My Imaginary (and Real) Friends

Because of family dynamics and the fact that I was very shy, I spent a lot of time alone when I was growing up. But life is about adaptability and I came to enjoy my own company. I always found things to do, to see , to ponder. When my life became too overwhelming I would ride my bike through my neighbor’s orchard, across a wide field and visit an old friend, a tall maple tree that for some reason was left standing in the acres that had been cleared so long ago for crops. Like me the the tree was alone but it was so much more, beautiful and majestic in its solitude, happy to just be. It became known as my “thinking tree” where I sat under its sturdiness and tried to find peace and some of my own strength.

There was also a woods near my home. My parents used fear to keep us safe and told us that terrible things would happen to us if we wondered there. I remember that when I was about six or seven I wished that I could own a gun, a very strange thing for a little girl to want in the 1950’s. I wanted to know the trees that lived in the cool darkness. I’m proud to say with determination and no gun, I eventually came to know them and added them to my group of acquaintances.

I am no longer shy and I have evolved into quite a people person but I still enjoy my own company and the company of trees. Last week, I returned from a camping trip near Lake Placid in my beloved Adirondack Mountains. I spent six days tenting. A friend who loves creature comforts wanted to know what I could possibly do for six days without a hotel bed and with only a gas camp stove to cook on. Here is my answer.

I set up a well organized, cozy campsite. It takes awhile but I made myself a very comfortable home on my site at the KOA in Lake Placid. I always have flowers on the tablecloth that covers the picnic table provided.

I caught up on my reading. In 2020, I’m taking an 80 day solo road trip through the southern states, going as far as New Orleans, and writing about it on my blog. Every morning at the campsite, I made coffee, build a fire and delved into two American history books, These Truths by Jill Lepore and The Half has Never Been Told by Edward Baptist. I was brought to tears as I read about the horrors of slavery in our country.

I visited the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and Rehab Center in Wilmington. One of my sorority sister’s who lives in the area told me about this place which was not far from my campgrounds. I was thrilled to see so many animals that I had come to know and love, especially a red tailed hawk which I have chosen as my totem.

I listened to the whisper of the pines. They make their own mysterious sound and seemed to inspire me. As I looked up into their lacey beauty, the clutter of my thoughts and feelings seemed to sort themselves out into words and ideas that I might be able to write about in my blog.

I figured out a way to go for ice cream even though it was the day of the Iron Man races and all south bound lanes were closed near my campgrounds. Because of a good sense of direction and a little luck, I got my treat and was able to get back to my site by taking back roads.

I had the same bird visit me each day. I soon learned that it didn’t like bits of hot dog rolls but loved whole wheat crackers.

I thought of my dad and how he had instilled in me the love of trees and nature. He took my family to Canada to show us where he liked to fish and he bought us to Wilmington Notch Campground long ago when the white birches there were still alive.When we moved to a new house, one of the first things he did was plant trees all over our property.

Decades later, I realized that, through his example, he also taught me to take an interest in people and seek out their stories. He had a great sense of humor and loved “shooting the breeze” with anyone who wished to converse.

I drove to Keene Valley I remembered when I had passed through this valley on the Saturday after the Twin Towers had collapsed after the attack on September 11. I wondered then how something so beautiful and peaceful could exist when the rest of our world was falling apart

I stopped at Noon Mark Diner named after Noonmark Mountain. An elderly lady was looking for a table as she proclaimed to some people that her usual lunch spot wasn’t serving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that day. Like my dad would have done, I started a conversation with her by commenting on her “Adirondack Women, Forever Wild”. I had a t-shirt that said the same thing. I asked her if she wanted to join me for lunch since the waitress hadn’t come yet and I thought that maybe two of us would be easier for her to notice.

