"I was, in fact, homesick for wildness, and when I found it I knew how intimately - how resonantly - I belonged there. We are charged with this - all of us. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice." - Jay Griffiths, Wild: an Elemental Journey

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Five steps to great adventure

I have a reputation for adventure.  People often ask me "how I do it," as though it's more complicated than picking a place and going there.  (It's really not, folks.)  They look at me with big eyes and say, "Wow, I could never do that!"

Yes.  You could.

In fact, I started this blog so my commitment to a life of adventure and wildness could be shared, and hopefully inspire others on their journeys.  I decided to break down my adventure "secrets" for you here in a five easy steps.


1. Stop making excuses and leave your house already.

Just do it.  No more "Oh my work/money/family/health/diet/weather/bills/car."  Unless you're hooked up to a life-support system in a hospital bed, take your able, strong, beautiful body out of the buildings where you spend every day of your life and see something new with the amazing eyes you have been blessed with before they are gone.  

Know how I started traveling?  I got into a car accident.  Yep.  I got rear-ended and my car was totaled, so I took the insurance money and did something I always wanted to do but had allowed to become buried under a skyscraper of "reasonable" excuses and stories about how travel is only for rich people - went backpacking through Europe for six weeks by myself.   I ate lots of sandwiches and stayed in cheap hostels and with strangers-turned-friends.  It was not that expensive.  It was life-changing.

It doesn't have to be Europe.  It can be the state right next to yours.  It can be the woods near your house that you've never entered.  It can be whatever the cheapest plane ticket is on kayak.com today.  Get rid of the small stories that are holding you back and JUST GO SOMEWHERE.  No more excuses.

Some new friends I met while in Amsterdam, on my first international
trip ever.  These Aussies are still friends of mine six years later.

2. Give yourself permission to do different things.

If I'm not careful, I can easily slip into the trap of getting somewhere new and immediately recreating the life I have back home.  I need a comfortable bed, a nearby coffee shop, and food I know I like.  For others, perhaps they need a tv, an iron, and people to talk to who think exactly like them.  Then why go?

When you are somewhere new, notice the inclination towards sameness as it arises, without judgement of yourself.  See if you can let one, little comfort go.  Stretch yourself towards something you've never tasted, felt, seen, or heard before.  If you like it, great!  If you don't, great - you have a good story, and you're just a little bit braver for it!

I actually didn't like ice climbing that much,
and I'm so glad I tried it!

3. Observe first, then plan.

Before you dig out the guidebooks and scour the internet for how to fill your days in this place, take some time to notice it.  Observe.  Drive (or even better, walk) around and take in the place.  How do you feel here?  What do people do here?  What is the pace?  Observe your surroundings, and then observe your body in those surroundings.  What does your body want to do here?  Rest in a meadow?  Go to a baseball game?  Hike a trail?  See some art?  Let yourself be guided by the natural rhythm of the place - all places have a rhythm.  I find that I am much happier that way than if I arrive and immediately start forcing the place into my agenda.

We had planned to hike immediately upon arriving at Glacier
National Park, and when we arrived, this is what our bodies wanted
to do instead.  We listened.

4. Allow things to change.

After you observe and make a loose plan for the afternoon/day/week, hold it with an open hand.  Some of the best adventures I've ever had were interruptions to the adventure I had planned.  Do you see something intriguing along the trail?  Take the time to explore it.  Who cares if you don't hike as far as you set out to?  Did you run into a talented street musician on your way to the expensive concert?  Stop and listen.  What does it matter if you're late?

Plan, and then say "yes" to what shows up along the way.

My first backpacking trip ever, on the Olympic Peninsula, taken
on a whim while visiting a friend in Seattle.  I bought the backpack
the day before.  Since then, this pack has trekked through 10 more states. 

5. Embrace fear.

One of the main reasons I've heard people give to why they couldn't do some of the things I do is that they would be too afraid.  Do you think I was afraid the first time I went rock-climbing?  Ice-climbing? Sky-diving?  The first time I saw a grizzly bear in the wild? Every time I saw a bear in the wild?  Absolutely!  I was terrified!

One thing I've learned through these experiences is that fear only holds me back if I allow it to.  If I keep saying, "Oh I don't do that because I'm afraid of heights/bears/the dark/whatever," I'll never do anything but what I've already done.  I don't do things in spite of my fear, I do them because of my fear.

Fear embraced becomes courage.

For you, it may not be ice-climbing or hanging with grizzlies.  It may be talking to a stranger,  traveling somewhere where you don't speak the language, or simply swimming in the ocean.  Whatever your edge, experiment with pushing it just a bit.  I say you will be delightfully surprised with the resulting feeling - and you may even go back for more.

