I wanted to get to know this young man who left our world way earlier than any of US wished him to….sleep in his bed, ride in his truck, drive the same roads he did, hug his childhood teddy bear, read his letters, touch his medals, slip his AT fleece over my head.
Because I scheduled this visit, Becky & Steve were forced to go through their son’s belongings, which have been stacked in boxes in their old office room. Becky could only last five minutes at first before she fled back to the house crying. But they found many wonderful things, sweet loving letters and frightful, turning point ones from Afghanistan after a fire fight which killed Zach’s comrades who were on either side of him.
I went to a psychic while I was visiting and he told us many things. One was that Zach hangs out in a “pink room,” for something is there of his, he said. His bed. The physic said that between 3 am and 3:10 is when he usually makes his round. I went to sleep in Zach’s bed and was a little freaked out as I have had some disturbing overnight experiences in severely haunted B&B’s in Gettysburg, PA, the location of the most paranormal experiences in America (so many lost souls caught inbetween worlds.) So I told Zach before I went to bed, “Don’t scare me.” I slept fitfully for the first few hours, as every time a car drove past on their road, the light came through the window through my closed lids forcing me to throw my eyes open, searching the room for his presence.
Finally, I had to get up to go to the bathroom and I contemplated NOT checking the phone to see what time it was- but I did….3:02. I laid down, laid one hand flat against the mattress where his body laid and my other hand on my shoulder. I sudddenly felt pressure on my hand and my whole body felt wrapped in a warm blanket. I told Zach how much I loved him and how much I wanted to tell his story and do a good job for him and asked him for his help It was not scary at all and felt so wonderful. Afterwards, I immediatly fell into a deep restful sleep.
The psychic instructed us to “invite Zach along,” on outings and so we planned one and invited him along. Steve, Becky, me and Zach would travel that same route on his last evening on earth, from getting take-out at Gold Star to his stone farmhouse, where he encountered his confrontational roommate which resulted in Zach taking his life. It was a ride for recovery. It was a big step for Beck and Steve. I knew they would not want to go unless I asked them to take me on my visit.
We stopped at the Gold Star who makes famous Cincinnati chili and spaghetti and purchased supper, the same last meal Zach purchased. As Beck slipped into the Ladies room at the restaurant, I thought, what the hell, I’ll use the Men’s- it is an individual rest room and the door can be locked. As soon as I sat down on the comode, it was as if a voice spoke from the urinal next to my side, “Well, if you’re going to come into the Men’s room, I’m gonna take a piss at the same time,” and I busted up laughing out loud.
Beck & Steve said, “that’s exactly what he would have said.”
We drove the country road out to the stone farmhouse where he breathed his last breath. It was enough for his parents to push themselves to go down that grassy driveway as they have not been back since they had to identify the body and remove his belongings. They stayed in the car. It was huge for them just to have arrived at this point.
From there, we went to the community skate park that Zach raised money to build back when he was a fifteen year old. Then we traveled to the creek where he learned to fish in.
Afterwards, we stopped at the cemetery to see the beautiful stone they had made in Zach’s honor- with photos on the back of his childhood and photos on the front if him as an Airborne Ranger and an AT thru-hiker, on top of mount Katahdin. On top of the stone is an etching of Zach at Mc Afee”s Knob, his favorite view and the scene of a beautiful memorial hike orchestrated by his ranger comrade Travis Johnston in May of 2014. “It is his stance,” his mom said. They want people to come here years from now as they wander the cemetery and KNOW their son through his memorial stone and what he loved. The psychic said the spirit of our loved ones who passed do not reside at the cemetery where they are buried but it is a good meeting place to connect. They will come there to meet you.
Zach visits other people in this world too- his buddies. He often has another military man with him. If you think of him, it IS HIM there with you. “Just say hi,” the psychic said. He puts his hands on us, as he was always hugging and kissing his loved ones.
The psychic said that none of us are to use the word “Death” or “Dying.” Zach has just passed ahead into another dimension and he is very happy, well, and in heaven, which he walked into. He is very proud of who he is. We must not ask “Why?” as that hurts him. Suicide is a “mission,” which makes sense in his Airborne Ranger part of his life. He is not sure that he would do it again as he was not aware of how many people would be hurt. But he did it to prevent others from doing it. The great news, the psychic said is that at least 100 people will spare themsleves this similar fate, because of his example. And the Adamsons and I think we already personally can name a few!
