Zulu Warrior Memorial at Isadahlwana

Along with amazing wild animals and beautiful terrain, South Africa has a long and complicated history. Before we left on our trip in March, I read A Short History of South Africa as I wanted to know more about the history of the country. I remember bits and pieces of Apartied, the terrible policies of segregation, that crippled the lives of millions of people. But I also wanted to learn about the settling of the land by the Dutch during the early circumnavigations of the globe. Hamilton has read extensively about the military history of South Africa and wanted to see some of the famous battlefields north of Durban and experience first-hand these historic places.  Battlefields are not necessarily my interest, but I was happy just to see the land and I’m always content with beautiful scenery.

We spent the first night in South Africa near the Johannesburg airport so we could catch a morning flight to Durban.  We hired a private guide, Don Botterill, to take us around the battlefields in the KwaZulu-Natal province. Don picked us up at the King Shaka Airport and took us to a charming guest house by the Indian ocean.  We wished we had more time to enjoy the property but we did get our feet wet in the ocean and walk on the beach.  That evening we met with a business acquaintance of Hamilton’s and his wonderful family for cocktails and dinner. I love making new friends and hearing about life in South Africa. We did get to experience the infamous rolling blackouts that plague life in South Africa.  Around twice a day the electricity is cut off for a couple of hours. The big businesses and hotels have generators but homes and small business have to deal with this big inconvenience every day.

Indian Ocean, Durban South Africa

Don picked us up early to start the drive deep into Zululand north of Durban. I was interested to see so many people walking along the highways on their way to work. Most of the people living in the countryside don’t have cars and depend on walking or microbus taxis for transportation. Don began telling us the history of the area and about King Shaka who turned the Zulu’s into fierce warriors in the early 1800’s. We stopped briefly by his simple grave on the way deeper into the lush countryside.  The late summer rains made the land very green and rolling valleys gave way to rocky hills and outcroppings.  We soon were on narrow roads winding through the countryside and the occasional village with traditional Zulu round houses.  The places of worship were stone painted white formed into circles.  On Sundays the people will dress in their best clothes and gather at these stone circles under the great cathedral of blue sky.  We stopped to get gas and some local snacks for our picnic lunch under a tree.

The first battlefield on our tour was Isadahlwana (1879) where 4000 Zulus decimated a British regiment of 1500 soldiers. I must admit I didn’t listen to the details but couldn’t help but be moved by the piles of white rocks covering the graves of the soldiers still on the battlefield for almost 150 years. We then moved to Rorke’s Drift, a British encampment and hospital where a small number of British soldiers were able to hold off the Zulu warriors the day after the terrible loss at Isadahlwana.   The movie Zulu (1964) staring a young Michael Caine is a fairly accurate account of the battle. Once again, I didn’t listen very closely to the story but instead enjoyed the bird calls, gentle breeze and songs of nearby school children—much more my interest.

That night we stayed in a wonderful guest house overlooking a valley.  We were in the middle of nowhere but in the past, there was an active German community that build an impressive sandstone church and now is part of a youth retreat center. After a lovely lasagna dinner, we headed to bed and enjoyed the exotic night sounds of Africa, the distinctive song of the firey-necked nighjtar, the African cousin of our beloved whip-poor-wills. We woke to a beautiful sunrise and soon a hot cup of coffee. I wandered the grounds and for the first time had coffee with vervet monkeys—very curious little guys with black faces. The early European settlers of South Africa were Dutch and Germans and their decedents became the Boers, now called Afrikaans and the Afrikaans language, spoken by several million South Africans, is a form of Dutch.

The next battlefield we visited was Spion Kop.  We drove to the top of a hill with an amazing 360 view of the plains below with a wide river and dam.   On this fateful hill in 1899 the British army engaged the Boer army in an early battle of the Boer Wars that last to about 1903.  The British were terribly mismanaged by the general and it was a massacre. Once again there were mass graves and monuments to the soldiers who died in battle. This time the stories did capture my attention because the aftermath of this battle was witness by two of the most pivotal men in the 20th century.    Winston Church was a young reporter and saw the terrible scene and sent reports back to England.   Mahatma Gandhi was a stretcher bearer removing the wounded from the field down the hill to the hospital.   Both were deeply affected by the horror of this massacre and the suffering and death. This battle informed the direction of the lives and then the history of the world in the decades that followed. The Boer Wars were the end of England’s empire building era. 

War Memorials, Spion Kop. Gandhi’s name is 6th on the list of stretcher bearers.

After a brief visit to a museum in Ladysmith and a lunch at a local coffee shop, we headed back to Durban on the highway. After two days of bumpy unpaved roads, it was a bit of a shock to see traffic and the modern world. I really loved being off the beaten path and immersed in history and the landscape not usually visited by American tourists. But never fear, more off-road adventures were coming! 

The next day we said goodbye to Don and flew to Cape Town and then had a transfer to the beautiful town of Stellenbosch, in the heart of South African wine country. We spent the night at a charming hotel tucked amongst lush gardens and vineyards. That night we met up with Sarel and Johan and their wives, our hosts for the next few days.  Hamilton has been corresponding with Sarel and Johan for many years about business matters and have become email friends. They were kind enough to become our guides for an adventure deep in Tankwa-Karoo, a thinly-populated high desert north of Cape Town.


We packed smaller duffle bags and left our suitcases in Stellenbosch and packed Sarel’s 4WD truck and headed for the mountains and through a 4 km tunnel. There were signs to beware of baboons and fortunately we saw a couple of baboon families including babies on their mother’s backs. Once through the mountains the landscape became more desolate. We had a final fuel stop in a small town, Ceres, then the pavement ended. The next town Calvinia was over 200 km away with just a dirt road between them. It is the longest dirt road between towns in South Africa. We drove for around 2 hours briefly stopping at an outpost that reminded me of something you might see in a Mad Max movie. There was a little store with the strangest mix of merchandise; yoga mats, incense, candy and toys—all covered in a fine layer of dust. We finally turned off the “main road” heading toward our rental cottage. We saw some flocks of ostrich crossing the road. They are the perfect bird watching for those of us with poor eyesight. And I must say they look ridiculous as they run–fluffy feathers like tutus just bouncing around over their spindly legs.

