So, what do you do?

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Me posing with Volcan Villarica after an invigorating climb on a crisp, beautiful July day.

“Oh you live in Chile? Wow, so, what do you do there?”

“Well, mostly I climb mountains and surf.” I say with a smile and a little laugh. I laugh because this response inevitably always draws a quizzical look and a flurry of follow up questions. I smile because this simple little statement is a true reflection of how I’ve been spending most of my time lately, which was my intention when I closed the last chapter and began writing this one.

By now when someone hears that I live in Chile, they typically first assume that I am here for my job. That is why I stopped telling people what I do for a living when they ask me what I do in Chile. I didn’t come here for my work, I came here for my life. Their next assumption is usually that we moved here for family- also not accurate since neither my husband or I have any family here. I get it, I’m in my thirties, most people don’t just up and move to a remote part of the world for reasons other than work and family, but I also kind of love the fact that we did.

I remember the pangs of fear that crept in when I initially decided to quit my job and move to Chile, fear about answering that question, “what do you do,” as so much of my identity had felt tied to my work. I remember thinking about how I should update my Linkedin profile, how I could validate my credibility as a capable and successful professional without the title that went with my role. Even with those questions and doubts causing concern, the greater concern for me was that I would spend the majority of my life in an office, in front of a computer screen, finding time to do the things that brought me the most joy only around the edges of my life, not within the focus. I didn’t only want to experience joy in the edges, I wanted it to be flowing constantly.

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Pre-surf yoga always helps me clear my mind and connect with my intention before heading into the waves.

It’s funny how we subscribe to society’s definition of success, and learn to build our goals and dreams about achieving it through that lens, rather than the lens of our own souls. It is a practice to refrain from pursuing success in this manner, it is a practice to go within, to listen, to understand what ignites joy within you, what makes that feeling of love and gratitude just overflow to the point of uncontrollable giggling and mile-wide smiles. I don’t think this is a struggle, but I do think it is a practice. But when we engage in this practice, oh wow. Wow what unbelievable beauty can unfold!

In the past month, I have hiked through the backcountry of the incredible and ancient snow-dusted araucaria forests of southern Chile, climbed to summits where I had 360 degree views of wild landscapes filled with volcanos, waterfalls, lakes and a huge variety of forests. I have explored the southern coast in search of clean surf breaks, perfect for a cold but sunny winter surf session. I have spent days meandering down dirt roads, deep into unknown territory with my favorite person on the planet, laughing and finding magic places that only we know about, where we can someday bring our loved ones to share. I have put skis on and skinned up a smoking volcano, overlooking massive jewel-toned lakes with craggy mountains on the horizon, then turned around and skied down, back home in time to make a fire, do laundry and cook up a feast. I have also put in a good bit of time working on some exciting consulting projects, logged the necessary hours on my computer, all the while feeling creatively energized. As much as I love the work that I do, I still relish in the fact that I can step out my back door and huff and puff my way up a mountain that will totally have me giggling with childlike glee when I reach the top. This is my bliss, and now that I have it within arm’s reach, I try to embrace it daily, on some level.

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With this as your backyard, it is hard to justify spending a day inside in front of a computer screen ūüėČ

So, when someone asks me what I do, my gut reaction is no longer to tell them about my work. Although I love my work deeply, it no longer feels as though it is the most important part of my identity. Instead, I want to share what I actually do, what makes my heart sing, what invigorates me and reminds me that THIS is living, and I should be doing what makes me feel most alive as much as possible while I am able to.

How would you answer the question “what do you do,” if you were referring to how you spend the majority of your time? Does your answer excite you? Does it make you smile and laugh? If not, what would it take for you to pull joy from the edges of your life to the focus?

I Am a Little Bit of Many Thing

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The air is crisp this morning as I am shuffled forth into the sunlight. I yawn my way open, stretching widely and feeling myself settle in the morning light. The ocean sits quietly on the horizon, dropping beneath the edge of the cliff where I am perched. Just to my left, the sun breaks forth, a bright orange ball bursting from the coastline, as though it is suddenly released from the embrace of the mountains.

To my right, high in the sky, the moon sits peacefully, still residing over the ocean and the land, remaining bright in the moody dawn light, still untouched by the sun’s rays. Her evening watch is nearly done and she will soon retire; but for now, she remains with her waves and her breeze, with her meadows and her trees.

I did not know where this particular journey would take me. Yesterday I was picked up, carried off through the traffic of the city, cruising north beneath the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge. Quiet anticipation traveled with me as I wondered about the destination, about the sights I might see, about the tales I might tell. Now I sit and recount those tales, beneath the light of a setting moon and a rising sun. Lovely little moments lived are captured for future moments of reflection. My tale is also captured in these pages, but just one chapter of it- there is really so much more to tell.

I was born in several different countries spread across this world. Before I was what I am today, I was a little bit of many things. My pages are compiled from trees gathered from a forest in northern Oregon. My cover is a strong leather made from the hide of a calf born in the countryside of China. My binding is linen thread made from flax fibers grown in India. And these days my pages are tattooed with ink that is made up of carbon black, drawn from the deepest depths of this planet, either coal or oil, depending upon which of various pens were used. I now exist as many different parts of this Earth, all combined as one.

As a tree I stood tall, breathing deeply every day and night. When it rained, I drank the raindrops through my leaves and my roots. Animals and bugs ran along my thick bark, birds sang from my long arms, I danced with the wind and I stretched for the sun. Eventually, I was cut down, lifted with chains into a very long truck and hauled to a factory for processing. The air in this factory was different, and I no longer used my leaves to breathe. My bark was removed and I was cut into chips. These chips of me were then mixed with chips of others, and then with water and cooked into a paste. Afterwards bleach was poured on me along with chemicals- caustic soda, sodium sulfide and melamine- to give me the desired texture and a different kind of strength than the one I had that allowed me to stand so tall as a tree. After this process I was flattened, and all of the liquid was squeezed out of me. I spent hours drying until finally I was considered finished and was cut into individual pages.

After my brief life in this factory, I was transported to another where my pages were stacked upon one another and I was sewn into my cover, the leather embracing my outer pages. I came to learn my cover had traveled an even greater distance than my pages, first being born as a calf in the fields of mainland China. I had a brown coat and a rattly voice. I spent most of my time grazing and eating corn, I had strong hooves and enjoyed sunbathing on hot sunny days. I think other cows may have thought this odd about me, as they lounged about in the shade, chewing their cud with suspicion.

Eventually I was loaded up with many other calves, and taken to a facility where my life as a calf was ended, and my life as a cover began. The air in this factory was also different, and I no longer used my lungs to breathe. Once the skin was removed, I was coated with salt and sent to a leather tannery, where I was covered with chemicals to remove the grease and hair. After my chemical treatment, I was handled by many workers as they moved me back and forth between various processes. They breathed in the chemicals, and as it soaked into my skin it also soaked into theirs. Finally I was inspected for quality and deemed appropriate to live the life as a journal cover. I was stacked with many other hides, placed in a box and began my very long journey by truck and shipping container destined for the USA, where I would meet my pages and begin this next form of existence as a little bit of many things.

