Unscheduled

The first weekend of October. Two whole unscheduled days, my first since August. I have been hanging on, waiting for the chance to take this deep breath for the last few weeks. I need a few deep breaths of the sort that you just quietly watch come and go.

I spent some hours in my couch-nest, newly feathered for fall weather, while I knit and listened to rain on the roof. Yesterday I ventured as far as the garden and today I made it a few whole miles away for a long walk in the woods with a couple of friends. In between, there were plenty of visits to the pigs and hours in the kitchen, processing fruit, cleaning a carrot harvest, and general puttering. The kind of simple days that just feel spacious the whole way through, and I feel so grateful for that. I needed that.

Spaciousness as a state of mind has been in short supply of late. Instead, my mind has mostly felt busy and tight, ceaselessly trying to figure its way through the puzzle of things. The usual puzzles of balancing too many interests with all the requirements on my time, of tending the homestead and adventuring in the world, of spending and saving. And the less usual puzzle of making all the required arrangements for an entire season of unscheduled time.

It’s been nearly a decade since Dean and I returned from our last extended trip and started building a cabin, and I think that means we’re due. But gah, we’ve complicated our lives in ten short years.

The plan is that we’ll take a break for half a year, and spend most of that time hiking the Appalachian Trail. I can only vaguely remember how much space to breathe there is during a trip like that, but I can’t wait to be reminded. In the half a year between now and then, though, we’ll be trying to get everything in order and stay sane, which might be a far less glamorous but equally daunting challenge.

Just like that

August arrived with a heat wave and skies filled with smoke from distant wildfires. It felt like I would be admiring the flowering herbs and watering the garden every other day forever. Because August is time, suspended.

Until it’s not. I can’t help but notice that after these several long months of waking up and falling asleep in the light, or at least semi-light, darkness is once again encroaching on both ends of my days. After finally stripping down the bedding to it’s lightest summer configuration, the cooler nights this week required I add a layer back. We got rain overnight Saturday after almost 60 days of none. And today, as I was casually walking the perimeter of the pig enclosure, I noticed this:

Looks at all those leaves. The ground nearly carpeted with them, and more fluttering down in the sunshine while I stood there dumbfounded. That is not a scene out of high summer.

I know that it’s the drought. But I also get the distinct sense that this summer may end as abruptly as it began, that it may be time to brace for impact. Bam, autumn. Just like that.

I’m not ready. But tomorrow, we’ll hike into the mountains for one more stretch of days sleeping on the ground in the high country, the closest thing I know to slowing time.

Pilgrimage

I was in the garden early this morning, weeding before the heat of the day set in, and thinking about how much I’m looking forward to backpacking with a dear girlfriend next week. Our trip to the mountains feels a bit like a pilgrimage, a journey not to a place on the map, but to a place inside us and between us, one we can’t locate before we set out. Not a “major life event” pilgrimage, but the sort where the experience is the intersection of place and meaning and the next footstep.

The idea of pilgrimage seems to be rather a theme these days.

Years ago, I referred to my regular trips back to North Dakota as “the annual pilgrimage”. It was mostly a flippant turn of phrase that I liked the sound of, but there was a kernel of truth as well, and it came back to me on this last trip.

I’ve made that trip so many times, and I will so many more,  each one a different journey over the same ground. The ground, of course, just a container for the real journey. Each repeat demanding something different of me, and offering something else as well.

In recent years, I’ve started to understand the ways that the landscape of that place feels important and yes, sacred to me. It’s not any specific patch of ground so much as certain elements of the landscape. I’ve learned to make time to drive quiet highways and wander the backroads that call to me, to breathe it in through all my senses. This trip, I watched a pile of storm clouds roll by miles to the north, and realized I had forgotten what it was to see weather across the open plains. And everywhere I went, the smell of dust and lilacs heavy in the air. Because the parts of me that sing in those places are quiet so often, I can’t help but give them rapt attention when the conditions are right and the songs emerge.

