Tag Archives: nature

Bits of broken shell

broken.shellsI walked the long, isolated stretch of beach early one morning before the  couples hand-in-hand, or young families eager to explore the limitless playground. Just me, sandpipers and gulls. My bare toes gripped the sand. The tide, quirky and cold washed over my feet, leaving beige sea-foam on my ankles.

By the time I returned, I’d picked up a shopping bag full of shell pieces, yellow and ochre and pink conch worn by the sand and water. I like the remnants best. Perfect shells are beautiful and make intriguing subjects to draw and paint. But I always feel guilty, wondering if the animal that lived there died to give up that perfect shell  into the hands of divers who sell to tourists.

The shells I find on the beach, the ones Nature has deposited at the edge of the Ocean, broken and worn and empty, seem more of a gift, something to remind me of the beauty and capriciousness of the natural world.

It occurred to me as I laid them on the deck railing to dry that we are like those remnants.

The color and form are unique to each shell, the result of its individual journey. Like all of us. We may start from the same place – or seemingly similar circumstances – but by the time we find a resting place on the beaches of our lives we are unique. Broken and re-shaped into something individual and, like the shells lined up on the deck, achingly beautiful.

I stood at the edge

of the ocean

Breathing the solitude

Of sunrise.

I thought,

We are part of this,

like shells brought in

And carried out

On the moving, breathing ocean.

I held a shell in my hands,

Closed my fingers over

Its smooth curving surface.

I thought of you.


What I owe

I’m healing, though more slowly than I’d like. When I’m active, I’m happy. Even when I’m reading or writing, my head is active. Not being able to do what I want is another kind of trapped for me, but at least I know the reason for it and can measure progress.

Yesterday I watched the sky and heard the birds and thought I would like to do a section hike as soon as I can trust my feet again. Only this time I will stop and be part of what’s going on instead of feeling the pressure to simply keep moving. And knowing I will be home after a few days should keep me from closing up like I did on the Trail. I hope.

I still don’t really understand what was happening to me out there. I know eating became harder and harder. Even when I was in town, I could only eat  a little at a time. My body wanted to reject everything. On the trail, eating became an ordeal, a fight that left me frightened and resigned at the same time.

Was this me letting go? I thought of everyone, everything, every unfinished conversation, project, relationship. I struggled with painful homesickness when I remembered my peaceful little house and Max and Annie. They moved restlessly through my thoughts. I wondered if Max was still checking the house for my return. I missed them horribly. I cried while I walked, thinking of all the things I’d done-or not done-to be where I was. I walked every day in pain, searching for something. The woods were no longer the sanctuary they had always been for me. I felt nothing but the pressure to walk and walk and walk. I struggled to interact with the people I met along the way, even though I did enjoy a few conversations, wantd to be part of the relationships I saw developing sometimes. I watched and listened and marveled at the conversations between strangers. People smiled at me and welcomed me into this trail family. Eventually oerwhelmed, I became less and less capable of socializing.

So many days I walked without seeing a soul until I neared the  shelter. I listened to conversations and realized lots of hikers walked alone, all day. Maybe that’s why they gravitated toward each other with such eagerness at campsites. I didn’t want to camp alone for safety reasons, but felt OK lying in my tent on the fringes, listening to people talking and laughing. It didn’t comfort me exactly, just assured me that there would be help if I needed it. Other hikers felt the same, I’m sure.

Closing off, shutting down, were not what I expected to experience on the trail. Just the opposite, in fact. I’d hoped the walking, the solitude, would help me open up, help me see things in a calmer way, help me understand myself and the people in my life. What I understood between the pain and the nausea, was that I was losing any purpose I might have. I felt no reason to keep walking, or anything else.

I decided that besides losing the joy I had always felt outdoors I was also losing the ability to feel anything. I told myself I owed my brother money and that  he deserved repayment of that money, as well as my gratitude for caring about me when I no longer did. One day I stopped walking, saying out loud “I hate this!” and decided to leave the trail.

I’ll pay Johnny back as soon as I can spend days on my feet again (I am meeting my next assignment tomorrow) and plan my next section hike as soon as I get my life on a schedule of sorts. Even though living in Mars Hill is a terrible struggle in the winter and gas is so expensive, I may go back to my little house because that’s where Max is. Being there with Max and Annie again is what I want right now, more than anything. Beyond that, I still don’t feel connected, just obliged. I need to pay Johnny back because he is generous and tender and feels more than I ever did. This makes me regard him with a kind of awe. And I want to deserve his caring.

It’s odd, this whole “why do it?” thing that goes through my head all the time. I watch and listen and wonder why do they bother? My romantic relationships are like old movies now. I can play them in my head and remember that I was in love, that I felt joy and excitement and anticipation and disappointment and pain. I laughed and cried and touched his face, smelled the scent of his skin after we made love and felt my heart jump when I heard his car in the drive. But they are memories washed clean now. Nothing moves inside me when I remember. It is not so hard to keep my life uncomplicated now.

