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what we seek. [d.r. thursday]

our favorite thing in the woods, when i was about eight or ten or so, were the salamanders. red-backed salamanders had a red stripe down their spine and, back then, were all over the woods outside our rustic cabins in the upstate new york state parks.

we stayed at many of them: selkirk shores, chenango valley, watkins glen, green lakes, letchworth. my sweet momma and poppo were not tent-campers, but they fully embraced the very-bare-minimum cabins in the woods and my mom would pack for a week ahead; we had to bring everything with us, including pots and pans. the bunkbed frames and mattresses were about all you got, with basic kitchen and bathroom necessities. we’d go for a week and for that glorious week, i would roam the forest and swim the lakes and ride bikes all over the park with my best friend. we didn’t do fancy vacations, but, for me, these trips were heaven. i think about my momma now – for her it was a lot of work, but she seemed happy to be “roughing-it” as she said. and she would run around each night, can of raid in her hand, singsong voice, announcing “raid! raid!” while we buried into our sleeping bags on our bunks and tried not to breathe.

before we discovered the lifeguards, we would hike through the forest, looking for anything interesting we could find, devising paths and mysteries to solve. mostly, we looked for the salamanders. one year, we found one that was particularly sociable with us and we were convinced it would stay around and be our friend. for obvious reasons, we named him sal. once you’ve named something, it is much harder to say goodbye.

now, the thing that’s hard to say goodbye to – out in the woods, high in the mountains – is the whole visceral experience. the cool fresh air, the trail under our feet, the sun filtering through the trees, quaking aspen leaves, the absolute drop-dead-amazing smell of a pine forest, the quiet.

we haven’t found salamanders in colorado woods, though we haven’t been seeking them as i did when i was in elementary school. instead, we have sought the feeling you get after you have hiked miles and some decent elevation. that exhausted adrenaline bursted rush of ahhh. the slightly burning lungs-are-in-your-chest feeling. the your-legs-want-to-sit-down-on-a-stump-for-a-moment tiredness. a little bit of wind-sun-scorched face. and the overwhelming desire to keep going.

*****

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autographs. [d.r. thursday]

“this is my autograph, here in the songs that I sing. here in my cry and my laugh, here in the love that i bring. to be always with you and you always with me.” (autograph – john denver)

on my 30th birthday – a sunny and auspicious day more than thirty years ago – at the zoo, in a freshly poured cement sidewalk, i wrote my name with a stick. i was not alone; i had witnesses to this moment in time. my mom and dad and niece and husband cheered me on as i left my tiny mark. years later, upon return to that zoo, it was still there. there was something encouraging and reassuring about that. i had not disappeared.

we were way up on the mountain, at the highest point of the trail we were hiking. the meadow stretched out of the woods and we sat for a time on a log, watching the breeze move the wildflowers as they bent to autumn. with a sharpie we left two tiny dots on that log. we had been there. we would remain there.

right off the side of the meadow as we re-entered the woods, there was this stump. like an opening flower blossom, it begged a look inside. i was surprised to find rocks of all sizes in there. a container of autographs, evidence for those who had passed by. we added ours to the assembly, rocks specifically chosen by hikers who placed their i-was-here into the hollow cavern of the stump. there is something about leaving a token behind, yes, encouraging and reassuring that upon our return someday – should we return to that very spot – it could be there and we would be reminded that we had passed that way.

the music, the art, the words – all linger temporarily. a little noisy. we have passed this way, that way, these very spots. music, the art, the words – they are expressions that give a bit of definition to the amorphous life we live. they say who we are and stamp our love into the world. and then they evaporate into the atmosphere.

and we know that, even if we never pass that way again, even if we never come across the hollow stump again, we have still left a silent autograph.

*****

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enchanted. [two artists tuesday]

and golden was the glow from the forest as we walked

into the sun low on the horizon,

our feet swishing through leaves on the trail,

our gaze above us, to the canopy.

the quaking aspen invited us, “stay,”

rustling in percussive background

to our hearts beating and wishing.

the respite in the woods,

the time on mountains,

the black and white of this stand,

we immersed in immense beauty.

stopping in the middle, the path forward and back,

we stood tall,

breathing deeply,

and shimmered with them,

enchanted.

