Aint’ That A Trip? ……when a nature trail reveals acts of kindness are not always random

On the road, I travel inside.

There I build trust of the unseen, the unanswered.

To a magnificent scale.

I go. I come. Both full and empty. My suitcase brims with love stories sought and love stories found.

I keep my canteen empty, dry and drawn tight. To make room.

To be filled. Then, to be struck like the taut strings of a lute.

Seeking the sound. 

~ Michelle Pearcy

 

 

Pine Shrub Forest at Jonathan Dickinson State Park. The tree to the right center hosts a huge osprey nest. A watchful parent bird stood on guard as we made our way along the trail.

Pine Shrub Forest at Jonathan Dickinson State Park. The tree to the right of the center hosts a huge osprey nest. A watchful parent bird stood on guard as we made our way along the trail.

It’s really easy to not see the forest for the trees. It is also really easy to only see the beauty, a veil that masks the complex system that supports life in the forest and leaves unanswered questions.

One of the sights I’ve set for this year and beyond is to not only journey far from where I live, but to also journey up close and personal, in my backyard. I am intent on discovering many of the not so hidden treasures, the beautiful resources right at my fingertips. 

Teamed up with a scientist, a traveler with a passion for teaching the whys of the natural world and the joys of exploring nature close to home, this journey would fill a few days to the brim. We discovered a lovely botanical garden, a state park, and wetland preserve.

Common Corkscrew Pine

Common Corkscrew Pine

 

 If I could fly, I would still gaze at the sky… because it’s the sun that makes the flowers dance.   

Mounts Botanical Garden is a treasure right within the city limits of West Palm Beach. Thing is, the garden is located right in a landing approach for the Palm Beach International Airport. When you begin your exploration of the beautifully designed and maintained garden, the first time a big bird, a commercial airliner buzzes overhead, it is distracting. It seems to defeat the ideal of peace you expect from a beautiful garden. But shortly after the first steps on the trail, what goes on overhead becomes less distracting.

Sometimes…

 

The milky white flower of the Candle Tree grows right out of the trunk.

The milky white flower of the Candle Tree grows right out of the trunk.

  

The Candle Tree's edible, medicinal fruit are shaped like taper candles.

The Candle Tree’s edible, medicinal fruit are shaped like taper candles.

After exploring half the garden, we stopped and spread our lunch out on the lawn near the water’s edge. Just as we were finishing, I looked high above our heads and there was a sight to behold.

Another big bird buzzing overhead…

This osprey had snagged this fish from the water, flew to this tree limb, and was waiting for the fish to expire. My guess is he waits the fish out and then finds a safe place to go to consume his catch. This is no small bird and this is no small fish. All the while the osprey was flying to the tree the fish was fighting for his life.

 

Osprey and its catch.

Osprey and its catch.

 The bird’s plan was foiled when it was spooked by some visitors on the path below. So the bird took off with the fish in his grips! He was not going to risk losing his catch.

This bird overhead was a welcome distraction!

After I oohed and aahed over the spectacle, I reflected on the power of instincts and the wisdom of not worrying over some of the simpler things in life – the small stuff. Also, that we are so much more than even the basics like food and clothing and shelter. Recently, I read that abundance is more a state of being – that ‘doing’ somehow contradicts true abundance.

 

A rainbow of colors and basket of aromas await Mounts visitors.

A rainbow of colors and basket of aromas await Mounts visitors.

It seems no matter how many times I’ve been out on a limb or ledge, the edge that gives me a few more inches of foothold is remembering there is something divine about life. That  life’s challenges, opportunities, trials, and blessings are somehow evidence of a plan. 

Some things you just have to see for yourself. 

 

Getting a closer look at what the naked eye is unable to see.

Getting a closer look at what the naked eye is unable to see.

This mellow mushroom fixed itself on this tiny branch from a nearby tree in Jonathan Dickinson State Park. There is an exquisite world both visible and invisible in the park. The park is a wondrous treasure. It is a recreational destination for kayakers, hikers, runners, cyclists, campers and adventurers. It is a feast for those interested in the diversity of species and has one of the region’s precious resources – the nationally designated Wild and Scenic Loxahatchee River. The Loxahatchee and neighboring creeks host wisely protected and enviable mangrove forests.

 

The park hosts a pretty amazing ecosystem. Palms and pines are neighbors to cypresses, mangroves and oaks. And that's just trees...

The park hosts a pretty amazing ecosystem. Palms and pines are neighbors to cypresses, mangroves and oaks. And that’s just trees…

 

The forest has a community of its own – the newly transformed, the newborn, immature, and aged. A typical cypress tree like the one shown below takes nearly a century to mature and can live as long as 1,000 years. What I love about these trees is that in spite of their size, they do a pretty good job of standing firm on shaky soil. Their root system is perfectly suited for wet, marshy waters. The knees that protrude all around the trees act like anchors; they also act like snorkel devices which grab oxygen from the surface and feed it to the underground root system of the tree. 

Imagine having good knees at 1,000 years old.

After seeing the beauty of a bald cypress forest, and the amazing change in plant culture from a sandy coastal ridge to a marshy, swampy creek’s edge, it was hardly room to process more awe. 

 

This cypress matures at about age 100 and can live to about 1,000 years old. The protrusions in front of the tree are called 'knees.'

This cypress matures at about age 100 and can live to about 1,000 years old. The protrusions in front of the tree are called ‘knees.’

After a feast of visual images, it was time to find a place to quietly reflect. What we found at Lookout 13 on Kitching Creek was perfection. 

 

Lookout 13 overlooks Kitching Creek.

Lookout 13 overlooks Kitching Creek.

 

Almost perfect reflections of a clear blue sky and trees. From Lookout 13

Almost perfect reflections of a clear blue sky and trees. From Lookout 13

 

The tannin-stained water in Kitching Creek provides a beautiful canvas for a reflection of the sky and trees.

The tannin-stained water in Kitching Creek provides a beautiful canvas for a reflection of the sky and trees.

The water, which is stained dark brown from the tannins of neighboring mangroves provided a perfect backdrop, a mirror to the perfect sapphire blue sky and cotton candy clouds. It was magic. No matter how hard I tried to capture a beautiful bird in one of these shots, my eye and the camera did not seem to cooperate.

 

This parent osprey oversees its nest with a watchful eye.

This parent osprey oversees its nest with a watchful eye.

 Walking the last stretch of the trail at Jonathan Dickinson State Park, a man with a dog excitedly approached us. He was so eager to point out the massive nest this watchful osprey parent was overseeing. Once we passed the nest, I stopped in my tracks and breathed in the silence. It was pure gold.

Another look at the osprey.

Another look at the osprey.

