Tag Archive - Life

I Wish You…

Dearest boy of mine,

How is it that you have come to be so grown? With ideas and dreams and thoughts all your own, with your own questions and wrestlings and hurts. From whence comes this voice to speak truth into the world, to help it see something it has never seen before? I am in awe of the young man you are becoming.

I know that today is your day for wishing, but if I were the one blowing out the birthday candles, here are some of the things I would wish for you…

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I wish you beauty. It has always been so important to you. From artful presentations of your food, to decorating the house for holidays and events, to the constant reconfiguring of your bedroom, you must make things lovely. And now you are finding beauty on the other side of a lens. Your photographs are exquisite and help me see the world anew. You are a weaver of words and a maker of music. Your creativity is without bounds. I wish you a world brimming with loveliness and the eyes to always see it.

I wish you wisdom. Acquiring it can be costly as it often comes by way of mistakes. But I pray that you will pursue it with all your heart. I pray that truth will be dear to you and that you will value it more than popularity or wealth or even what many would perceive as success.

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I wish you a lifetime of explores. Your curiosity is one of my favorite things about you. It has always been fun to watch you rummage through a hotel room, uncovering its secrets. You are the one who detours from the trail, climbing something or seeing where that little side path goes. You are not intimidated by new technology or by finding your way in unfamiliar terrain. Sometimes it takes a great deal of courage to follow untrodden paths. Bon courage, my love!

I wish you faith. I wish you a faith that is vibrant and living, strengthening and emboldening. It is a daring thing, to stake your life on something bigger than you. But you have always had a heart for God. I pray that your love for Him will only grow with your years. It has been so for me, even though there have been difficult and confusing seasons when I thought I was ready to chuck the whole thing. You too will probably have seasons of wrestling and doubt. Persevere, my love. Keep your heart open to God. His will always be open to you.

joshstageI wish you a voice. Yes, I know that your vocal skills are already dazzling. 🙂 That’s not exactly what I mean here, though it is part of it. There are treasures inside you that the world needs. Stories that only you can tell. I pray you will always find a way to tell them, whether through poetry, song, stories, photographs, plays or some medium you have not yet explored. I wish for you joy in the making of them, regardless of whether they ever bring you money or fame. The important thing is that you tell them. For you. And for us.

But

above

all

this…

I Wish You Love.

And I hope life, will treat you kind
And I hope that you have all
That you ever dreamed of
Oh, I do wish you joy
And I wish you happiness
But above all this
I wish you love

More than anything, my darling boy, I hope that you will always know that you are dearly loved. Unconditionally. All the time, no matter what. By God, by your family, by friends. I pray that your life overflows with people who pour themselves out for you, who pursue you relentlessly, who are willing to ask difficult questions and challenge you. And I pray that you will do the same for them. I pray that your relationships are characterized by grace and truth. And by much joy.

Happy Seventeenth Birthday, my love!! May God grant you many, many years!

*Song excerpt from “I Will Always Love You” by Dolly Parton

*Photo credits: The photo at top was taken by the birthday boy, the photo at bottom by Lauren Gill Photography.

Confession Shortly Before the Forty-Eighth Birthday

When my friend Amanda kindly lent me her beautiful hard-cover, deckle-edged volume of Madeleine L’Engle’s poems, I’m sure she never imagined that I would keep it for MONTHS. But it is a book that begs to be savored. Slowly. In sweet sips. It just so happens that I did some sipping last night.

I woke just before 2:00 and could not get back to sleep. So, I pulled the volume from the stack beside my bed, along with my reading glasses, stopped by the kitchen for a banana, then curled up in the yellow chair near the stained glass lamp, the one with the dragonflies. The third poem I read was the one that here follows. A delicious irony given that in 3 days, I myself will be forty-eight. They are the very words I would say if I were wiser and more elegant. It is not the first time the poet has captured precisely where I am at a given moment. I dare say it will not be the last.

