Outdoorsy Part V: Many Parks Are One Park

Post Tropical Storm Isaias on another rainy morning, Capt. and I decided it was a good day to go hiking again. The plan was Blydenburgh, which seems to be the middle of the Greenbelt. I got there and found it closed. I remembered that I had the Parks By Me app, so I searched and found Caleb Smith was nearby. We met there at the locked gates. Another park down. Capt. was like, “You wanna go to Nissequogue? I know it’s open.” And that’s how we decided to take a hike along the mighty Nissequogue and whatever else we could find that was open.

Because there’d been storms, getting there proved to be a puzzle. Trees were still down everywhere. Fortunately, the park was open and the rain was letting up. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of construction going on, and the only bathroom was a portapotty. My need to pee outweighed my aversion to moveable toilet rooms, so I held my breath, whined a lot, and succeeded in not giving myself a UTI. Then we were off! (Yes, I practically bathed in hand sanitizer).

Because there’d been storms, I was on high alert for tree branches coming down. Capt. was like, “They cleared the paths.” I was like, “There can still be falling branches.” Here’s how that works: Tall trees have lots of branches, and if a high branch falls, it could land on the lower branches, and then it teeters until an unsuspecting little lady walks under it, and then blam! Lady down.

That scenario did not play out thankfully. Instead, our hike took us to the beach.

ONCE MORE WITH FEELING: WE WERE IN THE WOODS AND THEN WE WERE AT THE BEACH!!! Gotta love Long Island.

The first thing I saw as we made our way to the river shore was an army of hermit crabs scurrying from the water into the high grass. [Note: I learned after posting a short clip in my Instagram story that they were fiddler crabs, not hermit crabs, and that I might enjoy a field trip with Professor Zito when he looks at marine life. Instagram is a wealth of information. P. S. I do not know who Professor Zito is.] I told the crabs they didn’t have to run away, but they did not listen to me. Then I pointed out to the captain that we were near water and rocks.

Here’s the third installment of Christina Skips Rocks.

Capt. handed me a rock. He was like, “I guess I’ll go first so you can see how low I get to the water.”

I was like, “My entire life is low to the water, Captain.”

Fair point.

He skipped a rock, and it jumped twice and sank. I threw a rock, and it kerplunked. Round 1: Unsuccessful.

He skipped a rock, and it jumped twice and sank. I threw a rock, and it jumped once and sank.

Let me say that again: I skipped a friggin rock!!!!!!!!! I did it!!!!!!!!

The two of us kind of stared at each other for a moment. Then he congratulated me, and I did a happy dance. Then I was like, “You know I can never skip a rock again, right? Like, I did it, and now that’s it for me.” I was like this when my brother and I won music trivia as Sip This. The host was like, “You have to keep coming,” and I was like, “Nope, we’re going out on a high note.” We kept going to trivia. I did win another time. So here on the beach, I decided to give it another go.

Let’s say that Round 3 proved unsuccessful.

From the beach, we went to the bluff. We stopped for snacking and watched the fishermen. Along with the fishermen were four young boys doing what young boys do. At one point, three of them were right near me waving around a detached fish head. I pulled my mask tighter around my face; forget germs–fish heads smell. From below on the pier came “Boys, get down here!” and then, “Sorry, you can yell at them.” The guy in charge of the boys wrangled them back and then continued to scold them every few moments for the next few minutes until they decided to calm down and fish again.

From the bluff, we went to the woods. From the woods, we went to the beach. From the beach, we went to the bluff. And then somehow we wound up back on the path where the crabs were. I have no idea how we did it, which is why I don’t hike on my own. Since we were on the beach again, we gave rock skipping another go. I skipped another one! We ended on a high note.

On the other side of the park is the closed down mental institution that is now a park. We walked that, looking at the abandoned buildings and taking in more downed trees. Because I didn’t think I could face another portapotty moment, we walked to the library and used their bathroom. Their song of choice for hand washing is “Over the Rainbow,” and the sign says to sing it twice. I wasn’t even through the first few lines when I knew I’d already hit twenty seconds, so either they don’t know the tempo of Judy Garland’s melodious tune, or they are aiming for a super long hand washing session. Outside, we passed a garden, and I snapped a butterfly landing and leaving. I also made a new friend.

Then we saw a dinosaur. On the way back through the mental institution grounds, I thought I was seeing things at first. I saw what looked like a T-Rex bobbing its head around. Finally, after squinting and doing my best to decipher what was happening, I said to the captain, “Hey, what do you see up ahead?” And he was like, “That’s a dinosaur.” If this had been one of those heat wave days, I would have chalked it up to hallucinating, but the two of us were both hydrated and well. We were indeed seeing a dinosaur.

I’ve been manifesting things lately. My energy and the world’s energy is totally in sync. Case in point: on one of my walks, I was mentally composing a text message to someone I hadn’t seen in a while. A few moments later, she appeared on the path walking towards me. Yeah, I know. Trippy, right?

So a little bit before the dinosaur sighting, Capt. and I were talking about Old Bethpage Village. I was like, “Adults in costume sometimes make me uncomfortable.” Then I described the hierarchy of discomfort. The most egregious are the characters with the big heads that don’t say anything (Mickey Mouse at Disney; the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup at Hershey Park). Under that are people in costume who never break character, not even for a second (the knights at Medieval Times; colonials in every colonial village).

Now here I’d gone and done it again. I’d manifested myself a dinosaur. Had I been alone, I would’ve backtracked and circumnavigated the park back. And I would’ve gotten lost doing so, and it would have been worth not being near the dino. Since Capt. was there, I didn’t think he’d want to take the trip, so we gave the dino a wide berth as we passed by.

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Then we debated a bit about the kayak plan. I have this plan that I want to sit in a kayak on land before the summer ends. There’s a long explanation behind this desire that I can explain another time. We saw below us at the water people near some kayaks. The launch where we were was roped off, so to get to the guy, we’d have to drive somewhere. I was like, “That’s too much kayak effort.” So Capt. decided to let it go for now. However, he’s been kayaking, and he may be able to hook a gal up with one. On land. With a life vest. Because as much as this gal is learning to love nature, this gal is also still highly aware of all the dangers that are the reason it’s taken so long to get out in nature. I like being alive. I plan to keep it that way for a while longer. Which is why I wore appropriate attire to ward off slipping and lyme disease. I even put on a hat.

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Oh, also, happy birthday, capt.

Outdoorsy Part IV: Caumsett As An Adult

Fifth grade meant an overnight field trip to Caumsett. Sixth grade meant an entire week of overnights to Ashokan. Bits and pieces roll around in my brain, both trips melding into one because they both concerned nature and both made me feel awkward. To be fair, everything made me feel awkward. To be fair, lots of things still do.

