Sustainability

Happy New Year to you all! Thank you for being here and for including me in your life as we begin this year together. I so deeply appreciate the time you share with me out of your full lives and I strive to make this blog a place worthy of you.

How do you approach the new year? Do you set a laundry list of resolutions? Do you do some careful reflection and goal setting? Do you see January 1st as the same as February 1st or August 1st- simply another new month in the ongoing rotation? Or have you let go of all such notions and find yourself liberated from the yearly ritual? I’m honestly curious…what works for you?

Over the years, I’ve arrived at some kind of new-year-new-you middle ground. I admit that I relish a sparkly new calendar and the sense of “clean slate” that comes with one year sliding into the next. As I said recently, I like to mark time, to bring my awareness to the days and months and years as they pass. And I like ritual, whether it’s taking a few moments to cup a steaming mug in the mornings or lighting a candle and pausing to say thank you when I sit down to meditate each day. And piled on top of both of those things is my inherent and fervent belief in our ability to begin again and again and again, that we are always able to start fresh whenever we are ready and willing to take on the work. This applies, of course, to any day of the year, but I can’t help but believe there is a natural inclination toward new beginnings in this season in particular. After all, in addition to it being a new calendar year, we’ve also just celebrated the solstice, meaning that the days are growing incrementally longer and the promise of spring and growth lies ahead. These long mid-winter days and that promise would lend themselves to reflection and planning even without the turn of the calendar, but the fledgling year just begs us to to take stock and think about what we want.

I mentioned a few years ago that I don’t really do resolutions anymore, but that I choose a “word of the year” instead (btw, that post has some great resources at the end if you are looking for some extra tools...). That’s not entirely true. I do set resolutions…I resolve once again to do my work-  to continue to strive toward greater kindness and compassion, greater understanding and openness, less fear (and certainly fear-based decision-making), to be fierce in my love and my passion and my honesty and my integrity, to find humor and lightness tucked in with heaviness and pain. These are standing resolutions and I will always have work to do here. I also set goals for the year, both personal and professional, as well as review what worked and what didn’t in the year behind us, where I grew and where I stalled. But the “word of the year” continues to be a cornerstone of my approach to the coming year. 

I love the process of figuring out my word. Trying to find a single, succinct, encompassing word that will act as a filter in each decision I make. I’ve used Susannah Conway’s word-finding tool in the past, but I find that I haven’t needed it lately. When I allow myself a little time and space, it seems that the word I need most tends to present itself (or, you know, scream at me from my subconscious at the top of its lungs). As you may have guessed by now, this year, my word is SUSTAINABILITY.

Sustainability.

With every decision I make, from how I approach my work to the energy I give to relationships to whether or not I make time for my run in the woods, I will ask myself, “Is this sustainable? Am I creating sustainable habits and practices?” To proceed, the answer must be yes. I find myself decidedly uninterested in short-term results, in superficial band-aids. I want to build a life that is sustainable over time, that has a strong foundation of intentional decision making, clear and reasonable boundaries, and that prioritizes the truly important things in my life (as opposed to the simply “urgent”). This means being okay with things taking time. This means being okay with people sometimes being disappointed or irritated with me. This means being okay with saying no to projects and opportunities that don’t move my life and work in the direction I’m going, even when they are appealing or I could use the money.

This also means choosing to trust in the idea of abundance and to continue to let go of the fear that comes from a scarcity mindset. The life I build is only sustainable if I recognize that I have enough (food, friends, love, money, talent, ideas, etc etc etc) and that I am enough. It’s that last part that is a doozy for me. But I am. And you are. And when we really and truly let go and believe that, whoa nelly- hold on to your hats because magic happens. And work, of course- so much work- but work that is thrilling and energizing, work that fills your tank and lights you on fire. I’m not just talking about professional work, I’m talking about life work. The work of relationships, the work of self-care, the work of growth and adventure and dream chasing. We have it within us. We are enough and we have enough to make the necessary choices to build truly sustainable lives.

So that’s what I want as I move into this sparkling new year. That's my primary goal. That's my word.

Sustainability. 

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Can you guys believe I'm still sharing photos from our trip east from Reno? A few more will be heading your way (Glacier and Wind Cave and Badlands National Parks after these last few from Yellowstone!)...just think, by the time you see all of these, I'll have more for you from the next leg! Ain't traveling grand?!?

