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.

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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.

70/7000 An Anguished Transition- Heading Home

Days 55 and 56   August 19 & 20, 2001

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Stopping to camp in High River, Alberta for few days and realizing I’m getting anxious about going home.  I had learned so much about myself on this trip.  Would it stick after I got back to the real world? When I get back to my teaching job? When I’m throw into the world of workplace politics?

I need a good self help book but I left my collection at home. I always enjoy reading books by authors who have things  figured out or biographies of  people who have overcome obstacles.   I saw a book in Jasper about a woman who hiked The Rockies all by herself but I knew I shouldn’t buy it because I’m getting close to running out of money.

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I heard someone say that we all  have the answers to life, we just have to be reminded. (I’m making myself a list on a fresh, clean page.)

What is a person who can successfully take on life?

  • An optimist
  • A risk taker
  • A person with a stubbornness of conviction
  • Someone with  intelligence, a degree of wisdom and understanding
  • Someone not afraid to be different, not a crowd follower or people pleaser
  • Someone passionate, who has enough drive to put dreams into actions, who keeps climbing and plugging away
  • A person confident but not to the point of arrogance
  • A person who stands up for herself as she voices her feelings, opinions and boundaries; strong but never to the point ruthlessness

ANXIETY! I have fallen short on each one of these points many times during my life. Am I really going to be better?   The reality of day-to-day  life will be a challenge.  All of this isn’t even a matter of courage, we are all afraid. Do I have enough faith to believe everything will be okay? I know I have gained much on this trip but will it be enough?

I closed the journal, thought of my mom, and wrote her a letter.

Dear Mom,

You always ask me to write you letters, well, here I  go. I want to make sure that you know I admire you. You are strong and have always managed to overcome the challenges life has given you. I’m really proud of the joy and adventure you now have going on senior citizen bus trips with your friends. You did this change on your own and took this risk to have more fun in your life. I know the other ladies are really enjoying your company.  I’m very proud of you.

Love always, your daughter

I will send out the letter when I cross the border into my home country once again.

Here at sunset in The Canadian Rockies, I am feeling nostalgic, sentimental, and weepy but also grateful.

Mom Blog

( My mom in later life. She lived to be 96)

70/7000 The Columbia Icefields and The Continental Divide

Days 51, 52, 53  August 15, 16 & 17, 2001

The first thing I did when I woke up in my van in the parking lot  in Jasper, Alberta, was to walk over to the gas station restroom.  Thankfully no one had locked it.  I then drove  to a quick stop and got a large cup of coffee and a muffin. More moments of gratitude when I got a tent site at the campgrounds, took a shower, and set  up my bed back in the tent.IMG_2353-001

The next day, I realized why I needed reservations in Jasper.  Not far away were The Columbian Icefields.  They are a big tourist attraction, 2.3 square miles, 3.7 miles long and 1,200 feet deep.  Formed between 238,000 and 126,000 BC. during the Great Glaciation, they lay astride of the Continental Divide where mountain waters flowed to The Pacific on one side and The Atlantic on the other.

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Tourists from all over the world were brought to the site in snowcoaches from The Icefields Visitors Center.

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This whole trip is based on the principle of serendipity.  I had no idea this attraction existed.  What a wonderful discovery.

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70/7000 Slept in a Parking Lot in Jasper, Alberta

Day 50 August 14, 2001

I’m a worrier. It’s bad because it’s stressful but also good because I tend to have all my ducks in a row. Before the trip I had anxiety about the ultimate travel nightmare, not finding a place to stay. I saw it as the worst thing that could happen to me and since I was an excellent catastrophizer, I was sure it  would happen. So even though I was newly single with my kids on their own, I bought a soccer mom’s minivan. I took out the back seats and hit the road, confident that I would always have a bed wherever I went.

I took one last picture of beautiful Lake Louise and headed north for my last few days before I would start the long trek home.

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I planned on camping in Jasper, Alberta, and my neurotic preparedness paid off.  The campground was filled and so were all the hotels and motels. I parked in the public lot in the center of town and realized other people in campers and vans were settling in for the night. They were being discrete, moving around inside their vehicles with flashlights and speaking in low voices.  I followed their lead and inconspicuously moved some of my stuff  to the front seats  so I had a clear space for bedding in the back of the van.

Before I turned in for the night, I met a couple with a nice RV  who were also parking lot dwellers.  They were astonished to hear about my solo cross country trip and invited me to stay with them in Salt Lake City for The 2002  Summer Olympics. Wow! I took their information.

Another great thing happened. I looked across the parking lot and saw a double rainbow.  I was at peace. “It takes both showers and sunshine to make a rainbow.”

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I went across the street and acting like I owned the place,  I went into the restroom at a gas station, brushed my teeth, and did what I needed to do. I sauntered out, went into my van, locked the doors, and sleeping in my clothes had a remarkably good night’s sleep.

