Wanderlust

Wanderlust Adventure
An enticing choice
We often dream about
But seldom resolve to engage

Hampered by the fog of uncertainty
The venturesome road
Leads nowhere
And everywhere

Cocoons give birth
Fluttering in our stomach
A barely audible whisper carried on wings
Nudges us forward

Encouraging us
Throw caution to the wind
Do something bold and daring
Unexpected

Into the darkness we plunge
Unaware and nescient
The initial fear dissipates
As the spark within intensifies

A seed is planted
We watch it grow
Ample sunshine and water
In the form of faith and love

Step by step
We trek forward
Hoping to discover
Meaning and truth

Wandering aimlessly
We stumble upon
The key to happiness
And contentedness

The decision to wander
Away from the comfort of familiarity
Carries us along a path
With many twists and turns

Accosted by fear, despair, and misery
We are rescued by faith, hope, and love
On an enduring journey
Back home

Author’s Note:
This poem is inspired by the short story with the same name. Wanderlust is now available in the Amazon Kindle Store. And for three days (Wednesday, May 27, 2015 through Friday, May 29, 2015), it is free to download. Experience the wonder of self-discovery as you follow the trail of adventure with Damon, Gryffin, and Jo. Included is a short passage from the author detailing the inspiration and thoughts behind the composition of this story.

Many thanks to my beautiful and talented wife for providing the stunning cover art for this story. Her photographic prowess has added depth to my words that I could not possibly have accomplished on my own.

If you found this short e-book enjoyable, I would sincerely appreciate any feedback in the form of a review at the book’s site on Amazon. To download the e-book, please visit the Shop link at the top of this page to see all books available by me, or visit Wanderlust. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, and best wishes for an inspired day!

The seed

volunteer-stateAuthor’s Note: This is the third chapter of a six part story. If you would like to read the previous chapters, please visit Chapter 1 – The key and Chapter 2 – Plus one.

Gryffin, the loyal golden retriever belonging to Damon, couldn’t help but feel slighted. Now relegated to the makeshift back seat of the pickup truck, he didn’t have nearly as clear a view out the front windshield. Nor did he have the occasional scratch behind the ears from his master.

Nope, the front seat was now occupied by Damon and his new human companion. Jo, a waitress from the plantation house turned diner, joined the trek south towards the Smoky Mountains after the fortuitous revelation of her latest customer’s final destination on the previous evening.

Merging back on to the interstate, Gryffin got comfortable with his new surroundings, head resting on his two front paws. The flurry of chatter coming from the seats ahead of him was evidence of the budding rapport being established between his master and Jo. Damon shared the details of his adventure – as much as he knew anyway. He really wasn’t quite sure what he expected to find at his destination marked by a set of coordinates just off the Appalachian Trail.

Jo reciprocated the conversation by sharing some of the fascinating history in her family – the origins of their plantation from more than a century ago, the story about how her great grandfather fought as an advocate for the abolition of slavery even though it was against the mainstream way of thinking, and how it ultimately compromised his status in the community.

It was pleasant conversation, and perhaps necessary for two people who had known each other for less than sixteen hours. The topics provided a safe haven in which one person could become comfortable with the other, to feel each other out and begin to understand their way of thinking. They might as well do so since they would be spending the next ten hours or so together in a truck en route to the Volunteer State.

After about the first hour on the road, however, the conversation had begun to dry up. The silence was becoming more uncomfortable with every passing mile marker. Jo decided to take a courageous leap into slightly more tumultuous conversational waters.

“So, do you have a significant other in your life?” She attempted to catch herself from spewing this inquiry into the space between them, afraid that it would come off sounding like a pick-up line, but she failed miserably. It was now out there to be answered, even though the intent behind her question had a much different meaning than it may have initially sounded.

If Jo was worried that the question would be interpreted the wrong way, her fears were quickly assuaged when Damon responded with a chuckle, “Yeah, I have someone special in my life. He’s sitting right behind you. It’s always been Gryffin and I for as long as I can remember.”

Jo stared ahead, eagerly anticipating the question she expected would be returned to her. And just as she had given up hope that it would be asked, Damon replied, “How about you? With the significant other thing.”

Jo cracked open this door – on purpose – and now she was committed to pushing it wide open and inviting Damon inside, even if neither he nor Jo were quite ready. She had been desperately searching for an unbiased individual to share her story with, and she finally came to the realization that this may be her best opportunity.

true-friendshipAnd so began the story of Jo and her boyfriend – well, ex-boyfriend now, she presumed. It wasn’t a story that Damon was expecting to unfurl with a question as simple as “How about you?” But, each passing minute and empathetic exchange led the two passengers to become more than simply riding companions. They began to understand that they shared something in common, even if their situations were dramatically different.

Jo’s boyfriend had treated her quite well – initially. But, there had to be something extra going on behind the scenes. Excuses began to pile up when Jo proposed a getaway weekend together. And it probably wasn’t a coincidence, Jo realized, that the frequency of his visits decreased as her monetary contributions to his undisclosed business venture began to approach critical mass. It was a secret he had promised to share with her when the time was right. Apparently, that right time had never arrived. And it never would, for one morning when Jo worked up the courage to confront him at his apartment, she found it empty. She felt exploited, neglected, and abandoned. Jo reached out to several mutual friends. Each swore they were not privy to his business secrets. She had discovered, however, that there were rumors he had moved to precisely the location they were now headed. That was Jo’s personal business and ultimate reason for hitching a ride south – to discover the truth.

