Dark Bar Rooms and Rainbows, A Fish Story

When I was newly divorced and my kids were off to college I used to go to a place with a band every Friday evening with my single female friends. Heads up and stomachs sucked in, we pretended to be aloof.  Neon beer signs, the tiny red dots on the sound equipment, and a street light through a grimy window provided the bar’s main illumination.  But dragged down by disappointment and gravity, we welcomed the dim lighting. We always chose a table close to the small stage thinking that proximity to the band increased our chances of being asked to dance. We deemed some of the males unsuitable and rejected them. And since there is justice everywhere, even in a place that served draft beer and cheap wine, the men that we saw as desirable rejected us.

I would sip coffee in my living room the next morning hoping it would take away my feelings of defeat. The things I had worn the night before were crumpled like discarded love letters in piles across the floor. The once clean and carefully chosen clothes reeked of cigarette smoke and stale beer.

Sharon, the  librarian at my school who was also divorced, asked me if I would like to go fly fishing with her in The Adirondacks. She knew I loved the outdoors and camping.  But I stubbornly clung to the hope that the bar with the loud music would bring  me love and romance if I just kept trying.

One day Sharon asked me to pick up my second graders outside after her library class.  When I did  Sharon was decked out in a green vest and a hat with several  tiny feathery things attached to it and one of my boys was waving a fishing rod in the air.

“Good cast”, she told the 8 year old as she took the rod from him.  “Remember, you don’t need a lot of force. Let the line do the work”

Gentle as a tree in the breeze, she moved the rod forward and then positioned it upright and back. The line, an elongated twenty foot inverted “c” sailed behind her forming a string of translucent light against the sky.  Reversing the direction of the loop, Sharon placed the tip of the line thirty feet away.  She did it once again.  A perfect beginning, middle, and end.

“Don’t you think your teacher should try?” she asked my class.

“Yes’, they all shouted.

I always told my students  that new things were always hard and to never give up. I didn’t want to cast  but I knew, as a teacher and a constant role model,  I had to.

Sharon handed me the rod. I took a breathe, hesitated and then flung the line backwards and then whipped it ahead with a smack. My students laughed.

“Okay, kids,” Sharon said, ” Let’s help your teacher.  What does she need to know?”

Ten o’clock, Two o’clock,” they said in unison and they all demonstrated with their arms

“Okay, relax,” added Sharon.

I focused on my arm. I let the line stretch out behind me like wings, and then as I shifted I felt the power of momentum as the line raced over my head. It landed not as far as Sharon’s  had but just as gently.

“I did it,” I yelled and my students clapped. Sharon gave me thumbs up and we all went back into the school, smiling.

At the end of the day, Sharon stopped by my room. ” Have I convinced you yet? Do you want to go fishing?”

“Okay,” I replied.

On the next Friday at the end of the school day, we drove east to the Adirondacks. As we traveled, the villages became smaller and smaller and some buildings stood as shabby monuments to battles against The North Country winters.

Vistas revealed miles of tree going up and over large hills and small mountains. The forest squeezed the highway. Small bushes and thick brush discouraged entrance into the interior.  As we  went higher, stacks of mountains receded from dark green to the palest of blue. Hardy collection of daisies, buttercups, and purple lupines played among rust colored rocks.

Like the pop of a Jack-in-the -Box, the village of Lake Placid exploded out of the trees, a  collection shops and restaurants,  an open air mall between  mountains. We kept driving. The sidewalks ended and a golf course took the place of the concrete and brick. The high peaks reveal themselves above the chemically treated turf. The road continued up and down, over and though, as if frantically trying to escape the man made insanity. The green intensified and soon we saw the Ausable River shyly peeking through the leaves.

Further on, two grey cliffs appeared on each side of the road. A small man made wall protected us from the river that jumped over rocks and boulders.

We arrived at Wilmington Notch Campgrounds. I had been there many times.  My family and I camped there when I was a little girl.  Not far away, The North Pole still exists and after all these years Santa still makes his summer home there.

A thick canopy of leaves above the cleared sites offered a sense of order. All the white birch trees I remembered from my childhood were gone. Sharon and I set up our tents, arranged air mattresses and sleeping bags and ate a one pot stew warmed over a fire. She went through her stuff and pulled out a bottle of wine.  As our woodland retreat lost its vivid colors and faded into the black of the evening, the light of the campfire enclosed us in a sphere of orange light. Beyond our source of illumination, the world disappeared as we drank sweet wine out of paper cups.

Sharon told me about artificial flies and knots for tying  line, leads, and hooks. She talked about pocket water, pools, and fish spit which she insisted was the foam that sometimes appeared in the water.  I learned about the three types of insects that trout feed on. Stoneflies, caddis, and mayflies.  I marveled at the fact that the caddis make  a tiny cocoon shelter out of small stones.  And that mayflies live as ugly nymphs under the water until one day just before they die they become creatures with  lovely shiny wings.

Sharon and I talk and talked and she told me stories about fishing The Ausable with her daughter and about Fran Betters, the writer and legendary trout fisherman of the Adirondacks.

It was getting late. We threw water on the fire. The stars leaped into the sky and the gray steam from the embers kissed their faces goodnight.

We got up very, very early the next morning.  With no makeup or coffee or breakfast, we drove out of camp  in the sweatshirts and sweatpants  we had worn to bed.  Sharon had extra waders for me and a rod. We fished for hours and didn’t catch anything. But  it was wonderful being a part of it all, the greens, the sound of the flowing water, and the peace.