We finally arrived at our off-grid cottage and unloaded the suitcases and food. It is a beautiful setting overlooking a reservoir. The landscape is almost lunar –nothing but rocks. But the thatched cottage has two bedrooms, a sleeping loft, bathroom and nice kitchen. There are solar panels for electricity, propane for hot water and kitchen appliances. It is a wonderful retreat for a few days. I was not surprised that there is no internet and quite ready for media free retreat to finish some reading and relax in this windswept world.

We enjoyed a beautiful sunset then full moon with Venus rising on the horizon. Later I saw the Southern Cross for the first time and Orion high above –but here in the southern hemisphere he is upside down with his sword pointing up. Sarel made a fire from old grapevine roots and cooked beef sausages over the coals. We ate them in buns with cooked onions in tomato sauce and canned guava and custard for dessert. 

Over the next couple of days, we explored more of the territory, visited a raisin farm and the local school. I spent long hours reading and napping. The guys talked endlessly about guy stuff but every evening we would gather round the fire and grill something for dinner and enjoying the stars and moon rising over the high desert.

A few days later it was time to leave our desert oasis and travel the rough but scenic road back to Cape Town. It was even harder to say goodbye to Johan and Sarel, now dear friends who live on the other side of a very big ocean. I would be very sad never to see them again—so maybe South Africa will call us back again.  I hope so.

Over the next few days, we enjoyed more of the region; Babylonstoren and Kirstenbosch botanical gardens, several wineries, the Cape of Good Hope, a penguin colony in Simonstown, a Saturday market and Dutch church in Franschhoek.  There is so much to see and do in South Africa that I was glad to have almost three weeks to explore and most of all wonderful new friends to enjoy it with. 



Last June I asked Hamilton where in the world he wanted to go first now that most pandemic restrictions have been lifted. Over the years we talked about some dream destination based on difficulty and intensity of travel and we came up with a short list of places to see while we were fit and able. He decided that South Africa was the top of the list so I happily went to the planning phase. I looked at tours and Hamilton had some “must see” places and we also knew some people in South Africa we wanted to visit. I was happy to do everything but the top of my list was seeing exotic animals in the wild. I tried not to be specific about which ones, I know better than to have expectations when traveling. As a certified crazy cat lady, I had to suppress any idea that I would get to see lions. I even wrote about my white lion obsession a few years ago. Well, I honestly wouldn’t let myself get my hopes up. I really want my experiences to be serendipitous, the unexpected and magical.

A part of our trip to South Africa was a traditional tour which included going to a game ranch to see animals. Early in the morning we flew from Cape Town where the tour started to Johannesburg for the 3 hour bus ride out to the Limpopo Province and the town of Bela Bela. This area and on east to Kruger National Park hundreds of miles away is the open land for African game. We arrived at Mabula Lodge in time for a lovely buffet lunch and then checked into our beautiful room at the edge of the compound.  The buildings were thatched with nice porches for relaxing and we weren’t there long when a handsome Eland came by to greet us.  Over the course of our two-night stay we were also visited by an impala, stripped mongoose, and a snake!  After a bit of a rest, it was time for our first game drive. The drives are late afternoon and early morning when the animals are most active. We were assigned a driver, Franc, for all our drives. Hamilton and I loaded up in the far back seat in the Toyota Land Cruiser that had been modified for game watching.  First thing Franc said was “we are going to go to look for lions”. I dare not hope too much.  First, we saw a female cheetah lounging in the grass, I only got glimpses of her face through the binoculars but I was very happy.  Along the way we saw zebra and warthogs and lots more impala.  We found a young jackal chasing a little yellow butterfly. He ran round and round the truck, not realizing he had such an adoring audience for his antics. Finally, he caught the butterfly and trotted on his merry way and we drove on very pleased with the show.

We left one fenced area and entered another fenced portion of the reserve where the lion pride is kept safe from poachers and from endangering human guests. Now these fenced areas are many, many square miles. The animals are managed but they are wild and living in their natural habitat. The game guides/drivers are in constant contact as they search for animals around the preserve, and we soon got notice of a male lion in the vicinity. A few minutes later there he was! A gorgeous tawny male just casually hanging out under a tree less than 30 feet from our vehicle. I couldn’t believe I was getting to see a lion. I got tears in my eyes being so close to this King of Beasts. We hung out with him for the longest time. Then we let another group have a turn and then we caught back up with him laying in the road with the sun setting behind him. My heart skipped many beats as I just tried to absorb the moment, taking just enough pictures to remember, but letting the feelings and the experience become part of my being.  As we drove back to the lodge, the sun was setting over the African plain. The land was vivid with color: miles of grassland were burnished gold, the storm clouds dark and dramatic, the final rays of the sun a deep pink. That evening I felt shaky and emotional; I was in Africa and I saw a lion.

