A blog is a blog is a blog..... We all know that it stands for a piece of writing, detailing facts and fiction on your computer screen. In 1999, programmer Peter Merholz created the term blog by breaking the phrase weblog into we blog in the sidebar of his personal blog. Later that year, the blogging service Blogger was released, which was the first online blog tool to officially use the term blog instead of weblog.
Fast forward to 2017 and Substack was born. Just about when I started blogging regularly on my website, this digital publishing platform was created; a platform not subject to the restrictions and limitations of social media outlets or political leanings of traditional media publishing platforms. Journalists and writers can decide on content without being hampered in by their news outlet. Despite its success (more than 17,000 writers are on Substack) I only became aware earlier this year of its existence via a poet/writer I follow. I'm slow coming to the party!
I want to support and participate in an add-free, media-restrain-free platform. The Weebly platform has given me that freedom, but it doesn't reach a large audience unless I connect my blogs with Facebook or similar platform.
I want to simplify my writing life. Posting and communicating with readers is cumbersome via the website. I'm switching from blogging on this website to writing on Substack. I will move your blog subscription to Substack. Don't worry, your email address will not be sold or used elsewhere. You won't have to do anything to keep reading what I write. You will be informed of new posts, and notes via email. You can unsubscribe if you don't want to follow me there.
My format will change. I will write shorter pieces related to my walking life. My walking life infuses my thinking. The pace of 2 miles an hour stimulates observation and reflection, and as you know, sometimes I can get quite philosophical.
I want to thank you for reading my blogs. Some of you have been with me since the beginning. It means a lot to know I write with a purpose; to know my writing stirs your mind and encourages you to think outside of the box you're in. I hope you will follow me to Substack. https://damiroelse.substack.com/
See you there with your comments and likes!
It’s 96 F in the high desert of New Mexico. The South West USA has been in a heat dome for 6 weeks. At the 36 degree parallel, the sun bears down on the open mesa. The brilliant light so coveted during most of the year feels merciless. No monsoon this year; desert plants are surviving on stored spring moisture. Clouds form during the day and travel SW to NE towards the Rocky Mountains.. They hang against the tall peaks of Mt Pueblo and Mt Wheeler, but rarely let loose with refreshing rain. El Nino is having its effect on the season. Luckily, builders insulated the walls and roof of my adobe style home to keep out heat in the summer and cold temperatures in the winter. It’s how it’s done in the desert. I’ve closed blinds, windows and doors to keep in the coolness collected during the night. Fans and a breezy, shady covered portal keep me cool enough when I crave the outdoors.
Climate Change doesn't discriminate
Not everyone has my luck. People across the globe are suffering from intense heat without reprieve. Extreme temperatures are causing wildfires in Europe, leading to the evacuation of tourists. Africa is experiencing famine, because of extreme temps and domestic wars. The electric grids are straining to provide the energy to cool living spaces. Everyone is waiting for it to be over.
Will it be over? Yes and no, the season will change, temperatures will drop. People will not forget this one. Cities are repainting their concrete desert with cooling paint for the next time. Low-income neighborhoods get help in upgrading the electric grid for housing and install air conditioning. Europeans, notorious for not having Airco, are changing their minds. People who cannot change their circumstances think about moving. Migration is in full swing. Migration away from violence, economic hardship, and climate. People migrate to Europe, USA, and Canada, where life is good.
Migration on the Rise
That’s changing. Migrants are inundating the borders of countries who’ve robbed the rest of the world of their resources to make life more comfortable, luxurious, and secure. Media images of men, women and children on their way to a better life, show them laying in the desert, out of water, a hot wind blowing. What about those adrift on a capsized raft in the Mediterranean? The images haunt me. We must create space despite the influence of the changing climate and extreme weather on us. We have to make room in our life for others. Share what we've enjoyed by reducing consumption. We’ve lived on credit, we’ve lived without being responsible for the next 7 generations. We’ve lived for now and for our own tomorrow. The bill is coming due.
Space for Everyone
Don’t panic! There is enough space and food for everyone. Let’s share the livible space we have. We must adjust to living in smaller, more energy-efficient homes. Our travel for pleasure may have to be less frequent and closer to home. We can take more eco-friendly forms of transportation: a train, our walking legs. If agricultural practices can’t adjust to the new demands of conserving water, and develop restorative farming practices, we’ll have to produce more of our own food. This is more energy efficient and has positive mental and physical side effects. Look at how the Japanese utilized space for living and growing for so long. We can learn from each other and from the past.
The hollyhocks are waving their pink, yellow, white and maroon flowers in the afternoon wind. A little field mouse scurries between the pavers looking for seeds. The basil in my little garden bed is ready for picking. Pesto pasta tonight for me. Idyllic or practical? Everything hangs together and if we acknowledge this truth and live accordingly, we can survive. Doing your part matters.
The Wild Things
It’s easy to become overwhelmed with the state of the world. As an individual, sometimes the only option is to go out and be with the "wild things" as Wendell Berry suggests:
“When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
Do not “tax your life with forethought of grief”. Do what you can at this moment. The bill is due. The sun can cause you to hide or take action. Concerned citizens can change things locally. As an individual, you can create a peaceful state of mind.
