The Pull of the Anchor

I haven’t written since April 8. I haven’t really lived the life of The Autonomous Traveler in the last month. I have had to do things and things have happened to me. There were unexpected car problems, repairs to my rack and pinion steering, a flat tire that led to four new tires and new brake pads.

After spending nine winters in St. Augustine, I decided to give up my rented condo and try something else next winter. Because of this, March consisted of “good byes” to a lot of great people. Then there was the packing up of my stuff to take back up north. I hate packing.

On March 21, my 92 year old ex mother-in-law, who was really a mom to me, died as a result of a car accident. A week before, I got to spend some time with her. She and my 96 year old ex father were a RV rally in Georgia. She was an extremely kind person and everyone at this yearly convention loved her. She always smiled and took a genuine interest in everyone she met. Her love for me was unconditional and she really took an interest in who I was. She frequently called me to see if I was okay and each year when I made the 1300 mile trips to and from Florida she checked in on me daily. She was a person of substance and I miss her.

When I arrive at home I had to unpack all the stuff I had just spent so much time packing. And then I had to fulfill the civilized obligation to clean my house after its long winter of being empty.

And it snowed yesterday morning. The flakes seemed almost embarrassed to be falling at the end of April and were very tiny in size. They didn’t have the power to cover the grass and they moved on to somewhere else or maybe they just gave up. It’s been a long winter

On top of everything, I’m sick. I have caught something from my youngest grandson. Just before be went to urgent care and diagnosed with viral pneumonia, I held him in my arms and read him stories. He is fine now. I’m staying put and nursing a nasty cough. Grandmothers will do anything for love.

I am feeling the pull of the anchor, something we all feel from time to time after traveling or taking a vacation away from home. Traveling is so wonderful, it is movement and experiencing new things. It is present moment joy away from everyday routine. It involves interaction with new people and for the most part, discovering the kindness of strangers. Michael Crichton in his book, Travels, talked about travel as an human equalizer in which economic status, past mistakes, education level, history etc. are unknown and we are only judged by the warmth of our smiles and our kindness to others.

I am feeling the pull of the anchor. I am back home, at my base camp and there is so much to do. There are good people here but there are others I must deal with. Some people irritate me and I know I irritate them. And then there is our country’s politics and an election is coming. We are in a state of conflict and there is horrible news everyday of people calling each other names, hurting each other and even killing.

I am feeling the pull of the anchor. Why can’t I have the life of a tranquil wanderer when I come back home? I’m tired and I have this terrible cough. Anchored here, I have time to reflect on some solutions.

12/1/2001 I took a day long class on Psychology of The Mind “Thought is neutral until we take it personally.” “What other people think of you is none of your business.”

Al Anon (My dad was an alcoholic) “Live and let live.” “One day at a time.” “Keep it simple.” “First things first.” “How important is it?” “Easy does it”. “Keep an open mind.” “Think.”

Posts of Wisdom from Facebook “Anything you can’t control is teaching you to let go.” “When you can’t control what’s happening, challenge yourself to control the way you respond to what’s happening.”

Class on Mindfulness, March 2019 “Stay in the present moment.” (Studies show this practice can enhance your health and add years to your life.)

My “sickbed” reading, How to be A Stoic, Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life by Massimo Pigliucci. (A lot of simple but clear presentations about Stoicism on youtube.com) “Remain calm under pressure and avoid emotional extremes.” “We suffer not from events in our lives but our judgement about them.” Four pillars of Stoicism-Wisdom (practical knowledge), temperance (moderation), justice (fairness and the belief in shared humanity), and courage. Life is difficult but each of us is stronger than we think and we will get through it.

My memory prods me with these messages over and over and I choose to forget them. I need to practice. I need to pull up anchor.

“Bridge over Troubled Waters” by Simon and Garfunkel (1970)
“Sail on silver girl
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way”

Copyright 2019 @theautonomoustraveler

India-WHY?

I have a strange way of picking my travel destinations. I do it by whim, waiting to be inspired by some sign or a feeling of intuitive direction. If you are a regular follower of my blog, you might remember that I chose to go to Barcelona, Spain because I saw the city on an episode of  “The Bachelorette.”   I’m a little ashamed about this bit of impulsiveness but Barcelona turned out to be one of my favorite trips as I learned about the famed architect, Antoni Gaudi, and discovered The Age of Modernism.

