in the fog

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.  Carl Sandburg

This week I spent some time in the fog. Tuesday afternoon the little cat feet crept into my park, right in the middle of my walk. I think it was the first time in years that fog actually descended while I was outdoors in a static setting. I watched with curiousity as it gently tiptoed and stretched all across the field until finally it settled into a cool blanket, contentedly wrapping itself in a tail of vaporous mist. I named the fog Felinity. (Thank you Mr. Sandburg.) Why is it when we personify a thing, it becomes less scary?

Felinity remained on Wednesday, disquieting my morning walk from the usual rhythms and patterns of daily park life. She intimidated my blue sky with her cloudy repose. The stealthy light haze of her personality, silent and poised, seemed to affect any creature which might consider itself prey. With the bird songs muted and the squirrels vanquished to the trees, there was no sense of time. The quiet was surreal. No breeze, no petal snow, no chirping, clucking or whistles. No running, scurrying, flitting, hopping. No color. No smell. Without the usual business and distraction of daybreak, my thoughts echoed and bounced uncomfortably around the white mist. With all of the morning creatures missing or nonexistent, it was an unusual and odd walk. I couldn’t stop thinking “When will Mr. Sandburg’s poetic enigma move on?”

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Thursday morning came and I am happy to report Felinity was gone!  (Can you tell I am not a cat/fog person?) Cats and fog are mysterious to me. Too much is hidden when they appear. One never can tell what a cat is thinking, and fog, well fog is always in the scary movies and stories, a veil hiding something sinister. Oh, how I appreciated the gradient and glowy daybreak! The beautiful round red fire rising up in slow motion over the horizon, gently waking my senses and lighting up the world once again. The park and its environment were back to normal – a bustle of busy behaviors.

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After one lap, my nose detected a whiff of Mother Nature’s grand scent in the air – the lingering perfume of the white, pink and purple flowering trees. Was it she who finally shooed Felinity off to another spot?

With my mind free to ponder within the bouquet of spring blooms, my thoughts once again found their rhythm in the loud, busy serenity of the moment. Maybe I needed Felinity to remind me to pause for awhile in the absolute stillness; to spend time in the fog of sensory absence in order to appreciate all the joy my daily walks in the park provide.

As I looped around toward the west, I was sure this was my lesson. Over the horizon, I could see the bright light of the setting moon barely surrendering to its destiny. Even the moon seemed to be having a hard time letting go of the beautiful spring sunrise! I get it now – never take this one precious sunrise, this one precious walk, this one precious day for granted.

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my saint bernard fun is disappearing with the snow

I am sad winter is winding down and I will express it in these three words – “saint bernard fun.” Alright, maybe I’ll add three more words – “with Phoebe and Nellie” my saint bernards.

One of the most endearing characteristics about saint bernards, especially when lumped together with all they are famously known for – the drool (think Beethoven), the tendency toward a determined/stubborn personality, the endless shedding, and the uncompromising infatuation with the sound of their own voice, they love, love, love winter. Their joy in winter is so infectious that when I watch them play and hang out in the snow, I can’t help but enjoy winter myself!

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As soon as the back door is opened, they run into the yard, and romp around each other, happily playing and wrestling until one or both falls into the soft, cold comfort of the snow. It’s like having polar bears in my backyard!

Out on a walk (or even sometimes in the yard), something deep in their DNA signals them to climb up any new snow piles that appear in their immediate view. From atop the little hill, they freeze and become serious, listening and gazing over the postage stamp sized land. Are they harkened back to the high, desolate St. Bernard Pass in the Alps, scanning for stranded hikers?

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Haphazardly, their big heads will swing down and up as they use their nose to push a gulp of fresh snow into their mouths. Then, often and with no desire to quench, they will quaff the snow, until their muzzles are foamy, and their eyelashes are white. After a time, it’s back to business- as they search their horizon with the laser focus of a lighthouse beam.

