Escape To The Woods

The Inner Voices

As the day grew nearer, I began to experience some very familiar sensations and thoughts. Questions began to pop into my head in the most unexpected times and places.

“Are you sure?”

“What if you need something or someone?”

“You don’t know who else is going to be around…if anyone.”

“You’ll be a woman alone. You will be vulnerable.”

Fortunately I have come to recognize all those inner voices as my brain’s way of working through the anxiety of doing something new. I had planned for this getaway and looked forward to what it might reveal. I have traveled alone many times, and have come to enjoy being by myself in public places. I can absorb the environment without care or concern for someone else. It is very freeing. This felt different; I was going to be alone in the woods. There are just too many movies about the bad stuff that can happen to a woman alone in the woods for me to enter unguarded. So I took Maggie with me. At least I knew that no one would sneak up on me with her around. She is my emergency alert system.

You Are Not Alone

As is normally the case, my fears were unfounded and I was in good company. There are forty six cabins on this property but because of how they are arranged, and the sanctity of quiet, it is hard to know there are other people a few feet away. I had the benefits of seclusion with the knowledge that help, should I need it, is a phone call away. Each cabin is equipped with a red phone through which visitors can contact someone for help. As I type this I wish I were back there right now. I can still see and feel everything.

It didn’t take Maggie long to feel at home.

After unpacking, storing my food and feeding Maggie, we went on our first walk. It was Wednesday. Middle of the week and just a smattering of campers were spending their hump day in the woods. The smell of camp fires filled the fall air making the whole experience complete. I knew I would not trust myself to build a fire, so enjoying the aroma of my neighbors was as close as I would come. I inhaled deeply and kept walking.

Throughout the trip I chose to take no pictures on my walks. I was determined to really see and experience what was in front of me without trying to capture an image. The image now lives in my head. As I walked I allowed my thoughts to become a descriptive narrative of what I was seeing and feeling. It is an amazing game to play to try and describe with words the magnificence of nature. Words, like images, can never do justice to the reality.

Eventide

Darkness comes early in the forest. Forest darkness is not like suburban darkness. This is the ‘can’t see my hand in front of my face’ darkness. Maggie and I retreated inside as the day had been warm and the mosquitoes were coming out for a snack; I, too, was getting hungry.

Having cooked my food at home I just had to heat and eat. I opened my bottle of wine, warmed my food and sat in bed to eat. What a delicious way to live.

Did I say there is no television nor WiFi in these cabins? The goal is to disconnect. I took this seriously. I left my iPad at home. I did not download anything to watch. I had music, but even that seemed out of place. Rather, I chose the silence of solitude.

Once dinner was consumed and the dishes done, I settled in to read. I brought my Kindle because I knew I could read in little to no light with it and the e-ink system allows me to feel as though I was not breaking the no technology code I had set for myself.

In this degree of quiet, every single thing makes a sound. The breeze floating through the trees caused something, possibly a pine cone, to drop onto the roof of the cabin. I jumped. What was out there? Maggie didn’t react so I assumed it was nothing. I continued to read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open a moment longer.

Time For Sleep

I never sleep well the first night in a new place. This was no exception. I moved in and out of consciousness vaguely aware of my surroundings when I heard a rustling sound. I didn’t have to freeze as I was already still. I kept listening and wondering what in the world was making that noise. It was coming from inside the cabin and very close to where we were laying. Once again, Maggie did not react so it couldn’t be too serious, and yet the curiosity was causing my imagination to create some version of the Graboids from Tremors. Was it possible that a worm like creature with gnashing teeth had hidden in the cabin just waiting for the opportune time to attack? I summoned what little bravery I possess I turned on the flashlight on my phone to investigate.

At first I didn’t see anything unusual. I looked on the bed platform near the window where I discovered, not quite a Graboid, but nearly as disgusting, a two inch flying roach. The rustling sound had come from it crawling around, under or through a pile of plastic grocery bags I had put on the side of the platform. I am in the woods surrounded by pine trees; I was not surprised by my visitor. I lived in Texas long enough to know where it came from and that it was no more enamored of me than I was of it.

Weighing all options, I knew the roach was not going to eat me alive or inject me with venom, I turned out the light to try and sleep. I would deal with it in the morning. However, as soon as I closed my eyes I envisioned it crawling across my face during the night. I either had to get rid of it or stay up all night. I chose annihilation.