I also spent a day exploring some of the physical landscape of my family history with an aunt and my grandparents on this trip. We drove up and down each street of the tiny town they grew up in, past farmhouses still standing and farmyards that have been completely erased save for the approach off the road. Each little landmark a portal to connect the past and the present, the physical memories held by the land igniting snippets of old stories. A pilgrimage, to be sure. A journey to the timeless space that holds the past, memory, the present, and dreams for the future.

It was one of the best days I can remember. I want to write so much more, but I can’t translate the experience to words just yet. A perfect example of how “the stories that seem most worth telling are the ones that feel impossible to actually tell.” I started writing this post weeks ago, and it has stubbornly resisted my attempts to fit it into a neat container.  But today, it feels worth sharing the messy version.

And worth continuing to explore this idea of pilgrimage, this sense of honoring the journey and the places we find ourselves in, in all the forms that can take.

Forty

I turned 40 yesterday. Predictably, I seem to have done most of my angsting about the change in decade in advance, but it still prompted some reflection on decades and the ways they do seem to delineate our years.

From this vantage, the central theme of my twenties was figuring out who I was, or more often, who I wasn’t. I went down so many paths trying to satisfy the expectations of others, only to find myself at a breaking point where the only options were to let my self be swallowed by those expectations or to jump ship in some dramatic fashion. I bailed from student teaching, a first marriage, and a “good” job (several times on the job one). I escaped to live abroad, to climb mountains, to hike thousands of miles… all of which turned out not to be the point, but provided clues about who I was along the way. I’m grateful that I mustered the courage to bail each time I needed it, and I’m even more grateful that I (eventually) figured out how to avoid getting myself into circumstances that required courageous exits.

It’s surprising to me now how thirty really was an inflection point. Between my 30th and 31st birthdays, Dean and I took our first trip together (to Alaska), I started telecommuting, and we bought the land that has become the homestead. The last decade feels like it has been all about staying – the slow and hard work of building a home, a community, a relationship, a life. Figuring out how to accept this person who it turns out I am, this person who doesn’t tidily satisfy expectations, be they others’ or my own. It’s all so much less dramatic than my twenties, but it feels much more radical.

So here I am at 40. I celebrated by biking out to a local state park for a quick overnight camp, and as I struggled up the umpteenth little hill with my gear-laden bike, I thought about how grateful I am for this body at age 40, for how alive I continue to feel when I run and bike and backpack and dig and all the other ways I inhabit this physical body. I can’t really imagine what the next decade will bring, but it feels filled with possibility. However it unfolds, gratitude and possibility feels like a pretty good place to start from.

Along the river

This place. It speaks to me in a way that feels so real and visceral and that I don’t know how to translate into words at a keyboard. I had many visits to fit into my few days in North Dakota, and this river was one of them.

“The lake” was the singular feature of that landscape that captured my attention for most of my years, but in the last few its charm is lost to me. It just seems to be a lot of muffled quiet, too much water obscuring the real stories drowned by it.

Along the river, I can still see the hills carved by the centuries and the depressions left by the natives who lived in just that one village for twice as long as Europeans have dwelled in the area.  I can lean into the trunks of old cottonwoods and listen to the wind whisper through the stands of grass. I can walk through the bottomland, dense with plants that I now recognize as food and medicine and all the animals that thrive there. I can watch the water flowing and flowing and even though we’ve managed the flow of that water within an inch of its life, it still has life, and its fierce constancy inspires me.

Because water is life.

Raising our voices together

It is good to be reminded, now and again, of the wisdom of gut instinct. Dean and I booked our travel to DC for the Women’s March on Washington exactly four days after the election. There were many good reasons it didn’t make sense – the March existed only as figment of someone’s imagination on facebook, I hate flying cross country, I’ve never been much of an activist… and I’m glad I ignored all of them.

As our trip grew closer, I found it difficult to articulate exactly why we were going, why it felt so important. There were no doubts this weekend.

I was there to see the girl on the train platform proudly wearing her Brownie sash. The doctors in white coats holding their well-made and weary-looking banner proclaiming their support of reproductive rights. The older black woman pushing her walker through the crowd. When we passed her my first thought was, “I’m sorry you still have to suffer for this” and I immediately caught myself and thought, “I’m so happy that you get to be here for all of this.”