From the factory line where I was bound, I was stacked with others, wrapped in a thin plastic film and placed in a box. This box was lifted onto yet another truck which drove me to this next new home. The next chapter of my life would be lived in a side alley shop in San Francisco. Upon arrival, my plastic was removed and I took my place quietly sitting on a wooden shelf, stacked tightly between others who resembled me. I had a lot of time to reflect on the places I had been, on the pieces of this Earth that had been combined to bring me into this new existence. Little did I know my travels had just begun.

Eventually, my companion lifted me from the wooden shelf, holding me lightly, flipping through my empty, crisp pages. After so many seconds and minutes and hours and days I finally felt the warmth of the sunshine again as we stepped outside of the shop together. I smiled with delight, the sunbathing joys of my youth momentarily relived. As we sat together at the cafe, my pages breathed deep the warm breeze, flapping softly as my branches once had.

As destiny would have it, I would travel all around the world with my companion- we climbed mountains in the Trinity Alps, we paddled rivers and traversed¬†glaciers in Alaska, we visited strawberry harvesters in the fields of Morocco and Mexico, we even spent time walking the floors of factories in China, factories similar to those where parts of me had been created. I’ve flown across the oceans more times than I can count. I’ve opened my pages to capture and share memories on ferries, subways, monorails, cars and airplanes. I hold all of these details within the warm embrace of my soft outer cover, they have become another part of me.¬†

This cover has been worn soft from such constant travel, and a few of my pages have begun to pull loose. Heavy ink is now scrawled across all of my pages, and I spend most of my time on that windowsill, sitting in the sun. My life as a traveling companion has evolved into the role of an old friend to reminisce with, to share laughter and learning. 

I am no longer the tree, or the cow, or the coal or flax that I once was. I am, however, still here. I am, after all, a little bit of many things. I cannot determine how my life continues. I cannot determine how my shape and form may change if I am discarded, retired to a landfill somewhere no one will again open my binding and spread my pages. Perhaps I will be recycled, my pages pulled from my cover, and again melted to mix with others in chemicals and water, these stories washed from my folds, bleach replacing the ink, a brief chapter of my life washed away. Who knows, I cannot tell the future. I can only embrace this moment to bask in the sunshine, and each time my cover is parted, my pages breathe deep the wild air, and I will continue to hold tight the stories of this life.

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Ever since I first stepped foot on a factory floor and witnessed the thousands of workers hand painting the simple packaging of a plastic toy we were manufacturing, I realized what an incredibly complex system we had created to make the things that we consume. I was taken aback by the realization that every single thing has encountered a remarkable journey to come into existence- from the fields, mines or forests where the raw materials were drawn, to the factory floors in countries all around the world. All for the sole purpose of their arrival to us, the become our possessions. Some of them are tools, some are used to bring pleasure, some we hold onto for years, others only for moments. Regardless of the purpose they ultimately serve, our things share this world with us, and their existence, our demand for their existence, has a direct impact on the state of our planet.

Personally, I’ve gone through all the phases of emotions when it comes to my “stuff”- the guilt of knowing the negative impact the production of that thing likely had on this Earth;¬†the helplessness in my own ability to change the bigger picture, and have any measurable impact beyond my own buying decisions; the ultimate¬†justification for buying things I want but might not need. I don’t believe that feelings of guilt and helplessness inspire change in behavior or a better understanding of practical solutions. I believe curiosity does. I believe that seeking knowledge about the lives of the things we own can inspire a whole knew vision of the world, our place in it and how we choose to interact with it.

I’ve written other pieces about conscious consumerism, about how my own perspective on buying things changed as I learned more and more about the actual cost to our planet and the communities making them. Now I am exploring another perspective, one I hope you might find interesting, a perspective that might ignite a curiosity within you as well. This story is a glimpse into the life of one of my things. It is bottled up in about 1500 words, hardly enough to do the life of this beloved journal justice, but it is meant to only be a glimpse. Just going through the act of writing this has me curious about many of my other things, and the secret lives they’ve lived before coming into my possession.

What kind of stories do the things you hold dearest to your heart carry with them? What kind of a life have you given them? What do you know about where they originally came from, what parts of this Earth were combined to create that one special thing? Who had a hand in bringing your thing into existence? Where will it go once you are finished with it?

Are you curious?

Midnight Mussel Hunting and Other Food Reflections

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Kicking off our midnight mussel hunt with incredible Alaskan views

The sunlight reflected on the glassy surface of the water as our skiff motored its way out of the harbor. I was still awestruck by the fact that it was nearly midnight and the daylight was still going strong. The air was crisp, but the “night” was young, or perhaps the “day” was old? ¬†Either way, we had time to get in one more adventure for the day before the few hours of summer darkness settled over Homer, Alaska. I sat back in the skiff, laughing with the rest of the girls as we picked up speed, the water splashing up along the edges as we gobbled up the incredible view. Jagged snow capped mountains reached up from the horizon, incredibly dramatic and massive against the long flat surface of the bay.

We were on our way to China Poot Bay, taking advantage of the hour of low tide to harvest wild mussels for dinner the following day. The tides here move incredibly fast, faster than any I had ever witnessed, we had to be quick as the water began to recede. We cut the motor, jumped out of the boat, buckets in hand, and stomped through the ankle deep water to the countless mussel beds quickly revealing themselves as the water level dropped. The sheer volume of wild mussels resting at the bottom of the bay was simply incredible, and the experience of seeing all of them as they exist in this brief moment outside of the water was pretty wild.

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This sure beats running to the grocery store for dinner!

The water lapped gently alongside the skiff, the air that was previously loud with the purr of the motor was briefly quiet. That quietness shifted as we jumped out and walked among the tidal pools. Everything was alive, there were gurgling bubbly sounds coming from the suddenly exposed mussels, crabs, shellfish and algae. The mud squished beneath our muck boots, the birds chirped loudly, swooping low and having their own midnight feast in the low tide. We hike about, squatting to pull out the large loose mussels, tapping them to be sure they were not filled with sand, wiping¬†off the mud and then tossing them into the bucket. ¬†Our buckets filled quickly, but it was impossible to see any dent we had made. We spent a good half hour or so picking mussels until we saw the water rising along the sides of the skiff and realized we didn’t have much time before the water swallowed up these mussel beds, us with it if we couldn’t get back to the boat in time. Not looking forward to a freezing cold midnight swim, we combined our buckets, hoisted them up and carried them back to the skiff quickly.

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Hauling our bounty back to the skiff before the tide could catch us

The ride back to the harbor was pure magic as we raced toward what felt like an endless sunset. It was nearly 1:30 in the morning by now yet the sky was still light.  The sun appeared to be setting on the horizon but it just refused to take its light with it. The water was quiet, but the birds called to one another loudly, disregarding the late hour and instead conversing as though it were midday rather than midnight. We tide a rope to the buckets of mussels and once we had picked up speed we dropped them into the water to be drug along behind the boat, one of the quickest and easiest ways to clean the rest of the mud out of them. Back in the harbor, we hauled the buckets full of mussels and fresh bay water up to the house where we would all get some rest during the few hours of darkness.

