Life Whispers

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As I have in one form or another since I left my corporate executive role last January, I continue to search and experiment for the defining aspects of my “new” life. What does my ideal day look like? How do I want to spend my time? In what ways do I want to be of service? How can I engage, empower and release my creativity? What calls to me, brings me joy, delights and inspires?

The answers to these questions are, surprisingly, as elusive as they were when I felt I had no discretionary time to shape them. As I write my morning pages each day (a daily practice of writing three pages stream-of-consciousness), I recognize how much room I have to have any life I can imagine. My work is in shaping the life I want.

For a brief time in April and May, David and I engaged deeply on the notion of buying God’s Pocket. God’s Pocket Resort is a scuba and kayak resort on a small island in the Queen Charlotte Strait, north of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. We have loved visiting there as guests, and in the last few years, as care-takers in the off season, and occasional help during the season. Our friends, the owners Bill and Annie, have decided, for various reasons, to sell. Over those two months, we thought about the enormity of such a decision, the pivot from the life we have here in San Francisco. We looked at numbers and considered the basics of the current business model, as well as what we would want and hope to develop if we were to be co-owners or partners.

Buying a business like God’s Pocket is much more than a business decision, it is a major life decision. For one, David and I would be business partners, not just financial partners as we already are. The purchase would be a stretch financially, but not impossible. And while we didn’t think we needed to live in Canada, we’d need to spend considerable time there. This was a big part of the draw for us: an adventure on so many levels, and the opportunity to live differently than we do today., the magic and beauty of this unique place. We never imagined that we’d run the business day to day – the princess in me didn’t want to be cleaning guest rooms everyday all season – and that put additional burden on figuring out our staffing needs. Our vision was to recruit someone who could captain the dive boat, as well as generally manage the day to day, and who we could put in a position to buy us out in 5 to 7 years. Our plan B was to get David certified to run a commercial 50 ton boat so he could fill in as needed.

While captains could be hired, working God’s Pocket is unique’ you don’t go home at the end of the day, you go to your room on the island. We needed to know that whomever we’d hire had a strong understanding of the place and the role. Our primary candidate, who had run the resort for several years in the past, wasn’t ready to jump in to our vision. Further, we discovered that a prerequisite for certification to drive a commercial 50 ton boat is Canadian citizenship or residency.

In the end, after much consideration, we realized that loving God’s Pocket and having a vision for its potential future were not enough to get us positioned for success as owners. We were sad to let go of this exciting potential picture of the next ten years of our lives, even while knowing that letting it go was right.

And in the lull after the decision to withdraw our offer for God’s Pocket, we have both felt slowly into the gap created by the loss of that focus. David is dancing on the cusp of retirement from his mechanical engineering work in the space industry, and I have been in that liminal space for a year and a half. Now we are letting things “resettle” so we can see what we might have learned from considering God’s Pocket, and what will inform what we do next.

In that space, the gray quiet after letting go of intense focus, I have wanted to have “the answer” come to me, clear and articulated. I want the ‘money idea’ to show-up full-born and ready for me, for us, to move it forward. I realized just yesterday that I was, in a way, waiting for the arrival of the purple unicorn, with a sandwich board for a saddle proclaiming the ‘money idea,’ and with a soundtrack of angels singing “ahhhhhhhhh.” (I know I am not alone in scanning my surroundings and interactions for the big and obvious signs that will surely put me on the ‘right’ path.)

In my experience, the call to next steps doesn’t show up as clearly and boldly as the purple unicorn. The call comes in whispers, and we are lucky to hear them. We have to get quiet and still to hear our own voice, let alone that which floats in the air, waiting for us to notice. Getting still is the last thing we are inclined to do when we are lost, seeking, or recovering from a shift in the foci of our lives, but is what we must to do navigate the path forward. That, and having more adventure and getting out to be in nature!

My prescription for us is a trip to Scotland. We will be there for almost three weeks, with time in Edinburgh and a few days in County Sutherland, where my father’s people come from 4-5 generations back. We have booked a self-guided walking tour, and we’ll walk from the East coast to the West coast along the Mary Queen of Scots trail over 10 days, ending in St. Andrews. (Our lodging is arranged, as is the daily transport of our luggage to the next inn.)

