Tag Archive - Travel

Artful Extravagance

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While God puts His lovely fingerprint on all of creation, it sometimes seems as though He spends extra time in certain places crafting an extravagance of beauty. Artful, elegant, and so exquisite it creates a pang in the heart. Bermuda is one such place.

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Sapphire skies hover over an impossibly turquoise sea that rushes toward pink sand beaches in a flurry of foam. Dark stones lie strewn about the shore and shallows like left over toys. The water hurls itself against them, spouting skyward in great white flumes.

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Along the beach, we discover treasures from the sea. And, even as I mourn their death, I marvel that God graced a creature that would rarely be seen with such extraordinary loveliness. Prettier than it has to be.

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Sea Glass Beach yields treasures of another sort. Trash, broken bottles and the like, rolled around by the waves, pummeled against the sand, wash up onto this beach smoothed and remade. We brought bits of it home. As a reminder. Fragments of resurrection for the garden path.

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The beauty of the natural world seems to inform and inspire the works of man. The houses that cling to the hills look like they spilled out of an Easter basket. Gardens and flower boxes are a profusion of texture and color. And we climb the world’s oldest cast iron lighthouse to find a most utilitarian beauty. The prisms that help magnify the light bend land, sea and sky into a marvelous upside down landscape.

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There is even a nod to whimsy. This is Kenzie’s favorite of my photos from Bermuda. The creative impulse is a one of the surest imprints of the Creator within us, even when the form it takes is unconventional. And Rastafarian. And awesome. 🙂

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The sun is painting with pieces of glass. She flings them like spatters of watercolor against the window frame with a Kandinsky-like exuberance. I can’t not look at it.

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Doors are flung open to breezes blown up from the sea. The song of them blends with voices in the liturgy. A curious mix, this. And wonderful. Like the languid, feathery palms swaying against the outside of this great stone church that looks as though it were plucked from the English countryside.

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Praying

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

~ Mary Oliver ~

A Ballade of Place…

We almost missed it. Many people do.

It was our last morning in Paris, and we had seen everything on our list. We had one ticket left on our City Pass. Sainte Chapelle. A church. We had a little time to spare and it was near by.

Sainte Chapelle was built to house relics brought back from the Holy Land, including what was purported to be the crown of thorns worn by Christ. It was constructed at the pinnacle of the Gothic age when architects had perfected the flying buttress system to an art. Hence, the church is filled with windows. Three walls of her are very nearly windows only, beginning a few feet of the floor and soaring into the heavens, separated by only the finest ribs of support.

It is made even more dramatic by the fact that you reach it by climbing a dark, close spiral staircase. You wind your way up and up through the darkness until you are suddenly turned out into a magnificence you could never have imagined.

Standing in that place was, and still is, one of the holiest moments of my life. God was a presence that could be touched and breathed and worn there. His grandeur leaked from every pane of glass.

I have never explained that moment to my satisfaction, though I have tried. My latest attempt at giving it voice was inspired by a creative lectio experience with my beautiful friends Nita and Patsy. It is, perhaps, the closest I have come. Yet.

Sainte Chapelle

The steps have been hollowed out
by centuries of use. Still they spiral
upward through the dark, close
column of stone till they spill me out
into the upper chamber.

I am assaulted by color.
Jeweled windows hang
suspended from the sky.
Sunlight scatters the jewels across the floor
and in my hair
and on my skin.

And I find that I have forgotten
to breathe. And my face is wet.

And I think of poor, hungry peasants
who gave of their meager means to build
great edifices for God, and how I scorned
their impracticality.

And I realize I would gladly starve
to stand, just once, in a place
where holiness rests
like jewels
on my skin.

 

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sainte chapelle ceiling

Acadia: A Photojournal

Saturday, October 13: We rise before dawn for the trek up Cadillac Mountain, to be among the first people in the U.S. to watch the sun climb out of the Atlantic. We huddle in the clean, cold air as the sky warms to soft rose and apricot. Low lying clouds pulse with gilding as the disc of the sun begins to emerge. An audible gasp ripples through the crowd. I am startled by how fast she climbs. Maybe two minutes, rim to rim. Magic.

