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Archive for June, 2016

Bezerk Rapture

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.  John Muir

I will follow my instincts, be myself for good or ill, and see what will be the upshot.  As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing.  I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm and the avalanche.  I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.  

The mountains are calling and I must go.  John Muir

For a week, he was all I could talk about.  It was as though I was consumed by a junior high crush.  I would lasso my friends at the farmer’s market, my sons on the phone, even my husband, who didn’t seem to mind that his wife was obsessively declaring her love for another man.  And I was — unabashedly, passionately declaring my love. “You can see the fire in his eyes!” I swooned to whoever would listen.  “I have never heard of anyone with more gusto for living.”  I added with conviction.  And then I would proceed to share snippets of his story, and by the time I was through, whoever I had held captive with these snippets also had fallen in love with him.  And my husband, he was on the band wagon too, lit up with infatuation for my new crush.  And who is he, this guy who ignites our own passion with his over-the-top enthusiastic fervor?  He’s John Muir.  And, although I have known of John Muir for years, have quoted him on many occasions, it was in the most unexpected of ways that my mere acquaintance became a fiery friendship.  It was PBS that brought us together, and the Ken Burns’ film series, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.

What is it about John Muir that makes me cry out, “I love him!  I just love him!”?  What pushes me over the edge from admiration to infatuation?  Sure, I admire his keen intellect and engineering mind, the way that he brought this inventiveness and leadership into the factory jobs he held in his twenties, a creativity that historians tell us could have made him into another Thomas Edison if he had chosen to stay in industry.  And I also admire that he was the one who gave birth to the Sierra Club, and preserved Yosemite and ultimately made it a National Park, and brought attention to many other wilderness areas that also became National Parks.  I admire the detailed attention he gave to the natural world in his journals both with drawings and with the written word.  I admire so much.  But it is something else that brought him alive for me, that made him a friend for the ages.  It was his enthusiasm that tickled my fancy.  No, not just enthusiasm, wild unbridled enthusiasm.  One historian described Muir as often being in a state of bezerk rapture.  Bezerk rapture!!!  How many of us allow ourselves even to come close to such a state?  He rambled through the Sierras for weeks on end, climbed swaying trees in thunderstorms to feel what it was like to be the wind.  He listened to the rocks sing and the water sparkle and he felt the spirit in this living breathing planet of ours.  And he shared this enthusiasm with others and and he fought to preserve the land’s natural beauty and he shared it with us through his writings and through the wild spaces that he loved, spaces that now, thanks in great part to his efforts, are forever wild.

On one occasion, as an older man, weakened by cough and not enough wilderness, he traveled to Mount Rainier in the state of Washington where he camped with two younger companions in an alpine valley with the volcanic snow-covered cone looming above them.  He was captivated by the view, and, when the two young men set off to summit the 14,000 foot peak, he impulsively joined them and found himself, at times, leading the group, encouraging them upward.  “Did not mean to climb it, but got excited and soon was on top,” he wrote to his wife.  Don’t you just love that?  Don’t you just want some of his enthusiasm?  I know that I do!  For years in yoga sessions, I would read quotes by Muir, about the thrilling tingling waterfall of life flowing through us, and lying there, in savasana on my mat, I would feel it, a waterfall as mighty as Bridalveil Falls in Yosemite, flowing right through me.  That’s what I want to tell you, that we don’t need to hike the high Sierras in John Muir’s nail-studded shoes to feel bezerk rapture.  He reminds us in his writings and in his enthusiasm for living, that it is within us all along, this glorious god-filled wilderness.  And sometimes it is in hiking through the forest or sitting beside a great lake or swimming in the ocean waves that we find this inner sanctuary awakened.  And sometimes it is on a yoga mat or standing in front of an easel with paints or watching a good movie or playing with a child that we sense it, that maybe we, too, can be filled with bezerk rapture.

I don’t believe that we born into these lives to play small, to cower at the feet of the mighty swaying trees.  I believe that we were meant to dig down deep and to uncover whatever lights us up, and to go with it, whatever it is, and to trust its energy as it rises to the surface, to have fun with it.  This past week, the thing that lit me up was most unexpected.  It was John Muir.

 

 

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Summer

Summer brings the open road, open skies and a canvas of new discovery, where the free spirit inside all of us has no boundaries.  A place where there is no agenda and creativity has no limit.  So open your minds and enjoy.  Robert Redford

There is nothing like a Memorial Weekend road trip to catapult a gal into a summer frame of mind.  And when her guy has made his own plans to take off for three days of fishing with childhood friends at a place dear to his heart, it gets her thinking about what would be dear to her own heart, what would be a rousing good time for her spirit during this weekend initiation into summer.  And lo and behold, an idea emerges from somewhere within and this idea evolves into a plan and, before she knows it, this gal has signed up for a Law of Attraction Workshop in Buffalo, New York, and is placing suitcase and snacks and roadmaps into her old Subaru and is saying good-bye to her guy who she will meet up with again at weekend’s end at his special fishing spot on the western side of the lower part of this sprawlingly big state of Michigan.  And that’s how it happens, a road trip is born and springtime slips into summer and the world is suddenly, stunningly green and inviting.