The following day was filled with beach hiking and adventure prepping as we loaded the boat with all the gear we would need to head up to the glacier the following day.  The mussels would be our dinner for the night, our harvest easily able to feed all six of us. Around 8pm we jumped in the skiff cruised out across the bay to the inlet where we would set camp that night, allowing us an early start the following day. We pulled all of our gear out of the boat, set up camp and got to cooking. We sauteed some fresh garlic in olive oil, added water, white wine, lemon juice and dumped in our bounty of mussels gathered the night before. The mussels cooked in a massive pot over an open fire as we passed around beers and shared stories and exclamations of the beauty of this place we were so lucky to be enjoying. Once the mussels were cooked, we sliced up the freshly baked bread, doled out hefty spoonfuls of broth and mussels and dug in. DSC_5336 DSC_5331

Bliss. Divinity. Rich delicious tasty sensations filling our mouths and kissing our taste buds with every single bite. Words cannot do this meal justice. The memory will forever be etched in my mind and my heart- that moment sitting by the fire, shoveling in spoonfuls of broth with freshly baked bread and meaty mussel goodness, a rushing creek bed to our right, a quiet bay to our left, the sun quietly resting on the horizon, cold beer, sounds of laughter and joy and oh so much goodness packed into one single moment. We feasted until our bellies were too full to fit one more, hauled the leftovers down to the cold creek to sit for the night, and cooked up incredible mussel scrambled eggs for breakfast the following morning. It was a simple meal, harvested by our own hands from the land surrounding, and it was incredible.

Growing up on a farm allowed me to establish a connection with the food I ate from a very young age. We raised cattle, pigs, chickens and turkeys for meat. We cared for the animals, loved them, and were taught to thank them for sacrificing their lives so that we could have food. We delighted in the taste of the first fresh tomato of the season, of the crisp burst of sweetness from a freshly peeled ear of sweet corn, we laughed at the purple color our milk turned when freshly picked blackberries were sprinkled atop our cereal. It made me deeply aware of our interconnections with nature, and all of the other living creatures on Earth. It established a practice of appreciation for the life of what I ate- be it a vegetable, fruit or an animal- as well as the life I had as a result of this food.

When I left the farm at the age of 18, I had a different relationship with food than most people I knew. My life has taken me all around the world, and I have lived in many different places that impacted the food I ate and the food I had access to. I witnessed the lack of connection many people had to food, to the source of food, the lack of understanding where it came from and how it was processed, a lack of understanding of how food affected their bodies, how pesticides and chemicals and additives impacted our cells. In some places, I personally experienced a lack of access to fresh and healthy food, and a lack of access to information about where the food came from and what was in it. With a food system focused on mass production, we have become more and more disconnected from the sources of the food we eat. With that lack of exposure, many of us have lost our curiosity and gratitude for that food as well.

I have a lot of stories about my experience from food all around the world- from harvesting food in our organic gardens to witnessing the working conditions of workers in fields in countries such as Morocco and Mexico. My hope is that¬†my stories might inspire others to think back on beautiful moments they have experienced with their food- that first fish you ever caught and cooked over an open fire, the taste of your grandmother’s homemade raspberry preserves, the fun you had with your siblings picking apples in the fall as a kid. If we all think about it, there is a good chance we all have a wonderful story connected with the food we eat- and if you don’t, that doesn’t mean you can’t make one. There has been massive growth over the years of local and slow food movements, and there is nothing stopping you from getting out and meeting your neighborhood farmers. Get to know the source of your food, not only will it change the way you experience your meals, it will bring a deeper level of appreciation for this incredible Earth that makes our life possible. At least it did, and does for me.

I recently made a pledge to know the source of my food, because I do believe we have to power to influence positive change- and that power begins with access to information. I grew up on a certified organic farm, having a rare (these days) understanding of where my food came from. We planted, we weeded, we harvested. We loved, appreciated and respected our land for our food. Now my career focuses on building transparency in supply chains- and this doesn’t just mean at the factory level, but also food production in fields around the world. It is incredibly shocking how far removed people have become from their food sources. I cannot begin to say how important it is that we have access to information about what is in our food, where it came from and how it was produced. It matters. Supporting local food options has incredibly powerful potential for positive change in our very broken food system.

We literally are what we eat, shouldn’t we know what that is? If you want to lend your voice, to stand up for your right to know, I encourage you to check out this fantastic campaign that¬†1% For The Planet is empowering through Takepart– simply click here¬†to learn more.

In the meantime, go have an adventure involving food, I’ll bet you come back with a really great story!

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Leigh and I making a memory cleaning mussels and checking for duds

Seek Those Awe-Inspiring Places

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Standing in the midst of giants- Humboldt County, California

I am awake, uncertain of what provoked it but my eyes are open and I look up at our orange tarp shielding our hammock from the morning dew.  The light of day is still just creeping in, softly waking up the world around me.  I peer over the edge of the hammock, gasping slightly as my eyes catch the glowing mountain ridges in the distance, the vibrant pinks and oranges lining the crest, like icing atop cupcakes, all various shapes and sizes.  I smile to myself.  It is a lovely morning, and I am in a wild place. I slowly unzip my side of the sleeping bag, pulling my legs out and over the edge of the hammock, rocking it softly but not enough to wake up Ale.  I tuck the sleeping bag around him, he rolls over in his sleep paying little attention to my dawn exit.

I slip on my boots, grab my yoga mat and run up to the mountain ridge just above the quiet hidden grove where we’ve strung our hammock for the night.  The sun has still not risen above the ridges to my left, and as I trot along I steal glances at the vibrant hues painting the horizon as the day unfolds. I reach a small flat ledge overlooking the deep river gorge where we had set top ropes to climb the day before.  The flat ledge is nearly level, wide enough to stretch out easily, just long enough for my mat to lie flat without taking me too close to the edge.  Oh what a lovely little spot! I had spotted it yesterday as we wrapped up our climbing session and were hiking out along the ridge.  I remember thinking, ah, the perfect spot for a sunrise yoga session!  I drop down on my mat, my legs folded, hands rested atop my knees.  I breathe deeply, eyes closed, then opened, and I smile, drinking in the expansive views of far reaching green valleys and wild places as far as my eye can see.  In the midst of this vast place, I feel small, but far from insignificant, I actually feel quite significant, filled with gratitude for this moment, this place, this morning and this life.

There is something pretty magic about being in a place that has the power to make you feel small. Perhaps this is what pulls me to wild places, but it is almost indescribable how precious these places feel when you are in their midst.  Whether it is amongst the enchanting giants in the Redwood National Parks, the incredible granite towers and massive waterfalls of the Yosemite Valley, the breathtaking scale of the glaciers of Alaska or the vast wilderness dotted with volcanos and waterfalls I’ve been most recently exploring here in Chile, these places all take hold of your senses, captivating your mind and heart in the rawness of their sheer existence. The vastness of these places make you feel utterly present. In the daylight, you enter the groves, dance beneath the waterfalls, climb the granite slaps, paddle out to the vast walls of ice and often catch yourself simply staring with wonder at the greatness of these places.  In the darkness of night, your breath is again stolen as you look up to a sky like none possibly witnessed amidst the neighborhoods and cities most of us call home.