Despite the differing circumstances, Damon felt the same emotions inside – abandoned and taken advantage of in his professional endeavors. He didn’t feel it justified to compare the delicacy of these emotions in a relationship to his own situation, but he felt a connection to Jo’s emotions nonetheless.

welcome-to-gatlinburgThere are times when an individual gets into a flow state. Things begin to occur in a sort of surreal manner. Time both seems to stand still and speed by in an incomprehensible manner. That must have been what transpired between Damon and Jo, for they found themselves rolling into the outskirts of town just north of the Smoky Mountain National Park. More than four hours had passed since Jo initiated this conversation. Both were silent now with the same notion occupying their thoughts. Neither was prepared for the abrupt separation that would come to pass if Damon dropped Jo off in town, not after the conversation that had just materialized. The newly fashioned bond between these two riding companions turned friends was undeniable.

The ball was in Jo’s court, and she wasn’t quite ready yet to make a decision. So, she decided to stall.

“How about I help you find your … well, whatever it is you’re looking for,” offered Jo. Part of her was curious. Part of her wasn’t ready to confront the truth about her boyfriend. Perhaps the biggest part of her wasn’t prepared to sever ties with Damon at this point.

“You’re more than welcome to tag along. I really have no idea if and what I’ll find. It might very well be anti-climactic, but I do have a key,” he smiled as he grabbed hold of it and held it up in his left hand.

So, three riders remained in the vehicle, more than just disinterested passengers now. Each of them seemed to have some vested interest in the outcome of the situation in their own peculiar way. As they wound their way up the solitary park thoroughfare, the switchbacks and tight curves had Gryffin sliding to and fro in the back seat.

As their truck arrived at the summit of the pass bordering on the Tennessee and North Carolina state lines, the setting sun provided a stunning backdrop for the vista greeting them. It left them speechless with an awe-inspiring smile reflecting the beaming rendition provided by the landscape itself.

Opening the back door, Gryffin jumped out and began dashing along the path, as if he had the destination coordinates locked in his canine brain. Damon and Jo, for just a brief moment that seemed like forever, forgot about the coordinates. They stared out over the majestic landscape so eloquently painted by Mother Nature, and were held captive by her innate beauty in some unseen metaphysical world. Looking down, Damon and Jo both noticed the plaque that was serendipitously positioned directly in front of them:

Man has created some lovely dwellings – some soul-stirring literature. He has done much to alleviate physical pain. But he has not … created a substitute for a sunset, a grove of pines, the music of the winds, the dank smell of the deep forest, or the shy beauty of a wildflower. ~ Harvey Broome, Naturalist

Damon and Jo looked at each other, smiles still etched on their faces. No words were exchanged. None were needed. They had just shared a moment together. The wet feeling on Damon’s hand brought him back to the physical world. Gryffin was slobbering all over him, anxious to continue, almost understanding that something special was awaiting them.

appalachian-trail-newfound-gapDamon turned the dial on his watch to GPS mode and began to walk towards the trail head that he had seen depicted on his laptop screen less than forty-eight hours ago. It felt like so much more time had elapsed. So much had transpired in such a short period of time.

With the cooler weather and waning sunlight, Damon, Jo, and Gryffin found themselves alone on the mountain crest. The sun was descending below the horizon quickly. They would need to expedite their pursuit to have any chance of discovering whatever it was they were looking for before daylight escaped them.

Damon was assuredly happy that Jo was with him – to take part in whatever was to be discovered, and to help drive back down the mountain in darkness. He began to wonder what would happen when they returned to a lower elevation. Would Jo’s sense of adventure recede? Would she ask to be dropped off in town, never to be seen again?

While contemplating these questions in his own mind, Damon found himself navigating on autopilot to the exact coordinates indicated on the brass key around his neck. He looked at the inscription on the key again, then back at his watch to make sure they matched.

Looking around the area, nothing seemed to be out of place. Everything seemed to be undisturbed, to the human eye at least. Gryffin must have been a bloodhound in a previous life for he started to bark gruffly at a spot right behind the tree where Damon and Jo were standing.

“What’s up boy?” asked Damon.

Gryffin retreated back to his companions, and then turned around to return to his previous spot as if to say follow me. Both Damon and Jo picked up on the cue. At the base of the tree were a collection of leaves that had been displaced by Gryffin’s investigative efforts. What laid beneath those leaves was a large burrow. If anyone else had revealed this burrow, one would have thought it was the home of a wild critter. Everyone in its presence now suspected otherwise.

smoky-mountain-treeGetting down on his hands and knees, Damon reached his hand and arm – slowly – into the hole up to his elbow. “I feel something,” he said with a tinge of excitement in his voice. Pulling his arm back out brought with it a small container. It looked like an antique jewelry case. And on the front panel was a keyhole that looked to be just the right size.

He quickly, but carefully took the key around his neck and inserted it into the keyhole. Jo squatted down next to Damon, peering over his shoulder in anticipation. As he turned the key and opened the lid, he wasn’t sure what he would find. But, what he did find surprised him nonetheless.

Sitting in the box was an acorn and a rolled up parchment. Unrolling the leathery material, slightly yellowed with age, he found the following quote transcribed in beautiful penmanship:

Man is wise and constantly in quest of more wisdom; but the ultimate wisdom, which deals with beginnings, remains locked in a seed. There it lies, the simplest fact of the universe and at the same time the one which calls forth faith rather than reason. ~ Hal Borland

new-beginningsBelow the quote were three numbers. Two of them didn’t need decoding. The exact location denoted by the new set of coordinates was unknown, but Damon did know he would be next heading somewhere north and east of his present location. The third number was more mysterious and required mental contemplation. Damon was, however, becoming less concerned with the meaning of the number and more concerned with whether he would have a kindred spirit accompanying him on the next leg of his journey. Straddling the Tennessee/North Carolina state line, he was simultaneously straddling a state of mind. As he massaged the acorn between his fingertips, Damon reminded himself that new beginnings do indeed require faith. The metaphorical seed had been planted – the nurturing process had begun.

