Iona had been calling me for a long time. This tiny island, the last bit of land before the great Atlantic, is at the end of the earth. Ireland is 40 miles to the south but other than that the only thing west of Iona is the vast unknown. It is serious work to get there: fly to Edinburgh, take a train to Oban, then a ferry to Mull, cross Mull on a one-way road in a bus and then one more ferry ride to Iona, walk to the Abbey and you finally arrived. Why would anyone feel the need to go to such a remote place? Why would this tiny island call me?

The story goes that St. Columba got in a bit of an argument over the Psalms at his Irish monastery so he was banished to Iona and built a monastery there in 563 and thus credited for bringing Christianity to Scotland. The monastery thrived and the Book of Kells was written on the island. It became a major pilgrimage site and great honor to be buried on the island. The first major Celtic crosses stood in front of the Abbey and the remaining pieces are in the museum. But there is a power to this place that seems otherworldly. It is often said that “the veils are thin” on Iona and it is easier and quicker to reach heaven if buried on the island. Many years ago I read that it is an “Atlantis Priestess Portal”, I can’t remember where I read that but I never forgot that description. I can’t say for sure what the power is–history, geography, geology, myth– or what this island means to other pilgrims in the past but what I can say is that I had one truly perfect day on earth on Iona.

I didn’t go to Iona on my 2009 trip to Scotland, I knew that time wasn’t right. On this trip it was the final destination that all the holy sites on the way prepared me for. It was raining and foggy on the one-way road across Mull and the traffic was very heavy. I couldn’t see the landscape and felt like I was in a cocoon in the very slow moving bus. Every few hundred feet we had to pull over and wait for an oncoming vehicle. We finally arrived at the parking lot and I got my suitcase and walked through the rain down to the ferry and across the waves onto the ramp; no tourist cars are allowed on the island. I got to the hotel and settled in and then had a group tour of the Abbey. It is plain but it is hallowed ground. I visited the museum and took a walk. As I walked the path to the ocean I had the same overwhelming feeling of joy that I had on the Camino. Three black sheep grazing by the road added to my happiness.

That first evening after supper, most of the group went to the service in the Abbey. The Iona Community, which is dedicated to social justice, conducted a beautiful ecumenical service with singing and sharing of bread. Coffee and dessert in the hotel lounge with my dear friends ended my first partial day on Iona.

All day a song that I had in my iTunes had been going round my head, Cantique de Jean Racine by Faure. The words are in Latin so I looked up the translation, I felt there was a message. “O Christ look with favor upon your faithful people now gathered to praise you”. In my excitement to visit these holy sites and have experiences I forgot the true goal of pilgrimage—-devotion. I was on Iona not for my benefit but to give my devotion to the Divine. I was on this holy isle to sing praises and give thanks for life. I listened to the song over and over, soaking in the beautiful melody and important message.

I had been watching the weather all week hoping that we would have a sunny day on our full day on the island and my prayers were answered. I woke to bright morning sun and the sound of mooing. I walked out to find a herd of “hairy coos”–highland cattle in the nearby barnyard. The baby came running to greet me but was kept at bay by a long-horned mother with gruff voice. I promised her I wouldn’t touch, just admire. After breakfast the hikers in the group met at the ruins of the nunnery to walk across the island to St. Columba Bay. We had a few moment to enjoy this place of worship where stones stacked by man and meadows provided by Mother Nature come together to make the perfect chapel.

After obtaining a few snacks our little group started the walk. The sparkling sun, green meadows, charming animals and the chatter of dear friends made the world even brighter and more vivid. How about the ram with such curly horns that they looked like he had spectacles on. Or my personal favorite, white fluffy lambs frolicking on yellow-flower meadows—ahhhh, it was almost too much to bear. Every step was like walking in a dream. Down the final hill was a beautiful, turquoise bay. The beach is a thick pile of perfectly smooth rocks and down by the water are innumerable green marble stones polished by billions of waves for millions of years. I was surprised we could walk back to the hotel with the weight of all our treasured stones which are said to give protection.

I went over to walk the near by labyrinth and had a bit of an encounter with the head cow as we were walking in open pasture. Apparently I was on her path and she told me in no uncertain terms to get the hell out of her way. Big bossy cows not behind a fence are not to be trifled with and I quickly obeyed.

Then lunch and a bit of retail therapy—that didn’t take long for there are only a few shops. I decided I needed more time in the Abbey to wander alone. I sat in a stream of sunlight and listened to the theme song of my visit on my iPod and soaked in the glory. It isn’t a fancy Abbey but the history and devotion of 1500 years makes it a powerful place. I sat in front of the stone crosses in the museum and thought about all the pilgrims before me and those to come.

