To the Mountains…towards my passions

I’ve spent the morning searching hotels on line.  Well, not hotels actually. Inns nestled in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  I’m looking for a retreat; a place to hide away for a few days and escape the stresses of my life. Maybe even get some much needed writing done on my novel.  Ideally the Inn would be historical, yet comfortable; I won’t have to think about cooking or dishes because my meals are beautifully prepared. People are friendly, yet not intrusive.  Perhaps they’ll have a dog that sleeps by the fireplace in the main room and I’ll watch it snooze peacefully, adding to my own comfort.  I’ll settle into an overstuffed chair with a good book and a blanket, a cup of tea (poured by someone else) at my side.  The scent of Earl Grey will reach my nose and fill me with warmth.  It will be January or February and certainly mid-week before everyone else arrives. Solitude is a pleasure for me. There will be large amounts of snow in the mountains and if I’m lucky, a gentle snow will fall at least once while I’m there.  But then the storm will blow away and the sky will turn to a crisp blue, the sun shining brightly.  I’ll head out on snowshoes through the woods, or maybe I’ll try my hand at cross country skiing.  The bright, new fallen snow will require sunglasses as I look at the snow topped trees and the surrounding mountains.  It’s a winter wonderland and I can’t imagine being anywhere else.   I’d return refreshed and ready to tackle the world!  But the warmth of the fireplace and the gentle snores of the sleeping dog will return me to the calmness I crave.

My room will have a large four-poster bed.  A fireplace.  A touch of Victorian, that era I love so much.  I’ve found the room. I’ve found the Inn and ironically (or not), I’ve been to this Inn before.  I was there many moons ago with my ex-husband.  I was a different person then, full of hope for the future.  Perhaps that’s why I’ve picked it again.  I may even request the same room.  Not because of any fond memory of him, but perhaps because it’s familiar in a strange way.  It’s almost like a reset; a place to start this new journey of my life.

One of the critical lessons I’ve learned through Discover the Gift is that action towards your passions is of utmost importance.  Every choice we make will move us towards our gifts, or away from them.  My gifts include nature, learning and writing.  This retreat would feed so much of my soul.   Every decision and action I take, I take towards becoming my authentic self.  So, while it may have started out as curiosity, as a fantasy of escape, I’m finding it to be so much more.  This journey is allowing me to take a large step in the direction of creating the life I’m dreaming of.  It’s a small, yet poignant step towards discovering my authentic self.  I’ll be booking the room.

History, reborn

It comes from the least likely places.  A word here. A sentence there. A name. A concept. A trivial fact around a bigger event.  I never know when it will hit, why it hits, or how deeply it will hit.  But when I get that skip in my heartbeat, that catch in my breath, I know.  

Right now that heightened interest is focused around a little piece of history in an area very dear to my heart.  The White Mountains in beautiful New Hampshire.  I love the mountains. Perhaps it’s because I feel the very essence of my grandfather, Jack, is wandering the trails and I’m connected to him there.  He’s my constant hiking companion.  I love everything about the mountains, actually. The smell of the air, the feel of the ground beneath my hiking boots, the incredible, overwhelming view from the peaks.  When I first see a glimpse of Franconia Notch on 93 North, or the peak of Chocorua when returning from Maine via Ossipee, my heart rejoices.  I smile.  I’m home.  So when I wanted to merge my passions (writing, hiking, history), I naturally turned my attention in that direction.  

The first thing I stumbled on was the abandoned mill community of Livermore in the heart of the White Mountains.  It’s nothing but foundations reclaimed by the land now, but the echo of history remains, reverberating through time.  It was as simple as that.  A town, long since forgotten.  And so the research began.  Old, out of print books have been found and acquired. Livermore is a tiny part of a much larger topic and I’m captivated with a logging history I never knew existed. I’ve hiked these trails, never giving thought to the ravages to the land that took place over a hundred years ago. I see pictures and it changes my entire outlook on my beloved mountains.  How resilient they are!  