 

Acts of Kindness

All the while I was receiving the scientific hows and whys that explain certain phenomena in nature, I was sending those data through my intuitive filter.

On our way back to the trailhead, we discovered this ‘gall.’ Gall, I thought to myself. That has something to do with someone having the nerve to do something that is less than acceptable, right? Or that small word that goes before bladder as in gall bladder.

I had never heard of a gall being an ‘abnormal’ growth on a plant that results from the plant reacting to presence of a parasite or foreign substance. A plant can react to a ‘foreign’ substance, including an egg undergoing rapid cell division, by encapsulating the foreign body which forms a protective covering over it.

Scientists are not sure exactly why because the ‘host’ plant gains nothing from the relationship, nor does the presence of the gall degrade the plant. But there is so much more to it…

 

This gall is considered an abnormal growth on a host plant.

This gall is considered an abnormal growth on a host plant.

The gall in the photo above was on a tiny branch; it was exactly like the one my companion opened with a knife and revealed something amazing:

A brand new bee!

This tiny creature was waiting for his life outside his ‘abnormal growth’ to begin. We witnessed a birth.

This new bee was formed inside the gall, a protective covering created when the plant sensed a 'foreign' substance on its surface.

This new bee was formed inside the gall, a protective covering created when the plant sensed a ‘foreign’ substance on its surface.

To say I was amazed is an understatement. When I got over the oohs and aahs, it appeared to me that there is something divine about diversity. That nature’s willingness to tolerate, protect, and nurture diversity can be found in places one would never expect.

Talk about lessons on the birds and the bees!

My entire life, I thought bees were only born in hives. The tree responded to something different in its environment by providing a covering for the very thing that was different. It was just what the foreign object needed to avoid being consumed by predators and a place to transform into life.

What a random act of kindness! How much like nature can we afford to become?

“What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.”

~ Albert Einstein

What you see is not all of what you get is a good way to describe Grassy Waters Preserve. It is a wonderful wetland area, a natural preserve that is an important resource for the City of West Palm Beach.  What you see is a well-kept nature preserve with a lovely boardwalk for an up close look at the wetland, what you don’t see is the value of the wetland: it moderates climate by trapping extreme heat in the area, it stores carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere, it provides habitat for wildlife, improves water quality through plant filtration, recharges the groundwater, and provides flood protection by storing water.

And, it’s a wonderful educational outlet!

 

Nature and photography classes are offered at the preserve.

Nature, art and photography classes are offered at the preserve.

Grassy Waters is a short 10 minute drive away from where I live. I’ve visited the preserve for meetings; they have a generous and inviting conference area, but never took the time to explore the grassy wetlands. What a treat!

 

Grassy Waters Preserve is a beautiful site that hosts many species.

Grassy Waters Preserve is a beautiful site that hosts many species.

 

 

Sawgrass marsh just before sunset.

Sawgrass marsh just before sunset.

 

These grassy waters help trap carbon, clean and filter water, provide flood control, filter water, and host a community of wildlife.

These grassy waters help trap carbon, clean and filter water, provide flood control, recharge groundwater sources, and host a community of wildlife.

 

At first glance Grassy Waters Preserve looks like a wetland with mostly trees and sawgrass. Up close, there is a wonderful variety of species.

At first glance Grassy Waters Preserve looks like a wetland with mostly trees and sawgrass. Up close, there is a wonderful variety of species. This is St. John’s Wort.

  

This pretty purple flower adds just the right splash of color to the cypress strand.

This pretty purple flower adds just the right splash of color.

A beautiful flower stands out and stands on its own in the wetland.

A beautiful flower stands out and stands on its own in the wetland.

 After three days filled with learning and exploring and adventuring, I left room for curiosity. Room to question. Room to make inferences, to stretch science and reason to blend with intuition, faith, and knowing. 

It was an act of kindness to my spirit to spend this time with nature.  

Ain’t That A Trip?…when a nature trail reveals acts of kindness are not always random

Ain’t That A Trip? …when a climb to a retreat advances through a dreamscape of rocks and fallen fruit.

Birdsong

The sweetness of a perched bird’s song is a clever mask for the beautiful design in its folded wings. All things about a bird were designed for flight. I closed both my eyes, and opened another. There I saw a bird. Like any ordinary bird. As I crept closer, he rustled daring me to come nearer.  After our meeting, what I know is the song is small in comparison to the beauty of his unveiled wings. Unveiled. Once he takes flight from the safety of the tree’s arm. Sing a sweet song this morning and flap your wings.

~Michelle J. Pearcy

When I arrived at the beautiful Irish Town resort in the St. Catherine parish of Jamaica, the first thing I was thankful for was my driver’s uncanny sense of knowing what was around the next corner. From the view of a backseat driver, passing vehicles no matter the size seemed ominous on the fallen-mango and limestone-littered road. The serpentine road stretched and wound and curved and constricted up 3,100 feet above Kingston. The best way I knew to deal with the thrill of seeing over the road’s edge into the gully was to gently close my eyes and recite the Three R’s:

Relax. Relate. Release.

Besides, I was on my way to a beautiful retreat and what a folly it would have been to arrive in a bundle of nerves and tensed up muscles. And to be honest, some of my life’s journeys have been on roads less traveled, with far less visibility, and deeper potholes! The Three R’s offered relief, yet the lesson of this trip would be to grant myself permission to let go of repetitive thoughts, patterns and behaviors – the kind of meditations that can keep one frozen and in a mold like an ice cube. 

From My Veranda:  High Above Kingston 

In the short climb to Strawberry Hill Hotel & Spa, a beautiful Blue Mountain oasis, I gained the tremendous wisdom of neither looking too far ahead in the road or over my shoulder on the steep climb behind me. Instead…

Focusing on living IN the moment

 

After living the majority of its life as a nymph, once the dragonfly is able to fly it spends most of its time flying.

 Along the path, I have discovered the genius in focusing on living IN the moment, the present. One afternoon, during my stay at the resort, I discovered this dragonfly.  The simple creature had already lived out its life. I was totally intrigued by the fragile lace-like design of its wings and the strong breastplate-like shape of its body. What a contrast! The dragonfly lives most of its brief life in an immature state as a nymph. With most of its life in a state of being that is not-ready-for-prime-time, is there any wonder what it will do once it is able to fly? The dragonfly literally leaves nothing to be desired by living his life to its fullest. Once it’ s able to fly, that’s what it spends most of its time doing. 

I ask myself how different should my life be from that of a simple creature?  

Strawberry Hill Hotel & Spa is a Blue Mountain oasis.

 What is it like to live and work in Dreamland,? I asked.
“Like heaven,” she replied.
Then she said her family asks why she left their home for 
Irish Town.
“For peace, for healing”

I suppose that makes her something of a dragonfly.