After supper I went to the Abbey for the evening service. I was the only one in the group to go but I felt called to be in the Abbey as much as possible. I was greeted by the shadow of the cross on the stone wall of St Columba’s tiny chapel and then made my way inside and found a seat in the Choir. The service was more traditional with just a handful of participants. That was fine with me because I love traditional liturgy. I know it was a time of devotion but the service was absolutely devised by the Divine for my perfect joyful day on Iona. First there was a cosmic joke—the young Englishman leading the service was wearing a bright green tee shirt that said “Dollywood Tennessee” I kid you not!! Dollywood is just up the road from my home and I have been there many times.

The first song, one I knew well, reminded me of my dad. He was a very spiritual man and would have loved my pilgrimage. A few Bible readings and then another song. This time the hymn tune was St. Columba. Wait, that is my favorite tune—I’ve played it on the piano hundreds of times—I didn’t know that was the name. I play that song like a chant. There I was singing new words to my most loved hymn, St. Columba was already a part of my life. A few more Bible verses and then the closing song. The veil between heaven and earth was nonexistent as I sang the final tune as a two-part round “All praise to thee my God this Night for all the blessing for the Light”. I knew all the words by heart. “Praise God from whom all Blessing flow, Praise him all Creatures here below”. A perfect reminder of the message of devotion from the day before. My voice echoed against the ancient stones and I held my hand to my heart in pure joy.

I joined my friends for our final coffee and dessert to share our experiences of the day as the sun set for the short night on this tiny island outpost in the north Atlantic. It was a magic day—not of big experiences but of subtle joys of our beautiful world, meaningful songs, sun and water, friends and history all bathed in the light of the Divine.

The Dove and the Stone by Alice O. Howell

Christ of the Celts, The Healing of Creation  J. Philip Newell


The Snow Leopard

photo by Bernard Landgraf

Last week Hamilton and I took my mom to see the movie Born in China. She loves nature shows on TV and it was a nice outing for all of us. So after dinner out we headed to the theater where we were the only three watching the movie. I’m so glad we saw it on the big screen because it was spectacularly beautiful with pandas, monkeys, cranes and my favorite, snow leopards. The narrator had charming and engaging story-lines about each animal mother and child. We watched rolly-polly baby pandas tumble down the mountain followed by young monkeys jumping around their forest home. In the introduction and ending are cranes flying across mountains, lakes and a giant setting sun. I really don’t think I’ve seen a more beautiful movie. But what I wanted to see the most were the snow leopards, the rare and elusive big cat that lives in the high and uninhabitable Himalayas.

I first learned about snow leopards many years ago when I read a book in book club called The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen. The book was written in the 1970’s about Peter’s expedition into the deep Himalayas. His companion was in search of rutting sheep but Peter was in search of himself and a rare glimpse of the snow leopard. He had lost his young wife to cancer the year before and used this journey to look deeply at his life and grieve. The two hiked for weeks through high and difficult terrain with a rag-tag group of porters to reach the sheep. During the long days of hard walking Peter reflected on his personal and spiritual life. He never did see a snow leopard for at that time less than a handful of people had ever glimpsed this elusive cat.

The first time I read this book I understood absolutely nothing. Yep, I couldn’t comprehend anything Peter was talking about. I was young and I had no context for his experience. But interestingly enough I never forgot the book for somehow I sensed that it was important and so is the snow leopard. Over the years photographers captured a few distant images of the snow leopard in the wild but now this movie gives us a look at their elusive life.

I was inspired to read The Snow Leopard again after seeing this exquisite mama and babies try to survive in such a harshly beautiful environment. Hamilton had his copy high on a shelf so I got a ladder and pulled down the small paperback. The pages were old, discolored and rough. I started to read it for the first time in 25 years. This time I understood every word. Time had given me context for this beautiful pilgrimage into a harsh land and a grieving heart. Peter is a Buddhist and now all the words and stories about the Buddha made sense and after having a long walking pilgrimage myself I now understood his journey and deep need for a quest into the unknown. I had finally grown into the book.

At the same time I was revisiting another book I read over 20 years ago, The Ecstatic Journey by Sophy Burnham about mystical experiences. This is another book I didn’t understand on the first read but yet never forgot. These two books came into my life when the words were as elusive to me as the snow leopard. My life experience had no context for the story. But time changed that, for I persevered and built the vocabulary and experience to revisit these spiritual classics and now every word is like a tonic and a blessing. Like the new and amazing images of the snow leopard these books now can be part of my heart for I can see them now, when before they were so hidden with my lack of experience.