So I left Mt. Orah, Ohio with a stack of copied letters and photos, a deeper understanding of who this “Boy” was and still IS- this fun, loving, warm “old soft soul.” Zach is still alive and well, and gave me his personal blessing to write his story in an upcoming book on walking towards peace, for the Appalachian Trail did just that for Zachary “Shady” Adamson and we must find peace in what has passed too.
It’s a bit if a lame name- Glamping- “glamorous camping” and it sounds sissified to real adventurers, but let me tell you, it is one cool experience. It is LIVING outdoors- cooking, eating, bathing, in the open air, surrounded by nature and beauty. Breezes pass through and birds dart and flit, hummingbirds zip about on their way to and from the many strategically placed bird feeders, while the cooing of the mourning doves fills the air with soothing peace. And “out there,” in the distance is the magnificent view of the Laurel Ridge and the Youghigheny River gap. You can watch the light change on the mountain as you do the dishes or stir your supper or soak in the clawfoot tub- nothing impedes your view. At the 65-acre Campbell Farm www.campbellfarmglamping.com in the Fort Hill area of the beautiful Laurel Highlands, Somerset County, glamping appeals to almost anyone, but especially those of us who love the natural world and can’t get enough of it.
I was attracted to the whole idea of Glamping when I saw the photos on their website. The large canvas wall tent reminded me of my fond memories of “camping” in the Tanzania bush. But Todd and I were even more impressed when we arrived. A wagon sits by the parking area to pull your belongings over the grassy hill to your secluded camp spot. A constant breeze blew so bugs were never an issue. Gas stove, fridge, tub and bathroom, are all completely outdoors except for one wall to each “room.’ The bedroom is separate, inside the large 12 x 12 foot screened in wall tent, complete with queen sized bed (mattress warmers which we did not need in August!), oak night stands, electric lights, rugs etc.
In the evening after dinner, we sat on the 8 x 12 foot porch in our bath robes and sipped wine after going for a walk on the many mowed paths around the 1786 historic Campbell Farm. That was after we soaked in the tub listening to coyotes and screech owls call and watched a doe and her two fawns come out to feed as well as watch the fingernail moon rise in the night sky It was all so very lovely. I sat there and realized how little of “my stuff” that I really need. I was aware of how little stuff we really need to be happy from all my experience backpacking all my life. But for whatever reason, we tend to gravitate INSIDE when we are at home- that is where our STUFF is. But I told my husband that I want him to think about building an outdoor sleeping space and a cooking space. We already have a few picnic tables that we drag every meal out to when the weather is nice and “Nice” is stretched into the “shoulder” seasons.
Glamping made me want to live outdoors. Maybe if I lived in this style, I would not long to go away so much and leave my home and my stuff- if I pared living at home down to essentials and much of that was spent outside when weather permitted.
“The way to avoid housework is to live outdoors.” Glamping proves that to us. With an experience like glamping, Todd and I were ready to go home- throw out STUFF, live and work outside as much as we could. Outside we are happiest. Glamping reminded us of that. Being in nature does not have to be reserved for outdoor adventures, it can encompass every day living. Many who vacation here at Campbell Farm see it as a get away and must return to a life in an urban area. But for people like us, it can be a life changer.
(a version of this story will appear in Pennsylvania Magazine next year….www.pa-mag.com)
I found it slightly annoying when my mother told me as a teen, that she could not go to sleep until I was safe at home from a date and in bed. I was only slightly touched that she cared. I thought she ought to put me out of her mind and get some rest. Impossible.
Last night, my son had to drive back very late to his apartment in Philadelphia. I had to lend him my new car as the old one he uses developed a very disturbing belt squealing sound. I was not excited about him driving back so late and being unfamiliar with the route (he just recently moved there ), let alone driving my car with an unfamiliar clutch.
I did not sleep. I rested my eyes, waiting for his call.
There was construction on the interstate late at night and a 1 ½ hour trip took nearly 4 hours.
Even after his call that he arrived safely, I could not sleep.
And so, I remembered what night it was. The best sky show of the year. A meteorite shower. I pulled on my long pants and wool sweater and went out to our orchard.