"Pilgrims are persons in motion passing through territories that are not their own, seeking something we might call 'contemplation' or perhaps the word 'clarity' would do as well, a goal to which the spirit's compass points the way." Brother Pedro of Taize
When does a walk become a pilgrimage? The Cornish Celtic Way is considered a pilgrim’s way, a 125-mile walk past Celtic crosses, holy wells, and Roman churches who honor long ago travelers from other places. Some became saints because of what they did in their new locale. The pilgrimage's emblem is a spiral, like the Camino de Santiago's seashell. The Cornish Celtic Way comprises the SW Coastal Path, Coastal Path, Saints Way, and St Michael's Way. The way signs have not yet been marked with the emblem. Nigel Marns, a vicar from Ludgvan, created this new pilgrim's path called the Cornish Celtic Way that begin in St Germans and ends at St Michael's Mount, a stone’s throw from Ludgvan. Nigel sought to deepen his faith by walking and learning the history of the travelers who came to help the Celts in SW England between 400 and 700 AD. Missionary work involves hardship, poverty, and adventure. The strange tales told about these adventurous travelers found enough foothold that sainthood was bestowed on some of them.
New Horizons, New Ideas
From a 21st century perspective, I see these travelers as migrants who often escaped hardship at home (Ireland, Wales) or wanted to improve their own and other’s lives in the name of religion by exploring new horizons. St Germanus established a church and became bishop of the new religious order he brought with him, in St Germans, where our pilgrimage began.
Others were women who escaped persecution at home and just wanted to live compassionately with others. Saint Izzy was such a person. Saint Agnes was an escaped Roman martyr from the 4th century. Saint Carontoc came from Wales. He established a practice of hard work, study and care for animals. One adventurer lived on barley and pulses, showing that simple living is possible. He provided a light/beacon for lost seafarers.
Adventurer turned Pilgrim
I had no particular goal in mind for doing this pilgrimage. I intended to turn my yearly long distance walk into a more meaningful experience than a mere athletic accomplishment. When I walk I can think, I get clarity and I let the environment teach me. The landscape's beauty deepened my appreciation for life on this planet. The history revealed to me as I slept in old churches, smelled the musty stone walls, touched Celtic crosses and received the hospitality from strangers, humbled me and made me thankful for the privileges I have in life. I am a US immigrant, but I have the freedom to return to my homeland. I haven't needed to escape hardship or create a better life. I'm an adventurer with a deep love for home.
I am home again, reflecting on what happened on my pilgrimage. Saint Carantoc spoke to me of balance between work, study and caring for others (I care for plants in the garden alternating with weeding at my daughter’s ranch, I hike the mountains; I study Buddhism and work on my writing). St. Michael assured me of his protection as a traveler and advised me to appease the demons, who are my own creation and take the form of dragons. Saint Agnes let me dream I can step through time and alter my reality by paying attention to the moment and manifesting any reality I want. Can I?
Nine days of walking, up and down rocky coastal paths, through fields and woods, with rest stops on village benches, at cafes for Cornish cream tea and coffee, on grassy headlands overlooking the Atlantic ocean. An ocean that connects my native land and my adopted country. The ocean, like a meditative mind, conceals all thoughts and feelings beneath its waves. The breakers are an expression of what lies beneath.
There was just enough hardship - long light-filled days ( the 52nd parallel at midsummer), tired legs, sometimes a hard floor to sleep on - to stir my deeper waters. There was enough spaciousness - few tourists, few hikers on the trail, grassy headlands, empty beaches, to expand my mind and let me enter a space of inner stillness. These conditions fulfilled the criteria for calling this a pilgrimage. Besides going on pilgrimage, I visited family headquarters in Holland. I am re-connected to self and those who are dear to me.
Life Goes On
Back at my outpost I pick up where I left off: living a balanced life, building community, helping others. This echoes the journey of travelers to Cornwall in the 5th and 6th century.
Taking a month-long trip isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve been traveling on my own, exploring the world since I was 12 yrs old. I made my first solo train ride when I was 12. I saw my first foreign country when I was 18. I took my first airplane ride at age 19 to take a nanny job for the summer with a Dutch-Belgian family in America. It cost 250 guilders to fly to New York and come back on the SS Rijndam from Montreal, an 8-day journey across the Atlantic. 250 Guilders, a student discount. I spoke English for the first time. I had to use a phone booth to inform my host of my arrival; I had trouble figuring out the instructions of use. I was alone at JFK airport in a throng of people speaking unknown languages. I cried when I made the connection and heard Dutch spoken to me.
Those were the days of doing Europe on $5.00 a day. Imagine that now! $5.00 a day means you’re homeless and don’t get to eat much. I ate little when I hitchhiked around Europe in 1969. I bought French bread, cheese and tomatoes. Those were my staples while I saw the sights. I slept in youth hostels; I slept in a beach house in Denmark owned by the family of a Danish boy who joined forces with me; we walked along the harbor in Bergen Norway, at 2:00 AM in the opaque light of a sky where the sun doesn’t set in midsummer. After a harrowing 24-hour ride from Switzerland through the Appenine mountains with Siciians, who turned off the engine of the car on the downhill to save on gas… I tasted my first, blood-red watermelon. Ah, those firsts!
