Wild.

These are ancient mountains.  There is a divinity here among the ferns, the plants, the old trees, the stones.  Fecundity in all things green.

***

The wilderness outside is reflective of the wilderness inside.  So much yet to explore.  So much mystery abounds in the moist earth that sprouts white and red mushrooms and dwells inside the crevices that look like medieval grottos at the base of trees.  So much mystery inside my restless heart and creative mind.

***

My skin crawls with red bumps all up and down my legs, and tiny, oily pimples spring up across my face every waking moment.   I am disoriented at times, and sad, and irritated, then mesmerized, and finally humbled into submission by something I can’t fully explain.

***

My dog sprouted swollen bumps on both sides of her jaw after a restless night of becoming irritated by some tiny creature that lurks within the cracks on the walls or the floor.  She recovers her wellness and her joy at the first scent of the mountain air and the kindness and practicality of the local veterinarian.  He recommends I go on a hike with her as soon as she has recovered.  Here, the prescription is to get out in nature.  To commune with the land as a way to heal.

***

At every twist and turn of the mountain roads and challenges in my daily life, I try to remember to lean into it all and let it be what it is.  No need for perfection.  No need for justification.  No need for analysis.  Just lean into it.  Tap the break at the right moment.  Pause and release.  Then coast and lean into the next moment and curve.  Continue like this: up, down, around, and over the mountain until there is a small space to pull over or a scenic overlook to enjoy.  In either instance:  breathe.

***

There is a space where I may have found my tribe.  In a dance studio downtown Asheville where the live drumming of the West African rhythms can be heard from the street.  Where the instructor, a beautiful, powerful, kind, and joyous woman from the Cote d’Ivoire, counts to you in French and commands the drummers to slow down or speed up by just a simple gesture of her hand.  Here, the drums pound inside of my stomach.  Inside of my pelvis.  At the soles of my feet and the base of my spine. And my shoulders shake and my heart is in control of my joy.

***

My dog and I approach the blue blaze right off mile marker 375 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We are headed up to Rattlesnake Lodge – a deserted vacation getaway in the 1920s and 30s.  Only stone foundations of cabins, fireplaces, and other buildings exist.  It is a popular spot of locals.  Before us is a wet slab of exposed mountain with a cascade of water splashing over eroded stones that are now round and smooth.  I say a small prayer for our well-being but also as a greeting to the ancient ones that inhabit every rock, plant, stream, and tree in this place.  I am entering their world, and I must respect their ways.  We begin our ascent and cross over a small part of the stream before stepping onto the worn path with exposed roots and small, loose stones.  I inhale the damp smell and settle into my body.  Many times I am overcome with tenderness and so much love.  Tears fill my eyes.  “Bring us your tears,” the ferns, stones, and stream whisper to me.  So, I cry in the middle of the forest on a worn path where oak trees act as citadels and twisted laurel branches arc over me and guide me to the white blaze called “Mountain to Sea” trail.  My dog leads.  She seems at home.  Her tail wags and her tongue hangs out.  She is smiling.

***

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A young, green, perfectly shaped acorn drops at my feet.  It is a gift from my friends the oaks.  I pick it up and put it in my pocket.  I swipe away sweat from my forehead and strip off my self-conscious thoughts.  I am becoming wild, and I am no longer ashamed to reclaim that part of me that we have all lost somewhere along the way.  At another stop, I find a stone in the shape of a tulip tree leaf.  It has flecks of mica in it.  I am prompted by some inner guidance to pick it up.  It is not for me to keep, but I do not know what I will do with it.  I place it inside my pocket next to my acorn.  My dog and I continue to ascend until the ground levels out and I see before me a pillar of stones that looks like a sacred altar.  It is one of the remnants of the old lodge, possibly a fireplace for I see the center has been charred.  Here I know that the stone is a symbol of my day of initiation.  I hold it to my chest, say a prayer of gratitude to this ancient land, and then place my stone on the charred altar.  The mica sparkles.  Three large daddy-long-legs creep out from the stones and walk towards me.  The biggest one is right in front of my face and he crawls over the edge of the stone and begins to bob up and down softly.  Maybe I have threatened their home and existence, but my heart knows why they are here:  they’re ambassadors for the ancient ones of this land.   I smile and blow them a kiss.  And a little one walks out from the shadows and joins in the dance.

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Walking southward, I spot a large fallen tree.  There is enough space to walk underneath it.  I see this as my opportunity to shed my old skin, my old patterns and habits, and step into my wild self.  I take a breath, duck my head, and pass underneath.  My dog follows me.  We behold in front of us a pool of stones and part of a stone wall covered in moss.  It is damp and cool in this space and smells earthy.  There looks to be a well where the water is coming from.  I take it all in.  I breathe deeply.  Once more tenderness overcomes me and I shed more tears.  “I am wild,” I say quietly.  Then I say it again.  Louder.  And louder after that.  I turn and face the entrance and I look at my dog and smile.  “We are wild!”  I yell, and I run underneath the fallen tree and out into the clearing, spinning around like the child I once was.

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***

On the descent down the third blaze, I am silent.  I stop and give my dog some water and drink a big gulp of it too.  My boots clump the trodden path and I fall into a rhythm.  A mantra begins forming in my head with each step:  “I am wild.  I am wild.  I am wild.”  I smile and my breath gets deeper.  “I am wild.  I am wild.  I am wild.”  My pace quickens.  “I am wild.  I am wild.  I am wild.”  The next thing I know, I am saying this out loud and moving quickly, as my dog enjoys the sudden burst of energy.  “I am wild!  I am wild!  I am wild!”  Finally, I see the creek bed at the entrance to the trails.  There is a ledge where the water streams over the black slab.  People have piled stones on top one another at the edge.  Another nature based altar, framed by laurels and rhododendrons.  My pack is heavy and my shorts are riding up my thighs.  Sweat has seeped into the folds of my tshirt.   I don’t look much different than when I started.  Yet, I am transformed.  I have come back to the beginning.  Back to where I belong.

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Weekend Vignette

I.  Plants and Fish Scales

Glossy, shimmering , green heart-shaped leaves cluster together at the base of a tall oak.   The sweet musk of decay perfumes the damp and loamy forest floor.  Sunlight streams through the canopies of trees, while plush moss and feathery ferns rest at their feet.  a wilted creamy-white rhododendron blossom floats in the pooled water that is secured by the smooth, gray,black, brown, and orange river stones.   The water in the river bed tumbles over boulders and slides in between stones lodged in crevices of mud.  I am home in the woods.

