Yesterday was the full moon. As someone who is intimately connected to the cycles of nature, I understand and experience the value in observing the phases of the moon and practicing personal growth habits that correspond to its symbolic flow. These practices create space to reflect on habits, choices, and behaviors, and to organize thoughts into objectives.
The December full moon is symbolic of completion. My understanding of completion is that it signals the end of one phase, and gives a pause before time expands into the hum of fresh possibility. It is a moment to take note of accomplishments and to envision what has yet to blossom from a dream.
Over the months of a pandemic which has obviously shifted travelling behaviors, I have thought a lot about how to write a travel blog that is intentional, inspiring, and relevant. Granted, I don’t promote it or conduct literally any marketing so my readership is low; regardless, I want to provide meaningful insights that address the necessary evolution of how, why, and to where people travel.
From my pause of completion, I envision a movement toward travel as a healing journey which creates space for the traveler to connect with nature and themselves. In 2021, I began to explore constructs of eco-travel in both theory and practice, and discovered that a growth-oriented mindset is missing from the paradigm. This intuitive knowledge inspired the theme of my second recently-completed thesis for an MA in Counseling, “The Growth Centered Journey: Developing a Practice of Personal Expedition to Enhance Self Transformation and Planetary Social Consciousness.” What might counselor-facilitated eco-travel look like, and how might it inspire growth along someone’s healing journey? That is my question looking ahead at 2022, and I see opportunities to explore answers shimmering on the other side of this pause.
2021 presented opportunities for me to explore territory in the eastern United States, which has unique and clean eco-systems such as caves, old growth forests, natural mineral springs, waterfalls, and a coastline. In May, 2021, I traveled through Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, across the Smoky Mountains, into Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains and the Okefenokee Swamp, into Florida’s pine scrub forest and mineral springs, on a ferry to Cumberland Island, and ventured as far south as Key Largo. In September, 2021, I took a second camping road trip into the Shawnee National Forest of western Kentucky and eastern Illinois. As 2022 approaches, I am envisioning the adventures I will fit into my life between my full time job and completing my dissertation, and my intention is to use those experiences to develop a sort of formula to facilitate eco-healing alongside others who feel the value of pausing in nature. The barefoot journey continues!
When I heard that the oldest continuously active community of practicing Spiritualists was along the route of my road trip through the American South East, I of course had to plan to stop and visit. Cassadaga, Florida, is a tiny community off Highway 4, about an hour north of Orlando. Founded during the peak of the American Spiritualist movement in the mid-19th century, it is now a US Historic District and continues to host the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp for seekers, psychics, and mediums to explore the veil between our world and the “others.”
Spiritualists essentially believe that living humans can successfully interact with the personalities of deceased humans and other entities through practices such as channeling and divination. These spirits and entities offer insight and guidance to living humans, and help us along our own path. Psychics and mediums use tools like mirrors, tarot cards, palmistry, spirit boards, and bowls of water to manifest the messages from these non-human entities, since the entities don’t have physical bodies and don’t inhabit exactly the same physical space that we do. It is believed that psychic and medium skills are either a natural occurrence in some people, like athleticism or singing, while other people acquire the skill through a traumatic life event. George Colby, the founder of the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp, earned his talent after surviving a baptism in freezing lake water.
I stopped in Cassadaga for a quick lunch while traveling north toward the Georgia coast. Non-human entities contact me without the assistance of psychics and mediums, so I wasn’t interested in handing over $70 for a 30-minute reading of my Akashic records. However, I had heard of a footpath called the Fairy Trail, and after a quick meal of canned dolmas and a fresh mango, I ventured toward Horseshoe Park and the trail head.
On my travels, I’ve visited many locations that to me felt like radiant and energetically aligned places where the veil is thin. Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming and Peru’s Sacred Valley come instantly to mind. Admittedly, I did not feel such vibrations in this particular space, but perhaps I was too focused on the other visitors and the “Trump 2020” bumper stickers wallpapering the back of their SUVs. Regardless, the Fairy Trail is a work of art. It’s well-worn path integrates the natural world with villages for fairies and gnomes, and the scenery changes at each bend through the scrub forest.
The most popular spot along the Fairy Trail is a set of human-size fairy wings, painted onto wood and mounted in a way for someone to take a picture of themselves with the wings behind them. As a solo-traveler without a selfie-stick, I bypassed the photo opp and decided to take a quick look around the other attractions in the village. Before long, I stumbled into the C. Green’s Haunted History Museum, which promised access to obscure items, antiquities of the spiritualist movement, and hauntings. How could I resist?
Once inside, the Museum is packed with all that it promised. The space is a crowded foyer with a long and narrow hallway extending toward a final room. I had followed a group of three others inside, and the four of us were the only visitors. I saw newspaper clippings of the history of Cassadaga, of Bigfoot and alien sightings, of mysteries and murders solved through mediumship, and of ghostly possessions that ended in tragedy. Dolls and toys that played host to malevolent beings stared out at us through glass cases, while spirit boards, crystal balls, and scrying mirrors shimmered in the low light. As we approached the final darkened room, I held back to allow the other group to enter first, while I examined post-mortem photographs of Victorian children in stiff knickers and Christening gowns. The group of three exited the last room, and I stepped forward to enter. Immediately, I felt a pounding sensation in my head and a total darkness covered my vision. Whatever was in that room didn’t want me there. Nope. I turned immediately and followed the group out the door.
