Of Mist and Mountains

This will be a quick blog entry despite my last entry of August 2013.  One of my last entries before digging into a deep hibernation spoke of Shinto and the Mountain Yamabushi.  I also spoke of stepping into to Nature for the healing of PTSD.  Since 2013 I have hiked, paddled, swum, miles.  As a multi modal artist (Writer, singer, songwriter, martial artist) this means I have delved into my expressive arts …I had to enter into myself as I entered into the woods, the balsam, or hard woods.  I had to practice what I preach and be willing to take the same risks that I ask of others who come to me.  With more than two albums worth of music, three volumes of poetry, numerous pages of essays, you will be hearing more from me on this blog.  Everything is a gift even when it doesn’t feel like it.

Peace,    Awasos

 

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Shelving Rock Revisited

It had been close to 20 years since last hiking into Shelving Rock and its marvelous lookouts of Lake George.  Molsem and I were due for an easy, simple hike with minimal solitude as the trail is wide, relatively smooth, and the grade is pleasant making the hike a nice cross country style run for some.  I used Tim Starmer’s book, “Five Star Trails of the Adirondacks” as a guide due to its clear and accurate directions, and trail descriptions.

I selected this jaunt for the fond memories I hold of hiking it with my two sons when they were young boys.  My “Night and Day Boys” with temperaments as opposite may not hold the memories as I!   I didn’t go there for nostalgic reasons.  I wanted to walk and sweat just a tad.

The trail is quite wide with terracing switchbacks reminiscent of Alpine roadways of similar width.  When I was last there it was late fall, cold and my oldest son, the researcher, always ran ahead.  My youngest son, the philosopher, always lagged behind.  I became the ballast, the in between, requiring both to remain in sight and sound.  I would sing Traditional Native songs and they would repeat them like a call and response.  These are things you do when your kids are young.

I went to each of the look outs, now mostly blocked by the phenomenal growth of Red Oak, Scrub Oak, Black Walnut with low bush Blueberries creeping around worn trails and scorched fire pits.   No Uva Ursa though.  That was gone.  The hike provided just enough physical exertion to ease my agitation, that edginess that happens when one sits too long usually accompanied by  jumping knees, repeated sighs, and pacing, if you have the room.

Because I still run a Dojo, am Native American, and a Military Veteran, I’m often exploring the roots from which I have grown from and how they intersect in this Natural World.  What is the common bond?  Life can be full of traumatic scarring which pharmaceutical companies and various organizations squeeze every penny of profit from they can. But before there were anti-depressants, Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors, anti anxiety, Viagra, Cialis and on and on and on, what did veterans, warriors do to reintegrate?

I found myself recalling conversations with Dojo mates about the Yamabushi which literally means “the warrior that sleeps in the mountains.”[1]  Although too many people without experience prefer to cultivate the fantasy of mystical mountain warrior monks as opposed to understanding that Warriors of Indigenous people globally sought refuge in isolated nature. “Many warriors and nobles retreated to the monasteries to train or collect their thoughts in the serene surroundings of the mountaintops.”[2]   Shinto, the spirituality of the original people of Japan, is comparable to the spirituality of Indigenous Native American people.  Shinto literally translated, means the Way of the Gods.   Too many Dojos only focus on the physical and the egotistical and completely ignore the breath, Ki, spiritual aspect that is absolutely essential in bringing the Warrior’s mind back home from war trauma.

Without writing a dissertation, I would like to just mention:  Cortisol, Testosterone, HSD, and its significance in PTSd survivors and treatment.   Cortisol is a “steroid hormone produced in the adrenal glands in response to stress.” The longer, more chronic, the periods of elevated blood, saliva, urine,  and most significantly,  CELLULAR, Cortisol levels  one experiences due to excessive stress, the lower the Testosterone, and the greater the damage done to one’s body.  (Females are not exempt from this chemical phenomenon.) Although blood, saliva, and urine levels of Cortisol may return to normal after extended (chronic) stress, the Testosterone does not.   Why?  Because of 11-beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase-1 (11 beta-HSD or simply, HSD.)   This incredibly complex metabolism involves fat, proteins, enzymes, neurotransmitters and “cytokine cascades” that present in mood swings, irreversible and irreparable brain damage, compromised immune systems, loss of bone density, muscle atrophy and more.  By requesting a blood test to measure HSD blood levels one can better determineImage cellular Cortisol levels. (And you all thought cortisol only had to do with belly fat!  WRONG.)

