AN ENCOUNTER WITH LEEK BECOMING “MORE ACTUALIZED PEOPLE”

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Leek Logo

RiverHouse PA is proud and happy to announce our first AFFILIATION

An Encounter with LEEK

Becoming “More Actualized People”

“When something occurs beyond chance to lead us forward in our lives, then we become more actualized people. We feel we are becoming what destiny is leading us to become.”…The Celestine Prophecy

My partner, Elizabeth and I were traveling I-180 on a press trip for Pennsylvania Magazine a few weeks back. Our conversation as always, revolved around RiverHouse PA and the creation of our non-profit. We were speaking it into existence, brainstorming and funneling all our creative energy into it, when a crazy thing happened. In midstream of a RiverHouse sentence, I came up on a large pick-up truck at my normal break neck speed, close enough to read his tailgate sign, “LEEK-Hunting & Mountain Preserve, Serving America’s Wounded Veterans.” ‘

“Holy Shit Elizabeth! Look at what’s in front of us! I never heard of them!”

Elizabeth pulls out her smart phone and Googles LEEKand learns that it is a wonderful non-profit that sponsors hunting trips for disabled warriors.

I am so excited that I speed up even more, pull up alongside of him, and instruct Elizabeth to motion to the driver to pull over.

“Let’s get coffee with him and see if he wants to work with us.”

My ever-practical partner replies, “He’ll think we’re crazy. We can e-mail him when we get home.”

The man driving the truck, Ed Fisher, did not happen to look over at the RiverHouse Founders and missed his chance but today, one month later, we finally had the pleasure of meeting, having coffee, and talking about our future together.

Ed, and his wife Kate along with many volunteers, created LEEK seven years ago to provide injured serviceman and women a way to enjoy therapeutic outdoor recreational activities regardless of their physical condition. They operate an all-volunteer run facility in Potter County that is completely handicapped accessible, which includes amazing Action Trackchairs that take warriors into the woods. Ed is a retired Army Colonel who served for 27 years. Now he works as a government civilian and manages LEEK on the side. Their preserve grew from 256+ acres to now having 31,000 acres at their disposal for hunting purposes. Turkey, bear, deer and Pheasant hunts are conducted five times a year- also, archery, black powder and some fishing. Leek has a waiting list and gets many of their warriors from military medical facilities and referrals.

Ed takes Liz and I to his garage where he shows us an Action Trackchair that will climb up steps and over logs. This sit-down version has removable attachments to hold a rifle and a fishing rod, costing between $12-14,000 apiece.

My beautiful picture

The Stander chair costs $17-18,000 and runs on two hydraulic motors. At oneof the LEEK fund raisers, a Vietnam vet tried out the Stander and called his wife over and said, “Come here and give me a hug honey. This is the first time I’ve ever been able to hug my wife standing up.”

Ed and Kate share stories of their chairs pulling deer out of the mountains for a warrior after a hunt and amazing stories of happiness after warriors attended a LEEK hunt.

On their very first hunt, the Fisher’s had warriors sleeping in their home- double amputees sleeping on couches, carrying the disabled warriors into the woods on their backs. They needed to pave over their cobblestone path which tripped up warriors with prostheses and in wheelchairs.

The Fishers told Elizabeth and me to have patience. We will grow slowly and be able to do so much good because our hearts are in the right place. They assured us that help and support will come out of the woodwork once our program becomes known. In just seven years, they have grown and become visible enough to have won the very prestigious 2012 Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher Distinguished Civilian Humanitarian Award. The award recognizes and honors a private sector individual or organization that has demonstrated exceptional patriotism and humanitarian concerns for members of the armed forces and their families.

Ed & Kate explained that this is powerful work. Elizabeth and I are certain we will find the same thing to be true for RiverHouse PA, as we usher our dream into existence in these next years.

Quite the story to end our visit on as Edescorted Elizabeth and I out to our car, giving us tips on logos, embroidered shirts and fund raising. “And you’ll need to get one of those chairs,” he reminded us as we walked past them in the garage.

We laughed to ourselves, thinking about our RiverHousePA business cards that we recently had made- this fledgling non-profit, which has a long way to go but promises such a promising future. We will have patience with this big dream to help thousands of wounded veterans.

Ed said he would be happy to help us in any way he can, invited us up to a hunt and meet his LEEK warriors, and will refer warriors to our program when we are ready. With Affiliations like LEEK in place and the wonderful help and friendship of Ed & Kate Fisher, how can RiverHousePA not be a success?

