Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Gift to Be Simple

Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free

'Tis a gift to come down where I ought to be

This morning, a Facebook friend posted these song lyrics which struck a deep chord within me and helped me find the words to talk about changes in the works.

My path, once again, has zigged. And, while right now the upcoming move feels a bit overwhelming and complicated, I believe it comes from my yearning to be simple and free, coming down where I ought to be.

I’ve long admired stability … lengthy marriages, family homes filled with generations of memories, decades long careers growing within the structure of a single organization. Solid bedrock. Reliable. However, my path appears anything but stable and as much as I hear words like “wanderlust” and “gypsy,” I feel like all these many moves have been part of the process of looking for home, that place where I belong.

Earlier this year I spent a lot of time thinking about my life and what I want the rest of my years to be like. I created a 5-year plan focused on living in delight. During that process, I distilled the actions that bring me joy into four words: LEARN - CREATE - CONNECT - SHARE. The one that has driven me the most in the past few years is CONNECT … to myself, friends and family, and the world around me.

As we have moved further into this strange year, those words have helped me make choices, including the one that resulted in my buying a travel trailer parked on the shore of Lake Almanor in Northern California as part of my yearning to be more connected to nature.

I’m going to blame this current explosion of change on my new neighbor Bob who sold me the trailer. This has been his summer place for many years. He also has a house in the Bay Area and a winter place in San Felipe, a sleepy fishing village in Baja … or it used to be when I went there so many years ago.

In one of our conversations, Bob talked about how much he loves the lake and how he gets a little depressed when it’s time to close up for the season. I had just gotten here, so I wasn’t thinking about leaving. However, after a few weeks of being surrounded by shimmering ponderosas and kayaking different lakes any time I wanted, I began to feel the wind shifting: I didn’t want to leave this peaceful place that fills me with such delight. 

And when I am in the place just right
I will be in the valley of love and delight

Lake Almanor is in California, a place I fell in love with at age 22 and never wanted to leave. I did leave, however, more than once, including two years in Mexico. When I returned from Mexico, I was convinced that I could never afford to live in California again, so with family there, I chose Reno, determined to love it as much as it deserves. However, living on Lake Almanor showed me that Reno wasn’t my “place just right.”

At first, I thought that Reno plus five months on the lake would be a good combination. That changed to thinking maybe living in one of the little towns around the lake would make sense. The average ten feet of snow per year nixed that idea, plus living in a new town in a single family home sounded too isolating.

I’m not quite sure where the “what if” was born, but one night I found myself online looking for a place where I could spend the 7 months when I couldn’t be at the lake. The idea of giving up my house and living in two RVs each parked in a spectacular place shocked my sensibilities but quickly became a “wow! That could be cool.” 
The next several days were a bit crazy as I chased an RV possibility through the 113-degree temps in Quartzsite, Arizona, finally finding the right one in my own back yard. Quickly though, the thousand-piece puzzle started falling into place with the final picture showing me spending summers at the lake and winters at a beautiful RV park in Julian, California, a small mining town whose main claim to fame is its apple pie. It’s in the mountains east of San Diego so there will be some snow but friends and the beaches will be only an hour away. 

Will this be my “forever” place? I truly don’t know, but I’m delighted for the opportunity to explore this simple way of living, always free to adjust as needed.

Here is a video my friend Pat took as we discovered Pinezanita, the RV park in Julian, and celebrated with apple pie. 

Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free
'Tis a gift to come down where I ought to be
And when I am in the place just right
I will be in the valley of love and delight
When true simplicity is gained
To bow and to bend I will not be ashamed
To turn, to turn will be my delight
'Til by turning, turning, I come 'round right.

— Joseph Brackett Jr. (May 6, 1797 – July 4, 1882) was an American songwriter, author, and elder of The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, better known as the Shakers.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Privilege and the Acorn

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to work with Jim Cathcart on one of his books that featured the acorn as a symbol of our uniqueness and the importance of understanding who we are. If we are an acorn, our best future self is a strong, stately oak and nothing we do will make us a graceful willow. The best
strategy for success is to build on our oakness.

