Apalachicola

photos by G. Smith

For the last four winters, I have traveled to the Florida panhandle to the little out-of-the-way town of Apalachicola. Along this long expanse of white-sand beaches outlining the Gulf of Mexico is an almost forgotten land where time stands still, and Florida remains as it was before air-conditioners and high-rises. My aunts were looking for a place to find refuge from the arctic cold of northern Minnesota where they live most of the year. Apalachicola is just a bit north for warm weather in February, but it is still moderate, much more moderate than the icy north and just right for their winter retreat.

The first two years, I drove my mother the 9 hours to the coast to visit with her sisters. The last two years, I flew the two short flights to Tallahassee–and it is still another two-hour drive. This part of Florida is not on of normal tourist routes but that is its charm. These last two years, my aunts rented a home on St. George’s Island, a long drive across the bridge from the mainland. Family, food, chatter, movies and naps fill the day between my walks on the beach. I love the beach, any time and in any weather. I can’t get enough of water, sand and sky—this simple landscape that feeds my soul.  I love the salt air, breeze, sound of waves and gulls and water lapping at my ankles. I’m a beach girl to the core of my being.

But last year this almost desolate coast endured the ferocity of nature–Hurricane Michael. The third strongest hurricane on record, Michael hit the coastline on October 10, 2018. Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe were devastated. Apalachicola was damaged but not quite as severely and by the time I arrived in February much of the brush was cleaned up. But there was no turning away from the destruction. The roads are being rebuilt and I got a flat tire from the construction debris. Along the road were tall piles of rubble that was once someone’s beloved home. I drove down the streets of Mexico Beach, but I couldn’t really comprehend what all those empty lots meant for the residents of that small town. I was seeing the aftermath from an outsider’s perspective months later.  I know how much I love my home; how could I ever recover from having it destroyed. But the resilient human spirit seeks hope in the face of overwhelming adversity. Small campers now stand next to the rubble as homeowners work to rebuild a life.

Apalachicola has become a new refuge for my family, a place to be together. This new place has come from our own loss of land and home in Minnesota. So, we, too, have found our resilience, knowing that life and family do transcend place. It isn’t what we wanted, but we found a way to build new experiences that nurtures our bonds

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Take Joy!

When I was a little girl, I spent many a happy hour reading The Little Princess and The Secret Garden, books illustrated by the artist Tasha Tudor.  The delicately drawn pictures and watercolors add to the enchanting story.  I particularly remember the illustration of the robin showing Mary Lennox the key to the hidden garden.   Tasha (1915-2008) illustrated and wrote dozens of children’s books during her prolific career.

A few years ago, I became fascinated with Tasha again, not just for her art but because of the unique life she crafted for herself.  She was fascinated with the 1830’s and moved to a farm in rural Vermont to recreate a life from that time.   She lived without electricity and wore clothes of the period.   She had a prolific garden and a barn full of animals which she tended with her beloved Corgis.   As an artist, she created the life she imagined and lived it to the fullest.   She used the words “take joy” to express the way she experienced life.   Her darling Christmas book and a documentary about her are also named Take Joy!

So in these last cold days of winter, before the spring comes, I want to encourage you to also Take Joy by finding beauty in the everyday and crafting your life to reflect your joy.   I find that we are so bombarded with everyone else’s ideas and desires, or just what the culture tells us to think and do, that we don’t take the time to really create our unique world.   This week I have been reading Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism.  This is a new manifesto on how to loosen the control of media in your life so that you make more conscious choices about how you spend your time and what influences your thinking.  Take steps to mindfully use media so that life isn’t spent in front of a screen but out in the beauty of the world.   The constant bad news causes such anxiety and stress that the beauty all around is missed and then lost.  Choose media that brings happiness to your life, not that glorify the worst of human behavior.