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I would best describe the personality of the saint bernard as a rover. It roves back and forth and hither and yon between an oversize commitment to duty, and the ability to play. On a walk, the duality of their mind becomes evident. Nellie will earnestly track a path where no person has gone before. She needs to chase the important scent of something invisible (you think). She takes her walk into the far and remote reaches of untouched field. When she finally stops to look up with a contented and satiated smile on her face, she seems to be saying “Ooops, I forgot why we’re here?” It’s then you realize- she was just pulling you along into deeper and deeper snow because she could.

Phoebe doggedly mines along, giving the appearance of high alert status while walking, as if she is truly seeking the lost and buried. Once she finds her spot, I realize – it’s her perfect spot to dive into the snow – she rockets forward, head first of course. Sliding like a seal, she slips over onto her back and celebrates with sets of wiggling and more wiggling. Is she making a dog snow angel? When her wiggle-ation is complete, she will flip onto her feet in an instant. Back from her reverie, she lands into army crawl mode, and pauses for a second or two, to scan the world around her with delighted eyes. She has found a way to mix business with pleasure!

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Coming home from some of our walks, there would be mild days when I would make a fire in the yard. Talk about two happy campers! These two girls would be busy the whole morning.

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Patrol-play. Check the fire. Patrol-play. Check the gate.

When the fire was finished so was the saint bernard morning.  Time to head inside for a good long nap and dreams of more fun in the snow.

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This winter provided me with many awesome memories and moments of gratitude for being retired. Spending time in the winter with these two dogs has been heaven, a cold, snowy, joyful heaven! They really made my winter more fun!

take a walk somewhere new and different

Last week I shook things up a bit and took a walk on a beach. A beach on Lake Michigan.

My favorite way to deal with the doldrums of winter is to take a walk somewhere new and different. Break my pattern. It really wasn’t as awful as it might sound.

Sure it was cold, but everyday is cold. Of course there was wind, but it was a wildly energizing wind. Yes, things were frozen, but there was so much beauty in the frozen landscape.

What a strange and lovely view! I was able to see all sorts of muted pinks, greens and blues in the grey day. The scenery was spectacular. The lake was uncharacteristically sharp and edgy, unnaturally still.

And the sounds…no familiar waves crashing or gentle surf rolling, but an eerie quiet, interrupted every so often by a wrenching sound. The groan of ice moving.The frozen slabs of water settling and rearranging in their bed.

Then there was the sky…always a mesmerizing eye catcher for me! Puffy clouds sprinting across the horizon.

And to think, in all of this, I was just a speck walking on the beach. Amazing!

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sunrise walk with phoebe

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This past week, my big dog Phoebe and I happened upon the sunrise. There it was, the fire in the east sky on a very cold morning. She looked at me while we were walking as if to say “C’mon Mom, it’s already started! Let’s get going.”

She was right. It was an awesome sight and I had the feeling of being drawn to an incredibly large campfire in the distance.

As Phoebe happily smelled her way through our walk, catching up on the latest nocturnal news, I noticed a peace and stillness about the frigid morning. So quiet, I had to settle my loud thoughts.

Even though we’ve walked this path a million times, something about the purples and pinks mixed with the frosty air and sharp cold drew me in. I felt like I was in a church, a reverent, graceful nature church. All around me, an abundance of deep orange calm was silently melding with the passion of purple. Secret winks of cheery pink nestled below a bashful ocean of blue. Yellow…bright flickering yellow waking the horizon and my soul.

Since the cold began, I haven’t been out for my usual “dawn of the day” walk. Today I am grateful for the reminder of… how much a beautiful sunrise can warm me from the inside out; how the peace and stillness of the outdoors can steady me for the day ahead; and how my senses can awaken my soul to the beauty of one single solitary moment on this Earth.

walking into a positive state

As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.” – Henry David Thoreau

I love Thoreau! His quotes and reflections about life help me get into the moment, especially if I take one with me as I go out into a walk.

One of my favorites is the quote above, and I take it to heart.

As I begin my walk, I start out with a thought about how grateful I am to be able to walk. This statement by itself, is huge. Walking gives me freedom, independence, improved health and mobility. I cherish the privilege of having those particular qualities in my life simply because there is no guarantee that they are permanent. It’s like waking up in the morning, I love it so much I can’t ever fall back asleep. Get me into the day!

Always, at some point during my walk my focus shifts to the Earth. I am so very happy to be able to step out my front door into nature. Even though I walk miles and miles and loops and loops around the same path, I always manage to find one small thing in the outdoors that delights me. It can be bone-chilling cold, dreary, rainy, miserable oven-hot, yet some part of nature’s incredible and beautiful world will scream out “I’m here and I want you to see me!” What a gift! It’s then I start thinking about the randomness of this planet to “be” at all, and…me, haphazardly born as a part of it, well, all I hope is that I never take that for granted. It’s like looking at the billions and billions of stars at night and realizing for the first time, there is no planet like ours out there…anywhere!

Which leads me to a place of real gratitude because I exist, warts and all, I “am”. Now I go from, “Wow! I can’t believe I was born” to “Whoa! I can’t believe I made it this far.” If I think about all of the stupid things I did in the past, or when I watch the news at night, I realize how lucky I am because I’m still here. And the bottom line is…that’s amazing. I’m still here and I have a roof over my head, food on the table and people in my life I care about. Thank you Mr. Thoreau!

Yup, I’ll keep practicing gratitude when I walk…

Amazing

chicago – happy david bowie day!

David Bowie by Cate Parr

Today my walk takes me into downtown Chicago. Where, by proclamation of “Mayor Emmanuel” it is officially – David Bowie Day! Wake me up because this has to be a dream!

Since 1972, when I was trying to be “the bomb” in 8th grade, I’ve been a fan. I’ve seen concerts, stage plays, movies, television specials and internet videos. Once I even wore Mary Quant glitter eye make up to a concert! Who was I? “Not sure if you’re a boy or a girl…”

I have all my original well worn, beer stained, seed creased vinyl albums which somehow made it through college, crazy parties, and lots and lots of apartments. At my last inventory, I think I am only missing one or two, no doubt loaned out to a friend for a Bowie gathering of some sort. “Let all the children boogie…”

Oh right, don’t let me forget the 8-tracks, cassettes, cd’s and digital downloads hidden on shelves, in bins or on old devices. Much of the music reminds me of my friends, the best in the whole world, because they loved Bowie too, and together we listened, all throughout the various stages of my life, to the music. And the music created so many wonderful memories as we danced and sang and escaped from adulthood for a little while.  “Let’s dance – to the sound they’re playing on the radio…”

He, was always changing. Kind of like us. As soon as he finished one thing he seemed to be on to the next…a rock star, an alien, a gigolo, an actor, a duke, a lodger, a heathen, a spaceman, just to name a few. In retrospect I wonder if maybe…he was subtly reminding us that reinvention is necessary in life, because it all goes so quickly? “And my time was running wild…”

And so, on this day, I am grateful to be alive! I really can’t believe this is real! Thank you Museum of Contemporary Art for this exhibition. Thank you Rahm for the proclamation. To my friends – “can you frickin’ believe this?” And most of all – thank you David Bowie for your rich, artistic, colorful and very human contribution to our culture! “Fill your heart with love today…”

thank you hokkaido kudasai

Recently, I completed my 100th blog post, and I owe a big, warm Thank You to a very good friend of mine, who – has been and still is… an inspirational person in my life. She just finished up her 1000th blog post! (Congratulations Pamela!)

My friend and I met in college, in the rural town of Macomb, Illinois, about 35 years ago. At the time, she was an adventurous recreation major. In her free time she juggled stitching projects, studied other languages and immersed herself in different cultures (just for the heck of it). She did all of this while training for some future running event (usually a marathon). I am happy to report she hasn’t changed very much over the years.