After breakfast, we head out for an explore. We drive the marathon route. It is much more hilly than we imagined. And stunningly gorgeous. We drive through quintessential New England villages with their frame and clapboard houses. We drive along the sea where waves hurl themselves into the rocky shore with a roar and flurry of foam. We pass under golden Aspens, sturdy evergreens, and maples and oaks aflame with orange and crimson. All against a cloudless sky of excruciating blue.

And I wish the run was today. And it is difficult to imagine that tomorrow it will rain. And I try to remind myself to breathe in now, and let tomorrow take care of itself…

Sunday, October 14: We wake to the unmistakable sound…of rain. And I want to turn over and go back to sleep. Because rainy days are wondrous for sleeping. But not this rainy day. I will myself to pull on clothes. We join one other couple for the early “runner’s breakfast”. They are young and precious. This is their first marathon. They seem slightly terrified. The innkeeper brings us warm banana pancakes. “It’s pretty rough out there,” he says. Yep. Pretty rough.

There is a break in the rain for our walk to the start. A mercy. We will have two others during the race; neither more than ten or fifteen minutes in duration. The temperature will never climb out of the forties.

At first the rain falls steady but easy. But eventually it gets harder and begins to seep through all our layers. I have nursed an ankle injury all through this training. It never hurts when I’m running (because my body is warm). Only after. Today it will hurt. I can’t get warm. By about mile 16 or so I am doing a lot of walking. Mike is kind and assures me he couldn’t be doing much better himself. It will be our slowest time ever. Six hours. Even the sweet young couple from breakfast will require almost five hours. We had no time goal. The real rub is that for six hours we will have no relief from the wet and cold.

And yet….there is beauty. Even here. Even now. The yellows and flames of yesterday are luminous against the gray. The sea is shrouded in a mystery of mist. Sodden evergreens drip fragrance. Men and women, boys and girls, stand in the cold and damp dispensing nourishment and kindness.

Most of all, I am grateful for the man running beside me. He and I both know that, difficult as this is, compared to some of what we’ve gone through over the past few years, this is a cake walk. So we keep putting one foot in front of another. We complain. Sometimes. We share treats squirreled away for moments of greatest need. And we laugh. A lot. And when it is over, we know today has been important. And next time life throws the impossible at us, we will remember today. And we will put one foot in front of another. One day–one minute–at a time.

Monday, October 15: Walking down the stairs is the hardest. We move like old people. (We are grandparents, after all.) We laugh at one another moving like old people. 🙂 We head out for one more romp through Bar Harbor and Acadia before leaving behind the land of lobster and fresh fish and chowder, and heading home. The morning is blustery, but warm. Sixty degrees before breakfast. Sunshine is intermittent. Sky and sea are sapphire and slate. And I can’t help thinking to myself, “This would be a lovely day for a run…”

*All photographs in the post taken on the days before and after the run. Cerulean skies are Saturday. Skies of slate are Monday. All but 4 were taken along the marathon course. We obviously did not take photographs during the race. I intersperse them throughout the race day account, in part, for irony. See more photos if you like in my Facebook album.

**Acadia National Park is the oldest national park east of the Mississippi. It owes its birth largely to Theodore Roosevelt who also oversaw creation of the carriage road and its beautiful stone bridges. It is located on Mount Desert Island just off the coast of Maine. Find it on a map HERE. (about two thirds of the way up) Prior to the French and Indian war, “Acadia” composed a large region of French settlement reaching well into Canada. The British drove out the French settlers and renamed most of the area Nova Scotia. You can read one account in Longfellow’s tragic poem, Evangeline.

