I was feeling a little bummed out. I needed some different scenery. I had some things on my mind and they weren’t all happy things. What to do with a melancholic half day off? Leave town. First stop, the bird refuge. My spirit needed a rinse of water, sky, birds, rain.
This is a story with pictures about moods, inspiration, letting things be, and beer. There might be some Buddhist stuff squeezed in here and there.
This is how it feels to me when things don’t work out. I saw it from the highway and knew it was the perfect shot to illustrate melancholia. Here is a structure that was a home, a base, but now it’s abandoned and not functional. When I am dealing with my own perceived tragedies, I am forced to go through loss and pain. Oddly enough this is a good exercise.
Through reading The Way of the Bodhisattva, I kept hearing the same message: self-absorption is the main source of suffering. How to get out of self absorption? Expand expand expand. I was constricted in my thinking. I was thinking small. The ancient book recommends that we connect with our expansiveness in order to gain access to tenderness and compassion. This can move us beyond a self-centered point of view.
I pull from all directions for guidance. Yesterday I listened to a vlog about lots of cosmic things, but the best part of it, for me, was: Live with passion! Live inspired! I immediately felt my recently repressed passion awaken. I can do this. How could I forget this?
He also emphasized letting go of the superficial. We are bombarded with the superficial ALL THE TIME. Chuck it.
How to expand? Go outside. I laced up my kick-ass boots and hit the road.
In a short time, I was at the bird refuge. Grass, mud, and water was in every direction. Clouds and sky and the sound of singing frogs and red-wing blackbirds filled the moist air. That was more than enough, but then I got to see a bald eagle, a kestrel, and a swarm of killdeer. I know they’re not technically called a swarm, but I like it.
Next stop, a small town. It is small but there is room for poetry. If at all sorrowful, one must hit up poetry. It just works!
Love the imagery of the erosion of rigidity. I can see the salt and water softening the rock and soil, from millions of waves.
I’ve heard recently of a concept that we have to empty ourselves. This could mean many things, but I think the idea is that we clear out internal space. It’s a little like spring cleaning or Feng Shui for the head and heart spaces.
I’m reading Ilene Cumming’s book, The Truth is at My Front Door. She talks about her experience as a hospice volunteer. Among the tools needed–compassion, presence, emotional stamina–what stands out to me is “the courage to simply enter the room empty.”
I was a hospice volunteer. I was on the roster to supply acupressure touch and acupuncture. I remember arriving at the door, just before knocking, and having a holy shit moment. What can I possibly do to help this person? Oh no oh no oh no oh no oh–what have I done?! Too late, I have to go in.
I think I’m going to practice being empty more in regular life. Just show up. And that takes expansion. It takes remembering the sky is really large. I don’t need to contract because of my own, or others’ expectations.
I wrapped up the field trip with beer. There are no pictures of the beer. I was at Sky High brew pub in Corvallis with a window seat looking at clouds and light.
I’m just passing through
Should I expand or contract
I choose my next breath
Spring is coming. Be inspiring. Be passionate.
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it, but I pick up sticks. I collect them. I see them everywhere. Usually they are on the ground. I don’t go around poaching live branches off trees. Some of the best places to find them are on the borders and edges of reservoirs. Roots, limbs, branches, and even lumber pile up and roll around on each other from the waves and wind. They end up soft and smooth and weathered like driftwood. They are no longer alive. At this point, they have become art.
In the beginning, I just placed the sticks around my yard or deck. They enhanced any space. Then I found more purpose, like making trellis for plants to climb. This gave way to more ideas, like making twig sculpture towers. Things really took off when the towers started to host humming bird feeders and suet.
One thing led to another.
I made suet the other day, for the first time. This was in response to a friend saying to me, well, can’t you make that? I’d never thought of doing such a thing. The Farmer’s Almanac had a recipe that looked simple and honest and wholesome, so I made it. That exciting story might be another blog!
I put the fresh suet on my older wobbly curly willow twig bird and squirrel tower. Birds didn’t seem interested. I joked that at least the raccoons would like it. That night, the raccoons held a rave, and knocked the structure down leaving it badly beaten. Most of the suet was eaten.
