Peace before the storm 

Peace before the storm 

Bathed in warm sunlight, the crunching of carpenter bee mandibles tickles my ear drum. A slight tip of my right ankle forward and backward slowly moves the rocker beneath me. My dog rests her head on the bottom porch rail.

I breathe deep, embracing the peace and admiring the warm blue sky.

The wind picks up, the stir of new green leaves brushing against each other obscurs the bee whispers in my ear. Temperature drops swiftly as the sky shifts from blue to gray. Clouds block the warm sun. No longer squinting, my eyes relax and my breath lightens.

A spring thunderstorm is blowing in, taking her time to arrive. 

I eagerly await the first drops. Anticipating the scent of fresh rain on warm stones accompanied by the chatter of drops falling upon leaves, saturating the parched earth, before accumulating in rivulets on saturated soil and running into creeks, rivers, and lakes.

The tapping of a woodpecker is replaced by the rhythmic creaking of wood crickets. My gentle revery is broken by a mosquitoe lighting on my leg for a bite, prompting a quick slap.

Wind picks up again – the American flag begins to wave. This is my home, this is my land, this is my place of contentment and peace.

I find myself ruminating on a yoga mantra my uncle left with me during his recent visit to Germany.

“I am safe. I am sound. All good things come to me. They bring me peace”.

Namaste

Swamp thangs

Swamp thangs

“A beaver skull. Oh my gosh, it’s a beaver skull!”

I yelled to my husband half-way through our bush-whacking hike through the Jordan lake and panther creek swamp-land behind our house.

It was a journey we’d been talking about and pondering and halfway planning for three years. One of the big draws of our property was the direct access it has to the American tobacco trail and a large swath of protected fish and wildlife land that surrounds panther creek and runs all the way up to Jordan Lake. We regularly walk out the back door and down a well-beaten path to a fork. Right takes you to the tobacco trail. Left takes you into the woods. With options to roam freely or follow a trail that borders the wildlife land and is marked by trees banded in three stripes of orange paint. Both are great options.

Speaking of trails, have I mentioned that my husband is trained as a civil engineer which means he LOVES maps. I mean LOVES them! His love of maps is one of the reasons why it wasn’t until I moved to Europe and, finally, had to navigate on my own, that I discovered I have a sense of direction. I was so used to following him around, happily mind you, on our rambling adventures. Well, one day as we were studying our property on google earth, because who doesn’t do that nowadays? We began to speculate that the path that runs to the left and into the woods, might just take you all the way to Jordan lake. We promised ourselves that one day we’d drop some bikes down at the local gas station and then make the hike and bike back. But, the problem with this planning is, well, it required planning…. something we aren’t always keen to do on the weekends. 

So it happened that a day after I landed at home, we woke up to a surprisingly sunny and warm day, and decided that today was the day. We were hiking to Jordan lake on the path. No bikes for drop off, we were going all the way there and we’d figure out how to get back. We loaded up a back pack with snacks: oranges, cheese sandwiches, Belgian chocolates (because why not?) dog food for Desi, and a couple of bottles of water. Snapped a leash onto Desi, laced up our boots and took off.

At the fork, we turned left and descended down along Panther Creek. This time of year is great for hiking along the creek bank because these crazy thorny vines (maybe they’re called brambles) are just coming out of their winter sleep. The trees are pushing out helicopter seeds in brilliant shades of orange and red. The sun, perched above in the Carolina blue sky, was shining down warmth. Birds were singing and frogs chirping. The spider webs were not yet stretching between the trees at just the right height to smack you in the face. Basically, it was perfect and then it got better, when we made our great discovery.

“Check this out, there’s a lot of beaver activity”. I hollered to my husband. He’s, he’s always telling me to talk more quietly in the woods. 