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At the top of Mount Pisgah, there is a restaurant that supposedly makes the best trout, caught from the same stream I sat beside earlier this morning.  I sit down at the table with a fellow hiker.  She is here in Asheville to find her retirement home so she can be close to her young son, who is not married and probably is unlikely to take a wife and give her a grandchild she says.  The waitress serves our trout encrusted in walnuts with a slice of lemon and a side of homemade blueberry butter.  We squeeze on the lemons and smother the fish in butter, and I listen as she unfolds her life story in front of me:  from her career as a healthcare consultant, to her two marriages, the deaths of her college friend and her husband, her personal awakening and following of Amma the hugging saint, all the way to her friendship with a 40-something Indian woman who is an educator in Oakland and a published poet as well.  I watch her smile and glow and become animated to have a listening ear.  And I am listening, but I am also marveling at how she slices through the fish and eats scales and all. I pick out my bones and slide the meat off of the scales as easily as I pick out her story with probing, subtle questions and nods of my head.  I begin mentally weaving her story into my story as we look out at our window view of the Blue Ridge mountains that press up against the equally blue sky.

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II. Toe River Stories

Everything grows here in Western North Carolina.  Chestnut trees, oaks, hickories, maples, rhododendrons, thistle, purple coneflowers.  So does my hair. And I have hair everywhere on my body, right down to chin hairs and wisps of baby fine toe hairs that I have to shave almost every other day.  I’ve never been in such a lush environment and marvel at the fact that even my armpits have a five o’clock shadow.

I have driven 45 minutes north through winding two lane highways that go up, over, down, and around mountains.  My destination is the home of George and Sabina, a retired couple from Miami that have been living here for 10 years now.  And it is a dream:  nestled between a hill and a sloping ravine that has a gorgeous view of the Toe River in the distance.  Hummingbirds swarm their feeders and their wings sound like electric fans.  We sit on the wrap-around deck and look out at the dense undergrowth that houses one blooming red gladiola a scattering of purple coneflowers, and so many native trees and bushes that twist and turn and wrap around each other and the large boulders in their landscape.

My dog has discovered their orange cat, Fanta, and she chases him around the edge of the deck that has no barriers to protect anyone or anything from crashing into the ravine below.  I wince numerous times, and George and Sabina laugh and tell me that my dog is not the one afraid of heights, I am.  I shouldn’t transfer my fears to her, they say.  My dog is safe enough and knows what she’s doing because she has a sixth sense of her surroundings.  To ease my anxiety, though, we hop in the car and take a drive down to the river to wade in the water with Lucy and Reef, their Golden Retriever.  There I watch as this nimble and wiry couple, who are my parents’ age or older, skirt over rolling pebbles and stones and sit on big boulders in the middle of the stream.  I on the other hand am having a hard time of convincing my pup that she will not die in the water, and have to pick her up and place her down on a shallow sand bar that has enough rolling water to qualify her as wading in the stream as well.

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We hop back in the van and George drives slowly back up and over the ridge so we can sight see their “neck of the woods”.  At the top of the ridge we come to a clearing and there is a 360 degree view of the mountain range.  I feel protected by these mountains.  It’s as if they are hugging me in this moment and letting me know on some level that I am safe and secure and right where I should be.  Later, at dinner, I loosen up my anxiety about my dog’s walk around the deck and her wanderings off into the woods.  She is in a dog’s heaven and by the end of the night, her border collie instincts have kicked in and she has surveyed her entire border and barks at the neighbor dogs and runs down the hill to smell them and make sure they are safe to let near us, her flock.

By the end of the evening, I have learned about how they grew up in Czechoslovakia (George) and Germany (Sabina) and then under different family circumstances in Buenos Aires, Argentina, only to have met in Munich, Germany, many years later.  George shares with me his father’s classic tale of a self-made man as first a wealthy plastic factory owner to a refugee in an internment camp to a single father of three working in a Czech restaurant in NYC for pennies back again to a wealthy entrepreneur and inventor who died in a small town in New Jersey some years ago.  Their stories grow and take hold of me and anchor me to them and the surroundings even more.  Everything grows here in Western North Carolina.  Even the stories get richer and more lush.

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III.  A Dog Named Ashby

On Sunday my neighbor, Darby, took me with him and bought me a ticket to the annual Craft Fair at the Asheville U.S. Cellular Center. There were hundreds of craftsmen, jewelry makers, fine artists, and potters from the Southern Highland Craft Guild.  If I was rich, I would have bought something from almost every single vendor.  But since that type of wealth is reserved for the Vanderbilts and their collections at the Biltmore Estate, I chose to be the side kick for the day to Darby and his special charm and enthusiasm instead.

Darby stopped at almost every stall and asked the artists questions about their craft.  He took a genuine interest in them.  For the brief moments he was with them, they became the center of his world.  A jewelry designer, named Ruthie, beamed with pride as Darby asked her how she crafted her copper and bronze earrings.  By the end of their conversation, he had bits and pieces of her life out in the open and reflected back to her aspects of her personality like a shiny piece of copper.  One man pulled out his phone and showed Darby all of his tiny metal work he did on personalized bamboo fishing poles. Another man talked to him about his life as a musician and how he taught his son how to play guitar.  Once their stories were in full swing, Darby would turn to me and smile and without missing a beat, I would pick up the questioning and become equally engaged in the person’s story as well.

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When the conversation came to its natural end, I would turn to say something to Darby and find he was gone.  I walked to the next stall hoping he would catch back up with me, and there I would find him either at the next stall admiring some handiwork or walking up and down the aisles with his headphones in his ears, backpack slung over one shoulder, walking on the balls of his worn out tennis shoes, white socks pressed up tightly against his skinny calves.  We would then meet up again and fall into our quickened walking pace.  He would tell me some hilarious story of his own or share something insightful and wise until we got to the next stall and he would stop mid conversation and converse with the next artist who had the pleasure of his company for however long it lasted.  This became our rhythm the entire day.  By the end of our 5 hour tour, our friendship felt natural as if we had known each other for years as opposed to two weeks.

The last stop was at Tom Wolfe’s woodcarving stall.  He is an 80 year old man from Spruce Pine, NC, (about 30 minutes away from Asheville), and is the grandfather and wise master of the folk art of whittling and carving here in the Appalachians.  Before I knew it, Darby had fleshed out his life story and the man shook Darby’s hand and gave me a hug.  I wanted so badly to purchase a carving of his, but I was being frugal with my money.  Darby relieved me of that worry and convinced me that I needed a piece of art from an Appalachian man who has written the book (actually several books) on carving figurines.  This is the man who says he sees faces and stories in his woodwork as he is shaping them. He smiled and said that as he whittles he begins to see faces of old childhood friends and family members now long gone.  We both looked at each other and got a little teary-eyed.  I understood him.  He’s a storyteller.  He uses wood instead of words.  Different mediums, but the intention to express ourselves or capture a person, a feeling, a mood, a scene are the same.

