Last Night

Above my head a rumpled, gray blanket of clouds.

Beneath my feet the crunch of gravel.

Bats flutter in the gaps between the trees, held aloft by papery-thin wings.

Dragonflies buzz by, dipping and diving around the bats.

The air is filled with the buzz of katydids hiding in the woods.

Lightning bugs flicker in the undergrowth, their heavy abdomens bob and weave between illuminations.

This is summer in the Carolinas.

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The Next Chapter

The Next Chapter

Some of you may have noticed I was silent online for a month or maybe two, or three. It was because I was preparing for a new chapter. One which is now underway. I’ll tell you about it in a moment, but first please allow me to reflect a bit.

Sometime in the last 6 months I found some writing that truly spoke to me. It was about the fact that each of us has a chance to write our own story. I believe many people don’t understand or acknowledge that they have the rights to their own story. Too many of us unknowingly outsource our story to fate, or victim-hood, or what everyone else expects us to do. But a few of us, fortunately, realize that we have the rights to author our own story.

Which got me to thinking about my story. For a few years now, I haven’t been totally happy with how it was going… I had some amazing adventures, sandwiched between deep chasms of sadness, as I’d embarked upon a chapter that took me far away from my family and home. Luckily for me, my home was still there for me and I also built up a powerful support network both inside of me and surrounding myself with living angels from all corners of the globe.

Alas, there came a time when I awoke to the reality that I still had the rights to write my own story and I began to ponder how I wanted that story to go. As often happens in life, it was easier to reflect on my experience and know what I didn’t want. I didn’t want to keep pulling up anchor and moving away from the people I love. I didn’t want to be constantly on an airplane and sleeping in yet another hotel room. I didn’t want to feel like I was disconnected from the people in my local community.

What I did want was to feel like I was part of something that matters, locally, in my own community. I wanted to sleep in my own bed, with my husband and our dog between us and the cat waking me up at 4:30 am right before my alarm. Fortunately, I found a career opportunity that allows me to put down roots right here in North Carolina and I am loving every minute of this new chapter which began last month.

I share this story with you because if you’ve been following this blog you’ve probably noticed my writing had fallen off pace. I can predict it might be that way for a while as I’ve now entered this new chapter and I’m focusing on living in the moment and processing a bit less. I’m currently engrossed in actively writing this new chapter with every passing moment of my life.

I will still occasionally wander to fascinating places that are blog-worthy but I’ll happily pass many more moments that may seem a bit more mundane – weeding in my garden, taking off on a bike ride or following my cat as he lazily strolls across the yard to visit the chickens. As a result, my activity on the blog will probably continue to be less frequent than in the past.

Now I want to share with you a wish I have for you. My only wish is that you also realize that every single day you also are writing your own story, if you know it or not. Every moment gives you a chance to keep the plot line going as it is or add in a variation or change directions completely. The choice is yours. You are the author of your life and I hope you write a beautiful story. Never forget that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I hope that you don’t let someone else’s definition of a beautiful life suddenly become yours and squash the unique story you have to bring to the world. Because the world needs your light, so, please, shine it with abandon and surround yourself with people who reflect your light into the world.

Nurtured by Nature

Nurtured by Nature

As winter slowly winds down and spring approaches I find myself enjoying more moments in nature. These moments give me peace and comfort in a way that few other things can. One recent Sunday evening as I laid in the fallen leaves, hands folded behind my head, gazing gently at the barren tree branches, eyes tracing the winding path of a crow in the fading blue sky above, it occurred to me that I am deeply nurtured by nature.

I found myself toying with the phrase and thinking about the eternal nature vs. nurture debate. Are humans the way we are because of our nature? Or are we shaped by the way we are nurtured? We once defined nature as our genes which were viewed as the full potential of a human being. The more we learn about genes, the more we find that the expression of genes isn’t simply a machine that runs in the body without any influence by the human. It turns out we can influence our final body chemistry which in turn influences our health and mental well-being by being thoughtful about our food, the environment we live in and seeking the benefits of exercise, stress reduction (although a bit of stress is good) and appropriate rest.