Here’s what I remember that I’m pretty sure is Caumsett.

  • Sitting in a big room with a fireplace, listening to a man in a thick off-white crocheted sweater who was holding a replica of a baby alligator
  • Being on the beach, watching the man, who had black curly locks to his shoulders, lick his finger and smear a rock, and then show how the rock became paint
  • Going outside in the dark, sitting on the grass, looking up at the stars as the man shone a super-powered flashlight up to point to each one as they made constellations–and then hearing the story of how the stars were made:
    • Something about a dark blanket being put over the earth, probably because humans were doing something terrible, or maybe the animals were being naughty. Then the birds flew up and tried to take it down, creating holes because their beaks weren’t strong enough to pull it. The holes allow light to come through. These are stars.
      • Recently, I wrote a poem trying to express this sentiment. I don’t think it comes across at all. I don’t think the poem has any birds in it.
  • Ticks. Grassy land has ticks. Let’s all be aware of the ticks. They can cause disease. If you see a tick, light a match, blow it out, put the tip to the tick, burn it, lather it in Vasoline, and then pluck it out with long tweezers.
    • This means that I’ve known about ticks since I was in fifth grade, so everyone can stop telling me about the ticks. They are the reason I haven’t ventured into nature all these years. (Okay, one of the many reasons).

Up until recently, I thought of Caumsett as a magical land, far far away, nestled in my childhood memories somewhere between coloring a Snoopy cartoon in kindergarten and receiving a dictionary on graduation night in the sixth grade. It was a place of wonder in nature far out there.

Then my brother brought up riding in Caumsett. I was like, What do you mean? He was like, I ride my bike there. I was like, What are you saying? He was like, You do know Caumsett is on Long Island, right? I was like,  ? ? ? ?  He was like, Caumsett is on Long Island; you can drive there. I. Was. Floored.

It’s taken a few years more, but I’ve found a hiking adventure buddy willing to put up with my tiptoeing into the land of tick-infested-tall-grasses and penchant for needing snacks and clear path to a bathroom wherever we go. I’m a fortunate gal.

Sidenote: I’m now incredibly aware that my first question to anyone whenever they ask me to go somewhere is, What about bathrooms? I have no idea when this new habit started, but I think it’s a pandemic thing. I drink a lot of water. I have already peed in one plastic container out in a park because there were no bathrooms. I’d do it again. However, I’d rather do it in a toilet, unless that toilet is the equivalent to the Trainspotting bathroom. P. S. The bathroom at Robert Moses comes pretty close to that one. Now this sidenote has taken a turn towards full tangent, so let’s get back to Caumsett, A Childhood Jaunt Turned Adult Realness.

We met at Caumsett after my GPS took me past it. Getting there proves to be an interesting venture because you get to a point north on Long Island until you need to go across this little two lane thingamajig out in the water. Then you wind around and there are mansion-like houses and then the park that the GPS doesn’t recognize. I found the bathroom. Best bathroom I’ve seen in any park hands down! (See? Bathroom Awareness is a thing). Then I handed the Captain the map and was like, This piece of paper means nothing to me.

By the way, I call him the Captain after one of his characters in a story he was working on. Also, he can kayak, so, he’s like a captain for real.

Sidenote that literally just popped into my head: When I was planning my wedding, we found a guy who was a captain with whom I became obsessed. I totally wanted to have the ceremony officiated by a captain. That captain was busy the day we planned to get married. Then that captain kept emailing us about how he might be able to work it out. He had two weddings planned that day already, but he for some reason became reverse- obsessed with us. We stopped answering his emails and settled on Judy. Judy was the best. And now I’m divorced. Not Judy’s fault. The End.

The captain took us into the walled garden and remarked at how the garden didn’t really have much color. Being the height of summer, I suggested that maybe there were more bloomy things happening in the spring.

Out of the garden, we walked past the horsefly dragonfly things that I literally gasped at. We found raspberries. Okay, he found raspberries. I was like, Those are raspberries!?!? I see them all the time! Can they be eaten? He was like, Yes, you can eat a raspberry. He plucked a red one, washed it off with his water, and ate it. I was astonished. It’s as if I were back in fifth grade seeing the magical land of Caumsett for the first time.

We found a building that was maybe called the garage house. It looked abandoned but some sort of unit was chugging along inside the first floor. I wanted to climb the steps to the top, but I thought better of it, figuring if any of those large bugs came at me, I’d fall to my death while trying to swat them. Capt decided to give it a shot, so afterwards, I did, too. I expected great views, but mostly, I could see only the other part of the building and lots of trees.

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We went around the building out to the back and Oh. Meee. Oh. Myyy. I grabbed my head, both hands on either side, stunned. The hill we were on was high and rolled down to a pond. Beyond that, the water went out way back to meet the sky. I couldn’t stop saying how pretty it was. Then from behind, I heard, You’re looking at Connecticut. An older man and a woman arrived behind us. I was like, Connecticut is beautiful!

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Then Capt and I walked down the hill. I stopped to look back. (I did not turn into a pillar of salt. That’s a joke for all you myth-joke-enthusiasts). Up on the hill, the house reached towards the sky behind it. I did a happy dance. Everything kept being pretty.

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Except the bugs. The dragon horse fly things that I’d panicked about before flew around the path by the pond. There were dozens of dozens. I repeated aloud many times, They aren’t real. They aren’t real. They aren’t real.

See? This is why I’ve always turned down offers to go hiking and camping. I know myself. For anyone who’s a nature person, like a real true camper hiker one with nature person, my behavior isn’t cute. It’s juvenile and annoying. I can’t help it. It’s my reaction to all things creepy and crawly. I don’t think these things will kill me, but I also don’t like them.

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There weren’t too many in the little path under the trees to the water, so we went there and watched some fish jump up through the surface and splash back down. There were birds. There were flies. Capt talked about the British. This is very similar to the conversations I have with my brother when we go on Sibling Adventures. He tells me the history of a place, and I respond with, I totally did not know that.

We walked the rest of the path down to the beach. [They aren’t real. They aren’t real.] Yet again, Long Island does its thing. We were in the woods. Then we’re at the beach. How does that even happen? It gets me every time.

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This beach has rocks because it’s the North Shore. That means it was time for the second installment of Christina Skips Rocks. Capt skipped a few, one leaping no less than five times before going under. I basically threw a rock into the water. Then he showed me how to hold it better. I held it differently and instead of kerplunking straight down, it went diagonally into the water, splashing straight to the bottom. He suggested I do a windup like a pitcher in baseball and then was like, Just throw it, like a ball. Explaining that when I throw things, they don’t go where I want them to, I threw a rock into the water as if I were throwing a ball. He was like, Yeah, so you do have the power to throw. That was never the question. I’m quite mighty. I simply have no skillz in aim.

