The Illusion of Control

Stilling the Mind

In my last post, I offered the concept that choice is all we really have and to choose wisely but after a recent painful event, I pondered, do we really have choices?  I will get to that event but for now, if one considers the philosophic concept of determinism, one abandons free will which in turn points to having no choice whatsoever. The definition of determinism is thus: it is the doctrine that all events, including human action, are ultimately determined by causes external to the will. Some philosophers have taken determinism to imply that individual human beings have no free will and cannot be held morally responsible for their actions.

Take for instance the case of Covid.  If we choose to follow the recommended CDC guidelines, we will greatly reduce our chances of getting or spreading the disease.  Furthermore, it is suggested that we stay home as much as possible to reduce our chances of becoming a vector of transmission.  At this point, we all pretty much know why it’s a good idea to flatten the curve.

And still the pandemic goes on, month after month as hot spots move about the American landscape, this is a fire that has yet to be stamped out. Many people are getting tired and stressed by the length of our vigilance. We are an independent thinking nation of people and while many are embracing the challenge to not become another statistic, others are venturing out. I’ve seen more and more cars on the road as summer progresses and we “quaran-cheat” with parties, gatherings and celebrations.  We’ve needed this social time; humans are social animals.  Some choose to camp out in secret backwoods spots or spend time on a beach if it hasn’t been closed. As an avid backpacker myself, I watched as the Pacific Crest Trail association implored hikers to not attempt thru-hiking the trail this year.  Permits were revoked, trail angels and support faded away and hikers groused about it or applauded the decision depending on their ideas about the pandemic crisis.

In the effort at maintaining good mental health, I continued to hike my local trails as I am blessed to be in a place where I rarely run into other people.  My wilderness plans were focused on more remote locations away from the PCT which has become pretty well trod of late so I am in agreement with the PCTA’s decision regarding Covid-19.

The choice to stay within my comfort zone of risk, as in backpacking and horseback riding was sound as far as I was concerned.  I am very well experienced in both these things and have whittled down all risk as to be non-existent.  I am a safety star, careful my middle name.  Surely these activities will pose no risk to the general public, right?

Yes, and no.  Here’s where personal choice comes into play.  If you eliminate all risks, as much as is humanly possible what else can go wrong?  But it is exactly why we call things that go wrong “an accident” because life is unforeseen and unpredictable even when we do the best we possibly can.

Which is how I came to be in the emergency room of a hospital getting multiple x-rays to determine how many bones I may have broken on a remote national forest trail while riding my 100% safe and trustworthy horse.

Basically, shit happens.  Sometimes even when you use the power of your choices to become as well informed and as well prepared as you can.  Even when you are experienced and conscientious, aware and careful. One cannot factor on everything, and especially those factors you are unaware even exist.

Who knew that on that fated moment a deer would scare my husbands’ horse (they aren’t usually scared by deer) and that he would dump my husband then wheel into my horse and she would  jump in response and at that moment my saddle fittings would fail and dump me onto my shoulder?  Who knew that a second deer would boldly linger in the brush, then leap out, charge at our dogs and further frighten the already unsettled horses? Who knew that my shoulder would tear and I would be left with an unusable left arm to catch a frightened horse sporting a saddle sideways upon her ribs?

No one knew and least of all, me.  The me that not 15 minutes before had checked my girth to make sure it was fastened tight, less I have an accident!  The silver lining was that we hadn’t gone far; the bad part (besides being hurt) was that we had just set up camp for a long anticipated 3-day horse camping trip.  And there we were, just a few hours later, taking it all down and loading up for a drive home with a stop at the emergency room along the way.

Nothing broken, but in a great deal of pain, I took to my bed for days and slept off the pain meds and allowed myself to heal.  My ribs were severely bruised, making it even harder to get up and move about; my arm hung uselessly by my side. In the time between doctor appointments, I pondered all my choices that led up to that point, and wondered what I could have done to change any of the results other than remain safely at home.  And yet, accidents happen at home as well; I’ve personally torn my knee tripping over a wheel barrow.  My friend broke her leg in her back yard and another just spent 7 days in the hospital with complications from gall bladder surgery.  I myself had the same surgery a year ago and then returned with complications as well, both times having to leave the safety of my home with these serious ailments.

So where does choice figure in when sudden emergencies occur?  One can choose to stay home with the hope that they stay out of harms way, but harm can find you at home.  One can choose to live life and venture out as safely as possible and still, harm can find you there as well.

Which leads me to control and the illusion of control.  There are times when we may think we are in control of our destiny, that the choices we make, make a difference. We eat healthy, exercise, reduce our stress, contribute to society, brush our teeth, are kind to others. And then there are times that clearly point out how little control we have; control of our life isn’t always available, we just thought it was ours to choose, but it wasn’t.  It’s in these times of perceived tragedy and accidental injury that we see that control may not be ours to hold. No matter the free will we exercise over ourselves, ultimately, we cannot control everything.  Is this what is meant by faith and trust? Is it not the realm of faith that something, someone, some higher power has control and purpose and that there may be meaning in the chaos of circumstances beyond our control?  Is this the ultimate in trust?

I don’t subscribe to determinism, nor do I believe that we are entirely subjected to free will.  Perhaps it’s a combination of both a higher power and our own free will.  But, and here’s the kicker, one has to be aware of the choice before we are free to choose.  When someone reacts out of anger, triggered by old programs and patterns, they are not choosing if they are unaware there is a choice.  Choices come when one is aware.  It is our sacred mission in this life to awaken enough to see the choices before us, to transcend old habits and programs and find the free will that belongs to us.  Not all of our life is steered by our own free will, sometimes fate steps in and removes that illusion of control over our destinies.

Meditation may just be the easiest, simplest way to awaken to our egoic patterns of mind control that robs us of our free will and choices. In meditation, we exercise our ability to control wayward thoughts and old programing that keeps us from awareness and we bring our attention to the moment at hand. There are many techniques but the goal (if there must be a goal to stilling the mind) is learning how to find space between who you think you are and who you really are.  It’s listening to your inner voice and finding quiet knowing and clarity.  It is that clarity that awakens your mind to the choices in life that are before you.  Choices you never even knew you had.

And when you find your clarity to make awakened choices, you also may find the illusion of control and relax, surrendering yourself to something bigger and more beautiful than your own small self.  And that is a choice I can get behind.

Light Steps

 

Spirit Deer

A deer lightly steps upon a glowing moon-pool of light.  She moves cautiously, treading softly into the opening within a forest of antlers. This is a magical night of power and wisdom.  A night full of spirits where danger and safety are the same;  in this reality, there is no difference.  Yin and Yang, Black and White, Up and Down, Left and Right… all parts of the same life force energy that animates and binds us together.  We are one, the moon guides us, the light shows our steps, the darkness defines the light, the light dispels the darkness.

Go forth wise deer, go forth wise soul, go forth and do good, do bad, do nothing, do everything, there is no judgement in your doing. In the All That Is, everything is encompassed.  There is room for every kind of every… in the ALL.

The illusion of control is revealed for the illusion it is… all we truly own is our choices.  Our choices define us as radiant in the light, or robed in darkness, lingering in the shadows.  Our choices set forth ripples, so choose wisely deer one. Choice is what is dear.

There Is No Spoon

Deer Buddha

Recently, I participated in an online retreat with hospice chaplain, Amita Llamo.  Her book, DANDELIONS BLOOMING IN THE CRACKS OF SIDEWALKS, Stories from the Bedside of the Dying reveal the power of simple human kindness and the wisdom of beingness, even as we are faced with our own death.  Especially as we are facing death. While I enjoyed her book and wished I had read it (or something akin) prior to my father’s death 2 years ago, it was Amita’s 5-year meditative retreat that had me signing up for her Zoom retreat.  Amita shared with us her wisdom from this extended time spent in prayer, meditation and introspection.

Over 2 and 1/2 days, Amita introduced us to the concept of 4 worlds that exist simultaneously on Earth.  The first world, where we all live, is the world of form.  Everything measurable and quantifiable lives here.  You can describe it, taste it, weigh it, name it, see it… you get the picture.  The 1st world is every THING.  The 2nd world, is the world of relationships, how we connect to others, other things, the environment, ideas… it’s the world of concepts.  Many of us live here in our heads (maybe even more than our senses) and navigate back and forth between world 1 and world 2 and never go beyond the two worlds of things and concepts.

But as we get to world 3 and 4, we find worlds that are not generally “lived in” but merely touched in moments I will explain later.  Here we are limited by language and words to describe something that is not describable.  So, bear with me as I attempt to use first world words onto 2nd world concepts to illustrate 3rd and 4th world phenomena.