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The old man hugged me again and told me to name my dog.  I said I would.  Darby and I bounced out of the convention center and picked up our pace as we walked down sloping sidewalks to his truck.  He was in the middle of sharing some whacky and wonderful story about his life when I told him I had a name for my dog.  He asked what it was, and I said “Ashby.”  He wondered how I came up with that name.  I told him it was short for two things that have been a part of my story since the day I got here:  Asheville plus Darby.  He puffed up and told me how happy that made him feel.  I finally had a story of my own.

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Lost in the Undergrowth

Last night, I killed a cockroach that was crawling out of the sink drain.  Maybe it was an omen of what was to come.

Nights have been harder than I expected.  My shoulders, neck, and jaw are constantly tense and I can’t get comfortable on the bed even though I brought my own fancy pillows.  Regardless of what time I drift off to sleep, my eyes open at 6 sharp every morning.  Exhausted mid day, I try to take a nap, but 10-15 minutes pass by before I roll onto my right side to try and loosen up my back muscles and shoulders, and I can’t so I get up and try to do something else.  My mind has a grip on my body and it’s holding on tighter than I expected.

The lady I rent from left a binder of places to go and things to do.  I decided on an early morning hike this morning 8 miles away from the cottage.  The directions she left seemed simple enough and I copied them down.  The hiking spot was along the French Broad River.  After my breakfast and a cup of coffee, I got dressed and put on my hiking shoes.  Lucy hopped in the car with me and off we went.  “Edgy” is a good word to describe how I was feeling when I saw the first yellow sign indicating the road had multiple curves.  My solar plexus and the area between my shoulder blades had an odd, fearful energy.  Everything was tensing up, vibrating, and humming internally at the same time.  I ignored the sensations and pushed on through.  “All part of the mountain experience,” I reminded myself.

Curve.  Fear.  Second curve.  Fear.  Ascent.  Fear.  Descent.  Fear.  Curve.  Curve.  Curve.  Fear.  My butt muscles clenched.  A ripple ran through my solar plexus down into my rib cage, seizing hold of my breath.  I exhaled when I came to a small post office. I pulled into the parking lot and yelled at Lucy for her whimpering and pacing in the far back seat, out of reach for me to pet her or pinch her neck.

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It took less than a minute to get down near the river.  True, the scenic view was gorgeous:  mist rising off the river and fog lifting off the gray-green mountains.    The scene was less than peaceful to the ear, however.  The river moved so quickly and ramped over boulders and folded over itself.  The sound was amplified by chittering birds, chirping insects, rushing cars on the highway right above me.  The overgrowth in some areas was as tall as me and it seemed like only a machete could clear it.  And even though I could see my car through the weeds, they seemed to crowd in on me and cut short my breath.

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Fear became replaced with anger as I walked towards the car.  Beer cans, trash bags, and other random junk were scattered around.  I watched Lucy try and negotiate through the jungle of weeds and my anger became directed at myself:  “What if she gets ticks all over her and dies of Lyme disease?”  “What if that small growth on her shoulder that I didn’t get checked out before we left is cancer and she dies before my time here is over?”  Tears pooled up at the edges of my eyes.  I stepped to a clearing and tried to breathe slow, deep, calming breaths and watch the current float by me.  The current was faster than my breath and I tried to force the beautiful but fierce scene into a serene and healing one.  It wasn’t working.  Obviously.

So I cried instead.  Too bad I didn’t take the opportunity to scream like a banshee or wail like a lost soul, but I was still holding on to my fears and feeling self-conscious that I would be discovered by locals who thought I was a crazy woman.  Instead, I just let the tears stream down my face.  I crossed my arms over my chest and said quietly and repeatedly, “I’m so scared.  I’m so scared.  I just want to go home, but I don’t even have a real home to go to.”  As I cried more, Lucy sat there and looked up at me.  I collected myself before I “lost it” (although, I think I would have felt better had I unleashed my fear and anger).  We walked back to the car and I felt relief.  A little lighter.  A little more rational and sane.  I texted my sister again and told her briefly of my “crappy” experience and then just sat for a moment.

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The drive back to the cottage was uneventful.  The twisty curves were more manageable and smoother.  I was headed back to the cottage.  My “home base” so to speak.  I started thinking how people keep telling me I’m so brave for having set out on this adventure.  If they could see me now they may question their statements.  This rawness and vulnerability are strange and scary and to be truthful, I don’t really like this feeling or this experience all that much today.

Maybe being brave is about the recognition of fear within us as it’s happening?  Maybe being brave is about letting fear live alongside us but not allowing it to rule us?  Maybe being brave is about using fear as a tool to highlight the fragmented, shadow pieces of ourselves, giving us an opportunity to find that gap where the jagged piece goes in to the ever enlarging puzzle of ourselves?  As I type this, I can honestly tell you I don’t know.  I haven’t fully ridden out the wave of that fear that seized me this morning.  It keeps morphing from fear, to anger, to sadness, to loneliness, to confusion, to whatever else is lying awake inside of me, ready to strike.

All I know is that I am here and I will keep following the trails inside and outside of me until the path clears again.

Now What?

The wide river stretched over the rich green valley and dark green and gray mountains loomed in the distance.  I drove over the bridge and an electrical impulse ran through my solar plexus and I caught my breath.  “Wow!” I exhaled.  My cat, caged in the carrier next to me, meowed, and I looked in the rear view mirror and saw my dog’s black head pop up.  She had been asleep in her crate too, and she released anxious whimpers as we came around one bend and began to curve around another.  We were here in the Appalachian mountains and the longest part of our journey was about to become breathtaking.

Two days prior to that, I loaded up my pets and luggage in my gray SUV and headed south on highway 45.  I had spent a week with my parents and prior to that a week with my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew.  In their homes and with them, I had comfort and security.  My mind didn’t wander to “what ifs” or any daydream of what was to come the day I set out for the Asheville, North Carolina, area.  When I reached Paducah on Saturday, my friend’s hospitality took over and I didn’t have to worry about where I was going to board my dog or cat or sleep for the night.  He didn’t even let me consider the possibility of a hotel room, and so I had another full day of comfort and security.  As we walked the historic downtown waiting for the restaurant to open for dinner, I began to share with him a little of my worries and concerns about the path I had chosen and how lost I was starting to feel.  He didn’t even give me a chance to second guess myself.  Instead, he bought a handcrafted copper compass keychain from a street artist whose wares we had been admiring.  After the artist soldered the O-ring in place, my friend handed the gift to me, smiled, and said, “This is so you’ll be able to always find your way back home and find your place in this world, no matter where you are.”FullSizeRender

