Friday, February 28, 2014

Bird Walkin'

Pine Jay
"Quit your bird-walkin'." Apparently, this is a phrase often used by one of the teachers at my elementary school when students were out of their seats, and wandering around the room. My fifth graders would say it to each other, teasing, when I was ready to muster the troops for a lesson. We teachers have our own little vocabulary, and bless the students' hearts, they get to learn a new vernacular each year when they enter the microcosm of their new teacher's classroom. 
Lately, the bird-walkin' phrase has come to mind as I grab my camera, and head outside to capture the variety of birds that have returned to the canyon as our weather has become more mild. The month of February has been a string of spring-like days with clear blue skies, and temps in the sixties. Hiking in shirt sleeves has been a joy after the weeks I spent trudging through snow in hat and gloves. 

One day as I was walking to the post office, only a mile from home, I noticed a large gathering of blue birds at one home. There were several feeders hanging from a tree's bare limbs, and the birds were raucously enjoying the buffet. It seemed to be the job of a couple of the birds to spray the seeds from the feeders to the ground below as the others enjoyed the "manna from heaven." 

Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera at the time, but as soon as I got back home, I grabbed my Canon Rebel, and jumped in my car, speeding back down the hill, hoping the birds hadn't finished eating all of the seeds.  I parked my car across the street, and noticed a lady walking toward them. Dang. I knew she would frighten them away. All of the birds flew up to the safety of the nearby pine trees.

When she noticed me, I decided I should explain my presence. I didn't want her to think I was some creepy stalker, especially when she noticed I had a camera, and I noticed she was walking toward the home where the birds were enjoying themselves. She told me they would all fly away when she went to the house, but to wait because they'd be back. She also told me they were called Pine Jays. I was grateful for the information. (When I went online, I think I matched these birds to some other pictures, and they are apparently also called Pinyon Jays.) Sure enough, as soon as she was inside, the birds returned to their feeding frenzy, and I was able to take some pictures.


My bird-walkin' is starting to pique my interest in the local bird population. I find myself researching birds more and more, trying to identify the birds correctly. For now, I take their pictures, enjoying their presence, and knowing that spring is closer than ever. I've taken some poor pictures of Rocky Mountain Bluebirds; they sure are active birds, always flitting to the next tree or fence post ahead of me. I know that we have a myriad of other birds, including Golden Eagles, Bald Eagles, Magpies, and common starlings and sparrows.

For your viewing pleasure, I am posting some of my favorite bird pictures taken over the last year. I have a feeling I'm becoming a birder. Pretty soon, I'll be hiking with binoculars around my neck, and I'll have Audubon Society bird identification books and journals tucked into my backpack. For now, I simply enjoy noticing them, and taking their pictures when they let me get a good look at them. I hope you enjoy them, too!



Northern Flicker?
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I'm looking forward to the return of the hummingbird season.


The wild turkeys hang out with the domestic peacocks up the canyon.



Our Boston Terrier loved to stir up the turkeys.

My favorite woodpecker, a Northern Flicker, I think.

This little guy stunned himself when he bounced off our picture window. He flew away shortly after this.

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The Bald Eagles float lazily above the canyon floor.

My Golden Opportunity (animal spirit guides) Click link for story.


Thursday, February 27, 2014

*I Write, and I Write, and I Write

To have the time to write was always the issue for me. Yes, I could have gotten up earlier, or gone to bed later, when I was raising my family, but I didn't. I could have carved out a special time that became my sacred writing hour when my children were leaving the nest, but I didn't. I could've committed to a part-time writing schedule when I was finishing up the last of my thirty year teaching career, but I didn't.

My consistent writing practice began the the first of June last year, when my eternal summer vacation began. 272 days of retirement, so far, and I have 270 blog entries. I can't NOT write now.

For me, writing is free therapy. I can explore the jumbled thoughts that tumble around inside my head, and by the time I organize them, and put them on paper, the chaos subsides, and peace is restored, if only temporarily, until the next batch of thoughts starts to assemble.

Every time a slow panic starts to simmer, and worry nibbles at my brain about having enough writing material to sustain a daily blog, I realize that it is time to restore balance in my life. All it takes to stimulate more ideas is more living, and less writing. If writing is all I did, there wouldn't be much for me to say. I find that spending a day with my camera, hiking outdoors, or visiting loved ones, or reading a book written by another writer, is usually all it takes to get my juices flowing again.

My memories are triggered by reading the works of others. My own feelings and emotions are stirred when experiencing an event for the first time, or revisiting a place or event, even if only in my mind. What I write is memoir.

When I write memoir, I'm intimately familiar with all of the elements of the story, and I find them easily managed. I don't have to figure out all of those pieces of the story puzzle because all of the elements have already been sorted for me; my only job is to retell the tale in such a way that others can experience the story through my writing.

Writing is one of the few professions in which you can psychoanalyze yourself, get rid of hostilities and frustrations in public, and get paid for it.  -Octavia E. Butler
This quote from Octavia Butler intrigues me because the free therapy is one of the reasons I am drawn to writing. I haven't felt the need to return to counseling because I ask myself the tough questions now, and explore the answers myself, without needing to sit on someone else's couch, and to pay them to listen to me think out loud. The thing that really intrigues me, now that I'm retired, is now to figure out how to make money at what I love doing. I trust that by keeping at it, and keeping myself open to the possibilities, I will figure out that missing piece for myself. Until then, I write, and I write, and I write. The answers will come; they always do.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Letting Go



"Let go of it! It's MINE," screeches the little blonde-haired girl at her playmate. As they struggle for possession of the doll, muscles tense, and tempers flare. Neither wants to release her hold on the toy, declaring with her actions that she is in the right with her demands. To let go would mean defeat.

This scene plays out in the lives of many children, boys and girls, as they struggle to establish ownership of their few belongings. These childhood dramas never end well, but there are lessons that are being learned. Always lessons. 

