Dead Squirrel

I keep going back to this image of a full length dead squirrel stretched out on our welcome mat by the door. It actually looked as though it were arranged to show off its mature full-grown length, as though the murderer wanted to impress me with its size.

My cat is a killer. There are often dead creatures outside the door. You have to watch when you step out, especially when barefooted.

The head was missing on the squirrel. Chewed off and raw red flesh protruding from its neck.

I find it hard to believe that my medium-sized cat can run down a hyper, alert squirrel, AND what possessed it to do so and give it to me. Clearly he is not hungry.

So I Googled it- the way to get smart today.

 

It is a great gift from my beloved pet, it said. The larger the animal, the more difficult it is to kill it, the more frequently the gifts are delivered, that is a true indicator of your’ pet’s love for you. It knows, you could not get this tasty full length squirrel on your own, so he got it for me.
Never, ever ever reprimand or scold or heaven forbid, yell at your pet for doing so. They will not understand at all. Praise them instead.

 

We’ve always had killers for cats, all the years my kids were growing up. They used to take them in small cardboard boxes and tenderly take them out to “Forest Park” under a big deciduous tree and bury it in the cemetery. Chip a headstone out of discarded slate or use a chunk of brick for a headstone.

 

I wonder if I could find those headstones under the leaf debris. Did the mice eat gnaw on the bones after all these years since childhood passed? It taught my kids to revere life- no small thing to learn no matter the age.

 

I went to see my friend Dave in the hospital the other day. He is a studly rock climber for a nearly 60-year-old guy and I looked at his form under his printed blousey hospital gown and I could tell he looked as gorgeous as he did when he was 30. He works hard to stay fit and has all his life. But his heart freaked out and started pumping off the charts. He felt tired and weird, couldn’t whack the tennis ball without getting unusually out of breath. It creeped up in a few months and he chalked it up to getting a cold AND older age creeping in.

 

It took days to try to regulate his heartbeat, even had to shock it into beating normal. His resting heart rate is so crazy low to begin with from being so fit, that the doctors were alarmed.

 

Dave could have died. I sat there looking at him on the hospital bed and thought, I could have lost my friend.

That’s why I put a halt to my crazy busy life and went in to see him and  spend a few hours. Because I saw his presence in there as a gift, that he was still here. I brought a deck of cards to play 500 Rummy but we never needed to entertain ourselves. We never got off the topic of our kids, never made it to us. But I knew he was happy to be alive and was shaken by the close call. That goes without saying.

 

As Jackson Browne sings, “Pay attention to the open sky. You never know what will be coming down.”

It can be that quick. Like the squirrel, he never saw it coming. Regardless of how fit or how fast or how strong we are.

 

Always Someone Worse off than Yourself

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Nineteen year old Steve Chapman had just washed his dirt bike and was taking it out for one last joy ride before selling it when the front fork broke. It sent him propelling out over the handlebars, flipping him and slamming him into a tree. His lung collapsed and the impact of the blow shattered his spinal cord. He laid there for fourteen hours, through rain, hail, thunder and lightning.

He had passed a neighbor’s farm right before the accident and had waved to the farmer as he performed a wheelie. That farmer’s dog was going ballistic all night long, barking at the injured  Steve who lay so close to the house. The dog’s owner just yelled to the dog to hush up.  Because of his collapsed lung, Steve could not yell for help, yet he was conscious.

It was very hard that first year for paralyzed Steve for he spent four months in the hospital recovering,  but he soon began to play wheelchair basketball and won the national championship with the Grand Rapids Pacers. He could hold the ball high above his head for his torso and arms were so long- his frame measured 6 feet 4 inches. After the Vietnam War, high tech equipment was developed and wheelchair basketball began. Now they are using high tech gear for bicycles and wheelchairs.

“Getting into shape helped me. The wheel chair just became an extension of my body.”  Steve’s mom took his accident the hardest although she said, “God knew what he was doing when he made your arms so long.”

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Steve and his bike are incredibly long and when I first saw him in Brick Wheels Cycle Shop in Traverse City, Michigan, he seemed to take up the whole store!  His bike cost $10,000 and was manufactured by Top End, which makes tennis wheelchairs (which turn on a dime) hand crank bicycles, etc.  Once they receive their bikes/chairs from the Florida based company, they get no support. They have to seek out bike shops like Travese City’s Brick Wheels to help them.

Steve’s bicycle is aerodynamic. His field of vision is obstructed by his crank and he has to look around it. Still Steve sits very low to the ground and his butt often hits when he has to go over a crack or a bump on the trail or road. His bike has only a very few inches of clearance. His hands get sweaty turning the crank and the aluminum hand pedals get slippery so he must wear gloves. But he can easily put fifty-two miles on his bike in one day and accumulated 1500 last year.  Traverse City is a bike-friendly community (thanks largely to Tim Brick, owner of Brick Wheels Cycles). They LOOK for cyclists on the road.

Steve has been riding with his son Dylan, who is now 14 years old. Dylan runs a very fast  22 MPH pace and Steve only averages a respectable 15-18! He will have to step up his game!

Steve has great balance. Besides his bike, Steve rides 4-wheeler and snow mobiles, but he can’t use his stomach muscles.

He has ridden the IRide- Independent Ride across Michigan – a 4 day ride with the Disability Network, which helps physically challenged riders like Steve accomplish their goals.