Paying it Back, Paying it Forward

I can remember the first time I met a long distance hiker on the Appalachian Trail. I was fifteen and on a hike with my local hiking club, the Blue Mountain Eagle Climbing Club, http://www.bmecc.org/about‎ out of Reading, PA. He wasn’t an extremely tall man but his backpack towered over his bearded face. He was in a hurry and it didn’t appear as though he wanted to chat. He only half turned to answer the questions that my hiking club friends asked as he passed by.

“How far did you come?”

“Georgia,” he answered as he disappeared down the trail, wet socks dangling from the outside of his pack, a plastic bag of fresh fruit swaying so it wouldn’t get crushed.

I remember being transformed that day. And my life has never been the same since.

My parents did not hike but when I was a young teen, I discovered that I loved it and wanted to do as much as I could. Although I did not yet drive, I merely had to meet at a rendezvous point in downtown Reading, PA give the club members a few cents for gas, and hitch a ride. The elders of the club shared so much with me, took me under their wings, taught me to fall in love with hiking and backpacking. I became active in my hiking club, building and maintaining a section of trail and paying it forward.

After hiking the entire AT in 1978-9 (two halves because of a broken foot), I penned my first book, A Woman’s Journey and went on to become a writer. The Appalachian Trail gave me a life, and an occupation. I never stopped hiking, went on to long distance cycle and paddle as well as write about these sports.

My husband, Todd and I got away from trail maintenance when we became parents but have recently gotten back into it. Todd helped the club build two log shelters as he is a log builder and a chainsaw carver and has since taken on the new position of Shelter Co-Chair. He is responsible for maintaining 5 shelters on our club’s 65 miles of trail.

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Today my daughter, Sierra and I tug along for Todd’s early spring inspection of Bake Oven Knob Shelter. It is a very old and historic shelter, dating back to the 1930’s. The club ponders whether it would be a good idea to remove it, as it is less than a mile from the road and the scene of many a party and a trashing. There is no out house in the vicinity for managing a composting toilet is a challenging job that few choose to embrace.

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I forgot how gross a job it is to clean up an Appalachian trail shelter after the winter breaks. There is trash everywhere, soggy toilet paper, used menstrual pads. It’s a good thing we brought along disposable gloves.

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Strangely, there was a cooler at the shelter, loaded with ice and raw hamburger. Two dozen cans of beer and soda were tucked away inside the shelter. Collapsible stadium chairs leaned against the wall and a roll of toilet paper and paper towels, but no owners were in sight. We had come up a short cut trail only known to the trail maintainers. Had the owners gone back out to the road for yet another load?

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We spent an hour picking up trash and Todd making notes on shelter repairs yet still no partiers. We slung our stuffed trash bags over our shoulders and walked out, cringing to think what would be left behind after this weekend’s party, and also about the club’s dilemma over the Bake Oven Knob Shelter. Should they build a new one- a log shelter, under the direction of Todd, or should they tear it down and leave the area resort to being wild?

When the idea of River House PA was born, http://www.riverhousepa.wordpress.com  my Co-Founder, Elizabeth and I realized that it would make a great extended project for some of our veterans. It would be a wonderful way to give back to the trail, especially after we taught them to be hikers and they experienced some long distance AT adventures on their own. Or, to merely pay it forward, thinking of that day in the future, when some of them would become AT end-to-enders like Todd and I and have their lives transformed.

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Shelter clean up after the winter is about the worst job as a trail maintainer. Shelter construction is quite fun, on the other hand, especially if you can learn a new skill like log building and perhaps even go on to build your own log home! And goodness knows, there are many miles of trail to clip and brush. Todd and I have only 2 ½ miles of trail on the Blue Mountain ridge and it takes us two days to clear it- with loppers and chainsaw, and that must be done at least two times a year. (Multiply that by 65 miles!) The Blue Mountain Eagle Climbing Club could sure use the help of some veterans who want to pay it forward! They schedule work trips on the trail every month- wonderful opportunities to get some exercise, make some new friends, invest in your future.

And, you just might run into a thru-hiker on his way to Maine, who could completely transform your life.

PS- Oh, and by the way, it is by no means a thankless job. You can’t pick up trash at a shelter or clip trail and not have nearly EVERYONE who sees you and passes by , say, “Thank you for all you do.” That is enough of a reward.

 

  

Is a Damp Toilet Paper Tail Professional?

I have this problem of coming out of the bathroom with a tail of damp toilet paper dangling from my waistband. I’ve been doing it for decades. When I sit on the toilet, I don’t pull my pants down very far. I don’t plan on being there very long- in and out. Before the TP even hits the surface of the water, I am up and gone and I catch the paper in my pants. I’m too fast. That saying applies, “Drink coffee. Do stupid things fast.” Even when I am not toked up on caffeine, I move quickly- through the bathroom, through life in general. It has its consequences.

