May 5th is a New Moon, offering a perfect opportunity for a dark enough sky for some stargazing.
It’s also the cusp between the first half and last half of spring, the exact mid-point. Some folks call this cross-quarter day between the equinox and solstice “Beltane,” after the Celtic name for this time of year.
Adults and families with children 10 and older are invited to join us on a vernal evening walk of the Great Brook Farm State Park trails and a wilderness meditation. Gain an intimate glimpse into the nocturnal world as we explore the spirituality of stargazing and our place in the cosmos, while watching the night sky and listening for sounds of the forest.
Note: Please bring a red light headlamp. Regular flashlights and headlamps will diminish our ability to allow our eyes to adjust to see the full night sky. It takes approximately 30 minutes to recover from just a few second of exposure to light. Red lights protect our eyesight and night vision, allowing us to see better in the dark and to catch a better glimpse of the Milky Way.
Registration is required. While there is no fee for the program, donations are greatly appreciated.
When: Sunday, May 5th, 2019 | 7:30-9:00PM
Where: Great Brook Farm State Park, 1018 Lowell St, Carlisle, MA 01741
(Permit for event pending approval, location could change within the same geographic area.)
Star Walk Donation
Kislev is the ninth month of the Hebrew calendar. Every New Moon is an opportunity for us to work on various aspects of own spiritual selves. Kislev comes from the Hebrew word kesel, which means “trust” or “security” and one of the senses attributed to this month by the Book of Yetzirah, is that of sleep.
Sleep depends on trust and security. It depends on outer and inner tranquility. When our everyday lives are hectic, it can affect our sleep. The same goes for when our inner lives are not settled and secure.
The Kabbalist Sages say that good sleep alludes to inner peace and security. So how can we apply that to our lives now?
Spiritual Exercise for Kislev
Using the cycle of the moon, take some time this month to improve your spiritual center and overcome the roadblocks that are in the way of your inner peace. For each of the follow steps, find a quiet place to sit and relax and perhaps light a candle to focus your meditation.
“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” –John Muir
Last year, REI Co-op decided that it was more important to encourage people to get outside than to get them into their stores on the notoriously infamous day known as “Black Friday.” They called their campaign #OptOutside.
Our society is so consumer-based. We grow up learning how to contribute to society. As adults, we work jobs to make money so we can pay for the essentials our society names as basic. Then we feel compelled to spend what we have left on the latest products showcased by slick commercials and billboard ads. And because we want to conserve as much of the little we have left, we seek out special deals, the pinnacle of which occurs on Black Friday.
The daily grind can really get to us at our core, causing us to sometimes forget to take time for what’s important in this season: living the life that’s all around us. That’s what REI Co-op is hoping for #OptOutside Friday. If everyone decided to put aside the buying frenzy for just one day and get outside, to “break clear away” and “wash [our] spirit[s] clean“, perhaps we may come away with a different idea of what the coming season really is about.
Where will you #OptOutside this Friday? Happy trails, wherever they may lead you.
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” ― Rachel Carson
Unseasonably warm weather may have kept us outdoors a while longer this year. Though the leaves have now fallen from their branches, the trees having stored their reserves. Bushy-tailed squirrels and fat-cheeked chipmunks have collected food for their families. The time of ingathering, of harvest, is just about over even in the forests.
Mid-to-late November is a time we begin to look back on our year, take stock of our lives. We, humans, have our own customs, like harvest and county fairs, and, of course, Thanksgiving. It is not yet winter, so we gather one last time before the cold sets in soon.
For me, Thanksgiving time allows me to give thanks for the beauty of the earth. My autumnal walks provide me the opportunity to pause and reflect on all that I enjoy about our blessed planet. To remember the wild fiddlehead ferns lining the trail this past spring, the mountaintop vistas from this summer, and the pop of the fall foliage.
