Mother Nature shares her secrets if we listen to her whispers. There are little nudges and nods if we tune in and pay attention. There is wisdom in the wind. Knowledge from the trees. Lessons from the animals. All it takes is for us to listen and learn.

While I was staying at Bomoseen State Park in Vermont a few weeks back, Mother Nature dangled a not-so-subtle lesson right in front of my face.

When my dog and I arrived at the state park campground, I experienced something I had never seen before. It first began when I went to the shower house which was shaded by trees. From every branch hung silk strands with caterpillars dangling down like ornaments on a Christmas tree. One strand hung down about four feet and had three caterpillars latched on swaying in the breeze. Upon further inspection, the entire shower house roof had thousands of caterpillars crawling over one another. I have spent a lot of time in nature, but the most I have seen is one caterpillar at a time, and it was always on a solo journey.

After returning from the shower house, I sat outside my travel trailer under the awning enjoying the surroundings and the quiet with the distant sound of boat motors humming. Since I had arrived in Vermont, I had been fighting mosquitoes and trying to fend off their bites. So, when I felt something on my leg, I thought another battle was about to ensue. Instead of mosquitoes though, it was a fuzzy black caterpillar with delicate white spots. I looked down and another caterpillar was resting on the strap of my flip flop. Then another one was inching along on the armrest of my lounge chair. Every time I carefully brushed the caterpillars away and sent them flying to the ground, they would inevitably find their way back onto my chair and me. It became this little game we played.

What finally made me pay attention to these persistent creatures was when I went to the beach at Bomoseen Lake which was a short five-minute walk from my campsite. I found a small tree that gave ample shade and laid out my towel. I stripped down to my bathing suit and pulled out the book I was reading. I would read a few paragraphs then gaze out into the lake. I heard the low mutterings of couples’ conversations.  The waves lapped loudly against the shore as the speeding boats’ ripples reached the beach.  The squeals of children jumping off the dock rivaled the boat motors. Then I let out a squeal myself. A single caterpillar rappelled down its silk strand to hang in front of me at eye level. It was like a character from Alice in Wonderland. I waited for him to pull out a black top hat from his fuzzy coat and start a conversation with me in a British accent. Besides this dangling caterpillar, there were caterpillars wandering over my towel and over my various limbs like they were exploring a new trail on a mountain.

It was at this point I took an interest in these insects that had no concept of personal space. I learned from a local that these caterpillars would one day be moths, and these caterpillars would eventually create a cocoon; however, there was a process they went through first.

I never knew that caterpillars molted. They shed their skin five different times, and after each molting, it is called an instar. A caterpillar’s skin can’t grow with it, so it grows a new skin under the old and sheds the old when it is time. This process really resonated with me. Symbolism is never lost on me, and I realized I experienced my own molting and instar phases as well.

I explored the idea of outgrowing my own “skin.” I thought about the times I made huge changes in my life because the way I was living and approaching life no longer suited me. It led me to this moment.

A caterpillar’s first instar starts after birth when they eat the eggshell they were born from, and they eat the leaf they are on. During each instar phase, caterpillars continue to eat and grow. (Caterpillars are around 2-6 mm when they start their first instar. By the time they make it to the fifth and final instar, they are 25-45 mm). My (re)birth and first instar began in 2011. This was the time I attended therapy and started to connect with myself and rediscover who I truly was before the world taught me to be someone else. I started to realize what I wanted my life to look like and who I wanted to be in my own life.

My first molting was in 2016 when I took everything I had learned in therapy over the years, applied it to my life, and I finally started living for myself. I left a state I didn’t choose to live in, I left a boyfriend who didn’t treat me like I deserved, and I moved to Oregon, a state I had always wanted to live in, to begin honoring myself for the first time in 37 years. I entered the second instar phase of my life. Like the caterpillar, I too devoured my surroundings and the new experiences I was having, and my soul was fed.  

The second instar phase ended in 2020 when once again I was outgrowing my skin. It was time to shed fear and doubts. My third instar, which I am in now, began on September 30th, 2020 when I decided to sell most of my belongings, give up the house I was renting, and buy a travel trailer. I have now been traveling around the United States and living in my 17-foot travel trailer for nine months. Every day I am realizing more about who I am and who I want to be.

During the time my personal and physical space was infested by the caterpillars at Bomoseen State Park, I had been gently pushed to live more primitively. Throughout my journey, I spent most of my time at state park campgrounds. There were a few overnights I spent in parking lots or in campsites down forest roads, but it was never for an extended period of time. At this point, I was on day eight out of 14 for living primitively. The first three days I stayed in the Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont. The campsite was down a forest road, it backed up to the woods, and my “neighbors” were at least a ½ mile away. The next seven days were at the Bomoseen State Park campground, but the campground had no electricity or water. So, while I did have access to coin showers, I didn’t have any amenities at my campsite. The final four days were spent back at the Green Mountain National Forest.

One other interesting correlation is when a caterpillar finishes molting, its new skin is fragile. It takes time for it to harden. Anytime we start a new venture we are vulnerable and exposed. We are stepping into the unknown. But, as we continue to commit to our new way of being, we do become stronger. Our convictions are reinforced.

Living nine months on the road has already taught me so much about myself and life. I am not sure when I will fully know how this time has affected me, but I have seen shifts. I was already self-sufficient and independent, but I have pushed myself even further. Traveling alone with my dog, driving cross country, setting up camp, weathering storms, overcoming obstacles, and just taking everything in stride has shown me who I am. I have been completely immersed in nature. When I am camping primitively, I don’t have as much access to my electronics. I spend more time outside, I read and write, and deepen my relationship with myself. I am living on a limited budget and have limited space, and I am surviving. There are times I actually feel like I am thriving.

When I finally committed to my dream of traveling across the United States, I was ready for a challenge because as time went on, I stopped buying into what I was told my life should be like. I wanted to live minimally. I wanted to be able to travel full-time. I wanted to live among nature and keep things simple. The things I started to want the most had nothing to do with money or material things.

I still have three months left before I head back to Oregon to reconnect to the place I love. I have no idea how I will evolve, but I know in this very moment my new skin is growing and waiting to shed.

Laporte, B. (n.d.). Caterpillar instars. Backyard Nature.

Sachs, S. (n.d.). Metamorphosis. Butterfly School.


50K trail race at Rockburn Branch Park.

You can do all the training in the world, but nothing prepares the mind for a longer race.

I have trained my body to be able to run 50K trail races. The one thing I was not prepared for was the journey my mind would go on during the races. I have heard so many runners before me say, “Running ultra-marathons is 90% mental.” I acknowledged this, but I didn’t really digest it until I experienced it.

At this point in my running journey, I have ran 33 half-marathons, three marathons, and two 50K races. Last Sunday I ran my second 50K; this time it was in Maryland. From my limited experience, I knew along the 31+ mile race that I was going to experience a low. It seems to be a natural occurrence once I am out there running for more than five hours.

This race was a 5.19 mile loop that we ran six times. The race wasn’t necessarily difficult. In past races, I have run up mountains and have started races at 10,000 feet of elevation. So this was not the most difficult race I have ever run. It actually had a nice balance of gradual hills and smooth down hills. There were places that the trail was level and felt like an open racetrack.

Before the race began, I stocked my running vest with snacks, water, and my Skrach Labs hydration drink mix. I wanted to run two loops before I stopped at my self-made aid station to refill and refuel. I also wanted to acclimate myself with the course.

At the beginning of the race, it was 25 degrees, and the ground was frozen mud. The course was easy to follow, so I was able to focus more on my running than making sure I wasn’t getting lost. I felt good about my first lap. I loved the way the trail surprised me. Each turn around the corner was a new sight. I loved coming up on a small creek crossing where the trail dipped down, crossed the water, and then rose back up. One section was what I would describe as the haunted woods. The tree branches were bent like crooked witch fingers that reached out intertwining with one another. They created an arched hallway to run through as the trail led me uphill. There was a washed out, rocky section that slowly wove up through the forest. I hopped back and forth over the crevice that ran straight down the middle of the trail.

