Seeking solace in nature

The mornings are when I seek solace in my garden. No matter how difficult my sleep has been, or how disturbing the world seems, when I walk outside and hear the silence of nature, I find reassurance that we are all OK.

My previous backyard and garden

I have come to realize that this is a feeling most will never know, and one that you must fully experience to know in your heart. Recent and not so recent studies have shown that a prolonged and solid connection with nature soothes us and reduces our stress. I had small glimpses of this in my backyard in Fort Collins, but I could still hear road traffic in the distance. I could still feel the tension in those around me, the need for city vigilance.

Now I know, finally at the age of 64, the peace that only nature can offer me. I hope you may also experience this in your daily life.

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What are you doing this Summer Solstice?

The word “solstice” is derived from the Latin words “sol+systere,” meaning “when the sun stands still.”  This year the Summer Solstice is on June 21st, 5:54 PM EST, which makes it the longest day of 2019. Following this solstice, the days will get shorter and the nights longer. As one who worships the sun, I see this solstice as a time to reflect on personal growth and the meaning of our seasons, a time of cleansing and renewal, love and personal growth. This is the moment when there is the most light available to us. In terms of consciousness, this is when we can be most present to ourselves and who we hope to be — the Sun represents the light of all life and consciousness.

Many traditions throughout time have celebrated the solstices — Ancient Egypt, the Aztecs of Mexico, Chinese, indigenous peoples of the Americas, and Europeans. Western civilizations have for centuries celebrated this first day of summer, often called midsummer or St. John’s Day. The Chinese mark the day by honoring Li, the Chinese Goddess of Light. Throughout history, with so much light showered down upon the Earth, it was seen as one of the most powerful days of the year for spiritual growth and healing.

Summer Solstice Stone Hedge

To this day, revellers still gather at Stonehenge to see the sun rise. The Heel Stone and Slaughter Stone, set outside the main circle, align with the rising sun.  And many of the ancient traditions continue – Bonfires are still lit to celebrate the Sun at its height of power and to ask the Sun not to withdraw into winter darkness.

In North America, many Native American tribes held ritual dances to honor the sun. The Sioux were known to hold one of the most spectacular rituals- The Sun Dance. Usually performed during the June solstice, preparations for the Sun Dance included cutting and raising a tree that would be considered a visible connection between the heavens and Earth, and setting up teepees in a circle to represent the cosmos. Participants abstained from food and drink during the dance itself. Their bodies were decorated in the symbolic colors of red (sunset), blue (sky), yellow (lightning), white (light), and black (night).

Why not create your own rituals this year, with an intention to create new ways to re-connect with Nature and improve your life? Bring light and love into this world in your own positive and creative ways.

“Both the Winter and the Summer Solstices are expressions of love. They show us the opposition of light and dark, expansion and contraction, that characterize our experiences in the Earth school so that we can recognize our options as we move through our lives.” – Gary Zukav

Wishing you abundance and light this Summer Solstice!


The Wonder of True Friends

I just started reading a wonderful memoir. The way I found it is even more interesting. I had been thinking about how much I love this song by the Dixie Chicks. Take a listen. It’s well worth your while…

I found a way to explore northern Thailand as a college student in spring 1974!

Yep, “taking the long way” is a great description of my life. I have always been quite independent and, as one close friend in Salt Lake observed, ‘zealous’. When I focused on something new, I could usually make it happen, in spite of the fact I rarely had any money. As you might guess, in the midst of all of that, I have had only a few true friends, because I was always taking off to some other state or foreign country for a new adventure. When I decided it was time to go do something different, I simply did it. How many relationships can keep up with that lifestyle?

But back to the amazing memoir: “Let’s Take The Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship” by Gail Caldwell. Since I loved the title “Taking the Long Way” I looked it up and found it had been already “taken” by Gail Caldwell’s book. Then I had to find out more, so I checked it out of my local library.

This is a well-written memoir by a Pulitzer Prize winning former chief book critic for the Boston Globe. How’s that for credentials? And yes, it is a wonder to read. Here Gail eulogizes the kind of close, true friendship that one rarely finds in one lifetime. What are the chances of finding that one true friend who practically knows what you are thinking and what you may say next? She also beautifully describes the way so many of us writer, introvert-types jealously protect our independence and solitude. Gail begins by defining herself as “a gregarious hermit” and then wonders how she finally met “someone for whom I wouldn’t mind breaking my monkish ways.” Ah, don’t we all know that fine line between loving our freedom and yet deciding to let one worthy friend into our life.