Skydiving over the Swiss Alps.  Boy am I glad I pushed through that fear!!

6. Take the vacation back with you.

Ok I know I only promised five steps, soooo - bonus!

One thing I learned from a great teacher of mine is to choose to be on vacation every day.   Literally wake up and say, "Today on my vacation, I think I'll go into work."  Hold the same travel mindset of curious observation, flexibility, and courage, and see how life shows up differently for you even in your most familiar places.

Because really, adventures away from home are there to help us be more aware, more compassionate, more peaceful people in the "regular" lives we lead every day.  

In my own backyard

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Notes from the Magical Quarry

I don't know what I expected, but I certainly didn't expect this. Nothing in the Catskill trail book could have adequately prepared me for what I found here today. 

The whole experience even driving up here was trippy.  Since Oldman decided to take a rest day and I was on my own, maybe I noticed everything more than usual.  The precarious, steep road that my Civic almost couldn't navigate was lined with fallen boulders and logs.  The signs said the road was closed from November 1st - April 15th, but I wondered about the wisdom of it being open even now, in mid-July.

I even drove past some sort of commune.  It was called Plate Clove community.  It was this huge complex that popped out in the most remote part of the drive.  There were some people walking around with head coverings and denim overalls or skirts.  They hinted of Amish, but obviously weren't.  Hmmm. . . a subject for later investigation.

At last I arrived at the trailhead.  I planned to hike to the site of Dibble's Quarry, which my trail book said has been abandoned for over 100 years and has been transformed by unknown artists.  Needless to say, my interest was piqued.  I was picturing a wide open quarry with water at the bottom, like the ones I've played in back home in Pennsylvania.  I thought maybe the artists had made carvings or paintings on the stone walls.  But this quarry is so old that the forest has grown up around it. 

I stepped out of the mile long wooded path I had hiked to get here into . . . what?  What appeared to be an abandoned rock civilization.  An open hillside of sprawling broken up rock. To my right, a cathedral built of these rocks, complete with two thrones side by side, and a childs throne next to it. This cathedal also had two more seats, two fireplaces, & what appeared to be a lookout tower of some sort.  

This whole structure alone would have been enough to boggle my mind.  But it was only the begnning. I widened my gaze and saw another hand-built rock path down below that I had walked right by without noticing.  These rocks all look the same.  It is easy to miss the subtle art hidden all around.

I went down and followed the rock path to four more smaller structures, each with at least one stone chair. The path was lined with knee height rock walls and paved with sturdy, stone steps.   The craftsmanship was stunning.

Upon further investigation into the woods behind the first, main cathedral, I found labrynthian paths that led for another half a mile, all leading to more intricate rock structures. In addition to many, many more chairs and fireplaces, I also found a dining room setup with a flat rock table, and a few structures I guessed were some kind of shrines. 

It is impossible to describe this to you here. I explored for an hour - up and down hills, around corners, on the path, off the path, behind groves of trees - and am sure I still missed some parts. 

Now I am sitting on one of the big thrones from the original cathedral and writing these notes.  I'm starting to feel like I live here.  I wish I had brought some food to cook over this rock stove in front of me.  I wish I had brought my sleeping bag; I could easily roll it out on the slab at my feet and spend a beautiful, starry night.

This is one of the most magical forest places I have ever been, and I've been in many forests all over the world.  I feel connected to those who have been here before.  The dozens - maybe hundreds - of mysterious hands who so carefully built these structures for others, whom they will never meet, to enjoy for generations.  It must have taken them years.  Who were they?  Why did they do it?

I meditate, sing a loud song over the mountain valley below me, give a deep bow, and head back home.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Observations of Woodstock

You know what's great about Woodstock?  Everything.

Oldman and I are housesitting for some friends in Woodstock, NY, for 10 days.  We've only been here for four days so far, but have had quite a few adventures.  Here is what I've noticed and appreciated most so far about this magical place:

In driving around Woodstock itself, as well as a good 45 minute drive southwest yesterday, I still haven't seen one, single chain grocery store.  No Giants, no Safeways, no Krogers.  I've seen dozens of farm stands and farmer's markets, both in town and along the side of the roads everywhere.  I've also seen several small, locally owned food co-ops and speciality markets - like a bakery and a meat store.

Having so many healthy options has made filling the house with food that is not only good for our bodies, but good for the earth and the local economy easy.  It's also made cooking fun!  We haven't eaten out once yet.

Since the owners of the home where we're staying are vegan, they've asked that we not cook meat in their home.  Regular carnivores ourselves, we took this as a creative challenge.  We are playing vegetarian for the week, and having a blast!

