Wilderness

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The path gave way underneath my feet. The ground was soft…thawing from winter and IMG_9372still wet from the recent rain and snow. I glanced back behind me to see the imprints of my boots on the trail. My father’s words hung in my mind….

“Why are you looking behind you, you’re not going that way”

A smile spread across my face. I looked to see the impressions I’d made…to know where I’d been…the trail was clear, I certainly knew where I was going. I’d walked this same path IMG_9390thousands of time.

Time for me. Space for me.

Church in this place.

Antonio Gaudi, the great Spanish Architect who designed the Basilica in Barcelona believed that his church should mimic the forest and nature because that is where you are closest to God. I’ve never been to the Cathedral in Barcelona, but I’ve spent countless hours in this wilderness, which for me is God’s masterpiece. It’s here I feel at home, rooted and what likely drew me to Snowbird all of those years ago…

I Googled the term “Wilderness”:

 Wilderness or wildland is a natural environment on Earth that has not
been significantly modified by 
civilized human activity. It may also be defined as: “The most intact, undisturbed wild natural areas left on our planet—those last truly wild places that humans do not control and have not developed with roads, pipelines or other industrial infrastructure.”

How would I define “it”. How do I feel when I am here? IMG_9392Surrounded. In the wilderness I am alive, bound, warm, vulnerable and in awe of the world. I feel in ways that I can’t express in any other places or ways. While I marvel at cities and all that we create, they are no match for the creation here. Order and chaos together and yet perfect and “right” The world we create around us is all about “order” with little room for the chaos of nature. No give and take, no Yin, much less Yang. Cities are great for the culture, sophistication and convenience they offer, but I live here in this relaxed rural natural environment at the end of the power lines and it is here that I find peace and comfort in the woods, nature, lakes and outdoors. I like it here. This isn’t a race, you see this is life – and my devotion is deeply personal.

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The trail moved up and to the left, surrounding the big trees. I gazed down at the spider web of roots of the ancient poplar tree. Deep these giants tap deep into the earth, their feet running away from the base like spider legs all crisscrossed with an intricate weave of smaller veins feeding the enormity of the behemoth that stands before me. The top of the tree, towering 150 feet above had long since snapped away. The enormous girth of the tree takes the majority of nutrients from the soil and there isn’t enough to reach the vast heights of the tree, so eventually the tops die out….I wonder how long they will last?

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I watched as a brook bubbled…seemingly straight from the Earth. Looking closely I see the indentions where the water flows underground from a source high above the trail. The sound of the water flowing over the rocks and rushing down a small series of cascades sooths my soul much like music from a choir. I sit for a time on an old log and listen IMG_9362to the sounds. Several couples out on the same walk stroll by. Instead of taking in all of the beauty that surrounded them they are talking about what awful shape the trail is in, how much downfall there is, how muddy their feet are getting – they want the “Disney” experience and that’s not this place. This is one of God’s sanctuaries. A refuge from all that is out “there”. Fairly untouched by the hands of man. Where fallen trees are sawed by hand not chain saws. Where trunks are removed or cut with human effort, only to clear the path. Where bridges over creeks are built to meld with the woods around them. Where water flows where it wants…even if it’s down the trail.

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This is perhaps as close to true wilderness as we can get here in this country anymore…..oh, you can move further into the backcounty and get farther away and it’ll get rougher and more remote, but here….here in this cathedral you get just a taste…enough to make you hunger and thirst for more…trees….water….plants….animals of the world as intended….chaos….and order…..straight…and curved….twisted…and…..young….and old….I take off my boots and sink my feet into the muddy ground feeling connected to this earth, in this place, at this time. Ahhhhhhhh…IMG_9421

I’ve learned so much about myself here. About life, people, places, things and just “stuff”. I need this place…and places like it. I find solace here and with the negative feelings flowing in this country I need this walk in the woods. To be surrounded by God and his creative masterpiece is a blessing indeed. I am grateful. Sometimes you have to enjoy the quiet moments to be able to see the larger picture.

“no winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn”                                                                                                            – Naturalist Hal Borland

Spring is coming. The days are getting longer. The air warmer. Change is everywhere. Welcome. Ready. Here, in this place, like the walks I take beside the creeks or lakes I find the great metaphors for life. Endings, beginnings, seasons change, water flows. The wind blows. All constant. Always changing. Just as God intended. The Wilderness makes you better. Indeed it does.