That’s how it happened for me Memorial Weekend, how I found myself driving east along the coast of Lake Superior, then south to a stretch of the Lake Michigan shoreline and over that mammoth eight-mile suspension bridge that brings Lake Michigan and Lake Huron together at the Straits of Mackinac and connects the Upper with the Lower Peninsula of Michigan.  That’s how I found myself driving through a great stretch of Michigan in the early evening on my way to an adventure in Buffalo.  But why wait for a weekend workshop for the adventure to begin?  Isn’t the road trip itself an adventure?  That was my thinking.  It had been a long time since I had been on a weekend road trip and I wanted to squeeze the fun out of the hundreds of miles of open road, and squeeze it I did.  There was the visual entertainment, the leaves unfolding before my eyes as I drove my way south, the deer drinking from a roadside pond, the family of turkeys and the baby geese and the groundhog standing on its hind legs in a bright patch of wild grass.  And there was the perfect arc of a rainbow lit up in the eastern sky above the forests and fields of lower Michigan, the rainbow that traveled along with me for more than an hour.  The visual gift upon gift provided a steady stream of pleasure until the last hour of my trip’s first day when the sun disappeared behind the farmlands, and the world became an assault of headlights and road signs and orange construction cones  —  and I needed a new sort of entertainment to keep me awake until I reached my bed-for-the-night at a motel in Port Huron.

And that’s when I opened the windows and let myself be blasted by the balmy evening air.  It was a physical sensation, the car-speeding wind blowing against my face, a sensation that shouted halter tops and teenage joy-rides and end-of-the-school-year freedom.  But it wasn’t the physical that awakened me wide; it was something else.  It was the smell, the smell of the after-dark summery evening in lower Michigan, a smell I hadn’t inhaled in such a long time.  I love the smells of summer, especially the smells of warm sultry evenings !  I can close my eyes and tell you what it smells like to breathe in summertime nights in coastal Maine.  There is the salt and the moist dampness of fog, and the sea and a slight fishy smell mingling with the rockweed and the balsams.  It is a smell that makes you both hungry and relaxed and a bit melty like the sea itself.  And I can describe in detail what it smells like to step off a plane after traveling someplace else, home again in Upper Michigan in the warmth of a summer night.  First, it is the pines, and then a freshness as clear and expansive as Lake Superior itself, and a wildness in the breeze that penetrates deep.  In Boulder, it is the sage and the juniper and a crisp dry heat, even after an afternoon thunderstorm, that wafts through the high altitude red rock and beckons your adventuresome spirit upward.  Like the connoisseurs who can distill the different elements in a glass of fine wine, I can smell summer’s clouds and lakes and stony cliffs in the places I love.

But this smell blowing in on a nighttime breeze as I drove that final stretch toward Port Huron, a smell startlingly familiar from my early adulthood — I don’t know if I can break it apart and tell you what was in it.  There might have been water, perhaps the scent of a thunderstorm now over or a river or farmland pond.  And a sweetness, maybe of roadside grass and flowers and leaves newly open.  And heat.  There was definitely heat in the smell of summer in lower Michigan on this evening in late May.   Although I couldn’t describe it exactly, I knew just what this smell was bringing back to me.  And it wasn’t Ann Arbor, less than an hour away by car, the place where my husband Cam and I had started our road-trip-adventure-of-a-marriage almost forty years ago, the place that was diverse and expansive and exotic to two young newlyweds.  It was someplace else, and I think that is why I was so surprised, a place across the state that I realize now was a sanctuary for my new husband and I.

It was Grand Rapids that came to me through the open window, the nighttime smell when the windows of the perfectly-square and beautifully-built colonial brick home of his parents were wide open.  And sure it was the smell of the neighborhood gardens and the flowering trees and the sweet heat that brought me to the memory, but it was the stability of the dwelling and of these people, my husband’s parents who welcomed us wholeheartedly, that was wafting in a few weeks ago.  And don’t we need that as we set off on our adventures, whether a weekend road trip or a long-term marriage, a stable and loving base camp?   So as the world tips toward summer, I eagerly inhale in the wild of the great lakes and the northern woods and the salty Maine Atlantic.  And my feet are itching to climb those redstone Colorado Rockies.  But, late at night, in the car, two weeks ago on my road trip through Michigan, it was my mother-in-law I wanted to call, to thank her for the stability of a sweet and loving base camp.

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Hints of Summer in Michigan: 2016

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