Incidentally, I did this morning what I should have done some time ago. I purchased my own copy of The Ordering of Love. I plan to return Amanda’s, hopefully no worse for the wear, this evening.

Confession Shortly Before the Forty-Eighth Birthday

Here I am, beyond the middle middle,
According to chronology,
No closer to solving cosmic or private riddle,
No further from apology
For clumsy self’s continuing ineptitude,
Still shaken by the heart’s wild battering.
Intemperate passions constantly intrude;
I cannot keep small hurts from mattering,
Am shattered when met with mild irritation,
Need reassurance, feel inadequate and foolish,
Seek love’s return, bump into abrogation,
Am stubborn beyond the point of being merely mulish.
So I am saved only by the strange power of silence,
The disciplined joy of work and rule
Inner and outer imposed, steel cold. The violence
Of the freezing wind sustains the heart. So this poor fool
is fed, is nourished, forgets then to be concerned with rust;
Repentance, too, is turning, if towards dust,
And gratitude sings forth in adoration
Of the one who touched and healed the halt and lame
With the aweful, blissful power of his spoken Name.

Portraits of a Life

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I wish you could know my mother. To hear her voice as she tells a story, to see the fierce determination in her eyes as she tackles a logic problem or a Sudoku puzzle. I wish you could know how generous she is. I wish you could see her with her grandchildren, and her great granddaughter. I wish you could sit at her breakfast table. For as long as I can remember, she has been my hero.

Today my hero is 70 years old. She has packed a lot of life into her threescore and ten. Here are some of the images I have of her. Many I have seen. Some, I have pieced together from story or from photographs. (Incidentally, in the above photo, she is the pretty little girl on the far left.)

I imagine her as a little girl…running barefoot through the grass with her brother and sisters or plodding the long rows of the cornfield, dropping corn into the planting holes. I see her walking to a little two room school where her mother was her teacher. I like to think of her curled up with Heidi, one of her favorite books, letting her imagination carry her to far off Switzerland, and snow, and warm goat’s milk. I can’t think that she ever imagined she would someday travel there. But she would.

It occurs to me that I do not know who taught her to play the piano. Or if she played school with her siblings, and if so, did she always want to be the teacher? I imagine her shivering as she swam at the Moffit Hole, and playing in the barn. I see her standing beside her mother in the kitchen, learning the art of making good food.

I picture her as a high school student, too pretty to wear make-up. I have seen photographs of her in the smart, fitted dresses she made for herself. Her impossibly tiny waist. Her beautiful smile. It’s no wonder my daddy fell in love with her.

I try not to think too much about that summer after she graduated. About the tractor that died and how her daddy, a farmer, could not feed his family without a tractor. And how her daddy, a farmer, could not buy a new tractor and send her to college. I try not to think of her broken heart.

But she made the best of things and took a job in Washington, DC. This seems quite exotic to me when I think of it now. She was so very brave.

It wasn’t too long before she married her high school sweetheart. They cleaned up the little pink house and moved in and planted flowers. And there was a baby who didn’t live. And that must have been so hard. But out of meager means, she and my daddy began to craft a life for themselves. They had some babies. They bought land with a tiny little house that needed a whole lot of work. A house that would grow with their family and be the site of many, many family celebrations, and much music and laughter.

I have so many pictures of her from the years when I was a little girl. How to choose? Book on her lap, reading fairy tales and poems to my brother and me, opening fantastic worlds to us with her words. Sitting at the piano, coaxing the beautiful music from its keys that would become a siren call to me, a deep desire to know how to make that magic. Sewing machine awhirl as she stitched Easter dresses for the both of us. Working tirelessly in her flowers, surrounding our family with a beauty that I didn’t even know I needed til I left it.

I see her as she put her last little one onto the school bus and decided it was time to finally chase that college dream. She was so very brave. And even though we whined sometimes because we were no longer the whole of her universe, it was fun to see her excitement over all the things she was learning. She was a very good scholar. There is a portrait of the two of us in our graduation gowns, high school for me, college for her. Both of us on the threshold of new adventures.