This time, when I turned on my flashlight, it had crawled up the corner of the walls. I waited. Soon it moved onto the window shade; my opportunity had arrived. I rolled up some papers and slowly moved toward the window. I didn’t want to scare it back into the corner. I took aim and gave it everything I had. Whack! The sound of the paper hitting the blind caused Maggie to jump from the bed in fear for her life. I think I may have closed my eyes because when I looked the roach was gone. I looked between the bed and the wall. No roach. No roach anywhere I could see. I must have just stunned it and I hoped that was enough to keep it far away from me for the rest of the night.

Holding my phone close I finally fell asleep. When we woke the next morning I looked in Maggie’s water bowl, and there floating motionless, was the roach invader. Maggie looked at it then at me. I think she wanted a drink but wasn’t going near this creature. I carefully picked up the bowl and dumped it outside the door and filled it with fresh water. Now it was time for coffee and breakfast. A beautiful new day was waiting to be discovered.

Lessons Learned

After spending so long at home it is easy to become anxious of everything beyond the front door. I don’t work. I leave home to go to the grocery store and out to eat once a week. I love being home but there is a side effect to my lifestyle mixed with my natural introverted socially anxious nature; my world has become very small. This adventure reminded me of truths I used to know and live by; I am capable to do most anything I set my mind to doing. I can go into the world, try new things and face my anxieties head on and emerge a better version of myself.

I need to do this more often. Take a couple of days and just go somewhere and have new experiences. I think I should go to public places as well; find ways to be around more people then retreat back home where I am always safe and secure.

November 1, 2021

Today is the first day of November; 2021 is drawing to a close and my favorite time of year is rushing by far too quickly.

The last three months of any year means different things to different people. It can be the season when summer is finally over; the financial fourth quarter and time to focus on ending the business year successfully; or in years like 2020, relief that the end is in sight.

I fall firmly in the first camp. Houston summers are legendary and true fall weather doesn’t usually arrive until the end of October and even then it is fleeting. But, I embrace whatever we receive and rejoice in the cool dry temperatures. I feel energized and optimistic.

This year I have stopped to ponder and analyze what these three months represent in relationship to the big picture of life. Each month is significant and represents some very powerful life lessons. For now we will look at October and November. December will come in due time.

October

The month known for brilliant colored leaves, pumpkins, and Halloween is my favorite month of the year. It is a month of anticipation…when will the weather change, the leaves turn, and how much longer before we can wear scarves, hats and sweaters without looking ridiculous? There is so much about October to love.

We have made four trips to New England in October. We are overdue; it is time to go leaf peeping again. The fall sky is a particular shade of blue. Brilliantly blue without the harsh glare of the summer sun. The gold, red, and orange leaves stand in stark contrast to this blue sky and the affect is almost three dimensional. It is beyond breathtaking and should be experienced at least once in your life. Vermont is the most gorgeous place for fall leaf peeping. It is an idyllic place that must be experienced in person.

Once the brilliance of the leaves burns out, they wither and fall to the ground. In the perfect cycle of life, they must die so that the tree can rest during the harsh winter months. Those leaves, in turn, decay and nourish the ground which feeds the tree. What a beautiful metaphor for so many areas of life.

I am in the October of my life. I hope this season lasts for a very long time. I have completed most of my early and mid life tasks. The final one is in the home stretch right now, so maybe I’m still in the last days of September…but either way the best is on the way.

November

And this brings us to November. In our house November ushers in hunting season. The preparation for this season actually begins in August. By November the rut is underway and the time comes to go sit in a stand for hours waiting on just the right buck to cross into the right-of-way. I am not a hunter. I am a deer hunting widow for the better part of November and December.

Early in our marriage I resented him getting to go out into the woods with his friends and have a grand time while I was ‘stuck’ at home. I’m over it. I now relish this time as I view it as the gift that it is. With age comes wisdom.

I used to book a weekend to myself for the first full weekend of November. Then we had a beach house for a while and I went there for opening weekend. For several years I have just stayed home enjoying the peace and quiet. But I am still home. There are still things to be done – or ignored only to have to face them later. This year I decided to do something for myself again. I am simultaneously excited and nervous.

