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Reminiscing

What is is about New Years Eve that brings up the past, even though we should, for one night, be focused on the future?

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What is is about New Years Eve that brings up the past, even though we should, for one night, be focused on the future? Every year I find myself looking backwards. Perhaps it is to relive the good memories, or an attempt to learn from our mistakes, or even to be inspired to live differently after that clock strikes midnight. Personally, looking back through my photos allows me to recall nights of laughter with good friends, road trips to unforeseen places, and helps me to reignite those feelings of pure, surrendering awe as I stood in each captivating scene.

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I have been truly amazed more times than I can count while traveling through this enchanting world. After driving across the United States – twice – along with countless road and hiking trips, I now have photographs coming out the ears and stories just waiting to jump through my keyboard. My resolution last year was to travel as much a possible, and to seek out the small, beautiful moments of life. I would like to expand upon that resolution by sharing those moments with you. I am going to start at the beginning of my journey – when a small town girl from West Virginia got in her car, drove west, and her life changed forever. It is my hope that each of you will be inspired to seek out adventure, to break out of your comfort zone, and to enjoy the quiet, captivating moments of life. But for now my friends, enjoy your night. Drink, dance, be merry, cuddle up on the couch with your dog…whatever makes you happy. Welcome in the new year with open arms and a heart ready to seek adventure. Happy New Year To All!

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“May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.” ~Traditional Irish Blessing

The Never Ending River of Life

There is something about a long hike, full of fresh air, and beautiful sights that can magically reset my soul.

We all have our own ways to deal with stress. Perhaps you play music or you are a secret artist who sketches late into the night. I’m sure that some of us have some less healthy coping skills…like a bottle of Jack D. Hey, no judgement…I’ve been there. But these days, one of the only things that can put my heart at ease is to run off into the middle of nowhere. There is something about a long hike, full of fresh air, and beautiful sights that can magically reset my soul. My family habitually gets upset when I run off into the wild unaccompanied. I guess they are always afraid that I will get hurt, lost, or abducted. And they can’t seem to understand why I usually don’t invite friends on my outings. But the truth is, that I don’t mind being alone. I actually rather enjoy it. I am a fierce introvert who talks to people for a living…the irony never stops when it comes to my career path in psychology. Social interaction has never been a strong point for me. In high school, I talked as little as possible and generally carried around a book so that I could stuff my nose in the pages to avoid communication in general. It’s very hard for me to interact with people, especially those I don’t know well. So it’s a given that my job can be draining at best. I love working with kids and helping them make the most of their educational opportunities, but by the time the weekend arrives, I am ready to escape.

I have needed to escape for a while. It’s been too long since I’ve felt the sun on my face, listened to the birds chirping, and have walked on those crunchy leaves. I’ve been busy, for sure, but I’ve also just been cooped up. I have been letting life get to me and I haven’t been trying to deal with it. Sometimes it is just easier to ignore your problems, go home from work, jump into you PJs, and to binge-watch Netflix with your cat on the couch. Can I get an Amen? As I wrote in my last blog post, my dad has been ill. Dealing with the impending course of his disease and the unknown has…for lack of a better term…sucked. On top of that, I recently moved far away from some very close friends in Idaho who had truly become like family to me. And a few of my loved ones have been walking through a gauntlet of difficult times this past year. I am a fixer. I hate seeing those around me in pain and I will typically do anything within my power to help them, even to my own detriment. So when I am faced with situations that are beyond my control, I tend to shut down. I feel helpless to make the situation better and so I just let it all gnaw at me until I break down. Again…not healthy….and I know this…I’m a psychologist….more irony. Cue impromptu, impulsive hiking trip.

