Creating Moments of Silence

When no sounds happen around you, calm descends upon you, your blood pressure lowers, and nothing is on your mind at the moment … what is that? Ah, pure silence! We do not have enough of those moments in our lives, unless we make it a priority to create moments of silence. Whether you want to call it meditation, quiet moments, alone time or whatever, there are major benefits to having that time to ourself each day.

We are too often bombarded by loud sounds, disturbing news, or blamed for something. Any and all of it causes a stress reaction within our body. The negativity is not helping us, so it is important to counterbalance it with a positive calm. Whether focusing on a specific project, or taking a walk in the outdoors, or being mindful while doing a daily task … when completed in silence there is an additional dimension to all that is happening within one’s mind-body-soul connection. 

As I plan my day, either the night before or the current morning, it is important for me to have a “to do” list for the next day which will include when I will take at least 5 – 10 minutes of silence for myself. It may be as I awake or maybe later in the day when the environment and timing is better. It is especially wonderful when I can have a couple of times in a day with silence!

I want you to ask yourself, do you create moments of silence within your day for yourself? Why not? You are deserving of time alone with yourself; time when no one is asking anything of you; a moment when you are truly caring for yourself … we do not do enough of that for ourselves … take control, start in a small way … for your moment of silence! 

A walk in the woods may be best for you … or?

Memories of My Best Friend

Sandy was my very best friend for forty years! This past February she called me by phone. She thanked me for helping her change the trajectory of her life so many years ago and remaining a supportive friend. Well of course, that’s what friends are for … yet she did all the doing!

Sandy and I were colleagues teaching at an upstate New York public school. She was married, mother of 4 … one child still at home, and a pleasant person to spend time with when our school day ended. We talked about everything … over a cup of tea or glass of wine!

Within a couple of years, I was off to a new school administrative position; she divorced and started law school at age 50! New directions for both of us. We stayed connected and shared all that was happening in each of our new worlds. Sometimes that meant weekend visits, with phone calls always our best way to connect. She chose a new direction … I was proud of her.

We started to jog/run at local races, hike local trails and enjoy more of the outdoors together. She was my most frequent friend to visit my “shack” in the New York State’s Adirondack area. As a result we loved hiking there and especially in the Lake Placid area, where delicious pie was available for purchase. Unfortunately, a black fly bite just above her left eye required a trip to Urgent Care. This was one of our least enjoyable Adirondack moments! But what always brought a laugh to us was a memory of a mouse scampering across our sleeping bags one morning. Few others could ever appreciate that moment, but to even her last days alive we laughed about it! As years went by, she encouraged her family to visit the Adirondack area too. I would hear about their hikes and time near Mirror Lake. We laughed … and were glad to know the area we could share with others.

Both of us enjoyed reading and talking about books. We discovered we loved seeing Broadway shows. Often we drove to New York City to spend a weekend seeing the sights, enjoying a show, and sometimes spending time with one of her sons who lived in the area. We traveled other places, but our best trip was to Bermuda. It was a new place for both of us. Our trip ended just before a hurricane hit the island and unfortunately we had to cancel our parasailing. Darn, we never did have that experience!

Despite my move to the west coast, Sandy and I remained connected another 20 years. Thankfully numerous phone calls and a visit she made allowed her to see my new world. I often traveled to the east coast to visit my family and friends, which always meant visiting Sandy too. Her family was growing with grandchildren. I heard all about each of their births and activities … they always brought joy to her … her family was so important to her. Her travel to Japan to visit her family members was most interesting to me.

Years went by with so much happening. I was excited to hear about Sandy’s ice skating and eventually helping others with their skating skills. She took piano playing lessons. Despite her piano teacher encouraging her to participate in a recital she was hesitant. After years working at a law firm, she joined another one of her sons to have their own law practice. She loved doing research, so worked at their practice well after many other people would have retired. She also taught at the local community college … she was always an educator. She was playing golf with a group of women she really enjoyed traveling and having fun with. There were times I wished I had been with them, but always good to hear Sandy laugh about their fun.

