Crystal Clear

How thin and insecure is that little beach of white sand we call consciousness. I’ve always known that in my writing it is the dark troubled sea of which I know nothing, save its presence, that carried me. I’ve always felt that creating was a fearless and a timid, a despairing and hopeful, launching out into that unknown. -Athol Fugard

A quick trip to Florida. The sand in these beaches traveled all the way from the Appalachian mountains…to the gulf. Tiny pieces of quartz, crumbled from mountain sides, polished while traveling down river thousands of years ago.

beach3

It was 30 degrees and windy…but just to look at it:

beach1

…in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth. -Rachel Carson

beach4

Dear Old World

October quotes and Anne of Green Gables #quote

 

And one more:

“Dear old world,” she murmured, “you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.”

Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

It is a Beautiful Thing to Have Hope

My friend Tahnie of A Happy Girl wrote this. I thought it was beautiful. I shared it on Instagram months ago but never shared it here:

It's a beautiful thing to have hope via A Happy Girl #quote

 

From Tahnie’s blog:

I am amazed to be 1 of about 10 women with cystinosis who has survived pregnancy. Our odd defying daughter gives me crazy, potent hope for all aspects of life. I was blessed with a kidney transplant 19 1/2 years ago when my mother gave me life for a second time. I am a huge organ donation advocate. This blog is about life, overcoming challenges, motherhood, embracing the beauty of right now and celebrating conquering your own impossible. -A Happy Girl

The Secret to Writing

I spoke about writing from the heart this weekend in Galveston at the Blog Elevated Conference. Yes I actually did it, despite being knocked silly and unable to turn my head after the car accident. And despite my being a deer in the headlights, the crowd laughed, and cried, and they were right there with me. And the genuine “thank you’s” afterward shook me to the core and made it all completely worth it because there is always that doubt: why would anyone want to come and hear what I have to say about writing?  I have no certified expertise.  I never did well in English and literature classes when I was in school.  I thought I’d share a few things that I shared with those that attended my session because it’s all so very close to my heart right now. This is what I know today:

1. A writer actually has to WRITE.

This is a work in progress for me. I’m always thinking about writing, but not always actually WRITING.  The book Page by Page by Amy Sellers is one that I love to read over and over, and never in order:

The secret to writing, books on writing

 

2. A writer has to disconnect every once in a while. 

I am the QUEEN of excuses when it comes to writing: I’m too busy. The phone is ringing. It’s too hot . It’s too cold. I have to organize my space first.

I have to find a quiet place to really write. Maybe it’s for an hour a day, maybe for an entire weekend.  Since we have such a small living space right now, I cleared out a section of my daughter’s room that I can use as an area for writing each day when she is at school. It isn’t glamorous but it’s all I need. It’s quiet, and without distractions.  Stephen King used to write in his laundry room.  It was a place where he could shut the door and show the world he meant business.

Sometimes I go to the library. Sometimes I just sit in my car in the library parking lot. Sometimes I ride the train by myself.

anne lamott quote, on writing

 

 3. A writer needs input. 

Just like Johnny 5 from Short Circuit….”need input”….who consumed books: I think a writer needs to consume books. I took this photo over the summer of Carl Sandburg’s house in Hendersonville, NC:

carlsandburg

It was like walking into a time capsule.  Incredible. Every square inch of his house is covered in bookshelves, to house the 14,000 books that he stored there.  He had twice that but he donated half to a university. And in each book were tiny pieces of paper where he had marked things to come back to.  He devoured anything he could get his hands on. When he died they found his jacket pockets full of newspaper clippings and phrases.

I am never without a book. I sleep with books. Books stack up next to my bedside. Magazines. Wikipedia. I live in bookstores. The more good stuff I put in, the more good stuff that comes out.

Also, input isn’t just about books. Dayna Steele who was the keynote speaker at the conference gave some great advice:

Never stop learning. Google everything. Google everyone. Look at the morning news. Know what’s going on around you. Continue to learn about things you know nothing about. Teach yourself stuff. Get out and meet people. Talk to people you don’t know. 