55 Years later I’m still traveling. I sit with my computer at an airport desk while waiting for a delayed flight. My phone is charging, movies are downloaded via Wi-Fi on my phone to entertain me on the long flight across the Atlantic. The flight has gotten none shorter since my first flight, the cost of the flight is 8-fold. I enjoy watching people. I take pictures and share them with friends via an app where I document my travels. Via WhatsApp, I let my family know that my flihght is delayed.. They already know, as they follow my flight status on their computer.
My mother received one postcard when I hitchhiked around Europe from Rome. My location was unknown to her during those days. Staying in contact with loved ones has changed. I won’t have to wait 45 days till I pick up an airmail letter from General Delivery Kathmandu to find out my grandmother (then) passed away. The grief is the same. Instant knowledge is irrelevant.
Reading and Waiting
We’ve become used to instant messaging. We have lost the art of waiting and seeing what will happen. On those long ago travels, I read books. I started with the Tolkien trilogy in English, 3 books, a 1000 pages each. That kept me busy for the 2 months I was away. Because I was a recent high school/gymnasium graduate and a snob about my language abilities, I added Sartre in French. I think Sartre set the stage for an existential depression that followed soon after I returned.
I still read print books. I’m reading the Golden Spruce, a historic NW narrative about the Queen Charlotte Islands, showing how we as humans can ruin the planet: ignorant, violent, greedy. I knew so little when I arrived in the New World. It took a while for me to realize that the forests in Oregon and California were only a fraction of what they used to be.. Walking through an old-growth forest on the Pacific Crest trail at almost 70 years old, made me understand.. This book, the Golden Spruce, could set the stage of another existential depression. Except I’m old now, not as emotional; and hours of meditation practice have helped me be more even-minded and filter my outlook on things.
Feeling Part of the Whole
I write a blog on my computer while I wait. I walk the long corridors of the concourse to help my circulation. It’s an ordinary day: wake up, eat, move about, read, write and meet people, all in the controlled temperature of airplanes and airports. I haven’t felt the wind today; I haven’t felt the sun, except for a brief time when I walked onto the tarmac for my first flight.
It’s quieter in airports now. People talk less, people stare at their phones and tablets, and listen to whatever via earbuds. Hundreds of people, all so separate.. I’m glad I asked the woman that ordered her vegetarian meal in front of me to sit with me. We were humans connecting across cultures - she was Indian - and generations. That’s what travel gives me: moments of feeling part of the whole colorful medley of people, all finding their way somewhere.
Up, Up and Away
The loud call of the cart driver’s voice with an Indian accent jars me out of the earbud quietness as he weaves his way among the throngs of people. The delayed plane arrives at the gate, travelers are disembarking, filling the gate area with their talking. After a quick cleaning and a change of crew, the machine will change course and take me away for a month of old and new sights, new perspectives and heartfelt connections.
I live on land, lots of land, with high mountains and wide mesa, no water in sight. As a newcomer in New Mexico, I walk and hike to make the land mine.
But…, I have a bucket list, a lingering memory of 9 years ago when I kayaked the Sea of Cortez near Loreto, Mexico in a World Heritage Marine site. On that trip, we camped on beaches, watched dolphin pods jump from the beach during breakfast, silver rays jump 15 feet out of the water while paddling. We explored the sea underwater. I saw a blue whale come up less than 10 feet from my kayak - the 12 foot head emerging with its eye looking at me! Even though I knew seeing an animal of such enormity greet me from the water was a once-in-a-lifetime event, my greedy mind wanted it again, and wanted more. In January I booked another, longer trip with the same company, 10 days of kayaking along the Baja Sur coast, from Loreto to La Paz, 100 miles. Oh, what I wouldn’t be able to see!
Old and Strong
For a senior, 9 years is a lot of time passing. At 67, retired from a tough job, with 10-hour days, I was full of vigor and ready for a new phase of life. At 76, things look and feel different. I’m healthy, but my vigor is a 76-yr old vigor. My wants and desires are shrinking (I just decreased my home size by 50% and got rid of half of my possessions). I can muster the strength when needed, but sustaining it all day, is an other story. Traveling to foreign countries has become a chore. I seek comfort.
The flight to Loreto was short and uneventful. The weather is a welcome change from a lingering winter in March at 7000 feet elevation. Walking by the water, smelling the salty air, watching the waves break brings me back to a childhood of beach living and swimming in the waves. I am ready.
Full of anticipation, our group of nine sets off to our launch site, a 2 1/2-hour ride over a dusty, bumpy road. We enter the coastal hinterland of Baja Sur. No towns, a few houses sprinkled in the desert, among cacti and rocks. Our take-out beach has the feel of a long-time-ago beach in Goa, India: a few huts, a small outdoor cafe, an outhouse. My brain is pumping out images of adventurous travel long ago. And here I am, still doing it!
A separate trailer has delivered our gear: they moored double sea kayaks on the beach, paddles, PFDs, kayak seats, 2-20 liter and 1-10 liter dry bag each with our gear for the trip. A panga (fishing boat) waits anchored in the bay. Food, water, tents, chairs, cooking gear are waiting for us when we need it. The crew set up a shade shelter with table and chairs and our first lunch with cold drinks is served. We are “roughing” it in style!! All I have to do is kayak.