To my surprise, I am intrigued to realize – doh! — that my heritage comes together in Scotland. My father’s family comes from there, as noted. And many years later, from 1965 to 1967, my grandfather on my mother’s side, Alfredo Trinchieri, served as the Italian Consul General to Edinburgh. I remember, probably at age 5 or 6, being in his apartment. But it is a distant and snapshot-type memory, and we may not discover where he lived so as to walk by. Thinking about exploring and experiencing these family threads coming together in the weeks ahead is compelling and exciting. As is being in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by dramatic and subtle beauty and nature.

The way to shape one’s life are always found in doing the next right thing, adjusting if it doesn’t turn out to be what one wanted, and then doing the next right thing. What is next for me is Scotland. Stories and pictures to follow.

Love,
Susan

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Splitting Wood and Other Second Chances

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I successfully split two fat logs into stove-size firewood this afternoon. This is no small accomplishment for me. Last year, when I recognized the daily “nut” of firewood that the wood stove required of us in order to keep the house (and us) warm, I gave it a try so David, my husband, wouldn’t have to do it all. However, first, I was afraid of the axe. I had been warned to watch my swing so that the axe didn’t miss the log and hit my shin instead. Second, I didn’t leverage my body in the swing because see Number One. Third, the log didn’t break into pieces with one of my whacks like it does in the movies, so I assumed that I must be doing it wrong. Two whacks and I was done.

Today, with the possibility that David might go off island for family health reasons, we both decided it was time to give it another go. What I learned was that firewood doesn’t magically split, especially if the wood is wet or damp, and if the log is fat. Splitting wood is about dropping the axe with momentum – which is where the power comes from – on the wood until it cracks. That can require any number of swings, creating tiny fissures in the wood. Eventually, the log will have several cracks, and a whack or two later, it will split like it does in show business.

So many lovely lessons in this afternoon’s work. And maybe life gives you a “do over” now and again when you’ve been a doofus. Or more kindly put: when you weren’t yet ready for the experience in front of you.

We’ve hiked more in our few weeks here this year than we did the entire time last year. And I’ve allowed myself to be more adventurous, stepping in to my qualms and realizing they make excellent company when you bring them along rather than arguing with them. We attempted a hike the other day to the highest point on the island, Meeson Cone, which requires scrambling up and back down several steep hills, over and under fallen trees and including a few spots with rope assists. It was mostly fine, if a little sketchy in a few spots, and I realized how much I was enjoying the experience. It’s like I was remembering that I love to move and I love adventure. I felt more right about being out than I had before we left the house, qualms gently placed in the backpack along with the water and emergency radio.

The biggest “second chance” so far has been our trip into Port Hardy. Last year we had wanted to take the hour long boat ride to town, David for adventure and me for a few supplies (okay, the truth is that we were out of bourbon and chocolate). But we never made it as the weather didn’t cooperate and water looked too lumpy. Oh, and I was afraid and very resistant. Last Tuesday, we braved the very cold, clear air and flat waters, and took the skiff into Port Hardy without incident. We saw a pod of dolphin in the distance about halfway there, but it was otherwise uneventful.

Once in Port Hardy, we enjoyed lattes at the little upscale coffee shop-book store near the Canadian Coast Guard pier where we tied up. I bought Liz Gilbert’s “Big Magic – Creative Living without Fear” which I’d been wanting to read. We ran some errands for our hosts, Bill and Annie, and then shopped at the Save-On for groceries. A few hours later, we loaded up the skiff, and headed back to God’s Pocket. As we neared the islands, we saw a large otter, which dove under as we neared, and a seal pup with large eyes which didn’t, clearly inexperienced with motor boats.

Last year, when we saw wolves on the shore of Harlequin Bay (on the backside of our island) and I hopped online to do wolf research, I found PacificWild and fell in love with the organization’s work and website. I became an admirer of the Executive Director, Ian McAllister, for his leadership and work trying to protect the habitat and wildlife of the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia, for his photography and his books. Several weeks later, our hosts returned to God’s Pocket to begin preparations for the 2016 season, bringing with them two dive scouts and the cook. Overwhelmed by the sudden influx of people after five weeks of quiet with David, I snuck out to our room after dinner.  What I missed that night, a year ago, was a visit by Ian McAllister of PacificWild with the catamaran Habitat, along with a friend Paul Nicklen, a National Geographic photographer.

Apparently, I got a do over here, too. Yesterday afternoon, we had a lovely and rare visit. The Habitat docked at God’s Pocket and Ian McAllister and his team of three came up for a visit. He was in the area diving and filming underwater for his Imax film; one of his crew, Tim, was the caretaker here at God’s Pocket after the season ended last year until Christmas. We offered tea and chatted for a while before they went out, with David, for a dive just outside the Bay.

I got to tell Ian that I needed a “fan freak” moment about his work, his books and photography (I have one of his wolf pictures hanging in our guest bedroom/my office in our condo). (Click here for the gallery of gorgeous wildlife photos, videos, and documentaries.) He blushed a few times, but once I got that out of the way, I told him I was “done fussing” and we resumed our more relaxed chat. They came back up after their dive and dinner, and he gifted me a book of poems and photos, “The Wild In You,” that he collaborated on with a Canadian poet, Linda Crozier.  And as he left, he invited David and me to visit them on Denny Island, where he and his family make their home, and where PacificWild has its organizational base in the Great Bear Rainforest. We had made a new friend: in my book, that’s not a do over, that’s a do better!

For the last few days, we’ve had snow on the ground, and intermittent snow fall. Big floofy flakes have been swirling over the water and the deck, and resting gently to welcome more. Our coterie of birds and animals leave tracks in the snow and carry on with their routine not seeming to mind. I am filled with wonder, and gratitude.

Love,
Susan

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The End of the Trek

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The Nepal I visited in 1989 seemed more poor and hard scrabble than the country I visited 27 years later. To be sure, our trek was much closer to Kathmandu than in 1989, which meant that more villagers might move to the city or go overseas for work and send money home. Kathmandu valley has experienced an enormous population boom in the intervening years. Trekking on the Indigenous Peoples’ Trail, it seemed to me that every house had a buffalo or two, at least several goats, and a flock of chickens, and was surrounded by crops: rice, millet, potatoes, cauliflower, cabbage. While the animals and farming might be primarily for subsistence, the houses were well tended, the animals looked healthy and the crops were lush.

The people were universally welcoming. Children and young adults were eager to practice their English, and adults wanted to observe, and occasionally to chat. My mother, with her white hair, drew more than a few talkative visitors. One older woman came to visit our camp one morning, and chatted away with my mother delightedly, saying ‘ama, ama’ (mother, mother) and hugging her. We understood very little of what she said, but she was bonding, relating and sending love and admiration and joy through her eyes to my ‘ama.’ Elders are respected in the Nepali culture, and ‘amas’ especially so. Not everyone gets to be old and wise, and my mother became something of celebrity.

Our last full day on trek took us to the town of Namo Buddha, one of the more significant Buddhist temple and monasteries in Nepal. We toured the temple, surprised by the number of Nepali “tourists” there (I always expect tourists overseas to be westerners!), and awed by its architecture and mystique. We descended the hill on the north side of the temple, prayer flags old and new draped over the trees in a profusion of colors as we made our way out of town toward our next and final camp.

That night, the cooks and guides put together an extraordinary farewell dinner. We ate like royalty! Chicken cutlets, coleslaw, cooked fresh vegetables, all yum!  At the end of the meal, the chef, Santosh, brought out a cake made special and decorated with “Happy Nice Trek.” DB, our guide and leader, thanked us for coming to Nepal, for creating jobs for all the crew members, and for being so appreciative of the experience.