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InFullSizeRender Nashville on Sunday, I stayed at a pet-friendly hotel and another friend picked me up for dinner.  We ate at Chauhan Ale & Masala restaurant where the chefs blended art and traditional style Indian food.  It was super delicious and had a great atmosphere.  We ate Gol Guppa Shots for an appetizer – puffs of semolina with garbanzo beans and potatoes inside that you fill with mint water and shove in your mouth for an explosion of flavor.  For our main course, we chose traditional Indian dishes that were equally amazing.  As we talked, I realized that I would soon have the opportunity to explore deliciously prepared food where I was headed.  I could also take my time to shop the farmer’s markets and really tune into enjoying my food instead of shoving something down my gullet (like my oh so reliable peanut butter and jelly sandwich) so I could get back to teaching, grading, or working on my lesson plans.  We toured downtown Nashville (which has such a super-chill vibe despite the fact that it’s 600,000 people in the city alone) and wound up having dessert at Five Sisters Bakery in the swanky 12 South neighborhood.  For once, I was excited to indulge on so much food, and even took the last of my peach-glazed donut to go so I could enjoy it early the next morning before I left.

The next day, I began the drive to Asheville.  I crested a big hill in Cherokee National Forest and curved around a bend and saw a fathomless sea of tree tops.  I dipped down into a low valley and the trees towered above me.  I passed through two tunnels inside the very same mountain chain I had been admiring a few minutes before.  Up I climbed again and at the top of the hill I saw more mountains in the distance and a wide open blue sky.  I felt a shudder in my heart as if my body knew before my mind that my new life was upon me.  I took in the view as much as I could at the scenic overlook and rest area outside of the park.  I arrived later at my cottage and hurriedly brought my luggage and pets inside as thunder rolled in the distance.  I explored my new cottage home and stopped at a cafe to eat then grocery shopped while an evening rainstorm passed through.  I tirelessly unpacked until late in the night as a storm rolled in. FullSizeRender

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This morning I tried to set up some type of routine for myself so I wouldn’t feel as if I was pissing my time away.  I awoke at 6:30 a.m., made coffee, and walked Lucy down the lane as the mist rolled off the hill across the street and some unseen roosters crowed.  I ate a simple breakfast, read my book, and wrote for a half an hour.  A decent yoga practice came next followed by meeting the woman from whom I’m renting the cottage.  I went to the post office and got my P.O. Box set up and then walked Lucy in the Nature Park right off of Main Street.  I returned home to eat lunch and visit with my neighbor, and have been writing ever since.

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For an unknown reason, a bit of melancholy has come over me now that the thrill of yesterday’s drive has gone.  I keep wondering “Now what?” as I go through my new normal and try to strategize my next move once the middle of September has come and gone.  What am I doing here and why have I come on this journey?  Then, I think back to what both my friends in Paducah and Nashville reminded me of:  that this is a time to enjoy my life.  To soak in the pleasures of all the simple things this world has to offer.  That there is no need to justify wanting to eat delicious food, walk in beautiful scenery, live in a quaint cottage, and just be creative for the sake of being creative.   These mountains, these lush trees, the sounds of the chirping birds, and the breezes of the wind, the thunder and lightning, the screen of misting rain in front of the backdrop of sunshine, the local and friendly waiter, cashier, dog owner, restaurant customer, all are seeping into my veins and soaking into my bones and shaping my destiny.  All I have to do is let it happen.

 

Heart Center

The white windmills on highway 47 north cut through the deep blue Midwestern sky.  I turned onto a side road and got out of my car to take in the sweeping panoramic views that included waving cornfields, blue wild asters, and a stoic barn in the distance.

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When I arrived at the conference center in North Lake, Illinois, I didn’t know what to expect.  I was there to attend a weekend yoga retreat called BhaktiFest Midwest.  I have practiced bhakti (the yoga path of love and devotion) with Saul David Raye (an internationally known teacher) whenever he comes to the St. Louis area, but this time around I was going to immerse myself in the ancient traditions of kirtan, chanting (mantra), and breathwork (pranyama) as well as yoga poses (asana), and whatever other types of classes were offered.  I was curious to know if I would come away with a “blissed out” experience or if I was fooling myself into thinking that I could let go of conventions and old ways of being and allow my wild self to be present in the sessions.

I hesitated as I pulled in the parking lot next to a hippy van painted with a rainbow cosmic scene of Saturn and a guy on a surfboard.   A sense of loneliness and self-consciousness came over me as one of the volunteers wrapped the green band around my wrist and welcomed me.  Guys with man buns and lots of jewelry and women covered in tattoos and hairy armpits intermingled with men in kahki pants and Birkenstocks and women in all white with scarves around their foreheads.  Were “these people” part of my tribe now?  Did I fit in with hippies, love gurus, and mystics?  There were vendors selling their wares of mala beads, scarves, tie-dye, loose-fitting tops and pants, statues, and even cosmic readings.  I pulled my yoga mat closer to my chest and searched for the yoga room.  I wanted familiarity.  I wanted to distance myself from people who smelled like patchouli and rose water and roll out my mat and go through the motions of poses I’ve been doing for 15 years.  Thankfully, I didn’t get what I was asking for.  FullSizeRender

By the time I got to my second session of the day I had chastised myself for being so judgmental and dared myself to be more open-minded and open-hearted.  These people were fellow seekers of the heart.  People wanting to experience more than the ordinary and to be touched by the sublime.  And isn’t that what I’m doing too on this new journey?  Seeking a place where I can creatively express my emotions and experiences.  Seeking a way of being that is different than my traditional role as a mainstream English teacher, good and responsible daughter and sister, wild aunt, and single woman in a big house.  All roles I upheld by determination and default.

As I laid down on my back, preparing to be guided through a 2 hour session focused solely on the breath, I realized I don’t know that much about life or love as I pretended to know when I got to the conference. As Michael Brain Baker (the teacher, who was dressed in all white, had dreadlocks, and smelled of some heavenly rose watered scent) played cosmic sounds and chanted lullabies in Portuguese, Sanskrit, Hindi, and some other exotic languages, my body became awakened by my deep breathing (two deep inhales through the mouth and one long exhale through the mouth for 7 minute increments that were followed by periods of rest and then breath retention).  The breathing mimicked a buildup to a good cry.  The effect in the room was that of a wounded child sobbing for her mother.  I heard others wailing, crying, and moaning in anguish while my eyes were closed and we were all covered in darkness.  Anger and frustration awakened inside of me.  I wanted them to be quiet so I could have a peaceful, blissful experience.  I focused on Michael’s voice and directions.  I kept breathing, deeper and more fully, willing others to quiet themselves.  The more intense I became with my breath, the more my feet tingled, and then my hands and arms began tingling as well.  I got worried when my scalp tightened and my mouth started to go numb as well, but still I kept breathing faster and more intense.  One of the helpers in the room must have sensed my intensity and she came over and I felt some warm drop of rose scented liquid on my forehead.  Then, I heard her breathing, softly, sweetly, and calmly.  I took her cue and my short-circuited nervous system stopped going haywire.  She stayed with me for what felt like a long time.  Her presence at the crown of my head.  Cool air from the central air spread across my chest and I shivered then breathed, shivered then breathed.  I kept hearing her rhythmic breath and she was never far away from me, even as others cried and giggled and eventually burst into wild laughter and howling.  Next came pure silence as we rested our controlled breathing.  I felt like I was floating due to the fact that we had been oxygenating areas of our body that rarely get the deep benefits from our shallow daily breathing.  Peace flooded the room.  And silence.  And then it happened.  My heart cracked and I began crying.  The man who was moaning in sheer agony and pain across the room suddenly became my brother and I cried for him, imagining I was holding him in my arms, cradling him and rocking him through his pain.  Tears flowed from my eyes, and the man eventually quieted.

