Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Indian Creek-sgiving (Part 1)

The Freedomobile was packed, the coffee brewed and steaming silently in our insulated mugs. Luke and I were on the road from Durango to Indian Creek. It was Thanksgiving morning and cell phones were turned-off and stashed in the glove compartment, along with other items we wouldn't need in the desert; namely money and IDs. The Freedomobile, aka a late 80s Mazda 2-door car painted freedom to boot, with working turbo and oscillating interior air vents, was on its last legs. Luke dubbed it: "Freedom's last stand!" I couldn't agree more. We were off to a special place, and if it happened to be our last stand, then I would have accepted it all beautifully and without struggle in stride.

the view out the cockpit of the Freedomobile

For those unfamiliar with Creeksgiving, a lot of things compromise this event of friends, shenanigans, and climbing in the southeast Utah desert. The events had already kicked off a few days before Thanksgiving day; namely the story telling event, Teabag Takeover, and other various competition-offs: showcasing people's propensity to entertain their fellow Creeksgiving-goers. So, imagine rolling up on-scene: 40+ people that you know, or will know, tents, cooking stations, and the expansive Utah desert - in its many shades of red buttes, mesas, and rocks, offsetting the contrast of the wonder-full blue sky. Red sand and dry, scrubby brush kindly interrupting the expanse of red rock as far as the eye can see in all directions of the compass rose.

Now, imagine this scene with more shenanigan spices: grown men and women in wild, expressive costumes finishing their morning coffee, hoping to be done using the single pit toilet in the Superbowl campground before the start of the annual Turkey Trot fun-5K race. Shaun, the race organizer announces the 5 minute courtesy warning till race start. Those not already lined up waiting at the starting line scramble to assemble their final costume flair. This year, there are many iterations of wild and colorful costumes; among them a man dressed as an Indian Chief, a man in a tight tiger/cat suit complete with tail, and a diapered man posing as some sort of Freedom super-hero-type. The ladies present tend to trend more conservative in their dressing, leaving the off-color opportunities to their male counterparts.

If people aren't smiling and laughing already at the display of characters this year, then this isn't their scene. However, this rarely is the case. Though, each year new people are introduced to the antics of Creeksgiving; and this year certainly was no exception. With all who will participate gathered, Shaun announces the race course and any other various obligatory items necessary. With the smokeless spoken bang of his toy gun, the race is off!

Red dust swirls as the feet beat the sand out the only entrance to the campground. Many divergent and bright colors scamper across the earthen tones of the desert, vying for a place among the 30 plus competitors in this year's Trot. After a short spell, as the front runners reach the half-way point, high-fives are exchanged amongst the race runners as all pass one another on this out and back course.

Adam's Arch
After what seems to be a half-hour, the final participants rumble across the finish line: an arch of prayer flags dedicated to a friend of many, who died in an avalanche this past winter. At this point, all are still gathered to lovingly welcome back the final finishers. High-fives, hugs, butt-smacks, and back-pats are given as people settle down for the brief awards ceremony. Shaun has done his public relations homework this year: Black Diamond has donated items - new carabiners, a few brand-new cams, and The Climbing Zine as well as Pagan Mountaineering and the Moab Diner have also kicked in items for the race and other events. Though the ceremony is brief, and the group picture following, too, the events of Creeksgiving are just getting started, so-to-speak. For many, a day of climbing the countless Wingate Sandstone splitter cracks ensues; for a few others - nine, plus one dog this year - preparations begin for the 3rd annual Turkey Shooter race: America's Greatest Foot Race, as it has been dubbed.

The south & north Six Shooters, and the Freedomobile, respectively
The Turkey Shooter is not for the faint of heart or mind; perhaps why only 9 entrants and 1 dog participated this year. This seems about par for the participation-course. The Great Foot Race winds 6.5+ miles from camp out the sandy wash to the base of the talus cone of the southern Six Shooter - a desert tower standing vivid against the bright blue sky. After a vertical sojourn up and up the talus cone - over loose rocks, sand, and massive boulders - Turkey Shooters arrive at the base of the wall. Now comes the equalizer: jugging (ascending) a fixed climbing rope to the top of the tower. Race volunteers, who make this whole thing possible, await the Turkey Shooters to assist them with the technical gear necessary - harnesses, helmets, jumars, aid ladders, daisy chains, and locking carabiners to safely ascend and rappel the towering wall 150+ vertical feet above.

