Connecting You With Nature, No Matter Where Your Feet Are

Tag: Outer Banks

Giving Thanks, For Everything

“If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.” -Ram Dass

The above words of wisdom were steadfast companions as Erik and I visited family and friends in Virginia and North Carolina the first part of November.

We visited with my Dad, perhaps for the last time, a few days after his 91st birthday. He’s now in end-stage dementia, and it was sad to see a once feisty, resourceful and independent spirit so utterly reliant on others for his care.

While visiting with him that afternoon, I wondered what it must have been like for my parents to have had five children in a little over a decade, and the sacrifices they made to raise us.

I also wondered what he could now remember. As I flipped through a photo album showing him family pictures from over the years, he especially lit up upon seeing a picture of his last dog, an Irish setter named Beau. With other photos he was less responsive, but he grinned when I joked that none of us five kids had gotten a speeding ticket in over a decade.

Beau and my Dad became an inseparable family duo starting in 1992. My parents had already been divorced and living apart for several years, and my siblings and I had all moved out by then, too. After Beau died in 2003, our four-bedroom house in the suburbs became an even quieter, less vibrant place. Still, my Dad managed to remain independent until 2011, when he first moved into an assisted living facility, yet the decline he has experienced since May this year has been especially rapid and irreversible.

It was hard to gauge how my Dad might have been feeling when Erik and I saw him. Before arriving there, I feared that his new home would be lifeless and stagnant, a place where everyone languished in a holding pattern until they passed on. Instead, I was encouraged and uplifted by the compassion, patience and presence his caregivers exuded as they helped him and other residents navigate their daily lives.

This surprise gift was borne from choosing to be present with my Dad as he was in that moment, not from expecting him to be a certain way at this time in life for me. This gift of being present, along with Ram Dass’s words of wisdom, became trusted companions for the remainder of our journey back east, and our travels home to Montana.

After seeing my Dad, Erik and I drove for about nine hours from the mountains of western Virginia to Hatteras, North Carolina. We met up with my oldest sister there to honor my Mom’s passing two years earlier, in a place where she felt especially at peace.

Later on, my younger brother and his 18-year-old daughter drove down to join us in celebrating and remembering her life. That evening, we feasted on crab cakes, scallops, french fries, hush puppies, coleslaw, and super sweetened tea, things my Mom especially enjoyed when she vacationed here, usually in September, right after Labor Day.

This fall, it was great to make a pilgrimage to the Outer Banks and to travel back to Virginia. It was awesome to spend time with family, and remember and honor the life, love and memories we have shared together, alongside creating new experiences and memories. We are grateful to now be home, following an epic journey acknowledging the impending departure of one parent, and the recent passing of another.

I am thankful for everything that I have learned and received from my parents over the course of their lives, and I intend to pay this forward to the best of my ability.

Over the coming winter solstice, Christmas, new year and other holidays that are fast approaching, I also set the intention to not dwell on the past, to not worry about the future, and instead be as fully present as I can in every moment.

That truly is all any of us ever have, the present moment, yet that’s so easily forgotten and dismissed when our lives become crazy, busy or both. Thankfully, nature connection freely provides us reminders and opportunities to be still, be present, slow down and take stock of what’s truly important.

May you and your loved ones experience tremendous peace, goodwill, camaraderie and community this coming holiday season and into the new year.

May you be grateful for everything in your life.

May you reach out and extend these gifts to others.

May we all celebrate the ebbing of darkness, and welcome the returning tide of light to our one home planet in the weeks and year to come!

Amazing Grace


Sometimes it’s hard to make sense of things that happen in our lives, and the unexpected passing of my Mom in early October really shook me to my core. Given my Dad’s dementia and other age-related challenges, my four siblings and I all thought he might have gone first, as my Mom had been spry and sharp and in seemingly better shape until the week before she passed.

My Mom, Angela, had been progressing well after a seemingly successful surgery in late August, but about five weeks later, she experienced a significant downturn once more. A second surgery left her with weakened vital signs and she passed away two mornings later, another star and ray of light returning to the great unknown. Her closest friends had always called her Angel.

One thing I do know is that my mom’s spirit and love live on in all the life and lives that I am a part of. It’s hard not to think about her during one of her favorite seasons (spring is #1, fall is #2), when walking and kicking through piles of colorful leaves swirling around on sidewalks, when glancing up at brilliant blue skies decorated with white puffy cumulus clouds, when witnessing squirrels and birds zoom around the backyard preparing for winter .Or when getting ready for Halloween, as she got such a kick out of helping my brother Bill and I with costumes when we were very young, and still enjoyed seeing photos of grandchildren and her own grown children dressing up in the spirit of the season..

My mom lived her last 20-plus years in an apartment complex west of Richmond, Virginia, where my oldest sister continues to live just a few doors down from where she called home. I was always astonished by how much my mom had turned her little corner of the earth outside her place into something so personal, so beautiful, and so magical. She planted, usually with the landlords’ permission, small bushes, trees and plants to brighten up her home outside her home. She nurtured hens and chickens, forget-me-nots and other flowers in small beds outside, and had turned an old wooden barrel into a planter, leaving a hole at the bottom of the barrel intact so chipmunks had a place to hide. I wouldn’t say she was one and at peace with the squirrels, though, as she alternated between leaving crumbs out for them to eat, and then shooing at them with a broom, followed by the occasional expletive, too! She had deep roots and a strong connection to where she lived, yet she also encouraged her five children to find their own places to grow, to become rooted and call home.

As an adult, it took time, effort and lots of soul-searching before I finally found my own place to call home and put down roots here in Montana, which is where I was when my sister called about my mom’s condition following her second surgery, and where I was fitfully sleeping the morning that she died. We are honoring her request to have her ashes scattered next summer, and to have a celebration of life gathering for her instead of a funeral service.

A state of grace and calm prevail in most moments now, alongside occasional rip-currents and waves of grief and sadness. I think about my mom and how much she loved the seashore, especially Cape Hatteras and other places on the Outer Banks of North Carolina,

Imagining and envisioning being there reminds me that we are all a part of this huge ocean of love, family, community and possibility. Storms are inevitable, even hurricanes from time to time. We are all part of this tug and pull, these vast and often unknowable rhythms and cycles of life
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Even after the craziest, shittiest and darkest of storms, light returns, love remains. And if we keep nurturing that, remembering those who gave their love while they were here, encouraging us to be grateful for what we have and to do what we can to serve others and something bigger than ourselves, we are unstoppable.

“The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire” said Ferdinand Foch. My mom’s soul and spirit burned brightly her entire life.  It feels fitting that she passed at this time of year, when the maples, sumacs, oaks and other trees she loved also are aflame, before their leaves too return to where they once came from.

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