chöd

 Buddhism, Reflection, Travel  Comments Off on chöd
Jul 112017
 
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A short section of the trail to Machik Labdrön’s cave

The very first teaching of Buddhism is that misery is caused by attachment. No wonder that so much of the dharma and practices look at attachment, and no attachment is stronger than the one to our body.

To really feel this, let me explain the somewhat-confusing picture you are seeing. This is a rock about a foot wide, several feet in front of me. The trees and houses to the left of the rock are about a half-kilometer away, 800 feet below. For scale, you can see the tip of my boot at the bottom of the photo. I am on a trail in the Haa Valley of Bhutan, on the side of a cliff. My right shoulder is against the cliff, my hand in a crevice. The trail goes over the rock, and continues past tiny herbs and a small bush in the upper right about six feet away.

If you can sink in to the sensation of standing against this sheer rock face on a trail about a foot wide, then you are probably experiencing attachment to your body. I was, quite frankly, terrified as I carefully placed my feet and hands, yet not paralyzed. I was able feel both the fear and my body, yet move calmly on the wet, muddy trail. This is Meditation Boot Camp, no hemming-and-hawing, no choice; one must bring body and mind smoothly together to traverse nearly a kilometer of cliff.

Hold that feeling. Death inches away, calm, trusting.

Chöd is a profound Tibetan Buddhist practice, where one offers up one’s own body (and all other demons and ‘neuroses’) joyously. A Google search will turn up plenty of information, starting with this Wikipedia article. A few days ago, I had the pleasure of sitting in a Chöd ceremony here in Bhutan. If you have a Facebook account, you can see a video of part of it here, and get a sense of the beautiful ritual that brings the experience to life.

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The practice of Chöd was transmitted to an enlightened and revered 11th-century woman named Machik Labdrön, and so my story comes home. The trail I’m on leads from Juney Druk, a cave she stayed in, to Katsho Goemba, a nearby monastery. Having experienced Chöd practice before, imagining I know something about attachment to my body, I am shocked into new awareness on this trail Machik must have traversed many times.

Our 11-year-old guide, a monk from the monastery, apparently runs this trail frequently, nimble and carefree as a mountain goat. He laughs and smiles, points out sections that are especially dangerous and delicious little orange berries we can pluck as we go, and patiently sits and waits as we carefully make our way. I believe he is the most advanced Chöd practitioner I have ever met, knowing something in his young body that I can scarcely remember. What would it feel like to be as unattached as he? Was I really once like that? I have so much to unlearn, to unattach from.

bhutan present

 Buddhism, Reflection, Travel  Comments Off on bhutan present
Jun 292017
 

Punaka Dzong, and the Punaka Valley

Yesterday in Bhutan was quite a shock. After 13 years, I was expecting change, but was completely unprepared for what I’ve found. The heart is the same, the people are the same, the beauty and spiritual depth are all still here, but everything else is different.

By that, I mean that the modern world has arrived in some big ways. Cars. Electricity. Paved and widened roads. Cell phones. Glass windows. Road signs. Modern hotels. Spices and fruit and organic produce. Cows. Can you believe it, even the animals are more modern? There were few cattle in the country when I was last here, mostly yak, now I see cows everywhere, wandering the parks and hillsides of Punaka, the roads between Paro and Thimphu. The traffic on the roads was nearly all buses and construction trucks, now there are more than a dozen cars for each bus, and even some taxis. Where once many houses had no glass in the windows (only shutters against the fierce winters), most are now glassed in, and there is plenty of new construction.

Because there are more people. The towns all seem to have grown 40 or 50 percent, at least the larger towns of Paro and Thimphu. This does not seem to be due to immigration, although there must be some, it seems to be a side effect of better health care and a general improvement of living conditions. There are more kids and schools, and indeed people seem to be better-educated overall than when I was last here.

Last night, I realized I was apparently more resistant to change than they are. One of my fellow travelers told an illuminating story at breakfast that helped me see even deeper into my expectations: how dare they change from what I remembered? My ego wants to reconnect with something remembered and treasured, rather than simply receive what is. (Sounds painfully similar to what many Americans seem to want, in electing Donald Trump. Ech, that hurts. Sometimes I wish I was less good at noticing connections).

So I am pretty much slammed by how non-present I was arriving here, but fortunately, with awareness comes a rapid shift (along with much internal laughter!) and today unfolded into an incredible day. I am here, now, gratefully absorbing every moment.

