Sunday, September 20, 2015

Urban Camino

We had reached an intersection in the network of trails that weave through the Presidio of San Francisco, a sprawling national park of 1,491 acres perched beside the bay. It was time to consult the map. 

"Stay left," advised a walker who moved behind us as we hunched over a brochure. "Stay left," she repeated, her voice so soft it sounded almost conspiratorial--a mere whisper of a suggestion. 

"Wait," I called as I looked up from the map. "How do you know where we want to go?"

"The best views are ahead to the left," she responded confidently. "It leads to the bridge."

The bridge in question would be the Golden Gate Bridge--a glorious landmark without question, but it wasn't actually where we were heading. We'd set out that morning, my spouse and I, to view sculptures created by artist Andy Goldsworthy in locations throughout the park. 

We'd passed two Goldsworthy installations and had two more to go--but now we pondered a course change. We'd already walked about 2.5 miles from our lodgings to the park and had covered only half of the route we'd envisioned. But a local expert seemed to be adopting us, intent on sharing the best of her favorite walking trails. We had no deadlines, no commitments to keep. We took her advice and stayed left. 

By the time we reached the Bridge, the sun was high and hot. We were growing weary, but were feeling satisfied. It was exactly the kind of day we'd come for--a morning of exercise and exploration on the streets and trails of San Francisco. 

We chose San Francisco for an 'urban immersion' vacation earlier this month and ended up on an 'urban camino.'  For nine days we trekked the neighborhoods that radiated out from our vacation rental apartment. 

The adventure put my new Garmin Vivofit2 2activity tracker to the test, and delivered a daily reward of satisfying data:
           23,260 steps the day we reached the Golden Gate Bridge
           22,205 traveling the length of Golden Gate Park to the Pacific Ocean
           18,693 steps on a day of uphill and down to the waterfront

These distances didn't match the miles we covered a year ago on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain, but this 'urban camino' carried us into unfamiliar landscapes and cultures too. It delivered views we'd never have noticed from a bus or car. It brought connection with kindly strangers. 

In Spanish, the word 'camino' is used to mean 'road' or 'way.'  To me it also suggests slowing down. Travel of a more pedestrian style--on foot and in close relationship with what surrounds me. 'Camino' takes a commitment of time and attention and reminds me of something I wrote several years ago in The Spirited Walker.
"All travel lifts us out of numbing patterns and introduces new points of view. But not all travel is equal. Travelers who venture forth on foot find that walking makes a world of difference. On foot, the journey becomes the destination. Where matters less than why." Chap 10: On the Pilgrim's Path

Please regard my laggardly pace in posting new Spirited Life blog entries not as loss of interest but as evidence of a full and stimulating life. "Not the Retiring Type," my monthly newspaper column, leaves little time for thoughts of slowing down. You can read the columns, or selections from "The Spirited Walker" on my website.  

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Spirited Walker is Not Retiring

When I landed my first journalism job, I had the basic technical skills this position required-I could type! 
My desk came with a lumbering old Royal typewriter and a stack of unbleached newsprint paper. I was ready to get to work, writing wedding announcements and social club notes for the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern in Wisconsin.

In that early phase of my writing career, the mechanics of cut and paste editing were quite literal. News stories took shape on strips of newsprint Scotch-taped together. Shift return was manual then. Strike-overs required a blob of white-out. 

Now, those revisions and second thoughts are so much easier with the agility of computers and word processing programs. But the technical skills required in today's communication process is a lot more challenging than applying Scotch-tape.

For the past month I've been updating my technical talents with a crash course in website management. My patient coach, Jan Weir of Jan Weir Creative Studio, has been teaching me how to go behind the scenes on my website. I'm learning to make changes and additions by myself instead of requiring the assistance of a web master for every update or revision. 

It's been exciting, and empowering. Like memorizing enough phrases in a foreign language to be a bit more engaged and participatory on a trip to Mexico or Japan. Or learning to ride a bike! There's a tingle of liberation in this process. And pride. Even so, I'm still gripping the handlebars firmly.

The result of my dive into the thicket of web work is a revamped site that acknowledges the part of me that is definitely "Not the Retiring Type." A year ago, when I started writing a column on aging for Eugene's Register-Guard newspaper, I wasn't sure where the adventure would lead. As it turns out, I've accumulated an archive of "Not the Retiring Type" column that are now available for anyone to read on

Challenges and rewards alike seem to accompany the learning process for me. I burrow through impatience, frustration and questions about the value of all this time and effort. But just a glimmer of understanding keeps me going, enduring the awkwardness of being a beginner for the satisfying rush that emerges with each breakthrough. 