I imagine her in her classroom, lighting fires in the minds of her students. How lucky they were to have her read to them. How blessed to see the fire in her eyes when she talked about all things math. How sure they must have been that this was a teacher who cared deeply about what happened to them.

I see her with her grandbabies. Traveling any distance to be there when they were born. Getting down on the floor and playing with them. Giving so much of herself to the precious one who was born sick and was not with us nearly long enough. Always the first one into the pool with them. Making chocolate gravy and biscuits for them. Seeking to know them for who they were and not who she wanted them to be.

One of my favorite portraits is a sunny afternoon in early spring. The air is crisp and cool. And my mother sits in a courtyard with her mother, my son, and me. We sing hymns. And the stroke which stole so much from my grandmother can’t take the hymns from her. And the music is this invisible chord that ties all of us up in it. And it is wonderful.

I see her as she received the diagnosis: Cancer. The fear, yes. But also this quiet determination. Simply taking the next step. I see her astonishment as people poured around her with encouragement and assistance. I see the deep gratitude she found in this hard place and how she became my hero all over again.

I see her gallivanting all over the world. Eating fresh mangoes in Hawaii. Sailing under the falls at Niagara. Opening the windows of her hotel onto a snow blanketed Germany. Gliding through the locks of the Panama canal. Exploring the wilds of Alaska. Collecting apples and maple syrup in New England.

I asked my mama one time if she ever missed earlier stages of her life. Maybe the one when her kids were little, for instance. In that wise way of hers, she said that each stage has had its great joys and its difficulties. But that for her, the best place to be is always right where she is. I love that about her. I hope that someday I grow to be as wise as she.

anniversary

Happy birthday, mama!! I love you! God grant you many, many years!

If Not You….

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On this day, 73 years ago, in Lancing, Tennessee, in a house whose wooden walls were covered with brick siding on the outside and newspapers inside, a baby boy was born. That baby boy grew up to be my daddy. For this, I am grateful.

For you, Daddy, some thoughts on what the world might have looked like if there had not been you…

If not you, who would have helped Grandpa kill the hogs and make his legendary sausage? Who would have been the star of the typing class in high school? Who would have bought the first car your family ever owned, and waited patiently, or not so patiently, with your brother and co-conspirator for the spring thaw so you could finally drive her.

If not you, who might have courted my pretty mama? Who would have looked at her perfect face, the smartly tailored clothes she crafted for herself, and her hungry mind, seeing the remarkable wife and mother she would make?

If not you, who would have tamed the wild lands of our farm, cutting underbrush, felling trees for lumber to build the barns, carving out spaces for planting, always seeing what could be? Who would have crafted our ever expanding house? Who would have plowed the garden and planted the orchard, the berries and grapes? Who would have built the arbor, the clothesline, and houses for bluebirds and bats.

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If not you, who would have fixed stuff? At home, at church, for the grandparents, even for your children as they moved into homes of their own. Who would have carved a crochet hook for Mama and me so we could make latch rugs?

If not you, who would have given light and power to homes, churches, elementary schools, nuclear reactors, and one particularly intriguing house hanging over the edge of a cliff? And who would have made sure the breaker boxes looked like street maps; orderly, beautiful, works of art?

If not you, who would I remember shining his shoes every Sunday morning, then sitting in the living room with his Bible across his knees readying himself to be in God’s house? Who would have taught me to approach God reverently and humbly?

If not you, who would have made the music? At church, at home, in the cornfield and in the car? At tent revivals, brush arbors, and river baptisms? Who would have planted music so deep in your children that it has flowed through them to your grandchildren and even your great granddaughter?

If not you, who would have looked after Grandma when she could no longer look after herself? And who would have been mama’s constant companion as she fought the ugly enemy: cancer.