It was these beautiful discoveries that had me smiling and grateful. Even when I was getting towards the end of the loop and the trail turned into a swamp, I gingerly found the non-muddiest route to pass through.

As I crossed over the timing mat to mark my first loop, I was happy with my time. I still had enough fuel to make it another loop without stopping so I continued on. The second loop continued much like the first. The trail was still hard and frozen, so the mud was crunchy and rigid. There were sections I was looking forward to, and I really began to understand the trail and her nuances. During the second loop, a hawk squawked and flew overhead disappearing into the shadows of the bare trees. It was a greeting from Mother Nature herself.

As I was nearing the end of the second loop, I was running out of fuel, and I was starting to crave my salmon jerky and something more substantial to eat. After I crossed the timing mat, I pulled over like a race car driver into a pit stop. I had all my goodies set up and ready to go. I refilled my bottles with water and my sports hydration drink mix, and I grabbed some additional food which included my salmon jerky and pretzels.

After I was stocked up, I started the third loop. Nothing much had changed on the third loop except it began to warm up, so the hard, crunchy mud began to soften and turn to mush. I also begin to walk for the first time in the race, but I still felt strong physically and mentally. I had no plans to stop again at my aid station until after the fourth lap, but I started to feel a blister forming on my foot, so I decided it would be good to stop to get some moleskin.

I finished an uneventful third loop and stopped by my bag. I quickly took my shoe off and put the moleskin over the blister that was starting to rub. It was at this moment I started to have my first doubts. Regardless of what my mind started saying, I begin my fourth lap. I spent the whole fourth lap alone except when I slid and fell on a muddy turn when a faster runner was running by. He was kind enough to stop his fast paced run to check on me. I waved him on and pulled myself back up to continue the run. From mile 15 to 19, I experienced one of the worst times I ever had during a race.

As I mentioned before, I am used to dealing with mental lows in a race. I have had them many times before. However, the lows usually last for a mile or two. Maybe up to 20 minutes and then it drifts away. I will experience a few of those moments throughout a race. This time the low lasted for four miles straight. I had never experienced a dark patch for that long during a race, but for some reason in this race, I only had the one longer low point. During ultra-marathons, I already feel vulnerable and exposed. It seems the negativity knows this and tries to pounce. While I was grateful I only had to deal with one low moment, it was a new experience to have to survive 50 minutes of negative self-talk and anger.

My thoughts started to run rampant. I became angry. I really wanted to quit the race. I began to doubt why I was even running. I found myself swearing under my breath as I tried to navigate the now overly muddy trails. With every slip and slide, a “fuck” escaped between my lips, and then “shit” was spat out, followed by a forceful “damn.” There were also two races being ran: one was an individual 50K race, and the other was a relay team 50K. With the 50K relay team, most runners were running one 5.19 mile loop as opposed to six. As I angrily drudged along, cheerful, fresh, happy runners in clean, sequined skirts said, “Great job runner” as they passed by me. They continued on laughing in their conversation. I hate to admit this, but I wanted to push them all down in the mud. I felt so much anger boiling up. I was mad I was running the race. I was mad at how happy and chipper the relay runners were. I was mad at myself, and I started to doubt my life decisions. I felt like Pig-Pen from Peanuts, except I wasn’t surrounded in filth, I was engulfed in anger. I told myself I was going to quit the “fucking stupid ass race,” and “what the fuck was I doing anyways.”

Somehow in this melodramatic, yet real moment, I had a little clarity. Intuitively I knew if I could just make it through this fourth loop I would be okay. The fourth loop just felt like no-man’s land. I was too far along to still feel fresh and excited, but I was still too far from the end to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was going to have to gut out that fourth loop.

About a mile before the fourth loop was about to end, I felt the angry cloud lifting. I was able to coax myself to finish the last mile and make it to my aid station.

I felt relieved. I had been caged in my own negative mindset, and I hid the key from myself. When I finally broke free, all I could feel was relief. I restocked and refueled my running vest, and I started out on my fifth loop. On the fifth loop, the temperature was finally over 40 degrees, and the sun began to dry out the muddy trail. I laughed to myself because I had been out there so long I saw the trail turn from hard and frozen to slippery and mushy to compact and dry. I experienced the whole trail cycle in one day and on one run.

By now, I knew I could run two loops. I had survived the fourth loop of nothingness, and I knew it would only improve from this point. With about 2.5 miles left in the fifth loop, a relay runner decided to run with me. At this point, I no longer hated people, and I wanted to give the woman a hug. I might have actually told her I loved her as well. It was so nice to have company. She kept me running as she told stories about her daughter and her job. I just blindly followed her and openly listened. Even when she picked the pace up faster than I really wanted to go at that moment, I just tailed behind her. As we crossed the timing mat to mark the end of my fifth loop, I reached out and put my hand on her shoulder and told her how much it meant to me that she ran with me.

At that point, I had one loop left. I didn’t stop at my aid station, and I just started right into the final loop.

During the sixth lap, two other individual 50K runners met up with me. They both passed me, but we were still all in the same vicinity. I could see their bobbing bodies moving along the trail. I had another hawk fly in front of me then weave through the trees, and a drum line of woodpeckers banged on tree trunks as I made my way through the forest. I felt my energy rise. All of a sudden around mile 28 I decided I was ready to go. All I could think about was my dog back at my travel trailer. I wanted nothing more than to be curled up in the bed with her. So I ran. I ran up the hills, I ran down the hills, I ran past the two runners who had passed me earlier, I ran through the remaining mud pits, and I didn’t stop. I watched my watch change from 28 miles to 29 miles to 30 miles, and I kept running. When I saw the finish line I couldn’t believe it. 7 hours, 5 minutes, and 21 seconds after I started this 50K trail race, I was done.

As I look back, I am so glad I finished the race. I don’t know if that fact was ever in doubt, but I was still happy and proud to have completed a race, of a half-marathon or longer, in my 26th state. I was proud that I overcame my own mental state. It is like playing a game of chicken but with myself. In the moment, I am never quite sure which side of me will win out. The negative, dark voice is loud and convincing. However, some part of me hangs on and reminds me that it is only temporary. It is free therapy.

Out on the trails, I meet the demons of my own making. I am forced to see them and deal with them because there are no distractions and there is nowhere to hide.

Invisible Moon

Home Among the Woods with a leafy dance floor

When I started out on my journey 5 months ago, I wasn’t sure where I would be going or where I would be staying. I didn’t have a set game plan except for the cities I needed to be in to run my races. Now that I have a few months under my belt, I have experienced different places that I have called my temporary home.

I have stayed in RV parks with high quality amenities with access to electricity, water, and sewage. I have stayed in state park and national park campgrounds with more humble amenities surrounded by Mother Nature’s overwhelming beauty. I have set up camp in my friends’ driveways getting a taste of having human neighbors again. Lastly, I have boondocked. I have traveled down rugged, one-way forest roads with no connection to the outside world just to sleep under the cover of towering trees.

On my travels, I discovered a Wildlife Management Area that allowed camping that was along the route I was driving in Georgia. My dog and I turned down the dirt road. This dirt road was mixed with sand, hard-packed dirt, and mud. The potholes cupped the rain water as I weaved left and right through the landmines. About two miles in, we found the rustic campsites. Besides one other camper down the road, we were the only inhabitants in the woods. We (the “we” is always my dog and I) backed the trailer into a small clearing in the trees and set up our home. We still had a few hours before the night consumed the sun, and on this night it was a new moon. 

