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Chasing Memories

 

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Mohican State Forest in Ohio

Camping holds fond childhood memories for me. Our family spent many weekends tent camping in Ohio’s Mohican State Forest. Mom worked most of the day on Friday packing everything we needed. She planned the menu and packed the food, cooking utensils, and camp stove. Dad came home from work at five and we took off.

Once we arrived at our campsite, everybody had a job to do. My little brothers gathered kindling. Dad set up the tent and built the campfire. I carried water and helped wash the dishes. We used tin plates, bowls, and metal silverware, no paper plates or plastic ware for us! Looking back, Mom had the most work to do. Mom was always getting things in and out of the car to prepare meals.

At night we sat near the campfire, roasted marshmallows and told stories. When the fire died down, my brothers and I  crawled into the tent.  We told jokes and giggled until Dad demanded quiet.  Our parents lingered by the glowing embers, and the soft sound of their voices lulled us to sleep. The next morning the tantalizing smell of bacon and eggs prompted me to get out of my sleeping bag and hurry to breakfast.

We took a lot of walks through the campground by the river. Dad  loved to check out other people’s campsites to see what kind of tents or trailers they were using. He dreamed about an upgrade. Eventually he bought a small thirteen foot trailer that we took to the Smoky Mountains.

I’ve tried to get my husband and our children to share my love of camping. Our experiences have been memorable too, but only because they were disasters permanently etched into our minds. We live in Florida, and tent camping in the summer has its challenges. Last August my adult daughter and I spent a weekend camping at Sebastian Inlet State Park.

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Our humble tent in the shadow of an RV at Sebastian Inlet.

The first night was great. We wrapped tilapia and vegetables in foil and roasted our meal in the coals of the fire. A cool breeze kept us comfortable. On Saturday afternoon a horrendous storm forced us to take shelter in the car. Water flooded the floor of the tent.  When the rain slowed to a drizzle, we grabbed our bedding and stuffed it in the back of the car. About an hour later, we laid our felt covered air mattress out to dry in the late afternoon sun. The breeze disappeared and the temperature rose. Wiping the sweat from my forehead,  I discovered our firewood was wet. How would we cook our bean burritos? One of our neighbors came to the rescue  by giving us some special fire starters which ignited the wood.  After dinner I read the warning label on the fire starters, “Do not use for cooking.” Maybe that’s why the burritos tasted weird.  Exhausted from battling the heat and storms, we retreated to our tent after sunset, only to be attacked by sand fleas! My daughter was nursing flea bites for a week afterwards.

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Wandering bison,            Yellowstone

 

When our children were younger, my husband and I took them camping out of state. During a trip to Yellowstone we were apprehensive about our decision to camp after a park ranger told us a herd of bison stampeded through the campground the night before. Contrary to the safety and warmth I experienced as a child, our night in Yellowstone was a night of terror when we heard a bison snort just outside our tent. To our surprise it snowed that night. My husband got up early and built a campfire, but the kids and I refused to shed what little warmth was afforded by our sleeping bags. Maybe our situation would have improved if we had brought bacon for breakfast.

This year my husband and I planned a trip to Canada. We reserved an oTENTik in Fundy National Park, New Brunswick. The park website displayed a photo of a structure with cabin-like walls and a canvas roof. The website suggested we bring sleeping bags, food, cooking utensils, and a cooler. Although there was no cooking permitted in the oTENTik, we could cook in a community kitchen nearby. Since we were flying, we packed our sleeping bags in a suitcase, along with packets of dehydrated lasagna, and a small pan to boil water.

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Our oTENTik

 

When we arrived at Fundy, the oTENTik was clean, equipped with bunk beds, a gas heater, table, and chairs. We walked over to the community kitchen and discovered we needed to build a fire in a wood burning stove to cook.  During the previous week we slept in hotels and dined on delicious Canadian seafood. We had no firewood and forgot to bring matches.  Did we really want to go buy those things to cook freeze-dried lasagna? The town of Alma was only a five minute drive away. So we drove into town, picked up a pizza, and brought it back to our campsite. We really lived off the land. Modern conveniences have weakened my  pioneer spirit. I want to enjoy living in the great outdoors without doing all the work. My experiences with camping as an adult gave me a new sense of appreciation for my parents.