The next morning Hamilton and I took a hot air balloon ride over the plain. I wanted to see the land from the air, floating just above the trees.  We could see the herds of animals, the sun coming over the mountains and the shadow of the balloon silently crossing the trees.  After a very gentle landing and the traditional champagne toast we headed to breakfast and then our next lion encounter. Many years ago, I read The Mystery of the White Lion by Linda Tucker and became obsessed with these lions from the region of Timbavarti in South Africa that have a rare genetic mutation that makes their fur white.  Linda also discovered a link between these lions and the lion culture and worship in Egypt and the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet. I remember looking at a map of Africa and thinking there was no way I would ever see those beautiful white lions in their land.  Well, I’m here to tell you that my dream of white lions came true! Through many intense synchronicities (meaningful coincidences) our lodge was just up the road from a predator preserve that had white lions and I had the personal contact information of the young game keeper, Aliscia. We were able to find a driver and met with Aliscia late that morning.  She took us deep into the Mabaligwe Game Preserve to the Boschpoort Predator Park, a sanctuary for lions, tigers, cheetahs and other predators that have been rescued from people who had no business having wild animals.  The male and female white lions had been terribly abused but are now living their best life protected and loved. Rocky, the male, was laying by the fence, I’m sure just waiting for me!  I spent a long time talking with them. It was just me and those magnificent lions- -white lions–in Africa!  We continued round the park to see tigers, white tigers, a tawny lion pride, hyenas and wild dogs.  They all had sad stories with happy endings.  If you have a calling to help care for these animals, please contribute to this important work —Aliscia is young and dedicated to these animals the perfect person to fight for the health and safety of wild animals in Africa.

That evening we saw lots of rhinos, zebras and impala as well as a small herd of female Cape buffalo but we were really searching for elephants. And soon we saw elephants or more accurately we heard the elephants crashing through the bush heading toward the dirt road. Elephants are not subtle creatures and we were soon delighted to see extensive dust bathing on the road in front of us and then they were off again crashing through the trees to their next destination.   I loved hearing the elephants before I could even see them. 

The following morning, we had our final game drive at Mabula Lodge and saw the elusive giraffe I had been wanting to see. We bid a fond farewell to our guide and the beautiful lodge. It was a short stay but oh so memorable.  We drove to Johannesburg to catch a flight to our next destination, Zimbabwe, for mighty Victoria Falls, the grand finale of our tour. We landed at Victoria Falls airport—the airport was literally in the middle of nowhere, totally surrounded by bush. But I could see the mist of the falls rising above the bush out the airplane window.  During our stay in Zimbabwe, we took a sunset river cruise on the Zambezi River for more elephant and hippo watching and then took a daytrip to nearby Chobe National Park in Botswana to see more elephants, giraffes and baboons.  Botswana has tens of thousands of elephants and we got to spend a good part of the morning enjoying the antics of two elephant families down by the Chobe River.  I delighted in the babies playing in the water, nursing from their mothers and the adolescents taking mud baths. They were so close to our vehicle we could almost touch them.

Our final morning in Africa was a sunrise visit to Victoria Falls, the world’s largest waterfall at 1 mile (yes, mile) wide and 355 feet tall.  The resent heavy rains made the falls so intensely full that much was obscured by the mist coming from the rushing water. But we didn’t miss the power of the falls, or the mist that was like torrential rain, or the multiple rainbows.  Hamilton’s parents had wanted to visit Victoria Falls in the 1960’s but it was politically too dangerous, so he was please to fulfill that family dream.  On the way out he was able to procure several trillion Zimbabwe dollar notes and I bought a few souvenirs so we went home rich in memories and “dollars”.  We left the hotel that morning sorry to leave Africa but full of memories and amazing experiences.  I set my timer as we left the lodge for I wanted to see how long it would take us to get home.  34.5 hours later we drove in the driveway of our beloved farmhouse. What an epic journey.


As much as I love to travel-and I do travel a lot- I’m really a homebody. Over the last 10 years I’ve written mostly about sacred and intentional travel. I long to go and see and experience the vast world around me. But a pilgrimage is never complete until you return home and bring the wisdom of the pilgrimage to your everyday life. Home is the ultimate goal of a pilgrimage. After a journey into the world, I just want to be home. I want vast stretches of time to be home just reading, cooking and keeping everything tidy. I love to be home. I need to be home. And my home needs me.

I’ve always been a house person. I like to look at houses, read about houses, and visit historical houses. I was very young when I started preferring house magazines to fashion and gossip magazines. When I was a girl, my family would visit homes of famous people and writers. My first mystical experiences in my early 20’s were at famous homes. I could feel the life and consciousness of the place and that is where I learned that houses are people too. Houses have a life of their own enlivened by the people who live there that grows with the house’s history.

Before you decide I’ve totally lost touch with reality, let’s talk about home. Over the last three years, home has taken on a new meaning as we spent much more time sheltering at home from the difficulties of the world. Many different experiences came from so much forced time at home: hardship, loneliness, overwhelm, but also a new appreciation for our private space. As a homebody who could safely gather my family with me, home was exactly where I wanted to be, and I reveled in the expanse of time in my little world.

Home is where we come to rest, nurture ourselves and our family, a safe shelter from the world. Our possessions and memories are stored at home and we gather these things to give us comfort and security. Without these warm and friendly emotions, our home is just a house without love and life. Ten years ago this month, I lost my feeling of home. Yes, I had a roof over my head and a bed to sleep in, but my place of comfort and security was lost to me. My father-in-law had just died after a brief illness and Hamilton and I had one week to move in to the old family farm to take care of his mother who had advanced dementia. We knew this move was coming and were as prepared as we could be but I wasn’t prepared for the suddenness of the move and the emotional upheaval it would cause.

I had a raging case of empty nest and was struggling to adapt to my empty home. When I had to suddenly move from my home of 18 years where I raised my daughters. I knew that my life of motherhood and childhood was completely over and I wasn’t fully ready to move on yet.  So my new home, filled with other people’s lives and processions, came as a deep shock and my feeling of home and refuge had completely disappeared. As a person that loves routines, my comforting routines were gone.