Image from http://www.journal.getawayhouse.com

I have booked a tiny house in the woods for two nights. There is no WiFi, but all the other conveniences are available. I plan on reading, writing, knitting on my sock project, walking in the woods and taking a few pictures. Mostly I want to spend time in nature. I feel the presence of God most deeply when I am surrounded by trees and the expanse of His creation. I find myself in awe and so very grateful to Him for the beauty and serenity.

And that brings me to the significance of November. Yes, we in the United States celebrate Thanksgiving, but I think the entirety of November is a time for thankfulness.

Thankful for time to prepare for winter’s rest.

Thankful for life, breath, and each new day.

Thankful for pain because it is a necessary part of life.

Thankful for the people in our lives.

Thankful for….

The list could and should go on and on. In the world of mindfulness we are instructed to write down the things we are grateful for so that we take nothing for granted. I have never subscribed to this practice as I would likely only express gratitude for the good stuff, get frustrated because I couldn’t think of something new every day and ultimately feel like a failure and give up. Instead, I thank God each morning for a new day and all that it brings. I am constantly thankful to Him for every aspect of life, the good and the not so good as it all serves a purpose.

Just like the leaves letting go of their hold on the tree and falling to death below, the heart breaks and disappointments in life serve as a foundation for new growth. I embrace them and know that only good will come from the experience as long as I am connected to the One who makes all things right.

May your November be filled with thanksgiving.

The Fragility of Routine

I have a new routine. I don’t generally “do” routines as I rarely do the same thing the same way two days in a row. At least that is always what I thought. Then my brother said, “I bet you do and just don’t realize it.” Yeah, I think he is right.

I do wake up and drink coffee. Every. Single. Day. And now I have a routine of how I fix my refillable coffee pods each morning. I then take my morning coffee and checked Instagram, emails and text messages, which led to Pinterest, more Instagram, and maybe a game or two and then catch up on television. I am embarrassed to say that this routine ate up hours of my life.

My new routine is much like what I wrote about in Suburban Sunrise. Coffee with God, nature and no electronics. Sometimes I bring my Kindle out to read with my second cup of coffee. Now that the weather is delightfully autumnal, I will be spending much more time outside. Maybe even upping my vitamin D levels a bit in the process.

Routine Interrupted Then Found Again

I tell you all that to say that the reason I didn’t blog yesterday was because my routine got interrupted. Prior to this delightful weather, we had a day of overcast, wind and light rain. All that warm humidity bumping into cooler temperatures will do that. It was Monday and the man who mows our yard was due and I failed to get money to pay him which necessitated a third trip to the grocery store in three days. He comes early so I had to get started even earlier. Thus, no routine. Once home from the store I got busy doing other stuff and there went the day. It disturbs me how little it takes to throw me off kilter. Kind of like a top spinning round and round, the slightest nudge and it goes all wonky until it finally falls over. And that was my Monday.

Today my routine was intact. A brisk, breezy 54 degrees outside, I donned my flannel jammy bottoms, t-shirt, sweatshirt, and thick socks to sit outside. I love it. My blood is still summer thin and I’m not going to lie. I was shivering. Not teeth chattering, but just a little shiver. I contemplated more clothes, a hat or a blanket, but decided to guts it up and have “wild coffee” in my backyard. And wild it was.

While I was looking down I heard a tree branch moving wildly and thought a squirrel had jumped from it to the roof of my neighbor’s house. I didn’t see anything on the roof, but out of the corner of my eye I caught movement higher up in the tree. Sitting very still I watched that spot until I realized there was a huge red shouldered hawk up there. I got up and got my binoculars to get a better view. After several tries I aimed the binoculars just right and there he was, pecking, pulling and devouring whatever it was he just caught. By the looks of what was falling to the ground, it was a small bird. Fascinated, I watched him eat. Take a bite. Look around. Repeat. When my dogs inside the house began to bark at who know what, he hunkered down as much as possible before repeating the eat, look, eat cycle. I was mesmerized. When he was finished he spent a great deal of time rubbing the sides of his face on the tree limb, removing any residue and cleaning himself before moving on. Skillfully he jumped from one branch to the next, where he would have an open path out of the tree. After a moment of surveying the area he flew off.

Moral of The Story

There are several things that come to mind that can be learned from the past two days. First, if my routine gets blown out of the water, don’t despair. Pick up wherever I am and keep going. So, it didn’t happen in exactly the way I like it to. Three o’clock in the afternoon is a bit early to go back to bed in order to begin again. So, I had time with God later in the day, skipped the blogging and cooked an amazing meal. Oh, and I cleaned out my closet and added to my donation pile. Still a highly successful day. I learning to roll with the flow and still be productive.

