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.

 

 

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Summer on the Farm

Isn’t it adorable!   photo by C. Bowen

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

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

Planting trees on the farm

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

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

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

Santa Fe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chocolate Pueblo

Secrets of a Healing Garden

Guest post by valarie budayr

Nothing shows the journey of life better than a garden with its seasonal cycles of blooming and rebirth. For children who are victims of physical and sexual abuse and trauma the healing/therapy garden at New Hope is a welcome retreat as a place of healing and renewal.

New Hope Healing Garden is a private garden retreat for children, care givers, first responders, staff and therapists

The New Hope Therapy Garden is a private outdoor garden space that has been specifically designed to meet the physical, psychological, social and emotional needs of the children using New Hope and its resources as well as their caregivers, family members, friends, and staff as a place to re-connect with their well being and heal the invisible wounds of current and post-traumatic stress.

The design is to inspire play through nature exploration, nature and gardening care, and imagination. Throughout the whole garden we engage the child through various textures, sounds, imagination and interaction. It instills awe and wonder, and invites anyone to come in, look, listen, and see what grabs your curiosity.

Welcome to our Garden ~

The Singing Hopscotch Path


We enter the garden via the numbered circled path. There are two ways to use the path. The first is by hopping as in playing hopscotch. The next way of using the path is to sing. Each colored marker on the path makes us stop and sing a first line of a song such as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Both hopping and singing are ways to enter the present moment, the here and now. We have to concentrate really hard to hop on one foot and then the other. It’s a relief to be able to stop with both feet on two numbers. It doesn’t leave a lot of room for outside thoughts to run inside our minds. Singing also achieves the same thing. We can only sing one note at a time. It takes full concentration and our full breath. We need to sing the correct pitch, have enough air in our lungs and move to the next note in the song as well as sing the correct words. The pathway is an indicator that we are transitioning from the world out there, that at times isn’t so nice, to the safety of the garden where we will explore, experience, and embrace nature through play. Everything that happens in the garden, happens only in the present moment, the now. The experience of the garden opens up new possibilities and new ways of seeing things.

Flower Planters


Just in front of the parking lot are four moveable garden planters. These have been planted with a variety of flowers which once cut come back again. Such flowers are zinnias, calendula, marigolds, nasturtiums etc., as well as, herbs. All of the flowers and herbs in the planters will be used for nature play in the Nature House and in the Fairy Forest.
The flower planters are also away for the children to take the watering cans, and trowels and personally help care for the garden by watering and weeding. Both child and therapist while weeding, watering, or picking flowers can have those very important conversations that foster healing.

Sunflower House
Each Spring a 6 x 9 house will be created completely out of several sunflower varieties.
Children love hideaways to play in and view the outside world without being seen. The sunflower house is such a place to sit and create flower and nature mandalas, rake a zen garden, or sit an enjoy the world around them as birds fly in and out and squirrels scamper up and down the trees. It’s a place to feel protected, ponder and create.

Fairy Forest

Using only natural materials such as sticks, shells, stones, leaves, pinecones, acorns etc, we create fairy houses. There is no right or wrong way, only natural materials can be used. No nails, glues, twine or string. Building a natural fairy houses instills the idea of being able to fix things that one doesn’t like. We can create something enchanting by using our imaginations and by creating with what nature gives us.

The Fairy Forest instills the idea of impermanence that something may not be there forever but we can rebuild with what is left over and what new things we can pick up from around the fairy forest to build with.

Therapists also share the idea that they can create a safe house in the Fairy Forest and build what that looks like.

House by house, the forest fills until one day we come upon an entire village. There are two old trees in the garden and the stretch of land between the left hand tree, the bird bath/water play area and the tree on the right hand side will encompass the Fairy Forest.

Field of Flowers Bird Baths


Sitting in a field of seasonal flowers is our water play area. Local artist Linda Edmunds created bird baths using large squash and rhubarb leaves. Each one is hand painted and sealed to bring a fun and playful feel to the garden. The bird baths instill water play. Just to the right of the field of flowers is a big concrete bowl which when filled will have floating balls in it. Both the bird baths and bowl invite the child to play by simply pouring water into them as well as placing various nature items there to interact with. Many specific therapy modalities also use water as a tool for healing. This allows free play and imagination in a structured setting.

