Throwback Thursday: Dusk hike to Grotto Falls, #hike30 of the #52hikechallenge

So yeah, it’s been a little busy around my life, y’all. Finding/securing/moving in to a new apartment, figuring out a new job, hunting foliage and views in Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina. It’s all good stuff, but it means I’ve had little time to do more than experience whatever event or emotion is right in front of me before moving on to the next…not a lot of time for blog-worthy introspection.

This is why I decided to force myself to write tonight. Because amid all the wonderful, I worry that I will forget the lessons and discoveries. So without any more ado, let’s dive in.

Exactly two weeks ago I was in the Smoky Mountains with a friend, enjoying one of our twice/thrice yearly adventures. It was day 7 of 12, but it was only our 2nd full day in the Smokies. Until the day prior, we’d been adventuring amid waterfalls and caves, but we hadn’t done any real hiking up anything worth writing home about. It’s worth noting that there had been a few uphill sections and those had pretty much kicked my ass, because, you see, I have been living at sea level for several months now. Not just on flat land, but literally next to the sea. I hadn’t been up a real hill since I’d left Boston back in the summer. Plus, living in a place where the only real way to get around is to drive, I’d let myself get out of shape. No doubt about that.

So, it was Thursday. The day before we’d done our first real “hike” in the Smokies, a relatively easy 4ish-mile trek that nonetheless killed me. On that Weds hike, I’d had one of my moments where I had to send my friend ahead because I was freaking myself out: about how slow I was, how tough the uphills were, how much of a loser I was. It got to the point where the anxiety in my head was defeating my determination to be cheerful, and my body was threatening an onslaught of tears that really had no basis in reality. I told my friend (who, incidentally, had been living and hiking in the Western mountains for the past 6 months, and thus was barely even breathing hard) to walk ahead for 5 minutes and wait for me, and I stopped and gazed, mostly unseeing, out at the gorgeous mountains, willing my throat to relax and my eyes to dry.

I have come to recognize that these moments are likely to happen any time I take myself out of whatever routine I’m in, and jump feet-first into adventure; they have happened on every trip and I’m sure they’ll happen again. That doesn’t make it any easier to cope with in the moment. After all, I’m supposed to be a fierce and strong and independent woman who can do anything, right? It’s tough to claim that when you can’t breathe after walking uphill for a barely more than a mile.

Anyway, I got myself together, set the slowest pace I could manage, and plodded on. I eventually found my friend lounging on the side of the trail. He gave me a smile and said “pull up a rock” as if absolutely nothing was wrong in the world, and I knew it would be ok. I would make it up the hill and through whatever else we planned to do. Maybe slower than I’d like, but I’d get there.

The next day, Thursday, I was feeling better. I had to work that morning, so that afternoon, we did a wonderful – and again relatively easy – trek up to a gorgeous place called Alum Cave Bluff. I’ll share pictures when I get them off my camera; that’s how busy it’s been around here! Anyway, I felt good about the hike – we weren’t speedy, but I didn’t suck wind quite as much. The views were lovely, and we enjoyed a leisurely journey down, stopping to take pictures of the river and the just-beginning-to-turn leaves. At the end of the 4ish miles, as late afternoon was turning to evening, we weren’t ready to be done with the day. So we decided to find a hike we could do in the dark.

My friend, fearless one that he is, would have been fine tackling another 5 miles or so of mountain, but I knew I needed to treat my newly-found confidence with care. So we hopped in the car and drove out a long, winding, one-way road to Trillum Gap, and the trailhead for Grotto Falls. By the time we got there, dusk was falling.

The whole reason I wanted to write this post can be summed up by the first few minutes of this hike. As we started up the trail, 2-3 groups were finishing up, and they all looked a bit askance at us. After all, it was getting dark. But you see, this friend and I have figured out the night hiking thing. Our first hike together ended as an unexpected night adventure, where I was so slow coming down from a NH White Mountain that we had to hike our last 1.3 miles out via one measly flashlight. We’ve climbed to the top of canyon overlooks to take star pictures, and there was that time we got separated, at night, in the middle of Arches National Park (a story for another time). We are prepared; we have headlamps, layers and batteries, plus a healthy appreciation for the invisible power of hidden tree roots.