Author’s Note: This is the third part of a six part “not-so-short” short story about self-discovery. A new segment will be published each Wednesday in December with the closing chapter being posted on the first Wednesday of 2015. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment – best wishes for an inspired day and new year!

Plus one

newfound-gap

Author’s Note: This is the second chapter of a six part story. If you would like to read the first chapter, please visit The key.

The numbers inscribed on the brass key filtered through Damon’s consciousness. As the initial adrenaline rush of the discovery diminished in magnitude, the gears began to turn in the dormant recesses of his mind. Initially searching for a pattern in the numbers that simply wasn’t there, he stumbled upon an idea. Racing back to his laptop sitting on the bed, his loyal golden retriever, Gryffin, was following closely behind.

Lifting the lid and opening a browser window, Damon typed furiously into the search engine box. Upon submitting his request, the results staring back at him confirmed that his suspicion was indeed correct. The map shown on the screen after typing in the numbers on the key – 35.6109, -83.4250 – displayed latitude and longitude coordinates. It pointed to a location just off the Appalachian Trail, a sixteen hour drive from his present location.

High in the Smoky Mountains on the North Carolina/Tennessee border resides a scenic overlook named Newfound Gap. Its name – Damon was researching – had originated from the newly found pass through the mountains in the year 1872. Even though more than a century had elapsed since this discovery, Damon felt as though this site held at least one more discovery waiting to be revealed.

As he rotated the key through his fingers, Damon came to a metaphorical fork in the road – remain on the safe path towards another record quarter of revenues in his admittedly unfulfilling position, or throw caution to the wind and embark upon a quest filled with uncertainty. Damon knew what he should do – he should stay exactly where he was and keep on the well-paved path. Whether it was the curiosity of his awoken mind, the feel of the cold brass against his skin, or the animated actions of his canine friend, the endorphins began to flow freely. Cutting a piece of the wet twine that was previously clogged in the drain, Damon looped the key on to it like a necklace and hung it around his neck.

Gryffin could sense what this meant. Whether it was his canine sixth sense, or simply a recognition of the aura emanating from his master, he began to wag his tail vigorously and jump upon Damon in anticipation. Truth be told, Damon felt the same way inside. He just wasn’t quite ready to release that excitement outside of his protective shell yet.

The first night in his new home left Damon sleepless. The drafty crevices exposing the cold exterior, the dripping sink, and the wind blowing untrimmed branches against the windows kept him awake for most of the night. His second night would also be sleepless, but for a different reason – anticipation. If he thought that a twenty-four hour period could change his perspective so abruptly, Damon wouldn’t have believed it. With plans to leave at daybreak and break up the sixteen hour journey over two days, he didn’t bother with any more than a cursory email to his boss requesting an undisclosed number of vacation days to take care of some personal business.

With the sun rising in the east, Gryffin darted out of the house, waiting by the pickup truck while Damon locked the front door. It was a crisp, fall morning – a perfect day for a road trip – similar to the ones that Damon recalled from his college days. Somewhere along the way since those carefree days, he had adopted a more conservative attitude towards life. Even this slight departure from the norm, taking the metaphorical road less traveled on this particular morning, left Damon filled with a healthy dose of euphoria that would carry him two hours farther on his journey than he expected on the first day.

virginia-welcomes-youWith daylight fading and his night blindness providing a high degree of anxiety towards attempting to drive after sunset, Damon exited the interstate and found himself on a county road running through rural Virginia. The road signs had indicated dining and lodging options available off this exit. He wasn’t buying it. After about a three mile drive down the road, Damon was ready to turn the truck around, return to the interstate, and try again one exit to the south. It was just then he saw a light on the side of the road up ahead. He muttered to Gryffin next to him, as if looking for validation, “We’ll turn around up there if we don’t find anything, okay buddy?”

The building coming into view resembled a diner. There was another structure behind it, a bit taller, that could pass for some sort of lodging option – in a horror movie, maybe. The venti sized cup of coffee he had consumed since his last pit stop was beckoning for attention. Talking to himself and not Gryffin this time, Damon offered up, “Well, at least I can see if they have a restroom.”

Walking through the front door of the establishment, Damon was surprised. The old adage – don’t judge a book by its cover – was certainly appropriate here. It wasn’t a highly sophisticated diner, but it was clean and had quite a few eclectic decorations scattered around the restaurant.

“Hi darling,” came a voice from behind the counter, “take a seat wherever you like.” The waitress offered up a greeting as if it was perfectly normal for guests to be coming through the front door. Based upon Damon’s experience, he was wondering how anyone ever found this place. Glancing at his truck parked outside, Gryffin was seated in the driver’s position, keeping watch through the windshield. With a cool breeze blowing through the rolled down windows, he would have been happy to remain parked there the entire night.

diner-boothDamon took a seat in the booth closest to the door, just in case he found the need to depart quickly. He’d seen enough movies to know how plots unfold on desolate rural roads. Approaching from behind the counter, ponytail bobbing back and forth, the waitress introduced herself with a smile, “Name is Jo, can I get you something to drink while you look over the menu?”

Damon replied, still uncertain as to the peculiar surroundings, “Um, how about a lemonade … and, um, do you have a restroom I can use?”

“Sure,” Jo replied, “just around the right side of the counter there, second door on the right.” His gait coming back from the bathroom was more relaxed, due to the relief in bladder pressure as well as his increasing acceptance of this odd location, seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

Sitting back down in the booth, Damon realized that his lemonade had already been delivered. As he perused the menu, he decided that he would just order a burger. That should be safe, he thought. As Jo returned, she inquired, “Ready, honey?”

“Yeah, I’ll have a burger, well done please, and an order of fries,” replied Damon.