IMG_1464In the morning, I went to a nondescript workshop conducted by a 60 year old man with a scruffy white beard.  He was wearing jeans, a buttoned down long sleeve shirt, and tennis shoes.  He played the dulcimer and talked in a meditative voice.  The topic was on freedom and liberation of the soul.  We all have attachments and deep fears and the yogis and mystics say all attachments and fears stem from the greatest fear of all:  death.  He strummed the dulcimer that was in harmony with the pulsating, warping sound coming out of an amplifier.  This grandfather of a man told us we were all safe and that we had been in this cycle of birth and re-death for thousands of years, and would continue until we learned to face our own mortality and welcome it fully and with great love.

He instructed us to close our eyes and take an inhale through our nose, saying to ourselves, “Thank you, Great Spirit.”  And as we exhaled, he said, “I’m coming home.”  It sounded too simplistic for me to see how it could be a profound experience.  Yet, I listened to my intuition and allowed myself to be guided.  Eyes closed, I began to shed my inhibitions.  I tuned in to his voice, his words, his wisdom and guidance.  For awhile, my thoughts and breaths were mechanical and methodical.  The man literally struck a chord on his dulcimer right as I inhaled and said to myself, “Thank you for this breath, Great Spirit.”  I retained my breath for a few seconds; as he struck another reverberating chord, I gently exhaled and said whole-heartedly, “I’m coming home.”  A tenderness and warmth spread over my heart center and I started crying heavy tears that ran down my face and dropped onto my chest.  I kept my eyes closed, but I cried, and I kept the mantra and breath work going.  More tenderness, more tears.  Until after maybe a half an hour the breath became seamless and the words became truth.  A clarity came over me and it excited and frightened me at the same time.  I broke the moment by opening my eyes and looking at the teacher at the front of the room.  Too much to handle all at once I suppose.  Life turned back to the ordinary matrix we function in.  I had caught a glimpse of the sublime, however, and it was no other place but at the center of my heart.

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(P.S., I added this last picture in because it’s true and it’s also a reminder not to take myself too seriously either.  Ha ha!)

The Heart of the Matter: A Return to the Wild Mind, Part 5

I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible;
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on to fruit.
-Dawna Markova

Last month, I went to a yoga workshop taught by a renowned yoga teacher, Saul David Raye.  He practices and teaches a style of yoga called “Bahkti” – the yoga of love and devotion.  I’ve had the good fortune of taking his workshops a few other times over the years in St. Louis.  Sometimes, he moved me to tears, other times, he frustrated and confused me with his message of “Love is all you need.”  Looking back, I see that was only because I was stuck in a rut of seeing myself as a victim of love and heartache.  His message wasn’t the issue, my mind was.

This time around, I felt a strong connection to him as a person.  He spoke of the beauty of nature, of love of another person, of the connection of heart and mind as a way to feel fulfilled and wonderful about life’s mysteries.  I understood that the mind is a wild and beautiful thing of its own, but it can spin out of control if not synched up with a loving, open heart to balance and nurture it.  Under his guidance that day, I allowed my mind to follow my feeling heart and express my love through the live music and the yoga poses.  More importantly, I realized that my inner light burns the brightest when I am feeling fully present in my body, in my observing, wonder-filled mind, and loving heart center as opposed to allowing the wild, chattering side of my mind to wander off into the future to create untold disasters and hopeless scenarios in my tiny spot on Earth.

Fears, real and imagined (mostly imagined), have ruled my life for decades.  Monsters in my dreams. Sounds that go bump in the night.  Harsh, critical words and actions of ex-boyfriends.  The memory of my bipolar, schizophrenic aunt standing in our kitchen in full camo-gear complete with machete in hand.  Images of my grandmother’s scratchy hand-written letter to me in college describing her observations and sadness of her fast-growing, tumor that eventually split her brain in half.

As I came into my late thirties, I began to experience my daily life from a place of fear. I could feel every muscle twitch in my body and imagined I was beginning the sufferings of Multiple Sclerosis or Parkinson’s Disease.  I would sit in my recliner, alone at home, having a series of panic attacks because my shoulder was so tight that I could feel muscles twitching.  I could not breathe and choked on my food once and coughed so hard that spit rolled out of my mouth.  I thought then and there it was a sign that something neurological was going on, so I got on the internet and researched everything I thought could possibly be wrong with me. Every symptom was vague enough and so close to one another that I was sure I had that particular disorder.  This belief would send blood rushing to my head, sweat to my armpits.  My hands would become clammy and I paced around my house, crying and panicking while my dog circled around me, confused.

 I worried that my Wi-Fi and cellphone were causing a horrible brain tumor like my grandmother’s, and I began overanalyzing my food choices and focused so much on what I put into my body so as to heal myself or protect myself from any type of disease, that I didn’t realize I was already suffering the painful, slow, suffering death I so feared by not living a life where I felt part of the world and part of nature.  Love was not in my vocabulary.  I could have love and give love as soon as I fixed all of these terrible, horrible, no good things that were going on in my body and mind.  On the outside, I could laugh with my friends, practice yoga moves in classes or in my home, walk my dog, pay my bills, teach my students, drive my car, live a seemingly normal life, while on the inside I was fanning the flames of Hell.

I realized that I am a functioning neurotic.

What is different now, is that I can admit to that fact.  I now see the neuroses for what they are:  techniques I have developed over the years to keep me “safe” and “small” instead of risking my significance to bring out my talents and gifts of creativity, writing, and teaching.  When I am brave, I become vulnerable and open to love.  I can match my heart force to my soul force and share that with others so they can do the same.

The bravery comes from not turning away from my fears, but walking directly towards them, facing them head on.  Regardless of the outcome.

