Tag: Eco-Spirituality

I Was A Leaf Looker This Weekend

I Was A Leaf Looker This Weekend

The sweet smell of balsam fir trees hung in the thick fog. Every droplet that kissed my face seemed to anoint me with Nature’s most amazing scent.

I arrived early at the parking lot at Clingman’s Dome, hopeful for fog. Most people that visit want clear skies for the long-distance views. And they were there at the parking lot, but the top of the mountain was blanketed with cloud cover.

It’s a steep, 1.2 mile walk up to the observation tower made a bit more challenging because I was on Day 2 of my ‘Play Tourist’ weekend. Why I chose this weekend—when the leaf lookers were out in full force—I’m not sure. Maybe I wanted to see color. Perhaps I wanted an excuse to visit my favorite fly fishing store in Townsend. But most likely it was due to the rivers and creeks I fish running very high due to several days of rain. I wanted to let them drop before wading.

So, I got out the Big Mama Nikon and tripod and grabbed a telephoto lens as well as my wide-angle zoom—heavy equipment that I normally don’t hike with and reserve for special photographic endeavors. But the weather was finally rain-free and the temperatures very nice so on Friday I headed to Townsend, through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

I wanted to photograph some of the creeks and rivers since the water level was high. Water…the element that balances me, heals me, directs me back into my soul skin without fail. In my wandering, I had a perfectly timed encounter with three kayakers running a big rapid that’s normally not a kayaking river. After that, I decided to head to another watery place near Cades Cove but traffic was at a stop almost two miles outside of Cades Cove. No thanks. I turned around and went to Townsend.

I’ve been fly fishing since April and over the past month started tying flies, which has opened an entirely new, creatively amazing, journey. Little River Outfitters is where it all began for me and the staff there is beyond amazing. And their store…it feels good just to walk in there. I hadn’t visited their second story which is all fly tying goodies. Threads, equipment, furs, feathers, hooks of every imaginable size and kind and an artist’s dream. Color! Parts and pieces to create small versions of insects, or in my case…insects from Wonderland. Alice would be pleased. I had fun…way too much fun.

A drive back through the park, stopping at beautiful waterfalls and creeks and letting my Nikon play, added more fun to my day as I wound my way up and over the ridge through the park, and finally to my home. A late afternoon walk at my usual trail ended the day beautifully.

Saturday, I intended to go to the Upper Nantahala with the Nikon, but when I got in my car it headed to Clingman’s Dome. I explored the magical, foggy, balsam fir forest on top after the walk up. It felt like I was in another realm, like the fairy dimension opened and invited me to explore. Even though it was early, there were other humans there so I headed down to the parking area to leave before the insane crowd developed. But I got to Forney Ridge Trail and decided…what the heck.

The trail was downhill through beautiful moss-covered rocks and boulders. I was surprised at the number of people on the trail, but it was not nearly as crowded as the main trail. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring a water bottle or put the heavy telephoto lens in the car so I had quite a grueling hike. But it was worth it just for the beauty. There’s something very special about hiking through terrain that’s over a mile high. The trees are different, the air is cooler, and it seems somewhat removed from the chaos of the parking lot and everywhere really.

While I appreciate the opportunity to do short day trips in the national park—it is the most-visited national park in the country—I generally stay away from highly visited tourist areas until January or February, when visitors aren’t as numerous. When I finished my hike and came back to the Clingman’s Dome parking area, there were hundreds of people milling around, walking, blocking the way. It felt like entering a chaotic, alternate reality. I quickly walked to my car, dodging stopped cars waiting for parking spaces, gulped half a large bottle of water and left the chaos. There was a line over a mile in length just to get into the parking area. And cars were parked all along the side of the roadway. I was glad to be headed to my cabin in the woods.

Finally, Sunday dawned chilly and I took a chance to fly fish at my favorite creek. The water was up but running clear. While I couldn’t wade some areas due to high water, it was amazing to be in 51 degree, crisp air, standing in a mountain creek. 

I chose to fish a fly I tied and it was a huge hit with my trout friends. The first cast got a strike. But they carried it underwater without biting the hook…several times. I’ve never fished a fly that got so much attention from trout. One trout even came up under it, opened its big, white mouth, and acted like it was going to take it but then just backed away. It was the best entertainment I’ve had in a long time. It was amazing that something I created brought entertainment to the trout as well. But they didn’t engage in anything but playing with the fly…and that’s okay with me. I saw a couple of mistakes I made in tying it that created a crippled insect appearance. Sometimes they go for a crippled fly, but it probably makes them more suspicious. And our wild trout in the national park are spooky to begin with.

After nearly three hours of wading and standing in the creek, casting a line, and generally losing myself in the non-linear time of Nature, I felt like a reset button had been pressed and I was back inside my soul skin. 

The leaf looker season is just getting started. Today (Sunday) over 2000 people went through the Oconoluftee Visitor Center—I wasn’t one of them. I’ll be seeking the quiet places, the hidden places, and avoiding the crowds and chaos for the next few weeks. But you can bet I’ll be wading and playing with trout and allowing the creeks to keep me in balance.