We compared our Adirondack experiences. I had climbed eight of the High Peaks and she had climbed twenty-seven of them. Her name was Elizabeth Clark Eldridge, “Betty” for short, and her family had founded The North Country School, a prestigious progressive private boarding school attended by kids from all over world. In fact, she had become friends with one of its famous alumni, Peter Wilcox, the Greenpeace captain and environmental activist. She sailed with him on several excursions and was the ship’s cook. She was proud to say that Peter always corrected her by calling her “The Greenpeace Chef”. Betty was joyous, kind, and a very interesting person.. We are going to be pen pals and it all started with a passing word about her T-shirt.

I went swimming in The Ausable River! In Jay, by the old covered bridge, are lovely grey rocks that allow the Ausable River to jump and laugh and dance. I went there, hair tied back wearing my ugly black cover up and swam in my bathing suit in a quiet pool, unashamed of what I looked like as the younger swimmers dove and slid with daredevil enthusiasm. I’m sure I got as much joy out of the experience as them, maybe even more.

I finally visited the John Brown historic site. In my fireside readings about slavery, of course, this famous abolitionist was mentioned. Like a lot of Americans who are inadequately taught history, I had not paid attention to this man’s homestead and eventual resting place in Lake Placid. He was an quite a person, a man who wouldn’t support the injustices of his time and tried to do something about it.

I was carrying my copy of The Half has Never Been Told, the book about American slavery as I walked around the grounds. A woman stopped to talk to me. I think she heard me tell the site ranger that I would be touring The South and writing about it on my blog. Her name was Marsha Southgate and I later found out she was a published author. But what was important to her was that I knew about her mom who in 2002 walked through Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Canada to retrace the steps of history. I have since ordered the book her mom wrote, In Their Path: A Grandmother’s 519-Mile Underground Railroad Walk. Mrs. Joan Southgate also helped establish Restore Cleveland Hope, an education center dedicated to the anti-slavery and Underground Railroad history of the area. What a wonderful coincidence to become connected to these two women.

I stopped at the iron bridge to remember Sharon. Sharon taught Bonnie and I how to fly fish on the Ausable River. The two of us came to the iron bridge after Sharon died to recognize her spirit, to thank her for all she had taught us, and to say “goodbye”.

I observed the first goldenrod of the summer. For my children and I, these yellow flowers always seemed to announce that school would be starting soon and summer was almost done. I’m retired from teaching now and my kids are grown. The message of the goldenrod is now different but in many ways more intense. These flowers seemed to be telling me to live these days of sunshine and warmth to the fullest, warning me not take them for granted.

So that’s some of what I did for six days without a hotel bed and only a camp stove to cook on. I connected with my friends the trees and the rest of nature. How could I be alone when I am a part of them and they are a part of me? They have taught me to look around and see the significance of even the smallest parts of our existence. They have opened my heart and mind to other human beings showing me that I’m connected to them, too. Thank you, trees. Thanks, Dad.

Copyright 2019@ theautonomoustraveler.com All right reserved.

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@ theautonomoustraveler.com

A Menopausal Odyssey ? (Day 6)

June 28, 2001

I woke up in a tent this morning.  Did what I always do when I camp; build a fire, make a cup of coffee, and read.

Peace finally. Time to think.

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I am 52.  I’m a menopausal woman.  I guess I got through it okay, physically.  Hot flashes. Once on a 10 degree day, I drove to school with the air conditioner on.  And then when my second graders went to gym I opened all the windows in my classroom.  I’m now eating old peoples’s bran cereal every morning to keep me regular. I started getting a troll doll belly about a year ago.  I remember the original troll dolls from my childhood. They had jewels in their belly buttons.  Now in the morning when I get out of the shower, I  look at my body and wonder what would suit me better, a subtle turquoise stone or a sparkly red ruby.

Midlife crisis.  Is this trip a way to prove that I am still young or is it a urgent flight against the passing of time?  I am having a hard time with the psychological part of the menopause.  I’m no longer “cute”and I don’t  get the looks I used to. My confidence is low. Am I a crone now?

I remember Day 4 sailing with M.H. and writing about the power of words. Old. Crone. Menopause.  Are these wrinkled, dried up, slow moving, stifling words part of my new reality, my new way of life?  Or is it just a meno-PAUSE before something else? I have 64 more days to figure it out.

 

 

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)