I loved fly fishing with Sharon because we developed our own female version of the sport.  After morning fishing,  we stopped at a quick stop for cappuccinos and a pastry.  Back at our site we showered. There was time for a little reading and then a trip into Lake Placid to do some shopping! We went back to Wilmington to fulfill one of Sharon’s fishing traditions, a visit to The Wildwood Inn for clams casino and a glass of chardonnay. Who was I to argue?  Then more fishing until sunset and back to the evening campfire.  I enjoyed it all.

The next day we drove to a spot where the Ausable dropped over a dam. The falls filled its lungs with air as it exhaled a curtain of creamy foam. I listened to the rushing sound of gravity, feeling its pull as I struggled to navigate the steep, stony path to the base of the dam.

The lower elevation allowed shadows to stretch across the river as the sun moved further down in the sky. At first a few flashes of reflected light appeared in air.  And then hundreds of bits of motion fluttered everywhere. Focusing on one, I saw an insect with a long graceful body and beautiful translucent wings. Its companions danced and swirled above the river as the fish came to the surface and jumped to get a better look. Abruptly it all stopped. The winged creatures disappeared and the fish swan below.  Sharon explained it was a mayfly hatch and I will never forget how so alive and beautiful  it was.

I fished with Sharon a lot in the next few  years. I remembered the moment I caught my first trout. I looked over the water and cast my line. A fluttering movement came up through the rod and I felt a life. The trout pulled and jumped in the air, gleaming green, pink, and white. I reeled it and took the hook from its mouth. And following Sharon’s example, held the rainbow like a precious jewel, lowered it into the water and set it free.

Sharon passed away several years ago.  She was a great storyteller, teacher, fly fishing woman, and a fantastic friend. I will see her again because I am sure there are trout streams in heaven.

Sharon taught me the lesson of the mayfly, a little bug who struggled and struggled  most of its life to leave the dark bottom of the river. And just when it thought its life was over, it got a second chance.  It became lovely and magical and free.  I have had many hard times and disappointments in my life but things don’t seem as bad anymore.  I finally have my wings.  Thank you, Sharon.

Copyright 2021@ The Autonomous Traveler All rights reserved.

Snowy Rural America-Why Do I Stay?

Being involved with the rural North Country is like being in a bad love affair. The summer woos me with warm breezes off  one of  The Great Lakes and the river. It offers me lush greens and sunlit days. It entices me with a multitude of lavish experiences: picnics under the trees, quiet moments on the shore, spectacular thunderstorms topped off with rainbows, and evenings under the stars listening to the crickets and watching fireflies. It presents me with fantastic gifts, the sweet serenade of birds, the beauty of diamonds reflecting off the water, and bouquets wild flowers from its fields. The skilled lover pursues me, seizes my heart, and convinces me of its unwavering devotion. I fall in love!

In the fall, my intuition whispers to me that things are changing but my beloved is so magnificence in its bight reds, oranges, and yellows that I ignore the signs. I am caught up in the joy and exhilaration of the splendor. But its moodiness erupts suddenly. It frosts the countryside but quickly hides the evidence with a morning smile. I am bewildered but I am soothed by memories of earlier carefree times. The suitor offers me even more gifts: ripe fruit from its orchards, fat orange pumpkins, and an Indian summer ablaze with color and sweet fragrances. There is still warmth but the winds blow colder and the clouds turn from white to gray. I soon realize that the glow of my summer romance is gone.

The North Country turns irritable. It shows its sunny smile less frequently and the cold storms come. The leaves have been blown to the ground and the tress stand in shame. My body and heart feel the coolness. I wonder how such a beautiful entity could change so much. At first, I make excuses and rationalize that things are not that bad and this is a passing thing. But the weather becomes angrier and angrier and then there is snow. I groan when I first see it dust the green grass. The snow piles up higher and higher. Some days the rain tap, taps on my window to play a cruel game of freeze tag and I find myself alone in the dark and I am afraid. I feel like a prisoner unable to leave my home. My relationship with this part of the world becomes a lovers’ quarrel. I wonder how I ever fell for the false promises and I resent being tricked.

I turn away from the monster and go to my neighbors, family and friends to complain. And soon everyone in the North Country becomes part of an enormous support group seeking comfort and strength to endure the abusive demon. Day after day, the heavens crash down on us but it seems that hidden between the flakes of white are angels sent to help us learn patience. We stop resisting, accept the harshness, and against the power of the villain, we become one. We check on each other’s safety. Our homes and community centers open to strangers who happen to be captured in the storms. We gather together to ice fish, quilt or share a hot cup of coffee. Moving anyway from our raging disappointment, we move closer to each other and we survive.