In my time out in Colorado, I learned this about myself.  A particular solo hike focused on finding a place and sitting with some part of ourselves that act as an Escapist from reality.  Before we all went our separate ways, I had joked with another group member about searching for a place off trail where I could pee freely like a deer.  (I had gulped a lot of water during our circle time.)  We both laughed and I walked away with the mantra “Pee like a deer,” in my mind.  I was all smiles and didn’t worry too much that I hadn’t found a spot nearby to go and meditate.  Fifteen minutes, a far way up the trail, and a good pee later, I saw an overhanging of rocks that sloped down into an area riddled with fallen timbers and dead or dying pine trees.  In a small clearing, rested a boulder.  I shuddered because I knew I had to go and sit on that boulder.  Alone.

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I marked my spot, took a picture of the overhang so I knew what to look for when I came back, and I slowly climbed down the rocks.  The sky became overcast the closer I got to the boulder.  I climbed over fallen trees, untangled my pants and backpack from dry grass, thorns, and small, dry sticks.  I scrambled on top of the boulder and sat there thinking, “Now what?”

My mind was full of chatter and was working hard to take me out of this situation I had just put myself in.  I was nervous and kept waiting for some “A-ha” moment so I could grab my pack and leave.  But, I just sat there, feeling the coolness of the boulder seep through my pants to my legs.  It was soothing to be on top of something so solid.  I started breathing and thinking, “This is where my sweet deer live,” and I hoped that I might see one like I did the day before in the meadow.  I started to deepen my breath and relax into my surroundings.  Just then, I heard creaking and cracking noises.  At first I thought it was some animal, but a breeze blew through the trees and I realized it was the sound of the dying trees around me being moved by the wind.

Part of me wanted to flee, the other part of me wanted to see what would happen next.  As if on cue, the sky became gray and a stronger wind picked up.  The trees began to make a low whistling sound almost like a far off freight train.  I looked around and realized there were very few living trees in this area I was sitting.  In fact, I remembered a part of the trail I had traveled the day before was clear and today I had to climb over two fallen trees to get to where I was.  My breath became shorter.  I began seeing which tree would fall on me first, and what direction I could move to get out of the way.  Luckily I had put my whistle around my neck and my hand instinctively went to it.  Immediately my sacrum became electric and my hamstrings tensed up, which caused my back, shoulder, neck and jaw to tighten as well.  My muscles began to twitch.  I wanted to bolt, but some wise voice inside of me said, “Breathe.  Stay with the fear and just breathe.”

11914005_10206779612200958_9091906973701362821_n I took a few more breaths and started thinking about my imaginary deer I had hoped to see.  What would she do right now if she was foraging for food?  She would become alert, look around, evaluate her surroundings, and probably go back to eating.  She lives with the possibility of death and destruction every day.  I could die here as well.  A tree could fall on me and kill me instantly, or I could be knocked unconscious and die a slower death.  Why didn’t I make a run for it then?   I wanted to leave, but something anchored me there.  And without warning, a wave of grief rushed over me and I began to cry so hard that I was shaking.  I wanted my mother.  I wanted peace of mind.  I wanted to be able to live a full life and not become so trapped by my fears and illusions of fear.

The tears began to wash away my fears and in my mind’s eye I saw my doe in the meadow looking at me.  A warmth spread from my heart and went to every part of my body.  I breathed fully, deeply, richly, and safely.  True, I could die right here, right now.  But, I could also die from any number of things at any time.  And the fact of the matter was:  wasn’t I dying every day that I fed my neurotic fears so much that I allowed them to hijack my mind and body and paralyze me, causing me to suffer, and die a painful, agonizing death of spirit?  At least here, if I truly died on this boulder, I would have been alive to my emotions, my body, and have witnessed with all of my senses the beauty and power of nature.  And another thought came to me:  my one physical death would simply be a fade into more beauty and mystery.  Spiritual death, on the other hand, brings rot, disease, control issues, neuroses, pain and suffering among other things.

Once I had this breakthrough, another wind blew through the area, and I realized now was the time to leave.  I didn’t need to be so brave that I became stupid.  I picked up my pack and walked quickly to the overhang and back onto the trail.  I looked out at the boulder, brought my hands to prayer and bowed my head in gratitude and reminded myself that love got me through a dark moment and love will do that for me time and time again.

And so I have been working with this lesson for a few months now.  After the workshop, I went up to Saul and re-introduced myself and asked him if I could use his name and picture in a possible blog post about love and fear.  He smiled with such warmth and told me that not only did he want to contribute to that post in some small way, but that it was important to share this type of writing with others.  “There are two paths that intertwine: one of Wisdom and one of Love,” he had said during practice.  “The path of Love leads to Wisdom.  And the path to Wisdom leads to Love.  Feel with your heart.  Love is all you need.”  He then asked me if I would be in the picture with him.  He gave my camera to someone nearby and he held up his hand in the gesture of fearlessness.  Uncertain at first but in a moment of bravery, I put up my hand as well.

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Go for the “Gusto” in Life

There is a lot to be said about living a life full of zeal and soaking up the life that you’re given.  This past weekend, I was at Lake of the Ozarks (aka the “Redneck Riviera”) with my friend Mary and her 8 year old son Zane.  We stayed with her in-laws, Gary and Judy, at their home.  We took the train on Friday morning and by noon we were hopping off the train and being ushered in to Gary’s and Judy’s car in a whirlwind of excitement.  Omaw and PawPaw were happy to see their only grandchild and Mary and I were happy to have a weekend of friend time together.  She’s an artist and their house is under construction (her hubby stayed behind to deal with the construction) so she was in need of a place to get some “head space”.  I am a teacher and this weekend was my “calm before the storm” because school starts in less than 2 weeks.

The boat dock
The boat dock

Judy and Gary are very kind, charming people who are full of life and energy.  Judy is a retired middle school teacher and Gary is retired from owning his own company (and I later found out he was once in the Army as well).  Gary has Parkinson’s disease, but that doesn’t stop him from doing what he wants to do.  Although his body is misshapen from the disease and he has trouble getting around and is on a lot of medication, he still has this larger than life charisma and charm to him.  He gets out on his boat dock every day and can drive his speed boat and give you an hour long tour of the mansion laden lakeside (I dubbed the tour “The Great Gatsby on the Lake”).  He rides his jet ski, fishes with his grandson and grills a mean chicken, onion, pineapple kabob.  I was surprised by his agility this weekend when I asked him where I could find a plate for my toast.  I was standing behind him and he was near the cabinet.  Before I finished my sentence, he threw open the cabinet, grabbed  the heavy Fiesta-ware plate, lifted it with both hands behind his head and over to me.  I wasn’t expecting that at all and said, “Uh, thanks,” as he stood there laughing.