“Lettuce, tomato, and onion?” asked Jo. “Yes on the lettuce and tomato, no on the onion,” retorted Damon. This was all pleasant, cordial, non-confrontational, and expected communication between waitress and customer.

Damon ventured a little beyond the expected into the unexpected, as much out of curiosity as it was to make sure his hamburger was going to be ground beef and not some variant of back-country squirrel. “So, what is this place? I mean, I know it’s a diner, but it doesn’t seem like it’s really along the main drag if you know what I mean.”

Jo’s shoulders drooped just a bit, a sort of resignation to her position here. “This place used to be a plantation long, long ago. It’s been in my family for generations. My great grandfather converted it into a diner and motel about forty years ago. My sister and I have kept it running for the past ten years. It’s not really on the map, per se, but it’s well known by a lot of the truckers that come through this area. All the artifacts you see laying around are from the original plantation.”

Damon was fascinated and now felt more comfortable about the safety of his burger. It was then that Jo responded with a question that would trigger an acceleration of his heartbeat.

“So, what’s the key around your neck?” asked Jo.

As if by protective instinct, Damon reached down and grasped the key to make sure that it was still, in fact, there. He rubbed it between his fingers before replying. The funny thing about Damon, he was never very forthcoming with people close to him. However, put him in a conversation with a complete stranger and he was ready to bare his soul. Perhaps it was the lack of scrutiny from a stranger’s eye that permitted him to be so open with his communication. Or, maybe it was Jo’s charming and homey personality that led Damon into a detailed account of the previous twenty-four hours.

“It’s funny you should ask that,” began Damon. The hamburger he ordered didn’t arrive until much later. As he began to tell his story – and that was something he was really good at – the words and emotions began to flow effortlessly. When he finished his tale and returned from the fantastical land of adventure in his mind, Damon gazed across the table. Jo, now seated in the booth directly across from him, was utterly captivated by his words.

entrance-sign-smoky-mountains“Really,” inquired Jo, “you are headed to the Smoky Mountains?”

Damon hadn’t even realized he had told the entire story. It was like some surreal experience recalling the events of the past day. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s where I am supposed to end up. I have no idea what, if anything, is waiting for me there.”

Jo, somewhat sheepishly, replied, “I know you’re gonna say these are coincidences that only happen in the perfectly plotted movie or novel, but this is the honest truth. I don’t own a car. I have been trying to find some way to get down to that area for the past six months.”

“Oh yeah, what for?” asked Damon.

Taking a moment to gather her thoughts – and composure – Jo responded, “Let’s just say it’s some personal business I need to take care of.” Damon could tell she would not provide any further information, so he let it rest.

Something inside tugged at Damon. And even though he didn’t formulate the words in his own consciousness, they nonetheless emerged from his mouth, “I have an extra seat in my truck if you don’t mind dogs.”

The response from Jo came quicker than either she or Damon expected, “I love dogs.”

friendship-horizonsAnd so it came to be, Damon without overtly asking, and Jo without explicitly answering, that the pickup truck continuing its journey south the next morning would carry Damon and Gryffin – plus one more – each with their own agenda, even if they didn’t yet realize that their intentions were all one and the same.

Author’s Note: This is the second part of a six part “not-so-short” short story about self-discovery. A new segment will be published each Wednesday in December with the closing chapter being posted on the first Wednesday of 2015. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment – best wishes for an inspired day and new year!

Awakened

cabin-fogIt began as a mental cognition, nothing more. It was inaudible to his ears, the babbling brook beside his cozy lodge drowning out the pleas of the yet unheard voice. Logan was lounging in the rustic wooden chair carved from the spruce-fir trees on his mountain property. It was his favorite place, here on his veranda, unwinding while seated in a piece of furniture forged with his own two hands. Gazing out over the picturesque vistas he had pined for during his earlier city life, everything was as he had pictured it would be, except for the empty void inside.

Leaving the security of a six figure income at his accounting firm, Logan was in search of a new beginning, a fresh start in this remote and sleepy community thousands of feet above sea level. Trading in his exotic metallic blue sports car for a fuel efficient hybrid, he did all the right things to streamline his expenses and make this transition a feasible one. Everyone said he was crazy, giving up the life he had worked so hard to build for himself. In Logan’s eyes, however, the escalating pain of remaining stagnant in the quagmire of politics and bureaucracy convinced him he would be crazy to not make this choice.

It had been three months since the dramatic change of venue. He didn’t have a plan, an oddity for the detail oriented nature of a former accountant. Taking a sip of the coffee from his favorite mug, he kept it at his lips a little longer than necessary, allowing the venting steam and hazelnut scents to permeate his senses. Staring into the whipped cream as it slowly dissolved into a milky froth, he looked for some sign of his next move. Logan had always been like this, on the lookout for coincidences that he knew were anything but that, relying on his sense of intuition.

What you seek arrives on your doorstep only when you make an active choice to look for it. As if that deep and thoughtful gaze into a steaming beverage invited communication from a higher power, he heard it for the first time. Barely discernible, Logan turned his head, aiming his ears in the perceived direction of the faint source. As quickly as it had materialized, it was now gone like the trails of steam from his coffee mug evaporating into the air above him. Had he imagined it? Had it been a figment of his deepest desires to be presented with a divination? No, Logan had learned to trust these gut instincts. They had never led him astray in the past, unless his move to these highlands proved to be a misstep.

The frequency of these visits from a foreign voice heightened with time. So commonplace they became that Logan began to discount the value of any intended message to his body, mind, or soul. Always the faintest of vibrations traveling through the air, he could not differentiate the value of these mumbles from the trickling of water through the stream, the whisper of wind through the spruce trees, or the crackling of foliage as the resident salamanders made their presence known.