I love working with the phases of the moon. It is such a beautiful way to join the ebb and flow of nature and join her on her cycles. With every full moon, it is a time for release. With every new moon, it is a time for manifesting. For the full moon, I light a white candle, and for the new moon, I light a black candle. I have my moon journal where I document what I want to release and manifest. It allows me to focus on what is no longer serving me, and it also allows me to focus on what I wish to bring into my life. I also like to pull a Sacred Rebels Oracle card which gives me a theme to focus on for the two weeks until the next major moon phase. I pulled the “Trust Yourself” card: a beautiful, brilliantly-colored card with a young woman’s head surrounded by an array of animals. In that moment, I felt empowered to do just that. 

As the evening welcomed the new moon, I was ignited. The fresh air was like a natural drug. My pupils dilated. I needed to move; my body needed to expel electricity. The clearing in the woods became my personal club as dusk started to settle. I put my headphones in, started the music, and danced on the fallen leaves that created a makeshift dance floor. I closed my eyes as the new moon energy pulsed as loudly as the music in my ears. I spun around trees. “I’ve been on my own for long enough/Maybe you can show me how to love, maybe.” I whirled among tree stumps and fallen branches letting my feet be guided by the beats. “Sin City’s cold and empty/No one’s around to judge me.” My hands waved in the air like casting spells on the night. “I said, ooh, I’m drowning in the night/Oh, when I’m like this, you’re the one I trust.”

I stayed outside dancing until I could barely see the shapes of nature. The blackness engulfed the surroundings blending us into one.


Sunset views with the moon rising at High View Campground in Texas

It was only about six years ago when I realized things didn’t have to be either/or. More specifically, two emotions could hold the same place in my body at the same time. At the time of this lesson, I wasn’t even sure if I was able to feel or recognize one emotion. As I learned to tune in, I realized my body had a lot to say if I would listen. I became like a detective picking up clues and hints to what I was feeling and what it meant. I was inquisitive and began asking questions.

Now, years later, I find myself on the biggest adventure of my life. I am three months into living on the road in my 17 foot travel trailer. I am currently 3,000 miles from home on the beach in Jacksonville, Florida. Every day I find myself conflicted with opposite emotions. This adventure is one of the biggest risks I have embarked upon in my whole life. Even three months later, I feel like I am in a dream. Even more so, it feels like my body is present, but it doesn’t feel real. Mixed with this is the fear and disbelief I am here. 

I feel like my mind and body have not caught up with where I am on my journey. The beauty is I am taking a risk and putting myself out there even in the face of fear. When I allow these travels and beautiful moments to penetrate my fear, I am met with the most priceless gifts of nature.

Every single state I have visited has opened its arms like the bloom of a flower. Nature opening its petals one at a time letting me peek at the magic inside. It is my own private invitation where I am the guest of honor.

Early one morning, I happened upon dolphins swimming in a bay in Florida. Kayaking on a river in central Alabama I watched a heron hunting. She dove her head down deep and pulled out her hard earned prize: a fish that weighed several pounds. Her chest feathers glistened with beads of water and hung down like blue and white locks of hair. On the same river, I watched as hundreds of bait fish launched themselves out of the water creating ripples as they splashed back down like drops of rain. On the coast of Alabama, I went out walking hoping to find an alligator; I had never seen one in the wild in the light of day. I actually saw several. One smaller alligator was submerged in the creek with his eyes perched on the water’s surface. The next alligator I saw was on the bank across from me sunbathing on the mud. The third alligator I saw was a local celebrity, and her name was Lefty. I was also lucky enough to see of one of Lefty’s babies orbiting her like a planet around the sun. Every morning in Texas, I watched an egret walk like an Egyptian through the swampy water just yards from my trailer as she looked for breakfast. At night, the glowing eyes of an alligator stared from the banks keeping a watchful eye. I have seen sunsets all along the southern coast that rival the color of any crayon. I have seen the ocean from Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida. I have seen the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. In Texas, the waves were warm and inviting. In Alabama, the sand was fine and white and as the sun set the beach glowed pink. In Mississippi the water was as calm as a lake on a windless day. In Florida, the Atlantic Ocean waves have been cold, white, and mushy.

I find myself in awe. It seems unbelievable and unreal. Is this really happening? Am I on this beautiful adventure? Have I really left my home and sold all my belongings to be on this adventure? This adventure which has no plan? This adventure which has no set end? This adventure that has been throwing gifts at my feet every single day. All the while, I am still scared shitless. I am stunned in awe and frozen in fear. At any moment, one thing could go wrong, and some things have gone wrong. At any moment, everything can feel just right.

Then I remember back to six years ago. I remember how I wasn’t sure how to feel. I was out of touch with my body and emotions. It was like I was blocking out all the pain and beauty in my life. I filtered my experiences. I tried blocking out the realization that both my parents were dying of cancer. I blocked out the pain of being in a relationship where I wasn’t a priority. There is no way to just block out pain though. I blocked out beauty and joy too. I could never fully be present in a moment that just seemed perfect. I blocked out the love of my friends who supported me. I was always protecting myself from taking in too many emotions. Then, I started to learn to connect with the messages I was receiving from my own body; I stopped trying to protect myself.

I began to reconnect with joy, anger, pain, happiness, bliss, excitement, sadness, loneliness, pride, and every other emotion I tried to temper in the past. When I started to open myself up to all the emotions, I began having opposing emotions at the same time. I felt gratitude and sadness when I lost my mom. I was so grateful she found sobriety, and we reconnected at a deep level, but I was overcome with sadness that we didn’t get more time together. I felt relief and sadness when I left a man who I was living with who didn’t treat me with respect. I felt happiness and gratitude for the love and support of my friends, but I felt loneliness like a shadow lurking. 

Now, I am in this present moment. I am experiencing one of the most beautiful, adventurous, and scariest moments of my life: an experience that can go so right or so wrong at any moment. I don’t want to dilute my experiences. I don’t want to filter my experiences through the lens of protection. I want to feel every single second on this journey. I want to be present: body, mind and soul in every moment. Fear is a natural response, and it can keep us safe from danger. However, I want to continue to fight against the fear that tries to protect me from the beauty, and pain, of all I can experience and learn on this unknown journey.

The Places I Will Go

After my half-marathon race in Fayetteville, Arkansas

Runners were scattered like dice on a game board. We were waiting to start our half-marathon race at 6:30 am. The sky was dark anticipating the arrival of the sun. The air was cool, and I could still feel its bite through my mask.

As the seconds ticked closer to our start time, I turned my headlamp on as a circle of light unfolded on the ground in front of me. Our small group crossed the two mats that started our race time, and we were off into the night.

It wasn’t long before I was running alone. I watched the lights of the runners ahead of me fade into the night. It isn’t often I run in the dark, but I thought to myself I needed to do it more often. It was quiet except for the crinkling sound of dried fall leaves. The trail wrapped around the lake and the waxing gibbous moon highlighted the ripples on the surface of the water.

My mind took turns cycling between silence and random thoughts of failed love, death of loved ones, and even a reel of mistakes I had made in my life. With each foot strike, my thoughts jumped along like a needle on a record.

Running is therapy for me, but therapy isn’t always a pleasant experience; however the processing of feelings, thoughts, and emotions while running always makes me feel lighter.

My thoughts silenced as I noticed the embellishment of shimmering turquoise in the grass. The light of my headlamp reflected off the eyes of spiders tucked into the dewy grass.

Since all the runners were scattered out along the course, and there were no volunteers, the trail and I were able to get to know one another intimately.

I began a steady incline between the trees that twisted like a curvy road around a cliff side. One of the beautiful things about races in new places is not being familiar with the course. It can be unsettling because of the unknown, but there is excitement with every mile I run. Along the way, I learned this trail’s body: the curves, the dips, the straightaways. The trail’s adornments were colorful trees paying homage to fall, the fallen dried leaves that bowed down to the trail, and the lake that opened up to the horizon.

The sky began to turn a muted dusty pink, and the birds reacted to the sun’s arrival. The quiet woods became alive with the chatter of birds. A raccoon even popped out from the woods looking surprised to see me as he disappeared back into the curtain of grass.