One time, I was hired to speak to a large audience when my last book, Scraping Heaven came out. I paid the bathroom a last-minute visit and proceeded to walk up the main aisle of the packed auditorium and onto the stage with a long damp tail. How is that for being professional?

In comparision, I was thinking about the behavior of my recent derailed business partner. He became too comfortable in my volunteer position and began extensively verbally abusing me on instant messaging, “screaming” profanities. I’m not sure how he reasoned I deserved this treatment but it seemed like highly unprofessional behavior to me.

So I’ve been thinking about this term “professional.” Webster’s says, “PROFESSIONAL- Very competent, showing a high degree of skill, someone whose occupation requires extensive education or specialized training; somebody who is engaged in an occupation as a paid job rather than as a hobby.”    That would be me as a writer/speaker. When it comes to writing and speaking, I am extremely confident and know my stuff after all these years. I’m never at a loss for words.

I don’t feel classy and chic, however but more like a down home girl who is very real and reveals herself transparently, including the habit of sporting toilet paper tails. Is this unprofessional behavior?

I was recently on a flight where our steward was a huge jokester. Multiple times throughout the flight, he goofed on the whole plane of passengers. When we were taxing slowly towards the gate, he reprimanded us over the loud-speaker. “I have a panel of lights up here and I can see every one of you who have already unbuckled your seatbelts. I know who you are!”

Our eyes widened at first- those of us who are in a hurry in life, until we realized he was just joking.

That same steward also walked down the aisle with a tail of toilet paper trailing from his waistbelt on purpose to make us all laugh and laugh we did.

This steward was a marvelous plane waiter, tending to our every needs with uncommon kindness besides humor. He was perhaps the best plane steward I have ever encountered in all my years of flying around the world and it was perhaps the most enjoyable flight I ever experienced because of his PROFESSIONAL and very kind and fun-loving personality.

If I had a choice in life on how I wanted to behave professionally and I do, I would choose silly as opposed to mean. Years ago, mothers washed their kids’ mouths out with soap when they said mean things. In my prior partner’s case, who has anger issues and wouldn’t be caught dead acting silly, he perhaps deserved a wad of urine-damp toilet paper shoved into his mouth.

Should we live our lives like “Quackers” the Duck- or not?

I heard a very sad story from my friend Bob yesterday about “Quackers”, the Duck, Bob’s pet. “Quackers” lived happily for nine years at Bob’s home. He would stick his head out of the wires in his pen when he heard Bob or any other human nearby. “Quackers” was a social able duck and loved to be around people or Bob’s dogs, the cats, etc . Bob would leave him out and he had the run of the property most days.

Well when Bob went out to feed “Quackers” the other day, he was gone- vanished, empty cage. The door to his cage was still locked but the wires had been stretched apart and a gaping space remained. Bob figured that “Quackers” stuck his head out to see who was present and a fox or a coyote grabbed him by the head in its mouth and yanked him right out of his safe home. A week later, Bob found a pile of feathers on the hill behind his house.

Last September, after climbing Mount Katahdin with a group of combat vets and their leader, I decided to stick my neck out and take a drastic turn in my life. Put my personal dream of publishing a book about raising and educating my children on hold and dedicate all my time to this new cause. My wise-beyond-her-years daughter, sternly warned against it. I figured she was jealous of my new passion, stealing my time and energy away from her and my family.

But when she met my new partner in this endeavor in person, in October, she immediately did not like him. “He’s using you Mom. He’s going to take every advantage of what he can get from you for his program and then throw you away. He doesn’t care about YOU either. I can tell.”  I did not listen. I trusted him and wanted to believe in his goodness and the positive work I could do.

It has always been my philosophy…that “if we take people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat them as if they were, as what they are capable of being, we make them become.”

Well, six months later, Sierra’s prediction came true and I am trying to pick up the pieces of my broken dream and hurt heart and move on.

I asked my husband last night what he thinks the moral of the “Quackers” the Duck story is. He replied, “Stay in the safety and security of your pen. Don’t stick your head out.” That would be the answer of a guarded, non-trusting Pennsylvania German. Stick to your safe secure universe where you know you can manage and control most things. Don’t take chances and certainly don’t whole-heartily trust people right off without first learning if they deserve your love and energy. Pennsylvania Germans take a long time to welcome people into their hearts and lives. Not just anyone wins their trust and love. Very few actually.

Well, that’s not how I live and even after this trauma and loss, I don’t know if I can embrace that philosophy. There is nothing wrong with adopting a little more caution in life, I suppose.