What books and movies do you need to revisit? What is waiting to for you to read with new eyes now that you have grown and learned? When time and experience combines with learning and wisdom we build new path ways to new mountain tops and are able to finally glimpse the snow leopard.

Persy on her snow leopard blanket.  It makes her feel exotic and mysterious.



The morning started early, around 5:30, when Nico brought us steaming mugs of coca tea. This not only warmed us up but woke us up, too. Coca tea tastes a lot like an herbal tea but definitely gets you going and helps with the altitude. Contacts in, yesterday’s clothes back on and a shuffle out of the tent and into my shoes and I was good to go, We all brought minimal stuff for the trail, a change of clothes, rain jacket, coat, hat and gloves, sleeping bag and walking poles—that was about it. What we didn’t carry went on the horse and that was limited to 12 pounds, everything else was stored at the Cusco hotel.

We also met the family that lives in the home, mother, father Pablito, two sons and two daughters and two grandchildren. The youngest is just two months old—Daisy Karen—and we doted over that precious baby all wrapped up and ready to go on her mother’s back. We spoke the universal language of baby admiration—aaahhhhhhh!!!! The little boy–Kevin– was not left out. He got treats and Alexandra picked him up and played with him. He informed her in quechua, “You are not my mother”. The ladies spread out Peruvian goods for us to purchase. We were happy to buy socks, hats and beautiful hand woven bags to carry coca leaves. We so appreciated their hospitality and enjoyed the intimate look at their lives so different from ours. Yet, at our core, humans have the same needs, food, shelter and love.


Nico cooked us a wonderful breakfast: first, quinoa porridge, then pancakes with strawberries, coffee and hot chocolate. All of our meals where cooked on his two burner stove on the ground connected to a propane tank. A few battered pots and pans, a knife and a cutting board on Nico’s lap completed the kitchen. It was amazing what he could cook for us, it was as delicious and complicated as any fine restaurant. So, everyone, no more excuses about lack of counter space or small stove.


The horses were saddled with our tents and supplies. We said goodbye and started walking, first up a steep hill then on to flatter ground. The barren land is beautiful and wild with high snow-capped mountains coming down to a gray-green valley. Well above the tree line we wouldn’t see a tree again until after lunch. There are no roads or power lines. The only signs of the inhabitants were low stone walls and an occasional thatched hut organically woven into the landscape. As we walked along children would appear beside the trail. I delighted in stopping and giving them treats. They were so gentle and beautiful. As quickly as they would appear they then would disappear back into the land to tend the sheep and alpacas.


The trail started to get steeper and Melissa handed out coca leaves from her new bag. Normally my drug of choice is half-caf coffee with cream. Sometimes, I go wild and have a Starbucks tall latte but 14,000 feet called for something a bit stronger. Just a few coca leaves in the side of my mouth were just what I needed for the altitude. It is everything you would imagine about having leaves and twigs in your cheek; bitter, earthy and not very comfortable. But it does work, I never had a headache and I was expecting a raging headache. Coca leaves also help with thirst, hunger and nausea which is a good thing because breathing pretty much took up all the emotional and mental space.

It rained some and then there was small hail. Melanie was struggling so one of the horses came back to get her up the mountain. The rest of us pushed on from one steep slope to the next. Eventually Lisa and I started to play the “rock game”. Choose a rock 15 feet ahead, slowly walk to it, stop and try to catch your breath. When you can almost breath again, choose another one, walk to it, stop and try to catch your breath. Three long steep slopes and we made it to the top, 15,000 feet! We were defiantly on top of the world and it was stunningly beautiful. Everywhere I looked was magnificent. Down below on the other side of the pass was a pristine mountain lake.



After a very short stop to breath, take in the view, eat some cookies and enjoy our victory we headed down the mountain. It was very cold at the top and we still had a long ways to go. Breathing is defiantly easier going down but the new challenge was making sure I didn’t twist an ankle on the large shifting stones. I walked carefully, stopping often to look at the lake and just wonder at the rugged beauty: I couldn’t believe I was there. Past the lake was another stunning mountain lake and this beautiful fence in the shape of a heart.


I was defiantly in the heart and arms of the Pachamama, the earth mother. This day was not about something humans had built like the Taj Mahal or Chartres Cathedral. This was about walking with the Pachamama and the glories of our beautiful world. This was the special pilgrim moment I had come for, just this pristine, rugged beauty and the openness of my own heart. I had challenged myself to my physical limit which breaks down the barrier between the heart, mind and body. I had no choice but to become one with the Pachamama, the giver of life. I was on the road less traveled in the world and in my heart.