I spent the last three miles of the race pushing myself. Whenever I get to mile 10 in a half-marathon, I tell myself I only have a 5K left, and I can do a 5K no problem. So I turned up the pace, and I pushed myself across the finish line where my name rang out from the PA system. “Jennie is coming in completing her half-marathon.”

I felt a sense of peace and accomplishment. I had never been to Arkansas before, and after completing this race it was my 31st half-marathon in my 22nd state. I have been on the road for 29 days now with my 17 foot travel trailer. I have run training runs and races in places I have never seen before or heard of. I have been down rocky trails, dusty gravel roads, lakeside greenways, and empty streets.

My legs are taking me places I have never been, and I can’t wait to see where they take me next.

A Moment at a Time

Camping down a red dirt road in an Oregon National Forest.

I have always been the type to push my boundaries and limits. However, I walk up to that boundary line shaking in fear; sometimes I spend days, months, or years standing at that boundary, but then something happens.

I cross it.

This current boundary I have crossed has taken me years to tiptoe across.

When my parents both passed away in 2014, I saw time through a new lens: there wasn’t enough of it. It couldn’t be dismissed or squandered. I spent time traveling and experiencing life even more than I had been. I also decided I wanted to travel across the country in a camper.

Not that I forgot the lessons I learned from my parents’ deaths, but I fell back into convention. It always seems so easy to do: to fall back in line with the status quo.

In 2018, I even quit the job I was working, which was with the TRiO program at a local high school. I told my boss I was leaving my job because I was buying a camper, and I was going to travel the states.

While I had every intention to back that talk up with action, I didn’t. I was scared. I thought I was ready, but I wasn’t. So instead, I took time off work to travel some more, and I stayed in my comfort zone.

After a few months of traveling, I started looking for a new job. I became a high school English teacher. While I loved the community, I loved the small school, and I loved the kids, it just wasn’t right. But I don’t think anything was going to be right because I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to. I started getting this nagging feeling. I had to travel the states in camper. I needed to experience the open road and simplicity.

This time when I turned my notice in at my job, I was ready to take my dreams seriously, and I did.

I was excited but scared shitless. In fact, I am two weeks in on the road, and I am still excited and scared shitless.

I have gotten rid of my house I was renting, and I have gotten rid of 90% of the things I own. I have no plan except for this moment. I have no idea what I will do, where I will live or where I will be in one year. For now, I am blindly following my path.

I still doubt myself; I still doubt my decision. Then I feel this intense freedom; I feel the joy that boils up when I am in a new place.

I am on the road with my Subaru, my kayak, my travel trailer and my dog. (This might be a progressive country song in the making). In two weeks, I have experienced so many emotions. I have had these beautiful experiences. I have felt alone. I have felt like the whole world is mine, and we keep sharing secrets. I have felt frustration; I felt elation. I have thought, “What the hell am I doing?” Followed by, “This is exactly what I should be doing!” Things are simple, but nothing is easy.

In two weeks, I lost the handle that lowers my stabilizers on my trailer. I lost the vent cover to the back of my refrigerator somewhere between Nebraska and Kansas. I have had to beg and plead with RV repair shops to fix my 7-prong plug on my trailer. I broke the breakaway cable on my trailer. I drove through 65 mph winds as my car and trailer wiggled like a squirmy puppy. I have had to wash my clothes at laundromats. If I get to take a shower, I have to wait 30 minutes for the water to heat up. I live in a 17 foot space. I experienced a 28 degree night in the middle of a Wal-Mart parking lot. I carry all the burdens of decision making and handling problems when they arise alone.

It sounds like I might be whining or complaining, but then there is the other side of things. In two weeks, I have experienced freedom and beauty; I have experienced the beauty in freedom. My dog and I sat alone atop sand dunes in Idaho as the sun tucked behind the horizon as the cooling sand soothed our skin. Coyotes sang and their voices echoed through the silence. I ran on riverside trails that meandered through the Utah wilderness with not one human in sight. Every morning in Utah I saw the same deer family of four. I kayaked through the Flaming Gorge as the sun rose high above the red rocks; the rocks jagged edges highlighted by the rays of light. I drove on miles and miles of gravel roads in Kansas while pale blue skies kissed the golden crops. I ran a half-marathon in Marysville, Kansas which was my 30th half-marathon, and my 21st state I have ran a race in.

I still have no idea what I am doing, but I feel myself learning; I feel myself expanding. The open road only accepts patience and appreciation. I have to be willing to roll with whatever I am presented with each day. Being on the road forces me to be present in every moment.

Each morning my eyes open to whatever the day may bring, and no day is the same.


consent pic

I have been complacent. It might even be more accurate to say I have the benefit of being complacent, but it is starting to feel like downright negligence.

I don’t want to speak for other people or share others’ stories because they are not mine. What I want to do is be a witness and share my own stories I have seen and heard. My silence feels like consent, and the stories I am about to share I most certainly do not agree with which is why it is time they are shared. I can’t ignore or deny they have happened.

I was told from the time I was old enough to like boys and have crushes that I would not be allowed to bring a black man home.  If I dated a black man, I would be disowned. I never gave it much thought because when I was in junior high, my school didn’t have any black students, and there were zero black families in my section of the city even though I lived less than 20 minutes from Chicago. Once I reached high school, which I attended in a small Southern Tennessee town, I thought all high school boys were beneath me, I knew there was more to life than immature high school boys, and so I really didn’t date as much.

When I started 9th grade at South Junior High School in Cowan, TN, I was met by the white unwelcoming committee. Within the first week of school, I had a band of five white male classmates inform me they were staging a walk-out because our school was not segregated, and they didn’t want black students there. (I would love to say that I was in junior high 50 years ago but unfortunately this incident happened in 1993). They wanted to know if I was in. I declined.

Less than a few weeks later, I found myself cornered in the girls’ locker room by Jill, Carrie and Mandy. This white girl trio decided they wanted to gang up on me and pick a fight. I did nothing to instigate this, yet I was forced to deal with it. Before things fully escalated, two other girls, Jessica and Tasha, came over and intercepted the unwelcoming committee.

Jessica calmly exclaimed, “Leave her alone! She didn’t do shit to you!” as Tasha silently stood next to her in support.

The three girls just wandered off back to their gym lockers throwing glances at me over their shoulders.

Jessica and Tasha just happened to be black. After that moment, Jessica also invited me to eat lunch at her table. I happily sat at the “black” table because the races did eat at separate tables for the most part. It felt nice to be accepted and not be on guard every moment of the day. I spent my lunch times laughing and joking, talking about our similar tastes in music, and also answering a lot of questions about where I came from. However, this kind gesture by Jessica brought more scrutiny upon me. There were whispers around school that I was a “N” lover. I became labeled and branded. What pissed me off the most wasn’t even being labeled, it was that the same white people who discarded me and threatened me felt like they had the right to judge who I associated with.

High school showed me how much racism and judgment was still alive. It was hot and rampant like a fire through a dry thicket. I even had a friend in high school whose dad was in prison for murdering a black man because he happened to be black in the wrong place.

My ignorance and refusal to fully see this entire picture hit an apex my senior year of high school. Even reflecting on this event affects me on a deeper level today. I had three friends: Eric, Jonathan and Jonathon. Jonathan with an “a” was black, and the rest of us were white. Eric worked at a pizza joint up on the “mountain” in Monteagle. After school one day, the “Jons” and I were riding around town together listening to music and hanging out. I had the great idea to go visit Eric at work. In the past, I had surprised and harassed him at his work and also enjoyed his cheesy craft. I started to convince the “Jons” of my great idea. Jonathan with no hesitation refused to go. I had no idea why. (I only lived in this area for a few years, so I wasn’t as aware of the unwritten rules and threats that were a part of the town history). I continued to try to convince him unaware of the reason why.

