Exploring the wild spring in Indiana, Ohio, & West Virginia

In late May through mid-June, we journeyed quite a bit… relishing weekends camping, hiking, and white water rafting in three strikingly different Midwestern landscapes. I notice how my experience of my interior world is intimately and deeply impacted by my environment:

Within the lush green and gentle falls in Yellow Springs, Ohio, I find myself feeling protected by the cover of forest canopy above, and lulled by the sound of trickle and light fall of water.

YSYS kids crossing waterYS waterfallIn the sandy expanse of the Indiana Dunes disappearing into the waves of Lake Michigan at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, I am aware of my freedom, as well as the illusions of constancy I often cling to in life. I feel my surrender to the sand moving underneath my toes; the sound of the water rhythmically arriving and departing against the shore; the feeling of the breeze swirling around me… to the arrival and departure of my breath, of my thoughts, of each moment… to my ever changing and moving life.

IN dunes lake michiganUprooted rooted treeThe walk-in campsites at the National Lakeshore campground were lovely.  And during one of our hikes at the dunes, we had privilege of watching a bald eagle perched and gracefully take flight.

Rafting through the powerful rapids in New River Gorge, West Virginia, I was aware of my tiny size and the intensity of the forces around me. Those crashing waters! Those jutting rocks! That bright hot sun shining down on my skin! I was so small in the raft, using my little arms to push water with all my might, hands clutched onto the oar as I worked to maintain my balance and keep from being tossed into the water and rocks around me. My heart beat fast and my breathing was quick. And then we would pass through to calmer waters… and, as my heartbeat and breathing eased, I noticed the stunning nature around me. Then, helmets on, start to brace – we’ve got another rapid coming!

West Virginia New River Gorge sunset.jpgI am so thankful to find myself in each of these landscapes. For the land to bring me back to such different elements of my own be-ing. To be reminded of all the ways in which earth and I are truly one.

Geraniums in the woods

Easing into spring at Caesar Creek

As I witness the unfolding of leaves and petals, I notice my own physical and emotional being mirror their movements. From a position of snuggled up, holding in warmth to protect myself from frigid temperatures, I gradually find myself stretching out more, exposing my  limbs and feet to the sunlight, to the breeze, to the falling raindrops.

I find such an ease in this process of unfolding… as though there was a deep longing buried in winter that seems to emerge and eagerly soak up sunlight, raindrops, and as many floral scents in my landscape as possible…a reverberating exaltation… a resounding Yes!!

Unfolding bloom

This weekend my partner and I camped, rested, hiked, and mountain biked at Caesar Creek State Park in Ohio.

We found ourselves mesmerized by the movement of the water, by the brilliance of the sunset, by the chatter of the songbirds, by the dance and flicker of the campfire…

Spring has come back again. The Earth is
like a child that knows poems by heart.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Enchanted by the Cranberry Wilderness

It was the kind of wilderness within which you might actually expect to see little gnomes and fairies wandering around. Breath-taking beauty, forests with a lush mossy carpet floor, ferns and rhododendrons galore, and a striking abundance orchids; we just may have stumbled upon a version of paradise in the Cranberry Wilderness in the Monongahela National Forest of West Virginia.

Toadstool mossy cottageElizabeth in a natural mossy chairIt had been 4 months since my colleague Russell and I had taken our last backpacking trip together. During that space in time, we both had some outdoor adventures separately and moved through significant life-altering experiences along the way. As we began our trip out to West Virginia, I noticed the comforting feeling of easing into an unknown wilderness with a familiar companion.

Russell and I set our intentions as we approached the trailhead. He named his intention of being present and awake to more fully noticing the landscape surrounding him. I named an intention of dropping down into a more grounded and centered space as I moved through and related to this natural landscape, as I related to Russell on this journey, and as I related to my own thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations.

Russell in the big forestElizabeth walking amongst the trees and rocksRussell taking a breakElizabeth taking a rest on the mossy rock As we shifted out of the overwhelming stimuli of our urbanized environment, I noticed my whole body quieting. I felt more spaciousness and allowance for simply what was in the moment. I noticed appreciating the richness of shared silence as much as the richness of meaningful conversation. I became more fully aware of the stars overhead (there was no rain on this particular trip, so we were truly able to sleep beneath the stars each night), the sounds of the birds, the lulling trickle of the creeks and streams nearby, and the cadence of my own breath.