As we get older, we no longer fight over toys, but we hold tightly to things that might be best let go: old hurts, a painful past, a waning relationship, belongings that no longer serve a purpose. Our lessons continue: knowing what is ours, and what is not; who we can trust, and who we cannot; when to let go, and when to tighten our grip; what's worth the fight, and from whom or what we need to walk away.

Learning moments are presented to us ad nauseum throughout our lives, it seems, giving us the chance to move on and progress. Letting go can be a challenge. 

Every stage of life has presented an opportunity for learning this particular lesson. Until I am able to let go with grace, I'm afraid the universe will make sure I have plenty of chances to get it right.

When I consider this "in-between" time of my life, at times I have been overwhelmed by the decisions, and the emotions of my day-to-day existence. 

After Daddy died, life became even more complicated as I had to face the realities of my marriage ending, and giving up my dog in the process. I would soon be moving back to my own little house, so the time had come to part with many of my belongings. 



As my heart grieved the loss of my dad, the end of my marriage, and the absence of my Boston Terrier, my mind had to deal with the reality of not being able to take all of the stuff I had acquired over the last few years with me. There were closets and drawers to purge, things to sell, and a house requiring repairs and renovations. There was much that had to be let go, emotionally and physically, all at once, and even breathing became difficult.

It has been challenging to not run away from the uncomfortable feelings, the sadness of all that was lost, and the fear of the unknown. Some days recently, I have literally "run away," taking off for the canyon, hiking long and hard, away from the claustrophobia-inducing, solitary life within the four walls of my living room, exposing myself to the wide open space of the outdoors, taking in great gulps of air, trying to fight down the panic rising in the back of my throat as I struggled to let go of life as I knew it.

Some of you are aware I've been a bit of a Sign-Seeker lately, searching for confirmations that I'm on the right path. Synchronicity has seen to it that the universe has been bombarding me with the message of letting go. The signs are all around me. Everywhere I turn, the message is there: let go.


I've loved many of the images from Steve Maraboli. Check out his images sometime. Amazing.


Sometimes I think, if only I were made of stronger stuff, I could have hung in there a little longer. If I weren't so weak, I could have held on tighter. And then, I found this message:

“Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.”  - Hermann Hesse

What do I stand to gain by realizing I'm not really in control of anything except my reactions to what is happening in my life? What if I could simply accept what is, and recognize that forcing anything is futile? I'm discovering as I come to accept the truth of my heart, that I'm braver than I ever knew. I'm stronger than I used to be. I can live with uncertainty, and can continually learn, while I'm figuring things out. These lessons never seem to come easily, or without cost.

MY OWL visited me again last night. At first, it was unsettling. Was he warning me of more changes on the horizon? Oh, I really hoped not. In reviewing what I've been learning about animal spirit guides, I was reminded that often the owl comes to those of us who need to let go of things that no longer serve us. He encourages us through the dark times so that we can move through the fear and darkness toward "light, happiness, and knowledge."

What does the future hold for us? And if that thought scares you as much as it scares me, let's just focus on today. What does this moment in time grant us? What can we learn in the discomfort of our hard times? When we let go of the past, and embrace the present, what gifts will we gain? Authenticity? Self-confidence? Courage? Love of self? Happiness? There are always hidden gifts in our trials. The secret is being able to abide the discomfort long enough to find the truth and joy available right now.

In your times of difficulty or stress, what lessons have you learned about yourself? What blessings, gifts, or truths have you discovered once you came out on the other side of your trials?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Let Them Eat Cookies! (Breakfast Cookie Recipe w/ Nutritional Info)


Cookies for Breakfast? Why not?


COOKIES? FOR BREAKFAST?

Yes, my friends, it has come to this. What I am still hungry for is cookies. The thing is, I haven't read very far in my new book What Are You Hungry For? by Deepak Chopra, and I have to eat, so yesterday it occurred to me that while The Hole in My Soul needs spiritual and emotional feeding, I still need to eat. If I'm going to eat, I better be offering my body something that offers physical sustenance.  Enter:  Breakfast Cookies!

Bill Cosby fans understand how cake can be the perfect breakfast food, so my cookies aren't too far of a stretch. Seriously, though, they offer oats, bananas, coconut oil, egg...plenty of good stuff to offer your picky eaters at the breakfast table. These also make a great any-time snack. Lately, Facebook and Pinterest have been inundated with recipes using ripe bananas and oatmeal, so I thought I'd give this idea a go in my own test kitchen. 

THE BASICS

The basic recipe calls for very ripe bananas and oatmeal. There just happened to be three REALLY ripe bananas on the kitchen counter, and rather than entertain another infestation of fruit flies, I decided to actually incorporate them in my recipe.

ADAPTATIONS  

Unfortunately, I didn't have as much oatmeal on hand as I thought, so I had to improvise. (This is usually how recipe adaptations begin for me. I've baked enough to know there are plenty of ways to tweak a recipe to use what is available.)  Keep in mind that you can use any puréed fruit or vegetable (think "applesauce or pumpkin") for the bananas. You can use your favorite flour for the oatmeal, but if you're going gluten-free, oatmeal is a great way to go. I know we like things a little sweeter in our house, so I added stevia and brown sugar, but the purist's recipes don't add any sweetener, since the bananas are "sweet enough." (I know; I'm bad.) I threw in an egg for the tiniest bit of protein, and to help make the cookies a little lighter.

(***Hop over to my friend Stella's blog Stella Starshine to see how easily she and her husband adjusted the recipe when only a couple of ingredients were readily available in their kitchen. Her story will entertain you, and if you worry that making changes will hurt the recipe, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised!)


