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.

 

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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.

 

Chaco Canyon

 

I first heard of Chaco Canyon over 12 years ago and never forgot the name. I knew it was in New Mexico and it was sacred land but that was about all.  It seemed I would get there someday for it called me. I waited until the time was right.   It isn’t an easy place to visit.   You can go as a day trip from Albuquerque but it is a three hour drive and the last 15 miles or so are on unpaved roads.   The only way to spend much time there is to camp in the small campground and I’m not much of a camper.   Our tour leader arranged for us to go “glamping” for the night so we could be there for equinox sunrise.

The 15-passenger van picked us up 8am from Hotel Chaco, a new hotel designed to represent the architecture and feeling of Chaco Canyon.    Our guide was very knowledgeable about history and geology, but I soon found myself really wanting to enjoy the land. So I put on my headphones and slipped into a gentle reverie of music and exotic landscape.   Every few miles the ground changed and yet stayed the same–beautiful barren layers of brown and deep blue sky. By noon we arrived at the Visitors Center and had looked around before heading outside and on a small hike up a hill to see a ruin and petroglyphs of animal and spirals—a first taste of the wonders of Chaco Canyon and a preview of the afternoon.

After a picnic lunch were a large, friendly crow offered to help with the leftovers, we went to the main ruin Pueblo Bonito.  The Chacoan people built on a grand scale for over 300 years.   Their buildings had hundreds of rooms with several stories, surrounding open plazas and kivas.   Some of the buildings were oriented to solar, lunar and cardinal directions.   Chaco Canyon become a ceremonial and economic center by the early 12th century.   This was a sacred place and the energy still remains.  Most of the ruins have just a story or two remaining and only one original roof remains.   We wandered around the multi-acre site admiring the unique stone work.   I enjoyed the contrast between stone and the intense blue sky that has replaced the roof.

By late afternoon I was getting chilly and ready to see the special camp.  Our wonderful tour guides Angelisa and Tommy set up new circular tents that blended into the sand.  Inside each tent was arranged a bed with fluffy pillows, bedside tables complete with flowers and a special tin filled with glamping necessities.   I happily spent the rest of the afternoon snuggled in my little cocoon reading and napping.

The sun went down and it quickly grew very cold.   We had a gourmet supper followed by s’mores around the campfire and we stayed close to the fire to keep warm.   Choco Canyon has a protected night sky. No light pollution is allowed, and any city lights are too far away to interfere.  Only a few times in my life have I seen a sky like that night.   The moon was a sliver crescent with Venus nearby.   The rest of the night sky was deep black with the Milky Way slicing deep through the middle.  I had many opportunities to see that amazing night sky as I was awake every hour of the night.  It was a very long cold, cold night—-a new definition of cold.   Glamping would have been perfect for a summer night but we didn’t have quite the right equipment for 12 degrees.  But like all good pilgrimages, the triumph and cheerful survival of the cold added to the story and experience.

Before dawn we were all up and getting ready for the main event—sunrise.  Fortunately, hot coffee was brewing, the bathroom was heated, and the van was warmed-up and waiting.   We didn’t have to worry about changing clothes as we had all slept in every stich of clothing we brought.  Some of the campers did have to use the hand-dryer to thaw out their contact lenses which froze solid in the cold.  With coffee in hand we headed back to Pueblo Bonito along with a total of 100 people allowed to experience the equinox sunrise and accompanying alignment.   Just as the sun rises, a shaft of light shines through a doorway and illuminates the sacred inner room.   This phenomenon is only seen once a year for just a couple of minutes.   A large group was already lined up to see this special shaft of light but I was quite content to see a photo of it rather than be jostled in the crowd.  I felt my experience was just to be there in that holy canyon on that morning.  So I went and stood near a Navajo grandmother who was performing a ceremony to welcome the sun.   In her right hand she held a small rattle which she started shaking the minute the sun started peaking over the mesa.  In her left hand she held an eagle wing and a small pan flute which she would play every minute or so.   I was happy to experience this miracle of the sun and this wise woman who welcomed the light to the world.

photo by V. Budayr

Before long the sun was well above the mesa and the crowd quickly dispersed.  I enjoyed the warm sunshine as long as I could before it was time for a hot breakfast.  Part of the group went hiking and to practice some yoga poses and a couple of us headed near a mesa to build an impromptu medicine wheel and give thanks for our wonderful time in Chaco Canyon.