The Peace of Wild Things…

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds…

…I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water…

…And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

~Wendell Berry

Every now and again I run away from home. Not because I am angry. Not because I am tired of my family. But because I know my soul is in need of washing. Of silence. Of wild, lonely places that can make me new.

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal, and give strength to body and soul.
~John Muir

Most recently, I ran away to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is my great good fortune to have grown up in their shadow, and to still live near enough to visit this oasis of loveliness from time to time. The very grandeur of these majestic mountains does a great deal to restore perspective. But it is also rubbing up against the heart piercing beauty of a tangle of wildflowers, or the surprise of water striders skating on sky, or whimsical growths clinging to the sides of trees, that help me become more human. “Solider” as C.S. Lewis might say.

I pray. The sweet prayer that does not require words. As though God and I are simply walking along together. Seeing the world. Enjoying the silent presence, each of the other. Like how my grandparents used to sit companionably on the porch. In a knowing so deep that words become superfluous. I would walk like this always, but the noise of every day makes it more challenging. So it is good to be here. To practice. So that when I return to the chaos, I remember. And little by little I learn to bring the silent knowing with me to my noisy world.

Nature is mythical and mystical always, and spends her whole genius on the least work.
~Henry David Thoreau

Supernatural grandeur expands our soul and helps us throughout the day to live not in glass-breaking tension but in tiptoe perspective. It’s the place where, in our “upward leap of the heart,” we see beyond the fray to the Father who does all things well.  ~Patsy Clairmont

In truth, this sabbatical was not without its challenges. My Jeep spent nearly the whole of it in hospital. This wreaked havoc on my itinerary.  But even this was not without blessing, once I was willing to see it. I suppose a great deal of life is lived just here. In what we choose to see. Or not see. This intersection with the wild does wonders for my vision; my perception.

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes…
~Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I wish you peace, my friends. I wish you bucket-loads of wonder. I wish you long afternoons of dilly dallying in the woods. And may you ever have eyes to see the magic that is happening around you. This very minute…

Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery.
~Annie Dillard

It’s the Journey…

It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters in the end.
~Ursula Le Guin

It is good to have an end…

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” ~Goethe

I could just run. Without the races. I know people who do. Well, not many. But the race gives shape. It makes demands. It looms out there like a great Leviathan that wants slaying. And I rouse myself, and find that I am capable of things I never imagined I could do. Or not. Either way, I am stretched and made deeper and more real.

This year the end is the Mount Desert Island Marathon in Bar Harbor Maine, one of the most beautiful marathons in the United States, on the outskirts of the stunning Acadia National Park. It will be my 6th 26.2, and my 8th state (if you lump in an ultra, and a half-marathon to the top of Pikes Peak).

It is the journey that matters…

“When I have been truly searching for my treasure, I’ve discovered things along the way that I never would have seen had I not had the courage to try things that seemed impossible…” ~Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

Training for an endurance event always brings understandings that I do not anticipate. Revelations. Amidst the fatigue and frustration, the astonishing beauty, the miracle of putting one foot in front of another over and over and over, a deep knowing grows. I want always to be fully present and available for this.

On a somewhat less mystical level, there are disciplines in training that make me a better runner (and a better human being, for that matter). More capable. Healthier. Stronger. More resilient. These I constantly re-examine.

This year, I am revamping my approach somewhat to honor my aging body and protect my sometimes finicky joints. I am studying the Chi running method; very harmonious with all I am learning and practicing in yoga. I will also incorporate Qigong, an ancient form of “moving meditation” that centers the body and invigorates the immune system. I am ramping up my core and upper body work. In fact, I have focused almost exclusively on this during the off season. I will run only 3 times/week. The other days will be spent cross-training ( a combination of yoga, core, weights, swimming, biking, hiking, etc…) I also plan to do as many of my long runs as possible on trails to minimize joint fatigue (and maximize oos and ahhs 🙂 ).

