A Missing Dog (or, Gratitude, Part II)

I feel bad that I only made it through 3 things I am grateful for in last week’s post.  Last Monday night, I found myself thinking about this while I was sitting in a running mini-van with the brights on, pointed down railroad tracks.

I watched my husband disappear from sight with my window cracked in spite of the cold, listening in case he was attacked.  He headed beyond the reach of the headlights to an abandoned homeless camp in search of an abandoned dog.

A homeless couple we often see in the park had recently disappeared.  Supposedly, the man was arrested and the woman found a job and is living in a motel.  Rumor has it they left their dog behind.

With temperatures dropping into the low 20’s and arctic winds making it feel like the teens, my husband was determined to rescue this dog.  It was his second of 3 trips down the railroad tracks–so far, no sign of the dog.

How can I not feel gratitude for having the kind of man in my life who is both brave enough and compassionate enough to wander into potential danger to save the life of a dog?

I should mention that this couple has always seemed both lucid and happy.  We are under the impression they have chosen a homeless life for their own reasons and that they are capable of choosing a different course.  The dog, however, has no choice.

And so, I sat in the van on that cold night poignantly aware that I have much to be thankful for:  a reliable vehicle kicking out hot air; my own cuddly dog, healthy and happy beside me; a husband both strong and gentle; a hot meal to return home to; a comfortable bed to sleep in; hot running water; the list goes on and on.

But in the end, it’s the people who have been part of my life and/or who are part of my life now that I am the most grateful for (and yes, I include animals when I say “people”).  While mountains, clouds, and oceans provide much needed respite from time to time, it’s the people that keep me going day in and day out.

From passing acquaintances that make me laugh in the middle of a tense moment to friends who know me well enough to ask the most pertinent questions that allow me to see a situation in a new way, I don’t know what life would be without all of them.  Even the strangers who fail to acknowledge my “hello” remind me that I have been there, making me feel connected to them in an odd sort of way.

The people who ultimately made all of this gratitude possible are, of course, my parents.  I am grateful they were flawed human beings who made remarkable parents.  Of course, I didn’t think they were remarkable when I was growing up.  I’m also grateful that perspective changes.  🙂



“. . . in this huge mound of data there was also story after story of men and women who were living these amazing and inspiring lives.  I heard stories about the power of embracing imperfection and vulnerability.  I learned about the inextricable connection between joy and gratitude. . .”

“Without exception, every person I interviewed who described living a joyful life or who described themselves as joyful, actively practiced gratitude and attributed their joyfulness to their gratitude practice.”

-Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

And so, in honor of what may be the most important holiday of all, allow me to practice:

I am grateful for the mountains.  I have stood on top of Mauna Kea and watched the sunset from above the clouds.  I have hiked the ridges of the Canadian rockies amongst the Big Horn sheep.  I have climbed Half Dome and slept on Cloud’s Rest in Yosemite.  I have crossed the Continental Divide, and skied more mountains than I can remember.  I have hiked 14,000 feet up Mt. Albert, called in a mule deer with the scent of blueberry pancakes in the San Juans, watched hoarfrost form on the Blue Ridge, and watched mist rising off the Smokies.

The mountains bring me home.  They remind me my feet are on the ground–and that they can take me to amazing places.  The mountains teach me I am small and my problems smaller.  They fill me with calm and inspire me with wonder.  I am grateful for the mountains.

I am grateful for the trees.  I have gulped their oxygen in moments of panic as well as intense exertion.  I have sat silently and listened to their songs.  I have climbed within their swaying arms, held high and safe above the ground.  I have showered under them, swung from them, curled up in their shade for an afternoon nap, and frolicked in their brilliant leaves.  I have witnessed their generosity–Pileated Woodpeckers tucked into a cavity, baby trees suckling on the corpse of a former giant, Bloodroot springing from the rich nutrients of rotting leaves.  Trees connect me to the air and root me to the earth.  They remind me that great strength sometimes comes from flexibility and patience.  I am grateful for the trees.