Enter Tasha’s enchanted world for a bit and find that Joy and Take it into your life and then consciously look at your world to find the beauty.   In my world it is the chickadees having their breakfast, the wind ruffling the lake, the early spring frogs croaking in the shallow pond, the lichen on the fallen tree, the smell of the daffodils from the flower market…

I ❤ Books

Blood Wolf Supermoon rising

January has gotten away from me all too quickly.  Christmas delightfully lingered until Epiphany and I barely got the Christmas trees snuggled into the basement when I got a cold that then became bronchitis.  School started up, our water main broke and Caroline needed some surgery (fully mended now).  Whheeww! And I didn’t feel like I was ready to leave 2018 yet.  I want to reminisce a bit about some lovely moments from last year.  There were trips to Taiwan, New Mexico, New York and of course Los Angeles. But what I want to remember and hold on to are some of the lovely things I read and watched so let me share some of my favorite literary moments of 2018.  Hopefully I will inspire something for you to enjoy and I would love for you to leave a comment on what was your favorite book or movie/series of 2018 for me to enjoy in 2019.

Last winter, one of my classes was on dreams.  I have taken classes in Jungian dream work before but there are new and interesting ways of processing dreams.  Dream Tending: Awakening to the Healing Power of Dreams by Stephen Aizenstat takes dreams from strict interpretation to learning how to have a relationship with your dreams and let them enter your waking world.  I spent a morning in a class with Dr. Aizenstat working on dreams and it was a magical experience to see this master dream tender at work.  If you are interested in knowing more about dreams, this is the book to get.

Although I didn’t read this next book for class, it combines work I did in two class on vocation and archetypes.  The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling by Stephen Cope, is a beautifully written book that uses the story of the Bhagavad Gita and weaves it with stories of people (famous and not famous) finding the vocation that comes from the heart.

In November, Alexandra and I went to the LA Opera to see Philip Glass’ opera Satyagraha.  This is the story of Gandhi during his time in South Africa as he developed his ideals of non-violent resistance.  Once again, the opera uses the ancient Indian story of the Bhagavad Gita, to underscore Gandhi’s struggle to find the courage to fulfill his destiny in India.  A unique and powerful work sung in Sanskrit, it is Philip Glass’ masterpiece of opera and social change.   If you love music, I recommend Words Without Music, a memoir by Philip Glass about this remarkable composer’s life and work.  I have several of his albums on my iTunes and I wrote a paper on this amazing opera.

During a week off of school, I read Feet of Clay: Saints, Sinners, and Madmen: A Study of Gurus by Anthony Storr.  A well written scholarly look at the phenomena of gurus, good and bad, this book helped me understand the psychology around gurus and the people that follow them.   Coincidently the Netflix show Wild Wild Country about Bahgwan Rajneesh came the same week I was reading about him in this book.  You know I had to watch it.

A few other books I enjoyed:

Sacred Space, Sacred Sound: The Acoustic Mysteries of Holy Places by Elizabeth Hale

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors by Sarah Stodola

A Life Less Throwaway: The Lost Art of Buying for Life by Tara Button

Some TV series/Movies I enjoyed: 

Howards End (2018 and 1992), The Miniaturist, Durrells of Corfu, Leave No Trace, Jane, Loving Vincent, Darkest Hour, This Beautiful Fantastic

 

 

 

Gifts

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As we enter the traditional season for giving, I am reminded that gifts are always a part of the journey, on a pilgrimage and in daily life.   All you have to do is become aware the abundance of life and open your heart to receiving these gifts so freely given.  I offer these three gifts for this holiday season.  Gifts to give yourself and then in turn give to others.
Joy:   The poet Leon Bloy says, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God”.   Finding joy, living joy, sustained joy are the moments the pilgrim has put down their burdens, worries, sorrow and let the light of the Divine show through to your life.   This is a moment of transformation where just being alive and open hearted is all there needs to be.   On the Camino I had the experience of sustained joy where just walking and being in nature made every breath a thank-you.

Silence:  In our noisy world we don’t find much silence and if you do happen to encounter it most people find it uncomfortable and immediately fill the void with more talking or scrolling.   Silence is where you take time from our frenetic world.   You can’t hear the voice of your heart and the Divine if you are talking or distracted.   Practice sacred silence as you move into sacred space.   Take time to sit in silent wonder and just be with the experience.   You need time to be without distraction to connect your being to your special place on earth.   Before and after visiting a special place give yourself the gift of coming into silence so you can prepare, receive and then integrate this experience.