Or is a human being largely shaped by the way they are nurtured – their home environment and the people who influence their view of the world?

Either way could be left to feel a bit like we’re dealt of a hand of cards – perhaps leading to the proliferation of a victim society which appears common in society.

I am inclined to think that as with most things in life, the answer isn’t so simple as checking the box next to nature or nurture. I believe that what makes a human being is a combination of both their genetic make-up (nature) and the environment in which they are raised (nurture). Outside of these two options, I believe there is a critical element often left out of the conversation. The missing link is the element of choice.

Genes, and their expression in the body as hormones, can influence if a person has a mostly pessimistic or optimistic view of life. This tendency to view the world as mostly out to get us or help us often influences the way we respond to the curves life throws our way. Which then shapes our experience in life. Hence my view that nature and nurture can be very difficult to untangle.

Which leads me back to the beginning, my sudden realization that I am nurtured by nature. Nature was a huge part of my upbringing so for me it very well may be pleasantly mixed with nurture.

Yesterday, while resting between rounds of hauling loads of branches to our burn-pile, I watched an assassin bug roam about in his territory. I found myself wondering what he was thinking as I picked him on my finger to admire his antennae and sticky feet. I marveled at his ability to climb straight up the side of my old Coleman thermos. I watched him tentatively climb to the top and wave those same beautiful antennae looking for chemical traces on the air.

This morning, I enjoyed long slow lazy moments with my Tony cat curled up on my chest, purring his heart out.

This afternoon, as we blazed through the countryside on our Harley’s, I spotted a few guinea hens next to the road looking startled, perhaps by our bikes, but truthfully they usually look startled in my experience. Just moments before I spied a lady walking a white and brown spotted horse on the roadside.

During these small moments I notice that my heart rate slows, my mind is tuned in to the moment and I think I truly am being nurtured by nature. This nurturing is something I treasure and will hold on to with all my might. Because in these moments of peace and tranquility the biggest problems are solved. Probably not in the way you’d normally think of solving a problem, though. In these moments I often realize that the things I think are big problems, usually aren’t problems at all. Instead, they are simply opportunities to make a choice. Preferably a choice that is in tune with my nature and one that will nurture my body and soul.

Hangin’ Round

Hangin’ Round

As we neared the fire tower, I wondered if I could manage to hike one more giant step. I’d already eased myself up about a 1,000 in the relatively steep 1.2 mile ascent to the peak that, as the young energetic ranger had told me was “50 feet higher than Pilot Mountain”. How was it that I found myself struggling to make it those last 100 steps to a peak I didn’t even know existed before I entered the park visitor center. I attribute this to pride. Pride and a nasty habit of trying to finish as many trails as possible at a park.

We originally struck out to Hanging Rock State Park this morning to see the “Hanging Rock”. My husband had observed that I was hankering for adventure and Hanging Rock was both on our North Carolina bucket list and an easy 2 hour drive from home.

On our way to the park we passed Walnut Cove which has a lovely water tower and Dansbury – the streets bordered by lovely old brick buildings and a quaint white church.

Immediately outside of Dansbury we saw the sign for hanging rock and turned on to the park road. Our first stop was a reconnaissance mission to gather a trail map and route advice from the park ranger. I walked up to the counter, rested my hiking poles in front of me and asked for trail advice. The ranger took one look at me and said (I’m not kidding she really said this) “it looks like you’ve a serious hiker – our highest trail is Moore’s Loop – the one with the fire tower – that’s where you need to go. It’s 50 feet higher than pilot mountain.” A pleasant smile plastered on her face. I think I crushed a small bit of her soul by asking about touristy destinations like Hanging Rock – geez, it is the namesake of the park, after all – and waterfalls. I had disappointedly revealed that I was yet another bucket-lister. My hiker credibility a bit diminished in her eyes, she told me that yes, I could also see these things a short distance from the parking lot. Politely dismissed, I gathered my hiking poles and map decorated with yellow highlighter and wandered outside to find my companions for this adventure – my husband and our boxer, Desi.

Both now confused about how we should spend our time at the park, we took off on the Hanging Rock trail. Logic being that we certainly wanted to see the famous rock and other destinations may or may not happen. I was a bit disappointed to find the trail a wide and domesticated creature. In the beginning it was even paved in asphalt. And then the people – there were a lot of them. Pleasant enough and often with a friendly dog tugging at the end of the leash. But so many people, I can’t imagine what it’s like on a pleasant summer day.

We persisted, stepping a bit delicately in the recently melted snow and ice. Soon we came into a stand of hardwood trees and some vistas which afforded lovely views of the scenery below.

And after about 3/4 of a mile, we reached the beginning of the hanging rock formation. A nice lady snapped a photo of us under the rock.

A few hundred steps later, we walked out into Hanging Rock and took in the views. The air was still. The sky was blue. Most of the other hikers were polite and friendly. We paused for a snack and to enjoy the moment. I marveled at how my fear of heights is gone now. Thanks to the striding edge of Helvellyn!

On the way down we paused to do a bit Hanging Around ourselves. I simply couldn’t resist! Besides I have a goal to do 5 clean pull-ups this year so it was good training.

Now we reached a crucial decision point – would we take a leisurely turn, or satisfy the ambitions of the park ranger and tackle the fire tower peak? If you know me, you know what happened…

We looped around Wolf Rock and paused at the outcrop for lunch – Subway sandwiches we’d picked up on the way.

This section of trail was pleasantly narrow and we passed only a few people. One being a barefoot young lady with lilac-colored hair. We chatted with her about the surprisingly warm soil temp. A few moments down the path I reminisced about a friend who picked up a parasite through her feet once and happily kept my German-designed yak hiking boots strapped to my feet.

The path dipped down to a lake before we began the stairs of the giants climb to balancing rock and the fire tower. A gal with a Colorado ball-cap and a sunny disposition had suggested it was a good route as long as I had “good knees and was up for a strenuous climb”. Check that, I thought. We’ve climbed the fells of northern England and the Grand Canyon. This is kid stuff. Oh no, it was most definitely not.

A few hundred steps in I found myself remembering all those climbs to the top of church towers in Europe. Those climbs paled in comparison to this ascent. Also I began to ponder if it feels more difficult when you can actually see the top of when it’s obscured from view? Eventually, we made it to the top. As I sat down to quench my thirst and catch some air, we took in the views of Pilot Mountain.

A fellow Harley rider asked about our bikes and our Boxer. More Desi admirers arrived and I found myself thinking of our many mountain ascents and how they’re all unique.

The sun creeping westward, we finally made our descent down the long stretch of the loop. As promised by some hikers we met on the fire tower viewing deck, the terrain varied and the sunlight danced on the leaves as we carefully treaded through more black mucky trails and partially melted snow fields. We came across a pile of rocks that for all the world looked like a giant Jenga game to me.Eventually our path joined the fisherman’s path along the lake before ending our loop on the road. It was joyously flat as we admired views of the partially-frozen lake.

We all felt a bit like Desi, sleepy and satisfied with a day conquering mountains and ourselves. And if that ranger’s reading this, I hope she’s proud of what we accomplished!

2017 was a very big year

2017 was a very big year

As New Year’s Eve approaches I find myself reflecting on all that transpired in 2017. It was a very big year! I shared much of it with you, but I feel a need to once again reflect and sum it up. So, I did what every good American would do and pulled out a journal my sister gave me and wrote down my 2017 Adventure List. These are written in the order they appeared in my mind, which I do believe implies their significance in my memory.

“2017 Adventures”

1. Admired my first real Frida hung in the galleries of MALBA in Buenos Aires. What a fierce beauty she was! Extra special because I did not know it was on display in this museum and found it quite by accident. A most pleasant surprise.

2. Drank Belgian Biere in a cellar in Brügge with my expat sista Tilghman. Yes, it is some of the best beer in the world, although the Czech beer is slightly better. I can safely say this now that I have moved home from Germany! Ha ha.

3. Accidentally drove by Stonehenge on our way to London and stopped to snap a few photos from a nearby field road. Super-funny because we actually decided we wouldn’t have time to stop and crossed it off our list. Guess it was meant to be…

4. Visited the home church of my Thacher Ancestors – St. Barnabas in Queen Camel, Somerset County, England. A fulfilling and emotional journey retracing our roots to England. Which inspired the outline of a book I intend to write someday.

5. Enjoyed a few (ok maybe more than a few…) pints in the traditional British pub next to the family church with the Marston Magnus Drinking Club. More book material…

6. Watched the Tour de France and MET CAVENDISH!!!! And he signed my Tour baseball cap!!!

7. Learned to Stand Up Paddle (SUP) off the coast of Ilhabela in Brazil. The trick was first remembering how to dance.

8. Tip-toed through the tulips at Keukenhoff. I was too excited to only tiptoe and also occasionally jumped for joy. This place is spectacular!!!

9. Completed the “3 Countries in a Day Bike Tour” organized by fearless leader John – Germany, Netherlands and Belgium – 100 miles and unlimited laughs in a torrential rain storm with the Red Hat bike Gang. The commemorative jersey is in the mail, or so I’ve been told.

10. Survived the Dead Guys Bike Tour around Oxford, England guided by our dear friend Adam – most memorable – visiting the simple grave of J.R.R. Tolkien and the grave and home of Agatha Christie.

11. Attended the Garth Brooks World Tour in Nashville – Bonus: dancing in the Honky Tonks on Broadway with my love.

12. Lost my Tony cat. Found my Tony cat (whew, that was a close call).

13. Finally baked my first apple pie in a pan we received as a wedding gift 18 years ago. Thanks to the help of my clever nephew, it was delicious!

14. Enjoyed Tapas in the rain in La Rioja, Spain with my college racing team-mate Christina and her husband. We had not seen each other for about 12 years but it felt like it had only been yesterday. This is the good stuff!

15. Cheered on the fliers at the Planica Ski-Jumping event with a dear friend I’d met in California on a field tour years ago.

16. Hiked the Striding Edge on Helvellyn. Certainly my most memorable hiking adventure to date. Only the Grand Canyon comes close in terms of challenge and scenery.

17. Rode The Chunnel!

18. Drove on the wrong side of the road in England, safely, mind you, in a left-hand- drive German car, no less!

19. Morning jog through the Berlin Tiergarten for a sunrise view of the Brandenberg Tur.

20. Repatriated to America with only one broken glühwein mug in my shipment and was welcomed home by the most incredible surprise party with my family and friends! Reminded again that I am tremendously blessed!

Here’s to 2018! A time when I intend to spend as many precious moments as possible with the people I love near and far! Thanks for everyone who made 2017 amazing and will help make 2018 even better.

Make some room

Make some room

“Make some room”.

“MAKE some room”.

Barked my Sparta Class instructor as he restlessly roamed the circuit class floor.

We had just finished a solid hour of weight training exercises executed in pairs – 24 exercises total. My breath was labored. I was covered in sweet. A deep thirst filled my being. “What could possibly come next?” I thought, then I found out.

“50 Burpees” came the command.

Many groaned. I didn’t have the energy.

I wondered : “Can I do this?”. I had never done 50 burpees. 25, yes. 30, yes, but 50, never. Especially after giving everything I had to a circuit weight training class that was heavy on chest and back exercises. Could I make it to that impossible sounding number?

Before I had too much time to ponder, my partner hit the deck and I followed. I think this is one of the reasons for the partner: peer pressure.

Hands on the ground, I jumped my legs back into plank position. Sunk down into a solid push-up. Sprang my legs back in and jumped up. “One” rang out in my head.

The first 5 were solid, then it started to become a bit harder. I considered cutting out the push-up. Out of habit, it remained.

Suddenly I was at 25 – halfway there. I started my count over at 1 to spare my brain and spirit. Just 25 burpees now.

At 45, my partner was finished, and I was going slower. She then did the unthinkable and jumped in to finish my last 5 with me. I started to call the numbers out loud. My form was as good again as the first 5 and soon we were done.

I had completed 50 burpees. A feat in and of itself, but after an intense 1 hour workout, I was elated. I gulped down some cool water and thanked the instructor for showing me I could do something that I didn’t know was in me.

And that is why I train. I love finding the edge and pushing through it. Respecting what my body can do and knowing when it’s the right time to take it further.

