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!

Puzzle pieces

who-in-the-world-am-iMy journey through the words penned on these pages has allowed me to revisit many memories from the past. Some are as recent as last week, others are decades old. The recollections come unfiltered. You can’t choose which ones arrive in your consciousness. When you search the depths of your mind, it does not discriminate. It gives you all it knows. It is a courageous journey to embark upon, uncertain of your final destination. But, it is in allowing ourselves to drift from the safety of the shoreline that we ultimately learn to sail.

There are comforts from my childhood days that conjure up feelings of warmth. The pan of lasagna my mom would faithfully prepare for my birthday each year. The games of eight ball played with my dad and grandfather on the billiards table in our family room. The cozy hearth of our fireplace, flames dancing, logs crackling on a winter afternoon. And the card table situated in the corner of the room, puzzle pieces splayed out across the surface in disarray. The different shades of water in the harbor scene, subtly different from one another, presented a challenge of epic proportions for my twelve year old self. Thirty years later, the challenge remains epic.

pinocchio-puzzleAs I break the box’s seal, my next adventure is set in motion. I deposit the nearly one thousand pieces of various sizes on the work table. The familiar scent of cardboard as I sift through the mound ushers memories from the same process carried out with much smaller and younger hands many years ago. I am seated at the desk with a view of our backyard, dividing my attention between the butterflies alighting on our plants and those of the printed variety on the puzzle pieces in front of me.

The process is so predictable, so methodical. Find all the straight-edged pieces, locate the four corners, and build the border. Work your way from the outside in, slowly assembling the pieces until the final one finds its proper place to complete the picture. It’s somewhat ironic how we construct our own lives in a similar manner. We look to build a frame that encompasses the life we wish to lead. And we slowly fill in the gaps by way of our decisions and life experiences, eventually getting to what’s inside, those elements that ultimately furnish the most important pieces of our own puzzle.

I pick up a piece that I know should fit, but it doesn’t. I randomly select another piece and place it down in a location determined by my subconscious mind. There’s no way it will fit here, says my mind. And yet, it fits perfectly. The satisfaction of grasping a piece and fitting it into its rightful place, it is surprisingly gratifying. The way the subtle curves and sharp corners nestle with the adjacent piece, fitting perfectly together to tell a little more of the story, transforming into a beautiful tapestry. Just like life.

not-in-controlAs I stare at the transition of sky from yellow to violet, I fixate on finding the piece that fits in this one particular location. It is among the several hundred pieces in front of me, I am sure of it. The more determinedly I focus, however, the more fervently the piece eludes me. Mounting frustration and imminent exasperation turn my attention to another part of the puzzle, as far away from this section as possible, as if to chastise these inanimate pieces for being so uncooperative. And in that moment of release, the piece that has been evading me is staring at me, right in front of my face. And I just have to chuckle. Life is like a puzzle without a picture on the box. And maybe it’s the uncertainty of it all that makes the adventure so incredibly endearing, piquing our curious and inquisitive minds. It’s only when we let go of control that we actually gain any semblance of it. It’s another piece of my puzzle that fits perfectly.

Brave

self-expressionThe legend of Pandora’s Box, deeply rooted in Greek mythology, carries with it severely detrimental and far-reaching consequences for those who dare to open it. Me? I had a different experience altogether when I cracked open that ill-fated cauldron. Was it detrimental? No. Was it far-reaching? I can only hope. Time will tell.

My weekday hours lapse in front of a computer monitor, eyes blurring through pages of computer code. Sometimes the only saving grace for my sanity is the melodic tunes that fill the air. Enter Pandora. I like surprises. I never listen to an album front to back. I always shuffle. I like not knowing what’s coming next. It turns out that preference holds true for more than just my musical offerings.

