Thinking About: Iceland, Travel, and How It All Fits in With My Spirituality

Travel has always been a large part of my life. Some of my earliest memories are being crammed into the rear hatch area of a Ford Pinto which was pulling a small trailer. That view through the rear window was my view of so many destinations throughout Europe with my family. We travelled to many places in mainland Europe. Valencia, Spain. Montpellier, France. Countless locations in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. All the trips I took throughout Europe when I was stationed in Germany as an adult. The myriad of locations throughout the United States that I have travelled to as an adult. Various locations throughout the Rocky Mountain chain. The Blue Ridge Parkway in the Carolinas. The long three-day driving trip from Texas to Glacier national Park, with a stop at The Medicine Wheel in the Big Horn mountains of Wyoming. The magical trip to Yellowstone. The two trips with the college to Ireland, Scotland, and the United Kingdom. However, none of those compares to where I was three years ago – Iceland.

The trip to Iceland meant doing something I truly loath. Flying. Kind of strange for a former United States Air Force to dislike flying, but I do. I know its an irrational fear, so I always spend time shoving it into the back of my mind – just so I can get on the plane and avoid running down the aisle, screaming my head off about getting out of this tube-shaped coffin. However, Iceland was worth every second of anxiety in all the flights that had been to be taken. Plus, I got to visit YYZ, otherwise known as Toronto Pearson International Airport, both coming from and going to. An absolutely gorgeous airport, which there was no time to explore with time between flights being under an hour in time.

The terrain of Iceland is absolutely stunning, and quite varied. Around the airport, everything looked like wide-open prairie from west Texas. Granted, the plants looked different, but it had that same feel to it. The bus ride from the airport to the first location we stayed at with our group was really not that notable. Near the hotel that we stayed at (which was like a series of bungalows) was a location where steam vents could be seen. According to the folks at the hotel, these had been opened a few years earlier from an earthquake. I took the opportunity to walk to the steam vents. At the beginning of the walk was a MASSIVE uphill walk on a worn-down gravel path. I remember thinking that I had to go back DOWN that hill on my way back. The walk to the vents was a long way down the path. One the walk there, I marveled at the terrain, as well as the shadows that the sunset was putting on the hillside behind me. Just gorgeous stuff. At one point, I stopped for a few minutes to open myself to the land around me. I could feel the VERY ancient Spirits of the Land, no where near as active as those that I had encountered back on the northern plains of Texas. Everything seemed to move slowly and deliberately. If I take a moment, I can still feel that moment now. How small I felt. How insignificant I seemed to be in comparison. How I was so readily ignored. Then there were the smaller beings that I could sense. What some on the trip referred to as the “fair folk”. I never really found anything like a name for them, but they always felt like pesky little creatures. Back at the hotel, the folks in the bungalow next to mine got locked INTO their room. Weird stuff like that happened throughout the trip.

Once we started heading north, the terrain changed and became extremely dramatic in perspective. Valleys that we drove through had steep mountains on either side. From where we were on the road, neither side seemed that far away. That is, until you saw a building of any sort further down in the valley. These buildings were large barns and large houses but looked even smaller than the houses that one saw on a toy train set. When you started to think about your own size in the bus in relation to the building that was seemingly in the middle of the valley, you started to get a real sense for how far away the mountain side on the other side of the valley really was.

The last part of the trip was spent around the northern city of Akureyri, which I can only find the nearest comparison of Koriko, the city where Kiki comes to live in the Anime film “Kiki’s Delivery Service.” I have never fallen in love with a city as quickly as I did with Akureyri. Having grown up for part of my life in Europe, I was well accustomed to the concept of walking and mass transit for inner city travel. Walking part the small mom-and-pop restaurants and bakeries was just amazingly enchanting. Here, in the city, it was easy to find the Spirits of the Land, as well as the Spirits of Place. All you had to do was open yourself to the experience. There were also older, and what felt like extremely watchful entities as well. Not quite like a Spirit of place, Land, or Ancestor. These felt more like “Protectors” or “Guardians.” There are legends within Iceland mythology about the Gods being present to protect Iceland from invaders. Not being too familiar with the legends and lore, I can only presume that these beings might be them.

