Scenes Along the Way…

Sometimes
if you move carefully
through the forest,
breathing
like the ones
in the old stories,
who could cross
a shimmering bed of leaves
without a sound,
you come
to a place
whose only task
is to trouble you
with tiny
but frightening requests,
conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.

~ excerpted from “Sometimes” by David Whyte

As I pack up and prepare for a new kind of journey, I thought it fun to re-post a short video I put together of some scenes from early on in the Ride. I cannot share it directly to this blog (unless I upgrade), so you will have to check it out via a YouTube link. It truly was such a delight to have been a part of these moments and lives, now almost three years ago … and I look forward to more adventures yet along this long road of Life. I hope you enjoy……

Video link: The Ride, Pt. I

To Dance with the Sea….

“Don’t believe what your eyes are telling you. All they show is limitation. Look with your understanding. Find out what you already know and you will see the way to fly.” ~ Richard Bach

On Facebook, they call this day of the week “Throwback Thursday” and people generally post photos of themselves when they were young. But today – in the wake of my preparations for another Ride, another journey – there could not be a more perfect one for this particular Thursday to have fallen on. Two years ago on this day – on May 17th – I stood, feet planted in the icy cold wetness of the Pacific Ocean, foamy bubbles and black sand swirling around me, cobalt skies above, deep blue sea rhythmically pulsing for as far as the eyes could see. I was dancing with the Sea and the Earth. And I had done it … I’d done what so many thought was impossible or non-sensical. I’d meandered my way from one side of this country to the other … from one ocean to another. I’d touched the salty waters of both sides of this continent.

It was a journey that included over 50 stops, meeting and breaking bread with dozens of new – until then never-before-met – friends, laughing and crying and sharing stories; sleeping on beds and cots, in tents, trailers, apartments and mansions. It was a journey of new people, new cultures, new vistas and new loves. 26,000 miles of highway and dirt of every color worked their way onto the old ‘Silver Backpack’ … and I could have asked for no better traveling companion than that old Forester. RIP, sweetheart, you did well and deserve your rest.

I’ve now got a new-to-me vehicle, and I’ll be leaving NY on June 30th to set out on a new Ride, another meandering journey. I don’t know yet if I’ll make it to the Pacific again on this one, as I’m still putting together the agenda (though I do hope to do so at least one more time before my days here end), but that moment – that photo – will always bring a smile to my face as long as I live … and I’m looking forward to the dozens of smiling more moments to come in the months ahead. Life is such a wonderfully amazing and beautiful gift … one given to us to open and enjoy to the fullest. We CAN make our dreams come true, and we have those dreams for a reason. Simply, to fulfill. Like Nike used to say, just “Do it.”

Keep on riding everyone, and enjoy YOUR own, personal, amazingly beautiful ride…

The Siren’s Song…

“Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake.”
~ Wallace Stevens

So very delighted to have had the article, below, was published in the March/April issue of “Life in the Finger Lakes” magazine … in full color, with additional photos. It speaks to why I decided to return to Upstate NY after the long meander of The Ride. What was it that called me back, in spite of having seen some of the most incredible areas of this country? Read on, to find out…

“As I crossed the invisible border between Pennsylvania and New York, beginning the final leg of an almost-26,000 mile journey begun two years ago, tears stung my eyes and blurred my vision. I eased onto the shoulder of the road, rolled down the window and smiled. Two years since I’d seen this land … these lakes, these waterfalls, these trees. This lush greenest of green! The scent of a thousand flowers filled my nostrils, and the damp air clung to my skin. I’d been meandering this incredibly beautiful country for two years; I’d photographed and stayed in some of the most amazing places from the Atlantic to the Gulf to the Pacific – and yet I chose to return to the Finger Lakes. Why? Why leave the towering red rocks and other-worldly arches of Utah, the white powder of saline deserts, the colorful striations of ancient earth upheavals, or the massive 800-foot-high gorge of the Rio Grande? Why turn around at the great redwoods of the northwest and head for the fat oaks and maples and dancing willows of the northeast? Why say not now to the craggy snow-capped Rockies … and yes again to the gently rolling hills and flat farmlands of this region?