I tried a few more times. I managed to throw a rock straight behind me onto the sand. Then I threw one in the opposite diagonal, which I have no idea how that happened because if my momentum is going left, how does the rock go right. Then I did another and it almost skimmed the water before drowning. The beach has many rocks. We could have stayed all day. Instead, I was like let’s do those little rock tower things.

The proper term is cairn. He’d never built one. I was surprised because he’s been on rocky shores all his life and can skip rocks. How could he never have built one? So we built them. Mine wobbled until I realized my bottom rock wasn’t built for foundation work. He built a mini-fort because he understands rocks.

In the shade, we took a break so I could eat a snack and we could both look at maps I’d bought from the Greenbelt hiker people. They are more maps with lines that I don’t quite understand. We also watched a few people arriving to enjoy the beach in beachy ways like tanning, picnicking, and swimming. One woman lay belly-down on a boulder in the water and made swimming motions with her arms and legs. This is my kind of swimming and next time, I’m going to suit up and dive in. Only I’m not going to do that because now I’m remembering there are animals in the water and so no thanks.

Capt was like, I think the path goes up there. I was like, there are people on the beach that way, so there must be a path there, too. He decided to follow my suggestion and keep walking on the beach. After a really really long walk and still not arriving to where the people were, I was like, You should know that when I make a suggestion that concerns anything about directions or spatial situations, you need to veto it. He was like, Good to know. We finally came out to some fisherman road that people drive on and took to walking it back.

I thought I didn’t like the big dragon horse flies, but I started wishing for them as we made our way down this new path. It was like walking through a wall of gnats. We didn’t stop waving our arms the whole time. We stopped to put on another layer of deet to no avail. He veered us off to another path under different trees. For a few moments, it was better, but then, flies flies flies. So. Gross.

Thankfully, he can read a map and has a good sense of direction. We saw buildings. I get excited when I see buildings because that means we made it. Of course, I checked out the bathroom again, and we ate some more food. I kept happy dancing. The park is such a pretty place.

Then we hopped in our cars and drove down the road to Target Rock. There’s another history lesson here. Something about the British again. I’m pretty sure they would shoot at the big rock in the water for target practice. In the distance beyond the water, I was mesmerized by the smokestacks out in Northport. Something about smokestacks and electricity scaffolding sends me reeling.

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Also sending me reeling, in a different way, was when Capt was like, Oh, there’s a tick on my sneaker. He flicked it off. I jumped up yelling, Tick Check Tick Check! And then proceeded to scour every inch of cloth and skin I could see. No ticks. And that’s when my bikini top closure snapped in half and my top fell off. This is how I hike.

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We hadn’t visited Target Rock in fifth grade, so that was brand new. Caumsett now is a bit different from fifth grade Caumsett. The brick of the buildings, the red ink rocks, the tall yellowing grass, that’s all the same. Actually, it’s probably mostly the same. I’ve changed, not nature. I’m more inclined to actually go out into it. I actually enjoy it.

P. S. I wore knee high socks. Because of ticks. Quit your worrying.

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Outdoorsy Part III: Bear Mountain

About three years ago at Mind Over Madness: Summer Solstice Yoga In Times Square, I stood in a short line having arrived pretty early for my time slot to practice. Next to me and then in front of me and then behind me and then again next to me was a man who clearly was not there for yoga and was clearly high on something. I kept my nose in my book. Then a woman arrived behind me and wasn’t sure where to stand since this man was fidgeting between being in line and being on the other side of the barrier. I took my nose out of my book and stage whispered, I don’t think he’s on line. And that’s how I met my yoga gal pal. We chatted about yoga and working out and all other fun kinds of things. We put our mats next to each other and practiced together. We waved at ourselves as we were broadcast on the big screen overhead. We went through the yoga village together, and then we parted ways, saying that we’d get together again soon.

Big Screen

That was the year of my yoga teacher training. I had every intention of getting together again soon, but my hip labra had other intentions. Remember that time I couldn’t walk or sit up for two days?Yeah, that was fun. And then the next few years were all jacked up for various reasons including but not limited to death and disappearances.

This year is also jacked up (in case you haven’t noticed). I started having a really good year the second half of last year, and this year started out with such tremendous promise. Then the virus. Then the riots. Then the heartbreak. Then the descent into the deep dark times of Christina’s mind.

A really shining light are all the folks I know who radiate positivity. A lot of my yoga friends do just that. Scrolling through Insta, I saw my summer solstice yoga gal pal yet again posting something vibrant and fun, so I messaged her, told her I was down in the dumps, thanked her for being so positive all the time. She instantly messaged back–let’s get together soon.

Three years and a few rain dates in the making, we met up at Bear Mountain State Park. The sky shone gray, the mountain shone green, and we headed out to climb to the top. At first, we went down to go up, which we thought we had to do. Then we wound up on a road, so we went back to the parking lot booth attendant who pointed us in the opposite direction. I’ll reiterate that I’m directionally challenged and have no shame in it.

We had a choice of trails. We opted for the one where we wouldn’t have to bear crawl and scramble. This alternative is basically giant steps built into the mountainside. This is why the overcast sky was a plus. Climbing those steps in blazing sun would be more difficult. We climbed in humidity and heat, which was enough.

There were a lot of people on the trail in certain pockets, but for the most part, it was empty. Probably because we started out around 8:30 AM. This is my kind of hang. I love early. We took a little over an hour to get to the top. We’d stopped at certain points to look out over the landings and take in everything far and wide. The sun peeked out at times, so the rays came through like literal beams. Spectacular.

Then we made it to the top. Wind whipped up from time to time. Otherwise, it was so peaceful. Forget the mountain. We were on top of the world.

We sat for a while, and then it started getting crowded for real, mostly because it was getting to be later. Heading down, we encountered so many more people. It’s interesting sharing a path with people because some don’t want to lose momentum going up but going down is hard to stop momentum. We also noted the variety of clothing choices some hikers had made. I’m not sure why you would want to hike in a dress (my friend was like, It’s a photo op, and I was like, yeah you’re totally right). 

It was about noon, so we headed to Peekskill to a coffee shop that we couldn’t find. We found Bean Runner Cafe that had a back patio so we could eat outside. That was a score. Their menu is Olympics themed, and as we all know, I love me some Olympics. Another plus was that the other people on the patio finished up as we got our food, so we had the place all to ourselves. Another plus–the food and coffee were delicious.

