Unfiltered

Sunset views with the moon rising at High View Campground in Texas

It was only about six years ago when I realized things didn’t have to be either/or. More specifically, two emotions could hold the same place in my body at the same time. At the time of this lesson, I wasn’t even sure if I was able to feel or recognize one emotion. As I learned to tune in, I realized my body had a lot to say if I would listen. I became like a detective picking up clues and hints to what I was feeling and what it meant. I was inquisitive and began asking questions.

Now, years later, I find myself on the biggest adventure of my life. I am three months into living on the road in my 17 foot travel trailer. I am currently 3,000 miles from home on the beach in Jacksonville, Florida. Every day I find myself conflicted with opposite emotions. This adventure is one of the biggest risks I have embarked upon in my whole life. Even three months later, I feel like I am in a dream. Even more so, it feels like my body is present, but it doesn’t feel real. Mixed with this is the fear and disbelief I am here. 

I feel like my mind and body have not caught up with where I am on my journey. The beauty is I am taking a risk and putting myself out there even in the face of fear. When I allow these travels and beautiful moments to penetrate my fear, I am met with the most priceless gifts of nature.

Every single state I have visited has opened its arms like the bloom of a flower. Nature opening its petals one at a time letting me peek at the magic inside. It is my own private invitation where I am the guest of honor.

Early one morning, I happened upon dolphins swimming in a bay in Florida. Kayaking on a river in central Alabama I watched a heron hunting. She dove her head down deep and pulled out her hard earned prize: a fish that weighed several pounds. Her chest feathers glistened with beads of water and hung down like blue and white locks of hair. On the same river, I watched as hundreds of bait fish launched themselves out of the water creating ripples as they splashed back down like drops of rain. On the coast of Alabama, I went out walking hoping to find an alligator; I had never seen one in the wild in the light of day. I actually saw several. One smaller alligator was submerged in the creek with his eyes perched on the water’s surface. The next alligator I saw was on the bank across from me sunbathing on the mud. The third alligator I saw was a local celebrity, and her name was Lefty. I was also lucky enough to see of one of Lefty’s babies orbiting her like a planet around the sun. Every morning in Texas, I watched an egret walk like an Egyptian through the swampy water just yards from my trailer as she looked for breakfast. At night, the glowing eyes of an alligator stared from the banks keeping a watchful eye. I have seen sunsets all along the southern coast that rival the color of any crayon. I have seen the ocean from Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida. I have seen the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. In Texas, the waves were warm and inviting. In Alabama, the sand was fine and white and as the sun set the beach glowed pink. In Mississippi the water was as calm as a lake on a windless day. In Florida, the Atlantic Ocean waves have been cold, white, and mushy.

I find myself in awe. It seems unbelievable and unreal. Is this really happening? Am I on this beautiful adventure? Have I really left my home and sold all my belongings to be on this adventure? This adventure which has no plan? This adventure which has no set end? This adventure that has been throwing gifts at my feet every single day. All the while, I am still scared shitless. I am stunned in awe and frozen in fear. At any moment, one thing could go wrong, and some things have gone wrong. At any moment, everything can feel just right.

Then I remember back to six years ago. I remember how I wasn’t sure how to feel. I was out of touch with my body and emotions. It was like I was blocking out all the pain and beauty in my life. I filtered my experiences. I tried blocking out the realization that both my parents were dying of cancer. I blocked out the pain of being in a relationship where I wasn’t a priority. There is no way to just block out pain though. I blocked out beauty and joy too. I could never fully be present in a moment that just seemed perfect. I blocked out the love of my friends who supported me. I was always protecting myself from taking in too many emotions. Then, I started to learn to connect with the messages I was receiving from my own body; I stopped trying to protect myself.

I began to reconnect with joy, anger, pain, happiness, bliss, excitement, sadness, loneliness, pride, and every other emotion I tried to temper in the past. When I started to open myself up to all the emotions, I began having opposing emotions at the same time. I felt gratitude and sadness when I lost my mom. I was so grateful she found sobriety, and we reconnected at a deep level, but I was overcome with sadness that we didn’t get more time together. I felt relief and sadness when I left a man who I was living with who didn’t treat me with respect. I felt happiness and gratitude for the love and support of my friends, but I felt loneliness like a shadow lurking. 