When we lived in California, we had some pretty incredibly awe-inspiring places right at our fingertips, and we made it a point to play in them.  I would return from a weekend spent amidst the redwoods feeling as though I had taken a two week meditation retreat.  Three days in Yosemite would have me buzzing for at least a week and those massive glaciers in Alaska had my head in the clouds for a good month or so.  As we currently wander across Chile, through the countless deep river valleys and winding dirt roads with massive volcanos on our horizon, I find myself constantly in a state of gratitude to be lucky enough to explore this place.

Places like this ignite my soul.  They drive my creative process and inspire me with wonder, they bring peace and quiet to the noise of the ever-present distractions that taunt us constantly in this digital age.  When I choose to go back into the woods, to hike the steep path up to the ridge, to put my fingers and toes to the cold rock walls, to paddle down a river or into an ocean, to coast down a snowy powder bowl in the falling snow- each and every time I am reminded of the natural order of things, of the simplicity of the existence of life.

In this day and age, it is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of society’s priorities. We set incredibly unnatural expectations for one another- companies must show profitability every single quarter, professionals are expected to constantly climb corporate ladders with no moments of rest, with no opportunities to stop, to look around and perhaps walk another path for a while.  The expectation of constant growth and lack of opportunity to rest and reflect is overwhelming. Parents are expected to raise wholesome well-rounded children while they themselves are struggling to feel like half the person they were before taking on all this responsibility of life. Pressures of debt and rising prices, higher taxes and lower wages all weigh heavily on the need to constantly be earning more money rather than more experiences.

In nature, all of those pressures dissolve. The purpose of existence is simple, it just is. Everything experiences cycles of life, trees lose their leaves which fall to the ground and feed the soil and ecosystem below, they rest in the winter in order to be vibrant and productive in the spring and summer. The rivers swell with the rain and retreat with the draught. The snow falls softly, gathers, melts and feeds the soil, rivers and creeks surrounding. Everything is interconnected, and even though it is functioning independently it is all supporting the life surrounding it in some significant way. It is an incredibly complex system, and yet it functions so simply. It just is. Going into these places and witnessing this simplicity, it can be a powerful reminder for us to remember that we are also part of this ecosystem, that we are intimately connected with the natural order of things and with one another. We gain so much from this acknowledgement, and it can inspire personal fulfillment while challenging us to radically shift our societal priorities. Who knows what solutions to the massive challenges we face could be discovered if more of us, both leading and following, were filled with awe by nature a little more often. If more of us were willing to seek those awe-inspiring places, and to let ourselves feel small within their vastness, yet significant within their presence.

Today, we hit the road and head to Northern Patagonia and I am simply bubbling with anticipation.  There is a childlike glee that has taken hold of me as Patagonia has lived in my dreams almost as a mythical creature all these years; and while this is just a brief encounter I hope that it is the first of many adventures there. Either way, I know that inspiration awaits, to both motivate and to challenge- and I can’t wait to see what ideas are borne in the midst of this next wild place.

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Feeling incredibly inspired in the midst of this wild place during my morning yoga. Gratitude simply becomes second nature in the midst of places like this.

 

A Little Lesson Learned While Falling Down Mountains

Tears welled up as I felt the hard, slippery root slam into my hip.  As I looked up at the cloudy sky, I decided to lie still for a moment, take a deep breath and just let the rain fall on my face.  I was soaking wet and exhausted. Ale and I had been making our way through the Hundred-Mile Wilderness in Maine, we were nine days into our Thru-Hike of the Appalachian Trail and to say the least, it was kicking my ass.  Literally.  After days of constant rain, it felt as though the trees surrounding us rapidly growing around us, and with their growth their roots seemed to rise from the Earth and trip me at every turn.  At the beginning of our hike, I was actually counting the number of times I fell down, although when I think back on it now I have no idea what motivated me to do so.  When the number began to climb to embarrassing heights, I decided it might be better to just focus on getting back up rather than keeping count.

Although every muscle in my body ached during the ascents, it was the descents that really took me out. ¬†I think I fell down more mountains than I hiked down those first few weeks. ¬†Dirt covered my rain gear, my pack pulled me down heavily into the muddy trail, anchoring me and forcing me to learn the art of the “turtle roll”¬†in order to actually be able to stand again (until you’ve mastered this, lying on your back with a heavy pack feels something like this). ¬†At this particular moment as I stared up at the clouds and rain, I was contemplating the best direction for me to angle my turtle roll so that my heavy pack would not tumble me further down the steep pitch.

“Are you okay?” Ale yells up to me. ¬†“Yes,” I half-heartedly grumble as I roll onto my chest and manage a push up-warrior pose, grabbing the nearest wet tree trunk to brace myself and survey the trail ahead. ¬†My boots squish, feet soaked after too many rainy days and flooded trails. ¬†I’ve learned that Gortex can only withstand so many drownings. ¬†Raindrops form on the front of my hat and splash on my face, blurring my vision momentarily. ¬†I readjust my hat, wipe away the water, tears and dirt from my eyes and choose my next step carefully. ¬†The trail holds and I gain confidence, stepping with slightly more momentum and reaching forward with my walking stick. I manage to get four more steps in before I am again crashing down the trail on my backside. ¬†“It’s not how many times you fall Greta,” I think to myself as I grit my teeth and prepare to roll again, “It’s how many times you get back up.”

It feels a bit cliche but I literally had to embrace the essence of this saying while hiking those steep, wet, black fly and mosquito ridden, root-covered mountains of Maine. ¬†There was plenty of opportunities to dwell on the misery, to think only of the awful black fly that bit you until you bled; the constant swarm of mosquitos that never left your side; the strong slippery roots that sent you careening down the mountainside; the fast flowing, freezing rivers that had to be crossed; the incredibly uncomfortable first moments of putting on your cold wet socks, pants and shirt from the day before that had not dried in the night; the tired, sore muscles and blister-covered collar bones. ¬†But there was also the stunning embrace of being in wild places everyday. ¬†The beauty of it was that I awoke each day, despite the hardships of the day before, filled with gratitude to be in such a magic place. ¬†The pristine wilderness that I was living in took my breath away (when it wasn’t knocking the air out of me). ¬†The early mornings I awoke just before the moon retired…before the rain clouds would unleash the torrents of the day, when I would crawl from the tent and hike out to the rock slabs, sit with my journal and the dew-soaked spider webs and the songs of the morning birds, the soft mist blanketing the forest around me. ¬†Every one of those little moments felt like an incredibly precious gift, and the struggles of the day seemed a small payment to make in order to relish in the experience of living this way.

Those months spent hiking the AT broke down my complex perspective of the world. ¬†At the age of 24, I had worn myself down into a perception of the world that was overwhelmed by our endless thirst for consumerism, an unexpected understanding of the “reality” in which most of the products we bought were made and the environmental and social impact of that reality. ¬†My perspective of the world involved countless airplanes, hotels and city streets with no rest in between, daily border crossings, encounters with masses of humans that I had never imagined as a child growing up in the woods and fields. It involved bribes and pollution, it involved poverty and construction, it involved gender discrimination and culture shock, it involved growing cities and shrinking wild places. The world I was living in was shaping my priorities, and before I had known it I was so caught up in the grind that I had lost my purpose and the intention of the path I was blazing with this precious thing called life. I had lost that flame of inspiration that is necessary to overcome moments where hopelessness threatens to take hold. Without realizing it I had fallen, and I didn’t know how to get back up.