Fly.

I was unable to gain the fullness of her heartfelt answer until after the sun set on my first evening in the oasis. A mist comes over the entire mountain that seems to erase the day, blanket the evening and lay foundation for the new day. Once I experienced that, there was no question. 

 

Lush Life: Sunset Over Irish Town, Jamaica

 One of the things I long for most when I have been away from Jamaica for an extended time is nighttime sounds. It is a veritable symphony of crickets, tree frogs, and yes, the occasional irritating sound of an irritable dog’s bark.

In the decades that I have traveled ‘back to Jamaica,’ I had never recorded those spirit-soothing sounds except in my memory. Each morning, the symphony that lulled me off to sleep gave way to a symphony of crisp, chirping birds, clanging castanet sounds of june-flies, and an occasional rooster’s call.  Like a symphony orchestra sequestered in the pit, it is not always easy to see or fully appreciate the tiny musicians. 

 

One of the fine musicians of the daytime symphony.

 At first, I did not appreciate the blessing Theresa, Steven, and Little Sophie, the family that stayed in the room above me had become. Their European body clocks were set to a different rhythm than mine and their very early stirrings were just what I needed to be gently awakened in time to sit with the daily sunrises. 

Sometimes the smallest musicians make the sweetest sounds.

The mist obeys the morning’s command to rise and shine. The lush landscape is left looking like a sleeping green giant. 

Some journeys are serious, some fun, and others of discovery. This was a discovery mission.  

Dave greeted each person we met with the word ‘Bless’.

 

I took a two-and-a-half-hour walk with walking tour guide Dave down the mountain to a place called Gardentown. It was scenic, peaceful and serene. All along the way, he showed me the indigenous fruits and vegetables, and along the way shared some of his herbal roots knowledge.

Coveted Blue Mountain Coffee In Its Nymph Stage

Of course, the conversation shifted to the power of love. One love. In Dave’s view, all that life amounts to. My view too.

House Resting on Stilts. The route to Gardentown.

As I was being led through narrow paths on completely unfamiliar terrain, often paces behind Dave, I imagined that my inside voice is still the best choice for a guide. That still voice best is best suited to correct my path, setting me back on course. It’s a forgiving voice that has never given up on my lack of direction and recalculates better than the best-rated GPS gadget! 

Once  the sun made it over the mountain and beamed on Red Light, the small town opposite the oasis 3,100 feet high above Kingston, the town with no traffic lights of any color, it became blistering hot. I gave in, relented and retreated to the infinity pool. 

Infinity is without limits, right?   

Limitless

When I left Dreamland, the place that took traveling a road littered with rocks and fallen fruit to arrive to, I awakened. Then I recalled that there are no obstacles that cannot be overcome, no barriers that can stand in my way – that  today is the greatest day of my life!

Ain’t That A Trip? …when a climb to a retreat advances through a dreamscape of rocks and fallen fruit. 

Mention of Strawberry Hill Hotel & Spa in this post should not be construed as a review. Their website is located at: http://www.islandoutpost.com/strawberry_hill/

Ain’t That A Trip? …when the camera lens introduces you to a new home sweet home

Knowing that we sleep under the same sky has narrowed the miles and miles distance between my family and myself. Somehow, ‘home is where the heart is’ just doesn’t compare.

There is a true art to living and loving the longing. 

 

Visiting Detroit. My home. The Motor City. Home of Motown. “Big Cat” sport teams: Tigers and Lions. The Comeback Kids: American automakers. Detroit is no ordinary place. Nor would this visit ‘home’  be ordinary. It’s been over 11 years and I still refer to Detroit as ‘home.’ There’s a worldwide Detroit diaspora; if you travel and meet someone from anyplace in southeast Michigan, they’re likely to tell you they are from Detroit.

It’s one thing to live optimistically, inspiring yourself along the way. It’s something else to see strong, positive affirmations in big, bold letters.

Opportunity Made In Detroit. 

 

 

I had purposely traveled to Detroit to attend a storytelling event hosted by The Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers.Their mission is to connect humanity, create community and provide an uplifting, thought-provoking, soul-cleansing entertainment experience that is unique through the art and craft of storytelling. This event’s theme was “Thankful.”

And thankful I was.

I absolutely believe in the healing power of words. Stories are made up of words, yet they are so much more – they connect our very beings. Words can galvanize communities or become shields that deflect change, invite fear, or cast us into the hinterlands separated from each other. 

My trip home would be check-up of sorts. I would open my heart and say “aaaaaah.” My first visit home as a travel blogger. The weekend would be fast, full of family, old and new friends, good cheer and an extreme opportunity to experience home through the lens of my camera.   

This “Zamboni” ice rink maintenance machine tending to the rink in Campus Martius Park is one more reminder: Opportunity Made in Detroit

So, on the first full day of my visit, between family commitments, a meetup with a nephew for some cheer at Flood’s, Detroit’s place “where everybody knows your name,” and the storytelling event, it would be me and my camera. Solo.   

But before I would start my exploration, I would go to Flo Boutique in the West Willis Village, near Wayne State University to buy a coveted Detroit Snob embroidered t-shirt. The store’s team made the atmosphere like being at home with family. After making my purchase perched on a seat, I asked if I could  ‘just be,’ to just hang out for a while and enjoy the camaraderie. “Of course!” was Sheila and Felicia’s response. As well as meeting a number of women, I learned a lot about the growing attractions and community between  Midtown and Downtown Detroit. When I wore out my welcome, off I went. My first stop was Great Lakes Cafe, a coffee-centric shop on Woodward & Alexandrine Avenue for a yummy sandwich.

Flo Boutique – Detroit is a lifestyle boutique for men and women. It is in the heart of West Willis Village, the hub of the Wayne State University, Cultural Center area.

After having some eats, I would be on my way to the riverfront. Once I got east of the landmark General Motors World Headquarters, I inched my way down the street that runs parallel to the river – Woodbridge. Milliken Park. New. The Dequindre Cut. New.

The Dequindre Cut is a non-motorized recreational greenway spanning over a mile from busy Gratiot Avenue to the riverfront. I was impressed by reuse of this abandoned railroad corridor. 

The Dequindre Cut is a greenway that hosts non-motorized recreational activities. I know if I lived nearby, it would be in my walking plans.

While some take abandoned resources and recover their value, others show respect for the unpolished edges of the urban landscape by using them as backdrops for beauty and culture. 

A group of young Detroit models pose in the shadow of the GM headquarters in a field near a warehouse. True grit is what it takes to forge a way into urban arts and culture. Kudos!

This warehouse doesn’t stand alone. It’s supporting cast is a blind of beautiful trees and the handiwork of graffiti artists.