Finally Jonathan said, “Black people aren’t allowed in Monteagle.”

This response made zero sense to me.

I replied, “What? What do you mean black people aren’t allowed in Monteagle?”

He repeated, “Black people aren’t allowed in Monteagle. We know not to go up there. We will be killed.”

I really could not understand this. Surely that could not happen. That wasn’t legal!

I found myself getting riled up, “Fuck those redneck assholes! You will be with me. I don’t give a shit what they think.”

I suppose my outrage and dismissal of the unwritten rules seemed valiant at the time, but in reflection, what Jonathan was saying was something I could not fully understand. Monteagle was the city where my friend’s father murdered a black man. No black people lived in Monteagle, but more accurately, no black people were allowed to live up there. There were city lines that were not allowed to be crossed. While I was unafraid to confront this hatred head on, I had nothing to lose, and I was quite naive; it wasn’t my life on the line or my life to lose. While my 17-year-old intentions were good, to think I could stop hundreds of years of racism by dragging my black friend to a pizza place was misguided and dangerous.

The most difficult examples for me to write about are the familial ones. Before I have even committed these words to paper, I feel shame pulsing through my body. But if I can’t admit these were things I was told, then there is no way to absolve them. White people claim racism is dead, and black people can’t let go of the past, but it is hard to let go of a past that is still our present and our future.

I was often told black people were lazy, black people were taking jobs from white people, and not only were black people taking jobs from white people but they didn’t deserve these jobs. My family referred to black people as animals and more specifically monkeys. They laughed at the cartoons drawn of Michelle Obama being portrayed as a monkey. When politics came up in our family, I was always chastised. I never hesitated voting for Barack Obama; he was the best candidate who represented my beliefs. Several of my family members whose political beliefs were middle of the road, but leaned more towards the Democratic side, refused to vote for a black man even though in the previous elections these family members had voted for Bill Clinton, Al Gore and John Kerry. I suppose it was easier to be a Democrat when older white men were the face of the party.

At family gatherings, which usually only happened a few times a year, I found myself constantly being defensive and appalled. We never had one family gathering where other races were not brought up. Like most other families on Thanksgiving, we watched all three NFL football games, and our days were filled with food, football, and family. Like clockwork, my family began talking in their idea of a stereotypical black voice when a black player scored a touchdown, and they strutted around the coffee table mocking the black players. They made fun of the way the black players looked focusing on their noses, gums, teeth and skin color. If any white player made a catch or had a tackle, it had to be noted that the player was white. This always devolved into how there aren’t enough white players in the NFL.

For years, I just quietly sat listening to this around me. Never agreeing and never participating, but privately seething and disgusted. As I became older and found my voice, I began to ask my family to not talk this way around me. I told them I was offended, and I told them it bothered me. I knew I couldn’t change their way of thinking, but I hoped they could respect me enough to not do it in front of me especially since we only saw each other two times a year. My family decided to not respect me or my beliefs, and they most certainly didn’t respect black people.

I had a choice at this point. I tried to be silent, but it made me feel compliant. I tried to speak my truth over and over again, and I was dismissed. The only thing I had left was to boycott Thanksgiving, and I did. I decided to go to another friend’s house and celebrate Thanksgiving with her, her family and her in-laws. My family was outraged, but I felt I was left no choice.

It would make this all a lot easier if my family was an outlier. I wish I could say my family was the only racist family, but I know it’s not true. That’s what makes this issue so prevalent. What is even sadder and maybe the biggest problem of all is my family didn’t think they were being racist.

Racism and the killing of black people at the hands of white people is a real problem. White ego and fear is still taking precedence over black injustices and murder. It has not only been this hellish week, but for as long as I have noticed that racism was still a problem in our “free and equal” country of the United States, and I can’t be quiet. I can’t idly sit waiting for old systems to change.

One way I have tried to make change is through teaching. I have taught at the college and high school levels for over 11 years. It has always been a part of my teaching curriculum to introduce multi-cultural literature. It is not right for me to speak on another race’s or another ethnicity’s behalf, but I can use literature to help facilitate discussions. In my classes, I have relied on many different short stories, essays, and novels. The ones that seem to stir up the most discussions, feelings, and outrage are Brent Staples’ essay, “Black Men and Public Space,” Peggy McIntosh’s essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” and the novel “A Lesson Before Dying” by Ernest Gaines.

I want to talk about these pieces of literature in my classroom and the discussions they provoke because I continue to see the resistance of recognizing the injustices black people face. I will say more than 75% of the students are open to reading these pieces of literature. They are thoughtful, concerned, and open-minded; however, that doesn’t represent the other 25% of the students. The other 25% of students bubble up with anger.

They make exclamations of, “Racism is dead,” “I am tired of hearing about this,” and “Black people need to get over it.”

I watch students shut down as soon as the word race is mentioned, putting up walls and defenses. I have watched students try to dismantle the words on the pages I make them read. I have had students lash out in essays I made them write. I hear stories of how they too have encountered hardships, but they have overcome them; all it takes is hard work. As if all black people need to do is stop complaining and work harder. There is no recognition of deep, systematic problems in our education, healthcare, law enforcement and prison system, nutrition, housing, and many more. It goes beyond not wanting to recognize it; it is the refusal of wanting to learn about it and becoming educated on how our country is set up. Systems are in place to keep the white status quo.

I bring this point up because I see the same issues of racism still being bred in our youth. I see this problem; I hear this problem. I can’t pretend racism doesn’t exist because I hear white students still perpetuating it and supporting it even if it is unknowingly. However, not knowing is not an excuse and doesn’t mean racism just disappears because of the refusal to see it.

With every unjustified black person’s death that happens, I feel more helpless. Knowing that I feel helpless to change rigged systems that keep black people from achieving the same things that I can more easily as a white woman is overwhelming. But that’s exactly it; I get that luxury to hide away. I can tune out the world and forget for a time that racism is happening because I don’t have to deal with it personally. It is not that I don’t care because I do, but it feels daunting.

Black people keep speaking about their injustices, yet some white people still want to deny it. I think it is important to support others who face injustices that are talking to deaf ears especially when they are right. That is what I am trying to do: listen and support. I have been thoughtfully thinking about how I want to personally address this issue of racism and police brutality that plagues America. I feel I have the most power with my written words.

I have begun writing to my state’s representatives. I don’t feel I can make changes without the people who represent my county and state. I want my representatives to know the issues that matter to me. I want my representatives to know that real change needs to happen. I want my representatives to know that black lives matter to me.

I have wanted to write this blog as well, but I have been avoiding it. It hurts me and makes me feel shame to admit that white people behave like this. But my hurt and shame is nothing in comparison to the senseless loss of black lives of my fellow Americans who have the right to same things I do. My whole purpose in writing this blog is recognition: recognition that racism is not dead. Equality and equity are catchphrases with no real substance. I wanted to share these stories that make me feel shame because I disagree with the white people who want to pretend that racism doesn’t exist. I disagree with the white people who promote, share, and teach racism. I just want the white people who refuse to acknowledge racism and the systems in place to keep the white status quo to know that I don’t agree with them; I do not consent. I also wanted to encourage others who do want and wish for change to find their own ways of doing so.

This shouldn’t just be a “black problem;” this is an “American problem.”

The Gentoos

The zodiac boat pushed through thick slush and ice chunks as we made our way through the Antarctic Ocean. The air was crisp and silent except for the ice crackling and snapping against the rubber boat as we got closer to the shore. The landscape was covered in white with gray rocks peeking out from under the innocent blanket of snow. The only footprints seen were the “penguin highways.” These were trails penguins made from walking them so much. They essentially create their own highways to totter in single file lines on.

The black tuxedos of the Gentoo penguins stood out against the white snowy backdrop. Some penguins appeared dead; they were draped across the snow on their bellies unmoving. They were actually molting, and during that time, they fast and conserve all their energy. Some groomed themselves with their bills in the shallow waters and on the shore. Others were slowly meandering about with their flippers pulled back behind them and their chests puffed out.  The quickest moving penguins were in the water looking like miniature porpoises as they dove under water and broke the surface in rhythmic arches.