As I meticulously matchup parentheses in my code, the magic of Pandora is streaming through my headphones. Relinquished as a backdrop for my primary activity, it is typically little more than white noise to break up the monotony in the silence of my cave. Until. The music once reserved for the background is suddenly promoted to the foreground. There is no longer any focus on sans serif characters in the form of a computer program. Now, it is only the chords, percussion, and lyrics combining to reach my core with more expediency than it reaches my ears. And ever since that moment in time, Sara Bareilles’ Brave has been my anthem. Most songs catch me with their tune first. The lyrical appreciation usually comes later. This song was no exception. However, usually taking days or weeks, the lyrics captured me within seconds.

Say what you wanna say, and let the words fall out, honestly I wanna see you be brave. ~Sara Bareilles

I am a free spirit when my thoughts spill onto the page. I muster more courage to publish what is on my mind when I can avow it through the safety of a blog post, shielded from immediate critique, either positive or negative. For me, neither one is handled with the necessary grace. There is a sense of refuge when I am able to remain concealed behind my words.

Run across me on the street and my propensity to usher true feelings into the open is much more unlikely. This song and these words, however, have shifted the fulcrum ever so slightly. I have been given a subtle vote of encouragement to be me. I know that these little nudges ideally come from your family, your friends, those people that are closest to you in your daily life. But, it doesn’t always happen that way. And you know what, that’s alright. You take inspiration in any form it comes, from any place it originates. More often than not, it comes around full circle.

A few weekends ago, while I was off getting lost in the forest, my wife sunk two wooden 4x4s into the ground. Serving as the anchor points for our hammock that had been sitting in the garage for close to a year, she had picked up my slack and created a serene and tranquil resting spot a few short steps from the back porch. Framed by two tiki torches on either end and surrounded by the colorful blooms of our cape honeysuckle bushes, our own private oasis had been established in the comfort of our own backyard.

On a cool Florida evening with a slight chill in the air, the setting could not have been more sublime. With my wife and I seated comfortably in our Adirondack chairs, our son is gently swaying back and forth in the rope hammock. The two tiki torches flicker with life. Its flames illuminate the cape honeysuckle as the setting sun provides the magic of twilight, a transition from sunset to moonlight. Unbeknownst to me, another transition was about to transpire.

Momentarily disrupting the ambience, my son and I vacate in different directions. He heads off to his bedroom, me to mine. We return to our previous venue, musical instruments in hand. He with his Native American flute, me with my acoustic guitar. We easily slip back into the aura of bliss supplied by two female influences, Mother Nature and the handiwork of my beautiful and artistic wife.

The moment of truth arrives. Or so I thought. It just so happens that what I was really encountering was the moment of inertia. As I began to strum the chords to Brave on my guitar, the words followed from my very own vocal chords. First with slight apprehension, but soon with the freedom and conviction that the lyrics portray. We each have our own unique obstacles to surmount. This was one of mine. This was the first time that I had freely strummed my guitar and sang a tune in front of my family. Big deal, right? Well, for me it was a big deal. Probably bigger than it should have been, but I’m not too sheepish to share that it was a big step for me to take.

What followed was special, almost surreal. After my unique rendition of Brave, my son followed suit by performing a song of his own creation on the flute. Back and forth, we exchanged the spotlight in our own private concert. Native American song on flute, then my version of Radioactive by Imagine Dragons. Another mesmerizing combination of flute tones courtesy of my son, followed by The Rainbow Connection on my guitar. Kermit the Frog probably performs it better on the banjo. But, in this private oasis, our connection is much stronger. Our evening’s final performance is an extended interpretation on my son’s flute which is shared by him with the same confidence I was lacking at the beginning of the evening. As his notes roll from one to the next with ease, my fingers tap on the guitar body while my wife’s do the same on the side of her chair. Providing a complimentary drum beat, the rhythm keeps our family in sync. In so many different ways.

find-yourself-artSelf expression is just that, expression of yourself. There is no right or wrong. Actually, there is a wrong. Choosing to not reveal your authentic self, that is wrong. And unfortunate. Whether you are singing a song, playing an instrument, painting on a canvas, giving a speech, writing a book, or jumping into any other creative endeavor, the most important choice is to do it in your own unique way. Express yourself.