I am grateful for the oceans.  I have bobbed along the surface in a quiet cove, peering at the underwater marvels through a snorkel mask.  I have floated for miles with the tide on a flimsy blow-up raft, I have kayaked with green sea turtles and swum with wild dolphins just by chance.  I have watched the sun sink into its nightly bath and watched it rise from the sea, fresh and new again.  I have eaten from the bounty of life the sea provides.  The ocean buoys me up, pushing me to the surface, reminding me I can float.  It soothes me with its endless rhythm and delights me with its underwater surprises.  I am grateful for the oceans.


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.

Going Classic

On our moonlight walk last night, I also spent some time shooting what could be called “classic” scenes from the Chattanooga waterfront.  I call them this because you can find similar shots hanging in just about any restaurant, office, gallery, or photographer’s booth at a holiday market.  It seems we are all attracted to the waterfront, particularly at night.

I discover several problems with shooting in the dark:

  1. I can’t see what’s in the frame and what’s out until after I shoot and review the shot.
  2. With a very dark foreground, it’s impossible to get autofocus to work in the part of the shot I want to focus in to get the greatest depth of field.
  3. I cannot see well enough in dim light to focus manually.
  4. Focusing on spots of light reflected in moving water is next to impossible.
  5. The magnifying loop is a life saver.

That said, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am grateful, too:

  1. I have this fabulous view within a 5 minutes walk
  2. It’s warm enough to be out shooting in November without having to wear a parka
  3. I have a supportive and patient husband who’s willing to walk the park with me while I shoot at 9:00PM at night
  4. I am able to make time for my hobby
  5. I have made life choices that freed up money for photography and other things I enoy
  6. The aquarium lights are on.

Perhaps I will have a more philosophical list tomorrow.  For now, It’s late, I’m tired, and what I’m most grateful for at the moment is having a comfortable bed waiting for me.

Happy Thanksgiving!

A Little Gratitude

It’s Thanksgiving Day.  And today, I am full of thanks.  I remember reading once that it’s easy to be grateful when things are going well, but the trick is to be grateful when they’re not.  Fortunately or unfortunately, as the case may be, this is an easy year to be grateful.  I count my blessings as we make our way from Chattanooga to the Smokies, where we will spend the long weekend.

We arrive at the lodge right around 1PM.  The Thanksgiving buffet has just started.  We get checked in, drop a few things off in our room, and then head to the dining room.  We walk down the buffet table checking out each dish, trying to decide what to leave room for and what to skip.  The inn keeper tells us there’s a menu printed on the table that lists all the dishes.  I laugh and tell him that would be great if I’d brought my reading glasses.  He laughs and we continue to peek at the food.  In the end, the preview was a wasted effort on my part.  The only dish I skip is the salad.  I take at least a small spoonful of everything else.  I will try it all and be grateful for the chance to try something new.

At least, that was my intention.  My swelling gratitude trips a little when I take a mouthful of whipped sweet potatoes and discover pieces of celery hiding in the mix.  A personal favorite complicated by an unexpected flavor.  I have to pause and figure out what I’m eating.  When I realize there is celery in my potatoes, I am both shocked and relieved. After all, celery is edible and I like it, but it is a surprising ingredient in sweet potatoes.  I return to gratitude and enjoy selecting the next bite of food.

In the background, a large family eating their Thanksgiving dinner together joins hands and one of the men at the table says a long and loud prayer.  I suddenly feel like an eavesdropper overhearing a private conversation.  It somehow feels wrong to me to hear this family sharing their form of gratitude.

My own sense of gratitude is a bit strained.  I refocus on the food, which is wonderful if different.  I think about the fact that I didn’t have to cook, we didn’t have to drive very far, we have a comfortable place to stay, and, best of all, we’re in the middle of the Smokies with a spectacular view.  If we had family or friends with us now, that would be the only thing that would make it more perfect.  But part of me feels like we’re missing the most important thing.  Then, I decide that instead of missing them, I will think of each of them.  I hold each family member and each friend in my mind for a moment, feeling gratitude for their presence in my life.  It’s a centering experience, reminding me of what’s important to me and how much I have to be grateful for.