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To be continued………

Robert Rankin                                                                              Innkeeper, Explorer & Adventurer

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Saying Goodbye…..

is never…ever….easy.

In all relationships there comes a time or an awareness that  you will part company, being closely held, a handshake, hug or just a wave, one begins to realize at some point that this may indeed be “goodbye”. A place and time where you understand that you may never see that soul again…..at least in this lifetime.

Over the years of my life I’ve said goodbye to many. Family members, friends, guests and others I’ve had contact with. I’ve waved from the steps of the Lodge, hugged many as they climb into cars, stood beside graves and placed my hands on coffins through the years, but recently came a goodbye that struck me to my very core. I’ve said goodbye to many animal friends through my life. Several while I’ve been caretaker and steward of this place, but this friend was something special……

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PGT Beauregard, The General, Beau, Bo, whatever name you used, he was the dearest of friends…my real BFF, in ways that many can never understand. He and I wandered these mountains through thick and thin. In every type of weather, rain, sun, snow, ice, heat and cold. Never once complaining, always by my side. Tail always wagging. Happy, content and completely in the NOW….always. We saw each other through many adventures and greeted each other with love and affection every time we were together. He came here to be with us and  me through some of the most difficult times I’ve known and some of the best times too. Together we experienced all of the elements of life. We often could be found close together, but at the same time allowed each other to find peace in solitude.

In late January I noticed Beau acting a little odd and early in the morning took him to our vet and friend. It didn’t take Dave long to diagnose the issue and immediately performed surgery. Beau came through and continued to improve over the next 24 hours, crossing critical milestones. Two days after surgery, Dave, Elizabeth and I talked and decided that Beau would be better off coming home for the night. Elizabeth and I loaded Beau into the truck and drove him home. The trip home was the same as always and he knew immediately when we got close to home, raising up to see and make sure his senses were not wrong. As we got him out of the truck he wandered the yard briefly, smelling all that was around him and greeting his cohorts and friends, Max, Lakota and JB tails all waging high in the air in greetings and the “I’ve missed you”, “where have you been” that dogs know so well before coming into the house.

We had made a bed for him, but true to his very nature he moved to the foyer near the front door – his favorite spot inside. Elizabeth and I spent time talking with him, laughing at stories and being near. Elizabeth went to bed and I curled up behind Beau, putting my arm across him and holding him close. At a little after 10, his heart slowed and he closed his eyes for the very last time. He died in my arms and in just the way I think we would all want – at home, a very familiar place, surrounded by those he loved and that loved him the most. Peacefully, quietly….and…as for death….easily. As we cried, saying prayers and farewells that we certainly weren’t ready for, we decided to bury Beau in his very favorite spot.

Over the years I’ve witnessed many scatterings of ashes and memorials on this property. Guests and former Innkeepers that have passed from this life and wanted to be spread on this magical mountain. Many of our animal friends, cats and dogs that have shared this space with us and guests alike. All of those spots on this property hold a place of honor with us, but Beau’s place was one that was very close to him. A place that was and is special on this property. High on the ridge, overlooking vast amounts of forest, Beau could often be found lying in the leaves listening to all that surrounded him and watching for the comings and goings from that spot. It was here that we buried him.

For several days following his death we would go and sit near him. His other cohorts could often be observed, either sitting near or actually lying on top of his grave. I know many people that say animals have no souls, but I would argue that point. Seeing the way his other friends acted at his death and feeling him through the years as I did tells me otherwise. I’ve often heard people remark that they wish they were the people that their  dogs thought they were. I am…and was the person that Beau thought I was. He taught me much and always gave more than he took. Filled with warmth and love for those he cared for he knew when to surround you with that love and when to give you space. His life was a remarkable gift to all of those he touched – and he touched many. I know because of the way he not only touched me, Elizabeth and Sophie, but by the tears shed from both the Vet and his staff when they learned of Beau’s death. We’ve received notes and cards from those that heard of his passing and I have been amazed at how many were touched by this magnificent soul, but even more than that I am amazed, grateful and honored that he chose to share himself and all of his love with me.

the fear of loving a dog is

knowing one day they’ll be

gone, and you could never

find the eyes that express all

that you feel.