The kitchen tent was already set up by a wide swiftly running stream. There Nico was working his magic and lunch would be served shortly. Richard and Pablito were following Nico’s orders running back and forth to the stream for water and washing the pots. Most of us trekkers laid down on the tarp for a much needed rest except for me. If I got down I wasn’t sure I was getting back up so I sat on a camp stool by the water. Of course there was a lady selling treasures and so Alexandra bought some clean gloves and socks. The lady’s little girl was tending a lamb and quickly caught it so Alexandra could have an extended lamb fix. The lamb didn’t have a knit hat but Alexandra didn’t seem to care. She held that lamb until it totally objected. Alexandra is already planning her quarter-life crisis where she runs off to New Zealand and tends sheep for a year.


After a lunch of soup, chicken and vegetables it was more down-hill walking to get to the campsite for the night. I continued to be slow so Richard held back with me to make sure I didn’t get lost. We were finally down to the tree-line in a very narrow valley with a roaring stream. I trudged along on the slippery rocks. My legs were already wobbly from the climb so I had to be careful. I eventually got a blister on the side of my foot from the uneven rocks.

It was just getting dark when we arrived at camp. The tents were set up on a soccer field and the horses where munching on the grass nearby. The big excitement was a flush-toilet outhouse with tarp walls. Dinner was served in a rustic lodge next to the soccer field. There were tables and chairs and some drinks for sale thanks to the owners living next door. We bought three big bottles of water because we were very dehydrated and the stove was being used for cooking with no time to boil water.

Nico cooked us a special farewell dinner for our last night. Each dish that was served had some fancy garnish made from vegetables, including little hard boiled egg mice and tomato flowers. The final dish was a roast guinea pig splayed out with his feet dangling off the platter, complete with pepper in his mouth. I was hoping he wasn’t part of the choir from the night before, it was best if I didn’t know. Anne was brave and had several pieces and said it tasted a bit like duck. Melissa and Lisa tasted a bit too. The rest of us tried not to watch and focused on the pasta instead. Strange meat and snakes are somewhere long past my boundaries for adventure. I plan on tackling those challenges in another lifetime.


Time to crawl into our sleeping bags. 15 miles, 15,000 feet altitude and roast guinea pig—it had been a long but completely fulfilling day. Every moment was challenging and thrilling all at the same time. Our bodies were exhausted but our hearts and minds were filled with the love of the Pachamama.

Lares Trail


Originally we wanted to walk the Inca trail–26 miles from Ollantaytombo to Machu Picchu– but this trail has gotten very popular and is now limited to 500 permits a day which includes guides and porters. Some how our permits didn’t go through but the airline tickets were already purchased so we opted to do one of the other treks in the Sacred Valley that doesn’t require permits.

Now all good pilgrims know that when things don’t work out as planned, you let it go and move to the next option and trust the process. I trusted the process and knew we would get the best experience for our needs. So, instead of a busy trail with thousands of Inca steps we ended up on the road less traveled. A total of 8 where on the Lares Trail the day we started instead of 500. We walked through the pristine countryside and tiny indigenous villages and saw lots of animals. Although the trail was very challenging, it wasn’t quite as hard or as long as the Inca Trail or Salkantey Trail. We all knew that we were where we were meant to be this beautiful October day in Peru. It was perfect.


Our day started early when our guide Vladimir ( picked us up at 5:15 to head to our first stop in the Sacred Valley at Urubamba. We went to the market for breakfast where we found some delicious cake and then finally the coffee counter. The ladies made us hot chocolate and coffee with steaming milk and then fried eggs on the local flat bread. Below us we were the smells and sounds of the butcher cutting up that day’s meat. One of the local dogs managed to break in and help himself to the scrapes.

We next drove up into the mountains on a narrow one-lane road with steep dropoffs on both sides. Fortunately, the driver negotiated it expertly and we focused in the scenery and the thousands of free-range alpacas grazing on the steep mountains.


Our next stop was the hot spring at Lares, a beautiful garden with six pools ranging from cold to very hot. Lots of local children were playing in the shallower pool and took great delight in splashing the tall blond girl. Our guide showed us how to go from hot to cold and back to hot then to cold to have the complete spa experience. We dried off, put our hiking clothes back on, had a snack and headed up the mountain. We just had day packs with snacks, water and rain jacket. The rest of our gear was sent ahead by horse to our camping spot.


The first part was steep and the altitude made me short of breath. I thought that maybe I had made a big mistake but I took my time and stopped for a rest and it soon leveled out next to a beautiful boulder-filled rushing stream. We stopped to thank Pachamama, the earth mother, goddess of fertility, for her gift of life and gave her an offering of three coca leaves. We walked by the small, stone houses of the local indigenous people, the Quechua. The little children would come running over to see us. My sister brought chocolates and I brought pens and puffy glitter stickers. I took the backing off the stickers and put them on their sweaters or in the backs of their hands. From toddlers to older children, they stood patiently waiting for me to get to each one. Big smiles and “gracias” and we were all happy. In the mean time, Alexandra made it her mission to personally great each of the ten thousand sheep and alpacas we saw and professing her undying love. Even the little pigs got the same attention. Meanwhile, Melanie documented every moment with pictures. We all had our rolls to play.