After exiting the museum, I asked the Curator about that last room. She said it held artifacts from Area 51. I asked what else was in the room. She confirmed that the ghost of a very unhappy man who had lived and worked in that room when it used to be the village post office continued to hold onto the space. Upon hearing this, I couldn’t help but wonder why stay attached to the discomfort of human suffering once our spirit is liberated from the human body? Maybe that’s why “ghosts” tend to be an unpleasant type of non-human entity, unlike the more beneficial and benevolent guides.
Cassadaga is a quaint reminder of the mysteries of death and mortality. Whether or not a visitor “believes” in the enchanted and supernatural world of the Spiritualists, each of us will one day cross the threshold into the spirit world. As is painted at a bench along the Fairy Trail, “we all have one foot in a fairy tale, and the other in the abyss.” We live in two worlds; let’s explore them both.
In my last post, I described some of my personally observed critiques related to the global Eco-Tourism industry. As much as I love travel, I also understand the contradictions between experience and knowledge; and am deeply aware of the privilege associated with the capacity to cross oceans and borders freely, where I enter other lands without the burden of their oppression or hazards. Village poverty appears quaint and charming to uninformed eyes. If I can’t handle the sea of plastic bags blowing across the Peruvian desert, or when I tire of climbing over post-war rubble on Bulgaria’s sidewalks, I can simply book the next bus to somewhere else and walk confidently across another continent with my return plane ticket tucked safely in the back of my mind.
The global pandemic has halted my personal plans to travel internationally, and even prior to March 2020, I knew that our current behaviors of travel were unsustainable. Although I continue to feel a longing to fulfill my dreams of celebrating the summer solstice at the Arctic Circle in Finland, of trekking overland from Ulaanbaater to Lisbon, and of visiting Almaty with a friend who is local to the Kazakh capitol city, I am learning to see potential for a revitalized tourism market in the United States. The wilderness areas here are expansive and clean. Our state (and national) park systems are well-maintained and accessible. And our abundance of resources and supplies means someone can enter on a plane with nearly no gear, and stock up locally with everything that is needed for hiking, camping, kayaking, scuba diving, or whatever.
This posts provides three ideas for low-impact, budget-friendly eco-adventures in the American southeast. The downside is that a personal vehicle is required. Bus routes are non-existent, and the destinations are remote enough that hitchhiking or trekking in from a nearby town are not practical options. However, what’s more synonymous with America than a road trip?
Hiking DeSoto Falls
Located deep in northern Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains and the Chattahoochee National Forest are DeSoto Falls. A 2.4 mile rugged trail along Frogtown Creek connects hikers to the Upper Falls, Middle Falls, and Lower Falls. The Upper Falls are the most scenic, with a 200-foot drop and a wooden viewing platforms with seating to rest and observe the sunlight filtering through the dense forest of old-growth pine and vibrant rhododendrons. The video below is an 11-second clip of the majestic Upper Falls.
Although AllTrails lists DeSoto Falls Trail as “heavily trafficked,” I was the only person on the trail during my visit. The sky had dumped buckets of rain on the forest the night before my hike, and the cascades were alive with movement. I paid the price of comfort for the solitude though, as I had been camping nearby and discovered during the overnight storm that my tent is only relatively waterproof.
Rain, and any weather pattern, is part of the eco-system, and without a cold and wet night digging moats to direct the flow of water away from the base of my tent, I would not have seen such vibrant waterfalls, or the lush and nearly jungle-feel of the surrounding forest. Besides, waterfalls are good for health. Check out my post on Waterfalling to learn more about the demonstrated health benefits of hanging out near a waterfall.
Swimming in Natural Springs in the Ocala National Forest
Florida’s Ocala National Forest is one of the most unique eco-systems on the planet. The area is home to the largest concentration of sand pine in the world. In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt formally established the National Forest, and today it is 607 square miles of conifer, sand pine, and long leaf pine woodlands, with four crystal-clear and inviting natural springs for swimming and meditation.
Juniper Springs is located inside a large recreation area, and was rather crowded when I arrived late in the afternoon on a hot and sunny Sunday afternoon. However, the weekend groups thinned out, and the pool was completely empty when I awoke and walked to the pool from my campsite. Another woman was nearby doing yoga and a park employee was preparing the site for the day, but otherwise the space was mine.
The water at Juniper Springs is a constant 68-72 degrees, which is definitely chilly. Although the bottom is deceptively visible, the pool is 21 feet deep. I am a good swimmer, but afraid of deep water for some reason, and took the opportunity to confront that fear with several laps around the pool.