As I read, possibilities fly through my mind.  Names, areas, tiny events flash, catch my imagination and I start to form the story before I even flip the page.  I have the outline. I have the concept, the focus, the passion without getting past chapter 2.  I know where it’s going…I can barely keep reading because I want to start immediately, want to bring the pages to life NOW.  But I don’t.  I make notes and I keep reading, because it will continue throughout the book.  It will reshape, become more defined and ignite my imagination so fiercely that I’ll be consumed.  I learned a long time ago, with many other overwhelming concepts, that if I stop now and don’t keep researching, I’ll miss so much.  The passion will change, it will twist and grow until it’s mature enough to remain.  It will stick.

As a writer, I love nothing more than picking out small pieces of history and creating a world around them.  With the smallest name and circumstance, I’ve written entire novels.  It starts with nothing more than a name.  A paragraph in a text book.  A long-forgotten piece of seemingly irrelevant history no one recalls.  It was put down as an afterthought.  But something grabs my attention and no matter what else I read about, it remains.  The spark takes light and until I write about it, it will not die.  And so it goes.  A new name has caught my interest.  A new tidbit. A new world is about to be born…or reborn, I should say.  

Action in Motion

“Activation August” I’ve decided to call it.  Action on the path I’ve set out on, movement on my journey.  DOING.  MOVING.  Move out of my head and into the land of the living through actions. Deliberate and with awareness.  Start walking on the trail I’m always talking about, instead of just talking about it.  This is my month of ACTION.

It’s only five days into the month and I’m doing well.  Hiking solo, working each day actively on my passions.  Writing, hiking, nature and learning.  Doing something every day that propels me along.  But action truly comes in many forms.  It can manifest itself in the physical actions you take, or in the small, tiny choices that take no physical action at all.  Saying yes.  Saying no.  Each time you make a mindful decision or choice, you are in action.  As a matter of fact, it’s the mental, emotional awareness behind the action that makes it true activation.  Action, without awareness, is just movement.  Like picking up weights and just flailing your arms around instead of determined, concise movement, each choice needs to have purpose. Without purpose, it’s just movement, not improvement.

As a writer, I know the importance of having each sentence either reveal something about the character or propel the story forward.  All else is filler.  Avoid filler.  The same is true of life.  Each decision should be based on either revealing a strength or weakness about yourself, or it should propel you along in your journey.  If it reveals a weakness, work to make yourself stronger.  If it reveals a strength, keep doing it.  Either way, even the choice to have salad over pizza is an action.  It’s a deliberate choice to keep you on your path.

It’s the simple ability to say yes to an opportunity that gets you closer to your goal, or saying no to something that takes you in the wrong direction; action is living mindfully towards your goals.  It takes practice.  It takes determination and the knowledge of what your path is.  Then you can ask yourself what your decisions are telling you.  When you do something that goes against your path or your heart, what are you saying about yourself?  What are you saying about that action? Does it propel you towards your goal or does it reveal something about you?  Weaknesses, strengths, needs, desires–each choice tells a story.  Be actively aware of every choice you make.  Accept it.  It’s your choice.  Go for a walk or don’t.  It is never wrong. For we are responsible for the choices we make.  Not our parents or our spouse.  Not our family, friends or society.  We are.  So we need to make careful, mindful choices based on our own journey.  It’s not easy.  It never will be.  But each choice makes it easier to receive the things you need.  Like a wheel in motion, as long as you are moving, you aren’t growing moss.

So I’ll keep moving.  Keep making mindful decisions that propel me forward.  Action isn’t just about running a marathon or hiking a mountain.  It’s the deliberate awareness that comes with the physical action.  It’s the marriage of the two that makes it ACTIVATION!

Solo…the Summit

Summit Marker at Mt. Ascutney, VT
Summit Marker at Mt. Ascutney, VT

This weekend I did my first Solo Summit.  Mt. Ascutney in Vermont is rather local, less than an hour from the house.  I hadn’t planned on doing it alone, but I preferred to leave my reluctant teenagers asleep in their nice warm beds and head out on my own.  I had a purpose.

