The Simple Things…

“It’s the simple things in life that are the most extraordinary…”
~ Paulo Coelho

One of the things I most love about being here is the beautiful simplicity of the Finger Lakes landscape. And people, and lifestyle. I recently spent two years meandering this great country – 26,000 miles in all – and while I often stood looking out at some of the most incredibly stunning vistas one could imagine, my heart longed for the quiet innocence of watching the sun set behind a farm’s tall silo, or the crimson splash of a cardinal in the snow, or the silence of a lake, frozen in time, waiting for Spring’s magic to come. There is such an honesty to a pristine blanket of winter white as it reflects the low golden sunlight in January, un-tread, save for the wanderings of a lone deer or coyote.

My grandmother was born and raised on such a farm, like several generations before her, just south of Geneva and a stone’s throw from the west side of Seneca Lake. She grew up doing “farm things,” always in season and at the proper time, and although moved to Elmira, she continued on as best as she could: Seed planting in spring, weeding the garden in summer, canning at harvest, mending in winter. Mondays were bread and pie making day, Wednesdays were saved for laundry … always hung on the line, even in zero degree weather. Sunday, her sons would go off to church while she stayed home preparing a feast for them to enjoy on return. She brought these comforting routines with her decades later when she came to Philadelphia to help raise me – giving me insight into a kind of life I would have never known. She taught me about the great oaks and maples and the soft grass; she talked about the trout that ran the cold creeks and how to know when a storm – still far out of sight – was coming. When the local huckster made his weekly rounds, she’d instruct how to choose the most delicious and ripest fruits. They said she was part Seneca, and she, like the land and lake themselves, was a simple woman of few words – but of great depth and fertile soul.

They say that DNA has memory, and I have no doubt of this. Though I was born in Pennsylvania and lived 47 years there, busy with a life forged in enormous bustling cities, the Finger Lakes had a hold on me that I cannot explain otherwise. I yearned to know the lakes, to walk slower, to breathe air scented with wildflowers and rushing waters, to smile as I chat with a cheery chickadee in winter. And to look out my window as I hear the clip-clip-clip of a horse and buggy lazily heading up the street. I wanted to know where my ancestor’s lives flourished, and why they loved this land so much. In 2002, I moved here, leaving modern skyscrapers for antiquated houses, highways for dirt roads, and the roar of jet engines for the silence of a summer sky. The night I arrived, I sat on my porch gazing out at a warm June rain, and exhaled a long-held sigh of relief from deep inside.

I’ve never looked back from that day, though I’ve traveled from coast to coast, through major cities, over primordial red rock arches and snowy mountain passes, and into vast deserted deserts. The land here in the Finger Lakes is a guileless. It is honest, genuine and filled with more beauty and diversity than all my wanderings,combined. Four well defined seasons, each with their own unique personality and beauty,and an ancient history here … a history the trees and lakes will tell, if you listen closely.

A 10,000-year history of the original indigenous people and the more recent Haudenosaunee – along with their influence in our own Constitution. A history of Dutch settlers dating to the 1500’s, and later of Amish and Mennonite, farmers and loggers. And yet with that long history, the Finger Lakes still remain in some ways much as they were … scattered towns, checkerboard farmlands, rolling hills, tumbling waterfalls and lakes filled with slaphappy fish leaping skyward. Is it any wonder I came to find the land of my ancestors … and returned once again?

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I’m delighted to announce that this article is the second of mine to appear on “Life in the Finger Lakes” magazine’s website and blog. I also have one that will be published in the full-sized glossy magazine itself, in spring. It’s truly a pleasure and an honor to now be writing on a freelance basis for such a fabulous magazine … and if you enjoy my writing, I hope you’ll take a moment to read my previous article “Where We Love Is Home” … as well as perhaps to take a few minutes to enjoy some of their other offerings. It’s a wonderful magazine filled with information, history and photos of this incredibly beautiful region of the country. Thank you all again for your continued support! The journey continues!! 

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The Gift…

“For it is in giving that we receive.”

Wait,” he said, as he held out his fist, fingers curled around something that must have been terribly small. “Don’t leave yet. I want to give you this.” I extended my palm, and he slowly dropped a tiny piece of metal into it.

