Olympic National Park

Olympic Mountains, Washington

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

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

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

Mt Rainier National Park

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

Rialto Beach

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

Second Beach
giant driftwood on First Beach

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

Roosevelt Elk
Hoh Rainforest in the sunshine

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

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

Crescent Lake

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

Mt Rainier on the drive back to Seattle

The Hermitage

The Hermitage, Nashville, Tennessee

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

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

Athena, Centennial Park
Bi-Centenniel Park, Nashville

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

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

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

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

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

Gifts for the Journey

As we enter the season of giving, I want to share with you some of the gifts to take with you through the darkest time of the year and on into the growing light of next year.  These are the gifts for the pilgrimage, out in the world or at home.  These are intangible gifts that don’t come wrapped neatly in a bow but gifts that grow the heart and remind us of our essential nature.

Ceremony:    This is the conscious interaction of giving and receiving.   When you are at a sacred site you honor the spirit and energy of the place with a ceremony.   The ceremony is totally of you, in the way you choose.   I prefer to do a ceremony that doesn’t draw attention to myself or the act.  This is a very personal moment and can be shared with others or just for your personal connection and thanksgiving.    The elements are a prayer or words of connection and thanks, a desire to receive the gifts and energy of the site and a gift back to the site.   These gifts can be a prayer, song, holy water, traditional offering of tobacco or sage, flowers or anointing oils.   The gifts should be appropriate to the site and not interfere with the energy or physical space of the site.  

Prayer:   Formal, informal, walking or just breathing, pilgrimages are a living prayer.   These are the words that form the devotion and connection to the Divine.   All religions have prayers, and the repeating of those prayers bring power to the space and comfort to the pilgrim.   I went to the cathedral in Santiago early in the morning and sat in a small chapel with a few pilgrims that were saying the Rosary.   That beautiful prayer of longing that has been repeated billions of times was perfect for the time and place that morning.   Choose a prayer that you are comfortable with and that is appropriate for the place or find the spontaneous prayer that comes from your heart.    Thank-you is prayer enough.

Maps:  For millennia, map makers have been trying to make sense of our world by making symbols on a piece of paper.   The coastlines, forest, mountains, deserts and rivers become accessible in our minds with maps.   Without a map, we don’t have directions to find our goal.   The modern GPS may give us the next turn but there is nothing like a large paper map to see our world.   A pilgrimage needs a map to see the overall experience, to learn the terrain, see the obstacles, find the right road or path.   Our heart also has a map and as you step out into the world the map of your heart is drawing new territory.   You have the abundant rivers of the good times, the forest of the unknown, the cities of community, the oceans of knowledge, deserts of sorrow and mountains of attainment.   On a pilgrimage you will remember your personal map of your past and make new routes for your future.  

More gifts:

Joy, Silence, Music

Books, Fire, People

Time

Chimayo, New Mexico

In September, I once again heard the call to another pilgrimage.  I rebooked a canceled trip from last year to the Land of Enchantment—New Mexico.  My parents loved New Mexico and would make an annual trip to Taos.  I visited Santa Fe and Chaco Canyon in 2018, but since then my dear friend and fellow pilgrim, Val, moved to Santa Fe and now the southwest will be on my regular pilgrim path. And for good reason, it is magnificent and healing to my soul.  I love living in green and lush Tennessee but the open desert and big sky are always awe inspiring. 

I chose to visit New Mexico around the autumnal equinox. There is a power to this time of year as the seasons change and my heart and mind start to move from the outward activity of summer to the inward time of autumn and winter.  Honoring the movement of our sun and the changing of the seasons helps me to find the rhythm of my own life.  My daily life has shifted as the busy projects of the year are finished. I came to New Mexico to pray for my next season of life.