So as one outgoing hiker suggested we bring carrots to help our vision, and another asked warily, “Um, do you have lights?”, I felt a sense of tremendous satisfaction that we never broke stride, just smiled and said “yes, we do”, and headed off into the evening. How far we’d come…how far I’d come in the years since we started these adventures, that I was actually planning on and really looking forward to a hike up a hill in the dark.

Because, you see, we were heading for a waterfall, and I’d never seen a waterfall at night – at least not one that I’d hiked to. The trek was easy, muddy, and quiet…I don’t remember talking much. As always, I watched my feet and concentrated on breathing. Before long, we could hear the rush of tumbling water, and a few careful steps on slippery rocks later, we glimpsed Grotto Falls. It was lovely, and after a few moments of looking, we both agreed that we needed to get closer, so up we went, this time over some slightly more serious wet, rocky terrain. In fact, we went all the way up and UNDER the falls, and had a riot shining our headlamps on the water to try to take pictures. Well, my friend did, at any rate. For some reason, I left my fancy camera in my bag and on a whim, just held up my iPhone to see if I could capture the contrast of white water reflecting the last smidgen of light left in the day.

I got this:

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When I looked at it on my phone, I gasped. Magical, I thought to myself, then tucked my phone away and headed back to the falls to run my hands under the water.

Then, it was back down the hill by the light of our headlamps. I joked with my friend that this was one time I would not ask him to go ahead of me. I wanted to lead the way down, to enjoy knowing he was right behind me and not likely to wander off, to appreciate the feeling of dawning strength in my legs, and to ponder how incredibly lucky I am to get to see waterfalls in the dark.

When we got back to the car, I didn’t really want to drive away. I stood for a moment, looking up at the black sky, smelling the trees, and wishing I could freeze time so I could always feel how I felt at that moment. But we did have to leave, back down into the reality of what to cook for dinner and the knowledge that life can’t be entirely about wandering in the woods. That’s ok, really. I’m just glad I get to have moments where I know for a fact that no one, other than us, got to see the world as it was on that night. That night, the world was nothing but a waterfall and some rocks to clamor over, and it was more than enough for me.

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Before the hurricane

I recently left Boston, and my 9-5 office job. I packed my entire life into a 10×16 storage POD that I then surrendered to strangers. I brought the important dregs of that life (birth certificates, favorite mugs, my headlamp, etc) along with my dog and myself, down to Virginia Beach, a place I have only ever inhabited while on vacation.  I also shed my life’s work as a manager and leader of teams; now I’m part of a team to be led.

In short, except for me, my clothes, my pooch, and a few accessories, I left it all behind.

This leaving came after months, and probably years if I’m honest, of managing change. Organizational change (or lack thereof), and all the inherent anxieties of it. That’s been my life as an arts administrator and leader; trying to convince my staff, our audiences, and the organization at large, that change is ok, that we will get through it, that it’s ok to feel unsettled, etc.

Some of my finest moments as a manager and leader came in times of great change and fear. When I had to hold steady while everyone else around me was freaking out. I was good at this, particularly when it involved snowstorms or people being crazy on social media.

This makes what’s happening to me now even more unsettling. I find myself in a space I’m not familiar with.

See, a hurricane is coming. If you’re not on the east coast, this may not matter to you, but for those of us in its path, it’s a big deal. A “the-whole-Carolina-coast-is-already-being-evacuated” big deal. The kind of big deal that has gas stations running out of unleaded.

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Hurricanes bring big waves, huge wind and a ton of water. I currently live less than two football fields from the Atlantic coast. So yeah, this time, the hurricane is real.

