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.

India-Nuclear War?

This map courtesy of indiadefencereview.com

When India gained its independence from Britain in 1947, a plan was made to make Pakistan an Islamic state and divide Kashmir into two, half Pakistani and half Indian. These two areas are separated by The Line Of Control , a heavy militarized unofficial boundary. These divisions brought about a lot hardship and resentment that still exist today.

On February 14 of this year, Islamic militants staged a suicide bombing in Indian Kashmir killing 40 people. On February 26, 2019, India retaliated by bombing an airstrip in Pakistan used by these militants. The world is calling for restraint since both Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons. An Indian pilot was capture by the Pakistanis but was released. Indian national elections will be held in April and May and this appears to be also holding things in limbo.

The bad feelings between Muslims and Hindus have a long history. What are the keys to compromise and cooperation? These conflicts bother me since I see the same themes in my own country. Is violence and destruction the only outcome? I hope not, for the sake of all future generations no matter what part of the world they live in.

Mughal (Islamic) Architecture in India

India-A Traveler’s Hope

I travel to learn about other people in unfamiliar places. I go to listen to their stories and understand.

I was raised Catholic and have since left that religion. I don’t call myself a Christian but rather a Jesusist because I believe in the doctrine of inclusion and I honor all religions. I still post a picture of an angel on my Facebook page every Christmas with the words, “Be not afraid. I bring you tidings of great joy.” In this troubled world, this declaration always brings me comfort.

I also travel to learn about other religions. Through direct experience during my time in India, I got to witness the history and practices of Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, and Buddhism. I was really touched by many lovely philosophies. The meaning of namaste which states that “the goodness in me recognizes the goodness in you”. The belief in the interconnectedness of all people and creatures. The fact that the Sikhs feed hundreds of people each day. The call from Eastern religions for self examination and responsibility to others. And I will never forget the acceptance and kindness the Indian people showed me. I could not spend 17 days with these wonderful people and not be changed forever.

In 2018, I took a journey close to home, a tour called “The Lost Villages of Fort Drum.” I was thrilled to see our local history preserved and acknowledged by the archaeological department on the base. This prompted me to started reading about the Antebellum Era of the early 1800’s when America was new and trying to define itself. There was a shift away from Calvinism that defined a person’s fate as a good or bad person before birth. The movement called The Second Awakening put more emphasis on the importance of doing good deeds. I loved a quote from that time that stated “injustice to one is injustice to all.” This belief motivated people to work for reform, the emancipation of slaves, and the right of women to vote.

This year of travel has given me great hope. I have seen the history and geography of humanity’s heart. The spirit of the human soul wants the best for others, for all of us. There will always be people in this world who will believe in that light and will work to keep it alive.

India-My Pandora’s Box, Painful Pondering

17 days in India, a place filled with thousands and thousand of details, each significant.  I had direct experience, I didn’t use computers or TV screens to separate me from reality.  I saw, heard, and smelled India and it was overwhelming.

I’m in The US now, a place of physical order, roads are paved, the overall colors are somewhat subdued, and litter is picked up.  But there are screens here, they are everywhere. They scream with chaos and division.

My emotions are are frazzled because I have been involved in two very intense worlds and they have open a Pandora’s box of contradictions and painful pondering.

India had Gandhi. After independence, he worked so the poorest would have a voice, that the caste system would be discontinued, the curse of drink and drugs would be stopped, and that women would have the same rights as men. Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948.

India had this great reformer but today even with the economic growth rate at 7.4 percent  (almost double of that of the US) there is there so much poverty .  Five percent of the population, 70.9 million citizens, make less than $1.90 a day.  And if you hike that daily number to $3.20, 1/3 of the Indian people are below the poverty level. Thousands of farmers are committing suicide and 40% of all children under 5 are shorter than they should be because of malnutrition. 