The 3rd world is the world of energy as it exists between form.  As an artist, I would call this negative space… everything that is not a thing.  I hadn’t considered that this negative space was an energy but it makes sense to me.  This energy can be found with a simple exercise: close your eyes and bring your hands together, but not touching, as if in prayer (palms together). Focus on the space between your hands, holding them apart about 5 or 6 inches.  Now, slowly, push them together and feel the space between your hands as they get closer and closer.  Do the same in reverse, pull them apart and see if you can feel the energy elongating from the compressed feeling when they were close together.  If your mind is quiet and you can focus on this exercise, you can feel the energy, almost like pulling etheric taffy.  Try it and see!  This is the energy of the 3rd world.

The 4th world is the collective whole of consciousness and divinity.  Amita described it as a cycle, and used the cycle of water to help us understand.  Water comes down as rain or is transformed into snow, which melt and flows into streams and rivers, eventually making its way to the ocean where it evaporates, transforming again into vapor which then makes clouds and the process begins again.  This cycle is inherent in all things and all non-things.

We reach world 3 and 4 in moments of Grace.  It can come upon you in deep meditation, or after sacred ceremony.  Some find it using psychotropic drugs or plant medicine, yogic breathwork or shamanic practices.  Grace can be found along the bedside of the dying or the birth of a child.  It can be found in the heartbeat of a horrible car accident where time stands still and suddenly you know more than can possible be imagined just seconds before.  Perhaps you have felt a glimmer of grace in a dream like state and it follows you into your waking world as you open your eyes onto the new day. Grace takes many forms but you know it when you feel it.

I have felt many moments of Grace and have glimpsed the 3rd and 4th worlds enough times to know these states exist and are as real as the laptop before me.  My chosen path is the path of meditation, which is why Deer Buddha, is the title painting for this blog post.  Both Deer Buddha and Sacred Cow (from the last post) came to me in a moment of Grace. I truly adore meditation as a path to Grace as it’s far sweeter and easier than sitting at the bedside of the dying or tripping out on acid.  Meditation is a gentle path to these worlds of energy.  I think, perhaps, that as an artist, I tap into these energy worlds and allow ideas and imagery to come through and then, in manifesting this creative energy, I bring these visions forth into the 1st and 2nd worlds.

As I align myself with these energetic worlds, there are more and more synchronicities and moments of divine Grace.  In lifting the veil, I raise my own energy.  As many other spiritual teachers have said, a rising tide lifts all boats.  In lifting my vibrational energy through the manifestation of creative spirit, I raise the energy of the collective.  As do all artists and creative souls; art is a spiritual practice!

In the 1999 movie, The Matrix, the hero, Neo, is on a journey to truth.  At one point, he meets a young spiritual acolyte who is bending spoons with his mind. Spoon Boy says to Neo,

“Do not try and bend the spoon, that’s impossible.  Instead, only try to realize the truth… there is no spoon.  Then you’ll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.”

The first time I heard this, I sighed in awe at the profundity of that simple message.  Change your mind and change your reality. But in the movie, Neo is not in the physical world, he is actually in a simulation.  For him, in that world, there is no spoon.  But when he leaves the world of the mind, he returns to a place where spoons do in fact, exist. We are faced with an existential dilemma, is there or isn’t there a spoon? Well, yes, in the many worlds idea of Llamo there is and there isn’t a spoon.

Many on a spiritual path are heavily invested in the physical world and miss the depth of existence by not being able to experience nor even imagine a state of Grace.  Some seek to live in worlds beyond the physical and strive away from where they are now.  They live in the future or ruminate over the past, disregarding the present.  They long for something new, different, better, pleasurable and move away from discomfort.  Buddha says that longing and desire is often the cause of much suffering as we fail to accept and allow and surrender to the reality, we live in.  Even longing for enlightenment is a desire that can cause suffering.

But if we look towards embracing all the 4 worlds, not just the manifestation of the physical world, nor only the etheric world, we begin to see the fullness of all the layers of reality.  We learn to recognize truth and see things more clearly.  All worlds are interconnected, and we are here to experience the many worlds in their own way; though we live in the physical, we are in the world, not of the world.  Sometimes we may even lift up the veil and see, there is a spoon AND there is no spoon. Both are true.

Dancing Green Woman
(She lives in another world)

This is NOT about Covid 19

sacred cow

My latest painting: The Sacred Cow

Well, here we are.  We seem to be experiencing a world wide phenomena most have never seen before.  It’s remarkable, amazing, frightening, overwhelming, unprecedented and yet, somewhat predictable as the world has seen pandemics before.

BUT, I’m not here to write about Covid 19 and the Corona Virus. I want to get back to blogging.  After 2 years of sparse contributions I’m ready to return to sharing my art and my thoughts.  If you recall, I said “see ya later” to the blog when I started to write my memoir following my hike down the Oregon portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.  Well, I finished the book, and several rewrites/edits. I was shopping for a professional (read objective) editor and an agent to help with that when Covid hit my corner of the world. Book on hold, I hunkered down and hung out with the newly retired husband.  We worked on various home improvement projects and considered ourselves fortunate to have property where we can walk and garden and be outside in a gentle way as the rest of the world seemed to explode with a level of angst and anguish and fear.

Now, in the past few years, along with the writing, I began to go on meditation retreats of different kinds.  I went on a yoga retreat, a woman’s medicine circle, a couple of silent vipassana style retreats, a big, splashy new age retreat as well occasional stay-at-home retreats where I meditated in a small yurt on the corner of the property for days at a time. I even hiked another 60 miles solo on the PCT where I realized it just wasn’t the same and there were too many people on the trail to suit my need for solitude.  In the past week, I’ve completed a 2 ½ day on-line retreat via Zoom meetings. What a world we live in now!

All this retreating and self-reflection along with the writing project stirred up deep seated traumas that needed to be witnessed (by ME) and healed. I am stronger and happier for having taken the time to clean out the cobwebs as well as fix the broken parts of my foundation so that my emotional house can be strong and withstand the next thing life had to throw at it.  When Covid hit, I was struck with an initial sense of fear (a normal reaction) but my training and inner work helped me to settle down relatively quickly  and be in a place of peace as I live each day as they come and try not to predict or look too far into the future.  Will we face financial ruin?  I hope not, but I can’t do anything about it, we made our retirement funds as safe as we could. Watching the news is anxiety provoking, so we limit our exposure and between the two of us, we’ve come up with a “safe word” to remind the other when we get worked up about how a global health crisis has become political fodder and other inflammatory issues, the stress of this is not good for our immune systems.  Will we catch the disease and will it be fatal to my asthmatic-over-60-year-old husband?  Maybe, but we are in a quasi-quarantine and do all the surgical-clean procedures if we ever have to go out and bring things home (which we mostly don’t). I’ve done all I can do to make sure he’s protected, as well as protecting myself.  Worrying anymore beyond this won’t help and so I surrendered to the present and that’s pretty much where we live, in the present moment.

But not everyone lives in there and when confronted with a friend’s personal issues that had her flashing her anger onto me, I puzzled over her reaction and knew that there was a lesson to be learned.  Somewhere.  During a meditative moment where I studied a tree outside my window in depth, the lesson emerged and I’d like to share what I wrote in my journal.  There is a lesson here for all of us and it’s not just about navigating difficult times but about accepting what is right in front of us all the time.

April 16, 2020

We were asked (in the online retreat) to observe a natural thing and look at it until we saw more than what could be seen and knew more than we had known.  I stared intently at the willow that holds my bird feeders.  I took stock of its obvious qualities, length, shape, color, various dimensions. I looked at it with my “artists eye” and saw the negative spaces between the branches the way some turned up and down.  I saw the joints of the branches, the knurled look of older fingers, the supple greenness of new growth. I noted lichen growing on elderly parts and flourishing on the deadwood.  I saw where bird feet had worn bark smooth as they perched, taking advantage of my offered seed and suet.

I began to look at the fractal patterns, the new growth was a repeating pattern of the growth that had come before it.  Not yet twisted and tempered by time, the new branches, while straight, still contained the essence of what they would become.

And then I applied the fractal metaphor to my own life.  The bumpy encounter with my friend came to mind.  My usual methodology of “talking it out” had been closed to me so I found myself tracing the issues back in time.   It was there, in those fresh, new, supple branches of early development that I saw the fractal pattern that would now be the hallmarks of our older growth.