If not you, who would have taught your children to be curious? To approach the world, especially the natural world, with a sense of awe? Who would have taught them that there are lots of swear words that are not exactly cuss words. 😉 Who would have taught them the names of trees? Who would have shown them how to love long and deep?

If not you, there would be none of this:

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Happy Birthday, Daddy! I am awfully glad there is you in the world. God grant you many years!

 

Brave

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, magic and power in it.  Begin it now!!  ~Goethe

I cannot even begin to tell you how I have struggled with this year’s word. I had some ideas about where I needed to be headed, but to find one word that corralled and gave shape to all of it was difficult. And then, when I began to suspect that the word might be “Brave“, I was really scared and thought maybe this whole one word thing is crazy anyway and it’s not like I really have to do this and I really like Alece and all, but maybe I’ll just do my own thing. But Michael Hyatt told me today, in his excellent interview about goal setting, that my goals should push me out of my comfort zone. So I figured I must be onto something.

brave

*This year I will write a book. There, I said it. It might not be fabulous. It might not be published. But it will be an honest, working first draft of a book. With chapters. And pages…and stuff. I have wrestled for a year and a half with how I might organize the book I might write someday, maybe. But I know firsthand that those things tend to reveal themselves during the writing, not before. So, I have formulated a structure to get started and am giving myself permission to revamp if necessary along the way. I have devised a schedule to break things into manageable chunks so that I know what I am writing when. Now I just have to be brave enough to get up and do the work every day.

*This year I will lead the choir at church. This is a goal that chose me and I am simply walking in obedience. I am slightly terrified. I have lots of folks to help me, and for this I am grateful. I have done a fair amount of study and will attend the Sacred Music Institute this summer as well. But mostly, it will be on the job training. And making some mistakes. And asking a lot of questions. And praying that God will act through me, and despite me, to do something much greater than me.

*This year I will memorize the Sermon on the Mount. I began it several years ago, finished most of Matthew 5, got distracted, and abandoned the project. But the Tuesday ladies and I began studying these marvelous words of Christ in the fall, and I have been reminded how much gold there is in here. So I begin again…

*This year I will complete all 5 levels of the Fluenz programs for both Spanish and French. Goodness, I am tired after just writing that. Mike and I anticipate a return to Europe for an extended period in the fall of 2015, to include 5 weeks on the Camino de Santiago. In preparation, I am deepening my understanding of both these languages. I want to be conversant, especially with the people along the Camino. I believe this will add a great deal to the experience. I have already begun both of the courses, and am in the second level of Spanish. I will need to complete 5 lessons each week to pull this off, but I am committed to giving it my best.

*This year I will complete a Rim to Rim to Rim hike of the Grand Canyon. If you have been around here long, you know that this was on my list last year. And you might also know that, despite the crazy government shut down, we did get to go and we did hike from the South Rim to the North in one day. We did not, however, make the return trip as planned. Mike had some pretty awful altitude sickness and I was not willing to hike it by myself. So we are returning for a rematch. Mike is doing further research into altitude sickness remedies. We also learned a lot about how much and what to pack from the experience and will do some things differently this time. It was an extraordinary trip and we cannot wait to return.

One word.

This year, I will endeavor to be

brave

*This post inspired by the One Word 365 project. Check out dozens of like posts (and leave your own) here.

20

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Last night as we drove home from early Thanksgiving in East Tennessee with my family, my sleep deprived son laid his head on my shoulder and slept. And I wondered how long it had been since I pillowed that beloved head. There in the dark quiet, as mile after mile slipped away underneath us, a treasure trove of images came flooding into my mind. Bits and pieces of a life. My life, with this darling boy of mine.

I saw him as a wriggling bundle of soft. Always hungry. Hungry for milk, yes, but hungry also for life. Voraciously drinking in everything around him. Storing it away. Making it part of him.

There was an image of him hunched over paper and pencil as wondrous pictures took shape under his hands. We were astounded by them. So was everyone else. Dragons, robot warriors, complex pieces of machinery, staggering in their detail and precision.

