B-17

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

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

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

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

 

Advertisements

Passport

 

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

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

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

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

 

Chaco Canyon

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo by V. Budayr

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

 

 

Santa Fe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chocolate Pueblo

I Wrote a Book

 

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

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

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

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

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

And here:  http://www.audreypress.com

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

\

photo by C. Savage

Taipei, Taiwan

Sometimes the Call to a pilgrimage has nothing to do with a travel bucket list but is instead an opportunity too good to pass up. The unexpected destination with no personal agenda can turn into an experience of great delight. It is just such a Call that sent me to Taiwan in January. Eighteen months ago my dearest friend since 4th grade, Melynie and her family moved to Taiwan to teach English and business at a small private academy in central Taiwan. Melynie has an adventuresome spirit and an intense wanderlust. Her husband spent his teenage years in Uganda. The ex-pat life was calling and they had the perfect temperaments and life situation to accept the challenge.

Since I was going to be in California in February why not just swing by Taiwan first—much closer and cheaper ($500) than from Tennessee and Melynie had time off for Chinese New Year. I loved Thailand and Cambodia so much last year that I will take any excuse to go back to Asia.

So after 4 movies, 3 marginal meals and a sleeping pill, I landed in Taipei. Melynie met me at the airport and we took the metro to the central station where I had booked an adjacent hotel (Caesar Park Taipei). I was tired but there was lots of catching up chatter before the lost night caught up with me. When we are together we are school girls again remembering happy times and beloved family and friends.

Taiwan doesn’t have a Great Wall or Taj Mahal, which keeps it off of most tourism lists. This is unfortunate for Taiwan but a delight for me. There was no lack of subtle and not so subtle delights without the crush of tourists which meant I had a very authentic experience instead of pre-package agenda for tourists. Taiwan has worked hard to include signage in English for all transportation and popular sites which made getting around on our own very manageable with my non-existent Mandarin. Taiwan is prosperous, very tidy, organized and friendly. There are lines taped on the floor in front of the metro doors so travelers will lineup in an orderly manor to let passengers leave the train first before loading into the immaculate and quiet trains. In short, Taiwan is easy to love but at the same time exotic and foreign.

The first day we took a train north to Jiufen and the coast and enjoyed a golden waterfall colored by the local gold mine and sandstone formations worn beautiful by the sea. Of course shopping and lunch are high on the agenda and the traditional market was delightful. The tiny shops have awnings over the narrow street keeping most of the frequent rains off the shoppers. Trinket shops and food stalls alternate along the way. I spent time writing with a traditional hair brush, choosing a stamp for my name and finding painted cats for gifts. Vegetarian Melynie and former-vegetarian me, made sure we chose our food carefully: fresh dumplings, fried rice and tofu were perfectly identifiable. Some mochi covered strawberries and ice cream wrapped in peanuts and crepes made a perfect dessert.

 

The next stop was Shinfen to launch traditional paper lanterns. This little town has built an industry around these rice paper and bamboo hot air balloons. We choose the color of our balloon to correspond with our wish for the New Year and then wrote these wishes on each of the four sides. The vendor wrapped the metal ties at the bottom with fuel soaked paper. He lit the paper as we held the sides. Quickly the balloon left our grasp and gently floated to the gods along with dozens of other balloons. A beautiful sight.

Back in Taipei we visited the largest night market, Shinlin, for more shopping and supper. Amongst the whole roasted pig, octopus tentcles on a stick, mystery meat sausages and “eight clawed octopus burned”, we found waffles with crème filling and delicious grilled cheese sandwiches which suited our less adventurous tastes just fine.

The second day we spent time seeing Taipei. First we went to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial to see the changing of the guards. This big complex has two large auditoriums and a memorial surrounded by traditional gardens. Chaing Kai-shek is the founder of modern democratic Taiwan and is honored with a large statue reminiscent of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. Every hour on the hour is an elaborately choreographed changing of the guard. Then the two new guards stand perfectly still for an hour until the next ceremony. Very impressive. We visited an art exhibit and signed our names to the guest book which looked so out of place amongst the graceful characters of the Chinese signatures.

The next stop was to the 8th tallest building in the world, Taipei 101. The architecture is meant to look like growing bamboo and has an elaborate fireworks display every New Year’s Eve. The first five floors have an extensive food court and upscale mall. But the main attraction for me was the world’s fasted elevator—84 floors in 37 seconds—3000 ft per minute. The return ride takes 45 seconds. That was fun! The observation deck theoretically has stunning views but that day I got to see the inside of a cloud instead. The inner workings of the tower are also on display—a large damper to offset the sway of the building. By then it was lunch time and of course I was ready for more amazing fresh dumplings. We visited a couple of temples but the best temples were yet to come. It was time to head to Melynie’s home two hours south of Taipei so we boarded the high speed train (280 km per hour) and then a local bus and arrived in time for dinner with her family.

Chickadee

Photo by Christopher L. Wood

Every morning I look out my kitchen window into my herb garden where I have my bird feeders and watch my darling birds flit and land, throw seeds on the ground and have little spats. Nothing could make me happier for in my world my birds, specifically chickadees, are “A” list celebraties. Forget seeing humans parade on a red carpet, it is these adorable birds that turn me into a screaming adolescent girl– “OMG there is a chickadee.”

Just like the opossum, I have always had the chickadee as a totem animal. There are so many characteristics of animals that play out in our lives and its common to have more than one totem animal. But over the years chickadees and opossums have played a prominent role in the lore of my life. According to Animal-Speak by Ted Andrews, the bible of animal totem information, the black cap of the chickadees indicates the depths of the mysteries of the mind and the search for Truth. There are seven types of chickadees that indicate the alignment with the seven chakras, seven stages of alchemy and ancient mysteries. All of that wrapped up in this charming little bird that demonstrates that Truth doesn’t always have to be hard but sometime comes to bring joy and cheer to life. I’m all for that.

The other day I saw a little post on Facebook that brings new meaning to the chickadee totem. According to Audubon News, chickadees have the remarkable capacity to swap old brain cells for new ones allowing them to keep track of the hundreds of new places they store seeds. Sign me up chickadees! I want some of that. As I head deeper into the second half of life I’m taking on chickadee medicine as I am actively swapping old brain cells for new and building new neuron paths. Remember last year I went to the Joseph Campbell Library in California? Well on that fateful day I picked up a catalog of degrees offered a Pacifica Graduate Institute. One program caught my eye and wouldn’t leave me alone, Depth Psychology: Jungian and Archetypal Studies. I tried to resist with lots of good reasons including a previous vow never to go back to school. But it seemed to be the next step on my pilgrim’s path—the road deep into the infinite universe of the mind and the mysteries of life. I started classes last month and although a challenge, it is a good challenge and with the help of my chickadee pals I’m going to grow some new paths into the mysteries of the mind. Thanks for being my adorable companions on this magical journey.

This month marks my 5th blogaversary! When I tentatively pushed that ‘publish’ button that day I had no idea where my pilgrim’s path would take me but it sure wasn’t across a country or to graduate school. But there you have it. Tell the universe “I’ll go” and you never know where you will be headed next but it will be well worth the journey.

Chickadee World