I picked India for my 2018 trip in the same unconventional way. While walking through St. Augustine, Florida on a trip during March,  I came upon a sudden explosion of eastern culture, a colorful float and joyous smiling people singing and dancing in lovely vibrate clothing.

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Looking for some sort of explanation, I approached a card table set up with Hindu books and various other items. I was welcomed warmly as I quietly looked at the titles. I  immediately felt included in all that was happening.  I mentioned that some day I would like to go to India and was given a set of Hindu prayer beads.  I asked how much they cost, was told they were a gift, and was invited to join the group for lunch after a parade through St. Augustine.  I was convinced, my next trip would be India.

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I signed up for a 17 day tour called “Mystical India”.  Before I went, the tour company sent me packets of historical information which overwhelmed me and I stopped reading them because I wanted go on this adventure with an open mind. But I can’t help but wonder if I  took this attitude because I was a “teacher” or  because I’m an arrogant American. In my career in education,  I was taught to promote “enduring understandings” that would stick in young minds forever.  For example, World War I  was reduced to the fact that King Ferdinand was shot and the entirety of economics was explained by the simple concepts of supply and demand. As I soon learned, these quick shots of education were far from adequate.

My  pre trip enduring understandings of India were neatly wrapped up in three concepts: Gandhi,  cows, and “Slumdog Millionaire”.  My gracious tour guide, Rashid, dealt with me patiently as I misunderstood the great Mughal Empire as something to do with the Mongols and thought Britain took over India after WW I instead of long before in 1857.  Rashid , if you are reading this, I hope you have forgiven me.  

However, I did take along with me something of value that kept poking around in my memory. A few years ago I listened to a”Great Courses” set of lectures called “Power over People-A History of Political Thought”. The very interesting talks by Professor Dennis Dalton from Barnard University ended with a segment about Thoreau and Civil Disobedience which promoted me to take a trip to Walden Pond.  But I remembered something else. The professor had started his survey of political history with a lesson about Hinduism. Why had he chosen India to start a course about political thought? Though my direct experiences in India and some focused discovery since I returned home, I  found out why.  It is quite a lesson that has great value for all of us especially in today’s world.

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

copyright 2018@ theautonomoustraveler.com

A note to my readers: I will  be taking you on my journey through India  for the next few weeks. Please click on the “follow” button on my blog so you don’t miss a day. Thanks!

Traveling to the Past and Learning about The Present

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My trips sometimes don’t have objectives. I hear or read about a place and curiosity pushes me there. That’s how I got to Lily Dale, the Spiritualist Camp, in western New York State which was founded in 1848. I treated the experience with a lot skepticism and wandered through the little colony of houses with an air of amusement. I went to the shops that sold incense, books, and new age paraphilia. I went to The Stump, a outdoor gathering place with its tall, tall trees and long benches where mediums would make connections between people in the audience and their love ones who had died.  I even had a reading. I sat in a plastic chair in front of a small cottage until the medium summoned me in. She was nice but her vision of my grandmother as a tea drinker was all wrong. Coffee was definitely the drink of choice in my family. The medium, however, gave me excellent advice about letting go of some things in my life. Something I already knew but her pronouncement of it out loud was just the affirmation I needed.

During my winter in St. Augustine, the library system chose the book, Dead Wake, by Erik Larson as a community shared reading.  It was about the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915. Since there was a reference in the book about a séance, the library invited two guest speakers to give a talk about the Spiritualist Movement. They mentioned a village in  Cassadaga, Florida established in 1899. Like a child who one day realizes the random people in his or her life have deep relational connections, I was startled that this village in Florida was an off shoot of Lily Dale.

I decided to visit the town.  This trip had a definite purpose, it was a fact finding mission. I made a two night reservation at the Cassadaga Hotel. It’s original structure burned down and it was rebuilt in 1927. My room had two doors, one in the hall and one opening onto a long southern style veranda.

Being an early riser, I could sit on this wonderful porch and read undisturbed.  I wanted to know why this strange place existed. I had found a book at the St. Augustine library about Cassadaga published by The University Press of Florida. The first chapter was a great historical overview of the era in which Lily Dale came about. It was founded during a time in history known as the antebellum period, the years before the Civil War.  I hadn’t really learned much about this in high school. Maybe because when I was a teenager I didn’t think people in strange clothes who were recorded in spooky brown tainted pictures were of any of significance in my life.

