Taking A Walk In The Woods

I’m sharing this on the trail here in Gunpowder Falls State Park, where I’ve decided to take a little walk in the woods to reconnect with the Earth. This is my first mobile post here at The Baltimore Writer, an experiment to bring you my experiences more immediately, perhaps a little raw and incomplete. 

It’s authentic, though, and that’s what I’m going for. An authentic presentation of my life as I am living it.

It’s cold out here, just above 30 degrees. I’m in the middle of an abandoned archery range. It’s like visiting a ghost-town zoo, where the remnants of the animals’ souls remain, a reminder of their once-abundant presence.


I feel like we came here, pushed our way through, cleared out the wildlife, and then left-moved on to the next space to conquer.

And all in a state park.

I know it’s not this way. I’m sure that this archery range has brought delight to a lot of people, young and old. But I know this isn’t the case in other natural parts of the county (and elsewhere).

I’d rather walk in the wild and take my chances than step on these state-park scrubbed paths, these sanitized stones void of the very life forms that it once provided for, these thriving creatures small and large, now nothing more than bullseye props for us to play the role of the man-in-the-wild.

Oh, irony, how you are too close, too often, these days.

14 Hours In Light: Part 4. The Rising Sun, The Falling Moon, and The Epiphany

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photos by rus vanwestervelt. taken 30 july 2015

Part 4. The Rising Sun, The Falling Moon, and The Epiphany

These seven minutes I spend on the summit of Big Bald Mountain, waiting for the sun’s first sliver to slip over the eastern mountains beyond Little Bald are, perhaps, the most powerful of my life.

Within the first minute of standing between the falling moon and the rising sun, my phone loses all power. Fear returns as quickly as it dissipates, whisked away by the strong winds as if not allowed at 5,516 feet high. I know I am vulnerable here, surrounded by tall grasses and steep drops that give me virtually no warning if a black bear – or any creature for that matter (except the American Redstart warbler, perhaps) – were to charge me. All of the What-Ifs, as well, linger in my mind (if but for a passing moment), as I still need to descend some 1,300 feet, back through the brush, when I leave. I have no way of contacting anybody. Anywhere. Any way.

I am alone with the elements, caught here between the moon and the sun-to-rise.

Or perhaps, instead of being alone, I am all-one, a part of something greater. Instead of seeing myself apart from this natural world, I see myself a part of it all.

I am surprised at the comfort in this, the absolute release and relief of shedding these chains, of finding myself in the middle between day and night, light and dark, faith and fear, and enveloping myself in complete liberation by the nurturing elements of the earth and the air.

I stare at the very northeast tip of the mountain beyond Little Bald where the sun will first rise. I can feel the energy bursting already from that pinpoint, that precise place where night will become day. The heavy moon behind me bears the weight of a long night’s journey. It is tired and ready to surrender the early morning, if but for a short 14 hours and 2 minutes, to light.

I, too, surrender. I exhale and give myself to the wind, the earth, the sky. I am one with the elements.

And then I feel it. At first, it is a negligible push and pull, an almost indiscernible, autonomous and rhythmic sway that defies the strong winds that whip around me. The pulse, though, grows stronger as I stand there, an earthly beat by two heavenly chambers that carry the energy of all things to and fro, back and forth, around and around.

I am between these two chambers that volley life-energy ceaselessly. And for those final moments leading up to the defining second where the sun rises, I embody dark and light and everything in between. I am the conduit for love, for life, for existence.

The winds steal away my tears as fast as they appear, but that seems right that they should fall elsewhere on the mountains around me. As I am being baptized by the earth and by the heavens, my tears become a part of the ritual, returning to the earth drops of life manifested by such beauty, such energy.

DSC_8427Unblinking, I watch night surrender to day, The sun rises as the moon sighs, and I am filled fully with the energy of both.

In the name of Walt Whitman, I sound my barbaric YAWP from this rooftop of the world and hear the single syllable echo among the ridges that now bathe brightly in early morning hues of yellow and orange.

A single note, a single man, resonating boundless life and love and energy.

I have never felt so alive in my life, and I want to run from this mountain top and tell the world – I want to tell you – that what is in me is in every one of us. We possess the same life, love, and energy that flows incessantly, reverently, across lands, through waters, and among skies.

We are the earth. The water. The sky. We are all one, a part of the ceaseless energy that makes this universe – and each of us – the most beautiful creation imaginable.

I drop my pack and walk the perimeter of the summit, setting my own compass and course to carry me home: fearless, faithful, and fulfilled.

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Next… Part 5. The Energy Within

Read Part 3. The Summit and The Elements
Read Part 2. The Ascent and The Fear of Wildlife
Read Part 1. The Decision and The Approach


 

During the last week of July, we were fortunate enough to join my sister and her family at their mountain cabin in western North Carolina. It was the first time that our family had been together in six years, and the first time I had seen my sister since she lost her left leg in her battle with osteosarcoma.

