About theperpetualpilgrim

Come and share my past journeys and join me in my future adventures both in my mind and heart and in the world.

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

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Sedona

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.”

Ancestors

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.  

Olympic National Park

Olympic Mountains, Washington

Last year Hamilton and I went hiking in Yosemite and loved it so much that we wanted to explore another national park on foot. We also wanted to stay in the US to let some of the pandemic travel hassles ease a bit more. Both of us have traveled extensively in the US. I have been in all 50 states—most of them more than once.  Hamilton has been to every state except Oregon but neither of us had been to Olympic National Park in Washington State.  It was an easy choice as we have some delightful second cousins just outside of Seattle. Family and nature are the perfect combination for our travels.

We happily left a heatwave in Tennessee for the much cooler Pacific Northwest. The last bits of cool, cloudy weather were receding and the first days of bright blue summer sky were on the horizon.  Our flights through Houston went well and we quickly got a rental car and headed south in a slight drizzle.  We were met by our dear cousin LaVona and her perfectly tidy house and garden.  She had done a lot of cooking for our stay and we were made to feel so welcome and loved.  Hamilton and LaVona’s grandmothers were sisters from a lively group of 8 siblings all with “L” names.  We had great times remembering Lizzie, Leona, Lula, Lillie and Laura, the five sisters who were all raised in south Mississippi at the turn of the last century. 

The first full day in Washington we visited Mount Rainier National Park, just an hour away. It was overcast and the enormous mountain was invisible behind dense clouds. I wasn’t convinced there really was a mountain (elev. 14,411 ft)  but the surrounding land was picture perfect as we drove through dense evergreen forests, past gorgeous waterfalls, over glacier-made valleys and finally to the main visitor center which still had a 10 foot snowpack.  We watched a short movie about the mountain, so large that the circumnavigating trail is 93 miles.  We had a picnic in the light drizzle and were entertained by the Gray Jays who show no fear when food is around.  Don’t tell the rangers but I fed one of them grapes out of my hand; his little feet were so soft and gentle on my finger.  The Stellar Jays kept their distance but are they ever a beautiful blue.  The rest of the weekend we visited with more cousins and Hamilton and I had our first attempt at Pickleball. I can see why it is so popular.

Mt Rainier National Park

Monday morning, we headed toward Olympic National Park, my third national park in five days—I just finish climbing Mt. LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountain the week before. Cousins LaVona, Keren and Kate joined us for our week’s adventure as they had never been to Olympic either.  On our way to our Airbnb in Forks, WA, we stopped by our first rainforest path and rocky beach, both so beautiful that we were glad to have three more days on the western side of the park.  The Airbnb was clean but otherwise basic with a strange Hogwarts theme. Hamilton and I had the Slytherin room. Forks, Washington, is the setting for the Twilight books and movies because it is the cloudiest/rainiest town in American—prefect for vampires.  I watched my first-ever Twilight movie so that I could get in the spirit of the town. Magic, Vampires and a local Sasquatch legend—something for everyone.

Rialto Beach

The next three days we spent time on the magnificent rocky beaches. Rialto beach was just a half hour away and had beautiful rock islands close to the shore. We walked about 1.5 miles to a big arch in the rocky coast and explored the tidepools filled with anemones and starfish. On the forest edge of the beach were whole spruce-tree driftwood that were like giant whalebones, gleaming white and smooth, perfect for sitting and just staring at the surf on the rocks. Or stacking the surf-smoothed stones. Or breathing the cleansing salt air. It was an overcast day so the whole world was a gray-scale wonder: green-black trees, deep-gray stone, light-gray water and sky, white caped waves and bone-white driftwood trees. Another day we walked the .8 mile path through the forest to Second Beach where we had a whole mile of sand and surf in front of us without another soul in sight, my kind of beach.

