Will Should

It’s amazing how quickly small things get in the way of achieving a relatively simple goal.  My goal has been to make time for the things that make me happy first thing in the morning.  Riding, rowing, yoga.  Seems simple enough.

But then there’s the rush of deadlines that keeps me up late or the early-morning or late-night conference calls with colleagues in far-off time zones.  Suddenly, what I need more than a ride is sleep.  The alarm gets set for 7AM instead of 5AM.

I remember reading once (or twice) that it takes a month to establish a new habit.  I think about the times I have succeeded in creating habits.

There is a mindset that snaps into place.  It’s a mindset that says, “you will do this, no matter what.”  It’s the mindset that drags my weary rear-end out of bed long before dawn even if I’ve only had a few hours of sleep.  Making myself get up forces me to go to bed earlier.  Making the priority to get out of bed is painful for a week or two until I find I can no longer keep my eyes open after 10PM.  But where is the switch that turns, “I should” into “I will”?

I learned a long time ago that the conditional tense is a misleading and manipulative beast that carries with it guilt and shame as poor motivators.  “Should?” my inner self retorts, “You can’t tell me what to do!”

Will changes everything.  The power of grammar is contained in this simple word.  To have the will.  To will.  Both a noun and a verb, will combusts into action.  To say “I will” creates promise and commitment.  To will is to embrace, to drive.  I do not take the word lightly.

Should, however, reeks of meek compliance.  Agreement to a statement that belongs to someone else.  “Yes, I should get up at 5AM.”  The word “should” implies “but I won’t” at the end of the sentence.  That single, irritating word contains the admission of not living up to someone’s standard.  Of agreeing that whatever the task at hand might be, it is worthwhile and good, but not within your reach.  It represents an admission that you are not making good on something you should be doing.

I listen for “shoulds” when I’m talking to others.  In my career, I have learned that “should” means, “yes, that’s a good idea, but I’m not doing it.”  In volunteer organizations, I learned to shudder at the words, “someone should,” although at least it is a more straightforward admission.

Sometimes when will has left me, I have to step back and reassess.  Is there a point in time coming up that will allow me to shift to will?  Is there a project that will be finished?  A commitment completed?  Some other break in time that can get me to will?  I still haven’t found the switch, but I will.

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Time Out

This is my last day of a one-week vacation.  Instead of going somewhere, a friend came down for a week of hiking in the area.  I managed to disconnect from my day job completely.

The reality is that work is going on without me.  I may have a few messes to fix when I get back, but those messes probably would have happened whether I was there or not.  And if I weren’t there, someone else would figure out how to clean them up.

I choose to take from this the lesson that if there is time for me to take a week away, there is time for me to take a breath during the day.  There is time for me to stop at a reasonable hour and pick up again the next day.  There is time for me to take care of myself regardless of what messes come up.

I re-learned the truth of how important unplugged time is to me.  Going out into the wilderness where there were no sounds besides the wind blowing through the trees, water tumbling over rocks, and occasional conversation with my friend brought with it a sense of connectedness with the world around me that hours in front of a computer cannot achieve.

The computer, whether for work or just for fun, takes me away from the here and now.  Choosing footholds along a rocky trail puts me intensely in the present moment in a way that’s hard to achieve typing on a keyboard or reading an email.

I also re-learned the power of physical exertion.  The sense of aliveness and appreciation for every bone, muscle, blood cell in my body intensifies as the trail becomes more challenging.  The ability to move myself rhythmically up a steep rocky climb turns into a sense of power and wonder.  The body is a marvelous thing to inhabit when it’s working well.

And, I re-learned the joy of pushing limits just a little.  Hiking with a friend who hasn’t hiked much helped keep me from over-doing.  It kept the soreness to a minimum and allowed me to enjoy what I was capable of without suffering what might otherwise have been the pain of over-exertion.  Happy medium is called “happy” for a really good reason.

Taking time away also gave me the time and energy to consider alternative possibilities.  The freed energy led to imagination and my imagination went wild.  At the end of a week of time “off”, I find myself full of hope.  Hope that I can make time for what is most important to me.  Hope that anything truly is possible.  Hope that life can be joyful on a daily basis.  Hope that I can return to my “normal” life and make it a little less normal and a little more peaceful.  Hope that if I can do that, the world as a whole can be more peaceful, too.

It was a good vacation.

Snoopers Rock

Having lamented missing most of the summer, I was happy when my husband asked if I wanted to go for a hike today.  As I was reminded yesterday, the summer isn’t over yet.  In spite of it being one of the more hot and humid days we’ve had in a while, I was anxious to get outside and spend some time in motion.

My husband and I have different ideas about hiking, however.  I want to go at least 5 miles and am willing to go much further if there’s something to see.  My husband, who is on his feet all day, prefers to pick very short, easy hikes.  We compromised by choosing a place that had 3 overlooks and parked in the middle so we could bail if it turned out to be longer or more difficult than expected.