Intense, high demand workouts can worsen the cortisol/HSD/Testosterone balance and rhythms.  Sort of like quick burn, high demand exercise does not burn fat but instead activates the ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) metabolic cycle which burns carbs.  WALKING, HIKING, on the other hand, are low to moderate aerobic activities that activate fat burning metabolism which in this case also begins to reestablish the natural, normal cortisol rhythms.

Walk more for longer periods of time.  Hike more in the mountains or wherever you find peace. Slow, mindless, deliberate movement.  In the Dojo Iaido offers the opportunity to come back to center.  Mountain altitudes have higher negative ions for improved brain function and health.  Find what works for you.

The Cortisol Connection,   Shawn Talbott, PH.D., FACSM

The Natural Testosterone Plan,  Stephen Harrod Buhner

Aikido – Combat Related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder- A Holistic Approach, Thomas D. Osborn

Where the Partridge Drum

Awasos means Black Bear in the Abenaki language. Think of it as my call name.  I am Abenaki, Bear Clan, and it has taken over 50 years for me to get a small understanding of what that means. Although this blog is about the power of Nature and PTSd, I haven’t written much about that.  Why?  Because in order for me to acknowledge PTSd, I must also acknowledge that bad things have happened to me that caused it.  Being in the Natural world allows me to become a part of something greater than my own existence, greater than all the horrific things I’ve encountered thus far in my life.  Everyone’s trauma is unique to them even if we experienced the same trauma side by side, as individual human beings we would process those experiences unique to our own culture, temperaments, religions, environments and more.  Even how we were raised as kids impacts how we perceive.

My mother always told us kids that we needed to find something to believe in because someday that might make the biggest difference in our survival and how we will be able to help ourselves and in so doing help others.  It’s hard to imagine helping others when we are in the middle of our personal whirlwinds of memory and the moral questioning of our involvement in the destiny of others and ultimately ourselves.  My religion is the Natural world, the world of Nature. I learn from each creature about the many unique ways each creature responds to life around them. I don’t have to go to a book but observe the environment that I’m in: smells, sounds, the habits of the other creatures, and how they all get on with their lives.

Nature holds no expectations of me. Just “to be” like the family of Partridge (Grouse) up by the Sweat Lodge today.  The same family that sought refuge down by house, wood shed and back porch when the Hawks were out hunting after a week of rain.  Everyone was hungry when the first sun of the week eased the natural order back into living.  I sat up by the Lodge just being. Just allowing myself to be apart of it all. The birds came in close through the ring of white pine that has grown close to 20 foot over the last 12 years.  Hundreds of people have come and gone.  Some I miss dearly. Some I don’t.  That’s the truth.  The Natural world reminds of the cycle of seasons, and life itself. “It’s not a race” Gramma always said, “it’s a walk.”

I had gone up to the Lodge to do some weed whacking –  my incessant need to keep moving, keep in control, keep vigilant, keep doing because that is what I have lived believing that is what – who – I am and there was a time when that strategy was what needed to happen.  Somehow, that changed me.  I sat by the Lodge in the pines and remembered sitting in the woods as a kid.  The innocence is no longer but the memory is there.  The emotion is there to remind me that I have survived for a reason.  Only in hind sight am I allowed to really understand most of the reasons.  Like right now.  I am alive for you to read this.  Yes YOU.  The world needs YOU.

Today I made the choice to not take the homes of creatures that can not defend themselves.  There will always be a mission.  I must adapt.  The Natural world allows me to do just that in my own time.  This is not a “clinical” blog.  I am a human being and I’m o.k. with that.  The world needs YOU and I to be ourselves as the Creator has made us, needs us and intended us to be.  The Natural world allows me to sense everything at the same time but in a good way, a way that restores life and peace, albeit minuscule increments at a time on some days, but it’s there.  Not all people understand this relationship, this side of who I have become, who i have always been. No all people understand Nature. The Bear takes its time ambling and chooses what warrants a response and what does not.  The Bear knows the inherent wisdom of laying to rest in torpor and gives us permission to participate in that wisdom of seasonal preparation.  Ursa Major has begun to dip toward the horizon, the Great Bear preparing to bed down for winter, to heal, to rise again renewed, hungry, and alive.