INGREDIENTS

3 REALLY ripe bananas (the riper, the sweeter)
1/3 c. coconut oil, melted, or your choice of oil
1 egg
1 t. vanilla
1/2 c. stevia
1/2 c. brown sugar
3 c. oatmeal (or lightly blended old-fashioned oats, or whole wheat flour, or any combination of the flours you have on hand. Mine was made of 2 c. blended oats, and 1 c. whole wheat flour)
1/4 c. coconut PLUS 1/4 c. raisins (you choose: coconut, raisins, craisins, dried cherries or blueberries...)
1/2 c. chocolate chips (totally optional, unless you're in our family, then they're totally required, and included in the nutritional info)
1/2 c. nuts (again, optional. For nutrition info, I did not add these. Peanut butter would be good, too!)
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. soda

DIRECTIONS

Flatten cookies into the shape you desire; they won't change shape while baking.
Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, ON PARCHMENT PAPER. (The ingredients will leave a very sticky residue on your cookie sheets.)

Enjoy these at breakfast, after school, or any time the sweet tooth hits you. 

Nutritional information determined by My Fitness Pal, below.






Monday, February 24, 2014

The Hole in My Soul

I gave in. I succumbed. I bought another New Age book, another book by Deepak Chopra, to guide me through the choppy waters of life. Chopra's latest book, available in hardcover only right now is What Are You Hungry For? (The Chopra Solution to Permanent Weight Loss, Well-Being, and Lightness of Spirit.) The book was screaming for me to buy a copy when I was browsing through Barnes & Noble one cold, winter's day in January, but I wasn't shopping for self-help books that day. 

No list of New Year's Resolutions for this girl; not this year. I was keeping things simple. I ignored the whole table of diet and exercise books. Okay, I glanced at the table, raised my eyebrows at Deepak's book after reading the title, and simply walked away. I honestly didn't know what I was hungry for, and I wasn't interested in discovering the source of my hunger. I didn't want to know what was inside the book. You've got to be ready for that kind of information. I wasn't ready.

Fast forward a few weeks. The stress diet had been working pretty well for me. I'd dropped a few pounds between my lack of appetite, and my forced marches up the canyon each day, but I could feel the emptiness growing inside me. The hole that demands to be fed was making its presence known, and it wasn't interested in food, but food is what is easily obtained at the grocery store, and the things the hole is hungry for is not, so I fed it a steady diet of whatever's available, preferably straight out of the package, and standing in front of the kitchen sink.

So in February when I was shopping for a Valentine's gift, I bought myself a little present, too. I would add What Are You Hungry For? to my stack of books to read. Its presence triggered slight feelings of guilt whenever I saw it, unopened, unread.

A couple of nights ago, when I had managed to break my recliner's hold on me long enough to make something to eat, I rose like the Phoenix from the ashes, and returned to the recliner proclaiming to my sixteen year old, "Dinner is served." My son knew I had been baking chocolate chip cookies because he had to pick up the Guittard chips after school so I could add them to the dough. He knew better than to question my peculiar menu for the evening, and gratefully poured himself a glass of milk, and sat in the leather recliner beside me, eating his dinner, still warm from the oven.

Between bites of my own cookies, I glanced at my reading table beside me, pointing out the book to Bridger.  "Apparently, what I'm hungry for is chocolate chip cookies."  We both smiled as we dined on milk and cookies. In my heart, though, I knew the truth. I was almost ready to stop making fun of the book, to end my judging of this book by its cover, and investigate the answers offered inside.


I dusted the cookie crumbs off the dust jacket of Deepak's book so you could see the cover. I want you to notice the word DIET is nowhere to be found on the front, although my sarcasm was satisfied that the ISBN's bar code on the back means that when Barnes & Noble is no longer pushing New Year's Resolutions down our throats, the unsold copies of the book will be found in the Health & Fitness Section, under Diet & Nutrition. DIET. There's that four-letter word. 

Deepak's got guts; I'll give him that. Right there on the back of the dust jacket, he offers his big secret for all to see.  "There is only one principle that applies: Life is about fulfillment. If your life isn't fulfilled, your stomach can never supply what's missing." So, why bother to read the book? Why didn't I just save myself some money, and walk away without buying that book if I already knew what was inside? 

I bought it because I know there are some lessons in our lives that we will be presented time and time again, until we truly understand the principles being taught. This life lesson is one of mine. You see, I've been down this road before. This isn't this cowgirl's first rodeo.

Several years ago, I was going to a counselor on a regular basis, trying to figure out why I was so miserable. I kept thinking if she could fix my broken parts, I would feel happy and whole again. I told her that Rascal Flatts sang a song called "Holes," that I felt summed up my life. One line says, "I pour drink after drink, but nothing hits bottom." Alcohol has never been my weakness; food has always been my drug of choice.

One day, my therapist offered hypnotism as a therapy to help me. I tried to be polite, but what I wanted to do was scoff heartily at her suggestion. I curbed my disdain for the practice, and forced myself to be open enough to give it a try. 

What happened next surprised me. After a long day of teaching school, I was exhausted, and settling back onto her couch cushions felt good. I closed my eyes, relaxed, and just listened to her soft voice. She invited me to walk to a place of my choosing, a paradise for me, and I soon heard waves lapping on a shore, and felt my feet walking through warm sand. She told me that I was carrying a basket, a basket full of all of my problems. She encouraged me to set the basket down before walking down the steps that would lead me to my paradise. Her voice reassured me that my basket would be waiting for me to retrieve it, if I wanted to do so when we were done, but for now, I needed to let it go, and leave it at the top of the stairs. In my mind, I saw my basket brimming with my "fat clothes," my low self-esteem, my insatiable desire for food, my sadness, and my fear of the future. All I had to do was set it down for a time, so I could see what that felt like. 