Take a look at my progress and read a column or two with a visit to the updated and expanded content on  If you signed up for email delivery of blog entries, you will continue to receive new posts via email but can access old posts on the website. 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Shadows Reveal a Lacy Side of Life

"In a dark time, the eye begins to see."  Roethke

It has been an uneasy week--okay, an uneasy month. For no reason I can identify, my nerves have been on edge. Tension buzzing inside me. In the morning,  anxiety shakes me awake. Worst of all, I haven't succeeded in fingering a cause. 
In times like this, walks calm me for an hour or two. A 10-minute meditation quiets briefly the internal flutter that ruffles equanimity. I've applied both remedies, but can't seem to evade for long the undefined tumult festering within.

For a Type-A get-this-handled kind of person like me, the absence of a clear target or cause provokes further frustration and unrest. My life is good--so full of love and friends and projects and creative opportunities that I feel shamed by my own unhappiness.

As is my usual practice, I've turned to nature for therapy--stretching out my walks as I seek a rhythm of wholeness for body, mind and spirit. A long walk last Sunday led me to a starting point in making peace with this uncertainty.

It was the shadows splashed across a nature trail that woke me as I retraced my steps on the path for a return to the car. I'd been walking 50 minutes by then and had 30 more to go when I noticed the patterns spread at my feet--a lacy web of dark and light.  I'd passed this section not long before without even noticing the interplay of shadow and sun that spread variety, interest and beauty at my feet. My mind tried to piece together a quote that I'd once found intriguing. At home, I looked it up:

"When there is much light, the shadows are deepest."  Goethe

Once again, I am reminded that nature is a powerful, patient therapist. Walking is the vehicle that carries me to contemplation, and to appreciation of the variations that lend shape and shade, color and interest, to my life. 

This morning the sun is bright--dappling the oak trees outside the house with light. Draping the walk in an intricate play of clarity and shadow. I'm heading off to walk on lace. 

New posts appear erratically, when the creative urge nudges me forward. If you'd like to get these posts by email, register your address above, right. You'll be sent an email asking you to confirm your registration.  If you subscribed before but are not receiving emails, you may have missed the confirmation request. Please try again, and Thanks for reading!  

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Photo Opp Leaves a Clear Image

Last week a psychic mudflow slowed me. It was a slog just getting upstairs to my study. Maybe it's a cold, I thought. I'll take a nap and drink steaming cups of Vitamin C in red hibiscus tea. I'll forsake my insistence on a daily walk and let lethargy govern my schedule.

I had no idea how much could be accomplished by letting momentum slide.
Spirited Elation 1998

With a cup of tea on a side table, I sat down with a box of photographs that I've successfully ignored for 10 or 12 years. It was a small box really--a shoe box of photos from the early 2000s--the final years that I carried rolls of film to a photo shop and ordered a stack of glossy prints. 

My mood and energy level were well matched for the task. I moved slowly, deliberately, and surprisingly, without a lot of emotion, into a plodding inventory of past travels, old friendships, and family holidays. It wasn't as hard as I'd imagined, letting go of duplicates and goofy grins. And I was in no hurry. I'd finished more than one cup of tea by the time I turned the final photo facedown on the discard pile that now held three-fourths of the original accumulation.

What stays with me at the end is much more than a sense of relief at tackling an onerous task. More satisfying even than the actual snapshots I placed in the "keeper" stack. What remains is a sense of unexpected joy at reconnecting with my own stories and history.

There's the 1998 shot of me, glowing with new author elation at a celebration for release of my first walking book, The Spirited Walker. In it I see so much hope and expectancy. An embrace of risks and possibilities. 

Hair by Chemo
Then comes the jolt of life's reversals in a photo of me two years later, wrapped in the arms of Nina, a warm and gentle yoga instructor who helped stabilize me on the tightrope of breast cancer treatment and uncertainty. That's a photo with holding power. 

And I love the  flat-out silliness that in a photo of my mother, age 90-something, seated with friends at a festive Christmas table in our home. Five grown people holding tissue-wrapped combs to their lips and humming comb carols. What on earth prompted this behavior? I'm smiling even now in happy reconnection with a day and a spirit of playfulness that I can't even remember. How could I throw that one out?