In addition to relying on his inner muse to guide his daily decisions, Logan possessed another trait, perhaps not as valuable in this particular situation: stubbornness. After weeks of the silent whispers, they became little more than background noise, fading from a source of heightened acuity in Logan towards the desensitized numbness that he now felt. Luckily, his inner muse, the source of these murmurs, possessed this same steadfast resolve and stubbornness, determined to break through the thick shell fabricated by Logan’s former lifestyle.

Fall leaves with rakeThe various hues of amber, crimson, and gold adorned the trees spreading out across his panoramic view. The occasional deciduous tree on his property was partaking in its own autumn parade of colors, shedding its leaves while creating a warm blanket on the ground, almost akin to a tapestry painted by the inanimate trees themselves.

Logan disliked the task of raking those leaves, not because of the manual labor, but because he held a natural aversion for disrupting such a beautiful creation of the natural world. His rational mind persuaded him, however, to carry on with the necessary chore. The Kentucky bluegrass that comprised his lawn was a cool season grass, most active during these predominantly cooler weather months before the harsh grip of winter took ownership. This was a time when the grass revitalized itself. The abundance of sunlight, nutrients, water, and seasonable temperatures strengthened the root system, preparing it for its eventual emergence from the melting snow during the spring months. As he grabbed the wooden handle on the rake, the timely arrival of a wind gust brought with it that same imperceptible message. This time, however, the intensity of its voice rising in a crescendo allowed Logan to perceive the communication not only with his mind, but also with his ears.

The uncharacteristic outflow of air from the heavens sent the blanket of leaves on the ground upwards, embracing Logan in a tornadic funnel of color swirling around him. Beneath the rustle of leaves and the howling of the wind, an unmistakable whisper became clearly audible to him for the first time. A single word, repeated every three seconds in a surreal and unearthly tone, “who.”

Although this all seemed to transpire within the time allotted to a single flap of a butterfly’s wing, he could not deny its existence. That did not, however, imply that Logan could make any rational sense out of the experience. With hands still gripped on the rake, he remained frozen, hopeful that his stillness would free his mind from any distractions and help him comprehend the intent of this message carried on the wind.

smoky-mountain-stormAfter the passing seconds turned to minutes, Logan realized that a metaphorical bolt of lightning was not going to strike his consciousness and enlighten him. The darkening skies and encroaching line of storm clouds rolling in behind those squally winds, however, might provide some real life lightning that would certainly not be helpful to his cause.

Leaning the rake against a wall inside the tool shed, Logan latched the door shut and retreated up the wooden stairs. Returning to the safety of his humble home, the raindrops began to tumble from the saturated clouds. Seated on the stool beside his kitchen counter, he was perched midway between a world where raindrops fell and a world where mystical messages were spoken by the amorphous wind. The rain, blowing at a forty-five degree angle was now pelting the kitchen window with increasing energy. As he watched the small droplets of water navigate their way down the pane of glass, Logan continued to search for his own path, unsuccessfully.

As the talons of the fierce storm released its hold on the mountainside, the water continued to collect in puddles as it rolled off the roof, racing to catch up with its brethren that had made the same journey earlier. Logan thought he could feel the roots of his lawn strengthening with each subsequent trickle of precipitation. If only he could find a way to fortify his own roots. Ripping them up and transferring them to a completely new environment created a transplant shock reminiscent of that felt by the rhododendron shrubs he relocated earlier in the week.

Falling back on the familiar and comfortable habits he had cultivated over the previous months, Logan grabbed the trail running shoes from his closet. Seated on the edge of his couch, he laced them up tightly, found his keys, and headed out the front door. The solitude provided by nature allowed Logan to hear himself think. It released any strangleholds on his attention so that he could hold the heart-to-heart conversations that connected his physical and spiritual world.

Upon reaching the trailhead only a quarter mile from his front door, Logan limbered up his joints, stretching his muscles before setting off on a slow and steady jog under the canopy of trees framing the path ahead of him. As he slipped into his groove, Logan picked up the pace of his steps, heartbeat following suit. He had stumbled upon this seemingly magical elixir not too long ago. Channeling his mental focus on the physical obstacles in his path, the creative right brain was free to roam without the distractions of the rational and sometimes commandeering left brain. It had taken deliberate and repeated practice to keep at bay the precision, exactness, and accuracy of his life as an accountant.

The thoughts bounced back and forth between the mental capacity on the left and right side of his mind. Left side: Left foot square on the flat rock ahead. Right side: Who? What does that mean? Left side: Right foot just past that gnarly root. Right side: Is it a question? Is it a statement? Left side: Duck head to avoid the cobwebs waiting to wrap its silky residue around us. Right side: Is there a different meaning to the word?

Back and forth, the communication ensued without a single audible word being spoken. The only sound evident to the aural senses was the rhythmic inhalation of oxygen followed by the exhalation of carbon dioxide, over and over again. He could have been on the trail for five minutes or fifty-five minutes. Time passed in an unexplained manner when he fell into this trance like state of contemplation, one foot planted in the existence outside his body with the other one leaving its footprint on the world within.

After many journeys through this portal, it took a significant distraction to extract Logan from this deep hypnotic state. The forty-five foot dead spruce tree blocking the path in front of him was more than enough to do just that. Pulling himself to an abrupt halt, Logan looked left and right to get a sense for where this behemoth once stood. Branches angled to the left, this giant tree, now devoid of any needles, must have succumbed to the fury of the earlier storm. It had fallen in such a manner that he could not squeeze beneath it. He would be required to scale a height of at least five feet to continue onwards. Thankful that he hadn’t completely severed the relationship with his left brain, Logan began to calculate the best route available to him.

