It was bound to happen. There was always going to be a week that got away from me a bit. And - gasp - it might happen again. Alas, last week I went for a hike on Thursday afternoon, (and it was a wonderful hike), and then on Friday I went to Jersey for the weekend to attend a class, and I just couldn't get to writing. All weekend I was ensconced in "Module 4" of my therapeutic music training in a hospital classroom with fellow music lovers. It was delightful to soak up some great lessons in hospital etiquette, business development and hands on patient techniques. I felt the tug to write in the evenings but it actually felt wonderful to just let it go. I was quite pleased with myself for simply eating and sleeping instead of trying to "do it all." I often spread myself too thin, and what a pleasure at the end of the day to be fed, (I was staying with my oh-so-kind in-laws), put the little one to bed, (Mark and my son joined me for the weekend), and then promptly did the same for myself. Brain full, belly full, done.
As I think back to my hike from last Thursday, mostly I am filled with gratitude. I am so glad I made it to the trail that day. I am so glad I dragged my groggy self out of the house and up the hill. I am so glad I have carved out the time in my weekly schedule for nature, for reflection, for this commitment to myself. The details of what must have been on my mind last week have come and gone, but I recall a bit of dusty snow gently laying on the hard-again dirt and crusty-again leaves. Quite a change from the previous week's slurp, mush and melting ice. The memory of this image brings me back to that feeling of gratitude again... I'm so glad I get to witness the subtle variances in the trail from week to week. This is my choice, this is my privilege.
As I look to the week ahead of me, and think of my unending to-do list, I'm going to see if I can call in that feeling from this past weekend, (maybe minus the exhaustion part). Instead of stressing about what's not done yet, I will let go of loose ends and trust that my days are as full as they need to be. Instead of thinking about what's next, I'll enjoy my food while I'm eating it, do what needs to be done in any given moment, and sleep like a log. Yeah, this sounds so simple, but maybe it is? I love the idea of making my life more simple. And I love how what once made me cringe (missing a deadline, self imposed though it was) has become a lesson in letting go and embracing the present. I'll letcha know how it goes in a few days!
How is it that week eight came along in the blink of an eye? How did it become the end of February so fast? And to add to the surreal feeling of time marching along faster than I realize, it seems like Spring! As I gleefully started my descent down the trail today, I ran into a gentleman and we exchanged smiles and comments about the lovely weather. I mentioned that I wasn't sure how to take this early warmth and snow melt... should I mentally prepare for that illusive big storm that hasn't yet come, or should I start dreaming about planting my garden? His advice: "Just enjoy the day!"
And what simple and brilliant advice it was: "Just enjoy the day." Yes! Even better, the moment... and so I did! As I continued downward I came to a stream. That stream had been just a trickle last week, but this today it was a full on little stream, and so inviting. I stopped to explore all the ice formations, hidden pools and mini-waterfalls. Delightful. So delightful, in fact, I decided to abandon the trail and follow the stream! It goes down, and I need to go down - how hard could this be? And what better time for bush wacking? Tics are still asleep, hardly any snow, pleasant weather, I can't really get lost... Perfect! This might not seem like the most wild of adventures, but it felt fresh, and spur of the moment, and made me feel light and spontaneous.
I recently started a 6 week workshop in which myself and 40 or so other women are all exploring various aspects of ourselves and how to truly create and live a life we love. This week's exercises were about choice, and how powerful it is to own my shit and the choices I've made to be where I am today. And not only that, but also to become fully aware that I have the choice to move forward in a direction that will fill me up with love, joy, happiness, contentment and peace, and those choices are made moment to moment, thought to thought, breath to breath.
When I chose to follow that creek down the hill today, I chose a new path, I chose to follow my intuition and explore a new way, and I chose to feel free and bold and confidant. When I chose to write this blog I chose to take a risk and try something outside my comfort zone, I chose to practice writing more, and to commit to being in nature at least once a week for a year. When I chose to move to Vermont with my husband and son, we chose to follow our noses and intuition to a place that just felt right. (Don't get me wrong, there were plenty of pro/con lists!) I'm learning to choose out of love instead of fear and, I gotta tell ya, the more I do it, the more it feels like the possibilities are endless. Yes, I probably still have post-hike endorphins running through my blood, but isn't that point? It may not feel like this every in moment, (or maybe it could?) but I'm just happy it feels this way right now. So yes, I will "enjoy the day!"