Self-acceptance precedes effective self-expression. I leapt over a personal hurdle on this magical evening that will not soon be forgotten. But, the element that will forever be preserved in my memory is watching a young boy open up and share what is inside with courage and bravery. If that is the only thing that I help to inspire in my lifetime, it will also be one of the most meaningful to me. With a synergistic effort from husband, wife, and son, we composed our own music. Maybe out of tune to the rest of the world, but wonderfully so within our own circle.

 

Musical rest

fall-colorsAs I step over the threshold from indoor shelter into the natural elements of this late October morning, it welcomes me. The crisp autumn air envelops my body like a comfortable blanket. Fall in Florida is here. I am not graced with the beautiful parade of colors. Nor am I privileged to witness the tranquil dance of falling leaves as they delicately tiptoe towards the ground. But, I am still treated to a cool breeze that has traveled for a thousand miles from the north to greet me. And like a long lost friend returning from afar, I embrace it.

With windows down and blazing sun rising over the Indian River to the east, music is pouring from the speakers in my car, adding to the aura of bliss that only Mother Nature can provide.

As I coast past a local police station, a temporary road sign that displays important information on an LED screen catches my attention. It is cycling through three different messages: “Don’t text and drive”, “It’s the law”, and “Follow us on Twitter”. Of course, at the exact moment my eyes first met the display, I see the last two messages in succession. “It’s the law, follow us on Twitter.” Funny, I thought, when was the law passed that requires me to follow the police on social media? 😉

All joking aside, this message is one that should be taken very seriously and is worthy of everyone’s attention. And, the manner in which I received it made me appreciate just how important it is to process information within the right context. It’s important to see the whole picture.

Music is mediator between spiritual and sensual life. ~Ludwig van Beethoven

Think about your favorite piece of music. It is composed of many different musical notes. When put together and played sequentially, it results in both a sensual and spiritual experience that enhances the ambiance in much the same way it did for me on this fall morning commute.

But, the musical notes themselves do not constitute the whole picture. In fact, it is debatable whether they are even the most important part of a musical piece. It is how they are spaced apart from one another, the silence between each musical note that defines the song and provides its character. Is it a soft, flowing love song? Or is it an energizing, adrenaline infusing rock song? It all depends on how the artist utilizes that magical space between the notes.

Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness. ~Maya Angelou

My musical tastes are quite eclectic. I may have an unstated personal agenda to outwit the Pandora algorithms so that it can’t possibly figure out what it should play next on my behalf. Pop. Rock. Classical. Childrens. You never really know what tunes are entertaining my psyche on any given day. In that respect, at least, I am a difficult book to read. Hey, who can resist bouncing inside to the tune of The Lion Sleeps Tonight? A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh. Be honest 😉

be-quietWe subconsciously use music to help massage our moods. Deep inside, we know exactly what is needed and instinctively reach for that right track to get us back on track. When you listen to that song which resonates with you, however, take notice of the musical rests.

You are the music while the music lasts. ~T.S. Eliot

We each have a song within us. In our own personal rendition, we have many unique notes that comprise the melody of our life. Remain quiet and reflect during the space between each of your musical notes. It will define you. It will give meaning and character to your song. Compose your own masterpiece. Sing your own song.

Goose bumps

hedgieThe grunting and snuffling of a foraging hedgehog should be offensive and repugnant. Instead, it is strangely endearing. If you have never held a hedgehog or watched one run around on its stubby little legs, find an opportunity to do so. It is almost sure to sprinkle pure joy into an otherwise ordinary day.

As disappointing as this next fact may be to all the hedgehog lovers across the globe, this story does not focus on the cuteness factor associated with these nocturnal rodents and their pig-like snouts. It’s about their quills and what they can teach us about our innermost desires and life purpose.

That’s right, I just made a connection between the body part of an exotic rodent and the meaning of life. Stick with me. And yes, that pun was intended 😉

Like other mammals, hedgehogs get goose bumps. Whenever they feel threatened, quills are brought to full attention. In an effort to make themselves look larger and scare away predators, this self-defense mechanism serves as a reflexive survival instinct.

