Potential Peril at every Turn – Traveling the Road to Hana

A few years ago, my husband and I spent a glorious week in Maui. We had many adventures while there, both on the land and on and in the sea. I am sharing an excerpt from my 50 Life Stories collection about our Maui trip. This excerpt, from Story #32, is about traveling the (treacherous) Road to Hana. If you’ve never been, the sixty plus mile Hana Highway takes its passengers around 620 mountain curves and across 59 bridges (most are old and one-lane). 😨

Some paths are supposed to be walked on, even encouraged, and others come with a warning. Our Road to Hana tour guide, Alex, considered the, “Warning – Stay off the Path” sign a suggestion, not anything to be taken seriously. We followed Alex, passed the sign that warned us to turn around.

“Oh, that’s just there to keep tourists safe,” Alex said, as he forged ahead.

“Wait!” “What are we?”

Alex didn’t hear or chose not to respond to my question. He was either going to lead us into the adventure of a lifetime or to our deaths. As I walked past the small wooden sign, my body, like a magnet, wanted to cling to the sign, before peeling myself away from the group, and running back to the safety of the van. I am not comfortable breaking the rules when those rules come with a DANGER warning. I did not want to be the dumb tourist who makes the evening news for, well, being a dumb tourist. The type of news that is tragic for a second, then the tone quickly turning to a “they deserved it” attitude after the newscaster explains how the area was clearly marked with a warning sign. I began to search my mind for proof that Alex was a credible driver who would not lead us into harm. He had brought us this far on the “death road,” as it is often called, he was incredibly knowledgeable about the island’s history and politics, and he was hired by a tour company. Surely, some vetting took place. I assumed. But … he was extremely late picking us up. So late, he was, that we thought our Road to Hana dreams had vanished.

Alex told us that most group tours start on the north side of the island and make their way south. He, on the other hand, preferred to go against the flow and start on the southern tip of the island and then spend the day traveling north. He planned on taking us through an area that rental cars were not allowed to travel across. For those who choose ignore the signs, they were traveling at their own peril.

“See,” I whispered to John. “If you drove, we wouldn’t get to see that section.”

My husband had wanted to drive our rental Jeep, but I insisted that we go with a tour guide – someone who knew the road. Then John would be able to relax and enjoy the ride. I am not sure how relaxing it is, ever, when you are the one usually in control of the wheels. But, my husband agreed, and I was making sure he heard a convincing argument for giving up the keys that morning.

Alex began talking as soon as we entered the van and did not stop talking for the next 13 hours. I suspect Alex, was talking before we got on the bus and probably kept talking long after we exited. Alex told us about the agriculture in the area, the politics, the local history, including his own. He also told us about fatalities that occurred on the road, even detailing one high profile plunge over the side of a steep cliff, as we were driving by the exact location. The deadly location came near the end of our journey, but the information revealed was no less terrifying. He told us the story of the popular Yoga reality stars, twin sisters, who plunged over the cliff after fighting in the car. The incident left one sister dead and the other charged with second-degree murder. I did not know who he was talking about and frankly, I could have lived without learning of the tragic history of that steep cliff just beyond the curve in the road. Even though we were nearing the end of our day together, we were still traveling across a dangerous one-lane road, where at any turn, we could have faced an oncoming vehicle and our own mortality. Every time we made it safely around a blind curve, I could breathe a little easier and my praying could pause, at least momentarily.

Despite Alex’s inability to stop talking, for even five minutes, he was a wealth of information, and our day would not have been the same, or as experiential, if just the two of us had ventured out on our own. He told us about the history of the old wooden bridges that connected the curvy road fifty-nine times, and he shared the location of a hidden church, a famous burial site, movie locations, waterfalls that fed into cool swimming pools, hidden beaches, and he enticed us to try strange fruit in the yard next to the church. He had safely and calmly maneuvered us past a potentially volatile situation when we had encountered a smaller vehicle head-on when rounding one of the many blind curves.

We were several hours into our Road to Hana venture, when Alex led the way down the trail to an unmarked destination. The only mishap that had happened by that point, was a falling plate and glass. Alex had skirted a little too close to the edge of the road, when the van caught a protruding tree branch. The unforgiving road did not allow for much room on either side of the van, including room for another vehicle. The shattering plate that followed the jolting thud caused each passenger to gasp.

“It was just a plate,” a nervous and relieved voice said.

We let out a collective exhale.