We had turned to follow along a creek spur that feeds into Jordan lake and found many stumps with fresh beaver teeth marks. We also noticed that the grassy terrain was now interrupted by large stones and big boulders were supporting the soil and trees along the ridge. I climbed up on to a boulder, because it’s fun, and Chas snapped a picture of Desi and me to remember the day. Have I mentioned, Desi is a grand hiking companion.


We continued walking and discovered more evidence of recent beaver activity and I even began to understand how they managed to take down a tree and break it into movable chunks! It was like being in a nature film, which is a very strange thing to think, right? Why do we always compare real life to the movies? I snapped some photos to share with my nieces and nephews for a science lesson later.


We proceeded down to the water, around a slight ridge, and discovered the beaver dam. A large one at that!


Then I backtracked a bit and that’s when I made the amazing discovery of a beaver skull! Which now has a home on our fireplace mantel. Yes, this is how we decorate our house (no shopping at the pottery barn for me) – shells, feathers, stones, bits of branches, the occasional fungal specimen, old bottles, the interesting bits that we find on our journey of life. I do believe this will be one of our most treasured hiking momentos for years to come.


We noticed that the sun was beginning to sink low and we had about 1/3 of our route to go, so we safely stowed the beaver skull and continued our journey along the banks. The vegetation changed from pines and schrubs to bottomland hardwoods and back to pines. It was amazing to find all that was hidden just off the road and behind our country neighborhood. 

After another hour or so, we popped out along the country highway and turned left to the gas station then walked along the roads for another hour to our house. Traveling our familiar driving or biking path on foot completely transformed the experience. We found details we had never noticed before and even paused for a bit in a patch of grass to soak up the later afternoon sun before our last push to home. Now that I think of it, maybe that’s where I picked up these danged chiggers in my right arm…

As we turned up our street, our feet were aching, our bellies were hungry, and our souls were completely happy and glowing from our spontaneous adventure. 

The Gift of Being Present

The Gift of Being Present

It’s just past midnight and I’m sitting here in my yellow wingback chair from Ikea trying to convince my brain that it’s time to sleep. Of course, I know the source of confusion. Just 24 hours ago, midnight was 6 pm. Ah, the two country life.

Fortunately, my Tony cat is on German time – curled up in my lap, purring and trying to convince me to sleep.

As I learned over and over again last year, great good can come out of difficult experiences. In this case, sleeplessness creates the space to write.

You’ll notice I was quiet again for the last few weeks. I assure you, there was a very good reason. I was fully immersed in holiday celebrations with my husband, our dog and hens, family and friends. I decided to give myself the present of being fully present in the moment. My gift rewarded me many times over.

It was a lovely holiday. When I went to the airport I left with a touch of sadness but fortunately no tears. In the place of tears was an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for my life and the people who count me as their own.

This is how I passed the holidays at our home in North Carolina. Lazy wake up, make coffee, take the dog for walks bundled up in pajama pants, my husbands Carhart barn jacket, beanie hat, scarf, gloves and a thick pair of hiking socks wrapped up in my sturdy German hiking boots. It was cold and I did not care one bit because when I looked up the sky was brilliant blue! Blue I tell you, a color I often long for in Germany. We covered many miles in the woods near our house and at nearby parks and trails. The Piedmont area of NC has wonderful hiking.

We enjoyed three lovely days of temperatures warm enough to slip on a helmet, riding boots and mechanics gloves and take our Harley’s out for a spin in the countryside. The wind, the scenery, the rumble – it never gets old. I coursed around corners with easy confidence in spite of not riding for four months. It amazes me how the riding technique just stays with me – it’s part of my DNA.

We decked our house out for the holidays with nearly the last tree at the local Home Depot. Decorated with ornaments going back to our childhoods and a few new additions from 2016 that I bought at a Weinachtmarkt in Bonn. We lit the candles on a beautiful handmade German Pyramid that I purchased at the same market. Our faces glowed in the candlelight as we watched the tiny wooden nativity scene twirling at surprising speeds. When we took it all down a couple days after New Year we left up the lights on the stairway bannister because they make such a beautiful glow!

