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I have come to love my morning walks. Not just love them, crave them. They started not only as a way to get back into shape, to lose weight, but also as a way to try to find some sanity again. I have always gone to the woods when life has been too much. John Muir wrote “And into the forest I go, to lose my mind, and find my soul”. These days I find that many times, I’m finding not just my soul, but my my mind as well. The woods settle me, balance me.

Take this morning as an example. Like many mornings, I awoke to a brain that was already racing like it was Dale Earnhardt running the Daytona 500. So many things to do, so much to get done. So many worries. There was a time when I would start the work right away, check email, put laundry in, prioritize the to do list, but now I put my socks and shoes on, strap on my sidearm, grab my walking stick, douse myself in bug spray and head out the door. Yes, I said strap on my sidearm. I live in the north woods and share my beloved forest with bears, coyotes and the occasional wolf. My measly 38 won’t do much to harm them, but it will scare them and it will alert my husband that there is a problem and he should probably come check on me.

We had thunderstorms last night, so the grass was damp. It wasn’t long before my shoes and socks were soaked through. The plus side was there were hardly any bugs out, even those annoying little gnats seem to have been washed away. It wasn’t terribly early, 9 a.m., but if you know me, that’s on the early side. When I started walking last spring, it was closer to 11 before I got out the door. Who knows, maybe by the time snow flies I’ll be out by dawn. Anyway, there was still that just rained freshness out. The further back into the forest I get, the more peaceful it feels. Sparkling sequins of raindrops still decorate the edges of the ferns, here and there a crystal rainbow spun by a spider hangs between two trees.

At this time of day in the woods, I can remember that there is still magic in this world. Through the softness of the foliage I see carmel brown, a head lifts up over the raspberry bushes. Mama doe and I meet eyes. We silently watch each other for a few minutes before she flicks her tail at me and quietly walks across the trail, followed by a fawn that still has faint white spots. I curtsy as I pass the “fairy tree” and wish her majesty a good day. I know that the malevolent force that lives near to me is not likely to be out and about in the woods at this time of day, so I don’t need to be afraid. I breathe, I walk, I watch, I admire. I find peace, even if it’s only for a short while. My brain takes a pit stop for refueling. I stop worrying about lawsuits, and loss of family, about people who care more about money than feelings and just appreciate the goodness around me. The way the light filters differently through the leaves on the trees than it does through the ferns. That there’s still a raspberry or two hiding on the bushes here and there. That a very pretty rock sparkles on the path in front of me, like a gem that spilled from a treasure chest.

By the time I return home, I feel balance again. My mind, my heart, my soul are more aligned, better able to face whatever the day will throw at me. The end of the day may see it all askew again, but if I have the courage, I can put on my socks and shoes, pick up my walking stick, and in the still of the morning go into the forest to “lose my mind and find my soul”.

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A New Year

The Christmas decorations are down and put away for another year. The Christmas tree stands out in the backyard, needles still green against the snow, a shelter against winter storms for the birds my dad loves to watch.  We are now in the second month of the new year, and if you have made a New Year’s resolution, chances are it has already been broken.  Not because you haven’t tried, but so often life gets in the way of those noble ideas that we have on the dawn of a new year.  I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions anymore.  Yes, I want to lose weight.  Yes, I want to exercise more.  Of course I want to eat healthier.  Don’t we all? But I’ve made and broken those resolutions more times than I can count.  So, I didn’t make a resolution this year, but I did make a promise to myself.  This year, no matter what, I will rediscover joy.  For you see, somewhere over the last year and a half, I lost it.

This last year has been a difficult one.  There have been many changes in my life.  Some of them have been good, some of them have been bittersweet, and some of them have been downright painful.  On the good side, we completed the move back to my childhood home, to be here for my parents.  I love that we are here, in the same home.  I love to hear them talk, to know that I am here if they need me.  My youngest son graduated from high school with honors, received academic scholarships to college, and is thriving there. I’ve reconnected with friends that I grew up with, and discovered that they are pretty fascinating women.

We’ve had 2 dogs cross over to the rainbow bridge.  My dad’s sweet Maqua and our happy little sweater dog Lucky.  Their loss was and is still painful.  But a new clown joined our circus and Lobo entertains us daily.  Most painful of all have been the struggles of my oldest.  He lost his way, tried to find solace in a bottle, which has only lead to legal troubles and heartache.  I have felt the weight of his mistakes around my shoulders.  I want so badly to “fix” everything for him, and know that I cannot.