But a deep bitterness remains and as the winter goes on and on, I start to wonder if I should leave and never return. I need a more stable companion because I can’t take the terrible fighting any longer. And then suddenly, as if my tormentor knows my limits, it starts to smile. It knows it must be loving again to thaw my frozen heart. It drops its frigid demeanor and begins to melt some of the snow. It calls back the geese and commands the sap to run through the trees. I spy the first buds, the trilliums in the woods, the red winged blackbirds. and my first robin. I smell the freshness of new beginnings. My transformed lover returns to me the things I cherish, the waters shimmer and the sky is blue and clear again. I have an extraordinary sense of hope and all is forgiven. I am in love again!
.
People who don’t know the North Counter always ask me why I stay. My answer acknowledges that, yes, the harsh weather is at times unbearable. But it is the contrasts between the cold and the warmth, the struggle and the peace, the light and the dark that keep me here. They provide a breathtaking intensity of experience that cannot be described. Like the first drink of water after a day in the desert or a hug after a long separation, the beautiful moments in the North Country are incredible. Not one of these times are ever taken for granted and the joy they touch the hearts and souls of the people who live here. During spring, summer, and fall, we live in paradise and everyday in those wonderful seasons are savored in a spirit of gratitude.

I also stay because of the other people who stay, hardy souls who have accepted the unpredictable temperament of the North Country. They have adapted and call this place home. In our towns, villages, and neighborhoods we have formed an unspoken allegiance to each other that require no laws or charter. We have formed a culture based on the ability to weather storms and we know instinctively what needs to be done. This community spirit has developed so strongly that it not only appears in inclement weather but at anytime anyone suffers a loss or comes up against a challenge. The question is never,“Should I help?”, but rather,“How can I help?”

And so I stay in this sometimes bad love affair with the North Country. At times, the relationship is very rocky but I have learned to accept the inconveniences. And with this spirit of forgiveness, I have come to truly appreciate the extraordinary power of this wonderful place and its great people. And isn’t that what love is all about?

Copyright 2021@theautonomoustraveler.com All rights reserved.

Free the Bonsai, Free Me

One day when I was 46, I decided to hike all 46 of The High Peaks of the Adirondacks. I tend to live out my life in headlines, always proclaiming a new interest with passion and bursts of wild enthusiasm. So 46 at 46! The coincidence had a certain mystical quality to it and I was convinced that it was a personal thumbs up from Mother Nature herself.

Image result for adk 46er patch

My odyssey skyward started slowly. Having been recently divorced and with my two children away at college, I suddenly had time for myself and took up walking. It was good exercise and a way to manage my weight, But most of all I loved the freedom to finally be a self-contained unit moving forward in the the direction of my choice under my own power. I found peace in the rhythm of my steps and breathes. I enjoyed the smells, the green flutter of trees, and the ever changing perennial garden of wild flowers along the sides of my quiet country road.

I walked and walked, some days listening to music. But many days ruminating about the past and pondering the future. Soon walking was not enough and when my neighbor jokingly told me I was making a rut in the asphalt in front of his house, I decided to upgrade to hiking The Adirondacks, a six million acre protected and “forever wild”park near my home.

I carefully prepared for my ascent: New hiking boots carefully fitted by the staff at an outdoors store to prevent the dreaded toe jam, wool socks to ward off blisters, liner socks to wick moisture, A Gore-Tex jacket to keep out the rain while at the same time allowing the body to breathe, and a day pack well supplied for survival. The High Peaks are mountains over 4000 feet tall, some having very intimidating names like Big Slide and Giant. But I was equipped for the challenge and so I climbed.

But it wasn’t quite what I expected. I found that during the first few minutes of the first few hikes, I was immediately out of breath. I realized it was the mountain’s cruel initiation. I needed to establish a stride and when my pulse started to conform to the life of the mountain, things got better. I was also required to be a constant mental problem solver. The Adirondack Park is a dome of volcanic rock worn down by thousand of years of weather. The trails are littered with tens of thousands of rocks. Each footfall had to be carefully planned as I moved from step to step. Sometimes I came off the trail covered with mud. I slipped once and left some skin from my elbow on a mountain called Gothics. And one evening, I cried alone in the woods during a group hike when our leader told us, yes indeed, we would be hiking one more mountain the next day.

But there was joy, too. I saw peregrine falcons diving toward earth at tremendous speeds and I heard for the first time their distinctive whistle. I met other other hikers, people who,as Thoreau pointed out, lived life a deliberately as nature. They told stories of other mountains and at night identified the constellations for all who hadn’t looked up at the stars in awhile. I was a part of the first all women trail maintenance weekend. Our group picture was included in a regional magazine and as a result I became part of the history of The Adirondacks.

It turns out that I didn’t reach the mystical goal I though the universe had assigned me. I only did eight of the 46 peaks. On the eighth hike, I sat on a rock summit in total surrender, the blue pure sky above me and the dark green earth beneath. I was wearing a warm jacket in the middle of a hot summer but I only felt the wind and coolness of a mountain top afternoon. I observed the smallness of the vegetation around me. The trees were miniature versions of the trees that were lucky enough to grow further down the mountain. The sum of their lives had been spent in the harshness of many cruel seasons that offered them no encouragement to grow..

I understood the mathematics of their existence and had myself experienced the strong influence of both sunny days and damaging storms. I remembered all the bonsai tree constraints of my own life; the wrong choices and regrets that sometimes pushed my soul below zero. But I also took a moment to remember all the joy I had in my heart, too. And it was at that moment that I realized life is all about the math, about constantly striving to put more pluses in our lives than minuses.

Juniper Bonsai

I thanked the mountain and the little trees for their wisdom. Eight out of 46 isn’t bad, I told myself. It was time to get out of the wind and cold and go down the mountain. It was time to start growing again.