Random thoughts before leaving

There are only 3 days before I leave for Atlanta. The trip is still an abstract-though it is getting clearer, like driving through fog. My brother, who loves to buy things, gave me a new backpack yesterday. I must use it, of course, and he says he eagerly awaits the return of this fabulous backpack and stories of how it performed on the Appalachian Trail. I had asked him not to buy anything unnecessary. I wanted to make this trip with what I already had, or could borrow. It is a big part of my personal philosophy, my life’s core values. I use what I have. I take care of things, I keep them orderly, and well maintained. I don’t create unnecessary waste. I don’t  buy processed foods or many new items at all. I’m poor, so that is a big reason, but mainly I am trying to make as little impact with my presence as possible on the earth.


I  buy only fresh, whole food. Because I don’t buy processed, prepackaged foods, I can afford the good organic stuff. I can experiment with exotic foods to create interest and balance in my diet. I must explain that I do buy some processed foods-dry beans, grains, tea, honey (raw), foods I cannot process myself in order to eat them.

I have only myself to please and support, so I know my decision to live this way is easier than someone who must deal with a husband and children who have become accustomed to Burger King and sausage at breakfast. But I maintain that education about the effects of meat production on the planet, the corporate cruelty, and the negative dietary results can eventually redirect any family toward a healthy, compassionate lifestyle-if they choose to do that.


In planning this trip, I have thought a lot about my decision to live under the radar, to be as non-intrusive as possible, and I’ve shocked myself at my own hypocrisy. I stayed with friends in order to save money. So much of their behavior annoyed, disgusted and alarmed me that I realized I was only being accepting and compassionate when human behavior was abstract, something on TV or in the  newspaper. I could sigh and shake my head and wish people would calm down, accept their neighbors and their neighbor’s differences. I held my head in my hands when I heard about every little, brutal war in every little beaten-down country. The people who live there have no choice about where they are born and their lives are days on end of poverty and cruelty, their “leaders” bleeding them dry of money, hope, purpose. When I see the deliberate cruelty of corporate farms and the people who run them, casually tossing animals into trucks or beating them because they can, I weep and wish I weren’t  part of this mess at all.

After a few weeks with friends whose personal lifestyle appalled me, I had to re-educate myself. When I caught myself silently bitching about some behavior  (no, I’m not going to list sloppy housekeeping or personal hygiene here, that’s not the point) I would mentally step back, open my hands and raise my arms to the sky. It is what it is, I would chant, their life is not mine to change or judge. They are encouraging my decision and helping as they can. I do not have the right to belittle anyone’s lifestyle or behavior. It helped to breathe deeply, close my eyes and say “let it go.” It does work, if you want it to work. I did have to unclench my fists more than once, I had to bite my tongue. Once I had to leave the house and pay for a motel room, but it was worth it to be in a quiet place and gather my own thoughts. Once I had to let go of a relationship, but that, too, was easier to do once I accepted that the person was not who I thought they were, something we can’t know without actually living with them. And it’s alright for people to come and go in my life. I’m sure the person I let go of has also let go of me. I am not important in the big picture, after all. Yes, I am connected to everything, everything is connected to me, so my importance is no more or less than the boxwood by the drive, or the cardinal in the feeder.


I’ve been reading essays explaining the basics of existentialism (we are responsible for our own behavior-there is no deity who makes us do anything, or decides our fate for us), Buddhism (we are responsible for what we do, everything is interconnected so compassion, being good, is good for everything, including ourselves. Karma is the consequences of every action) and variations of those ideas. I’m tired sometimes, when I read a basic tenant-you are responsible for your actions-and then the explanation goes on and on, page after page. Sometimes I think all these  books about a particular philosophy-take your pick-are long and complicated because we have this idea that philosophers are so much smarter than everyone else that when they say something it must take up hundreds of pages.

For Pete’s sake. I’ve long believed, deep inside most of my conscious life, that of course we’re responsible for our actions. I don’t CARE if your father raped you, that doesn’t justify beating your children until they bleed, or berating your employees in front of everyone else. Using a sad, abusive childhood to excuse your actions is cowardly and lazy. It seems to me that most of us have had traumatic events in our childhood and young lives. It’s like making pots. They are beautiful as wet clay, but useless for any purpose. They must be fired. Some don’t survive the firing process, but the ones that do are strong and functional as well as beautiful. We must undergo a firing process or some sort of rite of passage before we are truly adult. I’ve known people who appeared to have lived idyllic childhoods and they are mostly useless as adults. They don’t understand other people, they are pale and weak and often unable to make difficult decisions.

Having trauma in your young life doesn’t have to make you incapable of growing up, of accepting the consequences of your choices. You can learn to be an adult. It isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. Education helps me see every day that my life, the one I have and the only one I figure I’m getting, should be lived with appreciation, enthusiasm, and no regrets. Oh, I regret not figuring this out sooner, but  I no longer regret the decisions that led me here. I mourn my youth, of course, and I mourn the time I lost because I didn’t realize it would pass so quickly.