A recent Facebook discussion about privilege prompted a remembrance of that acorn metaphor. The term “white privilege” is loaded with political baggage. It stimulates a negative reaction in people who have worked hard and struggled for what they’ve achieved in their lives, people who were not born with a silver spoon in their mouths and feel diminished by the term, as if their achievements were simply gifts and not the result of their hard work and determination.

So, let’s replace the term privilege with blessings and unpack it through the perspective of an acorn. The first blessing is simply being alive. If the oak tree had never created the you-acorn, there would be no story to tell, no first blessing. But oaks are good at making acorns so every year millions of acorns fall from their limbs.

Where an acorn falls is the second blessing. If you happen to fall into a drainage ditch and get washed out to sea, end of story. Some fall too close to the mother tree and languish without the right amount of sunlight, some fall on sunbaked rocks, withering and dying without life-giving moisture. A few fall onto favorable ground and take root.

The third blessing is finding protection. Acorns are food for many animals, but let’s assume the you-acorn escapes the ravages of squirrels and roaming pigs. Other threats abound: fires, the crushing tires of dirt bikes, dune buggies, or unseeing hikers, even being herded into burn piles by zealous leaf blowers. But little acorn-you also survives those hazards.

The next blessing is dirt … and air. Fall on a rocky outcropping and you may not find enough dirt to nourish the tiny roots you put forth into the world. It will also greatly diminish your prospects if you wind up in an area where the air is toxic.

Another blessing is time and space. You need enough time in the right conditions of soil, water, and sunshine to take root and grow, beyond the reach of RoundUp happy gardeners, roaming deer, and bulldozers intent on creating a new community right where you chose to grow. You also need space. If you happen to sprout in an area where a hundred other acorns have sprouted, you will all be in competition for the same food, water and sunlight. Some of you won’t make it.

Life has many hazards. Few acorns survive the journey to becoming mighty oaks. Those successful ones are to be admired for their beauty and strength. They also remind us that life, successful life where we can become our best potential, requires a lot of blessings.

Being aware of the blessings of our lives is a form of gratitude. No acorn becomes an oak simply because of its own hard work and determination. No human becomes a successful adult without the support of others and the nourishment, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual, needed to grow and become strong.

Barry Switzer, hugely successful football coach at the University of Oklahoma and the Dallas Cowboys, once said, “Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple.” (This saying is often attributed to Jim Hightower in a political speech about George Bush, but Switzer said it earlier.)

“Being born on third base” can mean many things beyond being born with money. While people who have achieved success often have more education and more connections than the average person, having the blessings of good health, sharp intelligence, support of family and friends, emotional balance, strong work ethic, passion and persistence, as well as drive and determination are also major differences in how successful a person becomes.

Being part of a majority group in power is also a blessing … not the only one, of course, … but a powerful one. Being born an acorn in an oak forest may make it harder for us to understand the journey of a willow.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Love Letter to My Life #26: Wonder Dates with Life

Life overlooking the lake.
by Joyce Wycoff

(We know the day we were born, but most of us do not know the day we will die. This love letter to my life is written on the day I've designated as my death day, the 17th of every month, and reminds me to be grateful for my incredible life.)

 An interesting month. Days after my last letter, I drove up to Lake Almanor in Northern California. I had liked it many years ago and was feeling a particular need for water. As soon as I saw the beautiful, tree-lined lake, I knew I wanted to spend more time there, so I went home, got my camping gear and returned for a few days of camping and exploring. 

During that time, I found a seasonal trailer for sale in a quirky RV park on the lake and a few days later, I was moving in for the rest of the summer. 

I’ve never spent much time in Northern California so this is a perfect home base for exploring. This week I drove through Lassen National Park for the first time and made a “wonder date” with myself to return during the week when there will be fewer people. 
Arrow points to Lake Almanor
Looking for pitcher plants but only found this tiny yellow butterfly on a thistle.
 “Wonder dates” in case you wonder, is a take-off on Julia Cameron’s “artist date,” defined as a "once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you.” I am particularly fond of the bi-sensory word wonder, so that’s what I call my expeditions. Wonder holds a mental sense of curiosity as well a more spiritual sense of awe and mystery. I’m finding that the awe and mystery part of wonder takes slowing down and allowing the connection to the world around me to seep into my bones.
Afternoon light in Lassen National Park
My tiny trailer sits with a lovely view of the lake and a deck big enough for contemplating life and planning my next wonder date. In these perilous times of pandemic and politics, this may be the best gift I’ve ever given myself. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Beauty and the Beast, California Wildflowers and Climate Change

Funny story. For the past few weeks, I've been thinking about a creating a book that would help people fall in love with the environment through wildflowers. 