I saw him brandishing a sword. Usually of his own making. Ferocious grimace on his face, eyes blazing, leaping off something.

I remembered my dear boy, tender and serious, telling me that when he grows up he is going to marry me. I could never bring myself to explain to him why that was a problem.

There was Jake the explorer; stick in hand, dogs at his feet, traipsing up and down hills, across creeks, and over the wide expanse of our farm.

And Jake the Lego master, fingers flying as he gathered a gaggle of loose pieces into some extraordinary creation.

I thought of the many, many friends my boy has accumulated over the years. It is almost impossible to not like Jake. Ask anyone who knows him. Loyal, gregarious, funny, smart. What’s not to love?

I saw Jake the musician coaxing marvelous sounds from piano, guitar, mandolin, melodica, banjo…. And singing. Singing with the family on long car trips. Harmonizing with friends. Pulling something from deep inside himself and translating it into a language that we could all hear, and feel, and understand.

How many times has he told me, “Thank you for supper. It was delicious.”? How many long, deep conversations have we had about life, and love, and hurt, and joy? How many sweet hugs? How many hikes and vacations have been better because his delight made them so?

Last night, as I pillowed the head of my baby boy, my heart nearly burst with gratitude for the gift of knowing him. For the weighty responsibility and privilege of caring for him. For the way the world has been different because I have experienced it with him.

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Happy Birthday, Jake!! Welcome to your twenties. I predict it is going to be your best decade yet. I love you. Always. God grant you many, many years.

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Once Upon a Time…

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Once upon a time, in a not too distant land, a baby girl was born. She was the delight of her parents. She had a great shock of hair on top of her head, but the hair on the sides was not long for this world. Still, the mother and father loved their little mohawk baby.

Sometimes the baby girl would curl up in a ball on daddy’s chest and fall asleep. This was his favorite.

The mommy loved the baby’s sleep drunk smiles, and the smell of her, and the little sounds she made when she was mostly awake, but not quite. She loved the way the baby would push her tiny fists against the air when she stretched, like it was heavy.

The baby girl grew. Her hair was golden and her eyes were blue. She told stories, and sang songs, and created imaginary worlds. And when her little brother came along, she used to sneak into his room and fill his crib with toys. She liked to splash in puddles and catch raindrops on her tongue.

Then the little girl became a teenager. Her eyes were still blue, but her hair? Well, it depended on the week. 🙂 She traded dolls and legos for a camera and a saute pan. She collected music and films and tried to educate her mother about both. Her heart was wide open and always seemed to have room for those who were on the outside.

Almost before anyone knew what was happening, the teenager became a young woman. She finished school, got a job, and bought a car. She had become her own person with her own distinct opinions about pretty much everything. She bought a phonograph and a food processor. She became a juicing fiend, and made her own bath salts and soaps.

And then, that young woman had a baby girl of her own. Her heart was so full of love that it spilled out on everyone around her. She loved snuggling with her little baby. She took about a million photos. She forgot how to buy anything for herself because she always ended up buying things for the baby instead. She took her baby girl to the beach and to the zoo. She taught her to like vegetable juices, and smoothies, and curry. And Batman. And hockey. 🙂

She made those difficult decisions that parents make. She rose early and worked hard to provide a good life for her little girl. And then, one day, she and her little girl moved into a home of their own. And they were glad.

And the mommy and daddy looked at this daughter of theirs and were so proud, and grateful to have been given the privilege of being her parents.

And they all lived…

kandk

Dearest Kelsey, it is dizzying to think of all that has happened since I first held you in my arms 22 years ago today. Sometimes it seems like yesterday. Happy Birthday, Beloved!! God grant you many, many years!

 

When Little Birds Fly the Nest

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It began at birth, really. Even while I held my baby girl in my arms for the first time, while the scent of her was becoming an imprint in my brain and tiny tendrils inextricably wound themselves round my heart, the dance of separation had already begun.