If relationships are like trees, then there are many, many varieties and species. Some, bear fruit and are nourishing, while others provide respite from summer heat.  Some age gracefully while other may fall apart, their time on earth a foregone conclusion, serving a purpose that is brief though no less important. All trees have their place, to appreciate the fractal nature of life allows each to be what it is.  Nothing more or less.  And thus, rather than lamenting that my willow-like friend will never be the sturdy oak of my aspirations, strong and reliable, knowing that she is more like the willow, I can relax and allow, finding beauty and peace in all forms of communion with others.

IMG_0573

Serial Muralist

So now I am a muralist.  A serial muralist. LOL! I just finished a commissioned mural for a dog trainer/pet sitting business. Diana had recently installed a large shed for her new alpacas and wanted the back of the shed to  beautify her property.  Her home-owner’s association (HOA) wouldn’t allow a sign at the end of her driveway, so she opted to have a mural of dogs as a way to indicate to her clients they’d come to the right place.  The shed is 30 feet long, but it is hundreds of feet from the road, so the perspective makes the mural about “sign sized” as seen from the road.

Drawing in progress. Cut-outs of silhouette dogs made the next step easier.

Diana found me through Eugene Urban Canvas, a clearinghouse for muralists in the Eugene, Oregon area. I got listed with EUC because I like painting murals, and frankly, I’ve done a few in my time.

Spray paint around the image cut-outs leave an outline “glow”.

I now have an under-drawing structure.

I started thinking about how many I’d done as I worked on this project and realized there are a fair amount of them stretching all the way back to my high school days when I painted an Arizona desert sunset on my bedroom wall.  Later, in my 20’s, I’d painted a VW Beetle on the garage door of my mechanic as trade for some work on my own vintage bug.  The mural showed the car on a road heading into the coast range mountains, yet another colorful sunset image. Quite a few of my murals have been of sunsets, people seem to really like the color palette of yellow and orange against a gloaming blue sky.

Among some of my murals I’ve painted a fairy princess posed with a crescent moon, a moon over the New York skyline, the city lights of Seattle, ponies peeking out over stall doors, giant horses running across the roof of a barn (at 100 feet long, it can be seen from planes as they land at the Eugene airport), a Star Wars themed sunset, historic images and once, the world series winning Oregon State baseball team. As requested by my client, the baseball mural featured images from the big event and so, sadly, it was painted over when the team won the world series again the following year. Good for them, but it made the mural completely superfluous! It was painted over and something more timeless and generic replaced my work; who knew they would win again so fast? Probably my shortest-lived mural, it was up for less than a year.

You can see this driving north on Hwy 99, just past the Eugene Airport (Oregon) on the west side of the highway.

The entrance to Goss Stadium at OSU… for about a year.

But that’s the nature of murals, they are generally considered public art, so they have to do their job as décor and if that job is linked to a business or a place in time, well, things change and so too then must the mural adapt or perish. I’ve come to accept the transitory nature of murals and have found the ones that last the longest, fit the best into their space and time. I once painted a Tuscan landscape in a client’s craft room, when they sold the house years later, did the mural survive the sale?  When the teen-aged girl who loves horses, grows up and moves out, will her mother still keep the pony visiting over the stall door?  I know my mother did not keep the desert sunset in my teen-aged bedroom; she redecorated and turned it into her sewing room, the sunset replaced with a clothes rack.

I encourage clients to have me paint their mural on canvas or large sign boards, that way if ever a move occurs in the future, the mural can be brought along, or even sold and transferred to a new owner. The Seattle mural benefited from this as the nightclub I painted it for, went out of business and the mural was relocated to another city.

Nine feet long is not easy to transport, but it survived the business!

It’s how I managed to get the fairy princess back, where she now graces my car-park wall. But, it’s also how the same fairy princess was stolen right off the Alpine Market wall and disappeared for a few weeks. She was MIA until the thieves realized they would never be able to display it without advertising their crime and so, late one night, returned her to the back alley behind the store.

Oh where did you go, fairy princess?

Murals have stories to tell, and my newest one is no exception.  While painting it, my client received calls from her Home Owners Association demanding she quit as the mural was unacceptable to them.  Diana had notified the HOA months before that a mural was coming (after they complained about her long white shed) but no questions were asked and nothing more was said about it until the day I outlined the image.  Unfortunately for the HOA, murals are not against the rules, so we continued on, despite further phone calls and a hastily penned letter.  Once again, a mural of mine has generated controversy; not everyone is a lover of the arts.  But when it comes to beautifying your property, it seems some have overstepped the boundaries of good neighbors.  I’m glad I’m not taking it personally that someone called my work “graffiti” before I was even done with it; truly, it says more about them than me.

Blocking in color.

The chief enemy of creativity is ‘good’ sense. Pablo Picasso

Clouds are coming along, grass area blocked in.

As for me, I love changes, change is all about new energy and growth. Change is the essence of creativity, and that sometimes takes courage. This time however, the changes that may be forthcoming could possibly be a renewed and updated HOA or if it doesn’t serve the people as it was intended, then perhaps its dissolution altogether?  It depends on what the neighbors say and how things progress from here on out. Diana is not backing down; she loves her new mural!  If you’d like to support Diana regarding the mural, comment below and I will forward your messages on to her.

Just about there!

There is power and energy in art, and sometimes, the bigger the art, the bigger the reaction.

Finished mural, All Wags and Smiles!

Art is standing with one hand extended into the universe and one hand extended into the world, and letting ourselves be a conduit for passing energy.  –Albert Einstein

Secrets and Lies

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This is Bailey.  I painted Bailey as a Christmas/Birthday present for his owner, even though Bailey has been gone for some time now, this piece was a loving testament to a wonderful dog.  Bailey’s owner shed a tear or two, it was a wonderful surprise; her husband had arranged with me this summer when he saw my body of work and knew at that moment just what to get his wife for the upcoming eventful day.

We communicated in secret, sending texts and photos; I kept him apprised of my progress until I reached a point in the process where I ask my clients, “Do you want to see any more or would you like for the rest of the painting to be a surprise for you as well?”

He opted to be surprised.  Just the few initial sketches and the start of the color blocking was enough as he wanted to see the finished piece all at once. He wanted in on the surprise.

When I ask this question of my clients who commission pieces, the answer is always the same.  After the initial start to the painting (which perhaps confirms their faith in me as the right person for the job) they say the same thing, “let me be surprised.”

Now, I realize, there are quite a few shows on TV where the “big reveal” is an anticipated moment.  It becomes the crux of the whole program; Fixer Upper comes to mind as the designer/construction team of Chip and Joanna Gaines show the shocked, awed and always, thrilled, homeowners the fabulous renovations on their newly remodeled home. And then there is the whole Publishers Clearing House thing where they come to the unsuspecting winner’s front door with a big check and a flotilla of balloons, everyone is always ecstatic in their joy at receiving big checks! I think perhaps the thrill of Christmas morning is banking on this surprise factor in a very big way.

People love surprises; the surprise element adds to the excitement of the moment.  The sideswipe of a positive shock often results in shrieks of joy, wild jumping in childlike abandonment. Surprises create a heightened emotional component, and from a neurological perspective, heightened emotions cause the brain to remember the event. Which is what the surprise giver was probably after in the first place.

BUT, while people love pleasant surprises, they hate unpleasant surprises and they hate them even more if they are unanticipated and shocked… the definition of a surprise, I suppose. I used the word ‘sideswiped’ in the above paragraph to heighten this factor about surprises: it’s the suddenness of change that amplifies the surprise and whether that is a pleasant or unpleasant incident, either way, it will be remembered, you can count on that.

When planning a surprise event/gift, one must be able to keep a secret.  Keeping gifts a secret, planning the moment to “pop the question” or perhaps pulling off a surprise birthday party entails quite a bit of secret keeping; one would spoil the event without the deception needed for this kind of surprise. Generally speaking, most people forgive you for keeping these kinds of secrets as the intention is to heighten the positive experience of the moment.  Secrets, like surprises can be kept for good.  But secrets can also be kept out of fear, or even with malicious intent.  Some may be kept out of a sense of protection for others, out of love.  Some secrets are kept for privacy, the keeper isn’t ready to share their personal shame with the world.  However, secrets kept out of fear, such as family secrets of shame and guilt, or even the ones designed to prevent pain of revelation are destructive and toxic.  Secrets can be used to manipulate others, as they take away the others ability to make informed decisions.