I love to wander because I never know where it’s going to take me. It also give me a chance to observe and write about what I would never notice otherwise:
quote by maya angelou

I think to write from the heart you have to live from the heart.  They are undoubtably linked.

Live to write, not the other way around, right?

 

A few books that I recommend:

Page by Page by Heather Sellers

“Writing a book is exactly like love. You don’t hold back. You give it everything you have. If it doesn’t work out, you’re heartbroken, but you move forward and start again anyway. You have to. You don’t hold some of yourself in reserve. It’s all or nothing. There are no guarantees.” 

page-by-page

 

 

On Writing: Memoir of a Craft by Stephen King

“So okay― there you are in your room with the shade down and the door shut and the plug pulled out of the base of the telephone. You’ve blown up your TV and committed yourself to a thousand words a day, come hell or high water. Now comes the big question: What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want.”

on-writing

 

 

Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott

“I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.” 

bird-by-bird

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Soul Can Split the Sky In Two

I think the sky is bigger here. I took this tonight as we were driving to a friend’s house:

brysoncity

 

I wrote this in my journal a few weeks ago as we drove the same road:

I’m looking through a wide angle lens.
The clouds billow and plume and stretch to an invisible dome.
Like a snow globe.
Or the Truman Show. 

 

I’m not a poet, so here is an excerpt from Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem Renascence:

The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky,
No higher than the soul is high.
The heart can push the sea and land
Farther away on either hand;
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through.
But East and West will pinch the heart
That can not keep them pushed apart;
And he whose soul is flat–the sky
Will cave in on him by and by.

No higher than the soul is high.

Me thinks….I will never leave this place.

I took this photo right after the one of the sky:

Boo: We get air conditioning when we go fast on the highway.

cheese

Three cheeseburgers wide.

I think that might have to be our Christmas Card photo.

Dear Mr. Williams

Dear Mr. Williams,

Everyone says you made them laugh, but you always made me cry.

I filled my composition books with pieces of the movies you were in. I shared them when I was inspired to tears.

These I kept nearby:

You’ll have bad times, but it’ll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to. (1)

All of life is a coming home. Salesmen, secretaries, coal miners, beekeepers, sword swallowers, all of us. All the restless hearts of the world, all trying to find a way home. It’s hard to describe what I felt like then. Picture yourself walking for days in the driving snow; you don’t even know you’re walking in circles. The heaviness of your legs in the drifts, your shouts disappearing into the wind. How small you can feel, and how far away home can be. Home. The dictionary defines it as both a place of origin and a goal or destination. And the storm? The storm was all in my mind. Or as the poet Dante put it: In the middle of the journey of my life, I found myself in a dark wood, for I had lost the right path. Eventually I would find the right path, but in the most unlikely place. (2)

…the human spirit is more powerful than any drug – and THAT is what needs to be nourished: with work, play, friendship, family. THESE are the things that matter. This is what we’d forgotten – the simplest things. (3)

You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome. (2)

You must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Don’t be resigned to that. Break out! (4)

To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?(4)

You know, as we come to the end of this phase of our life, we find ourselves trying to remember the good times and trying to forget the bad times, and we find ourselves thinking about the future. We start to worry , thinking, “What am I gonna do? Where am I gonna be in ten years?” But I say to you, “Hey, look at me!” Please, don’t worry so much. Because in the end, none of us have very long on this Earth. Life is fleeting. And if you’re ever distressed, cast your eyes to the summer sky when the stars are strung across the velvety night. And when a shooting star streaks through the blackness, turning night into day… make a wish and think of me. Make your life spectacular. (5)

I am growing old, my body is deteriorating, and like all of you, will eventually cease to function. As a robot, I could have lived forever. But I tell you all today, I would rather die a man, than live for all eternity a machine. To be acknowledged for who and what I am, no more, no less. Not for acclaim, not for approval, but, the simple truth of that recognition. This has been the elemental drive of my existence, and it must be achieved, if I am to live or die with dignity. (6)

Thank you for those roles because I listened, I broke out. Thank you.