A push and a cry and a snip of a cord were the first steps.

Over the next few years we cheered her on as she learned her own peculiar military style of crawling, then took her first steps. We video taped her telling stories at her second birthday party. She learned to feed herself; dress herself. She spent an hour away from us. Then a night. Then several days at Mammaw’s house in the summer. And I cried as we drove away. This crazy mix of pride, and joy, and loss.

And she learned, and grew, and thrived.

We wrote wonderful stories with those years. Travels and explores. Slumber parties, butterfly gardens, secrets, friends. She took photographs and wrote poems and learned to cook, and bit by bit the young woman she was made to be revealed itself.

And she was lovely.

There were growing pains. All of us figuring out how to walk in new seasons. Conflict. Anger. Tears.

But from that, a deep knowing. An understanding stamped on all our hearts of what it means to love one another relentlessly. To fail one another. To forgive.

She finished high school. She got a job. Or two. She bought her own clothes, did her own laundry, dreamed her own dreams. She collected classic films, artisanal teas, and gourmet cooking implements. She cooked us some fantastic meals.

And then, my baby girl had a baby girl of her own. And she grew some more. We watched her love this little one fiercely. We saw her make sacrifices. We saw her rise before the sun, work hard, spend wisely and save. She was driven to make a good life for her daughter.

Today, Kelsey is buying a home. And over the next few days, she will move all her belongings out of our house. And she will wake up somewhere else. And I have never been more proud of her. Never.

And my heart hurts.

Just a little.

I help her pack things up. She hums like she always does when she is happy. And this is so right. And I would not wish it other for a minute. But our family as it has been for a very long time will be no more. And I am grieving that.

And thinking about birds. Who do this every year. And giving thanks that I only have three.

Incidentally, Jake is going with her. As, of course, is Kenzie. So our household of six is becoming a household of three.

New season.

Godspeed, dear ones. Fly far and true. I love you. Always.

“To every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven…
He hath made everything beautiful in its time.”
~Ecclesiastes 3:1,11

 

*Painting by Cari Humphry

Toward Something Grand…

Grand-Canyon

Two weeks from today I will wake on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Mike and I will rise before the sun, eat a hurried and simple breakfast, make one last check of our packs, board the 5:30 hiker’s shuttle to the North Kaibab trailhead, and commence our descent into the canyon. Over the course of 7 miles of switchbacks and twists and turns we will drop almost 6,000 vertical feet. Another 7 miles across the canyon floor will bring us to the Bright Angel trail where we begin our long climb out of the canyon.

This is the second day. A return to the South Rim where our adventure began two days, and 47 miles, before.

But the journey began even earlier than this…

We have dreamed of doing a rim to rim to rim hike of the Grand Canyon for several years. We began researching and planning in earnest just over a year ago, reading blogs and websites of the crazies who have done this before and lived to tell about it. We made reservations 13 months out, the earliest opportunity, and began training 6 months ago.

Training has looked like this: Long hikes with packs once a week, increasing in length to a total of 23 miles and one back-to-back hike in the Great Smoky Mountains of 28 total miles. Lots of cross-training, running, walking, yoga in between. A major focus on nutrition, particularly during these final weeks. Scrupulous attention to packing to make sure we have everything we need and not one ounce more. Testing out foods and hydration on the trail to see what works and what doesn’t.

Everything that goes in my pack is in a stack in my closet. Nuun tablets to add to my water for electrolyte replacement. This I will alternate with a combination of chia seeds (which help with hydration and supply protein and Omegas) and peppermint oil (which helps oxygenate the blood). Pistachios, almonds, dark chocolate m&ms, dried cherries, sesame crackers, and rice crispy treats for fuel. (Add to this boxed lunches we will pick up at Phantom Ranch both days.) Gloves, hat, ear band, and fleece for the below freezing start. These I will bail by the time we get to the canyon floor which can be as much as 30 degrees warmer. Lavender oil for skin irritations, disinfection, sleep, etc… Sunscreen, bug repellent wipes, flashlight, moleskin, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, water purifier, Chacos, extra socks, bandanas (multi purpose), rain gear, and my phone. Almost half the weight of our packs will be water; 100 ounces, roughly 6 pounds.

grand canyon leavesThe leaves are coloring on both rims. The beauty will be staggering when we go. This, along with the cooler temperatures, is the reason we chose to go in the fall.

That decision, as it turns out, may have been costly.

Because today Grand Canyon National Park, along with all our national parks, will close. An early and unfortunate consequence of the government shut down. Compared to federal employees who will be trying to figure out how to feed their families, while our illustrious leaders posture and dig in their heels and refuse to compromise, our loss seems small.

But right now it feels really big.

The North Rim Lodge and most of the North Rim facilities close for the season on October 16th because snow will soon make the road into the park impassable. If we do not go on time, we do not go at all.

So this morning, I remind myself of all the beauty we have seen this summer on the trail. Of birds and bears, of snakes and squirrels, of an extravagance of wildflowers. Of unplanned adventure. Of long conversations with my husband. Of the dreaming, which for me is always half the fun. And though I still hope Congress will astonish all of us and figure something out quickly and we can proceed as planned, I am learning all over again that sometimes the journey itself is the end.

It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters, in the end.~Ursula K. LeGuin

 

Into the Wild…

It was supposed to be just a simple training trip. The Warner Parks had given us some good hill training, but we needed the physical and mental fatigue of long sustained miles of up, and significant altitude gain, in preparation for the Grand Canyon. So we headed to the Smoky Mountains for a couple of back to back hikes.

IMG_5348It was 2:00 in the east by the time we hit the trail to Rocky Top. Ten minutes in we had our first surprise. Mike was in the lead, but I saw her first. “Stop,” I whispered. He continued. I grabbed the back of his shirt and said, more helpfully, “It’s a bear.” He stopped. We were already closer than advisable so we backed up a little. Then the first baby tumbled out of the brush. We backed up some more. But not so far that we did not see the other two come chasing after their brother. They rolled and played, bounded and pounced, and mom mostly ignored them. They were in no particular hurry to get anywhere, so we just watched. And I tried to remember if I had any food in my pack that was not wrapped. Anything that might make me smell tasty. Once they finally left the path, we began to move tentatively forward, keeping an eye on them. As it turns out, they were keeping an eye on us too. The little guys stretched up onto their hind legs to see the tall funny looking people with humps on their backs. Mom, though, had apparently written us off as harmless. Good.

We climbed, mile after mile, practicing our rest step, hydrating frequently, stopping occasionally to remove our packs and relieve our feet. When we connected to the Appalachian Trail, the path began to go down, then up again, then down, as we moved across the crest of several mountains to get to the one we were after. This was more mentally fatiguing than you might imagine. It is difficult to give up altitude painfully gained, knowing you are about to have to climb it again. But then there was the up that was only up, and we ascended past the trees and onto the rocky crest and the world opened up all around us and it was so glorious that I thought I would gladly do it all again, though, in fact, I can’t imagine that that would have even been possible, but in that moment you feel invincible and will promise yourself almost anything. We dropped our packs and spread our arms and let the wind cool our hot, weary bodies. And it was so quiet. And still. And lovely.

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The descent took roughly half the time. Still, darkness overtook us. We pulled out flashlights, listened as the song of crickets joined the gurgle of the stream, dodged a few diving bats, and tried to remember exactly where it was that we saw the bears. Mike wondered aloud if they locked the picnic area where the trailhead was located at night.  As it turns out…

We suspected we were in trouble when we saw no other cars. We knew we were in trouble when we drove up to the gate. With the padlock. As we tried to figure out exactly who one might call in such a situation, I got out to see if just maybe the padlock was not locked. I suppose some ranger had gotten tired of being dragged away from his family to rescue crazy hikers who did not bother reading signs about parking areas closing at dark. Thank God for that. I slid the padlock out, Mike drove through, and I carefully replaced it just as I had found it and breathed a thank you to kind, practical human beings everywhere.

