Lessons from a Lookout Tower

Sign posted in Swan Lake, Montana

Last week, in the first noted occasion of something in my world that hasn’t been cancelled in over 2-months in the wake of covid, I stayed for a spell in the Mission Lookout Tower in Swan Lake, which is a little thing you can do here in the great state of Montana: stay in old decommissioned fire towers. I reserved the tower 6-months ago, and based on my findings online assumed my stay was cancelled. Then, four days before my reservation was set to start, I got a call from the ranger station telling me I was good to go. So I went.

I started venturing – solo saunter style – to this particular tower in May of 2018, making this recent trip my third annual pilgrimage there. I think I stayed 3 or 4 nights my first time. Last year I stayed a week and this year, too, I booked it for a week long stay. (Merch plug: I compiled my writings from my tower stay last year into a homespun book called Sky Perch: One-week worth of writing from a lookout tower. If you’re interested, let me know and I will send you a copy for $10.)

As a writer, staying solo in a tower rocketed 40-feet up off the ground is simply a stellar venue for putting pen to paper. And my last two trips there were periods of great reflection, refreshing solitude, stillness, nourishment, and energetic refueling. My trip there this last go-around, however, was not any of those things.

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Haiku A Day

One of my new mindfulness-strengthening practices I’ve come up with for 2020 is Haiku A Day, where I pen one new haiku every day.

Here is my first week of 2020 in Haiku:

1/1:
Never will I know
how truly gifted I am
to have this one life

1/2:
Winter birds asleep
townspeople in deep slumber
trees rest until spring

1/3:
Darkness changes hue
No one morning looks the same
Sometimes dark is light

1/4:
Glowing beeswax flame
one fallen star on the ground
continuation

1/5:
Green tea in winter
January roots and blooms
I sit in gladness

1/6:
Morning pen in hand
a rumbling on the stove
the universe hums

1/7:
Wake up: 3am
darkness speaks in poetry:
I am here for you

Lookout Tower

My Sky Perch

I returned home yesterday afternoon, after spending a week long stint in a lookout tower outside of Swan Lake, Montana, which I reserved 6-months ago. It was, in short, a life-affirming solo saunter. My husband Mike came up on Friday night and stayed through the weekend but the four nights prior to his arrival, I was there on my own.

In large part, I spent my time: listening, writing, making tea, and reading Mary Oliver. It was glorious and chilly and sometimes frightening. It was all the things.

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50 Things That Make Me Happy

This pic combines three of the things from my list: #2, #5, and #29 :)

 

Inspired by a blog post from: https://mywellbeingandlearningjourney.wordpress.com/, I thought I’d try my hand at following her lead:

50 Things That Make Me Happy

  1. Trees
  2. Writing
  3. Spending time with friends
  4. Taking photos
  5. The hours of early morning
  6. Community building
  7. Hosting potlucks at my house
  8. Animal friends
  9. Paddleboarding
  10. Motorcycling
  11. My husband
  12. My stepson
  13. Taking road trips
  14. Camping
  15. Pumping up my old Coleman camp stove
  16. Going on solo ventures
  17. Meditation
  18. Going on mindfulness retreats
  19. Deer Park Monastery
  20. Montana
  21. Missoula
  22. Hearing about a loved one’s good news
  23. Music
  24. Dancing
  25. Singing
  26. Flowers
  27. Children
  28. Being silly
  29. The soft glow of Christmas lights
  30. Buying little presents or cards for friends
  31. Engaging in random acts of kindness
  32. My dayplanner
  33. Organizing stuff
  34. Being efficient
  35. Volunteering with hospice and meeting with patients
  36. Planning events that help bring people together in an atmosphere of heartfulness
  37. Crows & ravens
  38. Recalling memories of spending time at the Jersey Shore when I was growing up
  39. Sitting with my sangha Be Here Now every Monday night
  40. Camp fires
  41. Napping
  42. Good tea
  43. Swimming
  44. Soaking in primitive hot springs
  45. Hiking to the ‘M’ and overlooking the city of Missoula
  46. Spending time in hammocks
  47. Listening to the sound of meditation bells & wind chimes
  48. Seeing someone smile
  49. The experience of flight travel
  50. Properly cooked tofu :)

I could keep going…but I think I’ll keep to the prompt and stick to 50.

May this list inspire you in similar accord to how I was inspired. Let us get our happiness on together!

 

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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Portrait of a Writer

Portrait of a Writer, A Discourse in Six Parts

One. Eyes open amid some dark and early hour, hanging in the fragile space between stars and first light. As though they’d been collecting for days, waiting to be tended to, words have gathered and piled up whilst in slumber – begging to be written – crowding one another to express themselves first through the pen.

Two. Tea awaits in the folds of white coated cupboards perched in survey over the sprawl of earthen slate tiles, cool to the soft padding of touch on bare feet.

Three. Unobtrusive bits of light are invited. A candle is lit, rocking its translucent flame from side to wavering side with the rhythm and sway of the ocean’s tides and wind licking through the towering swells of rock and roots and bones.

Four. In balanced harmony, fresh sheets of paper tremble in anticipation of fulfilling their intended destiny beside the only one worthy of being betrothed to inhabit its purity of empty space: the Pilot P-500 in blue ink, extra fine.

Five. Held captive by the spectacle of it all, a reflection of grace and ease mirrors back a fragrant reminder of how very precious this embodiment of the coming together of elements is. Careful not to disturb the din of quietude, the conditions are rich and delicious for savoring.

Six. Sometimes words string together like decorative garland, adorning the air that gave rise to their maturation. Sometimes words tumble and spill out like crude oil, unexpected and defiling. And sometimes words need to sit and settle before the time is ripe for them to reveal their buried truth.