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.

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Florida snowfall

snowy-owl-quoteIt is the accumulated knowledge of life that has been gained through experience. Experiences that we can choose to embrace or ignore. Embrace them all and there you will find infinite wisdom.

Pulling the mug full of freshly brewed coffee to my lips, a sense of peace and serenity are carried on the scents of pumpkin spice drifting through the kitchen on this Sunday morning. As I stand over the stove keeping a watchful eye on the sizzling skillet filled with sausage, onions, and peppers, I reach for the eggs whisked in the bowl beside me. Pouring the egg mixture into the pan, I am immersed in the cooking experience. It allows me to quiet the mind and simply create.

As the eggs begin to absorb the heat and set amongst the meat and vegetables, a thunderous shout originates from my wife across the room. Filled with a touch of surprise and a bundle of excitement, just two words are needed to reveal the mystery. Snowy owl. And in that instant, our family plans for the day had been scrambled quicker than the eggs in my skillet.

The flurry of activity that ensued was chaotic, yet deliberate and purposeful. Breakfast inhaled? Check. Pets accounted for? Check. Jackets, binoculars, spotting scope? Check, check, and check. Nothing else was needed but the resolve to reach Little Talbot Island State Park sooner than the three hours estimated by our GPS. Even as a rather neophyte bird enthusiast, I realized that this was an opportunity not to be missed. For only the third time in recorded history, a snowy owl had been spotted in Florida. It’s not every day that you see snow falling from the skies in Florida. And this rendition of snow in the form of a snowy owl is rarer still.

Traveling north on I-95, the number of miles between us and our destination steadily decreased. So did the temperatures and our hopes for catching a glimpse of this stunning creature. As we exited the highway and turned east toward the coast, the cooler onshore breeze was raging war against the warmer inland air. The result of this harsh meteorological battle. Fog. As in the pea soup variety. With trepidation and anxiety, we finally reached the park entrance. With a recurring layer of mist being deposited upon our windshield, the wipers were intermittently active in hopes of sweeping both mist and fog aside for clearer skies to prevail.

path-to-edenPractically running towards journey’s end a half mile away from our parking spot, the boardwalk leading to the shore was beckoning us as an entrance to our own personal version of Eden. With each step, our eyes scrutinized the dense air, searching for the white apparition in the dunes. As we reached the cluster of other individuals gathering in the general vicinity, a final survey of the landscape secured our treasure. There he was. With a squint of one eye, an imaginary line drawn, the binoculars were raised into position and focused to produce an image that will forever be locked in my memory.

snowy-owl-binIn a way that no words can possibly convey, this animal captured something within me and would not let go. Perhaps it was the elegant white color. Maybe it was the majestic posture amidst the sea of fog. Or it could have been the smooth and gliding manner in which his head swiveled to scan the surroundings. Like a scene out of a Harry Potter movie, it felt magical and surreal.

Beginning with a familiar routine of hot coffee and a comfortable breakfast, this day evolved into an adventurous and memorable expedition to a cold and foggy shoreline in north Florida close to three hours away. The wisdom you seek is already within you. Listen carefully and embrace it. Take chances. Live boldly. Experience life. These are the whispers that incessantly tug at my soul. Amidst daily distractions, these thoughts slip precariously far away. But they always return faithfully, as if tethered to me. Not to restrict my movement, but to encourage it. Less think, more do. Sage advice carried on the wings of a silent creature traveling from lands a hemisphere away. Thank you, my snowy friend. Godspeed.

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

Toucan make a difference

galetti1hrHey, wait a minute you say, I thought one person can make a difference. Very true, but permit me the liberal use of play on words to share a story with you that I recently heard on NPR. I hope to demonstrate how little things can make the biggest difference. In the process, I also hope I can open your eyes to environmental awareness.

Brazil is home to more than 1,700 species of birds. Among them is the toucan, a colorful bird with a very large bill. Each bird has its own distinctive call which provides a symphonic chorus of music throughout the Brazilian forests.

We have all been told that everything we do has an impact on the world around us. How many of us actually believe it and take it to heart?

There is a dominant palm tree in the Brazilian forests called the jucara which relies on birds to eat its fruit and then defecate the seeds in a place where new trees can grow. The seeds of the jucara are about the size of a marble and can only be handled and consumed by the large toucan bills.