We slowly hiked up the mountainside enjoying each new view, animals and people in their colorful clothes. We hiked about four hours and six miles until we got to the little village where our tents were waiting for us in the barnyard by the small stone hut with thatched roof and dirt floors. This was the home of the horseman. Along with our guide Vladimir, there was the cook Nico, assistant Richard and horseman Pablito. Our guide said we were at 13,000 feet. We were all very tired and hungry and glad our lunch was almost ready. The hut was one room serving as kitchen, living room and store room. The sleeping room was a separate hut next to the main room. There was a table set up with a cloth and silverware and camp stools. First course was soup and it was delicious and perfect to warm us up. The next course was trout, potatoes, tomatoes and cucumbers and rice with hot sweet lemon tea. Alexandra noticed a couple of guinea pigs in the corner and, sure enough, after awhile about 30 guinea pigs where running around our feet as we ate. Their little chirping noises were like a choir singing to us, definitely a new experience for me. I fed the kitty some scrapes of trout and the guinea pigs liked the rice. I’m glad they weren’t on the menu. It would be hard to eat the entertainment.img_3811img_3816img_3815

It was time to put on every layer we owned and hang out in the sleeping bags where we chatted and Melissa and Alexandra sang some of the songs from Hamilton. It gets very dark by 6 so we scouted a rock wall as an open air bathroom—Inca toilet– since the stand up outhouse seemed to be just a bit much.

The lunch was so big and late that we asked for just a snack for supper. We snuggled into the cooking tent to eat popcorn, cookies and hot cocoa. It was all delicious and really warmed us up for our night in our little tents in a barnyard with the little pig in Peru. The full moon cloaked in gentle clouds gave just enough light to make the land even more mysterious. All of us are adventurous and good sports and find the whole experience delightful from guinea pig companions to stunning scenery. This is definitely not the trip for the fragile or neat freak but if you can find delight in living life to the fullest whatever that may be, it is the perfect adventure.

Sacred Valley



After a breakfast by a crackling fire in the fireplace, we headed out for the day’s adventure. Wilfredo, our guide from the day before, met us for a tour of the Sacred Valley. This is the beautiful valley between Cusco and Machu Picchu, the holy land of the Inca. We quickly left the city and headed down the narrow winding road into the valley. The first stop was a small animal preserve were we saw llamas, alpacas and their petite cousins, vicugna, adorable creatures with long necks, big eyes with long lashes and the softest fur for sweaters. There were the sacred condor, enormous birds, not very pretty but the great messengers of the gods. High in the corner were puma, another sacred animal that represents power. There were also smaller native cats and foxes, monkeys and a darling speckled black bear just waking from a nap. A bit latter this same young bear escaped his cage and we saw him being shooed back home by the keeper. That was one of Alexandra’s favorite moments, the bear escaped the zoo!

Then back up winding roads to the archeological site of Pisac which featured layers of big green terraces build by the Inca. This was the only way to create farmland from mountains. The Inca were experts at building the walls and making the terraces complete with drainage systems which are still perfect hundreds of years later.

Next in the agenda was the market in the town of Pisac. Dozens of stalls held beautiful Peruvian jewelry, sweaters, blankets, fluffy llama pelts and all other manner of Peruvian delights. We were delighted to trade our Sols, the Peruvian currency, for our new treasures. I bought a couple of alpaca blankets and a hat and scarf I needed to keep me warm during our adventure in the mountains the next day.


After lunch, there was a quick stop to see the giant guinea pig statue to lure us to stop and enjoy the delicacy roasting nearby. Since I’m not much on roasted pets, we quickly moved on and headed to Ollantaytambo, a magnificent Incan site that was my favorite from my last visit. Very crowed this time but it gave me plenty of time to take the steep steps up the mountain at about 9000 feet. At the top is the magnificent Sun Temple, a mammoth granite holy site. Back down the mountain was a beautiful fountain



It was time to take the long drive through the mountains to Cusco. The sun was setting over the snow capped mountains. The pink sky and full moon guided us back to the hotel where my sister and niece Anne were waiting to greet us. They had arrived that day on a different flight.  A supper of wood-oven pizza finished the day perfectly and then we headed to our plush hotel to prepare for the next day’s adventure.


“Glamazon” woman too tall for the door.