Mt. Ascutney is 3,144 ft and according to my phone app, I ascended 2270 feet from the trail head.  It’s a good hike, but not a horrendous one.  It is easily done in 4-5 hours; a perfect choice for my first solo hike.  Now, let’s understand the difference between solo hiking and solo wandering.  I wander all the time.  Like Thoreau once did, I strike out my back door and wander for hours through the woods and along forgotten roads.  Wandering solo is something I’ve not only done for years, it’s something I enjoy.  I take the dogs, we head out and return stronger, more focused.  It feeds my meandering spirit, a relaxed ramble through the familiar landscape of my life.

Hiking is different.  It’s to challenge myself. My hikes are well planned and always with a partner (for safety sake).  Needless to say, there usually isn’t the same familiarity of the trail. But it’s also very intimate.  As you generally spend 5+ hours with your hiking partner, you have a tendency to share a lot of things you may not have the inclination to do otherwise.  You’re both hot and sweaty and struggling over boulders and up steep inclines. After a few minutes you don’t care how you look.  Shyness is left at the trail head.  You become raw, vulnerable and real.  You become yourself.  So I can’t hike with just anyone.  It’s draining to make small talk or go through your life history with people you don’t know.  Well, it is for me anyway.  I prefer to be with people I know, who know me, and our conversation can help the relationship become richer.  It’s just who I am and how I prefer to hike; everyone is different. There are hiking clubs you can join or partners you can find on the web to get together and summit.  It’s a great idea and a wonderful way to meet people.  It’s just not where I am right now.  As in many areas of my life, I just don’t have the energy to spare.   So I struck out on my own. Not just because I had written it down in my day planner and wanted to keep to schedule, but because I wanted to know I could. I wanted to know I could make it on my own.

It was hot. It was humid.  My breathing sucked and I wanted to turn around more times than I’d like to admit.  But I kept going.  I stopped and rested when I needed to.  That was the nice thing about being alone; I wasn’t holding anyone up.  I could go at my own pace and didn’t have to feel ashamed for continually needing to stop and catch my breath.  Continually explain how I tend to breathe very shallow when it’s humid; that I thought I had asthma for the longest time and even went through a rash of tests.  How it only really bothers me in the humidity.  And how I’m really in good shape, honest.  I didn’t have to explain to anyone.  But I didn’t have anyone to prod me along, either.  I had to rely on myself.  It’s tougher than I thought.  Somewhere along the line I began to understand the need to reach the summit alone.  I began to understand that there would be a lot more mountains to climb alone, a lot more times I would have to rely on myself to push through. That was the point.  I may never need to hike alone after this, but I could.

It took me a little over 2 and a half hours to reach the summit.  I was tired and hungry and because of the haze I didn’t have a beautiful view for all my troubles.  But that’s okay. I did it.  I sat and ate my pb & j and took a few pictures before heading back down, carrying a new outlook on life.  I’d made it on my own.  It was a simple thing. A simple mountain.  It wasn’t life threatening or extremely difficult.  It was your average hike on your average day.  I ran into very few people, no wildlife (except a snake) and no obstacles.  It was uneventful.  But it let me know I’m more determined and stronger than I thought.  There was a time I wouldn’t have even attempted it.  I, too, would have stayed at home.  There was a time when I would have turned around and said “yeah, riiiight”.  And no one would have thought worse of me.  But I didn’t.  I kept going. And I did it.

I have no doubt I’ll continue to hike on my own, because the alternative is not hiking at all.  I’ll be careful and take my time.  I’ll drink in the beauty of life and see views I will never forget. While I found out how strong and determined I am, I also found out how lonely the trail can be without someone to share it with.  Not someone to keep me going or keep me safe.  That, I now know, I can do on my own.  But someone I can be raw, vulnerable and real with.  Until then, I’ll go it alone. I’ll continue alone until I come to love the solitude as much as I do when I wander the woods behind my home.  I’ll continue alone because I can.

Away we go!