Today was one of those magical days when I had enough time to NOT rush up and down the mountain. Yesterday, my husband, son and I all tried to hike up together but the ice was too much so we turned back. But today my super rad hubby gave me this Saturday morning to go back up, on a weekend which is usually family time, and try again. The temps had warmed to the mid-40s, the ice was giving way to puddles, and signs of life in a sleepy but thriving forest were everywhere. I savored the weekendy-ness and lavished in the little things: the lichen persevering in winter with its soft green hues, the brighter green moss seeming almost loud next to its contemporaries of browns and greys. I think my favorite site was the way the ice was melting, and the interesting shapes that were created as a result. I loved one spot in particular where it seemed as though a leaf had melted the ice and it lay quietly in the newly formed puddle below. So small, and so lovely.
I needed a morning like this. As soon as I woke from dreaming around 6:30 AM when my little four year-old crawled into bed with us, my brain started churning. Chatter, chatter, chatter... Gotta do this, why haven't I done that, etc. After an hour of unsuccessfully trying to go back to sleep, I got up to meditate. Which helped. Though it seems in my efforts to go from stay-at-home momming to a career that I love, I seem to have bitten off a little more than I can chew. Or at least chew all at the same time anyway. I'm finishing my aromatherapy certification. I'm also getting certified to be a therapeutic musician. I'm beginning to develop an Arts in Education program. I'm teaching voice lessons. Oh yeah, and raising a child and taking care of house and family. No wonder my brain won't shut up! I'm getting anxious all over again just thinking about it all. So needless to say, this morning's hike was like a Balm in Gillead.
Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.
- African American Spiritual
I'm not a religious woman, but I do consider myself to be deeply spiritual, and I love a good song for the soul. Certain aspects of life touch me as religion might touch others, however, such as music, nature, children. Today the mountain healed my anxious, over stimulated, over-achieving self, and reminded me not to rush my dreams. All in due time. The universe provides answers, wisdom and support when called upon. Today I called, and she answered, and I'm ever so grateful.
One of the beautiful things about walking the same trail over and over is that each time you notice more and more about your surroundings. This week, I noticed some cairns, you know – those rocks that have been stacked on top of each other to mark a trail. At first I thought, oh look… someone made some cairns since last week’s hike! But then I thought, hmmm, maybe they’ve actually been here all along and I’m just noticing them now. (If you know which is true, let me know!)
This got me thinking about why/when/how we notice things. What is obvious to some, is not always apparent to others. And some people are simply more observant than others, like my son, who I consider a master observer. At 4, he can sit and watch all day. ALL DAY. What he’s seeing and soaking up - who can really say, but he is an active watcher. For a while this worried me a little as I feared his caution might mean something was amiss or that he was unhappy. But after much inquiry into the matter, I realized that he really enjoys watching and when he’s ready, he engages quite healthfully.
I, on the other hand, am more inclined to dive right in and process as I go. I tend to jump into things with a bit of over-confidence and then rear up when I notice the road blocks, missteps or challenges. Example – when we first moved into our new home I painted with gusto for 2 weeks which resulted in tendinitis in my right wrist. Its taken a few re-injuries for me to really take notice of it, but I am finally beginning to take care and pay attention. As a kid, I remember my mom calling me a bit of a bull in a China shop. I’m sure she was right but I couldn’t even conceive of another way to be or how to do anything differently. Rather fascinating that my son should show up and be so completely different in this way, and such a wonderful teacher for his mama.
Recently in my meditations, as well as on my most recent hike up the ledges, I started to wonder how I could bring this notion of slowing down and noticing more in my singing practice. (Well… I haven’t been practicing at all lately, but you know, these things ebb and flow, and I’ve heard a loud calling to do more singing lately.) The words finesse and artistic expression keep coming up. I’ve always had a strong, powerful and clean sound, but I think the strong bull inside hasn’t paid much heed to nuance and the intricacies of communication. Maybe the time has come? The thought of this is pretty invigorating, and actually makes me want to spend time in the practice room. What a pleasant surprise!