Besides what secrets do to the ‘other’ they also do things to the ‘keeper’. Tendrils of fear seep into the psyche of the secret keeper and undermine their very self esteem as their integrity suffers a blow from the internalized keeping of pain. The pain of guilt and shame, jealousy and anger often poison the secret keeper as they hold their knowledge and try to justify why they should hold it.  This is where denial steps in.  As we deny the secret event, our mind will twist and turn and try to create a safe place where it can rest easy from the pain of the secret. We tell ourselves stories to make it okay inside, and these stories, sidestepped away from the truth, are the seeds of lies.  We begin to believe those lies until we can’t tell the difference from the truth of a matter or from our own version.  When we fabricate our own version of reality, we lie.  We lie to ourselves and we lie to others.

Lies are toxic to a relationship.  Even the smallest of lies become the seeds of mistrust.  When people lie about small things, inconsequential things, one wonders how they can be trusted at all? Trust is a precious commodity, once broken, it takes a long time to repair. Small lies are the fractures, large lies become those sudden sideswiping surprise moments that take your breath away as your reality crumbles into a broken pile. But small lies add up, and as my mother used to say, “a fracture is a break held in place, but it’s still broken.”

If the lies we tell others are toxic to our relationship with them, what then do the lies we tell ourselves do to our own psyche?

 Lies told to ourselves undermine our mental health and our ability to forge healthy relationships and hinder our personal and spiritual growth in life. It’s as simple as that.

One of the 5 precepts of Buddhism is ‘do not lie, nor speak falsely, but manifest the truth’. I believe this is also one of the 10 commandments, ‘thou shall not bear false witness’ seems to cover the concept of telling the truth.  While both these ideas have noble sentiments, it is only with further thought and realization of the damage we do to ourselves and others by lying that change will be made.

When considering secrets and lies, one must weigh the prospects of the outcome of speaking the truth. It is not always best to speak the truth, even if you know what the truth may be. Buddhist philosophy reflects the idea, when speaking, one must ask themselves, is it true?  Is it kind? Is it useful?  Is it the right time? Will it matter? To say ‘no’ to any of these questions will guide you in your efforts to honor your integrity and build your self-esteem. To lie in order to cover up shame and guilt however, is to chip away at your own foundation of nobility and honor.  It’s these kinds of chips that keep me from sleeping at night; I seem to awaken in the middle of the night whenever there is a falsehood festering inside.  Even when it’s someone else’s lies.

Recently I awoke as I realized a loved one had lied to me. Earlier in the evening, I had been taken aback by the realization that they’d held back information I was looking for; and I’d missed the lie buried within the exchange.  My subconscious however, remembered, and I awoke with the recall that I’d asked several times for disclosure and was told, outright, they had no knowledge when in fact, they did.

And just like that, my trust is broken.

And though my trust was fractured, my ability to forgive is intact. I can forgive because I understand something about forgiveness: it’s not for them, but for me.  I forgive as I understand the pain and the shame and the guilt and all the human reasons why they held back and why they lied.  I understand that lies have been a part of their life for a long time, denial of reality and of truth has been woven into their psyche as a survival mechanism. When you live through drama and trauma, your mind comes up with all sorts of ways to protect itself. Only through deep introspection and inner work can you awaken from the trap of denial. I know this trail, I’ve been on it myself, so I forgive because I understand.

I forgive, but I do not forget.  To forget is another form of denial, my learned forgetting trapped me in toxic relationships as I did not learn the lessons of lying.  I’ve had the lies of others destroy several key relationships in my life but I’ve finally reached the point where I have learned my lesson.

I can still love the liar, but not the lie.  I can forgive the liar, but no longer put my trust in what they say. I can speak my truth, in the way that serves and causes the least amount of harm, but I have to include myself when considering harm.  To harm myself by withholding my own truth from myself, is to cause harm. As my meditation teacher said, ‘You can forgive and still call the police.’ Forgiveness means understanding, but it doesn’t mean allowing yourself to be a part of the wrong-doing.

Now, even though I felt left out and taken aback by this reality, I am grateful it happened. I needed to see this. I needed to see it because I’d not been looking at this loved one clearly, I had a narrow view of their humanness based on what I wanted to see.

How do I proceed from here?  I still love them, but perhaps my trust was misplaced.  We are all human, struggling with our own issues in our own time, at our own pace.  I am reminded that situations that trigger a response based on past traumas are opportunities to learn and grow, but only if you are aware.  To see the secret and lie one must be aware it is there to begin with.  And while there is room for secrets in your life, lies are another matter altogether.

 

Three things cannot be long hidden,

The Sun, The Moon and The Truth.  ~Buddha

Dr. Joe and the Supernatural Genius

I know, it’s been awhile.  I started a post several times and couldn’t figure out how to write about the last 6 months without a lot of emotional content. I was excited to return to trail and in May hiked a portion of the Rogue River Trail in southern Oregon.  I took pictures, framed my shots so I could do another Wilderness of Women trail paintings, I was ready to rock the blog with new art and new adventures.

But, when I got home from the trip, I found out that my step-mother was in the hospital and my 83 year old Dad was home alone and having a hard time.  I had been in the river canyon with no cell reception, and it had been a marvelous time on a rough and tumble trail in some epic back country, so the news was unexpected. My Dad had been loosing ground with some dementia and relied heavily on his wife; they were staunchly independent in their life and totally unprepared for this sudden illness. Neither one of them would even ask me to come down to help, but I insisted and booked a flight to California. Dad was relieved, I figured it would take me a week or so to set up some care-givers and I could return to my life uninterrupted, free to be me, doing my thing, getting back to what ever it was I wanted to do. You forget sometimes that life isn’t always so predictable and it can change and rearrange everything.  Disasters strike and knock you for a loop. Fires, floods, famine, death, destitution, tragedy.  Life is not always roses and laughter.  We forget, sometimes that the other people that things happen to? Sometimes those people are us.

The day before my arrival, my father fell and hit his head.  He was cleaning the house in preparation for my coming; he was so happy I’d be there, my stepmother’s illness was his personal disaster and my arrival would be just what he needed to get through it. But instead, when I arrived, I went straight to the ICU and learned more about his traumatic brain injury caused by the fall and the subsequent bleeding that happened as a result of his blood thinners.

I spent the days in a daze, running back and forth between their rooms, her illness was severe, I’d never seen someone so sick before. His brain injury had him confused, affected him at first like a stroke, then later, more like a coma. I was numb and put one foot in front of the other, this was a tough trail , it felt like I was climbing Mt. Hood all over again.  But it also felt like a storm at sea, I was out of my element as I navigated uncharted waters through two sets of doctors, nurses, hospital staff, administration, social workers, not to mention Bay Area traffic and an empty house that needed bills paid, the trash taken out and a million and one other details left behind as these two peoples lives fell apart and sank into the ocean. Together we washed ashore in the Mountain View Hospital, surviving, but still castaways on an island of illness and tragedy. I sported the expression of one whose life is in upheaval, you see these hallway ghosts in most hospitals, they walk between their lives outside and their tragedies, inside. Now I was the one in the midst of the drama.

My father died two weeks later. My stepmother finally turned a corner and began to show progress on her recovery. She went to a care facility a few days later, and I made funeral arrangements.

I was sad and shocked and all the other words that describe the emotions of grief, but not angry, I skipped over that, I chose not to be angry. Death is a part of life, there was nothing to be angry about. I just faced it; I don’t believe in turning your back on it for even a moment. I will always be grateful I was in the room with him when he died. It was a privilege, truly. I didn’t know it would happen so fast, in the entire 2 weeks, no one had told me this was coming. I thought he’d eventually be released to a care home. I was distracted by my stepmother’s condition and unable to comprehend the seriousness of his injury. It was less than 24 hours after they put him on palliative care that he died, but I guess I must have known something because I had taken the time to talk to him and say goodbye. I reached in to his world as much as I could in those 2 weeks. I sang to him and he responded, somehow music making it’s way to a part of his brain that wasn’t being crushed and absorbed by the injury. Those simple songs were my comfort and I’m so very grateful for that last connection.

Now, I’m sure you are wondering, but who is Dr. Joe and what’s up with this Supernatural Genius stuff?  Ok, hang on, I’m getting to that.  Setting the stage here.

I spent most of the month of May in California, and came home as spring was turning into summer. In an effort to do something “normal” I put myself back into the studio and painted a scene from the Rogue River, from a time before the shipwreck.20180830_100316-1

Blue Lupines on the Rogue River

The Rogue River in southern Oregon is one of the last scenic and wild rivers in the country.  Thousands of people float this river each year, but you can hike the length of it through the Rogue Wilderness along a narrow, often ledge/precipice trail, that hugs the northern edge. Painting this for me allowed me to leave my tragedy behind and let the creative spirit soothe my soul.