Although I could hear late night traffic on Rt 895, ½ mile away, it was incredible that the patch of sky above my head was a dark enough sky that I could even see the Milky Way. Cassiopeia and the Seven Sisters, Pleiades, were right there hanging in the sky, like old friends. I looked up and searched and searched the heavens for movement. My eyes darted around, trying to cover the expanse, not wanting to miss a shooting star in any of the corners and staying alert for movement. It occurred to me that it felt a lot like hunting in the woods, scanning the land, watching for the movement of animals, while I stood still. You can’t be walking out the dirt driveway while looking up, even slowly. You have to stand still and stare at the heavens.
I realized how rarely I look up. For any length of time. I mostly look out when I walk. My husband always looks down. He tells me he has to, as he is always thinking when he walks and he needs the focus. I lift his chin and say, “There’s a big world out there.” But even I do not look all the way up for any length of time and I should.
My neck began to hurt quickly and I rotated it and clasped my fingers together and supported my neck as I tilted my head way back. One, two, three shooting stars. Some were short little spurts. Some were smears in the periphery of my vision. Some were so bright and long that I gasped out loud and my eyes immediately teared up. They were so beautiful and I was all alone out there with the big sky, performing just for me. It was incredibly peaceful. I felt like all my worries of my son’s drive drain out of me and down into the earth. I seemed to focus on what was important. Beauty. That everything was right with the world. And my mind went immediately to my two deceased parents, who have been gone from this physical world for over 30 years. I do not think of them much but those shooting stars brought me right to them and my eyes teared up again. Hi mom and dad, wherever you are.
I was tempted to go back to the house and get a thick comforter and lay it on the dewy grass and just make a night of it. I had heard that the best show was between 2-3 and it was just getting to be 2 am. But I was finally getting sleepy. The stars helped. “Just one more” I said to myself. First I wanted a half a dozen, then 10, then I finally retreated to the woods after a dozen shooting stars.
My log home glowed warmly from the bathroom night light coming through the stained glass window. It’s been such a blessing to live in these woods and raise my children here for the last two dozen years. I realized how comforting the night was and how I missed being out night after night and sleeping outside as we did on our long distance hiking journeys. And I look forward to being on the John Muir Trail next summer for weeks to get back to this “night life” that I missed.
And right before my feet found our brick sidewalk in the dark, I heard the strangest sound in the woods. I had ever heard this call before and it sounded like a bark. I know multiple creatures can bark but it was up high, in the canopy. I stood still and looked up once again. The sounds kept changing until finally I heard one that I was familiar with. A screech owl! Saying hello to me and giving me one more gift of the night.
Next time I cannot sleep, which happens much more frequently now a days, I’m going to keep my clothing handy and go out into the open pasture and look up and see my familiar stars and maybe a shooting one or two. They will be a comfort to me and ground me and remind me that worrying does not add anything to your life, unless you go out and pay a visit to your friends in the night sky. Then it is a real gift to be awake.
Inside my cottage, it is as if the wilds of the Cape Cod pine forest are actually inside my indoor space. Many floor to ceiling glass windows and screened areas make this 500 square foot boxy cottage both airy and bright. There are even more glass panels above the wooden walls, and since the roof slants upward, it pulls my vision UP. Since the cottage is so open, I hear the ocean breeze billowing on the tree tops as it rakes through the pines, the call of the screech owl at night, and when I sleep, I take moonbeam baths as the light streams through the many windows. Frank Lloyd Wright would approve of this 1930-60-s Bauhaus style cottage, for in actuality, the architect designed it in the same line as Wright’s work for he studied at his school..
I am visiting my friend Dave Crary in Eastham and am the guest at his family’s historic cottages, Hidden Village on Cape Cod. It is an unbelievable space to work on a manuscript, especially a writer who would rather be outdoors. All the times a writer searches for the correct word or to understand a feeling she is trying to convey, my eyes are pulled UP in this cottage, towards the sky, a place where answers sometimes come. The clean lines of the Mission style furniture and walnut wood structure are uncluttered and very pleasing to the eye. This cottage is a far cry from my busy household back home where I struggle to focus on my manuscript.
