Category Archives: Musings

Little Cabin in the Woods

  
At the outer edges of my noisy world exists a little cabin in the woods. A place where my soul can go to rest and reconnect with Nature and all of its beautiful gifts. 

 Whenever I go there it’s as if my soul does a giant exhale. A spewing out of all the damaging stress to make room for peace and healing.

   

“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

   

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” ~ John Muir

  

  
 

“All that live must die, passing through nature to eternity.” ~ William Shakespeare

 

“Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

     “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. … There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” ~ Rachel Carson

  
 

**All photographs and videos were taken on my iPhone. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2016. All rights reserved.**

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Purchase a copy of “Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature” here.

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Ode to Spring

  

“Ode to Spring” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2016. All rights reserved.

March is a time for renewal, when the first buds of early Spring begin to push their way towards the surface. The days become a bit longer, less dark and bleak. Flocks of birds begin to fly overhead and make their way north after a long winter layover. Their excited squacks and cackles instill a sense of hope in my soul, but also a feeling of sadness that I never took the time to visit them while they were at rest here in our valley. My soul was tucked away in front of the warm fire, wrapped in reflection, which is where winter often sends me.

I stand in my backyard as a family of Sandhill Cranes ride a thermal right above me. Their giant wings glide in circles as their gutteral call rolls from their beaks in an ecstatic chorus. They circle and glide, resting for the long trip ahead, a momentary pause in their journey as if saying goodbye. A tear escapes my eye as I look up and wish them a safe flight.

The sun sneaks out between big white clouds and leftover raindrops that have settled on the new blooms begin to shimmer. My focus shifts from the vast expanse of the sky above back to the tiny things below me. The longer I stare, the more amazed I become. This micro world of color and light comes alive as if the entire universe exists in this few inches of earth within my vision. Life and death begin and end there. Spring approaches to remind us it is our job to live, to let go of the darkness, emerge from our coccoons and acknowledge the beauty in all that we have been given.

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Pick up a copy of “Zen in the Garden” here. 


What Jesus Wants – Love Your Gay Neighbors

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I grew up in a Christian church and one of the biggest lessons I learned while I was there was love. I was taught that Jesus was the type of man who hung out with thieves, prostitutes, and the poor and loved each one of them in the same way he loved others. I was also taught that our place is not to judge others lest we be judged ourselves. The whole “he who casts the first stone” lesson.

The U.S. supreme Court decision on Friday that supported the right of same-sex couples to marry created much joy in the hearts of those who have been in support of equal rights for gay people. Those supporters include individuals from all walks of life. For those individuals, the fight has always been about love, not about any hidden “gay agenda” and definitely not about discrimination or hatred.

Mixed in with all the love and celebration of that decision came a strong dose of fear-based, judgemental, and at times hate-filled words. While those reactions were expected from the clearly bigoted, hateful groups of individuals who still exist in our country, it was disappointing to see some of these same reactions coming from people who claim to be “Christians.” The response was not Christ-like from a space of non-judgment and love. On the contrary, it was harsh, judgmental, and oft-times hateful.

There seems to be a great misunderstanding amongst some Christians (note I said “some” not “all”) of the Fundamental, Evangelical, or Conservative persuasions, that you cannot be gay and be a Christian. They take a stance of “us against them.” The “righteous against the sinners.” The “good against the bad.” The “moral against the immoral.” What an unfortunate, disillusioned, and limiting stance. In reality, a great number of gay people are indeed Christian. They go to church, they hold Bible studies, they pray for your souls, they feed and clothe the hungry. There are also Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Agnostics, Sikhs, Atheists, Wiccans, etc.; the same mix of faiths and belief systems as the rest of our wonderful country.

We are all human beings. We all deserve love. We all deserve equal rights no matter what our religious or spiritual stance may be. Basic human rights has absolutely nothing to do with your religion. We all should have equal protection under the law. The law of our country is not the Bible or God’s law. It is the Constitution. If the law of the land were based on one religion, then that would impede on the rights of others who choose to believe something different.

Gay people were given the Constitutionally protected right to marry the person they love. This in no way, shape or form infringes upon your right to choose who you will marry. It in no way, shape, or form infringes on your right to choose the religion you want to practice. You can still go to your churches, still read your Bibles, still pray for the souls of those you care about. Nothing has changed except for a new challenge to your own hearts. Acceptance.