Brash optimism leaps from photos from New Year's Eve of Y2K--the year we'd been warned that the digital world as we knew it might collapse with a computer glitch. In this shot, we've donned broad smiles and outlandish Y2K hats in celebration of life after midnight. Happy to be with a group of friends. Happy to face a new year. 

The pile in the 'save' box is smaller now. There's space for photos I'll cull some slow day  from a larger, older box of snapshots in an upstairs closet. I'm not dreading it as much as when I started. This process of gentle letting go seems to have left me with more than it took away. There's something satisfying to be said for a day of moving slower than mud. 

Soon you'll be able to read my monthly "Not the Retiring Type" newspaper column here, on I've updated the website and am adding an  archive that will eventually contain all columns published in the past year by The Register-Guard. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Afloat on the Age Wave

    I've been slow getting a new post up on the Spirited Life Blog but it's not because I'm not writing! I'm aswirl in words these days, but most of them seem to be going into "Not the Retiring Type," the monthly newspaper column I'm writing for the The Register-Guard in Eugene. The latest column is one of my favorites so I'm going to post it here as a blog. If you've already seen in in the paper, forgive the repetition. 

In the Swirl of the Surf, Years Vanish

   The first wave splashed me with uncertainty. Beneath my feet, sand swirled out to the sea and I bounced to maintain balance. Before I regained footing, I was buffeted back toward shore as a second wave broke across my shoulders. I felt caught in an uncertain middle as the upper and lower parts of me now pulled in opposing directions. 

    What could I do but laugh? Suddenly, I felt 28 years old, riding a sensory memory of the surf at Benidorm, Spain. We spent a month there once, Dean and I, students traveling on curiosity and a shoestring, forming bonds of connection with fellow travelers from around the world. The freedom of youth, of splashing waves and open minds buoyed us then through the challenges of cheap beds and language perplexities. 

   Now, the splashing waves of the Pacific Ocean at Puerto Escondido, Mexico, transported me back through the decades and dropped me on that Spanish beach--playing volleyball with the boys from Australia. Sampling jug wine and late-night flamenco guitar with a conscientious objector from Germany.

   Ponce de Leon could not have asked for more!  Here it was, the Fountain of Youth on the coast of Mexico, lifting me back in time and space. For a moment, my spirit felt reborn in a giddy bend of risk and delight. 

   This wasn't my first flight to Mexico for a winter infusion of sun and warmth. For years, my destination of preference has been inland cities rich in art and history. But this year, at the urging of friends, my spouse and I consented to five days on the beach before heading inland.

   The decision was a stretch for me. As a true child of Oregon I grew up with public swimming pools--no connection at all with tidal waters of the Pacific beyond appreciative views from the shore. Spain provided my first taste of salt. It came four decades ago as a welcome break in an English winter. After six months in a dank London flat while Dean pursued studies we were eager to shed woolens and warm ourselves in the sun.

   A no-frills travel package aimed at winter-weary British pensioners transported us to a nondescript Benidorm hotel peopled with clients many years our senior. In the arrogance of youth, we scoffed privately as our travel companions toted jars of English marmalade and Tetley's tea to breakfast.

   Before long we were invited to join a table for bridge where we spanned age differences with hearts and clubs. When our partners retreated for afternoon naps, we donned swimsuits and created friends our own age on the beach. There, the Mediterranean delivered a safe initiation to the thrill of uncertainty, the elation of survival, that flow in the rhythm of seaside waves. 

   It was a heady time. We felt limitless, even on our no-excess budget. The world ahead, a balloon of possibilities. We had not the slightest clue back then that we'd one day become the old folks ourselves, chasing the chill of age on a resort patio.

   This time, the hotel was much closer to the shore. The furnishings more gracious. But the guests who clustered at the pool--refugees from Montreal, Boston, Chicago--seemed remarkably similar to the English pensioners of Benidorm.  And this time, I was one of them--one of the senior bathers with loose-skinned arms and soft bellies I'd dismissed with youthful narcissism all those years ago.

   But when I ventured into the breakers, cautiously and skeptically at first, I found myself sloshing in an unexpected ebb and flow of age. In the foaming surf, my sense of identity reeled with the same loss of balance my body experienced in the waves. Half of me felt buoyed by youthful exhilaration; half of me laughed at ironies I couldn't ignore. One moment young, floating on expectancy--the next moment, pulled off balance in the uncertain sands of age. 

