A Summer of Love, Adventure and Appreciation

As summer comes to an end soon, I am moving into fall with excitement and trepidation. I’m excited because I will be visiting so many National Parks in the western part of the country. I am nervous because I must begin the process of looking for a job for when my journey ends.


This summer I have pushed myself by flying on a small float plane, facing my fear of heights hiking up a granite face with steep drop-offs, visiting the Arctic, hiking on a moving glacier with crampons, and line dancing with the locals. I’ve learned to trust in the universe.


It has been decades since my life was complicated, yet before my trip I was continuing to beat myself up for mistakes I made eons ago. I have been able to finally put the distant past behind me and to recognize and celebrate the person I am today.


As Brené Brown would say, “I am enough. I am worthy of love and belonging.” And I feel that now, which is a blessing that I don’t think I would have received had I not ventured out far away from everything I knew.


I will continue to grieve the loss of Riley forever, but I take solace in knowing that he is still with me in the dragonflies that greet me along the highways, lakes and meadows. A new friend sent me a t-shirt she saw at an online shop that had a dragonfly on it and said, “Guided by my ancestors.”


I do feel like I am guided by Riley and others. I believe I have tapped into some ancient wisdom and am able to ask Riley and my parents and sometimes my grandparents, aunts, uncles and ancestors all the way back, even those unknown to me, for support and guidance. And I believe they are there watching over me and showing me the way forward.


One of the benefits of being an empty nester is that you must start over. There is no way around it. You can start from where you were when the kids left the nest and slowly move forward from there or you can re-group and head off in a completely new direction.


I chose to re-route and have allowed myself the time and space I needed to assess, let go, celebrate, connect, disconnect, forgive and foster a new chapter. I’m excited to see what lies ahead in the last stages of my journey.


I have more of a clear direction of what I want to do next and what I still want to accomplish in the coming years. My heart is full like it has never been in my life. I now feel like a full nester. And I look forward to connecting and sharing that with others in the years to come.


There will, no doubt, be challenges along the way. And I’ll need to be flexible and open to the fact that the world is moving quickly, and nothing is guaranteed. But I am almost ready to head back into society again. Almost.


I continue to be so grateful to everyone who has supported my journey through the parks to date. It has meant so much to me. And I’m especially thankful for all the people I have met along the way, many of whom are also following my journey and showing their support. I cannot begin to describe here all the amazing folks I have met. But you know who you are, and please know that even that brief conversation in passing in the hot springs, on the beach, at the airport, at the campground, in the lobby, in the laundry room, at the overlook or on the trail has been a source of comfort and inspiration along the way.


I hope some of my park posts and tips for slowing down and spending time in nature for healing have inspired you to visit your local parks and are proving helpful to some of you. The health benefits are plentiful, and I hope they will bring peace to your life as they have for me.


I stopped at an overlook this week to read a text message and I heard the car next to me slam their front bumper into the concrete barricade. You know that terrible sound of the fiberglass catching on the barrier. We’ve all been there.


As I got out of the car to take a few photos, I heard the couple assessing the damage. The man was saying that his wife shouldn’t drive so fast into a barricade, and I interjected that it could happen to anyone and mentioned that I have hit those things many times. He told me he was just the passenger and that she was the better driver of the two of them anyway.


The man and I struck up a conversation while the woman took some photos. We started talking about the National Parks and they have been to over forty of them. His wife owns a confectioner’s company, and he is semi-retired. She gets to help select locations for the chocolate conventions they attend, and they always visit the National Parks while in those areas.


We introduced ourselves and their names were Cliff and Joy (pictured here) from Beaufort, South Carolina. Cliff told me that his wife Joy was the best and how lucky he is. As he began to tell me the story about how they first met, he got so choked up that he could barely speak. In tears, he told me how they were introduced. “There she was standing in between two friends.”


I was so moved by the love he expressed for his wife and the emotion he had in telling this story, I almost cried myself. He told me that on their first date they went bowling and Joy said that night, “This is the way I want to live.” They have been married for 45 years. It was a gift to witness their love for each other.


They asked why I was on this journey. I told them about losing Riley years ago to leukemia and the various reasons I was visiting all the parks, including my hope that I could encourage more people to understand the benefits of healing in nature. Cliff said his brother-in-law had just passed away from leukemia and he would be visiting his sister when they return to South Carolina.


They had recently visited their friend who lived in Paradise, CA. He had lost his home and all his possessions in the wildfires a few years ago. Cliff said his friend had never written a poem in his life, but he started writing poetry after the fire. He now has volumes of poems he has written as a way of expressing his loss and grief.


Cliff brought up church, and I told him I was raised in the Church of Christ. They looked at each other knowingly and laughed and told me that is the church they attend as well. On their second date, Joy went to church with him on a Wednesday night.


We agreed that we were supposed to meet and that these encounters happen for a reason. We had such a lovely conversation and Cliff said he would never forget me and my son. I told him how much it meant to me to have conversations like this on my trip. I get lonely sometimes and these brief encounters mean the world to me, and I would never forget them.


Joy gave me her business card and we agreed to keep in touch. Joy reflected how we wouldn’t have met had she not banged her front bumper into the cement barricade. It was a wonderful and positive gift that came out of it. We both wished each other well on our respective travels and got in our cars. I jokingly warned them to be careful when backing up. And we were both on our way.


I felt such love for these two people, who started out as perfect strangers, but we left as friends. I will get in touch and hope we will stay connected, but for today, it was a beautiful and meaningful connection, the highlight of my day.

I want my next chapter to have more meaning and hope to write and tell stories to bring the American experience to life. And if I can combine my passion for combating the effects of climate change while telling American stories about individual experiences of how it has affected them already, which might influence others to understand the urgent need to act, then I will have succeeded.


The last stage of my career happens to coincide with the ten years we are told by the climate scientists we have left to save the planet. I want to do what I can to help for the sake of my daughter and all future generations to come.


I also hope to spend some time serving as a coach and healer by offering re-wilding ecotherapy retreats for women who are in transition, empty nesters, those in a mid-life awakening (or crisis), those suffering from grief, going through divorce and/or in career transition. And I have some other ideas for work I’m considering as well.


Wish me luck as I journey west into the fall! If you know any organizations looking for a Climate Communications Reporter, let me know. And thank you all again for your unwavering support! Happy Labor Day!


With Love and Appreciation,


Laura




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