The Labyrinth


Welcome to the meandering path. Labyrinths are used as a centering tool to quiet the mind. The labyrinth at New Hope is a 7 circuit Chartre labyrinth.
The path winds its way back and forth, in and out. The mind becomes disoriented because it’s not sure which way the path will turn next. This confusion actually calms the mind in a still and gentle way. The wandering path also in only the width of one foot which means you can only walk with one foot, one pace at a time. Another tool which silences the mind.

A labyrinth isn’t a maze. The same path we use to walk to the center of the labyrinth is the same one we use to walk out.

A labyrinth is a tool of transformation. We are never the same person who walked into the labyrinth as the person who walks out. There are three stages of a labyrinth walk. The first is the intention to walk the labyrinth, quiet the mind and leave the outside world behind. The second is the actual walk. As we get closer to the center we are moving into our own interior space. Once in the center we take a moment to reflect, whether that’s a simple moment of gratitude, to take a few deep breaths or to even meditate. We are in the center of ourselves as well as being in the center of the labyrinth. Those few moments we took in our walk and reflective thoughts have us walking out a more centered person than when we walked in. The very design of the labyrinth instills this whether we choose to reflect in the center or not.
The labyrinth was designed for little legs and so the adults who walk it comment that the turns happen quickly, yes for long legged people but for our children visitors it’s just the right of walking paces between turns. Since the labyrinth has been installed, both staff and children have enjoyed walking the wandering path.

The Nature House


Next to the labyrinth is our Nature House. It is a place to have important conversations while playing and creating with nature. While in the nature house, children can create nature mandalas, use therapy trays such as sand, stone, and landscape as well as rake into the table top zen gardens.
Nature House is also a great place to be outside in all kinds of weather. It offers some protection from rain, snow, and sleet, allowing children to experience all moments regardless of weather outside.

As the children connect with the garden they are planting seeds for the future. The garden, the connection to nature, and life after the stress of abuse, are full of hope.

New Hope is a private garden and safe haven for those that utilize New Hope and its facilities and is closed to the general public.

The therapy garden was designed by Maryville resident Valarie Budayr. Valarie has been gardening her whole life. Valarie was on the creative design team for the Secret Garden at the Knoxville Botanical Gardens which opened in October of 2016. Valarie’s area of garden design specialties are labyrinth building and design as well as secret gardens, fairy gardens and houses,paradise, and healing gardens. She also greatly loves her vegetable garden. Valarie is also known as an award winning author and publisher.
It was her great joy to create the Therapy Garden at New Hope and wishes much healing and creative nature play to take place there.

Kilimanjaro

Sunrise from the summit of Kilimanjaro

Guest Post by Alexandra Bowen

In 2013 I forgot to return (i.e. stole) three books from the New York Public Library: All About The Oscar, Behind the Oscar, and A Pictorial History of the Academy Awards. These are the perfect reflection of what I was reading while in school—and a perfect reflection of how hard it is to care about overdue library books once you move. By 2015, I said goodbye to New York and started a my film career in LA, and the last thing I wanted to do after a long, albeit fulfilling, work day was read those damn books. Another literary interest took its place: Africa.

This interest isn’t entirely out of left field. I started reading because my dad was always reading, and he because his dad was always reading. What are they reading about? Africa. (And WWII, but that seemed more like a man thing than a Bowen thing). So I started reading about Africa.

More specifically, the Congo.

It seemed so dark and mysterious. And different from where I was. I started with King Leopold’s Ghost, then Blood River, In The Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz, and Dancing In the Glory of Monsters. This world was complicated, far away, oftentimes bleak, but always layered. There are cities in the Congo where time goes backwards. Grandparents had modern amenities that their grandchildren have never seen. They joke, “What did the Congolese use before they discovered candles?” Answer: electricity. I’d blow through these books each night before bed, wake up well-rested the next morning, and walk the palm-tree lined streets to my office while considering King Leopold, Kinshasa, and Mobutu. This fixation grew until every standing-in-line-at-CVS moment, morning or evening, was occupied by the Congo.

Then I climbed Kilimanjaro.