Friend in Chinese

I found this memoir particularly poignant because I only have a few true friends in my life right now. Only one friend made the effort to stay in touch emotionally when we moved down here five years ago, and Mike is the friend of a lifetime for me. What does that mean? For me it means absolute trust that this friend loves and respects me, to the extent that we can easily disagree and argue, but love and loyalty is always solidly beneath. That bottomless loyalty is the greatest prize in my life. I need to know that this is someone who would never betray or doubt our intimate life together, and will certainly be there at the end of my life if possible.

After a lifetime of living in cities, how has country life changed me and my interests?

The winter view from our south-facing windows

The changes are so gradual that at first you don’t notice them. After we completed our passive solar home in 2015, it took months for us to truly relax. While it was being built it felt more like the workmen owned it instead of us! Then, after we moved in, it felt like an expensive foothills retreat. I kept waiting for the manager to arrive and kick us out. But it did finally get finished, and then we rested.

Construction in mid-winter 2014-15

I would say it took at least a year to totally accept that this was our new home. It didn’t feel like anywhere I had ever lived before. The lack of neighbors and the absolute silence took my breathe away. When we first started building I felt like we lived so far out in the country, but after a year or so, it all felt so normal to not be around others.

The Final Product!

How did this new lifestyle change me over the next few years? I slowly learned what true relaxation is all about. I noticed that I stopped feeling so fearful all the time, a feeling I hadn’t even noticed before. The calm and quiet made me realize that our bodies feel the need to be ever vigilant in cities. All of that traffic, noise, over-crowding, and just being around other people constantly, causes us to be ever attentive to who knows what might happen next. Yes, we do still watch the news, which I’m not sure is good for us, but it feels millions of miles away!

I would say retiring to the countryside is particularly pleasant because we don’t need to worry about getting to work and all the stresses of being at work. Certainly, no one is go to fire us. Then the “problem” becomes:

How will I fill my time in a way that satisfies me?

Mike has been a master at solving this problem. He has been waiting his whole life to have the time to pursue various motorcycle and art projects. I have had to learn the fine art of doing nothing, after a lifetime of forced “productiveness.” Now I’m ready to pursue a few new avocations more seriously, like gardening and photography.

My commute to town

One of the best parts of our life now? After a lifetime of moving from place to place constantly, I now know that we will never move again. This is the end of the road for us. and what a lovely end it is!

If you would like to learn more about this challenging transition from my perspective, please consider purchasing my book: A Memoir of Retirement: From Suburbia to Solar in Southern Colorado.

A trip up north to the land of cities

For my birthday this year, I decided to go up to Fort Collins and Denver to spend time with family and friends. I had a wonderful time feeling special! But I am always shocked by the culture shock of returning to city life. The first thing I always notice is how bad the air begins to smell just north of Pueblo, because the air does not “smell” down here. That is also where the highway driving suddenly switches from a casual, comfortable feel to what I call “Get the hell out of my way!” driving. Luckily we missed any major traffic jams up north, but the only way I can explain it, from the perspective of one who never sits at stop lights or feels truly threatened by two-way traffic, is the roads are INTENSE up there! The cars are so close together on the roads and it feels scary.

The other culture shock for me is that up there we see so many young people! We don’t have a lot of them down here. The average age in our county, down by the New Mexico border, is around 54. Everything feels a lot more rushed and modern up there. There are of course hundreds of restaurants and shopping options compared to our county, where you can count the total restaurants on ten fingers.

Yes, we moved from one of the riches counties in Colorado to one of the poorest five years ago. My Dad (age 90) asked me how I was feeling now about that choice while we were up there and I had to think. As he pointed out, I had never lived in a place like this before. I have been cursed my whole life with the ability to see both sides of everything, and that can be truly exhausting. However, after a few days up north, I have to say I love not smelling the air or hearing traffic all the time. Our solar foothills home was the perfect temperature when we got here with no heat running the whole time we were gone. It felt wonderful to just walk in the door!

Sitting in my bed this morning and gazing out at the Spanish Peaks and the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, that’s a tough act to follow. The silence down here is perfection for me now.

Alcohol versus Marijuana (THC): This drives me nuts about my own culture!