Let me start by telling you that I am not originally from the Finger Lakes, or even New York State. I was born in Philadelphia and lived most of my life on both sides of Pennsylvania. My father’s family, however, was from the Geneva area, and after visiting once when I was ten, I told myself I would live there one day … and it only took another 37 years to reach that goal!

It’s funny, though, how life can take us on some surprising journeys, and just 13 years after I arrived here, a friend’s sudden death along with a looming 60th birthday catapulted me into the adventure of a lifetime. Within just a few weeks of her passing, I’d decided to sell everything I owned, toss a few remaining clothes in the car and set out to meander the country. Little did I know I would wander for two years and 26,000 miles, and even further removed from my mind was returning to New York.

Yet there is a siren-song that beckoned me back … a song Seneca Lake sings silently to many of us who lived here. A magical melody reaches out from her denim depths, singing to those who listen. Her cobalt-blue waters, topped with frothy, bobbing white hats on windy days, her deep musty perfume; her endless shoreline painted with vineyards, crisscrossed with farms, dotted by thick woods. Her friendly, simple and happy people … a mix of races, religions and occupations. To drive the loop from Geneva to Watkins Glen – perhaps stopping for a sip of wine and a breathtaking sunset – is a perfect way to spend a long, lazy Sunday afternoon.

But there is something deeper. Though all long-past now, many generations of my family were from this area, and I truly believe that it’s a part of my DNA. Studies have been done recently on DNA memory – specifically regarding early trauma suffered by our Indigenous people – and they found that there is indeed a change, a memory, imbedded in the subsequent generations’ genetic makeup. If this is true, could it not be so for those of us with familial history tied to an area? Could, in essence, the waters of these lovely lakes have become a part of our chromosomes? I truly believe so.

So many I know who choose to leave – for any number of “logical” reasons – always seem to come back. A year, two, maybe a decade … but they come back, even if just for a little while. Perhaps there is indeed a magic, a bewitching spell, cast on those who take the time to walk along the shores of these captivating sirens. A magic that cannot be denied, and a magic that lasts a lifetime.”

Seneca Lake, NY

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Once again, I have to say that it truly is a pleasure and an honor to be freelancing for such a fabulous magazine. If you enjoyed this one, I hope you’ll take a moment to read my previous articles,”The Simple Things” and “Where We Love Is Home” … and perhaps take a few more to enjoy some of their other offerings. It’s a beautifully done publication filled with information, history, and photos of this incredibly lovely region of the country. 

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?

**********

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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To Arrive and Know….

“And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
~ T. S. Eliot

summer-geneva-seneca-lake-bench-signed.jpg

It’s a funny thing, but as I once again gather my few belongings and prepare to move, I find myself often on the verge of tears as I carefully divide and package bits & pieces of things collected along my journey … mementos and celebrations of the two-year “Ride.” I admit, I had not expected the surge of emotion that has flooded my soul as I recognize that at long last … I am truly going home. Home to the town that sprang from the farms and fields that many generations of my family plowed; home to the land and lake that I and my ancestors so dearly loved; home Seneca Lake Geneva farm art - Ravensongto a place that I knew … at the age of 10 … I’d one day move to. Though I lived there briefly a few years ago, it was more of a momentary whim at the time, but now, as the realization sinks in, I am overwhelmed with a myriad of feelings … joy, anticipation, excitement; and also a tender awareness and amazed astonishment at what a marvelous Life these last few years have been for me. It surges deep, like I’ve not born since 2002 when I moved 300 miles to NY in the anticipation of going home. It has taken 15 years to come to full fruition.

There is a softly whispering sense of wistfulness as I gently fold the stacks of maps that guided me mapsnearly 26,000 miles … was I really there? Did I really do that? Did it all really happen? A special box holds treasures from the Ride … rocks, shells, cards from friends, and four pieces of clothing: The jeans I loved for so many years that finally wore through, ripping at the knees one day as I walked the Rio Grande Gorge; a t-shirt I always wore while traveling between stops … “Get Lost” it reads, with a tent and tree decal on it. It seemed so appropriate. Another, stamped with the logo of a friend’s pizzeria in NY where I “worked” at the beginning of that long cross-country sashay. And another shirt … the first one I bought on the road, and one that was a little more hip than I usually would buy … one I received kudos for, for stepping outside of my comfort zone. I wore it to threads, and it became a part of many changes that ensued over the 23 months that followed. So many moments, so many memories. And now I pack them, and myself, up – and prepare for a new kind of adventure … a bold proposition to weave my meandering self into the framework of community, friends, art, work and love.