Credibility and knowledge proven, why not follow Alex, the local, down the forbidden path? Alex led us into a dark cave. Magnificent. The cave was full of water. Interesting. Immediately, Alex laid his sunglasses, shoes, and keys on a rock and jumped in. He invited others to join him. Not surprising, no females from our group accepted his request, but three men did, including my husband.

“Wait! Are you serious? What are you doing?” My words floated across the musty air and trailed off, making no impact on the intended audience.  

For a tour driver who could not stop talking, he failed to talk about where they were headed, what to expect, or any other important safety tips before he led the brave, albeit dumb, group of loyal followers into the dark waters of the cave. As the men disappeared out of sight, the rest of us stood speechless and unsure of what to do next. We decided it best to scoop the many personal belongings that had been left behind in the unprotected cave, including our keys for safe passage home. Hopefully, Alex would make it out alive. I doubted an Uber driver would come to our rescue in that situation. Traveling the Road to Hana is for the adventurous thrill-seekers and not for those needing the conveniences of city life. With the belongings of others in our hands, those of us who chose not to submerge in the dark waters made our way out of the cave and down a tree-lined trail that led to a sparkling light-colored sandy beach. Paradise, except for this gnawing feeling that I might never see my husband alive again. I found a large piece of driftwood to perch myself on and waited. For how long, was yet be revealed. I sat in a spot that would give me a visual of the edge of what appeared to be where one might exit after swimming through the opening of the drowned cave, but I had no idea where they might resurface, so I sat waiting and watching. I found a credit card near my feet, with no apparent owner or bags nearby. No one came by looking for the card, while I sat vigilantly watching a possible cave exit.

Eventually the cave dwellers descended the path toward us. One of them, my husband, was not as happy to see me as I was him. He was angry that I took his flip flops, causing him to walk barefoot from the cave to the beach. I told him, we took their things, because we didn’t want to leave everything behind, and Alex was short on the specifics about their mysterious cave adventure.

Our group did some beach exploring, which included walking through a hollowed-out rock that revealed a perfectly framed ocean at the opening of the tunnel. We swam and enjoyed the sun until it was time to continue with our Road to Hana adventure.

After we were safely back in the van, Alex felt it the opportune time to tell us, “If anyone gets sick in the next couple of days, it might be from bacteria in the water, in the cave.”

“Nice of you to tell us, NOW, Alex” I said.

No one else responded or acknowledged Alex’s comment. Strange, but it wasn’t the first time my question was carried away in the tropical wind. If we survive the remainder of this ridiculous road, the adventurous trip might still get John through a tiny microbial that just entered a paper cut on his finger, while he was following fearless Alex into a dark and dank cave in Maui.

… Fortunately, their cave adventure is remembered as a highlight of the day (for my husband) instead of a news headline of the night (for the rest of us). We ended our memorable day at Ho’okipa Beach Park, watching sea turtles sleep and the sun set.

Thank you for stopping by and reading an excerpt from my Story #32. I am not sure I will travel the Road to Hana again, but I am so glad I didn’t let fear stop me. I am also grateful for our driver and tour guide, Alex. 🤟 😀 If you are facing a treacherous road, don’t quit, just find the right guide. 😏 Have an inspired weekend! Michele

Copyright © 2020 Michele Lee Sefton. All Rights Reserved.

A Body that Transcends

Her body holds secrets
that I can only hear
if I sink into the liquid,
and let her draw me near,
as her ancient wisdom
soothes, washes, and transcends
time, thought, and truths.
In the murkiness, I suspend
my frame and my beliefs
about what is and what should be
and simply allow her body
to support and carry me.
Just breathe, there is nothing to fear.
She carries and protects the secrets
of all that is, was, and will be,
surely, she can do the same for me.

Gliding Across Glass

I learned at any early age that what first appears as an insurmountable and tortuous task, can turn into one of my greatest joys. I learned this when I was about eight years old and I was faced with learning something that seemed impossible to master. The seemingly impossible task required me to submerge in cold dark lake water, struggle with a life jacket that was riding above my ears, keep my feet in skies that pointed in every direction except the desired one – toward the throttling boat, and wrap my small fingers around the bouncing handles found at the end of a long rope. I needed to manage these tasks while bobbing alone, far from the safety of our boat. Each failed attempt to stand up on those skies meant I had to watch our boat, driven by my father, pass my way without stopping. A castaway, unable to call for help, I once again watched the long white tail trailing behind our boat approach my outstretched arms. My task was to grab the rope, before the boat circled behind me. If I missed grabbing my lifeline, the boat idled while I swam awkwardly to the end of the tail. Handles secure, the boat would continue its journey, back to where it began, and the stretched long rope created a taut straight line from me to them. Not only did the tight rope create the shortest distance between me and my family, it reduced the slack that can cause a sudden jolt and probable tumble after the propulsion catches up with the paused skier.

Another failed attempt and a rope burn around my pointer finger would surely land me a seat in the dry warm boat. Sadly, it did not. Apparently, my pleading and tears were drowned by the waves. My father would not let me back in the boat until I stood up on those skies. I knew those words carried weight, and I would need to lift my own out of the water if I wanted to feel dry land again.

I yelled, “Hit it,” as I had been instructed to do and finally, sitting back, my posture secure, determined, I was able to hold on to the split handles long enough to allow the engine to pull me up and out of the water. I did it! I can still feel the wind on my face, and the sound of the water splashing off me, as the motor’s speed instantly changed me from a floating fish form back into an upright mammal, only now, I did what primates are not naturally designed to do; I was gliding across water.  

I wanted nothing more in those moments of failed ski starts to crawl back into the boat. I am glad I did not get my way. Learning to water ski as a young person gave me the greatest gifts of my childhood and allowed me to experience profound freedom and joy. I have many fond memories of skiing across Arizona lakes: the revved engine when I yelled, “hit it,” feeling the spray from my ski as I leaned closer to the water, the freedom of gliding across the water, the friendly hellos from other boaters as they noticed the small slalom skier passing by, skiing alongside my brother, watching my parents ski, the pop of the vibrating red flag when a skier went down, the smacking sound made when the waves and the boat crashed into each other, and skiing through canyons that amplified sight and sound.

I enjoyed gliding across a smooth glass-top lake, that could be found on a quiet and calm weekday. Gliding across glass was an exhilarating experience, both the feel of the smooth water under my ski, and the look of the surface as I cut across. Calm water was a gift, but I did not mind a few waves now and then to add interest and challenge. My two-ski start was quickly replaced with a slalom ski that allowed me to maneuver outside of the wake, from right to left, and left to right. I learned how to ride the ridge of the wake as it propelled me outside of its boundaries, and I became skilled at leaning sideways, close to the water before leaning back and jetting across the wake to do the same on the other side. My difficult ski start was replaced with the strength and skills that allowed me to balance gracefully on one ski and stay on top of the water for longer periods. I also learned how to motion to go faster, which I often did during my adventurous youth. My ski moments were not completely void of fear – I did experience it from time to time. Fear surfaced if a large boat sped by, because that meant large waves would follow, or if I sat too long bobbing alone in the water before our boat made its way back to me. My family worked well as a team during these moments. My mom or dad drove the boat, and one of us was always on the lookout for a downed skier, flag ready. The last time I skied, my daughter, who was young at the time, saw me fall and somersault across the water. When I climbed back in the boat she was upset and crying; she was worried about her mom. I was fine, not even a scratch. I was better than fine.

Thank you for stopping by and reading my poem about the transcendent power of swimming in a body of water and my story about learning to water ski. I hope that you are finding joy and adventure in your own life. Have an inspired weekend! Michele

If you are receiving my blog through email, thank you for taking the time to read my words and glance at my photos. For optimal viewing, consider going directly to the web @ https://myinspiredlife.org/blog-feed/ for each post.

Picture 1: View from a boat, Saguaro Lake, Arizona Picture 2: Lake Pleasant, Arizona Picture 3: Lake Pleasant, Arizona Picture 4: One of 27 replica lighthouses along Lake Havasu, Lake Havasu City, Arizona

Copyright © 2020 Michele Lee Sefton. All Rights Reserved.

Laughing with Evelyn – A New Year's Eve Story

Four days in Oregon with our daughter and her boyfriend were filled with fun, delicious food, holiday cheer, late-night board games, movies, hugs, and plenty of rain. We had to say goodbye to the two of them, but not to the rain. We returned home to a rainy Phoenix. The rare rainy day in the desert is becoming the norm this season. We welcome it, and so do my flowers. Rain or not, we look forward to saying so long to 2019 and saying hello to 2020.