Next door was Third Eye Arts Studio and Gallery.  We popped in, and the artist, Nadine Gordon-Taylor, showed us the artwork and said we could pull cards from her deck, too. This was our kind of gallery. Also, there was a Rumi quote on the door. Soooo much our kind of gallery. We each found a piece of art we loved. Then my friend pulled a card. The artist read what it meant. Everything about the card was everything we’d been talking about during lunch. Trippy.

Then I pulled a card. I’d been torn between two pieces of artwork. The card I chose was the other piece of art I’d been torn over. Trippy again.

We each got a piece of artwork plus a business card that had a mini version of the card art we’d pulled. This was a huge score. She’d told us how she had been running events in a loft for year that were now on hold. I told her I’d love to do a reading there, and so we all exchanged information. This is how to network during a pandemic. Hike up a mountain, go get coffee and lunch, and then stumble upon a groovy gallery.

In yoga, everything works out as it does. That’s all there is to it. So this day up on a mountain unfolded as a much needed perfect day for sure.

Outdoorsy Part II: Jayne’s Hill, Sibling Adventures Edition

Sibling Adventure Time!

On a previous Sibling Adventure, my brother and I thought we’d find Jayne’s Hill when we went to see some other hills. We didn’t find Jayne’s Hill. This time, the main mission was Jayne’s Hill. Again, we almost didn’t find Jayne’s Hill.

Jayne’s Hill is the highest point on Long Island. It’s in the middle of the woods up a rocky trail out in Huntington accessible by a park that has a dog park and also accessible at some other pathway somewhere else. I’m a wealth of knowledge concerning all things geography. The path is shared by horses, dogs, and hikers. And bugs. Lots and lots of bugs. Also, I do not know why it is called Jayne’s Hill.

We figured we’d be able to meet up mid-morning, hike up, hike down, and be done by noon so that he could go meet his friend for lunch and I could meet T and D at the picnic tables next to the dog park for lunch, too.

We should have known this plan might have had some flaws when I was able to find the parking lot and he wasn’t. He called and was like, I’m in a parking lot with horses. And I was like, You need to go South or North or East or West, like keep going up or down the road you were coming from. Again, so helpful with spatial navigation. However, it worked! He found me, and we found the trail, and away we went!

Then we were done! After maybe ten minutes, we wound up walking in a circle back out to where we began. We had not gone up to any recognizable elevation. We looked at each other quizzically. Then we saw a sign that said Main Path. Oh! We hadn’t been on the Main Path. Let’s take the Main Path.

The Main Path was much like the short path we’d just taken, only steeper with more rocks and sand and dirt and ditches and mud and bugs. We spent much of the time swatting our arms in front of our faces even though we’d already sprayed on our bug spray. I was covered in layers of sun screen, bug spray, and sweat. And now dirt because that’s what sticks to you when you’ve slathered things on your skin.

We noticed that there were some signs and blazes, but none of them really told us where to go or where we might be headed. We’d read about following the white hashes, so we tried to do that. Every time there was a fork in the path, we took the one that seemed to go more up because Jayne’s Hill is up. You can’t get more up than Jayne’s Hill. How many times can I say Jayne’s Hill?

We found some fantastic views. We were up high. Like super high. We had to be close.

I mentioned that none of this path looked like the path the guy on the video took to get to the rock at the top. A PhD student put together a hike on Zoom for Walt Whitman Birthplace Association (you know, the place that named me Long Island Poet Of The Year? Yeah, them). I watched some of the hike to get the lowdown on Whitman–a quote from his poetry is on a plaque on a boulder at the top of the hill, and come to think of it, how did the boulder get up there? I guess nature put it there. Anyway, the hike we were on did not look like the hike the PhD guy was on.

Then suddenly we were down low and back in the dog park. We hadn’t seen Jayne’s Hill, yet we’d hiked for about an hour. This is why the path didn’t seem like the one on the video. It simply was not the one on the video.

There are a few maps near the gate of the dog park, so we checked those out. They were nearly indecipherable, but I took a picture of them because the sign said to take a picture of them. We headed back to the starting path to try again.

And that’s where we found a sign that said Jayne’s Hill. This would have been very helpful had we seen it the first time around. What had happened was after we did the two minute walk in a circle, we were at an angle where we saw Main Path instead of Jayne’s Hill. Now that we skipped the walk in a circle, we found the sign. Hooray, we were going to see the highest point of LI after all. Also, the sign does not have an apostrophe, so maybe it’s supposed to be Jaynes Hill, but I’m not about to change how I’ve been writing it. And maybe the sign is wrong.

We came across a hiking man who seemed to be coming down from up high, so I asked him, Do you know if this is the way to Jayne’s Hill? He was like, I think so; I got up to the top and saw a giant rock and planned to ask my kids if I made it. I was like, Yes, congrats, that’s it! He was like, Thanks! Then he told us when we come to a blaze that has two hashes, take the one that’s higher up. Good to know!

Every time we came to a new blaze with a fork in the path, we took the one that was higher up. We were gaining momentum. We were fighting the bugs. We were drenched with sweat. We came across some pink spray-painted plants, and then some gnarly roots. We passed by high grass on the narrowest part, and I was making the kind of noises you make when you’re 5 and don’t like the taste of the medicine that will cure your ear infection (the bottle says it tastes like banana-strawberry, but really it tastes like chalky sidewalk). My brother was like, it’s grass. I was like, we have to do a tick check. He was like, yeah, okay, but it’s just grass.

Then we came to the steps. There are 43 steps to get up to the top, and so we climbed 43 steps. At just about the top, we saw the top of a round object. The boulder!

Sidenote: One of my favorite lines from any movie is the line from Shreck when Donkey says, “That is a nice boulder.” I laugh every time, and I don’t know why.

My brother was like, Go ahead, this is your thing. Awwww! Gleeful, I climbed the last few steps and made it to the top with him in close tow. There we were, finally at the top of the highest point of Long Island, Jayne’s Hill. There were Whitman’s words emblazoned on a plaque embedded into a large rock.

We stayed for a short while to take it all in and also to rest before the trek down. I’d texted T and D to let them know I’d be a few minutes late. Having taken the Main Path, we were a bit behind schedule.

A bit behind turned into a lot behind. You see, we had an easy time going up because the random man told us how to read the hashes. Going down, we got confused. Do we still follow the up, or do we now follow the down? Also confusing is the fact that the map, which I took a picture of as instructed, did not match anything in the woods. There were signs for trails like the Green Fence Trail and Kissenger Trail. The map showed Chipmunk Trail and Deep Laurel Trail. None of this lined up.