You were a kind and humble man.

You were loved.

I hope you felt loved.

You will be missed Mr. Williams.

Love,

Ashley

 

Robin Williams Movie Quotes

 

 

 

 

Quotes are from:

(1) Good Will Hunting
(2) Patch Adams
(3) Awakenings
(4) Dead Poets Society
(5) Jack
(6) Bicentennial Man

High and Far Places (like Mount LeConte)

Life is Rich quote by Harold Broome - Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Mt LeConte and Lodge

 

I’ve been reading and re-reading the journals of Harvey Broome  (Out Under the Sky of the Great Smokies). They were written more than 60 years ago….and he has a profound way of describing the awe of the mountains. He writes over and over about Mount Le Conte but it was just another name to me.  A “someday” hike.

But then…a few days ago we had the opportunity to stay at the Le Conte Lodge thanks to a new friend we met at the Hemlock Inn (Hi Joe!!!).  It takes almost a year to get reservations so this was an amazing opening for our family. We didn’t even hesitate to say yes…even though we knew we’d have to hike a steep ascent to the top of Mt. LeConte to get to our destination. (Hike 5.5 miles uphill? No problem, right?)

LeConte Lodge Facts:
It was built around 1926, before the national park was established.
It’s only accessible by foot (i.e. a long steep hike).
A helicopter brings in the bulk of supplies each spring.
Llamas bring up supplies 3 times a week (linens, perishable food, mail!)
No electricity.

(watch this video to see the adorable llamas in action)

 

First, we had to figure out how to get up to the lodge. There are a few different trails that will take you to the top of Mount LeConte and we researched them all. We picked the steepest and most strenuous, but also the shortest: Alum Cave Trail.  It’s one of the most beautiful and scenic trails by far.  I had purchased a Scavenger Hike Adventures (GSMNP) that has scavenger hunts for many trails in the Smokies…the last trail in the book was the Alum Cave Trail…and it’s labeled “EXTREMELY EXTREME.”

The great part about the book was that it got Boo really into the hike right off….and it was as if the book was being written as we hiked….especially when it said to find the huge rock formation called Arch Rock and look for a salamander: we immediately found a salamander.

Arch Rock at Alum Cave and Mt. LeConte - Great Smoky Mountains

The first 1.5 miles of the hike follows the Alum Cave creek….a beautiful flow of water that twists and turns and churns over and around boulders of every size imaginable. At about 4,500 feet is a clearing (or heath bald) called Inspiration Point. There aren’t many trees at this location which makes the views extra breathtaking. The vegetation is a mix of rhododendron, mountain laurel and sand myrtle (nature is an amazing landscape artist).

Inspiration Point at Mt Le Conte - Alum Cave Trail

Alum Cave Bluffs is halfway to the top. Many people hike up to this enormous rock overhang (it’s pretty amazing) as their final destination before turning back. It takes about 4 hours roundtrip to just this point:

Alum Cave Bluffs - Halfway Mt. LeConte - Le Conte Lodge

After a brief stop at the bluff, we continued on to the top of Mt. LeConte. It’s a pretty steep and strenuous climb after the halfway point with steep overlooks but there are plenty of cable handrails:

Climbing to Mt. LeConte and Mount Le Conte Lodge via Alum Cave Trail

We knew there was rain in the forecast but mostly the thick mist just left us damp, but refreshed:

(umm….that kink might be why it was harder than usual to drink water)

Hiking Alum Cave Trail Mt. LeConte

The top of the mountain is where Alum Cave Creek starts.  The mist begins to condense onto the vegetation and then it begins to drip and then a trickle turns into a stream. As it’s filtered through moss and rock it gets funneled into tiny waterfalls across the trail…which eventually compound into the larger streams below. Broome writes about it better than I ever could:

