Wilderness

 

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……

 

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

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

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

Is there an App for that?

I stared at the screen far too long. I think that perhaps my eyes were crossed and for sure the numbers were beginning to run together. The accounting module on my office computer had pushed me over the edge. The closing of the books from the prior month, calculations for sales, taxes, payroll, loss, profit, margins…ugghhhh…..all were running together. Ahhhhhh, the joys of small business…..I needed to step out…..to step away….find my breath….I needed to remember to forget the fast lane, because when I really want to fly I have to harness the power of my passions. I wonder…do you ever feel that way?

There’s so much that I want to share with you. Dinner was magnificent with the culinary team allphoto (22)
on top of their game. Cocktails at the bar whizzed away under the skill of the tender. Fires burned, the hearths were warm as smoke curled from the chimneys. The wind blew as flashes of lightening and rain fell. The evening storms rolled through. All of these and so much more to share……this place, the magic in the air, the “blood moon” or eclipse that was happening early…very early Saturday morning, but I knew the earliness wouldn’t have mattered because it was another adventure to share….just like all of the rest. It could be that  you were to busy….to tired….or plugged in with all that you had to do. I understand….I get that way too…..sometimes I have those same fears…the same thoughts…..sometimes I don’t really know what I want….so…yes, I know…..I get it……that’s why this day was so special……..

IMG_3959 (1)“The beautiful spring came; and when Nature resumes her loveliness, the human soul is apt to revive also” – Harriet Jacobs

I left the dogs behind. This was now time for me. Time for solitude. It’s important for me to know the difference between the inner solitude that heals and the separation that can isolate me. I understand and have known both. The trail called me to a waterfall….another magical spot that not many people ever see…..because most of us won’t leave the paved road and take the tracks and trails less traveled by. I’ve taken this walk in all types of weather; storms, fog, cold, heat and in every season of the year. This day wasn’t any different, but after last nights storm the sky was a brilliant blue and you could sense the mood change in nature.

Spring was IMG_4082raising her head nodding to everything that is getting ready to grace the forest floor. The first flowers unfolding their petals and the last moments of winter are becoming a memory. Ferns were making “fiddleheads” as they began to unroll into their full beauty. For all of these things and so many more, I was grateful. I took my shoes off as I moved up and over the rocks and dirt. To feel the the soles of my feet on God’s ground. I walked slowly. Thinking back over time and space. Catching glimpses of the weeks, months and years past in my mind and healing. From computers and the office, to the staff and the hustle and bustle that is my life…yes….even here….at the end of the lines.

“the world is mud-luscious and puddle wonderful” – E.E. Cummings

P1010249Finally, I settled on a rock near the base of the falls. I laid out the blanket and lunch…..I poured a drink and just sat…..listening…..the sound of water cascading over the boulders and the wind through the trees….feeling the breeze that only rushing…..falling water can make and the coolness of it as it glazed across my skin. This was the spot. There is a pool at the bottom of the falls that would be perfect for “dipping skinny” when summer comes. You see, it takes settings as grand as this…as removed as this…as remote as this…..to shake me into seeing what’s really important in life. Places like this strip away all of the pretense, comfort, technology, calendars and confidence so that we can become one. This is why I wanted to share this with you. This place. This moment. Never to be repeated…….but trust me…there will always be another moment…another place….another time……that is, if you want there to be.

During that time…on that rock…I caught hold of a conversation that I’d had with a guest at dinner the night before. Making my rounds to tables, greeting and looking after people, a lady stopped me, “How awesome it must be to be you, tell me what it’s like”. I smiled…….and said, “yes it is great and when I was young I always wished I’d fit in…I’m thankful I didn’t get my wish”. We had a long conversation about what its like to be an innkeeper, adventurer, explorer, to be Robert Rankin….and yes, it is wonderful, but the truth is, it’s wonderful being YOU, whoever you are!