In the pre-dawn hours of July 30, I wrestled with the decision to hike to the summit of Big Bald Mountain along the Appalachian Trail and see the sun rise over the Great Smoky Mountains along the North Carolina-Tennessee border. I have selected 16 photos from that day, spanning a 14-hour period of light, where I remained focused on the energy of the Sun, the Earth, and the Moon. Mingling among these 16 pictures are six short passages that chronicle my thoughts during that day. This is the fourth of those six passages in my series titled, “14 Hours In Light.”

Autumn’s Perennial Gift To Us All

rvw octsnow2There is a fierce wind blowing outside, howling and whistling through the paper-thin lines of space here and there, making music out of something I cannot see. Our lawn is coated with the remnants of autumn, a patchwork quilt of dying hues that shift in shape by that same, invisible wind.

It is a scene that I have witnessed nearly 50 times, and yet every autumn brings a fresh feel of nostalgia, a paradoxical longing for something that never left me.

The cooler air and melancholy colors stir the familiar scents of home cooking, after-hours campfires, and heartfelt embraces between loved ones. It is the season of preparation for a long winter ahead, and we share a space of common spirituality of seeing illumination in the lack of light, the faith in what we cannot see, the feel for unity that seems to fill us a little more this time of year.

We are so busy. We are bombarded by political pushes, rallies of righteousness, and everything in between. We are told what to think, who to believe, what to feel, who to follow. But we didn’t ask for any of it. We are being solicited to do, be, have, and want like never before. There is great pressure to keep up, keep scrolling, keep checking so that we don’t miss the possible posts of importance that seem to weave their way between the fodder that keeps our focus away from —

Well, away from the fierce wind blowing outside, the remnants of autumn swirling a final dance of beauty, the whistling reminders of an energy present, though unseen.

Away from the nostalgia that is already within us. Away from the scents and sounds of life and nature that have never left our side, have never scrolled a suggestion to do this, be that.

Away from the very things we grew up with and will, one day, return to.

Away from all that is at the core of our energy, our life-source, our existence.

It is enough to be on our way without the push and pull, the shouting and the ‘suading.

When we let go and step outside, we allow ourselves to step inward, as well.

In the dark of autumn is the light of familiar love.

In the fierceness of the wind is the calm of what is to come.

In the chill of the air is the warmth of unity.

Find the strength to let go of the scroll and embrace the warm, genuine feel of Autumn’s approach as it prepares us all for a long, lovely winter ahead.

We have been here before, and we know our way. Let’s stay the course, true and pure, as we prepare for enlightenment and love.

Baltimore Beauty in Autumn

Last Sunday, I was fortunate enough to drive along Mt. Carmel Road in northern Baltimore County. The stretch from Falls Road to York Road is one of the most meditative and breathtaking rides close to home. When I looked out my window and saw this view, I had to pull over to really enjoy its natural beauty. I think the turkey vulture in the sky (although I would love to romanticize it as a soaring eagle, but I won’t) adds to the whole concept of perspective, and viewing our lives in different, unique ways.

Imagine that eye from the sky appreciating Baltimore’s patchwork quilt of autumn reds, yellows, oranges. I believe that my only fear would be to remind myself to breathe every now and then. Surely, I would be too swept away to do much of anything else but appreciate its natural beauty.DSC_0080

 

Change Your Perspective, Change Your Life

Last Sunday, Oct. 27, I began my day with realizing the following:

Inspiration surrounds us in all things; we merely need to realize the beauty in what we already see.

The experiences we have, and the way in which we perceive and receive them, are entirely up to us. Sometimes, all we need to do is shift our perspective in the slightest of ways, and we are rewarded with unimaginable gifts.

It is hard, though. Too often, we are on auto-pilot, going through the day so fast that we hardly take the time to even process all that we see and experience.

Late in the afternoon on that same Sunday, my son and I took a walk around Deer Park in Carroll County. It was our first visit, and we were surprised with the number of playing fields, a fair-sized pond, and preserved lands along a meandering trail.

The park was, in many ways, similar to Sandy Mount Park, which is about 4 miles east of Deer Park: multiple fields, the paved trail that winds around the perimeter of the park, but much less wildlife and natural surroundings. In fact, at Sandy Mount, BGE has removed many of the trees that once served as a barrier to the noise, pollution, and visible traffic along Westminster Pike.

Very sad.

Anyway, in our walk around Deer Park, I took a few pictures. The sun was setting, and I wanted to take advantage of the light low to the horizon. My mind was pretty open to what I might find.

I never expected, though, to realize the truth so quickly in my early-morning words.

Two sets of photos showed me all I needed to experience the power of changing my perspective, just a little, and seeing the beauty that had been around me the entire time.

DSC_0473In this first photo of milkweeds, which I took at 5:33:09 p.m., I was pleased with how the focus of the plant contrasted the natural backdrop. The light hitting the pods from the right really added a nice dimension to an otherwise colorless image.

As we continued our walk, I was aware that the sun was setting over a barn in the background, and I was focused on getting that just right. As I was walking by to get more angles of the barn, I glanced back at the milkweeds in a remarkable light. Immediately, instead of seeing brown milkweed pods illuminated softly by a peripheral light,  I saw angels dancing in an explosion of fire, of energy, and I had to find a way to capture it. I underexposed the image by a few F stops, and got this next picture at 5:34:02, exactly 53 seconds after I had taken the first photo. DSC_0475

I could not believe the difference between the two images. All I needed to do was shift my perspective, by mere inches in this case, and I found myself enriched beyond measure with an image that seemed almost heavenly.