Even as winter knocks, Rachel Carson reminds me that “dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” The wheel of the year turns. As it does may we all be thankful for and reminded of the reserves of strength we find in the natural world which may sustain us through our personal winters.
“The Eternal said to Avram, “Leave your land, that which birthed you, and your paternal home and go to the land that I will show you.”” (Genesis 12:1)
Lekh-Lekha is one of my favorite portions in the annual Torah cycle. The word lekh means to “go” or “walk.” Lekh-Lekha essentially means “walk to yourself” or “go to yourself.” The Eternal has called on Avram to take a journey of self-discovery through the wilderness to a land that will be revealed.
In the calling itself, The Eternal gives a recipe for a transformative experience that will not only liberate Avram from his past, but strengthen him to discover who he is and will even culminate with receiving a new name.
There are three things which Avram is told he must leave: artzekha, “your land”; moladetekha, “your birth”; and beit avikha, “your parental home.”
Like Avram, we are each called to leave the comforts of what surrounds us and trust that the journey will transform us into better people. Avram’s sojourn led him to meet people different from him and allowed him to open his tent to complete strangers in hospitality and love (something I’d like to explore in next week’s post). And by the end, The Eternal gives him a trail name: Avraham – the father of nations.
Our world may seem like it is getting scarier and, as one friend reminded me today, once fear sets in, it is hard to shake. Perhaps it’s time we accepted The Eternal’s call to “walk to ourselves.” In other words, to be our truest selves. Perhaps in doing so, we can release our fears and be more open to those different from us – with their own unique cultures and their own unique heritages.
Don’t allow anyone but yourself to define who you are in this world and, in kind, let’s show others that we love them for who they are, too. Courage, my friend, you do not walk alone. I’m looking forward to seeing you on the journey.
“When I bring clouds over the earth, and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember My covenant between Me and you and every living creature…” (Genesis 9:14-15)
Over the course of the my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, I was witness to over a dozen rainbows. Even though rainbows are simply a refraction and dispersion of our sun’s light by water in our atmosphere, each rainbow had its own uniqueness, its own beauty.
Rainbows only appear on damp days. The right combination is necessary – when rain either slows down or stops and the sun breaks through the clouds. Such beauty is always welcome after an hour or day of hiking in the rain. Friends can attest that when I see the sun appear after a storm, I am running around looking for a rainbow. What can I say? I love rainbows.
What can rainbows teach us? Each color of the rainbow not only stands vibrantly on its own, but also blends to form new colors and gradients. The poet Aberjhani writes that “There is no envy, jealousy, or hatred between the different colors of the rainbow. And no fear either. Because each one exists to make the others’ love more beautiful.” It is as if the colors of the rainbow are bound by a covenant of natural law, respecting and raising up each color’s uniqueness while also blending to form a whole, a oneness.
Each one of us has our own distinctive characteristics. When we cultivate the right attitude about ourselves and each other, we have the ability let our individuality shine while also honoring one another’s own identities. We don’t need to dampen another’s light simply to let ours shine. Like a rainbow, we can celebrate our different bands of light, while acknowledging that we are simply one part of a diverse and colorful Universe.
The rainbow allows us to remember that we are all connected. When we see that another’s light is being hidden, whatever the reason may be, we can help them break through the clouds. That is the power of the rainbow. I think Maya Angelou summed it up best: “The thing to do, it seems to me, is to prepare yourself so you can be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud. Somebody who may not look like you. May not call God the same name you call God – if they call God at all. I may not dance your dances or speak your language. But be a blessing to somebody. That’s what I think.”
May we each learn to know that we are a blessing in this Universe, for ourselves and for one another. Keep on shining, friends.
This week’s Torah portion starts off with a most awe-inspiring statement: “In the beginning, when The Eternal began the heavens and the earth, the earth was unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep…” (Genesis 1:1-2).
