Posted on December 11, 2017
Yesterday at Dickens of a Christmas in Franklin with my sister and brother-in-law, I ran into Edy, our wonderful Airbnb hostess last summer. She asked why I haven’t been posting on the blog. To her and other readers, I apologize. Reentry into the US over the last six months after three years abroad has been an adventure in itself. So much has happened which I’m still processing and will be part of the memoir I’m writing. And, yes, I’ve been away from the blog and all of you too long. Thank you, Edy, for sharing my Nashville Guide with guests and encouraging me to post this…
In the morning I watched the geese from the door through the mist, sailing in the middle of the pond, fifty rods off, so large and tumultuous that Walden appeared like an artificial pond for their amusement. But when I stood on the shore they at once rose up with a great flapping of wings at the signal of their commander, and when they had got into rank circled about over my head.—Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Mom and I watched the geese from the patio as they picked through grass by the pond. The week after Thanksgiving had been quiet. As much as we loved having my grown kids with us, we hated seeing them go. Determined to have everything done before they arrived so I could savor time with them and too excited to sleep, I was in the kitchen till 1 AM the night before, cooking and binging on Outlander. We blinked and only leftovers in the freezer were proof that the holiday really happened. Now Christmas calls. But as I walk Ella over crunchy leaves beside still waters at Edwin Warner Park, I remember not only being there with Cole and Brittany Thanksgiving Day, but how nature reminded me all fall I’m never alone. I’m grateful for last autumn—my first in three years. And I thank God that I spent much of it in my own Walden Woods.
In 1854, Henry David Thoreau published Walden or Life in the Woods after living in a 10’ X 15’ cabin beside a pond for two years, two months and two days. Though I’ve never been to Walden Woods outside Concord, Massachusetts, I’ve been inspired by Walden and so have my students. Thoreau was the original American minimalist. I’m learning to follow his advice to “Simplify! Simplify!” and after living in apartments three years while abroad I have grown accustomed to small spaces. I’ve culled and curated my material possessions which were packed into 1800 square feet for over twenty years, then a storage unit until I moved back.
I moved home and had no house. Virginia Woolf was so right when she said women need a room of their own—or at least room, space— to write, create, think, breathe. I am grateful for three months spent with my mom in my hometown as I job searched, then began teaching university and college English. At the end of September, I finally settled in Nashville, where I call home. I was able to focus on writing my memoir of the three years abroad–why I went and why I returned. Surrounded by peace, quiet, nature, I could hear God, my Muse, again.
My “tiny home” is 785 square feet beside three quiet lakes where geese greet me each morning. Minutes away is Percy Warner, Cheekwood, and the Harpeth River. I craved green space while in Santo Domingo where my apartment had no outdoor area and was surrounded by loud, relentless traffic and high-rise condos. When I returned to Nashville, I ironically found much of the same.
Friends and family warned that Nashville had grown and changed. Drastically. But last September I managed to find a place where I now see deer on daily walks. A couple of weeks ago, after all the leaves had fallen, I realized I could finally see into the woods. At the moment I looked up, peering past the pine trees, I saw on a shag carpet of burnt orange and brown leaves two of them staring back at me. On Thanksgiving Day we saw a buck snorting through the woods not far for where we walked Ella. The next day, Cole spied three deer while sitting on my living room couch.
Here I watch cardinals, bluejays, and finches take turns at my bird feeder and chipmunks enjoying seeds that they drop to the ground. A covey of doves feed there, too, reminding me again that although I have no idea what 2018 holds, I have peace. I still miss my home of 21 years which I sold in 2016. I always will and still can’t bear to drive by. But I believe I made the right choice and am where I need to be. In stillness I’m moving in the direction of my dreams.
Since moving home last June it has been a journey, and on it goes—a new season in a new life which a former coworker in Morocco called “the new new.” With all the change over the last 3+ years—4 schools and 4 addresses in 3 countries—I’ve not posted on the blog as much since I lived in Morocco. I’m writing a memoir that will explain, as I continue to understand, all that happened there and in the Dominican Republic, and what is happening now as I repatriate and try to create a new life in Nashville.