As humans, we also experience the wonder of goose bumps. When we are captivated by intense feelings of awe, admiration, or pleasure, goose bumps wash across our skin like an ocean wave tickles the shore with its foamy fingers.

At some point in our lives, we have each been touched by these moments of intensity. As quickly as they materialize, they withdraw back to the depths from whence they came and depart from our awareness. But, in that split second when they occupy our presence, they leave us with the most intense feeling of euphoria. I have a fanciful notion that goose bumps are the physical manifestation of a soul’s smile.

There are a few scenarios, without fail, that stir the emotional cauldron in the depths of my being and allow my soul to reveal itself through these virtual smiles. The stage is set around the World Showcase at Epcot. The time is 9:00 pm. As the frequency of a beating drum rises in a crescendo, my heart follows suit in anticipation of the magic that follows. I have been here numerous times before, both physically and emotionally. Although I know every little nuance of tonight’s performance, I welcome its energy with gratitude as the pyrotechnics soar across the sky, reflecting off the water in the lagoon. My soul is at home.

As the story continues and the final pages of this evening’s rendition are spoken through lasers, fireworks, and music, the globe at the center of the lagoon peels open to reveal a flame at its core. The words to this enchanting song echo from the pavilion of each country represented around the World Showcase.

With the stillness of the night
there comes a time to understand
to reach out and touch tomorrow
take the future in our hand

 We can see a new horizon
built on all that we have done
and our dreams begin another
thousand circles ’round the sun 

We go on
to the joy and through the tears
We go on
to discover new frontiers
Moving on
with the current of the years
We go on
moving forward, now as one
Moving on
with a spirit born to run
Ever on
with each rising sun 

To a new day
We go on 

We go on

We go on. With those three words, goose bumps radiate across every inch of my physical, mental, and spiritual being. As the physical remnants of this sensation recede, I step back from a surreal world and into the present. In that brief moment, however, I became aware of everything around me. I am reminded that we all share a common bond, a common story that we continue to write with each passing moment of our existence. We are all interconnected and have the power to transform this world. Together.

Next time the universe bestows this mystical feeling upon you through whatever makes you come alive, stop and notice it. Become aware of everything around you. It is your soul’s way of smiling from within you and making itself visible through your physical being.

The era we are living in today is a dream of coming true. ~Walt Disney

Allow your soul to speak. Follow it with fervor. It is in those fleeting moments that you uncover the true meaning of your life.

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

On the write track

moment_to_memoryMemories are amazing communicators. The scent of a candle may awaken feelings of your first dance with the love of your life. A song echoing from the car next to you in traffic brings back images of cruising through the mountains, t-tops off, mooing at the cows as you pass them. Yes, these are my memories. They are not made up. Memories can teach you an astonishing amount about yourself. If you let them.

My earliest vacation memory occurred at Disney World when I was ten years old. The moments I remember about that vacation are quite peculiar. We stayed at the Polynesian Resort and we had cherry danishes every morning for breakfast. Don’t ask, I have no idea. This is what I remember. I also remember the souvenir I received on that trip. A Mickey Mouse diary. You know, the one with a cool clasp and a key the size of a safety pin. I felt supremely confident that all my thoughts and recordings were safely guarded by that imitation leather strap when in reality a single piece of duct tape would have been much more secure. It is somewhat ironic those feelings kept so closely guarded back then are now being freely shared with the world through this blog. Alas, I digress.

It was around this same time that I remember a particular homework assignment in my English class. We were each asked to craft a short story about any subject, real or fictional. When I was a youngster, I played a lot of golf. When I say a lot, I mean every day of the summer. My dad would drop me off in the morning on his way to work. He would pick me up on the way home after work. In between, I would play as much as I could and drink a countless number of iced teas to stay hydrated. On one occasion, I was fortunate to score a hole-in-one. Or so I thought. That became the subject of my writing assignment.