I sat on the edge of the boat barely blinking. The cold air made my eyes water making it seem even more dream-like and mystical. When we arrived to shore, the handful of people I rode on the zodiac with decided to hike to the highest peak on land. I stayed behind wanting to experience the penguins by myself. I didn’t want to intrude, so I found a comfy rock at a safe distance away from the colony of penguins. I was close enough to see the water shimmering off their feathers, but far enough away to not let my presence impact them.

I watched this penguin playground for almost 20 minutes when one penguin walked over to me and stopped five feet away. I froze paralyzed with joy. My mouth fell open slightly like an ajar door, as a smile cracked through on my lips. The only other time I caught a glimpse of a penguin was when I was kayaking in New Zealand, and the Korora penguin zipped through the Marlborough Sound waters past my boat.  Now, I was face to face with a wild penguin as I sat on the shores of Antarctica. I took in every detail of this Gentoo as he invited me into his world.

I always imagined penguins to be smooth like black onyx, but I was wrong. This Gentoo was fluffy. I watched him run his bright orange bill, outlined in black, all across the damp feathers on his body. He stood just over two feet tall balanced on two orange webbed feet with black claws. His ankles were wrinkled liked sagged, aging skin. The white feathers above his eyes looked like a maniacal unibrow, and he had a tuft of longer black feathers sprouting out for a tail.

I took a few pictures and made a quick video, and then I sat with the penguin one on one. I wanted to be fully present in this moment with nothing between us but a few feet of distance and air. I became absorbed in the moment. I felt the air surrounding me like a cool cocoon; my arm hair rose with excitement; a smile etched on my face. I felt a surge of gratitude hit like a rogue wave. I couldn’t believe I was being allowed to have this experience. My eyes reacted to this rush of emotion, and I felt tears dripping like salt water off the penguin’s back.

Every second was a revelation, and in that moment I felt what mattered.

Finding Home (Part Four)

Astoria(Home: Astoria, Oregon)

It hasn’t been uncommon throughout my life for me to doubt myself. My insides will be screaming with wants and needs, pulling on the shirttails of my heart. Yet I ignore the inner pangs and internal beggings wanting me to listen. Listen to what I really want, to what my soul wants, and to listen to my own destiny. For so long, I stuffed down those longings like cramming clothes in a dirty hamper. And old habits tend to cling; they burrow their claws deep, grasping to keep hold.

Even after procuring my apartment in Oregon, I still knew I could withdraw my offer and not move. I don’t think I really thought of that as an option, but I also couldn’t believe I was going to pack up my life, leave my boyfriend, and drive almost 1,400 miles to Oregon with just me, my dog, my Subaru and a small U-Haul in tow. I now had two weeks to follow through on one of the biggest decisions of my life.

I had decided not to tell my boyfriend of my plans. He later would call me a coward, but at the time I saw it more as protection. A person can only share so much of herself, and not be received, understood or loved, before she closes off. I was officially closed like a door tucked tightly in its frame. I didn’t want to have any more discussions. I didn’t want to share my plans, my dreams, or the next stage of my life. I felt like a mother protecting her young.

I secured a U-Haul for 10 am on October 19th. I spent the next two weeks going through “our” stuff, “my” stuff, just accumulations of stuff. I decided to leave almost everything behind. Most things felt tainted or infected. So I took time to organize those items I did want. I met with the two friends I had made while living in Colorado, one was a previous student and one was a fellow teacher, and I told them of my plans and said my good-byes.

The doubts that had been lingering like storm clouds continued to drift away. My boyfriend had progressively grown reticent. He continued to lie and hide truths from me. He continued to spend his time wrapped in his own personal world. Even if I didn’t have every inch of my body and soul telling me Oregon was where I needed to be on my own, our relationship had run its course regardless. So I kept my focus on what I knew was right for me.

October 19th arrived, and my boyfriend left for work. It was strange saying good-bye to someone I had spent almost two years with knowing I would never see him again. But I was saying good-bye to my whole past, to an outdated way of being. I had found the perfect spot in Astoria, Oregon surrounded by forests, trails, rivers, the Pacific Ocean, artists, community, and a sense of belonging. It was the place I needed to develop my relationship with self.

As soon as my boyfriend left, I went to pick up my 4×8 U-Haul trailer.  I arrived back home and nervously loaded my Subaru. The passenger seat was flooded with my loose clothes on hangers. The backseat was set up for the dog: a pillow, a blanket, and toys; I also had my peace lily plant named Baps. I was given this peace lily at my mom’s memorial service. I named her Baps after my mom’s initials (Beverly Ann Passero). Baps had moved from Tennessee to Colorado with me, and she was now about to join me on the next journey of my life. Boxes of my books and shoes filled the rest of the car. My kayak was loaded on top of my car. The U-Haul had my bike, more clothes and shoes, artwork, more boxes of books, outdoor gear, and a few memories from the past.

Before I drove away, I sat in my car. I looked in my rearview mirror as the U-Haul tagged along. My heart palpitated like rocks skipping over a lake’s surface. I felt the ripples through my body as I drove away.

I have been in Oregon for almost 4 years now. I am still in Astoria in my same purple Victorian home. I continue to gaze at the beauty of the Columbia River. The tree-lined shore of Washington State greets me every morning as I pull the shades up. As I get into my car, I gaze at my license plate and see “Oregon” on the front plate with the row of Douglas-firs. I am still filled with awe and elation to realize I am here. That license plate is a symbol of answered dreams and a followed destiny. I waited 37 years to feel at home within myself and within a place. Any concerns I may have had about never being able to feel content or whole have subsided.

The daily gratitude I feel to be where I belong has not faded but grown with time.

me hiking

Finding Home (Part Three)

BeachIt was time to see if Oregon was my answer: to truly belonging somewhere and to finding “home.” I needed that place that knew me and accepted me. I wanted to fit neatly and perfectly in the curvature of a place like a jigsaw puzzle piece. I needed to know if Oregon was the home my soul had been longing for. I had not been to Oregon in five years; her beauty, comfort and peace could have all been an illusion. A faux answer for a life I was no longer enjoying in Tennessee or Colorado. I wasn’t sure if I was I on the run. Running away from the skulking shadows, or if I had issues with monotony and routine which wouldn’t allow me to be happy or content anywhere. I needed to know the truth.

I left for a quick five-day trip to Oregon. As the plane landed in Portland, I felt the freedom greet me as the plane wheels met the runway like a firm handshake. I wasn’t sure what my agenda was now that I actually landed in the place whose memory I tucked away like a delicate keepsake.

My mind kept wondering what I was really doing there. I had an apartment in Colorado with a balcony that overlooked Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods, and I had just signed a new one-year lease with my boyfriend. I had a job, and I was teaching English at the local community college. My mind started to second-guess the feelings of my heart. It questioned my undeniable connection I had to Oregon. It tried to talk louder and tried to use its reasoning for me to accept its logic.

But as soon as I was driving on the roads of Oregon again seeing the Douglas Firs for miles, the eagles soaring overhead, and the elk gangs wandering in fields I knew all reasoning was lost. No amount of yelling my mind was doing could outdo what my heart knew. I was home. I was breathing deeper into my belly. My lungs filled with fresh air. I had my driver side window down letting the cool wind whip my ponytailed hair in circles.

I still didn’t know if I was going to go through with my plan. It felt like being in a trance. It was me who was driving, but when I looked at my hands on the steering wheel they felt like they belonged to someone else. This moment had built up in my mind for so long that it felt like a foggy dream. I had two sides to myself. One side was pushing and making all the arrangements for me to get to Oregon, and the other side was trying to hold back being timid and fearful. Was I going to take my dog, pack up what I could fit in my car, and leave everything else behind in Colorado? Was I going to leave my unsatisfying relationship and my boyfriend? Was I really in Oregon right now to decide on which city I wanted to live in and find an apartment to live in?