He also apologized for the days during the trek when lunch seemed late, and explained that the earthquake had changed some of the water flows and aquifers, leading to constrained water supplies in areas where water had once been abundant. We had been careful with our water use – only two tent showers in 10 days – but it was instructive to learn about this little known effect of the 2015 earthquake. Towns were managing their water supplies by rationing and turning on the hillside taps, which acted like mini town centers, only at certain times. Of course, while we were occasionally hungry for lunch – always delicious – during the trek, we had no idea that the crew had been working overtime most days to find a spot with abundant water for cooking and washing!

Before dinner on the last night, we had given our tips to DB, and he coordinated with Santosh to determine how best to share it with the crew. They had created individual envelopes for each crew member. With the whole crew (17 people) in our dining tent, DB asked Sydney, the organizer of the trek through her “The Trek of Your Life” business, and my mother “Ama!” to help distribute the tips to all crew members. This participation by Sydney and my mother in the distribution process was a sign of respect for them, as well as the crew, and acknowledged the bonds we had created by being together for ten days on the trail. The warmth and generosity was palpable. It was a lovely moment, only surpassed by the crew singing and clapping along to us with great spirit. (Listen here!) We had shared ten days together and the appreciation seemed to be mutual; it was certainly resonant and lasting for me.

Back in Kathmandu the next day, we said our farewell to the crew. Most of us trekkers were headed to the Guest House for showers; I was headed with my mother, even before showers, to the Ciwec Clinic to have my arm checked out and re-bandaged by the renown mountain travel doctors! (They declared it very clean and well tended, but also said that without stitching shortly after injury the scar would be dramatic. And so it is.)

The crew stayed on the bus and went on to the Adventure Geo Treks office to clean all the equipment. On the trail, when we finished trekking for the day, we would relax while the crew set up tents, prepared the camp, and helped with dinner. So, once again, even off the trail at the end of the trek, we got to rest while the crew worked.

Our trekking group, minus crew, met up for a final lunch the next day. We walked a short way from the Kathmandu Guest House to the Garden of Dreams. The Garden is located behind high walls on a very busy and loud boulevard: you wouldn’t know it was there or how lovely it could be just a few feet from the honking of cars and motorcycles. A public park with a modest entrance fee, the Garden of Dreams is a tranquil oasis in the heart of Kathmandu, a neo-classical garden with three pavilions, and multiple ponds, lawns, and pergolas built in 1920. It was neglected from the mid-1960s, upon the death of its patron, Kaiser Sumsher Rana, until recently, but has been restored with the support of the Austrian government. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch at the restaurant there, while observing the many young Nepali couples walking, sitting on benches or on the cushions on the lawns. It is a lovely place, and a perfect place for a romantic date!

We said goodbye to four of our trekking group the next day, who headed to the US. Sydney would stay to lead a seminar for staff working with human trafficking victims, often former victims themselves, and then to lead another trek to Basa village for volunteer work. For my mother and I, it was the end of only one part of our adventure: we had added a four-day extension to our trip to visit Chitwan National Park at the southern border of Nepal (with India), home to Bengal tigers, rhinoceri, and crocodiles, among other wildlife.

As we prepared for our early departure to Chitwan in the morning, my mother and I marveled at the trekking experience. We had been part of a congenial group of hikers and an extraordinary team of Nepalis supporting us on an interesting and rarely used itinerary through villages and towns. Acknowledging the rough first few days of the trek, we also realized how much we had come to appreciate the experience, and would miss the people, the trekking, and that part of Nepal.

Next post: Chitwan, which will also be my last post on Nepal.

With love,
Susan

PS. I’ve been posting 4-6 pictures from the trip each day on Instagram throughout November with the hashtag #30DaysofNepal; I’ll be posting more from Nepal for a couple of days in December since I lost some time over Thanksgiving. You can see my pictures here!

Forever in a Day

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My last post, on the morning of November 8, left us on our Nepal trek with overlong monsoons, tough initial trekking days, stomach disorders, leeches at camp, and me with a substantial gash in my arm. More to come, I promised you.

And then it was full on election eve, and then night, in the US. It was a long night.

* Hangs her head, sighs deeply. Sighs deeply again. *

All those tough moments in Nepal pale by comparison.