And guess what? I’m a total mess about it. To be fair, the actual weather doesn’t scare me. That I could handle. What I can’t handle apparently, is leaving. See I have to go to a conference later this week. And that means leaving my dog behind.

People, I’m telling you, worry about this wrecked me today. I woke up anxious and I’m going to bed anxious. I never showered today. I just basically forced Sadie to come up onto the bed so I could snuggle her. There were several moments where I sat on the toilet and said to myself over and over “I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go” like a 5-year-old having a tantrum. So many kind people checked on me, asked if we were making plans, and each time I cried. This is not normal for me.

As I try to step back and assess just what the heck happened to calm and cool Jodi, I can only plead exhaustion.Exhaustion from months and years of convincing people that everything will be ok. Exhaustion from two weeks of moving, welcoming and entertaining friends and family (PS: lest any of them be offended I absolutely LOVED seeing them and having them be a part of this new adventure), learning a new job with no new office to go to, living in a strange house, and trying to make a lifestyle that used to be vacation feel like normal. Oh, and planning for a trip that will require me to be at my extroverted best when all I really want to do is sleep, hike, and maybe watch some tv with my dog for about two weeks straight.

I guess the hurricane was the final straw.

I’m writing this because I want my readers to know that it’s not always pretty pictures, life lessons learned and positivity around here. I am freaking out like everyone else right now and it kind of sucks. Feel free to tell me I’m being silly and that everything will be ok.

I intend to snap out of it. I do. But if I see Jim Cantore outside, all bets are off.

Last night in Boston

It’s finally here. My last night in my favorite city, a city I’ll leave behind tomorrow afternoon.

I don’t really know how to feel, to be honest, but I’m full of words, so maybe typing them will help sort it out.

When my mom and I drove cross-country from Arkansas to get here, it was a three-day slog. We collapsed into our B&B and ordered Indian food. I don’t remember what restaurant it was. Tonight, we walked the familiar 10 minutes to the local Indian restaurant and got seated at the window, so I could people watch my fellow JPers. I do love this community; every size, shape, color, hairstyle and piercing strolled by. I will miss that.

Tomorrow will be another day of logistics, but somewhere in there I will have to take Sadie for our last walk in the Arnold Arboretum, and I won’t lie – that makes me really sad. Someone recently asked if I had a “place” in Boston, meaning a pub or a bar I liked to hang out in. I said no, and then another someone said “I think your place is the Arb”. To which I laughed and agreed and lamented that I can’t get a beer or nachos there. I think it says something that my “place” in Boston was a place I rarely shared with anyone other than Sadie or visiting guests..

My apartment is empty and dusty. All the lamps are packed so the overhead lights are bleakly lighting the place. There is so much dog hair. My mom wonders why Sadie isn’t bald.

I’m sitting here trying to figure out how I feel. I’m not jumping for joy excited yet for my new home. But while I have some pangs, I’m also not drearily sad to leave this one.

Mostly I feel tired, and ready to feel more than that. I think it’s been a long, long few months of being tired.

Tomorrow I will walk and take a million pictures of the Arb. Tonight I’ll share some that I took a few days ago at Jamaica Pond, my 2nd favorite spot in my neighborhood. There is an outdoor fog sculpture happening, so that’s why some of these have weird fog in them.

JP Fog sunset 2018 (1 of 5)JP Fog sunset 2018 (2 of 5)JP Fog sunset 2018 (3 of 5)JP Fog sunset 2018 (4 of 5)JP Fog sunset 2018 (5 of 5)

How appropriate that on my last night, I have to go climb 4 flights of stairs to put quarters in the dryer one last time. I will not miss those stairs, that’s for sure. 😉

Hike 21 of the #52hikechallenge: Last time at Ward Reservation

It’s been a while since…a lot of things. Since I took my camera out for a spin. Since I last went hiking. Since I last blogged.