I love calling the U.S. automotive industry “The Comeback Kids”!

 As I inched eastward, the hands of time were inching along with me – backward. Belle Isle Park was definitely one of my favorite places to visit as a child. When ‘the isle’ was the destination for our Sunday riding, life was good. We learned softball, cricket, and when we needed to stretch our legs, we would pile out of the car and race to the Scott fountain. 

I used to imagine the Scott Memorial Fountain to be a wedding cake. Its alternating colored-lights gave it an awe-inspiring appearance at night. Beautiful public art!

In all the years I visited Detroit’s Belle Isle Park, I never noticed the first road, the perimeter road of the island is called Sunset Strip. A well-deserved name!

A Dramatic Change: Sunset Behind Detroit and Windsor Skylines

 

In the winter, we ice skated on this pond until our toes felt like they would fall off and then we’d go inside the pavilion and have hot chocolate and Cheeze-It crackers for a snack.

There’s something about showing up to make the full impression of your life something worthy of reflecting on later. Just as the sun will not half rise or set, life’s reflection should be nothing less than that of your full self. This is the place that brought so much joy to my young life.

Something mystical happened as the sun began to set on my memories of home. The sky changed colors like the most elegant fashion model sashaying down the runway and with each change reappearing with something far more exquisite than the last change. 

It was an eerie conspiracy: the sky and the water in the ponds and the river were completely still on the surface. The Detroit River is a shipping channel with grown-up currents. I don’t know the phenomenon, but the landscape morphed into a wondrous canvas where the beauty of life was cast. 

When I stepped out of my car and walked maybe 20 feet to the pond’s bank, the smell of hops from the Windsor brewery infused the air. My heart rang out when the bell tower struck half past the hour.

Along with the reflection of the past, what I saw was the beauty and perfection of the heart: it is a storehouse of joy! What, for ages has been revealed as something that cannot be seen nor known by reasoning, poet, teacher and artist of words, Rumi captured it best.

“The lips, the water of life, the one whose thirst has been quenched are one.”

I wonder if she knows she’s filling his storehouse with joyful memories.

Detroit-Windsor Ambassador Bridge at Sunset

This was the most giving sunset I have ever experienced in Detroit. After beholding a portfolio of beauty, it was time to make my way back downtown to meet up with my nephew. Earlier as I traveled from Midtown to the Riverfront, I noticed Campus Martius was alive and teeming with activity. It is a magnet. The shops, the ice skating rink, the hand-warming bonfire are all people-pleasing attractions. I found a convenient parking space, went to a wine bar, perched with a nice glass of red, and watched the activity of the ice rink like it was a big screen television.On As I approached Woodward, I noticed that I became the subject of the curiosity of a man, moving along the street that would end on Woodward. He walked in a challenged way.  As I stood at the focal point of the attraction taking photos, he finally caught up to me. He stepped right in front of my camera. “Would you like for me to photograph you?” When I asked Richard if I could take his picture, he agreed with no hesitation.

Richard.

This was the first shot. “Why are you not smiling?” He was concerned about missing teeth and smiling. When I assured him that a smile is not defined by teeth and comes from inside out, this was the sweet photograph he gifted me with.

A smile can change an entire landscape.

Of course I wanted to know his story. He moved to Detroit to be close to his daughter and there had been some bad blood and they had been sorely out of contact – for a long time.

Forgive

It just slipped from my mouth and into the cool November air. At that instant, all stopped moving around me and this man who walked with a limp, carrying a cane and vet status. He shared his story and we talked. And talked. What I know is words absolutely have healing power. And, the storehouse of the heart is big enough to hold, preserve and share joy whenever needed.  

After I left Campus Martius soul-cleansed, I was still early for the meetup with my nephew. So I drove along Lafayette Boulevard to take a quick look at the primary school my daughter attended while we lived in the Eastern Market. When I made a u-turn in front of Chrysler Elementary School, I caught a flash of blue.

“Capital A. U-G-I-E”

That’s how he spelled his name when I asked him if he consented to let me take his photograph. He did not hesitate. When I asked where he was headed, I knew his answer: “Downtown.”

Augie on his way Downtown.

The brim of Augie’s hat is lined with blinking lights: a great safety device in the dark. 

My brief and enjoyable cheer with my nephew and one of his former colleagues was just what I needed  after a long afternoon of reminiscing, making new friends, and exploring ‘home’ through another lens. Then it was on to a remarkable storytelling event.

Aint’ That A Trip? …when the camera lens introduces you to a new home sweet home 

 

Ain’t That A Trip? …when enough is enough

“When I stopped contending against the divinity in my life, I began to feel the slightest stir of wind upon my cheek and a bird’s simple tweet became a symphony in my heart. How could I not be thankful?”

~ Dave, Passenger 6C

I try to never pass up an opportunity to connect with others – it’s like plugging into humanity. I do it on purpose, especially when I travel. In my book, seat assignments on flights are never a coincidence. Dave’s decision to sleep-in and take a later flight assigned him the seat right next to me. It begins with a simple, ‘hello.’

My travel companions, the Blackberry, the iPad, the National Geographic, the Scientific American – none of these gadgets, devices or media will ever replace the full-filling art of conversation. I’m always on the lookout for pearls in oysters.

Enough is enough.

When I try to recall, Assisi wasn’t on a premeditated bucket list, but attending a writer’s workshop was. Compared to so many folks’ bucket lists, mine does not hold water – it’s half empty. I try to live without too many grandiose plans but on purpose enough to be flexible and pointed in a direction. I absolutely cannot remember what drove me to the Poets & Writers website, but something did. As I looked around for writing workshops, maybe someplace in the northeast U.S., like Vermont, a beautiful photograph of Assisi, Italy popped right out at me.    

There! That’s where I’m going.

Sunset Over Assisi. From my room, Hotel Giotto Assisi.

My discovery occurred sometime in the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas – by spring, the ink was dried on the deal. In August, I would be off to Assisi, Italy to take part in a 14-day writing workshop on personal essays and memoirs. The workshop would be set center stage with a backdrop in one of Europe’s most beautiful and culturally relevant sites. Assisi is the place where battle weary Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone was born, left for the world, returned and later became known as San Francesco or St. Francis of Assisi.    

Francesco’s Return to Assisi.

San Francesco. An Instrument of Peace. Assisi, Italy

I could feel an adventure in my bones.

Traveling through my itinerary would be a piece of cake – from Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta from Atlanta to Rome, and a pickup at the airport by a driver who would shuttle me and a few other workshop participants arriving the same day directly to our hotel. Pampered. So, I decided to leave my pocket-size Lonely Planet Italian phrasebook on the shelf where it had collected dust for four years since my last trip to Milan, Italy and Catania, Sicily.