                        r.m.drake

         

There’s a reason that our animal companions don’t live as long as we do. That reason is that we could never handle their death and our loss if they did. The unquestioning love and devotion of these friends is remarkable and their total devotion and unconditional love to their friends and companions is something that we should all aspire to with every being we meet. Beau lived his life unwaveringly. He lived with complete vulnerability of heart and consequently lived his life very large indeed. The list of course could go on and on with the gifts he gave, but without question he gave me more than I could ever give him.

Snowbird marks her 75th Anniversary this year and we start a new journey here on the mountain. One that is marked without a dear friend and companion. No more coffee and IMG_8609shared sunrises from the deck. My eyes are still teary as I write this. Raw, vulnerable, open, courageous, scared, and humbled. All of these feelings are gifts that were given to me by him.

Beauregard, thank you for the gift of your life, the gift of your talents, wisdom, love and courage. Thank you for choosing to spend your time with me. I am forever grateful and humbled for your presence in my life and I hope I remember all you taught.

Until we meet again –I love you.

 

Robert Rankin

Innkeeper, Adventurer & Explorer

Stripped Bare…..

I was worn out yesterday afternoon and needed an escape. The rain, work and me were all taking a toll. So as the sky cleared in the afternoon and the dogs needed to get out as much as I, off we went. I decided to walk down by the lake. The air was cooler and I could feel the change taking place in the air. One of the problems with walking alone can often be time spent with my head. It is where my sprit soars and I am most creative and free with my thoughts, but it can also be a time where my “self talk” can get destructive.

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After walking the old forest service roads for a while and catching some turkeys and grouse unaware we returned to the old dock. On the walk I did what I always do and gathered some pebbles and rocks…to remind me of my time. The boat has been out of the lake for a while as we prepare for winter so the cove where its normally anchored was really quiet. I pulled my camp chair out from the truck and set it up at the edge of the water and watched the dogs frolic, run and play. My head was playing games with me…..

               …….Enough…..

I stripped my clothes off and running to the end of the dock, dove..headfirst into the water of the cove. OMG….The water was cold….like daggers piercing the skin. A sharp change from just a few weeks ago. Maybe it was all of the rain…perhaps it was the change in the temps, but whatever the reason the chill ran straight to my core. Like dozens of sharp needles it swept my breath away. I began to swim out towards the center…long hard strokes pulling me into the deeper water and slowly I began to adjust and warm as I moved out. Glancing back I saw JB the wonderdog take the plunge after me…he matched me stroke for stroke as we moved towards the deep water channel. He’s an incredibly strong swimmer. We watched each other…I think we were seeing who might turn around first….I won that round though and soon, in deep water he turned and headed back towards the dock and shore.

I’m not sure how long I was out there. Maybe 30 minutes, maybe 45perhaps an hour. Long enough though to begin to clear my head and stir my soul……..

I’m writing this and I am afraid. Odd isn’t it, that I can be this way? After all of this time, all of the space, all of the places I’ve been and all of the mistakes I’ve made. You’d think I’d have learned. I have….and yet….I find that I’m still drawn back…..I see where you just “showed up”…..somewhere…..in the oddest place…there you are….even if it’s only in my mind…..

Why am I afraid? For thousands of reasons and thousands of battles I’ve fought. Some of those battles were just with me. Some wins, but many losses. I am scared.

What if it doesn’t work?

What if I hurt you…or I get hurt?

What if it’s just not meant to be?

What if the distance is too great?

“What ifs”, “what ifs”, “what ifs”… hundreds of them…banging around and around in my head to create the….

Fear…

my mortal enemy.

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“Take care of your thoughts when you are alone, and take care of your words when you are with people

I smile,  the first part of that phrase that I still have trouble with. I decided after my last relationship to take time off – to be alone – to figure out who I really am…and who/what I really want. I’m glad to have done that and am doing it still. It has allowed me space…for healing…something I haven’t really done since the breakup of my marriage. Oh….I’ve done the work….read the books….done the worksheets…gone to meetings, gotten “involved”, lived from my heart…been both honest and dishonest….allowed love…and lust….but……….I’ve never really allowed myself to just be…..

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Where am I now?