Water trickles from mossy overhangs. Here one finds the moisture and greenness of high mountains, great pillows of moss, flat carpets of oxalis leaves studded with modest blooms, glistening heart-shaped leaves of the rare Grass of Parnassus, the white blooms of thornless blackberries, and the lovely pink of the punctatums springing sparingly into being in these high woods. -H.B. July 1962

How to Get to Mt. Le Conte Lodge

Almost to the top of Le Conte, with the thick cloudy mist, it was eerie. The thousands of dead Fraser fir trees that were infested by a small insect from Europe years ago give a slight Chernobyl-like feel but you feel a quickening in your step… as if you’ve arrived somewhere mystical. (Note: It IS mystical.)

Hiking to Mt LeConte and Mount Le Conte Lodge

We arrived at Le Conte lodge mid afternoon…it appeared out of nowhere….almost as if an elusive monastery.

Staying at Mt Le Conte Lodge on top of Mount LeConte

After checking in we were given a quick tour on where to get cold water for drinking and hot water for the wash basins. There is no electricity at the lodge so daily activities run by the sunrise and sunset.  Our cabin had a kerosene lamp for light and a small propane heater in case the temperature dropped too low. (Note: the temperature dropped to 38 degrees…but we were snug in our comfy beds!)

Mount Mt. LeConte Lodge Cabin

Before dinner we hiked up to Cliff Top. There are no words for it. It was like entering a another world.

There was an encompassing witchery to it, as of high far places. -H.B. 1962

Mt LeConte Cliff Top

 

“There was no sight of man except the cramped trail leading through the north woods and the sand myrtle to the cliffs. There was no sound of man other than our own quiet conversation. What leisured sanity! No entertainment – except soft-voiced exchanges of experience, and this haze dimmed world of mountains. I have never gone to that cliff without exhilaration. I have never left it without regret.

The calm, the immensity, the forest with a million components – healing, covering, vitalizing every foot of the scene below, and before us! I have no fear for life. I fear only for man, who with his works and numbers is shutting himself away from life. -H.B. at Cliff Top in 1962

I took my time as Boo and Brett headed back to camp…lost in my own thoughts.  I still have a bruised arm, hip and leg to show for that…slipping on a huge rock and not thinking fast enough to catch myself. I fell with a huge thud and only the trees heard me utter a pathetic whiny “owwwwwww.”

Then I saw a perfect little toadstool:

Mt LeConte Toadstool

Back at the lodge we ate dinner with the other guests in the dining hall. The food was much better than I expected considering they don’t have electricity. Boo loved the beef stew but declared that the green beans were not the same as the Hemlock Inn’s because they “left out the seasons.”  After some hot chocolate and cookies, and great conversation with new friends, we turned in for bed around 8pm.

Mt LeConte Lodge Cabin 7

I woke up in the middle of the night (or what I thought was the middle of the night….it was actually only 10pm).  As I opened the door to our cabin I took a headlamp with me.  The cloud and fog was so thick I wasn’t able to see more than a foot in any direction. I followed the stone path in the direction of the bathrooms sure that I would run straight into a bear.  I’ve always been scared of the dark but for some reason I wasn’t this time.  There was no light except my own.  There were no sounds except for the rain and my own heavy breathing of the thin air.

No sound at all. I listened and listened. After minutes of this game, surely there would be something. But I heard no stir. Silence, stillness, and peace. – H.B. at Myrtle Point, 1962

We woke up early the next morning to hike to Myrtle Point (about 7/10 of a mile) to see the sunrise. At the top we were standing unsheltered on large rocks that have been there for millions of years.  The wind whipped around us and as I spoke loudly the sound was blown right back into my mouth. There are no words to describe this view except: wow.