For me, moving to foreign countries was easier in many ways than making a new life in what used to feel so familiar. Career transition can be one of the scariest moves of all. Trading the security of what we’ve always done for what we now want to do is risky. I’d been in a classroom Monday through Friday since I was five. It was time. Teaching as an adjunct gave me a season to prioritize writing though I still put in eleven-hour days commuting to two schools twice a week. I missed full time pay and travel, but taking a timeout meant more time with Taylor who lives nearby and Mom who needs me now. And more time to create the life I imagine.
At Belmont University I designed and taught a course called “Long Way Home: Essential Journeys.” Truly life is like a web of adventures radiating to and from a center—home. I believe our Creator is home. That He lives within and guides us on journeys uniquely designed for each of us to become the person he or she is meant to be. My students chose journeys out of their comfort zones they felt would positively impact their lives. They researched the benefits and risks, the how-tos and whys, and for a month carried out their quests. We had focused on narratives and memoirs, particularly Cheryl Strayed’s, Wild. Check out the book and the movie it inspired produced by Reese Witherspoon, a Nashville girl, who played the lead. Cheryl’s journey — hiking 1100 miles of the Pacific Coast Trail alone—was a physical and spiritual task. What she learned wasn’t so much about the finish line as what it took to cross it. It always is.
They shared the challenges and takeaways of playing instruments, learning sign language, serving in the community and beyond. They practiced yoga, veganism, and ran, boxed, rock-climbed, and hiked their way across Nashville. One student after learning to play the guitar changed her major from Music Business to Music Therapy; others sought counseling to heal old wounds so they could move forward. They challenged each other to use less social media to make friends in real time and get more sleep.
Like my high school students who had completed The Deliberate Life project from Music City to Morocco, students at Belmont taught me a lot. So did my night classes at Vol State where I enjoyed working with adults who gave their all despite full time jobs and responsibilities to their own families. Students who believed an education would help them follow Thoreau, too, who said: “Go confidently in the direction of your dream. Live the life you’ve imagined.”
Posted on January 25, 2015
Today marked the first hike of a new group and I’m so glad I joined. It was the maiden voyage of the Marrakech Trekkers—almost literally— given the rain -swollen river that gushed across the road we needed to cross. On the other side were mountain villages we’d hike around and through, lookouts over green valleys and the snow covered Atlas Mountains. Even before we reached the rushing creek bed we’d encountered another obstacle on our course. The Marrakech Marathon had closed so many roads that finding a way out of the city was daunting. After trying many alternative routes and back- alley shortcuts through neighborhoods I’d never seen, Shane, our fearless driver and human compass, found a way and we were headed southeast of town. An hour later at our destination, locals on tractors cautioned against trying to cross the river by car. As little girls gathered to watch, we searched for a stone path that would keep us dry–something Synnove and I preferred. There wasn’t one. We considered hitching a ride across by mule, but the owner laughed and walked on. When a passenger van appeared, we planned to ask if we could jump in. But since the van had two mules in the back, we decided to go by car another way.
We found a shady grove, parked the car and headed upward. The path snaked between bluffs on the left and fields on the right. In the middle of green sat workers drinking tea. A man chopping trees gave us directions as we went higher, passing women cutting vines with scythes and tying the firewood on their backs. A mother and her daughter smiled and said, “Bonjour Madame” as we emerged from a stone tunnel and continued following the creek bed. A grandmother sat watching her sheep graze as the wind rustled tall grass; another later joked with Shane in Arabic.
I hadn’t hiked steep hills since last summer, hadn’t teetered on narrow trails along cliffs since Ecuador, hadn’t been offered tea in Berber homes…ever.
Shane and the men and boys in each stone village talked and laughed and welcomed us with a handshake.
Women nodded and smiled. Children stopped their play and followed us–one jumping from a tree, some calling “Bonjour,” all giggling. One girl around six carried a baby brother swaddled on her back. Another girl of fourteen had a baby strapped behind her, too. Her own.
As we drove home we passed cyclers–motorbikes carrying a child, dad, and mom. Almond trees were already blooming this first month of a new year. I was thankful again for the kindness of strangers. Those who welcomed us into their villages. And those finding community in Marrakech. I look forward to more journeys with new friends–those who couldn’t make it today and others as the group grows. But today, I loved that a man born in Spain, a woman born in Norway, and a girl born in Kentucky all enjoyed this Sunday under the Moroccan sun.