For the truth is, this country and everything about it are even more beautiful than before. The summer green and the lush rice fields far exceed the springtime of my first visit, I see less abject poverty (though it still exists) and more restaurants and shops, new houses with clean white walls and extravagant traditional trim paint, good roads everywhere and humorous road signs warning about drinking and driving. Plus we’ve had nothing but great meals, with interesting seasoning and fresh vegetables. I have not tasted a single yak product yet, while my memory is that a day didn’t go by on my last visit without yak butter, cheese or milk in something.

In fact, everything tastes better when I’m fully present. That is the great gift of Bhutan to me so far, a deep Buddhist reflection of my better self.

Jun 242017
 

My Bhutan journey begins and ends in Bangkok. The last time I was here, I totally enjoyed the bustle, the street food, temples and water tours. This time, I feel like I’m plunged into a distopian Chicago on a sweltering day. The noise, humidity, crowds, overhead expressways, beggars missing limbs, food vendors with stacks of raw fish and chicken, and clots of roaring motorbikes feel oppressive. When I had to take a bath in lukewarm water, I hit my limit. It took less than eight hours.

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Motorcycles, crowds and expressways in Bangkok

Seldom have I appreciated money and internet as much as Friday morning, when I nailed a round-trip flight to Chiang Mai and a beautiful small hotel for $150 and $50/night, respectively. I must also thank my body, which gave me very clear direction to get the fuck out of there. Decision creates opportunity and change, and I can only laugh at myself remembering how I used to over-think everything. Now I am seldom stuck in my head; years of meditation make it easy to notice when I am thinking, and life is far too short for thought, which I once believed was faster than intuition. My body made a decision in milliseconds, and I knew in my heart it was the right one. Within a few hours, I was landing in the Chiang Mai valley, surrounded by lush green mountains. The relaxed taxi driver was full of information and amusing political commentary, and although 5 million people live here, the pace is easy and everyone seems even more polite and friendly. I hardly thought that possible.

Thai people are very kind and sweet. This really encourages me to slow down and relax, to meet people’s eyes, and see who each individual is, to soften and open my face so they can see me too. This meeting, however momentary, is so essentially human – it’s immediate feedback and acknowledgement, I see you, namasté, we share a world together and this is good. In the place of such a meeting, I immediately feel how any judgment or opinion that comes up is just about me, not about the other person. So delicious. There is a lot of space here to just be ourselves, and I can see why several people I know have moved here permanently.

Walking through the streets for hours, I encounter many characteristic aspects of this place and time. The buildings are a radical blend of old and new, clean design and tropical decay, chaos and order. I wonder what this was built for, and what its purpose is now?

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Spirit houses are everywhere, and one of the special pleasures of early morning is encountering one with fresh incense burning. The house next to my hotel has chickens, and a rooster is proudly displayed in their’s. I found this beautiful garden and spirit house on an elegant property with an open gate, surrounded by flowering trees. The contrast with the apartment building is striking.

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Spirit house in Chiang Mai

And walking into the old center of the city, I encounter temple after temple after temple. The well-known ones are filled with Chinese tourists; others are being restored, largely quiet. I find one under reconstruction, completely open and empty, allowing me to enter alone barefoot, contemplate the murals on the walls, connect with the enormous central Buddha, do prostrations, and leave a donation. Just as it should be.

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Central Buddha in a Wat (temple) under repair

Jun 212017
 
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Packing for a four week trip

Once upon a time during a difficult transition in my life, I went to Bhutan. The two-week journey was strange and magical, through a land of deep heart, Buddhist teaching and belief everywhere you look. It gave me a chance to feel what I was truly reaching for, to understand that the time had come to break some old patterns and take some risks. I also came back with a new-found respect for Buddhism and what it brings to our lives and culture. I was 46 years old, and the years since that journey have been rich, productive, sorrowful and delightful.

About six months, ago, for reasons hardly known to me, I decided to go back. As I hurtle through the air, 7 miles up with 36 lbs of belongings and gifts, I am feeling confusion, trust, fear and anticipation. My home has vanished into the mists for four weeks.

The last time I traveled by myself for this long, I was off to college to create a new life, and indeed I did. Now I am semi-retired, working on a start-up on my own terms, living in an amazing house with an amazing woman, secure in most things, happier and more content than I can ever remember feeling. Why am I doing this?