I am traveling with a much younger friend. She is good company to have, and can offer extra strength in case my body isn’t up to the task. We climb in our tandem boat for our first 8-mile kayak to a beach where we camp for the night. After some initial adjusting, we start paddling. The water is blue, clear, with light waves. All is well. Despite a recently pulled muscle in my buttocks, I manage to sit with an extra blow-up cushion and paddle for 2 1/2 hours without pain. My brain reaches back to my crew rowing days for managing cresting waves. My torso, legs and arms work together to make a smooth motion. I am moving on water.
The second day, the guides inform us we’ll be paddling a long stretch as the weather forecast says winds will pick up on day 3, and they will beach us at least for a day. We have to meet our destination schedule. A full day of paddling lays ahead with a beach stop for lunch. The sunny weather is changing, more clouds are in the sky, sloshing waves splash us and by the time we reach our lunch beach, we are hungry and shivering with cold. Our panga can’t land on the beach we’re on, so we play “naked and afraid” for a while, trying to stay warm in the sand and bushes that surround the beach. There are no people anywhere; it’s just us, stranded on this beach. Our guide paddles to a neighboring beach to pick up lunch.
Lunch arrives in due time and with bodies re-energized, and minds full of adventurous thoughts, we set out for the afternoon. By 6 o’clock and after18 miles of kayaking we touch land. After a late dinner, and promise of the next day off, I roll into bed with arms so tired that I can barely pull a shirt over my head.
I wake up to sun, wind and a layer of fine sand over everything in the tent. The winds have arrived! We hike inland, find ruins of a hacienda from the 1700th, and a small store with Wi-Fi. We do our last communicating with the outside world for the rest of the trip. We fish and eat fresh seafood that night.
The following day we set out for sea again. The winds are blowing less hard and come from the north, even so, occasional 6-foot swells move us along as long as we stay square to the waves. It is exciting and challenging, my body is working hard, my mind focuses and we cover the day’s distance in 4 hours.
I’m amazed that my body is performing as needed. Stiffness after sitting for hours in the kayak, lack of agility as I try to disembark, or climb in and out of my tent, doesn’t stop me from enjoying the experience. As the hours on the buoyant water roll by, my mind becomes empty. My friend and I have little to say as we kayak. I watch the pelicans, the schools of fish jumping, occasional pods of dolphins that are swimming by. I become part of the water world. Every night in my tent, I fall into a dreamless sleep, still feeling the wave motion in my body, hearing the rushing sound of the breakers. I am a young girl again living near the water, safe, embraced by sun and warm sand. The crew serve food like clock work and my hunger is stilled. The company of others is interesting and laughter accompanies our meals; we become a travel family. Life is simple.
With each day that we move further south, I give up the hope of seeing a whale near my kayak; I look for turtles as I snorkel around the rocky shore. As time passes and we have just a few days left, I realize this trip isn’t about seeing the extraordinary marine life. I’m learning other things.
When Enough is Enough
Living outdoors 24 hours a day for 10 days has made me more aware of my environment, more tired, more grateful, and has offered me insights I can’t get living in my house on land.
Now that I am home, I can say about this journey: it was enough. It was good. I went deeper. Ten days on the water transformed me. I won’t need to do it again.
It was the sweetest little, chocolate lab puppy, soft and wobbly on its legs. “How old”? I asked, stroking its soft fur. “8 Weeks”, the young woman answered as she held him in her arm, “he can walk along.” She put the pup on the ground and he walked circles around her leg. “You’re thru-hiking?”, I asked, for we were on the Pacific Crest trail in northern Washington state. “Yes”, she answered, “I just picked up this puppy at my resupply stop?” I couldn’t believe my ears. She was taking an 8-week puppy on a thru hike? That’s dog abuse, I mused. “Will you carry the dog and his food all the way? That will add a lot of weight,” I asked, hoping I heard her wrong. “Yep,” she said, “I’ll let him walk when he can. He’s good company.” I couldn’t believe my ears.
On another stretch of the Pacific Crest trail I met a man with an adult dog, who carried his food in a dog backpack. He explained to me that he needed the dog for comfort, to help him with his PTSD. I asked how the dog was holding up on the long trail. He said, “my dog comes first, I adjust daily mileage to my dog’s ability. We don’t often do more than 10 miles in a day. He needs his rest.” This man respected his dog and the dog served him.
Dogs have served man since time memorial. According to scientists, dogs were domesticated anywhere from 30,000 years ago, to 10,000 years ago. That’s a long time for man and animal to bond, and evolve together. Dogs were present in great numbers in North America before the Europeans set foot here; they were present before Europeans introduced horses. Most likely dogs evolved from a less fierce breed of wolves, who came around hunter/gatherer tribes and found they could scavenge for left-over carnage.
On my travels in Asia, I walked around mountain villages where packs of dogs roamed the dirt streets. Packs of Mastiffs roamed the high plains in Tibet. I took care to avoid them, as I didn’t want to be attacked. These semi-feral dogs get fed by owners when they go home at night, but they roam freely, and assert wolflike behavior: they run in packs, they hunt for food together. I was forewarned. They can be dangerous. I walked with a stick in one hand, a rock in the other.