 

 

Summer on the Farm

Isn’t it adorable!   photo by C. Bowen

My father-in-law loved land. He was only 30 when he bought an old farm which was, at that time, way out in the country and moved his young wife into the ramshackle, 100-year-old farmhouse that was free with the land. He kept his day job but enjoyed his time as a gentleman farmer tending his forest and hayfields. Now over 60 years later, I live on the farm in the farmhouse that was restored to its original glory in the 1960’s. Hamilton and I love living on the farm and now Caroline lives next-door to us in an apartment, so she can live in the country too. People ask me what we grow, what animals we farm? To which I reply, trees, hay and two indoor cats. But the farm busy with wildlife that requires no effort on my part.

Hamilton tends the land. We lease out the hayfields, but he mows the road on the edge of the forest and has made a path through the woods. He spends many peaceful hours finding his inner Jedi while mowing with Obi Wan Kabota, his big orange tractor. Then, of course, the chainsaw is pressed into service to clean up downed trees along the walking path. What is it about chainsaws that make men so happy? With the help of the new woodsplitter, we have plenty of firewood to keep us warm in the winter.

Planting trees on the farm

Caroline is the official game warden of the property. She heads out multiple times a day wearing a floppy hat, sunscreen, her well-worn Redwing boots and armed with a shotgun in case she encounters a beer can. It is a sight to behold but she is on a mission. Last year she noticed that there were a lot of dead box turtles. She sent specimens to Tennessee Wildlife Resources and found out the turtles had the first documented case of a rare amphibian virus in the state. She has cared for several sick turtles, but the scourge has decimated the population. Her favorite turkey family, Fernando, Mama Mia and Dancing Queen, have new babies. The rabbits have less exciting names: Side-yard rabbit, Back-yard rabbit, etc. The deer are always a delight, bounding around the edges of the property. Occasionally we see the babies including one fawn that was too tiny to walk—awwwww. Last week Caroline found some baby racoons hanging out in a tree. They all had a long conversation and she came away with remarkable videos of their chatter. The next day I encountered the mama. She quickly ran high up in the tree, then held perfectly still, imitating bark, until I continued on my walk.

The old farm feeds us body and soul. We love the history and the peace. Each of us has our own relationship with the land. Caroline is having her “Walden Pond” years. She goes out on the land to think and dream up new art projects. I like to “forest bathe”, the new nature craze, and revel in the green trees and spring flowers. Hamilton is always renewed by driving heavy equipment. Alexandra finds refuge from her hectic big-city life. She has a page from Gone With The Wind highlighted and framed which reflects her love for our little bit of earth:

“Do you mean to tell me, Katie Scarlett O’Hara that Tara, that land, doesn’t mean anything to you? Why, land is the only thing in the world worth workin’ for, worth fightin’ for, worth dyin’ for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.”

Santa Fe

The Southwestern US is a world away from my cozy mountain homeland.   The land is barren and the sky large and bright blue.   Rugged mountains capped with snow and covered with sage are the opposite of the thick, hot-house feel of my rambling hills.   But I love everything about this foreign world: smell, dry air, vast sky and desert.   It isn’t home, but it feeds my soul in the deep simplicity of the landscape.  A dear friend went to New Mexico last year and became so in love with this Land of Enchantment that she organized a trip for her daughter and close friends to come experience the magic.

We flew into Albuquerque and then drove the hour or so to Santa Fe.   We stayed in the Inn and Spa at Loretto, a beautiful adobe building that resembled a pueblo.  My room looked out on the famed Loretto chapel, the first gothic building west of the Mississippi.   Our little group of four were tired and hungry after our early morning flight so we wandered to the historic town square and found a place to eat and rest while adjusting to the altitude of 7200 feet.   After our late lunch, we wandered the square looking at the wares laid out on the blankets under the portico of the 400-year-old Palace of the Governors.   Beautiful jewelry, pottery and art made by local artisans felt like I was enjoying a living, open-air museum where I could actually touch the art.   I purchase earrings with Kokopelli stamped in the silver and a copper necklace for my mother. The altitude and time change meant we were ready for an early night, so drinks and appetizers by a warm fire was the perfect ending to our first enchanted day.

After breakfast in a little French café, the first stop was the mysterious Loretto Chapel that was built in 1878 by the Sisters of Loretto.    This small chapel has a “miraculous” staircase to the choir loft.   The story is told that the chapel was too small for a conventional staircase and the predicament was solved by a mysterious stranger that came and built a spiral staircase without any central support or handrail.   He then disappeared, never to be seen again.   A masterful work of carpentry, the stairs seem to defy the laws of physics, a miracle of skill and artistry.