A Morning Walk

I took a long walk in the woods yesterday. It was early, just after sunrise, and I’d brought Tessie along with me to pick Justin up after his night-shift at the hospital. On our way home, Justin dropped Tessie and me off at one of the entrances to the town forest so that we could walk home through the woods in the morning light.

For those of you who have never witnessed our dog walk, let’s just say that if Tessie walked any slower, she would go backwards. Seriously. She ambles and pauses and occasionally simply lays down and refuses to get up. The less-than-two-mile walk home was not going to be a “fitness walk” to say the least. But that was fine with me. I feel as though I’ve been hurrying a lot lately. Rushing about hither thither for reasons that escape me as I sit here now to write. Perhaps it’s the holiday season, all bustle and preparation. Perhaps it’s living in a household of four adults running on schedules that vary wildly, rarely a moment when someone isn’t making their way to or from. Perhaps it’s the sense I often get in December as the final days of this calendar year seem to be barreling toward me and I look with panic at the unchecked boxes on my year’s to-do list. Whatever the reason, there has just been too much rushing and we all know by now that “busy” and “productive” are not the same thing. We all know that we rarely put our best selves forward when we act from a place of urgency instead of a place of calm decision.

So I decided to take a long walk in the woods at Tessie’s pace. I let her lead as we moseyed along in the morning chill. There was just the slightest frost on the fallen leaves lining the wide bridle path trail and every now and again, one of the long, bony, fingers of light cast by the sun as it rose low on the horizon would catch one of the frosted leaf edges and set it alight and sparkling. It’s been an unseasonably warm fall here and there are still patches of green ferns dotting the forest floor as well as soft moss carpeting the tumbling rocks of the piled fieldstone walls that meander through the trees. I love those walls, so ubiquitous in New England. They are beautiful, of course, but they also make me pause to wonder about the farmers who worked so tirelessly to wrest this land from the forest, and the trees who simply would not yield their ground indefinitely. The white pines and eastern hemlocks and paper birch fill in those old cleared fields alongside sugar maples and red oaks and balsam firs. Moss and lichens cover the stones and gravity conspires with time to pull them out of their pile and return them to the ground. 

The only wildlife we spotted, despite the early hour and our slow and watchful pace, were squirrels and chipmunks. No foxes or deer or the coyotes I suspect call this forest home. But I love the little rodents despite their mischief, and I often feel downright inspired by how earnestly and unapologetically industrious they are as they scurry to and fro, always preparing for the lean times ahead. I also love their fondness for pausing in their labors to chatter a lecture at me about sloth, yelling at me for my leisurely pace, reminding me that the days grow ever shorter. They are certainly the worker bees of the woods and yet, somehow, they never manage to let their labors interfere with their curiosity. I imagine a sophisticated rodent communication pipeline where everything that happens in their forest is sent out for report.

I wandered along at Tessie’s lolling pace, tarrying with her when she stopped to sniff a twig or turn her head to the breeze so that the fur around her ears could flutter while her eyes half-closed in contentment. I breathed in the chill air and felt it in my lungs, watched its fleeting cloud as I exhaled. I listened to sounds that sing life in a forest, branches rubbing and creaking, small creatures hopping along in the papery dry leaves, the winter birds and their intermittent songs. I felt the tension that rushing brings with it begin to melt away. I gave my attention to the lectures of squirrels and the lessons of tumbling down rock walls and recalled the balance that must be struck between pursuing our labors, earnestly putting our greatest efforts forth, and keeping our curiosity and humility, lest we mistake those labors for important in the grand scheme of time. 

Mostly, I just reveled in the sublime joy of taking a minute to enjoy the fresh air and lovely trees and the pause. It took us nearly two hours to make it home and having made the choice to embrace it, to let it simply take as long as it takes, I felt released from the constant push of faster, faster, faster, more, more, more. Which was amazing. It’s not rocket science or some kind of major revelation. It was just a walk in the woods. Afterwards I poured another cup of coffee and sat down at my desk to begin what ended up being a long workday at my computer. But I didn’t mind the long workday as much as I sometimes do, and I spent a little less time than usual staring longingly out the window at the swaying trees. 

Sometimes that’s all we need to reset. Just a simple walk in the woods. Just a simple refusal to rush. That’s it. That’s all. May you find the space to do just that today. 