It was in that moment of calculating thought that the creature appeared without his knowledge. Swooping down from the treetops on an eighteen inch wingspan, the owl quietly alighted on the fallen spruce, just out of Logan’s peripheral vision. Quieter than the wind, he approached to make a statement. Too-too-too it called in its signature voice. Shifting his gaze to the right, Logan caught a glimpse of the Saw-whet owl, eyes fixated on him as he repeated his call again, too-too-too.

saw-whet-owlBeing highly nocturnal, seldom seen by any human, this bird of prey’s appearance was anything but ordinary. In a frenzied digestion of visions flowing through him in the moment, Logan saw the spruce tree lying in front of him, the owl perched upon it. He heard the mysterious sound that had become more prevalent in his daily life. And he captured a fleeting image of the rustic wooden chair on his back porch. Inside the maelstrom of seemingly unrelated and disconnected details, Logan’s eyes locked on those of the owl. It was then that everything came into alignment.

He was always led to believe that things had to make sense. The impossible was not possible without a feasible explanation. Logan had learned to abandon that line of thinking and allow events to unfold naturally, absorbing that which was presented without worrying about if and how it made any sense. This was a perfect opportunity to practice that holistic approach.

He had been peripherally aware of spirit animals in the past, those creatures whose traits and characteristics best align with your own. Captivated by the eyes staring back at him, Logan now knew that this owl was connected to him, his spirit animal. The owl spirit symbolizes a deep connection with wisdom and intuition. It is able to see beyond the visible. Beyond the illusion and deceit set forth by the physical world, it perceives true reality.

Not only did the characteristics of this owl align with Logan’s soul, its presence and appearance was indicative of a transition, just like the one Logan was struggling through over the past several months. The who that he heard fall upon his ears was misconstrued. What was really being shared was the too call of his spirit, summoning him towards his true vocation.

Since he had moved north to these higher elevations, he had not only crafted his favorite chair, but many other pieces of furniture that appeared around his house. In clearing the space to build his quintessential mountain home, the fallen trees were recycled in an act of reverence for the sacrifices provided by Mother Nature, a manner of paying homage for the serenity provided to Logan and his new life.

He was able to transform these wooden pillars into works of art, infusing them with the inspiration coursing through his veins, pouring out of his fingertips like water from a faucet. He was meant to create, the inherent joy of the creative process enough to fill him to the brim. Gone were the days of concern for profit margins, net income, and balance sheets. Interest took on an entirely new meaning. No longer was it a fee paid by a borrower of some asset. Instead, it had become an indicator of how much of himself he found inside his creative endeavors. That was interesting.

forest-trailIntuition had always been an important piece of Logan’s persona. On that afternoon, in that deciduous forest, after that violent storm, an owl reminded him just how important it was to his life. As he turned around, Logan began walking with a relaxed but purposeful gait, more than ready to get back home, eager to start on his next creative endeavor. The owl perched on that spruce tree did not follow, but his spirit did. The smile on Logan’s face and the contented presence in his soul was living proof, no intuition required.

Perspective

final-summitIt’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau

As we approached the completion of our trek along Chimney Tops trail, the anticipation of triumph battled with the exhaustion in our legs for supremacy. After two miles and a steady ascent up 1400 feet, we could taste victory. Beholding the final climb, however, it became apparent that our hiking skills were no longer needed. We were now called upon to become rock climbers. Fatigue had taken the lead.

If you could transform yourself into any creature from the wild, which one would it be? I had been posed this question as a youngster in grade school. With so many options to choose from, which direction do I go? Do I choose the mighty strength of the lion? How about the swift speed of the cheetah? Or perhaps the resilient adaptability of the giraffe?

With all the obvious choices already taken, I was reluctant to follow another’s lead. Perhaps I should have chosen the stubbornness of a rhino. I was determined to be different and unique. With a little more thought and a flip through my virtual encyclopedia, I settled upon a bird. As I look back on that time in my life, I realize that although my bullheaded mind insisted on being different, a less obvious influence was at play. Perspective.

red-shouldered-hawkI have always been the person to look at something and twist it around like a pretzel. Looking at everyday occurrences from different angles, I am able to gain a deeper appreciation for what is right in front of my eyes. There is magic in everything. The ordinary can be extraordinary when you look at it with a fresh perspective. Like our avian friends soaring above, a birds-eye view often provides a fresh perspective on our daily lives.

Proud husband interlude 😉 My wife took this stunning photo of a red-shouldered hawk at the Viera Wetlands a few days ago. A talented artist, she has perfectly captured the beauty, majesty, and keen perspective of a bird in this one image that has not been altered in any manner. Way to go sunshine 🙂

Back to our conquest of the Chimney Tops trail. As we gathered our strength and began the final ascent, it became apparent that Mother Nature was intent on providing us with an additional challenge beyond the rocky terrain. Although a delicate breeze whistled through the trees, the blazing sun was heating the rock façade to temperatures worthy of a fried egg.

In an effort to reach the summit and with the noblest of intentions, I began serving as director for my son. Put one foot here. Now, take your left hand and put it there. See that little crack over there. Good, put your right foot in there. With each step, we were closer to the summit, but the narrowing rocks also placed us closer to the edge. One careless step could have dire consequences to say the least. I would venture to say that I was the more anxious one.

After several attempts at a precarious juncture in our climb, my son finally caved in and dejectedly conceded that he just couldn’t do it. With tears streaming down his face, a figurative black cloud settled over us on that mountain. Crestfallen, it took every ounce of energy to focus on the return trip to the base of that final summit.

Never, never, never give up. ~Winston Churchill

The energy expended over those last several hours had left us fatigued, both physically and mentally. To be quite honest, at that point in time, I would have been happy to traverse back down the 2 mile trail and call it a day. I am glad that my son did not feel the same way. After much internal turmoil, his tenacity for setting a goal and reaching it shone through. That figurative black cloud over the mountain was lifted and a guiding light from the sun replaced it.