“Everyone takes their accident differently. I go to hospitals and talk to accident victims. It helps both of us for you can always find someone worse than yourself. “

see related story

http://cindyrosstraveler.com/2014/07/06/a-twist-of-fate-changed-lives/

 

A Twist of Fate= Changed Lives

Leelanua Peninsula 110

Tim Brick and his brothers Bob and  John used to ride their Western Flyer bicycles past the Traverse City State Mental Hospital because the huge manicured grounds and many roads were a joy to ride, plus they had fun with the residents. Some of the 8,000 would be out on the barred-up porches and they would taunt them and they in turn would yell to them as the boys sped away…all in good fun, typical adolescent boy behavior. Their bicycles were a source of freedom and joy

John Brick did not get adequate oxygen when he was born. He seemed a tad slow but back in the 50’s there was not the technology to measure and test it. He seemed fine. But when puberty hit, John suffered a nervous breakdown and was institutionalized- in the Traverse City State Mental Hospital , of all places! What a crazy twist of fate.  The boys used to tease friends when they did something stupid and say, “What’s wrong? Are you from 11th Street College or something?” for the hospital entrance was off 11th street.

“We always thought it was funny but when your brother is a patient there it wasn’t funny anymore,” Tim admits

So their mother, Mary Jean, a school teacher by trade, went back to school to get her masters in special ed and founded a group home for adults with developmental disabilities, called Grand Traverse Community Living Center (now called the Brick Ways), with the goal of keeping them live independent but safe.

“Mom used to say, ‘We want them to be a part of the community not just living in the community.’”

Mary Jean and John are no longer with us but Tim has continued to carry on the amazing work that was spurred by their rides on the hospital grounds. Forty years ago, Tim founded Brick Wheels cycle shop.  He was one of the four founding members of the TART (Traverse Area Recreational and Transportation Trails) and introduced cycling to many in this beautiful city, where over 100 miles of off-road cycling paths exist.  Thousands of folks took up cycling, giving them healthier and happier and making Traverse City one of the Top 10 places to retire in all of America.

But what is extra special about Brick Wheels is the clientele. On any given day, you might see a handi-capped van pull up and the driver unload his wheelchair, then his adaptive bike. It could be 6’4” tall Steve who rides a nearly completely horizontal bike that he “pedals” with his hands cranking a wheel. Steve is paralyzed from his nipples down the result of a dirt bike accident when he was 14. He averages over 11 miles an hour on the TART trails (or paved roads around the Old Mission Peninsula). He put 1500 miles on his bike last year alone.

Cycling isn’t the only sport Steve does- he water skis, snow skis, plays tennis in a special quick-moving wheelchair…is a lot more active than most able-bodied fifty year olds.

Then there is John who became paralyzed at the age of thirty-two from a snowmobile accident. He rides a recumbent bike that he hand cranks but unlike Steve, is able to sit up.

Their bikes cost about $10,000 and they received grants from foundations to purchase them through Top End Co- who also makes wheelchairs etc.  Although there are half a dozen bike shops now in Traverse City, Brick Wheels gets the lion’s share of disabled riders. Tim’s staff makes every attempt to make them feel like everyone else and caters to them.

Steve and John tell me,“We have our own personal pit crew at Brick Wheels.”

They pull up in their vans, someone surfaces from the store to assist them. They air up the tires, check the brakes, put their wheelchair back in the van and close it up.  If they get a flat or need assistance on the trail, Brick Wheels is only a phone call away.

“They know us here, what we need and go above and beyond a normal bike shop.”

Brick Wheels is anything but a normal bike shop.

The other unusual clientele they have are the mentally handicapped cyclists…the folks who live in Mary Jean’s very popular group homes and independent apartments under the Brick Ways direction.

“We usually get at least eight special needs cyclists who show up every week, out of about 20 that we service,” Tim tells me. “They come in and talk, discuss sports, ask us to check their gears, investigate squeaks, even if we checked them yesterday, we still do it. Our mechanics never pre-judge. Other bike shops may not want to bother.”

“Our employees all figure it out sooner or later that the short bus stops here!”

Tim teases his special needs clients. Gives them bike gloves, other special presents they might need.
“Fast Eddie” got equipped with a trailer for his twenty-seven speed mountain bike. He cruises town picking up recyclables, which earn 10 cents a bottle or can. He has made over $300 in one day.

Eddie was born to a homeless couple and found in a box as an infant with rat bites on him and long rat claw scratches. He’s had a tough life in and out of foster care until he found Brick Ways.  Tim and I visited him in the hospital where he was recovering from a bout with pneumonia.

When we walked in his room, Tim teased him about the brown iron IV drip, “What’s that in the bag, Eddie? Root beer?” Tim never hesitates to tease his special needs friends, and treats them all as if they were family, like his brother John. I asked Eddie why he is called “Fast Eddie” (on his mountain bike he named “Hot Rod”!) and he answered, “Because I’m fucking fast!”

As we prepared to leave the hospital, Eddie put his arms around Tim and hugged him hard, and teared up. He said, “I love you Tim. You’re like my big brother.”

Mom Mary Jean and Brother John are both smiling broadly down on Tim Brick.

 

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…Yours truly had the great fortune of meeting Tim Brick last year when I was in the Traverse City area on assignment for Adventure Cycling Magazine and My North Magazine. Tim helped me plan my week long bike trip around the Leelanau Peninsula, sponsored my family with free bikes, and shuttled us. In the course of the last year, Tim subscribed to my blog, read about my life and my feelings, commented and we chatted back and forth frequently.

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This June, we returned to the Traverse City area to paddle the Manistee River for another story and also to write about Tim Brick, Brick Wheels, Brick Ways Foundation and his amazing special needs clientele for another story… (the content will include parts of this blog)  While we were in Traverse City, Tim put us up in his river house, took us out to dinner and then boating on Lake Michigan on a catamaran all day long. This is not the typical behavior of a person that I have been assigned to write a feature magazine story about. This is the behavior of a magnificent human being with a huge heart who clearly knows how to love ALL people and has been practicing it all his life who has become my dear friend.  Like Fast Eddie, I hugged Tim Brick hard when I said good-bye because I too love him to death and have been blessed by having his life touch mine, like so many fortunate others.

A Journey of Remembrance- A final hike with Zachary “Shady” Adamson up McAffee’s Knob on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia with his friends and family

Video

This video was made to remember a special Memorial Day climb up to Mc Affee’s Knob in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. This far-reaching vista, the most photographed on the entire 2,150-mile National Scenic Appalachian Trail (AT), was Airborne Ranger Zachary Adamson’s favorite spot. Zachary was an AT thru-hiker in 2013 and became a successful “2,000 Miler.” His Ranger friend, Travis Johnston, created the event for family and friends on May 24, 2014 to celebrate Zach’s life and to begin to find the strength to go on without him.

Cindy Ross, author/photographer and long distance hiker was privileged to be a part of the Zachary Adamson Memorial Climb. It is her wish to do everything she can to keep the spirit of Zachary Adamson alive, as well as all veterans whom America has lost. Her goal is to spread the word that walking and immersing yourself in the natural world aids in healing. She has co-founded http://www.RiverHousePA.org to help with this mission.

Music by The Piano Guys

THE STORY behind the video….Steve Adamson leaned on his son’s Appalachian Trail hiking poles with every step. He leaned on his memory of Zachary, needing his help to get up the mountain. Steve swore he saw him, swore he heard him in the woods, “You can do this Dad,” and he could, despite his two bad knees and the extra weight he carried on him. It was not just the physical challenge of the four mile climb up to Mc Affee’s Knob on this Memorial Day weekend, but the emotional drain of the event as well.

Steve’s son, Airborne Ranger Zachary Adamson (“Shady”) became a 2,000 Miler on the Appalachian Trail (AT) just last year. He left Springer Mountain, Georgia only four months after returning home from Afghanistan at the conclusion of four years in the military as a Special Operations soldier. Zachery got the idea to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail from his good friend and fellow Ranger, Eric Hario, who had a dream to hike the entire AT once he got out of the military. Eric died on his first mission, so Zachary carried Eric’s dream forward and hiked the AT for Eric and for himself in 2013.

No matter who you meet from the AT Class of 2013, everyone repeats the same mantra: Zachary was a friend to all. There was nothing he would not do for anyone. His fun-loving spirit brought joy to everyone’s life.

Four months after reaching the summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine, Zachary died from a gunshot to the head and rocked the whole Appalachian Trail community as well as thousands of friends and family. The cause of the wound may never be determined- self-inflicted, inflicted by another, an accident, or a combination because evidence was wrongly destroyed. Not knowing the truth is horrific to any parent and loved one and inhibits forward progress and acceptance. Nothing can bring back happy Zach. Still, closure needs to occur.

Travis Johnston, Zach’s Machine Gun Team Leader who served with him in Afghanistan has also been dealing with his grief personal of losing Zack. To help with this and to aid in healing from what the war has done to his spirit, he too decided to hike the entire Appalachian Trail in Zach’s memory.

Travis then got the brilliant idea to honor Zach on Memorial Day weekend, had a 150-pound memorial granite stone made, flew Zach’s family in from Ohio, and gathered friends and family to celebrate Zachary’s life on top of Mc Affee’s Knob in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Zach’s most favorite spot on the entire 2,150 mile trail. Zach’s best friend, Sean Reilly, another Airborne Ranger, joined the group, as well as his whole family.

Travis and Sean, as well as Zach’s brother, Jesse, carried the stone across the busy highway to the trailhead leading to Mc Affee’s Knob. Everyone in the group received a lit votive candle and filed across to the stone, spoke to Zach, and placed the candle there for him and then began to climb.

It was a day of reliving memories. In only four ascending miles, the walking stimulated many memories. Zach’s dad told stories of taking the Adamson kids hiking and backpacking, of storms they got caught in. We would stop to sob and hug, to look at photos in Steve’s phone. Nearly every highlight in his son’s life was there for quick reference.

There is nothing like a steady climb when you are out of shape to remind you that you should get yourself in shape. Steve spoke of this and the beautiful fact that he feels his son here in the woods more than any other place. He wants to return, time and time again to visit with his son here. He also said he needed more joy in his life. Steve and Rebecca felt like they had been drowning in their sorrow. In four months since Zach’s death they both gained a lot of weight, felt like they were becoming reclusive and certainly very, very sad. Steve said, “Maybe there are lives being saved here today.”

Up on the mountain top, with exceptional visibility and magnificent views across the valley, Travis and Sean laid out momentous of Zach on the rock: like his knife, medal and hiking poles and photograph. A bottle of twelve-year old Jamison whiskey, a favorite drink of Rangers, was passed around in tiny plastic cubs for a toast to Zach. Songs were sung accompanied by a guitar. The American flag was folded over Zach’s mementos.

Each family member as well as Sean & Travis, all took turns speaking about what Zach had meant to them. They spoke of how they were planning to go on with their lives, wanting to be more like him, embracing life, living large, spending time in nature, etc. Rebecca said to us all, “You all see a hiking friend, I see my little boy,” and broke up. There was crying going on and off all day, intermittent with sobs. It was a day of releasing.

Sean spoke of his memories with his best friend and Travis shared a story of how impressed he was at Zach’s funeral- how Zach’s hiking “family” came from states far and wide to pay their respects and show their love. Many in the military, especially a tightly bound group like the Rangers or the Marines or the Seals, believe that no one can be closer than their “band of brothers”…until they experience a thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail.

Zach had his “hiking family” and now Travis has his. Over twenty hikers left their thru-hike and arranged to get themselves north to Mc Affee’s knob to be there for support. Travis said his hiking family was helping him heal from his loss and his nightmares and horrific memories of war that still plagues him.

When we reached the trailhead as the sun grew low and evening descended, we were hit with the intense beauty of Zachary’s stone sitting there at the trailhead, flickering votive candles bringing his photograph alive. Travis sat down by it and began to tell me of that horrible day in Afghanistan, the day that became the worse nightmare in his and Zach’s life, the images that still cause nightmares, making his mind reel and be tortured with questions, “should I have done it differently.”
I asked him, “Have you forgiven yourself yet Travis?” and he replied, “I don’t know that I can.”

And I told him, “Work on that. Spend the next 1700 miles working on that. “
I stood up and kissed his face and told him, “You are a wonderful human being. You are on your way and you will be ok.”

Like the tens of thousands of returning veterans, Travis still has emotional healing to do, but he has chosen to open his heart to love. He has chosen to expose his vulnerability, and understands that he can be a tough strong Ranger and still cry and still hug and work hard at loving. That was the single overwhelming emotion at the entire Mc Affee’s Knob event- an out pouring of love and support. Healing can’t happen in our “safe” little homes, behind closed doors and sturdy walls that we have constructed around our hearts, alone with our demons and memories. Our veterans have to stick their necks out- go on a walk, embrace, as do their families.

Travis Johnston orchestrated an event that will have so many positive ripples, that reach out into all our lives, just like the life of Zachary Adamson touched so many lives. Travis commented on Mc Affee’s Knob with the exquisite backdrop of the valley, towering tall with clouds behind, feeling like heaven was right there. “Zach did not practice the concept of ‘Leave no Trace,’” for everywhere he went he left his residual love and huge spirit.” May we all continue to walk in his light.

Acceptance and Rejection

guest blogger- Sierra Gladfelter

MAY 28, 2014

I believe that we create our own reality. As individuals, we have incredible power to order the world to reflect our dreams (or disappointments) through our thoughts, words, actions and conviction. But I also believe that each of us is responsible for our own happiness, an act that demands constant acceptance and finding peace with what we are given.

Somehow, I managed to live 24 years without having to confront the conflict in these two beliefs and draw a line where one ends and the other begins.

I had been struggling for months with acceptance. Since December when I submitted applications to nine universities, I waited—feeling utterly powerless—to know about graduate school. The uncertainty was exacerbated by the fact that my partner, Eben, was working in Nepal almost 7,500 miles away. While we both had applied to several schools that had strong programs for each of us or were within an hour of each other, at the end of the day it would come down to where we would be given funding. Both of us tried not to think about the unlikely odds that this would be at the same place.

As acceptance and rejection letters trickled in without any matches, it seemed that the shoots of all our beanstalks were being severed with no ladder to our common dream. The University of Colorado was the last chance for us to be together—and ironically, had been the school we visualized ourselves at from the beginning.

On March 1, 2014 I received an email from my intended advisor at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Dear Sierra,

I regret to inform you that you were not admitted to the program. The official notice from the graduate school should be coming next week, I believe.

With that, my final hope dissolved. I was stunned, my mind streaming though all the things this meant. Eben and I would spend the next two years consumed in programs at different schools sustaining the distance we had been enduring for another four semesters.

But for some reason I could not let go.

The strangest thought suddenly rose—the kind of thought that seems so foreign it must have floated in from a greater mind like dandelion seed drifting from a distant garden.

What?

For another possibility.

And so I inquired if there was any chance of being offered admission contingent upon outside funding. I had applied for a Graduate Research Fellowship (GRFP) through the National Science Foundation, which I would not find out about for another month. Although it was a shot in the dark, if I received the fellowship it would support me at any institution to which I had been admitted with three years of full funding.

I almost collapsed when she wrote back,

We haven’t done this sort of thing before, but I can check with others and definitely consider the possibility.  

Later that day, she followed up.  I’ll get a letter to you for admission if you get the NSF (or some other funding).

I am a humble person. I would never have had the audacity to ask to be reconsidered for a program from which I had been rejected if something had not moved me so urgently to seek another reality.

Now I had only to wait on the NSF. Even with just a 10% chance of winning, the possibility was enough.

In the meantime, I realized that as I had visited other schools and had such clarifying experiences about the nature of the programs in person, I really should go and see the University of Colorado as well. I would not, however, have more than a couple of days to make a decision once I knew about the fellowship in early April.

So I asked again.

If I do get the NSF GRFP and am able to fully fund myself through the Master’s program, would there be any funding available to help subsidize a flight/visit to see the school?

My advisor wrote back, offering me five hundred dollars.

Rather than waiting, I decided to act. I planned a trip and purchased a flight, recognizing that there was a 90% chance that I would not get the NSF GRFP at all and would have to go through with my visit regardless or swallow the cost.

The morning I flew to Boulder, I woke up to find an email from the NSF sitting in my inbox. I had to open and close several other messages before I could muster enough courage to look.

Dear Sierra Gladfelter:

Congratulations! I am pleased to inform you that you have been selected to receive a 2014 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program Fellowship.

I was already on my way.

Of course there was surprise and unbridled joy. I called Eben happier than I have ever been in my entire life. But as I flew out to Boulder and had hours to cast my gaze over the world beneath me, my mind wandered back to my old convictions.

How do we know when to accept what is around us or seek something more?

If I have learned anything through this graduate school process and the series of surreal events that followed, it is that dreams do not come true when we leave everything to chance. Of course we can be happy, for that is a power that no one can ever take from us. But the magic happens when we go beyond accepting what is and ask again for another world—brighter and closer to our dreams.

http://lifeonthewind.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/acceptance-and-rejection

 

A Memorial Climb to Remember Carrying the Memory of Airborne Ranger & AT 2000 Miler Zachary Adamson up Mc Affee’s Knob, VA

Travis & Sean- McAfee's Knob 889

Steve Adamson leaned on his son’s Appalachian Trail hiking poles with every step that he took. He leaned on his memory of Zachary, needed his help to get up the mountain.  Swore he saw him, swore he heard him in the woods, “You can do this Dad,” and he could, despite his two bad knees and extra weight he carried with him. One step at a time, taking breaks. It wasn’t just the physical challenge of the four mile climb up to Mc Affee’s Knob on this Memorial Day weekend, but the emotional drain of the event as well.

Steve’s son, Airborne Ranger Zachary Adamson (“Shady”) became a 2,000 Miler on the Appalachian Trail just last year. He left Springer Mountain, Georgia only four months after returning home from Afghanistan and the conclusion of four years in the military as a Special Operations soldier.  He got the idea from his good friend, another Ranger, Eric Hario, who had a dream to hike the entire AT once he got out of the military. Eric died on his first mission. So Zachary carried Eric’s dream forward and hiked the AT for him and for himself in 2013.

No matter who you meet from the Class of 2013, everyone repeated the same mantra. ..Zach was a friend to all. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for anyone. His fun-loving spirit brought joy to everyone’s life. There wasn’t a human being that didn’t fall in love with Zach.

But four months after reaching the summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine, Zachary died from a gunshot to the head and rocked the whole Appalachian Trail community as well as thousands of friends and family.  It is a heart-wrenching tragedy for a parent to lose a child but especially one that brought so much joy to everyone’ s life.  The cause of the gunshot wound may never be determined- self-inflicted, inflicted by another, an accident, or a combination? Not knowing the truth is horrific to any parent and loved one and inhibits forward progress and acceptance. Nothing can bring back happy Zach. Still, closure needs to occur. The climb up to Mc Affee’s Knob was perhaps orchestrating  that to at least begin.

We began the day of Zachary Adamson’s Memorial Climb up to MC Affee’s Knob in the parking lot on top of the pass in Virginia. Travis Johnston, best friend of Zach who served with him in Afghanistan as Machine Gun Team Leader, orchestrated this eventful day.

To help Travis with his grief of losing his friend and to aid in healing from what the war has done to his spirit, he too decided to hike the entire Appalachian Trail in Zach’s memory. Travis got the brilliant idea to honor their fallen Ranger brother on this important weekend, had a 150 pound granite stone made, fly Zach’s family from Ohio, gather friends and family and celebrate Zachary’s life on top of Mc Affee Knob- Zach’s most favorite spot on the entire 2,150 mile trail. Zachary’s best friend, Sean Reilly, another Airborne Ranger, has joined him here in Virginia and will accompany him to Maine (and will finish the southern section afterwards).

The gorgeous polished granite memorial  stone that Travis had made held two photos of Zach- one serious photo while on deployment in Afghanistan, the other bearded and smiling with backpack on his back on the AT. Travis and Sean, as well as Zach’s brother, Jesse, carried the stone across the busy highway to the trailhead leading to Mc Affee’s Knob.  Everyone in the group received a lit votive candle and we filed across to the stone, spoke to Zach, and placed the candle there for him and then began our climb.

While the group took the trail, I stayed on the parallel dirt fire road with Zach’s parents, a shorter and less strenuous tread way to the summit. We would join together for the last 1 /2 miles to the viewpoint.

It was a day of reliving memories. In only four ascending miles, the walking stimulated many waves of past good times. Steve Adamson told me stories of taking the Adamson kids hiking and backpacking, of storms they got caught in. We’d stop to sob and hug , we’d stop to look at photos in Steve’s phone, as I believe every highlight in his son’s life was on his phone for quick reference.

There is nothing like a steady climb when you are out of shape to remind you that you are should get yourself in better shape. Steve spoke of this and the beautiful fact that he feels his son here in the woods as he hiked more than anyplace. He wants to return, time and again to visit with his son. He also said he needed more joy in his life. He and Zach’s mom, Rebecca, felt like they had been drowning in their sorrow. In four months since Zach’s death , they both gained a lot of weight, felt like they were becoming reclusive and certainly very, very sad. Steve said, “Maybe there are lives being saved here today.” Indeed.

Up top, with exceptional visibility and magnificent views across the valleys, Travis and Sean laid out momentous of Zach on the rock. A bottle of twelve year Jamison, a favorite drink of Rangers, was passed around in tiny plastic cubs for a toast to Zach. Songs were sung accompanied by a guitar. The American flag was folded over Zach’s mementos  and photo.

Each family member- Jesse, Zach’s brother and Ashley, Zach’s sister, his parents Rebecca & Steve,  as well as Sean & Travis, all took turns speaking about what Zach had meant to them. They spoke of  how they were planning on going on with their lives, wanting to be more like him, embracing life, living large, spending time in nature, etc. Mom Adamson said to us all, “You all see a hiking friend, I see my little boy,” and broke up. There was crying going on and off all day, intermittent with sobs. It was a day of releasing. Every step forward up that mountain, brought up emotions that needed to come out, from everyone’s hearts.

Sean spoke of his memories with his best friend and Travis shared a story of how impressed he was at Zach’s funeral- how Zach’s hiking “family” came from states far and wide to pay their respects and show their love. Many in the military, especially a tightly bound group like the Rangers or the Marines or the Seals, but all military, believe that nothing can touch their “band of brothers” allegiance. ..until they experienced thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Zach had his “hiking family” and now Travis and Sean had theirs. Indeed, over twenty of them had left their thru-hike and arranged to get themselves  north to Mc Affee’s knob to be there to support Travis and Sean.  Travis spoke of how his thru-hike and his hiking family was hugely helping him heal from his loss and his nightmares and horrific memories of war that still plagued him.

On the way down the mountain, Travis and I spoke about his future dreams, his current struggles, his concerns for his future, because life doesn’t get “fixed” just by hiking 2,150 miles and you don’t heal entirely on a 6 month walk in the woods. It is a beginning. It is a way, a place to go to encourage more and ongoing healing. And you have to change your life, redesign it, because it is not realistic to continue hiking full time.

When we reached the trailhead as the sun grew low and evening descended, we were hit with the intense beauty of Zachary’s stone sitting there at the trailhead, flickering votive candles bringing his image alive.  And Travis sat down by it and began to tell me of that horrible day in Afghanistan, that day that became the worse nightmare of he and Zach’s life, the images that still cause nightmares, making his mind reel with questions, “should I have done it differently,” struggling with mistakes made,  and on and on with the mental torture. I asked him,

“Have you forgiven yourself yet Travis?” and he replied, “I don’t know that I can.”

And I told him, “Work on that. Spend the next 1700 miles working on that. “

And I stood up and kissed his face and told him, “You are a wonderful human being. You are on your way and you will be ok.”

The thing that Travis Johnston doesn’t realize is that contrary to many suffering veterans, he has chosen to open his heart to love. He knows he’s still fucked up and might be for life to a degree, as are tens of thousands of our returning veterans but he has chosen to expose his vulnerability, to understand that he can be a tough strong Ranger man and still cry and still hug and work hard at loving. That was the single overwhelming emotion at this entire Mc Affee’s Knob event- an out pouring of love and support. Healing can’t happen in our “safe” little homes, behind closed doors and sturdy walls that we have constructed around our hearts, alone with our demons and memories. Our veterans have to stick their necks out- go on a walk, embrace, as do all their family members like Steve and Rebecca Adamson.

I spent the entire five hour drive home crying, reliving each memory shared, each word spoken, each moment when someone broke down and sobbed, and there were countless. And the crying isn’t over just because we all made a successful climb to Mc Affee’s Knob, even though the Adamsons promised to turn a page and begin to seek more joy in their lives, even though I expect Travis and Sean to successfully reach Katahdin in the fall. It is a start.

Travis Johnston orchestrated an event that will have so many positive ripples, out into all our lives, just like the life of Zachary Adamson touched so many lives. Travis commented on Mc Affee’s Knob with the exquisite backdrop of the valley, towering tall with clouds behind, feeling like heaven was right there. “Zach did not practice the concept of ‘Leave no Trace,’” for everywhere he went he left his residual love and huge spirit.” May we all continue to walk in his light.

to see related photos of the epic dayhttps://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10202203104218755.1073741853.1224015243&type=1&l=59e2d7b227

 

In Memory of fallen Airborne Ranger & 2000 Miler, Zach Adamson

On Friday, I am heading to southern Virginia, to Damascus Trail Days to speak to fellow long distance hikers. Along the way, I am picking up Sean Reilly, best friend of fallen Airborne Ranger, Zach Adamson (see below). Together with Travis Johnston, another Airborne Ranger, we will talk about walking off war in a workshop, or NOT , in Zach’s case who thru-hiked last year, for a 2,150 mile hike did not quiet his soul. I will go on to hike with Travis & Sean all week and will hear their story, Zach’s story, all veterans’ story so I can write about it and share it with the world. THEN, on May 24th, we will join Zach’s family, whom Travis is flying in from Ohio, and Sean’s family, and climb up to Mc Afee Knob- Zach’s favorite spot on the whole trail- with his 125 pound memorial stone that Travis had made. They want to walk right in Zach’s footsteps, suffer for him, not take an easier parallel dirt road. Sean will be wearing his brother, Zach’s gear as he thru-hikes with Travis- all the sweat and body molecules of his best friend will be rubbing off onto his back as he carries his memory north. .. and I can’t tell you what an extreme privilege it is to be part of this, to be WELCOMED, to have these boys want to have Zach’s story told, in hopes of healing, in hopes that one more veteran does not feel he has no other choice but to take his life to quiet his soul. I hope and pray I can do Zach justice.

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How Can a “FREE” Trip to Sri Lanka be just “OK?” Confessions of a Travel Writer

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Sri Lanka Airlines was indoctrinated into the ONE WORLD alliance of airlines a few weeks ago. It was a big deal for this tiny country- an island off the tip of India. They are now rubbing shoulders with the big guns like American Airlines, British Airways. It is the first time an airline from this part of Asia was welcomed in. To celebrate, they brought in hundreds of travel writers from around the world to bear witness and write about it, including me. There were hundreds of dancers and drummers dressed in gorgeous costumes at the airport- all pomp and circumstance and it was a privilege to be there.  We were all put up at a Five Star Hotel.