You see, I was led to believe that my golf ball had found the bottom of the cup in one stroke. This was based upon the wild cheers coming from the green that I could not see. When I got to the green, I found my ball six inches from the hole. No hole-in-one. But, I did hold the feeling of that elusive moment in a golfer’s life for about ten minutes. My short story was all about sharing that feeling with the most intricate detail. The smell of the grass, the rustling of the wind through the trees, my heartbeat going from monotonous to out of control in an instant. It was an amazing feeling that I wanted to share with everyone.

As incredible as that feeling was, what felt even better was going back and re-reading what I had crafted. There was something about creating a vivid picture from a blank piece of paper and my choice of words that left me inexplicably blissful.

Fast forward several years to my sophomore year in college. As an engineering major, I was required to take a certain number of non-major electives. I chose Philosophy 101. For those of you that know me personally (or can tell from my blog content), I enjoy pondering the universe. This course really resonated with me. I remember having a writing assignment that required some deep introspection. Upon completing this paper, that same blissful state washed over me again. I had taken thoughts and feelings inside me and composed a work of art on paper using only words. Unfortunately, my professor failed to agree with that assessment. After receiving a C on the assignment, the course was promptly dropped and the memories of that feeling were pushed to the back burner.

Three months ago, I created this blog out of a desire to wake up my creative side. I was in a funk. I was looking for a forum to express myself, to make some sense out of my feelings (or lack thereof), to probe different areas of my life in an effort to determine what brought meaning and purpose. Little did I know the “thing” that would bring inner peace would be writing itself. Serendipity at its best.

loudest-minds

If there was ever a quote that was custom made for me, this one by Stephen Hawking would be it. I am not forthcoming with my verbal communication. But, if you were able to peek inside my mind, there is a jumble of information moving well beyond the accepted speed limit in a somewhat reckless manner. Chaos would not be an inappropriate choice of words.

The universe has attempted to help me organize this chaos on at least two other occasions. In grade school, it sent me that euphoric feeling after completing my English assignment. In college, it tried again though its attempts were dashed by the subjective judgment of my philosophy professor. With the inception of my blog, the 3rd time was truly a charm.

I liken it to frozen water pipes in the middle of winter. Even though you turn the faucet on, you get barely a drip. However, once you light a flame under the thing that matters, those pipes thaw out and the water just flows. It’s a beautiful thing.

come-aliveI have realized that writing is my way of communicating with the world. It’s how the reckless traffic patterns in my mind have evolved into a highly efficient version of the German Autobahn. The written word is my way of making sense of my thoughts, my feelings, my experiences, my life. It’s as if there is a direct connection from my “true self” through my body, down my arm, and out of my fingertips as they press the keys and transform my thoughts into a concrete entity.

Words for me are like a magic elixir that soothe the most enraging moments, capture the most engaging ones, and allow me to share my true self in the most authentic manner possible. Just as I need to breathe, eat, and sleep to survive, I must also write. It makes me come alive.

I certainly feel like I’m on the write track.

Massage your mood with music

power of musicMusic gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. ~Plato

Music is all around us. It’s in our home and at our workplace. It’s in our car. It’s in our pocket. Sometimes, it gets stuck in our head whether we want it there or not. It is extremely powerful. We all have enough challenges in our everyday life. Why don’t we use the power of music to help us along our way?

A physical massage relaxes the muscles in our body. It may be to relieve stress. It may be to heal physical injury. It may simply be a way to move towards a meditative state in order to more easily focus on a quiet moment of introspection. Music can provide the same effect. Often, we harness the power of music without even realizing it.

How often do we sit down to work with music playing in the background? What prompts us to do this? Most of the time we claim it is just background noise, something to fill the silent void. I challenge that it is much more than that. Music provides an energy and rhythm to whatever we are doing. It provides a flow toward goals that we sometimes don’t even know exist yet.

At night, we may listen to calming music in order to quiet the mind and relax our mental state before falling asleep.

Music has the power to be an energizing or calming influence in our lives.

