It’s Not a Box-Check Life

It’s Not a Box-Check Life

Last night I was talking on the phone with my mother and telling her about going back to Cataloochee Valley this morning to visit the elk. She asked me why in the world I would want to keep going back after seeing them once or twice. As I drove through dense fog in the darkness before dawn this morning, I thought about her question.

Why do I return to see the elk? Or have in-water encounters with humpback whales…three weeks over three different years? Or visit favorite dive destinations over and over again? 

As I pondered her question it was like…why do I breathe? Just because I did it once…

First, to share breathing space with a massive bull elk or a sweet baby, still sporting spots in its shaggy fur or be close to a huge cow elk peacefully munching grass reminds me I am part of the whole, not the alpha or the better or wiser. I am part of Oneness. And secondly…it’s just so freaking amazing! To feel…yes, feel!… the eerie bugle call of bull elks echoing through the valley is one of the coolest things ever. And thirdly…how could I possibly get tired of the continuing saga of which bull will keep what cows and who will challenge who and will I get to witness their meeting? Or will that once-in-a-lifetime encounter yield an image that will touch people’s hearts?

The first time I was in the water with a massive humpback whale I wasn’t sure how I would feel because they are wild and huge and I’m a speck compared to them. What I felt was communion, like coming home to myself. My heart opened and my entire being melted into bliss. And it happened every single time, every single year. I even meditated with humpbacks in the water and did yoga under stars while whales surrounded the boat but, that’s for another post. How could I possibly find that boring? Or ho-hum? No matter how many times I did it? When something touches my heart it opens me to a great sense of life…of being alive!

Even the walks at Deep Creek, a part of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, never feel boring and I walk there three or four times a week. There’s water flowing everywhere, trees, wildflowers, hummingbirds, butterflies, bears, snakes, rocks, rocks and more rocks and waterfalls and trails varying in difficulty from easy to challenging. When I walk in Nature I walk into a living Universe and I always experience these walks with wonder and awe.

As I was walking from the far end of Cataloochee Valley today, loaded down with camera backpack and tripod, I realized I can never be happy working inside for very long. The thought of a full-time, indoor job crushes my joy. As my hiking boots splashed through a creek, through mud and lush grass I had the realization that to honor myself I needed to spend time each day outdoors. It wasn’t a new realization at all but after several days of working indoors, at a part-time job, it was a good reminder.

I’m not ‘me’ in an office. I am most myself when the wind plays with my hair, the frost crunches underfoot, I’m nose-to-nose with a spotted dolphin or fluke to finger with a humpback whale, or when I have my telephoto lens filled with a massive bull elk bugling his powerful voice throughout the valley. Or the dawn shows me how lovely it is to be quiet and observe the mountains enshrouded with fog.

When I open myself to Nature I am at home in my skin; I feel a deep sense of place. For every wild animal that has honored me by allowing me to commune with it, photograph it and write about it…Thank you! You enrich my life with every encounter.

I’m not the kind of person that has a list of things to do in my life and once done move to the next thing. I live my life listening to wild creatures and places that call to my wild heart and will do my best to show up when I hear the call…no matter how many times they whisper my name.

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