It is a short visit this time, although Dave and I packed in a ton. A bike ride on the famous Cape Cod Rail Trail and a long walk to the outermost curling tip of the Cape’s fist past Provincetown. This 8 mile trek entailed traversing the mile long rock break wall at low tide that leads out to the Long Point Lighthouse. A dinner out for an authentic lobster roll, a homemade donut shop one morning and a visit to my college roommate, Valerie, whose family also has a home here. And, Dave took me to see his many burn sites around the cape, as Dave is the Fire Management Officer for the Cape Cod National Seashore. His upwards to forty prescribed burns a year keep the undergrowth under control in the event that a wildfire would take off, as well as keeping the forest open and healthy. Pitch pines require fire to open the cones and enable the forest to regenrate, so help is needed to control and manage the forest.
I am here on the Cape after meeting my literary agent, Charlotte Raymond, who so believes in my book, Modeling a Life, and my mission. We connected emotionally immediately upon meeting and found a wonderful rapport within minutes. I loved her smiling face, her kind and interested eyes, her level of passion to support me and my work. Charlotte handled one of my other six published books years ago but we had never met. She wants to get Modeling a Life into the hands of every new parent in America as well as grandparents. She said, “You really have done a remarkable thing, the way you have raised and educated your children. I feel like I have done poorly in comparison.” It is not my goal to make anyone feel guilty but she replied, “I am dedicated to being a better grandparent.”
Although this particular visit to the Crary’s Hidden Village was not an actual work trip , Dave invited me back in the fall to finish my manuscript. My arm could be twisted. I believe I could be very productive here in this cottage, where the outdoors feels like it is indoors, the bike trail is outside my door for stimulation and all those miles of beach to walk for inspiration.
I didn’t want to hear my 80 year old friend’s response when I asked if he and his wife wanted to go canoeing. “The river is up in July- a most unusual occurrence. Will you come?”
“No more canoeing.” he replied.
As in “never ever again?” I thought to myself. That sounds so final. I might think, ok, no more canoeing this summer anymore. The river dried up, have to wait for fall rains before we can get back on. But never again? That sounds so final.
I told him, “You can sit up front like a duffer and we’ll paddle your butt around.”
“Nope. No more.”
I understood his decision, for he has a heart defibulator in his chest, but I was not happy about it.
I don’t want to see my wonderful friend stop. Stop canoeing, stop enjoying life, stop living, as in some day he would not be here anymore to grace our lives.
I then went to our 70 year old friends and asked him if he and his wife wanted to come. “Nope, too much work to do around here,” he said.
Really? On a rare summer day when the water is up and we can paddle a lovely little stream like the Maiden Creek that we can barely ever run?
I thought to myself, wrong decision. In my mind, no work should be so important to stop you from a trip down the river. Not on a Sunday.
So my husband and I went ourselves and had a great time, despite that fact that we would have liked to have shared it. We saw the typical beautiful kingfishers dipping and chased the great blue herons up the river, but then we saw a huge mature Bald Eagle perched in an overhead branch, only 15 feet away. Then another. Then we saw a tiny fawn surface on the bank after it had just swum across all by itself, stumbling and laying down exhausted, looking like it nearly drowned, no mother in site. Then a loon floats by and dives and surfaces and we have never seen a loon in these parts – It was a spectacular paddle.
That 80 year old friend of mine may not remember this but many decades ago he asked me if I wanted to go on an outing. It was ice skating on Ontelaunee Lake, Reading’s water supply. It was an unusual winter and the whole entire lake had frozen over. He and his wife were going with another couple whom we all dearly loved. Todd and I opted out. We were “too busy.” Probably building our log home and thought we should keep working. At least that is what my husband probably convinced me was the best choice. It was not. I regret it to this day. There has never been another opportunity to skate like that all over the huge lake. And, shortly after that, our other friend’s wife suddenly got cancer and died. Nope, I never had a second chance with that experience. I learned my lesson.
I missed the company of our 80 year old friends on the river. And as for our 70 year old friends… he is going to get a lecture next time about missing out and putting off, because there will come a day, before you know it, when you will have to say, “No more canoeing,” for the choice will be gone.
We heard the music wafting through the screened windows of the clubhouse before we even shut off our ignition, harmonizing with the mandolins and gee’-tars. In the parking lot, these bluegrass vocalists are competing with the spring peepers singing their hearts out in the nearby pond, echoing through the Kempton Valley. The band performing tonight, the Travis Wetzel Trio, hails all the way from Nashville and although they might perform to packed crowds at other venues, here in the secluded Kempton Rod &Gun Club, the monthly bluegrass shows are a secret. We can be sure to find a good seat inside.