It can be the missing ingredient in a recipe for pure bliss. Sitting on our back patio on Sunday evening, my wife had just finished preparing a delicious tropical chicken salad recipe served on croissants. A gentle soothing breeze was rustling the palm trees, the setting sun was just beginning to add a purplish orange hue to the clouds in the sky, a glass of chardonnay was perched on the table in front of us, and the sound of Hawaiian island music was spilling from the speakers. She looked over at me and said “It just doesn’t get any better than this.” We were in the moment, enjoying life without any of the worries that sometimes commandeer our day. For that period of about two hours, anything was possible and everything was perfect.

Those that know me personally or follow my blog are aware that I own an acoustic guitar. Last week, while attempting to tune the guitar, my high E string snapped rather abruptly. My mood snapped in unison with it. It has been a week and I am impatiently waiting for the strings to be replaced by our local luthier. I realize that I have transitioned from “wanting” to play the guitar to “needing” to play the guitar. The instrument has become an extension of my body that is able to tap into another dimension to myself. You don’t have to be a professional. Heck, you don’t even need to be mediocre (trust me, I know) for the power of an instrument and music to grab you and transport you to places that no car, airplane, or any other form of transportation can take you.

music speaksMusic provides a connection to the soul. The lyrics of a song speak to your mind. The tune of a song speaks to your heart. The two elements meld together to speak to your soul in ways that no language can describe. It can heal, inspire, console, or provide hope. Whether we tune in to the music present in our daily lives, sing a song in the shower, or choose to play an instrument, our moods are influenced by our connection with music.

Harness its power and let it speak through you. Be sure that the song you’re playing sends the message you want to share with the world.

Crossing the bridge

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the number of moments that take our breath away.
~ Anonymous

bridgeSometimes you just know when a special moment is upon you. When you realize it and make a conscious effort to absorb everything about it, it has the power to affect you in profound ways.

A bridge is a structure that transitions from one state to another. Sometimes, you are literally transitioning from one state to another. In other cases, you are transitioning in a more metaphysical or symbolic sense.

In scouting, the bridge is extremely symbolic of a young man’s transition from the Cub Scout program to the Boy Scout program. There is a great deal of work, persistence, and growth involved in traveling down the Cub Scout path. When you reach that bridge to Boy Scouts, it represents a very important milestone that should be celebrated and appreciated.

Yesterday evening, my son crossed that bridge to begin a new chapter in his scouting career. At the same time, I feel as though he also started a new chapter towards achieving his dreams.

Maybe it was the smell of the campfire. Maybe it was the way the easterly wind waved the United States flag in the most poetic fashion. Maybe it was the way the clouds let just the right amount of sunlight through to create an almost surreal landscape.

I suspect it was a combination of all these smaller things together along with the key ingredient, self-awareness. I have been a scout leader for the past four years as my son has progressed along the Cub Scout trail. I have been pulled into the logistical and administrative aspects of being a leader in almost every meeting I have conducted over the years. Last night, I promised myself that I would take my leader hat off and enjoy the significance of the evening with my family.

It is that decision that allowed me to absorb all the elements around me and make it an evening that I will never forget as long as I live. It is without a doubt the proudest moment as a father in the first ten years of my son’s life. He has been adorned with countless tangible awards (patches, pins, badges, and belt loops). However, it is the intangible aspects of his growth over the past four years that has opened my eyes so widely to what can be accomplished when you put your mind to it.

Although he may not fully understand the significance of what he has accomplished at this point in time, it is my hope that he carries these fond memories with him and draws upon their power in the future to carry him towards achieving his wildest dreams.

We all have our bridges to cross. Some are longer. Some are higher. Some are over troubled waters. When we come to that bridge, we need to have the courage to travel across it. We need to realize that it has been put there to lead us where we were meant to go. In my son’s case, his bridge has led him onto the trail of a Boy Scout. It has also inspired his dad to appreciate everything around him and find the extraordinary in the ordinary occurrences of daily life.

gabe and dadMay you climb high mountains and never grow weary. May you find the true path so that others may follow. May the snow of winter never chill the fire of cheerfulness within you, and may the stream’s quiet laughter fill your heart with peace.

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.