I’ve made big changes in the last year. I quit working, Jen moved in with me, and what was a great relationship has become so deeply satisfying that I no longer have any questions about what partnership is for me. Something else is happening, something subtle and intensely personal and deep. Perhaps it’s my second “Saturn return”, a major astrological event that shakes everything up. My second wife became terminally ill during her second Saturn return, one article says, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger“. Another website says this about mine:

Cross-cultural relationships will be your learning grounds…If you haven’t traveled extensively, your Saturn Return would be an ideal time to live abroad…you’re an eternal student of life. Your Saturn Return could be a great time to go back to school for that graduate degree or special certification. Your career could involve traveling, teaching, or publishing.

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A view of western Alaska from 38,000 feet

Travel is definitely happening, the surprising landscape below the plane is like none I’ve ever seen, it must be Alaska. I don’t know where I am, just that I will land in Hong King in eight hours. Looking at the Petri dish below of lakes and tundra and rivers and clouds, it’s like looking at my life so far. I have overview, can describe what I see, but perhaps have little real knowledge of what it is.

This journey also brings something about telling stories. We learn almost everything through stories, and several of my friends are urging me to tell more of them. A good story takes us out into the unknown, finds challenge and resource, and brings wisdom and meaning back for all to share. One thing I know is that the photos and stories I bring back from this journey will enrichen my life. Beyond that, I don’t know. The next four weeks are about to unfold, and I am determined to sink into the experience with all the feeling and vulnerability I can find. And bring back some good stories.

enzed

 Reflection, Travel  Comments Off on enzed
Feb 282016
 

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Jen and I are just back from a two-week trip to New Zealand, with a couple of days in Hawaii on the way home. We met in Wellington, spent a day exploring, then took the ferry to the south island and drove for ten days. You can see lots of pictures in my Facebook album.

Basically, the whole place is beautiful. Mountains, coast line, waterfalls, rainbows, neat farms, fields of sheep and cattle, tidy towns with interesting shops, good restaurants…there is nothing about this country that sucks. We had great meals, found lovely wines and beers, met gracious and friendly people everywhere. After starting in Wellington on the north island, we took the ferry and our rental car down to the south island, and traveled to Nelson, Golden Bay, Greymouth, the glaciers, through Mount Aspiring National Park, the lakes at Wanaka, to Cardrona and Queenstown. There was a full day trip to Doubtful Sound in the huge Fiordland National Park, and a day of play on the mountain by Queenstown on six great zip lines.

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We drove out east to Dunedin, a rather classic town with Georgian architecture, stopped in Oamaru to see more cool buildings, an old seaport with stone warehouses, converted into a collection of nice shops including a steampunk museum, and one of the coolest book shops I’ve ever visited, then north to Christchurch. After flying back to Auckland, we heading home, goofing off for two days of tourist fun in Waikiki. Below are the old Savoy Hotel in Dunedin, the bookstore and shops in Oamaru, and the view from the top of Diamond Head in Waikiki (THAT was a serious hike in the heat!)

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So yes, it was a great vacation, one I’ve wanted to take for decades. And I find myself deeply changed by this little journey, I find my viewpoint on many things in America quite different. Some of my shift is due to presidential primary election drama, with the scary prospect of Donald Trump getting elected. (The Kiwis often asked us if our country was losing it’s collective mind.) But my internal change is really about New Zealand, what is so remarkable and different about life there.

  • There are no sirens, even in the bigger cities. It’s just quiet. Oh, the town of Takaka has a volunteer fire department, so something like a tidal wave siren goes off once or twice a day, to call the volunteers to a road accident or kitchen fire or something. But the ambience does not include police or fire sirens. Huge difference.
  • Gasoline prices were uniform throughout the country, NZ$1.73/liter, with diesel at NZ$0.98. All the diesel vehicles seemed clean; there were no clouds of smoke from buses or trucks that I saw.
  • 100 kph is the speed limit (62 mph) on most roads, which are almost all well-built 2-lane highways.
  • Drivers are good, respectful and safe. In 1200 miles of travel, we did not see one road accident, and only saw about five police cars.
  • There is no litter along the roads.
  • There are no billboards.
  • There are no pot holes.
  • There are no planes flying overhead, unless you happen to be near one of the three major airports.
  • The peak income tax rate is lower.