As I came to the end of my hike, I gleefully took in all kinds of fun new “noticings”. There was a delightful family of squirrels chirping high in the trees. I stopped to watch for a bit and they all seemed to dance weightlessly in the tip tops of the branches. And for the icing on the cake, as I pulled my bike off the rusty iron gate at the trail’s entrance, I happened upon the sign that clearly states the name of the trail as the Bristol Ledges Trail. Given the recent name change of this blog, I got a good belly laugh out of that one! I know it will take some patience and acceptance to make a habit out of becoming more aware, subtle, and present, but I’m already feeling its effect and loving it.
With so many changes and new adventures in my life these days, a few ripples, well maybe waves, OK even unbridled storms, are bound to come along and throw everything a bit off kilter. Ripples like not knowing where to best direct my focus – aromatherapy homework, reading assignments for my therapeutic music classes, or researching and collecting data for my Arts in Education program. Waves like my husband being out of town for a few weeks thus putting me on temporary single parent duty. And storms like full on, four-year-old, day-long meltdowns… the kind that he recovers from by bedtime, but take me 24 hours to process and clear the smoke from my brain.
I feel like at least some of these challenges are the result of this wild modern life we lead. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty I love about 2016, like the fact that we just bought our first time ever brand new car: a Chevy Volt. I can plug it in for local driving and commuting and when the charge runs out after 50 miles or so it switches over to gas for road trips and such. Seriously, so cool. And I love that I don’t have to own a TV or pay a huge cable bill to be able to watch movies or shows I love. I can just stream them on my computer when I feel like I need a little entertainment fix. One thing I’m not so in love with about my modern life is that my extended family, once tight nit and all in one place, is now strewn throughout the country, even the world, as we all pursue our dreams, also known as our ordinary lives. We Skype, we Facebook, and we even talk on the phone like people used to do in the old days, but its not the same as having your tribe of loved ones within a short driving distance as you raise the next generation.
There are a few things I miss pretty consistently: family dinners with sisters and kiddos and dogs all around, chatting with my mom while we hang around and do nothing or everything, and hikes with my dad. I have my dad to thank for the beginning of an interest in hiking and the great outdoors. In Silicon Valley where I grew up, it didn’t take long to find nature 10 minutes up Magdalena Ave, in the golden hills of Los Altos and Cupertino. My mom always called them “marches” as I think she much preferred to take an easy stroll, but my dad usually had a mission: burn some calories, sweat a bit, and take in a view at the top. In high school, I think he had to drag me up there as I still hadn’t quite embraced a love for nature. I was too busy being cool or at least thinking that’s what I was up to. But college in Boulder, Colorado just cracked the roof off the sucker and I couldn’t get enough of the great outdoors: hiking, camping, skiing, biking. The Rocky Mountains blew my mind and before long it was me dragging Dad up to the top of a trail. It was up on top of a mountain that I stopped trying to be cool and started to wake up, quiet down, and notice all of the amazing things going on around me in nature. Ultimately nature has become a mirror for me to understand myself more and more with every experience.
Today when I was hiking the ledges trail with my husband who’s home for a few days in between trips, I had the notion that I was going to write about acceptance. Accepting where my kiddo is in his development as a human, accepting things about myself that either hold me back or can launch me forward, accepting that my wrist is killing me this week and maybe I shouldn’t be typing much or playing the piano. And all of these things are on my mind, but what came out when my fingers started typing was a bit of nostalgia for family and a simpler time. I guess that’s what nature draws out of me. A longing for peace, for flow, for ease and familiarity. In the quiet of the trees, or even in the chatter with my husband amongst those trees, I felt a release from my day to day existence, and a connection to happy memories in the wilderness. Sounds like a pretty good reason to go hiking every week. Can’t wait to do it again next time and see what comes up.