Translating Hebrew into English can sometimes lead to an unsatisfactory rendering of the original text. This is often because there isn’t a direct translation of the more colorful phrases in the Hebrew Bible. “Tohu vaVohu (תהו ובהו)” is a great example of such word play. Above, I use a translation which reads “unformed and void.” But what does this really mean?
Let me start by saying that we don’t need to take Genesis literally in order to be inspired by the creation story therein. If we take some time to dig a little deeper than the surface of the text, we will find that there is so much we can glean from it.
Medieval French rabbi, Rashi, suggests in his commentary on Genesis 1:2 that the word tohu is used in combination with vohu (void, emptiness) because it “signifies astonishment and amazement, for a person would have been astonished and amazed at its emptiness.”
There is no doubt in my mind that Rashi is correct in his assessment. Whenever I want to enter into a spiritual state of mindfulness about my place in the Universe, I need only look to the night sky. That said, our night sky is full of stars and galaxies. The night sky at the beginning of the Universe was formless and void. How much more astonishing would it have been to see such vast nothingness! Even more so when we remember that all in the Universe is related at the atomic level – we are all stardust.
In fact, it is wholly remarkable that we exist at all. When one contemplates just how unlikely it is that we evolved from seeming nothingness to become conscious, breathing, living beings – it boggles all senses. And yet, we only get a short period of time to contemplate what meaning our lives have while here. As it says in the book of Ecclesiastes 3:20, “All goes to the same place; all comes from [star]dust, and to [star]dust all returns.” To me, it is what we do with the time we have here and now that gives life its meaning.
The astronomer Carl Sagan once said of the Cosmos: ” Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return, and we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”
We aren’t apart from Nature, studying it and observing it. We are a part of Nature, living it and shaping it. When we step up into our roles as essential pieces of the Oneness of the Cosmos, we can begin our spiritual journeys toward greater wisdom, understanding, and knowledge that will lead us to peace. Only then will we appreciate the uniqueness of our birth out of tohu and vohu.
When I first started my thru-hike of the Florida Trail this past January, I had the idea that I was a pilgrim on a journey to reconnect to myself. Every morning I would arise from my tent to greet the dawn in quiet meditation. I prepared my breakfast with intention and ate it in gratitude. I tried so hard to focus only on each step I took, to contemplate the beauty around me. But even amidst all of the ritual and natural surroundings, I was still fighting a battle within, a battle between my life before the trail and my life on the trail.
I started falling into a pit of depression and there was no one around me to talk to about it. Alone, I turned to my journal to reflect on my innermost thoughts. When that method wasn’t enough, I would call friends and family. But it was difficult to express what I was experiencing to them. It wasn’t their fault, but it only made it worse. I needed someone who was going through the same transformation I was going through, though I didn’t know it at the time.
On April 4th, I finally began my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. The trail official starts on Springer Mountain in Georgia. In order to get to the summit, tradition has us start at Amicalola Falls State Park. We take an 8.5 mile approach trail, which includes 604 stairs adjacent to the beautiful Amicalola Falls, purported to be the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi River.
Multiple landings allow one to catch their breath and to take in the magnificence of the rushing water of the falls. It was on the first landing that I met JT, who would later earn the trail name Feel Good. Feel Good initiated the conversation, asking me if I was there to begin a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. I responded affirmatively. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had just met the person who would become one of my closest friends on the trail.
We hiked together for about 300 miles before our respective speeds led to our parting ways for a bit. But in was in those first formative miles of the trail that I learned what I was missing on the Florida Trail – the companionship of a fellow pilgrim.
Since then, I have met hundreds (over a thousand?) people, all seeking some small bit of fellowship in the wilderness. We each hike our own hike, but we all shared in the same struggles. We all had painful days, rainy days, sad days. But we also shared in the joy of a meal, took in the beauty of a view together, and were glad when we accomplished feats we weren’t even aware we were capable of achieving. These are the people I wish I had to fellowship with on the Florida Trail.