All of us spend time looking out..seeing the world and the others that are put in front of us….thinking wow…I wish I was him (or her)….aren’t they lucky! And yes of course they are lucky….but so are YOU! One of a kind. God only created one of you, one of me, one of each…isn’t that absolutely amazing? Some 7,000,000,000 humans on the planet right now and all one of a kind! YOU are an incredible and absolute gift. Even when you don’t realize it….or feel it….. you are. I know that being you can be exhausting, that there are pressures put on us to “be” all of those things that people, friends, family think we “ought” to be. I want you to take that thought…the thought of WHO YOU ARE. Grasp it. Run with it. Hold it tightly. Wrap your fingers and head around it and remember that it is awesome to be YOU, not the you that you may think you should be, ought to be, could be, want to be, but the YOU that you are…right now…at this very moment….that is the amazing piece of it…..just to be who you really are…I spend time in meditation now almost every day. I certainly wish it was something I had done earlier in life because it’s allowed me to become comfortable with that…”The Who I am” and being content with the person that is me….

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“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us the “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest
—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. 
Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation, and a foundation for inner security.” – Albert Einstein

You and I are part of the whole. We dream bigger, connect bigger, think bigger and mostly live larger than all of those around us. While we may believe our experience is separate from all of the rest – we are all connected – in ways that we can’t begin to comprehend. This is my invitation – take a moment……today….right now……to reflect on how amazing YOU are. Realize that everyone you touch is part of the whole…part of you…and part of me…..Breathe deeply……deep down into your belly and then slowly exhale……and know that you, I and all others are magic!

I love the smell of the forest….especially this time of year. Easter and the celebrations of spring are a time to celebrate starting over. Being “raised from the dead” as it were. Freshness and newness in everything around us is starting again. My feet padded in the dirt and twigs snapped beneath my toes. The moss was soft and the stream still frigid, but I basked in the glory of of it.

My walk this day comes to an end, but my journey……..my journey……..has just begun. Is it me? Timing? Fear? It doesn’t really matter because souls cannot really live without love. Come, share with me. Walk outside….now…..take off your shoes…….feel the wonders of the grass, the dirt, the leaves beneath your feet. Wherever you are, join me in this magnificent journey, I promise a great adventure! As my father often says, “Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.” Remember that jobs fill your pockets, but adventures fill your soul. My discovery….There is no App for this.…..

Robert RankinP1010050

Innkeeper, Explorer, Adventurer

Journey….

I wish I could remember what triggered the memory, but it came flooding back with all of the speed of the tide rushing in. Perhaps it was the conversation that I had with an old college buddy. Maybe it was the email exchange with a friend letting them know I understood how they felt and wanted to join them on their journey. It could have been the guest at the Lodge and something they IMG_9573said that passed through my brain, or the way the stars and moon looked from my deck late at night, but I really think it might have been Elizabeth pointing out the way the sky looked at dusk while we were driving home and the reflection of the late afternoon light as it reflected on Lake Santeetlah that launched the arrow that took me back………

It was years ago and yet not so far in the distant past. It is how people and events intertwine, tangle and mingle and that all things happen for reasons…even if we never know why. Or maybe they aren’t our reasons….or we don’t understand them for years and years….perhaps never…….our choice…..our awareness…..

I was in Sante Fe. I’d never been there before. Exploring….seeing parts and places I’d never been. We had actually traveled to a spa there. One recommended by Snowbird’s massage therapist as a place we didn’t want to miss. It was a fantastic place and I relished the down time…and the time away, but I was more drawn to the history, the people, the food, the light, the land…I spent several hours wandering through the old town. Looking at shops, watching people, smelling the air and the scents of food as it drifted through the streets. I was looking at the silver and turquoise for sale by the Navajo at Governors Square when I first saw him. Tanned face. White hair. Scraggly beard. Anywhere from late fifties to late sixties. Walking with a carved stick he was striding toward me with a broad smile and twinkle in his eye. Our eyes meet, we exchanged nods and as we passed I felt it. I can’t rightly name “it”, but it was there. Connection. I continued on past him, but at about 20 feet beyond, I turned my head to glance back. He too had turned. I smiled….and turned back. So did he. I introduced myself to him and told him that I felt as though we’d met before. He answered that perhaps we had….in this or another life. That chance meeting began a friendship that sparked me. Caused me to question myself more, made me more aware of our interactions and continues to affect my journey to this day.