Slippery, icy, slick, grey, cloudy, crisp, packed, frozen, cold, quiet, pleasant, satisfying.
This past week it was brought to my attention that I made a little blunder regarding the name of my blog. The trail I’ve been hiking is indeed not called the Bristol Cliffs, its called the ledges. (What? How do you name your blog the wrong thing and realize it a month later?! So embarrassing.) Turns out the Bristol Cliffs are not the ridge I can see from my backyard, but are just south of the village a few miles, above Lower Notch Road. What’s rather hilarious is that I actually knew this, but somehow forgot! I even lived in the nearby town of New Haven for a year before we moved to the village of Bristol, and our house had an incredible view of these lovely Bristol Cliffs, and somehow, well, I made a newbie mistake. (Rather publicly. Sigh, shuffle feet.)
This week I am reminded of what it feels like to be a beginner and to be new to the neighborhood. It seems like this theme has been resonating in all parts of my life lately. I am new to the idea of starting my own business. I am new to the process of starting an Arts in Education program from scratch. My husband got a new job this week. We got a new car this week. I have a handful of new voice students who are beginners and exploring voice for the first time. My lessons with them have been full of the notions of starting fresh, anew, being patient and kind and forgiving of early stumbles and the challenges of starting a new practice. Its only fitting that these very words should ring true as great advice for myself as I start my own new endeavors, like writing a blog.
My first response when a native Vermonter emailed me last week to kindly offer up the news of my mix-up, was deep embarrassment. Like, the kind when you want to shut the door and hide your head in your hands with eyes wide and a rather horrified look on your face. And then a few moments later my sense of humor returned – thank God – and I laughed out loud for a while and I imagined the town of Bristol chuckling at my post on Front Porch Forum the other night when I invited them to read about my adventures. I’m sure a handful of folks got a good laugh at a flatlander that night. I know I did!
What’s amazing to me is that it took 3 weeks for me to realize this beginner’s blunder of mine! This little time lapse says to me a few things… I’m not the only one who mistakenly calls the ledges the cliffs. I mean, it is a little confusing. And I may live and own a home in Bristol, but I’ve got a ways to go before I’ll be a local. And I’ve got no problem with that – everyone has to start at the beginning, and so I shall. I’m glad to know I can do it while laughing at myself and moving onward up and down the hill again this week. Slippery and wobbly though it was, it was still a great hike and I’ll keep chuggin’ along with a new blog title to boot: 52 Weeks of the Ledges Trail.
Today’s hike was surely a little piece of heaven! What a gift fresh untouched snow is. The snow fell yesterday so I didn’t expect it to seem so pristine on the hill today, but it was indeed. Sure, the trail had been hiked by a handful of others before me, but the little piles of snow on the rocks and fallen trees still held their newly fallen shapes and seemed serene and hushed.
I huffed my way to the top alone again this week and it felt good to sweat and create heat in my body in the midst of the chilly air. When I reached the top and looked down on the village, the sun was beaming and the sky was clear. As I turned around and began my descent, I saw the reverse view of what I had just climbed and my heart unexpectedly filled up with joy. I had my ski poles in hand, since last week had been a bit slippery, and in that moment I felt like a back-country skier, or as though I had just found the perfect secluded tree run that no one knew about. I flew down the trail and imagined skis under my feet. Skiing the trees is still pretty challenging for me, but in that moment I felt unencumbered as I hopped from rock to rock and the leafless tree trunks whizzed by. No wait - I was whizzing and the trees were still! A cold, broad smile was plastered across my face and I felt alive.
I kept cruising down the trail and began to think about momentum, and things in motion. With poles in hand I felt brave, and it was easy to keep a quick, steady, downward pace. I felt my body being drawn down the hill by gravity and my feet and the muscles in my legs would catch my weight and turn me this way and that. Before long, I began to wonder about an Arts in Education project I’ve started to develop and the momentum that is also starting to build there. This idea began as a dream or a wish over 10 years ago, and now I seem to be in a place and time to make things happen, and I’m nervous and excited.