After handing over the low fee of $15 (or $25 discounted for a couple), at the front table of friendly gun club wives, we pick out our seats. Scott Eager, who has his own bluegrass band, High Lonesome Sound, orchestrates these events that range from September through April.
The gun club is probably typical of thousands of little community gun clubs around rural America. I wouldn’t know. It is the only one I have been to. The decor reminds me of my father’s hunting camp in the northern tier of PA- ”- Potter Count, “God’s Country.” I haven’t been there since he died, over thirty years ago. This place brings back fond memories. The members of the Kempton Gun Club appear to be a talented group as there is art work on the dark “pine” paneled walls- framed paint-by-number creations of flushing pheasants and bucks with big racks in winter scenes. Trophies line a shelf- sharp shooter winners from the turkey shoots. Buck heads are mounted on homemade leaf shaped wooden mounts, (evidently made by a club member who is good with wood) and their antlers nearly scrape the old drop ceiling. The windows are adorned with fiberglass drapes decorated with big bursts of pink roses. Moths flit around the lights, brought in through the screened door by the audience.
All these decorations compete with my attention as I listen to the band. Not a single smart phone is being looked at. Occasionally two geezers with hearing aids talk loudly to one another, so they can communicate over the music. On the backs of the folding chairs are names, Elmer Fenstemacher, Russell Greenawalt, stenciled in black paint. These doners offered money for the brown metal folding chairs many moons ago. Their names are typical German names whose ancestors settled this fertile valley hundreds of years ago. Perhaps their offspring are in the audience tonight.
Not a full head of male hair is present in the audience, and the majority are white. Suspenders hold up their pants. It is not a young crowd but they know all the words to the bluegrass songs and don’t hesitate to sing along, tapping their feet and patting the formica tables with their hands. A few carry along their own embroidered cloth pillows from home, stolen off their sofas, to soften the hard metal chairs. It is a long night. Music begins at 6 pm with the first bluegrass band, usually local, (tonight it is Sacony Grass) followed by a second well-known famous band from afar. You get your money’s worth at the Kempton Bluegrass Night.
Travis Wetzel’s fingers fly on his fiddle faster than what looks humanly possible. His playing is unbelievable and everyone in the audience is captivated by his talent. His Trio plays a very nice mix of traditional bluegrass as well as some really beautiful folksongs to mix it up.
After a set, Todd and I walk outside while the band takes a break. Turkey vultures make quite a commotion overheard as they land in the huge spruce trees lining the parking lot, rearranging themselves, flying off and returning to another branch until they settle in for the night. They return to the area like robins in the early spring and are sought after by the locals as a prominent sign of approaching spring. A pair of Canada geese honk overhead and come in for a landing on the pond. The setting sun lights the water and the sky a beautiful rosy pink. The spring peepers are still going to town.
The Pinnacle looms directly above the Kempton Gun Club, a dark towering form in the evening sky. In fact, access through their property enables a hiker to climb straight up the fall line and get to this best view on the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania rapidly. Albeit it is quite a climb and a boulder scramble, but worth the inexpensive membership fee that enables hikers to park in the lot, display their membership card on the dashboard and access their trail. Of course, you don’t need to be a member to attend monthly Bluegrass Night!
It is not worth coming to Kempton Bluegrass Night with a full belly from your own dinner, or you would miss out on the delicious food that the gun club ladies have prepared for the night. Everything is homemade- soups and chicken pot pies, cakes and fruit pies. And the prices are ridiculously low. Edith and Edna and names like these -old German farmers’ wives, are behind the counter, ready to dish you up a treat. You can eat for two- including dessert and a drink and get change for a $10.
At 10 pm the music ends and the cars head on down the gun club’s long drive, turning onto the very rural winding blacktop roads. The audience drives very slowly and cautiously, watching for darting deer in their headlights. They creep over Hawk Mountain, the adventurous ones who cross the mountain from the Schuylkill County side. Two white heads in the car ahead reflect off my headlights. Oh, it normally hurts my motor to go so slow but even the drive home from the Kempton Bluegrass Night is part of the experience. It is a great thing that they get out, enjoy bluegrass music, have this wonderful local venue to support. Who would think a small rural gun club would have such amazing music and hardly anyone knows? Come on out. Let’s fill this house. Make those gun club ladies crank their ovens up longer and support music and community and celebrate life in Rural America.