Broiled asparagus with romano cheese and
roasted red potatoes with olive oil, fresh rosemary, and garlic
In addition to the above photo, we've also made and/or plan to make:
  • coconut quinoa
  • sesame bok choy
  • crispy tofu
  • coconut curry stir fry with tofu, potatoe, and red pepper over quinoa
  • lemon kale
  • pasta with olive oil, local squash, and fresh herbs

It is impossible to look in any direction here and not see mountains.  This makes me very happy.

Our first full day here, we drove for about 10 minutes to the local reservoir, which is HUGE and the water supply for all of New York city.  We rode our bikes for about 7 miles all around it, including through some small towns along the border.  The mountains were our backdrop all the way.

It's been quite hot and muggy here, which has driven us two days in a row to seek out some of the local swimming holes that our hosts told us about.  I love the feeling of working up a sweat with some fun, outdoor activity and then jumping in some natural body of water to cool off.  It feels so much more . . . ALIVE than a chlorinated pool.

Oldman playing on a rope swing at the first day's swimming hole

Oldman becoming one with Vernooy Falls, our second day's destination

Me too!

Yay!  Kissing at waterfalls!

Vernooy Falls

A totally unexpected and welcome surprise has been the night sky here.  Our first night, Oldman and I had just finished a game of Scrabble (which I won - by a long shot), and LIFE (which I lost, but probably because I chose to be a lesbian and have no babies, and the game just doesn't reward people who make those kinds of choices - ugh), and I still had some energy left.

So at 1am, we took a very, very dark walk up the looooong hill that is the road we're living on.  When we turned our headlamps off, we looked up and gasped.  There were nearly as many stars here as some places we've each been out west, like the badlands or the grand canyon.  The low light pollution here combined with with a nearly new moon made for a dark, beautiful night sky.

We lay in the middle of the road and gazed at the milky way cloud like I haven't seen it in a long time.

Stay tuned for what the final six days bring!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Why it's Okay That I'm Not Going to Nepal

July 15th has come and gone, which means that I am not a finalist for the fellowship I applied for at Kopila Valley school/orphanage in Nepal.  Looks like Nepal is not the next step for me.  Am I disappointed?

Not at all.

Applying for that fellowship did exactly what I needed it to do:

  1. It reminded me that the possibilities for my life are infinite, and I never know when a new one will pop up unexpectedly.  So I should not lose hope or dwell in a place of stagnancy.
  2. It gave me something positive to focus on for the 2 months that Oldman and I were "broken up" (a term I use loosely, since we still talked from several states away and were obviously still in love), and I was sadly saying goodbye to many beloved friends, students, and co-workers in Maryland.
  3. It reminded me that if necessary, I can plan amazing adventures and execute them all on my own.
Thank god I don't need to.  Not this time.

After Oldman left Maryland to go gather his thoughts and take some time for himself at his parents' place in Louisiana, I wasn't sure what was going to happen with us, or him, or me.  What ended up happening was that we had two months of deep growth and perspective, and in the end, decided that there was still plenty of love between us to explore.

I am practiced at going on solo adventures after relationships with men don't work out.  My past breakups were the fuel I used to backpack through Europe by myself for six weeks, take a 5-day silent retreat in a forest ashram in California, and take a month-long road trip out west.  

These were life-changing adventures that were invaluable to my personal evolution.  And they were all done by myself.  Alone.  While I spent the majority of each trip inspired and happy, there were dark, lonely moments in all of them as well.  

This strong, independent woman thing was great, and I was always clear that I didn't want to do it forever.  People looked up to me for my solo adventures; they called me courageous and brave.  And yes, I was.  And I am.  And what they didn't know was that I didn't take those independent journeys because I wanted to, I did it because I had to.  If I wanted to travel and explore, I was going to have to do it alone, because I couldn't find anyone else to join me.

Until now.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Southern Drivin'

Last weekend, Oldman and I left Louisiana in his truck, packed to the hilt with all of his stuff.  The first leg of our life on the road took us through the south.

My dear friends, Anne and Sterling, were conveniently living in Spartanburg, South Carolina, which was about a halfway point on our 17 hour drive from New Orleans to Virginia Beach.  Even though Anne and Sterling would be traveling as well and wouldn't be at their house, they left a key and welcomed us to stay anyway!

Luckily for us, our traveling paths were still able to cross, and we met up with Anne and Sterling for dinner in Montgomery, Alabama.  Driving through the steamy town, past run-down homes and big, beautiful ones with tall, white columns, I felt as though I were in a Civil Rights documentary.  I had read and studied so much about this town over the years; I was excited to visit, even just for a drive through.

