Monday, June 27, 2011

In the moment - life is more than a status update

Cell phones, status updates, tweets. Facebook, Hootsuite, Skype, GMail chat, send texts and up-to-the-minute videos of everything you're doing on YouTube.

We're so busy selfishly updating everyone on what we're doing, we are removed from what we are actually doing. By taking time to tweet that we are enjoying a walk in the park, we miss the flowers we pass, the birds chirping, the moment. We have forgotten how to live in the moment. And so-called "smart phones" have made living in the moment even more difficult. Technology is supposed to help us - and it can - but it can also leave us feeling hurried, out of balance and out of touch.

Yes, out of touch. With life. 

Because life is more than a status update. Life occurs outside of a computer or smart phone.

Ironically, I am writing this in a form of social media, selfishly convinced that people care what I think, read what I write. I mean, who am I to wax poetic about jack smack?

I'm not. I'm just a girl in the Midwest living with a bunch of dogs, outside more than in.
But, I am fortunate to have Mondays off work, and I try to celebrate this small fact every Monday. Today, I abandoned my own "smart phone" with its constant vibration gnawing at my subconscious, reminding me of responsibilities, and said hello to the moment - as many moments as possible - all day long.

Had I been "connected," I would have missed out on this:

A blue heron fishing along the shoreline of West Branch State Park
And this:

my daughter's beautiful face in the sun
Life occurs in micro-blips of time, tiny moments of preciousness, small jpgs of beauty. The strawberry blonde of my seven year old's hair; the smell of fresh cut hay in the fields that surround the Ranch; the tiny freckles blossoming on her nose in the sun.

Get out there. Embrace the moment.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Whole lotta nothing

As I type, a flurry of lightning bugs flutters around outside like tiny yellow strobe lights. The beauty is, with all of our tall grasses all around the Ranch - a firefly's natural habitat - we have a billion of them. And, with a whole lotta nothing around us, there's no light pollution to dampen their glow.

Fireflies in one of our pastures at midnight

When we first moved to the Ranch last summer, I asked my sister, who was from this area, what was down our road in the opposite direction. Her reply still resonates with me.

"Just a whole lotta nothin'," she said flatly.

I smiled, knowing I was home.

It's true: there really isn't much where we live. I drive over 20 miles round trip just for groceries. The horizon around our neck of the woods isn't polluted with neon McDonald's signs; in fact, the nearest McDonald's is at the same place as the grocery store, over 20 miles from home.

A pasture of sheep about three miles from the Ranch
Indeed, I think this corner of NE Ohio is the only place that doesn't have a reliable cell phone signal. My phone notoriously drops calls.

But, for a whole lotta nothing, there sure is a lot of something going on out here: life.

A bird's nest I found at the Ranch: made of (what else): husky hair and pieces of blue tarp I use for roofs over the kennels!

I recently spent over 12 hours in the city for several back-to-back photo assignments. As soon as I returned home, I breathed a sigh of relief. The city is nice, but I wouldn't want to live there.

I have so many things here that I love. Like, my sweet hens, "The Ladies."

The Ladies leaving the barn for a morning spent free ranging
Acres and acres of space.
A field of winter wheat just about ripe for the harvest across the street from the Ranch

Gorgeous lilies that grow wild and cover the grounds at the Ranch.

More space.

The 150 acre corn field directly across from the Ranch
More flowers...

Yes, it might be a whole lotta nothin' out here. But I will take that "nothing" over the city any day. I can't think of any place I'd rather be!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Noto Fashion Show

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Marblehead Beach, Lake Erie

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

If you light a lamp for somebody, it will also brighten your own path.

The wonder of life is not so much finding out what, or why but simply celebrating is.

We are curious animals. We wrap ourselves into others' lives. Even the most well-meaning can get caught up in drama. We demand answers. We grapple with understanding. When things don't make sense to us, we get angry or confused.

Sometimes we are so caught up, we forget what is important.

There is a Zen proverb that says: "If you understand, things are just as they are; if you do not understand, things are just as they are.

In other words, things are - as in, exist - whether we understand them or not

Sometimes life is perplexing. We cannot wrap our heads around the what or why or how. But, you know what? It doesn't matter. Because things are whether we want them to be, or not. 

What the heck is she talking about? Why doesn't she just get to the point? 