In four nights, we will be ushering in 2020, dressed in 1920s style clothes at a ’20s-themed party. As I was preparing our ’20s attire for the evening, my mind wondered to thoughts of my maternal grandmother, Evelyn (Rippy) Parker. My grandmother was born in 1920 in Arkansas, nearly 100 years ago. She departed this world during her 87th year and while I miss her, I am so grateful to have many fond memories of laughing with her. Evelyn loved to tell jokes, or at least the beginning of jokes. She usually forgot the punch line, but her lapse did not hamper our laughter. She also shared stories of growing up on a farm in Arkansas, and although some of those stories took place during the depression, her stories highlighted humorous moments of her life as a farm girl. Raised as a farm girl, her true essence craved the pace of city life. She loved fashion, she loved to dance and flirt, and she loved being in the center of activity. She also loved to gamble. Perhaps I will share some of her funny farm stories on June 20, 2020 – the day before her 100th birthday. For now, I am going to share a cherished Evelyn story that took place on New Year’s Eve. The year was 1996 and I was living in Henderson, Nevada, with my husband and young daughter.

Our home was only twenty minutes from the Las Vegas strip. The distance between our community and the strip gave us just enough distance to carry on lives that weren’t focused on the lure of quick cash, but if we stood at the top of the hill in our backyard in the evening, we could see the glow of “sin city.” That glow attracted my grandmother and her gambling sidekick, my mother-in-law, Judi. The twinkling neon compelled Judi and Evelyn to leave the Sonoran Desert and travel five hours in Judi’s maroon Buick to the Mojave Desert. Sure, they came to see us, their family of three living in Nevada, but they may have been a little less motivated to make the drive if our destination did not include a night out in the Gambling Capital of the World.

Two days before the new year, our adventurous matriarchs arrived with wrapped presents and wallets that they were ready to hand over to the casinos. We visited, ate dinner, and opened gifts, then the two Arizona grandmas were ready to buckle up in the Buick and visit the street of neon lights. Those flashing lights transformed the two elders into energetic twenty-one-year-olds. On any given day, neither of those ladies were up for the task of taking long walks. My grandmother had knee and foot issues and my mother-in-law had severe scoliosis that impeded her mobility, but there was something about those lights that suspended their disabilities and their pain long enough for them to stroll across carpeted casino floors and between brightly lit casino walkways; a youthful elixir it seemed. They were the young ones ready to seek and explore. We were the old married couple. They ventured toward the strip and we put our toddler, and ourselves, to bed.    

The next morning, I was relieved to see the Buick parked in the driveway as I set out to prepare for the New Year’s Eve cheer that was to take place later that afternoon. My grandmother found me in the kitchen making breakfast. We talked about their grand adventure from the night before. We talked about the casinos they had visited and the sights on the strip. Knowing my grandmother’s interest in the male gender, I teased her about finding slot machines next to attractive men. She didn’t respond, but I did see a sparkle in her eye and a smile that revealed more than spoken words. As my grandma talked about her evening, she talked about how she hadn’t won anything, and rather than wallow in regret or self-pity, my grandmother began to laugh, and soon we were both laughing – hysterically. In between the uncontrollable laughter she said she was one of those old people who would need to eat beans for the rest of the month because she had gambled away her SS check in the first week. She elaborated her fable, describing what the rest of her month would look like because of losing too much money the night before. Each scenario of fabricated misery became more enhanced as she continued to embellish her desperate situation. As her month of misery grew more desperate our laughter escalated and echoed through the house, signaling others to find out what was so funny. Soon we were all laughing at the thought of my never-missed-a-meal grandmother living on only beans for the rest of the month.  

Evelyn, neighbor Vinny, and Judi

We poured champagne and toasted the New Year’s with our gregarious Italian neighbors, while our daughter and their two children ate smores and lit sparklers. Kept warm by our fire-pit, we laughed into the morning hours. When it was time to say “So long for now” to the Arizona-bound broke grandmas, my husband and I stood on the carport waving goodbye. Any sadness we felt about saying goodbye was quickly replaced with joy when we burst out laughing at the image of the two little ol’ ladies driving away. Where did they go? Neither of their heads were visible from behind the car. They both had disappeared into the seat and it appeared that the car was driving itself.   

I smile when I think of the two of them meeting again in heaven. They are certainly laughing and causing some playful mischief. I wish I could watch the short-haired pair disappear into the horizon just one more time. For now, I have my memories and those memories still make me laugh. I am also reminded that we are never too old to seek and explore and, most importantly, we are never too old to laugh at ourselves.

Happy New Year’s to you! I hope your evening is full of laughter and that the memories you make on New Year’s Eve will keep you laughing for years to come. Michele

Copyright © 2019 Michele Lee Sefton. All Rights Reserved.