I stood in one spot, on a concrete sidewalk, for more than four hours listening to the rally speakers. When the crowd grew restless and began peeling off to begin marching before the program was complete, I became an island in a stream, unable to tear myself away because every person was just filling my heart.

And that’s really why I was there. To be held by the kindness and beauty and visceral strength of a crowd so massive that from the inside, it gave the appearance of being endless. To listen and learn how we can work together better. To be inspired and grow more courageous. To fill my heart with the strength that I will need to stand up and speak my truth. To feel the electricity of looking people in the eye, standing shoulder to shoulder, and raising our voices together.

It was a memorable day, and I’m grateful that my gut got me there.

 

2016 in review, out of order

I’m all out of order here because I didn’t think I had a “year in review” in me but it turns out I just didn’t have anything original to say about 2016. I was inspired to look back over my images from the last year today, and chose one from each month to share. I also realized that it was an excellent year in reading for me, and I’ve been meaning to share more about other people’s words, so I’ll start with a quick list of one book I read from each month of 2016 as well.

And my year in reading (chronologically by when I read them, which is to say in no particular order):

Phew. Twelve felt like such a small number when I had to choose what to include, but it’s not a short list. If you have any suggestions for my 2017 reading list, leave them in the comments or connect with me on Goodreads.

A new year

Sigh. We’re just back from three days at the beach, days mostly filled with the kind of meandering exploration that a vast expanse of beach invites. I happily filled the dark or rainy interludes with fires and board games and knitting and good books and journaling, but the beach was the structure of our days. I started each morning with a walk in the early light to leave first tracks in the sand and retraced my steps each afternoon as the sun slipped toward the horizon.

I don’t think there could there be any better background for contemplating the passage of time than a crashing surf amid the slow rhythm of the tide. It was the space that I needed to close out this year and make way for the next. 2016 felt like a quiet year for me – the tangible evidence of the year’s passing slim and the intangible still escaping easy description. But those intangibles feel very real and I’m grateful for its gifts even if I can’t quite tell you about them.

So I’ll skip right to my (equally intangible) wish for 2017: May you find greater connection to the wisest quiet voices inside you, to this beautiful world and the humanity that fills it, to those dear to you and those who appear so different. May you know the thread of the universe that passes through you.

 

November and old old trees

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I was able to sneak a day off work Friday so I did what I almost always do when my head and heart are as disordered as they are this week, and I headed for a trail into the mountains.

The day mostly looked convincingly of November, the sky stubbornly flat and colorless, the ground covered in the pale husks of summer’s grasses and flowers. A biting wind swirled about the tops, thwarting my several attempts to hunker down in the lee of some fine rocks to contemplate the view, outward and inward. So I ate my lunch quickly, smugly appreciated my hot tea, and kept moving.

Which was fine, I didn’t need ideal conditions or to think deep thoughts. I needed to feel the ache in my lungs and the effort in my legs as I climbed up a mountain. I needed to be distracted by distant peaks and the vast sea, to be reassured by the sway of old, old trees. I needed some quiet.

I have been a tangle of feelings and thoughts since the election, and frankly, the last few weeks before. I feel betrayed. I feel disappointed and scared and very unsettled. I feel vulnerable, and also keenly aware of my privilege.

I feel completely inadequate and yet determined to speak up, to stand up, to do something. Starting by sharing a little honesty from this corner.

 

Deep into October

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It’s been a damp week and the gray only serves to highlight how much less daylight there is than a few weeks ago. Here we are deep into October and I’m sinking softly into the darkness after careening down the steep slide of September, the momentum of change finally easing. I feel ready to embrace a slower pace for this season, ready to do less.

I read a collection of letters between Gary Snyder and Wendell Berry several months back and jotted a few lines that spoke to me in the back of my journal, as I am wont to do. One of those lines from Snyder came back to me this week:  “I begin to see it as a kind of very culpable spiritual pride that I keep thinking I can do so much. The effort becomes graceless after awhile.”

Culpable pride, the graceless effort – it feels true in a way that I can feel my whole body quiet when I read that.

Because this was on my mind, I tried this morning to make a list of the things that I could do less of or let go of. It was a shamefully short list. In fact, before I got to writing down my second entry I started thinking of the things that I should start doing more of if I was going to have some free time. Ugh.