We headed out to Prentice Cooper Wildlife Management Area, which runs along the Tennessee River Gorge.  It’s a beautiful area.  Even the drive to get there is inspiring.  We saw wild turkey and deer along the way.

The down side of the wildlife management area is the popularity of ATVs and hunting.  Fortunately, between the heat and a predicted thunderstorm that never came, there were only a handful of ATVers and we didn’t hear any gunshots.  Both make me nervous when we’re hiking with dogs.

Twiggy, visiting with us for the weekend, and Tisen were very enthusiastic when we got out of the car.  We headed down what was called Snoopers Rock Trail, but it was really a road.  We were passed by a jeep and later a Hyundai sedan, but we weren’t sorry we walked.

The view is fantastic from Snoopers Rock.  Of the views I’ve seen of the river gorge, this was the best–the rock is perched above a bend in the river, providing scenery in both directions.

Unfortunately, when we headed off to the second overlook, it wasn’t clear if we were on the right trail or not.  We hiked through the woods enjoying the shade and the tiny wildflowers along the trail, but the moisture in the air was gathering like a cloud around us as we walked and the mosquitos reminded us why we used to use insect repellant.

When we’d walked about as far as we thought it was supposed to be to the next overlook, we decided it was time to turn around.  The trek back was all uphill.  I was shocked by how hard I felt like I was working–it wasn’t that uphill.

It felt great to be in the woods and moving.  Even sweating felt good.  I feel more alive when I’m pushing my body, even if it’s only a little.  The mosquitos I could have done without.  But, after all, it is still summer.

Tisen and Twiggy were far less enthusiastic on the way back to the car.  I guess I’m not the only one who hasn’t been working out.

Walk to Sunset

Sunset Rock Hipstamatic Style

Sunset Rock Hipstamatic Style

In the effort to entertain my brother and sister-in-law, I came up with the following itinerary:

  1. Have them assist in a birds of prey program at a local festival.
  2. Take them to lunch at a famous barbecue on a hill with goats.
  3. Haul them up to Lookout mountain and take them hiking for a couple of hours.
  4. Drag them out for Mexican-fusion at favorite taco spot.
  5. Give them a tour of husband’s workshop.

We are now on #3.  Hauling said brother and sister-in-law up to Lookout Mountain for a relatively short, easy hike.

Sunset Rock via DSLR

Sunset Rock via DSLR

One of my favorite short, easy hikes on Lookout is the hike from Craven’s House to Sunset Rock.  There are many routes to choose from so it’s easy to make the hike as short as 3 miles or as long as 10, depending on how long you want to be out.  Regardless of which route you choose, the scenery on Lookout and the views from the overlooks are always fantastic.

Our fearless hiking crew

Our fearless hiking crew

The rock formations on Lookout are amazing in and of themselves.  The sandstone (or maybe limestone?) splits, drops, careens, and leans in ways that make you feel like you’re doing something really dangerous by walking on stone that might fall off the side of the mountain at any moment.  If the trail were along the creek with the same rock formations, it wouldn’t be quite as adventurous, but it would still be beautiful.

Chunks of ice remind us it's only spring on the calendar

Chunks of ice remind us it’s only spring on the calendar

Water runs between the rocks from time to time.  We were surprised on this early spring day to discover chunks of ice lingering in one microscopic waterfall.  Just another reminder that only the humans around here are convinced it’s supposed to be spring.

Even the mushrooms look like they are winterized

Even the mushrooms look like they are winterized

Tisen enjoys this hike, too.  He likes to linger behind, sniffing, and then dart back in front.  Sometimes, he stops to check on me if I’m hanging back.  I’m not sure if he’s worried I’m going to fall off a cliff (a reasonably probable occurrence) or if he thinks I might sneak off and disappear to some new life that doesn’t include him.  He really doesn’t have to worry about the latter–I’m not anxious to find out what life will feel like without him.

Tisen checking on Mommy

Tisen checking on Mommy

We made it to Sunset Rock in tact, although Tisen scared me to the point that I yelled at him when he got so close to the edge that I really thought he was going to lift his leg and immediately topple down the cliff.  I called him three times and when he ignored me, I panicked and yelled his name at the kind of volume that echoed off the surrounding cliff sides.  He looked up at me, surprised and sheepish.  I couldn’t remember having ever raised my voice at him before; I felt a little foolish.

View of the valley from Sunset Rock

View of the valley from Sunset Rock

The view from Sunset Rock is not actually better than the view from Point Park, but making the hike through the woods and up the mountain makes it feel so much better.

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is the most important holiday of the year to me these days.  It’s a holiday that isn’t overloaded with expectations, can be celebrated with little effort (for those of us who don’t cook), and usually offers the opportunity to reflect on all that is good in life.

It’s the last part that makes this a special holiday.  It’s always easy to find something to complain about.  Yet complaining rarely makes me happy.  On the other hand, remembering what I have to be grateful for fills me with the sort of joy that both reminds me how good my life is and makes me sad that not everyone can find a long list of things to give thanks for.