Elk of the Mists

Elk of the Mists

Before I opened my eyes, I felt the warm breath of the bull elk on my face. I had been dreaming and as I made the slow journey from Dreamtime to waking consciousness, the sensation of elk breath was so real, when I opened my eyes I expected to be face-to-face with a big elk. 

That dream was about a year ago and since then the elk have a direct line to my subconscious mind. And for sure to my heart. This season of rut, if I have a strong sense of elk, I go and they are there. It doesn’t really matter where I go, if I just pay attention to the urge to go somewhere, they show up. Or I show up. However that works.

This morning I felt that call but the fog was very heavy. I figured I would just drive through the area where they are found and go up the mountain for above-fog views. I took my Nikon and tripod so was also ready for flowing water should the fog and sunrise not reveal something fun to photograph. 

When I got to the park there was a bull laying so close to the road I had to stay behind my vehicle. A woman there said he had attacked two vehicles the day before and I wasn’t so worried about my car but I didn’t want to be skewered by his amazing antlers. Nor did I want to stress him.

I moved after I took a few photographs and parked in a more neutral location. He got up and tended to his harem of cows, carefully checking them. But a rival male, one a bit larger, started bugling and within a few minutes was herding out the cows of the bull nearest me, one-by-one, and taking them back to his territory. It was epic elk magic.

Normally photographing in the fog isn’t that great due to lighting and white balance, although sometimes correctable shooting RAW format (which I always do). But today, the fog added to the mystery. The energy of the elk was wild and watching the strength of the bulls as they ran and charged through heavy fog was elementally very pleasing to the senses. But the most haunting of all was (and always is) the bugle. There was a bull across the creek, hidden by trees, but traceable through his loud and high-pitched, with a low rumble, vocalization. To hear answering calls from the others that were immersed in fog, was glorious.

I’m unsure why the elk have chosen to speak to me so deeply. More and more I trust that little intuitive nudge to go-be-with-elk. I’ve never been disappointed. And it’s not that they are always there at other times, when I don’t get the nudge. I go fly fishing and drive through the area a lot and may not see any. For some reason, the elk and I have chosen to connect in the Deep Mystery.

Nature speaks to me through dreams, intuition, and sensory experiences. The more I listen, the more able I am to dance in that realm of wild wonder.

Deep Peace

Deep Peace

It’s a sensation that is birthed at the core of my being and moves through my body and mind. I used to find it diving—being in neutral buoyancy, surrounded by water, contained by an ocean or freshwater spring or underwater cave. But it’s been a while since I’ve been diving…selling a home, moving, the plague has redirected my pursuit of deep peace but it’s still with water.

I walked up the trail a mile and a half before exchanging my trail shoes for fly fishing boots. At some point during the wading and casting I paused, seeking something…what am I missing, I wondered. Within a moment I knew…that deep peace that finds me as I merge into blissful Oneness with creek, rocks, trees, fish. Ah…yes. It will come.

I intentionally slowed my wading, created longer pauses in casting, spent more time watching the surface and soon that delicious feeling began to move through me—the return of a cherished friend.

From the first time I cast a line and watched a rainbow trout wiggle its tail and spit the hook, I knew I was hooked. I have been in the water with humpback whales and photographed them and learned from them. I’ve been with a large pod of wild spotted dolphins that befriended me and played with me, but these trout are no lesser teacher and guide than my cetacean family.

Often while wading I am grateful for my yoga practice that helps strengthen my legs and improve my balance. The rocks are slippery, the water is rushing past, the bottom is uneven, so every experience of fly fishing is a yoga practice…slow movement, balance, breathing, connecting with something greater than myself. 

It can be seductive to analyze it, to categorize it, but the ultimate outcome is that I feel really good after connecting with deep peace. At first, I thought it was the neoprene smell of waders or wading socks that reminded me of diving. And that might be a trigger, but the real reason I love fly fishing so much is that it opens a doorway to profound peace, just like diving. It’s my meditation, yoga, mindfulness and Oneness practice. 

Did You Catch Anything?

Did You Catch Anything?

“Did you catch anything?” How many times did I hear that walking the two miles back on the trail after flyfishing today. I don’t go to catch fish. I mean, not really. I go to surrender to the flow of clear water, feel the push and strength of the current against my legs, breathe the sweet air, watch the sunlight dancing on the surface after the fog clears. Yesterday I saw an otter as I sat on a rock in the middle of the creek. A successful flyfishing experience, for me, is just being there and allowing myself to drop into the rhythm of Nature. 

I cast my line and nymph (an underwater fly) into a beautiful little pool today and a huge trout leaped out of the water and hit my fluffy, white, wool strike indicator (a strike indicator is a flyfishing term for bobber). It was amazing! A bolt of silver and pink exploded and then disappeared. I didn’t catch her but that one strike made the three hours spent on Deep Creek double….no triple special. Fish are a fun part of the experience but I release them anyway and don’t use barbed hooks so most of them slip off before I land them (which is better for the fish so it’s fine with me).