More lambs with knit hats.

Cusco, Peru


It all started when my sister wanted to do some adventure travel, she wanted to climb Kilimanjaro. Now I like adventure travel but 19,000 feet sounds a little too much like suffering to me. So I suggested we try Peru first and see how we do at 14,000 feet first. I visited Peru in 2011 and loved it and really wanted to walk the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Inca.

One thing lead to another and the result was two sisters–Melissa and me, two daughters—Alexandra and Anne, and two friends–Lisa and Melanie– all with tickets to Peru. Alexandra came from LA and met me in Miami where we flew together to Lima and spent the night at a hotel near the airport.

The next morning we had an hour flight to Cusco in the heart of the Andes and the Inca Empire. The population of Cusco is about 700,000 and the altitude is 11,000 feet. I had a local guide Wilfredo ( pick us up at the tiny airport. Our first stop was a traditional lunch with potatoes and chicken, soup and avocado. There were two couples performing a traditional dance to give us the full experience.


Next stop was the cathedral in the main square. Built in the 1500’s, it is a gold and silver extravaganza with ornate carvings and saints. Tucked in a corner is a large painting of The Last Supper where Jesus is offering guinea pig instead of bread to the disciples. There is a black Jesus nearby which beautifully reflects the local culture and the universal love of the Christ.

Cusco Cathedral

On our way to Qurikancha, also spelled Coricancha, the Sun Temple of the Inca, we got Alexandra’s first alpaca fix. I promised her baby animals so an enclosed courtyard with puppies and kittens and alpacas was a great delight. The owner brought out a big handful of alfalfa so we could feed and pet them. A few streets down were women in traditional dress holding lambs with little knit hats. That was good for another round of cuddles.


Qurikancha is built from the Inca stones that are so precise that there is no mortar or space between the stones. They have internal notching like legos that make them earthquake proof. The Incan walls surround a monastery that the Conquistadors built on the site after removing tons of gold from the original temple.

inca wall

The final stop was Saqsaywaman, another Incan site on an epic scale. Massive stones were quarried and again precisely cut to build this ceremonial complex. You can see how massive the stones are because Alexandra is six feet tall and this single block of stone is many feet higher. We then climbed up to the top for an amazing view of Cusco in the valley. Storm clouds were all around giving a beautiful combination of pink sunset and dual rainbows.


It had been a long day and we were happy to see our charming hotel (Tierra Viva Plaza) just off the main square. Some pizza was the perfect ending to the day.



My Pets



Osprey Family

I have lived in the country for nearly three years and sometimes I wonder if I’m going to catch farm fever. That someday I will wake up with a desperate need for chickens or goats or a pumpkin patch. At any inkling of such an idea I usually sit down and let it pass and flood my self with the idea of cold winter mornings and coyotes and I come quickly to my senses.

Everyone else is enamored with chickens and tomato vines why not me? Then I think about 2 high energy children, 3 giant dogs with health problems, 5 cats with bathroom issues, 4 elderly parents and an old house and I know that I have done all the care-giving that I can for now and freedom calls me.

So I’ve decided to enjoy ‘no care’ pets instead. I still have my cats Persy and Timmy but they only take about 30 seconds a day to feed and a good vacuuming of the carpets weekly. The thought of any more work than that send me into shivers. So luckily the countryside comes with all the no-care pets I desire. Let me tell you about my menagerie.

Right now my great joy comes from chopping vegetables and looking out the kitchen window to see my precious birds. Titmice, chickadees, hummingbirds, wrens, doves, cardinals, gold finches—-so much joy from such tiny creatures. They flit in and out of the near-by bushes and drink from the old birdbath. They are so close I could touch them through the window. I love their colors and beautiful voices, fluffy feathers and little spats over seeds. All these joyful moments from just filling the bird feeders every few days.

Now on to my turkey friends. I see them almost weekly, on their own, in a cluster or a big gaggle walking down the road. I’m so happy to hear their chattering and see their awkward walk. One even came up and was eating the bird seed under my kitchen window. One summer, “turkey friend” would check out what I was reading by flying into a nearby tree to see the cover of the book. They know that they will never be a holiday meal as long as they live on my land.  UPDATE:  A beautiful tom turkey has taken up residence in the front yard and he struts around the driveway every morning fluffing his feathers and gobbling.  It is like having a rooster or peacock but without the work.

My beautiful deer love to skirt the edges of the yard coming in twos in the evening or wandering across the ridge right outside my bedroom window. I see hundreds of deer every year and I still catch my breath as though they are the most exotic animal on earth. I think about that darling fawn I rescued a couple of summers ago.