Really, a most delightful thing is that almost everyone is middle-class. We saw no one homeless, no one particularly rich — although there are some expensive homes here and there, and the occasional Jaguar or Audi on the road. Nearly everyone seemed cheerfully employed, with a positive outlook on life. There is very good public health care, great education, great roads and infrastructure. The top income tax rate is 33%, more than 6 points lower than federal income tax in the US. And there is no state income tax.

It’s not perfect, of course. For example, Queenstown is so flooded by tourists that there are almost no apartments or houses available for the folks that work in the shops there. We chatted with one of our zipline guides, who has to share a bedroom in a rented house because living space is so hard to find. Even though the food was very good and reasonably priced everywhere we went, we did notice a shortage of greenery with our meals, lots of meat (and great fish!), not much fruit. But that may be cultural preference.

It’s quite amazing how much healthier the society is when the government does not spend 54% of revenue on the military. I did not experience any class distinctions or prejudice — though I’m sure some exist — and there are Māori place names and protected sites everywhere. The Wellington Museum has a huge Māori exhibit, both very educational and respectful. Māori art and tattoos are everywhere. I chatted for an hour with a fellow who emigrated from Fiji when he was young, and now makes a fine living near Auckland, lives in a house near the coast with his wife and two daughters, and any way I can see it, is successful and happy. I talked with a restaurant owner from the Cook Islands, again, happily married with family, running a successful Indian restaurant in Dunedin. The Oamaru bookstore owner is from Texas, and has never looked back after becoming a Kiwi.

I’m deeply questioning my life in North America. New Zealand seems so civilized compared to life here. Work/life balance is just a given, kids are well-behaved and well-educated, different cultures intermingle freely, and people are just cheerful, dammit. The biggest current issue the country is confronting seems to be choosing a new flag.

I want to live more like they do. I want to live in a society that cares for their people, and spends government funds wisely. So much of the rest of the world, Canada, most of Europe, Australia and New Zealand and parts of South America, seem to do this better than we do; when do I give up on my native land and move?

 Posted by at 12:06 am

returning home

 Buddhism, Nancy, Reflection, Travel  Comments Off on returning home
Aug 232014
 

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Ah, home. The word means something different when we are days or weeks away. A driving trip to a distant place makes home far away, and I had lots of time to contemplate as I journeyed back with my Canadian flotilla. Here are some numbers: 6138 miles total on this trip, and the return took four and a half days. I drove 600 to 800 miles each day, except for the final leg from Reno on Saturday, when I got home about 1:30 in the afternoon.

Preparing for the trip, I had too many boats. It was possible to carry two kayaks and a canoe on top of the boat trailer and the Jeep, but not desirable. And I really had no place to use a fast, slender, tippy wood canoe in California; that’s a vehicle for Algonquin territory. Fortunately, my friends Urs and Verena wanted one, love canoeing, and so it’s now tucked away at the Mirror Lodge. And I have a great reason to return.

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It’s been something like 18 years since I’ve driven this far away, and there were a few surprises about the trip itself. One is learning all over again how wide the corn belt is. Half of Illinois, all of Iowa and most of Nebraska, something like 800 miles of pure cornfields. The other surprise was encountering 33 construction zones along the way. Michigan alone had 11 of them, and my friend Brian’s daughter Katie told me “Michigan has two seasons, winter and construction”. Boy, was that the truth. I had to deal with three severe detours and several 30-mile stretches of single-lane traffic because of all the roadwork. At least the work suggests that our economy is improving, and that we are investing in our infrastructure as a nation.

I was surprised to see wind farms in every single province and state. Ontario, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Nevada, and of course California. Energy was a theme for this trip, there were signs of the energy economy everywhere.

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There were trains too, both heading east and returning home. I must have seen a thousand oil tank cars in Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota, and more coming home through Wyoming. Fracking is a huge industry. This is eastern Wyoming, climbing into the Rockies at 6000 feet, just one of the 50-odd trains I saw on the trip.

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Overall, the trip was flawless, the Jeep was rock-solid, the weather was fair, there were no problems bringing the boats across the Canadian border, and…I didn’t get any speeding tickets. The Jeep never even needed a quart of oil. Amazing. What a great vehicle (Jungians, you can smile here. Jen and I bought the Cherokee together; it bodes well for us 🙂 Here we are on the Bonneville Salt Flats on a rainy day.