On that second attempt, my son was resolute and unswerving. His destiny was to reach that summit. Although my wife and I provided insight into the recommended steps, he ultimately chose his path. The route that made the most sense for him. In looking back on that afternoon, I learned a valuable lesson.

We all have our mountains to climb. We can take guidance and inspiration from those around us to help along the way. But, ultimately it is our path to blaze. When we are able to step back and look at things from a different angle, we adopt a new mindset that serves to shed light on the path we are meant to take. A path that is uniquely our own. And when we do reach that summit, the view gives us a new perspective on what it means to be on top of the world.

view-from-the-top

Mountain magic

mountains-portraitMan has created some lovely dwellings – some soul stirring literature. He has done much to alleviate physical pain. But, he has not created a substitute for a sunset, a grove of pines, the music of the winds, the dank smell of the deep forest, or the shy beauty of a wildflower. ~Henry Broome, Posted at Newfound Gap in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

What do a faulty master brake cylinder and a mountain vacation have in common? Unfortunately, too much in our case. After a car repair bill just south of $1000 and a two day delay in our departure date, the utopian edition of our trip to the Smoky Mountains did not begin as envisioned. However, we are a resilient clan. Stubborn determination runs deep through my blood. This was one time where I could channel that character trait towards a worthy cause.

We packed up the car that had been figuratively duct taped together and headed for the hills, literally. 685 miles and 11 hours later, we coasted into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With temperatures hovering around 70 degrees and relative humidity near zero, any leftover feelings of anxiety or stress were expelled from our system like the exhaust from a car. Poof. Gone. Vaporized. It’s amazing how nature can provide instant relief like that.

Before the whole debacle surrounding our departure, I remember hearing a story about recent additions to the Oxford dictionary. The new word that piqued my interest, digital detox. Used to describe those times where you unplug from all electronic devices, it is a scary endeavor to consider for many individuals into today’s world. I was up for the challenge.

For eight days, I carried only a cell phone in my pocket. Not a single phone call was made. Not even one e-mail was read or responded to. The only liberty I provided to myself was the ability to use that phone as a camera to chronicle our adventure. The entire experience was soothing, rejuvenating, and peaceful. In one word, it was holistic. It reminded me that stepping into ways of the past may be the way of the future.

Travel is the dominion of the muse. You are out of your comfort zone, in unfamiliar territory, so you are particularly receptive to new input. ~Laura Oliver

wildflowersWith natural beauty pouring into our being from every direction, all our senses were fully engaged. It’s as if the mountains provided us with a magical 6th sense that penetrates the soul and provides a portal to a new dimension. It speaks through the smell of the fir trees, the chirping of the chickadees, the sight of butterflies frolicking from one brilliant bloom to the next. If there is a non-verbal definition for pure bliss, this is it. It needs to be felt, experienced, and fully absorbed in order to appreciate the influence it has over your sense of completeness.

sunset-moonBefore embarking upon this pilgrimage, I had seen a reasonable amount of wildlife in their natural habitat. After watching an absolutely breathtaking sunset unfold before our eyes at Clingmans Dome, we were “clinging” to every last drop of beauty the sunlight painted across the evening sky. Not to be left out, the crescent moon even made an appearance to dance with the sun during the waning moments of its performance (if you enlarge the picture, you are able to see it). Our senses were numb from over-stimulation. The numbness may have been enhanced by the 45 degree wind chills 😉

As we made our way out of the parking lot, the quickly fading sun provided us with the perfect nightcap. Silhouettes that could not be mistaken, a mama black bear with her cub served as gatekeepers to the exit. As the cub playfully scampered across the road, the unabashed smiles across our faces followed. It is a vision and a memory that I will never forget. There is something sacred about seeing an animal in the wild.

In the days that followed, we were blessed with other wildlife sightings: a wolf, a fox, and an entire herd of elk migrating across an open field at dusk. Only one word could come close to describing it. Magical.

Speaking of migration, we felt as though we were members of a migrating herd ourselves. Over the course of 8 days, we hiked over 23 miles on trails throughout the national park. Although 23 miles is not an earth-shattering accomplishment, for us flat-landers from Florida, the 23 miles in the horizontal direction coupled with the 2 miles in vertical elevation hiked imparted a feeling of supreme triumph even if our “well-used” legs did not share in the same level of exuberance 😉

rainbow-fallsAs we begrudgingly prepared to complete our annual pilgrimage, the final day included a trek to the summit of Rainbow Falls. Having a natural affinity for waterfalls and being the tallest in the Smoky Mountains, it was one destination on my must see list. After a 2.7 mile hike up 1700 feet, the journey’s end did not disappoint.

Faith is not being sure where you’re going but going anyway. ~Frederick Buechner

There is something therapeutic about the inertia of moving water as it falls over a ledge. It reminds me to have faith and always keep moving. A new type of rainbow connection was made on that day, a connection that stretches across the miles between my physical home in Florida and my spiritual home in the mountains.

Mother Nature provided us with a special connection over these precious days. Our return to civilization has been accompanied by a renewed sense of inner peace and calmness. Perhaps, it’s because we know those memories are waiting at the other end of our own personal rainbow. A pot of gold to be sure.

May the warm winds of heaven blow softly upon your house. May the Great Spirit bless all who enter there. May your moccasins make happy tracks in many snows, and may the rainbow always touch your shoulder. ~Cherokee Blessing

sunset

A life well lived

paradigm shiftThere is a phrase for those moments when we suddenly see a situation in a different light. It’s called a paradigm shift. We believe that we see the world as it really is. In actuality, we are seeing the world as we are. We filter everything that we observe through the lenses of our life experience. When we change, the world as we see it also changes.