Landscape view We experienced the physical exertion of carrying a pack, navigating some muddy trails, walking long distances in search of water, and moving up some steep inclines. We experienced deep relaxation provoked by the sensations of sunlight and the breeze against our skin, delicious food cooked over a camp stove while surrounded by a stunning environment, and by the knowing that both of us relied on one another in such fundamental ways on those trails, and that both of us would show up in support of one another as we navigated areas of smooth and challenging terrain.

Elizabeth and Russell looking up at the skyCairnDuring our car ride back to Ohio, we talked about our hope for future backpacking trips. As we reached the month of May 2018, we both agreed: of course we will return to the Monongahela National Forest. The plentiful orchids will be in bloom. The majestic Cranberry Wilderness will call us back.

 

The 6-, 36-, and 66-year-olds set out for a backpacking adventure…

This was an adventure. We were the explorers. Neither the 66 year old nor the 6 year old had ever backpacked before. I (the 36 year old) seemed a trusty guide. The time was now.

Andre with treking poles and mommyWe arrived in at Zaleski State Forest on a Saturday afternoon. It was a perfect September day. The grandson and grandfather were excited and uncertain…would they be able to do it? Would their packs be too heavy? Would the hills be too steep? Would the night be too dark? The animals too wild?

They bravely set off on the trail.

Andre and mommy backpacking

pappers and Andre backpacking

Surprised by our physical strength and eased by the cadence of the backcountry, we three backpackers trekked for a few miles before it was time to set up camp. Night descended and curiosity enveloped fleeting fears. The adventurers found that nightfall was brimming with its own special wonders.

Andre and tree frog.jpg

What memories! We cooked together. We laughed and rested together. We talked about the wonders of life and death together, as we looked up at the trees, just beginning to show signs of autumn foliage.

Andre backcountry cooking.jpg

And so was our little journey, woven by three generations of humans together on a simple, beautiful adventure.

Pappers and Andre backpacking Zaleski

Lost

Elizabeth contemplating

All of us have experienced those moments in which not even the best map and compass can help us navigate our sensations of feeling lost inside. In these moments, we might notice rolling waves of grief, confusion, sorrow, and fear. We might feel our world has turned upside down. In one such pivotal moment in my life, my mentor offered me a poem. This poem has become one of my navigation tools, nudging me back into being “found” in those moments when I seem to have lost my way.

So, now it’s my turn to offer it to you:

Lost

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

~David Wagoner, 1976.

 

Coastal North Carolina

“When anxious, uneasy…thoughts come, I go to the sea, and the sea drowns them out with its great wide sounds, cleanses me with its noise, and imposes a rhythm upon everything in me that is bewildered and confused.”  ~Rainer Maria RilkeSunset pier Oak Island.jpg

Did the coastal North Carolina landscape unfold before me or I within it?

Campsite Carolina Beach State Park.jpg

As I traversed its coastal forests, enchanting wetlands, carnivorous plants, and rhythmic ocean waves… as I inhaled the scent of salt, heavy in the air…

I found myself thinking less and feeling more.

Trail NC Beach State ParkswamoCanoe sunriseSound at sunsetDusk Oak Island beachLandscape CB SPI felt my soft mammalian body moving, so tiny, along the vastness of the shore.

I found myself a little more.

Kids NC State Park.jpg

Easing into Natural Being

Children are some of my greatest teachers; their curiosity and zest for exploration often seems downright palpable. I love most when I’m out in the wilds with children – or with grownups who have the ability to access their inner adventurous child. It is with the young at heart (regardless of their chronological age) that I myself experience more fully the enchantment, the mystery, and the awe of our earth.

After an hour (or a day or a week) of submerging my feet in startling, soothing cool water, watching the way the shadows from the leaves above dance on the path, marveling at the beautiful design of a single blade of wild grass, and noticing the scent of soil and water as I breathe…

Blade of grassYellow Springs 2017

..I find I can exhale a little longer and fuller. I can think with more clarity and peace.

still water

Even as I return to the bustling dance of urban life, I am at ease.

Wild Women Under a Full Moon

This weekend was dedicated to joining with a special group of soulful and strong women in hiking and exploring the wilderness within and surrounding us at Mohican and Malabar Farm State Parks in Ohio. We engaged in deeply moving conversations, meditative silent hiking, and enjoyed delicious fresh food cooked over a campfire. As the day was winding down and nightfall descended, we camped by the light of a wondrous glowing full moon.

Her heart was wild,

but I didn’t want to catch it, 

I wanted to run with it, 

to set mine free.

-Atticus