The Pennsylvania Germans have a saying, “We grow too soon old, and too late smart.”  Maybe after thirty more years of living with a Pennsylvania Dutch man, I will become more non-trusting… or not, and remain like “Quackers” the Duck, sticking my neck out, taking a chance in life, believing in people and giving them the benefit of the doubt right off whether they have earned it or not. And, really, when you think of it, in 58 years, this is the very first time I have encountered this loss. “Quackers” the Duck lived nine happy years amongst friends. He saw every creature as his friend. Same same. In reality, through it all, I only lost a handful of feathers.

Earl Shaffer- in celebration of the first thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail

                                                                          

I finger the small black leather journal in my palm and bring it up to my nose to inhale its scent. It is soft and lined, almost seventy years old. Its cover is worn by the fingerprints of a great man, a hero, and a leader. He carried it on an epic journey, through sleet and snow and rain and baking sun along a huge mountain range. It is the journal of Earl Shaffer, the first man to hike the entire 2,185-mile National Scenic Appalachian Trail (AT) in one stretch. He is the father of the long distance hiking culture, my pen pal and friend who directly influenced my life as a writer. I am in the Archives Center of the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC to discover

In 1947, Earl returned from the war in the Pacific with a broken heart. He lost his childhood friend, Walter in Iwo Jima, whom he tramped the woods with from adolescence until they were both deployed in World War II. Walter died and abandoned Earl with their mutual dream to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. No one had ever thru-hiked the long trail, where one begins at the trail’s southern terminus in Georgia and does not stop hiking until one has gained the summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine. The feat was thought by many to be impossible, and perhaps none had found reason for such a long hike until returning from a war. The soldiers planned to hike it when the war was over.  Earl had to do it alone, however, carrying along just Walter’s memory.

He wrote in his AT journal….

“Those four and a half years of army service, more than half of it in combat areas of the Pacific, without furlough or even rest leave, had left me confused and depressed. Perhaps this trip would be the answer.

 

World War II veterans did not get tested by a psychologist to determine their level of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), once referred to as “shell shock.” They received no aid from the Veteran’s Administration, no counseling.  Earl took this life situation into his own hands and sought a solution. He would attempt to walk off the war along the length of the Appalachian Trail.

 

The AT was the dream of forester Benton Mac Kaye, who also conceived the idea of the Interstate Highway system, and participated with Gifford Pinchot to establish our system of national forests and parks.

 

The trail was designated by the Appalachian Trail Conference in 1937 (re-named the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in 2005) after twenty-five years in the planning and construction stages.  This confederation of local hiking clubs is comprised of thousands of volunteers who build and maintain the entire route, as well orchestrate the construction of 225 shelters.

The war effort took the trail maintainers away, however. While they fought to overcome the Germans, the green briar and the blow downs fought to overcome the trail.

Armed with compass and roadmap, Earl shouldered his Army gear, complete with pit helmet as a sunhat. He often walked sockless in his army boots, searching for the 2” X 6” white painted blazes on the trees, ever heading northbound.

Earl continued in his journal…

“My plan was to move north with the spring, with the seasonal change, with no definite day by day goals but never tarrying long, as weather and terrain permitted. The early start from the south would allow maximum of at least six months to reach and cross the timberline of New England.”

 

Earl spent much of his journey searching for the trail, looking for signs that the trail even existed and wading through waist-deep beaver ponds in the process. With Earl blazing the way for us all, he very much helped to create this iconic symbol of adventure, what was to become the American journey of a lifetime.

 

The pages of Earl’s little leather journal are covered with expressive cursive handwriting, scribed with a fountain pen that bled through some of the pages, probably when the night was damp.  At the end of the book are poems. Earl was not just a long distance backpacker and hiker but also a writer.  He allowed his feelings, his grief and disappointment, his joy and love of the natural world, pour forth through his poetry. In many ways it saved him. In his journal, it is possible to follow his train of thought as he crossed out words, searching for a better one to describe what he was feeling.  Readers are transported under his tarp in the great green tunnel of the Appalachian woods, as he penned his words by candlelight.

Go ye out to the mountains

Far far from a town

Stretch yourself on the clean forest floor

Gaze aloft through the canopy

To frown and remember your troubles no more

 

In the archives, I found a cover letter to Doubleday Books introducing his poems for possible publication.

Many of these verses were written under the most difficult conditions, often by firelight, flashlight, candlelight or moonlight, and sometimes key phrases were scribbled blindly during total blackout. I carried the ever growing collection with me all over the Pacific, in and out of customs, on shipboard, in planes, hunched in mosquito bars, on mail sacks, in pup tents. The results are not calculated to be sophisticated but rather are meant to record a portion of the intricate pattern of global conflict, as seen by a soldier who was a minute part of it.

My purpose in writing is to help provide some understanding of what I and my buddies experienced, in the hope that such knowledge will be of value in shaping a better future. 