As I mentally released my fingers from the basket, I began to cry. I couldn't stop crying. My body wasn't racked with sobs, but tears were streaming down my cheeks. She continued the session by inviting me to travel down the steps, and seeing the beauty awaiting me in the paradise I had created for myself. After spending some time there, I walked back up the stairs, and she told me that just as she'd promised, my basket was still there. Some of the things in my basket had served me for quite some time. I could choose any, and all of the things that were there, or I could simply leave the whole basket where it was. Then I really began to cry. Was it really that easy? I could just let go of the burdens I'd chosen to carry all of this time? 

Before I left her that day, she asked what I had chosen to do with the things in my basket. That was easy, I told her. I left the whole basket behind. Who in their right mind would consciously choose to carry those things when given a choice? I could no longer allow myself to haul that stuff around with me any more. 

It has been awhile since I have thought about my basket, and today I realize that not only have I selected another basket for myself, but I've been gathering things to put in it, too. It is time to examine what is in my basket, and determine what is worth keeping, and what needs to be released.

When I find myself turning to food for comfort, red flags appear. I know that I will eat and eat and eat until I resolve the confusion, the sadness, the anger; whatever it is that is driving me to seek fulfillment in unhealthy ways. I've only read the first couple of chapters of my new book, but I am finally ready to admit what I am really hungry for. I have a sneaking suspicion that it will not take me so long to identify what is missing, and I can only hope that I will soon be on my way to filling the hole in my soul which no food can satisfy. I will keep you posted.




Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Upside of a Down Time

Right there in the middle of an uphill climb, it hit me. For days, I'd forced myself out of the house, and pushed myself to go farther than I wanted, to walk faster than was comfortable, to hit higher elevations than before. Was I rewarding myself with these outdoor experiences, or punishing myself? My face, arms, and hands were cold. My backpack contained my jacket and gloves, but I never bothered to wear them. Perhaps I believed I deserved to feel the discomfort of cold. I preferred feeling anything to the numbness I'd been experiencing.

What I realized in that moment of slight discomfort was that I was smiling. My cheeks were pushing my sunglasses up just a bit, my mouth was in a wide grin, and the cool mountain air was hitting my teeth. I was singing along with the music coming into my ears from my iPod. There was a spring in my step; I was no longer painstakingly plodding uphill, I was actually stepping out in a lively way.  I FELT JOYFUL.

Joy? Isn't that the stuff of Christmastime? Joy is for children, and young lovers, and new mothers, and Kodak moments, and Hallmark cards. And in that moment in time, joy was for me. I couldn't believe it. I made a mental note to be grateful for that experience; the hiking, the fresh air, the exertion, the music, the smile, the pure happiness; all of it.

How different it felt from where I've been spending these last couple of months. Now that I feel like I've rounded the bend in my sadness, I am noticing what I'm finally ready to leave behind. Survival mode is a setting that creates anxiety when it lasts too long. I am thinking my time of sorrow is drawing to a close. There were some upsides to my down time, and I'm almost ready to move forward on my journey.

While I have been in this temporary state of depression, I realized that there is much less laundry to do at the end of the week. When I am able to make do with the same oversized shirt and yoga pants every single day, there is only the tiniest load of laundry to do at the end of the week, so I haven't bothered. My makeup will last another month or two this year, for I've rarely troubled myself with that daily task. When it was time to push myself out the door to hike, I could easily rummage through the few items in the hamper to retrieve the only pants I have that wouldn't drag through the mud. So, I figure my slovenly approach to fashion has saved me not only the time of washing clothes, but also laundry detergent and fabric softener.

While battling lethargy each day, I've let my obsession with using things to the last drop take over. I didn't have the energy to unwrap a new bar of soap, or walk down the hall to the pantry for a fresh bottle of hand soap, or a new jar of peanut butter. I've made do with what was available. The sliver of soap in the tub has lasted me for a couple of weeks because when one isn't exerting much energy, one doesn't sweat, and one doesn't need as much bathing. I just kept adding water to the liquid hand soap dispenser so I wouldn't have to start a new one. The peanut butter jar could have been tossed days ago, but I have made this one last by using a spatula to get every last bit of it.  There are less dishes to wash when one just eats directly from the spatula, too, so there's another little bonus.

Energy for cooking and baking was hard to come by, but this week I did manage to make a batch of cookies for us. Nothing says comfort food like a cookie, right? When Bridger arrived home from school, I announced, "Dinner is served." He looked up at me with a question in his eyes, broke into a grin, and then helped himself to some cookies and milk.  Nutrition has not been forefront in my mind lately.

I've always made a hot breakfast for my kids before they go to school, and I managed to crank out a simple crépe recipe and pancakes, but there were a couple of days I sat at the counter while Bridger rummaged around to find himself a bowl of cereal, or fed himself thawed rolls from the freezer. He never complained, just smiled, and offered lingering hugs to this woman who had taken the place of his once fully functioning mother.

When one doesn't cook, one doesn't have much in the way of dishes to clean. Think of the money I have saved in dish detergent alone. Tidying up the kitchen only takes a moment when the only dishes used are a napkin and a spatula. Eating in front of the sink eliminates so many unnecessary dishes. I've reused the same coffee cup for days.

As we sat at breakfast one day last week, there was a gorgeous sunrise just outside our kitchen window. The sight of peach-colored sunlight against denim blue sky touched me, and I burst into tears. "We're going to be okay, aren't we, Bridge?" I looked across at my tall man-child, and he quickly pushed his barstool out of the way, and wrapped his arms around my shoulders.

"We're going to be fine, Shrink," he quietly reassured me.

I can never predict when the tears will hit, and they have fallen freely at bank drive-up windows, grocery stores, visiting with friends, early morning hikes, and when I'm alone in my house with no one to hear me. I make no apology to anyone but my kids; I wish they didn't have to see me like this. Everyone else can just wonder why I am crying in public.