Val and I started our week together at the Ojo Caliente hot springs. Nothing like a long soak in mineral hot springs to unwind and breath the fresh western air.  I love water and a final round of pool time felt like a good finale to summer.  During the week we also had lunch with a friend in Taos and toured the little town.  We visited the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe and walked around the Basilica of St. Frances which was closed except for Mass.  We finished the week with a glamping trip to Chaco Canyon. I’ve already written about going to Chaco Canyon for spring equinox so I will link to that blogpost

After a delightful Sunday brunch with good conversation, lots of coffee and breakfast burrito, Val and I head northeast out of Santa Fe to the little town of Chimayo. The drive went through empty and alien land that had its own unique beauty in stark contrast to the gentle green oasis of the Sanctuario of Chimayo.  Nestled among trees and grass and a small babbling brook is an old chapel and surrounding gardens full of shrines for healing and prayer.  There is an origin story of a mysterious cross that would reappear which then became a place of miracles.  An American version of Lourdes in France, people started to come to the Santuario for the healing earth, dirt that had miraculous properties. 

We arrived just as the outdoor Mass was ending and we wove our way through the dispersing crowds to the chapel on the side of the hill, a beautiful Spanish colonial church.  We went inside the small chapel filled with candles, saints and a colorful painted altar.  I took a seat on an old wooden bench and whispered my prayers and my gratitude.  The chapel was full of other seekers, some in tears as they prayed for their suffering and for those they love.  Unfortunately, the spell was broken as a woman in front of me answered her ringing cell phone.  But I had said what I needed to say and quietly slipped into a small room with a low ceiling to the left of the altar.   As I adjusted to the low light, I could see dozens of crutches and hundreds of photographs lining the walls, evidence of healing and those who need prayers. There was a tiny door to an even tinier room for the holy earth.  I wasn’t ready to go in that room yet. 

Val and I headed toward the nearby saint shops full of rosaries, statues and books.  I bought two small containers.  When we finished shopping, I walked back to the side of the chapel to the rooms with the photos and the sacred earth.  I waited a few minutes as two women, one obviously very ill, took their time to gather the earth and ask for healing.  Then it was my turn to crouch low through the small door into that holy room.  I took out my two containers and used a small spade to fill them with the fine red dirt from a hole in the center of the room.  Every year, thousands of people come to this same tiny, plain room to gather the soil to release the sorrow and pain of life and ask for hope and healing. The power of all these pilgrims is palpable and a reminder that the holy comes in the small, everyday moments that are met with gratitude and faith.

We finished our tour around the grounds; I particularly liked the seven stone arches that represented the seven days of creation.  Many of the statues had flowers, rosaries and other objects as tokens of appreciation and anticipation.  We did not linger long and were soon heading back to Santa Fe on the winding road through the desert. But the little oasis of healing and the short moments in the chapel will be with me for a lifetime.  The little containers of healing earth are now in my library here as reminders of hope and the healing power of earth and sky in the land of enchantment.

Mexico City

The Sun Stone

My blog posts got a bit derail by the pandemic but I wanted to tell you about our adventures in Mexico City last November, a chance for some vicarious travel.

After our time in Teotihuacan, we took two cars back to Mexico City, about an hour away.  Bowens are very tall people and we couldn’t fit into just one regular car.  Within an hour, we arrived at our beautiful Airbnb in Roma Norte. Alexandra’s earlier trip to Mexico City helped us locate the part of the city that we really wanted to explore.  After an ATM stop, groceries and a bit of gawking at the beautiful architecture, we took a rest, got some dinner and settled in for some Netflix. I suggested the girls watch Frida since we were going to Frida Kahlo’s home the next day.