Judy is equally as charismatic and charming and as spry as someone half her age.  While Gary messed around on the boat or the jet ski, Judy was in her kayak (she kayaks every day) pulling Zane and a neighbor kid on a raft behind her.  She and Gary hung out on the boat dock with the kids for hours, zipping in and out of the kayaks, the jet ski, the floats and also scheduling a winter to Australia using their iPad.  Later that evening, they took the kids to play a round of 9 holes of golf and then out to dinner.  On the other hand, Mary and I were drained and had headaches and upset stomachs and fell asleep in our rooms for 2 hours after a fattening meal of potato skins and pizza.  Around 8:30, Judy, Gary & Zane came back home and got us up and going and we played Uno and chatted away as Judy led Gary through his yoga and stretching exercises for the night before they went to bed.  Mary, Zane and I again crashed into our beds and slept in late the next morning, unable to keep up with the 2 of them.

In our youth obsessed culture, we tend to overlook people who have lived longer than us have more experience and (hopefully) more wisdom, guidance and interesting stories to share.  We don’t expect people who are in the winter season of their lives to have so much excitement and enthusiasm for their lives.  We get so wrapped up in the petty dramas of daily life and try to control their outcomes that we forget there should always be a space in our lives to play and to explore and to travel and to laugh.  I think these positive behaviors are a benefit of aging that for whatever reason we are afraid to look into as a culture because we don’t want to think of the final outcome of our physical bodies.  Judy’s and Gary’s intensity may seem overwhelming, and maybe to some out there it is, but for whatever reason this weekend their zeal for entertaining us while also letting us go on 2 hour long walks or reading books or taking us on a tour of the countryside really grounded me.  I’ve had a full but hectic summer and there are things that are stressing me out like a tight budget, trying to sell my old house and preparing for school to name a few.  But now, I’m reenergized by their energy and sense of play.

But for me personally, too much zeal can be an overkill, and I’m one who appreciates a little bit of solitude on a regular basis.  So, it was nice when I had a “zen” moment where I got a little bit of alone time to read and to write while the rest of them went on a bike ride.  I sat in the sun and listened to the waves break on the shoreline.  It felt like I had a moment to hit the “pause button” and allow in the ebb to the flow of that vital energy.

The Lake
The Lake

And just when I was “ebbing,” the flow came back in the form of Mary and Zane coming up to me with a 1970s Cher cover album.  They were laughing and asking me if I could hear the music blaring from the garage into the street.  Zane smiled and said, “C’mon, Megan, you gotta hear it!” and I started laughing and obediently followed.  Sure enough, Cher was singing away, her voice being pumped out of a circa 1980s record player with a dual cassette player underneath.  Old records from Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall,” to Henry Mancini were stacked on a shelf.  Mary shrugged her shoulder and laughed and said that this is what her in-laws do whenever the moment feels right.  Judy and Gary were nowhere in sight and Zane switched the LP to fast track and Cher’s smooth, alto voice morphed into Alvin and the Chipmunks.  Our laughter filled the garage and Z switched it back to normal play and then he and Mary hopped on their bikes and took off down the long drive while I was left behind wondering what had just happened.  How did getting left behind in a garage listening to 1970s Cher songs and smiling become part of my weekend?

And the Beat Goes On. . .
And the Beat Goes On. . .

Even in the mundane moments of life zest and zeal can enter in at an unexpected time, making you laugh and appreciate right where you are.

On the suspension bridge out in the country
On the suspension bridge out in the country

This post is Day 27 in the 100 Day Creative Writing Challenge.  Topic:  Zeal.

Day 7: Luck of the Irish

“When Irish eyes are smiling, ’tis like the morn in Spring. In the lilt of Irish laughter, you can hear the angels sing. When Irish hearts are happy, the world seems bright and gay. And when Irish eyes are smiling, they’ll steal your heart away.”

I’m back state side waiting for my connecting flight to St. Louis and trying to write down my last day’s experiences in Ireland. The trip seems like ages ago even though I left Dublin about 10 hours ago. It’s funny how a long day of travel can turn vivid moments into whispers of memories. I blame it on the uncomfortable airplane seating, annoying seat companions & bad airplane food.

The last day in Ireland was jammed with a bus tour through Limerick (home to the renowned storyteller & writer, Frank McCourt, author of Angela’s Ashes), a shopping trip in Galway, a longer drive through the countryside where I finally caved in to listening to my own music and fell asleep, and ending the evening with a gourmet meal prepared by Ireland’s top celebrity chef Catherine Flauvio at her bed & breakfast/cooking school located on her family farm.

My tour mates and I seemed to have had good Irish luck throughout the day. For example, my mom asked me to buy her some Irish wool yarn so she could crochet my sister and me scarves & hats. I searched every day once we got into “wool territory” in Killarney & Donegal area and I had no luck so I gave up my search and bought her pretty jewelry, keychain & magnets instead. Then, I was walking down a street in Galway and saw a local clothing store where they specialized in tweeds. In the window was a bucketful of hand spun wool for sale. Jackpot!

My friend Kristin had luck as well. She wanted to burn some of her Euros while we were in Galway (which was the purpose of that stop). She bought some nice jewelry and thought she was done, but as we were walking by a local music shop, she saw a bhordan (Irish drum) in the window. She had no idea she wanted one until that moment. She walked into the shop and asked the vendor, “Do you sell those?” as she was pointing to a beginner’s drum hanging on the wall. He smiled so brightly and was so proud. He jumped up from his seat and said, Yes, I do.” Kristin paid for her bhordan without having any idea how to play it, but enthusiastically said that she would look it up on YouTube. She was so happy with the purchase and luckily it took up the rest of her Euros for that afternoon.

Another fun thing was the limerick contest a majority of us participated on the bus. Ann, our tour guide, challenged us to write a traditional Irish limerick with 5 lines and a rhyme scheme of: aabba. I composed a fun one a out Ann that goes like this:

Let’s raise a glass to Ann, our tour guide
Who has a beautiful voice and a smile so wide.
But she’ll give you a whack
If you don’t have craic
Then give you a swift kick in the behind.

(Craic -pronounced “crack”- is Gaelic for “joy,” “good fun”or “mischief”.)

Ann collected our limericks and then read them out loud. It was fun to hear everyone’s and we had a good laugh. Ann put our poems in for a drawing and a woman named Bonnie, who had been practicing her limerick writing skills for 5 days, won. When she opened the bag to find a toy leperchaun, she laughed and got so excited that tucked him in to the handle in front of her seat for the rest of the day’s trip.