Its amazing how things begin as a small idea or an experience that results in a feeling that lights you up. And then we think about it, we dream about it, we wonder what if. Maybe we tell our partner, friends, family. Maybe we tell no one. And life goes by, bills are paid, vacations are planned, careers change, wars are waged, babies are born… and still the idea lingers, or the memory of the experience patiently waits in the background until circumstances change or the opportunity presents itself for that memory to come to the forefront again.
For me, this idea has recently become a loud, rather pesky and persistent voice, so loud that I had to tell my husband about it. Then a few friends, then a colleague or two. And life works in just such a way that the people I happened to confide in also happened to be the people who could help me continue to move things forward. And the more I talked about it, the more I could feel a bit of energy building around this idea. The excitement and interest from others was adding to my own motivation to keep dreaming. And when/how did this idea based on an experience turn into a dream or even a vision? I’m not really sure and I don’t know if I care. But I do know that, like flying down the hill in the trees through the snow, the momentum of this project feels good, refreshing, invigorating, empowering, and I can’t wait to find out where it leads next!
I've never been a huge New Years resolution person. In fact, most New Years parties have left me feeling like I was missing the big deal of it all. The dropping of the ball, the fireworks... I love a good excuse for champagne and a party though, so you won't find me complaining! It was just never something I thought about much nor particularly looked forward to. However, one turning of the tide that did rock my world a bit came about in November of 2015 when I turned 40. I'd love to say that I'm too cool or wise to be phased by just a number, but I cannot make that claim! 40 years on this planet as Ali Dawson Gibson and there's still so much to do/see/feel/learn! What was I waiting for? So when this New Year began, I found myself motivated to make some commitments to myself that I used to just let wash under the bridge. These seemingly little shifts are, day by day, starting to rock my world. More on that in just a moment - first, a recount of yesterday's hike.
Wednesday was one of those glorious, blue bird winter days, and a cold one to boot. I checked the thermometer as I departed for Week Two of hiking 52 weeks of Bristol Cliffs, and it was around 13 degrees. Turns out this is cold enough for my smart phone's camera to stop functioning. Perhaps its not too frigid by most Vermonters' standards, but for this California native, it was chilly. The previous night we received about 3 inches of powdery snow upon the still mostly green grass. As a ski bum, this year's warm temps in the Northeast have been odd and disappointing, so I was happy to see the ground covered in white. I was so happy that I over-eagerly packed my snowshoes just in case a few hundred feet higher up the hill I might be presented with a couple more inches of the stuff. They turned out to be just an extra few pounds to carry, but my 7th grade Girl Scout self was satisfied and prepared.
After last week's blissful excitement to start this project, yesterday's hike brought on a little bit of an oh-shit-what-have-I-done kind of a feeling. As I began to climb and my out of shape heart started to pound, I started to wonder - what if we have weeks of sub-zero weather? What if I get an injury of some kind? What if I lose focus of the commitment I've made to do this every week for a YEAR. What was I thinking? I mean to make a commitment to yourself and tell a few people is one thing, but do it publicly? Yikes. My feet were feeling a little heavier, the hike was seeming a little longer. And since my supportive hiking partner husband from last week was deterred by a lack of good winter foot gear and impending job interviews, this week I was flying solo.
I continued up the hill. There's just something about putting one foot in front of another in a beautiful spot in nature that can calm the fearful mind and bring about inner focus. I might not have been flying up the trail like it felt I'd been doing last week, but the crunch-crunch of the snow was indeed meditative. The long branched, naked trees creaking with the wind brought to mind the immense root system supporting the forest, deep and intricate. I was reminded that although I am embarking on something new (well, manythings new) that I too have a deep and intricate root system to ground me when the wind blows. I think hiking this trail weekly is my journey of committing myself to reconnect to my roots and tap into my inner strength.
The subtle shifts that are rocking my world and helping me to have the guts to do this are things like 15 minutes of meditation everyday. Like quitting the destructive habit of inner-self-bashing that I've been doing since middle school and replacing it with the good habits of being kinder, more forgiving and more understanding of/to myself. Like loving myself not just when I look cute, or succeed, or doing something kind or worthy of society's praise, but all freaking day long, because I'm lovable and worthy god dammit. Like drinking water when I'm thirsty and eating when I'm hungry. Like tasting my food. Like waving at myself with a wink and a laugh when my perfectionist-self tries to take a dig. Like laughing it off. Like saying no. Like moving and stretching my body. The sum of these little gems is cracking open this funny thing called happiness!