ross

Ross was a magical man. A shaman. A wandering spirit, artist, father, grandfather, sentient being, man of the universe. He introduced me to many things. We shared meals. Laughter. Drinks and thoughts. He taught me about a different…new way to look at the universe and world. That we…as humans…don’t have all of the answers. That everything in the world…and beyond….is connected…..He introduced me to the Shamanic Institute in Santa Fe. A place where Shamans gather from all over the world to learn, discuss, talk and teach. Now Shamans are more than “healers”, they are spiritual guides that have wisdom passed down for generations and generations. They come from every society – every country and in many of them they are revered. In others reviled, but they have a knowledge that we all need…….Now rest assured, I am no Shaman…..

So, where’s this tale going?

Here.

Several years later, in the midst of crisis – one that encompassed all of my being – I reached out to Ross. I’d talked with him often, been back to see him several times, but this…well…this was different. I needed help that was beyond my connections. I called, but he wasn’t there so I left a message. I wasn’t in a hurry…and frankly thought I might not hear back. He was a traveler and might be away for months at a time. The next day I answered a call from a number I’d never seen before. It was Ross. “I thought I would be hearing from you” was all he said. I launched into my story for a good while and when I finished all he said was, “I know”. I breathed deeply for the first time in a long time. We chatted for a few minutes and then he said he’d be in touch. We hung up and while I felt better I was still at a loss. I wasn’t sure where to go or what to do and I wandered aimlessly for the next few days. The church wasn’t helping me, friends were there, but couldn’t. Family was trying, but I wasn’t really “there”. My faith was tested, both religious faith, faith in myself, friends and life…..frankly my faith in everything around me. I was losing hope…maybe I even lost it, unsure of who and what I was, I felt as though my identity was forever gone. Two days passed. One morning I checked my email and there it was. Ross sent me a note with a name and phone number. The note said –

This is who you need

Call

He is waiting.

Brief wasn’t it? I smiled and I think I even laughed. What? Call?? I don’t have any idea who the hell this man is. What can he offer me? Anger, frustration, bitterness all flashed through me…..then…slowly….replaced by comfort and ease. Breath I told myself. Ross knew what I was going through. He’d been there himself although it was 40 years ago. Trust I thought. Something that wasn’t/isn’t always easy for me…even now. I did. I picked up the phone and dialed.

“IGA” said the voice that answered the phone. “IGA”? I said. “Yep, what can I do for ya?”

I thought for a minute that I had the wrong number, but I swallowed…..hard….and asked for the name that Ross had sent. The man who answered the phone didn’t miss a beat, “he’s not here right now, but give me your number and I’ll get him the message”. I hung up. Shaking my head I wondered what I was managing to get myself into and what craziness was in Ross’s brain! Several hours passed when my phone rang. The voice on the other end might have been a thousand years old. “I‘ve been waiting on your call” he said. I began to tell him my story. Cutting me short……“I know” he said before I’d gotten two sentences out. I was stunned. He said he was waiting for me and gave me directions to where he was. It was Ely Minnesota. I went into shock – ELY MINNESOTA?? How the hell was I supposed to do that? I had a business, work, kids, responsibility…..and…well all the rest. I heard a deep breath on the other end of the line, “come” he said, “I’ll be waiting”.

