Into the Woods


On the trail to Jerry Johnson Hot Springs, Idaho. Dec 25th, 2018

 

Yesterday, while Mike and I were hiking through the woods amid the winter wonderland-scape en route to Jerry Johnson Hot Springs, we were trying to figure out how many years we’ve been upholding the tradition of hot springing on Christmas Day. The best we could figure is that it’s been around 10 years.

Here’s to having lovely holiday traditions that allow our hearts to crack open just a little bit more with every passing.

I’ve walked these woods
10,000 times,
carried them with me
through every turning of day
and maturation of thought

I’ve made use of their good tidings
as cordage to anchor me home

and when storms have raged,
as they have tendency to do,
I’ve held firm to their wisdom
of  resiliency and strength,
so that I may learn
when to sway
and when to shed

 

P.S

I made a 6-minute video montage of our excursion yesterday – here it is! (And it’s set to my newest favorite song: Trevor Hall’s You Can’t Rush Your Healing.)

 

 

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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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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Solo Retreat in a Lookout Tower (Part 1 of 3)

Six months ago, on November 21st, 2017, I reserved to stay a full week at the Mission Lookout Tower starting on May 21st, located just a few miles from Swan Lake, Montana. With the exception of my husband and stepson coming up to spend the afternoon yesterday, I spent the week there solo. No power, no running water, no cell service.

It was deeply nourishing…ravishingly beautiful…heart-quenchingly filled with quietude…and luminous in every possible internal and external way.

I have scores of daily logging entries in my spiral-bound notebook, dozens of short creative writing snippets in my leather-bound catch-all, two freshly written spoken word pieces, over two hundred photos, and a multitude of video segments. It’s difficult to know how best to wrap up this past week, so I plan on crafting a 3-post series.

My 360-degree glass nest was perched 40-feet up high in the air atop a wooden tower, nestled in a thick of pine trees. Mission Mountains to the west. Swan Range to the east. I watched the sun rise every morning and the sun set every evening. I watched as the waxing moon made her way across the sky. Never before had I been so connected, engaged, and enthralled with the presence and pulsing movement of light.

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Resting, Not Quitting

I’ve been watching this state I find myself in slowly developing over the past month, like witnessing the moon gradually go from full to new. This low energy state; this I quit state; this I’m tired of taking care of everyone and tending to every little thing state; this I’m done and everyone’s on their own state.

It’s a rather important practice to know what it means to rest and how to do it, rather than throw in the towel and quit, when confronted with running on fumes – or being out of gas entirely and breaking down on the side of the road.

Today, I slept in and then stayed in bed till around 1:00pm. Having foreseen that this time of the year would be a exhaustive time for me after a few big planning events I’ve managed in the last couple of months, I reserved a stay (six months ago) in a fire lookout tower for the whole of next week for myself, starting on Monday. So, off I will go into the high elevation of the mountains for a solo stay in the woods.

I’ll play guitar, write, rest, sip tea, make campfires, and watch the sun rise.

I won’t have anyone to tend to other than myself…and it will be glorious.

I’ll recharge my tank and re-hydrate my spirit.

Once or twice a year, I find that I need this kind of time to myself. I need to reconnect: with my own person in a concentrated fashion; with silence; with stillness; with the rising and falling of the sun and the moon; with the simplicity and beauty of life that I often take for granted.

Off into the woods I will go come Monday. And I will return home with a rejuvenated inner landscape, I’m sure of it.

Nourishment & Healing

This is a post in pics. Last night, before attending a high school drama production my stepson was part of, I went for a solo saunter in the woods. By the end of the evening, I was nourished, fed, and inspired by a multitude of influences: the woods that surrounded me, the river that flowed beside the trail,

the sky in sprawl above in a budding spring blue,

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Holiday Traditions

Pic taken Christmas Day 2016, on the trail to Jerry Johnson’s Hot Springs

Every year on Christmas Day, my husband and I venture to Jerry Johnson’s Hot Springs, for a 1-mile hike (one way) & soak in the woods. Neither of us connect with the celebration of Christmas. To us, it’s just another day on the calendar, which affords us a day off from our regular routine and to-do lists. We’ve been springing it on Christmas Day for quite a number of years now – it’s one of our very few annual traditions. And, I’ll add, is simply glorious.

Back when we first got married, in 2000, we tried our hand at celebrating the winter solstice and came up with a few possible traditions to carry forward each December, but it proved to be too forced for us and we soon gave up any sort of formal way of commemorating the seasonal changing of the guard. We both grew up celebrating Christmas – not on religious grounds but on consumeristic ones. And I have incredibly fond memories of it as a child. But neither of us were interested in fueling the drive of the holidays when we started co-creating our lives as adults together.

Many years ago, after receiving a plethora of well-intentioned but ultimately un-neccesary gifts from relatives in the mail each December, we decided to craft a letter to send to our dear family members. As the writer in our household, it was important to me that the letter both express our gratitude for their generosity and our firm desire to discontinue the further receiving of gifts, in as warm-hearted a way as possible. I wanted to do my best to create as little offense as I could, making sure to focus on our appreciation for their kindness and our love for them. And, rather to my surprise, it worked! While not everyone understood our position, they all respected our heartfelt request.

The month of December is the only time I’m grateful for living so far away from my family, as I really don’t know how I would negotiate this festive time of year if I had family around who were celebrating Christmas in the traditional ways that I grew up with and were requesting my attendance to join them. Fortunately, though, that’s not a thing I need to put much thought into.

Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to connect with all the ways that people find this time of year joyful, as I can grow callous in regards to the amount of waste, stress, hardship, and debt that accumulate around Christmas – and the furthering of such rampant, detrimental notions and ways of relating to each other and the world at large. But non-duality continues to ring true! In this case, the teachings of non-duality play out in the simple truth that both things are happening at the same time: there are elements of Christmas that are full of delight and joy and there are elements of great disharmony and destruction.

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A Walk in the Woods

A pic I took of an old trail sign - and then added some words to with Pic Monkey :)

A pic I took of an old trail sign – and then added some words         to with Pic Monkey :)

I’ve been starting to get a little restless, from having had shoulder surgery almost 3 weeks ago and still being in a sling and relatively one-handed.  So today I ventured out on my own for a walk in the woods.  Spending time with trees is good medicine.

There’s a spot in the Blue Mountain Recreation Area not far from my house that I especially like to go.  It has good parking and the wooded walking trail goes right by the Bitterroot River, which is a great bonus.  It was a sunny, warm day today and only a small handful of people were on the trail, which was also an added bonus.  I pulled up into a sliver of shade and then set out on foot with my ipod and camera in tow.

The sun rippled down through long strands of muted green grasses as boughs of pines and aspens swayed in the summer wind.  Large birds of prey were soaring with widely spread wings above the river and small song birds were singing long intertwining arias amongst the trees.

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Jerry Johnson Hot Springs

Suspension bridge over the Lochsa River, Idaho

Suspension bridge over the Lochsa River, Idaho

My husband and I have an annual tradition of spending Christmas Day at one of our favorite places, Jerry Johnson Hot Springs in Idaho.  It’s about an hour and a half drive west from Missoula, Montana.  Traveling from town you know you’ve reached the trailhead when you see the beautiful suspension bridge stretching over the Lochsa River (shown above).  There’s a nice large parking area across highway 12 from the bridge.

Warm Springs Creek, next to the trail leading to the springs

Warm Springs Creek, next to the trail leading to the springs

The skies above were clear blue and filled with winter sun streaming down through the evergreen forest.  Due to its popularity the 1 1/2 mile trail to the springs is always well worn no matter the time of year.  The springs are natural and the hike is on a pretty easy trail.  Sometimes it can be quite icy so during the winter months having yak tracks for your shoes is totally money well spent.  We visit the springs often throughout the year – for me it’s always a good day when I trek to the pools.  There is great medicine in getting out in the woods.

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Rainbow Gathering, Day 2

The community meditation spot I set up outside our camp

The community meditation spot I set up outside our camp

This is part 2 of 4 – to start from the beginning please go to Rainbow Gathering, Day 1.

My husband, step-son, and I just returned home from the rainbow gathering in the Big Hole Valley area of south western Montana.  I wrote most everyday while we were gone and thought I’d share our adventure:

Written on July 1st 

Last night was loud with the thunder of drums, horn calls, yells, shouting, belligerent cursing youth passing by on the main trail, and a variety of other noises.  It was cold and seemed to go on for far too long before dawn broke and the camp was plunged into a quiet I thought may never come.  And though sleep came in spurts and the noise at times was overwhelming I did not feel myself pulled into a torrent of irritation, which would’ve been the case not long ago.  Instead of trying to block out the din I opened my ears to take it all in.  Just as in life every drop of now is decided good or bad based on our degree of fighting or embracing.

Kid Village Kitchen

Kid Village Kitchen

From our sleeping bags, amidst the drumming and celebrating, we also listened to a frantic search party for a 5-year old little girl named Mara on our first night in camp, who turned out not to be lost at all but asleep at a friend’s tent.  We were told that close to a thousand searchers (which I would guess was an exaggeration, although there were a good many people calling her name) were looking for her.  We heard the calls for her echoing through the trees, bouncing near and far, and when finally after 20-30 minutes the yell came, “She’s right here!” and the whole camp started cheering my eyes welled up with a profound sense of gratitude for the sweetness and triumph of community caring and support.

I began the morning with some light guitar playing and singing softly to myself a Cowboy Junkies song which attracted a fellow by the name of Jai who was staying in upper bus village and helped to run the Roadkill Kitchen where he said they served elk, venison, and trout.  He came off the trail to say hello and wound up playing me a couple of his songs which were quite good.

Trade Circle

Trade Circle

It was another bright, sunny day on the official start of the gathering, July 1st.  It has been estimated that 6,000 people are present so far with more expected in the next couple of days.  Folks from all across the nation are here, all ages, all colors, to peacefully assemble on our shared forest land.

We did some exploring today and found the info booth, Kid Village, the Granola Funk stage, Montana Camp, and a host of other camps.  Jaden (my step-son) and I spent time in the late afternoon relaxing in a super comfortable community teepee reading and lounging on huge pillows, mats, and blankets.  The teepee was set up in Kid Village and run by Children of the Earth, an intentional community and school in Oregon.  We went through trade circle, played frisbee with a growing number of folks in the open meadow while waiting for dinner at main circle, Jaden played someone at a game of chess, I spoke with a local rancher named Clay who let Jaden and I pet his horses that he and his kids rode in on and handed us elk jerky to pass around, and I set up Quiet Corner Meditation Mat just in front of our tented homestead with a sign inviting folks to have a seat.  We met friends new and old, ate well, walked and walked and walked some more.  It was a good day (and the night wound up passing much quieter than the one before).

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Children of the Earth Teepee