It occurred to me that I do the same thing at work. I love finding an impossible challenge, grappling with how to solve it, adapting along the way and ultimately completing the goal. The outcome might look very different than I originally envisioned, but if it is fit for purpose, then it works.

As you start this week, make some room. Make room in your life for a new challenge. Look for an impossible goal and achieve it. As we close this year, finish strong! Go into next year with renewed confidence in your ability to push your limits and overcome. Then, nothing will be impossible.

#optoutside

#optoutside

There is this thing in America which begins earlier every year and is increasing in strength and ferocity. We call it “Black Friday”. Immediately after giving thanks for everything in our lives, we either take off after the evening meal, or wake up at the crack of dawn to join thousands of other Americans to go shopping. I tried it once years ago – there was no place to park, crowds in stores were elbow-to-elbow, and to top it all off, the prices were not good! So, I decided then – never again.

Delightedly, this year I learned of a new tradition called #optoutside. Instead of heading in to a store for shopping, or sitting on your couch watching tv, thousands of Americans decided to opt outside for some time in nature.

We pulled up the google maps, located some new trails, and then headed out. Our trail selections were just about 2 miles from each other but about as different as night and day. Our first stop was at Spring Creek Bluffs. We parked in a small gravel lot, leashed up our hound dog and took off. The trail started in some scrubby woods and quickly we found ourselves in a high bank overlooking Spring Creek. Chas found a log that had fallen across the Creek creating a natural bridge and walked across it with Desi. It was mid-afternoon and the light glowed through the colorful leaves creating a scenery that looked a bit like the stained glass of European cathedrals.


We wondered if these were the Bluffs and hoped that wasn’t true. Soon enough we came to a point where the Bluffs appeared, with straight, tall Beech trees sporting yellow leaves standing like guardians on the slope.


The slope quickly climbed steeply to the peak of the Bluffs and as we reached the crest we met some folks who spoke with an English accent turning back because they thought the trail had ended. We enjoyed the view for a bit before continuing on.


Good thing we continued because the trail became even more breathtaking as we followed the ridge and meandered down to a greenway that bordered a neighborhood. We met a runner who jogged by with ragged breaths and a haggard expression on his face. Boy, I know that feeling, I thought. After a few hundred yards we turned back on to our trail to loop back to the beginning.

A short distance later we rejoined the path and walked along the ridge and down the slope before winding up on a surprisingly long boardwalk. The place must be swampy in the summer time. At the end of the path we found a beautiful placard engraved with this poem. Nice inspiration on our day opting out in nature.

After completing this trail, we drove the short distance to Hemlock Bluffs – a nature preserve that had a beautiful nature center and what turned out to be very well-developed chip bark trails.

Such a contrast to our first trail experience of the day. At Spring Creek Bluffs we saw maybe 10 people and one dog. Here groups of families, many with happy hounds tugging at the end of a leash, strolled along together enjoying the fine fall weather. Because we were still traveling the same bluff (I had assumed), I expected the scenery to be the same. As it turned out that couldn’t be farther from the truth. This park hosts a rare grove of Hemlock trees – a type of evergreen that is normally found in the mountains of western North Carolina – that thrives here because of a unique cold and swampy microclimate.

The preserve also has a large population of beech trees and what blew me away was the color of their leaves. Here the trees were wearing golden brown leaves, while on the other bluff the leaves were bright yellow. I still don’t know why this phenomenon would occur, but you can bet I’ll be doing some research on it.

We hiked all the trails at the park (about 3 miles worth), sometimes racing to stay ahead of noisy families, other times enjoying a rare human-free moment. I was impressed with the infrastructure and think it would be fun to return in the summer for a hope at a glimpse of the many salamander species that make this preserve home.

Today was sunny and warm and we headed off to San Lee for a mountain bike ride. Another gorgeous day on a challenging terrain made a bit more treacherous by the coating of colorful leaves.

I’d recommend checking out all of these parks if you have some time to explore in the area of Cary and Sanford, North Carolina. And if you didn’t do it this year, I’d encourage you to join us next year as we #optoutside!