Dug this photo out of my scanned image archives and couldn’t help but smile. Here’s my sister Susan (with the hood on) and Sally (with the hood off) on the Cave of the Winds tour at Niagara Falls, a memory from road-tripping across Ontario with them in the early 90s.
On that journey, we discovered the Three Sisters Islands on the American side of the falls. Exploration ensued, as it would for the rest of our immersion into the outdoors of Ontario, all the way north to the Bruce Peninsula, with stops to hike the Elora Gorge and along the Mad River Gorge in Collingwood on what turned out to be a national holiday for hiking. Everywhere we turned, fall color painted the Niagara Escarpment as we followed it from the Niagara River to Lake Huron. It was the first I’d heard or learned of the Bruce Trail, a long distance trail I long to do someday.
Three Sisters is a book, a memoir, I’ve had in my heart for more than a decade, since we lost our dear sister Sue to cancer. I’m finally ready to write it now.
In the distance, it isn’t obvious. A simple gash across the landscape, a ribbon of earth in a wave of green and gold vegetation. Yet that undulating ribbon is as deep and majestic as the distant mountains, an 800-foot-deep gash into a volcanic plateau, humbling in its grandeur.
I never expected the blue. Living in a land where ice comes in shades of white and off-gray, the brilliant blues and violets of Glacier Grey were startling, invigorating. The lake itself a silver-gray mirror with a surface brushed roughly by the wind, dotted with chunks of glowing blue. Our journey, from Zodiac to tour boat and back again, was one of the roughest of my life, awash in giant waves and hurricane-force blasts off the ice field. But the blue, the blue, made it all worthwhile. This corner of Torres Del Paine National Park in Chile will always occupy a corner of my soul, lit in blue.
Jimmies. Grinnies. The Rankin Bridge. Ardmore. “Pump an Iron.” Panther Hollow. Normalville.
My head is spinning with threads of memories snapping back like a gumband stretched into a dark room. Whap! Lunchtime runs for pepperoni rolls. Snap! Driving through McKees Rocks. Slap!! The bridge between a parking garage and a cancer ward where I took my sister daily.
I walked away from Pittsburgh 12 years ago to shut the door on the most painful chapter of my life: trying, and failing, to save my sister from cancer. I’m the oldest. I took it personally. I left a cloud of painful memories and abruptly broken ties in my wake. It was not my finest hour, but it was a hellish time. When I packed my car and left, I let the memories fade as fast as they would.
I’ve been in and around my old haunts for a week, and they’re speaking to me. Some whisper how they miss me. My heart leapt – a feeling I haven’t had in years – when I stepped out into the cool green of the Laurel Highlands, one of my favorite places on Earth. The story threads of my life here are wound around streetsigns and pizza joints, pathways and monuments, steep hillsides and old mining towns. It’s a web, a maze, triggering so many forgotten things.
I haven’t made sense of it all yet, but one thing is clear: I’m not afraid of it anymore. I’m riding the emotions like the Thunderbolt to see where they’ll lead me next.
I spent this week on the road in the typical whirlwind of updating a guidebook. There are storefronts to confirm, innkeepers to surprise, new restaurants to try, and new tours to take. I feel like the Tasmanian devil ripping through a city, trying to pack sights, sounds, sensory details and the facts into packages I can retrieve later as I write the book.
During this trip, in the spaces between, my mind kept returning to choices I’ve made over the years that led me to where I am today, The last few years have been especially rough, and at times when you’re shaking the piggy bank for gas money, it’s hard to keep the faith that self-employment is a smart move. I know many friends in similar boats – we could make a flotilla – where freelance work is just tough to come by right now. So I ruminate, plan, and second-guess when my choices seem to lead me astray.
Yesterday, as I drove home, I faced a decision point, a fork in the road. And I do mean that literally. When I drive home from Palatka, there’s a choice – I can drive into the Ocala National Forest, which I do 99.9% of the time, or take the road to Orange Springs.
Without thinking, I stayed on SR 19 like always and ascended the bridge. It was windy and in the distance I could see flashes of lightning. At the top of that ridiculously high bridge over the old barge canal, the future stared me in the face.
It was dark. Roiling clouds, black as night at 3 PM. The cars ahead of me streaked forward into it, a wall of water not far ahead. It was like God put up a hand and said “your usual path isn’t the smart choice. Think differently.”
I hit the brakes and did a u-turn at the road at the base of the bridge. Returned to the fork and took the road less traveled. It was sunny and bright. As I approached Orange Springs, I found a nice little restaurant with fast service, inexpensive food, and perfect sweet tea.
The sky remained clear. Sunny. Full of light. All the way home.
I got to the post office and discovered checks I’d been waiting on for weeks.
An editor called and offered me an assignment.
In my inbox at home, a client I was waiting on let me know she’s ready to start our project.
I sat down on the couch and breathed a sigh of relief, feeling unblocked for the first time in months. I’d chosen the light, and good things followed.
It was my first overnight in London, a mere 18 hours to soak in the ambiance before I re-entered the United States after a three month absence. I was searching for a curry shop, and I found Trafalgar Square.
I was fortunate, as a child, to grow up in a small town where the Appalachian Trail danced along the mountaintops that I could see from my bedroom window, and even more fortunate that my parents often took me for walks in the woods, sometimes on the Red Dot and Blue Dot trails that led to the AT.
As an adult, the AT remained beyond my grasp until the 1990s, when I made an effort to day hike along it in numerous spots, including Shenandoah National Park. Bearfence Mountain was one of the spots that scared the heck out of me. The blue blaze was a gentle enough route, but the white blazes led up a jagged course with deep fissures between the rocks, and never mind the rattlesnakes that might be sunning.