Twenty-five years later, I still remember my conquest of mountains. And to this day, I shudder at the sight of bonsai trees, poor little plants that have been wired, clipped, and forced to live lives in a small bowls. During this pandemic, I have become constrained and I’m angry because it is wrong to prevented any living thing from growing. I’m reminded of those stunted plants struggling on the windy Adirondack summits. “And it was at that moment that I realized life is all about the math, about constantly striving to put more pluses in our lives than minuses” I am part of the struggle now. My survival is up to me. Please let me have enough strength to keep growing. Free the bonsai, free me.

Copyright@2021 theautonomoustraveler All rights reserved.

A Covid Captive’s Search for Meaning

Writing is a kind of therapy for me. It gives me a chance to sort out thoughts, face my emotions, and define feelings. But this week I find it difficult to write.

I cried as I watched the events on January 6th. Since then, I have watched the news and the talking heads, trying understand it all and find out what will happen next. Just like the pandemic and the vaccine distribution it is all pure confusion.

I have physically felt the distress in my body. It is persistent. I’m scared. 2021 was suppose to be better. I don’t want to be a part of this awful chapter in history. It’s been a week since America’s “Day of Broken Glass”. The context of our lives, our existence is still riddled with chaos making everyday so uncertain. I don’t want my life to be like this. I’ve been looking desperately for some sort of deliverance, some resolution, some encouraging words to share.

I’ve studied enough history to know that there have been many dark times. How did people make it through? I started digging. I looked through my bookshelves to find the words that have helped me in the past. Luckily, these ink and paper friends have been waiting for me patiently. They have sat quietly holding within them important insights that I have highlighted during some of my darkest days.

I found my books from Al-Anon, a branch of AA for families of alcoholics. “The serenity to accept the things I can not change.” I have these words marked in fluorescent colors. They are like the caution signs at construction sites or crime scenes. I know them by heart but they are not enough

I looked back further to The Stoics, a group of philosophers from the 3rd century BC. I discovered them a long time ago at a thrift store in a pile of discount books. They, too, preached letting go of the things that are beyond our power.

I kept going. I poured through a book of Stoic quotes.

“Let us therefore set out whole-heartedly, leaving aside our many distractions and exert ourselves in this single purpose, before we realize too late the swift and unstoppable flight of time and are left behind. As each day arises, welcome it as the very best day of all, and make it your own possession. We must seize what flees.” -Seneca

In a little book I found at a rummage sale, the call to action continued.

Always Act Well The Part That is Given You”

“Although we can’t control which roles that are assigned to us, it must be our business to act our given role as best as we possibly can and to refrain from complaining about it. Where you find yourself and in whatever circumstances, give an impeccable performance.”-Sharon LeBell

The author encourages readers to dive into the roles they have in life, no matter what they are. If you are a teacher, teach. If you can make people laugh, keep doing it. If you are an artist, create. If you are a reader, read. If you like cooking, cook. If you are thinker, ponder. And if you are a writer, write. If you are not sure of your role, your purpose, pursue the tiny spark or interest that makes you happy or just causes you to smile. Don’t be ashamed or distracted or afraid. As Nike once said, “JUST DO IT!”.

The author, Victor Frankl, has been with me since I first visited Poland. He wrote Man’s Search for Meaning telling about his t years in The Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps. He believed that a person could find meaning in the most terrible situations. During his time in captivity he knew he needed to keep going. He felt that he had something of valuable to offer the world. He wrote his famous book in his head and when he was released from the camps he put his thoughts on paper and produced a manuscript in nine days. I have included his quotes in my posts before but during these dark days of 2021 his words have an even stronger meaning.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”-Victor Frankl

The distressed feeling in my body is lifting. I must go now, I have things to do.

Copyright @2021 theautonomoustraveler.com All rights reserved.

The Sun in the Midst of Darkness

I know when I go off the deep end. I can tell when my soul has crossed over to something numb or, worse yet, into the darkness. The warning signs show themselves in the condition of my house. Bed not made. Clothes on the floor. Dishes, pots, and utensil in a mess on the counter. Mail and stuff piling up on the dining room table. Papers, books, and dirty coffee cups taking over the living room. This “dark night of the soul” happened recently during the tumultuous end days of the 2020 election. I had worked hard on a local election; writing letters to the editor, working as my candidate’s local outreach person, and calling voters on the phone bank. My guy lost. Luckily another person I was rooting for won. But I ended up disgusted with everything and everyone, including myself. The big wide world was out of control, defective, and dysfunctional. It seemed like a very, very bad place to be.

But then something wonderful happened. To me it was a miracle, a gift from the heavens, a reprieve, a lovely shot of relief. All of a sudden in my corner of the world I was blessed with Indian Summer, a wonderful stretch of days filled with sunshine and warm temperatures. It was so unexpected and so generous, an escape sandwiched in between the darkness of human failings and the coming winter. I jumped on it, knowing its value and understanding the need to soak it all up before it was gone.

I walked in my woods everyday, taking in its peace and honesty.

On another day, I took the time to look closer.

The weather offered social distancing outdoors and I headed north to see my friend, Tammy. Tammy who loves beautiful literature, art and the outdoors. She is kind and joyful and has a deep soul. We talked with trust and urgency about all sorts of subjects and the particular issues we were experiencing in our lives. On the hill under the pine trees behind her beautiful house, we created our version of “the red tent”. Just like the women of long ago who came together to get away from the pressures of tribe and culture, we shared our true selves.

Every morning the sunshine came. Another day offered a chance to see another friend, Chris. We have been good friends for decades and arranged to met at a state park on the river to walk and talk. I admire Chris, she is a great cook, gardener, and homemaker. I’ve learned a lot from her over the years.

I took my camera, it always keeps me focused. It is an inexpensive retired “point and shoot” that I purchased used on eBay. I’m set in my ways, it was bought to replace one just like it that was ruined by sand on a windy day at the beach. It is a simple machine, small enough to carry in the tiniest of purses and it accompanies me wherever I go. Like me it is unsophisticated. With its limited options and my limited skills as a photographer, I must work hard to search out the beauty of the world and let its existence produce the quality of my pictures.

On this day as Chris and I walked and talked, I saw something brightly colored, out of place. Nestled in a small hollow in one of the cedars that grow in the park was the word “joy” painted on a rock. Some caring person had created it hoping another person would notice and appreciate it. I did and now it is treasured artifact in my home.

On the last day of Indian Summer 2020, I wondered, should I stay home and get some things done? Or should I hit the road again and see what the day had to offer? I made the right choice.

Everyday the news spoke about the bleak winter ahead that would engulf us with more sickness, death and heart ache. I felt the dread. I knew the warm sunny days would soon be just a dream. The weather became colder and colder and the light of the day grew shorter and shorter. The darkness came. It weighed heavy and we were all tired of it as it went on and on.

I have had other times in my life when I have been overcome by sadness. I remembered a particular time long ago when I thanked someone who helped me get through some very dark days. I give him a quote, carefully mounted and framed,

“In the midst of darkness
I found the sun within myself
.”

I remembered that quote and it continues to remind me that how I experience the world is up to me. The news recently talked of our present battle between fatalism and hope. Somehow, some way, I must continue to choose hope. I must never forget that no matter how great the darkness, the sun will always reappear.

Copyright @2020 The Autonomous Traveler All rights reserved.

The Escape of the Covid Captive

I woke up and actually didn’t know what to do with myself. It was early September 2020, the nineth month of the worldwide pandemic. I had cleaned out drawers and closets, cut down the understory around my house, sewn masks, painted a picture, lost four pounds on Noom, and relearned how to make yeast bread. I just couldn’t bring myself to watch another episode of “How to Get Away with Murder” on Netflix and the book I was reading was good but not that good. Uncertain days, months and maybe, years stretched before me. I missed my normal life, traveling, meeting with groups of friends, festivals, and long afternoons sitting in sunny coffee shops in front of my laptop fantasizing about becoming a famous writer.

I felt hollow and totally dissatisfied. I needed to escape. I checked the weather, the next day would be sunny and pleasantly warm. I laid out clothes and organized my purse making sure I had my camera and extra batteries. And then I waited. When light flowed into my bedroom window I got up, drank my coffee and refused to clean up the kitchen in an act of rebel defiance. My domestic duties would be there when I got back for the next days, months, and years. I showered, dressed and opened the garage door to let the sunshine greet me and call me to adventure. My new car is the color of pine needles, I named it “Hunter”. Former vehicles had names like Silvia and Ruby but I’m a different woman now, truly brave and adventurous. Hunter is my noble steed. He also has Sirius XM and I chose music from the ’70s and because of the some divine intervention the station seemed to play all the songs I knew and loved. I turned up the volume and sang. Pumped and a bit giddy, I headed to the mountains, The Adirondacks Mountains, a great destination for a day trip.

I was free. A joyous woman on the road, living life. I came upon some construction and was stoppped by a flagman with a long white beard. I rolled down my window on the passanger. Laughter is the best medicine, I thought, especially during a pandemic.

“Santa”, I said smiling, ” so this is what you do during the summer!”

The man didn’t smile but replied, “Yup, I do a lot of things!”

I drove off. Damn! I had officially crossed over the line to crazy old lady. I quickly decided to take my sudden my vitality down a notch, a speeding ticket could possibly be my next problem if I didn’t settle down.

I had been doing research about logging for a future blog post. In my reading I had learned about a town called Everton that was abandon after the good trees there were depleted at the turn of the 20th century. Looking at my trusty topographical NYS map I found Duane St. in St. Regis Falls, NY that morphed into Everton Road and then became The Red Tavern Road. My persona quickly changed from crazy old lady to explorer determined to find clues.

Traveling to the mountains first required traveling north along flat roads surrounded by farmland but turning east, the trees began to hug the road, hills presented themselves and I felt the myself go higher and higher.

I noticed more conifers. The area was logged for spruce trees to make paper at the mill in Deferiet, New York.

My dad brought my family to The Adirondacks when I was a little girl. I have loved those mountains and woodlands ever since. I took it all in.

Red line against the green, I wondered why. Edging of an old road?

I found a spot that seemed to be somewhat denuded of trees.

The St. Regis River seemed to have become my travel companion as it suddenly appeared once again on this back road.

I drove on and ahead I saw some white water. I came upon guard rails and a parking area. A sign indicated that I was near Everton Falls. I was determined to take the rocky path to the water’s edge and get a picture. I broke my ankle in Israel in November of 2019. I’m healed but now I walk always maintaining a deliberate connection between my feet and my brain. I watch each step and sometimes use the trees as impromptu railings. I made it.