After it all sunk in, I would be writing personal essays – memoirs. For years and years, I had been keeping journals – some travel, all personal – some dicey, others spicy. Just before Assisi, I began the seemingly endless process of bringing those experiences from handmade eco-friendly paper to the hard, cold world of computing.

Self-Portrait.
The workshop would shift me outside my frame, creating a new self-portrait. I would become a writer.

I didn’t have a body of work per se, but knew I could have my work critiqued several times during the 14-day period through daily writing exercises. As the date neared, I became more and more excited.

Enough is enough.

Basilica Francesco.

I arrived to the Fort Lauderdale airport early; there would be a close connection in Atlanta, but not too close to be overly concerned. Besides, it was August – no snow delays – no storms on the horizon.  I was carrying one roller bag and my backpack and checked in one medium-sized bag. I did pack one medium-sized bag with the cumbersome, space-mongering, heavy items like shoes. Did I say shoes? And, maybe more shoes. Really, the contents were simply clothing and a steamer.

Once the gate agent nervously and ineptly boarded a rambunctious crowd of passengers hell-bent on not following her instructions, it was 20 minutes later than the scheduled departure. That’s when the tailspin began. The funny and ironic thing about time is it can both grow and contract at the same time. As the delay grew, the connection shrunk.

Once the plane was completely boarded, we sat for another 15 minutes before someone came on the public address system:

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re so sorry for the delay, but we have a light on our board that there was a problem with the right engine. We’re not sure if we have the part – a tile – that needs replacing. Once we have it, we’ll glue it on with a super adhesive, let it dry and away we’ll go. Right now it looks like we’ll be delayed for 45 minutes.”

Superglue? Of course when someone says the engine is having mechanical issues, the first priority is to fix it or ditch it. Somehow the concern about making a connection lost its place on the priority list.   Once we arrived in ATL, I tried to break a sprinting record (my own) but did not come close! I missed my connection.

The next flight from Atlanta to Rome would be 5 hours later with an extra connection: Paris. Now, with an extra flight, my concern shifted from the scrapped itinerary to whether or not the pimento-red medium-sized bag would be on the carousel at baggage claim once I arrived in Europe. In her best and authoritative voice, the gate agent assured me that when I arrived, my bag would be there waiting. 

Stained Glass. Perugia, Umbria, Italy

Enough is enough.

I sent messages ahead to the transportation contact and the workshop organizer that I missed my connection, would not make the ground transportation hook-up and would be ‘winging it’ once I arrived in Rome.

 I admit, in the midst of any journey that turned into a ‘trip’ there has always been some consolation. The biggest upside of sitting in the Atlanta airport for an extra 5 hours was the extreme honor to meet a man who has inspired so many: Mr. Tony Dungy, former National Football League athlete and head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. What an amazingly still and peaceful spirit! He is not at all shiny and lacquered like so many over-celebrated celebs.

The flight from Atlanta to Paris was uneventful and the connection to Rome from Paris was comfortable enough to have a bite in the restaurant for dinner. When I arrived at Rome at 5:00 p.m. instead of the 11:30 a.m. I was counting on, I went to claim my luggage. Before I realized, I was the last person standing at the carousel – alone. It felt like walking along a desert road after your car runs out of gas, hoping against all hope, that the Last Chance Texaco is just over the heat-buckled asphalt road. There was no Texaco. There was no man with a star. And, most of all, no bag. 

It was official, my checked luggage did not arrive.

I filed a claim, claimed my complimentary consolation prize, a complimentary blue shaving bag with a complimentary shaver, a complimentary bar of soap, a complimentary toothbrush, and a complimentary men’s white t-shirt. I wondered whether those in charge of the consolation prizes thought women do not lose their bags and maybe a nice brush and comb and deodorant would be included in the complimentary goody bag.

Enough is enough.

So, from Rome’s Fuimicino airport, I took a train to Stazione Termini – or Rome’s central station. A grand city in itself, all abuzz with conversation, and people, and construction and changed shedules. The train to Assisi  scheduled for two-and-a-half hours later would go directly from Rome to Assisi. No stops.

Leaded Glass, Ironworks, Reflections and Me

After having a nice dinner in one of the restaurants, I made my way back to the area with the big board bearing the bad news: “Assisi” had gone poof. It had disappeared from the board. In my patchwork Italian, I asked an information agent what in the world happened to my Assisi train. It was canceled, and I would have to take a train to Foligno, transfer to a motor coach that would drive me to the Assisi train station, and there I could get a car.  

So, it was critical decision time. I had traveled since around 1:00 p.m. the day before and by the time I was somewhere between Rome and Foligno, nighttime would descend. By the time I would make it to Assisi, it would be around midnight (that sounds like a movie title). Would I be able to navigate the transfer? Should I scrap the mission and just get a room in Rome for the evening and start fresh in the morning?  

“Adventures don’t begin until you get into the forest. That first step is an act of faith.”

Mickey Hart, Grateful Dead Drummer

Bascilica Francesco At Night. Assisi, Italy

Once in the forest, it takes seeing clearly and believing strongly to lessen the chances of being swiped by the thorny, low-hanging tree branches of exhaustion, of discouragement, and tripping over exposed roots of frustration. So, at the designated time I stepped up to the train platform.    

Enough is enough.

Taking the step onto the train was no easy feat – nor are the steps at all apologetic for not being barrier-free. Hoisting the bag, strapped with a backpack was more than enough. I cannot imagine how I would have been able to muscle a medium-size bag, a roller bag, a backpack, and of course, myself on that train.

Then a coach.

Then a taxi.

Planes. Trains. Buses. And Automobiles. That sounds like a movie title too!

Enough is enough.

Well enough is enough when you recharge your phone along the way, but when airport and train station outlets are not electrified, a battery has to do what a battery has to do: drain.  

During one of our routine after-dinner walks, we discovered this unusual display of art. The light changed from blue to red to yellow. We named it “Psychedelic Shack.”

Left standing at the closed, deserted Assisi train station didn’t feel at all like Mickey Hart’s encouragement to step into the forest. It felt more like a first step onto the set of one of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone episodes. It was later than twilight – nearly midnight. Thankfully, two young campers from the Netherlands were there with me; they had a cellphone and needed a ride to their campground located outside Assisi. When I called my hotel to ask them to send a taxi to the station, they also sent another for the campers. There’s something common to humanity that surmounts most barriers – and that is helping one another.  

Two minutes and two hugs later, I was on my way to my hotel and they were on their way to their tent. It was half past midnight when I arrived at Hotel Giotto. The lights were left on for me.   