So it seems that it might not come naturally, but also a worthwhile intention: to practice gracefully doing less.

Why do I want to write?

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I have been meeting up with a friend a couple times a month for writing practice. Nothing too structured, we just pick a prompt and try to keep pencil moving across paper for fifteen minutes at a shot. One of our recent prompts was “why do you want to write”. After, it felt relevant to this space so I decided to share my stream of consciousness response, lightly edited.

Why do I want to write? Because I want to order my thoughts, because I want to connect with the world around me, because I want to capture the fleeting ideas so I can come back to them, so that I can know my former selves.

Writing is a medium for the left brain. Any idea that can be captured in written word is necessarily limited in dimension, contained, bounded, tamed. I am both drawn to this and frustrated by it. I want to live more in my right brain; I want to understand the world more in a holistic, expansive, interconnected sense that is beyond words. But how can I share that? How can I reach out to kindred souls from the formless ether?

The written word may be inadequate and limited, but it is accessible. Writing as a process is tangible evidence that I am right here, capturing this moment, this idea, this life. I want to write because I want to live well and words are a mirror.

Words are just a tool, but they are the tool that calls to me, that feels natural. So really, it’s not that I want to write as much as I want to capture what it is to live and the way that I can do that is by writing. Why writing? Because it feels safe but also because it allows space for the reader and the words to create something new in another mind.

I want someone to read my words and to feel profoundly still, the kind of momentary full-stop that vibrates truth in one’s bones. Words bridge great distance and penetrate thick walls. Words are there when the time is right. I resist the idea of permanence and yet I’m drawn to the idea of creating something that can stand on its own, apart from me, and exist in the world because I put the words out there together.

Race to Alaska

My alarm went off at 430a this morning, and I was on my bike pedaling to town in the lightening dawn a few minutes later. When I got to the waterfront at 530a, there were a couple hundred people milling about and a growing number of boats assembling in the bay.

IMG_1461I joined the main crowd in watching the parade of boats being paddled and peddled out of the marina. It wasn’t far, but it was into a stiff breeze, and most of them were sailing vessels, never intended to be propelled by human power. But they were heading to the starting line of the Race to Alaska and while there are very few race rules, one of them is “no motors on board”.
IMG_1468The basic facts go like this: Began last year, the Race starts in Port Townsend and ends 750 miles north in Ketchikan, AK. Any boat without an engine can enter, and all participants must be self-supported.

I don’t know much about boats, but there were all shapes and sizes…
IMG_1475 IMG_1476 IMG_1478And then they were away!
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Clearly, I’m not a huge boat junkie, but here’s the thing: the Race brings out all of these ordinary and extraordinary people – decorated racers, badasses, drinking buddies, fathers and their grown kids – who are living their dreams. Race management and whole community around it are all about celebrating every one of them for being out there. Genuinely cheering them on, not for being flawless or winning or even for finishing, but just for being out there. And I love that.

I peddled back home, thinking about how good it feels to dream and how amazing it is to be among people trying to live their dreams and how much better off the world is when more people are doing just that.

And then I made pancakes and settled in for a regular day at the desk job. Not exactly the dream, but a little easier to take after that start.

PS – If you are even a little bit interested, I highly recommend following the Race here. I skipped the pesky details of Stage 1 vs 2, but the push to Alaska starts Sunday. You may spend days glued to the tracker but it’s totally worth it.

Soaking them in

DSC_3980 We went camping this weekend with some dear friends, a little getaway that I had been looking forward to for many weeks.

It was an ideal trip. We discovered a new-to-us campground in an enchanting mossy forest along a river; it was spacious and quiet and appropriately dark. We spent hours poking at a fire and watching flames dance and marveling at the generous piles of windfalls-turned-split-firewood in nearly every site. We went for a little hike in the rain to see a waterfall and throw stones into a river until we were soaked and then wandered into a national park lodge to warm up and I had the best hot toddy of my life. I slept better than I have in weeks, including an amazing one-hour nap on Saturday afternoon. There was an endless game of “chase” with a gleeful almost-two-year-old. On Sunday, the sun came out and we put our canoe into the lake for it’s inaugural paddle on calm water beneath glorious mountains. It was only two days without phones or screens or even a book or journal or knitting, but it felt like two weeks’ worth of recharge.