Did I already mention Dad eventually bought a trailer?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Secret of the Cereus

 

ILWS6012Buzzards glide in a cloudless sky; rock squirrels hurry on the ground.

Lost in the shadow of the prickly pear, the Cereus makes no sound.

A lazy cactus with sprawling stems, supported by kind neighbors,

Watching and waiting for the perfect time,to begin its secret labors.

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Coaxed by one grand sunset, each Cereus bud unfolds.

Delicate white petals, with centers of soft gold.

A fragrance like vanilla, spills forth from every core

luring a local sphinx moth to pollinate…before…

The first light of the morning forever shuts each flower.

Without complaint or question, they meet their final hour.

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The secret of the Cereus, revealed one moonlit night:

Fulfill the maker’s purpose inside the span of life.

Buzzards glide in the cloudless sky; rock squirrels hurry on the ground.

Life resumes in the desert heat; but the Cereus makes no sound.

 

I wrote the poem “The Secret of the Cereus” two years ago. Like many busy people I’ve  complained about how little time I seem to have.  What if you only had twelve hours to accomplish your mission in life? That’s how much time a Cereus has. This flower only blooms one night out of the year. So what is the Cereus doing the rest of the year? Getting ready!

Although the Night-Blooming Cereus can be cultivated in tropical areas, its natural habitat is the desert  of the American southwest. According to Desert USA, the Cereus is rarely noticed due to its plain characteristics. A member of the cactus family, the Cereus grows in the shadow of other desert shrubs. It has sparse, gray, twiggy stems which break easily. These stems can grow anywhere from four to eight feet in length. The Cereus can look like it’s dead, but it isn’t. That’s where the secret comes in. All year it is preparing to bloom!

On that one special night groups of Cereus all bloom at the same time. This event makes it possible for the sphinx moth to cross pollinate between flowers so fruit can be produced. The Cereus produces a red elliptical fruit that is actually edible!

I’ve never seen a wild Cereus in bloom. Tohono Chul Park near Tuscon, Arizona is reported to have the largest collection of night-blooming Cereus in the U.S. The park hosts Bloom Night which is open to the public. Imagine walking at night on a trail in the desert. Above you the sky is filled with millions of stars, and at your feet the path is lined with luminaries. In the distance, the cry of a coyote breaks the silence sending chills up your spine. The air is heavy with the sweet fragrance like vanilla, and then you see scores of beautiful white blooms glowing in the moonlight! Bloom Night is number one on my bucket list!

Of course timing is very important when it comes to witnessing Bloom Night. It can occur anywhere between the end of May and late July. If you go to the park’s website, you can sign up for the bloom watch. You’ll receive emails to notify you of the progress of the Cereus blooms.  It might be something to plan a vacation around, providing you own your own plane!

Ever since I learned about the night-blooming Cereus I try to not complain about a shortage of time. After all, this flower only lives for one night. It accomplishes what it was created to do, at a time when no one may notice, and it never complains. Do you have a destination you have always wanted to visit, or something you would like to witness? Leave a comment and tell me about it.

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Photo of Night-Blooming Cereus, courtesy of an Orlando gardener.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trains, Tracks, and True Colors

IMG_6589The Sunday lunch dishes have been cleared away and my family sits in their assigned seats at the dining room table. Once again, Donovan’s soft familiar voice singing,  “Try and Catch the Wind”  floats through the room. The box is opened, the board unfolded, and the dice is rolled to determine who goes first. We are preparing to play Ticket to Ride USA, a board game created by Days of Wonder. My family just can’t seem to get enough of this game. It’s a weekly ritual.