It was about the same time that my palms began to blister from squeezing the lopers closed over blackberry stems, striped maple, etc. after a few very slow miles into the morning. The same time that Todd nicked his leg with the machete as he swung it vigorously at the foliage that encroached on our section of the Appalachian Trail. The same time that the sweat began dripping into my eyes burning them. I was thinking how much I did not like trail work when the twenty-something thru-hiking couple came by.
I was waiting for it. Waiting for it as they picked their way through the severed branches that lined the trail, obvious what it was like just a few minutes ago. But what we saw was an annoyed attitude that the trail maintenance stopped and the briars still continued. The thank you never came.
“You know,” I said to Todd, “I don’t really like trail maintenance.”
My husband said, “You don’t really like any maintenance.”
“You are absolutely right, (I am not a big fan of housework), but I like this even less when it is not appreciated.
We are not good trail maintainers. There are a string of other things we would rather be doing and do them most of the time and tend to let our section go longer than it should. So it was in pretty rough shape today when we climbed up the side of the Blue Mountain to access it. We have to hike about 7-8 miles RT to clip our section. It is a bit remote to reach.
Two years ago, we met some irate overweight men with backpacks, coming towards us as we clipped and whacked. “Why don’t you put the trail over there where it is not rocky?” they asked, with angry voices.
“Are you serious?”
“There are rocks over there too, under that shallow soil,” I told them. “If the trail were relocated over there, in a very short amount of time, it would look like this highway of boulders. The whole ridge is covered with them. It is the nature of the geology of this Tuscarora Sandstone ridge.”
I’ve learned not to expect much in the way of thanks when we are out here.
As our day evolved, we saw more and more people, all of them were middle aged or older and they were all exceedingly grateful. We saw some coming and going as we retraced our steps after we clipped. All of them expounded a second time on how much they appreciated what we did. It made me feel good. It made it feel worth it. It did not make it more fun but that is ok.
As we retraced our steps and walked over all the cut branches, Todd’s chainsaw safely stored in his backpack, me doing hand stretches as my hands went numb from squeezing, I felt good that I spent the last seven hours clearing the trail so the hiker’s ankles don’t get scratched by briars and the tree branches don’t whack their packs…because people told me they truly appreciated what we were doing. I am glad that first young couple was not all we saw on the trail today..
Remember hikers, trail maintainers don’t have to clip trail, saw logs, sweat and give up our time. Two little words is all it takes to make us want to keep doing it.
The first adventure my two children chose to experience as independent travelers, away from the watchful eye of travel writer Mom, was epic- Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit. This iconic route circles around one of the highest peaks the planet, a two week trek that brings the trekker over 17,000 feet. Sierra was in Katmandu for a study abroad semester her sophomore year and before she returned home for the summer, she summoned her brother over for this adventure. They did not choose a week in Fort Laureldale on spring break or even a week’s backpack on the Appalachian Trail in the backyard as their first independent adventure. They would be tested to see if they had been paying attention their whole lives or merely following blindly. Bryce was nervous about navigating alone through the airports of Russia and India, including a mandatory overnight stay in the Delhi airport. It would be quite a stretch for a 19 year old. He had to pass security, acquire a visa, and had to resort to charades when asking people help who could not speak English. BRYCE: “Multiple times I drew on what I had learned in my family’s travels, remembering how Mom had gotten us out of situations. Although I had been young, I was observing and learning subconsciously and had not realized how much information I could draw on in a time of need. I asked everyone for help and also knew I could at least fake it and behave as thought I knew what I was doing until I got it right!” Sierra is a drill sergeant type of leader compared to her mother and started off the trip by whisking Bryce away to the mountains, on a nauseating 10-hour bus ride before he could recuperate from jet lag. That was an adventure in itself, as they made the decision to ride on the bus roof with other young Nepalese (some who were drunk and falling off) as they ducked under electric wires and rocked and rolled up the narrow rutted mountain roads. Sierra chose to bring along a heavy gruel of roasted barley flour called “Tsampa” that Nepalese and Tibetan eat, mixing it with hot butter tea. She threw about 10 pounds of it into her brother’s pack (unbeknownst to him at first) which he hauled all around Annapurna and never once could stomach eating it. Sierra’s friend Eben, (who later became her husband) carried a whole library of books as he backpacked, never once opening them. These choices would not have been mine but this is how they learn, albeit sometimes painfully. They were thinking ‘fun” on this adventure, however, not necessarily learning but of course that occurred simultaneously. Sierra and Bryce and Sierra’s three college friends, all took turns in the leadership role at different times. BRYCE-“We all had to learn how to deal with uncomfortable things, as we coped with altitude sickness, bargained for prices, and decided who to trust i.e. the “child” bus driver who nearly got us killed on our way to the Himalayas. Learning how to navigate technology such as electronic devices or computer programs can be daunting to me or living in a big city can feel intimidating for me, (but not other young people), whereas I find myself feeling very comfortable in the wilderness. My past experiences taught me to be adaptable, however, in whatever situation I found myself in.” On their hike, they observed the indigenous people going about their daily lives, hoeing fields, plowing with yaks, cooking for them in the guest homes and all the while, experiencing the magnificent Himalayas. BRYCE:”It was a cool challenge to be circumnavigating Annapurna without the leadership of my parents, just to test ourselves and see if we could do it. We all came into our adulthood in an alien land and got nose and ear piercings afterwards to celebrate this rite of passage! ”
After their very successful adventure, a strange discovery was made. Sierra’s boyfriend, Eben was reading my 6th book, “Scraping Heaven” when he came across this excerpt in the Epilogue, which I had long forgotten about. The kids were 10 and 12 at the time.
Todd and I figure we may only have a few years left before Sierra will resist missing out on something back home, so we have the next few major trips planned. But other adventuring families have told me teenagers don’t mind making exotic trips with their families. After all, they tell me, how long will it be before Sierra and Bryce can afford to trek the Himalaya or hike the Annapurna Circuit with their friends?
How could I have predicted this? I used the Annapurna Circuit as a completely far-fetched and absurd example of extreme high adventure and risk. I had completely forgotten I had ever penned those words. It was the first time I was reminded of them many years later. Todd read these words from “Scraping Heaven” aloud to Sierra before she went to bed when she was twelve and we thought, left her mind. That seed must have been subliminally subconsciously planted there as a child. She may have filed this thought away and willed it into existence many years later. This is a prime example of creating your own reality which the kids learned about on their trek across the Continental Divide. There Bryce willed grapes into his life as a one year old and hamburgers as a six year old and they both appeared shortly afterwards, delivered by Trail Angels. We raised our children to be independent, have an insatiable thirst for adventure, a deep love of travel and a keen desire to know people all over the planet. The Annapurna Circuit was their initiation into the world of independent travel without mom and dad. The learning will continue without us and long after we are gone, hopefully stretching into the next generation.
Who Am I?
I’m really an artist masquerading around like a writer. Or at least if you look at my formal education, over 4 years of learning as a fine arts-painter, attending Indiana U of PA and the Pennsylvania Academy of Art in Philadelphia, the oldest art school and one of the most prestigious in the country.
But before I could try to make a living as a painter, I went and had a life changing experience. I backpacked the 2,100-mile National Scenic Appalachian Trail. I kept a journal and sketched along the way and because there were few female long distance hikers in the early 80’s, let alone ones who could draw, I was able to publish my first book, entitled A Woman’s Journey on the Appalachian Trail, written in calligraphy with 125 drawings illustrating it. It has been in print for 33 consecutive years and has become a classic.
I was fearful that if I took off 6 months off to backpack and not paint, I would lose it. But my art instructors told me, if you don’t go out and live your life, have experiences, especially life-changing ones, you work will grow stale. On the trail, you will paint with your eyes and when the time comes to put brush to canvas, you will have grown, as an artist and as a person. The same goes for writing or any creative endeavor
Henry David Thoreau, author of Walden, wrote, “If a man advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will be met with a success unexpected in common hours.” Reaching Mount Katahdin in Maine, the end of that long trail and getting a book published that I wrote and illustrated, proved that.
I had one writing class in college and got a C. Pretty mediocre, but keeping a journal on the trail, made me fall in love with writing. My success buoyed me to go on to hike the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail (the one Cheryl Strayed of the book and film “Wild” attempted.) I wrote and illustrated a book about that long distance trail. In fact I had three books published before I ever wrote my first magazine article, which is not the normal route a writer takes.