The first weekend we moved to my in-law’s home, it was the first of March and it was still cold and dark and the wind was howling and I was in complete emotional meltdown. My world had turned upside down overnight and I felt I had nothing to cling to.  I was also unprepared to have such a strong reaction to the move. It didn’t help my mother-in-law and her caregivers were always in the kitchen and so I also lost my privacy and autonomy.  It was a hard few month as we settled into our new home.  I moved out my in-law’s personal items, repainted and recarpeted, moved in my things and slowly started to feel better.  It was quite a few months before I felt like myself again and could make the old house my own. I can look back that experience 10 years ago and still feel how hard that was. But now I love my home so deeply that I see that it was just time that I needed to build a relationship with my new space and move on from the life that I had finished. I gave myself that time and grace—really I had no choice as there was no going back.

Because of this intense experience of moving and rebuilding home, I cherish my home more than ever. My in-law’s left of a legacy of a beautiful old home that has been in the family and deeply loved for 70 years. That kind of love and care builds an energy, an aura, to a house that brings it to life though our love.  The family has been in the house 7 decades but the home is over 170 years old and has had a long life before we even arrived. I am just one of its many caretakers and there will be more after me, but I feel the house chose me and I in turn chose the house. We have a deep relationship that nurtures one another every day.  Our homes are a reflection of ourselves and we then imprint our lives on the energy of the home and land. Winston Churchill once said, “we shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us”.

Over the course of this year, I’m going to be writing about the ways that our home is a reflection of self and how we can help our homes nurture our lives and we in turn nurture the home and land.  We will wander our home and see our external world reflects our internal world and find the places we can foster our lives more deeply and wholly (and holy).  There will still be plenty of travel but home is where we return and live our expanding lives—one sacred step at a time.

Please visit my new blog for two new posts. www.thetimelesstarot.com

Books 2022

Library in Winter

The cold rainy days of January have settled in. Christmas is packed away for another 11 months and the glitter and tree needles are vacuumed and dusted from the parlor. The happy memories linger and I now indulge in a new delight—reviewing the books I read last year. My 2022 reading goal was 4 books a month, either listening or reading. In order to keep track of this goal I decided to have a basket in the corner of the library to hold my finished books and I could always go back to my Kindle and Audible to tally up the year’s treasures. As the year progressed my stack passed the top of the basket and spilled onto the floor in a precarious pile. I’m happy to say that I surpassed my goal and read/listened to over 50 books. I like to read around 50 pages a day usually in several different books. Sometimes I read nothing, sometimes I read over 100; it just depends.

This last week I sorted the books out and put them in three piles: to share, to sell and to keep. Some of the books at the bottom of the pile I had completely forgotten about but I was glad to see some old friends. There were books I was happy to part with, some I was on the fence about and a few that will never leave my library and have become treasured companions.  So here are my favorites across several different categories.

First thing in the morning I like to read something spiritual. Those early hours when the house is dark and I’m warmed by my first cup of coffee is the time that I like to read something to warm my soul. My favorite was A Journey of Sea and Stone: How Holy Places Guide and Renew Us by Tracy Balzer.  This beautifully written book took me back to my perfect day on earth on the holy isle of Iona.  I want to read it again already. I also love, Thrive: Living a Self-Healing Life by Valarie Budayr, my dear friend and fellow pilgrim. A guide to healing trauma, Valarie sets out loving and actionable steps to help anyone find a more vibrant life.

This year Egypt was once again on the reading list. After a trip to see NYC to see the Egyptian opera Akhnaten not just once but twice in the same week, I wanted to continue reading more about that magical land. Hieroglyphic Words of Power: Symbols for Magic, Divination and Dreamwork by Normandi Ellis, is a full immersion into an ancient language that still hold important wisdom. I read about one hieroglyph a day for several weeks as a daily meditation.  I also recommend Embodying Osiris: The Secrets of Alchemical Transformation by Thom Cavalli. This book combines the ancient wisdom of the Egyptian gods and alchemy with the modern work of Jung—not easy to do but Thom does it masterfully.  I also liked Songlines of the Soul by Veronica Goodchild and The Living Labyrinth by Jeremy Taylor.

In the non-fiction category I loved The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home by George Howe Colt. For those of us who have loved and lost homes, this beautifully written book helps bring words to the memory and loss of a beloved place.  Amanda Montell’s book Cultish, was an enlightening read about how deeply influenced we are by the language of persuasion. I also liked Uprooted by Page Dicky and A Pilgrimage to Eternity by Timothy Egan.

I love to read about writing, secretly hoping to find the key to making writing easy, no luck yet. But I did find Pat Schneider’s gorgeous books, How the Light Gets In and Writing Alone and With Others.  Writing hasn’t become blissful for me quite yet, but Pat has definitely helped me let go of some of the pain and reluctance. She is a remarkable writer worth reading even if you aren’t interested in writing. She left a writing education legacy that is being carried on by the Amherst Writers and Artists.

For my neighborhood book club we usually read fiction—well, I usually listen to the fiction. So, this year I enjoyed The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish. Wonderful writing and a compelling story kept me going through this 23-hour audio book—it was that good.  In October I had a lot of wood siding to paint so I kept entertained by The Midnight Library by Matt Haig—it made me want to go paint so I could continue the story.  I also put up my Christmas trees to The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  Yes, it takes an entire audio book to put up my Christmas and take it down and that is how much I love Christmas.

I love the arts and have spent a lot of my life learning about great music, dance, and fine art but I have almost no experience with great literature outside of one good year of English in high school.  I’ve wanted to read more classic literature but in January my attempt at George Elliot’s Middlemarch came to a rather quick end on page 29.  But luckily my YouTube addiction came to the rescue and I came across Ben McEvoy’s Hard Core Literature Book Club—thank you book lovers algorithms. I signed up for his Patreon book club for the lecture series and like magic I have read four great books in just three months. I have cracked the code: good lectures, a reasonable pace, the combination of reading a physical book and listening to the audio at the same time, and an on-line community of other people who also read multiple books at once. I read Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens and my absolute favorite Persuasion by Jane Austin.  I proudly have my new reading accomplishments lined up on their own shelf awaiting many more to come.  January/Feburary’s ambition– Ulysses by James Joyce—wish me luck.  