Via Fontabella. Assisi, Italy

 

Assisi Sunset

Griffin Karaoke: Fun Iron Works. Assisi, Italy

The next day, after warm greetings from an eclectic group of artists – writers, poets, photographers, playwrights, professors, and a chef – I earned the infamy of the writer whose bag was lost, but seemed to have an endless choice of daily ensembles to wear. 

“Did your bag get here yet?”

“No it did not”
“Did you buy what you’re wearing here?” 

“No I did not”
“The bag I carried on is full of magic – like Mary Poppins’ Magic Satchel.”

When the pimento red, medium-sized bag that had never left Atlanta arrived 5 days later, I was tempted to not open it at all. Surely, I would have made-do without it. 

There’s something profound about enough. Where there’s life, there’s hope. That’s enough.  

Enough is enough.

The workshop was life-changing. I officially became a writer.

Ain’t That A Trip? …when enough is enough

 

Ain’t That A Trip? …when stars in the black onyx sky are trumped by the city lights

Good Luck

O, once in each man’s life, at least,
Good Luck knocks at his door;
And wit to seize the flitting guest
Need never hunger more.
But while the loitering idler waits
Good Luck beside his fire,
The bold heart storms at fortune’s gates,
And conquers its desire.

Lewis J. Bates (1859-1946)

 

 

Bates left a great reminder. My response to the sound of opportunity knocking at my door is to fling the door open and hug opportunity like a long-lost friend, then treat it like welcomed company, inviting it to over stay my hospitality.  

Odds are, if given a chance to share good laughs in good company in a good place, I’m there! 

So, off to Las Vegas I journeyed for a weekend of fun. And laughs. And instant classics.

I am a helpless skygazer. As soon as I settled into the hotel and walked to “The Strip” on Las Vegas Boulevard, I craned my neck up to survey the blanket I would be operating under. What is the blanket, you may ask? The sky, of course! 

The black onyx sky over Las Vegas Boulevard.

I could not see a single star.

All of the stars were down on the ground. On The Strip. The sky had been trumped by the city lights. Outshone. But, definitely not left naked and ashamed. The nighttime sky was beautiful, like smooth black onyx. Like a precious stone, the sky was dotted by a lovely milky white moon. 

 

The Landscape – A Place to Look Up To In Las Vegas

Another Good Reason to Look Up in Las Vegas – Art Glass Inset in Bellagio Hotel Lobby Ceiling

This was my third visit to “Sin City.” I am simply amazed how ingenuous development of the complex entertainment destination Las Vegas has become – a place smack dab in the middle of the Nevada desert. There is live music, comedy, theatrics, all sorts of attractions, acrobatics, adult entertainment – a panoply of reasons to stay active and all abuzz.

Tao Bistro & Club’s interior – as impeccable as the culinary offerings.

Stone tubs filled with rose petals and candles line the entryway into the Tao Bistro and Club. Inside the Venetian facility.

Guests of the Venetian enjoy gondola rides in a backdrop reminiscent of the beautiful city of Venice, Italy.

“Spiderman” takes a break from his post on the Strip.

Gladiators chat until the next picture-seeking visitor comes along.

Another thing that was clear more this visit than ever before was the sense of possibility. It felt palpable – like a heartbeat.  I’m talking about the feeling that comes from pursuit of chance, of luck, of fame, of fortune, of hopes, of dreams. 

The Cosmopolitan Hotel & Casino was live on Saturday night.

Because it was the weekend before Halloween, being in Las Vegas was particularly entertaining. It was challenging to distinguish the costumed for parties from those ‘working’ The Strip for photos with visitors and tips. As I passed those dressed in costumes I presumed were working, I thought:

Feed your dreams. They help keep your footing on a solid path forward. Dream big. In high-definition. Anything less than big dreams ought to be left to luck. Odds are, dreams will take you outside of what appears to be to what could be.

That was really advice to myself… then I reminded myself that the journey to the place with the beautiful, smooth black onyx sky was for good laughs and good company and not too much thought-provoking thinking.

Ain’t That A Trip? …when stars in the black onyx sky are trumped by the city lights

Ain’t That A Trip? …when a walk around old town Girona lands you in Mexico

I love avocados. I love Mexican cuisine. What a delight to find extraordinary Mexican cuisine in Old Town Girona, Spain.

Inside looking out. Maguey: Cuina Mexicana

MAGUEY: Cuina Mexicana
One of the owners, Arturo was born in Mexico, moved to France for stint in the finance industry, followed his heart to Spain, and landed in Girona.  

When you walk in the restaurant, you immediately know your needs come first to the attentive staff. Arturo or “Arthur with an o” as he introduced himself was kind and engaging. He genuinely seemed interested in what had brought me to Girona. When I asked how a Mexican-born, journalist ended up in Catalonia, he was open and friendly, sharing his story.

 A few nights before I visited the restaurant for the first time, I watched his partner from a distance. It was just before the dinner rush – she was setting up overflow seating outside the restaurant. Her boundless energy made an impression on me – she was wrestling tables and umbrellas along  the sidewalk. What’s remarkable is the over-capacity seating was one storefront away and around the corner!  

Inside Maguey: Cuina Mexicana

Their food was great, especially the guacamole; it had chunks of the sweet, buttery fruit balanced with those spectacular tomatoes, onions, and just the right spike of citrus flavor. The heavenly guacamole was just the perfect starter to excite my palate but not fill me up.

Did I say I was looking for the best margarita I ever had when I first realized Maguey offered Mexican cuisine? Well, I was not, but it was truly a happy discovery.

Their hand-mixed classic margarita was excellent – so how would the specialty margarita featuring guava fruit rate better than excellent? 

über-excellent

Don’t take my word for it. I rank my people-experience right up there with the food, so maybe I’m not a good reviewer. Go see for yourself – be prepared for good food, great atmosphere, and a welcoming, sweet staff. 

Since travelers and diners seek different experiences, this is not intended to be a review of the restaurant, Maguey. Their website is www.maguey.es

Ain’t That A Trip? …when a walk around old town Girona lands you in Mexico.

Ain’t That A Trip? …when a promise kept makes the days count – nights too.

 

Girona At Sunset (Photo credit: Evarist March, 2012)

Every day is a chance to re-create. Joy. It’s embedded in my memory. Of the sky that changes her pink crinoline into navy blue trousers. Of the little voices that greet me mornings. Of the joyful symphony of trumpets and ram’s horns that jar me awake. Of love. Of comfort. Of good will.  ~Michelle Pearcy

As I walked the streets of enchanted Girona, Spain memories of the days of planning  family vacations flooded in. Pure excitement grew as the date of the departure drew near. Instead of the classic, “are we there yet?” the question that ignited our tinderbox of enthusiasm was “how many more days?”

Sometimes I think anticipation lingered longer than the enjoyment found in each day of the holiday. Time seemed to whizz by. Then another countdown began: the days left in the trip before returning home.   