Second Beach
giant driftwood on First Beach

One of the crown jewels of Olympic is the Hoh Rainforest.  We set out early to beat the crowds in the parking lot and were rewarded with a perfectly cloudless morning and a visit with one of the resident Roosevelt elk enjoying her breakfast of weeds in the stream.  The sun shone through the tendrils of moss hanging from every tree. There were patches of sun highlighting the ferns on the forest floor. It was so hard to know where to look next, so we slowly wandered around the trails, taking pictures that will never come close to showing the beauty of this full sensory place.  The sacredness of the forest was palpable, and we kept our voices to a whisper in reverence for this holy ground.  It was so primordial that a T Rex or Brachiosaurs could come wandering by at any moment or a fairy could be flying around, flitting between trees and ferns.  We stopped by the Hoh river for our picnic lunch on one of the rocky bars in the middle of the river.  It was hard to leave the forest but the crowds were growing and we wanted more beach time.

Roosevelt Elk
Hoh Rainforest in the sunshine

Our evenings in Forks were so pleasant.  LaVona had made several delicious casseroles, one for each evening. A salad and cake made each meal a feast. Then we would settle in for some binge watching.  Hamilton and cousin Keren watched all of ‘1883’ and I watched/slept through a couple of the Twilight movies. The five of us were happy and compatible, everyone looking out for the other’s needs and wishes.

Our final day together we headed east to Hurricane Ridge visitors center to get a full view of the Olympic range.  At 5000 feet, there was still big patches of snow and we definitely needed our warm jackets. We climbed the steep short path that gave a 360 degree view with the snowcapped Olympic mountains on one side and the Puget Sound on the other.  It was a clear, bright day and we could see Vancouver Island, Canada, and Mount Baker in the distance.  After lunch we said our goodbyes to our dear relatives as they needed to head home.  I had booked our last night at Crescent Lake where we enjoyed a picnic supper in our room with the view of the sapphire lake for entertainment.  The next morning, we took a short walk to Marymere Falls and then a hike on Spruce Railroad Trail, a former railroad bed complete with tunnels.  The bike/hiking trail meandered along the lake’s edge and we enjoyed the changing views of the mountains. We hiked to the end and back for a total of 8 miles.  It was the perfect ending to our time in Olympic and we couldn’t have been happier with our six days in this wondrous park.

Crescent Lake

On our way back to the Seattle airport we finally saw the elusive Mount Rainier and it is massive.  It made for a fitting farewell for our delightful time on the Olympic peninsula.  Olympic has rainforest, mountains, lakes, beaches, waterfalls. The only thing it lacked was a desert to be about every type of climate. We were blessed with great weather, good company and our amazing sacred earth.

Mt Rainier on the drive back to Seattle

The Hermitage

The Hermitage, Nashville, Tennessee

In between two longer trips in June, I had two mini-trips in my home state of Tennessee. I once again climbed Mt. LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and stayed in the off-grid lodge at the top with my Wednesday hiking group.  Last year was a very cold hike with beautiful hoar frost on the trees and this year was a very warm hike with the rhododendron and mountain laurel in bloom. I always enjoy a hiking challenge and this year I was rewarded with probably my all-time favorite mountain moment—sunrise over the gorgeous layers of mountains.  It was worth the journey to see the sunrise in one direction and the beautiful moon, Venus and Jupiter on the opposite side of the sky.  Fifteen minutes after sunrise, the fog rolled in and my view was instantly white but the moment of sunrise is with me forever.

Earlier in the month, I went west to my hometown of Nashville to see my dear friend Melynie who was finally able to get back to the US from her home in Taiwan. It had been several years since I was last in Nashville and I have some favorite places I always want to visit.  Top of my list is the beautiful Athena in the Parthenon in Centennial Park and then the gorgeous Bi-Centennial Park just a couple of miles away.  Both hold such a special place in my heart and no trip to Nashville is complete without a visit.  We finished off the afternoon with a long trip to the used bookstore as we are both voracious readers and then a delicious dinner at Adele’s.