How was your reading/listening year?  What books are awaiting you in 2023? I came across this great quote on Facebook “Think not of the books you’ve bought as a “to be read” pile. Instead, think of your bookcase as a wine cellar. You collect books to be read at the right time, the right place, and the right mood.” Luc Van Donkergoed. 

Books for 2023

Please visit my other blog www.thetimelesstarot.com


When I was a little girl, we had square brown music box with a picture of a boy and girl on the front.  When I pulled the string, a lovely little tune played as the string wound back into the box. It hung in our laundry room and I would often pull it as I went though there into the garage. I remember my mother telling me the song was called Trees. She had a sheet music version of it and would often sing it in her beautiful soprano voice.

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.

This sweet and sentimental poem was first published in 1913 and quickly became popular and subsequently turned into an equally sweet and sentimental song. I remember seeing the author’s name on the music, Joyce Kilmer, a unique name for a man. This poet, theologian and orator’s life was tragically cut short in World War 1 at the age of 31. Joyce lived a full life in such a short time, leaving many writings and a family of five children. He was on his way to becoming an influential theologian but is best remembered for his deeply spiritual poem about trees.

This classic poem came alive for me last week as I went for a hike in the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in North Carolina, a portion of the Natahala National Forest dedicated to Joyce’s memory.  The trail is a couple of hours from my house and some of my dear hiking friends and I headed there on a cool and misty November morning. It is a long and very curvy journey through the mountains on the infamous “Tail of the Dragon” – a stretch of road 11 miles long with 318 curves and greatly loved by motorcyclists from around the world.  But this day we were the only ones on the slick road covered with downed branches from the previous night’s storm.  It is a beautiful drive with vistas of the Smoky Mountains, lakes surrounded by mountains, and lots of beautiful trees. 

The Joyce Kilmer Memorial is a small section of remaining old-growth forest, many of the trees are exceptionally tall for this part of the country. There is a delightful two-mile loop over a couple of streams and along mossy rocks to the quiet giants that were much older than Joyce’s poem and had probably looked at God all day for a couple of centuries. During the hike we had a few glimpses of blue sky but mostly the forest was shrouded in the mists of winter.  I took my time and enjoyed the childhood memories of the music box and my mother singing.  Nothing makes me happier than a wander through trees, no matter the season or the weather. The great cathedral of nature becomes a living prayer.

I never like leaving the forest, but it was time for lunch, so we all happily went up the road to Tapoco Lodge, which was all decked in Christmas spirit. Warmed by a fire and hot cider, we had a wonderful lunch and then headed back through the 318 curves to our homes.  It was a delightful day and a wonderful adventure and that really embodied the spirit of the Christmas season. Joyce gave the ultimate sacrifice but left behind words of joy as his living legacy.

Gemmi sleeping under the library tree

This, the darkest time of year, we bring living trees into our home to bring light in the darkness, evergreen life into our lives to remind us that the sun will come back. Decorated and sparkling trees become the center of the celebration of life, family and joy. Over the years I have added many Christmas trees to my house so that I can have the glowing light in every corner of the front of my house to beckon my friends and family who visit for the holidays. First thing in the morning, I light the tree in the warm family room and the candles in the kitchen to bring a soft glow for my morning coffee and warm snuggles with the cats. This is my little kitten Gemmi’s first Christmas and she is delighted with the endless supply of toys hanging from the tree.  Joyce’s poem about trees maybe sentimental but it speaks of the joy we a carry in our hearts this time of year as we gather round the evergreen trees of Christmas.

A Dickens’ Christmas Carol themed post on my new blog—go to www.thetimelesstarot.com

Opening Doors

This month is the 10th anniversary for my blog. And in this season of gratitude, I am forever grateful that I took the leap ten years ago and started writing. Actually, it probably wasn’t a leap—more like a push.  I needed an online presence to be interviewed about my travels in Egypt and at the time I didn’t even have Facebook and had barely enough computer skills to even start a blog.  I took the dare/challenge and never looked back and never missed a month posting.

Writing was incredibly hard for me and at the time the only thing I wrote were shopping lists and thank-you notes. Not exactly good qualifications for starting a blog. But somehow, I knew that I needed to overcome my deep reluctance, find my voice that had been stifled for so long and just start writing. It is my good fortune to have married an English major, so Hamilton would edit my blogs and I learned better writing mechanics. Reading helped my understand style and grow my own style.  Learning to write on a computer was a big help since I’m a poor speller, an inaccurate typist and find handwriting exhausting. All this to say—I had a lot to overcome. But like a good Taurus, I just plodded along and posted every month and it definitely got easier. As I would take my daily walk, blog posts would magically write in my head. But the next steps in my journey I didn’t plan for or could even anticipate. For this little blog, this new skill, opened doors that I hadn’t imagined. 

I should have known that the name of the blog would necessitate that I go on the best known of Christian pilgrimages—The Camino—in Spain.  Well, after five weeks of walking and 500 miles, I became a perpetual pilgrim. That pilgrimage led to the second door opening– writing a book. I always felt I had a book or two to write but the Camino set that into motion. Now writing books and blogging are really two different things and I had to push through another round of resistance and find new ways to write. I went on a retreat to write. I had to go to coffee shops to write. Finally, I finished my book and eventually saw it on the shelf of the local Barnes and Nobles. 