Swimming in cold water is good for health. It boosts white blood cell counts, and flushes veins, arteries, and capillaries. It also activates endorphins, and supports estrogen and testosterone production. Finally, it burns more calories than swimming in warmer water, as the body tries to keep itself warm.
After about 20 minutes in the water alone, the woman doing yoga joined me. She and her male partner both worked for a California-based tech company and had been remote for over a year, living and working from their RV. She told me about Salt Springs, and since it was on the way toward my next destination, I decided to visit that one as well.
Arriving at Salt Springs felt like I had discovered an ancient secret. The infrastructure was clean, welcoming, accessible, and developed, but hardly anyone was there. The pool at Salt Spring is much larger than Juniper Spring, and it is shallower so the water is warmer. A tall mosaic wall surrounds the pool, and I secured a spot in the sun with a roomy distance between a group of young boys snorkeling in the shallows, and a woman reading a novel. I felt very connected to the earth and water spirits at that location. The video below is a 25-second clip of one of my swims into Salt Spring.
I was relieved that the springs I visited had not been ruined with over-crowding and over-use. If planning to visit these springs, or any natural area, please remember to pack everything out. One easy way to do that is to minimize the amount you are packing in. Identify everything you might want to take with you, and then remove half of it. We need less than we think.
Biking Cumberland Island National Seashore
Cumberland Island is located about 11 miles off the coast of Georgia. It is only accessible on a ferry from the town of St. Marys. Unfortunately, affordable lodging is scarce in St. Marys, and the only nearby camping is an RV park at the Crooked River State Park. I bunked in my tent among roaring generators and nosy neighbors the night before my day-journey to Cumberland Island, and almost cancelled the entire endeavor. However, I followed through on my plans and the experience was one of my most memorable adventures in the past year and a half.
The ferry ride is about 45-minutes over smooth waters. Upon arriving at Cumberland Island, it docks twice. Most passengers de-board at the first dock, the Ice House Museum, to explore the Dungeness Ruins and the historical cemetery, and to walk the Interdune Boardwalk and across Dungeness Beach. The Southend Loop walk takes about 3-4 hours, and allows visitors to see and experience the island’s natural and cultural landscapes. The video below is a short clip of the ferry docking at the Ice House Museum.
I stayed on the ferry to de-board at the more remote Sea Camp Rancher Station. This is the stop for backcountry campers, and for those of us renting bikes for the day. My bike rental was $18, and I set off north on the Main Road. I had wanted to reach the northernmost point of the road to see the Cumberland Wharf Ruins, which would take me through many miles of wilderness area, but of course that plan was overly ambitious.
First, the Main Road is an unpaved sand and gravel trail that turns progressively more rugged once I entered the wilderness area. At some points, I had to get off the bike and push it through sand that was deeper than the depth of the tire. Second, water is scarce and although the map indicated potable water at Plum Orchard around mile eight, it had not gotten turned off during shut down and there wasn’t actually any water. Third, I had drastically underestimated the mileage to the Cumberland Wharf Ruins, and how long it would take for me to travel that distance on a beach cruiser across the sandy path. In total, I biked about twenty miles, and returned to St. Marys on the evening ferry, dehydrated and sunburned.
It was worth the effort. The eco-system of the wilderness area was like something out of Jurassic Park. Herds of wild horses meandered across beach prairies, armadillos munched calmly on leafy vegetation along the path, flocks of fat turkeys pecked at insects in the trees, and a green-eyes bobcat sheltered in the shade of a large fern leaf while an oppressive afternoon sun tore through the forest canopy. Riding a bike in these conditions isn’t for everyone though. It was definitely difficult and somewhat painful, but the wild horses and armadillos are also often sighted near the Ice House Museum and the Dungeness Ruins.
A steely sky cracked to release faint rays of sunlight, but the low swirling clouds and the peaks of the Dinarides consumed most of the warmth. It was only 9am. I was already chilled after my four kilometer walk in the light rain from the hostel to the travel agency to join nearly 100 other individuals on our day trip to Plitivice Lakes National Park. My light pack contained only two peanut butter and honey sandwiches, an apple, hand sanitizer, sunglasses, chapstick, a foil emergency blanket, a plastic poncho, a laminated photocopy of my passport, and an equivalent of $20USD in Croatian kuna, in both bill and coin form.
I glanced around at my fellow travelers. We had all purchased the tour of the waterfalls from this local business, and were in route to the National Park gates. I had selected this package because the pick up and drop off locations were walking distance from my hostel; it included bus fare directly to the Park entrance; and it allowed access to Veliki Slap, the highest falls which thunders 78 meters into the river Korana. Additionally, the tour employed a local naturalist who interpreted the geology and ecology of the biosphere in the English, German, and Croatian languages. Most of us on the bus were adults, many couples, several large groups of Japanese and Chinese men who changed camera lenses before each shot, and perhaps one or two other independent women. I listened closely to the subtle drone of dialogue, but heard no other English speakers.