Athena, Centennial Park
Bi-Centenniel Park, Nashville

There was one place in Nashville I particularly wanted to revisit, The Hermitage, the home of the 7th US president, Andrew Jackson, and the third most visited presidential home in the United States. The Hermitage holds a special place in my memory and heart.  I visited it often as a child for we only lived about 20 minutes away. I have very vivid memories of the grand Greek Revival façade and the beautiful rooms with antique wallpaper.  The beds seemed so small but with elaborate curtains flowing from the canopies. The mansion was never sold outside the family, so it still has all the original furnishings and is well preserved.  I loved wandering the gardens and seeing the carriage house with the old carriage and artifacts from so long ago.  It certainly made an impression on me as a young girl.

It was a beautiful June morning and the breeze was gentle—perfect for my return after more than 20 years.  Now there is a big new visitor center/museum a ways from the old home and we spent some time learning about Andrew Jackson while we waited for our entry time into the mansion. Andrew Jackson, the president on the $20 bill, has become a more controversial figure in the last few decades as history is revisited but the museum focuses on his illustrious war career and the power he had as president.  I’m sure this was all important, but I was only interested in one thing, the house.  I wanted to see that beautiful home again.

With much anticipation I walked down the path to the front of the home. It was almost as I remember with the tall Corinthian columns and beautiful old brick.  It was no longer bright white but a soft beige which apparently was the original color.  We wandered the mature English style garden but mostly I was happy to sit and look at the beautiful front porch and stately columns.  It was finally our turn to go into the entrance hall—I love that entrance hall with spectacular hand painted scenic wallpaper of the Odyssey, a Greek myth, perfect for a Greek Revival home.  The tour guide gave many details in a very sing-song style and then we wandered down the hall to hear more stories and see the main bedrooms.  The tour continued upstairs and then down.  Each room was just as I remembered.  

Looking back on my fascination with The Hermitage, I can see my early love of homes and architecture. That beautiful old mansion was the beginning of my deep love of historic homes and places.  For me, houses are people too and I love to feel their presence and sense the essence of their long lives. There is a soul to a well-loved old home that I really connect to and cherish.  I have had several more special meetings with great houses and feel they have much to say.  What I didn’t know then was I would eventually move to an old Greek Revival home and build a special relationship with my own bit of history. 

What from your past turned out to be more influential than you realized?  Have you ever had the chance to visit that person or place again?   I found my morning with The Hermitage to be so sweet and joyful.  I was meeting a beautiful old mentor again, and that home’s influence started me down a wonderful path.

Ahknaten

The last trip I took in 2019, just before the beginning of the pandemic, was an arts weekend with Alexandra in New York City.  It was a quick trip into the city but we had a big agenda.  The Metropolitan Opera was performing one of our favorite operas, Akhnaten by Phillip Glass.  Words fail me;  it is so amazing. I always love being in that iconic opera house with the best musicians in the world, from around the world.  Fast forward to 2022, The Met Opera was performing Akhnaten again and you know since we are now officially groupies (very enthusiastic followers) that we had to repeat our trip of 2019 except for a longer visit and with warmer weather.

This was our third arts trip to NYC. Alexandra dearly loves the Big Apple and during college spent a semester and a summer interning and learning her way around.  I’ve had just a few short visits, but with Alexandra’s city smarts and a free place to stay (thanks to my sister), we’ve decided to have an annual arts trip.  There are plenty of fun and interesting things to do in NYC and something for everyone. But we have a particular interest in opera, ballet and art museums so we concentrate on those things. Plus some food/restaurants not available in my small town—real French croissants–yum.