We all have the opportunity right now to choose love and acceptance. There has been way too much judgment, hatred, fear, and misunderstanding surrounding the issue of gay rights coming from all sides. It’s past time for all who call themselves “Christians” to be the example and reflect how Jesus would want us to be. He would expect nothing less than for us to love one another in both word and deed and cast all judgment aside.

Love always wins.


The Lure of Minimizing and Living Off-Grid

  ** Pole Barn. North Idaho. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **

I have always felt I would make the perfect Hermit. I love spending time alone and one of my favorite places to spend that time is lost somewhere in the forest. The noise and activity of the city excites me for short spells but grates on my nerves and makes me long for a quiet space after a day or so. 

As a child I grew up in a small community surrounded by beautiful and dramatic mountain ranges. The outdoor life was all I knew. I spent my summers hiking, climbing and backpacking through forests on the Western slope of the Sierra Nevada and my winters snowshoeing, ice skating and skiing in the backcountry. There wasn’t a day that I didn’t dream of someday living in a log cabin surrounded by pines and wildlife. My interaction with nature was the best part of my childhood and became my savior during moments of stress.

  
Oft-times childhood dreams are cast aside for adult realities. I grew up, went away to college, and landed out in the “big world” far away from my small town hamlet. Over time I took on my big city persona and began to lose touch with nature. While swept up in that grown up life of making lots of money in order to buy lots of unnecessary “things,” I was haunted by an empty feeling deep inside my gut. Everything I was doing, every hat I wore, every role I played, felt wrong. All I could think about was sitting on the porch of that log cabin somewhere in the woods where I could breathe the earth back into my soul. 

  
I am not the only one who has felt this way. More people have begun to heed the lure of homesteading or living off-grid and have made the bold decision to quit their corporate jobs, sell most of their belongings, and move their families onto their little patch of paradise far from the noise of the city life. I can’t think of a healthier way to exist than that of the Homesteader. To reconnect with nature, grow your own organic food, and live off the land is to me the ultimate existance. And this is exactly what we are going to do in the not too distant future. 

  
The wheels were set in motion when we recently purchased a small log cabin on ten beautiful timbered acres in North Idaho. Over the next several years we will work to downsize or minimize our belongings; in other words let go of the “things” that don’t bring us joy in life. We will spend most of our upcoming vacation time enjoying and preparing the cabin for our eventual move. The cabin is not completely off-grid in the sense it is connected to the power grid, however it sits two miles from the nearest paved road, draws water from a well with a spring as a secondary source, and can only be accessed by skis, snowshoes, or a snowmobile in the thick of Winter and a 4-wheel-drive Quad or knee-high mud boots during the sloppy Spring thaw.

  
What was once a dream has now become a tangible reality and it brings such peace and joy to my heart to know it is there waiting for our ultimate arrival. We leave a week from today to pay our little piece of paradise a sixteen day visit. I can’t wait to sit on the porch swing and breathe in the beauty of the woods while dreaming of the day I will never have to leave there.

  


Birch Bark – The Gifts of a Fallen Tree

  
I adore Birch trees. The light coloring of the Western Paper Birch with its unique peeling bark and lenticels catch my eye immediately when wandering the forest. Their foliage turns a brilliant yellow during the Fall and the leaves make a beautiful rustling sound in the wind. These trees can grow up to 70 feet tall and 1-2 feet in diameter over 80+ years. 

The Native Americans utilized the Birch tree for a number of things. They used the outer bark for the skin of their canoes and to cover their wigwams. They made bark containers for collection and storage of food as well as for cooking. The wood of the Birch was used to make musical instruments, toys for children, and hunting and fishing gear. The bark was also woven into baskets and incorporated into their beadwork. 

  
Birch bark can be used for tinder to start a fire (even when it’s wet), as paper to write on, and can be woven into a hat or a pair of shoes if you find yourself lost in the forest. The sap from the Birch tree can be made into wine or beer and the leaves and inner bark can be turned into a detoxing tea or medicinal cream for issues with the skin.

It is never a good idea to peel the bark from a live, standing Birch. It can leave the tree vulnerable and sometimes it will die, especially if some of the protective inner bark is cut and removed during the process. It is best to remove bark from a fallen tree. Where there are Birch trees there are usually several that have fallen due to disease, high winds, or snow load. Occassionally a larger Birch may become a hazard tree and segments begin breaking off of the top and falling onto whatever is below. If the hazard tree is near a home or building or in an area with a frequently travelled trail, then it should be removed. 

While on our recent trip to North Idaho, a large Birch needed to be felled since it was close to a cabin and had lost several feet from its top, most likely due to disease.

