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Squirrel Meditation

Our campsite on the Flathead Lake

This past weekend (Aug 2-5) we had our sangha summer campout with our meditation community Be Here Now – it was our 6th annual! We’ve been using the same campground each summer: Big Arm State Park on the Flathead Lake in northwestern Montana. For the past 3 years, we’ve been managing to reserve their one and only group site, which wonderfully allows us to be all together in one spot AND right on the water! So great!!

Each campout is a nice social/community building/relaxing hang-time on the lake opportunity for our sangha. It allows us to be joyfuly together, whilst revelling in the lake, each others company, and the practice of having nowhere to go and nothing to do. We spend our time: reading, floating/paddling/swimming, conversing, laughing, playing games, drinking tea/coffee, sharing community meals, napping, and hanging out around the fire at night. Given that we had a smaller group than usual, and Saturday afternoon was a bit blustery, we even took a field trip this year during our campout: cherry picking!

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Journal Entries from Lake Como (Montana style)

I got back yesterday from an overnight excursion to Lake Como – the Montana version, not the one in Italy. Here are some of the (unedited) journal musings I penned while out on the water and camping in the woods.

Friday July 13th

Not yet 8pm. Shadows grow in the forest, as the sun wanes and the sky fades to pale blue, like an after-thought. Cowboy Junkies on the portable speaker prove the perfect accompaniment to my cup of tea and the creek beside me, small but surging mightily, just like me.

A bluebird day on the lake coats my skin and sits tangled in my long hair. And I’m the sort of tired that I remember from my youth, after a day spent sunbathing, running from ocean waves, and flirting with bronze-glazed boys thick with intrigue. A delicious tired, sugared with a communion with something bigger.

There’s a certain aliveness, in this flavor of winding down, following a day that leaves your face awash in the reds of summer. And I reckon I’ll sleep good tonight, rocked in lullaby arms by the song of the water making its way over rocks downstream.

_______

I breathe just a little bit deeper in the woods, befriended by my rooted brethren.

I breathe deeper when gazing at mountain peaks, as a witness to stellar beauty.

And I breathe deeper whenever I look up – at trees or buildings or sky – as it helps me to remind me that I am part of a whole big and wide open world.

_______

9:18pm

I feel asleep with my friend Ashly’s book manuscript on my stomach and just awoke. The forest is darkening to muted greens and flat tones of ash. I smell of insect repellent and sunscreen and solitude, a mixture I take solace in more than words can properly convey. Still finding my way venturing on solo overnights in the woods, an inner stirring of uneasiness arises, when I think of how the babbling creek would drown out the approach of ne’er-do-wells I try not to imagine are thrumming through the night on back roads, looking for a fresh target to mess with. (Added side note: For the record, ne’er-do-well is a word that I like the sound of far more than the dictionary definition of, as it means a worthless person, which I don’t at all subscribe to as being a possibility. I think of this word as referring to a person who is up to no good.)

In my evening cat nap, I think I may have dreamed in color, rich in the dalliances of friendships past and those I hope soon will come. Though, it’s hard to say for sure. Dreams are tricky that way. Sometimes they scoop me up and swallow me whole, rendering me awash in memory’s twilight. Other times, I become a false impression in their wake, stumbling around within myself for hope of grounding in a truth I can bite into and chew.

______

My mind kicks up storm clouds, like the haze left behind on a dirt road in the heat of summer. And sometimes, despite my best efforts to redirect my focus, it is undeterred from its obsessions of thought.

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My Happy Place(s)

Lately, I’ve been reveling in the ability to thoroughly enjoy both staying at home and venturing out and about under the summer sun of Montana. In both instances, I am delighting in my own company. It’s a mark of inner contentment, I think, to feel at ease wherever we are. And I need not travel even one step to find where home is. I carry it within me. I am never without it.

____________

My Happy Place(s)

My happy place is on a motorcycle, cruising at 70 over a smooth ribbon of asphalt.
My happy place is on a SUP board, on any body of water that will have me.
My happy place is being perched in front of a blank sheet of paper, with a blue P-500 in my hand.

My HP is in the woods, surrounded by elder trees and ancient wisdom.
My HP is on my meditation cushion, cultivating ease and spaciousness.
My HP is in the kitchen, preparing food to feed my friends.
My HP is next to a campfire, with a cup of tea and a guitar.

My HP is being solo on the road, inhaling music through my pores and exhaling it through my lungs.
My HP is in the Mission Lookout Tower, intimately rekindling my love affair with the sun and moon.
My HP is behind a set of drums, allowing others the chance to get their African dance on.
My HP is my humble abode, in a town I adore, close to my people.

My HP is Deer Park Monastery.
My HP is Banff National Park.
My HP is anywhere I haven’t been.

My HP is in the here and now.

My HP is doing something silly.
My HP is playing with small children.
My HP is watching fireworks.

My HP is within me.

More HP pics:

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New Plan!

If you’re an avid reader here, you may recall that one of my oft used life mottoes is: New plan! And the exclamation point is an important part of the motto, as it stipulates a certain energy that must get summoned alongside of the words, so that the spirit of the motto has the opportunity to arise. Just saying the words without evoking the spirit will sorely impact the motto’s efficacy rate.

Let’s say you’re waiting for a flight at the airport. While standing at the gate, an announcement is made that your flight has been delayed. You now have at least 2 options. You could grumble about it to your travel companion, or text someone or post your angst on social media if you’re flying solo. OR you could New plan! it. You could say New plan! and flow with the moment, determining what to do with the extra hang time you now have on your hands. New plan! is like a gear shifter, helping us to practice moving along with the moment as the landscape around us changes, verses getting stuck-tied to how something was “supposed” to be. I’ve found that it helps to say it out loud, too.

Yesterday, this motto accompanied me in especially strong accord. My original plan was to take my standup paddleboard, new camping hammock, and new/used Subaru and solo car camp overnight on the Clearwater river, about a 40-minute jaunt from town. I’d paddle around in the heat of day, swing in the hammock in between water excursions, write, drink tea, and maybe manage to write a letter to my friend Daniel. That was the plan. And I did do most of those things. I found a spot where I intended; paddled around on a lazy stretch of the Clearwater River; took a cat nap in the hammock; and even made some tea and did a bit of writing.

The place I was situated is a rare find in Montana. It’s a spot on the water that’s free and open for folks to camp just about anywhere they can nestle in. Now, there’s a ton of free camping in this lovely state, with all of the national forest land we have. You can drive up almost any ol’ dirt road and kick it for up to 14-days. But to camp for free on the water is a hard find. And the thing with paid camping on the water in the summertime of Montana, is that you either need to reserve your spot 9-months in advance or you need to time it right, in order to secure one of the first-come-first-serve spots. Cuz, guess who else wants to camp right on the water? EVERYONE.

The hitch in the giddy-up came about 2-hours in, after I had settled into my camp spot. There were other campers spread out along the stretch of river I was on but we were all giving each other the customary buffer of personal space. I had staked claim to a great little spot, where I could only just barely see the next campers down the way. I was enjoying a cup of freshly made tea when a group of about 6 adults came to hop in the water right by where I was stationed. They were camping somewhere nearby and my only guess was that I had secured one of the few good river access spots in the area. I mean, just because there’s a river doesn’t mean every spot along it lends itself well for hopping on in. I’m not sure why else they would’ve traveled down to where I was, as we were all camping beside the water.

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In Honor of the Holiday

Today’s holiday, Independence Day, while not on par with Thanksgiving or Christmas, in the everything-closes-in-the-work-sector department, still lends itself to the feeling of a Sunday morning. The town is quiet and slow to pick up its pace.

Independence Day

I’ve lived 10,000 lives,
felt the flash and flicker of flames on my skin
1 million times,
swam naked in every lake, river, and sea,
gazed upon innumerable sunsets and moon rises.

My heart has been steadied
by the pulsating of mountains,
my bones forged by the roots and trees.
My inhalations are ribbon-tied to the clouds,
my exhalations anchored to the people.

I’ve never not been here,
standing aground on this luscious earth.
I’ve been present since the dawn of time.
And I will remain, long after I’m gone.

 
 

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Solo Retreat in a Lookout Tower (Part 3 of 3)

The fortune cookie I got the night before I was set to head to the lookout

 

Thursday May 24th, 2018: Day 4

He was Montana-handsome, meaning he had nice facial scrub. I’d put him in his early 40’s, though it’s worth mentioning that I put most people in this age category as of late and I find that I’m right only about half of the time. Maybe 40%. I suppose my piling of everyone in this age bracket has something to do with the fact that I’m approaching this decade myself.

Given that it was 9:00am on a Thursday and Swan Lake would not be an impossible place to drive through and not realize it’s a town, I was the only customer in his establishment: OConnell’s Qwick Stop, which touts: Beer. Bait. Pizza. Groceries. on its sign. OConnell’s is located 8.1 miles from my home in the tower, an easy jog north on highway 83.

When I pulled into the parking lot, I hesitated to venture inside, as I knew I’d be the only customer and that equated to a certain amount of pressure. Pressure to: buy something, to engage in polite conversation, to field questions about where I was from and what I was doing in the area. All the things I really didn’t want to be doing. Before going in, I prepared to tell one of two accounts of my happenings, if I were asked, depending on whether it was a male or female doing the asking. If a male-person asked, I’d tell him I was just passing through, not wanting to tip my hand about my being a lone woman in the woods nearby. If a female-person asked, I’d tell her the truth, figuring she’d be far less likely to stalk and murder me in my sleep. When I entered, though, I realized there was a third demographic of people-folk I hadn’t considered, and therefor had not crafted a response for: close-in-age-Montana-handsome-dude-with-kid-in-tow. When he asked, as I knew he would, I told him the truth, too. I realize it’s not entirely sound reasoning but I give extra street cred and trust to guys sporting kids. I figure if the kid seems decent enough, then it stands to reason that its accompanying adult must be relatively okay. And its mother left the little one in their charge, so that was something.

There’s a standard and delightful mix of wares in OConnell’s, similar to that I’ve seen in many a one-store town in Montana. Jazzy printed aprons were the first thing to catch my eye. There were hand-knitted animals, organic eggs, ice cream bars, and canisters of bear spray you could wear around your waist. You can rent a SUP board for an hour or up to two days. You can order up a breakfast pizza or a regular pizza and you can fill up your gas tank out front for $2.95/gallon. I didn’t see the bait section, as was promised on the sign, but I’m not sure that’s something you put out on display. You can purchase a camping hammock, rain poncho, and collapsible canteen from the same wall of hanging camping gear. And, of course, junk food and beer were in high supply. I found it especially considerate that they had a small selection (no pun intended) of condoms, tucked in next to the nail clippers and ear plugs.

I left with a locally made Montana-styled t-shirt to give to my stepson and an 8-pack of crayons in which to leave in the tower, to go along with the Smokey the Bear kids activity books.

What I found most interesting about my store excursion, however, was that despite the fact that I was clearly in the store by myself, Montana-handsome guy saw fit to assume I was part of a pair, as in: “How long are you guys staying in the tower for?” and “If you guys come back down to town, you should check out our homemade pizza.”

Guys? I thought to myself. As in, plural? As in, more than just me? Who else would I bring along with me for pizza? Do I need to bring someone else along, and your large sign out front stating: “Any pizza can be a personal pizza if you believe in yourself,” is a rouse?!

I guess he’s just societally geared not to think of women as solo travelers. It’s really not an outlandish conclusion to make, when you think about it. There truly aren’t very many of us out there.

__________

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Solo Retreat in a Lookout Tower (Part 2 of 3)

I’m back among the ground-dwellers. I awoke this morning around 3:30am, disappointed after a confusing moment that I wasn’t in the tower.

Prior to my solo sojourn, I’d given no thought to the effects of tree top living. I hadn’t considered how well I might take to it or the re-calibration period afterwards that I’m experiencing now.

Upon returning home on Saturday night, I stood on our wooden deck out back, located 19″ off the ground, wondering why I felt so strange. In short order, I realized it was due to having spent the week in high concentration of time on a wooden deck rocketed 40-feet up high in the air. The ground was just too oddly close from where my feet were settled.

I didn’t anticipate loving – and therefor now missing – the ritual of lighting the gas stove. A task I involved myself in more than the average person who is not an avid tea drinker.

I’d forgotten how in love I am with trees and sky and sun rises – and how sad I would be to leave them behind. While they surround me every day, of course, it’s not the same as paying the kind of close and unscripted attention to them that comes from dwelling directly in their midst.

Tuesday May 22nd: Day 2. 4:48am

I’m sitting here at the map table inside, guessing over which peak the sun will rise, based on the color patterns unfurling over the mountains. I’ve got it narrowed down to two. With how much light hangs in the sky this time of year, I will make little use of my headlamp, book light, and lantern I packed along. Perhaps an hour’s worth of artificial lighting in the morning is all I’ll need. A truly dark sky only lasts for around 6-hours, in the late springtime of Montana.

With the light, temperatures, and time of year, I think I’ve managed to stumble upon the very best time to situate myself here. It’s neither bug, fire, or tourist season just yet; the nights and mornings are tinged with just the right amount of cool to accompany tea drinking and a hoodie; and the days are warm and friendly to my skin. I see this place becoming an annual excursion, and I only just arrived yesterday. It’s simply brilliant here.

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