Sunday, October 26, 2014

Rocky Mountain High

I took a quick weekend trip home to Steamboat, CO for the funeral of my Granny. She lived to be 94 and had a rich life, so her passing was marked with celebration as well as mourning. I had one day to take a few photos, and got in a few shots from the flights there and back as well.

There were few leaves left in the area, but I managed to catch a few spots.

Fetcher's Pond

I always forget how colorful fall in the West is.

Kansas from the plane.

The Yampa River

Northwest Colorado from the morning flight to Steamboat.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Wild Weekend at the Monastery

Stain glass shadows on meditation chairs and pillows

This post is repeated on my other blog Photos below article.

A couple weekends ago I was invited by a friend to spend four days at Magnolia Grove Monastery, a Buddhist meditation center under the auspices of the famous Vietnamese Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh. My friend comes to the center regularly, and had been wanting to share one of her favorite places with me for a while.

Tucked away in the woods and fields of Mississippi, it was a bit like going to another country. The community of monks and nuns (with shaved heads and long brown robes) speak Vietnamese with some broken English. They are gentle and friendly, and make visitors feel peaceful just to look at them. 

There is a large, beautiful Meditation Hall and statues of Buddha around the grounds. The rest of the buildings, for eating and sleeping, are fairly Spartan. We slept dormitory style in a small house. Meals consisted of simple vegan fare, and Pho, a Vietnamese dish of rice or noodles with veggies, broth, tofu, and greens in a bowl, was served regularly. I ate well and was grateful for the healthy choices.

We spent our time in various types of meditation, while walking, eating, and sitting. There were a few ceremonies involving traditional rituals, which were quite lovely and reminded me of church, in a different language. I'm not a Buddhist, so I enjoyed trying something new, but I was taken with how similar in spirit it was to other religious or spiritual endeavors.

All of the above aspects of the retreat were pleasant and restorative. But there was one aspect that was not. 

The wild part of my weekend adventure involved some other participants from various parts of the region who didn't seem to comprehend the peaceful nature of a spiritual retreat. Silence wasn't required in all places, but it was expected in general outside of scheduled sharing times. (I read the pamphlet!) To my surprise and horror most of the other participants, about 60 or so, had decided to congregate in small groups at all hours (all hours!) to have loud conversations involving lots of cackling and shrieking.

I tried to find quiet spaces to hang out peacefully, including the Meditation Hall (by definition a “sacred” space,) the pond of water lilies, and even in my own bunk in the dorm. Everywhere I went for four days groups of boisterous people were having powwows that generally involved lots of Jerry Springer-like talk. The only place I found to be alone and quiet was a half-mile down the dirt road from the monastery, in a neighboring farmer’s field.

One night, after a couple sleepless nights due to the loudest snoring contest I’ve ever heard of, I went to bed early to try to get some sleep by using earplugs, an eyemask, and a blanket over my head. A group of giggly ladies came in my room and asked if they could “come in here and giggle because we’ve bee kicked out of every other place.” I gave them a look that needed no answer. It is no exaggeration to say that I used more earplugs on the Buddhist Meditation Silent Serenity Retreat in the Peaceful Woods than I had used on any trip in my entire life.

On behalf of the monastery, my friend goes there often and said that this NEVER happens. I hit an off weekend. She was as chafed by the whole thing as I was. I didn’t come away with any reservations about the place itself, but I would warn possible visitors to see what type of group might be coming that weekend. If that helps.
The drive home with my friend included lots of chuckling about various characters from the retreat whose loud stories revealed too much about their personal lives, and sleepily looked forward to getting home and getting some rest.
Most of the group at the end of the retreat. Do not look too closely after reading the article.

Past-peak water lilies

Bell Tower where they rang the big bell and chanted for a half hour each morning and evening. Glorious, it was.

Big bell close-up

In the woods. You see it as you take a walk.

Meditation Hall, looking back.

Meditation Hall, looking toward the front.

Large statue in the middle of the water lily pond.

My morning tea on the stone walkway.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

My Friend in Space

Steve Swanson on his return from a six month stay at ISS

For the past six months I have had a friend in space. Steve Swanson, the astronaut, is a former classmate of mine from Steamboat Springs, and he just returned from a half year mission manning the International Space Station with a handful of other cosmonauts. I have followed his Facebook posts daily, and reveled in photos of auroras and sunsets over Earth, guessing games of islands and cities, and stories of his daily routine. Eating chocolate, going to the bathroom, and growing vegetables are all different in space, I've learned. How fun it is to learn it from someone I know! I, along with other classmates from Steamboat and friends of Steve got to ask personal questions and enjoy his self-depreciating, warm, and non-prissy sense of humor. I sure enjoyed referring to "my friend in space" for a while, but I'm happy he's safe back home again.

Here is an article from the Steamboat Pilot from after Steve's return to Earth. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Asheville Trip, Blue Ridge Parkway

Scott and I just returned from a long weekend in Asheville, North Carolina, where we hung out with my sister, Dana She was there attending a workshop. I did my usual hiking, while Scott fished in the area. The shot above was from the Blue Ridge Parkway which runs through Asheville. This was taken in the morning before a hike in Craggy Gardens.

A view from the Parkway while driving.

From a hike to the top of Mt. Pisgah.

Lots of lichen and fungus everywhere.

Why they call it Craggy Gardens.

Scott's tiny moose friend who rode with us.

View from the top of Mt. Pisgah, a steep, rocky hike with a great reward at the end.

Blotchy leaf patterns on Mt. Pisgah hike.