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The next day, the writers were flown across the country to a wildlife national park where the greatest concentration of leopards are. I however, began to have extreme abdominal pains on the bus to the airport. Doubled over in pain, breathing consciously to maintain control, sweating profusely, I got out of the bus and begged for a toilet. I could not get into the airport because we had not yet secured our boarding passes so I was directed across the street to the public bathroom. I looked in every stall and they were all squat toilets. Whatever. There I squatted for half an hour, exploding and writing in pain. It was a good thing I have strong calves. There was no toilet paper. I missed the flight. I went back to the hotel and stayed in bed for 6 hours.

By the time the other writers returned, I had recovered and everyone was going home. I did not want to fly around the world for a mere two days so the airline secured a travel company to host a 5 day tour of the country for me. I was excited.

It would be just me and the driver/guide, who spoke English.  If any of you recalls my blog about my experience in Mauritius, you will remember that the same thing occurred there but it turned out to be very positive experience. cindyrosstraveler.com/…/why-would-an-american-want-to-come-to-mau

I visited some very nice places in Sri Lanka- an elephant orphanage, climbed a fortress that held an ancient palace on the summit, saw some cool archaeological sites and Buddhist cave temples. That was all good. But I ate every meal alone. I only had breakfast in my package so I had to eat the bananas from my welcome fruit basket and steal croissants from the breakfast buffet to get me through lunch and dinner. These 5 star hotels were not usually anywhere near a food store to buy food. And the food at their restaurants was beyond my budget. Also, 5 star hotels do not have any other clients who want to make friends. They are there with their own peeps- couples, people celebrating, vacationing, not looking to meet single American women who happens to be an extrovert and in need of a friend.

My driver was not interested in being friends. The more days that went by, the more he would drop me off places and tell me he would see me later, even when he was supposed to be guiding me or teaching me things. I could deal with that. Except when we went to a Buddhist temple. (He was a Buddhist). But he swept me through so quickly, I was looking around at such a speed in order to grasp it all, while he is rattling off information. And he says to me, rather condescendingly, “I don’t believe you are listening to me.” And I assured him that I could listen without looking straight at him and it was more important for me to look around WHILE I was listening, but he was clearly offended and held it against me for the rest of the trip.

What I also couldn’t deal with was his driving. I had to drug myself daily to fight back the nausea as he drove. And I thought I would die every day on the road- he passed every vehicle – every vehicle- no matter the size- long buses, big trucks- on blind curves, topping hills- never mind that he could never see around them. It didn’t matter how many times I gasped or asked him not to. They did not all drive like that. It was as if he had a death wish.

I resigned myself that I may never get home to see my family. That I would die in Sri Lanka. Seriously. My daughter would have to work to get my book published about using the world to teach and raise them.

Then the monsoon season started. I became a prisoner in my 5 star hotel eating bananas and stale croissants. I read 5 books, wrote three magazine articles, edited my book manuscript and longed for someone to share my hours with. One time, one time, I went down to the beach in front of the hotel when the rains broke to watch the sunset. There I found a 21-year-old local boy who was graduating from the university any day. He told me that every day he came out to the beach to witness the sunset and I thought that was marvelous. We chatted awhile and it was one of the best parts of my whole Sri Lankan experience, because I had connected with a human being, on such a very small level but nonetheless.

On our way to the airport after my trip concluded, my driver raced 130 kilometers per mile, was passing another driver and suddenly there were 3 stray dogs standing broadside in the middle of the highway. I thought it was over. So close to getting home. He almost hit two other vehicles on the same drive and admitted, “I did not see them.” No kidding.

My driver could not look at me when I said good-bye. I regret giving him such a nice tip.

I have decided. I do not want to travel alone. Being with other writers on a press trip is fine. I can usually easily make friends. They become my family while I am away. But it is a good thing to know yourself. I am an extrovert. I thrive on exchanging with people, especially in a foreign country where I long to get to know them and their culture. Traveling in an insulated bubble is not good, esp for the story, esp for me. I did however, manage to distance myself for a particularly painful experience in my life and made great progress towards healing with that. Granted, traveling around the world will do that.

So my trip to Sri Lanka was just “OK.” I am not sorry that I went. I know this part of the world a little better. I will make $75 for the magazine story that I will write. (Gone for 12 days… worth it?)

“Walking Them Home” with Harp Therapy

Barbara Ann Greim has some pretty sensational stories about her “magic” harp, River House PA’s newest addition to our team of amazing helpers. Stories of noticeable, significant change in a patient’s breathing pattern, heart rate, blood pressure- just by Barbara going in and out of the hospital room where the patient lay as she played her harp. A surgeon made Barb do this test without her knowing why and they were all amazed at the results.

 

“It was a moment for me,” Barbara Ann admitted, even though this Master Harp Therapist has recorded thousands of healing hours in hospital, rehabs, hospices and private home sessions. Barbara has her Masters in Music and pretty much plays every instrument, but primarily the harp, acoustic guitar and flute. She taught music 20+ years and is a Hospital Certified as a Trauma Informed Care trainer utilizing music therapy into the area of Trauma Care.

 

Barbara visits hospitals in the Reading, PA area and plays for patients at least one time a week. She often focuses on the oncological center where cancer patients are being treated. She often just walks the halls

and gets invited in to play privately. One particular young man had a difficult surgery and his parents came to Barb later and said, “When you arrived in the doorway and played for our son, we all knew he would pull out of this. Everything changed, our whole attitude shifted and there was huge hope.”