I have truly been so incredibly blessed in this life. It has not always been easy … in fact, many times it’s been especially challenging, painful, and disheartening … I have been beaten, abused, raped, homeless and hungry. I have walked the tightrope of suicide twice. But I have also been thoroughly and unequivocally lavished with love, joy, compassion, and more beautifully wonderful moments than there are numbers in the heavens to count. Every morning when I stand facing the dawning sun, my heart swells with a peace and deep joy that surpasses all of the hard times. I knew in May, when I took this pretty little furnished apartment, it would not be where I would call home; I knew it was to be my place of transition, the spot where I could take the time to piece together the who-I-was before my journey, and who-I-am-now; it was the hallway leading to the next phase of my life. And so now as I wrap and box my few things – ready to begin again from the proverbial square one as I have not done since I was 17 (in a totally empty apartment) – I look forward to all that is to come … and back on all that was. A deep sigh escapes my lips, and I smile as my eyes glisten, dampened by the sweet salt of sentiment.

me 6-17-17 shadow Seneca Lake

Home…

“Where we love is home …
home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.”

~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

It is so good to be home. I sit on the deck, this beautiful Sunday afternoon, book in hand, wine glass filled and sitting tableside waiting to be enjoyed. When I decided to leave the west, with all of its stunning beauty, and return to the humid, snowy, bug-besotted Finger Lakes region of NY … well, let’s just say that many of my friends out there thought I was crazy. Yes, it can be frustrating when you hang your laundry and two days later it’s still damp, or it’s a given that you need to get up an hour earlier most winter days to shovel your way to the car, or you buy allergy pills and/or anti-itch cream by the caseload (ok, slight exaggeration there, I admit) … but, this is such an incredibly beautiful area: A landscape covered with a legion of lakes, rivers, creeks, waterfalls, canals, and dense prismatically colored forests; shale crust deeply furrowed by ice-age gorges that still weep crystal clear water, moraines dotting their bases; ground softly caressed by checkerboard farmlands and cavalcades of vineyards; craggy mountains still growing upward, unlike most, and capped with boreal life; millions upon millions of acres overflowing with a marvelous and fascinating diversity of flora and fauna – like no where else I saw in my travels. Few people are aware of just how very rural and wild NY is. The city most think of is only a tiny dot on the map of this state, and far far away from me.

Don’t misunderstand me … don’t get me wrong … I enjoyed every minute of The Ride. I saw places I never dreamed I ever would, and met wonderfully beautiful and kind people – generous of heart and mind – every step of the way. I have not one minute of regret or reticence about what I did, and I am grateful beyond the capability of any word in the human language to express … but I am glad to be home. In the wanderings of my journey, I quickly discovered that everyone has a place that shouts “Home!!” to them. It is not necessarily where they were born or even where they lived most of their lives … oftentimes, it is somewhere totally unexpected. But nevertheless the heart knows it. I was born and lived most of my life in Pennsylvania, yet by the age of 16 I knew that Upstate NY was Home for my spirit, even though I’d only visited twice – both times very briefly. A friend of mine who lived in NY all her life knew the moment she stepped from the steps of an airplane in Oklahoma, this was Home. She’d never been there before. Another friend, though originally from Alabama, but living 20+ years in the valley and mountains of northern Utah, recently moved to the red rock country – deep into the four-corners desert west. It has always cried “Home” to his soul. And there are many more similar stories. What is it  that makes a place “Home?” What is it our Spirit recognizes? Perhaps a DNA memory – a connection to the land deeper than we realize. Perhaps we look down from the heavens long before we are born and pick a place … and the game of life is to find it before our bodies wear out. I do not know, and it doesn’t really matter. All I know is that The Ride is at long last complete; I have returned home, and I have returned to myself. And the joy of the full recognition of this is as deep as the gorges of this land, and as kaleidoscopically beautiful, and indefinable indelible, as the heavens above.

(photo courtesy Michael Bailey)