Stop, look, listen # 5

 

Moon

There are times on this trip when I really dig what I see. I feel exhilarated by the place; inspired. It’s a great feeling and I say to myself, “Yeah! This is what it’s all about. This is living the dream.” Then, sometimes, some detail enters my awareness and I feel this great disappointment. I might see a grocery bag wrapped up in the branches of a tree or dog poop on the sidewalk. It doesn’t take much to shift from euphoria to disappointment. And then there is that phase of slowing down and seeing if I can hold it all in one breath and thank it for just being here as a part of this big, wonderful, crazy life. In Writing Down The Bones, Natalie Goldberg writes, “Original details are very ordinary, except to the mind that sees their extraordinariness… We must remember that everything is ordinary and extraordinary. It is our minds that either open or close”.

Teal and Salmon

 

Thanks to my college friend, Laura, we got the idea to go to Gates Pass in Tucson. What an incredible place and I definitely would recommend it. The mountain views and the variety of desert plants were splendid. The sheer expanse of the land was impressive and made me realize how tucked into hillsides and valleys we are in our section of New Hampshire. There were a LOT of people traveling the same route as we were and that was a disappointment but it’s all about perspective, right?

 

Every once in a while we have to stay at a campground to empty the tanks, use wifi and do laundry. Staying at these places is hard for me especially after having been in some quiet remote space.

It gives me great opportunity to just be present and to be grateful for the service the place offers. I can’t say that I am all that good at that. The morning we left, I read this in a morning email. Thank you Universe!

Any place is sacred ground, for it can become a place of encounter with the divine Presence.  –

BR. DAVID STEINDL-RAST

I created this meditative drumming while sitting on top a hill at the BLM land in Tucson. There was no one around and it was early morning in the desert. The mountains in the distance were beautiful. I had a heck of a time just being with the space when part of it included the hum of a grader a quarter mile away that was working on the side of the highway. That DID NOT belong in my space! Ha Ha! Enjoy!  Click here

Stop, Look, Listen #4

Poncho Villa State Park

Flat and mountainOn our way between Davis Mountains State Park in Fort Davis, Texas and our friends John and Marcia’s house in Sierra Vista, Arizona, we stopped at the Poncho Villa State Park in Columbus, New Mexico. This part of New Mexico is in a remote area right along side the Mexico border. When we first arrived, we were a little underwhelmed. It was cool and windy and flat.

The park lies right on the border. The more we looked at the view from our campsite overlooking the Mexican landscape the more beautiful it became. There was no wall to obscure our view.

Park Sign

There was a nice variety of desert plants. There was a woman camped near us in a dilapidated RV which she shared with a small dog, a toddler, a grade school aged girl and a teenaged girl. The middle girl cried a lot. They may have been happy but it made me sad to consider their lives.

Tank And Larry

The next morning we went to the Poncho Villa Museum, which is part of the State Park, and wow what an eye opener!

On March 9, 1916, Poncho Villa and his troops invaded the town of Colombus.

There was a 20 minute video with pictures of the invasion and interviews with people who had survived the attack. Somebody had the forethought to record these survivors back in the 60’s and 70’s while they were still alive. The film was mesmerizing.

Soldiers from the 13th Calvary Regiment, that was stationed in Columbus, were taken by surprise but finally got organized and drove the invaders back with their light machine guns but not before soldiers and civilians were killed. President Woodrow Wilson ordered General Pershing to follow Poncho Villa into Mexico. Pershing and his troops, including a young Patton, chased after Poncho Villa for 9 months and never captured him. The start of World War I ended the expedition. It was the first time that the US used motorized vehicles in a conflict.

In the museum were artifacts from the expedition including guns, swords, machine guns, ammunition, uniforms worn buy the soldiers, saddles, letters home the soldiers wrote and many more fascinating artifacts.

Reports about Poncho Villa are colorful and varied. Some write that he was a bandit, some that he manned the first socialist revolution of the Western hemisphere and some say he was a Robin Hood figure who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. He had a good number of wives and children. He played himself in a few Hollywood movies.

It was a good stop. We learned a lot, got a nice hot shower and a good night’s sleep.

800px-Pancho_Villa_bandolier_crop

Stop, Look, Listen #3

I feel as though I should rename this series. Maybe I should call it, “Stop, Look, Listen, Feel”. I have always been fascinated by the feel of a place. Some places creep me out, some sadden me, some light me up, some seem neutral. There are places with a strong feel and some with a bare whisper. I guess it’s all in the ‘eye’ of the beholder. Perhaps we see what we expect to see and feel what we expect to feel. It could be that it (our sense of reality) is  partly external ‘facts’  and partly a homogenous soup mitigated and conjured up by our minds. I wonder if a place might have its own reality, its own essence. The Irish poet, David Whyte describes the genius of a place. He says that the  word genius is Latin for ‘the spirit of a place’. I like that idea very much.

So, anyway, Larry and I traveled to two places and each place had a strong feel to them.

We spent the day at Vicksburg National Military Park which commemorates the Siege of Vicksburg.  The Union and Confederate forces fought for 47 days. The Union Army forced the surrender of the Confederate forces on July 4, 1863. By that time, 10,142 Union and 9,091 Confederate soldiers were killed or wounded. The Park has more than 1,200 memorials and monuments to the men who fought on both sides of the war. The park is beautiful as are the many memorials. It’s a testament to the courage, to loss and heartbreak, and to love of country.

placquecannons

The feel of the Park was one of sorrow, loss, pain, and suffering. It felt unsettled as if the 47 days of battle had punctured a whole in the fabric of the place. It felt like the souls of the dead where still crying out for their mothers and wives. I felt badly for the soldiers of both sides of the conflict and for their families. I felt sorry for all of us who live in a world where war still exists.