We wanted to make up for the couple of years without live performances, so we made an ambitious itinerary to fit in everything we wanted to do.  I went up early with a friend and saw Akhnaten on Wednesday and several museums.  Alexandra joined me Thursday and we went to the New York City Ballet’s production of Midsummer’s Night Dream.  I got very close seats and we enjoyed the nuances of each dance.  The production was pure fantasy, the costumes were extravagant and sparkly and the new principal dancers were polished and gifted. We wished we had tickets to see it again just to delight in the beauty.

Temple of Dendur The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 15BCE Aswan, Egypt

But Saturday afternoon was the main event, Akhnaten.  So why am I so obsessed with this opera?  Well, first I just love Phillip Glass’s music: minimal, repetitive and hypnotic.  It puts me in a decidedly altered state, a reverie that calms my soul and opens my heart. Second, you know how I’m obsessed with ancient Egypt and this reimagine of a Pharaoh who first changed the world from polytheism to monotheism—we are still living in his influence today.  Needless to say, he was not popular with those who wanted power and was wiped from the record books after his death. I encourage you to read about this remarkable Pharaoh. Akhnaten believed there was only one god, The Sun, Aten.  My favorite part of the opera is The Hymn to the Aten, words written by Akhnatan, 3500 years ago. Always sung in the language where the opera is performed, the words are of love and dedication to the Divine.  “You are in my heart, There is no other who knows you, Only your son, Whom you have taught your ways and your might.”  As the hymn of praise finishes, Akhnaten slowly turns and becomes one with The Sun hanging low over the stage. It is one of my favorite moments in all of opera.   The staging, singing, story and music all culminates in a grand spectacle, and I just love it.  It will be several years before I have the opportunity to see it live again but the recorded version is on the Met Opera on Demand and I highly recommend taking the time to enter this remarkable portal into another time/space of ancient Egypt.

Cleopatra’s Needle–Central Park- 1500BCE Heliopolis, Egypt

Alexandra and I wanted more, so we purchased cheap seats in the 4th balcony for the evening performance of Rigoletto by Verdi, a much more traditional opera but equally delightful in classic opera style.  The cheap seats kept us from seeing the singers’ faces and costumes but the sound was crystal clear and beautiful. This was our second time to do two operas in one day and we would do it again.  With a nice dinner in-between, it just seems like a perfect day to us.

 

4th Balcony at the Met Opera—A long way from the stage but excellent sound.

We finished our time in NYC with more of The Metropolitan Museum, concentrating on the European paintings and some time on the lawn in Central Park soaking in the perfect late spring weather. I was a bit worried that I had scheduled a bit too much time in the big city for this country girl but in fact I enjoyed every minute of my visit dedicated to the arts in so many forms. 

This was my personal way to spend time with what inspires my soul and fills my heart.  Now I hope to encourage you to take time and do what inspires your joy and restores your heart. The world seems extra full of bad news and problems right now on top of two years of pandemic.  We all seem to have our faith in humanity shaken to the core.  But now more than ever, we need to find and do what restores our hope and fills us with the best of what humans can do as a reprieve from some of the worst actions. When I go to opera and ballet, I’m reminded of the amazing gifts that we have to produce what is good, noble and beautiful.  When I go to an art museum, I’m reminded of the thousands of years of genius that shines through the hardship of life on this planet. 

Star of India, world’s largest blue star sapphire-American Museum of Natural History
Original Audubon watercolor–New York Historical Society

“Friends” Apartment Building–Greenwich Village

Friends

There was a time in my teens and 20’s when I was very lonely and days seemed to stretch forever.  I always had my precious cat Charlotte and a shelf of favorite books to keep me company but, otherwise, I was often isolated.  Something in me was determined never to feel this way again and I set out to find friends and community. In those pre-internet days, friendships were a bit harder to come by.  I was a young mother in search of community and I found it in the local Episcopal church and a play group.  I am still close to those friends I made all those years ago.  As I was thinking of my life now and what I wanted to say in this month’s blog, friendship and my many dear friends came to mind. It is spring and as my world turns green, I plant the flowers and trees I want to grown in my garden. I’ve also planted a living garden of friends in my life.  Shall we have a stroll around the beautiful colors and variety that grow in my friendship garden.