I was thrilled to find The Red Hotel. The the last section of road got its name from that establishment.

The sign said it was established in 1830. Was it a hangout for the loggers at the beginning of the 1900’s?

Near by was a cabin, was it from that era?

As I continued, I looked into the woods hoping to see some remains of the logging camps that once existed or the railroad tracks used to transport the logs.

I saw many places that might have been the entry roads into the cutting areas.

I drove until I was almost to the end of the road. I saw a sign for Deer River Campsite, I needed information and drove in. I love to travel because I find that wherever I go in the world people are generally welcoming and nice. I stopped at the camp office and shortly after the owner came up the road on a golf cart. He was a little guarded to begin with but after I told him I had an interest in history he became an ally.

Gil Paddock, owner of the Deer River Campsite

He went back to his residence and copied pages of the local history to add to my research and then he told to drive around the campground and feel free to take in the beauty of the landscape. I’m so grateful our paths crossed.

Sitting quietly on that bench on The Deer River Flow in my beloved Adirondacks, I found my escape. I have wonderful friends. Some would see this scene and say “so what”. But I’m fortunate to have many people in my life who understand what nature offers us, raw honesty, assurance, and vivid lessons of resilience and perseverance. A deep sense of peace washed over me at that moment and even seeing this picture now renews that feeling and brings tears to my eyes.

I drove back to St. Regis Falls and stopped at a place that I thought sold books but it turned out to be a lending “library”. I chatted with the woman in charge and asked her about any remaining evidence of Everton. She advised me to come back again when the leaves have fallen and walk the trails. I assured I would explore with respect, that I just wanted to understand the lives of people who lived and worked in the mountains and surely loved them as much as I do.

I’m The Autonomous Traveler! Right now I can’t travel to London or Jerusalem or Thailand. But my definition of travel has, in a strange way, expanded within its confinement. By participating in active observation and noticing along with the attitude of appreciation and acceptance, travel is rewarding in any locale. And if you are sincere in your interest and listen to the people along the way you discover wonderful new perspectives.

I will be making my third visit to The St. Regis River soon. I will be rewarded with beautiful fall colors and hopefully be able to find one of the deserted lumber camps and some long forgotten railroad tracks. My hope is to connect even more with the soul of that lovely destination. I will let you know what I find.

Copyright 2020 @theautonomoustraveler.com All rights reserved.

NonPolitical Rantings from a Covid Captive

Many times over the past few years, I’d say 7 or 8 times, I have received phone calls from my political party asking for a donation. Each time I’ve told the the solicitor that I wouldn’t give money unless I could talk to someone about my concerns. All 7 or 8 times no one ever bothered calling me back.

Politics in our country has been reduced to raising campaign money, getting elected and then fighting with the other elected people while not getting much done. This cycle seems to repeat itself over and over again.

Because of the pandemic, I believe that traditional politics no longer serve us. The virus has reduced everything to the study of sociology and human needs, in other words, people. We are in trouble as a species because of our inability to work together. Our shared destiny and our ability to survive as a functioning society is in danger.

I came to this realization on July 18. And if I may, I will offer myself as a case study to show how I came to this conclusion.

 Positive cases in my county went from 111 on July 11 to 145 on July 17     I was angry at the people along the river who partied in large unmasked groups around an island and on a beach on the St. Lawrence River. They were young and didn’t seem to care about my county and or the fact that   I had spent 10 weeks at home in lockdown during the spring.

With the rising cases, my emotional fear alarm went off as I consider my options. Would there be another shutdown?    I scanned my environment. A heat spell was coming. Also, I’m 71 and even though I have great health I’m in the risk category. So, I made a plan. 

 I woke up at 6 am to avoid the heat and the crowds.    First, I went to Walmart 15 miles away to get more meat to put in my freezer. When I went a week ago to the store’s grocery pickup they were all out of the ground turkey I thought I had reserved.  I came back home and was able to store a good supply of available meat in my freezer. I felt satisfied that my stash of supplies was now quite adequate.   

Next to the recycling center. We don’t have garbage pick up in my rural area. It felt good to have my recyclables and trash out of the house. 

My basic needs were taken care of and I felt relieved. If the uptick in cases keeps going up, I was confident that I had all I needed to stay home again. I worry, as all Americans do, that another shutdown is coming.  

Today, July 27, the positive cases in my rural county have reached 185, 12 new cases added over the weekend.

Worrying about my basic needs reminded me of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, something I learned about in my training to become a teacher.

To become the best we can be, we first have to have our basic physical needs met, food, shelter, water, clothes. These things are essential to keep us alive. That is why I’m making sure I have food in case of another shutdown or because of a break in the supply chain.

Next comes a sense of safety and stability, freedom from harm including death from disease and/or social unrest.

Then there is love and belonging. Our present situation is separating us from friends and family.

These three important factors for human well being are being threatened by Covid-19. The world is in trouble.

Political parties and political bickering are insane when our country is facing life and death issues. There has to be a major shift. The time for candidates to ask us for support and money is gone! The question now is how are the people running this country going to protect and save us? We need that answer.

Worries of a Covid Captive Grandma

Before the pandemic, unless I was traveling, I would see my grandkids every other week. I would arrive at their house at noon, stay overnight and then leave around noon the next day. Since the new normal, I have only seen them two times for a total of less hours than I could count on my fingers. Time looms before me as I have stayed confined. Time also seems compressed as a deadly virus forces me to reassess the length of my life and the lives of everyone on this planet.. The months, the weeks, the days, the hours tick by. They almost lose their meaning as I wait and wait for the familiar to return. Time has lost its shape, its structure.

by Salvador Dali

My son, daughter-in-law and grandkids came for a visit on July 5th, 12:00-4:00. Four short hours. So many smiles, so much joy and then they were gone.

I worried that I hadn’t done enough. This really bothered me. For the first time, I wrote my grandkids a letter hoping to fill in the blanks of what I felt I hadn’t conveyed in our short visit.

July 6, 2020
My dear sweethearts,

After you left, I looked at all the things you played with and made. I’m amazed how wonderful each one of is and I’m so proud of you.

R. (my 9 year old granddaughter), my creative storyteller, you looked at my new calendar and thought about the passage of time.

Your wonderful imagination took over and you created a world where time could be controlled . You drew it on paper as you explain it to me.

It was the beginning of a great adventure. That is what writers do. They observe and wonder what would happen if things were different. Sometimes they see the things no one else sees or understands and they open the world to new possibilities. Never be ashamed of you imagination. The world needs the wonderful excitement that shines through your stories.

C. (6 year old grandson), I think you saw the wonder I saw in the golden mushrooms on the tree that had worked so hard to stay alive as it rested on its side. New life is now forming on its dead form as a sign of hope, telling us that nothing in nature really dies.

I loved the way you, R., and K. enjoyed seeing the styles of different artists as we looked through that art book.

C., you jumped into creativity with those oil pastels. It takes bravery and strengthen to be an artist. A person has to let go of doubt and be free. Connor, your picture of the cat shows you have great courage. I think you know that nothing has to be perfect when you are doing art, that there is no right or wrong.

R., I see that strength in your drawings, too.

K. ( my grandson, five), I am impressed that you are so observant. I’m glad we got to look at the Da Vinci pop up book. Like you, he looked at everything, birds, the human body, everything!!! And then he invented things and built things. He never gave up or got frustrated because he knew he would always figure things out.

You are a builder, K.

You are brave when you have a problem. You look and look and find a solution. Your construction crew will look up to you for the answers. You will invent and build just like Da Vinci. I can’t wait to see the wonderful things that you will create.

My sweethearts, I love when you come to visit and I visit you. I watch as each one of you use your talents. I am so, so proud of you.

Love forever and always,

Babci (Polish for grandmother)

I mailed the letter and I worried and wondered like all grandmothers do. Did I make the most of each moment? Did I hug my grandkids enough? Do they realize just how much I love them? Did I teach them enough? Did I listen and encourage them enough? The world and the future are so uncertain. I hope for the best, that the world will heal because I have so much more I want to give to my dear sweethearts.

Copyright 2020 @theautonomoustraveler.com All rights reserved.

Confessions of a Covid Captive

I haven’t written in a while because how could I write when I didn’t know who I was? How do any of us live when what we thought was normal suddenly disappears, when routine and certainty is gone? How do we understand anything when our reality is so different and our thoughts and feelings have been jarred and muddled?

I’m a control freak, an “all-the-ducks-in-row” creature. I guess it is the survival tactic I acquired during my chaotic childhood. There was alcoholism in my family. I’m also a news junkie, I watched sick people filling the halls of the Wuhan hospitals and ordered my first masks from Amazon on January 26.

I’m in my 13th week of this thing called “the new normal”. I am getting out more with my masks, hand sanitizer and social distancing. I can write now because I can see myself again. But my image is still a bit blurry around the edges. Sometimes the lost feeling comes back and I have to hold still and stop the uneasy vibrations inside me. But there is hope and the beginnings of wholeness

My points of reference, the present and the future are unstable because of the pandemic but something strange has taken the place of these two life markers. I’m going back to past things that brought me joy. It’s like I’m a tourist leisurely walking through an art gallery seeing pictures of a long ago me who is smiling and doing rewarding things. I’m rich in time now and like a wealthy patron, I take the imagines off the wall and they become a part of me once again.

I started with baking. I used to do it all the time but lost the skill. I feared the chemistry, the failure and the waste. But I’m baking again.

I’m exploring my woods like I used to. Going off the usual trails, I have found new treasures in new places that I’ve never noticed during my decades here.

For many years, I knew I should cut down the small trees and bushes in the understory so I could see through the wood more easily. That goal is being achieved and, as I do, I have been gathering and burning deadfall from winters long forgotten.

I built my firepit last year in hopes of sitting by a fire with coffee and books. I never got around to it but now I have. I have gone back to reading fiction, enjoying the beautiful words of skilled writers. I usually read only nonfiction. But I’ve moved away from my habit of cutting away at information from these books by picking at the table of contents. Alway feeling short on time, I rushed through pertinent chapters without really appreciating all that the authors wanted to teach me.

It’s been a long time since I’ve sat still by my big picture window, in silence just to be. Now I’m being rewarded.

I used to have a huge vegetable garden. This spring I have planted again, just a few things. I’m having fun staging ridiculous things around my young sprouts to scare away my hungry wildlife. It’s working.

Lately, I’ve returned to two old hobbies I used to love, sewing and painting.

And my biggest return to the past is the fact that I’m wearing my long uncut hair in a ponytail, something I haven’t done since elementary school. This amazes me.