A year before that February phone call, Sandy was battling cancer and having chemo treatments once a month. In preparation for that year’s April visit, I asked Sandy to choose a place for us to visit for a couple of nights. I wanted her to have a break away from her usual routine. She chose a visit to New York State’s Hudson River Valley. We had a wonderful time seeing the historic homes of the area, walking at Poet’s Walk and walking the pedestrian bridge across the Hudson River. Walking was a challenge for her, but with walking sticks she accomplished many steps each place we went. I would ask where she planned to turn around, since I did not want her to collapse, and she would always aim for about another 40 steps! Her years as a jogger/runner/hiker allowed her the determination to go on! Sandy’s goal was to walk the entire pedestrian bridge over the Hudson River. I know I have mentioned this before in another post, but it tells of what kind of person Sandy was. To accomplish this, she walked the bridge from one side of the river to the bridge’s middle and the next day we went from the other side of the river and walked to the bridge’s middle … goal accomplished! We had a wonderful trip!

Three months after the February phone call, I spent time with Sandy. Her daughter, who we affectionately called the “gatekeeper”, assured me I could spend time with Sandy when I got to the east coast. While at her side for many days during the month of May, I met some of Sandy’s grandchildren and that was fun. I’m very uncomfortable around ill individuals so I dug deep within myself to help my friend as she needed care. Hospice aides were wonderful in explaining what was best, and how, for me to help Sandy. Her daughter and I texted often to be sure Sandy’s needs were met. I loved getting Sandy outdoors and into the sunshine as I pushed her in a wheelchair in the neighborhood. Any opportunity for us to take a car ride and stop for non-dairy ice cream for her was a treat. I visited and stayed many days, sleeping on a couch in the same room as Sandy. One night we sobbed. I will never forget it. Neither of us had ever cried so hard in each other’s arms. It was then she told me about a book her daughter had given her. Patrice Karst’s book, The Invisible String. The next day I read the book to Sandy and we discussed its message. Sandy died this past June; she and I will always remain connected!

Sandy’s success hiking to this point at Poet’s Walk last year.
Sandy and I last year in NYS’s Hudson River Valley area.

Heading Home!

I watched this storm arrive …

Monument Valley, UT

… and realized it was a good time to be leaving the area and heading home. A stop in Sedona, Arizona to visit friends and then home to the Tucson area. I traveled thousands of miles through 22 states, visited with many friends, family and local people, plus 43 new birds added to my bird life list! Only one van windshield replacement needed and a sliding drawer to be fixed when I get home. I have been safe and fortunate to travel with ease.

Thank you to all the people I visited with, stayed with and newly met while on the road. I love to travel, to see new places and to meet people who have like interests: the outdoors, nature, and photography. I am grateful for the opportunity to travel and will continue to do so as long as my heart is in it. It is not easy to be on the move day after day, yet I think I have continued to learn what pace is best for my own travel. So in that sense, I will remain smart and travel on! Maybe I’ll see you on the road … or a path … till then, be healthy and enjoy life!

Visiting Colorful Colorado!

Interstate 76 from Nebraska to the Denver area of Colorado is beautiful; so much green! Spring has truly sprung in colorful Colorado!

My original Colorado plan was shortened. Rain was moving in for 3 days in the Denver area, so I nixed my cycling in the Fort Collins area. I did however travel south of Denver to visit with friends and enjoy dinner at the Sherpa House in Golden. Wow, this place brought back my memories of my Nepal – Everest Base Camp trek in 2001! The “house” really looks like a lodge you would find in Nepal and the food was delicious!

Fortunately my friends have a quiet neighborhood so I slept in my van. This worked perfectly since one left for work at 5:30am and the other one was enjoying the morning to sleep in. I wanted an early morning start too. I was off to Grand Junction, CO.