I stumble verbally when people ask me if I caught anything because I am filled with wonder and delight and gratitude after time on the creek. It seems to lessen my experience if I say no, because that one question is all they want to know. It’s a pass/fail exam. Did you or did you not catch fish? 

I generally attempt a quick reply as we’re walking past each other. “No, but wow it was awesome. I had a trout leap out of the water and taste a blob of wool. Yesterday I saw an otter.” They hurriedly walk on giving a polite smile and muttering, “That’s nice.”

After much contemplation—which is considerable on a two-mile hike back to the car—I decided that to keep it simple I would tell the next person that asked, “Did you catch anything?” a quick, affirmative answer. I got my chance a few minutes later when a guy asked and I said, “Yes! It was amazing!!” and he replied with a shocked look, “REALLY!!!!???” I wanted to ask him, Why are you so surprised? Surely women catch fish in your reality.

And I didn’t really lie. I caught a tree limb, two blobs of leaves, my flyfishing boot, a submerged limb. Heck, I caught a LOT of stuff today. But mostly I caught peace…more peace that I have felt in a very long time.

I want to be able to express my utter joy of the experience of wading, sitting on rocks, casting a line, watching a trout magi elder burst forth from her pool…all of that is as good as catching a fish. With no exception. Now I know why they say people that fish are liars. Don’t make us lessen the experience by asking such a loaded question because to keep it simple we’re gonna say, Why I sure did. And boy was it a whopper!

I haven’t really come up with a quick and easy response to the dreaded-question but I look forward to spending much more time contemplating it as I wade the creeks and rivers around the mountains of Western North Carolina. If you see me just ask, “How’s it going?” That’s a much easier question to answer…. “FABULOUS!”

Reason to Stay

Reason to Stay

A month ago I met my granddaughter. She was born during the plague and circumstances kept us physically apart for over 18 months. This was especially difficult because my daughter’s announcement of her pregnancy gave me a reason to be present in an increasingly chaotic world. A grandchild, like all children, needs every possible adult to be present and bring forth her or his gifts. This was reason to stay, not only stay but really engage with life in a deeper way.

I’ve wanted to write about our meeting, of connecting with my daughter, son-in-law and Max but a long string of events happened that kept me from sitting down with my thoughts…a new job, facial surgery, a flood that severely damaged nearby areas and trying to regain balance in everyday life with the plague roaring through our world again. Finally, two podcasts opened the door to the inner space and ideas that have been working within me so I could put words to the experience.

During those long months of not meeting her, I longed to whisper into her ear…I love you Max. It was on a ride to the local farmer’s market in Michigan that Max and I connected in that place where the mantle of elder hood was gently laid on my shoulders. We didn’t need to say anything. In the backseat we made eye contact and I signed…. I LOVE YOU. She was taught basic sign language and every time I signed…. I LOVE YOU….she did the sign for ‘more.’ In those precious moments, on the inner I asked her how she was….a bit confused, hard to not be able to communicate what I know…frustrating. Through my eyes I told her it was okay and she had awesome parents to help her…and I also reminded her to remember….remember…that place she had come from and to which she still accesses. 

It felt important to make that connection with this beautiful soul. My granddaughter. My daughter’s daughter. You are loved. You are loved. You are loved.

After documenting the Gulf Oil Spill for a year, I came out of that experience very bitter and emotionally shut down. A week spent with Joanna Macy in one of her workshops helped but I couldn’t accept pleasure into my life when so much horror happened and people so easily turned away once the well was capped. No matter how much I told the story, through words, videos and images, people had moved on to the next thing. Forgetting the lesson citizens of the planet could have learned had they chosen. So I began focusing my work on beauty. Perhaps that would capture the attention and lead people to care more.

Back when Em told me she was expecting a baby, I had lost interest in trying any more. I was disgusted with humanity and felt it didn’t matter what I did, it wasn’t making enough of a difference to make a dent in the ecological horrors happening. But there was a child coming into the world that needed me to re-engage with my passion for Nature. To step back into That which called me here when I was born. I couldn’t abandon her to the raging insanity of the world. I had to give my all…for her.

It’s hard to care, isn’t it? We see such suffering, such indifference, such insanity and wonder how it could have gotten this bad. It takes effort to remain engaged with what’s happening and stay open to beauty as the two seem to be opposites. But maybe we’re supposed to learn how to find beauty in a broken world…The tender touch of a nurse to a patient dying alone because of Covid. The person picking up trash along the road. The animal rescuer feeding a tiny, abandoned kitten. Perhaps our growing edge as a society is to see beauty within the ugly, to find points of light in the darkness. 

My granddaughter reminded me, even before she was born, that the gifts I have are needed, that my light is needed. Maxine calls me to be my best self, to forgive my mistakes, and to fully engage in the work that calls me.

The day after I learned my daughter was expecting, I saw an otter with two babies on my morning bike ride. I stopped on the boardwalk and listened as she called them and they answered. Otter. That was what I called her until she was birthed and given her human name. Otter, in traditional wisdom, is Woman’s medicine and represents playfulness, laughter, creativity. Maxine’s birth reminds me to embrace this Medicine. She, like all children, are our greatest teachers.