Of course there was also the part of the weekend where we planned to stay at the campground on the lake but it was full when we arrived. And we remembered there were backup options but had failed to take a map that showed them. The damp and gray gave way to showers overnight and rain and then the kind of drizzle where you can’t tell if it was falling or just hanging in the air. As soon as the sun broke out for a few minutes Saturday and coaxed us out of our defenses, it started raining harder. I under-packed clothing and found myself soaked and shivering. We’re rusty on car-camping and packed at the last minute so messed up countless little things like packing loose leaf tea but no way to brew/strain it. But none of that mattered.

We had the luxury of two full days set aside to do nothing in particular and we were soaking them in.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “surrender” in recent weeks. Not the kind of surrender where you give up and stop trying, but the kind where you let go of all expectation, release all attempts at imposing your will. Surrender to what is. It doesn’t come naturally for me, but when it happens, it sure feels magic.

Like an ideal camping trip with dear friends.

Hawthorne season

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I started last weekend with plans for a long run, collecting hawthorne and wild roses in blossom, and many hours of garden time. Saturday morning I ran and went on a hawthorne mission and was sorting out my afternoon garden priorities over some lunch when it started raining. I was somewhere between confused and indignant. It had not occurred to me that rain was a possibility.

I surveyed the sky and guessed it would be half an hour until it was done and I could carry on. Instead it rained most of the weekend, and I never did make it down to the garden. After a bit of time wandering around the house lost, I did recover and remember that there was a nearly-forgotten list of things I had been meaning to do indoors. I turned over my closet for the season, tackled some mending, blended tea, sewed myself a new shirt, and started my cucurbit seeds, all the while musing at how llloong the weekend felt, how time seemed to expand as space contracted.

Monday morning I found myself standing at the top of the driveway, overdressed in a long-sleeve quarter-zip despite the overcast morning. I had just finished my short morning run and before I went in for breakfast, I was enjoying a few ripe salmonberries. And right then, it hit me: it’s not spring anymore. Somehow, the season slipped right into early summer, when the rain is out of place and the berries are coming on and it’s time to swap out the winter woollies for summer skirts. I’ve been checking in all week… it’s not quite dark when I go to bed at night but there’s no sign of dark when I wake. We had our first picnic on the bluff overlooking the bay. Sure enough, all signs point to summer.

Of course, I have mixed feelings about this – it means both that I survived the frenzy of spring and that there are rather a lot of things on the spring task list that I failed to complete. But then I remember that maybe it will be easier to tell which of those things were never necessary in the first place from the perspective of summer. And of course it really doesn’t matter how I feel about it, but I think I’m ready to embrace some long days of the light.

Shaker life

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Our recent trip to the Berkshires was all about visiting family and friends, not being tourists, but I saw there was a Shaker village museum nearby and secretly hoped we could fit it in. As you can see, we made it, and it did not disappoint.

The Shaker’s emphasis on handcraft and functional design was an obvious draw, and traditional farming is another of my soft spots. But I didn’t remember many details of the order of daily life for Shakers – it really is rather monastic. Put it all together and it would be hard to devise a combination better suited to lure me.

I realize that not everyone is seduced by monastic life, but honestly, that realization is more recent than you might imagine. I thought everyone read the bit in a book about pre-dawn chanting and not needing any possessions and extended periods of daily silence and wished it could be so. Of course there is that pesky detail that I’ve never been a bit interested in the religious content of that life, but I think the rest looks pretty damn good – the simplicity, the ritual, the communalism, the contemplation, the reverence.

So I’m sure the beauty and the sunny spring weather also contributed but I wanted to move in to pretty much every room in the village, either for the furnishings or for the lessons the ghosts would surely impart after hours.

Zooming toward spring

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The light is returning. It’s been just about a week now since I first noticed a narrow band of brightness on the horizon at 6a. Which means we are in that sweet spot where, for a few weeks, my daily schedule aligns with the earth’s and I get to watch the distant mountains backlit and the sky slowly turning color every morning as I rise and go about my morning routine.