How about the raccoon mama and her three babies when I forgot the garbage was on the back porch. What a sight to see the skittish adolescents eating cantaloupe rinds, so unbelievably darling. I did shut down the raccoon buffet the next day after a massive cleanup but it was worth it to see their antics up close and personal.

I drive two miles down the road to walk in a neighborhood by the lake and that is where my other wild friends live. Recently a fox has made friends as he hunkered down to give me a good looking over right where I park. Then, a few weeks later he was showing me his swiftness as he headed toward a thicket near the water. I always take the magic the fox brings since they are “crafty” creatures and are a symbol of alchemy.

The Canadian geese know how to pick a good spot and a large group have made their home by the lake and turn the road in to a bit of an obstacle course with their droppings. But one of my favorite times of the year is September when the fog is coming off the lake and I hear the call of the geese as they fly through the mist calling to each other to keep the V perfect. At the last minute, they come into view and I hear their beating wings. A pure mystical moment.

There are also herons on the edge of the lake. I don’t get too close to them but I love the long thin bodies standing still, waiting for a fish and their distinctive crook neck as they fly. The last wonderful wild friends are the local osprey family. Each year they choose a different chimney to nest in. They build big stick nests and make a mess all over the roof. Soon after they are done I hear the little chicks start to make chirping noises. Mom and Dad swear very loudly at me as I walk by, making sure that I don’t get near their babies nearly thirty feet in the air. I reassure them that they have babies so ugly they are cute but I’m happy to admire them from afar. In the end, the babies are kicked out of the nest and the nest destroyed making a mess of pick-up sticks for the lucky home owner.

I’m in love with my animal friends. They don’t always know about me but they bring me daily joy. All the fun of pets and none of the work. They restore my soul without requiring anything of me but admiration. They are ordinary wildlife but extraordinary gifts.

The Great Serpent Mound

the great serpent

Although I have traveled quite a bit this year I haven’t gone to any traditional sacred sites. Obligations and finances aren’t allowing for an extended pilgrimage this year but that doesn’t mean my heart doesn’t long to step on ancient sacred land. Fortunately for me one of the greatest sacred sites in North America is just a half a day drive from my home. So my friend Val and I came up with a plan for an equinox pilgrimage to southern Ohio where the mighty Serpent Mound holds the light between heaven and earth. We have dear friends who were in the holy land of Peru for equinox and we wanted to connect the sacred lands with our presence.

We headed out early, I waved goodbye to the luminous field full of round bales of hay, braved the early morning traffic and finally came to the open road through the lush mountains and rolling hills of Kentucky. My mother-in-law is a coal miners daughter from Hazard and her connection to this land is strong, her memory has faded but she still wants to go home to Kentucky. I can see why, it is beautiful, peaceful land and the journey is as joyful as the destination. The strong sun of the summer is starting to fade and the magic that is Autumn makes the sky a deep blue and the fading leaves glow.

Just past Lexington we head down a rural road to Adams County Ohio, past tobacco barns full of the harvest, open to let the air dry the hanging leaves. The old stack stoned fences, along side the black board fences, define the land, keeping the horses safe and the past alive. Old homes that have seen much stand next to new metal homes. The charming town of Paris is like stepping back 50 years in time.



After crossing the Ohio river we are in Amish country. We stopped by an Amish market and picked up food and baked goods as well as sandwiches on fresh baked bread. A quick look in the rock shop full of fossils from the area completes the journey for the Serpent is waiting for us just over the hill. I have been here several times in the last 15 years so it is like visiting an old friend.

The Great Serpent is an ancient effigy mound around 5000 years old. Its mouth is open ready to swallow the cosmic egg and its body is 1300 feet of coils ending in the spiral tail almost like a labyrinth. The body is a few feet high of perfectly molded earth covered with a skin of grass. The curving body lays on gently rolling land giving a look of living velvet. Each of the seven coils points to a different place in the heavens. It is a living observatory of the equinoxes and solstices, moon phases and constellations.

Perfectly aligned with the constellation Draco, The Dragon, the Serpent mirrors the universe on earth pointing to the former pole star Thuban. The sacred geometry of this giant creature makes it aligned to other great sacred observatories, Stonehenge, the Inti stone at Machu Picchu and the Great Pyramids of Egypt. Like the Mayan god Quetzalcoatl, another winged serpent of wisdom, it is believed to have had wings in the past. I also am reminded of the Egyptian god Thoth, god of Wisdom, who holds the entwined snakes of the caduceus. Wisdom in the message of this Serpent, knowledge of the Universe, understanding of what is timeless in our world.