The Point 
Many people who were caught up in the drama of Melanie Gould's disappearance expressed anger and a self-righteous, need-to-know, deserve-to-know attitude when she recently emerged from the wilderness along the Denali highway in Alaska after being gone for 11 days. How could she have abandoned her dogs? they judged. What kind of person traipses into the wildness and abandons everything? they exclaimed.

They made demands: She should pay for all the time and effort spent searching for her. 

They qualified her actions: How could she have seen troopers searching for her and evaded them?  

They became angry. They attacked. 

Face it: we don't know the story. 

The story I do know - and one that scares me - is that within a little over a week, 3,200 people joined a Facebook page set up to show support for and help track down Melanie Gould. 

When she was found alive and in relatively good physical condition, however, some of those same 3,200 people turned on her, demanding answers. It seems we are more satisfied with grisly outcomes than happy endings. Some actually said she should have stayed missing - they were that angry that she was found alive and in decent physical condition. 


As quickly as some will run to your rescue when you fall, when you get back up on your feet, they'll rip you limb from limb. 

Do we like seeing others' demise? 

Is human nature that twisted, sadistic and deviant? Do we have a sick fascination with watching others suffer? Receive a satisfaction from the pain of others?


I feel like Alice in Wonderland here, but, not in my world.

Why, in my world, we celebrate life. We are happy to receive each day as a blessing. We don't need to know why. 

It's called Karma. Gratefulness. Gratitude.

There is a Zen Proverb: "If you light a lamp for somebody, it will also brighten your own path." 

In Christianity, it's known as "The Golden Rule." Do unto others as you would have ...

In my world, I say welcome home, Melanie Gould. Haters need not enter here. This is a safe zone. 

There may be things to sort out, but for now, rest. Be safe. And...

Friday, June 10, 2011

"Have you seen Melanie Gould?" - a post for Melanie

Update: As of June 11, Melanie Gould has been found alive! What a relief! Here is a link to the story:

Recently, a very disturbing thing has occurred within the mushing community.

I might preface this post by saying, when I say "community," I mean this in a very real sense. Mushers are a tight knit group; some of my best friends are hundreds of miles away. We communicate on a regular basis with one another, share tips, do favors, exchange "stuff."

Recently, 34 year old Melanie Gould, six-time Iditarod veteran, musher, massage therapist, baker and musician suddenly vanished on May 31, 2011.

Melanie Gould, Iditarod veteran, is missing

In some ways, I feel like it's not my place to write about Melanie's disappearance. I don't know her, and she is from a place that is 3,000 miles from my home.

But, for one, Melanie could be anywhere in the country at this point, so it seems relevant to distribute her picture and information about her as much as possible. 

On May 30th, Melanie clocked out of her work place like any other day around 5:30. There was no evidence that anything was amiss. When she didn't show up for work for two consecutive days, a search began for Melanie. Friends began to get concerned. They were even more concerned when they found Melanie's dogs were left without food at her residence, her cell phone found on the counter of her home, illustrating no evidence that she had intended to be gone for long.

And yet, she had been gone for days. 

Her truck was found on June 4 about 18 miles east of Cantwell, Alaska, a tiny town situated at the junction of the Denali highway.

Don't be fooled by the term "highway" in Denali Highway. This stretch of road is mostly gravel and not well traveled. Rustic in the highest form of the word.

Troopers reported that Melanie's truck was parked off the main highway "at the end of an old mining road that narrowed down to a four-wheeler path." Search dogs were called out, but eerily, the dogs turned up no sign of Gould's scent beyond her truck. It's as if Gould literally vanished into thin air.

As of yesterday, not even two weeks from the musher's mysterious disappearance, troopers officially halted the search for Gould citing trooper safety and no further clues as their reason.

Several friends and I have shared emails about Melanie's disturbing disappearance. Invariably a common theme runs throughout those correspondence. "It could have been me."

I've tried to process what this means. Clearly people are concerned about Melanie for more reasons than how it affects them.

I can only speak for myself, frame what Melanie's disappearance means to me, why I find it so disturbing.

Melanie lives for things that I think many mushers, including myself, live for. While I don't know her, I can tell from reading about her, seeing photos of her and learning about her that I would relate to her. She lives for solitude and simplicity, the beauty that can only come from a strong bond with animals and a connection to nature.

She's always described as hearty. The Alaska Dispatch quotes her friend, Amanda Randles, as saying, "Her toughness as a musher can’t be underestimated." People remark on a facebook page set up specifically for Melanie about how tough she is.

And while certainly this is undeniable, it seems to me the Dispatch forgot one key thing: Melanie is still only human. 