I have known Frida Kahlo’s enigmatic self-portraits for many years but last summer several of her paintings were on exhibit in Nashville along with paintings of her husband Diego Rivera.  There is great energy in these glimpses into Frida’s fractured soul. Her pain and intensity shine through each painting like nothing else in that gallery or museum. I learned more about her life and was pleased to glimpse into her creative world. I made reservations a month in advanced and was able to skip the long line of people waiting for their turn in the small house/museum. Fortunately, her home is preserved as she left it and this shrine to a remarkable soul remains available to inspire me.  I have not known the physical pain that Frida endured but through her home and work I could touch the creative spirit that came through despite her difficult life. Frida was totally and completely herself in art and in life.  The beautiful, lush courtyard was painted a brilliant blue, an oasis in a bustling city. Everywhere you can still experience her creativity and personal style be it nature, art, clothes, furniture and books.  We wandered for an hour or so, soaking in the sunlight, imagining Frida’s life, both beautiful and painful.

Next on the agenda was the SUN STONE.  I had no idea it was in Mexico City in the Museo Nacional de Antropologia.  The Aztec sun stone was discovered in 1790. It has many interpretations including the one I was familiar with, the 2012 Mayan calendar predictions.  In the early 2000’s the sun stone was the center of the December 21, 2012 end of the Mayan Long Count calendar.  There was much speculation about the meaning.  Would the world end? Would we enter a new spiritual era?  I read a lot of books on the possible meaning of the 2012 date. I don’t participate in apocalyptic theories but I did find it all interesting and I liked the history of the Mayan people.  The sun stone was a major focus for many years.

The museum is big and beautiful with different rooms for each epoch surrounding a central courtyard with a big fountain.  Each room leads to a beautiful garden.  I could have stayed all day but I wanted to see the sun stone.  It is prominently displayed as the central artifact in the largest room.  I had no idea it was so enormous and breath-taking.  I savored all the artifacts and slowly wound my way to the stone I read about for so many years. But as much as I loved the sun stone the museum had another surprise for me. My friend Karen-who lived in Mexico City-told me that everyone she took to that museum had a mystical experience but the triggering object was always a surprise.  As much as I loved the sun stone it was not my trigger.  My experience came a couple of rooms later.  Hamilton went to sit on a bench in the courtyard and I went on alone and came face to face with the Olmec head, a giant human face carved from a basalt boulder. I can’t really describe my experience but it was intense and there was something about this Olmec head that rocked my world for that moment. There are 17 of these heads around central America and date from at least 900 BC. They definitely remind me of the Easter Island Moai statues and the faces of Brahman in Cambodia.  Sun stones, Olmec heads, pyramids to the gods—so much we don’t know but I love the mystery. I revel in the mystery.

Olmec Head

Sunday I wanted to see the cathedrals. You know I have to see the cathedrals. But travel always has surprises, especially when you don’t speak the language. The Mexico City Metropolitan cathedral is in the center of the city next to the National Palace.  The traffic was intense and the Uber driver said something to us and we just acted like we understood.  What he was probably telling us –giant political rally for the presidential elections.  We could not get anywhere near the cathedral. Instead were thousands and thousands of people, hundreds and hundreds of police all around giant screens projecting the loud speeches.  We had a long walk to get where we could get another Uber.  Finally, we headed to the Basilica of our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico.  More crowds lead the way up to the packed Basilica in the middle of one of several Masses that day.  It was the first day of Advent and close to Our Lady of Guadalupe feast day.  We watched a bit of the Mass and saw a group of young girls in white awaiting their first communion.  I didn’t see the relic or the rest of the Basilica but I experienced something special- the Mexican people’s devotion to their saint.  That day wasn’t about me visiting cathedrals but about experiencing life being lived with enthusiasm and devotion. Political rallies, venerating saints—it was real life in Mexico, so different from my world but so inspiring.

There was also good food, margaritas, craft markets and above all, family time.  We all loved our experience in Mexico and came away with wonderful memories and a deep appreciation for the rich culture and kind people of Mexico.

Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe

 

 

 

Pilgrimage to the Past

Trout Lily, Spring 2020

Historically, pilgrimages were taken by people in all social, economic and cultural levels since sacred travel was about the call of the spirit to seek soul in the world. In our modern times, pilgrimages can seem to be for the privileged few that can afford the time, money of an exotic pilgrimage. Many have physical limitations that make a long pilgrimage impossible. I’ve always worried that my blog and book on pilgrimage have over emphasized international pilgrimages at the expense of the true nature of a spiritual journey.  As my tag line indicates—pilgrimage is about making every step of life sacred, a journey of the soul. Yes, pilgrimage is about physically going out into the world, discovering your inner world as you discover the world around you. But I also see pilgrimage as a perspective, a way of viewing life as a sacred journey.

Even as we are still early in 2020, our entire planet has been turned upside down as we pause life to tend to health and safety. Daily, even hourly, life is shifting with plans and routines which have disintegrated into the unknown. We are all on an untried path for a while before a new normal arrives. Although most of my family already work from home, Alexandra is here in Tennessee, a refugee from her micro-apartment in California.  My elderly mother is in quarantine in her retirement home–all appointments cancelled and no lunches out for the foreseeable future.  Our introvert natures are happy to be home with the cats and a stocked pantry.

Travel is going to be interrupted for quite awhile and maybe even make us rethink some of our far-flung vacations. It is unnerving when a much-anticipated trip is interrupted by the unexpected but that is part of a pilgrimage. Nine years ago, I was caught in the Egyptian Revolution and sequestered in a hotel before British Air sent an empty plane to rescue travelers. We expect our plans to go well—and most of the time they do—but part of the nature of a pilgrimage is a test of inner strength in the light of outer events.

Pilgrimage can always be part of our life no matter what the circumstances of the physical world. Thanks to the remarkable nature of our consciousness with the help of our five senses we can pilgrimage anytime and anyplace: past, present or future. Let’s start with pilgrimages to the past.

Our past experiences remain available to us through our memories.  Although memories are not usually perfect recordings of the event, our own imagination and the perspective of time can remake an experience in the past into a meaningful experience in the present.  For example, I bet you could walk around your childhood home in your mind or visit your grandparents house with a full sensory experience.

I can feel myself walk up my grandparent’s sidewalk on to their back porch and see the details of my grandfather’s shaving kit on the porch sink and hear the door slam shut behind me.  Now I can go into the tiny kitchen and smell the fried chicken and open the cupboard where my grandmother kept Juicy Fruit gum. I continue on into the living room where my grandmother sits in her pink velveteen chair and I sit down by her feet and watch the nightly news as my grandfather sleeps on his green couch beside us.  These memories are so vivid forty-five years later.  I can remember those ordinary moments of my childhood and re-imagine them as the cherished experiences of my personal story.  What childhood experience joyful or difficult are part of your personal history?  Can you pilgrimage to these sentinel moments and greet them, thank them for participating in your life?

Our senses make these memories come alive.  Our bodies remember our lives through the senses and we can use these memories to travel to the past and remember our lives in detail. Last year, I was at a concert listening to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and I was unexpectedly back in my childhood home with my family by the fire listening to this monumental music on a scratchy record.  I was surprised by the vividness of the memory and realized how this calm family experience was so important to my introverted soul.  In the summer, the smell of warm pine trees takes me back to a summer vacation in Estes Park Colorado. The taste of raspberries are the reminder happy moments of summertime in Minnesota.

As well as cherished memories of our childhood, think about pilgrimages you have taken in the past.  Think about how they have affected your life now many years later for we need a lifetime to process these profound moments.  During a conversation with a fellow plane passenger, I asked her if she had a special trip that she could now see was a pilgrimage.  She recounted going to Brazil with a friend, and as part the tour, the group held a ceremony by the ocean to honor her ancestors that had crossed the ocean on slave ships. She teared up thinking about how meaningful that moment was for her.  She now remembers that trip as a powerful and life-changing pilgrimage, not just a casual trip with a friend.  Sometimes our most powerful experiences come not from intention but from the unexpected.  Often, we can’t see this until many years or decades later.  Go back through your photos and find a trip that was meaningful and take the time to remember. Maybe make a photo album of that trip or get out mementos and build a little shrine to that experience that changed you.  While we experience this moment of “global time-out” we gain the space to experience time differently and meld past and present together.