What a way to regard time!

Recently, I’ve been on some pretty amazing fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants adventures mostly because of missed flight connections. So, after a hiccup-free journey from Miami to Atlanta to Barcelona, I knew I was on my way to a memorable journey. What a welcome relief! The flight was on time, the train from the airport to Barcelona Sants on time, the connection to Girona from ‘Barna Sant’ on time, and an effortless taxi ride to the front door of my Hotel Ciutat de Girona.  

In return for this amazing travel grace, a promise was kept: To not count the days, but make the days count – the nights too!    

Girona By Night

It’s easy to focus your energy and your eyes on getting from one place to another when you’re in an unfamiliar setting. It’s also easy to miss the absolute beauty along the way.

Can’t life be a lot like this? 

So, during the train ride to Girona from Barcelona, I watched scene after scene of a familiar, yet unfamiliar landscape approach, momentarily be framed, and pass from the glass in my window seat. It was a moving exhibition – art in motion.    

Girona! Costa Brava!

What better place for a conference of travel bloggers? The sponsors, Costa Brava Pirineu de Girona and Expedia, made preparations for their guests and executed those plans tastefully. Over 350 attended the TBEX Europe meetup. The travel bloggers’ introduction to the region’s people, traditions, cultural artifacts, land and seascapes, food, and drink was nothing less than amazing!

The strongest impression I had about Girona happened the moment I stepped on the cobblestone paved street outside my hotel. I was in the hunt for lunch after checking in. Girona felt familiar, yet provocatively new. Girona was begging to be explored.  

Opening Night At 24 Festival de Cinema de Girona. Inaugural Gala for the Girona Film Festival in Placa de la Independencia

That newness was alluring. It was like being seated in a darkened room with the door to the room slowly creaking open allowing silvery light to stream in. By the afternoon of the first day of the conference, I was consumed by wanderlust and was lured right out of the Auditori – Palau de Congressos Girona and onto Girona’s streets.  

My curiosity wasn’t the only thing satisfied, intown Girona granted me peace and tranquility when I sorely needed respite from scheduled activities and the din of the crowd.  I found a perfect place along the riverbed, spread my sweater on the grass, and watched ducks effortlessly float on the river. There was no need to schmooze with them. By the second day, I was browsing and bartering with Saturday morning vendors along the river in the outdoor market in Parc de la Devesa.

Opening Night Party: TBEX Europe 2012 at Castell de la Sant Gregori

As I walked onto the main patio of Castell de Sant Gregoiri, the location of the Opening Night Party,  I noticed a conspiracy unfolding. The sky was in collusion with the beautifully lit 12th century castle and the castle was artfully juxtaposed with the waxing crescent moon. The moon was quarter past full and it looked like a quarter coin being placed into the slot of a vending machine.

The scene was like something from an indie film – an independent production. To the sky, it mattered little what was going on the ground. The moon and the stars were projected on a vast Mediterranean silver screen – the navy blue sky. The sky, a self-made ingénue made an awesome costume change from her silken rose-colored skirt into navy blue trousers.   

A Castell at the Opening Night Party Awes Guests (Girona, Spain 2012)

That night  I learned the Catalonian tradition of building human castles or  castells  (Catalan pronunciation: [kəsˈteʎ]) was not just a cultural tradition. I saw the castells as a metaphor for the elements a strong community needs to survive: raise its young to the top; stand on each others’ shoulders so others may rise up; and the community as a whole stand together as a base that supports the tower, keeping it safe and strong, and becoming a safety net if someone topples.

That may be a stretch of my imagination, but one thing for sure, castells are towers of strength. 

Sunset Over The Pyrenees – Vista from Montjuic

  As I walked Girona’s streets, I listened for the familiar – the soft songs of birds, the joyous call of children, and the quick paced steps of those moving toward their daily duties. One morning, walking to the conference center, I met a group of infantrymen dressed in period uniforms from the early-1800’s.  As they waited opposite the street for the pedestrian light, I was fast on the draw – with my camera. Not only did I get a nice photo, their smiles warmed my heart.  Unbeknownst to me, we would ‘meet up’ later that evening. TBEX participants were shuttled high atop Montjuic with its breathtaking vistas, where the sun was setting over the Pyrenees Mountains. We observed a re-enactment of Napoleon Bonaparte’s siege on the city and the peninsula. The actors I greeted on the street had starring roles in the re-enactment.    

There seems to be a reverence for the past, yet the presence of spontaneity strongly points toward the future. The streets are alive at night in Girona and so are the days.

I will definitely plan to return to Girona – it’s a place that writers and poets and artists would naturally be attracted to. I was touched by my visit.

Dance Like No One’s Watching. Girona, Spain 2012

 

 “There are roads out of the secret places within us along which we all must move as we go to touch others.”

~ Romare Bearden

 

 

 Ain’t That A Trip? …when a promise kept makes every day count – nights too.

Ain’t That A Trip? …when some things have to be entered into head-first

 

Somethings Have To Be Entered Into Head First. Negril, Jamaica

 “Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.” ~William Shakespeare

 Growing up, I was not allowed to use training wheels to learn to ride a bicycle. Neither did my first pair of ice skates have double blades. No half-stepping. If you’re going to ride, ride. If you’re going to glide, glide. The message was clear: a half-step should only be the interval between notes on a keyboard. But, there are some things I can honestly say I have extreme respect for – one of them being heights.  

As I stood on the cliffs opposite this child of about 10 years, I rehearsed the meaning of the caption of this photo:

 Some things have to be entered into head-first.

One of the biggest challenges with shooting this picture was ‘when’ to shoot versus ‘if’ he would jump.  I knew enough about physics and trajectories to know I would have to train my camera ahead of his launch to get the best shot. Besides, “if” he would jump was not the question and his hesitation probably had very little to do with fear or lack of courage – it was more likely to do with him calculating when he could command the most attention.

These rocky cliffs are his playground – or at least during this strategic time of the day. The cliffs are next to Jamaica’s famed Rick’s Cafe, where tourists flock in a daily pilgrimage to experience the coveted Negril sunset. That evening, several party boats including the notorious catamaran, Wild Thing, had eclipsed in or nearby the small bay. Rick’s sits about 50 feet above the lovely Caribbean Sea. 

I was standing on a curved patio outside my resort, Catcha Falling Star, a sweet little Negril resort where the staff makes you feel just like family. And like a close family, keeps a good eye on your comings and goings which really makes you feel safe and cared for. Catcha is a neighbor of Rick’s and just close enough to draw energy from the festive partyboaters, revel in the cheers and whistles of their patrons that egg-on the divers, and perfectly poised to be inspired by it all.  