Elizabeth lives with me. At 15 she is growing into quiet the remarkable young woman. I’ve wanted to be the best example of a man, a father that I can be, so that when she finds the person she is to be with – that she’ll know him…and know how she needs to be treated because of the way I treat her – and the way I treat all people that touch my life. Oh, don’t worry – she’s seen my mistakes…I tell her….she knows them and understands how difficult it can be……but what I really want her to see is how magically right it can be….when it’s supposed to be….It’s good to have her here. She has taught me more I think than I can teach her.

               “It is important to visit that place inside of you.

                That place that no other human is allowed to enter.

                There you will find no fear, you will find the laughing sun

                And you will love there and rise there and fall there

                And break there and put yourself back together there.

                Let that be the only thing you live for

                And let it take you back to where you began.

                To begin within, I swear…that might be the most beautiful thing in the world”

                                                                                                                          r.m. drake

I visit that place within often and find much truth in those words. Beginning there is that place where I can do all that Drake said,

but…..

I’m still afraid. Afraid of failing again, not of being alone..well sometimes, but it would IMG_6676be great to be with someone – that right one. The one that gets me, like I get her. The one that “fits”…in all of those many ways. The one that’s willing to do the work – with me, beside me, to hold me as I’ll hold her. To cherish all of the moments, good, bad and in-between. The woman who is all of those incredible things and allows me to be the same for her….

You know what I’m talking about……you’ve seen me…..and deep inside, you know me….the good, the bad….and….well……all of the rest.

I’m more afraid of missing life than I am of living it. Can you live it with me? Here? At the end of the power lines, in the middle of nowhere? Where people like us are few and far between? Can you be in a place where the demands of “hospitality” and energy can suck the very marrow out of your bones? Will you take me away from it? Gently? Can you hold me when I cry, give me my space as I honor you and give you yours , make love to me with passion and abandon? Not only can you, but will you? I don’t want a night, or a day, or a week, month or year…I’ve had all of those, I want a lifetime. One where we build together. It will not always be easy, but I know it’ll be worth it.

As C.S. Lewis said, “To love is to be vulnerable”…I want to be vulnerable….again…..with you. I am not desperate. I have all of the time in the world to find you and for you to find me. I know people have fallen for me because of my words, my smile or even my looks, but I want someone that falls in love with my scars…all of them…and I have many….and they all tell a marvelous woven story of a life well lived.

Come and climb mountains with me, not so the world can see us, but so that you and I can see the world. Together. You know what I need…and want….tell me…no, better yet, show me what you need. That’s just as important…even more so……to me, that you show me what it is that you need. Can you do that for me?

Forgive me for wandering so….these thoughts just entered my mind and I had to let them go, get them out…so that maybe….they will find you……

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Counting my blessings and the stones gathered along the way…I am celebrating the great adventure ahead!

Robert Rankin

Innkeeper, Explorer & Adventurer

Privilege

I always noticed him as I walked out of my parents house growing up. Tall, thin and moving slowly his speed never seemed to vary. He wore the same clothing every day….dark gray IMG_6439pants, a lighter gray work shirt with his name embroidered above the pocket, thick soled factory work boots and a straw fedora or “gentlemans” hat on his head. He never failed to smile when he saw me….we shared a bond…….

James Pete

He was the “yardman” for my parents when I was a child. There was one before James, his name was Hobart and while I heard stories of him, he was gone before I was old enough to remember him, but James was the man. He mowed grass, pulled weeds, planted flowers, raked, tilled the beds right alongside my mother. These were the days before weed eaters and gas blowers. The work was by hand and always happened in the heat, humidity and rain of the southern summers, yet he was always there…working through it all.

He was kind and gentle and taught me more about life, people and the way we can be than almost any other adult. Growing up as a black man (he never would have used the term “African American”) in the Heart of Dixie in those days had to be incredibly difficult. I have no idea how much schooling he had, but I doubt very much, although he could read and write. When he was a boy he worked on the watercress farms that dotted the landscape of north Alabama. From aluminum jon boats the boys reached into the murky water gathering the cress from the ponds. His lower arms were covered in scars that he said were from the water moccasins or cotton mouths that often bit him. I remember staring at him open mouthed when he told me this – the dreaded cotton mouth was the most feared snake in the south and we all thought they’d kill you. He said that he’d been biten so often that he had become immune to their venom….to this day I don’t know if it was true or not…..but I believed him. As he came of age he went to work at a local cotton gin where he had the most dangerous job of feeding the cotton into the gin itself. Somewhere around 30 his hand got caught in the gin and crushed…..It never did work right after that.