I needed to build a new twig structure habitat! All the birds, mainly hummingbirds, counted on this thing. They have their hummer poetry slams here every Saturday at noon!
I looked at my backlog of sticks. Not enough good ones.
We had just had an ice storm that left a lot of tree limb casualties. About a mile away, along a running trail, I spotted a yellowish colored, smooth barked, very long, snapped-off elegant branch hanging by a tiny thread of fiber.
I hopped on my bike with my ratchet loppers in the saddle bags. This branch was destined for purpose. I hoped it was still there and that I could discreetly harvest it. That turned out to be the easy part. Snip, it was down. It was around 11 ft. I couldn’t ride my bike with it and risk impaling a jogger, or skewering a bicyclist.
I had to walk, looking balanced and normal with this very long branch. I only fell over once; managed to just dropped the bike and stick. Most people didn’t seem to notice. I passed a dog park, and there behind the fence staring at my great find was a very excited dog. His face lit up! His eyes said, “I love it!” In those few moments, we connected over this perfect and elegant wild-crafted branch.
The walk toward home was tiring but I didn’t show weakness. About a third of the way there, a man asked, “so, what are you going to do with that stick?” A fair question, and I told him the truth. Just then, another man called out my name and offered to deliver it to my house. It was my neighbor. He had a truck!
I told him that would be really great, and that I was feeling like I was looking weird. He picked up the stick, hoisting it across his shoulders and strode off, exclaiming, “now I look weird!”
The point is, it’s fun to be a little weird or ridiculous toward a creative goal. It makes for a more interesting day for you and others.
Remember when I interviewed Chance Fitzpatrick about halfway through his walk from Mexico to Canada? Here is that: http://www.maryannpetersen.com/?p=120
Chance kept going as a thru hiker and made it to Canada in good time.
We decided to chat again at the end of his journey. I wanted to ask a few more questions.
1. Why would you recommend thru hiking?
For me it was an opportunity to prove to myself that fears can’t stand in the way of achieving your dreams. Thru hiking is not for everyone. But I do believe that anybody can successfully complete a journey like the PCT if it’s in their soul. I love hiking and being out in nature without any distractions. Lots of people fall victim of the “Too’s”: I’m too young, old, fat, busy, afraid, etc. This list could go on and on. But I met countless hikers from all walks of life that really inspired me on the trail. We’re all equals out there.
2. Did you feel lonely?
One of my greatest joys was discovering that walking alone does not mean that you have to feel lonely. At first, being gone for about five months seemed like a long time. But in reality, it’s like a blink of an eye or a drop in the ocean in the bigger scheme of things. Sure, you’re going to be missing out on lots of “things” happening. But honestly stepping out into the void of constant daily change and being way outside of my comfort zone was awesome. I felt more alive, and in times of difficulty would chat with my trail companions or call close friends.
3. Barfing and diarrhea in the woods? Seriously. How to deal with that?
Haha, this isn’t quite as bad as it sounds. My first bout with the “runs” was the evening before reaching the Paradise Valley Cafe. I poured a very generous serving of coconut oil into my dinner thinking nothing of it. Only to awake several times at night to face the wrath of my midnight cleanse. While talking with several hikers further up the trail they revealed similar stories after digesting too much coconut. My next round was due to eating bad salami because the vacuum sealed package was compromised. My only time vomiting was heading out of Stehekin (WA) as a result of eating way too much rich food. All of the examples above could have been avoided and easily prevented.
4. Nature is often advised for mental health. Yet difficult emotions must still come up. According to your blog, there were ups and downs. Talk about some of those and how it landed out in nature.
Each day had its ups and downs that ebbed and flowed like the changing landscape. There were many times when my emotions and experiences were far too personal to share. It’s a long time to be with your thoughts. I would allow myself to feel a full range of emotions, yet move through them and not have any attachment. Also, I’d usually focus on deep and slow breathing to bring myself back into the present moment and be centered. Maintaining a daily blog requires a lot of commitment and dedication. It really only provides a snapshot of the entire hiking experience. This worked wonders as you can’t really grind out mile after mile if your emotions are dragging you down.
5. What lessons learned there apply here?
It’s made me more aware of opportunities when I can help others and pay it forward. Being able to step away from my mind and thoughts controlling me was one of my biggest lessons on trail. You can have any thought or emotion pop up in an instant but it doesn’t have to define who you are or how you’d like to feel for the rest of the day. Hiking day after day for 12-13 hours puts you in a very real space. It also helps you to view the world with a different set of eyes. It’s made me appreciate many things on a whole new level. Plus gratitude comes into play at every turn and twist in the road. You also get to experience the generosity of many strangers that help you along the way.
6. People might expect an epiphany from such a journey. Is it something big? Or a series of small things?
I didn’t find a holy grail or discover the meaning of life. It’s a series of many small events and daily miracles coming together to form the entire experience. It brings clearness to questions like: What’s important to me? What makes me happy? What am I afraid of?
You start to see and experience a level of honesty and transparency within yourself.
7. Trail angels. What are they? How can we be trail angels to each other, while at home, not on the trail?
A trail angel is usually defined as someone who will help you with a ride, food, water, shelter etc., and always seem to show up randomly at just the perfect time. One of the most common things done to reach resupply points is to hitch-hike. Most people can’t imagine stopping to give a stranger a ride. It’s too dangerous, there’s a lot of weirdos, etc. The feeling of someone pulling over and giving a ride when you’re out of food, tired, and looking forward to enjoying your next town stop is magical. People helping people is what trail life is all about. Often times we can become so enveloped in our own little worlds. Completely oblivious to the joys that come from helping others in simple and subtle ways.
8. There is a spiritual thought that we need to step out of our thinking, and step into the wilderness. Often this refers to internal work, but you literally did go into the wilderness. Were you trying to step out of overthinking things, to move out into a more organic space?
Yes, one of the most satisfying parts of my journey was being fully present. Turning walking all day into an active meditation. Letting emotions and feelings rise and fall while being centered and taking in all of my surroundings. Many of us, myself included are at our best when we stop thinking so much about everything. All of the analysis, processing, and figuring just gets in the way of being mindful. I enjoy walking in nature to achieve a feeling of overwhelming stillness and joy. But this can be done in any activity that someone is passionate about. Thru hiking provides the opportunity to walk in nature for months on end without the stress of daily life interfering.
Enjoy the whole journey by going to Chance’s blog: chancingit.com
Chance Fitzpatrick is over halfway through hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, from Mexico to Canada. I asked him some questions about his journey so far.
MP: What would you tell your past self, prior to getting on the trail?
CF: Just relax and trust the process. The trail always provides and everything will be given to you at the perfect time. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want or need at anytime.
MP: What would you tell your future self, upon finishing this journey?
CF: Hmmm… A bit harder to answer since I’m imagining what I might want to hear. Don’t be afraid to follow your heart’s desire. What is it that you truly want to do? What scares the shit out of you? Find out what it is that you’re most passionate about and take the leap of faith.
MP: What do you love the most about your experience?
CF: Being able to spend 10-12 hours a day hiking in the wilderness alone with my thoughts and no distractions. Living such a simple lifestyle with purpose is extremely rewarding.
MP: What do you love least about your experience?
CF: Balancing wants vs. needs can be tricky. Just because you want something doesn’t mean that it’s needed. To make sure what you’re carrying on your back is essential. Another thing that’s very important is to make sure you keep a positive attitude at all times. There are many reasons to keep going, and even more to quit.
MP: Favorite sound?
CF: The constant churn of my footsteps on the earth along with the clicking of my trekking poles.
MP: Least favorite sound?
CF: Noisy hikers that talk way too much and don’t respect your need to be alone in nature.
MP: Favorite smell?
CF: The fresh mountain air is always changing on the trail. The desert smells very different from the pine forests and grassy meadows.
MP: What has been the most unexpected thing?
CF: How the trail can change drastically from one moment or day to the next. One minute it’s foggy, then it snows. Next day you’re one ridge over and it’s windy with scorching heat. I’ve experienced all of the above in a 24-hr period.
MP: Has this experience, so far, effected your relationship with yourself?
CF: I am much more patient, loving and forgiving. Not getting all worked up with circumstances and situations that are out of my control.
Chance has a great blog: chancingit.com. You’ll get a good feel for what it’s really like to be out there and see some stunning photographs.
Stay tuned for a follow-up!