   I bounced in delight, savoring a sense of self that had expanded beyond the boundaries of birth year and calendar age. The shifting sands were unsettling some strong assumptions about age and also about tropical beach vacations. Beach resorts, I had decided at some early point in adulthood, were the same around the world Spare me surf side vendors offering trinkets, drinks, and helicopter rides. Don't strand me on a chaise splayed beneath the sun. Take me, instead, to placeswith unique vistas, arts, and tastes. 

   This year, I had to eat my words. Confront my arrogance. I didn't mind one bit. My spirits soared in the rise and fall of waves, hurling me back to a time when my barriers and persuasions were so much more permeable. Amid the glee that burst from every swell, I recalled an even stronger "age wave" that had knocked me off balance just a few days prior to this vacation trip. That day, I traveled an hour up the Interstate for a visit with my mother's last surviving sibling.

  Auntie Mae was a refuge in the years when my widowed mother dropped my younger brother or me on her sister's doorstep.  On those occasions, we arrived sniffling with colds or swollen with mumps, unfit to accompany our mother to the rural grade school where she delivered an education to students in grades five through eight. Auntie Mae tucked us into her own bed on those mornings, soothing us with patience and comforting words. Safe in the calm, unwavering welcome of her home, I'd lie in bed and listen to the voices of my cousins in the kitchen, setting out for their own classrooms. 

   Now, my mother's little sister is 102 years old, matriarch of a sprawling clan. I hadn't seen her for a while and was looking forward to catching up when I reached my cousin's house where Auntie Mae now lives.

   "Oh, Carolyn," my aunt gasped in distressed surprise when I stepped into her room. "You've gotten old!"  

    That greeting, I confess, delivered its own wallop of surprise. Nothing had prepared me for such unbuffered honesty from this woman who'd always greeted me with nothing less than full appreciation.  There she sat,  neatly dressed, hair combed, composed and at ease in her chair beside the picture window that offers a view of the world passing by outside. Clearly she had been expecting someone else. A child of seven or eight perhaps. Or maybe a youth of 16. But not this--a mature woman, aging now well beyond the years she herself had accrued in those early days when we spent so much time together.

   When I gathered my composure, I laughed. "Yes," I responded with a light, teasing tone. "I've gotten old, Auntie Mae. But I'm still not as old as you" 

   She paused and I watched her focus shift. Thoughts seemed to circle for a moment. Then with the gentleness I remembered, she nodded  "Yes,  I guess that's right," she observed with pensive thoughtfulness.  Silence hung for a moment in the air. "I really don't remember how old I am," she confessed.

   Her words floated back to me as I experienced that elusive and transitory sense of age in the warm, nostalgic pulse of the Puerto Escondido surf. 
    For a few glorious moments there, I, too, forgot how old I am. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Reflections on el Día de Amor

   Some say it was Chaucer who transformed a day of religious observation into a celebration of romantic love. They credit the 18th century traditions of courtly love with propelling the liturgical Feast of St. Valentine into a festival of chocolates, roses and romance. 

   But even before Chaucer, the legends surrounding St. Valentine spurred gestures of affection, according to a short history on Wikipedia. As early as the Middle Ages,  the mid-February date was associated with the  mating season for birds.  Chaucer may have cemented the romantic implications of the date with a line in a poem that acknowledged it was "on St Valentine's Day when every bird cometh then to choose his mate." 

   If the roots of today's Valentine's Day traditions lie in England, surely the blooms that  rise from those roots have flourished in Mexico. In Oaxaca, a highland city in the southern region of Mexico, the hearts and cupids of romantic love seem to emerge as soon as the wise men of Christmas take their leave on January 6.

   Here, el Día de Amor produces an outburst of decorations in every shop and restaurant. The preparations begin weeks in advance, promoting sales of streamers of hearts and elaborately cut banners of tissue paper (papel picado) to hang in windows and patios.  Special Valentine's Day menus court diners at every restaurant. Celebrations here spawn excess of the brightest, most optimistic sort.

   Flower vendors stroll city parks with baskets of roses on their heads. "Te Amo" balloons billow in clusters above the shoulders of young sellers. The air is filled with the romance and drama of AMOR. (I'm using all capital letters intentionally here because it seems that the exuberance with which Oaxaca embraces this occasion requires emphatic punctuation.)  