*****

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i left it there. [two artists tuesday]

i left it there.

we had a few hours and needed a fix in the mountains. just a short distance away from congested civilization was a trail that lead into higher elevation and quiet. everything else slipped away as we climbed and followed the columbine.

i was moved by this fragile blossom on the side of the trail. delicate and perfect in every way that flowers are perfect, i picked it up, turned it over, felt its short life. like the sun, its tiny petals radiating from the center. its flawlessness is simple; its budding-lifeline complete. it was laying in the mountain meadow, waiting to be noticed. not much different than any of us.

and then, i laid it back down where i found it. and it will be there for the next person who hikes by, glances over and sees it. one sun-low-on-the-horizon-fall-dried-flower-blossom, past its season but not past its beauty.

that’s why i left it there.

*****

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mini-marshmallows and gogo boots. [merely-a-thought monday]

if you are wondering where mini marshmallows come from, wonder no more. clearly they grow on white baneberry bushes in dr. seuss-land. passing it on the trail i could not get over how oh-the-places-you’ll-go this bush was. a standout in a green forest floor, confidently colorful and nicknamed “doll’s eyes” for obvious vintage-china-doll reasons, it got my attention and it piqued my curiosity.

we watched a silly movie a couple nights ago. my sweet momma loved sandra bullock so every time i watch a sandra bullock movie i feel like my mom is right there with us, giggling or cheering her on. the movie was “all above steve” co-starring bradley cooper. its silliness is comedic fun, particularly on an evening we were not looking to be intellectually challenged. but there was an unexpectedly sweet message in this movie. mary (sandra bullock), a brilliant young woman who is a crossword puzzle constructor and has a brain full of random knowledge and would kick anyone’s patootie playing trivial pursuit, is trying to be “normal” to fit into the world. in the end she discovers the power of standing in her own shoes, which were, in her case, red gogo boots.

artists are often looked at as misfits, a little outside the box, not quite fitting in. perhaps more colorful, perhaps louder, perhaps more questioning, the job of an artist is to elicit movement in thought, in action, in emotion, in sensitivity. we are hot-pink-stemmed mini-marshmallow plants in a world of green underbrush, ever being told that exposure will grant us the ability to live in this world, to pay our bills, to get ahead. artists everywhere under the sun shudder upon hearing those words, “think about the exposure.” we don our courageous metaphoric gogo boots, go to town trying to be ‘normal’ and realize that we were really ok all along, in our own skin.

often i have heard others comment on the re-purposed stuff in our house. empty window frames, screen doors, travel-worn suitcases, branches wrapped in lights, old coffeepots doubling as canisters. we’ve been asked, “how did you think of that?” i don’t know how to answer that other than “how couldn’t i?”

i’m guess i’m not ‘normal’. in the world of christian louboutin and jimmy choo footwear desires, i’m wearing old navy flipflops and hundreds-of-miles hiking boots. in a world of oscar de la renta and ralph lauren aficionados, i’m wearing my dad’s old flannel shirt and jeans. in a world of cle de peau beaute and guerlain and creme de la mer, my face is lucky to see an oil of olay original and coppertone 30spf combo.

and i, just like artists everywhere, love to be reminded, time to time, that we were all born to stand out. each and every one of us. artist or not. no matter the road we walk. no matter the red gogo boots or hot-pink stems. stand out. in our own skin.

mini-marshmallow, anyone?