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For much of the trip home, I was musing about solitude and overview. The journey out with Jen was connected and fun; a shared adventure that was never boring, spiced with both silence and great conversation, ease and spontaneity. Travel home was completely solitary, except for my first night with friends in Michigan, and the people I met in gas stations and motels and restaurants. The huge vistas invite reflection. I spent a lot of time considering and meditating on various parts of my life, relationship patterns, how we bond in partnership and marriage with another, and the qualities of that bonding. I’ve gained an almost visceral understanding of how we connect with the people we love. Tibetan meditation teaches how to notice a thought or feeling, and rather than dismiss it (Therevada) or bring compassion to it (Mahayana), just become still with it and let it flower and deepen and inform us of it’s truer nature. I had 50 hours for such contemplation, and took advantage of it.

I loved Nancy deeply, and I don’t doubt that she loved me as well. But I never really felt loved, our relationship was more competitive and fraternal than well-joined and respectful. We bickered, it was not good, I’m accountable for that as much as she. It’s a pattern we finally broke only a few months before she passed away. There is a fine book, A General Theory of Love, that discusses bonding theory, and I read it after Nancy was gone. Quite illuminating. I don’t think she learned how to bond well at an early age. Not her fault, it just is. But I’m happy to be engaging in relationship with someone who can connect like I do.

More generally, I’ve been feeling deeper into samsara, the way that we create our own pain and misery through attachment. Attachment is joyous for those of us who do it well, but it’s ultimately painful, as we always eventually lose whatever we are attached to. I built a lovely house and home with Nancy, and now she is gone, and one day the house will be gone too. I love Jen quite profoundly, and one day that will also end. So the blessing and curse of incarnation is attachment.

Enjoy it while you can. I love my house, I love Jen, I love the journey. It all ends. Love now.

 Posted by at 6:15 pm

the roxy road

 Nancy, Reflection, Travel  Comments Off on the roxy road
Aug 182014
 

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Today is transition day, I’m feeling a ton of things, and letting something shift inside. Punctuated by Roxy Music.

Al and Kathy have put us up in a delightful cottage on their property on Duck Lake, and this has become my base of operations as we picked up Miss Powassan and put her in the water Friday, toured the lake, and polished the day off with an excellent dinner at the Old Mirror Lodge. Nancy and I had our wedding party there in 2006, and it was very sweet to come back, visit with friends and owners Verena and Urs Bärtschi, see table cloths we left there after our party, and see how good the lakes and the Lodge and other properties are looking. Some businesses have closed, so the whole area seems a bit subdued since my last visit in 2009, but maybe that’s just me.

The Jones cabin is in pretty good shape, after four years without guests. The dock has some damage from winter ice, but is still quite serviceable. The stairs need to be leveled, but the inside of the cabin seems undamaged, although mice have left nests everywhere. The canoe and kayaks are there, and so is my camping and fishing gear and a lovely piece of art that Kathy gave us for our wedding.

It rained all morning Saturday, so we stayed in and enjoyed the cottage. Jen flew out of North Bay in the afternoon to meet her sister in New York, and I have entered the solo part of my journey.

Turning off Highway 11 at Trout Creek, onto 522, I turned on music. Tried Fleetwood Mac for a few minutes, but that didn’t feel right. And Roxy Music seemed perfect. Loud. Very loud, in fact. Remember “Avalon”? Sink into it.

I could feel at the time

There was no way of knowing

Fallen leaves in the night

Who can say where they’re blowing

As free as the wind

And hopefully learning

Why the sea on the tide

Has no way of turning

More than this – there is nothing

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I am unwinding Nancy as I drive. 522 from Highway 11, the final 40 minutes to Duck Lake. Nancy always insisted on driving it as we completed our four-hour journey from Toronto each summer to arrive here. Now I get to do it alone. This is no longer her lake, or our lake. It’s mine.


My heart has flown away now

Will it never stop bleeding

Alone, I can feel the Nancy-sized hole in my heart, and my eyes are wet off and on all day. I’m not really crying, or even feeling sad – although I am sad that Nancy will never be here again. I feel surprisingly connected to this place, just as I have always felt coming up here, and I was not expecting that. Being here without Nancy feels much like it did with her, restful, quiet, heart-opening. Ah, I’ve arrived. Here is my destination, the Crowthers cabin, with the lake in the background.

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…and Miss Powassan (under the green cover) and my canoe, resting at the dock, with the Crowther Navy.