Interstate 70 west travels through the Rocky Mountains, thus tunnels and beautiful towns on the forested mountainside during the first half of my travel. I birded at a rest area … pleasantly surprised to see an American dipper at the creek’s edge. Then the landscape scenery opens up to flat land with mesas in the distance and a drier look to the land.

I arrived in Grand Junction relaxed. Last year I drove through the National Monument located here and with rain sprinkles, once again I hd to nix my idea of bicycling. (If you have not visited the National Monument, add it to your “to do” list.)

Next morning I birded at Grand Valley Audubon Nature Preserve. It is a wetland area. I decided to only stay an hour since I still had a 4.5 hour drive ahead to Monument Valley, Utah. On the road again….

Here are a couple of photos from my birding. I spent time watching this osprey bring in food, and watch the other adult feed the 3 young, but one young always seemed to be missing out on getting food.

Not a great photo, but osprey is bringing a fish to its nest.
Three young and 2 adults at the nest.

Discovering Nebraska

Last year I had pinpoint focus on seeing sandhill cranes flying in and roosting along the Platte River near Kearney at the start of April. This year my goal was to visit Omaha and Lincoln. Here’s how those couple of days turned out:

Late afternoon, almost a half hour before the Omaha area:

Ordered a Reuben sandwich with fries, on-line from the Crescent Moon Ale House, and picked it up as I arrived in Omaha. Why a Reuben sandwich? I love Reuben sandwiches, but purchasing one from this place had some history. Was the sandwich created at a 1920’s poker game in Omaha’s Blackstone Hotel by Reuben Kulakofsky? Currently the Crescent Moon Ale House is across the street from where the Blackstone Hotel stood. Reuben and the hotel’s owner would want midnight snacks and supposedly Reuben Kulakofsky created this sandwich. It had corn beef on marble rye bread with Swiss cheese, a secret sauerkraut blend and thousand island dressing  …  named a Reuben sandwich. My sandwich was tasty, but I am used to having more sauerkraut on one. Isn’t learning history fun?

Next day in Omaha area:

My birding was at Hummel Park Nature Center. I was beginning to think I would only see the usual birds, nothing new, when a wood thrush hops on a tree branch!

Wood thrush

Then drove to the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. I walked across it, memories once again like my last post. This bridge is 3,000 feet long, crosses the Missouri River, connecting Omaha, Nebraska with Council Bluffs, Iowa. The Missouri River is a tributary of the Mississippi River. The Missouri River is 100 miles longer than the Mississippi River! (BTW, Bob Kerrey … former Nebraska governor.)

Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge

I drove to the Old Market area of Omaha, finally finding a parking spot and downloading a QR code to pay a parking fee. After walking a few of the brick-paved streets, window-shopping, watching people in horse-drawn carriages, I headed out. 

Time to discover a runza. I saw fast-food joints named Runza and didn’t think anything of it till my partner shared Nebraska info with me, runza was one item. I stopped at one of the establishments and discovered they sell hamburgers, but also runza. A runza is a pocket bread with ground beef, cabbage and onion. I ordered a runza and added mushrooms and Swiss cheese. Well it was an experience!

Next day in Lincoln area:

Lincoln is the capital of Nebraska and definitely has a different feel from Omaha. There are parks, International Quilt Museum, National Museum of Roller Skating, Nebraska State Prison and it is a college town. My first stop was Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center. I spent hours hiking the trails, heard a couple of northern bobwhites, but never could get a photo of them.

Drove to Sunken Gardens and across the street was Hamann Rose Garden. Sunken Gardens had many people visiting and the other garden very few people. Sunken Gardens was constructed in the winter of 1930-31! Hamann Rose Garden was created in the 1940’s and has more than 100 roses. I could see either place being perfect for a wedding or a photographer wanting beautiful photos of flowers!

Sunken Gardens
Hamann Rose Garden

Next stop was Sheldon Museum of Art, the outdoor sculptures. The museum, on the University of Nebraska- Lincoln campus, was closed, but I was interested in what sculptures they had. Always interesting seeing creative projects.