At least a week or so went by when any thoughts of blogging were about the election and its aftermath. Writing about Nepal seemed escapist and selfish, which I realize in retrospect might have been helpful. Except for my realization that I was, during that week, allowing myself to both wallow in worry and despair (aided by a fair amount of bourbon) while also engaging in magical thinking, I felt I had little to add, especially when so much was being said and written everywhere else.

Magical thinking is interesting, and there’s probably another blog post there at some point, as it shows up in so many places for people, especially under stress. Suffice it to say that magical thinking in this case is when you start to hear yourself say – to yourself – that things probably aren’t going to be that bad, and maybe the office itself will transform the man, and let’s give him a chance. But, as Maya Angelou said, and many people have been reminding us: “If someone shows you who they really are, believe them.” Magical thinking need not apply.

So my post-election mantra is that I will have to hold, going forward, contradictory intentions at the same time: I must seek to understand and try to bridge the divide that is so visible in our nation, while holding our government accountable and standing up for justice.

And then it was Thanksgiving and time to shake off the blues, consider and be grateful for all that is good in our lives. There is so much for which to be grateful.  We spent time with David’s brother, Roy and his wife Kris, at her and her family’s ranch in Cachagua, California, over the hills from Carmel Valley, out of cell phone range. It was a lovely time in a magical albeit very real place. Life has happened there in all its occasional mess and upheaval, as it has to us, and yet gratitude and goodwill prevailed.

But I promised you more stories of Nepal, which brings us to Day Four of the Indigenous Peoples’ Trail Trek in Nepal, leeches and stomach ills and arm gashes and all. A few people have questioned the “fun” quotient of this trip…  certainly some things, like leeches, aren’t really fun no matter how you frame it. But the whole trip was an adventure in which every moment was interesting if not exactly a delight.

I learned a lot about fear on that fourth day of trekking. As I started out my trek the day after falling and badly gouging my arm, I didn’t feel any fear in spite of my fall. I didn’t have the familiar stomach ache, or the tingle at the base of my shoulder blades. And yet, when faced with the first steep downhill of the day, my body couldn’t move. I wasn’t afraid by any conscious sense I could feel, but my body had incorporate an immediate and profound fear directly related to my fall.

Fortunately, one of the assistant guides, Hera, took my pack – and my hand – and helped me down the steep parts of the trail for the next few days. In some cases, he’d put his foot just below where my foot would go, to block my step and keep me from slipping. It took more than a few days to get my trekking mojo back, and I’m very grateful for Hera’s firm and gentle hand in securing my path.

The remarkable thing about a trek is that each person, no matter how fit, is a bit wobbly at the start. Most of us flew at least 14 or so hours across the globe to get to Kathmandu, some of us (ahem!) a little more. And then there’s time zone adjustments and new food, and new surroundings and people, all of which take some toll on our individual resilience. Of course, the energy created by the excitement of the adventure often carries us a bit. And then we leave for trek and are hiking up sheer walls of stairs (I swear!) and sleeping on the ground in a tent at the end of a hard, physical day. We are together, and yet alone as we each also try to manage ourselves and get adjusted.

Somewhere around the middle of trek, we each find our rhythm, getting used to the exertion, the pace and the structure of each day. We each trust in our guides as they describe the day ahead, and then lead us on the day’s trek, and to “proper rests” and lunch at the right time throughout the day. So too, the group finds its rhythm: initial exposition of life stories are exchanged in small conversations. Over the time we become more comfortable with each other as a group, sharing meals and chatting, and revealing more about ourselves through the sharing of the day to day of the experience.

Writing in my journal near the middle of trek, I noted that I felt I’d had forever in a day. The fullness of being so physically grounded and active, in company with the journey of the mind and spirit, is so rich.  And at the end of each day, it was startling to realize that the morning was attached to the evening of the same day. Of course, I know that this richness, this sense of fullness and mindfulness, is available to me every day anywhere I am. In Nepal the vistas seemed endless and the days seemed full of infinite moments. This awareness was one of the many things I wanted to bring home from the trek.