70/7000 Camping as a Metaphor for Life?

Day 48 & 49   August 13 & 14, 2001

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I stayed two more nights at  Lake Louise in my hard sided van camper.  Some seasoned hikers told me to buy a set of bells at the camp store because the grizzlies were afraid of them and would move on.  A bought a bell bracelet and shook those jingle bells so hard I thought my hand would fall off my wrist.

Thinking about my experiences on this trip, I came to realize that camping is a lot like life.  People come to the campgrounds to pursue happiness. Everyone arrives on their own path and each of their personal stories is unique.   They bring enough with them to meet their needs and the extent of their needs shows itself in their choice of shelter, from small tents to huge RVs with expensive cars in tow.  But there are trade offs for each approach. The big rigs may have TV, a microwave and ice that doesn’t melt but the people within miss a lot of the woodland sounds, the constant changes of the sky, and the golden light that fills up a tent at dawn. But no path or pace is wrong because there is freedom for each camper to choose the way he or she finds joy and that is to be respected.

There is an awareness of others in the campground community but there is also  a code of privacy just like in real life. Social norms exist like they did for the cavemen long ago, no staring, respect for another’s space, and no loud voices. The friendly people will reach out and others will stay to themselves. It’s easy to know the difference.  But the universal human capacity to care is always present.   I  have seen campers come to the aid of others just like in real life when people help each help other during a natural disaster or times of hardship.

Our  human paths cross.  With some people, you may choose to cross their path multiple times. Others  may cross your path and move on.  There are paths of people you may choose to avoid.  But I wish life was more like a campground where we let life happen without judgement and respect another’s path in peace.

Camping like life is a matter of attitude. If you stay positive, the trip will be wonderful as your mind focuses on the good things and not the bad.  Yes, things will go wrong. The air conditioner in the RV might break down.  Or the bedding  in your tent may get wet in a rainstorm.  Or your perfect golden marshmallow may fall into the campfire. But you might as well do camping and life as much as you can with a smile.

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Copyright 2018@ The Autonomous Traveler

70/7000 Conquering a Mountain and Maybe Myself

Day 47-August 11, 2001

Today I hiked with Jack and Henny, a very fit and active couple from the Netherlands.

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My time with this nice couple allowed me to ask questions about their lives in The Netherlands.  Henny works part time and engages in physical activity as much as she can.  Both she and Jack are into biking.  I got the feeling this is the norm for a lot of Europeans.

I did, however, feel inadequate being with them and found myself over compensating and competing.  I’m a sluggish American compared to them.  I felt an uneasiness and  some resentment, something I knew had childhood roots. This is a fault of mine that always takes away my peace and causes me to fear excellence in others.

At one point the path was a very thin ledge. At other times, all three of us needed to  silently focus on the trail.   In the quietness, I thought about how I should be thinner and more fit and that Jack and Henny were excellent role models for me. I may not be on their physical level but I’m still a good person.  One goal of this trip is to learn and live a life of acceptance.  I am who I am and that’s pretty darn good. I made it to The Tea House and maybe another step to a lasting insight.

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When we reached the bottom of the mountain again, Jack and Henny asked if I wanted to hike the next day. They were going to try a higher climb. I believe in squeezing the life out of everyday but was I pushing myself too hard?  I was exhausted.  I decided to listen to my instincts, that music in my soul that makes me who I am. I had mixed with the beautiful spirit of two wonderful people from the Netherlands but now it was time to become centered in my own rhythm, my own tempo.  I needed to be still and find my direction again because I can’t be all things.  I’m me and that is good enough.

I thanked Jack and Henny for their kindness and for sharing a great experience with me. I told them I would never forget them and this day.  (Author’s note-August 27, 2018- I never have.)

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70/7000 Beautiful Lake Louise, The Canadian Rockies

 

Day 47  August 11, 2001

A take my breath away moment, seeing Lake Louise for the first time.

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As I stood at the edge of the lake, very engaged in gawking with my mouth open, a ranger with a survey on a clipboard saw my  potential  as an extremely positive statistic. “Would you considered this the most beautiful place you have ever seen?” she asked.

My answer surprised me. “No” I said.

“What do you consider as the most beautiful place you have ever seen?

“My backyard.” I replied.

The ranger scribbled something down and thanked me. Maybe not the answer she wanted but for me it was the truth. My backyard is the most beautiful place in the world  because it is home. It holds me in its arms and give me peace like no other place on earth. I’m safe there. I love traveling but  going  home is pretty wonderful, too. A few more days  north in the Canadian Rockies and then homeward bound.

I met Jack and Henny back at the campgrounds.  They were from the Netherlands and invited me to  hike with them the next day to The Tea House on top of one of the mountains. I thanked them and we arranged to meet in the morning.