Earl’s manuscript of poems was not present in the Smithsonian collection; just a few in the back of his trail journal. The archive historian had no idea what became of them.  They were never published.

His Appalachian Trail memoir was eventually published…Walking with Spring with the Appalachian Trail Conference in 1982.

After I completed my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 1979, Earl and I wrote  long handwritten letters back and forth. Hiking the trail had coaxed the writer out of me, and Earl was a great source of inspiration. I shared my manuscript with him and he offered feedback. My first book, A Woman’s Journey on the Appalachian Trail, hand written in calligraphy and illustrated with 125 ink and charcoal drawings would become a classic, in print for over thirty consecutive years.  It too was published in 1982, the same year as Walking with Spring.

The publisher of Earls’ book, Brian King of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, told me that for years, Earl would stop in and see him at the organizations’ headquarters whenever he was in the area. The two men would sit and chat and Earl would still tear up decades later, when he spoke of his friend, Walter, and this great loss in his life.

Hiking the AT certainly helped Earl cope with his PTSD, but perhaps what was most therapeutic was how he designed his life afterwards. Earl realized that to stay truly happy and on the road to healing, he had to adopt those same qualities and principals that he gleaned from the trail and incorporate them into his lifestyle.

When I first met Earl at the age of 75 in 1995, he looked closer to 50. He was strong, well-built, glowing from a life of living healthy. He maintained the same weight for 55 years, had never needed a doctor, took no pills, and didn’t even need to wear eye glasses. At his rural York County, Pennsylvania home, he raised chickens and goats, kept bees, raised his own organic food and maintained an orchard. He hand dug a spring fed pond which was his water source, and laid a stone road by hand through a swampy section on his property. Earl found that living a simple lifestyle close to the earth, allowing one to work the soil with your hands is a very therapeutic way to heal and live.

Earl earned a great deal of his income from peddling goods at flea markets, a livelihood that paralleled his beliefs of recycling and reusing. Even as a youth, Earl sold his handiwork, using money he made from trapping furs to pay for his clothes, often with his childhood friend, Walter. The freedom he found walking off the war from Georgia to Maine became such a need that he devised a way to support himself and keep that freedom.

Earl successfully re-hiked the entire Appalachian Trail at the age of 79 on the 50th anniversary of his thru-hike. He died a few years later.

The table that I sit at to now write this book was given to me by Earl.  My husband had just built me a writing cabin and I needed a table to write on. During my visit to Earl, we explored his barn of refinished antiques, and found an American chestnut table with thick, turned legs that he had stripped of paint that would do the job.  I slide my hands over the smooth wooden surface, knowing his hands rubbed oil into the grain of the table top. I come out here to this place of solace to write my own books.

Since Earl thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 1948, 14,000 hikers have completed the entire journey, earning the title, “2,000 Miler.” Many, like me and my husband, Todd, have gone on to also hike the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail and the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail. This status earns the title of “Triple Crown Hikers.”  Earl has helped to create a whole culture of people who have discovered the healing power of nature, which intensifies when walking the length of our nations’ long trails. And it makes me think of the 2014 Appalachian Trail thru-hikers ready to embark on their life-changing journey with such high hopes. They follow in his footsteps.  I read one more quote before I set his journal aside…

And now the time had come. Why not walk the army out of my system, both mentally and physically, take pictures and notes along the way, make a regular expedition out of it. It will benefit me at a time of very low ebb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tommy Gathman- The HAPPY Combat Veteran Hiker

 

If you really want to be happy, nobody can stop you.

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It isn’t that combat veteran Tommy Gathman didn’t see some horrible shit in Iraq, nor do some things he isn’t necessarily proud of, but he’s not your typical combat vet who might be suffering from a dark past. He is a happy boy.  Actually, that is the first thing that strikes you when you meet him, his supreme joy of life.

How did he come out of four years serving in the Marine Corp as an infantry rifleman in Iraq seemingly unscathed without any signs of post-traumatic stress disorder?  You wonder.

It isn’t that he doesn’t feel deeply, (he does) nor have a huge heart, (one of the largest I’ve encountered).

OK, I ‘m prejudice.  Tommy is my boy and became that way before he even left Springer Mountain, GA  last March. His family hails from Lewisburg, just 2 ½ hours up the road from me. When I learned this last year, I invited him and his Marine Corp buddy, Adam Bautz, down to share some time with my husband and I- Todd Gladfelter- both Triple Crowners who also operated a hostel on the AT for several years. We wanted to offer these them any last minute advice and answer any questions they might have only weeks before departure.