When I left home after Daddy's funeral, Jackie assured me time and time again, "It'll all work out." And so it finally is, but it's taken long enough. It's been two months to the day that my world fell apart. I thought things would feel better sooner, and without so much sadness, but that has not been the case. I'm learning to be brave, and I'm learning that although life isn't always easy, and some days are just plain hard, there is always something for which to be grateful.

During an evening of solitude, when the sadness felt overwhelming, my daughter called. "Tell me one thing you absolutely love about this exact moment in time." I had to think for a moment. Although the house was cold, my electric blanket was keeping me comfortable, and I was grateful for the warmth, and also for the soft shirt I was wearing, but mostly, I was thankful that she had taken the time to ask me that question.

There have been random moments, out of the blue that my oldest son and his wife have sent texts just to say they're thinking of me, and that they love me. My children have been a great source of comfort and support, even though the older ones don't live close to home. Knowing I can count on my kids when life gets hard has been such a blessing.

Friends and family members have come out of the woodwork, it seems, blessing my life with quick texts, sweet cards, soft words of concern and encouragement, and small tokens of friendship. Yellow daffodils, a gift from a dear friend, are blooming in my kitchen, reminding me every day that I am loved. Throughout this time, even in my darkest moments, I have felt gratitude for my friends and family.

So I've saved myself some money and time. I've emptied my system of any excess tears that have been storing up inside me all of these years. I've forced myself to hike long and hard, trying to put some distance between an empty house and myself. My children, family, and friends have offered love and support to get me through this time until I could find my own joy. There was no one thing that helped the oppressive feeling to lift. The combination of prayers, selfless acts of service, and giving myself the time to honor the sweet memories, and the also the sadness, has made me realize that all of it has been such a blessing. It was simply a matter of time. There is always a silver lining; we just have to take the time to find it.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Canary in the Canyon

Allow me to introduce you to Grandma, one of the oldest living deer in Bullion Canyon. Grandma is the matriarch of Marysvale.  She lives among the sage brush, scrub oaks, and junipers in a small, rural town nestled in the foothills of the Tushars, and in the mouth of a canyon that was once a booming gold mine.  There are references to the historical roots of Marysvale posted on signs and old mining cars along Bullion Canyon Road: Canyon of Gold. Miner's Park. Bullion City. There are remnants of the old mill, a miner's cabin, and a few ramshackle buildings left from the old days.

Grandma is a mangey looking creature, with the ears of a lop-eared rabbit, but there are many of us who adore her, and are interested in her welfare.  Grandma's ears set her apart from the rest of the herd, although a few of her offspring have slightly droopy ears, too.

My friends Pam and Clem live higher in the canyon than I do, and they have known Grandma for over 17 years. Grandma was an old deer when they moved into their home by the creek nearly two decades ago. Whenever I visit their home, I can count on seeing Grandma.  I've seen her napping on the deck, standing at the sliding glass doors, nibbling on the leaves of the surrounding trees, and foraging around the sage brush around the house.  They tell me they worry her tongue will freeze to their windows when she licks the glass on the coldest of days. Grandma is about as close to being a pet as she can be.

Just a few weeks ago, the three of us were having lunch at our favorite local hot spot, the Marysvale Diner at Weber's, enjoying our soup, sandwiches, and burgers when I asked them if they thought I should be worried about running into bears or cougars when I hike above their home.  We talked about the few sightings that have been reported, and the fact that none of us had ever heard of an actual attack.  Pam reminded me that bears don't always hibernate like we are led to believe. (Hmmm...I thought they slept through the whole winter like I saw on the cartoons I watched as a kid.) Pam and Clem felt like as long as I stayed aware, I was probably pretty safe in our little canyon.

Several of my friends worry about my hiking at the higher elevations, and my friend Lisa had sent me a "Bear Country" story.  If the story is to be believed, park rangers had posted signs for hikers at a national park to be aware of the Black bear and Grizzly bear population, suggesting that hikers wear small bells to announce their presence, and to carry pepper spray to scare off bears who attack. The poster included information to help guests distinguish the scat (feces) of the two bears, claiming that the waste of the Black bear would contain digested berries and leaves, and that of the Grizzly bear had remnants of small bells, and smelled of pepper.  Ha ha ha. Gotta love the humor of my high school friends. 

My next couple of hikes after our lunch date,  I made note of where my friends' houses were, and considered getting to know some of the people farther up the canyon.  Seriously?  What are the chances I'd ever run into any carnivorous animal up there?  And if I did, did I think I could outrun any predator in hot pursuit to a friend's house, and that anyone would be home to save me if I pounded furiously on their front door? I tell you, my imagination is on fire some days.

As I was scanning Facebook earlier this week, my speed-reading made my heart race a little faster when I stumbled upon a post of Pam's. All I saw were the phrases "Oh, no...oh, no..." and "Grandma."  I assumed the worst.  Then I discovered that Clem had disposed of some tainted meat for the feral cats up the canyon, but Grandma had eaten nearly every scrap.  They had created a monster, in Pam's words, a carnivorous deer.  "Run for the hills," she teased.  Whew.  I felt relieved to know that Grandma was alive and well.

You may think it odd that I'd even care about an old deer that has already had a very long life, but I have an ulterior motive in my concern for Grandma.  Let me explain.

Most of you may be aware that long ago, coal miners took canaries into the depths of the mines with them as indicators of oxygen levels.  As long as the canaries were alive, the miners were sure of the presence of adequate air to breathe.  A dead canary was a sign that the oxygen supply was depleting, and it was time to vacate that area.  

Grandma is my "canary in the canyon."  She is so old, and moves so slowly, that I hope I can safely assume that as long as she is living, the bears and cougars are getting plenty to eat without preying on the aged and infirm.  I don't think I need to fear for my own safety since the carnivorous animals would most likely go after an elderly deer before they'd take on a vigorous retired school teacher hiking up the canyon.  Am I right? 