In my new community I rarely see children out and about, but dogs are aplenty, with or without owners. Northern New Mexico appears to be a crossroads between civilized society and the wild West: dogs have homes, but they escape the unfenced properties and the owners are always looking for their dogs when they don’t come home at night.
In my earlier home state of Southern Oregon, I hiked in the hills and mountains. When I hiked near a town on a developed trail, dogs were running loose despite a leash ordinance. When a dog would jump up on me, or growl at me, the owners would tell me, “the dog is friendly, he/she never acts this way.” i don’t enjoy being jumped on by a friendly dog. Talking with owners was a losing battle. I stepped aside, asked the owner to leash the dog so I could pass.
Wilderness trails have provided me with freedom from having to deal with dogs. Most of the time. I enjoy being in nature and knowing wild animals will avoid people 99% of the time. I don’t mind co-existing with animals if there’s mutual respect and distance. When I encounter wild animals on the trail, I keep my distance and observe.
I’m not against dog ownership. With ownership comes responsibility. I have owned a dog. There is a grand-dog in my house occasionally. It’s a pleasure to be greeted when I get home by another creature who loves me unconditionally.
Recently, on a XC-ski outing, a dog belonging to another XC-skier jumped on me from behind, throwing my ski from under me and straining/tearing a muscle. Excited dogs, running loose in the snow, make holes in the ski track, are a danger for skiers. Owners tell me that the dog loves the snow, so they bring the dog on outings where other skiers are present. Would you bring a hyper child to an athletic activity that takes the athlete’s focus, and let him/her run around among the athletes? I wish people wouldn’t treat their dogs as if if they are their child, and give them the same status as humans.
With so many dogs running loose, on trails and roads, I fear taking my grand-dog on a leashed walk around the mesa. I may meet other loose dogs who will become aggressive.
We live in a dangerous world. Stories of drive-by shootings in big cities, pick-pockets in crowded train stations, people with guns going into big box stores, abductions in cartel controlled regions, make the news. I’m privileged and have lived in safe places all my life. But with an exploding dog population, I’ve lost my nerve to go out on the trails frequented by other people and their dogs.
i want to walk, travel, see the mountains, and visit unknown places. Fear of the unknown has never stopped me, and luckily I have never encountered a dire, dangerous situation. I don’t want to walk with fear. Adding pepper spray to my hiking essentials might be necessary.
We’re connected as creatures on this planet. We need to care for each other and our domesticated animals, and not let our love for our dog rule the roost and put the dog or others at risk.
Below, enjoy some of the creatures I've encountered on the trail.
A year ago, Russia invaded Ukraine, targeting civilians indiscriminately. Many people fled and had to start their life over again elsewhere. Almost a year later, a devastating earthquake hits Turkey and Syria. A child is born under the rubble and starts life without its mother. It’s been a year since I left the NorthWest and arrived in Taos NM to start a new life. People fight for their lives against all odds; people have an amazing capacity for starting over again.
I wanted a simpler life, fewer material possessions, less stuff to keep track of; more time for what matters to me at this stage of life. This morning, instead of streaming JPR morning edition, I turned to the local NM station and listened to a discussion on water rights and water shortage in the South West. Changing listening stations has been slow in coming. JPR as my morning companion, with the familiar voices of local broadcasters and weather announcers, kept me tethered to a familiar past. A past that comforts me in a brand-new, foreign feeling environment. What stations do refugees listen to? How does a newborn without a mother, find comfort?
A New World
When I arrived in Taos, it felt as if I had entered a foreign, developing country; a mix of races, native, Hispanic and white, made me feel I was in Mexico. A haphazard array of adobe buildings, some a thousand years old, narrow alleys, and streets that went nowhere reminded me of India, and Morocco. The towering, often snow-clad Sangre de Cristo mountains wrapping their arms around a vast and open mesa reminded me of the Himalayas and the high Sierras; and - as far as the mesa was concerned - when I walked in the wide open, sagebrush landscape, it reminded me of my native Holland’s wide dunes covered with dune roses. The difference is, a distant levy doesn’t mean the sea is on the other side, because there’s just more fields and more mesa stretching into infinity. A mesa falling off into the enormous crack in the earth called the Rio Grande Gorge, where the Rio Grande river moves its water from Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico. For me, this land holds the places I have lived and found inspiration both physically and spiritually. Will the Ukrainian refugees, the Afghan asylum seekers, find comfort in a new land? Will the trapped Syrians find familiarity amid the rubble?
The Aging Train
At that crucial time in life, when you realize aging is a slow moving, but unstoppable train you’ve boarded; when you know, you may need immediate family into the not-so-distant future to help you navigate daily life, I made the life changing decision to give up the familiar and set out for a change that could support me and my desires for the unforeseeable future. I made the leap while I still had my capacities and functioned independently. It was exciting, terrifying and challenging. I had a choice; I have means. Imagine being ejected against your will from the familiar into a strange culture, language, and climate, having to depend on handouts.