  
As much as I do not like to see trees cut down for the purpose of encroaching on the forest for development, I do understand certain trees need to be removed when they become a hazard to people and other things in their surroundings. 

Although no longer standing, this lovely tree still had many gifts to give. We decided to collect the bark to use it for jewelry and other crafts. The trunk will be cut into slices to create beautiful side tables for the cabin and the main log will be milled into lumber for later use. Some of the smaller sections will be used to heat the cabin and the rest will decay over time on the forest floor to provide shelter to small animals and insects and nutrition for new seedlings to grow.

Below is a series of photographs illustrating the process we used for the Birch bark removal. You can use a carpet knife to score the section of bark you want to remove then use the same knife to carefully pull away the edges from the inner bark. Once the outer bark begins to release, slowly peel the sheet from the log. Store the sheets flat or use water and a heat gun later to flatten any curled pieces. And of course remember to thank the tree for its beautiful gifts :).

   
               

Here are two examples of pieces of jewelry I have made from this bark over the past few days.

The first is a necklace where I used pieces of bark that had lichen growing on them and incorporated it with earth-toned beads and silver wire.

  
The second is a pair of earrings I am still designing that mixes bark with metal and alcohol inks.

  

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** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


Lost in the Woods

  

I just spent ten glorious days “lost” in the woods of North Idaho. This was my first vacation in over two years since dealing with West Nile Virus and then treatment for skin cancer. It felt so good to get far away from the house that had become my hermit’s cave and sanctuary during my illness and treatment. The beauty that surrounded me in Idaho seemed magnified tenfold and I couldn’t stop exclaiming “It’s so pretty here!” As those who have read my book “Zen in the Garden” know, I have always found peace and healing through nature. Following my recent struggles, that desire to reconnect with the earth for a bit of healing has been foremost on my mind.

  

It was so nice to sit in a quiet place void of the noise pollution of an urban environment for hours at a time. The sound of birdsong and of the wind as it rustled through the pines created the perfect symphony for my tired soul. Each day I could feel my body relax even more than the day before as the stressors of everyday life became nothing more than a fading shadow inside my reawakened mind. I felt present. Mindful. Embraced by what truly matters in this life. I felt alive and happy as I touched the earth and opened my eyes to its simple yet elegant gifts.

  

As we wandered the woods that surrounded our little log cabin I knew without a doubt that this was where I belonged. It all seemed so familiar to me. It was as if a piece of myself had spent my entire life wandering under that beautiful, peaceful canopy while the other parts had struggled to exist in the chaos of a world quite foreign to my soul. My childhood was spent in an environment similar to this place but I chose to leave it at the age of 18 to pursue a college degree and make my way out in the “real” world. That world has proven to be both rewarding and cruel. I have often felt myself struggle to fit in when my heart keeps telling me to run back into the woods where I belong.

  

This trip into the woods healed me in more ways than I can explain with words. It brought me peace and it brought me hope. It provided me with a renewed sense of motivation. The wheels are now in motion to make my way back into the woods for good where I can embrace nature for the remainder of my life. No matter how long it takes to reach that goal, I now know it is going to happen. I can’t wait…

  

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** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


Zen Moment 2 – Go With the Flow

  

 

“Flow with whatever may happen and let your mind be free.” – Chuang Tzu

I have always been drawn to water. Whether the reflection of the clouds in a calm lake, the peaceful sound of a trickling brook, the hypnotic repetition of waves hitting the shoreline, or the breathtaking sight of a waterfall as it cascades down the face of a mountain, water relaxes me and clears my mind of all the clutter.

Water cools, refreshes, both gives and sustains life. The human body is more than 60% water. Without it we would die. For many, water symbolizes emotional energy, the subconscious, growth, and creative potential. For me it represents the rhythm of life. Water ebbs, it flows, it sits calmly, it roars, it carves canyons out of solid rock, it falls gently from the sky and touches the petals of a rose. 

Whenever I have the chance I make my way towards a body of water and I watch and I listen. The song is never the same. The message always different. At times it feels as if it passes right through me, renews me, saturates the parts of me that had dried out from neglect. 

If water were to serve as a metaphor for anything in my own life it would be one of change and growth. My most life-changing decisions and moments of growth have occurred when a body of water was present. Whatever water may mean to you, I hope you make the choice to incorporate it into your life on occasion. Walk along the beach and watch the ocean stretch out before you. Put your bare feet in a cool creek and feel it run over and through your toes. Listen to the magnificence as it roars down the side of a mountain. And more than anything let it set your mind free.

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** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **