When the Trail Ends

I have been spending a lot of time hiking trails lately. They are generally quite well marked and often carry signs reminding us to follow the trail and stay on the trail, but what happens when the trail ends? Most of the time we are on trails that are just loops and if we do in fact stay on the trail, we end up where we started. But what if the trail is one of those that lead us out to a point and then expect us to return the way we came. I ran into one of these on my latest hike and the metaphor was worth exploring.

I found myself at the end of the point with this spectacular view. I could take my picture and then turn back, but what if? What if I stepped off the trail and followed the rocky shoreline that lead beyond? It would not be the safe trail I had just left, but where would it lead me if I was willing to put in the effort? What would lie just around the bend? I didn’t follow the urge that day, but I thought about it, and even regretted not having tried. Eventually, I returned to the trail and back tracked my path to the starting point.

I think the trail is a metaphor for life. We are all on a trail. The trail leads us through our decisions, through our careers, through our life. We can trust that the trail we are following is the right one. We can follow it precisely to where it leads. But what if the trail comes to an end? Do we turn back around and go back to where we began? Do we loop endlessly around repeating the same things day after day? Or do we ignore the stay on the trail sign and step off? Do we take the risk and make our own trail? Sometimes our trail, the trail we were following, does come to an end. I contend that only if we are willing to do the later, to make our own trail, can we truly experience life the way it is meant to be.

When we blaze our own trail, we must assume the risk, but without risk, there can be no reward. I am not promoting recklessness, rather I am encouraging resourcefulness. You can never know what was just around the bend unless you find a way to continue the trail. That next step you take may be the most important step you ever take. Where is your trail leading? Will you stay on the trail or make your own?

An Adventure

It was my granddaughter’s birthday recently. She was turning four and according to her, once you are four you can do almost anything. It took me but a minute to know the gift I needed to give her. I would give her an invitation to an adventure.

An adventure is an activity we do with a friend. On adventures we make discoveries, we go places we have not been before, we bond with our friend, and we make memories. Adventures can be as simple as a walk on a new trail, or better yet, taking a turn we had not planned on, not knowing where it will lead. An adventure might be climbing a mountain or just seeing the city from the observation deck of a skyscraper. The important thing is that though you plan the trip, you do not plan the adventure, they just kind of unfold. And therein lies the joy.

I have had many adventures with my daughters over the years. They were often of the simple version, a trip to the zoo or a climb on the bluffs of Devil’s Lake, but appreciated none the less. As they grew older, my daughters would always be looking forward to our next adventure. They began to take on a style of their own. The adventure to them was a planned destination but no agenda once we arrived. The accommodations often left much to be desired, but they would be quick to add that where we would sleep was not important, it was what awaited us the next morning that would define the adventure. As they grew, so too did the adventures. We skied snow covered slopes out West, we climbed Half Dome in Yosemite Valley, hiked the Geyser Trail at dawn in Yellowstone, and actually paraglided off the peaks above Medellin Columbia, in South America. As I write this, I know they are surely busy plotting the next adventure.

For Adela, her adventures are just beginning, but I know this, she will certainly follow in her mother’s footsteps. She already has an adventurous spirit and with a little nurturing from her Opa, she will turn that spirit loose. I can only hope to keep up and continue to be her adventure partner.

So what about your adventures? Do you have them? Do you leave open spaces in your trip plans for that surprise that lies just beyond the path? The surprises in life are what make the journey worthwhile. Never discount the driving vacation and when you pass the sign that says view point ahead, take the time to take it in. The rest of the trip will wait, but that view may never offer itself again.

Go have an adventure. As for Adela and I, we are getting ready for our first and already thinking about the one after that.

Playing Chicken Covid-19 Style

Having returned seven days ago from the island paradise of St Lucia, I have been spending the last week exiled to my not so exotic island of Covid-19 here on Valley Road. It hasn’t been all bad. I have discovered new rooms of sanctuary in my own home, you know, for those moments when togetherness becomes, well a bit overwhelming. Don’t miss read that, I love my wife and I am more than willing to have long conversations gazing into each others eyes across our kitchen counter but there is also only so much HGTV I can take. I secretly fear that I may come into the kitchen one morning and find Chip and Joanna, sledge hammer in hand, removing a wall and putting up ship lap all over the place. Guess you had to have seen at least one of those house flip shows to get that last one.

I have also discovered the art of binge watching that my children have tried to coerce me into. In the past week I have relived the history of New York City and its immigrant history, I have tracked down and prosecuted the Unabomber and watched all three Men in Black movies. I have rediscovered my conspiracy fed belief in aliens and there impact on ancient history and uncovered mysteries in the museum I had never even heard of. The only thing I have resisted is the urge to continue to destroy Oak Island in search of the money pit, which I am convinced is simply the seemingly bottomless pit of money the producers of A&E have to throw at the search. Just imagine if they ever do find it. The show will have to end and not get to break the record for the longest running documentary ever, that record being held by the search for ancient aliens.

In the total lack of sports to watch, I and my wife have taken up walking around the block in our twice daily sport of Coved-19 Chicken. You know, that moment when someone turns the corner or comes out of their house and is now walking toward you on the same sidewalk. Who folds first and dashes across the street to the other side? We have turned it into a betting game as to not only who folds first but at what point and whether they flee diagonally or straight across. I am feeling like an extra in one of those zombie movies. Fair warning, if you are the opponent, Deb and I don’t fold.

The other night, desperate for our Friday night out and shared cocktail with friends, we instituted a virtual couples party courtesy of ZOOM. We had virtual wine and cocktails, music and food. We shared pictures, you can actually do that live, and toasted each other’s health and most importantly shared laughter and for a moment forgot our isolation. Thank you ZOOM for making this all possible. Just imagine the flu pandemic of the early 1900’s, doing that same thing via telegraph. Something like nice to imagine seeing you, stop. Hope the kids are enjoying time off from school, stop. Just toasted you with a nip of grog, stop. That party would have lasted a lot longer than the forty minutes we got from my free version of ZOOM. I am sure we will be repeating the process with our friends, the ones we don’t meet on our street in the game of chicken, and in fact have a family ZOOM get together in a few minutes.

Seven days to go before I have completed my mandatory fourteen day exile / quarantine. I won’t miss the isolation but I will miss the slowing of the pace of life. I will miss the excuse to just sit back and relax. I will miss the me time. We will go back to life the way we knew it pre-corona but I suspect that some things will never be the same. I hope that for one, it will be this sense of togetherness we currently feel in the midst of the self imposed isolation we are all in. We should do everything we can to foster this sense of closeness, of all being equal that we have experienced in the face of dealing with this crisis. We are strong enough to do that. We just need to commit to that as much as we have committed to hand washing and hoarding toilet paper. Together we can emerge better than we were.

Hoping you are staying safe, six feet apart and healthy.

Early Morning

Deb and I leave tomorrow morning for a week in St Lucia. When I say tomorrow morning, I mean early tomorrow morning. And since my wife believes that being there on time means two hours before, early tomorrow morning might be an understatement. We will be leaving our home at 3:45 AM as in “Ah Man” it’s still night. Now there’s just one more little problem, daylight savings time is also tomorrow morning. When we planned this trip several months ago, I am sure I raised that issue. I am also sure no one was listening.

This thought crossed my mind. If the clocks change at 2:00 AM, maybe I just stay up and change them then. Of course the time would then jump from 2:00 AM to 3:00 AM, my alarm would go off and I could save all that time I would have wasted sleeping. The truly amazing thing in all of this is the fact that an Uber will be coming to pick us up at that hour. Yes, I scheduled it. No way was one going to be just hanging around at that hour.

So there it is. If you are escaping the cold weather of winter and trading it for the weather of the tropics, no sense letting the day get away from you. If you are reading this from Wisconsin, know that by the time you read it, I should already be sitting on a beach, toes in the sand and a tall drink in my hand watching the sun set over the ocean. Eat your heart out, but for God sake, Sleep In.

How Big is Your Family?

I have been thinking about family a lot recently or I guess reminded a lot. Last weekend we held the funeral for the last remaining sibling of my father’s family of twelve. A week ago my well respected and deeply loved aunt Hazel, passed away a month shy of her 99th birthday. It was a day filled with reunions, stories and celebration of her life. It was surprisingly easy to reconnect with my cousins, some whom I had not seen for years. But, as they say, the years fell away as we shared our stories and caught up with our past.

What struck me more than anything else is the closeness that exists in strong families. I know as I write this there are readers who may have come from less functional families. From families where relationships may have been strained through time and differences. My heart has always gone out to them. I was fortunate enough to come from a family whose bonds were strong and remain strong to this day. That is not to say that there weren’t some relationships that were not as strong as others, but for me to remain as connected as I am to the cousins produced by a family of my father’s size, there must have been more that connected us than just our common blood line.

Families are a dynamic entity. Thus the question, “How big is your family?” Who does the term family encompass? How big is the circle that defines your family? Mother Teresa was once quoted as saying, “The problem with the world is that we draw the circle of our family too small.” Think about that. We spend so much time making our circles smaller, exclusive in their make-up. If we agree on principals, if we share the same beliefs, if we have common friends, then we draw our circle to include these people but not others. If we thought of the people we know, the people we work with, the people we simply interact with as family, then we would have widened our circle. If we then think of them as family, think how much better we would treat each other. Widen the circle. Make it inclusive, not exclusive.

Once we have widen the circle we draw to define our family, then we need to follow by being positive. By loving our circle unconditionally regardless of the differences that might try to separate us. What follows is compassion versus intolerance, unity versus divisiveness. Start to imagine what a better nation, what a better people we could be.

Today I listened to a sermon by our new minister, Heather Hayward and wanted to share an experiment she told us about. The experiment was done with water by Japanese author Masaru Emoto. Emoto experimented with water molecules and the effects of positive and negative words and music on the structure of the crystals they formed. (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qQUFvufXp4 ) The results were stunning and beautiful when positive words and music were applied. They were confused and in some ways ugly when the opposite was applied. Whether you choose to believe his experiment, the images are impressive. When you consider that the human body is comprised of 60% water, isn’t worth at least trying positive words versus the negative words we are bombarded with daily.

We do not choose our family. We are born into it. But we can choose the people we would treat as family. So I ask you, how big will you draw the circle of your family? Will you make it big enough to include me?
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