I’ve had an incredible year so far.  It’s been full of introspection, isolation and revelations.  All good things for me.  As an introvert, I’m happiest surrounded by the people I love in quiet settings, enjoying the simple pleasures in life.  Nature, family, friends and the solace of peace.  These things have been my focus the past seven months.  I’ve filled journals and written more from my heart than all the years I’ve been writing.  It didn’t always flow…sometimes I pulled it out, cutting the cords as it landed, bloody and cold, on the paper.  But that’s what healing looks like.  That’s what the heart needs in order to grow.  Each time it’s broken, it rebuilds stronger, larger and (if allowed) able to hold even more love the next time.

Lately I’ve been working to find my “authentic self”.  To speak (aloud) my needs, wants and boundaries and not just put them on paper. I’ve been struggling to be true to myself and follow my true path.  Again, nothing easy there.  But one thing that wasn’t hard was discovering my passions.  While there weren’t a lot of surprises in what makes me happy, what was surprising is that I’ve known what they were all along and have even started down the path so many times.  But I kept turning around.  I kept forgetting where I was going.  I was so focused on the destination, I forgot how to get there. I forgot I need to put one foot in front of the other and DO something in order to get there.

Like any smart hiker, my journey is planned.  I have my map, my supplies and my emergency plan in place.  I have my first aid kit.  I have my team. I’ve done all my research, know all the potential risks and potential glories. But what good is all the preparation if I never step outside? Never break in my new boots? So, I’m ready to go.  I’m taking the physical steps to create the dream I’ve been visualizing for so long.  My path is clear. It’s rough and it’s full of pot holes, but it’s my path.  It’s the one I need to take in order to arrive at my destination. It’s my journey.  I’ve spent a great deal of time deep in the soul.  It’s time to leave the proverbial cave, set my compass and point my face to the sun.

Because you can’t get there from here…if you don’t move.


The Cave You Fear to Enter


Hiking, or “woods walking” has always been my solace. It’s where my soul regenerates and I can get in touch with something so primal and authentic it speaks to my very inner core.  Sure, it’s good exercise and removes the cobwebs from my head, but it’s so much more than that.   It’s not about the hike. It’s not about the walk.  It’s about being at one with the earth and hearing nothing except my own heartbeat (and the birds).  It’s about being surrounded by trees and dirt and rocks that will far outlive me.  We come and go.  The earth beneath our feet is eternal.  The rocks, while they may eventually erode or crumble, will be here for many generations.  I look at the stone walls that line the old back roads and think of those that came before.  The people that cut down forests and built their houses in new fields; those same fields that are now overgrown with pine and maple trees once again. Nothing remains except remnants of cellar holes, boundary lines and old animal pens.

They are logging a lot of the hill where I walk.  At first it broke my heart as the landscape changed and became unrecognizable.  Swaths of newly cut land created a foreign world where I once felt at home.  But now, slowly, it’s becoming familiar again.  Just different. Trees that had stood for perhaps a hundred years lay abandoned, cut and left to rot into earth.  The cycle is continuing.  Life is continuing.  I thought about how the farmer’s children, returning to their homestead decades later, must have been saddened by the trees overtaking their beautiful gardens, pastures and fields.  How those same trees are now being felled to give way to pasture and fields once again.

These moments give me insight into life like nothing else could.  I’m reminded continually of the cycle that surrounds us. Life and death. Growth and decay.  It’s everywhere all the time.  We cannot mourn what is missing for something new is happening.  Where there were trees, fields will take over. Where one thing was, another takes its place.  Different. Foreign at first, but gradually becoming familiar.  For me, where  pain once lived, a new peace is taking hold.  Where once I felt alone, now I feel quiet.  It’s very, very different.

I’m coming into a new period of my life.  I suppose it’s called “empty nest” but it’s much more than that.  I’m coming into a time where I can focus solely on me.  On unveiling the person I’ve become over the years.  It’s happened slowly. Pieces of who I used to be have faded away, much like the erosion eating at the rocks that were stacked purposefully into stonewalls a century ago. I’ve been stacking experiences and emotions into a new formation. Solid and strong enough to last throughout my life.  I’ve changed. I’ve morphed into a different person without really noticing.  But now is the time to take notice.  I’ve the time, the quiet and the solitude to be able to find out who lies beneath this skin I wear.  Who lives deep within and what I need to bring to the surface.  It’s not easy and it’s not always fun, but it’s a journey like no other.  Joseph Campbell said “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek”.   It’s time to light a torch and enter the cave.  They don’t call me Jewels for nothing*… for I am my own treasure.