This visit to Plitivice Lakes National Park is one of the few organized eco-tours I have purchased. The other two were in Peru: to visit the Tambopata National Reserve on the border with Brazil, and Taquile Island in Lake Titicaca. According to The International EcoTourism Society, ecotourism is “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of local people, and involves interpretation and education.” It’s intention is to develop a type of tourism that connects an environment with its human culture in an economically meaningful way. However, in practice, perhaps it creates more damage to ecosystems and culture alike?
First, it enables high volumes of humans to visit fragile ecosystems. The beauty and the appeal of wilderness areas are that they are clean and free of our human interventions. The spaces are peaceful without our constant hum of electricity wires and the fast-paced expectations of instant communication mediated through a machine. But when lines of busses packed at capacity drop hundreds of people onto a remote walking path at hourly intervals, suddenly we carry with us the burdens and trash we had all been trying to escape. At Plitivice Lakes, the crowd was so thick at times I was literally standing still in a traffic jam of non-movement. Cigarette butts and tiny bits of plastic, accidentally dropped from someone’s pocket, floated in the water beneath the boardwalk. When I arrived at Veliki Slap, I couldn’t see the falls through the depth of people in front of me, who perched and posed on boulders with selfie sticks, speaking into their camera phones about their “hike to the falls.” I didn’t feel peaceful at all. Instead I felt frustrated, impatient, and generally disappointed in my fellow humans. I could have had that emotional experience on Any-Given-Freeway-USA.
However, some wilderness areas are more strictly protected, which leads me to my second point of critical analysis.
Under global capitalism, wilderness is a commodity, and it is sold to the people who can pay for that experience. The journey into the Tambopata National Reserve was far more elite than Plitivice Lakes. This tour initiated with a ride on a fishing boat down the Rio Madre de Dios with a small group of ten or so people. All but my traveling companion and I were staying overnight at an eco-lodge, which was far beyond our budget. Our day trip included a canopy tour of the jungle; a lunch of tropical fruits, juices, fish, and an indigenous dessert; and guided kayaking to a smaller island known for its monkey population. Over lunch, my partner and I chatted with a very young couple from Los Angeles. They had booked their flights into Puerto Maldonado and the jungle tour at the last minute, having decided suddenly to spend their holiday break from university in Peru, and were shocked to learn that we had saved money for a year to travel. We saw a glimpse of the jungle and then returned to our shared hostel that had no power or running water, while they cuddled at the eco-lodge, wafting the scent of passion flowers on the evening breeze. Although knowledge can never be bought and sold, experience has evolved into an commodity: the experience of the exotic and sensual. “Wilderness retreat” is more a marketing slogan than an activity.
Just as wilderness is now a commodity under eco-tourism, so is indigenous expression of culture.
Our first milestone on our journey at Lake Titcaca was the Uros Islands, human-constructed from totora reeds. The Uru are indigenous people of the area. Although the exact history is blurry, they have been around for about 3700 years. They life largely according to their traditional lifestyle, on 120 floating islands. When our tour boat landed at their island, they sang a few of their songs, and did a dance and clapped. Then they sold us their textiles and pottery. Here’s the thing. I saw the same mass-produced consumer goods at the market stalls in Cusco. These were not their crafts and textiles, simply generic “Inca Souvenirs from the Andes,” which could probably be bought in bulk from Amazon. I understand that currency and the global market has improved the quality of their life; their floating islands had solar panels and a TV satellites. However, has eco-tourism turned their cultural identity into a commodity? Are their songs and dances still meaningful beyond tips from foreign visitors? I can’t answer that of course, but I felt very uncomfortable and exploitative even participating enough to be present in that space.
What is the balance? Given the global expansion of capitalism, the growing divide between wealth and not-wealth, and the accelerating accumulation of power within the upper echelon of wealth, I predict that widespread access to wilderness areas will shrink. Transportation will be more limited, entrance fees more pricey, and a local guide who will charge fair wages for their expertise will be necessary. I’m okay with that. It means the wilderness will be protected, and the local economy will absorb dollars instead of nickels. Meanwhile, a connection with nature doesn’t have to include an adventure deep into the wilderness. It could be self-guided forest bathing, wildlife viewing, or waterfalling. Want to hear more? Follow me to my next post for three Barefoot-style eco-journeys in the American southeast.
All winter while cocooned between waiting out a pandemic on the planet, and struggling against an affordable housing crisis in the city, I read memoirs from other people in other times about their travels, and basked in the fantasy of another future ahead of me when I could once again return to unfamiliar lands and breathe new air. Rory from Scotland walked across Afghanistan in 2002 from Herat to Kabul, following the footsteps of Babur, the first emperor of Mughal India in The Places in Between. Kate from Canada pushed the envelope toward a new frontier of colonial imperialism when she disguised herself as a Chinese national to bike across the Tibetan plateau, a territory closed to westerners, in Lands of Lost Borders. Jamie, also Canadian, digs deep within herself to accept the call to adventure as she accepts a teaching job at a remote outpost in Bhutan, and she falls in love with the land and the people, in Beyond the Sky and the Earth. My mind wrapped around these journeys, and my own path remained in the streets, on the sidewalks, and among the people of Cincinnati.
During my two years in Cincinnati, I had heard about Lexington. A thru-hiker on the Appalachian trail named Moose who I met at the Woods Hole Hostel in Virginia had been living in Lexington, and she loved it for the close access to the Red River Gorge. Another person I met from my neighborhood had also once lived in Lexington, and he planned to return once he was financially able to move. On a map, Lexington appears like a blotch of spilled coffee: visible enough, but easily overlooked and ignored. When winter had finally released the Ohio River Valley from its grasp, I decided to drive the I-75 south and explore some of Lexington for myself.
A Dynamic Creative Scene
Lexington offers a rather surprising amount of street art and sculptures, considering it’s a rather small city in the middle of a rather unpopulated state. Perhaps the locally-housed University of Kentucky ushers in a creative streak. Whatever the cause, Lexington is well-decorated with murals, bronze statues, trinkets, colored lights, and props. While walking around downtown, I made a point to visit two murals, both created by the German art duo called “Herakut.” Herakut is Jasmin “Hera” Siddiqui, and Falk “Akut” Lehman. In 2012, Herakut was commissioned to create large-scale public art on two barren building walls. Both pieces feature a child named Lily, who is the main character in a children’s book the duo wrote.
“Lily and the Silly Monkeys” is on the south-facing wall of a building at 156 Market Street. The Christ Church Cathedral spire juts out from behind the mural, adding depth and dimension to the artwork. It is visible from Cheapside Park. “Where Dreams Come From” is on the former Spaldings Bakery building on the corner of North Limestone and E 6th Street. This mural features Lily with waking heads cupped in her hand, and she peers out into the world. A quotation from the book is stenciled around her frail body: “It was a beautiful moment when the little giant woke up to see where dreams come from.”
Another intriguing Lexington art installment is located at Gratz Park, north of downtown. It is a 1933 bronze sculpture featuring a nearly nude boy offering a sailboat to a nearly nude girl called “A fountain dedicated to youth.” The fountain was installed in the honor of the Kentucky novelist James Lane Allen, who was famous for using local dialects in his character dialogue. When he passed on in 1925, he willed part of his estate to the City of Lexington. Nearly 100 years later, and the fountain is still in good condition, but some people question why the children are nude. I guess the American south will never be as open minded as ancient Greece or Rome, and the fountain would lack a certain aura is the children were wearing swim suits, or rain gear.
Check out The Street Art Guide for a comprehensive list of murals and public art around Lexington, published in July 2020. This guide includes location, a brief description, and the artists’ information. Final verdict? Sure, check out the art scene for a few hours… while on the way to somewhere else. Most likely, a traveler will not need more than a little bit of Lexington.
Winter was wearing thin on us, and although it had not been a savage season in southwest Ohio, time was stretching long and thin while the city of Cincinnati marched along with the pandemic drum beat. After a tiresome election cycle and a disengaged holiday season, January brought an attempted coup and heavy gray clouds that barely allowed any sun to filter to the ground. Although January marks the two year anniversary that I left Northern California to relocate to Ohio, I still prefer to live every day as if I am travelling. The people, places, and experiences are temporary and are to be savored with the same appreciation as if I were trekking through Serbia with my backpack and gear. This perspective gives me patience through the hardship of my daily assignment, and fresh eyes to view the problems and solutions around me. I am currently staying here, but I am only passing through, as we are all only passing through, perhaps for three days, or maybe for 75 years.
Identifying stillness and silence has nurtured this connection with transiency. We are always shifting and adjusting to fill the spaces around and within us. When I am centered, I can feel the space within me, and have learned to accept the temporality of what feels more solid. Walking meditations in a labyrinth is one way to connect to stillness and silence.
Labyrinths have been around for over four thousand years, and labyrinthine symbols date back to the Neolithic age. Through shifting the mental constructs of linear time and space having origins only between two separate points, they aid in the traveler’s discovery of their true Self. They guide the seeker into a compression of time and space.
On one particularly bleak Sunday, I decided to venture into that sacred space of my center. Using the World-Wide Labyrinth Locator, I filtered the search function to find ten labyrinths within a 10 mile radius of my zip code. The World Labyrinth Locator is an online project of The Labyrinth Society. Launched in 2004, it is a database that contains over 6050 labyrinths across 85 countries. These are my three favorites in the city of Cincinnati.
Labyrinth at Smale Riverfront Park in Downtown
This outdoor labyrinth is a permanent feature of Smale Riverfront Park. It is located between the Roebling Bridge and the Black Brigade of Cincinnati Monument. The total distance from entrance to center and back is half a mile. When I began the journey, I was the only one walking. Within ten minutes, a young girl on a tricycle who was on the Ohio River Trail with her father saw me and wanted to explore as well. Although they didn’t seem to understand the purpose, they at least opened their perspective enough to wander into a circle that perhaps they had never before noticed.
Labyrinth at Unity of Garden Park
I traveled to a new area of the city to walk this labyrinth, located behind the Unity of Garden Park church. Designed to represent the mythic Phoenix who rises from its ashes to fly away, symbolizing healing and transformation, I felt an alignment of time and space while weaving through the pathways and visualized a peaceful transition from the chaos of 2020, and into a more stable 2021. The words, “May Peace Prevail on Earth,” mark the beginning and end, printed on a post in four languages.
Labyrinth at New Thought Unity Center
Located in the beautiful and historic Cincinnati neighborhood of Walnut Hills is the New Thought Unity Center with it’s outdoor meditation garden and labyrinth. The Cincinnati Magazine from October 15, 2020, gave the labyrinth a bit of publicity. In this online article, Larry Watson, the center’s head prayer chaplain explains the installation’s purpose of creating and releasing an intention, whether “a concern, belief, sadness, emotion, pain, anger, shame.” The process of following the path gives space to reflect on the intention before releasing it. Watson explains that, “working into the center, through the labyrinth, gives us time to be comfortable letting it go.”
Randonauting is the word that defines travel to an “anomolous experience” using the new app called Randonautica. Randonautica describes itself as “the world’s first quantum random adventure game.” It challenges its players to clear their minds, focus their breathe on an intention, and then generate coordinates on a map that aligns with the experience they are seeking.
The mechanics of the app are relatively simple. Each user is gifted 30 Owl Tokens to use during the time cycle of sunrise until the next sunrise over the Giza pyramids. The first step is to set a distance radius that you want to travel. Since I like to walk, my radius is within two and a half miles of my current location. After setting a radius, you think about what you want to find. This is your intention. When your intention is clear, you generate the coordinates. The app then connects to Google Maps and you follow the directions to the destination.
I first heard about Randonautica while watching YouTube videos during the early days of the pandemic. At that time, it was an app only available through TikTok, and the users were describing sinister and malicious experiences. They were discovering indigenous burial sites, possessed dolls abandoned along gravel roads through the backwoods, and other disturbing oddities. I was curious, and wondered, is the darkness inherent within the app itself, or is it a case of attraction? Are the users seeking frightening experiences, and then finding them?
In November, 2020, a new version launched and became available for a free installation through the Google Play store. I installed it, and decided to initiate my own explorations. So far, I have generated five Anomolies, and successfully completed three of them. This is what I have learned, not only about Randonautica, but also about the energetic attraction that forms the material reality of life.
While exploring my consciousness and how it overlaps with the physical world using this app, I wanted to avoid encountering an angry ghost or otherwise dark and dangerous presence. I kept my intentions aligned with “high frequency” motivations, and explored themes of gratitude, friendship, forgiveness, progress, and warmth. The “gratitude” exploration sent me directly to a large, old tree in the forest. “Progress” sent me to a cliff at the periphery of the Vine Street Hill Cemetery, overlooking Interstate 75.
I was with a friend during the exploration of “Forgiveness.” He is the one who identified that intention. When I attempted to generate the experience, the app was unable to find a coordinate. It instructed me to either expand my radius, or select a different intention. I altered it a bit, searching for an experience of an Open Heart, and was then mapped to a location alongside a busy street. My friend, with his guilty conscience, talked on our walk about how he was unable to forgive himself for the culmination of all his actions. Perhaps that is why the app was unable to generate a site of forgiveness for us to find.
Feelings are stronger than words.
Our brains generate about 40 thoughts each minute. Most of these thoughts come from our subconscious mind, and it is impossible for our conscious mind to regulate and control them. While attempting to attract new opportunities and experiences in life, it is often easier and more effective to focus on a feeling instead of a thought or a word. To ask for one thing, while feeling the exact opposite, will generate the feeling instead of the thing described. At least, that is what I experienced with this app.
During my attempt to find “Friendship,” my first intention was “Community.” Since living in Cincinnati, I have felt isolated with a limited social support network. I have practically no community in Cincinnati, so I wasn’t too surprised when the app told me that it couldn’t find “Community” in my radius. I cleared my head, and tried again, with the same results. Then I altered my word to “Friendship.” However, although my brain though the word “Friendship,” what I actually felt was the fear of being a stranger. I was understandably suspicious when the app generated a location to a parking lot of an apartment building well-known for its high crime rates. Although I embarked on that journey, I didn’t finish it. I listened to my intuition, and knew that I would find something disturbing or unwelcomed at the final destination.
It seems to me that technology is evolving toward a trend that minimizes the separation between thought and form. Time and space have always been fluid, and now, through technology, we have even more agency over its relativity. However, the technological devices are still limited in their capacity to absorb the “psychic energy,” for lack of a better term. During my five Randonautica adventures, my phone has malfunctioned on three of them. On my quest toward “Warmth,” it repeatedly shut off, insisting the battery was low, but the battery was at 47%. While searching for “Friendship,” my Google Map app repeatedly rerouted, even though I was on the only road to the destination. Before heading to find the “Open Heart,” both the Randonautica app and the Google Map app failed and froze. I am not much surprised or shocked at these interferences. I believe there is much we do not understand yet about magnetic frequencies and psychic energy, and how they interact together. Our devices have not yet caught up with our creative capacities.
Some users claim the Randonautica app is evil. I disagree. It’s a tool for exploring how our own brains understand and connect to the outside world. I would recommend using caution, and consciousness, while embarking on an adventure though. Like any tool, it is powerful, and capable for both creative and destructive ends.
British writer and adventurer Tony Anderson transports his readers through the remote mountain villages of the nearly impenetrable Caucasus Mountains. The families he encounters are rugged survivors of the war in Abkhazia and Ossetia, and of a long history of tribal and civil war. At the time of his journey in 1998, peace in the region lingered in a balance between ongoing Communist collapse and oppression, and youth looking forward to a hopeful future of democracy and opportunity. This is a narrative of people celebrating life amidst uncertainty, and sharing food regardless of their own hunger. It outlines the history, describes the language, and illuminates the local customs from the mysterious and ancient isthmus positioned between the Black and the Caspian Sea.
The Yellow Envelope
When American author Kim Dinan received a divine message to travel, she was seemingly happily married, successful, and ambitious. However, she described a yawning emptiness inside of her that more material wealth could not fulfill. At first, her husband Brian was not interested in walking away from the life they had acquired in Portland, Oregon, to set off into the vast unknown world. Kim was persistent though, and eventually convinced Brian to sell their belongings, including their cars and their house, and to embark on an open-ended journey outside of their comfortable existence in the United States.
A gift from friends prior to leaving Portland shaped the dimension of their travels. They received a yellow envelope with $1000, and were told to give it away to people they met. The yellow envelope included three rules: Don’t overthink it, share your experience, and don’t feel pressured to give it all away. The intentionality of the gift inspired a conscious awareness within Kim and Brian that they might not have experienced otherwise.
The journey ahead of them after departing from the United States was at first difficult. They were both habituated toward comfortable patterns in life and with each other. How they had defined their relationship and their personal values no longer fit within the construct of hardships of travel such as hunger, poor infrastructure, no routine, physical exhaustion, and lack of privacy. They were both forced to reexamine their own identities, as separate individuals and as a couple.
In the early 2000s, Canadian journalist Jill Lawless accepted a correspondent position at a news outlet in the remote and isolated foreign capital of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. At that time, Mongolia’s media was newly privatized from beneath Communist oversight, and her role was as much a consultant for how to run a newspaper under freedom of the press, as she was a journalist with the UB Post. Lawless was in Mongolia during a time of exciting political and cultural transition. Wild East is less of a travel memoir, but rather essays and shorter narratives of creative non-fiction that describe her adventures in reporting. Even so, it provides a compelling narrative into the historical moment when Mongolia dropped it’s isolation and began to connect to China and Europe on its journey toward modernization.
Yesterday was Indigenous People’s Day in the United States. Indigenous People’s Day started in Berkeley, California, in 1992, 500 years after Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas. It is a counter-celebration of Columbus Day, the US Federal holiday also on October 12, which serves only to sanitize the violent history of colonization across North and South America.
The land of Ohio has a powerful relationship to the Indigenous People who lived in this area for many thousands of years before the European people arrived. The word “Ohio” is itself derived from a word in the Iroquois language for “good river.” That is fitting as Ohio is home to several networks of rivers and tributaries. Also, Tecumseh, the leader of the Native American Confederacy, was born in Ohio. Tecumseh fought to the death to unite the Indigenous People of what is now Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, to secure a hunting ground and a territory, protected against European colonization.
The British were allies with the Native American Confederacy, and during the Treaty of Ghent, the British implored the US Government to return that land to the Indigenous People. However, Ohio was granted statehood in 1803, and then after Tecumseh died in battle in 1813, Indiana followed in 1816, and Michigan in 1837. What remains of the long-standing Councils and the multitude of tribal communities that inhabited the land are relics in museums and several sacred burial grounds.
Recently, I explored three such burial grounds, called “mounds” or “earthworks.” The earthworks are places of ceremony, social gathering, worship, and burial. Although Ohio has many numerous earthwork sites, those I visited are all located in the southern end of the state, between Cincinnati and Athens.
The Mound City Group is one of six Hopewell National Historical Sites. This 13-acre space is enclosed with a 4-foot earth wall, and is home to 23 mounds. The largest mound is 17 and a half feet high, and 90 feet in diameter.
The mounds are what remains from the Hopewell culture, who is thought to have lived in the area from 1-400 AD. Historians and archaeologists speculate that each mound used to house a ceremonial building, based on clues such as artifacts, clays, and ashes. After the building was purposefully dismantled, the mound was constructed.
History almost lost this site. After land pressures in the mid-late 19th century, it was plowed over for farming. Fortunately, two historians had mapped the original site, and it was successfully reconstructed in the 1920s.
Seip Earthworks is another one of the six Hopewell National Historical Sites. It is 120 acres of two circles and a 27-square acre astronomical alignment. Sadly, many of the geometric earthworks were destroyed during colonial expansion. Tim Anderson Jr’s drone footage from 2016 is a birds-eye view of what has been preserved, and is now part of the National Park Service.
My visit was fairly short, but I did take a peaceful moment to prepare morning coffee over my propane backpacking stove and to bask in the fresh autumn sunlight.
I almost bypassed this site, in favor of continuing on to my final evening of camping, but it ended up being my favorite, and most adventurous, afternoon. This site apparently has two earthworks, one at the top of Fort Hill with 33 gateways and 1.5 mile circumference; and a second, more difficult to locate, Circle Earthwork. I opted to trek along the Buckeye Trail to find the less accessible mound.
After perhaps two miles along a steep and uneven path, I was on a narrow trail overgrown with spider webs and vegetation. I waved a stick in front of me with each step to avoid spiders in my hair. Eventually, the trail abruptly ended in a field. A farmer was baling hay in the late afternoon heat, and I wondered if I had taken a wrong turn. I stumbled a bit over the uneven soil, and then finally noticed a slightly elevated area of earth to my right. I had found it, the Circle Earthwork. I felt satisfied and accomplished.
We can’t change the course that history followed, but we can choose which version of history we honor: the brutish violence of colonization, or the powerful energy of a movement toward reclamation that is very much alive. We can choose our heroes, and how we name the victors.
Recently, I was in that inspirational and exhilarating space of planning for a week away from the responsibilities and tedium of daily life. Some may call this a vacation, but for me, these times of freedom and creativity are more akin to a pilgrimage into an unfamiliar space, over-flowing with magic and self-discovery. In the “before times,” I used these respites to explore the archaeology of an ancient civilization in the desert beyond Guadalajara; to wander the Jewish quarters of Prague and Rynek Glowny in Krakow; or maybe to explore the freeways of America from the backbreaking seat of a Greyhound bus. Whatever it was I had planned, it was created in an elemental alignment with my INFP personality.
However, this year, and perhaps for every year moving forward through whatever timeline is unfolding from the current space of chaos, I am grounded. My American passport may never fold into another border agent’s palm, and bus stations are questionable, even in the most sanitary of times. Additionally, the speed of uncertainty and the weight of instability felt like inertia on my tired shoulders. To travel far and fast would be as restful as wading through two miles of thigh-high mud. I needed something simpler.
When I first arrived in Cincinnati, I was surprised at the diversity of Ohio’s landscape. The Appalachian mountains extend from the southeast into the southwest; gorges and waterfalls dance alongside mountain roads, carved like caverns into the landscape; and thick forests of evergreen and deciduous trees offer access to miles of both easy and strenuous hiking trails. I packed my car for a week of camping, and ventured eastward toward Hocking Hills State Forest.
After five days of traversing over rocks and into gorges, of baked goods in Amish country, and reflection at sacred burial sites of the Indigenous people who used to inhabit the land, I arrived for one final night at a state park about 100 miles outside of Cincinnati. It was called Pike Lake State Park, and was a laid back place with children playing innocently on bikes while their adults kicked back over fire pits and Tom Petty music. Most guests were in large campers, and from all appearances, they had moved in to settle for the fall. Twinkle lights hung from tree limbs, and dinner was prepared outside over full cooking range. That evening, I set up my modest tent, and sauteed green beans in canola oil over my single burner propane stove designed for the back country.
The next morning as I prepared my coffee over the same propane stove, my neighbors, who were three women that I assumed were mother and daughters, invited me to join them with their fire. They told me how they had trouble getting it to light the night before, and one of the men from the next camp came and rescued them from the chill. They said they considered the fire a group effort, and they wanted to share it with me. I happily accepted. I had assumed that I would journey through the entire week without any new connections. It is easy to meet people at an international travelers’ hostel; but far more difficult at a quiet American campground.
Like all travelers gathered at a fire, we exchanged stories of inspiration and experience. The older woman is a photographer in Dayton, and the younger women are her friend’s daughters. I shared a bit about myself, and we all talked about religion, faith, service, purpose, and dreams. After I disclosed that I was engaging in personal growth and seeking answers to existential questions in my life, the older of the three women asked me the sacred question. “What did you learn?”
I shared my insights into travel, and of the depth and richness of beauty I had witnessed here in my current backyard. While camping among pine trees reminiscent of the undergrowth in the Humboldt Redwood forest, I had initiated a bit of a love affair with the Great Lakes region. It’s abundant water, it’s lush and fragrant landscape, and it’s biodiversity– even the insects and spider webs– are perhaps under appreciated in the traveler’s imagination. Maybe it is an undiscovered traveler’s market, with plentiful ecotourism and adventure opportunities. Caving, climbing, canopy walks, kayaking, and hiking was everywhere; the colder season will bring snowshoeing, cross country skiing, snowmobiling, and hiking beneath a sparkling clear sky in a night silent beyond the sound of my boots crunching over fresh snow. With so many farming paths and winding country roads to explore around me, it might be many years before I board an airplane again.