Now, I’m planning to walk 2,000 miles to listen to Nature in Her own element . I will emerge somewhere on the Trail, I hope, and will be a cleaner, purer Self, the one I’ve been trying to build these past 10 years . I am a little frightened, because it’s a journey into the Unknown (in spite of all the books written about hiking the AT) and because I don’t know who this person is that I’m trying to find. That sounds so 60’s and flakey but I haven’t figured out another way to say it.

By this time next week, I’ll be hiking the trail, trying to get used to the rawness of wind and rain and sleeping on the ground. I’ll be getting used to the sound of my own breathing, and the beating of my heart after climbing hills and mountains and rocks. I’ve hiked enough, alone, to know what to expect at first. Knowing it will go on longer than a few hours, or days, leaves me anxious, but not profoundly. It  will go on longer than some jobs I’ve had, I will be walking farther than I’ve ever driven. I will be my own world longer than I ever have before. But then, I’ll also be able to sit and listen and look as long as I want, as long as Nature allows me to be part of Her day-to-day activities. If I get in the way, I know She’ll simply brush me aside, so I must be mindful of what is going on all the time. She won’t be responsible for my carelessness, She won’t catch my arm if I go tumbling down a slippery hill. I will be on my own more than I ever have. There is fearfulness in my heart, but there is also a great anticipation, like going onstage. There is no real audience, except for me. The animals most likely won’t even reveal themselves, just crouch in the underbrush, giggling at yet another two-legger bumbling through their property.

I can hardly wait.

Leaving Asheville

Linda, who owns Fiddlestix (the first shop to carry my art in Mars Hill) and her helpers, Billie, Jean and Anne, gave me a going away party Saturday night. We drank wine and good beer, munched fresh veggies and homemade chili and mingled the way good-natured people do at parties. Everyone is supportive and cheerful about my hiking trip. They came to pat me on the back and warn me about bears. Linda  stayed after a tiring, busy day, uncorked wine and arranged crackers, cheeses and dip.  Jean brought fresh veggies and hummas. Billie and her husband, Bob, brought homemade chili and wine from Michigan. Donna and Lawrence, from Common Ground, came after an equally tiring day with big smiles and hugs.  My former landlord, Richard, came and reminded evryone he is still planning to meet me in Hot Springs –with beer! Shawn, another outdoor enthusiast made us all laugh with camping stories. Todd, who makes furniture from sticks, much of the time right there in the woods where he finds them, wished a safe trip. Susan and Bentley, who have been so encouraging and happy for me, gave me extra work to help finance this trip. Seth is caring for Annie and lets me sleep on the couch. Sherrye and Benson. Sherrye helped me get in my first major show here. She also gave me a bar of her wonderful handmade soap. Gyspybee.com is her soap company and you should check it out.

I made them all stand still for a couple of pictures. I don’t usually do that irritating picture thing at parties, but I’m going away for 6 months into the woods so it seemed …appropriate.

It was a fun party, it lasted just long enough for everyone to get to know each other a little better, and for me to realize how many good, solid friends I have made here. This is the place I think of now when I think “home”, I have friends to come back to. It makes leaving easier, and harder. Easier because I know they will be saving a place for me. Harder because finding a home as eluded me until just now. It’s hard to leave something you’ve just found.

My little house in Mars Hill was my first real home in the traditional sense, but after I made this decision to hike the trail I gave it up. The past 6 months have been teaching me that I carry my home inside me. It hasn’t been easy, and I fought it a lot of the time. I’m still learning to accept when old habits say resist, but I’m catching myself more often.

I’m still learning to step back, stop judging, stop bitching and let it go. I’m still learning to look inside for home, peace, self-worth.

Seth and I hiked yesterday, a trail that followed the Laurel River at Hot Springs. Even though there are places defiled with graffiti and trash (WTF?) the trail is absolutely beautiful. I realized I wanted to hike it again in the Winter, when the scenery should be spectacular. We talked about other trails, in other seasons, and I said “6 months isn’t such a long time.” I started thinking of what I want to do when I come back. I hadn’t let myself plan to come back until just then. I didn’t realize how much I thought of Asheville as “home.”

I understand that I carry my home inside me, but I also believe, because Asheville has taught me, that there are places that make keeping my inside home quiet, sane and peaceful. My hikes in the mountains have taught me that there is nothing more beautiful than the outdoors, nothing more interesting, nothing more fun, nothing more satisfying. I don’t go shopping for something to do, I go hiking; I don’t  watch TV, I sit by a river and watch what happens. Here you can listen to the woods, smell the juniper and fir, drink spring water cold enough to make your head ache, breathe air so crisp it slices. I can feel my own blood and muscle pushing me up the mountains. All of this I have done here, and it will take me through the Appalachians.

For many of us, Asheville is a place you find, a place where you  can truly live. It’s not a place you ever leave. Not really