It took the better part of a month to get it all figured out. To get 7 days free to go, but I did. I met Charlie and he opened my spirit to a universe I’d never seen. He was Chippewa or more correctly – Ojibwa – a medicine man by words, a shaman, a helper, a spirit guide, a Midewiwin to many. He took me into his home, fed me, listened to my stories and then told me what he was going to do. I was open, but felt unsure, scared and not ready for the next step, but, breathing deeply, I trusted. That night while I slept, he prepared the place. In the morning he walked with me out to a small lake and directed me to a smooth rock that overlooked the water. There, he’d drawn a circle with several markers around it. He sat me in the middle, took most of my clothes, gave me instructions, water, a blanket and told me he’d return. I was alone. In place I was totally unfamiliar with. Frightened. I sat and took in my surroundings. All day. It was stunningly beautiful. Lonely. Warm in the sunshine and cold as the dark came. I sat. My legs began to fall asleep, I began to fall asleep, but I didn’t…I think. The slight moon rose. The stars lit the sky. I dreamed. Wide awake. All night and into the next morning….. all through the next day and following night. I had visions and saw things I’m sure weren’t there..or were they? Animals, people, places, ghosts and things from my past crowded my vision. The following morning I greeted the sunrise and there he was….standing before me, he held out his hand and took mine and said “come”….I could barely stand, nearly frozen by the cold of the night and from sitting for so long.  He guided me back to his home. Behind the house, just down a hill was a sweat lodge that he and his friends had built. He opened the door flap and ushered me in. In time he took me back out and repeated the steps…time and time again….I was completely spent. Finally he took me back to his home again and fed me…rice…beans…bread. I collapsed into a bed……sleep…….long……long….sleep.

I awoke to the smell of breakfast. Getting up I wandered into the kitchen to find him over the stove fixing 2 plates of food. One for him, the other mine. We sat in silence and shared coffee and a meal. It was one of the best I’ve ever had. Afterword he nodded at me and said, “tell me”…..and I did…..of the visions, the night, the days, the birds, animals, the sounds, the sights…all of it. He nodded. Then he explained…..he interpreted all that I’d been through….Not just there, but life. Telling me that this life was a journey. On that journey we sometimes got lost, but during the journey of life we always could/should learn and understand ourselves. At times during our lives we need to be alone, to go to sacred places or spaces and pray, meditate, learn and heal. I was on my journey. Reaching into his pocket, he withdrew a leather cord with what looked like some twisted metal on the end. He handed it to me and said. “Wear this…keep it close to your heart, it will never allow you to forget who and what you are” He gave me the necklace. A simple leather cord with a twisted silver feather on it and words hammered into it.

I left later that day and have never been back. I’ve done other sweats and spent time alone outside. None have ever come close to that experience in the woods in Minnesota. I’ve often thought about and wondered what has become of that man…in that remote spot…..doing what he does…..but I have no worries about him for he guided me in a way that no one else could have. He reminded me of who I am and helped me rediscover myself….the “me” that I’d buried deep all those years before. The necklace remains around my neck to this day…the words are worn now from my fingers rubbing it…….close to my heart…..reminding me….keeping me “aware”. Often when I feel a little “lost” I’ll find that my hands have searched it out and will catch myself absentmindedly rubbing it between my fingers.

I talked to Ross often over the next several years. He died last year and with his death a part of me left as well. It is a connection I celebrate. You see, without David, Snowbird’s massage therapist I never would’ve gone to Santa Fe. I’d never have walked down the street and met Ross. I’d never gotten the email that sent me to Ely MN and met Charlie. Perhaps I’d never have found myself…….You see, everything happens for a reason…even if we never know it…..even if it takes years to find out why….and yes…even if we never do….it is about the journey.

I don’t often share this story….close friends mostly. Why now……Why here?……..Because it’s time. I may not know the reason, but rest assured that there is one. My journey is one that has been magic. Luck many would say. I’ve been blessed by everyone that I’ve ever come into contact with, friends and enemies. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know it will be….that I’ll discover much..much more as I continue to explore…myself and all of those I meet. I’ve loved sharing this story with you and if you’ve read this far you have my thanks…and my gratitude. You also have my very personal invitation to come join me on this mountain……to share a meal, some coffee or tea…perhaps a beer or some wine………to sit…alone…or with me and share your story with me…or not…as I’ll share mine with you….or not. To connect in a new and different way….to form a bond that will carry us forward to whatever the future holds….