But I realized that earlier in retirement, I had stumbled upon this time in history in other places.  I had visited the Women’s Right Museum in Seneca Fall where suffergettes rallied in 1848.  I  had sat in silence on Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s porch and thought about her courage. Many of the suffragettes worked with abolitionists who felt “injustice to one, is injustice to all.”

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I had once journeyed to Concord, Massachusetts and learned about the lives of Louisa May Alcott, Emerson, and Hawthorne who were great writers and thinkers during the antebellum era. I visited Thoreau’s Walden Pond where he wrote the book, Walden, or Life in The Woods in 1854

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As I walked around Cassadaga, I thought about how the first half of the 1800’s was a time of great change in our still new United States. The people of that era were innovative and inventive as they faced many social conflicts, new technologies and the ever expanding boundaries of our county.  And I think most of those people, like people today, sincerely wanted to make the world a better place.

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At the edge of the village of Cassadaga was a little lake. I sat there on a bench and was enveloped in the silence.  It gave me a sense of peace as it took me back in time, no sounds of cars or planes or lawn mowers or air conditioners. Did this kind of constant stillness allow the people of long ago to more easily contemplate what was important in life? Are we missing something in our noisy, somewhat staged existence?  I wonder.

Copyright 2018 @ The Autonomous Traveler  All rights reserved

A North Country Love Affair

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Author’s note: Since I wrote this piece a few years ago, I have to confess, The North Country and I now have an open relationship.  I go to Florida during the winter months.  But this is home, my base camp and I always return.   I’m here now. Unfortunately, the weatherman is predicting ice and sleet for this weekend. Ugh!

A North Country Love Affair

Being involved with the 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 romantic interludes 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!
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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 bring permeate through 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 2018 @ The Autonomous Traveler.  All rights reserved

 

 

Fleeing

 

 


Dear friends at the condo complex almost shouted with panic when I told them I was staying until the end of my rental lease, March 31, Easter Saturday. They left days before to void traffic and mayhem. Maybe apocalyptic herds of Easter bunnies ready to throw imperfect colored eggs at their cars? Heading home for a snowbird is a bit nerve wracking.  It  requires precise timing and careful strategy to dodge lingering snow and ice storms.
I love my three months in St. Augustine. I go to lectures, festivals, and spend time with wonderful friends. Classes in writing, art, and history keep my mind alive. The pace is exhilarating. I will be going back next year. But what I miss is quiet, the kind of stillness I have in my North Country.
When I drove over The Bridge of Lions and passed the statues of the Spanish conquistadors that welcome visits from the north to St. Augustine, I knew I was leaving a place with all the accouterments of modern civilization. I had unlimited internet and cable at the condo. I could listen to every little nuance in the political drama of our country all day long. The ancient city had the best schools, restaurants, and beach. It was proclaimed a top vacation destination and one of the best places for Christmas lights. It was growing and growing and so was its constant rumble and roar of progress.
I decided to travel only 117 miles to a place in Georgia just in case the predictors of horrible traffic were correct. By chance I made a reservation in a little town called Darien off Route 95. After finally getting everything into my van, I started my journey.

For the sake for expediecy, I had skipped my morning coffee. I stopped at one Starbucks and the line was way too long. At a second one, 10 miles away I realized I was an ancient oddity, the only person there not looking at a screen.

I arrived in Darien, the part of the town with fast food, motels, and gas stations. I was restless, so after I settle into the hotel I drove and then walked. Near the village away from Route 95 and the noise of the modern world, I found the remains of the Butler Rice Plantation that had dikes and canals built by 19th Century engineers from Holland.  I marveled at an old tree growing majestically on a coquina shell wall.  I discovered an old building that once sold supplies to ships that sailed the ocean. And I found artistic grace in a line of fishing boats in the harbor. I found peace. I’m getting closer to home.

Come away from the din,

Come away to the quiet fields,

over which the great sky stretches,

and where, between us and the stars,

there lies but silences;

and there, in the stillness

let us listen to the voice

that is speaking to us.

Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927)