The next day we went to the Emerald Mound.  The mound is an 8 acre site that was used from 1200 until 1730 and was build by the ancestors of the Natchez Indians. Emerald Mound is the second largest pre- Columbian earthwork in the country. There are a series of these mounds along the Mississippi Mound Trail. As usual, on our off season wanderings, there was only one other couple at the mound. It was hard to believe that something so large could have been built by people who had only the most basic of tools. No one knows a lot about the people who built the mounds. It is thought that the mound was a ceremonial center.

I climbed to the top of the mound and felt a strong sense of peace and strength. It felt like all of the energy of the place was balanced and flowing and was as strong as the Universe itself. The energy was as calming as it was invigorating. It’s hard to describe the experience but words like grounding, affirming, expanding and joyful come to mind. It reminded me a lot of what it was like at the burial chambers in Ireland and in the Orkney Islands. 

Susie on Mound

Shiny and Mound

So, the feel of a place is a funny thing. It’s hard to pin down. You can’t take a picture of it or record it. It is interesting to hang out with the genius of a place, to tip your hat to it, say a prayer for it. I recorded a 5 minute meditational Drumming as a thank you to the spirit of the place of Emerald Mound for you to enjoy.

Stop, Look, Listen #2

We headed from Virginia to Mars Hill, North Carolina which is near the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail . Nearby is Mount Mitchell which is the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi. Mars Hill has a population of about 2,000 people and is home to Mars Hill University. There is a story about a slave named Joe Anderson. He was owned by one of the trustees and was used as collateral for the building of the college. The Union Army invaded Mars Hill University in 1865. It took 40 years to restore the damage. A famous musicologist named Bascom Lamar Lunsfield, aka Minstrel of the Appalachians, was raised here.

Native Americans of the Cherokee Tribe lived on this land and were removed in 1838 to Oklahoma. They marched the Trail of Tears so named because so many died on the way.

We stayed with friends up in the hills. The hills here are sharp and steep and the roads are zig zagged which is interesting while traveling with an Airstream. Every bit of land has to be cut out of the hillsides and the rocky soil has to be heavily augmented. The woods are filled nut trees – hickory and black walnut. The acorns are big. There is very little light pollution and the night sky is very dark. There are horse farms down the road. In addition to lots of shale, there’s quartz.

The word that came to my mind in Mars Hill was resiliency – the capacity to recover from difficulties. It just takes so much to build here and to set up a new life. It’s hard to image how the early settlers succeeded in this frontier territory. I like the idea of resiliency. There’s this sense of sometimes just putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward with no guarantees and sometimes, for all you know, not even a remote chance of success.  Life stops us in lots of ways. We get sick, we move, our hearts get broken, we can no longer watch the news, people die. I sure admire people who persist and keep living life in spite of hardship.

Pied PiperRoosterA woman named Ola Belle Reed was born a few counties north of Mars Hill. She was the 4th of 13 children. She composed and sang a song called, I’ve Endured. I love this song, especially when Larry sings it. I hope you will like it too.

fog and trees

Stop, Look, Listen. #1

Before we left on this adventure, I thought a lot about the places we might visit. I started thinking about the whole idea of ‘place’. I mean, there are no two identical places in this world, even if two areas of Levittown look exactly the same, they are distinctly different even if only by the way the lawns are mowed, where the bird nests are hiding or the slightly different longitude and latitude.  Paying special attention to the particulars of the place where I am is a form of mindfulness for me. It helps me to be present and I get a big sense of gratitude for the richness of life on this planet when I just stop, look, listen. Every place has its own feel, history, geology, its own smell. Pilgrims have always travelled to holy places, places where blessings could be imparted. Is every place holy? If so, how do you find your way to the holy well?

So, this will be the first in a series of experimental pieces about the places we’ve been.

We stayed with friends in Port Republic, Va.  a beautiful area north of Charlottesville. There are lots of old farms. Near many of the farms  there are subdivisions of row houses and McMansions. There are many small churches and bill boards with biblical quotes on them. A town nearby is home to James Madison University and Eastern Mennonite University . In the county side I saw several Confederate flags flying. That war seems a recent event here with hard feelings still evident. One of the civil war battles was fought in the field outside of our friends’ house. The Battle of Cross Keys was won by the Confederate Army. About 1,000 men and boys died in this field and surrounding hills.

Battle Field

The area was once inhabited by the  Monacan Indians. And in keeping with a great initiative sponsored by the US Department of Arts and Culture , I acknowledge the early inhabitants of this land.

The soil here is yellow with a light orange tinge. The rocks are mostly shale.Shale

We have arrived here in the midst of a cold snap. Our friends tell us that this does happen every year around here. We walked out on a small pond on the farm. You can see the round, yellowish shape of a snapping turtle. It’s amazing to think that will survive till next spring. As we slipped our way across the pond, we were watched carefully by the resident goats.

Snapping Turtle_6577

 

Goat

I can’t say that I found a holy well in this place in terms of a big, wow moment. I was struck by the blending of the past and the present, from really old rocks to new buildings, from displaced indigenous peoples, to brave soldiers, to optimistic young college kids   Parts of this place were hard to look at and some were a reassuring comfort.