I had three cities in mind: Portland, Seaside and Astoria. Even though I had Portland as an option, I found myself driving to the coast as my internal compass directed me. The closest I had ever lived to the ocean was 8 hours, and the closest beach was the west coast of Florida. Portland was an amazing city, but it had expanded so much and was like a saturated sponge drowning in water. It was also 90 minutes from the ocean. Seaside was a town of 7,000 people, and Astoria was a town of 10,000 people. The small town feelings seemed like a reprieve for me emotionally and spiritually. I sensed my soul needed the healing energy of the water. It needed the quiet comfort of a small town. I still was nowhere near done processing the death of both my parents, and the last year I spent with my boyfriend unsettled me.

I ended up staying in a hotel in Seaside; it was beautiful to be so close to the ocean, but the town wasn’t fully resonating with me as a place to settle. I really struggled finding any apartments. I found myself driving to Astoria every day to enjoy breakfast, the Columbia River, and the freeing, artsy nature of the town. One morning, I sat at the Blue Scorcher Bakery at the long bar table on a stool staring out the large picture window as I journaled during breakfast. I knew I belonged there. Not only in that moment but in the future.

I started to realize what I was going to have to do. While I felt the tingle of excitement pinging in my stomach, I felt like I was going through the motions of looking for a place to live. Even though I knew this was right, my mind was dreading what it was going to take to get me to Oregon permanently. Old wounds and fears opened as I knew I had to shed what was no longer good for me, what was never good for me. Stepping into who I was and who I had discovered was scary. Announcing to the world, “Here I am!” for the first time ever. That time was quickly approaching, and it began with this choice.

I only had three days to apartment hunt because I arrived in Oregon later on my first day there, and I was leaving in the morning on my last day there. It seemed my apartment hunt was fruitless, demoralizing, and not very synchronous. My mind began to wonder if this was a sign that I needed to accept my life in Colorado, that this was the wrong path for me.

On the second day of hunting, I decided to look at Zillow, and there was a description of an apartment that seemed unique and fitting for me. When I called to inquire about seeing the house, I found out I was in luck. That was the one day they were showing the apartment to prospective tenants.

I arrived to my scheduled appointment time to be met by an old Victorian House built in 1900. The house was divided into a top and bottom. The top half was used for an Airbnb, and the bottom half would be the apartment. The apartment had two bedrooms and one bathroom. It had large picture windows throughout the house, and it overlooked the Columbia River. It had stained glass windows in the doorway of one bedroom, green carpet throughout the house, and gold wallpaper in the living room, and it fit me perfectly. I always wanted to live in a unique house that inspired creativity and wonder. I felt a sense of calm as I walked through each room, and I couldn’t stop smiling.

I didn’t have time to think anymore. It was time to act or neglect my true path. I wasn’t planning on moving until November, if I had the guts to move at all, and it was early October. Part of me just came on the trip to see if Oregon was the same to me as it was 5 years earlier. I half thought it would be a mirage, but it felt like home again.

I thought the process of attaining an apartment would take longer. So I put in my application and expressed my interest in the apartment. The next morning I had a response already. The landlords wanted me to move in, and they wanted the move in date to be 4 days later. They were ready to accept the first month’s rent as well as the security deposit.

And I did it. I still had this battle going on inside, but the momentum was too strong. I signed my lease, I mailed my rent and deposit check to them, and I had the option to move in 4 days.

I started to feel freedom. Through my entire life, I lived for other people. I started living for my parents as a child. Then it transitioned to living for the men I was in relationships with. Once my parents passed away, I didn’t feel like I had to answer to anyone, until I met my boyfriend. I let him dictate a lot of our relationship, and I tried to deny my own feelings out of habit. But as I lived in Colorado, as I continued with therapy and learned to connect with my true self, I started to live and answer to myself.

And now, I only had one option.

Finding Home (Part Two)

gardenofthegods(Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, CO)

By the middle of 2011, my job had become a barred cage. A narcissistic, child-like woman was promoted and had been my boss for about a year. She led people by fear and on the waves of her ever-changing emotions. It was similar to being supervised by a 3-year-old child who needed a nap. If she was having a bad day, then she made sure her employees were having a bad day. If she was in a great mood, then she invited her employees to laugh and joke with her. At one point, we lost close to 20 employees in a month because working for this boss was like being in an abusive relationship. Employees had to walk on tip toes hoping not to step the wrong way in fear of sending the boss into a spiral of anger and abuse. At least half of the employees spent their work days looking for other jobs in hopes of escaping.

It was during this time I planned a week-long birthday vacation. I decided to go to Oregon. I stayed in Portland, and I was going to run a 4th of July half-marathon at Sauvie Island. ( I am in the process of running a half-marathon in every state, and I randomly decided Oregon should be next). When July rolled around, I needed a break from my work, from Tennessee, and the everyday monotony of my life.

While in Oregon, I went to a Blues festival and watched fireworks over the river, I went to local bars and restaurants, I ran my race at Sauvie Island, I went to the coast and played on the beach, I went on hikes and runs, and I did anything else that caught my attention like visiting the vibrant Rose Garden. The summer weather was perfect. It lacked the suffocating heat and humidity of Tennessee. The sun shined every day and the sunlight didn’t fade from the sky until after 10 p.m.

I loved how open Portland and the people were and how beautiful and natural everything was. People were allowed to be exactly who they were. I breathed in the authenticity in the air. I began to shed my own deceitful layers. I rediscovered myself in this city. I had come home to myself. It was as if I had been planted among the rose bushes and stumbled upon myself blooming.

When I went to the coast, Oregon officially had me in her grasp. I love the water, and I especially love the ocean. The closest I had ever lived to the ocean was 8 hours, but I was always drawn to go back to the ocean every year; it was one place I had to go. So to be on the coast, frolicking in frigid waves with rocky shorelines made me realize I didn’t just need to visit the ocean every year, I needed to live close to it. The waves whispered to me, and other times they were screaming, rushing faster towards the shore yelling for me to no longer ignore them and stay. Stay in this magical place. I listened intently. The language they spoke was inviting, it made sense to my confused mind, and it felt right. While I was enjoying the beach, I found my first sand dollar. It was an offering from the ocean herself. An invitation to stay and enjoy all the gifts she had to offer.

On the last day of my trip, I sat high on a hill overlooking Portland. I felt an ache inside. I didn’t want to leave. It wasn’t a typical “oh my vacation is over, and it is time to go back to reality” feeling. It was a deep pain, and I cried. I felt like I was being torn away from the one thing that ever understood me.

While it was still another 5 years before I moved to Oregon, I now had focus. I knew where I was going. I just had no idea the path I was going to be led down to get there.

Over the next 3 years, I did leave my abusive job and embarked on a new career. I lost both of my parents to cancer, and I also fell in love. When my parents passed away, there was nothing tethering me to Tennessee anymore. I had no responsibilities, I was financially secure, and all I saw was the open road. I even told the man I was dating that I was leaving Tennessee as soon as my parents’ house and my house sold. Both of the houses sold within a month of being on the market. I told the man I was with that I was getting out of Tennessee; he was welcome to come with me or stay behind, but I thought he should know because that may affect our relationship. He decided he wanted to move as well.

When the time came to discuss where it was we were moving to, there wasn’t much agreement. I automatically vetoed living in the South. He vetoed the North and the New England area. So we were left with the West. He absolutely refused Oregon. I was disappointed, but I was in love with him and I was just so happy to be getting out of Tennessee. I told him I enjoyed Utah as well, but he seemed to have his mind set on Colorado. Colorado seemed like a pretty amazing place, but I didn’t realize at the time that another “home” was being chosen for me.