My blog and book writing led to a third door opening and in 2017 and once again I pushed past a lot of resistance and started graduate school. I had absolutely no interest in going back to school and really did not want to write academic papers—yet another totally different writing skill.  But I felt called and opened that door and some how made it though 16 long research papers and everyday I’m grateful that I persevered and answered that call.

Writing might not be easy for me but I know it has been a powerful way to move my life forward and find my voice in the world.   Now I’ve opened yet another door and have started a second blog, The Timeless Tarot.  In the past, I wrote many posts about the Tarot and one about Lemniscates remains my most popular post. Now I want to write more about my 25 years of experience with the Tarot, this beautiful “tool for transformation”. There are many mysteries and misconceptions around the Tarot and I hope you can look past your resistance or maybe find your curiosity about the cards. I write about the 78 cards as a practical, soul-filled way to discover the psychological lessons and everyday challenges of life here on Earth.  This unbound book of wisdom has much to say and lessons to teach.  www.thetimelesstarot.com

Like any birthday or anniversary that ends in a 0, there is much reflecting on the past and in turn envisioning the future.  I’m so grateful that I persevered despite my struggles. I will say that it has gotten easier and definitely more rewarding. I’ve let my passion for sacred travel, home and Tarot move me through my reluctance to write. Where can a passion help you move past inertia? I will keep writing and see what new and unexpected opportunities and challenges are ahead for the next 10 years.  Thank you for reading. I hope I have inspired you to find the sacred places in your world and life.

****Books by Pat Schneider that have really helped with the psychology of writing: 

How the Light Gets In: Writing as a Spiritual Practice

Writing Alone and with Others


Even though I had not consciously planned my trip to Arizona to be about my dear mentors and teachers, it quickly became clear that my time in Arizona was a pilgrimage not only to beautiful sacred places but to the memories of my dear friends. The day we were traveling from Canyon de Chelly to Sedona, October 4, was my dear spiritual mother Rachael Salley’s 80th birthday. Rachael loved her birthday. Rachael has been gone over two years now and I miss her every day. I was so glad Val and I were together to celebrate. Rachael always said we were her cosmic daughters and spiritual sisters. That night, we had supper on the restaurant patio, in beautiful Sedona, under the crescent moon shining just over the red rocks as we celebrated Racheal’s memory and legacy. We had a special dessert as Rachael had a real sweet-tooth and never missed a good dessert.

I’ve been to Sedona, Arizona, twice before but it had been over ten years and I felt really called to visit again.  I also wanted to visit Sedona again in the memory of my dear friend Page Bryant. I knew Page over 20 years and spent many happy hours in her home. Page was a very wise woman and fortunately left that wisdom for all of us in 14 books. She was very connected to land and sacred sites and the powerful earth energy at those sites. In the early 1980’s Page was the first to identify the energy spots in Sedona that are now the famed energy vortexes that draw so many people to that land. (Starquest Sedona, by Page Bryant) When she moved to North Carolina in the 1990’s, she connected to the same earth energy and wrote her most popular book, The Spiritual Reawakening of the Smoky Mountains.  Page taught me about sacred land and the honoring of holy places; her work weaves through all my writing.

So, with great devotion to Page, Rachael and Peter Calhoun, I was grateful to be back on that holy ground again. It really didn’t matter what I did in Sedona, just being surrounded by the beautiful red rocks and deep green forest was why I came back to visit. But you know me, I have to get out and be a part of the that places as much as I could  We started our visit at the Chapel of the Holy Cross, a beautiful chapel jutting out of the rock with uninterrupted views of the dramatic landscape. It was a perfect place to meditate and remember Rachael on her birthday. I lit a candle for her, Page and Peter.   

The first full day, we hired a wonderful young guide to take us to some lesser-known places. Fortunately it was not a jeep tour as we had enough of four-wheeling in the Canyon de Chelly.  Instead, we stopped by Airport Mesa to look at the beautiful view. Conner, our guide, talked about the geological and spiritual history of Sedona. Then we went to the Peace Park where two Buddhist Stupas were nestled close to the forest and towering red rocks. It is a place for meditation and prayer and I felt the great peace of those millions of prayers flowing from the prayer wheels.  The third spot was Rachel’s Knoll, named for the woman who had preserved the view for visitors far into the future. I just sat on a rock and breathed the warm western air, so content to take in all of the energy of the land.  After a pizza lunch, Val and I visited some crystal shops and bought some rocks and some incense.

Val and I were staying in the Amara hotel which happened to have a great pool with an even greater view. Since I am a pool person, I spent the afternoons soaking up the October sunshine, reading and swimming—my favorite things. Every evening, Val had made dinner reservations at some nice restaurants and we enjoyed eating and drinking, talking and remembering all of our wonderful trips we’ve taken together. 

Our last day in Sedona, we were invited to visit an internet acquaintance of Val’s, Rhianne (www.rhiannenewahnd.com) a long-time resident of Sedona.  Although we had never met before, it was like we were long lost friends. First, we had a tour of her beautiful garden and then settled in for a long chat. Rhianne has hosted women’s groups for many years and I was very interested in how she formed and ran the groups.  She also has developed a wonderful system for spiritual guidance by tapping into the different feminine archetypes that we all hold in our hearts and minds and was kind enough to allow Val and I a chance to experience one of our own archetypes.  Three hours past as if there was no time.  It was hard to leave our new friend but it was getting late and we were very hungry.  That afternoon I spent down by the river, relaxing and reading and enjoying some quiet reflection until the bugs started after my ankles.  Another beautiful dinner and a visit to some art galleries made for a perfect last evening.

It was time to head back to Val’s home in Santa Fe and we felt we did what we needed and wanted to do in Sedona. I enjoyed the people we met, the beautiful scenery, delicious food, and sacred land.  I felt Page, Rachael and Peter’s kindness and wisdom with me. I loved honoring the land and the dear souls who influenced my life. I couldn’t be more grateful.

