Sunrise

legal-tableSince his recent promotion, Patrick had been burning more than his share of midnight oil at the firm. Case upon case was piling up on the docket. If he was ever going to make partner status in this lifetime, he needed to buck up and deal with the luxury of getting four hours of sleep each night. The first several weeks of his new work regime carried on without incident. Adrenaline and carefully coordinate shots of caffeine provided by the firm’s espresso machine served him well. Like the sludgy oil in your car, however, you can only ignore it for so long before it revolts, the engine seizing up in protest. Patrick’s body did just that while seated at a conference table in an otherwise ordinary status meeting with his associates.

He was focusing on the details of a domestic violence case slated for prosecution the following week while simultaneously disseminating his planned strategy. In the next moment, Patrick opened his eyelids to the unexpected view of a much different environment: a white sanitized hospital room with his wife, Samantha, gazing out the window, an apprehensive look on her face.

“Hey beautiful,” he said to Samantha in a hoarse voice. The oxygen tube in his nose and the drugs dripping through the intravenous feed in his right hand were slowly bringing him back to this earthly world. Samantha quickly approached the bedside taking Patrick’s hand, “Pat, you had me so worried.” An impulsive tear ran down her cheek.

“What happened?” Patrick’s question arose from a confused mental state as he continued to absorb the details of his new surroundings.

“You had a heart attack,” stammered Samantha, the tears beginning to flow a bit more freely as she began to understand the gravity of the situation. “Honey, something has to change,” she pleaded. “This can’t go on. We can’t afford to have something happen to you.” By we, Samantha was referring to herself as well as the two young girls at home with grandma right now, ages four and seven.

Patrick had many redeeming and admirable qualities. The stubbornness that served him so well in his professional life did not do so in his personal and family life. It was this obstinance that left him lying horizontal in a hospital bed instead of sitting crisscross applesauce on the living room floor with his two daughters and their dolls. His body had provided a final warning, waving a white flag in surrender to the overwhelming stimuli of his self-induced professional responsibilities. The urgent message was signed, sealed, and delivered. Tossed into the trash like junk mail in the past, it was finally being read and received by Patrick.

“I know, I know,” said Patrick. “I need to change things. I promise I’ll go see the doctor when I get out of here.” And so it came to be that Patrick visited his doctor the following week for the first time in at least five years. Sitting in the exam room awaiting his family physician, Dr. Kreb, to enter, he couldn’t even remember if he was a she or vice versa. It had been so long, he knew that there would be no recognition between the two of them.

As the doctor knocked and entered the room, he (so it was a male after all) flipped through the pages of Patrick’s medical records while greeting his latest patient. “How’s it going today, what can I do for you?” Patrick was thinking that he should already know the answer to this question. He was admitted to the hospital but three days ago. Patrick’s emergency visit should have shown up in his file. Doesn’t everything end up in these files, he thought as he grasped for some release of internal tension and anxiety, recalling a Seinfeld episode from many years ago?

“Well, I guess the better phrasing is what I can do for myself,” retorted Patrick. As the doctor returned to the front page, he finally understood the reason for his visit. “Yes,” said the doctor. “I see we’ve been pushing our limits a bit too far, eh?” Although Patrick had a wry sense of humor, he didn’t appreciate any levity in this particular situation, at least not the kind doled out by his doctor.

wake-up-alarm-clock“I suppose you could say this is my wake-up call. I’ve hit the snooze button a few too many times and I know now that it’s time to finally get out of bed.” Patrick spoke in a self-deprecating tone as he began to sense how his cumulative actions over the previous year had led him to this present moment. He wished that he could simply take a pill and make this ill-fated situation disappear. Deep down, however, he knew this was impossible and was dreading the recommendations that would be forthcoming from the medical professional. It would be more invasive than the surgery that he didn’t need.

The doctor spoke in a very matter-of-fact tone, reading from the notes he had made, as if he was rattling off a list of items to pick up at the grocery store on the way home. “First, you need to cut back on the amount of stress you are creating in your life. That means no more eighty hour work weeks. You need to cut it back to forty hours like the rest of the human population.” Looking over the rims of his bifocals to be sure his patient was paying attention; he continued “Second, you need to find a way to manage the excessive amounts of stress that you have already invited into your life. Find an activity or a hobby that gives you some time for renewal and rejuvenation: set aside some time to listen to music you enjoy, meditate, or take a daily walk on the beach. Your choice, just be sure to find something.”

The first piece of his treatment was going to be difficult to embrace. His work had become an addiction for Patrick. Cutting back to half the hours would be akin to going cold turkey. It was not going to be pretty. In fact, he surmised that it would introduce even more stress in the short term. Despite his apprehension, however, he knew it was necessary. Besides, if he didn’t follow through with the doctor’s advice, he was either headed for another heart attack or a divorce, maybe both.

As difficult as the work schedule aspect of his treatment would be, the doctor had stumbled upon a perfect activity for Patrick to help alleviate some of his existing stress. This part would be much easier. He had moved from the Midwest after law school to be closer to the beach. And yet, here he was less than ten minutes from the Atlantic Ocean and he could count on his one hand the number of times he had been there in the past ten years.

atlantic-ocean-beachOne of those times, perhaps the most memorable of his life, occurred on his first date with Samantha. With the pale moonlight casting a glow over the endless sea, the two of them stood with their foreheads touching, gazing into each other’s eyes as the lapping waves tickled their toes, sinking their feet into the sand as if setting strong roots for their future together. Maybe that’s why he didn’t return as often. Maybe he never wanted to risk tainting the perfection of that fond memory. Patrick would be strolling on that same beach more often now because he relished the reminiscence of that first date. He planned to relieve stress by taking a daily walk on the beach each morning before commuting into the office.