*Although, when I was young my cousins DID call me “Jewels Worth Nothing”. But they did so in such a way that I knew they loved me more than any jewel they could ever hold.

And just like that…my world changed.

It was a simple enough passage in the book I’m reading, “Nature Principal” by Richard Louv.  He mentions bird watching and how it not only adds a layer of awareness to outdoor activities, it awakens the senses.  I bought “Birding by Ear.”  I bought “Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America”.  I took to my back deck and I watched.  

It was a beautiful morning on Memorial Day weekend.  Sunday.  The trees, not quite complete in the budding process, allowed some view against the crisp, blue sky. Still, the leaves allowed cover for the majority of the songbirds; I could hear them but could not see them.  Then, a flutter and a series of quick, rapid dashes of three small birds, flitting from branch to branch.  Somehow I’d forgotten I might need binoculars, so after retrieving my husband’s good set, I returned.  I figured out how to adjust them and pointed them towards where the movement had been moments earlier.  I searched, the lenses pressed to my eyes, my grip tight (it would take a few hours before I finally relaxed my grip).  Then, suddenly, there it was.  A “she” I would assume from her more muted coloring.  But she was breath taking.  I have never seen a bird through a set of binoculars…not that I ever recall anyway. I continued my quest, watching and focusing in on my surroundings for the next four or five hours. When I couldn’t see a bird, I examined the trees, the branches, and the leaves. I became part of my landscape.  I watched a tiny hummingbird preen himself for so long I finally had to lower my arms and shake out my neck from the strain. I studied the blossom of the Ash tree, a late bloomer in our yard.  I saw what I believe was a Scarlet Tanager and then a Yellow Warbler. I found a fallen Birch tree loaded with polypore.  I continued to watch the small trio of birds most of the morning and early afternoon until they decided they’d find someplace better to be.  I’m thinking they were the White Breasted Nuthatch, but I’m not positive.  But you see, that’s not the point.

I’ve been advised to begin living more in the moment.  I tend to worry, to create scenarios that may or may not come true. My mind toils on the “what ifs” and “shoulda, coulda, wouldas” in life.  I’ve a very overactive imagination and it can lead to chaos in my life if I let it.  So recently I’ve made more of an effort to remain aware. To live in the moment.  I’ve picked up yoga again; just me and the mat (and my animals as everyone knows you cannot be on your mat without the animals joining in…).  But there’s nothing I’ve found that puts me in the moment like bird watching!  After a few hours I realized I’d been fully present every single moment.  I listened to the songs, watched the trees intently for sign of wings. I thought of nothing else. My mind didn’t wander, didn’t creep towards darkness or sadness.  I was rewarded with bright red birds, gorgeous yellow masked ones and playful Chickadees.  I got to see a world right off my back deck I had never paid a stitch of attention to before.  They’ve always been there, the birds. And I’ve always been here.  Almost like a parallel universe; but isn’t that what nature is for a lot of us? A parallel life we forget exists? I get so caught up on the day to day struggles I forget the flowers, the birds, the trees. The ever changing world around me. It’s always there and while I’m very in tune with nature on a regular basis, lately I just haven’t been aware.  

So, with binoculars in hand (at least until my husband takes them back) I search the trees continually for the sight of a new bird.  I watch, listen, sense where the bird may be based on the calling. It’s simple. It’s free. It awakens my senses and allows me to be fully and completely alive.  It’s allowed me to achieve something nothing else ever has. In that moment, I’m no where else.  I’m not in the past or the future. I’m right here. Right where I’m supposed to be.

Trail Therapy

I love this time of year. I’m done with hibernation and I’m ready to face the world again. The trees are starting to come alive, the grass is finally turning bright green. Wild flowers are popping up everywhere beneath my feet and around my lawn. Purples, deep reds, blues and yellows everywhere! Spring in New England is a beautiful time. I’m usually back to trail running long before now, but it’s been a strange winter for me. I seemed to get caught up in internal struggles and couldn’t get out the door. My Easter hike kicked off my season; got me out there and reminded me of what I’d been missing camped out in my chair staring at Facebook every morning for the past eight months.