James lived in Tanner about 20 miles from my home. He farmed, raising vegetables and hogs (he never called them pigs). He was married and had several daughters all of whom I didn’t meet until much later in life. He drove an old Chevrolet Cheyenne pickup truck, his right hand draped across the steering wheel because he couldn’t really “grip” the wheel, often picking me up at school in the afternoons. I told him that I would drive a truck one day….he just laughed and laughed…saying “that’s what all boys say”……I loved to listen to his stories…the lilt of his voice…his glowing skin and smile that crept across his face. Working beside him in the yard, watching him lift his hat and wipe sweat from his brow….and planting taught me patience. Every Christmas we shared gifts. I always gave him something I made, my parents gave him money and he always…always brought fresh sausage to the house for our Christmas breakfast. The flavor of that lingers in my mouth to this day……..

I’m not sure what brought all of these memories to mind over the weekend…perhaps it was IMG_6363what happened in Charleston early in the summer….maybe Ferguson or Baltimore or the dozen other atrocities that have happened….both those we hear about and those that never make the “news”. I’ve been blessed far more than most and have lived a life that has been wonderful and incredible. I’ve faced challenges and fears and difficulties just like everyone else, but I also know that those I’ve faced pale in comparision to those faced by folks like James Pete. The difficulties he faced – for no other reason than skin color – were enormous – very likely beyond my comprehension – and yet – he moved with grace and love through life.

I wonder what he’d say if he saw what was happening in our society today? You see I grew up in a South that was very different than the one we see today. Kathryn Stocketts book The Help was more truth than fiction. As I watch and listen to my children and their friends – many of whom are African American, I am happy to see that times are changing…just not as fast as I’d like. To be honest I’d never really thought about the Confederate battle flag and how hurtful that could be to a portion of our country. I get it now. So many of leaders are right – Black Lives do matter….so do Hispanic, Asian, White, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and every other life….they all matter. None more than the other – all very equal.  As we move forward as a society and country I hope that we will all come to that realization – ALL LIVES MATTER and everyone deserves to be treated with respect because we are all human beings.

James is gone now. Without a doubt to a much better place. The sun is blazing through the trees and as I stare across this mountain towards the town of Robbinsville, I realize that the IMG_6436lessons and gifts he gave me are too numerable to count. He taught me about strength….the kind that comes from inside. He taught me about joy from seeing the smallest flowers bloom. He taught me how important all life is and he taught me respect, for myself and others….a lesson that the thought of him this weekend reminded me of. He taught me that if I find a glimpse of understanding in someone’s smile, touch, laugh, or connection that I am lucky beyond belief…for to be known and understood, even for a moment, fills my soul in a way that most things can’t reach. While he taught me most of these lessons when I was a boy, they’ve really just taken root. I was privileged and honored to have known him, eaten with him, shared water with him….oh….yes….and James…..I thought you’d like to know…..I drive a truck……my hand often draped across the steering wheel….just like yours.

Thank you for sharing this journey with me.

Robert Rankin

Innkeeper, Adventurer & Explorer

Alone, I Surrender…..

August 18, 2015

I must admit that writing for me isn’t an “all the time” thing. I write when I’m inspired and this has been a tough summer for that. Inspiration hasn’t come easily….perhaps because I was too involved with all of the things happening around me. Lessons were thrown my way far too often for comfort this summer. Difficult ones to learn and constant, but I’m listening……and learning…..

I’m sorry I’ve been so quiet these few months.