Canyon de Chelly

Many years ago, I was fortunate to study with a former Episcopal priest come shaman, Peter Calhoun, author of Soul on Fire. He and his wife Astrid took people on vision quests in the Southwest, especially Utah and Arizona.  Although I never did a vision quest, Peter talked about Canyon de Chelly on Navajo land in northeast Arizona.  Peter found the canyon to be sacred and his comment has been in my memory for almost two decades waiting for the right time for me to visit this sacred site.

Last year, my dear friend Val and I started planning another girls’ trip in the southwest where she now lives. I mentioned I really wanted to see Canyon de Chelly (pronounced deshay). Since we have visited Chaco Canyon twice and loved the experience, I knew that Canyon de Chelly would be the perfect place to explore next. On the land of the Navajo nation, the canyon is sacred to the native people who live there. We started planning our trip which was not as straight-forward as visiting most national monuments.  Covid has hit the Navajo hard and the canyon was closed for 2 ½ years. They also protect access to the canyon as their spiritual land.  There are roads to look down into the canyon that anyone can drive but to get down into the canyon proper requires a Navajo guide and a four-wheel drive vehicle. 

Val picked me up at the Albuquerque airport, and after a quick lunch we headed northwest to the far corner of Arizona, not far from the famed Four Corners region. I always enjoy seeing the big sky, barren land and deep colors of New Mexico and Arizona. It is so foreign, beautifully desolate and grand compared to my lush, green Tennessee.  I find the change refreshing as we watched the storms in the distance—you can actually see the rain falling from the clouds in the distance while still remaining in the sunshine. Just under four hours later, we arrived at the little town of Chinle, Arizona, checked into the Holiday Inn and had Navajo tacos in the adjacent restaurant.  I love fry bread and it was the perfect start for our adventure. 

The next morning, we were met with an unusually rainy and chilly day for our tour. But the rain didn’t last long and we were able to take off layers of clothes as the day went on.  There are half day and whole day tours of the canyon and of course I wanted as much time as possible. We were the only two people taking the all day (6 hr) tour and our driver David quickly got us on the road. Now in the canyon, ‘road’ is a relative word, and because of the recent rains, the first part of the road was actually a river that we forded back and forth several times.  But soon we were at the first pictographs in the canyon: horses, hands, Kokopelli (the flute-playing trickster god), lines representing water and other figures covered the sandstone walls. We also stopped by ancient Anasazi ruins tucked into the cliffs. When they were occupied a thousand years ago, the bottom of the canyon was 30 or more feet higher. But it is a testament to the builders that the mud bricks still remain and we can still wonder at their ancient civilization. Today, there are a few older Navajo that still live in the canyon during the summer.

Every thirty minutes or so David would stop our vehicle and come alongside the back and tell us more stories and point out more wonderful things in his Navajo-accented English. David has taken visitors into the canyon for over twenty years, and on that day, I was very grateful for his detailed knowledge but, more importantly, his expert driving.  The tours out of Thunderbird Lodge are in open Swiss Army vehicles that seat around ten on two bench seats. These heavy-duty six-wheel drive trucks were essential for the deeper parts of the canyon. Every once in awhile, David would get stuck, have to back up and engage more wheel power. Several times, Val and I just closed our eyes and counted on David’s expertise to get us over a very rough patch without rolling down the gully. We would later refer to the day as the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” tour. It was all an adventure and I love a good adventure. Our final destination was worth all the jostling and white-knuckle gripping, for the Cave of the Mummies is otherworldly and like walking in a dream. High in the cliffs were large Anasazi ruins, extensive and well preserved. We ate our lunch on a picnic table and reveled in the quiet wildness deep in that long canyon. David would give a shout and the echo would extend deep into the cliffs. We headed back to the canyon entrance and I enjoyed each new view of the 1000 foot rock walls in the changing light.  Every moment was beautiful, new and ancient at the same time.  

Cave of the Mummies

By the time we got back to the entrance we were both pretty tired from the long day of four-wheeling—make that six-wheeling. After quick supper of another delicious Navajo taco and a nice hot bath we were ready to lay down and just be still. But the memory of that beautiful land will linger and remain a highlight of my year. Peter Calhoun was so right, Canyon de Chelly is a very sacred place.

The Forest

Here on the farm, September is still hot and very dry.  The only hint of fall are Dogwood and Tulip Poplar leaves turning yellow and red. This is a transitional month that won’t totally let go of summer but a bit of a taste of autumn. But, the last few years we have been using the dry early fall to get some work done in the forest.

My father-in-law was obsessed with trees and bought acreage many decades ago so that he could have his own forest and farmland.  Now that we live on the old farm, we are also obsessed with trees and forest. Our mile-and-a -half trail through the woods and along the meadow gets used multiple times a day. Caroline never misses a day in the woods—rain or shine, heat or cold. She considers her daily walk to be essential as food and oxygen. Hamilton usually walks before lunch and lets me know that he is off to the “enchanted forest”. I use my time on the trail as meditation, usually with some sort of soundtrack to accompany the whispering trees.

Caroline at her desk

Not long after Caroline moved to the farm in 2016, she started to roam further into the forest and found all the wonderful patches of wildflowers, mushrooms and lichen. As she combed every inch of the land, she also found cave entrances and oak and cedar trees grown together as well as the unique winter phenomena, frost flowers.  At the beginning of the 2020, we built a footbridge across the fair-weather creek so we could get to the trout lilies and phlox that bloom in March, the most magical time in the forest. But all the seasons provide their own unique beauty and difficulty.  Spring brings beautiful wildflowers but also ticks.  Summer has the lush green trees but a trail full of spiderwebs to negotiate.  Fall has the beautiful golden leaves but is very dry and the creek disappears. Winter is enchanting with an occasional crystalline snow, but the trail can be very muddy.  Our forest is beautiful but there are also problems with invasive species plants that make the forest floor too crowded with non-native plants.