*****

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home sweet home. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

“get outside.” “expand the confines of your life.” “surround yourself with beauty.” the youtube backpackers wander women kristy, annette and lynn have mantras displayed at the end of their videos. we somehow stumbled upon them; likely it was because they are currently hiking the pacific crest trail and they looked to be somewhere around our age. we have watched joey coconato backpack an inordinate number of times, and we know that we cannot be joey. we can’t even be joey-like. twenty years younger than us, he is stronger and bolder and with a vast amount of experience. the wander women, though also with decades of trail-savvy, made the trail look more accessible to us.

i have been moved by them. a few years ago they talked about what they wanted in life, made a plan and deliberately went about executing their plan. they sold houses, bought a diesel pickup and an rv and started living an itinerant lifestyle that suits their mantras. they are intrepid. one foot in front of another they have ticked off many of the big thru-hikes that linger on the edges of other people’s bucket lists. and, though we have watched them in question and answer videos and in gear videos and on various trails, right now we are following their progress on the pct. amazing. “home is where you are,” annette says, in answer to a question about how they feel about living in an rv and hiking. “you bring home with you,” she explains, totally secure and happy. they are a joy to watch.

most times we pull into the driveway – arriving from anywhere whatsoever – i say, “hello, sweet house.” it matters not how long or how briefly we have been gone; i am happy to be back and i guess i want our house to know it. animating a house is not likely on the restrained-unemotional-dispassionate-disconnected-unsentimental-apathetic spectrum but then i am pretty much an antonym-icon for all that. and i love our home.

that doesn’t mean i couldn’t love another home. i fall in love every time we are in the colorado mountains. i wish i owned most of the airbnb’s we have rented, so incredibly at home we have felt in them. i fell in love with the littlehouse on washington island; it was magical and we instantly bonded. we visited a tiny town in north carolina’s smoky mountains and thought, “we could live here.” we pined over a general store for sale in a tiny town in vermont, a place we could see ourselves hang our hats. my sister’s house, my nieces’ houses, all bring a sense of security and love. each one conjures up comfort. the up-north cabin for the up-north gang is a place of tranquility and laughter. 20’s condo is a place of serenity. friends have homes that are tranquilizing, soft places for our visits.

kristy and annette and lynn carry backpacks with less than 25 pounds of weight: their tents, clothing, food, water, supplies. that makes long-distance hiking sound more doable. “be bold” “challenge yourself” “create your life” they state at the end of another video. these are not empty words, not do-as-i-say-not-as-i-do words. they are living life in just this way. home sweet home for them is most undeniably inside them wherever they go.

the woodpecker who pecked out its house in this tree was just as fearless. undaunted by the size of the fallen log, it did what it knew – it created home. just watching a woodpecker create his own digs makes rv-living or driving up our driveway look like a breeze. i imagine that as the seasons change and life and time move on, there will be other trees in other forests, other home-holes, other places to nest, other welcome mats for this indomitable bird.

at a time when redefining is imminent, i look in the mirror and start to sketch out a plan, start to dream, to re-create life. it’s all amorphous right now, but our happy house – home, sweet home – cheers me on.

*****

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free-hearted. [two artists tuesday]

with a cowboy hat perched on his head, he rode toward us on the trail through the woods, his gorgeous horse nickering as they approached. as he passed by he looked down at us, smiled and said, “you look like you like each other.” we squeezed arms, already linked and thanked him, telling him that we do like each other, most of the time.

as we left the trailhead parking lot that day, an athletic-shirted mohawk-haired motorcycle guy looked over at us crossing the lot to littlebabyscion and gravelled, “you two look good!” we are not even close to cool and gravelly in appearance, but this guy’s comment warmed our hearts and put a little jaunt into those last steps after a few miles of hot and humid hiking.

we have been the recipients of many sweet comments along the way. i don’t know if it’s simply because we usually walk – and hike – arm in arm or if we are just somehow comment-magnets. it is usually something like what these gentlemen said to us and it’s always unexpected. the guy trimming his trees, the woman stepping out of her car in her driveway, the guy passing us in gunnison on the sidewalk, the gal in the grocery store…all positive words which have upped the ante of our days, the free-hearted surprise-gifting us.

my momma was like this. she would speak simple kindnesses to people she passed by, gentle words of compliment to people she knew, generous encouragement and – even unruly – cheering on for those she loved. it makes a difference. in each case. just a little positivity wave starts concentric circles outward. every time.

