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

The Treasures are all right in front of us….

It was one of those perfect winter days. Not to cold. The sky a bright blue and sun shining bright. IMG_1454The creek was calling. Loading up the fishing gear and heading down to Santeetlah creek to try some of my winter luck I was full of excitement. For me, that time on the water can be sacred and not to offend anyone, but it is very much like church. Those moments when I am at one with all that surrounds me. Focused concentration on the water. Working hard on picking the right fly…casting in exactly the right way….and right place…trying to draw a trout to the surface…..and SMACK…..there he is……ready to reel in, be admired…and then returned to the water….awaiting another day…..pure bliss for the trout fisherman…..

Yep…this was that kinda day, everything was just right…….Except me! No matter what fly pattern I chose, none of my presentation skills. as vast as they may be, caused a fish to merge with the fly as it drifted effortlessly across theP1000941 water. Hunting the deep pools and the rapids I could see the fish…moving gracefully…darting to and from, hiding under the rocky shelves….yes, they were there….I just couldn’t seem to coax them to take what I was offering. Challenged, I continued the effort for a while, but after a couple of hours I’d had enough of “church”. Of course, it could have been JB and Lakota playing in the water, watching me and the fish with interest, but more than likely it was me and just that moment.

Laying down the rod and reel I began to explore the nooks and crannies of the creek as it wound through the woods. I’m always searching. Always looking to see what is out there.FullSizeRender (19) Finding cool twigs or branches and even large boulders to sit on and bask in the warmth of the sun on a chilly winter day. Grabbing sticks to toss into the water for the dogs to retrieve. Today the pebbles, rocks and stones caught my dreams. Wandering along the banks and wading into the pools I was on the hunt. Reaching into the water I picked out dozens and dozens. Sliding them in my pockets and then slipping some out, I skipped them across the surface like a kid. A short while later I sat…in one of my favorite spots…..on a large boulder that juts out into the stream and drew all of my treasures out of my pockets. Laying them out across my lap, I was searching…….searching for the very perfect one….you know the one I was looking for. Round, smooth, perfect color, perfect shape……..and then….it struck home….hitting me like the proverbial bat……they were all PERFECT!

I laughed out loud (the dogs looked at me as though I was nuts) and gathered them once again and headed along the banks. I was seeing with different vision, a new awareness in my eyes. I began to look at them differently…..no imperfections, only beauty…..jagged edges, rough bumps, cracks, all were perfect shapes and color…every single one remarkably different than its neighbor, but ….WOWZA…..what a moment.

I began to celebrate with that knowledge. Joy overtook the search and the discovery was complete. Those rocks are just like you and I….and…….well hell….everyone else. Once we stop trying to find the idea of “perfection” that has been placed or created in our minds and open ourselves to the possibilities then we can discover that we’re all perfect…..Oh….I don’t mean that we aren’t cracked, beat up, slightly out of shape, but we are all perfect in just this moment, all different and all shapes and sizes…..and in the scheme of things…if we look closely enough…we can see it……the beauty that lies within all of us……

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Well. that was it…my lesson for the day. I wandered back to the truck, broke down the rod, took off the waders and boots. Loaded the dogs into the back cranked the motor and headed up the mountain towards home. Come to the mountain for a visit. Let’s sit and talk. I’ll take you to that special spot on the water and let you see for yourself.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot…on the way to the house I felt those bulges in my pockets. I pulled out the rocks gathered at the creek and caressed them. Rolling each of them in my fingers. Feeling every nook….every bend…every crease and indention….noticing all of their varied colors…the warmth and shapes….I just grinned and grinned….I still am.

Life at the end of the lines, From the INNSide looking out and In Celebration of the Great Adventure Ahead!

Robert Rankin

Innkeeper, Adventurer and Explorer

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Oh yes….I want…..

I want to be surrounded by your old walls, the dim light settling on my shoulders. The creak of the cold wood floors on icy nights under warm wool socks that cover my feet. I want to be taught to value life through each meal at the table, nicked by hands that built it. To teach my children the value of a life that’s more than material desire.

I want my pen on pages that may someday be read under your roof. Our coffee brewed over open fire. Make me a rugged lover with grace and passion.  Let’s spend afternoons stacking wood to warm our passions bringing heat to our lives, sweat trickling down the curves of our backs and the creases of chests. I want my chores and worries accomplished with hard work, my life cradled in this wondrous natural world. Let me build a life with you, if only for a while.