While part of this is me reminiscing over a trip from three years ago, its also a reminder that there is more to my Spirituality than honoring my Gods, venerating my Ancestors, and celebrating the turning of the Wheel. Travel, exploration, and experiencing the wider realm of my environment is equally important. For the past two years, COVID-19 has put a lot of that on hold for me. Just around a few months ago, I took a trip back to southwest Colorado, a trip that was needed for my personal well-being. I needed to be out in places that have that sacred feel to me. The trip to Mesa Verde did just that for me. Not only did I get the chance to explore Mesa Verde a bit more, I also got the experience of being caught in a torrential downpour – complete with terrific and terrifying lightning strikes. A reminder of what I find so sacred about the world around me. The sacred beauty, coupled with the terrifying elements, has that feeling of being my own personal RESET button.

Iceland provided the same thing for me. The beauty was certainly there. The cold that I returned to Texas with set into my lungs – providing me with pneumonia. I still suffer from its effects to this day. A reminder that places like Iceland, while beautiful and rugged….can certainly kill you if you don’t take it seriously enough. Every single day, I have a reminder of that. My shortness of breath. The swelling of my feet. Just two ready symptoms that serve as reminders of how small I am upon this world. Now, I live in the central part of Texas, much further away from my beloved southern-central plains. The Spirits feel different here. They react differently here. Yet, the way I approach my own Spirituality remains – largely – the same. I take comfort in that sameness. Yet, I still yearn for the capability to travel safely to return. Soon.

–Tommy /|\

Thinking About: Continued Musings on Wanderlust in the Time Before COVID

Yesterday’s post (which should have been Tuesday’s), Wanderlust, Memories and Spirits of Place – Against a Backdrop of Times Before COVID-19, was only a small slice of my travels over the past decade or so. There are so many other places that I have traveled, where the pull of Spirits of Place was immensely strong. Some were in the oddest places. Some, I have suspicions that it may not be the Spirits of Place that still haunt the areas.

I have already made my love of driving known. I seriously have no issues pulling long drive of twelve to fourteen hours before I need some kind of lengthy rest. In the past, I have made long drives from the north area of Dallas to just north of Kansas City in a single night of driving. Part of that drive is through a tolled section of Interstate-35, which is mostly a rather boring drive that is punctuated throughout with overtly right-wing Christian signs denouncing abortion. Those signs are placed on the private property that borders either side of the roadway. However, there is a section of the drive where the landscape changes dramatically. This is the Flint Hills region of Kansas, and it is a magnificent part of the drive. The interstate winds down into the Flint Hills and the back up other hills. Unlike the majority of the turnpike going north, this is not a straight line of driving. All around you, on either side of the road, is miles upon miles of prairie land. Occasionally, you can see animals in the distance, but it is essentially clear, flat-land for the most part. Most of the commercial signage also disappears here, as well as a huge amount of the done-in-the-garage anti-abortion signs. Plus, there is also the strong pull of the Spirits of the Land here. Even with an interstate and barbed-wire fencing, this area has that strong feeling of power. Anytime I have driven north or south through this area, this particular part of the drive has always been my favorite. I always exit the Flint Hills part of the interstate with a feeling of energized power, which I have no explanation of. For reference, this is the ancestral lands of a few First nations peoples including the Kaw, Kikaapoi, Oceti Sakowin (Sioux), and the Osage.

When I was stationed in Germany, in 1992, it was a few years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. When I was younger and living in Germany while my father was stationed at Weisbaden, we never took the chance for a visit to Berlin. Thanks to military mission that I was attached to, I got that chance in April of 1992. We didn’t get the chance to stay very long, only three days, However, we all took the opportunity to visit the remains of the Wall, as well as Checkpoint Charlie. We were not allowed to bring cameras with us, so those of us that went did not have anything but our memories to carry back with us. I remember thinking how different life was on each side of that wall. On the West Germany side, apartments and shop fronts were as close as ten to fifteen feet from the Wall. On the opposite side…mostly guard stations and barbed wire. Over the years, there were many attempts by East Germans to scale, tunnel or circumvent the wall to a freer society in West Berlin. Most were stopped and taken to prisons or killed in their escapades. While visiting, I felt strong presences there. Many of them. These did not have the same feeling of Spirits of Place. It was more as if they were there because they had nowhere else to go. To this day, I wonder if I could still feel those presences so near the foreboding Wall that separated Germans from Germans, sometimes splitting families in two.