 

 

Teotihuacan

One of the wonderful things about having grown children is how they expand my life through their adventures and accomplishments.  It almost makes up for them leaving me with an empty nest-not quite but almost. In 2018 Alexandra and a friend climbed the tallest mountain in Mexico, Pico de Orizaba (18,491 ft). She finished out her vacation at Teotihuacan, a place that had been calling me for over ten years. Since she didn’t summit the first time, she wanted another attempt, I wanted to meet her in Teotihuacan so we made plans for the whole family to go to Mexico City for Thanksgiving.

Teotihuacan is just 25 or so miles northeast of Mexico City and at the top of my must-see list. This enormous archeological site has three main pyramids along with dozens of smaller structures all along the 1.5-mile Avenue of the Dead. This enormous Mesoamerican city was constructed over 2000 years ago but not much is known about the original builders. The Aztecs later moved in and named it Teotihuacan, “place where gods are born”.  The Pyramid of the Sun is the third tallest pyramid in the world and the equally impressive Pyramid of the Moon is surrounded by platforms and smaller pyramids.  At the far end of the Avenue of the Dead is the Temple of the Feathered Serpent. We stayed in a charming hotel that was on the archaeological site where The Pyramid of the Sun was my constant reminder I was on sacred ground.

The first morning we rose early to have our first full experience of Teotihuacan, floating gently, silently over the pyramids in a hot air balloon bathed in the early morning light. The terrain and gentle steady winds make it an ideal place for hot-air balloons. I can’t think of a more magical way to experience this magnificent place. This was my first balloon ride and I was ready for the adventure. Over the course of about a half hour, twenty colorful balloons launched into the pink haze of sunrise to drifted over the Pyramid of the Sun.  Silently, the balloon’s shadow crossed over the ancient stones and down the Avenue of the Dead.  This eagle-eye’s view of the entire site, well before the day’s visitors, was a gift from the gods. There I was, floating above this ancient world that was still so powerful that the awe of the gods was palpable.  We continued to float over the town for another hour, past the churches and schools, until we were expertly landed in a nearby field. After a traditional champagne toast and hearty buffet breakfast we had a nap before heading to climb the pyramids.

I planned two full days at Teotihuacan and was glad not to be rushed by just a day trip. After lunch, we set out from our hotel for the 15-minute walk to the main entrance. I suggested we walk all the way to the Pyramid of the Moon and then slowly make our way back. The Avenue of the Dead goes up and down stairs, in and out of what remains of the glories of this impressive city. We took our time to enjoy the walk while avoiding the endless sellers of puma calls and woven blankets.  Lots of school groups were easily absorbed in the vastness of the complex and we felt we had the place mostly to ourselves.  A climb to the top of the platform of the Pyramid of the Moon was first on the agenda.  It wasn’t a long or hard climb, but the altitude (7000 ft) made me a bit winded but the view was worth the effort. Hot and thirsty, we wandered back to the hotel to sit by the pool and were surprised by Alexandra’s early arrival.  She realized she was not up to the intensity of the summit and so just enjoyed the climb and extra time with her family.

After breakfast the next day, all four of us headed to the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent. We wanted to beat the heat and visit what we saved from the day before.  Hamilton climbed the Pyramid of the Sun while I sat nearby listening to music and soaking in the sun on Thanksgiving Day. I was so thankful to be with my family and visit this remarkable and sacred place. Hamilton and I visited the museum and were impressed by the pottery and sculptures that had once decorated the pyramids.  In the heat of the afternoon, Hamilton read, and the ladies indulged in massages but our time a Teotihuacan had one more delight.