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Tommy revealed that it was his birthday- on that exact day, so we had a nice dinner and I baked him a cake, sang to him and then put the boys up in my writing guest cabin and had breakfast in the morning before sending them off. It cemented our friendship.

Of course, climbing Katahdin with him at the end of the trail made us even closer, but it was what occurred this past autumn that really made him become part of our family.

Tommy had a few hundred miles to hike in PA/NJ that he skipped on his thru-hike because of an injured knee. He set it up so I got to slack pack him north and south of our place. We had the delightful privilege of having him as a guest for 10 evenings. No, that wasn’t too much. It actually wasn’t enough.

Having him relax in the evenings with our family, share a meal, do the dishes, fire up our Finnish sauna and sweat together, share a few miles of a hike during the day, all the delightful conversation, and tremendous LAUGHTER made me really get to know and appreciate this fine human being. My 24 year old daughter, Sierra, also began to feel like Tommy was her older brother.

When I met Tommy’s parents in Millinocket, Maine, after he climbed Katahdin last year, I understood a little better why he is so successful at being happy. His mother adores him and Tommy adores his mother. She laughed and told me stories on what a challenge he was to raise, that she was hoping she could just get him to reach his 18th year alive, THAT would be a tremendous feat alone.

Tommy Gathman has a tremendous support system. This much was obvious. His parents and family smother him in unconditional love. Because of their active presence in his life, he was able to forgive himself once he returned home from Iraq, silence any voices that might be murmuring in his ear, dismiss any nightmares, love himself and move on. I realized that as a Marine or a soldier, you could go through hell and back, experience all kinds of horror, but if you are blessed with a loving support system waiting for you back home, if you have a positive outlook and if you continue to go into the lap of nature and walk and heal, your life won’t just be a happy, it will be a joy-filled.

There are people that I know who live private lives and don’t open their home to many. Todd and I live as though we still run a hostel. But the real gift receivers here are us, more so than someone like Tommy.  He enriched our lives just by hiking through it. He became family.

Tommy will be moving onto the hiking the Continental Divide Trail  this year- that trail is 1,000 miles longer than the AT- the trail we covered in its entirety with our young children and llamas. Anyone who has the privilege of hiking the CDT with Tommy this summer will have the gift of his very positive attitude and happy go-lucky nature to get them through the tough parts of the trail. His happiness is infectious.  Sometimes, that is all it takes to keep going.

Celebrating the Women Elders in my Life on Valentine’s Day

Life did not just start for my Aunt Dot Lachina at age 75 but it sure picked up speed, literally. Up to that point, she was busy taking care of her own children, then grandchildren, then her mother, who died at the lovely old age of 102. Dot managed to get in a thrilling roller coaster ride every summer, and the wilder the better- upside down, feet dangling, first car always. So when she was finally free to live a more adventurous life and no one depended on her to stay safe, she notched it up.

When her daughter, Linda announced that she was going sky diving, Dot said, “I’m in!” She loved it! She rolled out of that airplane attached to her jump master and was thrilled to death. Not scared a bit. That started it. A few years later, Linda announced, “I’m going zip lining,” Dot once again quickly chimed, “I’m in!”

Dot sailed off the platform, first time wearing shorts since sky diving, and screamed for joy, as she sped across the canyons and gorges. Oh, to soar like a bird! Zip lining makes it possible for us to feel that unbelievable thrill.

So my Aunt Dot inspired me to seek out zip lining opportunities in Pennsylvania and turn my own son, Bryce onto the thrill. There are sixteen different locations in our state to enjoy this recreational pastime, but Laurel Highlands is a particular hot spot, sporting three separate opportunities.

These experiences fall into two categories- plain pure zipping, from one platform/tree to another, and Canopy Challenge Tours, where you maneuver through a series of obstacles and usually incorporate a few shorter zips. The later can be quite freaky, forcing you to conjure up a greater amount of courage and requires some balance and skill. These courses  incorporate shorter zips but have swinging logs, cat walks, cargo nets  etc. to negotiate up in the canopy.

The zips range from not needing to do anything but have fun and scream, to aiding in the breaking procedure. There is always a back- up break and a human being on the far side to assist but some courses need you to participate more than others, but these are also more rewarding.

Ohiopyle has a Zip Line Adventure Park with crazy challenging obstacles like walking on separate individual narrow swinging planks 25 feet high.

Nemacolin has only one zip, but it is 1060 feet long, the second longest in the state, at 300 foot elevation, speeding some folks up to 60 MPH. (The longest is with Kittatinny Ziplines which speeds you across the Delaware River at 60 MPH for 3,000 feet at 150 feet high!) They also the Fat Bird Canopy which is situated 40 feet up in the sky.