The calling card of a local bear near Medicine Bow Peak in Wyoming

Another place that I ventured to was Medicine Bow Peak near Laramie, Wyoming. On October 6th, 1955, a United DC-4 crashed into Medicine Bow Peak killing all 63 passengers and 3 crew members aboard. The aircraft was traveling from New Your City to San Francisco, California and had made a stop in Denver, Colorado for a routine crew change. Assigned to an altitude of 10,000 feet, the plane was to fly through the Rocky Mountains along a path that kept it away from mountains taller than the assigned altitude. There is; however, a narrow shortcut through the northern tier of the Rockies that can be flown, that would reduce the flight time to Seattle by nearly ninety minutes. As there was a lengthy delay in Denver, it is assumed that this was the reasoning that the crew deviated from the flight plan and attempted the shortcut, in order to get the flight back on scheduled time. Instead, they fly straight into Medicine Bow Peak, a mountain of some 12,000 feet in height. When I visited the area, I was struck by the number of boulders strewn all around the area below the summit. About a mile away from the crash site, there is a paved road (back in 1955 this entire area was wilderness with no roads – paved or otherwise) which leads to a parking area with many picnic benches. The day I was there, it was very sunny, and extremely warm. Plus, there were no other people at this location. The hike alone the well-worn path was a nice stroll, with the exception of coming across a tree with deep claw slashes in it, which appeared to be fresh. This was the sign of a bear marking its territory. Keeping that in mind, the rest of the walk was rather brisk and a bit short, leading to the location where the aircraft had slammed into the sheer face of the summit. In this particular place, the Spirits of Place were extremely strong, and I wondered what it might have been like here long before the pavement invasion of the white man. These lands are the ancestral home of the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Oceti Sakowin (Sioux). All three of these tribes figure prominently in the retelling of Hollywood versions of the time of the first white Settlers in the west. Early history of Medicine Bow Peak is not known prior to the 1833 and 1834 expeditions of John C. Fremont within this area. Down in the foothills, the Lakota, Ute and Eastern Shoshone were known to have also inhabited the area or utilized the canyons and mountain passes as travel routes to and from Summer and Winter lands.

Each of these locations hold vivid memories in my mind. Both the Flint Hills and Medicine Bow Peak have often left me wondering what the area must have been like before the coming of the white Settlers. While most of my musings likely have a heavy tinge of romanticism attached to them, I do understand how rough life would have been. Still, I envy the sheer closeness that comes with being so close to nature. Even under the auspices of such terrifying ferocity that was surely evident from the various predators that lived there.

I have so many more memories of pre-COVID travel, but I am also reminded about the one rule I have made for myself when visiting these places, even man-made places such as the Berlin Wall: leave no trace. At Medicine Bow Peak, if you walk on the other side of the lakes formed by ice and snow run-off, you can still find parts and pieces of United Airlines Flight 409 among the rocks and boulders. The plea from many folks is to leave it where it is found. Photograph it, but don’t pick it up. Leave it there, so others may have the chance to experience the “discovery” of such things for themselves. Bring in food, at your own discretion and caution. And by all means, if you bring it in, pack it back out with you. Dispose of your trash where it should be…not just letting it fall out of your hands casually. Let others have the same or even better experience than you did.

COVID-19 will not be here holding us all hostage in our homes forever. Much like influenza, a work-around will be found. We do not have a cure for influenza, but we do have a yearly vaccine that helps control its spread and its effects on the human body. We will eventually reach that point with COVID-19. It probably won’t happen as soon as many would like, but I am hopefully that it will happen. In the meantime, we stay safe. We wear our masks in public. We keep our distance from others, as much as we possibly can. We thoroughly wash our hands. And we practice patience, as best we can.