And when  I came back and  went to my local Walmart to print out some pictures from my trip, the clerk at the photo counter became interested in what I had experienced in India. I told him that Gandhi had made a big impact on me. And then this young man of 19 or 29 told me that Gandhi  had really  been a horrible person and he gave me the names of some internet sites to prove it. This was like a slap in the face. Yes, since I had come home, I  had become immersed in the cynicism and negativity of  America as I watched TV in the privacy of my own living room. But this was a personal affront to something  treasured  that I had brought back from India. 

How can we make the this crazy world better?  What can I do? The Hindus believe in the interconnection of all living things, doing good deeds, and self examination. Gandhi believed in civility. In my life, I have made a ton of mistakes. And according to Hindu thought, since I am connected to it all,  I’m definitely part of the problem. 

I think all humans face a dilemma of trying to be good people while not being doormats. In my school district we taught our students “The Peace Table”.  It involve using “I” statements without blame and simply telling people how we felt when something was wrong.  Gandhi also used that method. He respectfully told his government  about a problem, as the Indian people saw it, and and then offered a solution. I have not been good at this, as I usually stay silent and then finally speak up with anger. I’ve been a pain in the neck, a lot.  Somebody once advised me that when dealing with difficulties,  it is always wise to be polite and if there isn’t a chance for change,to keep that interaction to a minimum and let it go.  But I also need to remember to go beyond this and not to seek revenge or gossip about the person to justify myself  or to band people against them.  It’s going to be hard for me, I have a lot of bad habits. But I am definitely part of the problem in this world and I  need to take responsibility.

I bought a beautiful handmade rug in India which shows the passage of the seasons. I put it next to my bed so I could stand on a bit of India each morning and look out my window to the east and know that each day is a new beginning and an opportunity for me to do better. This is my hope.

70/7000 September 11, 2001

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It was a week and a half after I returned from my 70/7000 trip and I will always remember how sunny that morning was. I walked into the office of my elementary school and saw my colleagues silently huddled around a TV.  The images of the burning World Trade Towers were surreal but our feelings of fear and shock were overwhelmingly real.

I had promised my second grade class we would go to the village park to eat our lunch. My principal told me to keep the day as normal as possible and to go ahead with the plan. I watched these kids, many who were sons and daughters of  The Army soldiers of nearby Fort Drum, laughing and enjoying a glorious fall day. I knew that they would learn the terrible news from their parents and their world, our world, would never be the same again.

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I had started reading Hatchet by Gary Paulsen to my class everyday since the first day of school.  It is a story of a boy named Brian who became lost in the Canadian wilderness. It was a book about struggle, resilience, and perseverance and lent itself to wonderful insights and great lessons to discuss and learn.

“He did not know how long it took, but later he looked back on this time of crying in the corner of the dark cave and thought of it as when he learned the most important rule of survival, which was that feeling sorry for yourself didn’t work. It wasn’t just that it was wrong to do, or that it was considered incorrect. It was more than that–it didn’t work.”

Brian had “hope in his knowledge. Hope in the fact that he could learn and survive and take care of himself. Tough hope, he thought that night. I am full of though hope.”

“Patience, he thought. So much of this was patience – waiting, and thinking and doing things right. So much of all this, so much of all living was patience and thinking.”

You are your most valuable asset. Don’t forget that. You are the best thing you have.”

My students sat on the rug and as I read, the circle seemed to get tighter everyday as we all sat closer and closer to each other.  Brian had learned about courage and hope. It saved him and he survived. It saved us, too.

Hints for Women Travelers #6-The Devil is in the Details

Try not to be picky. Please don’t evaluative every little detail of your trip. Think globally, life is a movie not a snapshot. Over the course of my life, I have come to realize that joy is enormous and being joyless makes us small. Joy is about getting out of  ourselves, being with people, trying new things, going outside, enjoying nature, exploring the world through travel. It pushes us toward creativity. It’s ideas and hope. It is seeing the big picture and realizing that all knowledge is connected.  History is shaped by economics, sociology, and psychology but also by art, music, literature, and philosophy. When you travel look for the bigger themes.  Be curious enough to ask “why”.  You may be amazed to find out how much you are a part of the beautiful grand design.