It’s also been a while since I shared plans to leave Boston for a new job and a new adventure…and I won’t lie, it’s been a looong wait to get to this point. One more week of visiting and cleaning and then the final pack and drive and then finally, finally, I will be beginning this much-anticpated new adventure.

It’s also been a long 19 days for the family of Samantha Sayers, a young woman who was hiking in Washington State and vanished on August 1. I stumbled onto the #findsamsayers story thanks to a random post on social media, and I’ve been following it, dare I say, obsessively, since. Initially, I was following it because I was waiting for the interwebs to explode into self-righteous “never hike alone” pontificating (a sore spot for me), but surprisingly, that’s been minimal. What’s happened is a remarkable, wonderful/terrible thing, where literally thousands of people are following this story via facebook, and offering their prayers, hopes, and in some cases, ridiculous attempts at help.

In addition to my heartfelt hope that Sam is found alive, and my sadness for her mom, who has been doing heartbreaking facebook live video posts, I find myself goggling at the bizarre nature of watching this play out on social media. The idea of the virtual prayer circle isn’t new. And it’s pretty amazing and if it gives strength and support to the family, there is nothing I can say against it.

But I have been disappointed and appalled by a lot of the behavior I’ve seen; total strangers speculating that she was kidnapped with no reason to other than having watched too much TV, dozens of people saying some variation of “has anyone thought of checking her phone?”(as if that hadn’t occurred to anyone yet), and others actually messaging the mother – who’s daughter has been missing for 19 days, she has things to do, people! – asking for updates when they don’t think they are coming fast enough. It makes me sad that people feel like they have to somehow become a part of this story. But I guess that’s the world we live in. Everyone wants in on the drama, and everyone has an opinion and is going to express it. But just because we can say something doesn’t mean we should. This also applies to others, like, say, leaders of the free world, but I digress.

Anyway, this little rant composed itself as I was trekking through the woods at one of my favorite New England hikes, Ward Reservation in Andover, MA. It was an easy 4.3 mile ramble, and I couldn’t help but compare the tiny hills to the grand, glorious, dangerous peaks I’ve seen as I’ve learned more about Vesper Peak, where Sam was hiking when she went missing. I hope to someday be badass enough to hike there.

Anyway, I grabbed a couple of pictures of Sadie, but I wasn’t able to really lose myself in the woods this time. Of course, the fact that, just before I snapped this picture, Sadie rolled in something smelly and nasty, didn’t help. Ward Reservation AUgust 2018 (2 of 3)But really, my mind was moving beyond the familiar and lovely views; wondering where I will hike when I’m living near the beach, dreaming of a fall trip to the Smoky Mountains, running over my moving checklist, and yes, thinking about Sam and how much I hope that she is still alive.

So farewell, Ward Reservation, one of the few places I found where Sadie could roam free on the trails. Even thought I wasn’t able to give you all my attention today, I will miss your views of the Boston skyline, your Solstice Stones, your Elephant Rock, your quintessentially New England stone walls, your birches, and your tall, tall pine trees. Ward Reservation AUgust 2018 (1 of 3)

Ward Reservation AUgust 2018 (3 of 3)

Sadie will miss rolling in gross things, climbing the rocks, and sniffing all the ferns.

If you’d like more info on Ward Reservation, visit my previous post here.

Thanks, Boston.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about this move I’m about to make.

In an effort not to bore you with details, I’ll just say that, in about a month, after just over 4.5 years here, I’m leaving Boston. Heading south, to live near family for a little while, and try my hand at a total life change. I’m sure I’ll write more on that later.

The job change that prompted this came fast, but the thinking about moving has been happening for years. Almost every year after the first, when I realized that, much as I might love Boston, it wasn’t going to give me all the things I was hoping for: a tribe, a partner, a job with longevity, a home, roots. No, like most of the places I’ve lived, it just couldn’t give me those. I suspect this has more to do with me than Boston, but regardless – it’s time for Boston and I to end our little affair.