And so, while navigating through all the changes, the joy I’ve had in life seems to have gotten away from me.  It’s not in one of the boxes I haven’t unpacked from the move (I looked, there’s nothing labeled joy).  I didn’t leave it in Indiana.  I’m sure it’s here somewhere, but like the box of dress clothes I couldn’t find, I think it will take some looking to find it again.

The promise I made to myself was to find one thing, everyday, that gives me joy.  Whether it’s the sight of a cardinal, red against the falling snow, taking shelter in that old Christmas tree, or a 120 pound puppy chasing his tail, or being ordered around by my 5-year-old grandson, or my husband wrapping his arms around me each day when he comes home, there are things to find joy in.  I just need to look for them. We are meant to have joy in our lives.  I think that there is always some little thing that can give us joy everyday, if only we look for it.  What are ways that you find joy?  When life seems hard, and as gray as a winter’s day, where do you look to find a smile? Leave me a comment – I’d like to know.

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Sunday

It’s peaceful back here this morning.  I’m sitting on the pontoon boat, which is tied to the dock and rocking with the waves.  It’s warm, windy and sunny.  The sky is that particular shade of summer blue, clear and bright, clouds crossing and casting shadows.  They are heavy on the bottom, fluffy on the top.  Somewhere later today they will drop rain.

It’s Sunday.  Church day.  So I’ve come to my cathedral.  Some people feel closest to God inside a building, I am closest to Him here.  The woods are now thick with foliage.  A month ago you could walk through them, off the trails, with ease.  Now brambles grab at your clothes, hidden logs trip you.  It’s easy to imagine Indians lurking among the trees, studying the intruders to their land.  Of course, now the Indians are nephews, and they only attack my sanity occasionally.

There are so many metaphors here for my life.   The water in this lake is so clear.  If you drop a quarter in you can see it at least 25 feet down.  Why can’t life be that clear?    Why can’t I see 25 years ahead and know exactly what I should do in each and every situation?  Life now is more like the forest in summer,  full of  hidden dangers and treasures.  Brambles that catch you,  logs that trip you, wild animals that could attack you at any time.  I’d rather see a bear walking down the path toward me and have time to prepare, than stumble across one by accident.  I would rather see some of life’s troubles ahead of time, than be slammed in the face with them.  There are also hidden treasures.  Crest a hill, and you’ll see an unexpected field of wildflowers, purple, pink and yellow with blue lupine mixed in.  Move a pile of leaves, and you’ll discover neon toadstools standing proudly.

If I close my eyes, lean my head back and am still, I can sometimes hear God speaking.  His voice is in the rustle of the trees, the buzz of the dragonfly, the lapping of the waves.  It says be still my child and I will guide you.  For each trouble you encounter will make you stronger.  I will not give you more to bear than you can handle.  I will help you through them and teach you to pick them off as if they are simply the irritation of ticks.  They may leave a bite, they may leave a mark, but they will only be reminders of what you can overcome.  I will also give you unexpected treasures.  The smile of your grandchildren, the gentle touch of your husband, the laugh of your mother, the joy of spending time with your brothers and sister.

When I come to the woods, when I sit at the water’s edge, I am reminded to listen for his voice and bring stillness to my heart.  For it is in the stillness that I find peace, and the strength to face another day.

 

 

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On Solitude

It’s late at night.  Stars shine clear and bright in the cold winter sky, but it’s warm and cozy here inside.  Fresh from a relaxing bubble bath, wrapped in my husband’s old plaid robe, with a glass of wine sitting on the floor next to me, a small white dog on the other side of me, I watch the lights on the Christmas tree one last time for the season.  Tomorrow, I will take the tree down but for tonight I will admire the small stars of white light as they gleam against the green of the fir-tree.  Tonight is one of those rare occasions when I am alone, and don’t have work that I should be doing.  It’s my youngest’s night with his dad.  My husband is at a management conference.  And while I miss them, I am, surprisingly, content with my solitude.

There was a time when I dreaded being alone.  Being alone meant being lonely.  It often meant that my children were gone, my youngest visiting his father in another state, my oldest off creating a life of his own. Being alone meant being left behind.  It meant no longer being needed.  As life has changed, and I have grown, I have come to appreciate the peacefulness that solitude can bring.

There are many different kinds of solitude.  There is the solitude of a forest, where you are a small part of a vast empire of trees.  There is the solitude of a windswept beach, where you can feel the might of the ocean at your feet.  There is the silence and solitude of a library, where even though you may be surrounded by others, you are still alone with the words on the page in front of you.  Each has a different feel, each fills your heart in a different way.  Sometimes solitude can fill your heart with sadness, and sometimes solitude can fill your heart with peace.