It did occur to me the other day after I'd hiked about six miles that my pace was slowing, and my fatigue was probably showing in my gait. With two more miles to go before I would be home, I stepped up my pace, not wanting to create any doubt to any unseen predators about my physical status.  Just in case, I wanted to give every indication that I am one healthy, spunky creature a wild animal would rather not attack.  

Grandma is a sweetie, if not almost obnoxious in her demands for attention. I wish her well, and I hope she has an even longer life in our canyon. It may be selfish of me, but I, for one, am very grateful for her presence.









Thursday, February 20, 2014

This Is for the Birds

Early Tuesday morning as I sat in the darkness of the house, I heard my owl. Having a hearing impairment, I often do not hear sounds unless they are quite loud, or directed toward me in an obvious way. It is such a rare treat for him to make himself known to me, and I wanted to feel his presence. I wrapped my fleece blanket around my shoulders, and opened the sliding glass door as slowly as I could. I stepped out into the cold, morning air. He continued to call as I strained to see through the darkness. The one ultra-bright star to the east shimmered brightly. The moon was hanging where the sun usually sets. 
A rare treat; the only time I was able to actually see my owl friend.
Unable to see him, as usual, I was still able to feel his calming influence on my troubled heart. I could have stayed and listened to the song of my owl for as long as he sang, but it was time to start the day. I reluctantly headed back inside to make breakfast for my son before he had to drive through the canyon to the high school. Before long, I was caught up in my daily routine of dishes, straightening the family room, and getting myself ready. My owl, all but forgotten.

This day held significance for me. My life was at a crossroads. I had been praying to find peace, to know that I was making the best decisions for me. Yes, you could say I was looking for signs. The first blessing of that day was waking up after a full night's rest. As one who has chronic insomnia issues, this was quite a gift, in and of itself. Looking back, I now see the significance of hearing my owl so plainly, and for so long, that morning.

A couple of hours later, I found myself on old highway 89, enraptured with the sight of not just one, but two, Golden eagles.  I pulled off on the side of the road, watching their every move, and taking as many pictures as I could, hoping to capture at least one or two good shots.  As I watched them, I realized that they were gifts of that day. Signs, if you will. A calmness settled over me. Another gift requested, and received.

In studying about animal spirit guides, I have found some answers that make sense to me now. The Native Americans believe that there are spiritual connections between humans and animals. If we will take notice of the animals in our lives, we can interpret the messages they bring to us. I love studying other cultures, and seeing how their beliefs fit in with my own. Here I have included the information I found in an article about Spirit Animal Totems. Since on that day I encountered my owl and the two eagles, I was curious about the significance of both birds.

OWL

Alternatively Owl is often thought to come to those who need to let go of some part of their life that is no longer needed. Listen carefully to that inner voice and be guided to recapture the knowledge of your true path in life. Owl’s senses pierce through shadows, beyond fear and darkness, through to the other side that promises light, happiness and knowledge.

EAGLE

When Eagle comes flying into your life:

It is time to reconnect with your spiritual path. It’s time to listen too and heed your spiritual directives as well as your heart and to allow them both to lead the way for you at this time. When you can find yourself in this state of flight then all the doors will open and the directions you need to follow will be made clear. Like a beacon – your heart will follow the light.

It is with a grateful heart, and a spirit of humility, that I accept these gifts for what they were.  As I learn and progress, I hope I will continue to be open to the lessons available to me, however they come.  Each day, I pray to know the truths of my heart, and the courage to act on what I know to be true for me.  I also pray that I will maintain a spirit of peace and love, that I may always act in such a way that the people in my life will feel blessed by my presence. As I accept who I am, I hope to be an influence for good, and to be of service to those around me. 

For the last several weeks, I have taken every opportunity to be still, and simply listen. I have tried to be open to spiritual promptings, and to know the things I should do to live a life of peace and happiness. I have tried to be aware of my father, to see if there is anything he is trying to tell me. I have made myself available to the guidance that comes to us through the soft whisperings of the spirit. 

I had hoped that by doing these things, I would only feel joy, but that is not the case. There has been sadness, and grief. For a time, I worried that my tears were signs that I was making mistakes. I can now see that through my trials, I have been learning and growing. My circumstances have humbled me enough that I can hear and see the messages available to me, but I had to ask. I had to seek. 

Life isn't always easy, but we are promised blessings and knowledge from our trials. After the storm, the rainbow; after the sorrow, joy. I am finally moving through the fear and darkness, and I know that happiness and light are in store for me. It is with a grateful heart that I acknowledge the blessings, signs, and gifts of my recent sorrows. Life is indeed good.
Owl by Ryan Glasmann (Link to Etsy shop for his art)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Fading Scars

My body is covered with scars. Literally, I have scar tissue from the back of my head to my toes. Very few of my earlier injuries left hidden emotional scarring.  I choose to view my physical scars as my personal history, a topographical map of things that have happened to me along my journey.  

If we're lucky, a scar is all that remains of an old wound.  It serves as a reminder of our past, which can be a trigger for old memories.   There is one scar I have that I have carried for close to fifteen years.  There are some residual effects of that one, which I hope will continue to fade as months turn into years.

All my life, for as long as I can remember, I have loved dogs.  As a child, I adored our little Border Collies.  Then we had one of the greatest dogs ever, Barney, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever/Lab mix. I bred Labrador Retrievers for a few years when my own children were small. Sitting in the middle of a litter of chubby Lab puppies is a joyful experience. The Boston Terrier we adopted when he was just six weeks old is almost four years old.  Dogs have always been a part of my life.  


A switch flipped in me the day a dog bit me.  My friend and I were taking our long Saturday walk through the alfalfa fields south of the golf course.  As we were passing by a log cabin, the owner's farm dogs silently ran out toward the road, watching as we walked along their property.  I didn't give them a second thought.