Music:   Music is part of spiritual practice in all traditions, hymns, chants, toning and other types of music that enhances your personal experience.   As always these should not affect the experience of others near you or the nature of the site.   Sing a song in your mind, quietly chanting, listening to a song on an iPod can greatly enhance your experience.   I like to link a specific song with a specific place or experience.    Sometimes I have chosen that song ahead of time, sometimes I let the shuffle setting choose the song, sometimes I like to have a song spontaneously come into my mind.      When a song is sung or listened to at a site the song is then imprinted on your energy at that site.   In the future when you hear that song then you can be instantly transported back to that place and time.   It is a way of being part of that place forever.   In the cathedral in Burgos, Spain during a Mass in English the congregation sang a hymn I learned as a child.   I sang the words that I knew but hadn’t thought of for decades.   Now my voice is forever in the stones of that chapel.

The Getty Villa

November found me back in Southern California to visit Alexandra and attend my quarterly class at Pacifica.  I always have a couple of days between my weekend with Alexandra and my classes giving me opportunity to search for beauty in an abundant part of the world.   On this trip I visited The Getty Villa in Malibu just a few miles up the road from Alexandra’s apartment.  Since it was a weekday and off-season, I found the place mostly empty expect for some rambunctious school groups loading back into their buses.   Soon the Villa was peaceful and after a lovely pesto and cheese sandwich at the café, I was ready to explore.

The Getty Villa is J. Paul Getty’s first art museum built when he realized that his art collection was much larger than his home.   With billions at his disposal, Getty spent his later years collecting some of the finest art work around the world and left a large endowment for their display and care.  The Getty Villa houses his classical art from Greece and Rome and the rest of his collection is a few miles away at the Getty Center.  But he didn’t want just any old building for this magnificent art, he wanted to recreate Italy itself on his property overlooking the Malibu coast and out onto the endless Pacific.   The plan for the new villa was based on an excavation in the 1750’s of Villa Dei Papiri, that had been buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.  Not only is the new villa the same scale and plan but also includes some materials from the 2000-year-old villa.

After watching the short introductory film, I took a guided tour of the gardens.   The docent detailed the four main gardens starting with the fragrant kitchen and herb garden.   I was encouraged to take small samples to smell and after placed the samples in my pocket—I had plans for those herbs.   The formal water garden had a magnificent view of the ocean way below.  There was a sculpture garden with pomegranate trees and a walled garden with acanthus plants and laurel trees.  I wandered around the galleries enjoying the detailed Greek urns, perfect sculptures and mosaics.  It was hard to believe that this art was so old and yet still had such a current influence in our world.    The gods and goddesses portrayed in the art remain part of my everyday life as I study myth and archetypes as part of my classes.

Two days later I again drove past the Getty Villa and up the beautiful Malibu coast to school near Santa Barbara.  It is my favorite route to take and the ocean, cliffs and music on the radio together make a beautiful experience.    The next day I started to get texts to see if I was alright—were the fires near me?   I was far enough from the fires but couldn’t believe the peaceful drive just a few hours before was now an inferno.   I took those herbs I gathered just a few days before and walked them to the center of the labyrinth on campus.  I had physical gifts from those peaceful gardens to offer prayers for the people suffering from the destruction.

The Getty Villa had to shut down during the fires but remains unharmed and has now reopened.  Two thousand years ago the first Villa was destroyed in a sudden rain of fire and ash and now the new Villa had the potential to meet the same fate.  How fleeting life can be, peaceful one day and gone the next as we witness every day the natural disasters that happen on our planet.  I try to savor every day, not in a fatalistic way, but so that life doesn’t just pass unnoticed until it is too late.