i don’t know if that cowboy speaks to everyone, but i know he impacted our day. he could have just ridden past, me gazing back at his horse, pining, as he rode on. but instead, he spoke and, in seven words, he reminded us of goodness. i wonder how many people he touched that day on the trail.

any time i have reached out to another, recognizing to them something beautiful, something helpful, something of gratitude, something in their demeanor or their appearance, something touching, it has been restorative for me and, though i will never know, i hope it circled out from them. on or off the hiking trail. on or off the sidewalk. in or out of the store.

i know – that on any given day – i have seven extra words to give away. even ten. or more.

i’ll just grab my virtual cowboy hat on the way out to the world.

*****

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joey’s parmesan. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

one of the funniest things to come out of joey coconato’s backpack out in the middle of nowhere was a can of kraft grated parmesan cheese. there were definitely other funny things too, though: a bottle of sriracha, a dozen eggs, avocados, brats, bota box wine. he is not your regular backpacker. joey is not afraid to carry stuff. he’s not afraid to go back-country. and he’s not afraid to bust the norms. passing this display in the grocery store made me laugh aloud and think of joey.

one night recently, in the wee hours, i was awake and, thus, so was david. we chose a PCT trail video to watch and got through the whole video with nary a yawn. they had mentioned mountain house meals, so we were curious. we visited – at 3am – the mountain house website and were astounded to find many meals that sounded so delicious they instantly made us hungry. we were also astonished to find that each one was just shy of $10. that would mean that if we chose to hike the pacific crest trail – for about five months – and each of us had a mountain house meal for breakfast and for dinner – it would cost us (do the math: $10each x2of us x2mealsaday x30daysamonth x5months) about $6000 just for those meals, not to mention lunch or snacks or gear or permits or or or…. so, no wonder joey carries baggies of pasta and flour tortillas and avocados and parmesan. we literally clinked with him (virtually) when he whipped out the bota box of wine to celebrate with his hiking mates.

we haven’t long-distance hiked. yet. i suspect at some point we will try this (or some part thereof). we love hiking and we are addicted to these backpacking trips, these long-distance trails. we have watched joey all through the pandemic. his hikes have kept us sane in days of seesawing sanity. and apparently, though we are just simply joey-fans, we have talked about him enough that we have received email messages asking us for his contact information.

we have viewed john muir hikers in high elevation and appalachian trail hikers in distinctly humid-humidity. continental divide and the colorado trail thru-hikers. norwegian xplorer wherever he hikes. pacific crest trail hikers ‘heading somewhere‘ and ‘walking with purpose‘ have captured our attention as they hike out west right now, live and posting. we felt sad as ‘miles to go‘ gave up her brave and gigantic quest to finish the pct this season. these people are out there – doing life the best they can in the best way they can. present in each moment. we root for each of them. just like we root for joey.

we’re not sure where joey coconato is right now. he hasn’t posted a new video in quite some time. he is one of the best examples of being one with the outdoors we have seen. he has been making his way in the wilderness for years now, respectfully and with all good intention and gratitude, and we guess that the wilderness loves him as much as his viewers do.

we suspect – and hope – that he is safely out there somewhere, pitching his hand-me-down/loaned tent on some ridge or under some trees or in some gorgeous meadow or next to some lake, gazing around his campsite, drinking it all in, taking his clanging aluminum pot off of the outside of his backpack where he has it tied as an alert to bears in the area and is boiling some pasta up and adding in some parmesan – right from the 8 oz can he carries with him. what a good life he lives.

cheers, joey. and all the rest of you hikers out there, carrying the very least and experiencing the very most. don’t forget the parmesan.