Taos offered me immediate challenges. A very slow moving bureaucracy and long outdated, poorly funded County government system makes getting through escrow a torturing long wait. The house I bought had been 4 months in escrow when I arrived in Taos, but I had to wait another 3 months before we signed the papers and I could move in and set about making my new home into “home”. Those months of waiting offered my 75-year-old slowing cognitive abilities a chance to get to know my new environment, figure out traffic patterns, dead-end streets - often not marked or in the right location on GPS - find the agencies and medical providers I needed and slowly learn to navigate this rural town of 7000 people. I found it exhausting and after a day of venturing out, I relished and thanked my benefactor and friend for renting her second home to me and giving me a comfortable place to end my day, watch a magnificent sunset, retreat in media and books. The challenges the displaced and the refugees face are a hundred times more challenging. They sit in the freezing cold in a tent if they’re lucky. No glorious sunset on their rubble doorstep.
An Unfinished Project
Life was simple since I didn't have a home move into and make livable. I had brought an unfinished project from the West Coast: finish hiking the PCT, a 3-week journey over rocky terrain, difficult passes, a few fast-flowing rivers, among immense beauty, and sleeping in a tent. My outdoor journey had little in common with the dangers of asylum seekers crossing borders, deserts and swamps. I had time to train and ready myself to tackle the 240 miles of California. Most of the border crossers start when danger becomes too great.
I walked my temporary mesa neighborhood; I picked a new trail each week and hiked in the mountains and mesa. I learned what spring weather was, intense sun, fierce winds, and unexpected snow. Under my hiking shoes, I discovered mud season with slick, clod filled soles. I met people as I walked and hiked and before I knew it, I had a set of hiking friends who not only hiked with me but introduced me to good places to eat, and galleries to visit; they invited me to join in local crafts workshops. I made my first basket with the new spring growth of willow. The displaced travel in groups; they find comfort with others who share their journey. They arrive with others who compete for the same resources.
A Spiritual Home
On non-walking days, I immersed myself in the varied and rich local spiritual culture. I visited the Hanuman temple and shared free Sunday noon meals where I met transients and locals; I chanted at a Tibetan stupa, meditated with a meditation group and connected to their Sangha. On arrival, I returned to a vegetarian diet I had followed 20 years ago. It felt right for the planet, right for me, to simplify my food intake. A year later, it still feels right. I continue my meditation practice with local teachers and students of Vipassana. My hopes for spiritual connection in daily life have become a reality. The spiritual community has welcomed me and I don’t feel the spiritual loneliness that had descended on me in the North West. After years of doing my “own” thing, on and off the trail, walking meditation, sitting meditation, self retreats, I’m ready to fill in the blanks of not knowing and get out of my comfort zone with intensified practice. Will the displaced be so lucky and find spiritual comfort in countries that may or may not tolerate their “otherness”?
Simple and Complex
My not-so-simple life of before has become simpler in some ways and more complex in others. There is simplicity of daily living, in my compact, comfortable home with views of the mountains while I write, read or watch the fire in the kiva; with radiant floor heat when it’s cold outside and with sun streaming in through the windows most days. My little spot of mesa is waiting for spring when I can develop a small garden. It’s quiet here, I have a xeriscaped yard, so there’s very little maintenance. Pebble paths meander on the 1/3 acre for doing walking meditation.
Life is more complex in study, and with more immediate family relations, which I both wanted. The routine of walking and hiking year round keeps me healthy and energetic. I’m intent on using the energy left to me, in a more focused way. For refugees with few belongings, life will be distressful in its simplicity, its lack of opportunities. Their waiting time isn’t filled with enticing new things, but with painful uncertainty.
Being an elder, I have a choice to either fritter away my time left, or to enhance the time by simplifying daily living and creating room for delving deeper into whatever I’m still passionate about. I see elder survivors who have lost their family, their entire village; lost the simple home they’ve known their whole lives. Downsizing and moving has offered me simplicity and depth. Destruction of what they knew, is offering displaced elderly entry into an unwanted world. I get it, that they want to sit among the bombed-out houses on the street they know, the only thing they know.
An Aching Heart
For me, my new environment isn’t overwhelming anymore. The stress of uprooting and letting go of the familiar is gone. I sleep long and deep most nights. People reach out and guide me wherever I want to go. Trust in following my instincts has grown. I wait for instructions on what’s next, and don’t mind not knowing. Less feels better.
I ache for those who are not so lucky; those waiting for news of loved ones, news of a possible return. My heart aches for those who can only sleep from exhaustion, jarred by every noise that reminds them of what was, and will never come back.
If you’re reading this, you’ve come through the holidays, passed the shortest day if you live in the Northern hemisphere, considered new-year’s resolutions and are back to normal life. I hope you can look back with satisfaction on the transition. The whole seasonal thing took effort on my part, but the baking paid off, the gatherings strengthened friendships.
I’m still enjoying a slice of Xmas stollen with my morning cuppa Jane, a few cookies with the afternoon cup. I’m weaning myself of the rich buttery foods. The last wines I turned into cheese fondue and shared with a friend at the end of a hiking day. The extra set of tech long-underwear I gifted. The lights that graced my garden wall are packed away. I’m thinking of spring time planting as I’m looking out at 11,000 ft-high Pueblo Mountain covered with snow. It’s 20F outside, the sun has that January feel, a cool yellow, low in the sky, but bright during the -still- short daytime hours. “I’m returning”, the sun says, and my animal nature responds. What’s next?