Each player receives a small plastic bag with 45 train cars and five destination tickets. From the five tickets, they decide which three to keep. During their turn players draw two cards which match color coded tracks on the board. Once you collect enough cards to match the track between two cities, you can place your train on those tracks. It usually takes several turns to build the route on each destination ticket, all of which are kept secret from the rest of the players. Challenges arise when destinations  overlap and your train is blocked by another player’s train. That’s when the whining begins!IMG_6607Every Sunday each family member  uses the same color of train cars.  Like I said, this is a weekly ritual! I will refer to each player by color to protect their identity.  As in most families, each player’s  personality influences the way they perform.  Player Blue is the rule stickler, always at the ready to consult the rule book. Player Red complains whenever she is blocked and suggests we need to change the rules.  Player Red also apologizes profusely whenever she blocks anyone, but I wonder if she really means it. Player Yellow usually keeps more destination tickets than she is capable of completing, and loses more often than anyone else. Player Black takes the most risks, and they usually pan out in his favor! His performance amazes everyone because he is always consulting his cell phone and looking as if he’s not engaged in the game.

The game ends when one player’s train stock is reduced to two cars, signaling one final round for all players. Player Blue is kind of sneaky. He can look like he has a lot of train cars left and then place them all at once on a six space track. It’s a virtual train wreck for the other players who might not be expecting the game to end. To no one’s suprise, Player Black  is usually prepared for the finish, and comes out on top, or at least second. Player Red sighs and says, “I love this game, even if I don’t win.” Meanwhile, Player Yellow grumbles and writes down the winner’s score in our Ticket to Ride Hall of Fame notebook.

During the game, points are scored for train cars as they are placed between cities on the board. Additional tickets can be drawn throughout the game. Since we use the 1910 Expansion, we play the mega game. The mega game awards bonus points for the most number of trips (tickets) completed. Player Black holds the family record for completing 16 trips in one game! The average number of trips for the rest of us is 7. The winner is not known until point values of completed trips are revealed at the end of the game. Incomplete trips are subtracted from a player’s final score.

If you play this game, Game Knight can help you improve. Click on Ticket to Ride then go to strategies. Read how you can decide which tickets to keep, when to place your trains, and how to constantly watch what your opponents are doing so you can block them before they block you.

After losing for many weeks in a row, Player Yellow threatened to quit last Sunday. She was so distraught about losing that she didn’t even score her points at the end of the game! What a sore loser! Like I said, personalities are brought to bear with this game. But one thing Yellow knows is that she will never win if she quits. Yellow is always hopeful. Soon a new player will be moving to Orlando. Player Green will really take our game off the rails!

 

 

 

 

The Problem with Lists

IMG_6569Have you ever stopped to think about how many lists there are in the world? I’ll begin by listing a few of them.

Grocery list, packing list, inventory list, bucket list, to-do-list, reading list, guest list, waiting list, call list, class list, friends list, wish list, and the FBI most wanted list… I could go on an on. I’ve written a lot of lists in my life.  When I can’t decide what to write about, I’ve even made a “what I could write about list.”

Lists can help us remember things. But they can also stop us from enjoying life if we let them control us. Have you ever not been able to function without your list? One time I lost my grocery list with my menu for the week when I was in the grocery store. I’ll admit, I’m an organization freak. When I lost my list a sense of panic spread throughout my body! Actually, it wasn’t the end of the world and I  even learned that I usually buy the same things every time I shop. Ok… yogurt, Cheerios, sandwich thins, sliced  turkey… I think we’ll survive!

When I get ready to travel I begin by making a list, of course.  I start packing several days before I leave, and check off each item as I put it in the suitcase. This method is not entirely fool-proof if you didn’t write something you needed on the list. I really admire people who literally, “fly by the seat of their pants”. Some people I know, and I won’t mention any names here, don’t make lists and wait until the last hour to pack before leaving for the airport! They say, if I forgot something, like clothes, I can always buy more souvenir T-shirts!

What about to-do-lists? Do you enjoy a sense of accomplishment as you cross those tasks out?  Have you ever crossed them out even though you didn’t do them? How do you acknowledge if you really completed the task or did a half way job? Too often I put way too many things on my to-do-list. So  I have to carry it over to the next day and maybe even the next week! Making lists can be very time-consuming.  What’s the point of having your whole day crossed out before you go to bed? Extend that to crossing out weeks, months, years, and even your whole life! To-do-lists are mostly for boring, unpleasant tasks that no one really wants to do. Some of the most memorable and enjoyable moments of our lives can happen in between the entries on our list. Who writes down,” be sure to eat ice cream today”, or “sit on the front porch and enjoy the sunset”?

