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.

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

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

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.

India-Buddha Didn’t Care What His Hair Looked Like

On my tour, we went to a place called Sarnath. As usual, I had no idea what to expect.

We went into museum and Rashid,our guide, explained that statues of Buddha all had three interesting features. The Buddha’s long ears signified the importance of being a good listener and his ever present smile represented joyful peace. What I didn’t know was that his seemly minimalist hairstyle set an example for the unimportance of outward appearances.

We passed through doors into a beautiful place of greens, sandstone and sunshine.

After Buddha meditated for forty-nine days under a Bodhi tree, he came to Sarnath to preach for the first time, speaking about the doctrine of suffering and the eightfold Middle Path to enlightenment.

  • Right understanding
  • Right thought
  • Right speech
  • Right action
  • Right livelihood
  • Right effort
  • Right mindfulness
  • Right concentration

Buddha had actually lived in this place and I was in awe. The sandstone was the remains of the Buddhist monasteries that once existed here. And the large domed building was a stupa, an ancient shrine used for meditation.

Rashid pointed out a Bodhi seedling growing out of a crevice in a tree.

I chose to immerse myself in the experience and I wander through the site alone.

I came upon a group of Buddhists who had come there as part of a pilgrimage.

I noticed the bits of gold leaf that worshipers had left on the stone to pay homage.

Later, Rashid took us a short distance away to the tallest statue of Buddha in world.

I am so glad to have had this experience concerning Buddhism. There is so much to learn about all the different ways of the world. I not only want to know them but also understand them. As Buddha said, I guess I am looking for a “right understanding”.

Copyright 2019@

70 Days, 7000 Miles, Day 4

June 26, 2001

Yesterday’s words with M.H. were aging, loneliness, inability, and dying. But today we lived new words.

sailing 2

M.H. drove me to her yacht club so we could go sailing.  She had her own sailboat and the woman who the night before worried about the inability to perform daily mundane tasks took that boat out on the water and gave me the ride of my life.  It was a little breezy and at one point I thought we would capsize. As the second mate, I followed her directions and we kept afloat. The words of the day were capable, graceful,  joyful, and alive.

That night we went to a Toastmasters’ dinner, Canadian style. I  talked to a woman named Nicole, a woman who had known a few more springtimes than me but had a incredible spirit and smile. M.H. had told her about my summer odyssey and Nicole gave me a voucher for a three night stay  in a condo near Banff,  Alberta. She said she wouldn’t have the opportunity to use it.  I thanked her and told her that  now my trip had a definite destination.  I am going to the Canadian Rockies.

It was a great day. A story of beautiful words.


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.

The Travel Bug, A Gift from My Dad

On Saturday, if my dad was still alive, he would have turned 95 years old. On Sunday, as I headed home to The North Country, I stopped at a tourist attraction between North and South Carolina.  “South of The Border” is bigger but shabbier than the first time I visited  almost 60 years ago. Route 95 didn’t exist back then, just the two lanes of Route 1.  My mother, father, my two sisters and I  drove there from western New York State during our two week Easter break. We made the trip in a camper, the kind that fitted on the back of pick-up truck. The tall  figure with the sombreros holding the “South of The Border” sign is still there. He impressed me decades ago as he impresses me now.

I owe so much to my dad.  He gave me the travel bug. He was the inspiration and motivator behind the many trips my family took to New England, Florida, and Canada.  He is the one who introduced me to my beloved Adirondacks. We were poor but because of my parents’  problem solving and money management skills, our many wonderful adventures were made possible. My dad had a philosophy that wherever you go it was your responsibility to make the moment fun and enjoyable. He would talk to everyone and with his sense of humor and his genuine interest in people, he made instant connections with everyone he met.

Thanks, Dad for giving me the motivation to venture out into the world. Thank you for teaching me about the absolute joy of exploring distant places and connecting with new people.   Thanks, Dad.  I miss you.