You might expect this person to be something of a type A personality, multitasking all sorts of activities in a non-stop, go get ’em fashion. Maybe this is in her, but I never noticed it, to me, she was (and is) a kind of  “type U” personality, the U meaning – unique and unusually interesting, in a ‘busy as a bee’ sort of way.

What I found to be the most interesting about this friend, was her ever present demeanor of calm. While others around the campus were chugging buckets, lushing it up at lakers, and generally freaking out about the future, her friendship offered an alternative peaceful escape I found meditative and grounding. Whenever she would return from whatever recreation challenge she had recently completed, I couldn’t wait to visit and listen to her stories.

With great anticipation, I would knock on her dorm room door and she would answer with an invitation to come in and stay for a cup of tea. As the electric pot heated up, she would show me her latest stitching project. We would then sip the freshly brewed tea and she would update me on her various travels, projects and studies. With her soft, gentle, and subtle type of energy, I was inspired, not jealous, never shocked, but richly moved and enticed with the accounts of all she was doing in her life. She never seemed to get overwhelmed or anxious with deadlines or roadblocks, she just managed to always hold steady. (I often wondered…was it the tea? No, it had to be the stitching!)

I am not a stitcher. But, I am intrigued and fascinated with the world of creating pictures and objects with thread. For anyone who stitches, this is the blog for you. I love to watch her daily creations take shape. Across the miles, her blog is my cup of tea – an energizing, dependable and quirky brew, steeped in Hokkaido habits, mildly infused with Japanese culture.

Fast forward to now. Over the years we have kept in touch even though our lives have taken very different paths. In my phone book there are several pages of her addresses and I am happy to report she has never stopped adventuring, learning new languages, or immersing herself in different cultures. Imagine my awe when I received a letter saying she was moving to Japan with her husband. At a time in life, when most people are settling in, they were selling everything and going to Hokkaido. Wow! Who does that?

Map of Hokkaido from wikipedia

In the following months, I received an email…my friend had arrived in Hokkaido, in the middle of a very snowy winter. She had also managed to secure a job teaching English as a second language and had started a new blog. How awesome, and so like her – daring and doing, without wasting a precious minute!

These days, I read her blog faithfully, I feel as if I am given the opportunity to have a visit, to stay in touch and to learn about life in a very different place. Her blog is at the center of a large stitching community, but it sheds light on so much more…life in Japan;  its people, its culture and its geography. If you are intrigued by this story, this is my friend’s blog…Hokkaido Kudasai.

If you don’t mind, I’d like to share some of my favorite posts….

Her story begins on this snowy road, in December, somewhere around that half century mark of life.

Pamela’s new town

I am happy to report she is still in training… on exercise equipment in a new and different language. I can’t imagine!

Pamela’s treadmill in hokkaido

In the awful March weather, when I was stuck inside my basement, on my elliptical, I couldn’t wait to check in on the progress of one of her many stitching projects… a summer garden. I imagined I was walking through it – entering the gate, pausing beneath the trees, stepping around the masterfully planted gardens. I couldn’t wait for spring!

Pamela’s garden

Last year, when I decided to retire, I mentioned to my friend I was thinking about starting a blog. She was so very supportive. She doesn’t know she is a secret mentor for me, the kind of mentor who softly kindles or awakens a spirit in another person. My friend inspires by doing. I’ve discovered her mission – to continue to always try and make this life a grand adventure.

To me, blogging is kind of like stitching. To have a vision, then, begin to create the thing- stitching together thoughts and ideas. Patiently tacking words with pictures, fastening it all together daily. It is in this way, my friend has completed her 1000th post. I wish her the warmest congratulations and a big thank you for sharing it all. I am so happy for her and still…a little bit in awe. As Helen Keller would say “life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.”