I am a record keeper. I keep a diary.  I keep logs of all my hikes and runs for the past three years. I keep a log of my weight and measurements for the past ten years. I like to look back and see how I’m doing now. I like to see improvement! I knew I’d be sorely disappointed in my performance over the last year and I wasn’t wrong.

January:   18 workouts
February: 31 workouts
March:       41 workouts
April:         30 workouts
May:           24 workouts
June:         11 workouts
July:          15 workouts
….and then it turns to shit. It isn’t until April 2013 that I get over 3 workouts in a month. How can I go from 41 workouts in March 2012 to 1 in March 2013? Life. Somewhere along the way I got lost. I know I had excuses at the time, and they probably seemed like good ones. August was “too hot”. September through December hunters are in the woods…always an excuse. I couldn’t afford to go to yoga four times a week anymore. I just gave it all up and became a chair-potato addicted to memes on Facebook.

Recently I realized I’m going through another bout of depression. I haven’t been “happy” for quite sometime, but I couldn’t really put my finger on why. My job? My marriage? Money (or lack of)? Sure, they all have their ups and downs, but no more than before. Something isn’t working for me and I need to fix it. So I returned to yoga. It’s one day a week, but it’s something. That lead to being aware…aware of my need to eat healthy and most important, to be outside. I started shutting down my computer and heading out the door in the mornings. I head back out at night after a stressful day of work.

I won’t lie; it’s only been since the beginning of April that I’ve been getting out there again. But with that simple decision to “just do it”,  I worked out 11 times in April, despite traveling to LA for work. I surprised even myself and worked out everyday in the hotel gym! Something I’d never done before. And I loved every minute of it. It was the kick start I needed as well. I proved to myself that I was in this for good.  I was back.   While machines in a gym are great and I love the elliptical machine sitting in my living room and the treadmill in my garage when weather is bad, there is nothing, nothing like being out on the trail.  The smells, the feel of the ground beneath my well-worn (and well-torn) sneakers.  Fresh animal tracks (and scat) beneath my feet reminding me I’m not alone out here.  I may have been inside for the past 8 months, but the woods were still very much alive without me.  It was I who wasn’t alive.

When I’m hiking or trail running I tend to think but never dwell.  Thoughts come and I try to work out problems, but somehow they don’t seem like problems anymore.  It’s easier to “let things be” when I’m more worried about where my next step needs to fall. I don’t play music; instead I listen to the sound of my feet hitting the ground or the labored breathing of my old dog. The chirping of birds is the only other sound that fill the woods; even the distant rumbles of the real world can’t make it all the way out here. I’m in a cocoon of quiet and calm.   My focus quickly changes to where I am in my hike or run, how my body feels, how the trees have changed, how cute my dogs are 🙂  My mind rushes with creative thoughts; I’ve probably had a dozen book ideas or written a hundred blogs out on the trail, only to have them erase from my mind the moment my foot hits the stairs.  And that’s okay.

Perhaps it’s because I’m not only doing something good for my body, but because I’m taking charge of my thoughts that makes being out there so important.  When I trail run I feel more alive than when I do anything else (even hike).  I immediately feel stronger, more in control.  I love the way my muscles react when my foot hits the ground.  I’m proud of myself for doing it.  I’m hot and sweaty and tired and strong. I get muddy and scraped up and my feet hurt when I’m done.  I’m bleeding and bruised from branches hitting my legs– and I bloody love it!  My feet are cracked and rough looking, but they are strong.  It’s better than any therapy session in the world! I’m alone with all the voices in my head and I let them work it out in the background. I know what I need; I just have to drown out the negativity.  I don’t have to talk to anyone except my dogs; I don’t have to look good or prove anything to anyone but myself.  If I need to slow down and walk, I do.  If I almost trip and look like an idiot, no one is there to see it 😉  If I twist an ankle and need to limp along for a little while, that’s okay…but I usually keep on running and it works itself out.  Out here I am me, for me, by me.  I have no one to answer to.  I am in control and I am strong.  I may have a stressful day at work or I may go negative in my checkbook…I may get annoyed at being ignored.  But that world seems to matter less when I know I have the woods to retreat to.  And slowly and surely, that strength and control will soon follow me out of the woods.  It will allow me to make it through the tough times without letting it get to me as much.  I’ll make decisions that are best for ME.  I’ll reconnect my body and soul and be happier for it.