While most of Rick’s visitors who step up to the challenge of diving usually go in feet first, the local divers mostly opt to go into the sea head-first.  

Some of life’s challenges can only be entered into going head first. Going in feet first leaves too much temptation to change course. The playground I played on as a child had rocks of its own – small, gravelly rocks. And, if you changed course abruptly, a misstep could land you with a number of painful little reminders lodged underneath the skin on your knees.

Some things in life are uncertain, but not good cause to remain ashore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I become more familiar with digital photography, I am learning that sometimes the only game plan is to be contented and resigned to allow the subject to grant you the image it would have you have.

Can’t life be a little like that too?

Hummingbird: Fast. Fleeting. Like life.

Like this hummingbird, life is fast and fleeting. Though I hoped to capture the bright turquoise and rust plumage of my finely feathered friend, something more splendid was to be found in the shadows. On a perfectly sunny day, the lighting gave a hint of black and white.    

I did catch a star on this journey: Catcha’ Falling Star, a small seaside resort that I will visit again and again, as much for the warm feeling of being welcome as its location, location, location. What I also caught was the lesson that sometimes it’s not what we expect that brings the most joy.

 

Ain’t That a Trip? …when some things have to be entered into head-first.

We all seek different experiences in our travels; mention of the resort should not be construed as a review. Catcha Falling Star’s website is http://www.catchajamaica.com/

Ain’t That A Trip?…when an urban nature walk lands you in a bat cave

 

Inside the Bat Cave, Barcelona, Spain

 Destination has become something more than the name of a place on my itinerary. It is a  frontier waiting to be adventured. Along the way, I am discovering that the trip is to today and a passion is developing: wanderlust for a place where a new nation can be built from within.   

Recently, after a daylong themed tour, “Cava, Coves and Gardens” in the beautiful Costa Brava region of Spain, I thirsted for more. Not the bubbly part of the theme, but the beauty that can hardly be captured in a digital frame.  The gardens. The plant life.

After the impressive tour of the modest and native Mediterranean botanical garden, Marimutra, I arranged to discover the untamed, uncultivated species that grow right in the backlot of the hilly cultural hub of beautiful Barcelona.

The next morning at first light, I watered the horses, tamped down the canvas, and hitched to the wagontrain to the new territory. Well, not really a wagontrain, but a train – the regional train from Girona to Barcelona – a 1.5 hour trip. I boarded the train not pretending to know where I was on the trail, but knowing my path was being directed and a righteous way being made, knowing that any sagebrush in the path would be cleared, and knowing the fog of doubt would be lifted. I was a hopeful pioneer in search of an instant classic.

When we met up with NaturalWalks of Barcelona, we would take an urban walking tour up steep hills, onto precipices, peering onto the site of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the awe-striking Barcelona seaport, the sapphire Mediterranean sea, and the vast landscape views of metropolitan Barcelona. 

.

As an avid walker, I have come to appreciate the beauty of the ordinary. By the end of the tour, what I knew was confirmed: the beauty and rich cultural heritage of the place I admired didn’t just lie just in the architecture and art and history. There was profound beauty and purpose in the modest and surefooted plant life that survived for generations. This secret life that graciously gave hints about how the land was used. 

We discovered uncultivated fennel, garlic, sage, lavender, carob, mint, and a plethora of herbs and aromatics; it was like a moveable aromatheraphy session. When introduced to a new specimen,  I would ceremoniously close my eyes, take in a deep breath, get a huge waft of aroma and exhale with a soulful, ‘aaahhh.’  

Along the way around the mount, we noticed portions of the large rock wall which had been used for Olympic rockclimbing was cordoned off. There were safety concerns due to falling material. Then the amusing appeared: a tunnel. La Fuixarda. An outdoor tunnel that was being used as an urban climbing experience.

The “Bat Cave” is adorned with protrusions of all whimsical shapes, painted murals on the ceiling of the tunnel, and varying degrees of climbing difficulty. It was truly like walking into a colony of bats – friendly bats that were about the business of learning to hang upside down on the ceiling of a cave.

Ain’t That A Trip?…when an urban nature walk lands you in a bat cave.

Thank you Evarist March, owner of NaturalWalks for the memorable experience. Their website is http://naturalwalks.com/

Ain’t That A Trip?…when you land in a struggle between nature and luxury

Amber Glass at Sunset
(C) 2012, Michelle Pearcy
click on image to see full size

Somewhere there’s a place that lies between the excessively busy, cluttered, filled with bad news stories, ringtone-filled world we navigate our way through on a daily basis and packing it all in and heading for a cabin on Walden Pond.

It’s the middle ground.

Finding the middle ground is a constant journey. I feel enormously blessed to know there is a powerfully-calibrated GPS system that guides me. When I need my course re-set, that system doesn’t give up on me, but recalculates and sets me on my way. It’s the Most Capable Guide.  

I never tire of the journey to the middle ground. It is a place where I can rendezvous with life’s challenges, face fears, and instead of ruminating over something that happened yesterday or a moment ago over and over, I choose to tap the stop button instead of the rewind button. 

The middle ground is a place where I can find peace of heart – mind too. It’s a place where only now exists. When I’m in the middle ground, I know no matter how rough, how rugged, or how pot-hole-filled the road may be, it can lead to a stretch as smooth as butter. Yet, the only way there is the way forward.    

The photo of the bottle was taken at a luxury resort where I celebrated my birthday. The beautiful amber glow on the bottle was light cast by a candle. The sun was setting and we had just settled into the beautifully appointed lagoon unit after exploring our new surroundings. When night fell, we were in a crossfire. A war was being waged between luxury and nature. As one of my teachers, Khalil Gibran would say: 

“If indeed you must be candid, be candid beautifully.”

As one would suspect, nature won out over luxury. The legion of palmetto bugs (beautiful word for “big tropical cockroach”) set our trail ablaze; we retreated; we were reassigned to another unit to spend the next night; it too was under siege. After the second move, we just knew it would be our chance to shine. We were singing in two-part harmony the theme song from The Jeffersons situation comedy: 

“Well, we’re movin’ on up to the east side, to a deluxe apartment in the sky…well, we’re movin’ on up…”

We were moving to a de-luxe mansion overlooking the sea. It was by far more luxurious and by far roomier than the other two units put together – it was a mansion, after all.

A simple set change. The combat theatre was more beautiful – the troupe this time was  rodents (beautiful word for “sea rats”). The powerful lesson in this instant classic as we call journeys with rich and memorable learning and teaching moments:

You can build your mansion to touch a gilt sky, but if your neighbor’s lot is unimproved, your shack is not much taller than his.  

In spite of the bumpy road we still had a great and memorable time. Most of all the middle ground was still to be found. 

“No road is long with good company.” ~Turkish Proverb