Unbeknownst to me, the Blue Heeler had slipped in behind us, and was trailing us.  All of a sudden I felt a sharp sting in my calf, and I jumped, grabbing my friend's arm.  The Blue Heeler had nipped the back of my bare leg, much as he would if I were a wayward cow needing a reminder to return to the herd. I didn't realize I'd been bitten until I felt the warm blood as it cooled, trickling down the back of my leg into the heel of my shoe.

His teeth marks shredded my skin, exposing several layers of raw flesh, and left me with an uneven, white patch of skin on my left calf. For several years I had a new respect (translation: psychotic fear) of Blue Heelers. Any time we met Australian shepherds or Blue Heelers on our walks after that, I nearly climbed up my friend's back to get away from the untrustworthy canines.  I still adored nearly any other breed of dogs: especially big dogs of any sort: Saint Bernards, Mastiffs, German Shepherds; just not Blue Heelers.  Is it rational? No. Do I feel it fair to judge an entire breed on one experience? No.

Things are changing. I'm getting better. I had to. A few years ago, we moved into the family home in a tiny rural town, and our neighbors have Blue Heelers, two of them.  Those dogs petrified me every time I walked past their house, but my love of the canyon outweighed my fear of the dogs.  They seem to delight in running toward me with their hackles up, barking to protect their homestead.  I finally am able to draw myself up to my full height, and with all of the bravado I can muster, I tell them, "NO!  Go home!" They are not eager to obey me, but they usually back down after they see I mean business.  

Sometimes a small scar is all that remains of an earlier injury.  If we're lucky, the emotional scarring eventually heals, and leaves only the faintest mark on our memory. I'm glad I've come this far; sometimes the emotional scar takes a little longer to fade than the physical one.



Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Prepare to Fly

In a conversation I once had with a therapist friend, I was told that there are some who believe there are lessons to be learned in watching animals. The theory is that we tell ourselves the things we need to hear as we watch the animals, and interpret the lessons we can learn from them for ourselves.

Today I will admit to being a "sign seeker."  I was seeking confirmation of recent decisions, of the path I have chosen for my life's journey.

As I was driving down Highway 89 in south central Utah, a large bird caught my eye. I'd never had a fascination with birds until I retired last May. I'm not sure if I'm more aware of them because the pace of my life has slowed enough for me to notice them, or if they have just begun to take on a significance in my life.

Slowing my silver Sonata down, I pulled over to the edge of the pavement, driving over those infernal rumble strips, trying to keep track of his movements as I parked.  My hands searched blindly behind my car seat for my camera and my telephoto lens.  I silently prayed that he would still be there after I attached my lens. When I looked up, he had settled on a sagebrush.


He looked at me, as I looked at him.  Seeing me as no threat, he sat there surveying the landscape, probably looking for his breakfast.  After awhile, he flew from his perch, gliding up and down over the desert to the west of me.  He dove back down to the ground, hidden from view behind the cover of vegetation.  I decided to leave him be, and set my camera on the seat beside me.  When I looked down the highway, I saw something on top of the speed limit sign, less than 100 yards away.




My car had only slightly accelerated when I decided to slow down to get a better look at the sign. It was another great bird of prey. Driving over the rumble strips once more, I hoped they wouldn't disturb him as he perched on the sign. He paid no attention to me, too busy looking out over the desert. I parked my car, and opened the car door. I couldn't believe my luck. Two of these beauties, close up, and all for me, it seemed.

The majestic bird clung to the sign with his strong talons, getting his bearings for his next move. After I'd snapped several photographs, he gave a great flap of his wings, and he flew out to the east, soaring high, and then low, and then out of my view.



Watching those birds today, I considered what I would tell myself about what I had learned from them.  This is what I think I needed to hear myself say today:


Slow down. Don't be in such a hurry. Stop and smell the sagebrush.  Rest, and gather your strength.When you are ready to fly, you will soar, and until your wings have sufficient strength, you will need to take good care of yourself to prepare for longer flights, and higher heights. When you are grounded, you will have time to get your bearings, and set your sights on distant horizons. There will be times when you feel you are not progressing, or that your progress is too slow. Get to know that discomfort, and learn from it. When you have learned what you need to from the limits in your life, whether real or imagined, you will be free to soar to new heights, without restriction. Take flight; be free. You've had your signs; now prepare to fly.




Monday, February 17, 2014

Must've Done Something Right

Standing in front of the window at my kitchen sink offers me the most gorgeous panoramic view. From my vantage point, I am able to watch the sunrise each morning, which at the moment, has the horizon glowing in a vibrant, peachy-orange color, and I am able seek out the moon each night.  I can watch the turkeys fly up to their roosting spots in the tall trees at dusk, and fly down just before dawn.  The other reason I love standing in front of the kitchen window is it is there that I have many of my favorite photographs of my children.  

The camaraderie between the three kids lets me know that for all of the mistakes I've made in my life, I got at least one thing right.  The love and laughter we share fills up any of the spaces in my heart where doubts lurk about my parenting skills.  When we are together, good-natured teasing, and laughter are the norm. When we are apart, frequent texts, phone calls, and emails keep us in touch with each other.  
When Sierra flew in from Denver to join us last month, I kept my camera at the ready to capture the moments that were sure to come. When I am alone, I enjoy these photographs of the happy time we shared...eating meals, riding four-wheelers, playing games, and just visiting.  

I rarely print pictures any more since the possibility of digital storage allows me to view them effortlessly on my laptop, but these last couple of months, I have been printing pictures of my family to have tangible reminders of the happy moments we've shared lately. I have tacked them on my bulletin board, and displayed some of these pictures here in frames along my kitchen windowsill.  
My boys at Red Mountain overlook in Saint George.
My profile pic on Facebook
On Facebook this last week, I had updated my cover photo to show my sons, my older son's arm draped over the younger's shoulders, on our hike up to the Red Mountain overlook in Saint George. My profile picture included my daughter.  I love seeing these beautiful faces whenever I go online.  