I woke up early on Saturday morning, packed up my gear, and jumped in the car.I hit the road with a full cup of coffee and my Christmas playlist. Instant happiness. I drove west until I landed in Dupont State Forest, just south of Asheville, NC. Why there? I heard of a trail which followed a path of waterfalls. It’s winter folks. The leaves have mostly fallen from the sky, and the trees are bare. However, waterfalls are always beautiful in my mind, especially in the winter. I arrived shortly after sunrise and stepped out into the brisk 25 degree weather, grateful that I wore layers and had gloves. It was a beautiful, clear day. I had a rough idea of the path I wanted to take after a quick internet search. The trail was very well maintained and clearly marked, so I didn’t have to worry too much about getting lost. After venturing down the hill, I came to Hooker  Falls. The falls open into a beautiful pool area which I would love to visit in the warmer summer months. The sunlight peaked perfectly through the tree tops and magnified the brilliance of the sparkling water. It was still early, so I took some time to think on the rocks and to let myself truly experience the site. img_6067-3

Eventually a small group of high school students appeared to take senior pictures, so I ventured back up the hill to started across the bridge onto Triple Falls Trail. It was still chilly and the bridge was coated in a thin layer of ice. I skated my way across and stepped onto the frozen ground, excited for everything to come. img_6065

After passing a few families who were out for a Saturday adventure, I found the stair case which led to the base of Triple Falls. The sun was shining so brightly that I had to frequently shield my eyes. Although I was basically taking photographs blind, I was pleasantly surprised to find this shot had turned out so well. Occasionally I enjoy dabbling in black and white photos and love to find interesting silhouettes. I am especially thankful to these fellow hikers who I couldn’t have posed any better for this shot. I don’t know who you are, but I am glad that there are other people who are crazy enough to go hiking on a Saturday morning when it is below freezing outside. I hope you enjoyed your adventure as much as I did. img_6071

After stopping for a short rest, I headed back up the stairs and followed the trail to the Triple Falls overlook. It was amazing to see the sheer majesty of these waterfalls. It was almost surreal because you feel like you are looking at a picture. The view is almost too beautiful to be real. I haven’t felt that way since I was in Arizona looking out over the Grand Canyon this past summer. God is one heck of an artist. His creation is something I will never get tired of looking at and exploring.

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At some point, I ventured onto High Falls Trail. (I made the shot of High Falls my featured photo on this post, so look up top. 😉  I hiked out to the base of the falls and ran into a photographer getting some early morning shots before the crowds appeared. We chatted briefly about the peace of the morning before he continued up the trail. I sat for a while on a rock which overlooked High Falls and the pool of water and rocks beyond. It was certainly a sight to behold and probably my favorite stop along the trail. The continuous rushing water seemed to put life back into perspective for me. No matter what happens, how many people throw rocks into the river, or how little rain falls in the area, that waterfall continues to flow. It is persistent and relentless and it gave me the strength to remember that I need to be the same way. Life isn’t always perfect, but we just have to keep moving regardless of our present circumstances. When I was able to pull myself away, I continued up the hill and jumped over to Covered Bridge Trail, and then onto Conservation Road. A final turn onto Bridal Veil Falls Road took me out past an adorable horse barn and finally to Bridal Veil Fallsimg_6082

After meeting a family vacationing from the coast and getting to know their adorable Chocolate Lab, I stopped to eat lunch and chat for a while. It was nice to enjoy the sites and to laugh as the kids played with icicles from the river. It had been quite a day. However, I still had to make it back to my car and drive home. So, I said goodbye and began backtracking down the trail. It had warmed up to around 40 degrees and there were quite a few more people out and about by that time. I even passed a few gentleman, in full gear, who were headed out fishing. They are braver than I am to get into that cold water. img_6068

My legs felt like jello by the time I crossed the bridge and made it back to my car. No doubt a combination of the cold weather and my frequent Netflix surfing recently. It felt good to be back out on the trail. That much needed fresh air did me a world of good and my stress floated away for a while. At least it should be enough to get me through until next weekend and my next adventure. 🙂 Happy trails everyone. Check out my Instagram to see the rest of my pictures from the weekend! And prints are available here. Thanks for stopping by! See you next time!

Family First

We grow, we change, we leave, we return, but we remain steadfast in our ideals, morals, and family values.