Peace Out,

Awasos

Military Veterans and Hiking: “Can You Walk Off a War?”

http://www.backpacker.com/all-quiet-on-the-western-front/articles/17643

I want to start this short blog post with the previous link to a Backpacker Magazine, May 2013 story by Brian Mockenhaupt, Army Vet., writer and editor.  For some of you that may be wondering about the connection between Kataahdin – Expressive Arts, TBI, PTSd and the power of Nature,  this outstanding article of two Army vets hiking the Pacific Crest Trail will help you understand, and hopefully, inspire you to get out into Nature.  The article also offers further links for survivors of trauma, contacts and more.  Congrats to Brian and thanks for the editing tips ; )  ~Awasos

Blue Ledges: Hiking the Upper Hudson

Saturday, June 1, 2013.

I hadn’t been into Blue Ledges for several years and was more than a little excited to return with the ole Wolf-Dog, Molsem.  Black fly season was pretty much complete between bizarre cold, a week of rain, followed by temperatures (even in the mountains) of 80+ degrees Fahrenheit. I have great memories of Blue Ledges with my boys, family and friends.  The foot trail is 2.5 miles in along Huntley Pond, followed by the Hudson, both will be on your right when going in, on left when coming out.  The trail itself is relatively easy going with only a couple of inclines as you get closer to the Ledges, beach, and camping areas which have gotten smaller from tree growth and uncleared blow downs. From years of hikers, the earth has receded exposing countless traversing roots for toes to catch on so wear toe covered footwear for a more pleasant experience.  And, might I add, this trail may not be the best time to wear your new non-progressive lens bi-focals. (You can ask me how I know that.)

Because I hadn’t been there is several years, I wanted to double check on accessibility, drive time, water release times for rafters, trail conditions, and weather.  Blue Ledges, although inside the Blue Line (Adirondack Park) is not in the High Peaks region but considered Central Adirondacks as Minerva is just outside of North Creek where North Woods Club Road is picked up off of route 28N (the N is NOT for north.)  I consulted with a couple of books on my shelf: Adirondack Trails: Central Region put out by the Adk. Mt. Club, and Tim Starmer’s Five Star Trails in the Adirondacks.  Tim Starmer gets the prize for best information, clear map, directions and also includes GPS coordinates. Starmer’s text sited specific landmarks on the trail, specific times and days when water releases occur, and safety reminders for campers i.e. set up camp 150 feet up from the river.

Starmer’s photos were pretty accurate, however, they did not show the blow downs from years past or the one, two, and three hundred year old uprooted trees from current storms.  Fortunately, I was prepared for a wee bit o bushwhackin’.

Hiking with dogs isn’t much different than hiking with children: both need to be kept on a lead for relatively the same reasons.  Children can usually vocalize when they are thirsty, tired, or hungry, not so easy for your four legged buddy though.  Molsem doesn’t shed quite the same as most dogs.  This means I have to pay even closer attention to his cues of getting over heated.  I know that I can assist in keeping him cool through his feet, and underbelly.  I have to pay attention to his tempo as usually he trots along at a good clip. If he starts walking slower than his characteristic pace then I accommodate.  I knew that most of the trail is undercover and would provide shade and rain cover for the possible afternoon showers predicted. I was also familiar enough with the hike to know that Molsem would have several streams, a pond, and eventually the Hudson to cool and refresh.  He loves the water and knows enough to go in immersing not just his feet but complete underbelly for cooling.  He will only drink from clean water.  (This doesn’t mean the water is potable for humans.  “Beaver Fever”, Giardia, is still an issue. )  When Molsem needs to cool, I wait for him until he is ready to move on. When possible, I get in the water with him and drench him good all over down to his skin to avoid “hot spots” i.e. heat rash.

What kind of fashion statement did I make on this hike?  Well, I already mentioned bi-focals to which I added some UV coated clip ons.  (Before the day was done, however, I couldn’t stand the glasses. Wearing them all the time is still new and frustrating.)  I initially was going to wear some lighter weight hiking boots but remembered the week of rain, the trail along the pond is wetter, and I would most likely have to do some trailblazing. I switched to the waterproof Danners.  I was glad I did : ) as some of the muck holes went up over the 6 inch ankle.

I wore my standard polypropylene padded hiking socks, lightweight hiking pants, full piece swim suit underneath, long sleeve cotton denim shirt, my yellow Drifit ball cap, and waterproof watch.  Hiking solo I carry other accessories on a leather belt for example a good jack knife.