For the longest time during the pandemic, I was frozen. I spent hours watching the news and youtube videos about the virus trying to understand it, control it. I was so uncomfortable with this strange catastrophic event, disorientated in the present and totally clueless and scared about the future. There was no choice but to go back to the things in the past that had brought me happiness. I know many of my readers and friends are doing the same. I tell everyone I’m fortunate to talk with to stay safe and healthy. Now, I add another wish, for them to be happy. We have the time now to explore, notice nature, plant seeds, and create beautiful new things. We need to draw from what is around us and within us. This is our new normal but we can make it work.

Copyright 2020 @theautonomoustraveler.com All rights reserved.

Trilliums for Beth J

Dear Beth,

We have a tradition since you moved away. Every spring, I post pictures for you of the trilliums that bloom in my woods. I have the white ones and one very large red that you really like. They appear every year at the far corner of my property by the beaver pond. I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep my promise this year. You see, I broke my ankle in the Golan Heights in Israel near the Lebanon and Syria borders. No, I was not chased by spies or knocked over by a stray missile. I slipped on a rock and my rear end landed on my foot. I see my doctor on May 26 but he gave me instructions not to walk on uneven ground until then. I was afraid I would have to break my promise to you. But I’m stubborn and I don’t give up. The woods is all around me. There had to be trilliums closer.

I went up to my storage room and found my Vasque hiking boots that I had purchased at the Eastern Mountain Store in Lake Placid about 25 years ago. I reasoned that they would give my ankle support. The boots renewed memories of a long ago chapter in my life. They are leather, waterproof and had been carefully fitted to prevent “toe jam” (hiking term for toes sliding to the front of the boot on steep declines). I conquered eight of the Adirondack High Peaks in those boots and got my picture in The ADK 49’s Newsletter by being a member of the first all woman volunteer trail maintenance group.

For this adventure, I washed the laces and gave the leather a new coat of polish. I sprayed myself down with Deep Woods Off and put my camera and phone (I’m at that age where back up is important) in my fanny pack and hiked into my woods.

I was on a treasure hunt, a special mission to find something that was prized by you and me. I focused like I never focus before. I passed some of my beautiful rocks, they are granite, huge, and ancient.

I wondered if this is where my fox lived.

I took note of the dead tree sculptures.

Captivated, I was startled by what I incorrectly thought to be an owl in a tree branch rather close to my head.

I walked up to the big outcropping that my kids had so long ago named “dancing rock”.

I marvelled at the stand of hemlocks where the deer bedded during the winter and ate from the low hanging branches.

I paid my respects to a special tree. I used to bring my second grade class to my woods for a field trip and a nature scavenger hunt. In its youth, the tree had taught my students a vivid lesson with it roots clutched around a rock, a sure sign of perseverance and resilience.

Beth, I decided to be a true explorer and go to some the parts of my woods I had never gone to before. My eyes scanned the ground searching for green or any color that contrasted with the dead brown leaves. I was rewarded but no trilliums.

I found patches of green that I stubbornly tried to wish into trilliums but I had done my research and they they didn’t have the right characteristics.

The word trillium contains the prefix “tri” that means three, three petals and three leaves. One of my Canadian nature books told the story of James Burns Spencer who after WWI wanted to make the trillium the flower of Canada since it symbolized purity, The Holy Trinity, and Great Britain which consisted of three parts, England, Scotland, and Ireland. He failed but in 1937 because of the efforts of some high school students the plant became the flower of the province of Ontario, Canada.

o/ - Auto » Thread #17226668

I also learn that they appear in the time between thawing and the leafing out of deciduous trees. They are sensitive to temperature and grow in the woods because it is warmer there than in open fields. They like the the north side of sheltered areas. Away from the wind they rely on insects to pollinate them. The white trilliums attract insects to their beautiful flat landing strip flower petals. All trilliums have seeds. Ants love the nutritious green handles on the seeds and drop the rest. Birds also engage in spread with their droppings. It takes seven years for a seed to finally mature into plant with a flower. That’s why it is important to protect them by not picking them.

The red trilliums are a little different. They really like acid soil and they have a horrible smell. In fact, in some circles over the centuries they have been called “Stinking Benjamins”. They are pollinated by carrion insects, scavengers that feed on rotting remains.

Armed with these facts, I knew I wouldn’t find trilliums in the hemlocks and that also I need to look for sheltered places on the north side of things.

I spotted something green.

Beth, you can’t image how excited I was. Could it be?

Yes! I moved around carefully!

I even found a “Stinking Benjamin”!

In, fact, I found a few! And as they bloom, Beth, you will have your pictures!

Returning to my backyard, I knew my ankle was fine and I was elated. What an great experience. I guess I was still in a heightened state of awareness when I noticed something white and shiney at the base of small a tree.

I pulled at it and it came out of its place in the earth into my hand. It was a piece of quartz. And Beth, please excuse my poet’s soul, to me it seems to have the shape of a heart.

I have it next to me as I write this letter to you. It will be symbol of the beautiful day I had looking for flowers for a dear friend. To me, it will always represents my love of the woods and the gratitude I have for living in this part of the world. It expresses the bond I have with those in my community who live here, too. People who even when they move away like you have, Beth, still have The North Country in their hearts. Thank you so much, my friend.

Love, Joyce

Copyright@2020 The Autonomous Traveler All rights reserved.