“Family – Like branches on a tree we all grow in different directions, but our roots remain as one.” ~Unknown

     Two years. That is the length of time since my last Thanksgiving dinner with my family. Sure, I traveled and I spent time with friends. We had turkey, pie, and all the fixins. But it wasn’t really the same. I loved Idaho, but I missed my family. Every. Single. Day. Some do not understand my unabating need to go home. No matter where life takes me, there is a constant pull on my heartstrings, a violent longing for a place comprised of those things which I love so ardently. Perhaps it has to do with my upbringing. West Virginia is a special place, almost like a time capsule in some ways. It’s full of small towns that people never leave, and even if they do, they tend to not stay away for long. Family is sacred. Everyone knows everyone. You were probably raised as much by your neighbors and friends parents, as you were your own. Kinship is strong in this state. (Go ahead…make a joke about incestuous hillbillies….we all know you were thinking them.) Joke if you will, but I don’t know a single person who has actually married a relative. Come on folks…this is 2016. I have digressed… moving on.

Kinship – feeling close and connected to others. Last I checked, that wasn’t a bad thing. Actually we could use a little more of that in the world. It feels like our society has become so superficial. We have ‘friends’ on social media that we never talk to. We keep our noses glued to our phones, tablets, and computers. How many real, true, deep relationships do we have nowadays? How many people do we take for granted? West Virginia may not have the best internet access, but we know our neighbors. We care about the people next door. We come out in masses to help those in need in our communities. Need proof? Read about the recent flooding in West Virginia and the response of our citizens who promoted the phrase: West Virginia Strong.

In West Virginia, people tend to have your back. The idea of a complete stranger stopping to help you might be a novel concept. Some may wonder why the inhabitants of this great state do stick together so tightly. In my studies of psychology and sociology, I came across the subject of Group Identity. This idea of bonding with those who are similar to ourselves may be ingrained in us from a young age. As part of the In-group, perhaps we see all the inhabitants of this state as an innate part of ourselves. We are Mountaineers, we are family, we are West Virginians. We protect each other as we expect others to protect us. Is this the only place in the world filled with kind people who are willing to help others? Of course not. But West Virginia is certainly one-of-a-kind in my eyes. We grow, we change, we leave, we return, but we remain steadfast in our ideals, morals, and family values. Our roots remain planted in the beautiful, majestic, West Virginia hills.

You may be wondering why I left if I supposedly love West Virginia so much. Good question. I never thought I would leave. It nearly broke my heart to do so. But, I needed to get away for a while. Somewhere along the lines of broken dreams, love lost, and too many memories…I snapped. All of a sudden, I needed a new life, a different life, somewhere far away. I needed to go where no one knew who I was or my history. Now, I am not a convicted felon and I was not in the witness protection program. But, those of you who grew up in a small town know how it is. Sometimes life happens, you get your heart broke, you can’t come across a single street corner that doesn’t contain a memory, or a person who wants to know your most intimate thoughts. Sometimes you need to get away, to bask in loneliness, to think deep confusing thoughts, and to put the pieces of your life back together. That is why I left West Virginia. It remains one the hardest and best decisions I have ever made. I made a new life. I found peace in the solace of nature. I found happiness even in the absence of the life I once knew. After a while, Idaho felt like a home away from home. I could have been happy there for many years. But life doesn’t always go as planned. It has a way of reminding us who we are and where we came from- even if we were trying our best to run away and to forget.

Last summer, my dad got sick, and everything changed. I knew what I had to do. It was time to come home. It was time to put my family first. So I packed up my life yet again, and headed East. My heart breaking all over again for those I was leaving behind and for the hardships that I knew were yet to come. It has been difficult to say the least, starting over. I feel that I have left pieces of my heart in so many places that I may never feel whole again. The one thing that has not changed, is West Virginia. It was still here in all it’s majesty, waiting to welcome me home. I don’t regret leaving. I found an inner strength and sense of adventure that I didn’t know I was capable of. You learn to be strong when you have to stand on your own two feet without the support network you were accustomed to. Neither do I regret coming home again. My family is more sacred to me than ever before. Being away has given me a new sense of thankfulness for every second I am blessed to have with them. My family will always come first and West Virginia will always be our home.