I cannot stand the way we act like drinking alcohol is so fun and funny. I should admit up front that alcohol is not and has never been my own drug of choice. I just don’t see how this killer of those who partake and those who get murdered by drunks, is so accepted and the source of so many laughs.

“Excessive alcohol use led to around 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost (YPLL) each year in the United States from 2006 – 2010, shortening the lives of those who died by an average of 30 years. Further, excessive drinking was responsible for 1 in 10 deaths among working-age adults aged 20-64 years. The economic costs of excessive alcohol consumption in 2010 were estimated at $249 billion, or $2.05 a drink.” 

CDC Fact Sheet on Alcohol Use and Your Health

Somehow I don’t find the death of millions funny. Where did we get the idea that this nasty habit is fine and even funny, especially when we have recently determined that it also causes cancer:

The CDC’s Long-Term Health Risks from Alcohol Use:

Over time, alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems including:

    • High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems.6,16

    • Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon.6,17

    • Learning and memory problems, including dementia and poor school performance.6,18

    • Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.6,19

  • Social problems, including lost productivity, family problems, and unemployment.6,20,21

  • Alcohol dependence, or alcoholism.5

Yes, alcohol use is fine, normal and completely socially acceptable while the use of THC in marijuana is still considered a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act, a federal law which states that THC has no medicinal value and high potential for abuse just like other Schedule I drugs like heroin and cocaine.

deaths from alcohol vs marijuana

So glad that alcohol is so medicinal and holds no risk of addiction! If THC is so deadly, how come millions aren’t dying from its use? It has been in use for centuries all around the world. 

Today THC is regularly prescribed in Israel and other countries for a number of serious illnesses. Israeli research over the past ten years has led to a rediscovery of our endocannabinoid system, the largest receptor system in the human body. As it turns out, our brain produces its own cannabinoids — compounds that stimulate the body’s receptor system.

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health believe these compounds could alleviate dozens of illnesses, including schizophrenia, diabetes, cancer and multiple sclerosis, to name a few.

Over 60% of Americans want to legalize THC now.  WTF?

What matters most to you in retirement? Do you need to feel useful?

retirement living for yourself

Before I went to read (The 4 Things That Matter Most in Retirement) an article over at Next Avenue, by an expert on “the difficult transition from work life to an encore career in later life,” I made a list of what matters most to me as I turn 64. What’s on your list?

  1. Health and physical comfort (I live with COPD and quite a bit of pain)

  2. Lack of major worries like physical safety, money, feeling secure, etc.

  3. Being surrounded by love and family

  4. The enjoyment of being present with the natural world that surrounds me

  5. I would want to add a mindfulness and gratitude practice here

I find the author of this article assumes too much, assumptions I made before I hit the ground face first in a serious bike accident and then turned 60. Assumptions like I would feel and be as healthy as I had been most of my life, or that I would be ready to take on a “new career in my third age.”

After a traumatic brain injury and COPD, a second career is out of the question for me. I do continue to write here for two reasons, I enjoy the brain challenge and I like to interact with others in this way. I find one major issue for many as they retire is the desire to “feel useful.” I know some need to feel useful much more than others. This I attribute to early brainwashing that says,

“You have no right to be here unless you are useful or productive in some way.”

Do you remember the first time you felt useful? When was the last time you felt truly useful? Do you need to feel useful to feel good about yourself?

I was raised with a strong work ethic. Feeling useful and especially “productive” has been what my life was about before we retired to rural Colorado in 2014. In the past few years, as my health declined, I fought a hard battle with myself and eventually came to the conclusion that being here and finding ways to be content was enough. Those of you who have the “feel useful” gene know exactly what I’m talking about here. How have you dealt with it?

Acceptance releases everything to be what it already is.

laura and rasta on insulation 2014 (2)

A Memoir of Retirement: From Suburbia to Solar in Southern Colorado by Laura Lee Carter, M.A. Librarianship, History and Transpersonal Counseling, is a book which answers the question: “What’s it like to move to the country to retire?” In June 2014, we packed up or got rid of most of our worldly goods, sold our nice house in suburbia (Fort Collins) and took off to stay in an old miner’s house while we built a direct-gain passive solar home with spectacular views of the Sangre de Cristos, just west of Walsenburg in Navajo Ranch, Colorado. It was not without fear and trepidation that we landed here, ready to invest our life savings into Huerfano County, the place of the orphans.