Time for dinner: do you know there are many, many Mexican establishments in Nebraska? Of course, there is Runza, and all the fast food places, but I stopped for a gyro sandwich. I spoke with the owner who has lived in Lincoln for 42 years and he loves it. He was telling me it is a very safe city. 

Next day in Wahoo area:

A friend wanted photo of a Wahoo sign and I was heading west. I enjoy driving backroads and did a quick stop at Memphis Lake State Park. Did not stay since I was looking forward to an applesauce donut made at Wahoo Bakery. Nope, they were closed!

So I headed over to Mocha C’s and had a delicious breakfast. This was the place where everyone knows your name! Wahoo is a town of less than 5,000 people – definitely close-knit. I was welcomed back whenever in the area.

I walked to Dollar General, a couple of blocks away, to buy a step stool since mine collapsed. The store’s manager and I got talking and then she explained the history of the building. On my way out, she wished me she travel and said, stop in again.

I had been intrigued by very tall concrete buildings, looked like silos to me, and seen many places in the state. I decided to stop in a store named Wahoo Meat Locker (Home of the Famous Wahoo Wiener). The woman at the cash register could not answer my question so she asked the butcher. As I stood on the other side of his counter, the butcher and a meat customer explained they are grain elevators. Then the customer explained why Nebraska’s beef is the best … “the cows eat grain, not barley and other such stuff they feed them in California and Washington”. I will say, I bought the Wahoo beef jerky and it is the best I have ever had! Before the customer left, he came into my aisle and wished me a good trip. 

I walked back to my van and thought to myself, well what does today’s interaction with three different people/places tell you about this small community? I know what I think; what do you think?

This night’s Harvest Host location in North Platte, Nebraska: Pal’s Brewery. Great place for beer, to play corn hole, participate in trivia night and have a quiet place to sleep in their grassy area. I met a woman, Reba, who rode the historic 76 day, 3,000 mile “Bikecentennial ’76” or known as the “Bicycle Birthday Party”. My research indicates about 2,000 riders accomplished the entire length that year. She had also cycled from Maine to Florida in those days. Love meeting people … everyone has a story!

Hearing Sad News While in Iowa

My sadness had nothing to do with Iowa. It just happened to be the state I was in when I received a phone call; my best friend of 40 years died shortly after midnight. I knew my friend’s death was a matter of time. I spent many days, the month prior, with my friend as she lived as best she could after more than a year of cancer treatments and recent major surgery. 

I sobbed while I listened to my friend’s daughter tell me the sad news. Moments like this are horribly sad. But it is a time to pause and realize how fortunate we are to be alive and to ask ourself if we are living our best life. My friend had a very full life … and one which she and I had opportunities to share either together or to talk about with each other during our 40 year friendship. I was always proud of her accomplishments, some of which were: starting law school at age 50, learning to play the piano, helping local organizations, improving upon her ice skating and golfing skills, and being a public school Board of Education member. We both loved books, people, the outdoors, hiking, jogging, travel, Broadway shows in NYC, drinking tea and wine. We always seemed to make things work. And we talked, as we jockeyed around work and family responsibilities which demanded much attention at times.

And here I was in Iowa receiving this sad news. There was nothing I could do to soften the sadness, except to let my tears flow as I drove. I got on with my day, and eventually arrived in DesMoines, set up camp, and connected via zoom with my partner and a friend. Talking with others helped me.

The next day I arrived at my starting point for a bicycle ride on the High Trestle Trail. This rail-trail is 31 miles long; however, I wanted to ride the portion where the trestle is high over the DesMoines River. As I stood at the middle of the trestle bridge, which is 130-foot-tall, I had a flashback of a previous year’s trip with my best friend. My goal was for her to have an adventure away from her home and a break during her monthly chemo treatments. Months ahead, I asked her to choose a place for us to escape to for a few nights and I would arrive from the west coast to take her on an adventure. She chose New York State’s Hudson River Valley. In the scenic Hudson River Valley, we drove by historic homes, walked at Poets’ Walk Park, had dinner at fine dining establishments, and walked the pedestrian bridge over the Hudson River. She wanted to walk the entire mile long bridge. To accomplish that, we started at one side of the bridge and walked to the middle and back; the next day, we started on the other side of the river and walked the bridge to the middle and back. While exhausting for her to accomplish over the 2 days, she did walk the entire bridge!

Now 14 months later … memories of my friend, such as this memory, are sure to happen often … I know this for sure! How can one ever forget 40 years with a wonderful friend, our shared adventures and varied happenings during all those years? I will remember!

My friend at Poets’ Walk Park!
My friend walked the entire bridge’s length!

Keep A Watchful Eye Open & See….

Of course I am always looking around while walking in a parking lot or on a hiking trail. I never know what I will see! While visiting Ohio’s Mentor Lagoons, I saw 29 different species of birds, many purple martins at their nest, and a chimney swift tower, but they weren’t the most interesting things to happen during my hike!

I was deep in the wooded area, more than an hour from the parking lot, and decided to call it a day. On my way back, something caught my attention … and so I looked closely … do you see it in the photo below?

At a distance, at first I was unsure what I was looking at.

I zoomed my camera in to see the raccoon climbing up the tree! It made it to a hole in the tree and then explored within the hole! The hole was at least 15 feet up!

I wasn’t around to see if the raccoon worked itself own from the hole.

I arrived at the parking lot and decided to walk along the lagoon’s edge toward the bridge since I had not checked it out upon my arrival. I saw a couple of great blue herons and a few red-winged blackbirds. Red-winged blackbirds are very protective of their nests. I know this first-hand from various experiences I have had where they tried to bombard me … literally flying at me! Well this is what they were doing to one of the great blue herons!

Attack-mode from the red-winged blackbird!
And again the bird is back to harass the heron which does fly off!

On another note: If you are interested in knowing what a chimney swift tower looks like, it is in the photo below. Ohio is trying to provide habitat for these birds which have declined 72% since 1966. Fifty thousand swifts can roost overnight in large industrial chimneys!

Chimney swift tower

Family Time!

My family was meeting in PA to spend time together. In a previous week I visited with my mom and now how wonderful for her to join us all in PA. Besides relaxing, eating, drinking and being sure the alpacas were cared for by us or others, we decided to take on a few special activities.

Day trip:

Visited High Point Monument in New Jersey. I first heard of the place from one sister and recognized it when I read Grandma Gatewood’s Walk book. Grandma Gatewood hiked the Appalachian Trail in the Delaware Water Gap area her first time in 1955 and mentions this high point at 1803 feet above sea level with its good views. The monument is a veteran’s memorial commemorating all veterans of all wars. While there I did see a new bird: a prairie warbler! We stopped at a winery and another place for dinner. It was a good day.

High Point Monument
Quite the view!
Prairie warbler, bird was a distance away and photo taken with iPhone.

Another day: None of my sisters or myself wanted to see animals in cages, so we went to a wildlife and safari park, called “The Preserve“, in Harpursville, New York. This place has 100 acres of land where we could drive through and feed the animals. Specific directions were given on how to and what to feed the animals. I found the emus the most aggressive animal! It was fascinating to visit here! Stopped at a brewery after all that fun!

Of course, the low key social family time is fun, but we had a competitive moment while I introduced my sisters to pickleball at a local park. Our tennis swings wanted to really take over which screwed up the pickleball swing. In time though each may find the game fun.

Always fun to stay connected with my family. My parents raised four very independent individuals. It is always interesting to see what each is up to each year and to actually spend time together. It was fun!

What Fun, Observing Eastern Phoebe Chicks!