 “if you wish to be a warrior prepare to get broken, if you wish to be an                                   explorer prepare to get lost and if you wish to be a lover prepare to be both”                                                                                                                               – Daniel Saint 

I’m alone here on the mountain and yet not. Sometimes it is overwhelming and sometimes not. Challenges that once were shared are now seen only by the face I see in the mirror. I don’t always like it, but this is time I need. To pause…..to reflect….to learn and to grow. Grow…yes, grow. As I watch others around me I am amazed at how we’ve become so judgemental….the “they should be this” or “they should do that” or even the “if I were them” seems to have become a cacophony resounding through our society. Our abilities to criticize overwhelms all of us and few are taking the the time to pause – to take a long hard look in our mirror at ourselves. It’s  those moments- the moments of “self” where we are able to really grow and learn….this is the side of the spectrum where I lean. Often inwardly focused on myself, my failures, shortcomings and lack of ability……not to blame, but to improve. My “self critique” is highly critical and often more tough than warranted. This inward focus can be very helpful, but often in those moments…….

we tend to forget how good we really are….

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“Who looks outside dreams;                                                               Who looks inside awakes.”                                                                                                   – Carl Jung

There’s a light breeze blowing across the mountain tonight. The prayer flags are flying, snapping back and forth in the wind, . Cicadas are calling each other, the sing song of their buzz is almost intoxicatingly loud….it is August after all…..Alone yes….Lonely…sometimes, but this is time for me. To heal. To become better and more focused. To see all of the gifts that surround me.

It’s in these moments where I discover. When I surrender. Surrender for me isn’t the allowing things to happen to me, but allowing things to happen for me. It is the constant unfolding of grace. It’s my active participation in the art of allowing. The silence of prayer, the motion of a meaningful smile or a new conversation that takes me to a place or person I never thought of visiting. It is the truth of where I am – outside of the expectations I create.

The simple idea that everything I once thought of as being bad that has happened has led me to a wonderful place. It is me honoring the present moment. That it is, or was, never as bad as I thought, or think. It is also the observation of the destruction between the end and beginnings that bring life, emotion, friends, family and love full circle.

I’m okay – even when I stand in the darkest place. The realization that I am who I am. Not bad or good, but Human. One who makes mistakes, tries to correct his path, one who believes in his journey, filled with good and grace. Certainly better than I thought I was or think I am. Fear is the anticipation of the uncertain end, of failure. It is an emotion that can hide the wonderful experiences of wind and rain…of snow and sand…of waves and the breeze that brushes across my face here on the mountain….it is life itself…this is exactly what I’m supposed to feel.

Head in the direction that makes you feel….well…..like you feel. To hell with people that tell you how to feel. When you are happy, be happy and angry, be angry. Don’t apologize unless you want to, unless the apology is real, flows from deep within and is who you are. Don’t pay attention or give heed to others – live your life the way you want. Surrender. Let it go. It’s going to be okay. I promise.

I simply want and need to stay out of my own way.

The summer is slipping by. It’s August ….fall will be here on the mountain before we know it. Snowbird Mountain Lodge is prepped…ready for it. School in Robbinsville started back yesterday and football season starts soon. Elizabeth is now enjoying her sophomore year. She made me smile as I took her to school. She was thankful that she was no longer a freshman – now a member of the “upper” classmen and in being so reminded me………

of all of the things I am Grateful for. I am so very thankful and my blessings continue to be counted. I am once again at peace…perhaps because I surrendered.

The sun is coming up now. Time to get Elizabeth up and headed in the right direction. Coffee. Then, I think I’ll head into the woods…to listen to the trees and wind…perhaps to even feel the rain. You’ll be there with me. In every leaf, every drop of tumbling water in the creek, in every footstep you’ll be with me…and I welcome your presence, your voice, your laughter…even if it’s only in my mind. Thank you for sharing the journey with me.

I continue to celebrate the great Adventure ahead!

Peace, Love & Light

Robert Rankin

Innkeeper, Adventurer & Explorer

Moments and Memories

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I sat on the swing overlooking the mountains….Listening to the sounds of the evening, taking sips of my drink and listening to the one seated next to me…I felt the this place once again. In that space, over dinner, laughter, conversation, sharing lives and stories…..it is moments like that that make up memories……

My mother has a favorite saying – “Robert, you drink in life in giant gulps”. I always smile when I think about her saying it. IMG_4328Once I finally understood and became aware of how I was taking life in big gulps I refocused myself on all of the smaller…seemingly insignificant happenings that go on around me every day. The way the hummingbird lit on the feeder that evening, the way your gaze met mine as the conversation went deeper, the feel of the breeze as it brushed across my cheek on the porch, the way the dogs nuzzled up for a pat so they wouldn’t be left out. Those are seemingly the moments of everyday life and yet, sometimes I take it all for granted, but when I’m able to focus on them, to slow down and pause, those magical moments are created.