We walked in circles. We went up and down. We double-backed. At one point, my brother was like, There’s the parking lot. I looked to where  he was pointing down and over the side and was like, That is a parking lot, but it’s not the one where we parked. Then he was like, I think I hear a horse, so we must be close to the end. I was like, No, that’s a rooster.

Sidenote: As much as my brother loves being outdoors, especially riding his bike and taking stunning photos, he’s a city boy. He gives tours of NYC. So, like, horse versus rooster really isn’t something he would care too much about.

Then we found the neon graffiti. My left-right confusion kicked in. Which way do we go? Which way did we come from? We took one way, couldn’t find white blazes, and came back. We took another way, couldn’t find white blazes, and came back. Finally, I retraced the steps for maybe a third time and finally understood what he meant when he was pointing us in a different direction. I was like, Oh! We’ve gotta go up to go down again! He was like, Yeah, that’s what I’ve been saying.

Still, I know the difference between neighing and crowing.

We made progress quickly until we came to a spot that had maybe five different paths to choose. Thank goodness I’d stopped that guy to ask directions at the beginning because I remembered this is where I’d asked him. We knew where to go. Then we found a tree we’d had to scramble over. And then, we found the path out of the woods, just in time for me to wave across the picnic area at T and D who’d started lunching, and just in time for me to run to the bathroom because for the last half hour, I’d had to pee so bad that three times I thought about poppin’ a squat despite the tick and bug infestation in the woods. (My brother: Why didn’t you pee before we started? Me: I did. My brother: Then why do you have to pee again? Me: I’m a woman.)

No ticks. All sweat. Lots of dusted up dirt. Some Whitman. Lots of good memories. Another sibling adventure day done right.

Jayne's Hill July 9 (17)

Outdoorsy Part I: Sunken Meadow

I’ve got a summer wish list that I’ve been checking things off of like a woman on a mission who must get all these things done before the bus explodes. You know, like Sandra Bullock in Speed but without Keanu Reeves and without a bus. The reason I’ve been mission-izing my wish list dawned on me in a moment of clarity while microblogging: I’m trying to prove that I can have a fun time on my own without the help of anyone else, thank you very much, so you [most recent guy who broke my heart] can suck it hard. This moment of clarity allowed me to discover the following:

  1. No one ever said I couldn’t have a fun time on my own or with someone. No one ever accused me of not being fun.
  2. I’m having a fun time, so trying to create vengeance through fun seems nonsensical, and takes some of the fun out of the fun.
  3. No one needs to suck anything, hard, soft, or otherwise.

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Most items on my wish list involve nature. I’ve never considered myself a nature girl. Here I am in the summer of quarantine, visiting every state park I can with a handy Empire Pass in my back pocket. Something about lockdown brings out the need for nature. Also, Long Island is beautiful, and I want to explore it, especially since travel is out of the question right now.

One of my friends used to work at Sunken Meadow State Park, and all during quarantine he’s been regaling me with these neat vignettes about his antics. What better guide to have? We met up in the parking lot with him driving around to get me and bring me to where I needed to go to start, which I told him was 85% going to happen (the %15 percent that I would wind up in the right place when there are lots of lots to choose from was generous). Then off we went, onto a trail and over a bridge and I stopped short.

It. Was. Gorgeous. The sky was overcast, and the clouds were moving grey, and the water was running right under us, and there were birds, and the mountain shone so evergreen (okay, it’s not a mountain. It’s a big hill. But maybe a mountain. I don’t know. I’m new to nature, remember).

We went up a path, found a picnic area, and went up another path, and then another kind of steep path. At the top of that one, he stopped and was like, Yeah, that hill deserves a break. Lungs pounding, I stopped too and was like, Thank you for saying that because I thought I was out of shape for a moment. He told me on the other side of the fence nearby was a hill called Cardiac Hill. So what did we just climb? I couldn’t figure out how it could be much different since the fence was simply separating us from the same mountain/hill/land-incline.

Then suddenly, I was walking on a ledge and then through a forest and we were in the woods, y’all. And then through the woods, up and down and on steep and narrow winding paths, I reminded him, If you encounter a really large gap, we’ll have to double back. Because, you know, I’m short, and I wasn’t about to leap over a gap when the landing was wide enough for only one of my tiny feet. Luckily, no leaping was needed, and we came to the bluffs, and we were at the beach.

So to recap: we were on a mountain => we were in a forest => we were at the beach.

How does this even happen? Whoever complains about Long Island needs to be dragged up Cardiac Hill and rolled down a beach bluff.

We got down to the beach, and he gave me options: walk back through the woods or walk on the beach. The beach! The beach! The North Shore beaches are rocky and narrow, and since I’m a South Shore gal, I don’t get enough of these other kinds of beaches.

Apparently, when you’re from the North Shore, you skip rocks. When you’re from the South Shore, you do something you call skipping rocks, but all you really do is throw a rock into the water and watch it sink. We tried this several times, my friend showing me form and flicking and finding of the good rocks, and me side-winding and twisting and tossing a rock into the water with very little hopping and a whole lot of going under without much fanfare.

Also along the beach were fishermen. Which meant I walked by a full fish dead on the sand. Also dead was a large crab thingamajig with a long pointy tale, drifting in the shoreline as if it were once alive and decided to be dead to freak me out.

See? I’m so one with nature, now.

Actually, I am somewhat proud of myself. When we finished that path, my friend was like, but wait there’s more! We went down into another part of the park where all these little hermit crabs crawled around, in and out of holes. Crabs walk sideways, y’all! Like, I know this, but like, now I really know it.

At that point, thunder rolled and a bit of a spritz started. He was like, Are you good with rain? I was like, rain doesn’t make me melt, so I’m fine except if there’s lightning. He was like, Yeah, if you see the hair on the top of my head start to rise up…, and I jumped in, Yeah, I’ll take cover, for sure. He stopped and was like, Or maybe you can tell me first as a warning. I make a great friend sometimes.

No lightning. No hair on end. No taking cover. Well, that’s not completely true. We went semi-covered in a semi-covert operation to get a picture of a bird that I decided I wanted to stalk. We’d been talking about a recent new story about a woman who got too close to a moose and was pretty much jacked up by the moose when she got too close. I think everything about that story is right. Leave the animals alone. Follow the rules. If you break the rules and annoy the animals, you get what you get and you don’t get upset. Okay, maybe you get upset, but you deserve it. A little over an hour later, here I am in marshy territory, sneaking all up in this bird’s business because I decide I want to be friendly with the animals instead of being grossed out by them (in my defense, both animals I encountered on the beach were dead, and that’s freaky). The bird kept flying away from me, and then I decided to maybe leave it alone before it went all Hitchcock on me.