Keeping Joy in Prague

Map in hand, itinerary plotted, objectives defined, I advanced like a Navy Seal on a mission. I had trained for the September trip to Prague, walking many miles during the summer until my body ached. No longer middle-aged, I was proud I moved with the gate of a much younger woman.
The city sparkled in pastel colors, a mosaic of a million architectural details. Through an arch of a tall stone tower,  I passed onto The Charles Bridge. I didn’t slow down to look at the statues that stood like giants on either side of the carless expanse. I was determined to squeeze as much as I could out of my ten-day stay.
Crossing to the other side of the river, a church steeple marked my destination like a brightly colored pin on a wall map. The streets turned and twisted and I soon realized the journey was not a matter of direction but of ascension. My lungs filled with the air of a lovely blue sky and my heart quicken as I climbed. A wall encircled the most ancient part of the city and guarded not only the church but a small castle. Touring the surrounding gardens,  I discovered an entrance into the fortress up steep, stone steps.
The church’s exterior was magnificent with its stained glass windows and lofty medieval construction but I was agitated. I had seen too many European churches and wondered if I really wanted to spend the day in the darkness of a long dead era. I needed to move. The feeling pushed me across the castle compound.
Escaping through an exit in the wall, I found a little street that once again climbed toward the sky. Although I was moving away from where I had started and had no idea where I was going, I chose the new path, confident that if things didn’t work out gravity would guide me down the hill once more.
Soon the incline lost it steepness, the stores thinned out, more trees appeared, and houses sat in gardens. The peaceful neighborhood slowed the my breathing into silent, gentle wisps. The air was just lukewarm enough not to be felt and I took in the perfect autumn day.
At a street corner, I saw a sign with a picture of a church, the words “Prague Loreto”, and an arrow pointing to the right. Anxiety returned. I skipped the most famous church in Prague. Should I go to this one to get in at least one church today? I released a breath and proceeded to right.
Twelve supersized angels, fat and covered with centuries of black patina greeted me. They were evenly spaced on a wall in front of the church, each a unique individual. The church itself looked like a palace, long and white with gold-colored trim, an orange roof, and a tall domed turquois spire that narrowed into a point as it reached for the heavens. Stepping through heavy wooden doors,  I was surprised to see an open courtyard surrounded by a covered walkway. I paid the entrance fee and on impulse bought a copy of the visitors’ guide. The booklet explained that Loreto was a pilgrimage site and the arcade around the perimeter once sheltered long lines of believers.
Impatient again, I rushed over tile floor of the arcade, barely looking at portraits of the saints on the walls. I glanced at a picture of a suffering man riddled with arrows.  My mind for some reason thought of  “Jeopardy”.  Famous Saints for 200.  Who is Saint Sebastian?
My steps were halted by another set of tall doors. Pulling on one of them, I stepped into a church and was overwhelmed with the same delight experienced during a fireworks display. Pinks, lavenders, mint greens, and pale blues accented with silver and gold leaf gave the large room the feeling of a fairyland. Everything was exaggerated with frescos, lacey metal work, and arches and columns made of marble. What astounded me the most were the life-sized cherubs with their chubby flesh-colored bodies and their gold diapers. Hundreds of these sculptures romped through the church. A group played instruments around the pipe organ and others had perched themselves in a happy cluster above the altar.
I sat in a pew and opened the guide book. “The lavish ornamentation of this church is called Rococo and represents an 18th century stylistic movement against the symmetry and restrictiveness of Baroque Art.” With new eyes, I looked at the nearest cherub and was surprised to see a pair of pliers in his fat little hand and a large tooth in the other. The angel sported a devilish grin as he stood over another angel who appeared to be in great pain.
I chuckled to myself and wished I could go back in time and talk to the man who was bold enough to produce flawed angels for an infallible church. We would have laughed. I imagined shaking his hand at the end of our visit and I could almost hear him say, “Don’t let the world steal your joy”.
I looked at my watch. Better get going, it’s almost lunchtime. Leaving The Loreto, I took a list of restaurants out of my bag and tried to decipher a good choice from the mysterious names. I almost walked into young man who was taking a picture of a door. He scurried ahead as me as I  stopped to look at my map. Up ahead the young photographer found something interesting in a small space between two buildings. He braced his camera and himself against the brick wall.
Another artist looking for the unconventional. I approached the man and waited for him to release his camera from the shot. “Are you taking pictures for a book?”
The photographer smiled, flattered someone recognized his efforts. “No, I am just taking vacation pictures.”
“You’re not taking the typical tourist shots, I admire that.”
The man cradled the camera in his hands, as he shared his thoughts, “It’s all about combining the same old things in a different ways. Life like music has only seven notes.”
“No,” I replied with a little too much anguish, “I am twice your age and I am still looking for the eighth, and the ninth, and the tenth note. and the notes in between. And sounds not even created yet!”
The young man didn’t know what to say, I tried to save the moment, “I bet your pictures are beautiful.” And suddenly I remembered something.  Looking into the photographer’s eyes, I added, “Don’t let the world steal your joy.”
I walked away. I took the my map, my to-do-list, and the restaurant guide out of my bag and dropped them into a nearby trash can. And then I turned down a street I had never traveled before and smiled.

Copyright © 2018 The Autonomous Traveler. All Rights Reserved.