 

 

B-17

There are as many sacred spots as there are pilgrims, for each person has a unique call to their soul.  Pilgrims may be standing at the same place looking at the same mountain or cathedral, but the experience is always processed through the individual heart and soul.   I tend to love very traditional pilgrimages such as stone circles and churches but that might not make your heart sing.   It is our unique expression of the soul that gives the place meaning.

Over the years Hamilton and I have traveled to sacred spots together, particularly in England, Peru and Cambodia.  Sometimes we are drawn to the same site but sometimes we are called to different experiences.   But one of the great joys of traveling with other pilgrims is to witness and share their joy when a moment or a place touches their hearts.  A few weeks ago, I read an article in the paper that a B-17 (WW II bomber) was coming to town and available for tourist flights.   I insisted Hamilton take advantage of this opportunity.   He is always so supportive of my journeys and work that I wanted him to have his own special day to follow his bliss.

Hamilton is a voracious reader, particularly of WWII history.   He watches documentaries of the war and is always asking me to identify the planes—of course I can’t so I always reply B-17.   Just the sound of those historic airplanes makes him misty-eyed as he admires the skill and bravery of the men who sacrificed their lives to keep our world free.   He can tell you the names of the planes just by the silhouettes and sounds and knows all their histories.

On a beautiful September morning we drove an hour to Sevierville, the gateway of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  There on the tarmac of the small private airport was the B-17, Madras Maiden.   We walked over to inspect the exterior and peek into the cramped fuselage.   There was a magical aura to the whole experience: the cool morning breeze, the misty-blue layers of the mountains, the well-loved airplane.   I took pictures and listened to the 96-year-old veteran talk about being a crew chief on a B-17 in Africa.  Soon it was time for nine happy fliers to board the plane.   One by one the four engines started up and made the characteristic roar and gave off a big puff of smoke.   I took videos of the take off.    About 30 minutes later the plane was heading back, slowly flying against the back drop of perfect mountains until it gently landed.  Hamilton crawled out the back hatch with a big smile.   During the flight the passengers could explore the plane and watch the pilots.  Everything about that experience made him so happy and in turn made me happy.   We watched the B-17 take off with another load of passengers and then went and had a lovely lunch before driving back home through the mountains.   Although not a conventional pilgrimage, it was a beautiful experience and just perfect to feed our souls.

 

Passport

 

There are many ways we mark the passage of a year such as birthdays, anniversaries, and New Years.   We use birthdays. ending in ‘0’ and the change of a decade to reflect on longer lapses of time.   I’ve been lucky enough to see a century/millennium change as we move into the Age of Aquarius.  These are all significant markers to reflect on what has passed and wonder what is to come.

This month I have a unique marker of time that designates a very special phase of my life outside of the usual birthdays and holidays.   It was time to renew my passport.   A few months before my first trip to Egypt, I realized I couldn’t find my passport, so I applied for a new one which was marked with a issue date of September 24, 2008.   Although I had been out of the country several time before, this passport marked the beginning of my life as a pilgrim.

2008 was a memorable year for many reasons:  my beloved 99-year-old grandmother passed away, Alexandra got her drivers license, Caroline went to college and the financial crisis of the year deeply effect our business.  It was an intense year and certainly a dividing line in my life for I was ending one era of parenting and moving on to a phase of my life where I was freer to pursue my interests.

In January of 2009 I got my first stamp in my new passport— a beautiful Egyptian visa, with an iridescent seal and exotic words.  I stepped into a new world that was both ancient and modern, exotic and exciting.  My wanderlust was ignited and over the next ten years I added many more visas and stamps to my little blue book:  England, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Peru, Thailand, Cambodia, Jordan and twice more to Egypt.  My final stamp was Taiwan this last January.   I hate to retire my well-worn book, but I already have a new passport that is ready for my adventures next year.   I’m a bit older in my picture, my address changed, and my occupation is now “writer”.   I don’t know where we will travel together but I know it will be an adventure.   My passport opened the world for me to explore, changed my life in innumerable ways and allowed me to fulfill my destiny as a pilgrim.  As I travel and visit sacred sites near and far, I bring a deeper connection to the sacred in my heart for pilgrimage is time out of time, life lived in the eternal.