We all need times of solitude in our lives, if even for just an hour or two.  Shut off the phone, turn off the TV.  Shut out the noise of the outside world, and you can discover amazing things.  Solitude can help you de-stress, it can help you see things in your world in a different light.  In the quiet of solitude, you can let your dreams unfold in your imagination, taking you wherever you desire to go.  You have no one you need to satisfy, no others needs you have to consider.  In solitude, it is just you.  For me, solitude is necessary for me to create.  My best writing comes when I am alone, when I don’t feel the pull of responsibility to others.  For a young mother, the solitude of a warm bath, with no one knocking on the door, no cries from the other room, may be enough to restore her tired spirit so that she can nurture those around her.  For the hard-working business man, the quiet of a tree stand may be enough solitude to quiet a racing mind enough to let new ideas and solutions emerge.

I have come to learn that solitude is not loneliness, loneliness is different all together.  You can be lonely in the middle of a crowded room, but solitude can’t exist there.  There is the old cliché “take time to smell the roses”.  I say – take time to appreciate the solitude, and discover what you find there.  I miss my guys when they are not here, but I am not lonely.  I will be so very glad to see them tomorrow when they are home, but for now…I am content with my solitude.

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Sauntering

I saw that today was Happy World Sauntering Day.  Seems like we have a “day” for everything, but I like the sound of this one.  “Sauntering”  has such a nice, lazy feel to it.   According to Websters, saunter is defined as “to walk with a leisurely gait, stroll as in “sauntering through the woods“.   World Sauntering Day originated at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan in the 1970’s .  Of course, that’s a perfect place to saunter.  And of course, the day to celebrate it would have been established in the oh so laid back 70’s!

With the summer sun kissing the grass, and white cotton clouds floating through the sky, it seems a shame to do anything but saunter.  We spend most of our days doing the exact opposite of sauntering.  We hurry and scurry to get somewhere, and then we scurry and hurry to get someplace else.  We run and rush, barely stopping to notice a stoplight, much less really seeing the flowers gaily waving their bright heads from in front of the houses we drive by.  How much more could we see if we sauntered our way through the day?

Sometimes sauntering isn’t appropriate.  My teenager ALWAYS seems to saunter, taking his time doing everything from walking to doing chores which usually drives me crazy.  There are times when I wish he would speed it up.  It’s really not the right time to saunter if you have  somewhere to be and have a short amount of time to get there.  But it wouldn’t hurt any of us to saunter a  bit more everyday, not just today.

It’s hot here today, 90 degrees with no sight of rain.   If I could, today I would saunter down to the pier, and stick my feet in the crystal clear waters of the lake and watch the minnows flit by.  Where would you saunter to?

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Welcome

Daydreams of the Soul.  I was going to call this blog “Musings from the north woods…”, but I think “Musings” gets overused by writers, and I’m not physically in the north woods…yet.  I will be someday, but for now, I live in a Midwest suburban town that at times is Rockwellian.  It has a brick Main Street with shops lining its wide sidewalks, restored Victorian homes and a Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning.  Sure, it has problems as every suburban town has.  We have one of the best school systems in the state, but the schools need more money to maintain the high standards we have come to expect.  Local politics can get as ugly as national politics.  There are kids in the high school who do drugs and drink, but not as many as in an inner city school.  Most people seem to care about their neighbors still.  All in all, it’s a good place to live and raise kids.  Nevertheless, to me, it’s not home.  It’s not where my soul feels settled.

When I am quiet and still, when I let my mind clear of all the daily clutter, my thoughts will always float to a little piece of heaven in Northern Wisconsin.  Surrounded by forest, on the shores of a lake untouched, I rest my head on arms propped up on knees and breathe.  When I am completely stressed, if I close my eyes and concentrate hard enough, my soul can go there, if even for just a little while and when I come back I can go on with what I need to do.    Some days I am there in the spring, with the trillium in bloom.  Sometimes it is fall and I can smell the mustiness of the fallen leaves.  It doesn’t matter what season it truly is, it can be summer but my thoughts will have me standing in knee-deep snow on the path to the back lake.

It will be a couple of years before I spend more than a week or two there at a time.  In the meantime, I will travel there in my thoughts and daydreams, occasionally taking trips to other places that catch my fancy.  In this blog, you can go with me on my wanderings.  Some days it will be about the woods, some days it may just be what I am thinking.  Some days it will be  about my latest book research or the struggles to find the right words.

Welcome to  Daydreams of the Soul.  I hope you enjoy the journey.

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