I recall a person who, just last year, asked me obnoxiously, "why do you always have to be so tough?" Dumbfounded by this statement, I replied that I am not tough at all; in fact, many who truly know me have said I am too sensitive.

There is a common misconception that because mushers can weather through the harshest conditions, muddle through pain and cold and sleep deprivation, that we are tough. 

Tenacity of spirit and a high tolerance for and patience with extreme weather and erratic sleep patterns does not make us invulnerable. 

And coming full circle, I'm reminded of just what I find so disturbing about Melanie Gould's disappearance. How can someone survive some of the most challenging trails and grueling mountains of the Iditarod trail not once, not twice, but six times and yet, potentially fall victim to her own demise? How can someone with so much survival savvy disappear?

Because no one is immune or tough enough to avoid their own humanness. We all have the ability to disappear from life at any moment. Melanie is a reminder that, as my friends have said, if it can happen to her with all of her stamina and prowess, it can certainly happen to anyone.

Having said that, Melanie (and really any Iditarod musher) is tough as nails. I pray daily that her "toughness" helps her to triumph over whatever adversity she faces. I think of her - this woman I don't even know - every night when I go to sleep and I think of her when I open my eyes. I pray for her and for her family and friends to have the strength to come out on top.

Here is a candle, Melanie.

Granted, it is a virtual candle, but the beauty of that is it will never go out, never die down. I leave it here, lit for you on this blog, until you are safely returned to your pack.

Now more than ever, I write this with "mush love."

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The quintessential summertime photo

My favorite summertime thing
 Enjoy summertime.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Home, where my thoughts escape me...

My girls.

They are the impetus to drag me to a waterpark - perhaps the only thing that could drag me to a waterpark.

As a belated birthday present to my girls (their birthdays were both the third week of May), we took them to the Great Wolf Lodge, a waterpark/resort hotel in Sandusky, Ohio.

I admit, this isn't really my idea of a good time: donning a bathing suit and sharing space with a hundred or so other people and their wide variety of body parts that can be described in a vast array of words that end in "y" (pasty, jiggly, hairy, saggy), and sharing a host of other things that come with sharing gallons of water with said people.

But, ah! the things we will do for our children!

Families who have sled dogs - or any animals - make a lot of sacrifices to have them.  We can't take off on a Disney or Virginia Beach vacation like other families. We have animals that depend on us, 365 days a year.

But one night and two days...we could do that. The girls deserve it.

Here are some photos from the Great Wolf Lodge.

Elise was most excited about this long-awaited trip to the Great Wolf Lodge. She had researched the resort online, visiting the web site and watching all of the videos of the water slides, the arcade, and the hotel which was decorated like a giant cabin. When we got there, she said, "It's just like I dreamed it would be, only better!"

A giant totem pole awaited us at GWL
The girls: Sophie (left) and Elise (right) in the lobby of the GWL

So we swam and went down water slides. We played in the arcade and jumped on the beds in the hotel. But, the fun must end, and we adults are happy to return home, and our animals are even more excited to see our return. Ultimately, no matter how many times I leave or how far I go, it is always awesome to return home!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Recesses and crevasses

I long for - and seek out - the inner recesses and tiny, finger-like crevasses of life.

I am eager to get out on the lake tonight, so eager, I ran out of the Ranch without realizing all three batteries for my camera were dead.

Yes, it is suddenly summer here in northeast Ohio, with temperatures soaring into the low 90's.  It's balmy-hot as I paddle fast through the heavy, thick-with-summer air. It is Memorial Day weekend, and people suddenly congregate on the lake in droves. This weekend, like most weekends, finds me dirty and unkempt after having worked in the barn and kennels all day. The lake by the Ranch is a welcome relief. But what must the wild inhabitants who make this their home 365 days a year think of this onslaught of humanity that converges on this lake on this, the first "official" weekend of summer?

Every thing is still - so still, I begin to feel uneasy. Not a ripple on the water, save for my paddle cutting it cleanly. Not the usual host of wildlife at the water's edge.

Then, I see it: a muskrat appears under a thicket, paddling in a slow dark ripple. Evidence of beaver are nearby in chewed off branches; an barred owl calls in the distance: "who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?" Even an unwelcome visitor - a mosquito - arrives on my arm to say hello. A fish jumps as bats dive at unseen insects above my head. My eyes shift focus to a spore floating in the air toward me. Life. 

If you are quiet, life reveals itself to you.

"Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness." John Muir