It reminds me of the time many years ago when I first began wearing glasses. My vision felt good enough. I was getting around without running into any walls or other inanimate objects. A visit to my optometrist, however, was eye-opening (pun intended). When I realized just how much effort was required of my eyes to see things clearly, it became quite evident that corrective eyewear was in my future. Those prescription glasses provided a much clearer perspective of the physical world around me.

In much the same way, when we equip ourselves with new mental glasses, we can choose to observe the world around us with a fresh new perspective that sheds some light on who we are.

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. ~Neale Donald Walsch

I embrace the spirit of this inspiring quote. I really do. But, I am not enamored with the use of the term “comfort zone”. Think about those two words. Comfort. Zone.

Comfort exudes images of soothing tea, warm blankets, and cozy fireplaces on a blustery winter day. Zone is the place we all long to be. Being “in the zone” is highly desirable for optimal performance in whatever we do.

With the images we are left to associate with our comfort zone, is it any wonder we stay put right there? It’s … well … comfortable. And these thoughts certainly don’t do anything to push us outside of it. We’re perfectly content right where we are, thank you very much.

comfort zoneWhat if we turned that phrase “comfort zone” upside down and gave it an edgier tone? What if we put on those new mental eyeglasses and looked at this term with a new mindset? Let’s call it our “complacent corner” instead. Did you just feel an unsettling urge to squirm in your seat? If your desire is to abandon your zone of comfort and do something extraordinary and breathtaking, squirming is a good sign.

com · pla · cent – adjective – pleased with one’s situation, often without awareness of some potential danger or defect; self-satisfied.

Comfortable carries a much different connotation than complacency. Comfortable is acceptable. Complacency leaves us on edge. Are we certain our situation is what we want it to be? Our new word choice certainly stokes the fire a bit and gets our inner flame burning a little hotter. We begin to favor action over inaction.

And what about a corner? No one wants to be stuck in a corner. It symbolizes not having a choice. There are no other options available to us. We are without any recourse for the situation we find ourselves in. Another subtle nudge towards action.

So, I have come up with my own alternate version of this quotation that favors momentum towards the adventure that we all innately desire. Life begins when we escape from our complacent corner.

We have so much to explore in this world. We have so much to see, to share, to do, to experience. We’re not going to do it snuggled under a blanket on the couch. We’re not going to do it with continual urges to leave our comfort zone. It’s just too darn comfortable there. We need a fresh, new perspective. We need a new paradigm. We need to escape from our complacent corner and live.

Being out on the edge, with everything at risk, is where you learn and grow the most. ~Jim Whittaker (1st American to summit Mt Everest)

Live on the edge and you will have a life well lived.

Experience life

You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough. ~Joe Lewis

I have been living with my head in the clouds. Dubbed the land of the sky, Asheville, North Carolina provides both a literal and figurative interpretation of that moniker. There are not too many places where you can wake up to the modern comforts of society in the form of a Starbucks Caramel Macchiato and find yourself 15 minutes later driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway towards the silence and solitude of the back-country.

Finding myself is a good way to summarize the last 9 days of my life.

Our journey included just under 2200 miles of driving on interstate highways, rural country roads, mountain switchbacks, and gravel paths to a wide variety of the most beautiful destinations. Over the course of the past week, I hiked part of the Appalachian Trail, read a book with my feet submerged in a mountain stream, visited the highest point east of the Mississippi River, and remembered what it felt like to capture a lightning bug, set it free, and watch it glow.

I enjoyed the most delicious blackberry cobbler at the highest restaurant in the eastern United States, twice (what can I say, it was really good ;-)). I watched freight trains roll out of downtown Asheville towards Knoxville. I saw a black widow spider for the first time. I learned that hydrofluoric acid can dissolve glass. I even learned that there is the possibility of parallel universes and unseen dimensions thanks to the wonders of string theory (and my 10 year old son). Bottom line, I lived. I experienced life and the world around me.

How many times do we get stuck plodding along through our daily lives? Work, eat, sleep, work, eat, sleep. Wash, rinse, repeat. We get caught in the suction of a vacuum that strips all the vim and vigor out of our life. Sometimes we need a jolt of energy injected into our system that reminds us this is no way to live. The experience of the past nine days has been that energy bar for my soul.

calling mountainsI will admit that at the onset of this voyage, I was still under control of that negative force that encourages lethargy and listlessness. And then I inhaled. A nice deep breath of fresh mountain air and the splendor of the landscape stretching before me put my soul at ease. I was both relaxed and energized at the same time. It was a surreal feeling that I will not soon forget and that I long to return to every day.

Life isn’t about accomplishments or meeting schedules. It’s about experiences. It’s about variety. It’s about uncovering feelings and thoughts that haven’t been permitted to surface because of our misguided perceptions of the world around us. When we remove those blockades and simply allow ourselves to be, amazing and wonderful things begin to occur. We create moments. Some of those moments are prodigious and profound. We share these with the entire world. Other moments are more intimate. We share these with close friends and family, or perhaps we keep them to ourselves.

I have lived in Florida for more than 15 years. Over that period of time, I have visited numerous places in the United States and abroad for both business and pleasure. For the first time, departing Asheville felt more like leaving home rather than heading home. I return to Florida a different person than when I left.

safe harbor 2The entire experience has reminded me that we only have one life to live. We can live doing the same things, day in and day out, caught in the doldrums of everyday life. Or, we can embrace change, choose to mix it up, and discover the wonders of the world around us.

We are all like ships. We can choose to stay safe in the harbor, or we can choose to embark on the adventure of our life. Raise your sail and let the wind catch it. Allow it to carry you towards exciting places filled with new experiences. Memories await … go capture them.