* *  * * * *

Still more from Nepal to follow: I’ll post about the end of the trek on Thursday, and on Saturday about our adventure to Chitwan National Park. After that, I’m planning to get back to a weekly post, barring surprises of the disruptive, dysregulating sort, of which there have been more than a few of late…

Love,
Susan

 

The Trek of Your Life*

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*with gratitude to Sydney Frymire for use of TTOYL as my title for this post!

I returned two weeks ago from my month long trip to Nepal. The experience – deep and wide – has stayed with me but is only now being translated into this first of several blog posts. I keep thinking how much I have to write about and share, and realize that with election day tomorrow, I probably have less than 36 hours to have anyone’s attention before the election results capture our zeal.

I’m still unpacking, literally and figuratively. Just yesterday I finished washing the jumbo zip-lock bags I used to organize and pack my clothes and gear. This was the last chore in cleaning and storing my trekking gear. On November 1, I started posting 2-4 pictures a day on Instagram under the hashtag “#30DaysOfNepal.” Where do I begin to tell the stories of this trip to Nepal and our trek along the Indigenous People’s Trail?

The beginning is a good place to start. Sydney Frymire, a friend of my mother – Carol –  in the Washington, D.C. area, has for the last four years run an annual trip to Nepal, planning and participating in two treks each visit through her company “The Trek of Your Life,” (hence the title of this post!). A social worker and life coach by profession, she fell in love with Nepal on a trek a number of years ago. She plans her trips with a “volun-tourism” ethos, and one of the treks includes two or three days of volunteering in the small village of Basa in the Everest Region.  My mother, Carol, who would turn 84 the weekend we returned from the trek, was excited to join the first trek “The Sailung Trek,” named after a peak on the trek with religious importance, and I decided to join her and the group.

After a 5-hour flight from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. to meet up with my mother, followed by a 14-hour flight from Washington, D.C. to Dubai, and finally another 4-hour flight from Dubai to Kathmandu, we arrived in the Nepali capital on the evening of October 2. Our flight from Dubai was a mix of westerners, clearly headed to enjoy the country’s “best” trekking weather of the year in October and November. Nepalis, on the other hand, were returning from work or studies abroad for the most important festival of the year: Dashain.

After collecting our luggage, we emerged from the airport doors to look for the driver from the trekking company Sydney partnered with: Adventure Geo Treks. When we came to Nepal in 1989, we were met at the luggage carousel; now all commercial contacts are required to stand on a traffic island across from the doors, many holding signs and calling names. We wheeled our luggage cart into the parking area, while Carol went back to look for “our” people. She had to argue with a Danish woman that the sign saying “Carol Susan” was intended for us not her: her name, surprisingly, was Susan Carol!

Our ride from the airport to the Kathmandu Guest House in the Thamel neighborhood of the city was nothing less than crazy. The streets were clogged with cars, so much so that the four- lane road had morphed into six lanes, four headed into the city, and two headed out. Buses were jammed with people, and the sidewalks – where they existed – were full of people walking and selling their wares. Motorcycles wove in and out of traffic, and every vehicle practiced the sport of active honking. The streets were loud, dusty and crowded: everyone was getting ready for the festival.

The Dashain festival honors the victory of the goddess Durga over the forces of evil.  She has many incarnations and is known as the mother of the universe, and is believed to be the power behind the work of creation, preservation, and destruction of the world. Hindus believe that goddess Durga protects her devotees from the evils of the world and at the same time removes their miseries. Although the festival is primarily a Hindu celebration, my observation was that Dashain was an annual calling similar to the New Year in China or Christmas in the US: Nepali workers from all over the world and the country seek to make it home for part or all of the 15-day festival regardless of their religious beliefs.

When we arrived at the Kathmandu Guest House, we had a note from Sydney. She was just across the way in a restaurant call Sarangi, named for the Nepali musical instrument that most resembles a violin. The restaurant is run by musicians, with the support of an Australian woman who spends 6 months of the year in Nepal. Her vision is for the musicians to have other means of economic support beyond their art because musicians are often from some of the lowest castes (Nepal has a somewhat loose caste system that doesn’t include all Nepalis but is still influential). The food at Sarangi was fresh and excellent, and we had several meals there, once with a trio of musicians serenading us. We were happy to lend our support to their venture.