I did a lot of self care this summer.  I went to see NY Times bestselling author, researcher and speaker, Dr. Joe Dispenza at the Science of Spirituality conference in BC, Canada. He rose to fame after the movie, What the Bleep do we Know? came out and has been working at studying  brain neurology and the cosmic connection for some time now. His books, The Placebo Effect, Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself  and Becoming Supernatural  have, as they say, garnered much acclaim, and influenced me greatly in my own personal studies of the brain and personality.

Without getting too much into his work,  he is currently focusing on meditation as a way to heal the body of disease and faulty thinking processes that lead one into a diseased state.  Going to the conference helped me process as well as give me a respite from my life. I returned invigorated and ready to handle whatever was to come next.

My stepmother recovered and came home. I traveled down to CA again to help with the transition and to start going through my Dad’s things.  It is a monumental task, these things you accumulate in your life. As well organised as my parents are, there are still so many details to sort through; it certainly gave me a new perspective on my own life and how much stuff is in it and how much my survivors would have to wade through.  Perhaps it’s true what they say, at some point you don’t own things… your things own you.

The rest of the summer flew by with more backpacking trips, some major home renovations and then, just as I was getting on with life, another death in the family.  Our old Dog, Hank, finally reached the point where it was time to put his body down and let him go home. I couldn’t see it for the longest time, I wouldn’t let him go. I’m sure it had something to do with my Dad, but we were going through heroic measures to keep him safe (he was practically blind and deaf), to keep him clean (he had to be assisted when eliminating as he could hardly walk), to keep him fed (he would forget he was eating and stumble away). It took considerable effort to keep this old dog alive, but I had begged him to stay alive for me as I traveled from home and he was doing it, but at great cost. I finally realized it wasn’t fair to ask him this anymore, and so, we laid our little boy down and cried some more.

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Hank

Then, last month, we packed our bags again and headed back to Canada for a week-long advanced meditation retreat with Dr. Joe.  We had enjoyed the conference so much, my husband really wanted the full on experience. NOW, here’s where things get interesting.

Neither one of us realized how intense this workshop was going to be. In 7 days, we probably meditated approximately 35  hours!  3 sessions a day, 1-2 hours each, with  two 4-hour long sessions. In between the meditations were lectures and breaks for meals. We dragged up and back to our hotel around 7 or 8 each night, fell into bed only to get up at 5 for a 6 AM meditation the next morning. The 4 hour sessions started at 4 AM yet we were all lining up in the hallway at 3:30, eager to get in and get started.

I had amazing insights and healing; body, mind and spirit. Synchronicites abounded, every day was a new study in connection to the Universal energy of life, and I released all my angst and pain from the past few months and let my heart open to love. Every morning Dr. Joe would have us turn to the person next to us and introduce ourselves as Supernatural Geniuses. We all laughed, but we all did it because we were along for the ride and why the hell not?  We all committed to the affirmation, we were there to learn and to grow.

And to top it all off, just to test us on how coherent we could remain while faced with a challenge, we rappelled off a 30 story building. Yeah, you heard me, rappelled, as in ropes, harness, bounce-and-down-you go. I decided right then and there, I wasn’t going to be scared.  Fear was a choice I was not going to make. Our group went the second day right after breakfast, and I was glad I didn’t have to think about it too long.  I made myself NOT think about it, much easier that way. I just focused on the job at hand, stepped over the edge and belayed myself down.  I did take a few moments to look around and caught a glimpse of my reflection in a window, looking like a bad-ass urban mountain climber.

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Toronto Spiritual Spiderwo/men!

The conference was healing, magical, mystical and with all that meditation, a transcendent experience. It would be a whole other post just talking about what happened, but instead, I will leave you with the first thing I painted when I got home, I kept seeing this during some deep moments in the void. I’m calling it:

The Universe is Watching You.

Because, well, it is.  You are a part of the Universe and you see what you do and who you are. Especially if you get some awareness and really take the time to look. Nothing like tragedy and challenges to be that wake up call. But it doesn’t need to be tragic.  You can choose to awaken without it, and when you do, you too will be a Supernatural Genius!

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Reflections on reflections

I had something happen a few weeks back that took me aback.  By that, I mean, I wasn’t myself, I didn’t even recognize myself and my reaction. It’s not like me to get so distraught, the level of my reaction didn’t match what was actually happening, and so, being the introspective seeker I am, I had to reflect upon it.  While I was processing this, I was working on a painting I had started prior to the incident.  Now, you may be wondering what happened, but let me assure you, the actual event is not important to my story… it in itself, is inconsequential.

What is important is what I learned about myself in regards to my emotional reaction. I knew all this before, but  apparently I needed the reminder. In the Zen-mindfulness state I’d been working on, I’d forgotten what it was like to live through a downpour of emotions. My reaction had me pondering it’s cause, so I made a list of stressful events in the last few months and came up with a good dozen crises that, at the time, I’d rolled with just fine, until this last thing that suddenly seemed like life or death. Making the list helped me remember to be kind to myself and give myself permission to be human. It’s really okay to make mistakes.  Mistakes are opportunities to learn.

I also realized that oftentimes, people in your life are a reflection of yourself. By trying to have them change so that you can feel better is like reaching out to a mirror and brushing it’s hair. When what you see is messy hair, try brushing your own head, not the reflection that you see.  The problem wasn’t really what I was seeing… the problem was me.

Ironic that I’d be working on another Women of the Wilderness painting at exactly this moment, and that it would feature a reflection of the Three Sisters in a snow melt pond.  The painting helped sooth my ruffled feathers and as I reflected upon the reflection, it all became clear to me.

The mountains are beautiful, majestic and bold as they march across the blue sky, jagged edges against a perfect day. Below, the trees tumble down obsidian cliffs and spread out on the lava and pumice strewn soil. It’s a nice image, but its composition lacks interest until you get to the almost perfectly round pond. It reflects the peaks, but it shows just a riffle of wind, reminding you, it is not the thing you see, but merely a reflection… a mirror.

Just like life, the thing you see in a mirror isn’t the thing at all. You can’t climb a mountain in a mirror; if you are going to climb mountains at all, you’re going to have to tackle the real one.

Reflection on a Reflection

Mindful Eating

Thanks for the Good Lunch

My friend, author and blogger, Amira Makansi recently posted an article about eating lunch alone. Though it really was less about solo eating and more about taking the time to feed yourself and enjoy your food. Taking a break from your work life to really experience your food gives you a moment of pleasure and respite from your day that is missing when we divert our attention from our meal by distractions such as reading, watching media or multi-tasking.  She advised us to slow down and taste our food. Especially if, like us, you work from home and cook for yourself.  (Here’s the link to that article.)

Sentiments I had to agree with, and, being a stay-at-home artist and writer myself, felt compelled to comment upon. I pointed out how appreciating our food can go beyond the taste if you take the time to think about it.  With a little pause for reflection, we can consider where the food came from and how it even got to our plate to begin with. She suggested I blog about this concept and this post and painting are the result. Synergy at its best!

I often start a meal with a silent offering of gratitude. I thank the food, I thank the farmer who grew the lettuce or beans or artichokes. I think of and thank the people who tended the crop, who picked the produce, who put it on the trucks and brought it to the store. Did the produce wind up going to a cannery or plant where it was processed, maybe made into something else, like the coconut yogurt I used to make my creamy vegan dip? If so, then I thank the factory workers too.  I try not to eat a lot of processed foods, but coconut yogurt is clearly in the processed food realm, along with my soy cheese and even my tofu. There are so many plain ingredients that really are part of a process, so it’s impossible to avoid all processed food. I also can’t dodge the packaging, so there goes a thanks to the people who made the can or plastic tub. I also like to remember the people who took it off the truck and stocked it on the store shelf. When I take the time to think of all the hands that were involved in making my food, besides my own, the numbers are staggering.

With every meal, hundreds of people have contributed to get the food from the farmer to my plate. Even the spices and the salt and the condiments add to the party.  Although you may eat your meal by yourself, you never truly eat alone.

In the spirit of gratitude and thanks to all who’ve helped make my meal, I went out into the studio and created, Thanks for the Good Lunch. Earlier in the week, when I had a particularly nice-looking meal, I took a picture. That day I had made a cauliflower crust pizza with artichokes, olives, red onion slivers and spinach. I added cut apple, baby carrots and snap peas. I had a warm cup of chicory coffee with soy milk and an oat flour muffin with cranberries, walnuts, dates and orange zest. See what I mean about ingredients? With each one came hundreds of workers, a veritable army of food workers who collaborated to get their goods to the store where I could buy it and create a healthy lunch. I didn’t even include the woman who posted her cauliflower crust recipe on-line, or the electricity my oven used while I was baking muffins and pizza crusts. The interconnections can go on and on, so I try to keep my thanks to the food itself. Still, there are a lot of people involved in some way.

My food ritual may be time consuming, and yes, sometimes I am thanking the people while I am chewing thoughtfully on my concoction. I’ve taken the time to make this nice meal, it would be a shame to let it get cold while I ran through my mental list. I know I don’t remember everyone, but my point is this; by taking a few moments to remember, it connects me to my food in a very mindful way, my meal becomes a meditation in mindfulness and allows me to nurture my mind and my soul as well as my body. It also serves as a reminder how interconnected we truly are. All the way down to our salt.

And that, makes for one, delicious, mindful lunch.

And Now for Something Completely Different

If you are a Monty Python fan, you may recognize that title.  If not, sorry, you’ve missed out on kooky British comedy from the 70’s, though I imagine some quick web searches will put you in touch with their surreal and somewhat stream-of-consciousness act.

They often stopped their sketches with the catch-phrase: And Now for Something Completely Different.  So, here I go again, stopping my “ART” blog for something else.  Though, to be fair, it’s art in a different form.  Most likely inspired by writing this blog, and then definitely inspired by my Library and REI lecture series on the Wilderness Of Women, a lovely Powerpoint presentation I whipped up and delivered from Portland to Medford.  The feedback I received was very positive and it inspired me to start writing a book.  A book I’d been writing for over 30 years.  A book about my trail life and my off trail life, how they intersect and influence each other.  When my shoulder got hurt and grounded me from hiking last year, I took advantage of my in-firmed circumstances and used the time to write.

My book has morphed into something else, however, and just like all the best of my art, it took on a life of it’s own.  Part memoir, part trail journal, part coffee table art book, part philosohical and spiritual exploration, The Spiral Trail is heading for parts unknown.  Like it’s title, it spirals around and comes back to lessons learned, growing and developing into a story about a life lived on the trails and woods and translated into paint, guided by source.

I’m still working on it, and I’m still painting and hiking and doing all the things that need to be done.  I’ll try to pop into the blog from time to time to say hello and share a new piece.  For now, here’s an excerpt from  The Spiral Trail  to start my literary exploration into the writing of a book.  I hope you find it enjoyable and interesting.  Wanting more is good!  So, come with me and lets take a walk in the woods…

 

Chapter 21

Mushrooming

I took the dogs out on another gold hunting excursion. As I understand it, there are places where one can still pan for gold, actual gold nuggets that wash down from creeks and rivers, but that’s not the gold I am looking for.  I’m looking for Chanterelle mushrooms, a gloriously school-bus-yellow fungus that litters the deep woods of the Pacific Northwest each year when it gets cold and wet. They are delicious, meaty and mild tasting mushrooms, sought by gourmet chefs as well as poor college students because, for those of us who have access and knowledge, they are free. I was taught how to find Chanterelles by a couple of Dead Heads (fans of the Grateful Dead), both of who were deep into their respective studies at Oregon State University at the time.  One in Forestry, and the other in Mycology, the study of fungi, so they knew what to look for as well as where to look for them. My first taste of a Chanterelle had me rolling my eyes upward in delight, they are that good. I paid attention to the where’s and what’s of Chanterelle hunting and I learned my lesson well.

I began hunting for Chanterelles by myself the moment we landed in Alpine and found them at low elevations in those early days.  But the craze for Chanterelles took off and the economy did not, spurring hundreds of mushroom hunters to take to our local woods in search of quick cash.  Which in turn spurred another form of industry, the mushroom buyer, one of which put up a sign on their driveway and gave the hunters an easy stop on their way out of the hills to cash in on their gains.  I’d like to say “ill gotten gains” as they tromped over public and private lands alike and yanked up the mushrooms without regard to keeping the root system in tact and leaving a few to grow and spread their spores for future mushrooms. Chanterelles will return year after year if you treat their ground gently, but that was not to be.  Our woods were inundated with groups of hunters, they’d park their beat-up cars along the mountain roads and carry in white 5-gallon buckets intent on finding a large haul.

I felt a twinge of disgust at these interlopers, these were my woods they were bustling about in, yelling back and forth, disturbing the quiet as they raped the forests of their delicious yellow fungi fruit.  They pulled up every one and left nothing behind but beer cans, candy wrappers and toilet paper.  I frowned every time I saw them out there, failing to see the irony that I, myself was heading out for a mushroom hunt. Their presence was forcing me to range farther from home and I was irritable about the idea I couldn’t prowl about in what I considered “my woods”, which of course, weren’t.

I learned early on to keep quiet about my mushrooming grounds, having once taken a friend out and kindly taught him how to identify and find Chanterelles only to learn he later took a group of his friends back to my spot where they cleaned out the entire hillside. I never quite trusted him after that and our friendship suffered. But such is the nature of gold fever, it changes one’s ethics when you are in the midst of a find.

Since then, I’ve sworn friends to secrecy before taking them to known places but as the hunter hoards continued patrolling my local hills, those known places became found and decimated.  We had dry falls and late rains and some of my best spots were clear-cut, spelling the end of any nearby Chanterelles.  They need deep mature forests, cool weather and rain. I found myself travelling farther from home to find my gold.

Still, every year I’d get a few for dinner.  And sometimes I’d stumble across a new patch and manage to put up some for later, though really, frozen Chanterelles are never as good as freshly picked.  There were some good years before the big local clear-cut happened, I’d bring home bags of them and then spend hours cleaning them all.  But after they cut the hills directly behind us, it got harder on everyone.  Even the hunters began to range along the Alsea river drainage, the backside of our local hills and my last-ditch effort at mushrooming.  It seemed as if all the best spots were picked over, my hunts became hikes.  Those were lean years, it was lucky if I’d find one or two and that would be it for the season.

But still I tried, I felt as if I was missing something… there had to be a place I’d looked over, some patch of woods I’d yet to explore.  I’ve been riding and hiking my local section of the coast range mountains, keeping to about 5 or 6 square miles and had come to learn this land pretty well over 30 years.  But I hadn’t been everywhere between the roads.  Between the roads is lots of brush and the mature woods needed to cruise about without risking life and limb, or at the least, a few scratches from the dense understory, was getting harder to find.  But there were still a few patches of them, it’s just that I had transitioned from being a deer path following bush-whacking hiker to a road follower.  I could take my horses on the road, either an abandoned logging road or an active one, and had cut a few trails to link up roads so I could make a big loop rather than backtrack, so I hadn’t been doing much off road hiking.  Not even when I decided to return to backpacking and was planning and prepping for the PCT.  I was after miles and conditioning exercise and you can’t get a work out pushing your way through the underbrush.  That kind of hiking is slow and meticulous as I wander about, carefully taking note of the terrain and topography, making sure I do not get lost in the “it all looks the same” woodland.  My deep wood exploring days seemed to be behind me, and with it, my lack of mushrooming luck.

Until last week.

I took a friend on another excursion, hoping the old places would have some kind of nostalgic luck, but no luck was to be found.  Doreen is somewhat new to me as a friend, but we get along well and she was game for hiking about, looking for mushrooms. We drove further out to an old patch I knew of and when that panned out, I took her off trail and off road, but again, nothing. We did not go far from the road as I am reluctant to drag tourists along on these kinds of bush-whacking hikes. I’m quite concerned about becoming lost in the woods, so I work hard paying attention to the hundreds of details that will allow me to back-track my way to safety in the event I’m not sure where I am.  After my jumpy nerves at finding the staircase on the “moonlit” beach, I’ve had some concerns about my state of mind in an unknown situation where no map is at hand to guide me.  The woods beyond my woods are just the same kind of unknown situation as I am not nearly so well acquainted with their topographical peccadillos as I am for my own side of the mountain. This emotional state does not blend well with chatting with friends as we prowl the woods.  I have to concentrate out there and so, I have not been exploring as I mushroom hunt.

Needless to say, Doreen and I got skunked.  I found two mushrooms in the old patch, one for her and one for me.  We shrugged, it was a nice day and the dogs were having a joyous time racing about the forest, it was fun just to watch them and hike about.  We didn’t care all that much so we started back for the car which was parked about a half mile away. I guided us back to the road and took an alternate road, making a loop of our hike.  I always make a loop if I can, there’s something about a circle that makes me feel like my hike is complete, even if it’s a small circle at the end of a straight out and straight back trail.  I call those keyhole loops, and they serve the purpose of “not backtracking” that I like.

We were on this loop when I spotted an opening in the trees off the road.  Something about it said “check it out!” to me, so check it out we did.  I led Doreen off the road and onto a deer trail that disappeared through a brush tunnel and into a deep and open patch of mature forest.  It didn’t look like a deep wood from the road, choked by brush on both sides, I had assumed it was a young stand of trees.  These young stands are usually so thick with underbrush you can’t get through without serious effort, frequently jungle hacking your way through isn’t even worth the pain.

I was surprised and delighted by this find and after picking our way over the old dumped trash at the entrance (I will never understand why people uses the forest as their personal dump) immediately saw scores of mushrooms all along the game trail. There were pink ones and slimy brown ones, some yellow boletus and white death cap kind of mushrooms, not what I was after but still, there were mushrooms here and there were quite a lot of them!  I was encouraged to follow the deer path as it hugged the side of the hill just below the roadway, my boots cutting into the soft needle strewn soil as if I was marching across a snowy mountain field.  Continuing on, I came across our first white Chanterelle, a rare variety, but not that unusual for this area. I’d found white Chanterelles near where we parked the car once, even though, and it’s hard to believe this, but that was 25 years before and before the woods had been selectively cut.

A selective cut will only take say, every other tree, and even though it preserves the forest as a forest, it’s harder to do. I like them, but once the forest is opened up, more brush will fill in between the trees and the Chanterelles won’t return.  It’s too light and airy for them. Seeing this white Chanterelle here gave me hope.  I bent down, carefully pushing aside the fir needles and debris, I cut it gently at the base. Doreen came over to see the mushroom and exclaimed, “Here’s another one!” and she set to the task of cutting that one for herself.  Again, we had found two, one for me and one for her.  But this time, the conditions were better.  No brush and a swath of deep woods.  I followed the path as it paralleled the road above and came across another scattered patch of Chanterelles.

“I found some more!  Yes!”  I picked a few and left a few for her to take before moving down the trail to another scattered patch.  We were ecstatic at finding them, and I was happy to find them in such an easy place.  I didn’t need to worry about getting lost or loosing sight of Doreen as we fought our way through dense underbrush.  This hillside was open and the road was a laidback climb out. We left behind the small ones to grow and talked about coming back for them later.  I pushed on ahead of her and went from patch to patch, finding them and then calling for her to take the ones I’d left for her to harvest.  Sometimes she saw a few I’d missed entirely and her bag began to fill up with a good haul.  As she was delicately brushing off needles and dirt, I wandered down a draw to see if there were more downhill but came back empty handed, unwilling to get beyond earshot of Doreen leaving her alone in the deep woods.  Bringing her out here was my responsibility and I take that seriously. I seem to have been the pathfinder in most of my hiking relationships, it’s not like I tried to take that role, but that’s just how it worked out.  Jane once called me the “human GPS” and I laughed.  I may be good in the woods, however, don’t trust me in the city.  I get all turned around when confronted with streets and buildings.  There’s too much data for me to process.

I don’t think of myself as a confidant pathfinder, more like a nervous pathfinder, I’m worried about getting lost.  I try to remember Daniel Boone, that great Kentucky backwoods explorer who was supposedly quoted as saying he’d never been lost, he just didn’t know where he was for a couple of days.

But still, Pathfinder is my trail name and so, I have a reputation to live up to; regardless of my nervousness in the woods, I also know I have the skills and abilities to untangle myself from a backwoods mishap. What I don’t have, on this day, is an actual map of the area, which, without a compass would be useless as the woods are so deep, dark and topographically convoluted it renders a map useless without the means of pointing one in the right direction. I also don’t have a compass.  Just my faith and skill and backwoods prowess, somewhat like Daniel Boone! I also have my nervousness which keeps me close to the road and checking to make sure we haven’t wandered away from it as we go from patch of gold to patch of gold.

Eventually, we run out of mushrooms and of the deep woods as we get closer to an old overgrown cut which is full of brush. I suggest we climb out and head back.  We’ve managed to find about a couple of dozen mushrooms a piece, so we turn for the road.  Doreen takes the time to pick the ones we come across on our way out and I let her have my share as my bag is full and I’m content with my haul.

I’m content with all of it as I feel I’ve broken the Chanterelle curse that seems to have been hanging over my head the past few years.  I didn’t know if pickings were scarce because of the buyer (but I have noticed they aren’t in business anymore so that’s good news) the dry fall seasons and the new clear cuts or just my inability to get off trail and take the time to find a new place to hunt.  Probably a combination of it all, but the dry spell is over and now I have a new patch of woods to check out… the draw that leads away from the road has me intrigued.

 

The following week, after a solid week of rain, we get a gap between storms and I decide to take the dogs back to the woods and explore the draw.  I figured to look and see if I missed a mushroom or maybe two and then work the hill below this new spot with the hopes there are more Chanterelles to be found.  I go by myself, because I need to explore and not worry about another person.  I don’t have any confidence that the dogs will help me in any way, they are too busy sniffing and digging and running about doing their doggy thing.  I’ve never lost a dog but one time, though like Daniel Boone, she wasn’t unsure of her location more than a couple of days. I hunted all over for that dog, called through the woods and then knocked on any doors in the vicinity. She must have followed something deep into the forest and got turned around because it did take her two days to come home whereupon after much tail wagging and famished eating, she fell asleep for a good 12 hour stretch.

Needless to say, I don’t trust dogs to get me out of the woods.

I parked in the same spot and walked down the road to our exit spot.  I followed our line of mushroom stumps and only saw one seedling mushroom that had grown enough to make it worthwhile harvesting.  I put the Chanterelle in my little orange Osprey daypack, then after getting it back on again (not as easy of a task given my less than 100% shoulder range) I picked up my hiking sticks and headed down the draw.  I began to note the changes in terrain, the hill on my right covered in moss, the hill on my left covered in shrub. I went down, threading my way through small trees, ducking under and stepping over dead branches.  I came across a dry creek bed, noting the stump next to the bed was covered in small, translucently white, spindly mushrooms. I marked this as my landmark and stepped over the bed, forgetting to look behind me to see the path as it would look if I was returning the same way.  My plan had been to follow the draw down to a logging road that I knew was below me, but the hills had folds and contours I was unfamiliar with, I wasn’t sure exactly how far down the road lay and I was anticipating mucking about as I was hunting, crisscrossing the terrain as I went.  It’s easy to get turned around in these coast range hills, distances become hard to judge so I was expecting a long haul across and down slope before hitting the road.

On the other side of the creek, a hillside of tall timber opened up into what I thought was prime mushrooming grounds, so I began traversing the curve of the hill over to a set point before reversing my path and coming back to the creek.  I zig-zagged twice before getting all the way to the creek but instead of a dry bed, I now came across a flowing stream of water.  I guessed it was the same creek bed but that where I had crossed, the water had gone underground.  It was a significant amount of water and I followed it uphill until I came to a series of ponds, obviously springs tucked away in this fold of woods.  It was a lovely find, very private and nestled into the woodland like a love note hidden in a drawer.  Precious and sweet, I wondered how many animals used it as their personal drinking pool.  I looked over my shoulder quickly, I had come across a cougar kill the previous day and my neighbor had seen a big one crossing the road.  The odds were small that cougar even knew about this pond, but still, I glanced around before chiding myself for unfounded fears.  My two terriers would be thrilled to take on a cougar, or at least bark at one anyway.  They also were more likely to be a cougar’s lunch than I was, but since that’s a story I’ve never heard or believe, it doesn’t bother me to let the dogs have the run of the woods.

I wandered about the pond, checking its size and considering if would be a viable personal swimming hole in the summer, or if it would turn into a mush of mud once the rains were gone.  The dogs drank from the edge and we turned back to the creek, following it downhill.  But when I got to where I thought I had crossed the creek, everything looked different.  The hill on my left had changed direction, opening out into a wide flat spot with scattered grass.  There was a stand of alder trees I didn’t recognize and a bank of moss that hadn’t been there before.  I stopped, frozen.  How did this happen… in my checking out the pond, did I forget about a fold in the hillside, did I follow the wrong creek?  Is there another creek I missed? Nothing looked familiar and I began to cast about, returning to the creek bed, looking for my marker, the stump full of tiny mushroom.  There was no stump.  I stared at the creek.  How can there not be a stump?  Where is the stump?!  I crossed the creek anyway and looked at it from the other side.  Now it too looked unfamiliar.  I hadn’t crossed here, I must have gone downhill too far.