In a medium sized day pack I carried:

  • Starmer’s book
  • a quality compass
  • wooden matches and a couple of lighters in a plastic zip lock bag
  • cell phone on OFF as there isn’t any signal but just in case, and for ID purposes
  • plenty of water
  • snacks for me and Molsem
  • extra short sleeved shirt
  • Canon camera
  • towel
  • first aid kit
  • hunting knife
  • rope
  • bungee cord
  • pen, journal
  • medication i.e. aspirin, bag balm
  • non aerosol bug repellent
  • SEVERAL small grocery bags for garbage, waste etc.
  • TP  (NEVER leave your nasty TP, tampons, etc in the woods!!!)
  • on top of the pack: all purpose lightweight jacket
  • my car keys I hooked inside my pants pocket

Some folks might think I over pack.  Well, hopefully you won’t find yourself in a situation where you or someone else on the trail needs your help which brings me to my next section of this post.  Summer of 2012 witnessed a horrific tragedy on the Hudson and within the White Water Rafting community.  I define tragedy as an event that didn’t have to happen, an event that could have been prevented.  There was a drowning death on the Hudson involving a raft company that lost sight of its common sense, responsibility to the innocent and inexperienced patrons that put trust in that company’s “professionalism.”  A company gone rouge did not serve the innocent woman who drowned on their watch and quite frankly, their license should have been permanently revoked.  Although I did not see any rafts from this “rogue” and “irresponsible” company Saturday, I did see rafters taking care of one another as the local rafting organization has standardized.  Thinking of going white water rafting on the Hudson?  Make sure the company is a current member of the local organization that has set its own safety standards to keep its patrons safe such as: individual kayakers moving among the rafts from various companies to retrieve and direct “traffic.”  It was clear that people were watchful of the number of rafts working the water, headcounts, and a common goal of keeping things fun AND safe.   At one point an individual kayaker working some white water flipped his craft.  (Remember, the water was high to begin with, higher as the result of the water release to deliberately create white water.)  The kayaker couldn’t touch bottom and couldn’t get back into his craft.  A raft with patrons stopped, held steady to shore and did not proceed until the individual and his kayak were out of the water, cleared, and back into the water safely. The kayaker was not in distress, however, the current is brisk. This isn’t just good business, this is responsibility, and community.  True wilderness survival is NOT like the T.V. show where it’s all about one.  True wilderness survival is community and true leadership is setting that example through their own action.

As Molsem and I were hiking out we had to do more bushwhacking and pay close attention as many of the blue trail markers were down. We followed a short distance on the ridge that brought us within sight of rafters setting off of the first beach point just under the Blue Ledges.  Thanks to my bright yellow hat, one of the guides spotted me and yelled: “Are you o.k.?”  They were in the raft and held position until I answered, “Yes, just bushwhacking through blown downs.”   They responded, “Just checking. Want to make sure.”  I yelled back, “Thanks for asking!”

There is an awareness that is activated in Nature that a class room will never provide.  There was rain as we hiked out slowly feeling the heat. We took our time. Along about Huntley Pond I caught a strong scent of something.  Whenever you’re in the woods and you smell a strong scent it is most likely a bear.  Molsem stopped, looked up the hill away from the water on our left, and looked back at me.  I had heard a grunt just before and wondered if it was a bear. Molsem considered going further but did not.  I agreed.  Momma bears and young? Best do what the bears do, and walk the other way.

wind and water are related

they speak the same language

just listen and you’ll hear their stories curl

around hard wood burls, through hemlock and pine

cohosh and blueberry

up from the pond shadows where the trout scull

through the mist of white water rushing to a calm

Nature’s lullaby 

 

Kayaking the Sacandaga – Northeast End

Memorial Day 2013 – the first day of sun, and clear skies for over a week.  WhitefaceMt. was literally white with a snow fall of 34”, Killington, VT, a reported 17”.  Here on the northeast end of the Sacandaga no snow, just cold wind, high water, and sharp air.  The wind had enough bite to spur my taking the bow saw to a few downed limbs and cranking up the wood stove just to dry the house and my bones. Irony is my paddling the kayak in full sun while friends and family are still digging out from the blast of a reluctant winter and foreboding climate change.

I am not a professional paddler, however, once a Marine always a Marine and keeping with that mindset, and the lessons from family members still active in four season mountain search and rescue, setting the kayak in the river for the first time of the season is not a simple task.  There is a preparedness that I as a lone paddler and hiker like to exercise. For example: I knew I would need to follow more close to the shore line due to the sporadic wind.  I wanted to paddle into the wind at the start of my trip as opposed to the second half where I might be more tired.

