Living Well

Inside the Blue Line*: Spiritual Reflections on Life in the Adirondack Park


mysteryThere’s something almost “Brigadoon-ish” about the view when the fog settles into the valleys here among the mountains. It feels as though we’re in a ‘time out of time’ here. The edges get blurred, the clock seems to stop, and the firm structure of daily rhythm seems to slip away.

To me, it is a wonderful invitation into mystery. At the top level, the mystery is:

When will the skies clear so we can resume our outdoor chores and plans?

Or maybe the mystery is:

Will rain come from these clouds so our dry earth and rivers can be restored?

These can be important questions, and the mystery will be solved when conditions change.

At the same time, I find myself drawn to the mystery within.

What are the interior clouds that cover the truth of Holy Presence within?

What might I discover if I let go into the ‘time out of time’  flow, pausing for a deep dive into such questions as:

What is the purpose of life in this world?

Why are we here?

What is the goal of our work and all our efforts?

What need does the earth have of us?+

 How might I let go into mystery in my daily life, trusting that what I see is a tiny facet of the Universal Whole?

What is it like to consider that many mysteries will remain unsolved this side of heaven?

When we have a stretch of clear, sunny days, I find myself struggling to break free of the confines of clear, well-established rhythms and answers, longing for the clouds of mystery to invite me to take a deep breath . . .  into wonder.

*The Blue Line is the term used in New York state for the boundaries of the Adirondack  (and Catskill) parks, within which can be found the state’s Forest Preserve. The state constitution requires that any property owned or acquired by the state in those parks “be forever kept as wild forest lands” and prohibits it from selling or transferring them in any way. It is so called because blue ink was used when they were first drawn on state maps.

+These four questions come from Pope Francis’s encyclical on Care for Our Common Home, Laudato Si.


Living Well

My Adirondack Soundtracks

To say it has been a wet Spring is a bit of an understatement. I think I can count on one hand the number of sunny days we have had . . . or even sunny parts of days. So Spring gardening has been hard to get to.

Finally, this week, there was an afternoon of sun, and I took my opportunity to get in the garden and pull out the weeds and debris that had gathered since last Fall. To keep me happily engaged in the project, I decided to listen to some music. But what would it be on this afternoon of sun and abundant Adirondack beauty? It would be Paul Winter Consort’s Missa Gaia. Composed in 1981, the Missa Gaiais a stunning intertwining of sacred texts and sounds of the created world – whales, wolves, waterfalls – in a jazz format. “All the Earth forever turning; for the skies, for every sea; To our Lord, we sing returning home to our blue green hills of earth.” Yes, this seemed like the very soundtrack for the day. To dig in the earth, to look around me and see the blue green mountains and hear the sound of the rain-swollen river nearby – these were the very expressions of the music, and of God.

My Adirondack SoundtracksToday, I awoke to another foggy, rainy day. After some morning errands, I arrived home to another small window without rain. No sun this time and another garden to weed and clean. What would carry me along? I began to think about my family roots here in the mountains, going back at least 150 years on my dad’s side of the family. And I thought of my dad. He is 100 years old and lives in a nursing home. He doesn’t have dementia, but his thoughts and his conversation are an interesting, humorous, and much-of-the-time fictitious mix of his life’s experiences. While he’ll engage in a conversation of sorts for a little while, what he loves more than anything is listening to music on his MP3 player. He has a running set list of jazz and big band music from the 1930’s and 1940’s. So, in honor of Dad, and the life I treasure here in the mountains, today I listened to Benny Goodman and his orchestra. It was a different connection to the earth – to roots of a family sort; deep, sometimes tangled, old, firm.

I wonder what the soundtrack will be tomorrow . . .

Living Well

Letting Go

white cottageIt’s time. The shades are pulled. The door is locked. I went in a little while ago. The air was stale and the porch furniture was piled up in the living room. The little summer cottage my grandparents built in 1940 is closed for good.

We have been keeping it going, patching it together, for a long time. It has been a summer destination for me for my whole life. I stayed there with my sister and my grandparents when I was little. I brought my children there as they were growing up, and spent July’s there with my two younger children for several summers. My sisters and their families, and my parents, have continued to come – summer after summer – for decades. It is nestled among several other cottages, occupied during the summer by various cousins, aunts and uncles.

On the front porch, which overlooks the Adirondack Mountains all around us, we have hosted countless happy hours and had many dinners at the picnic table. We have had lots of laughs and many tears. We have listened to music and crafted quilts. We have confronted hard situations, told important stories, and taken naps on the futon.

This little cottage, which we heated with a fire in the fireplace, and which smelled like a combination of smoke and mothballs, is no longer able to provide a summer home for us. The electrical service is vintage 1940’s, and the basement – if you can call it that – has had water ‘issues’ since it was built. Over the years, we have seen the basement full to the bulkhead with water, and watched water rush in during floods. We have hired someone to clean out the drain so the water would empty more readily, and hired another person to put insulation in the basement ceiling after one of our kids put her foot through the rotted floor above. (He fixed the floor, too)

We have been making plans to build a new house on this site – a house that would provide more bathrooms for our family, which can number over 17 when we’re all here; a house that would be available to us year-round; a house that would be water-tight and have enough bedrooms for most everyone to have a bit of privacy. It has been fun to think about and plan for this new place until . . . well, until we arrived this summer to find that the water pressure tank in the little cottage had broken off from the pipes completely (another flood), and the basement ceiling is so black with mold that no one thinks it’s safe to sleep in the bedroom above.

All of a sudden, our freedom to make the decision as to when we would take down the cottage, and when we would build a new house in its place, is not ours to make. It has been made for us. And with that loss of freedom comes a flood of sadness and loss and a jumble of precious memories of all the times we’ve had there.

So the goodbye-ing has begun. One last happy hour on the porch. The beginnings of conversations about what to save and what to throw away. And plans underway to figure out how to honor all the life that has happened there. It is a hard letting go right now. And while a new house – whenever it comes – will be fun to plan and inhabit someday, right now I am unfolding the grip in my hands and my heart . . . to let go.