I took a deep breath, I wasn’t scared, not yet, I just needed to look about a little more.  I crossed the stream again and walked back towards the hillside where I had been hunting mushrooms looking for anything that looked familiar. I thought back to a movie I’d watched last week, On Golden Pond.  There is a scene where one of the main characters, an 80-year-old man, gets lost in the woods around his summer home.  He’s scared because nothing looks familiar, he can’t remember his surroundings and he begins to run through the woods looking for something, anything he can recall to place him in the world of known things again.

It’s a bit of a fear of mine, to be lost in the woods.  And it’s another one to lose my faculties.  My mother had dementia when she died, and before it became severe, she had these episodes of getting lost.  Once going out into the woods in the middle of a snowy New Hampshire winter and falling, laying in a snowbank for hours before she was found.  It was a chilling story for me to hear as I clutched the phone to my ear, 3000 miles away and a day after the event.  She wasn’t allowed to be alone after that, but now I’ve inherited the fear for myself.  What if I too forget where I am?  What if I forget what the woods look like?  It would be just like me to wander off alone as an 80-year-old and then turn left at the tree that looks like an owl’s head when I should have turned right. It’s not like my trails and paths have actual signs.  My hikes are full of personal knowledge, I know where to go because I’ve gone there before.  But not right now… right now I don’t know where I am because I can’t find my way back.

And so, I tell myself, I’m not going anywhere until I can find the way back and when I find my way back I am going back!  I had made all sorts of mental notes along the way, so I knew I should be able to find them again, I usually do. I took out my mental list and went over it in order.  The stump of mushrooms, the hill of moss, the hill of shrub, the pink flag left by a surveyor, the dented can, the narrow draw all the way up to where I found my last Chanterelle and then up and out to the road.  I walk a large circle, get back to where the stream still has water in it, before it goes underground.  I notice where the water actually becomes submerged, flowing between sticks and rocks and disappearing into the moist soil, dirt so fertile it looks almost black.  I look up stream and down, here there is water, and there, just a dry creek bed that shows where overflowing winter rains carve a funnel that opens out into a flat trench.  I take 5 steps to my right and suddenly, from where I’m standing, I see the mushroom stump. I take a deep breath and am relieved.  I had overshot the creek crossing by about 20 feet and continued on until the terrain had changed and I was unexpectedly surrounded by a scene that was unfamiliar both backwards and forwards. The whole incident feels like I’m reading a book where I’ve accidentally turned two pages and now the narration makes no sense until I find my missing page and the story line falls back into place.  I step back across and walk my path out but I only go about 10 yards before I turn back to the creek.

There’s no need to run back for the car.  I’m back in the land of the known.  I wasn’t lost at all, I just didn’t know where I was for a couple of minutes. It was disorienting and a touch disquieting but am I going to let this stop me?  Of course not.  I head back down the hill.

But this time, I do leave a few more markers, scraped boot prints in the duff, a couple of crossed sticks and I try not to veer off my trajectory by sticking to as straight a line as possible. It’s easier to see the way back that way.  I come upon an old skid track from the original cut of this forest, it’s barely perceptible as time has eroded away it’s clean lines and random trees have grown inside it’s borders.  It’s still clearly a flat place in the hillside, so I follow it down until I can see a road below me.  The dogs run ahead and are running up and down the road, maybe showing me that it was here all along, maybe sniffing the path of a wild animal.  Whatever their motivation, between the trunks of trees, I see their white bodies zipping up and down a horizontal line about 200 feet below me.  I’m still carefully edging my way down across the soft needle strewn duff, my boots sink in and I watch for slick branches as I’ve already slid down one that lay like a trap just a fraction of an inch under the carpet of forest debris.  I used to wonder why older people fell as if they were children again, but now that I am a little older myself, I get it.  We aren’t as flexible or fit or even as balanced as we used to be.  It’s easy and faster to get out of condition from hiking then when I was younger, my muscles don’t catch me and correct imbalances as fast as they used to.  And so, sometimes now, I fall and slip and when I do, it’s startling and strange.  I never used to fall.  But I never used to be 56, so I take it easy and use trekking poles, they’ve become a part of my new high tech hiking world, just like bringing a cell phone and a personal locater beacon (which I hope to never need).

I drop down onto the road, glad that I reached my goal and surprised that it was closer than I thought it would be.  Instead of hiking out, I make some side trips into the woods, continuing my search for gold.  I notice that every time I wriggle out of my pack, pick a mushroom, then look about for more, I will not find one until I put my pack back on and head out.  Then, sure enough, another mushroom!  I struggle out of the pack, my not-yet-unfrozen shoulder is somewhat uncooperative with all this on again off again gyrations.  But, if I only find one at a time, still, I am finding them, so I resign myself to fussing with the pack.  On my way out, I find one last group and decide I’m done for the day.  I have plenty for dinner and then some, so I hop on the road and climb up out of the draw.

The road is steeper than I remembered, I haven’t been on it for some time and can’t recall a time I ever actually walked it.  I’m usually on this road with my horse and they do all the hard work for me.  It’s good to get a feel of the road from their perspective, I gain a little empathy every time I walk a trail that I usually ride. I stop to catch my breath from time to time, glad that I am not the kind of rider that pushes a horse too hard, I let them stop and breathe as well. Hiking with a heavy pack helps me to relate to how hard they actually work.  Just when I’m about to reach the car, I see an opening in the trees that looks inviting.  Without thinking too much about it, I wander in for a last chance hunt for mushrooms.  What the hell, why not?

I find another old skid track, it’s faint and mostly gone, covered with moss and underbrush like huckleberry, salal, ocean spray and young alders who are trying to take advantage of the sunlight provided by the logging road I’ve just left.  I weave my way through the thicket but stick to the flat ground. The brush thins out a little further in, and I’m walking in a mossy fairy forest of tall timber and soft earth. There are sword-tail ferns, their ostrich plume like fronds are still, no breeze can reach them down here even though the tops of the firs sing with the winds that touch the canopy up above. I follow the line across a curve of hillside, sometimes stepping over downed logs and limbs, sometimes ducking under them.  I marvel in this hidden gem of a forest, surrounded by thinned timber stands and clear cuts.  Most of these forest lands are considered a crop and are usually homogeneously full of Douglas Fir, but there are bits and pieces of more diverse forest and it’s always fun to be inside a stand of trees that feel somewhat wild in nature.

I walk until I come to some remnants of old growth, stumps from trees that must have been 100’s of years old, these stumps litter the woods near my home.  They are as large as couches, rotted remnants of their former selves, they still fill me with a sense of wonder and awe at their immense size.  At the bottom of the stump I find more chanterelles, they ripple out of the duff, golden flowers with wavy fungus arms.  They push up the moss and the fir needles and curl around clumps of debris, hanging onto it like a baby’s fist.  There is one large one in front of me, then one to the side, one above on a ledge of dirt and as I look, I see them everywhere.  I’ve struck the motherload.

I carefully pull back the carpet of needles and cut my mushrooms, filling my bag, then another.  I’ve picked more in 5 minutes than I found in the past hour or so.  It’s lovely to find a place like this, a place where no one has discovered and disturbed.  I have such a plethora to choose from, I get choosey and only pick the best ones, leaving some to continue rotting or to grow up into adults.  I harvest so many, I run out of space in my bag.  Any more and I will crush them, so I settle my pack carefully on my shoulders and collect my trekking poles from where I planted them in the ground.

Before heading out, I take one last walk down my personal yellow brick road.  I want to see how much farther this streak runs and consider if I can return later for another go at it.  I also want to see if I can resist the “gold fever” that grips me when I find a patch.  Can I resist the temptation of taking more?  I see a few scattered here and there, but I don’t feel the need to add to my harvest.  The forest has been kind to me and provided a feast of mushrooms. I move deeper into the forest and come across a pristine patch of chanterelles in a bowl of moss.  They look almost staged, they are that perfect.  A shaft of sunlight streaks down between the trees and lights up their small golden glade, I can almost hear the fairy’s dancing about this sylvan fantasy.

I pause before getting closer to the patch, I don’t want to disturb the scene or be tempted by their beauty.  But I do walk over, just to appreciate and marvel at how lovely a fungus can be.  I usually see “delicious!” when I see a chanterelle, but this time, I’m thankful for their presence in the forest.  It says, “I’m healthy” and “I feel good, all is right in the world.”  Just seeing them makes me feel the same and I’m grateful for the bounty I’ve lovingly placed in my pack.

 

That night for dinner, I prepare my mushrooms in a wine cream sauce with garlic and pour it over white bean noodles.  And once more, I touch heaven on my plate and my eyes roll back in joy.  Yeah, they are that good.