It would use wildflower ART instead of just photos that identify wildflowers. It would have words and stories that helped people understand the importance of wildflowers and our environment. It would stimulate action. I even designed a possible cover (above).

Then I heard about a book that sounded like my idea ... but it was pricey, so I dithered, but then finally ordered it. It arrived today and it was like someone took my etch-a-sketch idea and turned it into a golden castle gleaming on a hill.
For a moment, I was disappointed and then I understood that was how Salieri must have felt as he watched Mozart perform. 
I am in love with this book; it is an incredible work of art and soul. I believe it will touch hearts and minds around the world and inspire action. 

As Dostoyevsky says, "Beauty will save the world." Wildflowers and the beauty of this book, just might do that.

If you love wildflowers and our environment, I hope you give yourself this gift. See more of the incredible photos and the story behind it here: Beauty and the Beast.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Collins Pine Trail: Chester, CA


All Trails says this is a 1.8 mile easy trail … so why did I spend 2 hours there and covered less than half of it? 
Blame it on  photography … and wolf lichen (Letharia vulpina), that florescent green lichen found on pines, sometimes in huge masses. This showy, and toxic, lichen has long attracted my attention due to the presence of vulpinic acid which gives it that mesmerizing color and also earned this lichen its name as it was used in Europe to poison wolves. Interestingly, it is apparently only toxic to predators and does not harm herbivores.

Lichens grow slowly, sometimes for thousands of years, and tend to be sensitive to air pollution. Seeing wolf lichen is a signal that the air is good. One of the biggest predators of wolf lichen are florists who use its bright colors in flower arrangements, and in some areas, it has been harvested into extinction. Probably the biggest threat to it, however, is its use as a pest control in agriculture. (
 This photo made me stop and wonder why the tree on the left was such a different color from it’s neighbors. 
When I went closer, the answer became obvious: it was dying; its bark had been girdled. I assumed it was done by some sort of pest or the Forest Service’s method of thinning the trees. However, according to Kirsten, the botanist I found at the Forest Service office, it was the work of porcupines who only target younger trees.
The Collins Pine Trail wanders through fifty acres of second growth woodland with mixed evergreen and deciduous tress, grassy flood plain, channels and beaver ponds, plus the North Fork of the Feather River.

 Once you find the entrance (near the Chester Park Sports Field), this community favorite trail is well maintained and marked. There are twelve interpretative markers with descriptions available in the free brochures, and several benches scattered along the trail. The Chesterton Elks built a bridge over a boggy channel. 

There was a smattering of wildflowers and some hollyleaved barberry (Oregon holly grape) already showing a touch of fall. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Wonder Games: Tangerine Moment

I must have been deep in the fog of thought on that late summer afternoon as I walked along the Truckee River in downtown Reno. When I suddenly woke up, I was in a tangerine world. 

Along the river, bright specs of color … people, cars, buildings. They were tiny; I was tiny … mere dots surrounded by an immense, endless, golden-orange canopy of breath-stopping light. I felt infinitely insignificant yet somehow connected to and in the presence of all that is. Tears came instantly as I turned in slow circles trying to grasp the wonder of it.

Wonder … grandeur … mystery … there are moments felt, moments beyond words, beyond comprehension. While a meteorologist could explain that tangerine moment, all I could do was feel it and allow it to soak into my being.

In the days and months that followed this moment, I began to question how many of these moments I’ve walked through, half-asleep, unconscious to the wonder around me. I am now spending the rest of the summer at Lake Almanor in Northern California, determined to be awake to wonder.

This is slow time. The busyness of everyday life pushed aside by a microscopic being. During this pause, I want to be aware, awake, alive to everything, in awe of life and the marvels of the world. 

I want to turn finding wonder into a game and invite you to come play with me and all the wonders around you.

“The world is full of magic things,
patiently waiting
for our senses to grow sharper.”
W.B. Yeats