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We were standing outside of the courthouse, after what had been a brutal few hours for me. I was being deposed about the accident that took Angela’s life over two years before … and the five-minute intersecting of two lives that later became the catalyst for The Ride. (see page: What was The Ride if not familiar) Though I’d only returned to New York a few weeks before I was ordered to appear, I was there – reluctantly; I’d gotten a call from the attorney the day after I arrived home, telling me I had no choice in the matter … I had to show up in Ithaca, 70 miles away, the morning of the 31st. Or risk being subpoenaed, or worse. I’d never been involved in a suit before, never been questioned by a cannibalistic lawyer, never been inside a courthouse except for tours. Two hours after I opened the door to the conference room where a single deposition – mine – was to take place, I left feeling exhausted, battered, dirty and angry. I’d simply been a by-stander … a woman on her way to work, riding a bus that will forever remain frozen in time in all of our collective memories. I was there that day and on that bus, at that tragic moment, due to a series of unforeseen coincidences and circumstances. I never should have been … it wasn’t my usual bus. But I was, and because of those fateful events, Angela and I shared a few brief moments of breath … and of spirit … together that forever changed my life. And now, 28 months later, I was sitting in a room being repeatedly questioned about my memory and capability to judge whether Angela suffered those last minutes. As the challenges continued, growing more demeaning with every query, objections flying back and forth, I grew frustrated and short tempered. When it finally ended, all I wanted to do was shut that door and go home. As fast as I could.

But he had other ideas. “He” was Angela’s husband. As he held the door open for me, he was apologetic – he had never wanted me to go through that, he said. “You were there for her, and I know she knew it.” He thanked me again as I began fumbling in my purse, almost forgetting that I’d wanted to give him the photo of Angela I’d carried the last 23 months: A photo that came with me as I explored 26,000 miles of this amazing country, and the photo of the woman whose spirit and heart I felt riding along side of me through every one of those miles. I wanted to give him the photo, and tell him what I did and why … share with him where she had been with me. Though I was shaking, I managed to find it and handed it to him. “I want you to have this. I want you to know what happened after the accident…” He quietly interrupted me and said, “I already know.” Her daughters – who I’d only met briefly at the wake and never saw again – had been following The Ride, he said. I never knew … they never contacted me, but they’d been silently shadowing that most amazing journey of Angela’s and mine.

He and I chatted a few minutes and I turned to go. I was spent from the morning, and wanted to be home. “Wait,” he said urgently, as he held out his fist, fingers curled around something that must have been terribly small. “Don’t leave yet. I want to give you this. I made it … for Angie. I inscribed her name into it. She used to carry it on her keychain …. and I want you to have it.”

I held out my hand, he held his over mine, and as he opened his fist, a tiny piece of metal dropped into my open palm. “And oh, by the way,” he said as I walked away, “Angie loved to travel….”

The List…

“And now we welcome the new year.
Full of things that have never been.”
~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Just before every New Year’s, I create something called “The List” … a list of what I fully intend to have in my life by the following holiday season. It has always been amazing to watch them come to fruition over the years … and to learn and understand if, or when, they don’t. This year was no different. These last 12 months held more challenges and growth than I ever could have anticipated, yet it was also replete with a wealth of incredible new experiences, sweet memories and blissful tears. Little could I imagine all that was to lie ahead as I watched the snow fall outside my door when I was in Durango last December. Little could I realize that the road would have me once again return to New Mexico, and then call me back to New York where I began that incredible journey – The Ride – 26,000 miles and 23 months before.

This year held two very distinct and diverse chapters: In winter and spring, I saw sights and meandered trails that kept the soul in silent awe, whether standing at the rim of 800′ high gorges or watching ravens dance in cobalt skies between snow covered peaks and towering pinyons. I washed my hands in the icy rushing waters of the Animas and the warmth of the Rio Grande; I walked dusty trails gnarled by gangly limbs of 100 year old sagebrush, the stillness so deep one’s breath shatters the air like a locomotive whistle. I sashayed to new rhythms, savoured new food and drink, laughed and cried with friends now 2,000 miles away. And in summer, I began the trek back to where it all began.

Sitting in Durango, lifting a glass to the stars last New Year’s Eve, I never thought my life would change – yet again – so deeply. Now, a short 12 months later, I find myself committed to a job I love, with people I love, and living in a sweet little apartment in a town filled with farmers, Amish, and cheery life-long residents. This second chapter of 2017 has presented shifts and transformations that, I admit, have taken me by surprise. A new and stronger voice, projects and people never imagined, and a true understanding that today is all we have … we cannot predict the road ahead, nor should we; and to be open to the changes that come brings a joy and growth beyond today’s vision.

In 2017, I sighed through nights of sweet repose, and mourned the mornings when sleep did not bother to stop by. My heart danced with delight and the music of beginnings, and wept in the muted sorrow of endings. All along the way my spirit, my soul, has rattled and banged and slugged through it all with me. We have aged, we’ve added a few dings, a few more wrinkles, a little more gray … and I like to think, a good bit more wisdom.

Now, as I look ahead, I know there so much more yet to come. More joy, more adventure, more spirit, more love. Living Life with a heart wide open. Though none of us know exactly where the road ahead leads, or how long our journey here will be, my “List” has been written and I know this will be a most excellent year. And as my father would say, “Make it so, Sweetheart, make it so….”