Our favorite, however is at Seven Springs Resort. Start out by doing the Screaming Hawk Zipline Course. This adrenalin-filled ride takes you 2,000 total feet as you zig zag from platform to platform all the way down the open mountain.  But the cream of the crop is the Laurel Ridge Canopy Tour featuring 10 zips that total 7,000 feet!

Bryce loved the zip line experience almost as much as my Aunt Dot did. It’s a thrill that does not require skill nor taking any class. To have the chance to fly like a raptor for a small amount of money is an experience no one should miss in life.

My Aunt Dot just informed me, at 81 years old, she’s signing up for whitewater rafting to add to her bucket list. Some of us have to wait late to get the life that we dreamed of.  But if she is anything like her Mama, she’s got twenty more years to be an adrenalin junkie!

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(a version of this will appear in the upcoming issue of Pennsylvania Magazine)

This is a piece I wrote about my Grandmom Ross, who was my Aunt Dot’s mother. She died at the ripe age of 102, just went into her bed because she was tired. She was surrounded by her grandchildren and great grandchildren as they sang Bobby Vinton songs to her.

GRANDMOM ROSS

 Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of driving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming, WOW! What a ride!

…anonymous

 

My children and I are driving in the car with my 100-yr old grandmother when I become frustrated behind a slow vehicle. She says, “It’s OK Cindy, we have all the time in the world.” Personally, I feel pressed for time with her. My own parents died young and my children never knew them. I want to make sure the same thing doesn’t  happen with their great-grandmother.

When my grandmother turned 99, I woke up and realized she wasn’t going to live forever, so we started hanging out with this centenarian. My children and I take her to BINGO!, the mall, the Pagoda to see the city lights, and made fausnaughts. We play 500 Rummy and she teasingly asks the kids if they wanted to cheat. We take her to Longwood Gardens, and her feisty fingers itch to pick a flower. My husband says, “You’ll spend the next 100 years in jail!” When we take her to the cemetery to visit my parents’ graves, she exclaims, “Look at how beautiful the tombstones are all lined up so perfectly,” My kids whisper to me, “Grandmom finds beauty everywhere.”

I recently began to see how much she had to teach us on how to live long and happily. And I started asking questions about her life, hoping to know her better.

 

Her parents met on a boat coming from Europe- her mother from Germany, her father from Poland. She was one of 16 children. She quit school in the 4th grade and helped support the family by ironing at home. She entered the work world at age 14, after her parents died. When I appear shocked, she replies, “I thought it was normal.”

All through her life, she has learned to make the best of things. Her husband, Joe, died almost 50 years ago, and she has lived alone ever since, outliving all her siblings and most of her children. She is the landlady of her apartment house in a rough section of Reading. In her elderly years, a wounded man, moaning and bleeding from bullet holes crawled into her vestibule and woke her up one night. She was also startled another evening by thieves trying to crowbar her stained glass transom window out of her front door. Fear never entered into the equation. Her family would like to see her live somewhere “safer” with company, but this has been her home of over 50 years and she’s fine here alone.

Anna fell down her open wooden cellar steps one day, and no one was there to help. Her chunky high heels hooked on a step, and left her hanging face down. She laughed with tears streaming down her face at her silly predicament, then muttered, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph help me.” Her heels “miraculously” let go, and she bounced down the remaining steps to the cellar floor, no bodily harm done.

Her resourcefulness knows no bounds. One time, she was heating up chicken soup in a frying pan over her toaster! Her gas range had not worked for days and she was waiting for the repairman. But she wanted hot soup (rather lukewarm) and this was the only way she could get it. “It’s OK,” she replies when I act alarmed. “I live alone and I have to do what I need to do to take care of myself.”

She’s still a looker at her age, for every day of her life, she’s worn nylon stockings, a dress and has never gone out the door without lipstick. She has NEVER worn pants. “My mother taught me to dress like a lady,” and puts on a hairpiece of white curls, (and until recently, high heels), every morning. When I visit, she regularly files through her dress closet, pulling out a tailored beaded dress or a well-made pair of patent leather heels, (she has no place to wear them anymore), for our sizes are similar.

Part of her good looks is because of her fine health, as she’s never been on medication until recently. She drinks a glass of red wine every night, has never been afraid of hard work (until lately, she got down on her hands and knees to scrub her floor), and takes care of her spiritual health by praying voraciously. At 100, she still feels “too young” to use a wheelchair, a walker, a cane or even a hearing aid.

On one of my last visits, she remarks when she saw my hair tied back, revealing my graying temples, “Why Cindy, I believe you’re getting gray.”

“No Grandmom, I’m getting white, but I’m not ready to dye it yet.”

To that she replies, “Oh, I’m not ready to die yet either!”