Upon rappelling back down the single fixed line on the wall, a Turkey Shooter racer is only just passed half-way. The complete reverse of the course: back down the loose and steep talus cone, through the expanse of the sandy wash, known as the back 6, out to the paved Creek road and back into camp awaits. At this point, aside from the front runner or two - who are actually competing for 1st place - Shooters are teaming-up with fellow runners near them to complete this challenge, this unique life adventure, together. Perhaps that is one interesting thing about the desert: you may come alone, but you surely desire to share it with another, for it is a wide expansive place, full of solitude and vast amounts of beauty.

Luke, Dave, and Adam Ferro descending from the Broken Tooth wall on a day of rest and route scouting after the Turkey Shooter race.

Before America's Greatest Foot Race had even begun, I had sought to team up with a good friend, Timmy Foulkes: desiring to cement our partnership to the finish as one. Having run this race 2 years ago, I knew the loneliness of the back 6. I vowed not to finish alone, in the dark, this year. Having only ran 2 days in the last month since finishing the Appalachian Trail, I knew I'd be slower, but still energized of heart mind and spirit for this adventure. To Timmy and I's surprise, Lindsey from Astin, TX - and the only female participant this year - wished to team-up with us after realizing that she, Timmy, and I were the last three Shooters left.

Upon entering the sandy wash, after a brief stop at the base of the talus cone to ditch our technical gear, grab food and water at the truck used by the race volunteers, we smiled and agreed aloud at the relative coolness of the afternoon sun. As our feet pitched, one in front of the other, the sand puffed and floated around our lower bodies. If the desert had a recipe for baked goods, the sand would easily be the flour, as its dry consistency seems exactly identical, save for the red color.

peaceful nothingness tinged with everything all-at-once!
We paused for a few seconds every now and again to take it all in: the presence of nothingness and everything all-at-once. Without wind no sound registered to our hearing. No other forms of animal life seemed visible in this dry vastness besides we three, and Lindsey's dog - the Freedom Four - as we aptly named ourselves. Vastly intricate mesas and buttes of red colors, toned by the desert sun stretched as far as the eyes could perceive. The only evidence of humans was the footprints and tire tracks of other Shooters visible in the wash. Collecting ourselves from the powerful pull of the moment, we continued on our course; pausing another once or twice to give Tim and I's legs some reprieve from the bodily anxiety of the day.

Arriving back on the dirt road to camp, we happily agreed to join hands as we crossed under Adam's Arch - the finish line! Awaiting, in the lessening light of day, 4 or so hours later, was a hearty crew of fellow racers and others welcoming us back! In the moments preceding the finish I couldn't help but notice the energy present in our joined hands, as the perceived pains of my body - specifically my IT bands near my knees - disappeared in the love of experience at  foot, hand, and spirit. Hugs and whoops of joy ensued as all present embraced and smiled with the thrill of life and adventure.

This would mark the end of the races for the day, but not for the competition-offs. Still to come was the communal Creeksgiving meal - complete with turkeys cooked in the ground, the mustache contest, and of course the coveted and highly entertaining dance-off!

Luke prepares the dance floor for the evening's showdown

(to be continued....)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Indeed, just that...


Wanted to take a brief moment to drop some life love. The wilderness therapy job I applied for has postponed hiring till a later date, but life goes on!

In the meantime, after a beautiful trip to the Utah desert - which I intend to share about, I have been once again approached by my dear friend Ryan about a job in Vail, Colorado. This for sure is serendipity in action. While waiting for this to unfold, please consider sending a smile out spiritually for me; I know it all will work out as I continue to love this whole beautiful process.

Thank you for your love in my life!

Lots of love,

Friday, November 16, 2012

Goodbye North Carolina, thank you!

Heading West: living in freedom and loving in reality. Goodbyes aren't easy but life leads us when we open to it. As thanksgiving approaches I'm grateful for the time spent in NC and for the wonderful people I know and love.

I look forward to seeing ya'll again one day. Till then I'll leave you with the quote on my Yogi teabag hanging from my rearview mirror:
"Real happiness lies in that which never comes nor goes, but simply is."
Ahh, completeness; like a fully blossomed flower that knows no season nor distance from the sun.
Smiles and Love!

A grainy rendition of my final sunset in Boone. Taken from the abandoned house atop Howard's Knob. 
Freedom is my captain! 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Lovingly breaking through the shells in life...

Breathing deep, concentrating in this moment what else matters? Like a passenger train out of the station, I witness my concentration and attention in the moment disappear down the tracks. Breathing again, this time deeper, I find my center: the space lovingly niched within the expansive space of the heart. Here I am at peace, despite the calamity racing circles in my conscious mind. 