We met Sydney and two other jet-lagged trekkers from our group: Walter, 51, from Maryland and a colleague of Sydney’s, and Cory, 66, from New Jersey, who had heard about the trek through his hiking group, The Freewalkers. The last two trekkers would join us the next day: Dagmar, 45, and Lisa, 32, both also from Maryland. Dagmar knew my mother from the Wanderbirds hiking club in the DC area.

After resting and exploring the neighborhood on October 3rd, we spent October 4 as a group touring Kathmandu, going to Pashupatinath, the main Hindu temple in Kathmandu, and Budhnath stupa, the center of Tibetan Buddhist practice, both World Heritage Sites. Pashupatinath covers an enormous area, and the holy Bagmati river flows through. People bathe in its waters, and cremations take place on its banks. Macqaq monkeys wander freely and with impunity; I watched one walk up behind a young girl with her parents and swipe a pack of chips from her hands. The move was so bold and so sudden, the girl howled with fear and loss. The macqaq wandered away, chips in hand. Non-Hindus aren’t allowed to enter the main temple, but we wandered smaller temples and the yogis’ “caves,” which are actually small shines with four large openings on each side. For a small donation, pictures of the vividly painted yogis can be had. I also gave some money to an older woman who tied a red and yellow string around my right wrist while chanting, offering me protection.

Our visit to Budhnath stupa, only slightly damaged in the earthquake but still wrapped in scaffolding, was enhanced by lunch on a terrace that overlooked the stupa. The top of the stupa is gilded and has the dramatic, colorful Buddha eyes that I associate with Kathmandu and Nepal. The area is the center of Tibetan life in Nepal, and the stupa is surrounded by stores specializing in Tibetan wares. Monks in maroon and saffron wander the neighborhood. We visited a mandala school, where apprentices learn to paint the highly detailed and mesmerizing mandalas in the Tibetan tradition, and then climbed to a small Buddhist temple located on the top of a building facing the stupa. After removing our shoes, we visited the temple and the lama tied an orange cord around each of our necks, chanting. I have to admit to feeling well protected by both the Hindu string bracelet and the Buddhist cord necklace!

Back at the Kathmandu Guest House that evening, I meditated with gratitude and awareness of being in the Himalaya, the spiritual home of meditation. We retired to repack our gear into waterproof yellow duffels provided by Adventure Geo Treks, and to get our last night’s sleep in a bed for 10 days. We’d be off to begin our trek, and camping, first thing in the morning.

Stay tuned for more!

Love,
Susan

Headed to the Himalaya

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A quick post this evening. I spent the day on a plane from San Francisco to D.C., and tomorrow my mother, Carol, and I will fly from DC via Dubai to Kathmandu, Nepal. We are going trekking for a few weeks on the Sailung trek (more west and lower altitude than the Annapurna circuit or the Everest area). We’ll also add three days at the end to explore the Chitwan National Park area in the more temperate lowlands.

A few things I’m delighted by:

* My mother is nearly 84 years old, and is alive and vibrant and healthy, and more than capable of handling a three week adventure like this. This is wonderful and special in so many ways.

* I get to have this amazing mother-daughter adventure. Of course, we’re bound to bump heads in the narrow quarters of our tent at some point. But how cool is this adventure we’ll have together?  That said, I will miss my David, who couldn’t clear his deck to join us.

* This is my second trip to Nepal. My mother, younger brother Andrew and I trekked the Annapurna Circuit in 1989. That was an amazing trip, oh so many years ago.

* The group we are trekking with has a ‘volun-tourism’ ethos: most of the treks include a day or two working in a village. Our trek won’t include that, but our fees and tips will go directly to the team of porters and crew from a village with whom the organizers have this invested relationship.