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no timely manner. [d.r. thursday]

now i understand. at least, i am beginning to understand.

my sweet momma and poppo would linger…watching birds, gazing at flowers, studying the horizon – be it shorefront or mountainside, cityscape or tiny town or rural farmland, slowly taking it in. in the hurry-hurry of my younger years, i would scurry past, noticing but maybe not really.

i am moving slower now. not because i can’t scurry, but because i am choosing to list to the linger side. though we still watch re-runs after re-runs of joey hiking and climbing and backpacking and pitching tents any and everywhere, imagining ourselves in those canyonlands keeping up, imagining ourselves on the pct or the john muir or the colorado trail, i know that our pace would not match the pace of joey or the exuberant younguns on heading somewhere or walking with purpose or the meticulous norwegian xplorer. we would be slower, lingering, lingering. i’m not sure that would get us from point a to point b successfully or in a timely manner, but i’m thinking that our definition of ‘timely manner’ may have to just be different. because now – in the middle of this grand middle age – is different.

for now i want to watch the birds and gaze at flowers up-close. i want to stop and stare, drop to sit on a nearby log and take it in. i want to notice the intricasies of all of it, the undertones, the overtones.

as i look at the close-up of this milkweed trailside i am struck by the layers of detail. it somehow makes me recall decisions between the major chord and the relative minor, a continuum of impact. it makes me think of melodic gestures, a spectrum of color and of grace. a horsehair brush extended from the heights of the universe, painting perfection in the woods. artists’ hands waving paint on canvas, cupping clay on a wheel, flying over the white and black on a piano, coaxing lines that make you weep from a cello. all the same. creation in all its iterations.

on the call pat told me that the music – my music – had harmonics, tuned with the universe, that made her travel. humbling.

for i see that is what my momma and poppo were doing. traveling. they allowed the beauty around them to touch them, to slow them down, convincing them – in all the infinite glory that beauty -and art- can muster – that ‘a timely manner’ was relative, that time was relative. that time spent in a slow linger was precious.

*****

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good moments waiting. [k.s. friday]

“we’re out of practice,” writes elizabeth bernstein. her article in the wall street journal is about reconnecting with others as we move slowly and cautiously out of pandemic-mode and back into the world. since this past year-plus has levied many and varied challenges upon all of us, her words seem prudent, reminding us to realize that we are each in different emotional places and honoring those will be absolutely necessary.

as we hike on trails we are alternately silent and chatting-up-a-storm. we find ourselves reminiscing, going over the last year-plus, reviewing. we are both awed and aghast at the things that have happened through this time. simple moments of bliss and moments of raw hurt. surprise at the time flying by and impatience at the time dragging. gratitude for the generosity of others and anger and anxiety at agenda we don’t understand. much time spent as just the two of us…the two of us plus dogga and babycat. we stop – mid-river-trail – and stare at each other, remembering the time, the losses, the learnings. this moment in time – all the circumstances that have brought us to this moment in time – and we look forward, wondering.

“we’ve all been through so much. we’re all so raw. and there is a strong sense of longing,” says sociologist and yale professor marissa king. though we long to be together with family and dear friends, communities of people we have been missing, we have come to realize that we have made it through, continue to make it through, the storm of this time. we have established rituals of our own, personal reassurances, moments of goodness that have arced us into next each and every time. we have failed from time to time and we have succeeded from time to time. mostly, we have made it from Time to Time, each then to each now.

reconnecting, we understand, will be complicated, perhaps intense, perhaps exhausting, perhaps selective. but those moments will, too, be worth it, whatever concentrated effort it takes. we all have a story to tell, narratives to share, things we have gained and lost and learned and forgotten, things we haven’t shared. “reconnection is not a one-and-done undertaking,” writes ms. bernstein. like the time that has gone by and the hard work it has taken to grok the necessity of being apart, it will require some practice to be together. we haven’t walked in the shoes of others and we haven’t experienced what they have experienced. the vice-versa is also true. we all have a story to tell, narratives to share, things we have gained and lost and learned and forgotten, things we haven’t divulged, things we haven’t mutually endured. there is much ahead, likely to be profoundly emotional.

we stand on the river trail and think about belly-laughing in a circle of friends, crying in the arms of family, dancing on the patio, snacktime on the pontoon boat, ukuleles in the park, happy hour in the backyard, floating in florida pools, rooftop and mountaintop times. and we know that, though there have been many good moments and though there are many good moments right here, there are many good moments…waiting.

*****

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