As much as it is a welcome change, though, it also feels a bit like we’re zooming from the quiet, fallow, dark days to the frenzy of spring. I’m noticing how the changing light is unsettling me and leaving me more susceptible to anxiety. It makes sense, just like how the rapidly diminishing light of September can unsettle and trigger depression, but I hadn’t connected my seasonal anxiety about all. the. things. to. be. done. with the accelerating changes in the light.

This winter was very much an inward season for me. Not that my mind was especially dark or sad or withdrawn from the world. More like a season where quiet felt right. While I’ve devoured a pile of books, many of my explorations were the sort where words weren’t really necessary and didn’t quite translate. It’s a big part of the reason why I’ve been more scarce in this space. It’s just been a season of quiet. And now I feel the light pulling me back out, beckoning me out of the quiet and into the chaos of another year in this world.

I’m not entirely sure what the thread of this ramble is, but it has me thinking about a lovely prayer from John O’Donahue so I think I’ll leave you with that. His book Eternal Echoes has been on my bedside table for the last couple months and he opens it with a version of Matins, poetry for the dawn, which ends with this:

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Hope and light

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Well, it seems that I took an unplanned December break from blogging. I hope you are feeling filled with hope and light after the solstice turn and that your Christmas was full of joy and merriment, if you celebrate.

Things were a mixed bag here, if we’re being objective. The last gift box is still sitting here, and will finally get in the mail on Monday (sorry, dad). The baking plan got truncated halfway through when we realized how many treats we had to eat already. Our cards were finally mailed on December 22. I was up too late too many nights.

But after all that, I assure you it was a near-perfect holiday. There were days filled with a steady trickle of treats that supplanted any need for meals. Days when I never got fully dressed. Days when I did venture out to gather with new friends and was richly rewarded with good conversation and new connections. Days with nothing more pressing (or productive) than putting together a puzzle on the dining room table for hours on end while catching up on podcasts, or listening to The Little Drummer Boy album from my childhood on repeat.

In other words, exactly what I needed after a December that was so full. Full of goodness, but so very full. It was a lot to fit into a few short weeks and I know better than to drive myself crazy with expectations and preparations. But the list had been honed to only those things that I couldn’t bear to let go. And it was still a very long list.

I was reflecting over the last couple of quiet days, when it all felt just about perfect, why all those things felt so necessary. And then I read Stephanie’s Christmas Eve post here, and realized that she had an awfully good translation. She’s talking about knitting specifically, but the sentiment applies pretty precisely to ALL the making that we do:

Knitting is, I have often said, a container for love. We work hard to make something for someone, pouring our time and energy and love into a tangible thing. When we hand knitting to someone, we’re hoping they’ll hear what we’re really saying, which is “I love you. I think you’re wonderful. I value your happiness, so much so that I’ve spent this time on you. My love is in this.”

It feels good. Even if the other person doesn’t understand that the hat you just gave them is love made firm and real (sometimes they think it’s just a hat) we do, and it’s an amazing trick to be able to do it. 

Yup, that’s it. Time translated into tangible love. Gratitude for dear ones. When your life is rich with such things, of course the season is full.

We made old-fashioned fruitcake this year. A new tradition that was born rather on accident last year, when we felt brave and curious and decided to try it just once. A half-recipe, even. And then watched each others eyes grow bigger and bigger as we sampled it, and immediately started scheming for this year.

One of my favorite moments of the week was delivering a little loaf to our neighbor who generously shares her office space with our weekly meditation group.  Over my lunch break on Tuesday, I bundled up against the cold, walked the half-mile out our driveway, and knocked on their front door bearing a quirky homemade card and the heavy loaf. She graciously received the unexpected visitor and my simple gesture of thanks, we had a brief friendly visit, and I walked home smiling, thinking YES, this, exactly.

It was just one of many little moments of spreading love around and catching its incoming forms. Utterly ordinary and yet perfectly how I want to spend these dark days that compel us to pause, to reflect and remember, to be grateful, and to turn toward the light with hope.