* As most of you know, this ‘gap’ year of mine has been, well, a bit challenging in unanticipated ways, and frankly, I’ve felt a bit disappointed. I’ve tried to reframe the narrative a bit, but mostly think parts of this year have just been crappy. But now I get to have this amazing adventure that will be an adventure no matter how it unfolds. That’s a narrative I’d like to work with.

We arrive in Kathmandu on Sunday, October 2, and our trek begins the 3rd. I won’t be posting to the blog while I’m away, nor will I be posting pictures to Instagram, as both power and cell service won’t be readily available.

I promise stories and pictures when I’m back.

With love,

Susan

 

Here and Now

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It’s hard for me to believe that my most recent post was on July 30th. I’d decided, when I started to blog, that I’d be intentional about it, keep a schedule and inform you of my plans if my schedule were to change. Somehow, it has been nearly a month since I’ve posted, and all without a word of explanation. Intention can slip away from action while still being held in the heart.

That’s because the explanations, like so many things in life, are only clear in retrospect. At the time, and over the time since, well, I have experienced a fair amount of overwhelm: getting back to San Francisco after a five weeks in Canada and trying to get organized and regulated; work on the condo ongoing (the famous “impressive hole” in our slab was only filled with fresh concrete the Friday before we returned!) including the installation of new wood flooring and then painting, and a bath cabinet and plumbing that didn’t work as expected after (say it with me now) MORE THAN SIX MONTHS OF WORK AND DELAYS; and house guests and a sick pet and getting ready to leave town again…

I was grappling with a sense of overwhelm when I last posted, and it only intensified in the weeks following.  Now, however, I’m now on Vancouver Island North, with my spouse and our good friend Richard. In my last post, I described vacation as one of my “other miseries” and yet I am reminded, again, that the worst vacation is better than almost anything else.  And this has been a wonderful vacation so far.

The weather has been spectacular. This part of the world is known for rain – we have been here when it rained every day for a week — and we have been lucky to have clear skies and calm seas. We’ve had great fly fishing for ‘pink’ salmon at the Keogh River, had a few somewhat close calls with bears there just to spice things up a bit, and been smoking the fruits of our labor most of the week. (The picture above is of me and my first salmon, a respectable but not overly large fish. I caught three that day – the limit is four – and the last was the largest.)

I took my standup paddleboard out on the very calm waves on Tuesday for the first time, which was both easy and exhilarating. We’ve also had time to hike and hunt for mushrooms.  Yesterday we found a cache of hedgehog mushrooms, garnish for our grilled chicken dinner, just off the trail to a beach where we found bear prints, those of a mother and cub, in the sand. I am in awe of the bounty and beauty of this place, tripping from one find to another delight. In all of this, there has been peace and ease.

Being away from home, in spite of my resistance to packing up and leaving, has been restorative. We are in comfortable cabins here, right at the beach and surrounded by trees and eagles and ocean waves. I have wanted to find an eagle feather for several years now, and in the last few days have found more than a dozen. Our friend Richard says: “Now they are winking at you where ever you go!”

My main challenge has been to let go of doing, and allow myself to do nothing, or something, as the moment calls. I think of it as being here and now. I’ve had good sleep (and yet still want more!), good exercise and fresh air, and a fair amount of just sitting and listening to the waves. Something about vacation makes it “okay” to do little, or to follow whim; I’d like to be in this place of just being more readily and without the ‘cover’ of vacation. Wherever I am, I want to be here and now.

We pack out of the Cluxewe Resort on Sunday morning, and meet the Hurst Isle in Port Hardy on Sunday afternoon for our trip to God’s Pocket. While others scuba dive this coming week, I will have more time to practice laying low, following my mood and wants, enjoying the beauty of British Columbia. It is my intention to post next Wednesday, and to reflect on what my ‘here and now’ is then.

Love,
Susan

I usually post about once a week, usually on Wednesday or Thursday, but sometimes, like today, on Fridays… I’m coming off a month of quiet and hope to post regularly again. Get regular updates via email from DancingOnTheWayHome by clicking the “follow” button (on your tablet or pc screen – the mobile screens somehow don’t show it!). And thanks for reading!

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