I am not the normal writer.
I will soon have 7 published books, get about 50 magazine articles published a year and have made a successful living as a writer for over 30 years.
I do have some wisdom to share with you that I have gleaned from all these words.
Your life does not have to look like anyone elses. The route you choose to take to become a successful writer can be completely different than the norm. You do not need a degree in journalism or writing or English. You don’t need any degree. You don’t even need a single class in writing.
These are the things that you DO need in order to be a successful writer.
You must love to read and love to write. These have to be in the top 3 things you love to do in your life. If you love them, if you are impassioned about expressing yourself in words, telling stories, communicating, you will already be writing. You won’t be able to help yourself. It’s what you do, it’s who you are. It can be as simple as keeping a journal. JUST KEEPING A JOURNAL can make you into a writer.
My girlfriend’s husband was helping edit my second book, Journey on the Crest. He earned his Bachelors at Temple U in Communications/Journalism, but he was working full time as a mailman. He came to resent me because I was getting my second book published. I was an artist, for God’s sake. He was the writer.
So I told him. “The definition of a writer is ONE WHO WRITES. That’s’ it.” He did not write anything. That was what stopped him from being a writer.
So if writing is not something you adore and do because you can’t NOT do it, change your major, because the life of a freelance writer is even harder.
If you want to be a freelance writer, Money cannot matter. You cannot be in love with material things, aim for the high life, seek creature comforts. Sometimes the money comes in, sometimes it does not. It is a very unpredictable risky lifestyle. If you are someone who needs security, switch your major.
You must get out of debt if you are in debt and it has to be top priority. Then you can relax and strive to live a rich, full and exciting life. Because that is what you need to do to be a successful freelance writer.
There are stories everywhere. Orson Scott Card said, “Everyone walks past a 1000 story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see 5 or 6 of them. Most people don’t see any.” WE ARE THE STORY TELLERS. It is the most important work we can do.
Why? Because we are the voice of our people. We speak for them. We share what is inside them, what is inside us, creating connection. It is one of the fundamental needs of a human being- to connect and as writers, we are the conduit.
My daughter Sierra first enrolled in Journalism at Temple U and her professor told the students in the very first class, “I don’t know why you are here. Journalism is dead.”
I do not believe that. I can sell a story to almost any editor if I can get them on the phone. That is because I have the most amazing story ideas. With amazing stories, you can find outlets for your work. You will be passionate and enthusiastic about your story and the editor will be more easily convinced to allow you to tell it. You will be able to sell and make a living from your work.
You can’t be a meek shy introverted writer and be a freelancer. If you are, practice being assertive, develop your other side. It is a jungle out there and some editors want to eat you alive. Cultivate a very healthy positive belief in yourself and what you have to share with readers. This affirmation will help grow you and toughen your skin.
But you have to be willing to do things like hike the Appalachian Trail, take home a homeless person, ask the fire department if you can be a Ride Along on fires, captain a houseboat down the Mississippi River, buy a motorcycle and travel on it, learn to fly fish, volunteer to build a house with Habitat for Humanity, become a part time rafting guide, jump out of an airplane, deliver Meals on Wheels, snow tube with a double amputee Wounded Warrior. LIVE YOUR LIFE. DO SOMETHING. Every person you meet has a story to share and every experience you have is yours to write about. You have to leave your house, push past your comfort zone, engage, scare yourself, stretch. These will be your best stories and be your best writing. And when you find something you love to do (besides reading and writing) be the best you can be at it. I became a writer because I loved to backpack and hike and began to write about it. I was good at hiking so I got good at writing about hiking.
I want to tell you a story about my friend Corey Rich, one of the most successful and prestigious photographers in the outdoor world. He recently documented the historic first free ascent of El Capitan’s Dawn Wall, a climb of 19 days. Corey did not take a class in photography. He began as a climber who started to take photos of his fellow climbers on the wall. Everyone else was too busy climbing, Corey managed to do both and got so good at it, he is a world famous climbing photographer. He was just following his bliss and wanted to communicate what he saw.
There is one life philosophy that tells folks to figure out what the world is missing and give that to them, be the one to fill that need, even if it means creating a job. But another philosophy of Howard Thurman says, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and do it. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.”
As writers, if you strive to be that kind of person, to live that kind of rich full life, there will always be stories to tell and stories to sell.