I walk around the serpent, climb the near-by tower to get a birds-eye view, lay on a bench and feel the cool breeze come off of its body, look over the cliff to the meteor crater below and connect to the heavens in my mind. I thank the Serpent and leave a small offering to further connect the sacred lands of Peru and Egypt. I know I will be back again to ask for more wisdom and healing.


The Mystery of the Serpent Mound by Ross Hamilton

A Fawn


Hamilton was on his second attempt to bush-hog the field across the street.   The first time he was interrupted by a mighty thunderstorm.   He hadn’t gone but a few times round the field when he saw an animal out of the corner of his eye.   He first thought it was a rabbit but then on closer inspection saw that it was a new fawn.   The mother had hidden the little guy in some tall grass and it was too young to walk around on his own.

He called me and I came to see what could be done.   I called the local vet school and talked to a wild life specialist.   She said it was too young for them to take so we agreed that I move him out of the 90 degree heat to the shade and hope the mother returns.   I carefully wrapped him in a towel so I wouldn’t touch him and moved him about 20 feet to the shade.  Only the size of a long legged Chihuahua, he was delicate and beautiful. I couldn’t believe I was picking up such a tiny baby.    We left the area in hopes mom would come back soon.   I did some internet research and was reassured that we did the best thing for his survival.

It is rare to see such a tiny one since the mom usually has them well hidden.   Hamilton went back a few hours later and was distressed to see him still there but on my way to check on him we were lucky enough to see the mom bounding around nearby.   We left the area with hopes that mom would find him and he would live to be a magnificent buck.

I sent Alexandra a picture of the little guy and this is her return text. “TOO MUCH TOO MUCH IT HURTS OMG OMG PLEASE BABY DEER DON’T DIE”.   When I told her the plan she sent this text “Okay good. Keep in mind; I am willing and able to raise him as my own.”    A kind offer but unfortunately illegal so we left him to his mother’s care and took the tractor out of the field so we could give him time to grow.

A week later Hamilton went to finish the field and saw the little guy up and around and able to run out of his hiding place and saw the mom in the creek bottom, a happy ending to the story.

In the language of animal totems, deer means gentleness and a new innocence being born in you.   I like to be reminded of gentleness, we all need to be gentle with ourselves and each other.   There is far too much harshness in this world.    The doe keeps her baby hidden and nurtured until he is strong enough to be in the world.   We too need to keep our deepest experiences, new insights and joys hidden and nurtured, away from the harshness of criticism and ignorance until they are strong.  Alexandra doesn’t want to talk about her Camino experience with her friends, she wants to keep it her private joy, safe and nurtured.    So try a little gentle love on your spiritual journey so your heart can have the space to be safe and grow into something magnificent.


Essential books for your spiritual library:

Animal –Speak and Animal-Wise by Ted Andrews

Animal Wisdom by Susie Green


Ultimate Grand Supreme

white lion

In January 2012 I was helping my teacher Rachael move and organize her library.   Of all the hundreds of spiritual books she owns she sent me home with Mystery of The White Lion by Linda Tucker.   It took me a couple of weeks to get into the story but once I did then I couldn’t put it down.   I sent copies to a few friends and they couldn’t put it down either.   I watched the movie “White Lions” and looked at pictures on the internet.

I sent a picture to my daughter and fellow cat lover, Alexandra, and she asked why I was so obsessed with white lions.  “Because they are the Ultimate Grande Supreme Cat.”    For those of you unfamiliar with that title spend a few minutes with the TV show “Toddlers and Tiaras” and you will know that is the highest title for beauty pageant children whose parents are convinced their screaming children are having fun.   Any title with three superlatives has to be the best.

White Lions are not albinos but a rare genetic mutation of tawny lions.   They are only found in a small region of South Africa, Timbavati.   First spotted in 1938, they haven’t been seen in the wild since 1994.   There are a small number of them in captivity but three prides have been reintroduced in South Africa.

The White Lions are sacred to African Tribes and are connected to the star Sirius.   Linda Tucker found a connection between the white lions in South Africa and the Sphinx in Egypt, the great lion by the pyramids connected to the Age of Leo.    Now we are in the Age of Aquarius, the exact opposite point from Leo the 26,000 year cycle of the Zodiac.

This summer a white lion moved near me in Pigeon Forge Tennessee to be part of a local variety show for the masses of tourist visiting The Great Smoky Mountains.   I had to go see him since he symbolized that connection to Sirius here in East Tennessee.   The show was a lot of fun and I anxiously anticipated the Lion King section that featured this white lion.   When he was revealed it took my breath away—-so regal and majestic.  White with blue eyes and so calm, I wish he could be free and in the wild but since he can’t I’m glad he is here holding that special vibration in my little part of the world.


Timmy and Persy

Timmy and Persy practicing their white lion pose.