(We summited! and had a blast)

I landed back in LA with a thud—jittery, tired, and overly excited by all toilets. I settled into life again, ready to read under my down comforter. But I felt a full body block against reading about Africa. I couldn’t do it. The fixation disappeared. Fully obsessed to fully disinterested. I can only compare that weird sensation to taking a pill that instantly cures a headache.

Maybe it’s the every-changing phases of youth. Maybe it’s PTSD from international travel. I suspect, if I give it time, I’ll discover that the real block is that Africa is not a mystery anymore. It doesn’t matter that I was across the border in Tanzania; the far away world of the Congo is tangible now. There’s a chance I’ll stare at my hand too long and think too deeply about the dark details of what happened there.

I don’t know what I expected to take away from this trip, but it certainly wasn’t that. So goes life. Those people couldn’t care less if I’m reading about them or not—I wasn’t put here to solve the riddle of the Congo. For now, I feel a sense of endearment to that place. I will bide my time, send them good vibes, and get back to reading my contraband non-fiction film industry books until I’m ready to do what I am meant to do:

make a movie about it.

 

 

 

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

Eclipse

Eclipse fever had been raging for months in my area of the county. The totality would be directly over my home. But I had already made plans in the spring to go to Nashville to see a longer totality and besides I was happy to plan a bit of a girlfriends road trip. We had booked hotel rooms in the perfect location, across the street from Centennial Park in downtown Nashville. Val, Becky, Tracy and I unpacked the car and put all the eclipse party necessities on the luggage cart; blankets, chairs, water, snacks and eclipse glasses. This was going to be an all day event and we wanted to be prepared.

Nashville has a special place in my heart because it is my hometown and I have spent many a happy hour in Centennial Park the home of the Parthenon and now the great goddess, Athena, all 42 feet of gilded glory. I couldn’t think of a better place to be for the grandest of astronomical events. Eleanor, Hannah and Sandy joined us bringing eclipse donuts from Krispy Kreme to add to the festivities. The seven of us headed across the street in the late morning and found a lovely tree that was perfect for our little party. We circled our chairs and got out the special glasses and watched the slow stream of people joining us on the expansive lawn in front of the home of the goddess.

As we waited Tracy brought out a dozen or so stones and crystals that she felt were meaningful for the day and I arranged them on an old blanket in the center of the chair circle. Several of the stones were aligned to specific chakras so I placed them in the appropriate order and circled them with other stones as an impromptu altar. We enjoyed the cool breeze and visiting, taking turns standing out in the cookie-bite sun to watch the progress. As the time of the totality approached, greater crowds from the nearby hospital and office buildings filled the lawn and about 10,000 eager amateur astronomers awaited the big moment.

It was spectacular as the world darkened, the cicadas started buzzing and then the flash as the sun was dark and the magnificent corona was revealed. The crowed gasped and cheered and I tried just to take in that instant of pure magic. In that moment the world stopped.

All too soon it was over and the light dawned again as quickly as it had faded and the crowds swiftly returned to their appointed destinations. It was amazing to me how just the littlest sliver of sun brought back total daylight.

I felt it was my job to make sure that the moon totally moved off the sun and that the cycle was complete so I stayed on under the tree and would periodically check that the heavens were still in their proper motion. It was in this time of quiet; after all the anticipation had past, my favorite moment began. As the our group of friends sat around the little altar of stones the crescent shaped sun/moon shadows started to move across the blanket slowly and gently lighting each chakra stone in order from the base to the crown. Each stone had a few moments to shine in the sun before the next stone was illuminated, then the next and then the next. The little waning moon shapes danced across the stones several times over the next hour as we talked about our experience.

When the last traces of moon had left the sun, Tracy said a beautiful prayer of thanks and we gathered the stones and chairs and headed back across the street. By then there was just a handful of people left in the park. I was so glad I had stayed to the end for the eclipse wasn’t just about those few exciting moments of totality but about the entire eclipse from the first nibble of the moon to the final moment when the sun was full again. It was about the waxing and the waning of the eclipse, the entire experience. It is easy to just want the fun, exciting moments of life but all the parts of the experience are important. I found the greatest blessing of the day came with the quiet moments when everyone thought the show was over but yet the magic wasn’t finished if you took time to look. All of life is important, every part of our time of earth is part of the magnificent journey of our soul.