We came up on the boardwalk. We walked over two more bridges. We finished a whole lot of the park, which meant we’d finished a whole segment of the Greenbelt. The Greenbelt trailis 32 miles running north and south. In my days at Heckscher, I completed some of it. Now here I was at the other end, another segment complete. Is it possible to complete in one day? My Great Saunter experiences point to a big fat No for me.

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With sand in my shoes, wind in my hair, sweat on my skin, and a hum of sky in my ears, we finished the hike, regrouped in our cars, and called it a day.  A great day, for sure.

Ashram Life

What’s happening to me? I’m out in, like, nature. I’ve found that if I’m outside in the late Fall heading into winter, there are fewer bugs. Except for the almost moth attack when I did that workshop upstate, I’ve been pretty a-okay with nature. So on a weekend in November, I took myself up into the Catskills to Sivananda Ashram Yoga Ranch.

The Catskills? Isn’t that where all those resorts are? Yes, it was exactly like Dirty Dancing except more in the middle of nowhere on a higher further mountain without dancing dirtily and with more vegan options, though Dirty Dancing did have watermelon, and the ashram did not.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

The ashram was offering a workshop on santosha, which is contentment. I’ve been wanting to continue my education in yoga philosophy, and I also wanted to go somewhere. Perfect fit.

I drove up on a Friday. It was sunny. There were snow squalls in the air that didn’t touch the ground. I was happy I’d worn my big red coat.

Side note: I have a NEW big red coat! It’s much like the last one only the hood has a faux-fur rim and is removable. Who would remove such a fashionista accessory?

I checked in at the main building where there was a very happy statue of Swami Vishnudevananda sitting outside with a pumpkin. This was a good sign. Also a good sign were the heated floors. In a place where you have to take your shoes off, heated floors are everything.

Guided by someone on staff, took my several bags for a two and a half day stay up a very steep hill to find my mini apartment. These digs were nice! I’m maybe mid-maintanence. Hence, the several bags whereas I’m sure other people brought a backpack. However, this apartment was nicer than I thought. It had two chairs, a kitchenette, a bedroom with two fluffy beds, and a bathroom. The shower was small for even me, but I didn’t care because this was modern living and there were no bugs. There were probably bugs in the summer. November is where it’s at! Or when it’s at, I suppose. Also where it’s at is baseboard heating. Mine was cranked up when I got there, and what a blessing for later on when the sun would go down.

From my front porch, I could see mountains rolling and rolling. After settling in my stuff and eating some snacks I’d packed (one of the several bags!), I took a walk all over the grounds. In my big red coat and snow boots, I stayed mostly warm hiking all up and around the hills and paths. There was a rather steep path down into the woods that I found following a sign for a temple, but I backed away. I didn’t want to die alone in the woods on my first day at the ashram.

Life at the ashram is regimented but also relaxed. I’d gotten there in time to walk around and then change in time for afternoon yoga. I settled in with my mat and found that they begin in savasana. I can get behind that. I lied down and let the relaxation begin. Then I heard the instructor say we’d be going through breathing and movements for the next two hours. Two hours? That’s part of the regimen. Two hours of yoga in the afternoon followed by dinner. Ah, okay, so it’s like to get to dinner, we get through two whole hours of yoga. Got it. I could do that.

The yoga they do at the ranch is not the kind of yoga that I particularly like. It’s a lot of the same pose held over and over again. Each asana is separated by a savasana. I’m used to the flowy kind of yoga. Which means this yoga was the yoga I needed, so I did it, and I found myself liking it. Sometimes not liking it. Then liking it again. They do headstands and other inversions as part of every practice. I don’t do headstands because of fear of everything, so I didn’t do them, but I did the prep for them. The instructor was really encouraging. The prep steps to headstand are very specific, and with the first four, he was like, We can all do this. He was right, so I did those first prep moves for that practice session and for all the others the rest of the weekend, and I got better at them each time. That’s what happens when you have yoga twice a day for two hours each. Yes, that’s right, four hours of yoga daily. Who’s in heaven now? Or nirvana? Or, well, you know.

So after that we had dinner, and meals turned out to be my favorite part of the weekend. I know, me and food, yes, I eat five times a day. I take that for granted, yo. Over at the ranch, they eat twice. That’s it. Two times a day. They have a brunch and a dinner. And that’s why I bring snacks everywhere. However, that’s not what was my favorite part. My favorite part was before every meal, everyone stands around the food holding hands in a circle and we all sing Hare Krishna and then they ask these questions to which everyone responds jai and then they say something else and the only word I understand is “cooks” and we all clap and then everyone gets to eat. This description does not do it any justice. It’s the most joyous ritual, and I kind of want to do it every time I eat now, but again, the five times a day, that’s time consuming.

The food was delicious and mostly vegan. There was soup with every meal. There was a lot of greens. Tea for every meal. Vegetables and a salad for every meal. Just delicious. Delicious. Delicious.

After dinner, anyone who was new to the ashram could go to the orientation. First, we learned that ashram means house in the woods. This made complete sense. Then we learned about the legacy of Swami Vishnudevananda and his teacher Swami Sivananda. I got some of this, but by this time, I was nearing tired, so a lot of it went over my head. We then learned about the schedule. Our days would be regimented, but also relaxed. Again, it’s a difficult concept to explain, but it works.

After that was evening satsang. Satsang is meditation, chanting, singing, and listening to a talk. Swami Satyapremananda was there to give the talk the next day, so she discussed santosha a little bit during this session, too.

By the way, everyone there had a name like this. Not Swami, but the other very long name. They would say their names as if they were understandable and repeatable. The staff wears yellow, so if you can’t call out a name, you can at least tug on a yellow shirt for help. Also, fun fact, they are all volunteer, offering themselves up to karma yoga. What a life, for real.

Walking up the hill in the cold at night after satsang was exhilarating. I stopped at the top and stared at the stars. There are so many stars. So many. I went inside after a short while because it was, like 17 degrees out. I crawled under two blankets in my baseboard heated bedroom, read a little bit (still working on that Kerouac book), and fell asleep.

I woke up too early in the 4 AM hour. I was giddy, and I never sleep very well the first night I’m in a new place. I showered. I stretched. I had a little bit to eat, knowing I wouldn’t be eating until 10 AM. Then the bell outside gonged. It was finally 5:30. Time to head down the hill in the still very cold for morning satsang. Yeah, that’s right, we do that twice a day, too.