Happy Wednesday, y’all.

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I promise a whole slew of photos next week, but in the meantime, here's a favorite from a different walk one sweet evening in Yellowstone...

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Coming To Winter

I am writing this morning from the little “office” nook that I carved out of a tiny corner in the upstairs storage space in my in-laws’ home. To my left are the boxes storing Justin and my meager possessions- mostly books, family photos, and the street art we’ve collected on our travels together over the years. To my right is a small window that looks down on the front yard and road below. The last of the windblown autumn leaves are piled along the edges of the driveway and at the base of the gnarled apple tree that dominates the yard. As the sun peeks up over the trees in the distance, its bright morning rays set the crystalline frost on those leaves sparkling like a sea of facet-cut gems. My coffee steams invitingly and I pull the blanket draped over my lap up snug to ward off the morning chill in the room.

This modest little workspace is one of the gifts of this time here in New Hampshire. The quiet space to concentrate and focus, the ability to leave my projects up on my screen and out on my “desk” (really, a sweet little drop-leafed table I found buried in the garage) so that I can pick them up quickly when I return in the morning, the luxury of my enormous desktop screen which makes editing images significantly more efficient. And, most significantly, it allows for a routine to form around my workdays, my creative process.

Routine is one of those words that seems to so often make us cringe. We picture drudgery and mind-numbing predictability and an unrelenting sameness that leaves one day undifferentiated from all of the rest. And, of course, routines can feel that way if we don’t balance them with movement and challenge and spontaneity. But they also have the ability to lend rhythm to our days, to allow our energy to be focused on the work that is most meaningful to us rather than problem-solving the basic logistics surrounding that work. I think often about an article I read years ago about why President Obama wore the same basic suit each day, how meaningful productivity stems from systemization that minimizes what is known as decision fatigue, the exhaustion that results from making too many decisions (this is why a day at the mall is so taxing…it’s not the walking, it’s the overwhelming number of micro-decisions made over the course of the day, from which kiosks/stores/advertisements to pay attention to, to which color/size/fit/etc to purchase). I notice this in my day-to-day life and also on a broader, seasonal level. It’s not only the longer days jam-packed with activity that leave me feeling a bit wrung-out by the end of the summer, it’s also that summer, almost by definition, resists routines of all sorts. Which is liberating and exciting and fills us up in so many ways- I find my creative fodder in those months that seem to be a constant whirlwind of spontaneity and adventure. But when the first signs of fall show themselves, I always feel a certain relief at the prospect of rest and rhythm, and I begin to anticipate taking that creative fodder gathered over those sun-drenched days and processing it, molding it into something more polished, more connective.

In our final few weeks in Reno, the crisp nights and mornings made it clear that our long summer days were wrapping up. Snow began returning to the mountain tops and the edges of the leaves on the elms in our little RV park were beginning to turn more golden than green. As we drove toward Idaho and Wyoming and Montana, it seemed that we jumped seasons on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. Sunlit grasses gave way to mountain valleys filled with aspen trees the color of turmeric and then to enormous evergreens whose limbs bowed under the weight of heavy snow. As we moved once again into the valleys, back again were saffron trees and honeyed meadows, only to wake to frozen windows and the blanket of quiet that accompanies gentle snowfall. It was a bit surreal to move so quickly back and forth between fall and winter each day, and then even more so as we left the west behind us to be greeted by the unseasonable warmth of New England’s very extended late summer. 

I have known for a long time that I am a paradox, that who I am is made of seemingly contradictory halves. I have struggled over my life to figure out how to exist between those halves, often swinging all the way to one extreme until the other half was so emaciated and malnourished that I was forced to abandon where I was and swing all the way to the other extreme until the reverse happened and back I went. As I’ve grown older and learned a few lessons in the hardest ways possible, I’ve come to see how this wild swinging to extremes simply doesn’t work, and, maybe more importantly, that it’s simply not necessary. We are surrounded by cycles- day to night and back again, summer to fall to winter to spring, the planting to the harvest to the field that lies fallow. Why do we insist that we are the only exception to these cycles?

We have spent the last 10 months in an “endless summer” of sorts. We left snowy Maine in January and meandered south to settle for a few months into the balmy spring of south Texas before dipping into summer’s heat along the southwestern deserts and then returning to the spring of the high Sierra. We spent our summer there among those golden hills and craggy mountains, the long days and seemingly endless string of sunshine and bluebird skies. We moved and lived in a state of spontaneity and non-routine, filling our pockets to bursting with raw experiences and creative fuel. 

And now, as I look out this little window at the shimmer of frost on the faded leaves, as I cup my hands around this steaming mug and gather myself at this makeshift desk, it is clear that winter has arrived and I can embrace this rhythm, this routine. Just as my summer was sprinkled with small routines and quiet moments, my winter will be sprinkled with unexpected adventures and spontaneous bursts- very few things in life are all-or-nothing as it turns out. But this cycle is important, this coming of winter and its routines, the space it creates to take those raw experiences out of my bursting pockets and look at them carefully, to process and appreciate them fully so that I can see all the ways they add shine to my life, to take all that creative fuel and set it alight to become a warming fire fully realized. By embracing these cycles, I feed my extremes more equally and so allow them to work cooperatively, strengthening one another in ways I never imagined.

We always know that winter is coming (for who can resist a Game of Thrones reference when it presents itself so obviously), but it can be easy to forget what can happen when we allow ourselves to come to winter, to its rest and routines, to its call for quiet and inner listening, to its challenges of cold and stillness. What happens when we step forward and into the cycle instead of resisting it? Let’s find out, let’s come to winter this year and just see where it takes us.

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Home...Sort Of

We are home…sort of. We arrived in New Hampshire a few days ago and getting settled has been an utter whirlwind. We are staying with Justin’s parents, who have so generously opened their home to us and allowed our work routines and silly mutt and fragmented belongings to disrupt their laid-back retired lives. For the next three months, Justin’s childhood bedroom, the streets along which he learned to drive, the towns and highways and mountains of New England, will be our home once again.

It feels so odd in so many ways to be here. Our camper, home these last ten months on the road, feels far away as does the life we were leading up until crossing back to the eastern side of the grand ol’ Mississippi. Were we really in Wyoming just two short weeks ago? Did we really call the Sierra home for the last four months? Or have we been here in New England all along, having dreamt the whole adventure? Thankfully, there are threads that connect us back…a sweet and funny postcard from our dear friend Geoff (remember him from this trip?), a truck window full of stickers from the twenty national parks and monuments we’ve visited since January, journals brimming with sketches and notes from moments tucked in among towering trees or flowing water, hundreds upon hundreds of images shot along the way. And of course, the onslaught of cherished memories…the ways our lives have been touched irrevocably by the people we’ve met, the grandeur we’ve stood in the midst of. 

There are things about life on the road and in the camper that have been truly challenging for me, things I’ve touched upon but want to share more deeply here in the next months, because it’s important to recognize that travel and road life and tiny-space living is not all sunshine and roses (or mountaintops and micro-brew!), that the daily reality is not as glamorous as people often imagine. In just these few days of being in a real house (complete with a bathroom I don’t have to walk outside for, a shower I don’t have to wear flip-flops in, AN OVEN!), I am already relishing the luxuries large and small afforded by our current situation (and I haven’t even begun to soak in the fall leaves and Currier-& Ives-esque farm stands and apple-picking and town squares that come along with a New England autumn). I am eager to make the most of this time, these luxuries, and my gratitude is beyond words. 

But we’re not done yet. We will make the most of this lovely time here, the access to family and friends, to the ways home can make you feel, the creative spark that can come when you find a place of rest amidst the movement. But we’ve only begun our love affair with the west, with the serrated skylines of mountains we are only just beginning to know, with the wide seemingly-empty spaces between ranges. After years of promising ourselves more time outdoors, we have finally made good on it…over three full months of “vacation” time outside with so many more days enjoying the trails and rivers and mountains around where we’ve lived. We've quite likely had more time outdoors since January than we’ve had over the last 13 years together combined. That’s something.

So we’re home. Home in Justin’s childhood haven. Home in a region of the country that we truly love. Home to seasons we’ve missed. Home to people we’ve ached for. But we’ve left another home on the other side of the country. And another region we love. And other people we ache for. 

So we’re home…sort of. And that’s an adventure all on its own.

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I have just begun the process of sorting and editing the nearly 2000 images I shot on this last trip…I cannot wait to share them with you! Here’s the tiniest peek in the meantime...

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