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* * *

This morning dawned bright and clear, the first warm and sunny day since we entered Canada four days ago. I sat and meditated, then Kathy and Al and I took Nancy’s ashes out into the center of Duck Lake in Miss Powassan, and scattered them with a bowl full of clipped wildflowers. I held the ritual from inside my Vajrasattva practice, which is all about purifying karma. So strange and mysterious to see each hand-full of her ashes fall into the water, and sink into the depths, trailing a cloud. I spoke the Tara prayer as I returned her to the elements. I was slow and deliberate. This is not-Nancy – I believe her spirit is in motion elsewhere – but it is the final physical remains of an incarnation, a very specific and special person that I and many others still love.


All the world, even you

Should learn to love the way I do

I was lost, can’t you see

Through the long lonely night

Heaven knows, I believe

You can take a chance with me

The jewel box where I’ve kept her ashes was surprisingly light in my hands as I removed it from the boat. And there is a lightness in my heart as well. A commitment is fulfilled, as is our marriage vow. I am delighting in the day, as I tend to chores, register the boat trailer, and pack for the journey home.

 Posted by at 11:33 am

serendipity

 Travel  Comments Off on serendipity
Aug 142014
 

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We’ve arrived, after five-and-a-half days of easy travel, beautiful scenery, and happy coincidence. Our overnight stays have been in three hotels, two campgrounds and with my sister Camille in Idaho. Along the way, we’ve experienced a lot of trains, a fantastic bakery in Reno, a wonderful family dinner, more trains, booming oil economy in North Dakota, and what my friend Chris Olson refers to as Large Weather.

One of the best coincidences happened because we missed the turn off for US 93 to Twin Falls Idaho, and had to take a smaller state highway farther east that connected up to the interstate near Pocatello. This road, almost completely void of vehicles, took us through the middle of a thunderstorm. Our dusty Jeep Cherokee was pounded clean by the torrent, while lightening flashed all around us, once only a couple of hundred yards away. We don’t get these kind of desert monsoon storms in the bay area, and we both miss them, so we grinned ear-to-ear at each other as the thunder cracked and boomed.

I’ll let the pictures tell the story.

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Grand Tetons, Wyoming.

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Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park. One of my favorite geologic features in the world, with one of my favorite people.

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10,900-foot pass in the high Rockies, on US 212 in southern Montana.

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Itasca State Park, Minnesota. This is what a visitor’s center should be! Amazingly informative about flora, fauna, CCC projects during the 1930’s, camping 100 years ago, etc.

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The Mississippi originates from Lake Itasca. So we crossed it right next to the lake, where it’s only 10 feet wide.

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Camping in Itasca State Park. Jen gave me a Biolite for my birthday, so we used it for cooking. This little wood-powered stove also charges your cell phone, and heated water for coffee and oatmeal quite quickly.

After we crossed into Canada at Sault Ste. Marie, it got cloudy, then started to sprinkle. By the time we entered the lake country south of Sudbury, we were hitting a steady rain. This part of Canada is gorgeous, unspoiled, and mystical. It’s as though the countryside is weeping as Nancy’s remains return. The rain continues without a break as we settle into our friend’s cabin for the night. I feel a little surreal; it’s my first time here without Nancy, and that makes it a different experience. Yet I have my own connection with this country, and that part feels the same. My heart opens and my body relaxes as I see the oh-so-familiar Duck Lake, with it’s islands and boats and birch trees. Tomorrow, I pick up Miss Powassan, and check out the Jones family cabin.

 Posted by at 10:54 pm
Aug 022014
 

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In a few days, I’ll be starting a two-week road trip to Ontario, Canada.This will be my first long driving trip in years. It is also a journey that will mark a deep change. I’m going to Canada to scatter Nancy’s ashes. There it is. And…I need to pick up some boats. And fishing gear. And perhaps say goodbye to a lovely part of the planet that came into my life with her. If you are dialed into Jungian symbology, it’s a lot that’s all happening at once. So this posting is the first, the prelude to the dream, so to speak. I will write more as the journey progresses.

Port Loring is a small town, surrounded by lakes and rivers, an hour’s drive to the nearest supermarket, and the cabin is only reachable by boat. I think I traveled there seven times with Nancy, flying to Toronto, driving 4+ hours, then putting our boat in the water and motoring across Duck Lake to the cabin. It was a journey not worth doing unless we stayed at least a week. Opening the cabin was a full-day task, with a quarter-acre of vegetation to whack down, a ton of household goods to unpack, beds to make, lots of cleaning. We got married there, we rested and entertained friends and did craft projects and cabin maintenance. I became quite skilled as a plumber because of the Jones family cabin, and got tons of practice piloting small boats, towing water skiers, kayaking, picking berries…there was always something to do. No TV or cell phone service, few radio stations, intermittent phones and electricity.