I was blessed to have one of them this week. These are the times that help sustain us. They are the memories that carry us forward for years and years. In particular I find these moments are the ones that I never want to end. It’s like reading a great book or seeing a fabulous movie. When I turn the last page or the screen goes dark and find myself saying, “wait, that can’t be it, it can’t be IMG_4133over!” It’s those times that I find myself wanting to know more….that is where memories are created, the places and times that we never want to forget. I was reminded that intimacy is never purely physical. It’s about the connection on deeper levels, a looking and caressing of each others soul…it’s about trust, truth and life. Theses are the seconds, minutes, hours or days where we are surrounded by the “magic” It can be a place, a person(s) or both where and when they happen, but oh when they do…..well…that carries us forever….

I once read that there was a difference between moments and memories and the illustration used went something like this…While we ate dinner on September 1, 2004, we actually don’t know what we had – this is a moment, we know ate, we just can’t recall what. When we can specifically recall an “event” in our mind and recreate it exactly….like a wedding…that is a memory…those are what creates the times that we won’t forget. As my father has gotten older and more forgetful his memories have become more pronounced and more powerful for him, but after that night this week in a conversation we had on the phone he reminded me “The best portion of life is in those small nameless moments you spend smiling with something or someone that matters to you”…to be honest I think it’s true for all of us. It’s when time stands still in those moments that look suspiciously like ordinary life to others that our memories are created.

When the night came to an end I found myself wanting more. I wandered out the front door, 2015-04-20 21-30-37 -0400down the drive and then up to the house, the dogs trailing behind. I stood outside, gazed at the stars and watched as the full moon drifted across the night sky. Fully intending to go to bed, I sat on my porch instead, lit the fire and gave thanks. For the day. For the night. For the moment. For the connection. For the depth. For the openness. For giving. Like all of us, I have no idea what the future holds, but I am really looking forward to it. And of this I’m sure, we’ll create more memories and certainly have more moments, but that night…oh….that night, I created a memory that will be in my mind for a long, long time…….

                                     Thank you.

Robert Rankin

                                                                  Innkeeper, Explorer & Adventurer 

Home and Love

It’s been almost thirty years since they left. Vivid memories of them are intertwined and mixed into my soul. With the help of their children, my aunts and uncles, we cleared out and packed up that house that held a lifetime of memories in Decatur.

My grandmother was a classic, old school southern lady…..exactly what you’d think of if you thought back to the days of Driving Miss Daisy…..she was that kind of woman, although without the means that Miss Daisy had. She held on to the past, gripping it firmly so that it might never see change…particularly in her mind. She held onto things that might have been sentimental….old dusty books…china and silver of our familys from the century past…photographs, albums, games, art, letters and dresses…oh my gosh..the dresses and shoes…At 90 something it was quiet the collection….

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My grandfather was a man’s man, tall, strong and firm. Rooted in his generation..the one that was on the cusp of the “greatest generation” – depression, war and all, he supported all of his family through hard work encouraging them all to be independent, strong and capable. He was one of 18 or so children and as I understand it, they were all that way, so perhaps it was genetic…I just know that fame and fortune didn’t interest him, but life did.

Their Decatur home was old school southern,  graced with wide open spaces and two very private bedrooms, a sun porch that stretched across the back that gazed into the woods and a large formal dining room where people were entertained on fine china and crystal. . Waited on by maids while they looked out over the expansive front yard, smoking cigarettes, pipes and cigars laughing about their world. A neighborhood was eventually built up around their home in the “country”.

They generally didn’t throw stuff away back then, they fixed it. They kept things longer, holding on to them, caring for and reusing…over and over. My grandfathers shop outside was filled with tools and designed to fix, repair and rebuild. He worked six days a week, five full and then a half day on Saturday when, in the afternoon he mowed the lawn fully dressed – in his coat, tie and dress wingtip shoes walking behind his large Gravely tractor. Even till the end of his life you could often find him splitting wood for the many fireplaces in the house or repairing something one of us had broken.

When they were young, families remained close…if not always mentally then physically. With the advent of trains, planes and cars families began to spread out. Ours included..moving farther and farther away from each other – spreading our wings and flying far.