It is so easy to live inside and miss this amazing show. I grumble about the weather, but I think if I just find the right time of day to be outside, everyday has something beautiful to offer. The warm humid days will allow me to appreciate these cool breezy days all the more. And, without a doubt, my body, mind and soul will be happier for just having been a witness to the joy found in nature.

Fall = Comfort Food

So, I planned on talking about food today. In anticipation of the weather, I had some comfort foods on my menu. I will write about that tomorrow.

While the weather is so outstanding I am going to make a drive to my favorite nursery. Maybe even buy something for the front porch. The yard isn’t ready for plants yet, but I can still decorate the patio and porch with living beauty.

Enjoy the day,

Sheryl

Suburban Sunrise

There was a faint orange glow in the eastern sky when I rolled out of bed this morning. The dogs were awake and persistent. Grudgingly I let them have their way. As I stumbled to the bathroom thoughts of dread for another day rolled around in my sleepy brain. Lately I wake, not so much with a sense of dread but a sense of here I go again. Nothing to look forward to, it’s just another day. Sometimes, if I wake before the dogs and I’m feeling these feelings, I wonder, “Why don’t I wake up excited for a new day of possibilities?” “What is wrong with me?” I lay there in silence, thank God for giving me a new day yet the sense of here I go again doesn’t dissipate.

After their breakfast I let the dogs out and remembered that it is officially fall. It rarely feels like fall in September, but in the aftermath of a tropical storm, dry air moved south, bestowing southeast Texas with a delightful gift and who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth? I made my coffee, found a folding camping chair, grabbed my iPad, phone and headed outside. Beggars can’t be choosers and if I wait until my backyard vision becomes a reality…well, I might never come out to watch the sunrise. What a shame that would be, as this has been a morning to savor.

During that first cup of coffee I relished in the navy blue colored sky slowly giving way to a clear, light blue. The orange fades and pure light takes its place. The sounds of the world waking up play like a symphony orchestra warming up before the evening’s performance. Birds squeak, squawk, sing and soar through the morning sky. Sometimes they fly alone, other times like a mad rush a small flock will rise up out of the horizon only to dip and dive into this yard or that. A female blue jay lands on my fence, looking at me quizzically then zooms down into the grass, picks up a long squirming something, snake or worm, then flies off. She lands on my neighbor’s roof long enough to reposition breakfast in her beak and off she went.

I found I became a little irritated with human interference in my serene nature-filled morning. A neighbor coughs. A car starts. People talking loudly wishing each other a good morning. And now yard crews mowing, edging and doing all the things we humans do to make our homes more attractive. I felt just a bit resentful that this time alone in my little world was gone. I have to share. I don’t want to, but I have no choice.

Maybe tomorrow when I wake before dawn I will now do so with anticipation. If I get up and come outside early enough I will have the birds and the trees, sky and squirrels to myself just a little longer. Now THAT is something to look forward to.

~Sheryl

What Lies Beneath

In 1976 I went to school to become a medical assistant. Among the skills we learned was how to count red blood cells in a sample of blood. I loved this glimpse into the microscopic world. My fascination with minutia continues to this day. There is magic that exists beyond what can be seen with the eyes alone.

This fascination can be seen in my “Organic Crochet” style of fiber art. I love to create, with yarn and a hook, the kinds of shapes and textures found just beyond the surface in nature.

There is a wealth of beauty around us, the key to is to look…really look beyond what the eye can see and the ear can hear. The key is to take the time and effort to really see and hear. Watch and and really see without preconceived ideas. Hear and really listen not merely to what is said, but the emotions underlying the words. Dig beyond the superficial and discern for yourself what you truly believe and hold dear.

I believe that if we treat each individual we encounter in this manner, treating them with kindness, patience, and respect unless proved otherwise, our world would be a much happier and peaceful place.

I serve a loving, omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly just God. I pray each day to have the eyes that see and ears that hear. He sees and knows all. He understands the hearts and minds of mankind and I trust that when I am connected to him in this way, he works through me to be the kind and accepting person I am called to be.

Until tomorrow I pray for you to have eyes that see and ears that hear….