We continued our walk around the trail. I took a few more photos, and then we reached the pond.

When we first saw it, I was happy with the early fall canopy of matted oranges, greens, and browns that were in the background. I thought the bench added a nice touch, suggesting that we all need to take a break every now and then and enjoy the colors of the season.

Just in that thought, I had believed that I had already changed my perspective. I felt as if I had received the reward so easily, with very little effort.

I must be more mindful, now. More aware. Appreciating the moment is providing me many rewards along this path…

I took a few pictures of the pond and the bench. The time was 5:46:35 p.m.

DSC_0485Very nice, I thought.

I continued my walk along the edge of the pond and, when I reached the other side, I turned around to call my son.

I saw a different kind of sun, though, one that was now descending just along the top of the barn’s roof.

I was immediately struck by its beauty. This was not the same pond that I had just photographed minutes ago.

How could this be? It was as if I were experiencing two entirely different worlds, simply by walking to the other side of the water.

At 5:51:11 p.m., just 4 minutes and 36 seconds after I had taken the first photo of the pond, I took another shot. sunset deer park

I changed my perspective, and the experience changed my life.

I do my best to really seize the moment. I was raised on the mantra of Carpe Diem, or seize the day. I don’t know any other way to live my life.

But this. This experience in a short walk around a man-made park — a walk that lasted no more than 30 minutes, confirmed my words from early that morning:

Inspiration surrounds us in all things; we merely need to realize the beauty in what we already see.

Change your perspective, change your life. Not a bad way to seize this moment, now and for always, now and in all ways.

 

Reflections On This New Day

As the sun began to rise this morning, and I sat along the banks of the Loch Raven Reservoir taking random photos of the water and the wildlife, I was struck with a thought that I had forgotten long ago.

With the exception of a few runners passing by who were training for an upcoming race, I felt as if every image, every sound was my own. My immersion in the natural world seemed seamless. I let the bright, early rays of the sun find their way in and through me, as well as the sounds of the splish-splash waters, where drops remained suspended in mid-air, caught by the strong winds as several Canadian geese took flight. Then– to feel those very drops of water as that same steady breeze, cool and brisk, blew my way and mixed with the warmth of the sun’s intensity on my skin.

Alive, was all I could think. Alive.

It was in that moment that I remembered that I am not separate from all of this. It is easy for us to think there are two worlds out there: the natural and the man-made. Although it may be true that a clear distinction exists between the two, there is one element of each that is constant: the human being.

Unlike our man-made creations, we as individuals are not separate from the natural world. We are as much a part of it as the rising sun, the startled deer, the daffodils that have all awakened a bit early in these deceptively warm February days. We made the mistake long ago to separate ourselves from the beauty and the spirit of the natural world. On mornings like this, I feel reconnected to the energy we are all provided.

It’s always here, everywhere, for us to access. All we need to do is realize that we have the power and the opportunity to open the door, step outside, and realize that, in this morning, this moment, anything is possible.

Flowing with Van Gogh

I was struck this morning by the satellite image of the three storms brewing in the Atlantic Ocean. The National Hurricane Center is predicting an above-average likelihood for storms to hit the east coast this year, making the stretch between North Carolina and Massachusetts as likely to get hit as Florida or the other Gulf Coast states.

Seeing this image reminded me immediately of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. It doesn’t take a trained eye to see the similarities.

Some things are timeless, aren’t they? Take away the cell phones and iPads and Facebook and Skype, and you are left with a certain kindred spirit shared with Nature. It’s in us, all the time, waiting to be tapped, accessed, embraced.

Now, I’m fairly sure that Vincent didn’t have some kind of psychical experience with the Hurricane Center, tapping into some yet-to-fly satellites capturing the swirling beauty of the giants in our oceans. No. He probably wasn’t event thinking about hurricanes at all.

But the patterns are apparent in all of nature — the whirls and swirls of the winds, the rains, the energy and spirit running like a meandering current around rocks and banks and all things between.

It’s a universal image, when we stop long enough to see it. Maybe even feel it, too.

School starts up for me on Monday. I resume teaching English 12 Honors after a five-year hiatus, and at times I have let the needs overwhelm me. It is at these times that I feel like it’s me against some other force — time, perhaps. Maybe that won’t-go-away pressure to be perfect all the time.

What will they think if they walk into my room and things don’t look polished and positively sterile?

They’ll probably think that things are as they have always been, for sure.

That’s why I am grateful that I am keeping at least a small channel open in my mind to see the beauty in things like a weather map so that it may serve as a reminder to me, in some way, that I can’t fight or resist; I can only recognize the natural patterns surrounding me, then make a decision about whether to Flow or Go.

That’s all any of us can do. Everything else breeds resistance and resentment, and none of us has the time to waste on such nonsense.

Stop, feel the whirls and swirls around you, and act: Flow or Go?

Suddenly, your life will never be the same. . . .