I've been living in Vermont for just over a couple of years now and here in Bristol, I finally feel like I've found one of my spirit's homes. Whenever I drive out of the state, I literally feel my energy shift, like I'm driving through a force field or something. Ha! OK, now you're thinking I'm a total wacko. Well, I can't deny that entirely, but I swear I really do feel this way! Its like this warm fuzzy feeling that surrounds me when I'm here, physically dissipates. And whenever I drive back in, somehow, even if I'm in a bit of a driving daze or mid-conversation, I notice immediately when I'm back in the state. Maybe its a feeling I get, or maybe I just notice the disappearance of billboards and recognize the state road signs subconsciously. But one thing's always for sure, I'm so glad to be home.
I'm starting this blog today, in this new year of 2016, to document a journey. And as I write this I can hardly believe I'm doing it. I do not profess to have a great talent for writing. I journal, I write a song here and there. But a whole blog? For a year? A public confession of, well, how I am going to chase and hopefully catch my dreams? Ummmm, yeah. Let me lay it out for ya... (big breath!) Each week, that is 52 of these bad boys, I will climb the Bristol Cliffs (my darling town's local hiking trail) to clear my head, breathe the fresh Vermont air, and edge my way closer and closer to the life I dream about. And I'm going to tell you all about it! So what is this big dream you may ask? I'm working on that one, I'm working on that one...
4 years ago, the most darling, stubborn, hilarious, observant, sweetness of my heart was born. With the birth of SJ, I became a stay-at-home-mom. My career had certainly not ended, rather it went on sabbatical for a while, and quite honestly and thank freakin' goddess, is being completely re-evaluated. Mothering and wife- and/or partner-ing has been a wild journey too, and certainly has been a part of my dreams, but now I find myself feeling a tug at my heart to get moving in the direction of fulfilling career dreams again.
For many years I studied as an opera singer. And then for many years I was a teaching artist in NYC. I was lucky to meet, befriend, and work with some of the most incredible, creative, and caring people along the way. I was also so completely stressed out and I felt totally frayed at the edges. I think I even started to see and feel how those frayed edges could completely unwind, and that really scared the crap out of me. A different way was calling, nay, beckoning to me!
No, this is not the most original story you've ever heard... Artsy City Girl Flees the City to Find Peace in the Countryside. Truth is, I was never a city girl. And I'm not so sure I'm really a country girl either. But I know my heart sings when I'm here, and hell, just the fact that I can even HEAR my heart singing, I consider this to be a major accomplishment! But here's another truth: I'm not just seeking peace, I'm seeking adventure. I'm seeking MY adventure. And the great news is that I'm already on it! I think sharing it with you, (and I'm guessing that "you" might just be my mom and dad?!) will kick my ass in gear and start to shift my shit. (Thank you Allie and Steff and the BA Nation!)
And let me tell you, I could seriously feel my shit shift as I hiked up the cliffs trail today. With SJ tucked in at childcare, my husband (who is footloose and fancy free at the moment as he is currently between computer programming gigs) and I took up the hill after lunch. As we climbed he let me blab, and I unfolded my grand plan to blog by way of motivation to dream chase. And the dreams even started to show themselves... an arts partnership program in Addison County, an aromatherapy and therapeutic music business, even a deep rooted desire to perform and sing again. I swear I could hear all the hiding squirrels and forest creatures cheering along as said aloud so much of what has remained dormant for a while. It wasn't the first time I'd said, felt or thought these things, but I felt clarity, and in the midst of the Hogback ridge, I felt safe and guided to get on my way.
Hi, my name is Ali Dawson Gibson. I'm a healer, a singer and a teacher. This Blog, 52 Weeks of the Ledges, is from 2016 when I hiked this awesome Bristol Ledges trail once and week and shared my experiences. Enjoy!