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.

70/7000 Reflections in My Cabana

Days 61 and 62  August 25&26, 2001

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Put on some miles today, stopped at a campground, and put up my “cabana” (an open sided tent). I love my cabana.  In storms I cover it with a very large sheet of blue plastic and it becomes a waterproof shelter, dark and cozy like a cave.  I lit a candle,  made coffee on my gas stove, and sat in its opening just beyond the raindrops with a book. It’s a rainy day today but a good day. “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.”

The journal and the journey are not done yet. I’m taking a step back on this page and recording some thoughts about just how incredible this odessey has been. This trip has been an outstanding feat and I do have a lot of courage. Maybe there is nothing to be afraid of.  Can I take this courage and apply it to my life back home? Can I take my faith and have it be an all encompassing power that will come to my assistance 24-7? I hope so because I believe that when I’m in this state of balance, I’m filled with joy and light. I  feel it when I’m teaching my students or when I make a connection with people. I want to expand this  feeling to my dream of being a writer.  I know I will have to be even stronger because I will be criticized. I read somewhere that if we listen to our intuition and our hearts  they will reveal to us what needs to done next.  I’m ready to take the risks. I am ready to take more steps and, as I do, my  faith in the process can only become more intense. The words and the wisdom will come.

I took this journey not knowing if it would turn out okay. (Or maybe  in my heart, I did). Something tells me that the journey ahead will be okay, too. I have known adversity and I understand its function because it propels me forward. “Be not afraid”, I now whisper to myself.  The promise has been made. Even in the “shadow of the valley of death”, I will be protected and even when I fall I will get up, bounce up. And as I do, I will learn the lessons. Everything is going to be okay.  Be a survivor, I will tell myself,  and, for heaven’s sake, don’t be afraid to thrive.

Copyright 2018@The Autonomous Traveler

 

 

 

 

 

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.