When we finish eating, we go outside to take in the view.  We take a slow stroll in our city clothes along a short path to the Sunrise Viewpoint.  We pause to sit in a porch swing hung along the way.  We sit and talk over a leaf blower, a workman approaches, clearing all the leaves off the path.  He turns off the blower when he sees us, but we tell him to go ahead and finish his work.  He removes the leaves from the entire length of this short trail.  Given that this is a dirt path through the woods, I’m a little surprised that they blow the leaves off of it.  I am wearing my favorite new boots and would prefer that they didn’t since the leaves would prevent my boots from getting muddy.  When we continue our walk, I step carefully, trying not to let my boots sink into the dirt.  I am reminded of someone recently commenting that they had a hard time imagining me roughing it.  This comment surprised me at the time, but as I imagine what I look like in my urban clothes gingerly stepping around the mud, I think to myself, “Oh what a difference a change of clothes can make!”

At the sunset point, there is a deck with adirondak chairs to sit and watch the sun come up.  There’s a lovely view of the lake and mountains below.  Even better, there’s a bell hanging from a post with a mallet to strike it with.  When I give the bell a tap, it rings out with a sound that makes you think, “Ahhh.”  If peace were a sound, this is what it would sound like.  It rings on and on in a growing sort of sigh.  I am amazed at how long it continues from one gentle tap.

We sit for a bit, but then head the opposite direction towards the sunset point.  The view is less open from the sunset point and I want to get back to the lodge so I can capture some of the end of sunset, so we hurry back, me still trying to keep my boots from getting muddy.  After shooting, we find a spot to sit and relax where there is still some sunlight that keeps us warm.  As we sit and absorb the last rays of light, a group gathers  on a deck above and starts singing hymns.  Unfortunately, while some individuals seem to have good voices, as a group, they are painful to listen to.  We decide to head inside.  We enter the warm lobby and, after dropping off my camera, head to the bar.  With a glass of wine, we sit in front of the fire and relax until it’s time for dinner.

As we sit and unwind, I think again of friends and family and how much fun it would be to have them all here now.  Well, maybe not all at once.  I have the overwhelming urge to tell them all I love them.  I end up posting on Facebook instead.  I’m sure there’s an expression for posting on Facebook when you are overly emotional and possibly a little tipsy.

After sandwiches and dessert, we retire to our room and decide we might as well go to bed.  It’s been an amazingly relaxing day.  In fact, I can’t recall having ever had such a low stress day.  Another thing to be grateful for.

But I lay in bed awake, feeling a little guilty for having this day.  I decide to call my parents, but discover I have no phone signal.  Since the lodge does have WiFi, I send them an email instead.  It’s still early enough where they are that they are probably just now eating Thanksgiving dinner anyway.  Pat sends his mom an email while I write to my dad.  I feel a little better now that we’ve at least made some contact.  Then I check my Facebook page and feel like I’ve stayed in touch with my friends all day.  i decide Facebook is another thing to be grateful for.  Then, I set aside my mobile devices, roll over, and do my best to fall asleep, feeling grateful for a warm bed.

Wandering and Belonging

Sunday morning, we take our time leaving Columbus.  We have all day to get home and nothing on our calendar.  We decide to stop at the Wildflower Cafe for breakfast before heading out of town.  We’re surprised by their almost empty parking lot at 10AM–there used to always be a line by this time.  I wonder if the fact that they’re now open for dinner has diluted their breakfast and lunch crowd.

I think about having a small, healthy breakfast.  Something my body would much appreciate after nearly a week of a “see-food” diet.  However, I have a hard time resisting the eggs benedict on their Sunday brunch menu.  And while I’m at it, I might as well have their potatoes, which are sliced thin and pan-fried to a nice crisp brown on the edges.  I tell myself I’ll start eating healthy again tomorrow.  I laugh at my optimism–seems like I’ve been telling myself that for many months now.

