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 An Anguished Transition- Heading Home

Days 55 and 56   August 19 & 20, 2001

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Stopping to camp in High River, Alberta for few days and realizing I’m getting anxious about going home.  I had learned so much about myself on this trip.  Would it stick after I got back to the real world? When I get back to my teaching job? When I’m throw into the world of workplace politics?

I need a good self help book but I left my collection at home. I always enjoy reading books by authors who have things  figured out or biographies of  people who have overcome obstacles.   I saw a book in Jasper about a woman who hiked The Rockies all by herself but I knew I shouldn’t buy it because I’m getting close to running out of money.

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I heard someone say that we all  have the answers to life, we just have to be reminded. (I’m making myself a list on a fresh, clean page.)

What is a person who can successfully take on life?

  • An optimist
  • A risk taker
  • A person with a stubbornness of conviction
  • Someone with  intelligence, a degree of wisdom and understanding
  • Someone not afraid to be different, not a crowd follower or people pleaser
  • Someone passionate, who has enough drive to put dreams into actions, who keeps climbing and plugging away
  • A person confident but not to the point of arrogance
  • A person who stands up for herself as she voices her feelings, opinions and boundaries; strong but never to the point ruthlessness

ANXIETY! I have fallen short on each one of these points many times during my life. Am I really going to be better?   The reality of day-to-day  life will be a challenge.  All of this isn’t even a matter of courage, we are all afraid. Do I have enough faith to believe everything will be okay? I know I have gained much on this trip but will it be enough?

I closed the journal, thought of my mom, and wrote her a letter.

Dear Mom,

You always ask me to write you letters, well, here I  go. I want to make sure that you know I admire you. You are strong and have always managed to overcome the challenges life has given you. I’m really proud of the joy and adventure you now have going on senior citizen bus trips with your friends. You did this change on your own and took this risk to have more fun in your life. I know the other ladies are really enjoying your company.  I’m very proud of you.

Love always, your daughter

I will send out the letter when I cross the border into my home country once again.

Here at sunset in The Canadian Rockies, I am feeling nostalgic, sentimental, and weepy but also grateful.

Mom Blog

( My mom in later life. She lived to be 96)

70/7000 Camping as a Metaphor for Life?

Day 48 & 49   August 13 & 14, 2001

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I stayed two more nights at  Lake Louise in my hard sided van camper.  Some seasoned hikers told me to buy a set of bells at the camp store because the grizzlies were afraid of them and would move on.  A bought a bell bracelet and shook those jingle bells so hard I thought my hand would fall off my wrist.

Thinking about my experiences on this trip, I came to realize that camping is a lot like life.  People come to the campgrounds to pursue happiness. Everyone arrives on their own path and each of their personal stories is unique.   They bring enough with them to meet their needs and the extent of their needs shows itself in their choice of shelter, from small tents to huge RVs with expensive cars in tow.  But there are trade offs for each approach. The big rigs may have TV, a microwave and ice that doesn’t melt but the people within miss a lot of the woodland sounds, the constant changes of the sky, and the golden light that fills up a tent at dawn. But no path or pace is wrong because there is freedom for each camper to choose the way he or she finds joy and that is to be respected.

There is an awareness of others in the campground community but there is also  a code of privacy just like in real life. Social norms exist like they did for the cavemen long ago, no staring, respect for another’s space, and no loud voices. The friendly people will reach out and others will stay to themselves. It’s easy to know the difference.  But the universal human capacity to care is always present.   I  have seen campers come to the aid of others just like in real life when people help each help other during a natural disaster or times of hardship.

Our  human paths cross.  With some people, you may choose to cross their path multiple times. Others  may cross your path and move on.  There are paths of people you may choose to avoid.  But I wish life was more like a campground where we let life happen without judgement and respect another’s path in peace.

Camping like life is a matter of attitude. If you stay positive, the trip will be wonderful as your mind focuses on the good things and not the bad.  Yes, things will go wrong. The air conditioner in the RV might break down.  Or the bedding  in your tent may get wet in a rainstorm.  Or your perfect golden marshmallow may fall into the campfire. But you might as well do camping and life as much as you can with a smile.

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Copyright 2018@ The Autonomous Traveler

70/7000 Conquering a Mountain and Maybe Myself

Day 47-August 11, 2001

Today I hiked with Jack and Henny, a very fit and active couple from the Netherlands.

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My time with this nice couple allowed me to ask questions about their lives in The Netherlands.  Henny works part time and engages in physical activity as much as she can.  Both she and Jack are into biking.  I got the feeling this is the norm for a lot of Europeans.

I did, however, feel inadequate being with them and found myself over compensating and competing.  I’m a sluggish American compared to them.  I felt an uneasiness and  some resentment, something I knew had childhood roots. This is a fault of mine that always takes away my peace and causes me to fear excellence in others.

At one point the path was a very thin ledge. At other times, all three of us needed to  silently focus on the trail.   In the quietness, I thought about how I should be thinner and more fit and that Jack and Henny were excellent role models for me. I may not be on their physical level but I’m still a good person.  One goal of this trip is to learn and live a life of acceptance.  I am who I am and that’s pretty darn good. I made it to The Tea House and maybe another step to a lasting insight.