I take a moment in this space to recount the beauty...where to begin? What quantifies beauty? What qualifies? Hmm... Beauty is simple; let's start there!

In Yoga class last evening, Leigh Ann bridged the idea that, similar to the belief of creation from the Polynesian god Ta'oroa, we continually build shells around ourselves in life; and, that during the course of said life and its happenings, we find ourselves stretching to crack through the shell we've hardened into a new and beautiful space. In this new space, we may find that we had the potential all along to stretch wide and expansive, though we had yet to acknowledge it. Children, for example, go through these shells as they age in life without conscious realization. One day, in their cognitive years they may look back and wonder how it is that development occurred without the consent of their higher mind. 

We, as cognitive and capable adults, have this ability. Our minds sometimes seek to control so much of our destiny that in this meddling we miss the opportunity to connect with the niched space of beauty within our hearts. If you could tap into it, to understand it more deeply, what would the voice of your heart say? 

I've continued journaling the thoughts of my mind and the voice and desire of my heart since finishing the Appalachian Trail last month. As with other human habits, this act of expressing my thoughts and desires has become comfortable and rudimentary. My focus, without longing for conscious control, has been soft; and in this eased expression I find simplicity; beauty shining through. An entry from last evening before Yoga class:

Sitting on Grandma's back porch...the sun, once again, has begun its course - parabolic and predictable - towards the horizon. I suppose its course was in the down-swing once the zenith passed earlier today sometime. Hmm, time ticks, ticks, ticks on. I was reflecting far too briefly this morning. Grasping the notion that my time here in [North Carolina], as well as the East, is coming to a close. 
In following my heart and/or my desires, I've decided to go West again; irregardless of a given job or not. I've been treated well here but my ties are free and in this freedom I am choosing to go West. Seems odd, I was just thinking - day dreaming most likely - how far off going West seemed. Now, the time is almost here!
Perhaps one day that'll be my remarks when upon my death day (as opposed to death bed) I lament something of similar affect. Shit, I could die on the drive out; I could die in my sleep tonight or tomorrow night. Nothing seems given in life except death. 

I suppose that moves me to appreciate this moment here and now: the sun upon my notebook, the wind - moving from right to left across the exposed skin of my hands and neck, and of course the beauty and grandeur of the mountains to my forefront. I pause now to take them in...
I feel, and perhaps that is the key: feeling, that if and when the world ends - for me or for us all - that I'd been glad to follow my heart and wait for this love that offers, teaches, and gives me so much; now, and to come. 
Perhaps I feel too much and fail to acknowledge reality, but the older and freer I become, the less I crave the reality of man. So to simply state a complex answer underfoot: I love, I live, and when I express as such I share and choose to share with her: that golden blue-eyed wonder that has held my loving attention for this long. 
Perhaps this will change. Perhaps perhaps will change. Who knows! Can only move forth, acknowledging and accepting; thanking and learning; living and loving!
Thank you for this in Life.

I believe the shells in our lives exist to hold us lovingly. But, there comes a time when we need to expand ourselves, to lovingly challenge ourselves so that we have an opportunity to slide on the slope of life instead of sticking. This is possible within the seeming chaos of our train-station-type minds. Leading with our hearts for a change, if not a moment or two; flowing forth knowing we can enter our niched space to re-center and breathe deep. Smiling in these moments of peace.

I acknowledge and accept all of you.

Love to you in your day,

the simple and complete beauty of the sun and earth :)


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

See You in the Sky!

I sometimes feel to write on this blog space but come short when the moment approaches to release what is inside swirling. In this space of acceptance for what is, words have come to me; in this case to my email inbox. The following passages are from Leigh Ann, a Yoga teacher at Brightwater Yoga in Hendersonville, NC that I have taken class with. She is bright and cheerful, yet realistic in this world of love, light, and beauty. I'd like to feature her words below to encourage you in your own paths.

Happy wanderings!

See You in the Sky!
Last night I dreamed I could fly! The dream felt so real and so visceral that I can still, today, feel the sensations I felt while flying in my dream. The sensations of freedom and pure abandon were so exciting that when I awoke, my heart was racing. Yet, I also felt this wash of calm and peace running through my body and mind. It was an exquisite beginning to my Saturday morning.

It was also a very timely and affirming dream, as my family and I are entering a period of great transition in our lives, which can be a turbulent, uncertain, and challenging experience. To me, this dream was reassuring me of my potential to let go, flow with the changes, and trust in the outcome. Another affirmation came to me just a few hours later as I walked my dogs.