After stuffing ourselves and trying not to drink so much coffee that I have to stop every 15 minutes, we take turns using the restroom before getting on the road.  I don’t feel like a visitor today even though we’re about to leave–the owner recognized us when we came in and the restaurant is just so familiar.  It feels like there’s been a time warp and we never really went anywhere.  But, as we head out the door, the prospect of a long drive looms before us and I feel like a visitor again.

Pat drives and I write.  But I am not feeling prolific today.  I suddenly realize that we will have only 3 days at home before we’ll be packing again for our Thanksgiving weekend trip to the Smokies.  We’ve decided to spend the long weekend at a lodge we discovered on the way home from Great Smoky Mountain National Park over Labor Day weekend.  Originally, Pat’s family was going to come down to see us for Thanksgiving.  Then, Pat’s sister was going to join, so the date changed to when she could be gone from the store she manages (which is not Thanksgiving weekend).  Unfortunately, she couldn’t travel on a date when we didn’t have a commitment, so she went to Youngstown instead and the rest of the family decided not to come for Thanksgiving.

It occurs to me that while Thanksgiving has been the holiday we spent with my husband’s family vs my own for many years, this will be the first time in my life I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving without getting together with any family members.

I stop musing and start talking to Pat about our upcoming plans.  We are both looking forward to the mountain lodge–a mere two hour drive instead of an 11 hour drive to Pat’s family’s house.  I find myself wondering if we should have stayed in Columbus a few more days and then driven up to Youngstown for Thanksgiving, though.  We need to think more about how to get together with Pat’s family now that the drive is so much further.  It’s hard for us to stay in Columbus that many days, but it’s easier than trying to work from Youngstown.

In any case, this coming weekend, we will be in the Smokies enjoying the mountains and relaxing.  I am looking forward to the relaxing part as we haven’t really done a lot of that lately.  To ensure I can really relax while we’re there, I am working on writing blog entries ahead of time.  That way, I can have all my blog posts scheduled to run without me and I don’t have to worry about keeping up on my blog in case there is no internet access from there.

The drive flies by for me.  Between writing and napping and talking with Pat about his plans for his business, we seem to arrive in no time.  Pat, however, is stiff and sore having driven the entire way himself.  I feel guilty that I didn’t do any of the driving, but it did allow me to use the time productively.

We pull up in front of the entry to our building and unload the ridiculous amount of stuff from the van.  Even though I reduced my load by a couple of bags on the way out, Pat picked up a bunch of guitars while we were there, so our load looks vaguely reminiscent of moving day.

A neighbor comes in while we’re unloading and gives us a nasty look.  I’m not sure why, but it’s the same one that was irritated the day we were moving in because we had an elevator blocked.  Apparently she didn’t realize she could push the button and the other elevator would come and she stomped off with a big “huff” to the stairwell.  Another neighbor comes along with a friendly dog who I greet while Pat is parking the van.  When he returns, we load our stuff into the elevator and head upstairs.  I think to myself that we really ought to just invest in a cart if we’re gong to continue to do this on a regular basis.

We get unpacked and then head out to grab dinner.  We end up at Taco Mamacito’s because it’s close and decision-free.  We talk about our trip to Columbus and how much more enjoyable this trip was.  Besides having a get together with friends we haven’t seen in a year who came in from Seattle, we also enjoyed the pace of a Saturday vs a trip where it’s all weekday time.

I contemplate the impact of not having an assigned office at work anymore.  There is something freeing about it–like not having a door with your name next to it implies that no one is waiting for you to show up.  It feels, finally, like we really have moved and when we go to Columbus, we really are just visiting.  As we sit in this restaurant where at least half the wait staff recognizes us contemplating sleeping in our own bed tonight, we feel the sense of having returned home in a way that we haven’t felt here in Chattanooga before.  I find myself wondering how important wandering is compared to having a sense of belonging somewhere.