My journey is not yet over. I still have 600 miles until I finish my hike. My best guess is mid-November. I’m looking forward to finishing. And I am fortunate to have a small cadre of folks who are still hiking south toward Harpers Ferry, WV. But now I know that even if I have many days of hiking on my own, there are now folks I can call to share my struggles and joys with, people who have also been there and done that. Whether we realize it or not, we need one another.
They say that life after the trail can be hard to readjust to, especially when the trail makes things so much simpler. I don’t want to readjust. I came out to hike in order to readjust from the person I was before to a more whole person. And that is now my struggle for the next few hundred miles – to wrestle with how to make sure I can take what I’ve learned out of the wilderness and into everyday life. Wish me well. I’ll let you know what I find.
IT IS 100 MILES SOUTH TO THE NEAREST TOWN AT MONSON. THERE ARE NO PLACES TO OBTAIN SUPPLIES OR HELP UNTIL MONSON. DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS SECTION UNLESS YOU HAVE A MINIMUM OF 10 DAYS SUPPLIES AND ARE FULLY EQUIPPED. THIS IS THE LONGEST WILDERNESS SECTION OF THE ENTIRE AT AND ITS DIFFICULTY SHOULD NOT BE UNDERESTIMATED. GOOD HIKING!
I’ve known about the Hundred Mile Wilderness most of my life. Like the AT, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know about it. I guess that’s just how it is when you grow up hiking in New England. And even though I had section hiked most of the AT in New England over the years, I had never done this section. So, when we arrived in Maine, I had a deep sense of excitement and a healthy fear of heading into this fabled forest.
There seems to be a rather flippant attitude among some thru-hikers about their ability to hike the Hundred Mile Wilderness. They enter with four or five days of food, promising any who will listen that they will bang out 20-25 mile days and be done with it. Piece of cake. For this reason, the Maine Appalachian Trail Club posts signs at both ends warning hikers – like the one I feature below and quoted above.
We decided not to underestimate its difficulty and arranged to take four days of food and to have our friend, who offered such a kindness, to meet us at a logging road half-way with another four day resupply. We were hoping to be done in six days, which is the average for a thru-hiker with strong trail legs. Here are some highlights from my personal trail journal – these are not full reports, but rather short excerpts.
Rainbow Stream Lean-To
CuppaTea brought us to the trail head at Abol Bridge, where we left off yesterday. We have entered the Hundred Mile Wilderness. It’s been kind of magical, thus far. A mixed birch, aspen, and evergreen forest with babbling brooks everywhere. Every boulder is covered in the brightest green moss I have ever seen. Red squirrels and chipmunks dash around in all directions, the former chattering at us as we pass on by.
The terrain is bumpier and rougher than we expected. Rocks and roots abound, but otherwise the elevation doesn’t change more than five to seven feet every so often. I I breathe in deep for these woods are fragrant with a rich bouquet of juniper and fir accented by the earthy humus which covers the forest floor. I miss CuppaTea, she’d love this.
Potaywadjo Spring Lean-To
My gosh, the roots and rocks are fiercely horrid. I can only stand it for the beauty of this place. If the fae and spirits of Native legends abound, it’s here, in these woods. I don’t think I have ever seen a fully grown juniper tree before walking among them here. Perhaps I just never noticed them before.
We were treated to some splendid views today of ponds and lakes. Our biggest hope however, is to see a moose while we traverse the trail in Maine. The terrain remains somewhat level – though we know that is not to last. Big mountains coming up. I’m absolutely in love with the hemlock bog we walked through to get to this lean-to. Who knew that the atoms which burst from the heart of a dying star could one day form such beauty?
Cooper Brook Falls Lean-To
It rained hard last night, a good soaking rain. Maine really needed it – the drought has hit the water supply hard. So many of the springs are already dry. We weren’t sure when the rain was expected to stop and asking around didn’t help. Ever play the childhood game called ‘telephone’? It’s like that. Most thought it was predicted to last until mid-afternoon. A sizable minority said 11:00. One fellow said 9:00.