Nutrition always plays an important role in training. As part of my joint protection strategy, I am focusing on anti-inflammatory foods and drinking lots of green tea (and water). I am also participating in a local CSA, and have expanded our vegetable garden to insure a steady supply of clean, organic produce. I eagerly anticipate Scott Jurek’s book, Eat and Run, (available 5 June). Jurek is a superstar ultra-runner, and a remarkable human being, who fuels his running and his life on a strict vegan diet. (Kenzie is crazy about his chocolate adzuki bars.)

Running, with it’s seasons of building and recovery, creates a wonderful sense of ebb and flow in our lives. A skeleton to hang other things on and around. It is difficult to imagine life without it.

Just for fun…

Mike and I keep a list of dream events for the future. Here are a few of the “ends” we hope to lay out there in the not too distant future:

Marathon du Medoc 26.2 kilometers through the beautiful French wine region of Medoc. Wine tastings and samples of culinary indulgences all along the way. Ironically, given the timing and proximity, we have thought of pairing it with…

The Camino de Santiago de Compostela The way of St. James. A pilgrimage. Not a running event, but an endurance endeavor to be sure. And a spiritual quest. Dreaming about fall of 2015…

Big Sur International Marathon California redwoods, Stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, and a breathtaking run across the Bixby Bridge are just a few reasons why this one sells out almost immediately every year.

The Chattanooga Mountains Stage Race A total of 60 miles over three days of running on gorgeous trails in the mountains of my native East Tennessee. If this goes well, then there is this little stage race in Tibet…. 🙂

A rim to rim to rim hike across the Grand Canyon South to North in one day. We would probably give ourselves two days for the return, spending the night at the Phantom Ranch.

The Inca Trail to Machu Pichu

Of what ends do you find yourself dreaming? What might pursuing that end make possible?

Pura Vida: A Travelogue, part the second

15 March: The streams look for all the world like Tennessee streams, so familiar to me. But they are HOT! Heated underground by the same fire that melts the rock, that sends flumes of smoke into the air, that cloaks the mountain in lava. The steam rises against lush foliage and tropical blossom. Unseen speakers add a flute serenade to the trickle of water, the sound of birds.

I sink into the warm. I feel it stitching together something broken. I imagine scenes in movies where wounds are miraculously healed. And I know this magic is happening inside me. Somehow. The warm swims around me, while cool breezes blow over me. Blossoms nod in the breeze and birds sing. And I wonder if there is a limit to how much delight one person can handle. I feel perilously close to that threshold…

In the afternoon, we visit the volcano that heats our springs. We are “greeted” at the entrance by a Coati. Costa Rica’s answer to the raccoon. 🙂

Before the afternoon is over, we will encounter Maggie Jays, White faced Capuchin Monkeys, a Coral snake, a Ceibo tree large enough to drive a truck through, and rugged beauty that will slay us.

Most remarkable is the old lava flow. Out of this black, arid landscape grow delicate, voluptuous lilies. It is impossible to reconcile this in my mind. I breathe it in. I take photographs, trying to make it real. It is paradox. Beauty from ashes. This, I know. I have known it intimately. In my own life. I belong here. This field…of waste…of refuse…of inexplicable wonder. This…is…me.

The view from here is astonishing. Arenal volcano in one direction, and Lake Arenal in the other. I would stay here. Linger. In the in-between. There is much to know in this place.  A knowing that has little to do with words. And much to do with being overwhelmed. Undone. A knowing that grows inside. Gradually. A knowing stitched together of stones and lilies and breeze and vastness and exposure and being alone, but not alone. Of being…small….

Pura Vida: A Travelogue, part the first

13 March: We careen around hairpin curves, up and up and up….until we reach the summit, and plunge headlong into the next valley. The landscape undulates like a quilt pressed in from the edges. One mountain crowds against the next. And the hillsides are covered in coffee plants. They line themselves up in stepped plantings that make me think of rice terraces in Asia. They stretch far as the eye can see, barely kept in bounds by fence-rows of palms.