The last time I was there was 2009, although Nancy and her sister Janet were there in 2010. No one has been to the cabin in four years, and I don’t know what I will find. Dock damage from the ice for sure — it was a nasty winter, and the lake had many inches of ice all the way across. The property will be overgrown, but the annual robin’s nest in the porch rafters should have chicks by the time I arrive, and I hope to find our canoe and kayaks in good condition. Miss Powassan, the 16-foot Giesler cedar-strip power boat that we bought in 2006, has been safely stored, and recently serviced, ready for the water. I hope to have a day to cruise for hours down the Pickerel River system, through a half-dozen lakes, and see all the lovely places one more time.

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Sunrise from the cabin, absolutely quiet except for the occasional loon call. Below is the view from Miss Powassan’s cockpit, cruising the lakes on a cloudy day with showers.

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Trip planning has been a pleasure, as we will drive through Idaho, Yellowstone, Montana, and east through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Sault Ste. Marie and into Ontario. Friends have been kind enough to let me stay at their place on the lake, so I don’t have to open the cabin or find a motel. We will dine at the Old Mirror Lodge, with longtime friends Verena and Urs Bartschi, who hosted my wedding party. This will be bitter-sweet, bringing Nancy’s remains to their final resting place, and releasing that most important part of her from my life. It will also be delightful, to be in this pure and beautiful place once more, and share it with Jen for a couple of days. I’m looking forward to the whole journey, even as it feels odd to return without Nancy. Duck Lake was always Nancy’s home, the one constant in an ever-changing life as an Air Force brat. And so it will be again, as her remains join the geology.

 Posted by at 6:14 pm
Oct 052013
 

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I’ve been continuing to think about boats over the last few weeks, and it’s going to be a few years before I can seriously consider purchasing a big enough boat to live aboard. Many of you don’t know that I owned a 44’ wooden schooner for about 15 years (a classic boat nightmare, by the way!) and that boats have always been an interest. Even fewer of you know that I already own a boat. Yes, this is her, Miss Powassan, a 17’ Giesler cedar-planked runabout.

The story is kind of amusing. Nancy’s family has had cabins on a lake in Ontario, Canada for about 80 years. She and I first went to her dad’s cabin in 2005, and it was an annual vacation most of our years together. After hearing her desire for a wood canoe, I contacted Giesler and ordered one for her, gave her the order as a Christmas present, then we went to the town of Powassan on our first trip in 2006 to pick the canoe up. There in the show room, covered in a quarter-inch of wood dust, was Miss Powassan. They had built her especially for the town’s centennial in 2004, with full decking, reinforcement for an oversized motor, and a commemorative brass plaque on the dash. She had appeared in parades, escorted dignitaries, etc. Nancy fell in love, we actually needed a boat, so of course we had to buy her. Miss Powassan is a classic and simple boat, with bench seating and cushions for four, quick, light and economical.

She has been the star of our trips, pulling water skiers, getting groceries (the cabin is only accessible by boat), ferrying guest and taking us on full-day journeys from lake to lake to lake, touring the country in search of the perfect picnic spot. This picture was taken on just such a day, when we took a lunch and traveled a couple of hours to this inn, where you can see Nancy sitting at our picnic table. I realize that I want Miss Powassan in my life, it’s been more than three years since I’ve been to Canada and put her in the water. Now the itch for a boat is reminding me that she sits in forlorn storage, untended, and I only need to fetch her.

Ah, therein lies the rub. 2835 miles, 42 hours of driving time. A journey is forming in my mind, a pilgrimage to Port Loring, Canada next summer, in my trusty Ford pickup. I’ll get the kayaks, canoe, fishing gear, and Miss Powassan of course. I also will scatter Nancy’s ashes in the lake near her family cabin, a place she deeply loved, a duty that has been awaiting me for almost two years. There is a world of closure that this trip will offer, as well as a chance to visit good friends and perhaps even family. I’ve had some amazingly wonderful times there, with some very fine and fun people. With both Nancy and her father gone, the connection is slipping away, and there are many there who will want to honor Nancy’s passing.

Then of course, I have to figure out where I’m going to keep all these boats. One of my friends who lives aboard a big boat in Sausalito has already volunteered dock space. Hmm.

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 Posted by at 1:10 pm