Once the rain ended (at 9, by the way), we began our quick hike out to Jo-Mary Road to meet CuppaTea. When we came out, she was waiting for us with hot coffee and snacks! Oh, sweet splendorous morning! Real coffee! With real cream! And real sugar! We got our resupply and off we went. The rest of our hike went well, ending at this magnificent location with a cascading brook and sweet swimming hole.
Sidney Tappan Campsite
We didn’t quite make it to the lean-to we had planned on for tonight. After climbing Little Boardman Mountain, White Cap Mountain, Hay Mountain, and West Peak, we just could not bring ourselves to walk just two more miles over Gulf Hagas Mountain to the Newhall Lean-To. Plus, our friend Larry Bird is here. Her knees are not doing well and I’m worried for her. She’s a strong hiker though, and I know she’s got this.
White Cap, at 3650′, is borderline with the timberline. It had a mixed evergreen and alpine ecosystem and the view was quite wonderful. Resting upon the summit, we chatted with a few section hikers as the wind blustered about in every direction.
Chairback Gap Lean-To
Holy exploding atoms did I wake up on the wrong side of the sleeping pad this morning. My less-than-stellar mood didn’t last long, though. Unfortunately, Stryder had a far worse morning than I did. Like most great comedy, you can’t plan for the funniest moments.
After walking almost a mile round trip down to one of the murkiest water sources to collect three liters of water, Stryder came back and began to filter it. The way a Sawyer filter works is by squeezing the bag until you’re done filtering. That’s it. Well, after starting to filter the small, one liter bag, it exploded. Water everywhere. So he began to filter the larger, two liter bag. As he applied pressure however, it, too, leaked all over the place. In total disbelief, he tossed the bag, causing it to fly about 40 feet into the air and land on the low hanging branch of an eastern hemlock tree.
The way the bag soared made me start laughing. I couldn’t help it. The whole scene was funny. That’s when he started throwing his trekking poles as javelins in an attempt to get the bag down. And that’s when the bag further exploded, raining murky water all over Stryder. I felt truly awful for laughing, but it was too funny. He started laughing at this point. But that’s when he noticed the trekking pole also got stuck up there. Using his other pole, he finally got both down and shared in a good ten minutes of raucous laughter with me.
Wilson Valley Lean-To
Did I mention that on day one, I had half my food stolen by squirrels and Stryder had half his stolen on day three? Yeah, that happened. I highly recommend odor proof bags when hiking in Maine.
Tomorrow we see CuppaTea. I can’t wait to get out of the Hundred Mile Wilderness. It kicked our butts. It was beautiful – but between the food-stealing squirrels and the body-destroying terrain, I am glad to be done.
If you’d like to help me with staying on trail, a typical resupply costs me about $50.00. Gluten-free food can be hard to find, expensive and, while I appreciate the resupply box efforts of friends and family, it’s much easier for me to buy the food myself so I can pick and choose based on upcoming needs. You can make a contribution to my trail fund via http://www.paypal.me/trekreef. Any amount is gratefully appreciated.
CuppaTea met us at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy HQ and off we went. CuppaTea is really sweet and I am so glad to have met her. We stopped in my home town of North Billerica, Massachusetts on the way to Maine, staying at the home of some dear friends.We stayed for two days and got the chance to rest and recuperate – taking my friend Brita up on her request that we “consume mass quantities!” while visiting their home.
Yesterday was a wash, literally. Horizontal rain and atrocious winds prevented us from hiking in Baxter. But by mid-afternoon, it was clear enough for a short hike to stretch our legs and get our Katahdin hiking permits from Ranger Dave.
We summited Katahdin today. My alarm went off pre-dawn at 4:55, signalling the beginning of a long day of arduous hiking. CuppaTea & Stryder were both up and at-em by quarter past five and we were on the road to Baxter State Park by half past.
