I Heart the Woods

Penned on 7/20:

I’m contemplating morning today at 5,000 feet, by diving headlong into a gloriously warm and crackling fire in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area. It was cold last night. The kind of cold that I still don’t entirely see coming in the July of summer, even though I consider myself an official Montanan, now that I’ve lived here a drop over half my life; even though I checked the weather before venturing out here and knew full well to expect temps in the high 30’s at night; even though we came well prepared, gear wise. Still, knowing it will be cold and experiencing it are two very different animals.

 

 

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Solo Road Saunter

I’ve written before about the merits of not disobeying the call of the road when it summons thee. So this past weekend when it called, I went.

I’ve found that to satiate my “urge for going,” as Joni Mitchell once crafted into a song, I needn’t venture far. I live in Montana for pete’s sake, a truly uncompromisingly beautiful, wild state. And we’ve got a lotta land here, too. A person could spend lifetimes exploring here and never be able to see it all.

And not only do I not need to go far, I don’t need to spend a large swath of time either. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes venturing far and spending extended periods of time off and away from home is a lovely thing to do, but I’ve been finding that even weekend-long trips simply 2-4 hours from my doorstep are not only sufficient but immensely satisfying.

I wrote this on my writer’s Facebook page the night before setting out this past weekend:

For reasons I don’t entirely understand, I want to sleep under the stars in unfamiliar terrain. I want to wake up in a fresh locale and navigate my early morning rituals in a locale where no one knows me. I want to sit in a coffee shop in a small town and write unobstructed by the comfortable air of home.

And perhaps some of this allure has a little something to do with the fact that I know full well – as clear as the sound of a bell – that I grow little, if at all, unless I edge outside of my comfort zone.

So, this past weekend, I went here:

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Just Do It/Just Don’t

In my last post, I mentioned having recently gone on a short excursion to Portland with a friend of mine, to visit a mutual friend of ours. For three days and three nights, the three of us did pretty much everything together. It was really lovely.

During our first full day together, we stumbled upon a saying that wound up becoming our trip’s guiding mantra: Just do it…just don’t. It was spurred by a car sporting a Nike Just Do It bumper sticker. We were getting ready to enter a tunnel on our way to visit the coast, when a car hopped in front of us rather abruptly (ya know, the way cars often do) (oh, and we’ve all been that car too – just sayin), with their Just Do It sticker beaming proudly in close view. The dialog in our car then went something like this:

Geese, what is that guy doing?!

He’s “just doing it”, I guess.

(Pause)

Well, I think it should’ve been more like: “just don’t.”

We then proceeded to carry this interplay of Just Do It/Just Don’t into an array of occasions throughout the rest of our trip together. Some times it was jokingly and sometimes it had real meaning, while still in the spirit of lightness and fun. Turns out, there are a plethora of opportunities in which to bust these guiding life statements out.

There’s great wisdom in knowing when – and how – to invoke the dharma of Just Do It/Just Don’t. When we learn how to call on them in a suitable fashion that is appropriate to our own individual situation, with Right Attitude and Right Intention, we can actualize the fruits of the practice of Right Action.

There are times to Just Do It and there are times to Just Don’t. And there are no one-size-fits-all answers as to when to apply which one to which string of moments. This is why we must ongoingly cultivate a strong relationship with our own person. If we’re not able to tune into our own mental, emotional, and spiritual landscapes, we will have no clue as to when to use each part of the mantra, as only we our self can know which instance calls for which part.

If we’re not well-connected with our own person, we also run the risk of going the Just Do It route when really we would’ve been much better off having gone the Just Don’t route, or vice versa. There are plenty of times when we would do well to push ourselves a little bit outside of our comfort zone, too. In general, I think more of us have the tendency to say Just Don’t than Just Do It.

So, feel free to use our trip motto, if you like. And if you do, please let me know how it goes :)

Oysters, Alcohol, and Sugar (oh my)

Image: pic I took at Short Sand Beach on the Oregon coast, Feb. 2019 (feel free to use it, I don’t mind :)

Last weekend, a friend of mine and I hopped a plane to Portland, Oregon to visit a mutual friend. In the span of a short 90-minute flight, we were magically transported to a place whose winter looks much different than ours does, here in Montana.

I penned this in my journal in the early hours of our first morning there:

Intoxicated by the allure spurred on by showing up in an unfamiliar place amid terrain I’ve not spent time accommodating into my bones, I sip from the fountain of beginner’s mind with a heart full-throttle and open-choked, ready to greet whatever comes my way, with a smile.

I penned this in my journal on our last morning in Portland:

Just because you lean bar side and I lean zendo side, doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. In fact, it may even mean we should be friends for just that very reason.

I don’t need all my peeps to give up meat and swear off alcohol and weed; we don’t even need to fully uphold the same values. Though if we are to kick it close enough for us to soak it up hot spring style sans suits in the woods, I’m not interested in spending time with those who don’t hold in high regard the same foundational bones as I do, such as: impeccable speech, deep listening, and a commitment to the finer things in life, like showing up in the world on purpose.

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Winter Saunter

Thankfully, I’m not easily intimidated by winter weather driving – I mean really, I have a Subaru for goodness sake, this is, in part, what they’re made for. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are times when it would be ill-advised to venture out, but I did not deem today to be one of those days.

Instead, I labeled today’s blustery conditions and smoke-machine-esque ice-marbled roads as a prime time to uphold my self-proclaimed status as a gal who enjoys pushing against the commonly held feminine norms, such as exists around: traveling solo, driving in inclement weather on sketchy roads, and eating out in public with only the company of a good book and writing supplies.

After an hour spent at the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas in Arlee, I landed at the Dixon Mercantile, a place so delightfully quaint that I instantly felt right at home.

There’s something extremely satisfying and life-affirming in skirting collective modes of operation, such as heading north on a solo saunter on Sunday February 3rd in near white-out conditions, and living to tell the tale.

P.S If you live in the area or are ever in the area of western Montana, the Dixon Mercantile (in Dixon, MT) is only 40 miles from Missoula and they are almost solely only open on Sundays from 9-2 for brunch. The owner Laura is super great, the food was really good, and they make homemade fresh bread and pastries. Need I say more?

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Yesterday, I spent 5 uninterrupted hours writing, pretty well glued in the same spot the whole time with only the occasional tea making and bio break to incite bodily movement away from my keyboard. It was glorious.

Today, I road on up north, as any asphalt adventurer knows, it’s unwise to disobey the call of the open road when it summons thee. I followed tire tracks instead of painted lines and in an area thick with mountains, I managed to see none all the way to Arlee and then Dixon.

To be fair, I did consider not heading out on my drive-about prior to leaving the house, once I was confronted with the state of weather happening outside. But it was only about 2% of me that sat in question; the other 98% urged me eagerly onward ho.

Besides, I DID go to all the trouble of running a brush through my hair like two times before putting a winter hat on AND putting on cold-hardy clothes over the top of my pajamas. I was also well equipped with the essentials of winter travel: a fresh Contigo full of tea, my camera, writing supplies, a Subaru, and a good attitude.

And, I figured, one never grows familiar and accustomed to a thing, if said thing is never done.

Sometimes, what’s called for is to foster connection with members of my beloved tribe of humans, as I did last weekend. And sometimes, what’s called for is to bolster the relationship I have with myself, as I’ve been doing this weekend.

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Don’t Bite the Hook

On my recent road trip, in addition to all of the music I enjoyed listening to while driving, I brought along a set of CD’s I borrowed from our mindfulness center’s library: a 3-disc series of talks by Pema Chodron called Don’t Bite the Hook.

Here’s a description I found online:

Life has a way of provoking us with traffic jams and computer malfunctions, with emotionally distant partners and crying children—and before we know it, we’re upset. We feel terrible, and then we end up saying and doing things that only make matters worse. But it doesn’t have to be that way, says Pema Chödrön. It is possible to relate constructively to the inevitable shocks, losses, and frustrations of life so that we can find true happiness. The key, Pema explains, is not biting the “hook” of our habitual responses. In this recorded weekend retreat, Pema draws on Buddhist teachings from The Way of the Bodhisattva to reveal how we can:

• stay centered in the midst of difficulty
• improve stressful relationships
• step out of the downward spiral of self-hatred
• awaken compassion for ourselves and others

I can’t say enough good things about this series. It was so chock full of insight and wisdom that I found I could only listen in 15-20 minute segments which fortunately, with how this series is set up, is very easy to do.

Here are some things I penned down whilst driving and listening (note: if it has quotation marks around it, then it’s something she said verbatim – if it doesn’t, it’s something I paraphrased, infusing my own understanding/practice into what I heard):

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Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas

Since Friday October 12th, I’ve traveled 828.9 miles plus 380.6 miles plus 781.1 miles away from home. When grand totaled, it comes to 1,990.6 miles. And one of the places you can find yourself when traversing that far from Missoula, Montana is Bull Shoals, Arkansas, population 1,950 – which equates to my having driven approximately one mile for every resident in this quaint and lovely little town, in order to get here.

I left my good friend Wendy’s, in the metro area of the Twin Cities in Minnesota, at 5:00am on Tuesday October 16th and arrived later that same day at 6:00pm at my mom’s place in Bull Shoals. Here are some road notes I scribed down whilst en route (in order of appearance):

6:30am, 41 degrees. Daybreak cuts the tension of darkness in a sharp jut of sky to the east.

Like miles of lane barricades on the highway with no trace of road construction in sight, I trust the process of life, even if I don’t understand it.

A road sign reads: Hope, 1 mile. Wouldn’t it be great if it were as simple as that?

I strode over the border into Iowa at 7:30am and watched the sun pop up over the horizon at 7:31. Bearing honored witness to a sunrise so inexpressibly beautiful that it floods the sense, these words came to mind:

I look out to the horizon in gratitude for this one precious life.
I look out to the horizon in gratitude for being a citizen of this great country.
I look out to the horizon in gratitude for the highways and byways that connect us.

More road notes:

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