The most long-lasting variety of friends are also family.  Husband, daughters, sister, aunts and cousins are the biggest blessing in my life right now.  I love to nurture these ties that bind us through generations and DNA. Time together is the best and family reunions big and small are highlights of the year, I also love those little sibling/cousin/aunt text chains that link me quickly and easily to my family.  There will be multiple dings on my phone as stories, pictures, hearts and emoji’s come through in a flurry of activity.   There will be silence again and then a few weeks later the fun and connections will begin again.  This summer my family is gathering in northern Minnesota to bury my mother’s ashes, celebrate my cousin’s marriage, see our Swedish cousins and play with the newest member, two-year-old Nora.  Those friendships are bound by heritage but nurtured over the decades in a place that holds the echoes of our ancestors.

Childhood friends remember you as you were before—when I had glasses and braces and ugly 1970’s clothes.  Childhood friends remember your family and school and all the formative events of life.  I still have a childhood friend I keep in touch with regularly.  Mel and I met in 4th grade and have been BFF’s ever since.  Sometimes we would go long periods of time without seeing each other but when we get together it is like no time has passed and we are girls again.  We tell the old stories and play our favorite piano duet that is so deep in our memories that we will never forget it.  Our lives and interests may be different now but our past carries us forward together into the future in a special sisterhood.  A few years ago, I went to visit Mel in Taiwan where she teaches English and works on her PhD in communications.  I couldn’t be prouder of her adventurous life.

My motherhood friends and I are entwined with the lives of our children. Playgroups and school groups brought us together through circumstance and shared place and time.  We share the joys and frustrations of our growing children and the happy events along the way which for me were music and dance recitals, beach trips and play dates.  I still have one very close friend from that era, Judy.  We have so many more things in common which has bonded our friendship past the child rearing days. Now we talk about our grown children and her grandchildren with the easy of a long history already lived together.

Hamilton and I are both introverts and making friends outside of the family doesn’t come naturally but fortunately we have some wonderful community friends that get us out and around town.  Over the years we have grown a special group of friends that, like us, doesn’t have many local relatives or extended family.  These precious friends have become chosen family for birthdays and holidays.  I can count on them to bring something delicious to a potluck meal and be ready for a party of any kind.  We sit around the campfire by the river in the summer, have lavish Thanksgiving feasts, trade gifts and cards for birthdays and Christmas and are there when life passages with elderly parents gets overwhelming.  I adore my chosen community family.

It is never too late to make friends.  As you grow older, it can be harder to make friends as so many people are already busy with established relationships and family.  But I have been fortunate to make a new group of friends in my small town.  Proximity to friends makes life easier and since I live out in the country having friends close by has been such a gift.  My walks in a nearby neighborhood grew into meeting people who have just moved to the area and are open to making friends.  So, thankfully, I was invited to a local book club and a hiking group formed and now I have friends that are as thrilled with books, birds and flowers as I am and are willing to hike up a mountain every Wednesday.  We are already planning more adventures further afield.  I also know that I can call on them anytime and someone is close by to lend a hand.

My final category of friends is my spiritual soul mates.  These are the dear friends I share my deepest heart with. We speak a special language developed through books and experiences. I miss my dear spiritual mentors Page and Rachael; no one can ever replace them.  But now I have my graduate-school classmates who speak my deepest inner language and my friend Val who loves a good spiritual pilgrimage/adventure to parts unknown.

There are also the people that I do business with that have become friends, acquaintances, friends in the local church and people come into my life for a time and a specific reason.  All of them are a blessing to my little corner of the world and I hope in turn I am a blessing to them.  Friends are a richness to life that smooths the hard edges and brings comfort and joy to each day.  I’m so glad that I have been able to cultivate so many friendships over the years and leave that loneliness behind.