And it really was an affair, one that sprang out of a terrible breakup with my previous life. You know the deal; you put on a good face when inside all you can think is…I failed. I misjudged the whole thing, and I put all of myself into something that wouldn’t give it back. And so I left, not quite tail-between-my-legs, but definitely needing to rebuild my life and my belief in myself.

Boston was the perfect rebound relationship. It made my heart sing every time I turned a corner and saw something new. It was big, messy, gorgeous, full of new sights and smells and a blissful anonymity; no one cares, walking down a busy Boston street, if I don’t have a boyfriend, if I screwed up at work, or even if I’m having a bad hair day.

In Boston, I started running, for real. Since I’ve moved here I’ve run two 10Ks and more 5Ks than I can count.IMG_7300

In Boston I learned the beauty of a (crappy) public transit system, and didn’t drive hundreds of miles as I went about my life. Instead, I walked them, and took the bus and the train, and spent hours observing my fellow travelers of all sizes and colors, wondering about their stories.

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In Boston I fell in love with my camera, and filled a creative gap in my soul that I didn’t know existed.

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In Boston, I finally came to believe, really believe, that I can both love my country and want it to be better.

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Everything wasn’t perfect in these years. I learned that racism is alive and well even in one of the most progressive states in the country. I learned that breaking into cliques is really hard. I learned that rats hang out in garbage barrels, and that too many dogs go missing every day. I learned that even walking everywhere, every day, won’t magically make me skinny. And I learned that a lot of people play music really loudly in their headphones on the train, which is really, really annoying. 😉

But I also learned that, despite our reputation for being cold and mean, Bostonians do say hi on the street here, and stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. Not every day. Not all the time. But l learned that one person thanking the bus driver as we exit makes at least 75% of the rest of the people do the same. And the drivers always wish us a good day.

But most of all, I learned that I am who I am. A girl who always takes up a bit too much space on the train, but tries to keep her eyes open for someone who needs her seat. A woman who will never be able to look downtown chic, but will stroll down town in her comfortable shoes with her head high. A person who doesn’t quite fit into any of the accepted categories of our culture, and has finally, after more than 40 years, begun to realize that there are quite a few of us wandering around, and that’s ok.

Two days ago, I was walking in the Public Garden on a humid, cloudy day. It was right after a thunderstorm. For those who have no visual reference for the Public Garden, its the park where Robin Williams sat on a bench with Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. As I walked, I realized that, when my move is done and I’ve left this place behind, I will always be grateful that I lived here. That I was lucky enough to live here, even for a few years. After all, every small town kid in New England grew up holding Boston up like some kind of sparkling icon. It was our Oz, our big city. I never even considered that I’d live here; I always assumed I wasn’t a big enough deal.

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But I did. I got to live in the city of the Red Sox. I got to walk and run along the Esplande, cross the Mass Ave Bridge via bus, train, and by foot, and visit the top of the Pru. I took the train to Foxboro stadium. I watched the Marathon from 4 different locations, including high above the last mile as the runners approached the finish line on Boylston. I heard the Boston Pops at Christmas and the 4th of July, the BSO at Halloween. I paddled in the Charles under the sun and under the stars. I hiked in dozens of parks and reservations, and ate seafood on the North and South Shores. I took guests to see the Ducklings in the Public Garden, and to the North End for pasta and cannoli.

I survived 5 winters.

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As I get ready to leave, I’m comforted that while I wander the city in my last weeks, I’m finding that I’m not sad. There’s no regret in my heart as I realize there are many corners of the city I haven’t explored. I’ll miss my favorite places, but I have received what they have to offer, with gratitude, and will use all that they’ve given me to move on.

Boston was my home for nearly 5 years. I will always sing Sweet Caroline at the top of my lungs when it comes on, I will never forget how the skyline view always makes my heart jump, and I will always claim this place as my big city. In all it’s wonder and contradictions, Boston is the place where I put myself back together, and found the guts to change everything. I’m grateful.

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