Sunday afternoon I received a notification on my phone from Facebook that Sierra was letting me know she had "fixed" my picture. Since I had requested that she post a picture of her with her new puppy, I was hoping to see a picture of Sierra with her Great Dane, Hans.  Curious, I clicked on the notice to see what she'd done. I will have to wait to see more pictures of baby Hans. What I saw made me smile broadly.  


Sierra had successfully edited the picture of her brothers to include her on our hike.  So, even though she was not with us that day, now my happy memories would include this delightful picture of all three of my children at the Red Mountain overlook.

Isn't she clever?  My kids make me laugh whenever they're together, and even when they're not. Yep, I must've done something right.



Sunday, February 16, 2014

Forest Medicine

At this moment, there is a magpie perched in the highest branches of an old dead Russian Olive tree behind our house. Just watching him makes my heart beat a little slower, and I feel myself relax. Making connections with nature always has that effect on me. Sometimes I forget, and I pay the price of feeling disjointed, and like something is missing. Even though we all know the benefits of regular exercise, it is easy to let things slide when life overwhelms us.


Being outdoors is the best medicine in the world for me. Whether I'm skiing, hiking, biking, taking pictures, or just walking through the trees in the backyard, I always feel refreshed. It fills me up, and makes me feel whole.  The worries of the world lose their grip on me when I'm outside.


Last week was a rough week for me emotionally. My heart was still healing from losing Daddy, and I had just signed my divorce papers. My life was hanging in the balance, and there were so many unanswered questions. I became a "recliner potato," only leaving my chair to bask in front of the glow of the stainless steel refrigerator. Food had no appeal, but it gave me something to do. Often, I would return to the chair after selecting nothing, only to return a little later to see if my mood would allow me to partake of something, anything, to eat.

After a day of lethargy and sloth, I knew what my soul needed. The Japanese call it Forest Medicine, or Forest Bathing.  [Their term is Shinrin-Yoku, and it is simply spending time outdoors as a preventive healthcare practice. Although I have participated in this activity off and on for years, I was unaware that it was a real thing in any culture until my friend Janet posted a beautiful forest picture on my Facebook wall with an explanation of the practice. "This made me think of you," she commented below the link.  

Last Thursday I wanted to feel better, and I wanted to create memories with my Boston Terrier. I knew just what to do. Marley pranced around in front of me while I laced up my hiking shoes. He spun in front of the door as I put his walking harness and leash on his quivering body. I wanted to hike for at least a couple of hours on this day, enjoying the company of my sweet little dog.

Our Utah weather has been very warm lately, especially for February. Dressed only in a lightweight athletic pullover, I began to sweat in the 54 degree day. The worries nibbling in the back of my mind finally dissipated after the first mile up the road. Once we passed where the blacktop ends, we entered higher elevations where the snow had not yet melted. I was then glad for the long-sleeved shirt.   

Shinrin-Yoku information is available on the internet, if you would like to know more.  The Shinrinyoku.org website lists the following benefits of Forest Bathing:

  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Lowered pulse rate
  • Reduced cortisol levels
  • Increased vigor
  • Reduced anger
  • Reduced depression
This lovely quote from John Muir is included there: 


“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home. Wilderness is a necessity.” 

And so it is with me. As Marley and I climbed the 1,400 feet in elevation upward, I felt myself feel liberated from fear and sadness. I took in the smells of pines covered in snow, I listened to the creek gurgle down the hill, and I watched as magpies landed on overhead branches. A neighbor's peacocks screeched like Siamese cats as I trudged past their property.The peacocks and wild turkeys congregate together there, strutting about as one flock.  

Once we had hiked about three miles, the dirt road was covered in snow. We discovered where the four-wheeler tracks ended, and we continued onward, forging our own paths through the crusty layer of ice on top of the snow. I kept pushing myself to hike on beyond my previous turnaround spot, hoping to complete an eight mile hike on this day. Once My Runkeeper app announced we had indeed made it four miles, I paused, and took in the scenery around me. The snow sparkled where the sun was shining, and the trees cast long shadows across the road. I drank in the clear mountain air, and felt proud of us for making it four miles up the mountain. Going home would be easy, downhill all the way. 

We stuck to the snowy road, avoiding the mud bogs as much as possible. The warm weather was creating large muddy areas where the snow had melted. After a few minutes of our descent, Marley simply stopped. I knew he was tired. Having compassion for my little canine companion, I scooped him up, holding his cold paws in my hand as I set him on my hip. I would relieve him of hiking for awhile, and let him rest.

Marley only weighs about 15 pounds, which isn't much for a dog, but when arms unconditioned to weight-bearing exercise are required to carry a dog, no matter how light for longer than a few moments, the arms begin to protest. I shifted him over to my other hip, brushing off some of the crusted mud from his legs. After a half mile, we came to sections of road where the snow had melted, and I let him walk again.

That little Boston was such a trouper until we got to the Lonesome Dove cabin, a mile away from home. Then he just sat in the middle of the asphalt road, and panted, looking at me with his tongue hanging. Poor puppy. I gave him some water from my hydration pack, and that helped for a moment. Then he sat on one hip, and looked at me as if to say, "If you want me to go home, you're gonna have to carry me." And so I did, but only for another few blocks. That seemed to satisfy him, and he walked home the rest of the way on his own.

Two and a half hours spent under the overcast sky, soaking in the beauty of our canyon in winter, was just what my spirit needed. The exercise eased the tension in my body, and I was able to rest the remainder of that afternoon, knowing the activity met my body's need for fresh air and exertion. If you haven't tried Forest Medicine for awhile, I recommend it. You will reap the health benefits beyond the time you are actually outside. Go on; take a hike! You won't regret it.