There are many beautiful museums in Santa Fe celebrating the art of the local people and history of the land and people.  Recently a new interactive museum, Meow Wolf, brings together young artist to make a fanciful world of light and sound to explore.  It was hard to choose but I wanted to see the Georgia O’Keeffe museum just off the center square.  This remarkable and celebrated painter made Santa Fe her home for the second half of her long and productive painting career.   I was interested in who Georgia was as a creative woman and a new film of her reflecting on her life gave me great encouragement to find my own creative second act.   Her work is both stark and lush, bold and delicate and absolutely a reflection of her innovative life.

Wandering around a town that is so dedicated to art and beauty became an enchanted experience.   The trees were still ghost silhouettes against the deep blue sky which contrasted with the earth colored buildings.   It is truly an original American city that deserves its place as one of the most beautiful in the country.   After lunch, I visited the St. Francis Basilica and the Palace of the Governors.   I wandered around these old building on my own just admiring what caught my eye.   I was drawn to the icons and statues of the local saints.   Each had a primitive beauty and a story to tell.  I particularly loved Our Lady of Immaculate Conception standing on the crescent moon.

I finished my day with some quiet reflection (nap) while my fellow travelers had spa treatments.   A delightful dinner followed with the star of the show a chocolate mousse in the shape of a pueblo with a little chocolate ladder to access the top story—totally adorable.

Santa Fe is a living dream, stark and lush, beautiful and barren, a feast for all the senses.   I can see why it inspires such deep creativity in the people and sparked new creative spirit in my heart.

Chocolate Pueblo

I Wrote a Book

 

I wrote a book!  Pilgrimage: A Modern Seeker’s Guide was launched on May 18 and is now available on Amazon. Over the last 5 years I’ve written about my adventures traveling in the world and at home in my everyday life. This is a guide book to help you find your own pilgrimage in the world and the path to your heart.

The first part is a guide for the physical journey, either around the world or close to home. I answer the questions of why take a pilgrimage and what is a sacred site. Then I created a step by step guide to help you take a pilgrimage from the first whisperings of a Call, preparing, the journey and integration of your experience into your life.

The second half of the book is 40 days of reflections to help find meaning in your journey and discovering your authentic self. Each day is written to take you into your heart and then unfold your new experiences and knowledge to bring you to a new understanding of yourself and the world.

This small book is an accessible and practical guide to make your journey a discovery of our beautiful world and yourself.

You can find my book here:  www.amazon.com

And here:  http://www.audreypress.com

I would love for you to write an Amazon review to help others find my book.

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photo by C. Savage

Spring

Spring has arrived in east Tennessee and my world is pink and white and spring green.   The land is never more beautiful than at this time of year.   My sweet birds are chirping from dawn to dusk and the cats, Timmy and Persy, happily jump into the open bedroom window for some much loved fresh air.  Hamilton’s role changes from firetender to yardman.   He enjoys both roles especially now he has “another woman” named Huskey 2.2, a mechanical woodsplitter.   In the spring he spends many happy hours meditating on the old riding mower uninterrupted by the phone.

My old home has three working fireplaces and we use all of them during the winter.   They no longer are the main source of heat but now provide an atmosphere of warmth and peace with the smell of burning wood and the crackling sound.   During the winter months we offer our friends the irresistible invitation, “want to come sit by the fire”?  No one turns us down.

In the spring it is my job to clean out the fireplaces. I gather all the necessary equipment: brown bags, fireplace shovel, old sheet, hand broom and dust pan, bucket and rag.   I first take out the last bits of charred wood and then remove the screen, andirons, and grate.   I scoop the ash into the waiting bag and then sweep the remains into a dust pan.   Then, I wash down the mantel, tools and hearth.   Finally, I replace the grate and screen.   It is a big and dirty job but one that brings me a very unique joy.   Not only do I love the tidy fireplace for the summer season. but it is the one time I feel deeply connected to all the women who have lived in this house before me.   They are nameless, but we share a deep connection.   I’m sweeping the very same bricks they swept for generations before me.   I think about how they had to clean out the ashes constantly where I only have to do it once a year.   I’ve never met these woman but we are friends, bound by the needs of family and love of home.

This week I was reading Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton.   May loved her home and the solitude and space it provided for her writing.  She writes…”I have a fire burning in my study, yellow roses and mimosa on my desk. We are one, the house and I, and I am happy to be alone…”   Plant Dreaming Deep is a memoir about her first year in her home in Vermont.   She learns to love her home and her home nourishes her.   May and I are kindred spirits and our spring birthdays are just a few days apart.   We love our old homes and find comfort and silence to grow our spirit.  “We are one, the house and I and I am happy….”