This weekend was special because it was the anniversary of Swami Vishnudevananda leaving his body. That meant that there would be a special ceremony during this morning’s satsang. How fortunate for me to be able to experience this. There was much of the same silent meditation and then chanting and singing. Then there were offerings. One of the staff members was carrying one of those industrial sized metal salad bowls around and handing out what I truly thought was salad. I mean, it was greens in a salad bowl. Turns out, it was flowers. Close enough. We all offered these flowers to the altar. Then there was a milk offering. Then there was another offering, and I don’t remember exactly what it was. All I know is that the ceremony went a bit long for my taste, but still, I’m happy to have experienced it. At the end, we were offered the leftovers from the offering, and they were, of course, delicious. This little morsel would tide me over until brunch.

Because first, yoga! Pranayama (breathing). Asana (poses). Savasana (resting). Two hours.

Then Hare Krishna Hare Rama jai jai thank you cooks, let’s eat!

I wound up writing a lot. I carried around a snack and my book wherever I went. This was partially so I would remember everything, but it was also because here I was, me, alone, not knowing anyone, in a very tight knit social situation. Yikes. Who even am I?

There was a nature walk at noon, so I took it. The walk included the very steep hill down into the woods that I’d skipped the day before. This was also a walk through real nature. there weren’t paths. There were markers nailed to trees and some planks for crossing treacherous places, but no real clearing of brush. This was nature nature. The staff guy said a few times, It’ll be a little muddy. To which someone answered, We’re yogis, it’s fine.

Flashback to Yoga Times Square when the dragon fly was flitting about and all the yogis were in awe, trying to take pictures of it, and I was dying inside, knowing that if it came near me, it would die outside, like a real death. So “We’re yogis” isn’t exactly a universal definition of being okay with nature.

However, there wasn’t a lot of mud. There was a lot of iced over leaves, which looked pretty cool. Some spots of large puddles. Mostly moss and woodsy-ness.

Then, because we’d gone down a hill, we were going to go up a hill. This hill was vertical. I shit you not. I found myself leaning forward for fear of falling backwards. Some people stopped along the way, and I knew if I stopped, I wouldn’t start again. So I got up that hill in one shot, one booted foot clambering over the next until the ground evened out. And when I was at the top, I moved over to the side, unzipped my big red coat because I was now sweating (if this surprises you, then you know nothing about me, for shame), and I kind of leaned forward to collapse my lungs so they could breath easier. I look up and saw another woman doing almost the same thing. She saw me and said, Oh thank God it’s not just me.  And as I watched everyone ahead of us not stopping, I answered, I work out every day, and I have no idea how any of them are still going. She was like, this is nuts. I was like, that was completely vertical. We agreed, gathered some oxygen, and then headed on the path to catch up.

We saw two temples in the course of the walk, and they were both gorgeous. We came out on top of and behind where the apartments and dorms were. I walked down to the main house to get water, and then I walked back up because there were 45 minutes before the santosha talk, and I needed to change because I was soaked. Worth every bead of sweat, for sure.

The talk on contentment continued where satsang left off. Swami Satyapremananda has this subtle kind of energy that melted into some funny moments and a lot of wisdom. One big takeaway was: Everyday do one thing you don’t want to do, and acknowledge its benefits; everyday don’t do one thing you do want to do, and acknowledge its drawbacks. Eventually, this leads to realizing that contentment is not based on satisfaction of the external world but being satisfied internally, and that leads to santosha. You’re welcome.

Then yoga time. Then eating time. Then bedtime.

No joke, by the time we finished with dinner, I was like, I need a rest. So I went up to my room, thinking I’d rest for half an hour and then come back down for satsang. The first part of that plan happened. Then instead of going back down, I showered so I wouldn’t have to shower in the morning and also because I’d sweat so much before and then did yoga on top of it, and so that wasn’t making for very aromatic armpits despite any kind of deodorant attempts. Then I climbed into my jammies and climbed under the covers and read the same sentence in my book over and over until I decided I needed to go to sleep for real instead of pretending to not be tired.

Sunday morning I felt like a million bucks! I got up before the bell gonged. I stretched, changed, packed a little, and then at the sound of the bell, I headed down to satsang. At the bottom of the hill, I got into a standoff with a cat. It wanted to go inside. It wasn’t supposed to go inside. I was trying to go inside without it following me, and that wasn’t working. My pleads of, No Kitty you can’t come in, fell on neglecting cat ears. Then I decided to try to trick it. I walked towards the front of the building, and the cat followed. Then I made a quick dash towards the back. Cats are fast. It literally got to the door right before I did. So then I did what any rational adult would do–I stood there and waited for the cat to become someone else’s problem. Sure enough, someone came down the hill and let the cat in. I followed and heard someone talking about taking the cat outside, and that’s what happened. Several times, the cat came in, and several times the cat was ushered back out.

Then it was satsang beginning with a very quiet meditation. I’ve been going to meditation sessions here and there, and several times, I’ve been meditating for a while and suddenly, I get one of those sleep jerks, only I’m awake. It’s been very trippy. I almost had that happen that morning, but meditation ended right before that. It was back to regular satsang, complete with a talk on santosha that involved the story of Elizabeth Taylor and that guy she married twice. It was a great story. We got a strawberry on the way out to yoga.

After yoga was breakfast where I chatted with two very lovely people. Then after breakfast, I went up the hill to get my bags, which I carried down the hill to my car. Then back up the hill to bring the linens back down to the main building. Then, quite content, it was time to go. I drove home with a full heart, and it still feels that way. Knowing that people devote their lives to work that will make the world a better place makes me content, for sure.

 

 

Retreating Out Of The Comfort Zone

Juxtaposition! Fun to say and a literary device that comes up in most of my classes. It means putting together seemingly unlike things to show how they go together in some way. Like Reference.com says a good example of juxtaposition is “Romeo’s description of Juliet in Act I, Scene 5: ‘It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night/ Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear.’.” I have no idea what any of that means, but let’s just say it’s helpful. Okay, I’m realizing that maybe I don’t know what juxtaposition is after all. Now’s a good time to remind everyone that I’m a teacher. Hence, the aforementioned classes. Hence, my current shame in not being able to explain the thing I constantly explain. [I’m tempted to go into a side note about APA citation, but that would turn into a tangent that probably won’t come back around to anything soon. I’ll save that for another time.]

So anyway, if you think of things that don’t seem to go together, you might say Me, Nature, and Anyone Under The Age Of Old. That means my weekend was one of juxtaposition. I spent Friday night and all of Saturday in nature with teens. Yes, I know, I’ll say it again: Me. Outdoors. Young people. I’m branching out, yall! Oh, gawd, branching out. That’s a pun! Paranomasia is the fancy word for punning. I’m a teacher!