Give me candlelit dinners, with wax that drips silently onto the table…..then floor. I want to sleep, cradled in so many blankets that I am lost in them and rise with the sun’s first light. To dance in the kitchen, whisky bottle in my hand, swaying to the rhythm of life with you. I’ll find my god in the wild woods around you.

Open your door to the creases of mountains grand enough to make weather all their own. Watching the clouds and mists, hung so low that they look like a sea beneath your mountain caps. Sip the cold fresh water, the smells of the kitchen filling us completely. I will bathe on hot days outside your walls in the creek that swiftly runs by. To have the sea at my weathered fingertips.  

“As you walk upon the Sacred Earth, treat each step as a prayer”                                                                                                            -Black Elk

To huddle at your ashen hearth as snow silently settles like a coat, to feel the pure bliss of new life when the ground is covered by wildflowers. Let me stare out the window in silence with my hands in warm soapy dishwater. I want to hear my kettle each dawn and dusk. To hear the rustle of my laundry drying in the wind. And pop and crackle of fresh split wood in the fire. I want to let crisp air fill you in spring, to heat it for clear-minded sleep at night.

Give me one simple life. Each modern luxury is an understood gift. Each trip to town to remind me why I love living here…at the end of the lines. My fear to come only from nature’s constant balancing act. I want to die with a soul cleansed by life with you. I want you to be my greatest footprint remaining when my days are numbered.

Oh yes….I want this…..

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Still Waters…..

Run deep……don’t they?

                         “Not till we are lost….do we begin to find ourselves” – Thoreau

I took Sophie down to Rattler ford on Santeetlah Creek yesterday for some exploration and alone time. The dogs played hard while I just found a rock and spent time with the water…….

I found my thoughts wandering to the metaphor that water is to my life. In particular the creek and the way it flows. Rapids, eddys, pools, depths, shallows and even light and darkness parallels my life in most remarkable ways.

Like the way the stream flows I find myself moving through life and just when I seem to be comfortable in the way it’s flowing…WHAM…an unexpected twist or turn grabs at my attention. I wonder if its that way for you too? Or..is this a “just me” phenomenon? My life is filled with motion these days and my thoughts drift from deep to extremely shallow. I do so enjoy the deep pools……or the rapids…..even the darkness…….I guess I love it all.

I often seem to feel like Steve McQueen, who said…

“I scrounged around for the next couple of years, trying to get the scam on the human race and just where the hell I fitted in — I discovered there were no openings”

I’ve been labeled as so many things in life, from father to son, husband to lover,  friend to enemy. All of those are just labels – all parts of a whole…and I am whole. This mountain has given me much in my life. This place is a part of my soul. I feel connected here. At ease. At peace. One. The challenges still exist but being alone isn’t the same as being lonely.

I offer peace, love and light to all From the INNside looking out and as always –

Celebrate the Great Adventure Ahead!

Robert Rankin

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A time…

It all started with the gift of a book…a book created by my friend Neil Spencer and his incredible wife Sam.  It was a collection of my writings and photos taken over the years off of Facebook. Views from the INNside looking out. Living where I do, at the literal ends of the power lines in rural, remote western North Carolina certainly has its advantages, but the are disadvantages too. Creating a social and magical place where others can relax, reconnect, refresh and just “be” has become one of Snowbird Mountain Lodge’s hallmarks. Creating that space has been a lifelong quest for me and the team that surrounds me. Have we succeeded? Some days yes…others no, but we keep at it because we believe that in this connected world nothing is more important!

This blog is a space where I can reflect, pause and express ALL of my feelings…without fear…and can always tell the truth beyond what is expected and expected. I have chosen to live my own life here – one that isn’t always “constrained” by the feelings or thoughts of the general society. Where I can be exactly who I am. I invite YOU to share the experience with me, make comments, enjoy the ride (or not). You should know that I make TONS of mistakes..spelling, grammer, living and otherwise. I’ve loved, been loved, hurt and been hurt. Yet here we are – survivors all. I enjoy being alone and recharging my batteries, but like you, I don’t like being lonely….and yes, I get that way too…..

Living at the end of the power lines has rewards that go far beyond the small community of Robbinsville North Carolina and it’s here that I get to call home. A magical, wonderful, strange place in the southern Appalachians.  It’s here where these pages will be written, often sitting at my desk reflecting on the day, week or months that pass. Join me and let’s…

Celebrate the Great Adventure Ahead!

Robert Rankin

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