He had walked on this beach and sat on these dunes dozens of times in the past several months. The most spectacular part of this new practice was watching the sun begin to peek above the horizon as night transitioned to dawn. Each sunrise was different. Every one portrayed a different mood and told a different story. Some narratives were filled with gray clouds and a dull light that cast a somber ambiance. Other renditions were characterized by brilliant hues of vibrant pink, blue, and orange that was manifested by the smile of encouragement and hope on Patrick’s face.

turtle trekThis Friday morning’s sunrise was neither melancholy nor effervescent. And yet, it was like none he had ever seen. As Patrick sat on the dunes, forearms resting on his knees, he eagerly awaited the story line beginning to unfold as the diluting darkness of night gave way to the refreshing light of day. From the corner of his eye, in his peripheral vision, Patrick noticed what looked like a shadow, a vague form of something meandering down the sand towards the water’s edge. As the rising sun began to cast more light on the scene, he spotted the trail of sea turtles trekking vigorously towards the safety of the deep ocean waters. This was only the first of many obstacles that they would need to surmount in their young lives, but it was the most pressing at the moment. They were devoting every ounce of energy and focus into the here and now, and Patrick was overfilled with gratitude, being able to witness this magical transformation, this beginning of a new life.

It led Patrick naturally to contemplate the direction of his own focus. Each and every morning, he would sit here on this beach and focus on what was out over the horizon, awaiting a grand spectacle to make its presence known from a distance. He wondered how many other things, like these fledgling turtles, that he missed right before his eyes.

His daily routine should have carried Patrick south towards his office and the final eight hours of his new forty hour work week. It was those eight hours, after all, that would help propel Patrick closer to becoming a partner, that vision looming just out over the horizon. Instead, he turned north, headed home to his own fledgling turtles, all the while planning a perfectly splendid party involving imaginary tea, pretend scones, and the three most important people in his life.

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.

Walk in the woods

clearest-wayThe snow drifts, layered like a deck of stacked cards during this unrelenting winter season, are finally succumbing to nature. Or so I am told. The frozen north is slowly transitioning from snow and ice to puddles of water, maybe more like small lakes. The anguish of prolonged indoor confinement is being replaced with the hope of fluttering butterflies, budding blossoms, and the warmth of spring. Hope springs eternal, in different ways for different people. While our northern compatriots are yearning for a rise in the mercury, I am clinging to the last few days of cooler weather before the heat and humidity settle in for the Florida summer.

It’s Saturday morning. Sitting on my back porch, I look into my coffee cup, steam rising through the dollop of whipped cream floating on the top. I inhale the scent of fresh java and feel inspired. This may be one of the final weekends of the season to enjoy the delightful weather that Mother Nature reserves for the winter months in Florida. Today, I decide to commune with nature through the majestic pine trees of Welaka State Forest.

Historically, I have a propensity to plan. Like, every single hour of the day. Thankfully, my spurts of spontaneity are becoming more frequent and leak out just when it is needed the most. The location of today’s expedition carries me two and a half hours north of my home base. The very loosely defined plan is to hike about three miles into the wilderness, towards the undisturbed shores of the St. John’s River, and camp overnight.

Upon reaching the trail-head, I anchor the thirty five pounds of necessary gear in my backpack around my hips and over my shoulders. As I set forth on this solo adventure, my mind is perpetually hunting for the next orange blaze painted on the trees to insure I remain on the right path. With more focus on staying the course, per se, my mind is tangled in the logistics of the hike instead of the captivating displays of nature surrounding me. The ironic thing is that being alone out in the forest allows one to recognize this preoccupation. One deep breath of crisp forest air persuaded me to let go, exhale, and utilize my five senses to consume everything bestowed upon me.

I suppose there is a fine line between completely letting go and remaining at least peripherally aware of your surroundings. After two hours of lightheartedly placing one foot in front of the other, I looked on the ground to find a most familiar sight, my own footprints. After three miles of carefree trekking along this tranquil forest path, I had come full circle, quite literally, walking in a complete loop to my point of origin.

With the sun slipping closer to the horizon, there was no longer enough daylight to safely make a second attempt in finding the primitive campsite by the river as intended. Disappointed, and slightly embarrassed, I lumbered towards my car for a return trip home. Once en route, however, a peaceful sort of feeling washed over me. I didn’t accomplish what I originally set out to do. Did that mean my experience had to hold any less significance? Do we always need to achieve what we intend in order for it to make a difference?

I reflected on my mood throughout the day. I had thirty five pounds on my back, but I felt as light as a feather. I was caressed by soaring pine trees on either side of me as I navigated farther from civilization. The stimulus for my senses was subtle, yet revitalizing. The crunch of fallen pine needles beneath my feet, the flash of red as a male cardinal crosses my path. The kindly visit from serendipity as I watch a young doe prance across the trail aptly named Deer Run.

wander-lostSometimes we need to follow a well-charted path. And more often we need to wander, into nature and within ourselves. Over the course of those two hours, I hadn’t taken a single thing out of my backpack. And yet, in the end, it felt lighter. Like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost. Wandering through that forest, getting lost while meandering gently through the depths of my mind. It may not have glittered, but it certainly was golden.

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

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