Down-time lends itself to future planning. I wonder if hibernating animals dream of swollen rivers full of salmon, bushes laden with berries, fat grubs in decaying forests. As a hiker, I read many social media posts talking about summer hiking trips. People are beyond dreaming and planning their trips. A good thing, because if you want to hike a long trail section, you must decide now, start training and gather information. you’ll need the time between now and then, to get ready. Tribal, nomadic living was similar: winter time was for eating the stored fattening foods, repairing and making baskets, tools, clothes, foot coverings and go out to check traps. Food gathering was lean in winter, or non-existent. People kept themselves going with dreaming of and storytelling about the abundance spring and summer could bring. This is how they nurtured hope for better times.
A Life of Ease
In 2023 we don’t starve in winter, we don’t need fattening foods to stay warm, we don’t need to tell stories because we have a plethora of digital entertainment. Yet, people follow the DNA fueled pattern of thinking and planning for the next season. Even if you’ve escaped the cold, dark winter and are snow-birding somewhere, you’re following a seasonal trek. Those living in the tropical belt year-round still have dry and wet seasons to prepare for.
Living according to your DNA is most natural and will help you stay healthy. Someone asked me, “Why don’t people seek out nature? Why have they forgotten what nature can do for them?” The answer is simple: when you numb your tastebuds with too much sugar, fat and salt, you can’t detect what foods can nurture your body. Same with activities: if you have your head in a video game, watch movies continuously, and spend most of your time indoors, you don’t notice the imbedded need for physical movement any longer, or the need for fresh air. The result of a life of ease, is disease.
Nomadic tribal living was hard. People felt the cold, the heat, and they went hungry. But, they also knew the satisfaction of eating their fill after a successful hunt, knew the belonging that comes from hunting and gathering and preparing food together. They knew the power of waiting, they knew their inner and outer strengths. They knew they were responsible for their survival, unlike modern man who is dependent on government interventions and solutions when storms strike and floods the back forty and the home. Don't take me wrong I'm not against systems that protect and help, but I don't like the one that make people helpless. Modern man can only control the cost of his/her grocery bill and supplies he/she needs to build a home by making do with less, not by growing more food or finding his building supplies in nature. Not very empowering.
Listen to your DNA
We’ve spun out in our developed society in a wish to protect, provide, and ease the life of people. By doing so, we’ve taken away valuable self governance. We’ve taken away the ability to listen to oneself, to honor the need for movement, for living with the seasons, for taking care of self. In this new year I wish you an increased ability to listen deeply to what your body and mind need, so you can stay healthy and connected with nature.
I went for a walk today. It wasn’t a planned outing; just a step-out-of-the-door and see where my legs would take me walk. The prior day’s snowhike had left me stiff and ungainly when I started out. I discovered a new trail, ended up trudging through snow and mud and had walked 5 miles by the time I came home. I got thirsty because I didn’t bring water; I could’ve used my micro spikes on the slick snow and a walking pole, but I enjoyed myself discovering the foothills where I live. The more I walked, the easier my body moved and I came home with a hungry body and a satisfied mind. I got a taste of my DNA infused need for movement and exploration. I found I can take care of myself on difficult terrain and I can handle being thirsty for some time without losing my zest for exploration.
I’m not eager to travel, not yet. I’m fine with walking the foothills and skiing a snowy track nearby. But promises to myself and family ties are calling and I’m planning trips several months from now. When the spring and summer arrive, I’ll be ready to take myself on a nomadic journey, finding my connection to the big realm. I hope you can do the same.
Are you in limbo? Are you waiting for that darkest day, so that you can reach for the next day, the next year, more light, and new possibilities? Maybe, you are too stressed because of holiday preparations to notice the days are getting shorter. After all, putting lights up is an antidote to darkness.
Birth and Death
The poet David Whyte said in a recent gathering, “We’re stretched between our first breath and our last one. When you take that first painful breath, everyone around you laughs; when you take your last one, everyone around you cries.”
We’re somewhere between that first breath and the last one. We’re propelled forward by the tension that exists between growing up and growing old. Each breath is an expression of that tension. The inhalation pushes the lung walls and diaphragm; the exhalation lets everything relax. We can’t stay in the state of relaxation or we won’t get enough oxygen and we’ll die. We need tension to live.
Living is Tension
It’s difficult to ignore the patterns of the seasons. It’s difficult to ignore major holidays unless you retreat to a place where media doesn’t reach you, where you don’t have to go shopping for your daily needs. If you decide to forget the whole hoopla of holiday celebrations while living in a western society, you will feel different because of what you’re not doing and what others are doing. Tension, again.
Let’s not even talk about the tension that results from participating in the holiday, traveling to see family, hosting family, holiday parties, holiday relationships, holiday gifts. you just filled up the time of year that calls for less, because nature rests in the northern hemisphere, with more, a lot more! It can be a tense time.
Keeping it Simple
I’ve been simplifying my life. Less stuff, a smaller home, fewer responsibilities. I opened up the one box with Christmas stuff I moved to this new, simpler life, and it’s like opening a box of Pandora. As the items go through my fingers, I recall memories of Christmas past. I pause and test the little lights and before I know it, I’m decorating. A few lights here, a few glittering balls there. Oh, where did I put the extensions cords, the timer for the lights? I filled 3 days with creating a small holiday world. I shopped for ingredients to do some holiday baking; I’m inviting a few people to help bridge the longest, darkest night of the year. The deep rest of winter just got busy.