I had decided to take them on a long walk since it was such a beautiful, warm autumn day, with the most amazing foliage I’d seen in several preceding falls. We traveled what I’ve dubbed “the Bear Walk” because I, as well as several neighbors, have actually spotted bears through these neighborhood areas over the years. 

Visit from a messenger

It wasn’t a bear we spotted, though, but rather a magnificent Cooper’s Hawk perched on a fence post across the street that we were approaching. When we crested the hill, this skillful flyer flew right toward my face and veered quickly to my left, soaring low to the ground at a steady, impressive speed. 

For a moment it looked almost as though it turned its head to look back at us, as if trying to relay a message. Instantly I was once again in my dream from the night before and could feel the amazing power of flight I had experienced through my dream. In addition, I felt an irrefutable connection to this splendid creature, as if I were in a secret club.

Once at home, I quickly retrieved our Medicine Cards* and looked up “hawk.” “Hawk … messenger of the sky, circle my dreams and teach me the message as we fly.” These were the first words I read when I opened to page 45. As I read on, my heart beat faster and faster!

“Hawk is the messenger of the gods. Hawk medicine teaches you to be observant, to look at your surroundings. Observe the obvious in everything that you do. Life is sending you signals.… Right now a clue about the magic of life is being brought to you. This magic can imbue you with the power to overcome a currently stressful or difficult situation. The test is to observe the nuances of power lurking nearby.… Pay attention! You are only as powerful as your capacity to perceive, receive, and use your abilities.… Remember: Hawk has a keen eye and a bold heart, for Hawk flies close to the light of Grandfather Sun.”
The power of presence

The message couldn’t have been clearer. This, combined with the teachings of maitri I’ve been sharing with my classes over the past three weeks explained my feelings of calm and peace. One beautiful translation of maitri as taught by Pema Chödrön in her audio soundtrack, Fear to Fearlessness, is “unlimited, unconditional kindness toward one’s self, which then naturally radiates out to others.” On the same soundtrack, she later saysmaitri is “to place the fearful mind in the cradle of loving kindness.” It’s all about the power of presence—the ability to stay present to what is happening around you while remaining grounded and centered in yourself … even while flying!

And this, the season of change! I am always astounded at how eloquently the trees release their beloved leaves each fall, only to be left standing completely bare, stripped naked of their protective coats without even a glimpse of insecurity. There is so much evidence of our ability to let go, flow, and trust in the outcome right outside our doors, if we would only just look!

We don’t need the same keen eye as a hawk, just the ability to see and recognize our natural world and all the magic it bestows on us. The next step is to simply open our hearts to receive the gifts bestowed. Allow life—and all its magic—to flow into and through you so that you too may take flight.

One more note: at the end of my dream, a stranger approached me and advised me that it is not my role to teach others how to fly, but rather to remind them of their ability to fly. This advice is analogous to the way I approach teaching yoga. I am simply a guide, there to remind you of the potential within you, and I am honored to utilize the path of Hatha Yoga to awaken that which is already there! It takes a bold heart to fully embrace and experience this life that we live, and it takes a keen inner eye to recognize the truth. I’ll see you in the sky!

Leigh Ann 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Day Spent in Love and Appreciation

I've been reading a lot of Edward Abbey lately. The late author, born in my hometown of Indiana, Pennsylvania in 1927, is well known for his written love and defense of the West; specifically, the desert nature-scape of the Southwestern United States.

I find an irregularly pleasant sense of comfort in reading his words. In his book Desert Solitaire, my most recent reading from his collection, I am struck by the words he employs to describe the desert and its intricacies. A particular paragraph captures a sense of what I'm trying to describe:

"The wind will not stop. Gusts of sand swirl before me, stinging my face. But there is still too much to see and marvel at, the world very much alive in the bright light and wind, exultant with the fever of spring, the delight of morning. Strolling on, it seems to me that the strangeness and wonder of existence are emphasized here, in the desert, by the comparative sparsity of the flora and fauna: life not crowded upon life as in other places but scattered abroad in spareness and simplicity, with a generous gift of space for each herb and bush and tree, each stem of grass, so that the living organism stands out bold and brave and vivid against the lifeless sand and barren rock. The extreme clarity of the desert light is equaled by the extreme individuation of desert life forms. Love flowers best in the openness and freedom."
Ahh, that last line really captures me, places me in a willing and captive space unparalleled by human confines. I was glad to be reading this passage in the presence of natural beauty, atop the flanks of Elk Knob, a venerable and moderate 5,000 plus foot mountain near Boone, NC.

