from a time so long ago my mind boggles.  Meditating upon the presence of a clamshell fossil up in the mountains is a great way to find perspective.  It’s hard to stay trapped in the fleeting fears of the moment when confronted with time on such a vast scale.  Humbled, I rambled on, more peaceful and reflective than before.

Everywhere I look, the stones preserve the memory of the inland sea that this mountain used to be.

I walked steadily, but as silently as possible, pausing frequently to peer through the trees to see what wildlife might be sharing this trail with me.  I’d walk, and pause, and listen, then continue on.  I paused at another waterfall, and sat for awhile letting the sound wash over me.  I went further along the trail and found a fallen log in a sunny spot off the beaten path, and sat there for awhile and listened to the trees and birds exchanging news of the day.  I watched a spider reinforce her spiral web against the wind.  I saw a millipede hunt along the log where I sat.  Farther along, I found a large flat boulder and used it for another seated meditation where, anchored by the stone, I allowed my thoughts to become untethered and roam freely on the breeze.  I was hardly aware of myself as I rose and continued my journey.  As I continued my solitary drift through the woods, I allowed thoughts to form and pass.  I noted them, followed them, and let them go.  I spoke to the trees about what was in my heart, and let the breeze carry those words away.  I opened all my senses, and received the grace of the woods.

I thought I’d hike for an hour or so, but when I finally emerged from the woods, four hours had passed.  I felt a bit like I had slid down Alice’s rabbit hole.  I couldn’t possibly have been gone that long?  But it was time well spent.  I emerged from the woods feeling more settled, peaceful, and hopeful again.  I was pulled from my own petty worries back into a place of timeless beauty.  I dipped the ladle of my soul into a deep well of peace, and was refreshed.

Where do you go to restore yourself and find peace?

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What I Love

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What an interesting challenge, introducing myself to the world. It’s a bit like trying to bring a stranger up to speed on a movie that is halfway over without interrupting the show. I don’t want to tell you every single thing about myself – you probably don’t care, and I have no interest in full disclosure, valuing the privacy of my life as the sacred space where my most genuine living happens. But I’m not just writing for myself here. A blog is a public space. This is for you.

I’m writing here because I have something to share with the world, and, as a writing teacher, I know that context matters. We understand things more deeply when we have an appropriate context. Since this is a public blog from a personal perspective, you’ll get more out of it if you have some sense of who I am.

But how do I appropriately contextualize my life for you without this becoming an autobiography?

Perhaps that is one of the questions I will gradually explore in this space. But in the meanwhile, you, my gentle blog readers, will each be starting from different places and spaces. Perhaps you know me in real life. Perhaps these are the first of my thoughts to ever touch yours. Regardless of whether or not someone feels they know me, and for how long, each person sees me in his or her own individual context. Each of you necessarily sees me through your own filters, and constructs an understanding of who I am based more on your own experiences of life than on what I might really be like on the inside.

I accept all these premises. I am not who you think I am, and never will be. Your picture of me will always be a sketch, an interpretation. My goal is not to share my whole life with you, although some details of living my life will undoubtedly spill through. But here you will get snapshots of my journey as I move through the world with an attitude of exploration, in perpetual search for meaning.

So here’s a piece of necessary context: I write poetry. Now, as an English teacher, I’m very well aware that most people who just read that sentence had some degree of negative response. I understand, really I do, how few people appreciate poetry. It’s okay. I’m not offended, and I won’t try to convince you to love poetry – at least not today.

But here’s the thing: although my poetry is written in English, it’s useful to think of poetry as almost a different language entirely. At least, if you’re not a fan of poetry, it might help to think of it like a foreign language. I’m a native speaker. You all will have differing degrees of fluency. But I think in poetry, and always have, and when I speak, I have spent a lifetime learning to translate my thoughts from my native poetry into prose. But here, I won’t always do that. Sometimes the original thought – expressed in poetic form – is going to be what lands on this page. If you’re not a fan of poetry, I beg your indulgence. Most of them aren’t long. Bear with me.

This one tracks the direction of my thoughts as I was reading some poetry over my morning cup of coffee this morning. It’s what inspired today’s blog post. I offer it as is without further comment, but absolutely welcome your comments and discussion here and everywhere on this blog.

What I Love

I know enough of poetry to know
What I love, what moves
The sluggish blood of my heart
Coagulating in the cold of life

A silver cable of words connected
To a sudden jolt that revives
That vivid appreciation …
I’m alive, I’m capable

Of love and more love and I have another day
To love again.

Another new beginning

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Recharging in the spring sunshine

“Wherever you are is the entry point.” -Kabir

This is the entry point where you and I begin.  I have been walking my path for a lifetime, and you have been walking yours.  Here, for a moment in time, our paths converge.

There is no time but the present.  This ever-changing now is all there is.  Thank you for being here with me.

I’ve been a writer since I first learned to clutch a crayon and scrawl my first thoughts upon the page.  I’ve also had an insatiable curiosity about the world, and my place in it.  I’ve always been guided by the core belief that there is some deeper meaning to life that is discoverable to the earnest seeker.  In one form or another, my life has been spent in search of this meaning.

I’ve learned a lot along the way, and a lot of what I’ve learned I’ve been forced to reckon with and discard.  If I’ve learned anything, it’s this:  Don’t believe everything you think.  Dogma closes us off from new ways of viewing the world.  I offer my observations from my perspective – engage with them or dismiss them as you see fit.

I consider myself to be a very practical-minded person, and yet I’ve been known to believe some pretty outlandish things.  That’s because my search along the road less-traveled has led me to conclude that the world is inherently more mysterious than we can ever fully grasp.  I think science is still hard at work explaining the currently unfathomable, and I follow their findings with as much avid respect as I do the teachings of other respected researchers like Buddha and Gandhi.  There are many ways to explain the world, and I’d like to explore them all.

Welcome to my journey.