We pulled into Ashford and went to Ballyknocken sheep farm and bed & breakfast where we were greeted by the owner, Catherine Flauvio (née Byrne), who runs a cooking school at the farm. She is also a TV personality and has her own cooking show in Ireland which is syndicated on the BBC and a few other channels around the world. The farm and its grounds were beautiful, but they couldn’t compete with Catherine’s beauty and charm. She gave us the history of her family’s farm and visited with each one of us (50 of us) individually by the end of the evening. Her meal was delicious. My favorite was her puréed carrot, cumin & spinach soup with creme that was poured into the bowls to look like the Irish flag. I also enjoyed visiting with my table mates who were so sweet, and interesting and genuinely good people. I really lucked out with this entire tour from start to finish. My luck never ran out and I met great people, saw beautiful countryside, drank myself to a happy buzz every night, and was reminded that life is to be enjoyed and soaked up as much as possible because the present turns into the past so quickly.

I end this entire travel blog (Days 1-7) with a Gaelic phrase Kirin from Killarney taught me and which I had said to me by two elderly Irish gentleman today in the airport: Go neire an bohart leat. May the road rise to meet you. I say that to all of you who are reading this. May you go through this life with a light heart and may the road take you on a marvelous journey.

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Day 6: Moher, Please

Craic (pronounced “crack”), is a Gaelic word that means “for the joy” or “for the fun” of something. Today was a day filled with spontaneous craic.

We were surprised with a small detour to a small village where Cutty’s Pub prepared for us free scones, cream, jam and coffee or tea. The scones were delicious. They were like eating sweet, flaky buttermilk biscuits. And the cream and jam were decadent. The local farmers’ market was going on as well and it was fun to see a fish monger vending fresh mackerel wrapped in newspaper from his ice cold styrofoam cooler.

We then had a small detour to St. Bridgid’s shrine. To be honest, I was full from my morning snack that I had fallen asleep and missed the historical and religious importance of this shrine. Instead I stepped off the bus for fresh air and talked, laughed and cursed like an Irishman with Patrick, our local bus driver.

We went 5 minutes down the road to the Cliffs of Moher (pronounced like “more”) and walked up the ramps and looked over the stone walls at the crashing waves and sheer cliffs and circling birds that had taken off from their little nests built on the cliffs’ nooks & crannies. I didn’t mind that it was an overcast, brisk day with an occasional drizzle. I felt like the weather added to all the numerous legends and tales about the Cliffs I read about in the Visitors’ Center.

After that, we stopped at Bunratty Castle. Kristin and I had our day’s fill of castles (which are cool and which we did tour quickly, but there was so much touring going on in the day that it felt like every corner of Ireland was covered with ancient churches, monasteries, castles and pubs). We spent a good portion of our time taking pictures of each other in front of the castle and angling the camera just right so we looked like giants storming the castle. Apparently we amused some of our tour mates who took pictures of us taking giant pictures of ourselves.

We ended the day with dinner and entertainment at a 500 year old castle. We drank mead and watched young men and women dance the really cool Irish jigs that began in medieval times and listened to traditional Irish songs and violin and harp music. It was fantastic and it inspired our tour guide Ann and an Irish man turned Australian, Noel, to start singing “Galway Bay” when we were back on the bus. Noel led all of us in a stirring rendition of “Oh Danny Boy” and by the time we had reached the parking lot we had sung Canada’s & Australia’s national anthems, “God Bless America”, and “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. It was safe to say that we were all on craic.

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Day 5: I Fell In to the Beautiful Ring of Kerry

“Off again, on again, gone again” is the motto for the tour bus business. Today we traveled The Ring of Kerry, a chain of mountains that circle around the bay and glacial lakes. The sights are phenomenal & this is where Ireland’s green shows itself in all its glory. We drove the majority of the day through this national park & we had 3 scenic outlooks where we could take photos. I was excited to get out & look.  My pictures don’t fully do this land and the vivid greens justice, but the romantic in me wanted to stay out all day and sit on the unmortared stone walls and visit with the sheep ranchers, watch their dogs coral the wooly sheep and maybe hold a baby lamb. Instead, we were the sheep herded back on the tour bus within 5 minutes time so as to make room for the next wave of tour buses pulling in.

I’ve seen mountains before in Colorado, North & South Carolinas & New Mexico to name a few places. All are beautiful & every time I come back home I miss them (though I don’t miss the vertigo). The mountains in County Kerry are just as beautiful, but what really lured me to them was how they jutted out of the ocean or reflected off the crystal glacier lakes and quietly towered over the bogs. I also loved seeing the dried bogs with the cut turf drying in the sun as wild cotton flowers swayed in the breeze. (Side note: I learned that turf is the first layer of the dried bog & can easily be broken by hand and looks like mud. Whereas peat is compressed & processed turf that is typically sold in briquettes & looks & feels like coal.)

What amazed me was to see ancient tombstones that were of the Ogahm tribe which had Ireland’s oldest form of vertical writing. We passed famine houses that people had abandoned when they fled for America, Canada and other parts unknown to escape the Great Potato Famine of the early 1800s where 4 million people (half of Ireland’s population) either died of starvation or diseases. If you have older Irish heritage, odds are high that they were some of the lucky few that survived the crossing on famine ships only to encounter 7 weeks of similar conditions they were forced to leave. We also viewed stone ring forts that were built in the Iron Age which led to later stories of little people who lived in there (think leprechauns).

We ended the tour at Ladies’ Viewpoint where Queen Victoria and her ladies in waiting spent the afternoon. There were 3 lakes, gorgeous green mountains & beautiful shade trees to sit under. It is rumored that when Victoria was asked what she thought of the view, she said it was beautiful but not as beautiful as her Albert. Poor Queen Victoria, she must have been so deep in her mourning that she couldn’t even see the majesty surrounding her.

Later that evening, my travel buddy, Kristin, & I took a walk around Killarney Park near our hotel. (Side note: we needed that 3 mile walk because the Irish diet consists of meat, bread, potatoes & beers. For the past 5 days I feel like my stomach has created some type of doughy batter that has fermented and blown up like a yeasty ball of goo.) In the park, there were woods, a small stream, lakes and fields of clover (shamrocks!), wild lillies, fox glove and tall wild grasses. We walked through a meadow and to our left was a mansion & to our right were the Kerry mountains. We tried to imagine what it would be like to wake up to that view every morning. The highlight of our walk was to end up at Ross Castle, the last castle in Ireland to fall to Cromwell in the 1600s.

The night ended with a light dinner (personal pizzas and water, one of the lighter options on the menu) and a 3 hour visit with a local, Kirin from Killarney. He bought us each a round of Bulmer’s cider and talked to us about life in general. These past few days here have sparked my life long love affair with The Emerald Isle. It’s no wonder the Irish are natural born storytellers, poets, singers & songwriters. With views like I saw today and the kindness of your fellow man, it would take all the words you had to try and relate all the love, excitement and beauty you witness almost every day of your life. And still, those words are never enough.

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