Most people my age are thinking about crossing things off their bucket lists. A bucket list might include exotic places to visit, learning a new skill, or doing something adventurous. I’m curious, do most people write their bucket list in one sitting, or do they continually add to it? What is the best age to start writing a bucket list?  For the unimaginative, there are websites where you can get bucket list ideas! See the top 100 bucket list ideas at themasterbucketlist.com. I was surprised to read #25, “Raise a happy and healthy child.” Is that something you can really control?  What happens when  your bucket list is all crossed out? Is life over?

Lists can really stress a person out. They can actually depress you by making you feel like a failure if you don’t accomplish what you’ve written down.  And let’s face it, life does get in the way sometimes. Life, with all its twists and turns is full of unexpected events. My new challenge for myself is to live in the moment and make less lists. Hmmm…Maybe  I will write that down as number one on my “new personal goals list”.

 

 

 

 

Going Bananas!

The summer heat and humidity of Orlando can drive you bananas! So why not see a bunch in their natural state?  One morning last week I strolled through beautiful Leu Gardens. This lush respite from city life made me feel like I was in a real rain forest!

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A variety of plants thrive in the tropical stream garden. The path is quiet and shady with benches to sit and breathe in the beauty of your surroundings.

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I’m not a botany expert, but I like plants, especially flowering plants. I was amazed at these colorful blooming bromeliads. Some bromeliads shoot out tall spikes to show off their flowers, but some have tiny flowers deep inside that you can only see if you look really close. In the photo below the blossoms are those minute lavender triangles inside the center cup that retains water!

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Many insects and other animals depend on the water that is stored in the cup like center of a bromeliad. (By the way, bring insect repellant!)

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These bromeliads are growing out of a “host” plant.

 

The most well known bromeliad is the pineapple. Did you know they were named by early European explorers who thought they looked like pine cones?

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While in the tropical stream garden, I learned that bananas don’t grow on trees! Instead they grow on stalks. Each flower spike develops a “banana heart”. After fruiting the spike dies, but new offshoots grow out of the base.

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Some banana stalks are only ornamental.  The ornamental bananas have colorful flowers but their fruit is inedible and full of small, hard seeds.

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Ornamental Banana
The Tropical Stream Garden is one of many places to visit within Leu Gardens. It is a lush oasis of rejuvenation and refreshment in the marathon of life!

Rabbit Trails and Romanticism

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Are you a romantic? Do you believe in the importance of nature and its effect on your creativity? There is a word to describe the connection between art and nature. It’s called romanticism! I don’t intend to bore you with facts about romantic writers. But if your imagination is sparked by nature, many writers throughout history felt the same as you. Wordsworth, Keats, and Emerson to name a few. There is a real connection between walking in nature and writing. Many writers have trekked miles in the quest for inspiration.  For me, walking clears my head of mental stress and gives room for my imagination.

I want to emphasize the importance of being outdoors. Walking on a treadmill does not relax my mind. I keep looking at the clock and wondering when will this session be finished?  How can anyone be inspired by a clock, a wall, or a TV?  I’d much rather look at the sky, a tree, or a lake.  Near my house there are walking paths around neighboring lakes. One path in particular is a terrific habitat for birds and bunnies. Would that be a rabbit trail?

Many of my vacations have included hiking in national parks, most of which are located in the western United States. One of my favorite trails is called The Watchman in Zion National Park, Utah. This trail is considered moderately strenuous. Of course when you’re in the mountains, moderate means there will be an  increase in elevation! But the Watchman takes you up 378 feet slowly. I like that! Since the trail is located at the mouth of Zion Canyon, the increased sunlight nurtures a host of beautiful wildflowers.

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The trail also affords spectacular views of neighboring rocky peaks. The Watchman, pictured above, seems to be always visible around every bend.  The trail ends at a great viewpoint of the road into the park.  You can look down and see everyone coming and going from the canyon. Was this a lookout station where sentinels lit signal fires to warn canyon inhabitants of possible invaders?