–T /|\

Part of the summit of Medicine Bow Peak

Wanderlust, Memories and Spirits of Place – Against a Backdrop of Times Before COVID-19

Back before COVID relegated most of us to our homes, I got the chance to do a lot of traveling through the Rockies from time to time. Every once in a while, someone will ask me what my favorite part of the world is – the quick and easy answer is the Rocky Mountains. I have never been more at home than I have there. If money and other factors were not issues, that is where I would certainly find myself – particularly the northern area.

Every few years, I put my mind into a thinking mode of where to travel to. Lately, my mind has gone back to those travels. Since I hate flying, I prefer the long drives from Texas to Wyoming, Montana, and all the nearby areas. For me, driving is a manner of therapy. I find that I am quite capable of driving twelve to sixteen hours on my own before I need a night’s rest. A few years back, an uncle of mine passed away, and the burial was up in Indiana. I drove from Dallas, Texas to the north side of Nashville, Tennessee in a single day, alone. All of my father’s brothers were truck drivers, so I guess there is some of that genetic makeup in my material.

There is a section of interstate in Colorado that runs from the southern part of the state to Colorado Springs. The interstate is on a flat portion of the prairie, as it rolls up to the edge of the Rockies. Those mountains are off to the left on the drive north, jutting majestically out of the land – reaching for the skies above. That single area is one of the images that I can easily recall in my mind when I am day-dreaming. So many others I have discussed this with call it “the most boring stretch of road” they have ever driven.

There is also a stretch of highway 287 in north Texas that I love to drive. From Wichita Falls to Amarillo, the drive takes you through a long stretch of smaller towns and not-so-large cities on the way into the Texas plains near Amarillo. Many of these towns have fallen on extremely hard-times, as evidenced by the run-down buildings and closed store-fronts of their tiny centers-of-town. Often, I have wondered what towns, such as Claude, Texas might have looked like during more prosperous times. Many times on the many drives through 287 to Amarillo, Texas, I have wondered what this part of Texas might have looked like back in the days when the Kiowa and Comanche tribes were numerous and powerful.

More than one person has commented to me that I belong to a different time-line than where I am. Most comment that I remind many of them of the times commonly referred to as “the old West” when people here in North America and the fledgling United States were moving westward to expand the country. In many cases, there was a desire for adventure, exploring the great unknown. For others, it was a chance at a new start. There were many, many other reasons, as well – but the romanticized history of the times tends to relate those two reasons as the greatest. I suspect that they are probably right. I have had lucid daydreams of just that perspective from time to time. Gods, I honestly would love to go back to my thirties and spend some of that time in my life reaching out to the less exploited and less inhabited parts of western Texas. The only thing that comes across as difficult to deal with for me is my personal distaste for guns. But that’s a thought for another time.

View From Medicine Wheel

One of my favorite places that I have traveled to is in Wyoming. Medicine Wheel in the Bighorn Mountains is in the ancestral lands of the Apsaalooke’ (Crow), Cheyenne, and Oceti Sako’win (Sioux). My visit there happened on the long trip to Montana, that I mentioned previously. According to the cultural history, Medicine Wheel dates back thousands of years into a time where no First Nations settlers had been seen. The moment you encounter the Wheel after the mile-plus walk from the parking lot, you can sense the sacredness of this place. The view across the valley looking westward and north towards the poorly named Custer Gallatin National Forest is simply amazing. This one place, I have felt at utter and complete peace. The area around the Wheel is populated with the nearby town of Lovell, Wyoming located down the steep, winding road into the valley. Of all the places that I have visited, none have called more deeply to my soul than Medicine Wheel.

I enjoy traveling. I guess I have a gene of wanderlust in my genetic makeup. Perhaps, that came about from my parents pulling me and my sister along to Volksmarches in the German countryside, when my dad was stationed there. Walks along small roadways between farmers’ fields, along the cobble-stone roads of small German villages, and my favorite (and most well-remembered) walks through the dense, dark, and venerable Black Forest are such deeply ingrained memories of my life. I remember getting permission to walk off the path, into the dense ranks of the trees, walking on the soft, brown pine needles that seemed to be the floor of the forest. Marveling at the shafts of light that would penetrate the dense canopy like multi-colored laser strikes from spacecraft high in orbit – or at least that was what it seemed to a SciFi addled school boy’s over-active imagination.

Thinking deeper into what I have noted above, I would surmise that a lot of the energy and calm that I felt came from Spirits of Place. I cannot prove this for a fact, but each of those experiences remain some of the strongest memories I have at a time in my life where I can scarcely remember what I had for dinner last night. Yes, memories do fade, particularly if you do not feed them. My memories of high school feel like old, yellowed photographs of faces I do not remember very well. My memories of a childhood spent growing up throughout Europe, courtesy of the United States Air Force, are even fewer in number, and far less sharp in contrast, with the sole exception of walking through the countryside for a simple Volksmarch medal (all of which I still have).

I still wonder if I really belong in this time-frame of the world or if my soul actually belongs elsewhere. That’s a question of reincarnation and rebirth, something I have no qualifications to speak coherently on. I do believe that there is some aspect of that which exists, but it is only my supposition. Still, I wonder about the pull of a time within the history of this continent I currently inhabit. I also wonder about the pull of specific locations that I have physically visited in this life. How can a place that I have never been prior to my first visit exhibit that kind of continued pull in my life? I do have desires to return to Medicine Wheel, this time with the proper offerings in hand. And should that occur, I will certain spend time detailing the entire aspects of such a trip. Could it be described as a pilgrimage? Perhaps. I am not sold on the concept of that perspective. I do know that the need to return and properly pay respects is strong. And what of the potential of Spirits of Place? I have always felt that Spirits of Place ignore humans for the most part. They have been here much longer than we have. Our significance is not that great, outside of the harm that we have caused. What of Them?? Certainly, for me, much of this is a continued process of “food for thought”….

However, I do miss traveling…thanks to COVID-19.

–T /|\

Note: This is the sixth re-write of this post. I hope it makes more sense than the first two did.

Medicine Wheel in Wyoming…one of the most magickal and alive places I have ever been.

Thoughts as I Travel

So with Pantheacon just barely in the rear-view mirror, I hopped down to San Antonio for a work-related conference. Now, my job deal with crunching numbers – showcasing how my college’s students are doing. I also deal with funding formulas from the State that are based on headcount of our student body, etc etc. This conference was a meeting of my peers from around the state of Texas. And it was not only a lot of fun, but opened my eyes to how much more I needed to know about my position, as well as how far I have come in just a single year (this conference is annual). But one thing was for certain, the amount of relief I felt when I pulled into my driveway at 10:30pm last night.

Make no bones about it, San Antonio is a long drive from up here near the Oklahoma border. The drive down was on a Sunday, a slow traffic day in Texas – I took advantage of that by driving down via the interstate. The drive back; however, was a touch more difficult. I left the conference hotel at 4pm, which would have placed me in rush-hour traffic in Austin. Knowing what the interstate looks like at rush-hour in Austin, I opted for the backroads.

From that decision, I was rewarded with a beautiful view of the sun going down, shortly after I left Marble Falls, Texas. I even stopped on the side of the road to watch the sun wink out over the horizon, and to offer the leftover pieces of my hamburger buns (why does McDonald’s make burgers smaller than the buns?) to the local wildlife. That was rewarded with two Grackles landing near the car to pick up those offerings almost immediately (is there a five second rule in Nature too?). As I sat on the back bumper of my Subaru Forester, I recited the Druid’s Prayer of Peace, even as car after car zoomed past me carrying their passengers to somewhere.

When I got back into the car and re-entered the traffic on Highway 281; I felt a little more at ease, a touch more connected than I have during my stay in a 20-floor Resort/Hotel in northern San Antonio. I realized that I had not even stopped long enough at the conference to process why I was feeling anxious. The closer I got to home, the more relaxed I became. I was coming back to familiar territory. Back to where my connection to the environment around me is stronger. Not because its “mine” – because its not. Because it is what I am familiar with. The connections are easier to feel, and far easier to process.

IMG_0500
Kaylee – “my puppy”

When I walked in the front door at home, I was greeted by one anxious little black kitty – Kaylee. She certainly missed my presence in her world, just as I missed her in mine. When I finally went to bed, she spent over an hour snuggling under the covers, purring her affection while I pulled her close to hug and pet her. Normally she stays in that spot for less than ten minutes. That was sheer bliss for us both. Long ago, she adopted me as “her human”, and she is “my puppy” (and yes, she responds to that title).

In my experiences with Spirits of Place, we human beings are typically ignored, until we threaten some aspect of existence with our intrusions – no matter how beneficial our intentions may be. I have always made the assumption that it was because we human beings are unimportant. But, in remembering how slowly it takes a tree to grow, and that aspects such as rock and soil most likely exist at a slower time pace – perhaps its the fact that we human beings are “racing” in our time, compared to the speed that other aspects of our environment exist, including the Gods themselves? For me, at least, its a thought well worth thinking about and meditating upon.

As for conventions and conferences, I enjoy them quite a bit. In the case of this one, I learned quite a bit more about approaches I can take within my professional craft. But to be completely honest, I am bushed from the travel. And I am quite happy to be home.

Discovering and Rediscovering My Gypsy Soul….

Medicine Wheel in Wyoming...one of the most magickal and alive places I have ever been.
Medicine Wheel in Wyoming…one of the most magickal and alive places I have ever been.

Currently, I am reading Neil Peart’s book “Ghost Rider” which details how he found healing after the untimely deaths of his wife and daughter. I admit, there is a definitive appeal to being able to travel places without any aim or destination in mind. I do find long-distance driving to be relaxing, and quite a bit therapeutic. Two summers ago, Pam and I traveled up to Glacier National Park in Montana – driving the entire distance. Along the way, there were stops in South Dakota – which included a drive through Pine Ridge reservation, and a very wild scene where a protest was being made against the liquor stores in the “community” of White Clay, Nebraska. The return trip included a stop at the very magickal place of Medicine Wheel in Wyoming – a location I have a very strong desire to revisit.

The long drive went along the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains, which afford some wonderful views of the majestic peaks just to the west. And while Glacier National Park was a fantastic location to visit – along with the wonderful energy that the entire area gives off — it was the long driving that was most therapeutic and relaxing for me. I enjoy being behind the wheel of the car during the long drives – watching the scenery unfold before me, as each mile moves beneath the vehicle. Perhaps there’s a bit of gypsy in me, perhaps its the ability to viw the beauty of the vistas that appear before me — I have no true idea. But its something that definitely drives into my soul.

This year, the big trip was to Mesa Verde, and the beauty of the trip was marvelous. The Pathway in Mesa Verdeland around me was filled with the wonderful magicks of Place, and the misty touch of Ancestors that were not my own. This December, I travel back to England – the first time I have been back to the island since the mid 1980s. I have no idea what to expect — except that I will be on a tour with the college. So my time in various locations will be limited. But I know that I will be filled with a desire to come back again – on my own terms, and my own speed. And that will happen.

But I came back to my apparent wanderlust. My desire to travel to places and see. To experience. To connect. And I am sometimes a little unsure of the “why” factor or if that even matters. And I read books like Peart’s, and I understand some aspect of riding a motorcycle those long distances – the freedom, the feeling of experiencing….and I know a kinship with that.

And I am left wondering how that fits in with who I am, and where I am in life — and how it connects with where I have been, and what I have been in my past. And I realize…there are shadows in who I am.  Darkened little corners that I have yet to explore too deeply. Some areas that I once was very connected with – that I have set off to the side, to sit in the dark, gathering dust until I returned…I know who I am. But there are always parts of me that I will discover and rediscover….