The byproduct of Hurricane Sandy's offensive left remnants of snow and rime atop the knob, and I couldn't of been more joyous in my smooth stroll to the top. Once firmly afoot, with plenty of man-made time at my disposal, I sought the seclusion and solitude of a secretive lower view point from the top of the knob. Gingerly placing my booted feet, one in front of the other, I made my way through the expanse of a stunted, high altitude patch of Beech trees - a rare breed found in the Southern Appalachians. Coming to the large boulder, out of view from the top lookout, I paused to take in the natural aurora of beauty around me.

I cannot recall a time recently past when I paused for such duration to look at nature before me. Surely my time spent outside on the Appalachian Trail led me to the here and now of appreciating what is in the moment: beautifully without want for anything else. Complete. The way the wind carries the precipitation and how it lands deftly upon the meager branches of the Beech, organic crystallization. I paw at the eloquence before me, bringing the white and seemingly pure medium to rest upon my black, gloved hand. Man meets wild; man stares on in enchantment.

The pause in my consciousness leads me next to a snow-covered face of rock, no taller than a man, no wider than a car.  Amongst the lichen, in my deliberate absence of acknowledging time, I see water, embodied in a frozen medium, just below a clump of moss. If I were thirsty and unsure how to satisfy, nature can provide. I marvel at this as I drink the last of my water. The view behind me, out into the expanse of mountains surrounding this knob is veiled by an early afternoon dusting of white powder in the air. Down low, near Boone, rain falls; but up here, higher in the mountains, further in the loins of nature, blessings of water nourish down in a frozen form.

With my copy of Desert Solitaire I read aloud to the rocks and trees, to the birds, but certainly not the bees on this cold, early winter day. I don't remember the last time I stood atop a rock and read aloud; especially with no one as my audience but the beautiful bestowment of nature. Annunciating yet still stumbling in my spoken words I finish the chapter from the book, and encouraged by the nip in the air, decide to descend back to my car. Perceptions of safety.

In my meander back to the beaten, well-worn path I feel coaxed by nature to tune into my senses - letting the retreat to my car become secondary in this moment. I pause again, lulled by the beauty of the wild. The noise from my receding boots shuffling through the snow and crunch of dead leaves ceases, and in this void I hear harmonious bliss: snow falling upon the clay-like brown of the Beech tree leaves. Its tracks from the milky sky above gracing the leaves in its gravity-fed path to the Earth. In the stillness of this primary moment I willingly acknowledge what has sparked my senses and calmly captivated my attention. Desiring to know more, to expand my narrow human understanding of nature, I extend my gloved hand. The snow meets my poised digits. Connection. Simplicity. Beauty!

The first pieces of frozen precipitation lay quietly upon my open, gloved limb. A granule of snow unlike the others, complex and visibly akin to a frozen flower blooming bright in the peak of its season lovingly eases into my upturned palm. Captivated by the visual fragrance of this iced flower, beguiled into a willing state of perplexity, I peer painlessly upon its unique beauty. Again, in this moment, nothing more beautiful and inline with love exists to my semi-conscious mind. As the bloom melts and dissipates into the warmth of my physical body's extremity I come back from my minute departure from reality, fully aware that what I just witnessed was exactly the fruit I needed in this moment of life. I para-sympathetically emit gracious waves, from the inside outward, of thankfulness for this simple, yet undeniably wonder-full spectacle I just experienced as I continue my trek down the mountain.

Arriving back into town, my day plays out as a typical day of life in human confines typically does: clocks ticking an unheard tune of things to do, places to go; mechanical noises of people's machines assertively attempting to navigate their way over and around other machines as they all coalesce over the cold concrete; hustle and bustle and things of a different type of wonder - though, of a wonder not quite so full. All to say until I am treated to a flower of a different type: this one human.

Her presence is like rain on a parched patch of browned grass in late summer; her smile like a graceful melody in a song: essential to comprehend what lays within the full expression of sound; her light bright and attractive - refracting, begging the beautiful fireflies and bugs of nature to come and bask; her eyes, those wonderful eyes, like golden sunlight upon the open blue sky. Though, it seems as soon as this peaceful moment has begun, it draws to an end: spastic and upbeat for the shared space and mutual love that is life.

Whirling wonders and beautiful brights aside, I pause for a final moment near day's end to smile - from left cheek to right cheek, from the top of my bald dome to the bottom of my rough feet, and from as far front to as far back in the limitless space of my heart and spirit.

Thank you life for this day, and the moments of beauty - stretching me wide and expansive within to greet the 'morrow with optimistic positivity. Thank you, indeed!