The glories of the ancient world collided with the wonders of the modern world with a Sound and Light show on the Pyramid of the Sun. As we walked into the darkened site we were treated to the crescent moon and sparkling Venus, a celestial light show.  The show first started with a walk up the Avenue of the Dead toward the Pyramid of the Moon beautifully illuminated with changing colors. Without the distractions in the daylight, I became part of the site and felt transported by the experience. We each had a smartphone that gave a detailed history and showed what the site looked like throughout history.  Next, we sat on cushions in front of the Pyramid to the Sun. Thanks to virtual reality I was able to glimpse into a probable past of the history of Teotihuacan. For a brief time, this great pyramid was once again decorated with color and sculptures to the great gods. All too soon, the lights faded, and the pyramids receded back to their stony silence. But, even though the ages have taken their toll and our view of the gods have evolved, this magnificent place still holds the power to transform and remains a place where “man became gods”.

Pyramid of the Moon

 

 

 

St James of the Field of Stars (Santiago de Compostela)

 

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This month is the 5th anniversary of my Camino walk. The Camino was life changing and I miss it often.  Enjoy this lovely memory with me.  My daily posts on the Camino can be found in the archives in May and June 2014.

My book Pilgrimage: A Modern Seeker’s Guide was inspired by my walk on the Camino and many other pilgrimages around the world and close to home.  The e-book is now priced at $5.99.  Check it out at Amazon. 

First Published June 2104

It wasn’t until the last week on the Camino that I could even think about Santiago, yet that was always the goal.   Every day I concentrated on the next 20 km or talked about the next big town, Pamplona, Burgos, Leon.   After Astorga, Santiago started to come into focus.   There were rumors about a celebration in Santiago about the time I planned to get there.  That was when I realized that if I arrived one day early I would be in Santiago for Pentecost, a holy day and a guaranteed Botafumeiro, the mammoth swinging incense censer in the nave of the Cathedral.   See a video of the Botafumeiro here.

Pentecost is the graduation day for the Apostles, including St. James, after Christ’s Ascension.   The Holy Spirit came to them in the Upper Room and sent tongues of fire to anoint them to go preach the Gospel.   No more perfect day to finish my pilgrimage and graduate to the next stage of my life.

While Alexandra slept I spent Pentecost with St. James.  I first listened to the beautiful chant of the Rosary.   Next the Botafumeiro made its mighty journey through the Cathedral to the sounds of the organ and choir.  I dreamed of this moment along with the centuries of pilgrims who had dreamed that same dream.   I went to a chapel to celebrate Mass in English with an Irish priest.  He read the story of Pentecost and we sang songs and lit a candle for all of the continents and peoples.     I joined the main Mass where the Archbishop presided over Confirmation.   I was having my graduation ceremony.  I had completed my task.

I didn’t realize how much I was going to need those extra days in Santiago to process my experience.   I saw pilgrim friends I hadn’t seen in weeks and we hugged and congratulated each other on a job well done.   It was special to be at Pilgrim’s Mass with my fellow travelers, a shared experience to the end.    I saw everyone I had hoped to see again and exchanged contact information.

I went to dinner with my friends and we talked about our favorite and least favorite Albergues, tales of the food, injuries and blisters and things we learned.  One pilgrim was in tears because he finally forgave his father, others had come to terms with their past or had new hope for their future. We were all proud of our strong bodies and loose hiking pants.   I cherished every moment of the language of the pilgrim, I miss it so much.

The next day my friends arrived by car with clothes for me and to share my triumph.   It was hard to move out of the pilgrim world.   The first day I put on a new shirt.  The next day I put on different shoes but still wore my hiking pants.  I had to reenter the world gradually.   We went to Mass together and they were treated to the Botafumeiro, and I was glad to see it another time.   We went behind the altar to touch the statue of St. James and went below to the crypt where his bones are kept in a silver casket.

All of my pilgrim rituals where complete and it was time to go.   I left my worn out shoes and some clothes I couldn’t bear to wear again and a piece of my heart in Santiago.

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Worn out shoes

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.

 

 

I Wrote a Book

 

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

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

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

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

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

And here:  http://www.audreypress.com

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

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photo by C. Savage