Once we settled on moving to Colorado, we had to choose a city. I really was wanting to move to Boulder because I thought the vibe of the city would fit me, but I let my significant other choose Colorado Springs, and so it had been decided.

I moved out to Colorado first, a month before my boyfriend, and got everything set up and settled. I started to feel relief, and I was able to take deeper breaths. I felt the shackles Tennessee had me bound in fall away. Our apartment had views of Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods. The mountains rose up towards the sky; their peaks reaching their jagged fingertips towards the sun. Nature and the outdoors were all around and so easy to access. I had whole trails to myself to run and hike on. There was a great running community and many races to run throughout the state. The weather was my favorite because there were four clear and separate seasons, and I loved being back around snow again. I found a beautiful yoga community, and I started to discover the things I really loved.

But even after being grateful for leaving Tennessee and loving the beauty of Colorado, within 6 months I felt a pang. Oregon was still calling out to me. Her voice was quiet and low, but her whisper spoke to the ears of my heart. I was committed though. I was committed to my boyfriend and to the move I decided to make to Colorado.

As months passed, I was my boyfriend’s insignificant other. He made decisions that suited his needs, we were more like roommates than loving, intimate partners, and I felt awkward and strange in my own home. I was in constant discomfort and neglect. There is nothing lonelier than being alone in a relationship. I could no longer stay where I never belonged in the first place.

Without a fulfilling relationship with my boyfriend or Colorado, I had a decision to make.

Finding Home (Part One)

illinois house  (The house on Clarence Avenue in Berwyn, Illinois)

I didn’t find it until I was 32 years old, but I was 37 years old before I could officially call it my own.

I used to underestimate the idea of home, and never understood its true power.  When I was younger, I didn’t have a choice in where I called home. It was chosen for me by my parents. After my four sets of great-grandparents left Europe, they all eventually settled right outside of Chicago, Illinois, except for one set, my dad’s mother’s parents, who decided on Southern Tennessee. Eventually my dad’s mom met my grandpa, and they moved to Illinois as well, and my grandma left her parents behind in Southern Tennessee. At that point, all my relatives were gathered around Chicago like a winter fire.

The first place I remember as home was an apartment in Berwyn, Illinois. When I was 5 years old, my parents bought our first house on Clarence Avenue in Berwyn. This was the house I grew up in until my parents decided to move when I was 14.

Illinois was the place where I learned about independence. When I was 9 years old, at the start of 4th grade, I no longer had to go to daycare after school or my Grandma Busha’s house for the summer. My parents decided I could start staying home by myself. My school was only two blocks from my house, so it was a quick 5 minute walk. After school I always had some sporting practice or game. I played softball, basketball, and was a cheerleader.

My parents were normally gone for 12 hours a day leaving for work at 6:30 a.m. and returning home again at 6 p.m. I had time to have adventures, play sports, read and write. One of my favorite pastimes was creating song lyrics about my cat Rocky and my dog Lady, singing them into a microphone and recording them on a cassette tape. It was these moments of getting myself to school and home from school, and having free reign to do whatever I wanted when my parents weren’t around that gave me the confidence as an adult to go out on my own. I was also an only child who had a lot of time to myself, so I always enjoyed my own company and doing things on my own.

In the summers, as soon as my parents left for work, I did my chores around the house and ate breakfast, which was normally something along the lines of Cocoa Pebbles, then I would ride my bike to the baseball field at St. Mary of Celle. The kids from the neighborhood and my Little League team would meet and play baseball. We would also meet at Lincoln Junior High School and play basketball on the outdoor courts and 16 inch softball in the open lot next to the school. Some days we mixed it up and went to the Maple Pool to go swimming. Other days we just rode our bikes all over the town.

At that point when I was younger, Illinois fit me perfectly. It was all I had ever known.

The summer before I was starting high school my parents informed me we were moving to Tennessee. Both of my parents wanted a change of pace from the hectic city life of living right outside Chicago. Two years earlier my dad’s parents permanently moved to Tennessee. They had a summer house there, but decided to move full-time once they both retired. My dad thought it sounded like a great idea as well. He would have access to fishing full-time, the drive home from work would be 20 minutes not hours, and nature would be more abundant and accessible.

I see the appeal of the slower-paced life now that I am not 14 years old. Even so, in the 22 years I lived there, Tennessee never felt like home. My parents moved to a small town in Southern Tennessee. The high school started in 10th grade, and there were two junior highs that housed the 7th, 8th and 9th graders. I was greeted at my new junior high school with white students who wanted to stage a walk-out because there were black students at the school. I was also greeted by “mean girls” who hung out in packs, and they seemed to hunt that way.

I will say I learned the most important lesson of my life in Tennessee. When I was 14 years old, I was jolted out of being self-absorbed. I guess I was like a typical wounded teenage girl. I sauntered around like I was special, I caused drama, and I didn’t necessarily care if I hurt people. When I moved to Tennessee and I was the new girl, there was no room for this attitude. I went from being a popular girl and a great athlete to being nothing. Mixed with the un-hospitality I received from the mean girl welcoming committee, I crumbled. But from this crumbling, it triggered empathy. I started to see people outside of myself and how they were affected by me and their surroundings. I realized that everyone wanted to be loved and accepted, and everyone wanted to feel special. It was the single most important lesson I have learned to date.

When I did get to high school, it was better, but I still couldn’t wait to get out of the small town. In Illinois, I had the option of being able to ride my bike, take the bus or walk to wherever I wanted to. I had easy access to friends and physical and mental stimulation. In Tennessee, everything and everyone was so far apart it made it impossible to do anything productive. The kids who had cars sat in parking lots and just drove around on rural roads listening to music.

Maybe my issue with high school had more to do with the fact that it was high school than the town it was in, but high school was my least favorite time of life. One positive was I knew there was more to life than what was in the walls of the school. I couldn’t wait to get to college. I knew I could find like-minded people, and break free from the oppressive town I was living in. Even dating wasn’t fun. I had nothing in common with the high school boys, especially high school boys who never saw a life past the boundaries of the county.

Of course I made friends in high school. But it is a strange to not feel like you ever belong. To feel alone even when you are surrounded by people. To feel even more alone because you are surrounded by people who just don’t understand you.

During senior year, I started requesting information from colleges in Louisiana, Maine, Florida, and North Carolina. When the pamphlets arrived, my dad guilted me into staying in Tennessee for school. He wasn’t ready for me to leave the state and he employed every tactic he could to keep me within the Tennessee borders. This may be the worst reason to ever attend a school, but I chose my university based on the fact that no one from my graduating class was going there, and it was 2 hours from where my parents lived. I figured it was far enough away to be able to breathe, but close enough to go home if I wanted to.

College was everything I had hoped and wanted it to be. The professors expanded my mind, the students were diverse, the freedom was palpable, and I was revived. To this day, some of my best memories happened while I was in college. But college still was just a distraction from the bigger issue: I didn’t belong in Tennessee. Yet, I still tried to force it to be my forever home. After I graduated college with my Master’s degree, I started living and working in Nashville, TN. I saved money, and I was able to start traveling more frequently.

One of my first joint trips with my mom was to Charleston, SC, and it was eye opening. I loved the vibe of Charleston. I loved that it was on the coast as well. One thing I discovered about myself was I loved the ocean. My mom actually talked to locals with me, and I was heavily leaning towards getting out of Tennessee. But, I got an interview for my first “adult” career as soon as we returned from our trip, and I ended up getting the job. Within the few first months of working, I decided to buy a house. In 2006, I moved to Springfield, TN in a corner lot house. Looking back, I think I felt Tennessee could feel like home if I had an actual home to call my own.

Over the next 5 years, I fell into a routine. I went to work, and I did my job to the best of my ability. I would go out with friends, and I had a few boyfriends and dated some. I played sports in an adult sports league, and I ran and traveled to other states to run races. I had my house: my supposed home.

But in 2011, I could no longer forget that I never belonged in Tennessee.