After a shower and a late supper, we looked at the forecast one more time before setting the alarm for an early wake up. No change.

RAIN

A light mist fell as we commenced our ascent to Mount Leconte. We congratulated ourselves on our fortitude and thought how silly we would have felt for backing out for something as innocuous as this.

Though the Smokies are littered with waterfalls and cascades of every sort, Rainbow Falls is the tallest. That, and the rainbow it produces on sunny afternoons, are its claim to fame. But as a general rule, the output is rather meager. As a general rule…

IMG_5375A couple of miles in, the rain picked up considerably. We pulled on rain jackets and carried on. We noticed how the colors of the leaves became more intense when wet. We looked out through openings in the trees at a world swathed in mist. We gave thanks for the canopy that withheld much of the water. Several streams crossed the trail. There were log bridges for a couple. The rest were crossed by stepping on larger rocks that stood above the water. We remarked early on how even the trail itself looked like a dry creek bed. As we neared the top, it wasn’t dry any more. Rivulets of water had begun to course down the center of the path. A curiosity. A slight inconvenience. For now.

By the time we reached the summit, our breath poured out in clouds of vapor and there were bits of ice in the rain. A fire burned in the lodge. We poured the water out of our boots, wrung out socks and jackets and hung them over chair backs to dry, and snuggled up to the stove. We devoured our lunch and drank our weight in coffee and hot chocolate. The memory of that warm coffee would be a comfort to me for some miles after.

Tearing ourselves away from the fire was painful. Shoving my feet back into those cold, wet boots made me want to cry a little. But it’s amazing how quickly the body acclimates. We started back down the way we had come, but we soon recognized that a considerable change in the trail had taken place while we rested. The rivulet was now a stream four or five inches deep. We straddled the path walking on its sides where we could, occasionally finding large rocks in the middle, avoiding stepping into the water at all costs. We would eventually give up on that.

The first water crossing was the worst. It had occurred to me by then that the rocks we had crossed on before might be difficult to find now. It had not occurred to me that they would be buried under a foot of roaring water tumbling headlong down the mountain. We walked up and down the creek looking for a place to string together rocks and make a crossing above water. It was not to be found. We dared not cross on the higher rocks for fear of being washed off and carried over the cliffs below. So we walked behind them figuring that if the water took us, the rocks would stop us. The freezing water came up to our thighs. We held our breath and held onto one another and pushed through to the other side. My heart was filled with gratitude and my boots were full of water.

Mike made me jump across the second stream. I didn’t think I could do it. We were jumping from one wet, mossy rock to another and it was a big gap and the pack made me feel like a rhinoceros on stilts. But he would not let me be a coward. He jumped first and did not die. He promised to catch me if I fell. I also did not die. I was very glad about that.

We continued to dodge water in the paths until the last mile and a half or so. It was mentally exhausting, all that navigating. It took us as long to get down as it did to get up. That never happens. But, we were rewarded by a view of the falls that most people never get. People who were only hiking as far as the falls were turning back because a couple of the water crossings were on that side of the falls. Perhaps we would have turned back if we had started then, I don’t know. I am glad now that was not an option.

As a training hike, it was far more effective than we planned. We learned a lot about packing for rain and are making some adjustments in our gear. Though the Grand Canyon is in the desert, sudden thunderstorms are always a possibility. As an adventure, it exceeded anything we might have hoped for.

Mike said to me, “When I am old and can’t remember anything any more, will you tell me the story of how we almost died but didn’t?”

“Yes, my love, I will.”

Rainbow Falls before

Rainbow Falls before

Rainbow Falls after

Rainbow Falls after

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