   I've found the mood of celebration so strong some years that I have succumbed to the passion and purchased an engraved silver heart to wear on a chain. I've loaded my market basket with paper hearts to festoon the walls of the breakfast area of the small bed and breakfast inn where we have landed on previous winter visits to this colorful, art-filled city. I've toted bags of foil-covered Euphoria chocolate hearts from my home-town candy-maker to share with fellow travelers. 

      In years past, a former Hollywood set designer, now deceased, festooned the dining room of this inn with tributes to el Día de Amor. His legend lives on in tales of constructions that swayed from the beams and danced across the tables. He, too, felt the fire that St. Valentine ignites in a land where love cushions the stresses of life.

     Keep up with my "Not the Retiring Type" column for the local newspaper with this recent piece about my experience in letting go of clutter with a 30-day Declutter Challenge. Read more about a walker's adventures in Oaxaca in a previous blog entry.


Monday, January 5, 2015

A New Stretch for a New Year

    This morning my breakfast was a bowl of vegetable soup, heated up from a big pot I made late last week. 

     Before the soup, I stretched and bent and groaned softly though about 20 minutes of YouTube yoga while still in my pajamas. It wasn't graceful or stylish but that didn't matter. I was alone in my upstairs workspace launching a new year with good intentions.
    Here it is, the first Monday in January 2015 and to me it feels like the real beginning of a new year. On New Year's Day my spouse and I took advantage of crisp, clear weather to hike to the summit of Mt. Pisgah--an invigorating round-trip hike of about 4 miles in a nearby county park. Then we came home for a nap. It was still a holiday! 

    A holiday mood lingered through four days of taking down, winding down, and bringing slow closure to the season. Today begins the real work of setting forth on a new circuit of the calendar. Instead of "resolutions," I've shaped a few "intentions" to guide me through this year.

    The breakfast soup was a tribute to my neuroscientist friend Michael Merznich who advocates shocking your brain from time to time with a change of routine. Shake things up, he advises. Push the oatmeal aside once in awhile for something unexpected. Done! 

    The YouTube yoga honors a host of failed resolutions. Perhaps I can make flexibility a more regular practice in my life by bringing a yoga class to my house when it's clear I'm not going to go out. 

    To support my New Year's "intentions" this year, I'm engaging the power of my smart phone. A few months ago, I programmed the Reminder function on the phone to deliver a daily 9 am beep that implores me to "Get Grounded."The notice reminds me to focus, for just a second, on the feel of my feet on the floor or on the ground. To be aware of connection to the earth. 

    I launched that reminder as a defense mechanism after a series of falls and fractures. It seemed obvious that just nagging myself wasn't getting the outcome I wanted. The phone reminder delivers no judgment--it just urges me to get present. Gradually, I incorporated it into a mantra that steadies me on walks and hikes. "Graceful, grounded, strong and tall," I assure myself. "Graceful, grounded, strong and tall." A mental support system for focus and posture.

    It seemed helpful! So this year I've given a couple more requests to my in-phone coach. An 11 am prompt now advises me to "Walk the Line." This serves the purpose of getting me up from a seated position at my desk, which is really helpful, and while up, doing a 30-step balance exercise by walking a straight line. It's simple, but also easy to let slide without the friendly prompt of my "trainer."

    Every two days, the phone issues a "Bend the Body" prompt at 2 pm--a reminder that if I haven't done any stretching or yoga yet, now is the time. Often by 2 pm, I've put in a few hours at the computer and feel ready to move. It's pretty easy for me to fit in a walk or hike, or even a trip to the gym for 30 minutes of independent cardio exercise. 

   But stretching? Who can slow down to stretch when there's laundry, meal prep, and endless household projects to address? I find a million ways to put a yoga class aside. So this year, I'm bringing in a new coach. I hope a "Bend the Body" nudge every two days will gently help me honor priorities, reminding me of an intention to bend and stretch physically as well as mentally.  

    Good intentions may not perfect my downward dog pose or prevent a stumble, but intentions offer direction--a route on which to explore the paths of an unfolding year.  

Best wishes to you for a healthy, happy, and fulfilling new year. For me, a highlight of the past year was achieving 50 years of marriage! I wrote about the maturation of this relationship in a December "Not the Retiring Type" column.