November sunshine

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I snapped this picture on Wednesday afternoon. We were heading towards Seattle and had a little time to kill before our ferry so turned down a road that we hadn’t before. In real time, it was a strikingly beautiful spot; in photographic record it is strikingly monochromatic. So very… November-like.

The descent into the dark days has felt gentler this year, maybe more of a slide than a tumble. But we have certainly settled into the gloom and I am feeling the familiar need to resist complete hibernation. Most days, it’s a challenge to break the gravitational pull of my semi-permanent nest at the end of the sofa under the good lamp. But it feels vital to get outside and move and breathe in the cold or the rain or the rare sunlight, and when yesterday dawned bright and blue there was no question that we were heading out for a bike ride.

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We drove about 30 miles west and jumped on a section of the Olympic Discovery Trail, which is mostly a rail trail conversion. It was our first ride on the trail and it was great. Without a set destination, it was really tempting to just keep going “a little farther”, “just to see what’s over/around/past this”. Lucky for us, we came to our senses at the point when they warned us about the steepness of the descent ahead (i.e. ascent on the way home) because we were both pretty well beat by the time we got back to the truck. Beat, but filled up on November sunshine and happily dreaming up plans for next time.

Ghosts of past lives

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A few more images from my trip to the Girl Scout camp in North Dakota last month. This old smokehouse was just outside the camp boundary, and always intriguing to me. It’s the only sign left of somebody’s former homestead although as a kid the basement also remained, holding a few rusty metal bedsprings and pieces of broken ceramic and glass. Just enough to remind you, unequivocally, that it was once a home.

I’ve always been fascinated by the ghosts of past lives. I feel a magnetic pull in my chest from every weathered, falling-down barn I see. It doesn’t matter if it’s abandoned or in a neat farmyard; if it’s standing proud or mostly in a heap; if it’s my first sighting of it or my thousandth. I don’t need to save them, I just want to love them. All.*

I find myself especially fascinated by the ghosts in places like North Dakota, where those past lives really aren’t all that distant. The dam was built and the lake created in the 1950s. How many stories were drowned under the water in the fertile river bottomland and the towns that had to be relocated? Who stewarded all the hills around the lake before the US Army Corps began doling them out for recreation and wildlife?

I know nothing about the past stories that smokehouse holds but when I stand inside and look out over the hills, I can hear the whispers… of life and loss and time and timelessness.

 

*An example: A few years back when Dean and I were designing our house, we reached a point when we had pretty much settled on the interior layout but were struggling with the overall look/feel of the exterior. So we took a couple drives to tour neighborhoods for inspiration. It went something like this:
Dean: “That’s nice.”
Bethany: “Maybe”
D: “What about this one?”
B: “Meh”

B: “Ooh, I like that!”
D: “That’s a shed, not a house. That’s a shed that is actively crumbling…”
B: “Yeah, I kind of love it…”
Pretty quickly it became clear that I am mostly drawn to outbuildings in various states of disrepair and this was not in any way helpful in the home design process.

Wednesday inspiration

DSC_3543Feeling inspired this morning. I saw Elizabeth Gilbert speak to 2,500 people last night in Seattle about creative living, which she defines really broadly, as “living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear”. Yup, I am definitely on board for that.

I loved that she was full of inspiration and also entirely pragmatic about creating this life. One of the (many) things I found whirling around my mind this morning was the idea that sometimes you have to let go of the good for the great. As in, let go of the things it would be good to do in day in order to make time for the things it would be great to do. How many days have I worked diligently through the list of housecleaning, errands, etc – things that seem like basic requirements of being a good person – only to run out of hours in the day before I got to the really juicy stuff.

Which is probably top of mind this morning because it’s an especially un-scheduled Wednesday for me. Wednesdays are my favorite day of the week, the day that, more than any other, I do exactly what I deem is important to me. Which is pretty much my definition of the ideal life. Not that it will be all fun and relaxing, but it will be satisfying and not based on the whims of someone else’s priorities. I dream of creating a life where most of my days can unfold that way but in the meantime, I treasure my Wednesdays.

Which is why I popped in here, frankly. I don’t have anything in particular to say, but on a day of my own design, sending a few words into the world makes the list.