In giving a little more thought since yesterday’s post to my gratitude list for Thanksgiving this year, here is what I came up with on my second attempt.  I am grateful for:

  1. Friends and family who accept and love me with all of my shortcomings, laugh with me when I laugh, laugh at me when I deserve to be laughed at, and remind me that the greatest joys in life often come in the smallest gestures when they’re least expected.
  2. A world so full of wonder that I could live a thousand lives and still not come close to exhausting the potential to be awed and amazed.
  3. The extraordinary number of people in the world who believe that kindness is more important than being right, justified, recognized, or fair.  Examples:  A friend of mine picks up other people’s dogs’ poop in the park.  A neighbor walked across the street with a trash bag one day and start picking up the trash left behind after a marathon.  A woman across the street stood on the corner asking passers-by if anyone recognized a puppy who had been hit and killed, wanting to inform the owners.  Every day there are people taking care of others in ways that often go unnoticed.  I am grateful to be surrounded by inspiring people.
  4. The abundance of food that makes it possible for me to have to watch my weight.  I am sometimes ashamed that not everyone in the world has the same access to basic resources like food.  But for today, Thanksgiving Day, when we Americans traditionally feast until we burst, I set aside my guilt and simply feel incredibly grateful to have had the fortune of being born in a part of the world where food is plentiful and affordable.
  5. Finally, technology.  It gives me the opportunity to experiment with forms of personal expression like blogging and digital photography, the ability to make a living, and access to information from anywhere I have a cell signal.  More importantly, technology connects me to people all over the world I would have never known about otherwise.

All-in-all, I am grateful I have the opportunity to live my life, to find my own path.  I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.

Leave No Trace

The realization that from at least the time we’re in the 3rd grade we have an instinctive need to be noticed and recognized and that need only seems to grow as we become adults has me thinking.

Is that what everything we do is really all about?  From whining about loud music at 6:15AM to flying solo in a hang glider off a mountain launch to taking pictures and posting them on the web.  Is it really all about the same thing?

How do we make a mark.  How do we matter.  How does the life we live add up to something that was worthwhile.

Far away, in a beautiful place called Montana, a young woman I think of as a “surrogate” daughter (as in, she’s someone else’s child, but I would like to claim her and her twin sister for my own) is in the middle of creating a new life–literally.  Just over half way through her first pregnancy, she is glowing so much it’s evident even in mobile phone photos and posts on FB.

Watching her grow with this new life inside her via the internet gives whole new meaning to virtual reality.  I am reminded of our visit there about this time of year a couple of years ago.  I pull out the old photos and pick out a few with fall colors that fit my mood.

Having retouched the photos a bit to make them look a little more like I remember the place, I find myself wondering if this will be my contribution to the world.  Pictures that make people smile politely and say, “that’s nice.”  Is this the best I can do when it comes to making my own mark?

I have dreamt of riding my bike (alternately motorized and not, depending on which year I was dreaming in) across the US, of through-hiking the whole of the Appalachian Trail, of writing daring and evocative fiction, of starting a community garden and teaching inner city children how to grow their own food.  I have dreamt of things I have no skills to do and of solving problems I know virtually nothing about.  But when it comes to leaving my mark, instead of raising my hand, I seem to lift my feet.  I want to move, to see, to do.  And the only evidence I leave behind is my footprints.

Do the mountains and trees know I’ve been there appreciating them?  Does the sun set with a little extra punch?

In the end, we are all nomads–we’re all just visiting.  Maybe it’s ok if, like good houseguests, once the laundry has been washed, it’s as if we were never there.

Stringer’s Ridge

Among the many places in the vicinity of Chattanooga to hike, Stringer’s ridge is both new and old.  It’s old in terms of having been there for a very long time.  But it’s new in that a group is now working hard on creating new trails throughout the ridge area.

For us, it made a great Sunday hike when Pat was tired, having been on his feet all week working on building guitars.  Instead of driving an hour and hiking a a strenuous path, we drove about 5 minutes to get to Stringer’s Ridge.

The area has many trails still under construction; they are marked with signs indicating they’re closed.  But, in spite of the closures, we found a lovely loop open by following the deteriorating roadway that seems to be a remnant from when people had homes in what is now a preserve.  It went from deteriorating asphalt to gravel, which was actually easier to walk on.

Where the road intersected several trails (most still under restoration efforts, but one open to traffic), it appeared someone had been expressing their artistic talents in wood.  A collection of what appeared to be bird houses lined the main intersection.  A giant sculpture of a hiking man created by creatively placing a forked log and adding appendages made a very cool trail marker.

We’re excited to see the progress.  We could see some of the trails under construction winding their way through the woods below us and were certain they would be a great walk when they’re open.

We were also thrilled to discover the fantastic view of the Chattanooga riverfront and north shore areas from the South side of the ridge road.  Who knew we could find such a view just minutes away from home?