The houses we pass are modest, but neat. Tucked into the side of the hill. With bougainvillea clambering over the walls and hibiscus growing wild in the yard. It is a world of green, punctuated by shots of color: magenta, fuchsia, violet, fiery orange, saffron, and crimson.

The air blowing in at the windows cools. And it carries water. I can feel it against my face. We have reached the cloud forest. In the beginning, it reminds me of a foggy morning in Franklin. But not for long…

Our driver deposits us at The Peace Lodge, our home for the next two days. It will not be long enough. Here we have our first experience with a synergy we will see over and over in Costa Rica. Artists come alongside the extraordinary natural beauty rampant in this little remnant of Eden, and craft something organic and lovely that belongs…that becomes an integral part of the place.

It is the pure life ethos of this exceptional people. “Pura vida!” It is greeting and farewell. It is bravo and well-done. But mostly, it is a way of being. A clean, vital embrace of joy, along with a conscientious care for their stewardship of paradise.

After wandering about for a while, all agog, mouth hanging open, in the bit of heaven that will pass for our lodging here, we decide to go for an explore. We meander down a trail that leads us into a jungle paradise of plunging waterfalls, lush foliage, and sumptuous blossoms. Every turn in the path is a new vista. A new intake of breath. Astonishing extravagance. And I am having a difficult time believing this is real. That I am here. Only in dreams are colors this vibrant; peace this thoroughly undiluted.

Tonight we will sleep in the cloud forest, doors thrown open to a lullaby of birdsong and cascading water.

We will awake to feed the hummingbirds. To feel the ferocity of their wings as they soar over our heads. To study the intricacy of their feathers and marvel at their beauty. We will feast on gallo pinto, plantains, fresh sweet papaya and pineapple, tamarind juice, soft cheese, agua dulce (a warm, sweet drink made from sugar cane and milk), and rich, dark Costa Rican coffee. We will keep company with butterflies, toucans, frogs, monkeys, sloths, and snakes. And we are only beginning…..

Postcards from Paradise…

The words will come.

I know it.

But, just now, they are flying around, frantically, in and out of my head…a confusion of thoughts and impressions, remembrances and moments, ecstasies and and quiet reveries, that refuse to be contained or given shape and I don’t even know where to start or which ones go together or if you even want to hear them or if I’ve already talked about it enough and does it really matter in the scheme of things or should I just move on and only bore my family with the stories and anecdotes or would it be fun for you to have a glimpse into our week in Eden and our frolic amongst some of God’s most brilliant handiwork….

So….until I can get a handle on the words…and stop writing ridiculous run-on sentences…(Who do I think I am? Hemingway?)…I thought I would share with you a few favorite photographs. I took around 700 over the 9 days we were away. On my phone. That doesn’t include the ones on the camera or video camera. I have not even uploaded those yet. Nor does it account for the several experiences, like zip-lining or white-water rafting, where we took no photos at all.

But Costa Rica is one of the most visually stunning places I have ever visited. It seams a fitting place to begin.

Blue Morpho Butterfly on Bougainvillaea

Photograph taken at La Paz Waterfall Gardens, though we saw an abundance of these magnificent creatures in the wild. Bougainvillaea was also plentiful, covering hillsides with abandon. Glorious extravagance!

Green Crowned Brilliant Hummingbird

Hand feeding these beauties was one of the highlights of our trip. To study them up close. To feel the power of their wings as they soared past our faces. Remarkable!! (Blow this one up and have a closer look. The detail of her feathers is astonishing.)

Violet Sabrewing

I confess, this little fellow stole my heart. I am crazy mad about purple. And the peculiar hue of his feathers is positively captivating. (Note how my phone portrayed the fury of his wings.)

Lily

This graceful beauty pushed its way out of the old lava flow at the base of Arenal Volcano. The stark contrast of elegance against raw, aridity is compelling. A visual lesson in beauty from ashes.

