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 the 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 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 hope.

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.

Circles

I have felt fractured, broken the last few days. I was fine getting through almost five weeks of “social distancing”. I was doing my part and felt proud of myself. And then things shifted as people without masks in close proximity were protesting the Covid-19 stay-at-home policy. I felt violated and wondered if all my time alone had been wasted. And I couldn’t help feeling that as a society we were surely screwed.

In these long weeks, I’ve been listening and reading and thinking. For some reason I’ve been fascinated by circles. Excess time gives a human being a lot of opportunities to notice. This one was sent yesterday by a friend.

This one appeared in an ad on Facebook.

Votes for Women Puzzle

Here is a grouping from my bathroom.

Maybe I’m jealous of circles because they are so perfect and, as a human being, I will never ever be that. Maybe I’m drawn to them because are complete in themselves. They can be symbols that provide rich understanding for hurried minds and prompt shorthand for the unconscious.

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Circles appear in the natural world.

Cross section of a tree - Tree Growth and Structure

Image result for ripples in water

I think I’ve always admired the symmetry of neat circles. I’ve always been a global thinker because random ideas and loose ends have always confused me. Like a annoying little kid, I have always needed to know the “why” behind things. This has influenced my traveling style. I love to understand the interplay of a situation, the geography, history, art, politics, economics, etc. of the places I visit and how it all fits together.

Examples of Contextual, Integrated Learning and How it Benefits ...

A long time ago, I found a wholeness in the writings of author, Karen Armstrong, a former Catholic nun who wrote about her quest to understand all religions. She came to the conclusion that they all share a common doctrine, The Golden Rule.

Scaffolding International World Religion Day (University) -

These weeks in isolation have given me the time to reconnect with the hundreds of books I have collected over my many years. They are mostly nonfiction, my treasure troves of unsolved mysteries and elusive information. I came across a book on Carl Jung, an early 20th century psychologist, who coined the phrase , “collective consciousness”. He believed that we not only inherit genetic physical characteristics from our ancestors but also unconscientious patterns.

What would Carl Jung think of this moment in history? His theory of collective consciousness has become a reality as all of us face Covid-19 and the possible collapse of economic systems. We as a total world population now have one focus, one consciousness.

Yesterday one of our nation’s leader was asked what the new normal would look like. He answered by saying we need to change our vocabulary. He stated that normal as we knew it is gone, it is time to reimage what kind of society and future we now want to create and how each one of us can become a better reimaged version of ourselves.

This leader inspired me. There has been a rebirth of the old me. I’m cooking and baking once again. And I’ve started planting a garden. I have plans to really work on my backyard and up my daily exercise. Soon I will go up to my art room and paint again. I love to be alone but I’ve come to realize the priceless value of my wonderful friends. I will make more connections when this is over. In this time of slow paced quiet, I’m finding parts of myself again.

Carl Jung also wrote about “individuation”, the process of becoming one’s true self. He painted mandalas which is a practice found in many cultures over the centuries. Jung believed that they were symbols of wholeness in self. He also saw their creation as a peaceful meditation.

I have been doing them, printing them off the internet. I love them because no matter what colors or patterns I choose, they are all beautiful when I complete them.

Over these weeks, I’ve been doing the mandalas by starting in the center and working outward. Some people recommend working from the outside and moving inward. That’s what’s nice about mandalas, circles, and life, it doesn’t matter. It’s all about never giving up and striving to create something new.

Finding Strength in Our Roots

I’m lazy, a blue ribbon procrastinator. I should be writing everyday, I have the time. My writing process is strange. I get an idea, I feel its voice inside me, first hesitant and weak. Its like the old fashion coffee stove top coffee percolator my mom gave me years ago. It is a treasured object because it reminds me of her and an earlier time before Kuerigs and Starbucks cappuccinos. I take it camping for my favorite thing to do; build a campfire, have coffee and read. There is a process, put in the water to the mark that is just a faint discoloration in the metal, measure in the ground coffee into the metal basket, and finally place on the lid with its tiny glass globe. I then put it on the gas stove and wait. The water heats, travels up a tube to the coffee waiting for it in the basket. They mingle and play and soon the pale spirit of their union shows itself in the glass top. The coffee jumps as it get darker and darker, stronger and strong. Soon I smell its lovely aroma. It has evolved, it has become something wonderful and I smile.