They say whatever you do on New Year’s Day you will do the rest of the year, and I hope that is the case! We rang in the New Year with home made tacos with family on New Year’s Eve and then devoured a traditional New Year’s Day meal with friends: black eyes peas and collard greens for wealth and pulled pork for happiness.

To work up an appetite before the New Years feast, we woke early, brewed a pot of coffee, bought some donuts and headed to a trail. Surprisingly the donut shop had no lines! I declared my New Years resolution to the bakers: “eat delicious foods”. Properly fueled, we embarked on a First Day hike which is becoming a tradition in our little family. We like silent woods and were a bit taken-aback to find so many other hikers out in spite of cold weather and a threat of rain. After we escaped the crowds of happy hikers, I admit I was a teensy bit pleased to see so many other folks starting their year immersed in nature. Everyone we met was happy and passed along a friendly greeting for the New Year. I left the forest feeling hopeful and lucky, especially as the first rain drops fell as we left the parking lot.

Then the news began to fill with anticipation of a forecasted snow storm. Snow storms are always big news in North Carolina because the place isn’t equipped to deal with snow. As a result, everything sort of shuts down and I admit it is pretty fun! Especially when you’ve got a 4-wheel drive truck to drive around on the empty streets. We waited up half the night for the snow, and when it finally came it was not nearly as much as forecasted, but it was enough to enjoy some magical snow walks through the woods. Our new dog also experienced the snow for the first time and she was in love! To top it off we hopped on our mountain bikes and took a snow ride to share a few home made beers and a meal with friends a few mikes up the bike path from us. We chased the last rays of sun as we pushed our bikes the final 100 yards to the house.

In between it all we went to the grocery store I don’t know how many times. I’ve clearly adopted the frequent, small shopping patterns of Germans. We cooked and filled the dishwasher and hit repeat. Lentil soup, red lentil casserole, bacon, steaks, more bacon. Washed down with good old-fashioned American beer.

Life was simple and unplanned and wonderful. I returned to the office in Germany today and colleagues commented that I looked rested and refreshed. Between meetings in the washroom, I looked in the mirror and saw it was true. The weeks of freedom and calm were good for my soul.

I hope you are just as restored and prepared for an amazing 2017. Now it’s time to start planning my weekend adventures. First stop, Poland. Any travel advice from my globe-trotting followers?

Stillness

Water like glass
Reflects green leaves
An ancient bird call breaks the silence
A great blue heron passes
White egrets alight and resettle in barren treetops
The curve of a snake breaks the surface
Diving beetles dance
Bubbles break, hinting at creatures below
In this stillness, anything seems possible

Air, oppressively hot, no movement
Clear blue sky above
Ominous dark clouds build on the horizon
Paddles move the red canoe lazily between banks
Steering side to side – avoid stumps peaking above the water
Snag on a submerged limb
Rock rhythmically back and forth to break free

Light blue sky transforms to dark gray and black
Green leaves begin to dance in the wind
Still water replaced by growing swells

Lazy paddle strokes become deep pulls setting course to race the storm

Lightning strikes break across the sky
One-one-thousand
Two-one-thousand
Three-one-thousand
Four-one-thousand
Five
CRACK

Lean in to the paddle strokes
Increasing urgency as the canoe rolls in the swells hitting broadside
Fighting to breach the turbulent transition from building storm cloud to clear blue sky
The edge is the strongest point

Large, cold rain drops fall like heavy coins
Chilling the skin
Frantically search for an exit point on shore

Breathing heavily, we bank, scramble onto land, lift the craft and walk up the shore
Stepping carefully through rip rap, brambles tearing flesh, poison ivy brushing our ankles
We enter the shelter of tree limbs

Breathing slows, turning to laughter and relief

We are safe, we are happy, we are alive
WE ARE FREE