Each year a pair of Eastern Phoebes return to their nest at my sister’s Pennsylvania home. This year we checked the nest after seeing a couple of Eastern Phoebe’s flying around last year’s nest. We climbed near the nest, iPhone in hand with outstretched arm, blindly poised above the nest and camera lens aimed at the interior of the nest. Our photo allowed us to discover 4 eggs in the nest!

Adult Eastern phoebe

An adult’s tail-wagging distinguishes this bird from others and their nests are often under eaves of manmade structures, such as the interior of the shed here. They prefer farmland and mate for life; yet some males may have 2 partners. Brown-headed cowbirds are known to replace the phoebe’s eggs with their own, thus the biggest threat to these birds. The eggs incubate for 15- 18 days. The Eastern phoebes are very protective of the area. Even after the eggs hatched, the adult birds kept a close eye on where I was. I set my tripod in one spot and remained still so I could photograph the adult feeding the young.

Eastern phoebe eggs

The 4 eggs hatched and I observed the adults feeding the chicks. Three of the 4 chicks seemed to monopolize their parent’s feeding. It was fascinating to observe the adult birds assess whether they felt safe feeding their chicks while I stood a distance away. I remained still and during a half hour time period I saw the 2 adults each feed the chicks.

Clearly see 3 chicks.
Look closely to see 4 beaks in the air as the adult looks my way.
A minute later the adult directs its attention back to its young.

Eastern phoebes don’t overlap with black phoebes, thus I was happy to see this bird during my east coast travel! I see darker-headed black phoebes where I live on the west coast of the USA. I know many people believe the bird symbolizes stillness in the chaos of life. Whether Celtic, Native American, Greek, Maori, or Far East, there is a common thread about the bird’s symbolism; the bird being a symbol of hope, patience, joy, love and compassion and to follow our heart’s desires.

Eastern phoebes eat many insects.

Alpaca Farm Life in PA

I’m visiting family, sister and brother-in-law in Pennsylvania, and they have 40 alpacas. When they both worked full-time they also had 40 alpacas. Retired life has left them with the same responsibilities caring for these alpacas, and quite honestly I am not sure how they accomplished all when they worked full-time!

The morning couple of hours involves putting out water basins, new hay and grain, and scooping the poop along with recording and meeting special needs for specific alpacas. It all takes time and there are some things to be done in the evening too! I help in the morning with scooping poop and that in itself takes me hours. If I had the total responsibility, I would still be out there working! So hiring individuals to complete the tasks when my family wishes help or to take time elsewhere, necessitates special people who can rise to the level of expertise and ability to complete the tasks in a timely manner. (Like I said, I would be completing morning tasks in time to start evening ones! I would never be hired.)

Old, dirty hay and poop get dumped in a pile where we saw yellow bugs flying around. With the iNaturalist app, we identified them as golden dung flies. Most appropriate name for it as you will see in the photo below:

Golden dung fly

I enjoyed seeing the birds flitting around the area. My sister noted a couple of nests of birds that return each year to lay eggs. One nest was with 5 dark-eyed junco eggs. Not the most focused photo because it was taken from above the nest, blindly and quickly so as not to disturb the birds.

Dark-eyed junco

And another nest was with 4 Eastern Phoebe eggs:

Eastern phoebe eggs
Eastern phoebe

“No job ever takes 15 minutes”, says my sister as she and her husband leave to accomplish some outdoor project. And that’s the truth! They have been transplanting a tree and a bush for the last couple of hours using two huge different pieces of equipment. Don’t ask me what equipment since I only know a tractor and it wasn’t that one! 

During their work time, I walked the area to observe and photograph birds. I saw or heard 17 different species of birds and was pleasantly surprised to see an American redstart.

American redstart

We all choose our work and hobbies. My sister and brother-in-law obviously love their life on the farm with these alpacas and all the responsibility that goes with it. Kudos to all people who work on farms and/or own farms with projects that undoubtedly take more than 15 minutes to complete!