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When I look at this photo I think about the native people who entered the canyon on foot. They might have been tracking an animal when they stumbled into one of the most beautiful places in America. In the early 1860’s  Mormon pioneers named the canyon Zion after the hills of Jerusalem. They thought of it as a sanctuary in the desert.

Geologic wonders are awe-inspiring. But the reality is I am a flat-lander, who spends most of my time in the semi-tropics of Florida. Mountains are few and far between in these parts. Still I take my walks and sometimes find inspiration on the rabbit trails.

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Trust and Obey

 

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Have you ever looked back on an experience in your life and wondered, “How did I do that?” Those are my thoughts as I look at this image of myself taken while riding a mule out of the depths of the Grand Canyon. The words of an old hymn come to mind: “Trust and obey, there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” On this trip, I needed to do both in order to succeed and survive.

A few months ago, my husband suggested that we take the mule ride to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Given that you can only get to the bottom by foot or mule, I thought the mule idea was a better one.  We made our reservations for April 30, 2016.

When we arrived at the South Rim, we were surprised by the cold temperatures. It actually snowed on April 28! The day of our mule excursion, it was pouring rain. After receiving instructions, and nervously mounting our mules, we proceeded down the Bright Angel Trail on a five-hour journey to the Phantom Ranch. The canyon was filled with fog. We couldn’t see any farther than twenty feet in front of us. The decreased visibility actually helped me forget about the canyon drop-offs and focus on one thing, getting to know my mule named Olga.

Mules are hybrid animals, the offspring of a male donkey and female horse.  Mules resemble horses in terms of height, but have short manes like donkeys.  Olga had a reddish-brown coat and soft, gentle-looking eyes. Her big ears stuck out on either side of her head. Each ear curled forward as she plodded along, almost like a swimmer with hands cupped, to pull back water with each stroke. Olga had made this trip many times. She knew the trail, the guides, and the other mules. This was Olga’s territory.

I have never been at the mercy of an animal before. My job was to hold on to the saddle horn with my right hand and keep the reins in my left. A “motivator” (whip) was hanging from my right wrist to use if necessary in case Olga slowed down. I’m sorry to say, Olga slowed down frequently, and my feeble attempts to use the motivator didn’t have much of an impact. She responded better when Josiah, our guide, called her name.

I was amazed at Olga’s strength and courage.  After we stopped for lunch, the clouds lifted to reveal the splendor of the canyon around us. As we rounded a narrow hairpin curve, Olga’s head lurched forward into space and my stomach flipped like I was on a ride at a theme park. What a thrill! Olga didn’t lose her balance, and I stayed on the saddle. Two good things! As the hours passed, I began to trust Olga. She navigated the trail like a pro. By the second day, I could actually relax enough to take some pictures.

Our guides, Kevin and Josiah, were experienced wranglers and very knowledgeable about mules and the canyon. I obeyed them regarding the use of my phone, and kept it strapped around my neck as directed. We were allowed to take pictures whenever we wanted. But I must say it was easier when Olga stopped. Down in the canyon there was no signal. We could not send or receive calls, text, or email.  We had gone back in time 100 years!  Kevin and Josiah carried walkie talkies for communication with the outside world.

Safety was a priority. Our guides insisted we wait for their assistance regarding mounting, or dismounting our  mules. That wasn’t a problem for me! I was too short to climb up on Olga without help.  After a couple of hours of riding, my feet and legs were numb. I needed support to  dismount  and stand up!

After our mules crossed the Colorado River on the Black Bridge, we turned in at the Phantom Ranch for the night.   The next morning we began our ascent up the South Kaibab Trail.  This trail was shorter and steeper than Bright Angel.  Along the trail we stopped periodically to rest the mules. Josiah instructed us to line up our mules in a row and look out upon the canyon to witness the art of God.

The layers of  rock so distant and faded when seen from the rim, exploded in vibrant colors of pink, red, and green!  Pinyon pine, juniper, wildflowers, and wild grass flourished in a place I had considered barren. A kind of holy hush whispered on the wind. This was a place like no other. A place wild and free.  A place accessible through obedience and trust.

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