Human encroachment on the toucan habitat over the past several decades has had a profound impact on the livelihood of this species in the Brazilian forests. Scientists have seen a steep decline in their numbers. Less toucans means less jucara seeds consumed and spread to create new trees. Less jucara trees has allowed smaller palm trees to become dominant in the area. The problem is that these smaller trees have less hearty seeds that are more prone to dying in the hotter and drier weather caused by global climate change. Therefore, we now have fewer trees in the forest. Basically, through a chain of human induced events, we are deterministically destroying the Brazilian forests. Eye opening, isn’t it? Well, I hope it is.

rippleJust like a pebble dropped in a pond has a ripple effect, so do the things we choose to do everyday. Switching gears, I now take off my ‘environmental awareness’ hat and replace it with my ‘live life with passion’ hat. I have a lot of hats, by the way, but I digress 😉

Sometimes we fail to realize how little actions we choose to take everyday have the same profound impact on the people around us. Sometimes those actions are positive, sometimes they are negative. I know this because I have been on the receiving end. A simple smile, greeting, or thank you from a stranger could be exactly what you need to turn a rough day around and get it headed in the right direction again. When you are able to recognize this wisdom from other people’s generous acts, it becomes a lot more natural to reciprocate those kind gestures.

It is difficult to deny that we are all interconnected and interdependent in some way. Think about your favorite song. It is most likely comprised of several instruments including a keyboard, guitar, drum, and vocal component. Each taken on their own, you may be able to recognize a tune, but the true magic and essence of the song comes together only when all the parts work together. As it is with musical instruments, so it is with human endeavors.

We all live on this planet Earth together regardless of our gender, race, creed, nationality, or religion. We should take as much care in preserving the relationships we have with those around us as we do for preserving the natural environment we share. I know that I can always improve on both of these fronts. I challenge you to do the same.

Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things, I am tempted to think that there are no little things. ~ Bruce Barton

One person can certainly make a difference. But, when “toucan” work together on the little things, we are able to create more positive ripples in the pond of life. Who knew that a bird could teach us such a valuable lesson? From me to you, here is a virtual smile wishing you an inspired day 🙂

Along for the ride

Snake River Grand Teton National Park WyomingWhat makes the river so restful to people is that it doesn’t have any doubt – it is sure to get where it is going, and it doesn’t want to go anywhere else.
~ Hal Boyle

This is such a simple quote with such a powerful message. Sometimes we feel like we need to hyper-focus on that one cause that we think will bring meaning to our life. When that “thing” doesn’t live up to our expectations, we can easily feel defeated before reluctantly moving on to the next idea on our list. In my experience, this leads to a very unproductive cycle of temporary highs with the hope of something new followed by extended lows when those hopes are unfulfilled. Instead of chasing our purpose, maybe we should simply become aware of it in the context of our everyday life.

Water is all around us. It comprises about three quarters of the Earth’s surface. It is the source of all life.

I’ll say that again … water is the source of all life. Perhaps we should take notice of this fact and recognize its significance. Looking at the river, it is always moving towards its destination full of life, ebbing and flowing with no worries about where it is going.

Rivers know this: There is no hurry, we shall get there someday. ~ A.A. Milne

Instead of trying to focus on something out in the future, maybe we should focus on what is directly in front of us. There are opportunities presented to us everywhere and everyday. It is our choice whether we take advantage of them or not.

For those of you that know me personally, the title of this post will ring true. My moniker as ‘Along For The Ride’ started out as a playful representation of my role in one of my son’s passions.

PeregrineFalconAnatumMy 10 year old son loves birding. He has a passion for raptors, specifically the Peregrine Falcon (which, by the way, happens to be the fastest creature on Earth). He has taken his passion to extraordinary levels for any person, let alone a 10 year old boy. He has volunteered at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch for the past two years and he has started the Young Birders Of Brevard group for youngsters in our county.

Yes, I am a very proud Dad. Not necessarily because  my son has accomplished so much, but rather because of the person he has become and is becoming. He believes that anything is possible. He is persistent in finding a  way to implement any idea in his head, no matter what.

I was along for the ride, usually driving. I didn’t have the passion and drive for birding that my son had, but I wanted to share his passion with him. Therein, the aha moment hit me on the head with the speed of a stooping peregrine.

Are we really sure whether something is going to excite us until we try it? Why shouldn’t we go into anything that we do with an openness and willingness to let the experience permeate our being? Leave all expectations and negative preconceived notions at the front door. Just go out, explore the world around us, try something new, and let happen what will happen. At the very least, the experience will be another holistic piece of our life story. At the very best, perhaps you will find a new passion, something that will lead you to your life calling.

Never doubt that you are exactly where you are supposed to be right now. It’s all a part of your journey. Like the river, go with the flow knowing that you are headed exactly where you are supposed to be going.

Oh, and by the way, I now have two favorite birds, the Northern Harrier and the Swallow-Tailed Kite. I may not be the next Audubon Society activist, but I have learned just how important birds are to gauging the health of our ecosystem and I have taken a vested interest in their well-being. More importantly, I have met some amazing people along the way and shared some very special memories with those close to me. Now, that’s what life is all about.