Post Script:

Now, don’t get me wrong. I haven’t given up the infamous Facebook.  I have beloved girlfriends that I couldn’t live without on there.  It’s my social network and I love touching base with my friends and family. I’m not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  But I have changed its role in my life. I fill my newsfeeds with positive posts from inspirational people.  I follow trail runners and hiking groups. I share my clean eating recipes and tips and I try to make it a help, not a hindrance to what I want to become.  I may be on there less, but I still count on the friendships I’ve made to make me whole!

Lessons from Bicknell Brook

It may not look like much from the road, but it’s paradise!

One of my favorite running trails is Bicknell Brook – Colette Trail a few miles from my house. Unlike running up back, I have to remove myself from my environment and routine and drive there. I found it about 2 years ago and it’s more than just a hike or run.   It’s a classroom for all sorts of lessons I could probably find elsewhere, but not with nearly as much enjoyment.

Since I found this little piece of shady paradise, I have wavered between taking people with me and keeping it to myself.  Each time I visit it’s an experience I cherish, no matter who I’m with.  And each time I seem to learn a bit more about myself.  Life Lessons learned in the woods.

Sometimes you need to stop and stick your toes right in.   At least stick them into the trickle of the brook that covers the beautiful rocks.  Too often in life I run through my daily routines, taking little time to relax and let life gently surround me.  Instead, I get caught up in the whys and hows of what is, what was and what shall never be, becoming so locked in my own head I’m not truly present.  Today as I looked at the cool water running ever so gently over the moist rocks, I thought “hey, I bet that would feel good…” And it did.  Instead of running right by with the thoughts in my mind, I took the time to slip out of my shoes and socks and let the water caress my feet.  It felt good.  It felt better than good; it felt amazing!

Sometimes you just need to have your ass on a rock and your toes in the stream.

You can do anything you set your mind (and legs) to. As long as you stick to it.  I started running trails two years ago when it became a matter of necessity more than anything.  I had added more and more mileage to my morning walks throughout the summer when the kids were home from school and needed to make up the time somewhere.  I started running the downhills, working my way up to the flats and eventually most of the uphills too.  The first time I ran Bicknell I gave myself a goal of 1 1/2 hours.  After all, I could HIKE it in 2, so this should be a piece of cake.  When I came back out in the parking lot in one hour, I was thrilled! Tired, but thrilled!  Not only had I done it a lot faster than I thought, I ran the whole thing. I didn’t need to stop once.  I suppose it might be one of the reasons it’s my favorite!  It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you just start small.

It might take a while, but that tree WILL come down

It’s okay to look behind you, but only to see how far you’ve come.  I won’t lie.  I’m a big one on looking in my past and thinking of all the things I could have done differently.  But on the trail, if you look behind you too much you’ll fall flat on your face.  You always have to be looking one step ahead of your feet so you don’t trip on a rock or root or twist your ankle in a hole.  There is way too much shit going on to worry about where you’ve been. Still, it never hurts to look back and see where you’ve come from and how hard you’ve worked to get there.  You just can’t spend a lot of time doing it. Move along little doggie…

There are a lot of trails in life. Try them all.  Every trail may lead to the same place, but each one has its own unique quality.  There are quite a few routes you can take through the Colette Trail.  Some cut off the points closest to the water, bringing you deeper into the woods, making your run faster.  You can take the long loop back to the parking lot or the shorter, more direct one.  While I generally stick to the main trail, I’ve found myself delving into the less active paths to see where they come out.  I know I won’t get lost, but sometimes I just need to spice it up a bit, discover something I never knew existed. As I face the next stage of my life, I know there will be a lot of trails for me, a lot of paths I can take.  The one I ultimately choose will be the right one, but taking the path less traveled has always been my way.  I just keep wondering…what does it hold? Where will it take me?