The wilderness whittled away the priorities of my former life so that the most bare of essentials were all that mattered.  To be warm, to be dry, to have food, to have water.  To retreat into the essence of the love that I had for my partner who had chosen to walk beside me as we were both finding our way into the next chapter of our lives.  To get up every time I fell down, no matter what, because that was literally all I needed to do that day, and everyday, for 2,180 miles. I was constantly confronted with the choice between misery or perseverance, the choice of dwelling on the difficulties or celebrating the accomplishments, no matter how small they might be.

The day before I began my Thru-Hike, I recall stressing out about how I, as a young woman just beginning her career, could have an immediate positive impact in the world of business, how I would ever find the “right job” where I, despite my youth and gender, could influence change among broken systems and how the gap in my resume would be perceived when I finished the trail. ¬†In the wilderness, I had to instead draw my focus to the grand accomplishment of managing to stand my 108 pound frame up beneath the 45+pound backpack that I was carrying (don’t worry, I quickly learned to prioritize gear and by the time I finished my thru-hike my pack was a mere 28 pounds with 6 pounds of water and 6 days of food). At the end of the day, the answers to all those other fear-induced questions really didn’t matter. ¬†I was forced to focus on my present state of being, to let go of the weight of the unsolvable (seemingly) problems beyond my reach and instead manage only the weight that I could carry on my back.

I had to dig deep, I had to confront the fact that I was too hard on myself, I was literally keeping track of the number of times I fell down for goodness sake, and I had to learn to let go.  I had to learn how to simply acknowledge what I had immediate control over and put my energy into that.  What I could not control, I must accept and move through, and turn my eye toward the positive hues of the environment around me.

While I was digging, I also found that my perspective of the “real” world had become so overwhelming for me because I was focusing only on the falls. ¬†I was focusing on the problems and the challenges so intently that I could not possibly see any solutions, or have any room for creativity. The first few times I fell on the trail and was confronted by the weight of my pack and the difficulty in getting back up, it took me a little while to find the right twist, the right maneuver to put myself upright again. ¬†Eventually, I figured it out, and I became pretty damn smooth with my turtle roll moves (well, as smooth as you can be when literally using the same technique as a turtle to get up). ¬†I still fell, but I got better at getting up, and as I did the falls weren’t nearly as discouraging, they weren’t nearly as overwhelming and my recovery was faster every time.

When I stepped off the trail I was ready to “get back up” when it came to my work. ¬†I was able to see beyond the overwhelming expanse of problems that lie within the arena I was going to enter again, and instead I could focus on my fundamental strengths and hone in on opportunities to contribute the way I wanted. ¬†I had learned the importance of letting myself trip, of taking a tumble but not forgetting to look around in the midst of it and feel gratitude for the place that the path was leading me.

Although the early years in my career had taken me down a path I had never expected, it was exactly the path that I was meant to walk.  And even though I felt as though I had failed in my ability to influence change in those early days, and I saw myself contributing to more problems than solutions, I would learn later how this experience would become the fundamental driver of one of my greatest passions, and would lead me to do work that I loved with an incredible company for many years.  When the industry had pushed me down I managed to find a way to get back up that inspired, rather than discouraged, and as a result I continue to believe in the endless possibilities we have before us to come up with creative solutions to the vast and complex problems we face in this day and age.  Should we only choose to get up and persevere.

How have you confronted the challenges in your life that threatened to discourage your perseverance?  What moments are you most proud of your recovery, of your ability to get back up even when you have fallen?  What drives and inspires you to continue on a path that might not be easy, but that you know with all your heart is right?

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A moment of absolute gratitude as I came down off this summit along the Appalachian Trail, miles of untouched wilderness before me and a momentary clearing of rain clouds. By now I had lost count of the number of times I had fallen down mountains, but I was getting more inspired to get back up with every tumble.

The Open Road, An Untouched Roadmap, And A Smile

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Taking a moment to smile, appreciate and document some of our adventures in the backcountry of Chile.

What a day!!  After several days in County Cork bouncing between hotels, pubs and business meetings, I found myself in Ireland with one day entirely to myself before I would catch my next flight on to Hong Kong. I woke up early, grabbing my carry-on bag, the keys to my rental car and a road map of Ireland. Once checked out of my hotel, I sat at a crossroads and considered consulting my map; instead, I decided randomly to turn left.  What was left? I had no idea, but I knew I had one day and I wanted to spend it getting lost in one of my favorite places in the world.

I managed to meander my way to the coast simply by choosing random lefts and rights along the way, my roadmap sitting untouched on the floor of the passenger side of the car. ¬†Oh the coast of Ireland, how this place makes my heart ache! ¬†It had first stolen my heart two years prior when I had been studying abroad there. ¬†Ireland was the first country I had ever visited outside of the USA, and my what a place to introduce me to the beauty that awaited on the other end of an overseas flight. ¬†Now as I sat again on the cliff’s edge, breathing deeply the crisp sea air, I marveled that I had managed to get back to this place that I loved so dearly without even trying. ¬†How funny that one of my biggest clients would be based in County Cork, and that it would be a business trip that would return me to this place I held so closely in my heart. ¬†The thought of all the random twists and turns of the past two years that brought me back here, similar to those random twists and turns that brought me to the very place I sat that day, triggered an uncontrollable grin.

Eager to see what else could be discovered, I jumped back in my car, invigorated by the jewels I was finding simply by wandering aimlessly across the country. I completely disregarded my roadmap once again and instead drove north along the coast, now in search of some Irish fish and chips. I found my way back to the lovely Galway, one of my favorite cities in Ireland, and dug into by far the most delicious fish in chips I’d ever eaten as I sat at the edge of town beside the water’s edge. From Galway I hit the road again, heading a bit further north up the coast before deciding to wander inland a bit and cruise the country roads of middle Ireland, heading in the general southern direction so as to end up somewhere semi-close to Shannon airport from where my early morning flight would depart.

The smile on my face just could not be undone, as I passed countless stone farm homes, pastures of sheep and horses, the only traffic to bother were the occasional herds crossing the road. ¬†As the sun began to set and evening descended, I decided it was time to finally consult that map and see where the nearest city or village was. ¬†Luckily I wasn’t too far from Ennis so I decided that would be my final destination where I would find a room for the night at a local pub. Considering I hadn’t intended to arrive here, I was delighted to find such a lovely little town overflowing with charm and an age that took one back to medieval times.

As I sat at the bar in the pub enjoying a hot beef stew with mashed potatoes washed down with an incredibly delicious Guinness, I jotted down some favorite moments in my journal, smiling to myself with each little memory. ¬†I was approached by three very jovial flight attendants- Sara, Chris and Tony, from the USA who happened to be staying in Ennis as well before flying back to their Detroit base in the morning. ¬†We swapped stories of world travels, laughed a lot, and probably managed to sample all of the pubs in Ennis until the wee hours of the morning. ¬†As we parted ways and I gave everyone farewell hugs, Tony looked me straight in the eye and said, “Never stop smiling, your smile brings more light to others than you could ever imagine.” ¬†I smiled again, saying thanks and that I would always try to keep that in mind.

The next morning I awoke with a start, frantically grabbing for my phone to check the time. ¬†Oh no!! It was 8:30!! My flight departed at 9:15…how on Earth was I going to make my flight? ¬†I shook my head as I quickly pulled all of my clothes into my bag and dashed down to reception to check out. ¬†Into the little rental I raced, stepping on the gas and willing my trusty car to get me to the airport in a mere 20 minutes rather than the 35 the innkeeper had estimated. ¬†Oh I couldn’t miss this flight! ¬†I had meetings lined up already in China, and was on a three week travel stint and oh how irresponsible of me if I screwed this up!!

My heart was racing as I quickly tossed the keys of the rental car to the attendant and ran for security. ¬†I smiled at the security personnel, looking wildly disheveled, explaining that my flight left in 10 minutes and I had to run. ¬†The guard let me pass through the separate line for flight attendants- I smiled to myself remembering the fun I had with the crew last night and threw my bag on the conveyor. “Beep beep beep”…the security guard asked me to open my bag. Oh no I don’t have time! I thought nervously, quickly unzipping my carry on and finding that I had forgotten to separate my liquids and they were messily strewn about with my clothes. ¬†I hear my name being called over the loud speaker as a final departure call for my flight. I looked desperately at the guard and smiled, she simply said in a thick Irish accent, “Don’t worry love, RUN!” and smiled broadly. ¬†I grabbed my bag, zipping it as I ran, raced down the terminal to my gate where I found the door just being closed. ¬†“WAIT!!!” I desperately called ahead. ¬†The gate attendant looked at me, oh what a ridiculous sight I must have been, she smiled and picked up the phone, hanging up and opening the door to the jetway. ¬†Oh my God I had made it. ¬†I breathlessly thanked her a thousand times and ran onto the plane, apologizing for my lateness and quickly finding my seat.

I was sweaty, my hair was a mess, uncombed and flying every which way thanks to the lovely wet Ireland air. ¬†My face had no makeup, and I think it’s very possible I was still wearing my pajamas. ¬†But I had made it. ¬†Oh wow had I made it. ¬†I sat there wondering at the day I had just experienced, all those little moments that had drawn a smile to my face, and the lovely little reminder that a perfect stranger had given me about the power of that smile. I leaned back deep into my chair and once again was overcome with an uncontrollable grin. ¬†The passenger beside me looked over and said, “Well it appears you’ve had quite an adventure, what have you been getting into over here in Ireland?”

In all my travels, my smile has been a constant companion. ¬†And as I’ve gotten older, even more so. ¬†Not only does it physically make you happier when you smile, it is actually contagious, and inspires those around you to smile as well. ¬†My smile has brought some pretty wonderful people into my life, people who may not have approached me had I not been wearing it. ¬†It has also been a wonderful way for me to become more present and conscious of the experiences I am having.

The past few weeks I have been exploring Chile with my husband. ¬†We began our travels heading to the coast, in a similar manner to the way in which I chose to meander through Ireland so many years ago. ¬†We have our wetsuits, surfboards, yoga mat, rock climbing gear and backpacking gear ready for whatever Chile had in store. As we arrived in Matanzas, a tiny little town along the coast that reminded me warmly of the California Coast and had been recommended by a local for the surf, I ask “How long will we stay?”, to which Ale responded, “what do you think, as long as we want?”

“Sounds good to me. And then where to?”

He smiled and said, “Further South I suppose, and when our arms need a rest from all this paddling, let’s begin driving East to the Andes for some trekking and climbing, give the legs a workout.”

I smiled and nodded, “sounds good to me.”

I think over the course of these past few weeks I have probably smiled hundreds of thousands of times….hopefully I’m getting closer to millions. ¬†I am constantly in awe by the beauty we discover at every turn, constantly in a state of gratitude for this journey I am blessed to be traveling, for all of the twists and turns in my life that have brought me to the very place I sit, and for the prospect of so much unknown opportunity awaiting on the horizon. ¬†I smile now as I relive that brief but hilarious moment in Ireland, and cherish the words that Tony left with me. I am sharing this smile all across Chile, and just as this country is inspiring light within me, I hope that my smile inspires light within others. ¬†We should all smile more, it’s good for ourselves and great for one another. If you don’t believe me, just listen to this fantastic gem about¬†The Hidden Power of Smiling by Ron Gutman.

Here are a few of the places that our random little journey has brought us here in Chile and that keep invoking this ever-present smile:

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Lean Forward and Just Let Go

‚ÄúHow are you feeling Greta, are you scared?‚Ä̬† I grin widely and shake my head no.¬† ‚ÄúWhat‚Äôs your social security number? Just kidding, I better see that smile when we get to the bottom.‚Ä̬† My skydiving instructor laughed lightly at his own joke, I felt a tickle in my chest and laughed as well as the small biplane banked slightly.¬† It was almost time to jump; I was ready.¬† I glanced across the plane where my brother sat, he too had a wide grin on his face.¬† I gave him a thumbs up as I was strapped onto my instructor for my first tandem skydive, here we go.

As I leaned out over the edge, I had no instinct to hold on any longer, no desire to pull myself back into the safety of the plane, I quite simply just leaned forward and let go.  As we were free falling my eyes raced to see as far as I could see, to witness as much of this Earth that I could fit into view as I fell back down to it.  I wanted to absorb every detail, to etch it into memory.  The wind pulled at my cheeks, broadening my smile even further.  With an abrupt tug, we were safely floating by parachute, enjoying the gorgeous day, reveling in the quietness that was so contrast with the roaring wind from a moment before.  I let out a giggle, overflowing with glee, that was simply too much fun.

I was 22 the first time I jumped out of a perfectly good plane.  It was probably the riskiest thing I had ever done at that point in my life.  Taking that leap of faith would come to be somewhat of a trend in other areas of my life, moments when I would realize the opportunity at hand, ultimately trusting that I was meant to land on my feet.  In every instance it has been worth the flutter of the heart as I leapt into the unknown.

Risk is a funny thing, it both inspires innovation and spurs imagination, while also confronting vulnerability and discomfort.  Risk pushes us to perform beyond the best of our ability, it takes us out of our comfort zones where real growth is tangible.  That risk I took jumping out of the plane had very real consequences, positive and negative consequences that ran parallel and a mix of luck, fate and preparation helped determine my experience of these consequences.

Over the years I’ve tried to make a habit of embracing risk with the same zest that I do when I jump out of planes; to maintain that thirst for experience, that desire to soak in every ounce of living from the moment I have left the ledge, stepped away from the safety zone, let go of the security and comforts of that which I am used to and acquainted with.

At this very moment, the sound of seagulls fills my ears.  The sun is warm, gently kissing my face as it slowly wakes up the rest of Valparaiso.  I sit from a balcony, overlooking the colorful city, homes of every shade of pastel you can imagine, ships sitting out in the harbor, the Pacific resting calmly to my left as I look out over the rolling hills.  It is quiet, the sounds of morning dominated by birds, with faint ship engines motoring off in the distance.  I have been exploring, and this place has filled me with imagination and wonder.  The cobblestone streets, the homes painted so many various hues of color delight at every turn.  Risk brought me to this little city by the sea built up into the the hills, whose charm is intoxicating alongside its grit.  A leap of faith brought me to this very moment that is filling me with so much joy and wonder. 

I believe that each and every one of us feels a tug to do something every once in a while that others may consider crazy.  Every single one of us has ideas that seem perhaps too risky, that we may be too easily talked out of.  Yet, there is greatness in taking bold action, there is so much growth awaiting us in the discomfort of the unknown.  To defy the fears of others, and perhaps the fears of yourself, by listening to the desires within and taking that leap of faith- this is truly living.  I recently walked away from a lot of very obvious opportunity for perhaps the less obvious ones.  Making that bold move, to write a chapter where I would be drawing on every ounce of strength I could muster, where I would again be searching every landscape to etch in memory the beauty it beheld, that has pushed me beyond what I believed capable, this is my latest leap of faith, and the journey has just begun.

A week ago I was rock climbing gorgeous granite deep in the Andes, discovering waterfalls and meeting the sunrise as it spilled through deep valleys.  Two days ago I was galloping horses up a mountain outside of the gorgeous organic vineyard where we’ve been learning about biodynamic viticulture. Today I am walking the streets of Valparaiso, ready to further discover this place, ready to soak in as much as I can with eyes of wonder.  Tomorrow, well, who knows where tomorrow will lead, but I will be sure to take a moment to acknowledge with gratitude the decision to take this leap, to embrace this risk, to lean forward and just let go.  Today, I let out a giggle of glee, this is simply too much fun. 

So, what is that thing that makes your heart skip a beat? ¬†What is that leap of faith you have only imagined taking, but haven’t given it serious thought, yet? ¬†Think about it, imagine it taking shape, and believe that you really are strong enough to lean forward and just let go.

The view from where I sit, writing this post. Valparaiso is a gem of beauty and grit, a lovely place to meander, to explore and to imagine.

Wishing Away the Present

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Freshly cut hay, always invokes many memories of my youth.

“Soon, this will all be over.” I was¬†11 years old, standing on the back of a bumpy hay wagon, reaching with a hay hook for the bales as they were being pushed off the bailer. It was 97 degrees, but it felt like 110 with the humidity. The air was heavy with heat, and my bare arms were aching, itching from the sweat pouring into the scrapes¬†made by¬†each bale. I was exhausted, this was the third and final wagon of the day and the sun bore down on us as the hot summer day wore on. ¬†“Soon this will all be over.” I repeated the mantra in my mind as I reached for another bale and carried it to the back of the wagon to stack. ¬†We pulled around the corner, the final row of freshly cut meadow grass racked into the bailer and deposited once more into neat, rectangular bales. ¬†I took a long drink from my water bottle, the water was hot by now but I didn’t care, I swallowed quickly, dropping down on the nearest hay bale. I breathed deeply, enjoying the soft breeze that now kissed my face as the tractor changed gears, speeding toward the barn. Once at the barn I hoped off the wagon, unhitched the bailer and connected the tractor directly to the wagon. ¬†Back up on the wagon, we slowly pulled the teetering tower of freshly cut hay into the bank barn, the floorboards creaking heavily as the weight of all that hay we had just lifted by hand settled in. Silence rested upon my ears as the tractor engine was cut. ¬†I let out one last sigh, lifted the last hay bale I had just stacked neatly in the wagon and heaved it up into the balcony to be stored. ¬†Time to unload…I begin my mantra again as I bend, lift, toss, bend, lift, toss, bend, lift toss. ¬†“Soon this will all be over.”

Growing up on the farm was an incredible period of my life, we experienced moments of hardship, but also so many countless moments of joy and beauty.  I did so much discovering in that place, discovery of the world, discovery of myself.  One of the greatest things I learned was to cope with temporary discomfort when I knew that it was contributing toward a reality that was worth it.  When I was working for something that I loved, it was all worth it, no matter what momentary hardships might present themselves.

Although bailing hay was incredibly hard work, especially when I was so young, I accepted it as my responsibility, my “cost” for being privileged enough to grow up with horses. The privilege, to wake up before the sun, walk quietly out to the barn in a heavy sweater, and thick boots, pull back the barn door and be greeted by the warm smell of horses and the soft sound of their welcoming nickers. ¬†To grab a bridle, pull open the stall door and lead my horse out into the pre-dawn night. ¬†To pull myself onto her back, her thick fur immediately warming my legs, her ears forward looking into the night. ¬†To lie close to her neck, trusting that her eyesight at night is better than mine, and to lean into a smooth gallop with her, darkness enveloping my vision, the crisp air catching my breath, the stars shining softly as they fade into dawn. ¬†To lie flat on her back as she grazes, staring up at the sky, dreaming up ideas and futures, listening to the world wake up as the sun pulls itself slowly above the horizon. ¬†To sit, and embrace the warm golden rays as the sunshine spills into the field. ¬†This was all a gift, and every ounce of sweat was worth it. ¬†Without question.

Later on in life I would reach back into the memories of those hot summer days spent bailing, and I would retrieve that Mantra “Soon this will all be over.” ¬†The long drives on I-95 from Pennsylvania to North Carolina when I would be traveling between the home of my childhood and my new home of young adulthood. ¬†The late nights working as a bartender, having that one incredibly inappropriate come on that made me cringe and just want to dissolve into the wall. ¬†The commute across the Chinese/Hong Kong border with the roughly 300,000 other people¬†every day after hours spent inside toxic factories. ¬†The hours spent walking in the pouring rain, rain that had been pouring for six days straight, and had taken up residence in every article of clothing that I had. ¬†The moments¬†between homes, spent living out of suitcases¬†on couches, with little privacy or feeling of independence. The end of the month that the numbers just don’t add up, and bills must be paid by credit card. ¬†The breaths taken¬†behind a mask as I walk the streets of countless polluted cities, my lungs forever tarnished from exposure in China those many years before. ¬†“Soon this will all be over.”

Beyond all of those little moments of hardship, those brief memories of pain or discomfort, every single one of those moments was building toward something greater.  Each was contributing to my growth as a person, to my development of self and my fearlessness and courage.  Each of these moments that I once wished away, I continue to learn from with each reflection.  I have realized over time the weight that these six simple words carry, and that they are not to be used lightly, as they go beyond the immediate moment, they go to the core of our own existence.  Soon this really will all be over, and there will no longer be future moments in our life to cope with.  In the end, we actually live our lives very quickly, the good and the bad.

I catch myself now, when I am wishing away my present, and rather than uttering that Mantra, I try to look for small opportunities to acknowledge and appreciate beauty within the present.  Today I spent the day pruning vines on an organic vineyard.  The task itself is not overtly laborious, it is not overly taxing but it can be somewhat monotonous and the mind tends to wander.  After hours in the hot sun snipping and plucking, walking row after row, my mind was tempted to reach again for that Mantra.  But no, not this time.  This time I took a moment to acknowledge and appreciate. Looking at the horizon I am surrounded by mountains, all with dynamic shapes, sizes, colors and reliefs- snow caps straight ahead, to my right cacti blanket the mountainside, to my left steep thick green ridges.  I smile, standing in awe of the rawness of their beauty.  I look down at the vine I am trimming back, feeling love for the beautiful little buds that I am encouraging the vine to channel sap to.  I imagine the small role I play in the life of this plant, the grapes that will be born from it, their journey to grow, be bottled and eventually end up in a glass poured in celebration and cheers- suddenly I am a vessel of fate for these grapes.  My smile gets bigger. A soft breeze plays with my hair, I relish in the feeling of being outside all day, dirt on my hands, the sun on my back, surrounded by trees and birds, breathing in the clean, fresh air. I begin imagining how I will take the knowledge I am gaining from this project and build something from it.  Gratitude overwhelms me.  It is a lovely day, and I hope that this is not over too soon; I continue onto the next row.

Have you ever caught yourself wishing away your present moments, rather than digging in and pulling out every last drop of life you have in the present? ¬†What have you done about it? ¬†It takes practice, for me anyway, and a level of consciousness, but I have found there is so much beauty around us, it can always be found, should we only choose to seek it. Our perspective of challenges can be shifted dramatically when we find moments to appreciate within the midst of them, before it’s all over.

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Loving every single moment while I have it in this magical place

 

Acting as a Vessel for Fate

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Caught up in a moment of exhaustion after climbing up and slipping down many mountains along the Appalachian Trail. Later this day we would receive the wonderful “Trail Magic” from the lovely family described below.

The day had been absolutely exhausting and I was spent.  I had spent several hours at the DMV in Greensboro trying to get my Pennsylvania license transferred over to North Carolina where I had recently declared residency and bought a new car.  The day had turned grey, rain was pouring down and I had spent the past 25 minutes trying to find my way back to the highway from some random corner of the city I had never ventured into before.  All I wanted to do was get home.

I finally merged onto a road that looked half familiar and felt reassured I would be back in my comfy apartment within 45 minutes. ¬†As I was cruising toward the edge of the city, I saw a woman walking on the side of the street, a look of desperation strewn across her face. She was very skinny, probably in her early forties although she looked worn in a manner that aged her and rain dripped off her dark skin. ¬†I slowed down, rolled down my window and asked her if she was okay. With a look of shock and surprise at my stopping, she told me how she had just missed the last bus, and she had to get to this address before they closed at 6 o’clock or else she would not be able to begin her new life in Florida. ¬†I told her to get in, that I would drive her and we would make it by 6. ¬†It was 5:47. ¬†I stepped on the gas and away we went.

As we zipped our way back into the city she repeatedly said, god bless you child, and then proceeded to tell me a little bit of her story, how her church community had collected enough money to buy her a ticket to Florida where she had a friend who had arranged a new job for her. ¬†She was supposed to start this new job on Monday. ¬†She told me of how she had lost everything, her family and her job in Greensboro, how this was her last chance to start her new life. ¬†She described how horrible and hopeless she felt chasing after that bus on a rainy friday evening, knowing if she did not pick up the plane ticket before 6 o’clock she would not be able to fly the next day. It was now 5:54.

In my entire life I had never picked up a hitchhiker, nor had I ever invited a random stranger into my car. ¬†There was just some indescribable feeling that I had, my gut telling me I was meant to play a role in this woman’s life. ¬†We wound our way around the city, getting a bit turned around here or there as this was before iPhones and Google Maps and we were just using my atlas to navigate. ¬†Eventually we pulled up to a very small little building, the address matching the scribble note she was holding- to our relief the light was still on. ¬†I quickly hugged her and wished her good luck on her journey and her new life, and told her I was so happy that I could was able to help her today. ¬†She thanked me again, over and over, before jumping out of the car and dashing to the building. ¬†I sat for a moment, making sure the building was still open and she would be okay. ¬†When she waved to me after entering, I backed out of the drive and again found myself lost in the city, in the grey rain. It was 6:01.

I no longer felt exhausted, I wasn’t dreaming of my warm bed or wishing myself home, I didn’t care how late it was or that I was lost again. I was laughing out loud. I was smiling so big that my cheeks began to ache. ¬†Yes!! We had made it!! I had no idea what would happen to this woman, I had no way of knowing what would become of her or her new life, but I had played some magical part of her journey and wow did it feel incredible. ¬†I acknowledged how fantastic it was to give with no expectation for oneself, to be able to trust and act as a vessel of fate for another human being.

Years later, when I was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail I had this similar experience many times, but the roles were reversed.  As a thru-hiker you experience countless moments of tired exhaustion, days when you have walked for 25 miles, crossed rivers and summited three mountains, you are out of food and out of water and walking along the highway, trying to get a hitch into town so that you can have a warm meal and wash the six days of dirt and grime off of your sweaty body and your rotten smelling clothes.  Cars roll by without slowing, and on you walk, your aching feet begging for a rest.

One day, after a very rough week that had us hiking through mud and rain for six days straight, we were having “one of those days” and could not get a hitch. ¬†After two miles hiking along the road, a minivan pulled over and a clean and cheerful family rolled down the window and beckoned for us to climb in. ¬†The father up front had a strong Irish accent, the two children in the back seat stared at us¬†with enormous eyes of wonder. Names were exchanged, and the questions began around what our story was. ¬†When we told them had walked 845 miles to get to that very place, they stared at us in awe. We provided the name and address of the hostel where we intend to stay, but the father said first we must come for dinner. ¬†They proceeded to take us home, offered us showers and washed our clothes, cooked and served us the most incredible salmon and steak dinner you could imagine, all the while asking countless questions about what our lives on the trail were like, why we were hiking and what kind of characters we had met along the way.

As we described countless adventures, the parents told their children to listen to us closely, to ask us questions and to imagine what a great journey we were on. ¬†After treating us as honored guests in their home, they drove us onward to the hostel where we were able to finally sleep in a bed with full bellies and clean clothes. ¬†As they dropped us at the hostel, the family thanked us for the time we shared with them. They thanked us…the vastness of their kindness was overwhelming for us, and there were no words that could express how much we appreciated their selfless¬†generosity. Yet here they were, thanking us for being a brief part of their lives, just as I thanked that woman in North Carolina, for being in that place at that moment so that I could play some role in her journey. ¬†Gratitude. Oh what gratitude comes when we encounter these vessels of fate, who deliver us where we are meant to be, in moments when they are most needed, the drivers of whom we also inevitably inspire, even if done unintentionally.

Our lives are intertwined with the lives of others; and even as we weave our own lives individually, we are constantly crossing the paths of one another, making connections and perhaps building bridges where they are needed, even if we are not the ones meant to cross them.  There is so much beauty in acknowledging this, and appreciating the moments when that little magic vessel shows up. Whether you are the driver or the passenger, you are ultimately equally blessed.

In what moments of your life have you experienced the vessel of fate arriving in the nick of time?  Have you had the beautiful gift of being able to be at the helm of the vessel, delivering some selfless act of kindness in the absolute perfect moment it was required?  How fantastic did you feel!?