The mist dissolved and re-formed. Vague shapes of mounting appeared and vanished. There were stupendous, formless depths around us.  […] Looking out again, we saw slivers of color forming above the maw of mist. […] The awesomeness of the universe and the awful loneliness of man smote me. -H.B. at Myrtle Point, 1962

Myrtle Point from top of Mt LeConte in the Smokies #sunrise #mtleconte #myrtlepoint

Sunrise at Myrtle Point on Mt LeConte short hike from Mount Le Conte Lodge

The morning view from the third highest peak in the Smokies:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Myrtle Point

We emerged into the openness of the cliff and gazed down into an undulant world of blue mountains. This beauty, this mastery of environment, was what we had come for; and when we retreated to the lodge is was with mingled feelings of humility and of self-respect. -H.B.  on Cliff Top in 1961

Then we headed back to the lodge…and ate the best pancakes ever. And biscuits and apple butter. And eggs brought by llama.

And Boo played with new friends.

And then it was time to leave this mysterious, beautiful place.

I have never wanted to leave the top of a mountain. -H.B.

Mt LeConte Blog and Trails

 

After 60 or more trips to Le Conte, I sensed again, as though for the first time, the exhilaration which goes with the thin air a mile and a quarter up and the grand mystery of the wind ripping through a concealing fog on top of the mountain. I have never wanted to leave Mt. Le Conte. There is a pointedness to every experience. The world of business and of tense endeavor is absent. The mountains are dominant. -H.B. June 1960

 

We made it down the mountain in a little over 2 hours.  All three of us exhilirated. I used to wonder why people would give up everything just to be able to spend time in the outdoors…now I get it.  On the top of Mt. Le Conte a few days ago, 6,593 feet above sea level, I felt that adrenaline.  It’s mixed with a kind of homesickness or “mystic stirring” and “a feeling of foreverness” as Harvey Broome would say.

I wish I could bottle up that feeling and share it with people who I know need it.  Like with the woman at the lodge who insisted that her husband had dragged her up the mountain against her will.  As she complained about the hike, the rain, the lodging and everything else I felt a profound sadness about her.  I suggested she walk up the 1/10 of a mile to the top…through a portal to another world…but she wouldn’t.  And there was once a time where I wouldn’t have ventured up either.  But despite what they say: people can change. And then that change compounds. And everything has a point.  And there is no fear of life.

 
Resharing this from an old post: [Read more…]

Live Along Into The Answer

I love this quote:

 

My sister and mother are visiting this weekend. We all sat in the Hemlock Inn library tonight and read aloud from books and worked on a puzzle.  I pulled out a book and found this poem:

 

I believe
God is in what is happening
in me
I am being freed from the past
with appreciation
and freed for the future
with readiness
a particular hope is shaping
a careful joy is rising
don’t hurry it
don’t analyze it
it is being given
even as
it is being received
I am happening



I love that.
I am happening.
You are happening.
Day by day.
Don’t overcomplicate it all.
Live everything.
That is all.
Peace out.

 

P.S. I’m finally back to my weekly “Dear Friend” letter…it will be going out starting tonight. If you’d like to sign up click here.


Fighter Fires

On my wall this week:

Nothing in Life is to be Feared #quote #chalkboard

At dinner tonight we sat next to a table of Cal Fire Firefighters (or fighter fires as Boo calls them). As they got their food their alarms started going off and half the group darted out to the ladder truck. Boo walked over and asked the remaining group of firemen why they didn’t have to go too. I guess only one of the trucks was called but it turned out to be a false alarm and they returned a few minutes later. Boo chatted with them for a few minutes.  The firemen learned that becoming a firefighter is probably the last choice on Boo’s list of careers.  Her fear of fire on a scale of 1 to 10 is probably 12,535,105.  They gave her a badge anyways. She wasn’t born with a fear of fire, it’s grown over time.  The fire atop the mountains last year, that threatened friends homes and covered our home in ash didn’t help.  And then there was the house that burned down across the street.  Oh and the Fairfield Inn that burned last week right down the street. I don’t blame her one bit.  Fire scares me too.

She idolizes those firemen….because “they are brave of the fire.”

(i.e. they understand it)

Thank you God for first responders.

I love this GoPro video of a fighter fire saving a kitten: