Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Take a Hike!

            One of my favorite vacation destinations is Sedona, Arizona. I’ve visited numerous scenic venues in the US (and a few abroad), but I contend that for awe-inspiring views Sedona can’t be beat. Whether you’re on top of a mountain, at the bottom of a canyon, or shopping the tourist-crammed streets of “Uptown Sedona,” jaw-dropping vistas are just a matter of turning or tilting your head.
View from a Sedona summit
            With so much rugged beauty to be absorbed, it naturally follows that hiking is a popular activity in the area. And that is the main activity Bill and I pursue whenever we visit. Mind you, I’m not talking Walk Across America or Wild, here. No coast-to-coast or Pacific Rim trek with all our worldly possessions strapped to our backs. For the most part, our hikes range from three to six hours in the coolest or warmest part of the day, depending on the season. And they always end with a long soak in a hot tub and a good night’s rest in a comfy bed.
            But even wuss hikes such as these provide time and opportunity for inspiration and reflection. So on a recent one in Sedona, I “reflected” on rules for hiking and living.
For basic hiking equipment,
the basic stick is hard to
beat. (Is that a pum?)
Be prepared. Spontaneity has its place, but most endeavors in hiking—as in life—are more fully enjoyed if you take a tip from the Boy Scouts and prepare. The preparation doesn’t have to be elaborate. I’ve found the basic essentials to be plenty water and the right attire. Protection from the elements is a must as are comfortable shoes. (There are occasions in life where comfort can be sacrificed for a really smokin’ pair of shoes, but hiking isn’t one of them.) Also, take along a small emergency kit (think blisters, bug bites). I’ve become a fan of the walking stick. Whether it’s a carved and varnished one, a high-tech metal one, or one picked up along the trail, a stick can be a life-saver for knees. And a camera! Take a camera to help preserve memories.
My favorite hiking partner.
Share the trail (but occasionally go solo). I think most people will agree that new experiences are more fun when they’re shared. Plus, there’s safety in numbers. But ever so often, a solitary sojourn can be relaxing and soul-satisfying. On a familiar, easy trail, or on a portion of a longer one, go it alone and see what a difference it makes. (I got the idea for this post while I journeyed solo on a portion of a trail.)
Be open to a variety of experiences. It’s weird the way my and Bill’s preferences reflect our personalities. He likes to climb “above” the action and take in sweeping vistas. (I think it’s a “master of the universe” thing). I, on the other hand, enjoy the “coziness” of canyon hikes. (I know it makes no sense, but, for me, canyons seem to require less climbing.) We compromise and do both and have learned to appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of both types of trails.
Notice the details...
Take time to notice. For most of my life, I’ve been a “get-‘er-done” kind of person. When I tackle a project, I want fast results. On a trail, I have to remind myself to focus on the journey and not the destination. I’m training myself to slow down and engage all my senses. To take in the panoramicview from a different perspective, to see the new green growth that has resulted from a recent rain, to breathe in the scent of warm pine needles, to hear the rush of a nearby stream.
Take time to look up. When hiking, it’s necessary to concentrate on your feet and the path immediately before you. Rocks, roots, and other snares to trip you up can spring from the ground in the time span of a step. Watching your feet take one step after another can become mind numbing, so don’t forget to look up. Whether you’re hiking to the top of a mountain or exploring the depths of a canyon, craning the neck can provide majestic views and perhaps give that needed jolt of inspiration to keep going.
Looking up can provide inspiration.
Obstacles are no reason to quit.
If you encounter an obstacle, consider the options. A fallen tree, a swollen stream, a critter on the trail—obstacles happen. Go over or around. Clear a new way. Plow through. Turn around. All are options. What is never an option, however, is giving up.
Cairns tell other hikers,
"I was here. You can do it!"
Take encouragement from those who have gone before. Moments of doubt will come. Just when you think you’ve climbed too high, taken a wrong turn, ventured too far, you see a sign that someone has gone before you. You realize that what you’re attempting is not impossible. And you keep going.
Know that the end of the trail is never the end of the trail. Trails seldom just end. They cross, loop, bisect, merge, converge, diverge. When you reach that end-of-the-trail marker, know it’s most often a lie. There are still myriad opportunities open to you. If on the rare occasion it actually is the end of the trail, enjoy the return trip. You’re sure to catch something you missed on the initial one.
            On the trail and in life, I wish you happy hiking!     

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Blogging: Busking for Writers

            At fifty-five, Carl Falsgraf chucked his successful, well-paying career and set out on a forty-nine-day, round-trip journey from Eugene, Oregon, to Portland, Maine. He planned to use this time to unwind, re-charge, and reflect on what to do with the remainder of his life. Along the way he recorded his reflections and revelations, which he later shared in his travel memoir Highway Blues. A musician and songwriter, he also composed some new songs as he traveled. And—in an activity that especially interested me—he tried his hand at busking.
            As I type this post, I’m glad to see that busk is immediately underlined with a red squiggle. Spellchecker is as unfamiliar with the term as I was. But ensures me it is indeed a word and means “to entertain by dancing, singing, or reciting on the street or in a public place.” The web site further informs me it is a chiefly British term, and a YouTube search reveals that, British or not, it is a thriving activity the U.S.
            Falsgraf describes busking as “the most primal, challenging, and rewarding mode of musical experience.” The busker puts himself out there without the benefit of advance people, publicists, promoters, and all manner of fancy sound equipment. It’s just him, his raw performance, and his voluntary audience. Feedback is immediate: If people don’t like the performance, they walk away.
            While busking can be nerve-racking, rewards do exist. Most often they are in the form of busy passers-by who pause to listen and indicate their pleasure by smiling and maybe nodding along to the music. If they are especially appreciative, these transitory fans might toss some coins into a jar or instrument case, but don’t count on those tips to pay the bills.
            As I read Falsgraf’s explanation of the experience, it struck me that busking and blogging have much in common. In fact, I’ll venture to say that blogging is to the writer what busking is to the musician. Especially the way I do it. While there are the professional bloggers who garner huge followings and rake in mega-bucks, a glance at my blog will quickly reveal its amateur status: not a lot of money invested, not a lot of hours spent in SEO searches, not a lot of advertising and/or promotional schemes. I do have the opportunity to edit and revise before casting out my writing “pearls,” but my posts are raw in that no professional editor or even trusted writer friend has tweaked them. As for feedback, the stats quickly inform me how well received my efforts are.
            Certainly, there are no financial rewards—not even a few coins tossed my way. But, as with busking, rewards can take other forms. There is the opportunity to air my thoughts and observations (of which I have many) without the pressure of meeting a quota or deadline. I have the freedom to choose my topics “as the spirit moves me.” I get the pleasure of feedback in the forms of comments and “likes” and “shares” and in the discovery I’ve added another follower. And there is always the unexpected bonus of someone complimenting you on a post and you had no idea they even read your blog.
            It took me years to arrive at this conclusion, but I consider writing to be like any other talent. And just as there are all types of forums in which other talents can be shared, blogging provides one in which both the writing pros and the “buskers” can publicly perform.