If it seems I’m going nowhere fast with this, I concur. I’m still on a high from an incredibly delightful writers’ retreat I was invited to in Fishkill. The writers were in grades 9 – 12. The retreat was on camp grounds. The “what to bring” list included a sleeping bag and a flashlight. Ergo, the list may as well have included biggest fears. In the past few years, I’ve been liking nature more. I know, I’ve ranted about trees, but aside from trees, nature has been nice. I loved staying on the lake in Ohio. Granted, we were in a gorgeous house, but still, a lake is nature. I’ve been walking outside a whole lot. I sat on the ground when I was in yoga teacher training and we had lunch in the park. This is progress.

So I packed up my dad’s military sleeping bag, a flashlight, and a Kerouac book, and I drove up to Fishkill. I found the camp grounds. Shortly after my arrival, one of the chaperones also arrived. I got out of my car. Now that there was more than one person, a bear would have a choice.

The organizer who invited me showed up a bit later as the young writers arrived. They all had comfy blankets, big duffel bags, and smiles. We all made our way to the cabins. The teens were staying in bunks. The chaperones and I were staying a bit up the hill in a different building.

Buildings! Not tents! Buildings! This is my kind of being one with nature. Walls!

This building reminded me of college dorms. I chose a room with one bed because that’s all this gal needs. Roughing! It! And the room I chose had a moth in it that I found when I shifted the curtains. Now, I could have screamed. I could have taken my stuff and chosen a different room. I could have gotten in my car and drove home. Instead, I smushed it. Apologies to all my animal loving friends. Seriously, I’m sorry. It’s just that, well, it doesn’t belong indoors. I’m also more sorry because while I thought I’d killed it, I’d actually just maimed it, and one of the chaperones offered to come on in and finish it off for me, and I said, Sure, which meant omigod yes please god yes.

Then when I went to the bathroom, there was a daddy longlegs scurrying around. So I killed it. I know! I’m so sorry!

Side note: all this has happened since I realized I’m probably a Buddhist. Which I usually can’t spell right on the first try. My life has a lot going on right now, clearly.

Back to the bug murders. There were only two. The next day, a tiny spider crawled into my bag before I could stop it, and I just left it. I also moved a spider off my desk in class today instead of smushing it. Progress. Again, back to the campgrounds–I got a tour of the buildings we’d be using, which were the meal hall and the music building, which was gorgeous. There was a planetarium next door. Heaven! And a pond nearby. More nature to get accustomed to, but since I’d stayed on that lake in Ohio, this was pretty much the same, only with less corn and more geese.

We had dinner and played ice breaking games. We wrote a little. I did my best to memorize names. Being in a room of strangers has never been my most favorite place to be, and so I did take a few moments to warm up and feel out the vibes. All the vibes were positive, for sure, but still, social awkwardness doesn’t simply fade away because you tell it not to come along to the writing workshop. There was the juxtaposition of me, young people, and nature happening all at once, so the awkwardness was going to be a factor. That’s just who I am. And also who I am includes letting it happen and then letting it go, which I did. I sat in awe of the camaraderie of these students and teachers who had spent an entire day at school doing school things and now were bounding around with so much energy and jazz. I felt so tired but their energy lifted me.

Also lifting my spirits was the promise of s’mores that came true right after ice breakers. I mean, this is what being in nature is about–putting sugar on a stick and making a sandwich with chocolate and sweet crackers.

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I went to my room after a short stint eating s’mores. Going back to my room proved to be another notch in my braving nature belt. I used my flashlight to find my way back. It was the kind of dark where you can’t see your hand in front of your face. I went the wrong way at first and talked out loud to myself, instructing myself where to go and not to fall. I found my way to the right path and back to the right building. I heard all kinds of critters in the leaves, and there was a huge spider crawling up the side of the door, and I didn’t try to kill any of them. Because they were outside where they belong. But also because I didn’t feel scared of them. They were simply living, the same way I was simply living, and they weren’t trying to kill me, either. This is an example of Buddhism. (No it’s not).

Workshop day arrived! Up at 5 to meditate and yoga and then a walk outside at sunrise to the pond and back. Some of the writers were already up and about, some jogging, some writing, some doing homework. Talk about dedication. These are my people.

There was breakfast and then another walk and then, writing writing writing. My theme was spaces and places. We read some things. We wrote some things. We read and wrote some more. There was a lot of talking and sharing. There were breakout sessions and regrouping. Anything I suggested was met with such creativity and openness.

Then lunch time came. I ended the morning recapping that we’d discussed and wrote about physical and geographical spaces and places. After the break, we’d be going places in our minds. Oooh.

Upholding my promise, I started the afternoon with meditation. (Hello, Buddha).  This meditation began with one mat, one body, one room. At its height, it reached out to beyond the galaxies, beyond the universe. Then we all returned home to the mind and heart. I sent them off to write what the journey had told them to write, or to do whatever their sense of self desired. This twenty minutes of doing turned into almost forty by the time everyone reconvened. Oooh, meditation. That’s what it can do.

We spent the rest of the day by the pond. At one point, a scout group came trudging around the water, some scouts with large sticks twice their size in hand. They went into the planetarium while we stayed on the dock, creating and sharing. That’s right, we stayed outside. The entire afternoon in the sun that grew hot enough to warrant a strip down; I began the day in a scarf and a coat and a blanket wrapped around me, and I ended the day with all that tossed to the side. Fireflies and spiders crept about on the wooden picnic tables. Squirrels and chipmunks skittered and scattered. Crickets chirped the entire time.

The day had been one of those blurs, ending in a circle of summing up the experience while the sun went down. Everyone headed to regroup and work on writing while I headed to the hall to write a piece that had been in my queue for almost two weeks. Then there was dinner and then I realized I had to leave if I wanted to stay awake while driving, and if I didn’t leave, I’d have to stay in nature for one more night, which actually didn’t seem so bad after all. But I prefer my own bed so I said my goodbyes, gave some hugs, and left with all the feels. Feels of pride for having been way out of my comfort zone, feels of gratitude for having met wonderful and creative people, feels of inspiration for writing and reading. What good fortune that I got to have such an experience.

Juxtaposition, in apparently my own definition, shows the difference in things while simultaneously showing how they go together in some way. I’ve learned that me and nature have a pretty good connection once I settle in. I mean, I stopped killing things after the first hour. And me and the youth? Yeah, there was some solid common ground there, too. While this retreat was for them, I totally came out of it with fresh wisdom that I couldn’t have gotten any other way and wouldn’t have it otherwise.

Oh, and I got a shirt!

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