When we arrived at the gate, Stryder and I bought CuppaTea a season pass to Baxter State Park so she could continue to come in and out of the park without needing to pay the $14 each time (it paid for itself in just 2.5 visits). She dropped us at Roaring Stream Ranger Station and then made her own way to Katahdin Stream Ranger Station, where she was planning to hike and where we’d meet her later in the day.
Stryder and I began our ascent of Katahdin on the Helon Taylor Trail at about 7:30. We chose this trail for two reasons. One, we didn’t want to hike up the Appalachian Trail, only to backtrack back down again. We liked the idea of using an approach trail to the summit and then beginning our southbound journey on the AT from where it starts with fresh eyes, just like Springer Mountain in Georgia. Two, we wanted to do the Knife’s Edge Trail. This is one of America’s more dangerous hiking trails, connecting Katahdin’s Pamola Peak to Baxter Peak, the highest point of Mount Katahdin and the AT’s official northern terminus. It’s just over a mile long, with sharp, steep cliffs on both sides. Some of the trail runs over rocky edges only three feet wide. But it wasn’t the danger that drew us, it was the challenge and the promise of gorgeous views.
The elevation climb began right away. We hiked over rocks and roots at first, then over boulders. Eventually we had to stow our trekking poles as the trail provided us with hand over head climbs. We paused for a brief break about two miles in at Bear Brook to refill our water bottles and to eat some snacks. The water tasted delicious and crisp. Maine water has been the best we’ve found on the trail thus far.
From there, the climb only became steeper still, causing me to lose my footing at one point. I took a slight slide down a boulder, a small cut on my hand as my reward. We slowed down. Still, we reached timberline at about 9:15, stopping to enjoy some marvelous views.
Once out of the fir and aspen forest, temperatures began to drop quickly and the wind picked up significantly. Hiking suddenly turned into rock climbing, only without the gear! (It’s okay, we didn’t really need climbing gear, it was minimal technical climbing.) Before long, we reached the summit of Pamola Peak (4402′). That was about 10:30. It was enveloped by thick clouds. We kept looking at the Knife’s Edge, hoping for the skies to clear enough for nice views. To that end, we took a long lunch.
There were a few other folks atop Pamola, so we chatted with them and watched as these hikers slowly trickled off Pamola and out onto the Knife’s Edge. About 11:30, we decided it was our turn. At points it was barely three feet wide. We saw steep falls on both sides of us. I have to admit, it was a bit terrifying. It took us an hour and fifteen minutes to hike that 1.1 mile stretch. At 12:45, we arrived at Baxter Peak (5267′), the summit of Mount Katahdin. We were here, the place where so many northbound thru-hikers end their months long journeys. But for us, the second half was just beginning.
From end to end, our approach trail was 4.3 miles. Once at the sign, we took our obligatory photos and then ducked down a ledge to just rest for a while. Stryder ate a woopie pie and had a Coca-Cola. I ate a huge block of Maine fudge. Around 14:00, we began our descent, beginning our southbound journey back to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.
The Tableland was gorgeous, providing a grand view of the mountains surrounding us. But after a mile, we began a rock scramble and then a boulder down-climb. Gosh, it was back-breaking and knee-breaking. We finally reached timberline at about 16:30, stopping for a snack and one final view of the valleys now that we were out of the cloud cover.
Our pace quickened as we got lower in elevation, arriving at Katahdin Falls about 17:00 and eventually exiting the woods at 17:30. We were greeting by CuppaTea, who gave us huge hugs and congrats. From there, we were off to dinner. Now showered, it’s time for bed. I may sleep in for several hours tomorrow.
If you’d like to help me with staying on trail, a typical resupply costs me about $50.00. You can make a contribution to my trail fund via http://www.paypal.me/trekreef. Any amount is gratefully appreciated.