I Am A Weed

I love this print. I purchased it while visiting Laurel Mercantile in Laurel, Mississippi. Before Laurel became famous on the television show Home Town I knew it as the hometown of my mother-in-law and the place my husband was born. I’ve always had a soft spot for dandelions. I love all stages of their growth; they make me happy. Unfortunately the lawn care company we pay to make our yard lush sees to it that dandelions will not grow here.

Where I write.

A couple of years ago I stumbled across a story about a then 102 year old artist in Australia. Her name is Trudy Smith. She didn’t begin painting until she was 80 and a widow. Once her husband passed away she finally felt free enough to be herself. First her father then her husband both discouraged her artistic aspirations. She simply went about life, fulfilling her obligations, storing up experience and wisdom that one day spilled out onto her canvas. Trudy explained in this television interview that she viewed herself as a weed growing up in her family. She was different and no one really understood her. Her advice to anyone who feels like the ‘black sheep’ of the family, “Be a weed—then you belong to everyone or anywhere.”

I have pondered her words often over these past couple of years. I admire her spunk and wisdom that can only come with age and a great deal of life experience. What are the characteristics of a weed that make them so resilient? What does she really mean about belonging to everyone and anywhere? I look at my dandelion print and find some clues.

Resiliency and strength come from a long taproot. This root goes deep into the soil and sends out feeder roots to absorb nutrients and to form a strong base. Without a deeply rooted belief system then we, as emotional human beings, will flit and float with the breeze. There is no stability and no growth. For me, my taproot is firmly rooted in my belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Because I have the surety of this, then I have the inner strength to withstand the storms of life. No matter where I live or with whom I socialize I belong because I am not looking to a place or people for my strength and identity. Just like a weed can grow and flourish in nearly any circumstance so can people who have a deep taproot. But also like weeds some folks don’t like them, view them as invasive, or simply a nuisance. That is fine. I just keep doing me and the rest takes care of itself.

Weeds can be ignored, pulled, stomped on and cursed at for their resilient nature. But they keep coming back. In the case of the dandelion, at the end of the flowering cycle, the familiar white powder puff of a seed head releases hundreds of seeds to be carried by the breeze to a new location. Follow the link above to see a time lapse video of the flowering cycle of a dandelion. It is a beautiful metaphor for life.

My goal from this point forward to envision myself a dandelion in all circumstances—tap into my power source, be cheerful and let the seeds of that love float wherever it is needed.

What seeds will you sow today?

May peace, love and joy reign in your heart and life….

I Stand Amazed

There are few things that move my soul as much as the beauty of nature. Nature is where I feel connected to God and can allow my spirit to relax and decompress from the rigors of the modern world. Nature inspires my art work and fuels my desire to travel. It is truly the magnificence of God on display for all to see.

Having discovered my Scottish ancestry I am completely enthralled with this corner of the world. Specifically it is the islands of Orkney, Shetland and Fair Isle that capture my fancy. Certainly my adoration of wool has something to do with the Shetland and Fair Isle infatuation; my ancestors on my mother’s side can be traced to Orkney. While I don’t believe that my attraction is necessarily genetic, I have deep need to travel there to see if this connection is purely a romantic notion or indeed something deeper. Recently I discovered a delightful Instagram account (@shetlandwithlaurie). Laurie has quite the resume and is a native of Shetland. Among other things she runs a Shetland tour business. I asked her if I could share some photographs of this amazing place. She graciously agreed. If you are interested, her website is Shetland With Laurie . All photos in this post are used with her permission and can be found on her Instagram account.

This a view of Sumburghhead where Laurie went Puffin watching. Image from Instagram: @shetlandwithlaurie and @promoteshetland
Puffins are simply the most delightful birds. I want to see them in person.
Instagram: @shetlandwithlaurie / Shetland With Laurie

Laurie’s blog is so informative. She not only loves Shetland, but is a historian as well. I read her post on the rule of the Stewarts when they took control of Scotland and the surrounding islands. If this corner of the world is of interest to you, please visit and follow her on social media.

Since I can’t go to Shetland right this minute, I must find ways of filling myself from home. Unfortunately I live near the coast of southeast Texas and this is the most miserable time of year. I am looking for a remote Air BnB where I can just be quiet with God in His creation for a weekend. Maybe by doing that every few weeks might help nourish mind, soul and art. How will you reconnect? Whatever your belief or need level, nature is the best rejuvenation around.

Until tomorrow may you find the peace and joy of the natural world around you.