Small Things

photo. @madsnature_

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour

Auguries of Innocence—William Blake

Although it really is hard to choose, I think spring is my favorite season.  April is my birth month and I associate new life with the next year of my life.  I love Easter and Easter candy and everything about this celebration of new and everlasting life. Spring is not a grand season like the heat of summer, the intense joy of Christmas or the flaming colors of autumn. Spring is a celebration of the small and the subtle, tiny wildflowers, light breezes, little blue bird’s eggs, and soft new grass underfoot.

At the beginning of March, the first wildflowers make an appearance here on our farm in Tennessee.  The very first flowers are Harbingers of Spring, tiny pink flowers on delicate stems. It is still chilly in March and we will probably have one more snow and a few cold snaps but the promise that winter won’t last much longer warms my heart. The next flowers to emerge in the forest are the sweet white Anemones.  They are larger with pointed petals and cover the forest floor as a backdrop to the showier flowers to come.  

We have a special place in our woods down near the fair-weather creek that we call “the pretty bottoms”.  According to the dictionary, bottomland is low-lying land along a watercourse and is usually protected by hills on all sides and has rich topsoil.  It is on this land that the wildflowers really thrive. During the early spring, I take a daily pilgrimage to take in the sight and breath in the smell of delicate flowers and warming earth.  The crunch underfoot of fallen leaves gives way to the delicate green of the forest floor.  Two years ago, we built a footbridge to make the creek easier to cross and this year we added a picnic table by the creek to have a place to display collections of bark, moss and flowers.  But usually, I just sit there happy to be in my little paradise.  Deeper in the woods we have a hammock for forest bathing—the Japanese form of forest therapy.  I’m never happier than when I’m just gently swinging in that hammock with the warm breeze on my face and my eyes closed in reverie.

This year we were treated to a bumper crop of thousands of yellow Trout Lilies. The name comes from their mottled leaves that look like the mottled bodies of brook trout.  They are shy flowers that live in colonies and stick together in a large carpet of small green leaves that are close to the ground. These colonies spread slowly and we estimate our acres of lily colony to be over 100 years old.  Their heads are bowed and only display their full glory when the sun shines.  But I make sure that I enjoy their beautiful delicate faces as I tilt the petals up to get a closer look.

There are yellow Trillium, May Apples, Twin Leaf and droopy Bellwort, but they all are the beautiful backdrop to my favorite Purple Phlox. This is what I’ve waited for all winter—the purple phlox.  As I arrive at the Pretty Bottoms, I’m greeted by their delicate smell and showy purple flowers.  They don’t need sunshine to open, they are just happy all the time and in turn make my heart sing with absolute joy.  I can’t wait to share these beauties with anyone I can convince to hike up the hill that then leads to the long winding hill down to the flowers.   But I do love it best when I have the flowers, birds and trees to myself in my own private paradise.  I often think of all the years these flowers bloomed without my knowing.  Now every time I see them, I let them know how happy I am they waited for me.

photo @madsnature_

I’ve gone on and on without mentioning the exciting new small thing that has arrived on the farm—honeybees.  Now I have thousands of tiny flying friends to also enjoy the spring display.  I had been thinking about getting bees for a couple of years and was going to start a hive this spring when my obsession with Facebook Marketplace finally paid off.   Joseph had placed a listing looking for land for his hives in exchange for honey.  I couldn’t message him fast enough!  A few weeks ago, he brought out 16 hives on four pallets—all the fun of bees and none of the work for me.  Toward the end of the trail around the farm I get to see those bees swarming, busy doing their important bee jobs. Biscuits and cornbread will soon be the preferred method for honey consumption.

I hope my enthusiasm for small things inspires you to go notice the little things in your world. It is easy to notice the big and boisterous and overlook the delicate, fragile and quiet but that would be missing the corners of our heart and mind waiting to be filled with beauty to soften the hard edges of life.