Over dinner at an authentic Mexican restaurant (I have a knack for finding them wherever I go), we laughed and laughed and laughed.  We held parallel conversations - the men talked about guns, and right next to them, the women talked about relationships.  We had a fantastic time, and were inspired by this generous, unconventional couple.

We said goodbye to them in Montgomery and continued our drive to their South Carolina home - which was BEAUTIFUL!  It had a huge yard and porch, and was full of antiques and funky spiritual and kitschy pop culture items.  The bed in our guest room was a four-poster canopy bed!

To give them some laughs, we took a few silly photos at their house and sent them to Anne and Sterling before leaving.

Johnny enjoying the stuffed sheep from their bed a little too much. . .

Just hangin' with the cardboard cutout of Leonardo in their dining room.

They had a giant bowl of cicada shells in the guest room.  Yum!

The next morning, after our silly photo-taking session and some first-class snooping through this fascinating house (heh heh), we headed to downtown Spartanburg for some breakfast at "The Skillet," Anne's recommended greasy spoon diner.

This diner certainly was a picture of the south.  The table next to us held the whitest white family I've ever seen.  The mother had perfectly-sculpted, blonde wavy hair, and makeup so precise it looked plastic.  The father wore a striped, button-down shirt and casual khakis, topped off with a salt-and-pepper wave of hair.  Their little girl had a huge, pink hair bow to match her fluffy dress, and the older son had - no kidding - a mint green and pink bow tie under his aryan blue eyes.  I could have drank their thick, southern drawls in with a straw.

The waitress gawked at Oldman and my tattoos, which has been a pretty common occurrence for us down here.  Oldman gave his schpeel about the four noble truths of Buddhism on his arm, the eightfold path on his ribs, satori on his chest, and of course, his dragon.  Then the woman asked to take a photo of my tree, and invited the rest of the wait and kitchen staff to come see as well.

After tattoo show-and-tell, we said goodbye to The Skillet and South Carolina, and finished our drive north to Virginia Beach.  Now we have a week with my extended Italian family (just 30 or so of them!)  going to the beach, playing cards, and eating, eating, eating.

Stay posted.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Being Hot and All That is Going On

I haven't been posting as often as usual because it's hot.  And don't even try to tell me that's not a good excuse.

It's so hot in Louisiana that I become drenched in sweat from the time it takes to walk from the house to the car.  It's so hot that when I leave my purse in the car for 20 minutes, my chapstick melts into a gooey mess.  It's so hot that we drove by a front yard today with two little kids sitting scrunched up inside of a long, white cooler full of water.  Their knees were pulled up to their chins so they could both fit.

So yeah, it takes me a bit longer to do everything here.  Like blog.  Or shower.  Or pretty much move at all.  The only thing that brings any relief are my afternoon, frozen treats from the drive-through daiquiri places that are somehow amazingly legal and only exist in Louisiana.

Don't judge just because you're jealous.

But I realize that y'all still want to know what the heck is going on, and whether I'm on plan A, or plan B, or plan Q for my journey.  There is still more of what I don't know than what I do, which seems to be the theme for my life lately.  But it's ok because I'm starting to really dig living that way.

So to review, I spent two weeks in Pennsylvania, getting spoiled by my parents.  Then, I spent ten days in Louisiana, getting spoiled by Oldman's parents.  I've had lots of sleep and home cooked food.  I'm a happy camper.

Oldman and I during a recent bike ride through a state park
(aka the swamp)

This weekend, Oldman and I will head to Virginia Beach to spend a week with my Dad's Italian side of the family.  I'm looking forward to beach lounging, deep sea fishing, and feasts of seafood and authentic Italian food.

The week after that (we're up to July 15th now, people, try to keep up), we will head north to the Catskill mountains in New York to housesit for a friend for another week.  We'll get to crash in a hip, mountain cabin for free in exchange for caring for a cute cat and some plants.  We plan to hike, bike, tube down a river, jump into some swimming holes in the woods, check out the local farmer's market, visit a nearby Zen monastery, and climb at "The Gunks" (which, for those of you who don't know, is the premiere outdoor rock-climbing spot on the east coast).  Bonus!!

Following our vacation in New York to recover from our vacation at the beach, I don't really know what will happen.  We're back to planning our move west - maybe Montana, maybe Utah, maybe Arizona, maybe New Mexico.   Figuring out car details and packing details and audiobook details.

I still haven't heard back about the fellowship in Nepal, and time has almost run out for that.  Which is fine, because I'm not even sure that is the right thing for me anymore.  I should have known that a two-month waiting time is too much for someone like me.  I have changed my mind and made new plans six different times since sending in that application.

So that's the for-now update.  And now I gotta go because it smells amazing downstairs and I'm desperately needed to help eat whatever yummy Chinese food Oldman's mother has just cooked up.