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Posts tagged ‘Solitude’

MY SOUTHWEST SOLITUDE ROAD TRIP 2015

“I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude,” Henry David Thoreau

“Solitude never hurt anyone.  Emily Dickinson lived alone, and she wrote some of the most beautiful poetry the world has ever known. . . then went crazy as a loon.”  spoken by Lisa Simpson on The Simpsons (Matt Groening)

MY SOUTHWEST SOLITUDE ROAD TRIP 2015: An Overview

IMG_7063In April, I traveled a total of 3,870 miles on a two-week road trip into the Southwest.  I knew what cities I would stay in for a few days each time and had some key attractions I wanted to visit.  But most of the trip was going to be simply wandering Arizona and New Mexico, enjoying the scenery and history of the area.  I even traveled a bit on an old stretch of historic Highway 66.  I had a wonderful time.

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park

I travel alone on these trips—and typically someone will ask, “Why?”  Speculation is often that I would be lonely.  But that is never the case! Solitude is not loneliness—and I love the peace and quiet of the back roads I tend to travel. On those roads, it is easier to pull over and stop to watch some clouds drift by, appreciate some wildflowers, listen to some birds, even see some animals I wouldn’t otherwise notice.  Even without such wonders, the wide open spaces can be relaxing.  How can that be lonely?

Spider Rock, Canyon de Chelly

Spider Rock, Canyon de Chelly

My overall game plan was to stay a few nights in Flagstaff, Arizona; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Gallup, New Mexico, taking day trips from those locations.  In part, I just wanted to immerse myself in the area geography, driving the backroads and visiting the small cities that are an integral part of the Tony Hillerman novels I enjoy.  I also knew I wanted to visit Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly, and Four Corners.  Other trips would be decided each day, from a list of possibilities I had generated.  I was also open to just following signs and seeing what I could see.

Some Views from Monument Valley:

Merrick Butte

Merrick Butte

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El Malpais National Monument

El Malpais National Monument

Eventually, I will share photos of some of the major stops I made on this two-week adventure.  But many of the memories are the smaller moments of each day, some that could not even be captured with a photo. For example, every morning as I left the Gallup hotel, there was a little sparrow in the tree by where I parked who sang good morning loud and clear.  But he was shy and never, ever let me capture his photo.  In fact, many birds and even some small animals kept me company along the road, but rarely let me take their pictures.  It is always a fun little game to try to catch them on film.

Some of these smaller memories I was able to preserve in photographs.

IMG_6906The promise of rain was a constant companion.  I was only ever really caught in a storm a couple of times, but the clouds were gorgeous almost every day.  One day, it even snowed on me in Santa Fe.  How cool is that?

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Lilacs in a Back Yard in Gallup

Lilacs in a Back Yard in Gallup

Flowers were also plentiful.  They always brighten any day!  Some flowers were in the cities, like some gorgeous lilac bushes that made me think of my mom.  One stretch near Shiprock, Aizona, offered miles and miles of wildflowers lining the road.  Other times, wildflowers offered isolated splashes of color and beauty.

False Red Yucca (Hesperaloe), Las Vegas

False Red Yucca (Hesperaloe), Las Vegas

False Red Yucca Close Up

False Red Yucca Close Up

Some views around Shiprock, Arizona, mostly Desert Mallow:

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Canyon de Chelly Roadside

Canyon de Chelly Roadside

Along the Verde River

Along the Verde River

Small Cactus Holding On Near Sedona

Small Cactus Holding On Near Sedona

Taking Root in Monument Valley

Taking Root in Monument Valley

Yucca in Bloom, Monument Valley

Yucca in Bloom, Monument Valley

Yucca Bloom Up Close

Yucca Bloom Up Close

Growing Out of Lava, Sunset Crater National Park

Growing Out of Lava, Sunset Crater National Park

Some Flowers in Petrified Forest National Park:

Desert Poppies

Desert Poppies

Indian Paintbrush Close Up

Indian Paintbrush Close Up

Common Name is Wild Apache Rose (I think)

Common Name is Wild Apache Rose (I think)

Apache Rose Close Up

Apache Rose Close Up

Shiprock National Monument in the Background

Shiprock National Monument in the Background

A few animals also cooperated as I traveled along, letting me catch them on film.  Horses wandered along the road at several locations.  Prairie Dogs were chittering alarms as I bounced along a gravel road traversing Valles Caldera National Preserve. Most scampered away, but eventually a few sentries came back to their posts.  I also shared shade with a little bunny on a break at the El Malpais National Conservation Area.

Prairie Dog, Valles Caldera National Preserve

Prairie Dog, Valles Caldera National Preserve

Near Canyon de Chelly

Near Canyon de Chelly

IMG_7152At one spot some sheep were literally running along the side of the road.  A ram was trailing behind, trying desperately—it seemed to me—to get back to the front of his little flock. That’s one of the hardest things about being a good leader—you need good followers!

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This little trip confirmed for me that Nature and Solitude are great traveling companions!

Canyon de Chelly Rim Drive

Canyon de Chelly Rim Drive

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THOUGHTS ABOUT NATURE & SOLITUDE

“I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving he can outwit nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority.”  E. B. White

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be.”  Anne Frank

“If I were to name the three most precious resources of life, I should say books, friends, and nature; and the greatest of these, at least the most constant and always at hand, is nature.”  John Burroughs

“What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility.  This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.”  Albert Einstein

“Our language has wisely sensed the two sides of being alone.  It has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.”  Paul Tillich

“We live in a very tense society.  We are pulled apart. . . . and we all need to learn how to pull ourselves together. . . . I think that at least part of the answer lies in solitude.”  Helen Hayes

“Never be afraid to sit awhile and think.”  Lorraine Hansberry

“What a commentary on civilization, when being alone is being suspect; when one has to apologize for it, make excuses, hide the fact that one practices it—like a secret vice.”  Anne Morrow Lindbergh

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”  John Muir

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”  Henry David Thoreau

Getting Ready for the Holidays: A Little Nature Trip

Mom and Dad yellow flowersThis holiday season has been a bit more challenging than past years.  It is the first year after both Mom and Dad have died.  Their absence is felt more this year than ever.  Last year, I was able to focus on Dad:  decorate his room, visit him over the holidays, and even arrange a small family get-together.  Those activities plus my usual minimal decorating plans at home and festivities with friends kept me busy enough to not dwell on missing Mom.

But this year was different.  Dad was gone too, so I could not keep myself busy around him.  I was down and not really looking forward to Christmas.  Even though it is my favorite holiday.  I knew I needed to do something to help me embrace the sorrow, reflect on memories, and find a way to adjust to what Christmas will be now.  For me, those needs said I better take a nature trip somewhere, anywhere!  Nature always helps me reconnect with life, love, spirituality.

It was early December and even though a small rain storm was expected, I decided I would head to the coast.  I figured a drive down the Big Sur Coastline with some stops at the beach and in a coastal redwood state park or two would help me get ready for the holidays.  I was right.

Dad with camera big surMOM AND LILACSThis specific trip was a drive Dad and I had enjoyed together in the past, so it was like he was with me.  Mom too, actually, since she came along on the Nature trips sometimes and would have loved the fall colors and occasional flowers and birds I saw along the way.  I brought memories of our good times together home with me from that trip.  Mom and Dad—before they moved into the assisted care facility—would come visit me in Bakersfield in early December every year.  The rain was even part of the good memories, as Mom and Dad often got stuck in rain on the drive up or back home.  But we never let the rain stop us.

Once I got home, I started slowly pulling out not just Mom’s treasured Christmas decorations that I could no long use to decorate her room, but also more of my holiday treasures from past years.  Each new box I explored raised more good memories surrounding ornaments and decorations and tangled lights and being tired after fussing with pulling out the boxes.

The trip did its job.  Getting Christmas back, even with the sad bittersweet memories of Mom and Dad, started with my Nature Trip.  Here are the photos from that trip as my little gift to you.  If you need a break from the hustle and bustle, the hectic craziness of the season, take a minute to stroll through nature and remember the good times.  Merry Christmas!

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My trip started in the rain, as I cut over to the coast from Bakersfield, California.  There were even some flowers for Mom.

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IMG_4036My first official stop on this little impromptu trip was to drive up See Canyon Road.  This isolated mostly paved road is roughly 13 miles that climb from the very bottom of the canyon all the way to the tip top.  It is situated between San Luis Obispo and Avila Beach.  This destination was not as desolate and lonely as it had been years ago, but it still gave a feeling of being alone in nature and being on top of the world, gazing out to Morro Bay Rock maybe 20 miles distant.  Fall’s muted colors were still lingering even on this mostly gray day.

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A stop at Avila Beach was restful.  The dense cloud cover meant there would be no wondrous sunset, but the lapping waves and wading birds always put on a good show.

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IMG_4123The next day I headed for my favorite stretch of the California Highway System:  Highway 1, traveling south from Monterey to enjoy the Big Sur Coastline.  There was a bit of rain, lots clouds, and occasional wind gusts, so a good sunset was not expected.  But the coastal drive was still mesmerizing.

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IMG_4229A short drive through Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park offered time for quiet reflection and some good views of coastal redwoods and the Pfeiffer Creek.

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IMG_4308Back on the road again, continuing south on Highway 1, I headed from one coastal redwood state park to the next.  The sun kept trying to blaze its way through the rain and cloud cover.  It was not a typical sunset, but the spotlight effect was pretty dramatic.

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IMG_4351Limekiln State Park was my last stop of the day, for a very short visit.  It was late in the day and rain was threatening again.  And this is a very little state park.  Technically, it is no longer part of the state park system due to budget cuts.  But the solitude, the beauty, and muted colors of the redwoods and some fall foliage were still priceless.

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MERRY CHRISTMAS!

BOSQUE DEL APACHE: A Great Place for Silence & Solitude

Scenic sounds a bit too generic, too common.  Idyllic sounds too poetic.  I guess if I needed to describe Bosque del Apache in one word, I would use pastoral or rustic.  But it really is a challenge to capture in words the essence of a visit to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico.  I visited this refuge in May 2014 and almost had the place to myself.  I shared it with a few other visitors, quite a few birds, some mule deer, and a bunny.

Getting to Bosque del Apache should have been easy.  It is situated off Interstate 25 between Albuquerque and Las Cruces.  I even had my new GPS to help me plan the route.  The problem was that I did not have an address and the little towns it was close too were too small to be in the GPS database.  It seemed lucky—at first—that one of the websites I was reviewing about the location had one of those how-to-get-there-from-wherever-you-are features set up.  I plugged in my hotel’s address and received what appeared to be a back road’s route into the refuge.  At one time along the way I would even be traveling on old Route 66.  How cool was that?  The total distance implied I would arrive at my destination in about 30 minutes.

Armed with these directions, I started out, quickly being led to a back road vs. a major thoroughfare.  The directions seemed to be working.  All the turns were showing up right on schedule.  But there were a few glitches.  As I went along, fewer of the roads were marked, and most were not paved.  Eventually I turned off the main back road I was on, but the new road was rough dirt and gravel with lots of pot holes and seemed to cut across a farmer’s fields.  As I drove, the route became progressively worse, bouncing me along through the dust allowing me to travel maybe 8 miles an hour.  When my next turn displayed the road sign “unpaved bureau of land management road” and the gravel and pot holes worsened, I decided it would be better to find another route.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  It was a beautiful drive.

I loved the wide open vistas, the blue skies, even the cattle who wandered back and forth between the fields and the “road.”  After I turned around, I made it back to the interstate and had been out and about on my wild goose chase for only a couple hours. For the rest of the day, I figured I would take a drive and see what I could find.  And there it was, right off the interstate, a little sign saying “Bosque del Apache.”  I took the exit and followed the county road to my destination.  The route still seemed fairly isolated, but there were houses and it was paved.

I was delighted to have finally arrived at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuse.  I was hoping for a chance to enjoy nature in solitude, marveling at a few wildflowers and maybe some birds.  I was not disappointed.  If I had visited in the fall, I would have seen many more birds. At that time of year, 10,000 sandhill cranes and some bald eagles settle in for the season.  But the heat was not too bad, there was a slight breeze, and I saw quite a few birds and only a couple other people.  Nature and Solitude—my kind of day!

Most of the refuge was accessible via various self-guided auto tours that traversed along fields and waterways.  The Visitors Center was a nice little respite where I could ask a few questions, use the bathroom, and buy a few postcards.  When I returned to the Center late in the day, after closing hours, I saw a road runner dart across the driveway, too fast to allow a picture.  This little bunny must’ve felt he was hidden well enough in the bushes that he did not need to run away.

But the best part of the day was the silence, the solitude, the beauty, the activity as I wandered along the byways and waterways of this wildlife refuge that covers over 57,000 acres in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley. The website’s description says the refuge is a verdant and fertile land—and that is certainly true.  I could not help but think of Basho’s words: “Amidst the splendor of the scene and the silence, I was filled with a wonderful peace.” 

It was a great day!

 DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE PLACE WHERE YOU GO FOR SILENCE AND SOLITUDE?

Let the Silence In

Let the Silence In

Noises drive me crazy. Not just nails on a chalkboard, but also clocks ticking, faucets dripping, shutters banging, doors creaking, dogs barking or car alarms blaring on and on unattended, or a neighbor’s TV or alarm clock droning on through the walls. Have you ever had one lone cricket lost in your home, chirping out a greeting to anyone who would listen?—chirp, chirp, chirp first here, then there. Nerve-wracking! One time I was staying overnight at my parents’ home, sleeping on the pull-out bed in the den, which is located right next to the kitchen. It took some time, but I finally found the step stool needed to take down the stupid kitchen clock and pull out the batteries, all to stop the incessant tick, tick, tick that was keeping me awake.

But even if these irritating noises could be abolished, it would be rare to experience the total absence of sounds. We do not live in the vacuum of space, after all. There will always be the hum of a computer, the ringing of a phone—with a variety of ring tones to choose from these days, the droning of TV shows, the patter of rain on the roof, and—if you are lucky—the purring of a cat in your lap or the laughter of children. My upstairs neighbors get up every day about 4 am; rather than being a nuisance, their muffled sounds as they start their day are reassuring on the mornings I am awake enough to hear them—they are there and would hear me call out for help, if that need arises.

Music is also a delightful way to fill the quiet, depending on who chooses the station or artist. Often when I drive I sing along with golden oldies—my voice would be considered noise to many, I am sure, so it is good I drive alone. I heard a news story once about how a convenience store owner discouraged rowdy teens from gathering in his parking lot all night long, bothering paying customers just by their presence and boisterous behavior. He started using the parking lot’s speaker system to play classical music rather than a local radio station. The kids eventually decided to congregate somewhere else. I like classical music, jazz too. But if my hangout routinely blared hard rock or rap, I too might move on.

But on the other extreme, too much quiet can be also deafening, overwhelming. Think to when you are carefully listening for a specific sound. Many a parent has breathed a sigh of relief when the car tires finally crunch to a halt on the driveway, when a child is late getting home during a storm. Consider the frustration when waiting for a phone to ring—and the call does not come. The more urgent the expected call—a loved one calling to say, “I am sorry;” results from a medical test; update on a loved one’s condition—the louder the silence. Or consider the time when you moved out on your own for the first time and would have so welcomed a comforting noise or two, that eventually you turned on the TV to banish the quiet. And then there is the quiet that never is broken, even if the house is full of noise, because a loved one has died and her laughter and singing and even snoring will never be heard again.

But the absence of noise is not necessarily silence. Silence is an attitude, an opportunity. In that regard, silence can be rewarding and certainly should not be avoided. Silence—even though often riddled with background sounds—allows so much that it is worth the time it takes to find it these days. Let the silence in. First, turn off the TV, put the iPod ear phones aside, set the phone ringer to off—not vibrate, stop talking—and that includes negative self-talk. Then, just acknowledge the moment: take a walk around the block, say a little prayer, drive a desolate stretch of road, lounge in a recliner at the end of a busy day, be calm and quiet with a friend, start the morning with a hot cup of coffee out in the garden, watch a sunset with a loved one or do any number of other things throughout the day.

Let the silence in. Silence lets you hear your own thoughts, dream a dream, solve a problem, realize priorities, look to what is possible, explore options, just calm down and enjoy the moment. If you are out in Nature, your silence lets you become one with the vibrant life around you that otherwise may go into hiding at your presence. If you let the silence in, you paradoxically might be able to hear the buzz of a hummingbird’s wing, the quiet whoosh of an owl gliding by, the splash of a fish in the river—items that are often overwhelmed by the noise of civilization.

Let the silence in. Who knows, embracing the silence could bring you peace, insight, renewal so that the noises of day to day living will not be so draining. Let the silence in. By embracing the silence and thus accepting the slowing down and calmness that often goes along with that act, you might just connect to the spiritual world around you.

Now that would be something to shout about!

Mono Lake Reflection

Mono Lake

“Few things under heaven are as instructive as the lessons of Silence.” Lao Tzu

“There is no need to go to India or anywhere else to find peace. You will find that deep place of silence right in your room, your garden or even your bathtub.” Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

“Amidst the splendor of the scene and the silence, I was filled with a wonderful peace.” Basho

Arboretum Shade

Arboretum: Sit in the Shade

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