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When we reached the bottom of the mountain again, Jack and Henny asked if I wanted to hike the next day. They were going to try a higher climb. I believe in squeezing the life out of everyday but was I pushing myself too hard?  I was exhausted.  I decided to listen to my instincts, that music in my soul that makes me who I am. I had mixed with the beautiful spirit of two wonderful people from the Netherlands but now it was time to become centered in my own rhythm, my own tempo.  I needed to be still and find my direction again because I can’t be all things.  I’m me and that is good enough.

I thanked Jack and Henny for their kindness and for sharing a great experience with me. I told them I would never forget them and this day.  (Author’s note-August 27, 2018- I never have.)

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70/7000 Beautiful Lake Louise, The Canadian Rockies

 

Day 47  August 11, 2001

A take my breath away moment, seeing Lake Louise for the first time.

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As I stood at the edge of the lake, very engaged in gawking with my mouth open, a ranger with a survey on a clipboard saw my  potential  as an extremely positive statistic. “Would you considered this the most beautiful place you have ever seen?” she asked.

My answer surprised me. “No” I said.

“What do you consider as the most beautiful place you have ever seen?

“My backyard.” I replied.

The ranger scribbled something down and thanked me. Maybe not the answer she wanted but for me it was the truth. My backyard is the most beautiful place in the world  because it is home. It holds me in its arms and give me peace like no other place on earth. I’m safe there. I love traveling but  going  home is pretty wonderful, too. A few more days  north in the Canadian Rockies and then homeward bound.

I met Jack and Henny back at the campgrounds.  They were from the Netherlands and invited me to  hike with them the next day to The Tea House on top of one of the mountains. I thanked them and we arranged to meet in the morning.

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I thought about  how much the kindness of strangers had helped my dreams come true this summer, wonderful people who with simple gestures took the fear out of my journey. It is a good world. Yes, there are curt people who don’t take the time to look into the warmth of others’ hearts. I discovered that I was more likely to find this attitude in places of conspicuous consumption, where objects are more important than people.

Our smiles, kind words, open postures, helpfulness, non threatening questions, and genuine interest in people have a ripple effect on our immediate environment and the world.

Another great day. My heart is smiling.

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70 days, 7000 Miles-Days 33 and 34

July 27 & 28, 2001

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I’m no longer worried about how I look. Gave that up about two weeks ago. I’m good enough just the way I am…… acceptance.  I feel strong.  I have been brave all my life. Yes, I have done cowardly things  but I have had enough courage to never give up hope.  There is a Buddhist quote, “fall down seven times, get up eight”.  I have fallen a lot put I always get up and go forward.

It rained so I am staying another day in Butte, Montana in a motel. It’s nice to be in a regular bed and the room phone gives me a chance to call my family and to be in contact with the places that handle my bills so I can send out checks in the right amount.

Staying put. Flowing, not hurrying. A bookstore appears. And then another and then one more. Heaven on a rainy day.

I see that Julia Cameron the author of The Artist’s Way, has another book, Heart Steps. I find a chair and sit down with this  book of “Prayers and Declarations for the Creative Life”. Praying has been on my mind.  Prayers for my smoking tires. Prayers of gratitude for being able to take this trip. Prayers to become a writer because writing has been a part of me since I was a little girl.

Julia Cameron wrote,'”I surrender my anxiety and my sense of urgency………I open my heart to God’s timing. I release my deadlines, agendas, and stridency to the gentle yet often swift pacing of God……..As I relax into God’s timing, my heart contains comfort. As I allow God to set the tone and schedule of my days, I find myself in the right time and place, open and available to God’s opportunities.”

Wow! I buy this book!

I moved on to the next book store, find a book about growing old and another comfy chair. The author wrote about having value in one’s later years by finding purpose.

“Those who have found some purpose in life do have one conviction in common; they all have faith in their intuitive sense of direction……..Great healers have always understood that intuition is the conscious voice of a deeper wisdom within us and our ability to live a satisfying existence depends on our willingness to surrender to that voice, wherever it might lead us.”

What a great few days of insight.  I have always believed in the saying, “when we are ready, a teacher will appear”.

And there is one last thing today.  I pray for peace because there has been  a lot of conflict in my life.  I’m hoping for the skills to express my needs and feelings more effectively so people don’t hurt me and I don’t hurt them. I was never taught how to do that.  Now I’m confident that knowledge will come.

Thank you, God, for this journey and all my blessings.

 

70 days, 7000 Miles-Days 26, 27, 28

July 20, 21, 22, 2001

Big Sky, Montana and The Gallatin River.

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Time to stay put for a few days and do some fishing on the beautiful Gallatin River.

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This river is perfect for me, the inapt but earnest  fly fishing woman.  It’s shallow and calm. I can easily wade in it and cast without tangling in the trees. I did catch a small fish but in a very unconventional way.  I slipped on a rock, fell forward onto a very large boulder, and when I stood up I had a trout on my line. I reeled him in, set him free, and whispered a “thank you” to Mother Nature and a “go figure” to myself.