Why can’t we rest? Why can't we hang in the deepest part of the out-breath? What is that need to fill up our time, light up the dark corners, fill our mouths and minds with delectables? Why do we create stress?
Nature knows how to rest. The tree sap stops rising, the seeds fall and dry out, colors fade, animals burrow, sleep more and use their body fat for survival.
I walked a long walk in the short winter hours of sunshine. I looked at the trees, standing quietly. They wait for the temperature to change, when the sap will rise and the busy-ness of growth, making new leaves or needles starts again. I want to learn from the trees. It will serve me. I will use the shortest days to be still, sleep more, walk less and eat less. I will leave the holiday exercise challenges I’ve signed up for behind, leave my worries that I’ll become out of shape on my cushion, let my body become slower, stiffer. For a while. I know that as the days lengthen, my energy will rise again, and I will resume the task of growing food, traveling to loved ones, and doing another season.
Stretched between Points
I’m somewhere between my first breath and my last. I’m somewhere between these two points in a cycle that I call my life. I’m stretched between points that are connected with thousands of breaths, millions of moments, rising and falling, balancing between the high and the low points, connecting the points at each end with a beautiful wave.
Life is an amazing process. I want to take time to be and sit in awe. I put the half empty Christmas box in the spare room. The handmade and wooden ornaments won’t hang on a tree this season. A few lights, a few glittering balls on the Chamisa bushes outside will do. The golden balls sparkle against the blond, dried-up flowers on the bush in the daylight. The yellow lights give the bush an outline in the dark of the night. I’m at peace with this simplicity. I hope you’ll find your balance point, somewhere between the highs and lows, and rest awhile.
Comments are always welcome!
We’re in midterm elections in the US. Unless you were holed up, cut off from media, they have bombarded you with polling forecasts, predictions of potential violence, voter turnouts and the aftermath you can expect if the balance of the current governmental power changes.
The world is watching. A friend in my native country Holland told me the Dutch are curious to see what will happen in a country with big politics. The political and racist violence that takes place in the USA astounds them; they cannot imagine the vast divide with which we’re living. Easy to say when you live in a small, social-democratic (scale does matter!) country with good economic and political relations with big brothers on all sides. “Do you not have extreme views over there”, I ask, reminding my friend of the influx of immigrants and migrants with different values. “Yes”, she says, “a political party with very conservative views is growing, but they don’t have guns. They shoot with words and slogans.”
What Works and What Doesn't Anymore
When I was in Holland last year, I read a news article about the new annual budget in the Netherlands. I hail from a long line of people who believe in social democracy. That means we take care of the underdogs and share what we have. These beliefs seem to be challenged in this social-democratic country. People with high incomes (the top 10%) pay 61% of their income in taxes to support the system. Health care with a growing and longer living population is taking up 40% of the budget. Education is absorbing another 30%; that leaves 30% for other expenses. Not enough to take care of roads, increased public transportation, military, the King’s new work quarters, and let alone nature reserves. That happens when you give the population the right to entitlements. I realize that the more we take care of the underdog, the longer the underdogs live, producing more underdogs, driving us to a zero income state. A thriving economy is needed to relieve economic suffering. Some say the income gap between rich and poor is a good thing. It drives the economy. Does this start to sound like Ayn Rand is talking?
When Goodness Fails
What happened? When I was a child and a young adult, the political system provided stability. Now that system doesn’t seem to be working any longer. The Dutch are suffocating in their own “goodness”. Left leaning politicians in the USA want a societal system similar to the Dutch and Northern European countries . This may not be the solution to our problems as the global dynamics of migration, climate change, and universal rapid access to information, upset the accepted norms.
There is a deer problem in Ashland Oregon. It is a bear problem in Tahoe City. In Africa the problem is elephants. Increased population encroaches on the wilder places in this world. The animals migrate into people's territories. Global migration toward the wealthier countries caused by war, economics and climate change is a similar problem. In small town Ashland the deer roam streets and alleys. People’s gardens provide delicious and easy accessible munchies. Can anyone blame the deer for coming out of the drought stricken hills, and take up residence in the empty lots around town? People can’t shoot them; and you can’t charge the deer rent. The ordinance says don’t feed the deer. But aren’t the gardens a way of feeding the deer? To have produce and flowers people must build fences. When I lived there, I wanted my peas and tomatoes to feed myself. How does this all translate to big politics? So much for my humanitarian outlook on sharing.
Hanging in the Balance
It’s easy to disturb a delicate balance. Disturbing the balance of nature has harsh consequences, both for the climate, but also for politics There are forces greater than us that will create a new balance. We, as humans, are lousy at doing that. My neighbor is driving a big loader tractor, scraping his mesa property bare. What will happen with the soil when it rains and snows? Mud run off into my yard? What happens when the sun destroys the soil's microbes and invasive species take root? Can you see the parallel with the big imbalances in our world?
It’s midterm voting in America. In the next few days the vote will give us answers to our questions. Will people care enough about each other to drown out the extremists, and vote for a moderate ticket? Will the outcome of the vote make a difference for the have-nots? Make a difference for the planet? Enormous forces are at work. I wonder if my changing views on politics will only add to the chaos.