How someone over 50 years old chest presses a Pimlico 100 into Thule J racks atop a Chevy Blazer can be a challenge, but here’s a couple of tips.  Make sure you have a small rubber backed bath mat, and a sturdy box type step stool.  Place the mat between the J’s partially on the roof and hanging down onto the door a bit.  Make sure your stool is NOT a cheap ass plastic thing with wobbly legs that will sink into sand and break or tip or both at the key moment you need to hoist the tail end of your kayak into the second J sending you ass over band box and the kayak crashing onto your head.  (Feel free to ask me how I know that…)  Once you have readied the Thule straps you will need to get a shoulder inside the kayak so you can slide the front end along that bath mat and into the front J rack. This is where I need to use a step stool to hoist the back end into the rear J rack.  T’ain’t easy, but what are ya gonna do?

What to wear?  I am a tad eccentric in my solo living.  I wouldn’t say that I’ve coined the term “Adirondack Couture”, however, I’d say I’ve  given it my spin.  Let’s explore this from a paddler perspective.   I know there is wind, high water levels, and frigid rain that has made the river colder than usual.  [You might be wondering why I keep referring to the Sacandaga as a river as opposed to a lake.  Well, because it is.  It was flooded years ago.  An entire town, farms, Native burial sites and more succumbed to progress.  At one time there was Sturgeon in the river.  Now, it reminds us of its origins with a bottom current akin to the Mississippi.  The Sacandaga does not give up its dead easily.]

So, what to wear?  Those that know my love for Pink Flamingos would not be surprised that I chose hot pink lycra/spandex,  mid calf length, running tights.  The material is like a second skin keeping warmth, minimal drag, and free movement.  I sported a white, long sleeve polypropylene top with an extended shirt tail and a couple holes where the bow saw bit in last fall.  Foot wear is always important in any venue and I wear a pair of neoprene AquaStop boots that, once again, add warmth, a tread, and a shape that is like a small flipper.  Of course I have my life vest that I strap correctly and snug to my torso.  Flexible head fitting sunglasses and a bright yellow Drifit cap top off my practicality.  Quite a sight!  And, that’s my point.  One could see me from air or land.

As any fine dresser and stylist knows, accessories make the outfit:  I already mentioned the snug Coast Guard Approved life vest with buckles adjusted for a correct fit.  After all, it is intended to float and although I would rather not capsize anything is possible, especially on the water with wind kicking up an occasional white cap and larger craft setting wakes.  The vest needs to be snug so it stays in place if I were to “go for a dip.”  It does no good up around my neck, head, or simply bobbing off altogether.  A water proof watch is certainly nice to have as I tend to time myself i.e. 1 hour out 1 hour back sort of thing.  Keeping with the Daffodil yellow theme, I picked up a cheap Bodyglove waterproof  ID pouch that I actually put around my waist.  (I’m not keen on things around my neck.)  I put an expired driver’s license in it which has all my current info.  One of my sons gave me a dry bag in which I tend to carry a large towel, a cheap point & shoot camera (the Canon doesn’t like water,) and an extra shirt.

Some folks might wonder what’s the sense of my sharing this info?  Well, I know that I’m not the only person that lives alone in the Adirondacks. Perhaps it’s our nature to be alone in / with Nature.  Start slow just to be safe. I knew there was a strong head wind.  I knew that the water would be extra high and cold.  It was my first time of the season to be on the water so I wanted to reconnect on my own terms.  Did I end up with strange tan lines?  Sure.  However, I also got to settle into a rhythm with my paddling.  I got to practice different techniques, strokes, tempos, while relaxing my body.

I got to feel waves from one direction and wind from another while adjusting grip, body, direction.  I got to think.  There is a peacefulness inside each paddle cutting the water.  Paddling uses both sides of the brain – both sides of the body.

Kayaking the Northeast End of the Sacandaga is usually best during the week or off season.  I set in just above the Conklinville Dam and head back toward Mayfield.  I don’t have anything fancy but for safety purposes I am exploring having a sealed bulkhead installed in my kayak.

I do want to say a little something about being a veteran and kayaking.  There is a wonderful organization in Waterveliet, NY that teaches kayaking to disabled vets from any era. Men, women, active, reserve, combat, non-combat: If you are a veteran and you want to learn kayaking then you need to check out The David Fisher Upper Hudson Heroes.   Every penny donated goes directly to equipment.  The organization is completely volunteer.  They assist you in learning to kayak safely and how to purchase or adapt equipment suitable for your needs.  Not only are the kayak instructors certified to teach, they are also trained to teach kayaking to people with disabilities.

We each seek solace in Nature for our own reasons.  Be safe. Be wise.

Peace Out,

Awasos

It is in the wind that the breath of Memories bears life

and in the Honey Sun that grief is melted – gilded sorrows

blessed tomorrows

live each day in a drop of water.