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My grandmother always said. “you raise your children to be strong and better than you, and that’s what they do.” She was a classy, well dressed always, no-nonsense Irish woman, tough as nails.

My grandfather lived his life by some simple, set in stone creeds – “Always do the right thing. “, 

FullSizeRender (24)“Be kind and nice.”, “Live within your means.” , “Always…always..tell the truth.” I can remember each of those phases like it was yesterday. He spoke them often, but more importantly he lived by them. He was a simple, humble and a good “Southern Gentleman”…all the way to his core.

He worked hard, taught family much about life. They worked hard together trying to build a city back during the depression and while he was just a little to old to go off to war, he joined the US Coast Guard and served his country in that way. They both gave to their community, he through Rotary Club and she through gardening clubs. Family, church and community were their benchmarks.

After she died at close to 100, he pined away, James continued to go about his daily life, going to work, to church and passing time in the yard and watching sports on his old B&W TV. I watched the flame leave him with her. It was like seeing a candle burn down and the wick slowly choking out….They’d looked after each other for so long….Without her there, he was ready…

My parents & I went through the things in their home. Discovering treasures that I never knew they had. A $100 in bills in an envelope taped to the back of a drawer in her dresser –  what we’d call “mad money” and old letters they’d written to each other. It was like reading a love story from the deep southern past. A story that came full circle, youth to old age. He told her how he adored her, of her strength and beauty. He reminded her over and over of his feelings. When they were apart he asked her to please wait for him. It was almost a seventy year marriage, a lifetime of love. I’m sorry that my children never knew them, but they are still connected….through me, my parents and life.

They succeeded at fully living life.They did it, not because their life was easier, they had more or were any luckier than others. They succeeded because they worked hard at it, loved it and cherished it. Together and apart. They raised their family to be adventurous and independent. They loved, let go and then watched. What happened with that was AMAZING. Their children grew, lived and taught their children (me & my brothers) to do the same…..this was their gift. A gift that continues to pay forward…to my children and over and over…..

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As I sit and think today about their home on Brookmeade Road in Decatur, Alabama I have a powerful and warm force in the center of my soul…my heart. I don’t really remember all of their stuff, although I have some of their treasures in my home. I know that their house would never have been featured in Southern Living or any other home magazine

What I do remember is running through their huge two acre yard barefoot with my cousins, exploring for hours in the trees and grass. Hiding among the cedar trees. Putting lights on her fabulous Christmas trees…inside and out. I remember catching lightening bugs in mason jars on warm Summer nights. I remember eating warm, fresh oatmeal with sliced bananas and cinnamon at the breakfast table. My grandfather taking afternoon naps on the sunporch in his Lazboy. Walking in the back door late in the afternoon just before suppertime and smelling Matties wonderful southern food on the stove and the taste of my grandmothers cornbread smeared with fresh butter……..that very distinctive smell of being home that I’m absolutely sure still, must be there today.

“What will I leave behind?”

My grandparents home and that of my parents were successful homes. They both did what I think homes should do. That’s the whole point. Another gift. I always have it. It’s mine. It’s all of ours, my children, friends and family – all of those I love and cherish. You see….it’s really in my heart…my soul – the smells, the feelings, the laughter…all of it! In this age of instant internet we don’t have to wait a moment to see what’s new and cool, ..we can see it, feel it, buy it right now….But let’s not forget that it takes more than that to create a home. It’s a generational gift. The greatest gift of a lifetime. You can fill it with fancy furniture from the very best stores or things that aren’t so trendy, but when you build a home from your heart…well, that never goes out of style

Maybe it’s just a midlife thing..or a passing phase, but I see many of my friends building fancy new homes, second places at the beach or here in the mountains and filling them with crazy amounts of stuff and I get to feeling jealous, or that I’m less than…or just not good enough..I am reminded of Ivy Mae and James’ beautiful old home on Brookmeade Road and just like theirs……

Mine will always have open doors, welcoming friends, family & strangers.

Mine will always have a few muddy dog prints on the floor and laundry to be done.

My home will always be filled with love.and here’s my wish for you – I hope yours is too.

Because I know, that’s really all that’s left behind when our life is all done..Love.

Robert Rankin

Innkeeper, Explorer & Adventurer