It is really all about our connections…our journey, our relationships and how they form us into who and what we are.

“There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly live.”

– The Dalai Lama

It’s late here on the mountain….or early depending on your point of view. I’ve been awake with these memories all night and embracing the magic of those moments. I can see the dawn beginning to break outside. Today is the right day! It looks to be the start of another amazing day. Thank you for letting me share this with you, I look forward to the great adventure ahead!

Robert RankinFullSizeRender (20)

Innkeeper, Adventurer, Explorer

A Night for That…indeed….

I live my life in real time. Here. It can be a never ceasing go-go-go and give-give-give. Sometimes it can get messy, and tangled and so easy to forget myself in the midst of it all, but sometimes, right when I need it the most there is a night when the universe gifts me with the path back home.

This night, tonight is a night for a hard pour of whiskey in the glass, the way the ice cracks and the heart says  “Oh yes, I know exactly how that feels.”

86fa46f7a09c799b86f7ef950a35c9d2It’s for sitting on the floor in front of a roaring fire, cupping both hands around the glass and closing your eyes and breathing and raising it to your lips and soaking in the ritual. This small act is a great gift indeed when you allow it. It’s the way the mouth feels as it hits the ice cold lip of the glass, and the perfect burn that remains after the glass is pulled away.

It is sage and cedar candles on the mantle and bedside and the burn down smell of matches and smoke. It is Hinoki oil rubbed deep and liberally on bare skin until the scent of it and you are ground together as one. It’s for music that hurts, the exact right kind of ache that has an edge mingling with its sweetness in a way that could never be untangled. That should never be untangled. Because there are some things for which ache is the beauty. It’s the night you stop avoiding the words that never stop chasing you. Where you sink into the solitude and finally breathe out all that air trapped in lungs, waiting to fully exhale.

It’s knowing that at some point tonight there will be a dance. That you’ll follow the movements of your body on the wall, silhouette painted by the shadows of candlelight. That you’ll move and look with long glances until something rises in you that has not risen in a long, long time. It’s a night for coming home and gathering in and calling in the powers of nature and the howl of the wolf. Looking at the moon and stars with wonder and awe. For laying out the stones and sitting still inside the space that is you and honoring all that is holy and remains when sound ceases and the quiet surrounds you.

tumblr_n68j5kU5ZA1sowezvo1_500It’s the way when you tilt the glass all the way up and the candle light glows through and you know your face is illuminated in the most holy of ways. And the song that holds an inexpressible ache plays with every last bit of memory it holds and you are thankful, especially for that. It’s for wood that looks like bone, for cigar boxes and rusted locks and for running your fingers along all the things you’ve collected. For feeling the memories that live in each one as it travels from fingertips to your center and hearing the whispers of all the stories you have yet to tell. It’s for knowing that some stories must remain untold in order for others to be born.

It’s for remembering and honoring the past.

That moment is also to know the hope and the struggle and the stay still and run away and come here and  push back. And also what it is to say yes, to be present exactly where you are. It’s for the space where missing and the gratitude for solitude meet in the center. Where you know that one brings fullness to the other and you can give thanks for both. It is a night for contemplating.

It’s the way the wax looks as the candle burns down. The mellow that the whiskey spreads like hot wax melting into tight held bones. It’s the expansion into space. It’s the cedar and sage and Hinoki rising and carried inside of those scents.

It’s a night for calling the ghosts and welcoming them. Sitting back while they dance, all liquid heat and the yearning skin of lovers long separated. It is a night for remembering. The words. The whiskey. The music. The candles. The smell. The loves long gone and the life that is here, right now.

It is a night for coming home.

To myself

Thank you for sharing the journey with me

Robert Rankin

Innkeeper, Adventurer, Explorer