Lavender Lilies Against Arenal

I had to scale a bit of an escarpment to get to these. It was worth it. The delicate lavender of the blossoms against the deep blue cone of Arenal wounded me with their loveliness.

Harbor at Quepos

Restricted color palette. A quiet oasis amidst unrelenting exuberance. Every time I look at it, my heart flutters. The stillness. How it washes over me. Softly. Can’t explain…

Water and Sky, Framed

I am embarrassed to say how many photographs I have of precisely this shot. I was infatuated. I couldn’t stop watching the play of the spray against the indigo sky as set off by their rugged frame.

Study in Blue

The architecture of the gnarled trunk against the assortment of blues delights me.

Pretty in Purple

I’m a sucker for purple. Perhaps I mentioned that. I suppose that’s why I spotted these, hidden underneath a big leafy bush. Like they were an accident or something. Such intricacy of form, such deliberate detail, in blossoms no more than 3 inches across! SomeONE takes great joy in making things lovely. Even those that will often go unseen…

*In case you are wondering, I do not know why the vertical photos are not centered. They made that determination themselves and, despite my best efforts, will not relent. It bothers me more than I can, or should, say. Especially in a post given to the beautiful. Alas, I have no technical skills. So imagine a perfectly centered and pleasingly arranged post. Will ya? 🙂

Two Tickets to Paradise

I’m leaving on a jet plane. Don’t know when I’ll be back again….

Just how many song lyrics do you think I can steal for this post? 🙂

Tomorrow, Mike and I will celebrate 25 years of marriage. Against all odds. Despite all we both did to wreck it. It is nothing short of a miracle. So we are off to celebrate. Tonight we will sleep at the extraordinary Peace Lodge pictured above. It sits in the midst of the beautiful La Paz Waterfall Gardens.

Over the next few days we will zip-line over the top of the rain forest, sit in volcano heated hot springs while watching Arenal spew hot lava and steam, ride white water through gorges and past waterfalls, take night-time walks through the jungle, watch the sun sink into the Pacific Ocean, all while surrounded by remarkable wildlife.

There will be a little anniversary post tomorrow. Then, over the next few days, a couple of posts from the archives with something to say about marriage and loving long. I will also be tweeting the occasional photo as I have access to internet. But do not hate me if I do not respond to comments for now. I am otherwise occupied. 😉

To all of you who are making the choice to love…every day…hang in there! It is more important than you know! Do not lose heart.

Among Trees…

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle…

~Wendell Berry

“I built it for everybody. It’s God’s treehouse.” ~Horace Burgess

In 1993 Horace Burgess received a commission from God…of a rather unusual sort. He was to build a tree house. Eighteen years later, it is a project still in the making.

Peter Pan would find himself right at home in this architectural invocation of whimsy. Stairways meander. Decks crawl all around the sides, ducking in and out of the interior. There are cozy nooks and astonishing views; a second story basketball court and a church. And if you are brave enough to climb to the crow’s nest, you can ring the bells. There has never been a blueprint. The design has simply evolved. A bit at a time. Oh yes, and he has constructed the whole of it from recycled materials.

At a height of 97 feet, it is a contender for the tallest tree house in the world. They are in negotiations with the folks at Guinness even now. Burgess has elected to not go higher, because at 100 feet he would have to install a flashing light to warn planes. 🙂

My extended family (grandparents, cousins, etc…) paid a visit on Saturday. It would be hard to say who had more fun, the children or the adults.

The tree house is located near the Genesis Road Exit off Interstate 40 in Crossville, Tennessee, 245 Beehive Lane, Crossville, TN 38555. Hours are approximately 8am-6pm. The attraction is free, though you are welcome to donate to the ongoing construction expenses. If you would like more of the particulars, read this from USA Today. Also, see a couple of gorgeous photos HERE. If you go, wear good shoes as the surfaces are somewhat…well…did I mention whimsical? Also, keep a firm grip on very little ones.

Caretaker's Cottage

Podium inside church

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