Now, I am in this present moment. I am experiencing one of the most beautiful, adventurous, and scariest moments of my life: an experience that can go so right or so wrong at any moment. I don’t want to dilute my experiences. I don’t want to filter my experiences through the lens of protection. I want to feel every single second on this journey. I want to be present: body, mind and soul in every moment. Fear is a natural response, and it can keep us safe from danger. However, I want to continue to fight against the fear that tries to protect me from the beauty, and pain, of all I can experience and learn on this unknown journey.

Natural Selection

picTrue intimacy requires vulnerability. It requires standing in your truth. It requires you to accept and reveal yourself as you truly are. This can’t be one-sided either; both sides must be willing to be open. Sometimes I have failed at this; other times I have been the one who was let down. I often feel misunderstood as I grasp at vulnerability with slippery fingers. But one relationship that has grown deep like roots has been my intimate relationship with nature.

My earliest recollection of connecting with nature, in a conscious way, was when I was 12 years old. I lived in Berwyn, Illinois and it was summertime. After my parents left for work, I rode my silver and orange Dyno bike to the local baseball field where I played Little League. I stopped my bike at the edge of the chain linked fence and walked onto the field. I slipped my shoes off and walked through the slightly overgrown grass as the blades tickled my ankles. It was warm, and my sweat beaded on my forehead below my baseball cap. The sky was as blue as the petals of a gentian. Butterflies dipped up and down like they were on an invisible roller coaster and crows cawed from the top of the metal fence. I decided to lay down right in the middle of center field, and I tucked my hands behind my head to make a pillow. I just stared up at the sky and the white cotton clouds; I let the sun take my face in her hands. I am unsure of how long I stared at the clouds, but I watched them gently move across the sky changing shapes.

When I was younger, I didn’t really seek out nature. I knew it was all around me, but we were more like acquaintances. Then my dad and I started to fish together when I was in high school, until he passed away in June 2014. My dad had a bass boat and had been a fisherman most of his life. We would wake up when the morning skies were dark. As we got to the boat ramp, the sun started to peer above the water line. My dad always found solace at the lake. He wasn’t a church going man, but he said his church was the lake. Those were the times he felt closest to God.

It was on the lake when nature started to come alive for me. I would watch herons stand stiff like stones waiting for unsuspecting fish to swim by. I saw ducks paddling by with their newly hatched ducklings trailing behind in a line. I saw the array of personalities the lake had as well. Some days the lake was smooth and green like a glass bottle. Other days the lake swelled creating whitecaps that violently rocked the boat. I also was able to watch the day unfold before me. In the springtime, my dad and I could easily fish for 12 hours. I watched the sun make its full rotation through the sky. Every second the sunlight changed the landscape around me. I began to long for the early morning fishing expeditions. I needed the wind to rip by as we sped across the lake to each of our secret fishing spots. I needed the sunshine on my skin as much as I needed the rainstorms. I needed that feeling of peace as my dad and I silently sat on opposite ends of the boat continuously casting waiting for a bite.

It was after my fishing experiences that I started to become an outdoors woman. It was then I started my relationship with nature. My time off of work was filled with hiking. I discovered my love of kayaking, running, and the ocean. I took my first big trip out of the country in 2008, and I spent 2 weeks in the south island of New Zealand. I did daily hikes, I snorkeled, I kayaked across the Marlborough Sound, and as I stood upon a mountain top I heard a thunderous avalanche on a neighboring mountain. I remember when I told people about my trip they said, “That isn’t a vacation!” No, I didn’t relax in the normal sense of the word; however, I was energized and reignited by nature. She lit my internal fire like I was a wood burning stove.

I remember one particularly harder hike I did. My leg muscles were tired, and I was clawing at rocks to pull myself up to the summit. When I made it to the top, I found myself alone up there gazing out over Mueller Glacier. I felt overwhelmed with joy, awe and gratefulness. My eyes teared up, and it was as if nature was standing in front of me naked, raw, and powerful. It was that trip that forever secured my love for nature and traveling.

Later that year I became a runner. That is when my relationship with nature grew even deeper. Running in nature makes me feel wild; I am one of the dandelions that grows freely. I feel like with each stride I step more into myself. Nature sees me for who I am, and there is no judgment. When I am on a run, there are no pretenses. I am in my purest, most honest form. Nature reciprocates that. Nature never pretends to be something she isn’t; she is unapologetically herself. Within nature’s vulnerability, I am able to be vulnerable. Nature is a safe place to be exactly who I am.