This time of year, the creek and the trail are very dry and we can get vehicles deep into the forest. So for the past few weekends, Hamilton, Caroline and I have gone armed to wage war on the invading plants and big snags blocking the flow of the creek. Hamilton loads the chainsaw, two different types of weed-eaters, lawn mower and chains in the bucket of the tractor, I drive the farm pick-up, and Caroline wanders over after her morning coffee.  With all the proper tools we set to work on the invasive privet and downed trees.  Hamilton mans the heavy equipment and Caroline and I wrangle the offensive brush into an enormous pile.  We had two particularly challenging areas over the creek where trees had fallen, backed up the stream and were causing erosion. The tractor and the Bobcat made quick work of the snags and the creek will be able to stay in its banks this spring.  More snags need removing in the future but this will be a big improvement for this season.

Very quickly we have cleared big areas of the creek side and our forest is shaping up to be a delightful open space, still with plenty of trees but now room to wander around and admire the flowers.  This summer we added a picnic table near the footbridge and it has become our favorite place to sit and listen to the creek, read a book or chat with friends. The forest is our beautiful outdoor home, and of course I like to make it tidy and inviting. We take pride in maintaining our land and love sharing it with our deer and turkey families. I also like knowing the I can get in and do some hard work and drive the big truck off road. Maybe next year I will learn to drive the tractor. The forest needs me, and I in turn need the forest.

As I was sorting through the last remaining books from my parents, I came across a real gem, The Singing Wilderness by Sigurd Olson (1899-1982), a Swedish-American nature writer. His beautiful writing is a gentle exploration of nature and our amazing wilderness.  “These are days of quietly falling needles when after each breath of wind the air is smoky with their drift.” If you love nature writing like I do, Sigurd’s writing is perfection.  A final quote that really reflects my love of forest and land: “Wilderness to the people of America is a spiritual necessity, an antidote to the high pressure of modern life, a means of regaining serenity and equilibrium.”


In July, I made the long pilgrimage to my ancestral home here in the United States, the beautiful state of Minnesota where my mother’s family has resided for 140 years.  We went to be family and celebrate all the things of life: birth, marriage and death.  All these events came together in one weekend that called the family together. 

My mother passed away in November after a long decline. She was 87 and had lived a wonderful and full life. I’d been taking care of her for the last 6 years and her care had taken a toll on me the last couple of years.  Since 2009 I’d been taking care of both Hamilton’s and my parents, a job I was very willing to take on but was a constant responsibility and a lot of sadness.  My mother was the final parent in my care.  Now it was time to lay her to rest next to my father in the family cemetery on a beautiful hill in northern Minnesota.  A long and arduous era of my life was closing and this was my final duty.

My great-great grandparents immigrated from Sweden in the 1880 and found a new home in Minnesota, a land so like their homeland.  My great-grandparents met in the little local church and married and soon had a large family on the homestead by the lake.  There the generations would gather throughout the decades, carrying on a bond that was formed by the land.  Their beautiful Swedish/American farm nurtured the family-we always felt called to come home in the summers to be together, swim in the lake, eat delicious meals and most of all breath the fresh air of the land.  It was the love of family that held us together but the land provided that essential container for our love.

My Swedish Ancestors

The morning of my mother’s 88th birthday we gathered once more on the land where my great-grandparents met and married.  The church is gone but the graves of the parishioners still remain.  Over 25 of my ancestors are buried there—four generations of Olsons and Lindblads. Four generations gathered to remember their lives and place my mother’s ashes next to my father and amongst her beloved Swedish family. That morning, seven generation were together on that hillside, including cousins who still live in Sweden.  I placed vases with flowers on all their graves, remembering them individually, remembering the others that are buried around the country.  We remembered my mother and her love of beauty.  We were so happy to have her back in her homeland.  Two days later I gathered all the vases and laid the flowers on my mother headstone. It felt like a welcome from her beloved family into their arms.  It was a fitting closure to her life. And it was closure to my long journey helping beloved parents to their final resting place.  

The next day my cousins Abby and Fred were commemorating their second anniversary with a long-awaited family celebration.  They have recently purchased beautiful lake property and were gathering the family to enjoy another Minnesota summer.  The land was different but yet the same. The property was once again a beautiful container for our love and family.  The evening ended with a fire in one of my cousin Charlies’ magnificent burning sculptures.  We sat around the sparking, roaring fire– capturing the imagination and lighting something deep in our ancestral bones. 

Over the weekend we had the best news of all, a new baby in the family.  Cousins Erich and Amanda have a new baby girl—Aletha Jane.  We were so happy for her safe arrival and beautiful newborn pictures.  But we were also thrilled with her name.  She is the 7th member of the family to have the name Aletha—a very special name for all of us.  It is mine and Caroline’s middle name as well as my grandmother, aunt, cousin, and niece.  The family continues to hold the love of family through our name. 

Americans are so interested in their ancestral heritage. Ancestry is part of what defines us and gives roots to our lives. My mother was very proud of her Swedish ancestry, and we carry on some of the traditions in a very Americanized way. It was the land that held those memories together for so many generations.  I still hold those generations in my heart but now I like to think of those as a deeper part of me but I have become less tied to that heritage and feel that fading to the background.  My family has been in America for generations now and has loosened the ties to other homelands.  We are Americans now, a heritage that has built its own traditions. So I enjoy the moments of looking back and honoring the ancestors, but now my life is free to look forward to a time without caregiving. A time to lean even more fully into my life and my voice. Yes, the echoes of the ancestors, the family will always be there, but the future has arrived and I want to enjoy the unfolding.