Surgeons sometimes ask Barb to sit with them and play for them as they get ready to go into surgery. They understand that the mind/body needs to be centered and calm.  The medical profession is realizing that alternative therapy can work wonders.

Playing for the dying is probably the most moving experience , “To be invited into that sacred space, to be allowed by the families to participate is so humbling,” Barb shares. “I really feel like I am walking them home.”

Playing a large harp physically affects all people who hear it , but being close to the actual harp has an even greater effect. Small portable harps where the sounding board actually sits against your body sends the vibrations right into the person’s heart. Barbara Anne explained that we humans are made of so much water, and that when the soft sound waves of a harp enter the body, they actually rearrange and change the water molecules in a positive way. They relax and soothe the body.

We at River House PA have big plans for Barb’s harp therapy. We want to design nighttime walks outdoors in nature with harp players  placed along the path, resonating off the trees and the breeze. Also, using harp therapy for super relaxation after yoga for trauma sessions; harp playing instructions or just the opportunity for our veterans to play the harps themselves or sit by Barb’s side and absorb.

Barb will take her gifts and her big heart and head up River House’s Music Therapy program encompassing many ways to help heal through music. We believe Barb and her harps can truly help our vets heal and get back home to who they once were.

Here’s a related harp therapy story …

http://pearlriver.patch.com/groups/goodnews/p/harp-healing-woman-uses-music-therapy-for-hospital-patients-pearlriver

The Port Clinton “Beach” gets a Facelift

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As I pulled the rusty bedspring up from the “beach” along the Schuylkill River in Port Clinton, the metal coils kept catching on the rocks imbedded in the trail, yanking my arm back like it was dislocating from its socket. My other hand held a heavy, unruly garbage bag of crap that was unearthed from the land around the beach. It twisted and slipped, the yellow ties digging into my gloved hand, cutting off my circulation, whacking my calf with a sharp metal protruding piece that punched through the plastic.

We’re on a riverside clean-up with the Schuylkill Headwaters Association, the non-profit that my daughter Sierra is Outreach Coordinator of. We’re cleaning up a notorious trash hole across from The Rock- a graffiti-decorated rock that inner-city Reading folks come to recreate on and under throughout the warm summer months.  “The Beach”- a gravely wide bank that has more glass shards than stones sits across from this jumping-off point.

What were they doing with a bed down there? Actually, I pulled three coiled box springs up this morning, and parts of a television. Did they drag them down to the river one summer night- and perhaps a generator to watch TV- a ¼ mile from the road with the roar of a highway nearby? If they were merely looking for ease in ridding their lives of trash, a convenient steep-roadside bank would have served better.

I stayed up by the Appalachian Trail trailhead for the first half hour to direct late stragglers to the river site. In the meantime, I cleaned up the pull off and steep bank of the mountainside where the trail switchbacks up. Condom packages, take-out containers, beer bottles, very few aluminum cans thanks to the recycled program. A diaper loaded with contents that appeared as though the baby ate an entire box of graham crackers.  I handled that one by a tiny corner.

I went up the steep slope, sliding backwards in the loose wet soil to grab a bottle- Once I lifted the first, more and more appeared buried in the soil under a rock. The hole had to be excavated in order to bury them- so much work besides struggling to get up here. There is a Wawa gas station with trash receptacles right down the street as well as a huge recycling headquarters opened 24-7. I don’t get it.

Down at “The Beach” a group of beach-goers moved in with their stadium chairs, tent (no camping allowed) and half a dozen garbage bags of stuff/gear!? We hoped as they watched us bend down and pick up, fill bag after bag of trash, they would choose to take all of their stuff out with them when they left. Maybe it would make believers out of them, one at a time.

Hauling the crap up to the road, I found myself wondering about the people whose cast-outs I struggled with. Who they are, what are they like, what are their homes like? Do they trash their homes like they trash the natural world they are guests in?

We hauled 50 garbage bags up that trail to the road, where Penn DOT will come and pick them up. This was left over trash which Sierra’s clean-up crew could not get last November- they filled 50 bags then too. It was exhausting work .

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We managed to keep a few trash bags of bottles separate so we could at least recycle something and prevent everything from ending up in a landfill. People in developing countries make their living from picking trash like this, we reminded ourselves. Sierra and I talked about what possessed people to trash like this. We thought of North Philly where Bryce lived – I’ve never seen any place that trashed outside of a developing country like India or Katmandu, Nepal. Do you become insensitive to it? Do you stop even seeing it?  I drive down to Bryce’s apartment and find myself aghast and exclaiming, “How can you live in this environment and not want to do something?” He is just managing to get through art school. Is everyone JUST managing in North Philly with no energy left to dispose of their trash the right way? Is that the case with every poor person who trashes their world, whether its North Philly, the Beach at the Rock, India or Nepal?

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(Katmandu, Nepal)

 

When we were cycling the Yucatan Peninsula, we stopped at a roadside restaurant for lunch. Trash and empty plastic bottles were strewn around the perimeter of the open-air café. When we were finished our meal, I asked the owner where I could put the bottles. He motioned for me to toss them onto the ground. I refused to. So he extended his hand for me to give them to him. Without breaking my gaze, he tossed them into the air so they landed on the ground at his restaurant.

I felt disheartened after a day of cleaning up a dump in nature. Sierra said she felt good- for the good work that they’ve done, for the students who contributed and made a difference, for the fact that forever she will be grateful when she sees a clean stretch of road or trailhead or riverside beach and never take it for granted. She is right. We can become insensitive and blind – whether it is to trash or to cleanliness. Or we can appreciate the lack there of.