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Be free to make changes as you go and add where necessary. “The Best of Kansas” isn’t always long enough to make it through the full run. Sometimes I have to add a bit of J. Geils and The Cars too.  The art of improvising is key in every facet of life.  While I’m sure it makes more sense to create a long playlist from the beginning, sometimes it just isn’t what you need.  Frankly, I don’t choose my music until I’m out there (and if I’m listening to the radio I have no control). Every day is different and what’s needed to keep going changes as you go along.  If you find yourself short of dreams, find some more.  It really is that simple.  Besides, how boring would the same ole’ playlist be?

Just because it feels good at the time doesn’t mean it was the smartest thing to do… This lesson came a few years ago when I thought it would be really cool to take the kids to the pools and swim.  NOT a good idea. I, of course, was the only one to swim…and then had to hike out in wet clothes. Really? I was SO chaffed I thought my legs were burning when we stopped at Grafton Pond for a real swim.  They hurt for days!  But you know what, it was fun while I was doing it, so was it really that stupid? Well, probably.  Next time I’ll just bring a change of clothes!

Sometimes we have to go through the shit to appreciate the smallest of things. When you are sweating like crazy, even the slightest breeze feels amazing.  This one came to me today, my second 80+ degree Bicknell run in a week.  Sweat was dripping into my eyes, coating every inch of me in a thick layer of yuck.  But then the breeze came and felt SO good!   I was reminded of my girlfriend, Laura, who lost almost everything in Irene last year.  When the smallest plant came back in the Spring, it was like a gift from on-high.  It’s amazing how a simple word, smile or action can make a world of difference.  You can be having the worst day in the world and when someone reaches out and takes the time to care, it really feels amazing.

It’s okay to not run full steam ahead.  There are many times when I just can’t run the whole trail.  I no longer mind if I have to slow down and walk for a while.  It actually gives me the time to reflect, react to my surroundings and take stock of what I’m trying to accomplish. And sometimes it just gives me the time to catch my breath before running again.  Whatever the reason, it’s okay to go at a comfortable pace no matter what I’m tackling. Sometimes it yields much better results in the long run.

Welcome to my Paradise!

There are hundreds of other lessons that run through my head as I run (and walk) the paths around me.  Some are random and make absolutely no sense to anyone but me, while some are more poignant.  Sometimes I think of who I am and who I want to be. Other times I listen to my playlist or my favorite DJ on iheart radio and don’t think of anything at all.  It all depends on the day…and the run…and the lesson I seem to need the most.

22 degrees requires more layers…

I have been aching to wear my new Kuhl hiking pants since unwrapping them Christmas morning!  I paired them with my new CuddleDuds and headed out.  It was cold; 22 degrees to be exact.  I had plenty of layers on the upper body: tank top, Columbia base layer, polarfleece 1/4 zip, Columbia jacket.  I had gloves, a hat and a cowl.  But the thin hiking pants, as comfortable as they are, need a lot more beneath them.  I didn’t really notice until I jumped into a hot shower.  Um, ouch.

It’s my own fault.  I didn’t want the winter pants, feeling it would limit their use.  Why do I so quickly forget how freakin’ cold it gets in New Hampshire?  I’ll have to team them up with my Zoot runner tights with the insulation and they’ll make a perfect combination.

Despite my miscalculations on the weather, I DO love these new hiking pants.  They are the most comfortable pair of pants I think I’ve ever worn!  They are Kuhl Softshell Cargo pants in Charcoal and if they had more colors I’d buy them all!  There are plenty of zippered pockets and have plenty of stretch. While the fit is a bit snug right now (curse those 7 pounds!), they never bind or pinch.  I can see that they will be my favorite pants for the coming hiking season–and for work too!

Now that Mother Nature has reminded me that you can freeze your A*^ off here in NH, I’ll be adding another layer but I won’t give up these pants!