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I read and ate some of my meals on the river.  One day when I was fishing a deeper section of the river, a small tour boat went by.  I was in my full fly fishing woman outfit; waders, boots, vest, and hat.  I could hear the tour guide directing the attention of the group toward me.  Remembering the words of my state’s often repeated tourism motto, I stood at attention, smiled and in my best attempt at a spokesperson voice, shouted, “I love New York but I really love Montana!” I sometimes scare myself.  Luckily, I will never see any of those people again.

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I met a really nice couple, Tim and Mary, who were staying in the same campground.  They invited me to go fishing with them and taught me how to keep the leader floating in front of the line a little longer and stuff about drag and working the shore. Because of them I caught a few more trout and I didn’t have to fall on a rock to do it.

Good days on the Gallatin.

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70 days, 7000 miles, Day 25

July 19, 2001

Insight Inventory (Major Ones from This Trip So Far)

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 (1) I have charisma. I know this is kind of a conceited proclamation and anyone reading this journal in the future will have to excuse me but this is a journey of self discovery. People seem to like me and want to talk to me.  Not people caught up in images.  I have to stop worrying about being rejected by plastic people (and make sure never to become  a plastic person myself). I hope I never develop into someone who can’t see souls. I don’t want to be a tribal person who clusters together with others so I can exclude and make fun of others.  This insight is  important to me.  I was very shy growing up and after my divorce lost any confidence I did have.  I would go out into the world, talk to people and then go home and critique myself.  I would always berate myself for the stupid things I said and my social awkwardness. I am not going to do that anymore.

(2) The greatest social movements of our time were nonviolent acts by people possessing great faith, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Pope John Paul.  Faith is an energizer that propels people to accomplish extraordinary things.

(3) What do we do about the poor? Is it right for me to have material things when others don’t? Is it hypocritical to say I care when I’m really not willing to share all that I have? Maybe giving back doesn’t  have to be about things. Maybe I can give back in other ways, listening, sharing wisdom, writing, just smiling and saying “hello”. Or  I can simply ask people how they are and if they have a problem, ask how can I help.

 

 

70 Days, 7000 Miles, Day 23

July 17, 2001

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Today I crossed The Crow Indian Reservation. I drove 44 miles through a vast, dry western landscape with no towns or houses. It frightened me because I didn’t see any vehicles either. I rode out the fear because I knew God was with me. I was very much alone and very much in His hands. I willed myself to be alright and I made it.  Thankfully, it was His will, too.

I remember one time, my mom who had a strong, faith told me not to mention God so much.  My dad, a WWII vet, used to say that there were no atheists in foxholes.  I have people in my life who would find my reliance on a supernatural presence very weird. “Live and let live” is my mantra. I expect the same. I am steadfast in my beliefs and they have served me well.

I took a citified day in Billings, Montana. I got my oil changed, my hair cut and shopped for a long time in a Super Walmart. After driving through small towns with little stores, going to Walmart was like visiting a very interesting museum. I walked down the aisles admiring the colorful packaging and the variety of spending possibilities.  It made me realize what years of American consumerism had done to me.

 

I stayed in a KOA campsite that evening.  I felt like a vagrant with my tent among the large RV’s. They were the size of buses and had dragged behind them expensive vehicles which were way more classier than my used Dodge minivan. Needless to say, I didn’t feel as comfortable in this campgrounds as I had at the Cottonwood.

70 Days, 7000 Miles, Day 22

July 16, 2001

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Another day at the Cottonwood Campground on The Bighorn River. I’m the only woman in a man’s world. They are all nice to me and want to know where I’m from and why I’m taking this trip. I was given a hammer to pound the stakes of my tent, an invitation to sit around the campfire and have a beer, and an offer to ride a drift boat on the river and fish.  I only accepted the hammer.  I’m many miles from home alone, I have to be careful.  And plus I fear the wrath of my daughter who made me promise not to take any chances.

I fished alone in the morning and was later joined by a guy upstream.  His line drifted to where I was fishing and he told me to move.  I held my ground and didn’t budge. After a  little while, I brought in my line because something didn’t feel right. It was all tangled because on the Bighorn you are suppose to  fish with two things at the end of the line.  I stood there unsuccessfully trying to fix it all.  I knew the man was watching me and probably shaking his head or even laughing. I think the moment was one of the most embarrassing in my life. I gathered up my line and trudged out of the river with my head down.

I went to a narrower part of the river and made sure no one was around. I was thrilled to see hundreds of white fish swimming on the bottom of the river, all facing the same direction as they looked for food.  They were all around me and I was part of their world.  I caught a few,  feeling their life on my line and then in my hands as I set them free. It was a great moment.

That night I told my six new men friends in the campsite next to me that I caught two white fish. One of them said that white fish don’t count.  It was the last night on the Bighorn for all of us.  I asked the group how many they  managed  to catch on this trip.  The answer was none. I didn’t say a word. It’s all okay. I now understand and I forgive them. Trout fishing is a hard for everyone.

Rhonda took a picture of me at my site at the picnic table in front of my tent.  She said she was going to put it on their brochure or website.

This trip is taking on a tempo, a rhythm.  I’m really enjoying myself.