That’s my writing process. I start unconfident, wondering if my ideas are stupid and how many people will make fun of them. But then things happen, little things that build on other things and they make chains like the green and red loops on a Christmas tree. I move toward my computer and I find I have to write, I have no choice, the need to release the words is too strong.

This post started weeks ago when I met up with my friend, Tammy. I had not seen her since she retired. Tammy who loves The Adirondacks, beautiful prose, art ,and deep thoughts. Tammy who is a fierce Mama Bear who fights for underdogs and scapegoats. She was the last friend I saw before my “social distancing.” There was an intensity in our chat as we sat in the all white newness of the little coffee shop half way between our two houses. Things were shared that we never shared before. With a pandemic slowly inching toward our backyards, there seemed to be a strong need to listen, really listen. I remember things once mentioned and not acknowledged at the school we both taught at. She had said something about relatives from Russia but I only nodded and rushed on. As I finally heard her story I was fascinated. She allowed me to borrow her faded green folder with an old fashioned spring clasp, a collection of newspaper clippings and a careful recording of her family tree and history.

Tammy’s great grandfather, Frank Leon Ronas was born in Minsk in 1878. He fled Russia by way of England and eventually made it to America where he worked in a Pennsylvania coal mine at age eleven. He headed north to Canada but settled in Northern New York, a place known for its soft cheese making and dairy farms. Frank worked on the farm of Eber Steik in Philadelphia, New York while going to school to perfect his English and assimilate into American culture. He quit school after the eighth grade to work full time on the John McNeil farm. He fell in love with Mary Etta Holkins who lived across the road. The couple married and bought their own farm. Later they inherited the Holkins farm.

The Holkins Road that I know so well , the beginning of all my journeys and the path that always welcomes me home, now has an added significance. It holds lessons of character and perseverance and a chapter in a love story. And today, in my fifth week of “social distancing” I find great comfort and feel the incredible but real strength of people who came before me.

My grandparents came to America from Poland in the early 1900’s. The men did the jobs that no one else would take in the chemical factories along the Niagara River. The women cleaned rich people’s houses.

A long time ago at my school where I taught someone asked me why I said I was Polish-American and told me I shouldn’t do it. Her comment was hurtful but I forgave her because she will never understand. Her maiden and married names are Anglo Saxon Protestant. She will never be able to image the richness of my heritage and the bravery of immigrants who left everything familiar to go out into the unknown with only faith and resilience. Facing struggles and overcoming obstacles, they created paths and inspiration for future generations.

So, right before my “social distancing”, I met Tammy at the little coffee shop with the white walls and she told me a story. Because of her, I’m hopeful. I know our ancestors are with us and they will help us get through the coming months.

Thank you so much, Tam, and I’m so sorry it took me so long to listen.

A Nearby Journey, One Country Road

Road horses

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”   Marcel Proust

Every  weekday morning before I retired, I drove to school down the same country road. You won’t find my route in any guidebooks. It is just an ordinary rural asphalt passage through Northern New York State. But to me, it is very special.  It is the beginning of all my journeys.  It is the path that always welcomes me home.

Road red sunset
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Over the years, I have come to appreciate the things I see on this road as much as I have been thrilled by the sights I have witnessed in Paris or The Rocky Mountains or any place I have traveled.

Road my tree
Road shad
Road Barn
Road winter
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I have learned to observe and appreciate.  This practice has brought me great joy.

Road rock
Road Dew

These pictures  were all taken four miles from my home during various times of year. I invite all my readers to look and really see the interesting things just down the road. Take time to stop. You may discovery some pretty extraordinary things.