 

These  two women taught me much on how to live life, as did my own mother. They taught me these things, like Marianne Williamson… Every woman who is a queen simply knew she could be one and everyone else is still pretending she can’t. That’s all that separates the queen from the slavegirls: a shift in consciousness from denial to acceptance of personal power.  

And this one l like …Women keep talking about human connections because we are coded to do so. We came into the world with the memory in our soul that this is our function here. It is not our weakness, our neurosis, or our addiction. It is our strength. And when we are denied the power of a valid voice, it in not only we but the whole world that suffers. 

Just some stuff I’ve been thinking about and dealing with lately. God Bless the women in our lives, on this Valentine’s Day and everyday.

 

 

An Unusual New Year’s Resolution

(This story was contracted by an editor to be written as a back page of a lifestyle magazine, but when the publisher read it, she said, “over my dead (naked) body will that appear in print.” My original story about my experience at the nudist camp (3 parts), posted many months ago,  was read more times than any of my over 200 blog posts. Recently WordPress alerted me that my website had just experienced a recent huge spike in readers. Their comments are worth reading! So I decided to post the story that WOULD have made it into the mag had the publisher been a little more daring. Do go back in my archives though and check out the 3 part series- type in Sunny Rest for some serious entertainment.)

Getting in shape is my typical New Year’s resolution but last January my friend Jill and I decided to take it one step further, and get undressed.  We also wanted to do something bold in our mid-life, and step out of our comfort zone!   A visit to a local nudist camp would do it all.

When we pull up to the reception desk, we see a naked groundskeeper with only a baseball hat and sneakers on, swinging his weed wacker. We next see a construction dude with work boots on, a contractor’s tool belt, a knee brace and that’s it, yet he’s working a circular saw. This is our introduction at the local nudist camp and we can’t help being startled.

We head for our motel room, close our door, feeling safe and secure and decide on a mode of operation.

“Let’s make lunch, take off our clothing and pull two chairs up on the deck and eat naked.”

“OK, we can do that.” Jill replies.

I make a peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwich- comfort food.

On the deck, in the sun, naked to the world, as we eat our lunch, Jill looks over at me and says, “How are you doing?’

“I’m OK. “ I reply.

A nude dude below us reading the newspaper looks up at us and smiles. “First time here?”

“First hours here.”

“Enjoy yourselves,” he instructs. I’m not so sure of that.

Next step… the pool.

“We hug our towels to our middles, and walk across the deck through the sea of lounging older naked couples. We make eye contact, smile, say hello. No one looks below the neck, except for Jill and I.

We find two chaise lounge chairs in the corner, take off our towels  and lay down nude.

“Are you OK?”

“I’m OK.”

When the sun moves behind the clouds, we get chilled and muster up the courage to get to the warm “Conversation Pool,” …step 3, across the deck.

We clutch our towel “shields,” make a run for it and quickly submerge to our necks, letting the jet bubbles mask what lies beneath.

We chat with those around us. The majority of resort attendees are older- in the 50-70’s range and no one looks good. Some live here full time; others come for a visit. Everyone adores living without clothing. Many have high stress jobs, and are professionals and see it as a release.

There is a freedom, a liberation present here, they tell us. Nudists meet here, fall in love, even marry here (saving a ton on the bridal dresses).

“A nudist camp is not what most people think it is,” one woman tells us. “Women do not look like Victoria Secret models. You don’t see cellulite and saggy skin in the movies but you do here. It is real. Nudists are some of the friendliest people. Men are not leering. And it teaches us not to be ashamed of our bodies, no matter what they look like. Nudists are non-judgmental people. They have nothing to hide.”

“I need to experience a meal nude at the restaurant,” Jill announces.

“OK.”

At the table next to us, the woman’s  gigantic breasts spill into her dinner plate and interfere with my meal. The air conditioner vent freezes me.

“I’m going back to the room to get dressed, I had enough,” I admit.

Jill and I clearly did not need to get ourselves in shape for this experience. We did stretch ourselves, however and made a memory. Next year, I’ll stick to the same old same old resolutions and play it safe!

Sunny Rest Nudist Camp- Part I (of three parts) | cindyrosstraveler 

http://www.cindyrosstraveler.com/…/sunny-rest-nudist-camp-part-i-of-three-parts/

Sunny Rest Nudist Camp (Part II of 3) | cindyrosstraveler 

http://www.cindyrosstraveler.com/2013/06/12/sunny-rest-nudist-camp-part-ii-of-3/

Sunny Rest Nudist Camp- Conclusion | cindyrosstraveler 

http://www.cindyrosstraveler.com/2013/06/19/sunny-rest-nudist-camp-conclusion/