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I thought about  how much the kindness of strangers had helped my dreams come true this summer, wonderful people who with simple gestures took the fear out of my journey. It is a good world. Yes, there are curt people who don’t take the time to look into the warmth of others’ hearts. I discovered that I was more likely to find this attitude in places of conspicuous consumption, where objects are more important than people.

Our smiles, kind words, open postures, helpfulness, non threatening questions, and genuine interest in people have a ripple effect on our immediate environment and the world.

Another great day. My heart is smiling.

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70/7000 The Mama Grizzly and Her Two Cubs

Day 46   August 10, 2001

Well, I traveled the Trans Canada Highway today  and I’m still alive to tell about it. But soon I had another challenge. As I drove up to the campgrounds at Lake Louise, I saw a sign at the registration booth that said, “No soft sided campers or tents allowed.”  This was not a problem for me since I have slept many times on this trip in the back of the van.  I asked the ranger for the reason behind this rule and he told me that a mother grizzly and her two cubs were seen traveling in the area. Oh, great!

I found my campsite and to my delight found a camp worker raking the dirt into neat patterns.  I took her picture because I’ve never had a housekeeper before.

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I settled in and walked to the restrooms that were down a trail into the woods. Yes, there is a bit of wildlife here in Alberta, bears and all.

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In the evening, I limited my intake of liquids but sure enough my bladder did not cooperate. I was not about to go down the trail to the restroom in the pitch dark with  grizzlies on the prowl. I silently opened the side door of the van and, leaving it open, moved about three and a half feet away, peed, got myself together, and ran the three and a half feet back into the van. It was gross, scary and embarrassing all at the same time but a woman of the woods has to do what she has to do. It’s called survival.

70/7000 The Eagle, the Wolf, And the Wildlife Bridge-Banff, Alberta, Canada

 Days 44 and 45    August 8 & 9, 2001

Crossed into Canada, I’m in Banff. Quite a tourist town!  More glitz than I’ve seen in the last few weeks. As looked over the lake towards a beautiful mountain scene, I saw my very first bald eagle.  I’m one of those people who get excited even over little things, especially when they concern nature.  This sighting is something I’ll never forget.

I love to drive. I sing along with my favorite music or acquire a whole bunch of interesting information from NPR or just think.  This morning the whole concept of tempo consumed my mind.  I found the definition in a dictionary at a bookstore in Banff, ‘tempo, the rate of motion or activity.” I decided it really doesn’t matter if a tempo is fast or slow.  I think consistency is important, a steady repetitiveness that forms a rhythm. Pace yourself. Pick a stride and stick with it. The tortoise and the hare. Steady wins the race. On this trip, I’m realizing that it is not where you go that counts, as long as you keep moving forward.  A metaphor for life?

I got a campsite in the Banff National Park. A wolf actually ran through the campgrounds by my site.  Nobody seemed to get excited. I loved it!

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Canadians are so into ecology and the environment.  I went to another ranger talk and learned that there was a problem because a  of lot wild animals were being killed on The Trans Canada Highway. The government came up with some solutions.  They built wildlife bridges that  were made to look as inviting as possible with trees, bushes and soil.

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(Picture courtesy of Rebecca Latson of National Parks Traveler)

Also, tunnels  were constructed under the highways to allow animals to pass  unharmed.

A fence along the highway became somewhat of an unsolvable problem.  The wolves learned that if they chased mountain sheep into the fence at a good clip, the sheep would hit the fence, become dazed, and be an easy kill.  The lesson of survival of the fittest, adaptation and resourcefulness, is demonstrated once again.

70 Days, 7000 Miles, Day 9

July 1, 2001

For the last two days, people have been asking me when I was going to leave because they wanted my spot for Canada Day.  I left early.

I learned a lot today:

(1) Always consult the map before you venture out.  I went the wrong way up a one way street in Sault Saint Marie.  There was a lot of yelling and gnashing of teeth. Luckily, I had my windows rolled up.

(2) Joni Mitchell wrote “Both Sides Now” when she was young and, according to my radio, will be performing it today at age 57.  Win, lose. Up, down. Young, old.  I hear ya, Girl.  I still don’t understand all of it either.

(3) Listened to a great story on NPR about a guy who discovered a seedling growing in a dirty crevice in his car. He became obsessed with it. He gave it water during his lunch break, kept the windows open when it was hot, and parked in certain spots for maximum sun exposure.  In the middle of the night, he would go out and start the engine and the heater if there was danger of frost. He finally was able to transplant it into his backyard.  It grew to be some sort of Japanese tree. He had no idea where it came from.   I laughed so hard listening to this crazy story that I got looks from passing motorists who I’m sure thought  I was a little nuts.

(4) I need to smile more. The guy at the toll booth told me I had a beautiful smile. Woo,woo!  This old girl ain’t dead yet!