Discovering the Great in the Outdoors

Our favorite recreational activity is spending time in the great outdoors.

Finally reaching a sweet spot, we are now primed to head out and explore.

My lover of parks and I perfecting what we pack in the car, before traveling north, south, east, or west.

Discovering barely worn trails, both near and far, is always our favored quest, and visiting an Arizona State Parks site makes us feel doubly blessed.

Our recent visits to several Arizona State Parks have been invigorating, liberating, and breathtaking, but …

I have not always experienced the great in the outdoors.

I did not enjoy camping and fishing as a kid. Especially when my dad woke us up hours before the sun to “beat the traffic.” This idea strikes me as hilarious, since the traffic that happened during my youth, was nothing compared to the never ceasing traffic we now see on our congested streets and freeways. But, for the man who loved to fish, who was still the boy from Iowa, the lake was best experienced in the calm quiet of the still morning; a stolen hour or two before other boaters caught up with him. I would rather have continued enjoying the quiet of my warm bed, but as a child my opinions were often overruled. So, frazzled and grumpy, I dragged myself into whatever truck we had at the time. Sometimes I would climb into the cabin of the truck and other times I would climb into the camper. If in the camper, my brother and I would play cards, or board games, while traveling to our lake destination, and with one unexpected bump on the highway, our cards or game pieces were scattered in the air while we were tossed around, like two exploding kernels in a hot kettle.

Other times we did not have the luxury of a cab or camper. We were just two dusty smelly crispy lake kids bouncing around in the back of our truck. I was always trying to hide from the scorching sun, usually under a blanket or anything else I could crawl under and hang onto. My brother didn’t seem to mind the heat as much as I did, but his little leathered nose paid the price for overexposure. During the days before sunblock was an outdoor staple, it seems my brother had a peeling nose that is forever captured in just about every family and elementary school picture.  

Lake Havasu State Park, near Sunset Trail

The tortuous sun is what I most despised about our camping trips. I would hide away in any shady spot I could find on our bass boat, usually under the steering wheel when my parents were fishing. Waiting desperately for any respite of shade, my young grumpy self, turned into I am bored out of my mind self. Along with hiding from the relentless rays, we were discouraged from talking while on the boat. OK, we weren’t allowed to talk – we might scare the fish away. Maybe it was a plausible scenario, that two youngsters quietly talking could chase off fish swimming depths beneath our boat and ruin our chance at a fresh fish dinner. As an adult, I now believe that my dad just wanted quiet. I suppose I understand.    

Lake Havasu State Park, near cabins

The baking sun and a boring bass boat are the two things that made me want to hide under the covers when our parents began calling us out of bed, but there were happy moments to be had on the way to and at the lake. Most of those happy moments show up as memory highlights from our family outings, versus a my favorite camping story, with a defined beginning, middle, and end. Sometimes just the four of us went to the lake, and other times we joined up with my parents’ friends, or larger groups of people during fishing tournaments.

Saguaro Lake, Maricopa County, AZ (Four Peaks, part of the Mazatzal Mountains, featured in background)

If I could splice all the happy memories together, I would end up with a camping trip that begins something like this:  With our windows down we traveled down Bush Highway that led to one of the many lakes northeast of the valley. Going up and down the curvy stretch felt more like a rollercoaster than a road. We listened to songs like, “Bye-Bye Miss American Pie” and singers like, Willie Nelson on an 8-track cassette, that my dad turned down occasionally so that he could talk on his CB Radio. Sometimes he would even let us click and speak. We said silly things like, 10-4 good buddy to truckers passing by. As we passed the green spikey sentinels standing guard several steps off the road and up the hill, my mom and I would talk about what life might have been like for the Native Americans and early settlers who lived and traversed through the region, before dams were built and lakes were created. Driving and talking until a turn in the road revealed the lake below – the crystal blue water that reflected the sky and called my parents time and time again. We found our campsite, a cove, and began the setting up camp process. My brother and I would stand idly by or entertain ourselves while my parents partnered to back the boat into the lake. One of them in the truck and the other in the boat, working together to set the boat free. With that task completed, we would find the perfect camp spot and begin unpacking necessities for the weekend:  a stove, a lantern, a tent, sleeping bags, coolers, chairs, and fishing gear. Once organized our weekend adventures began.

I remember hearing the morning melody of mourning doves and other desert birds, before unzipping my tent, and the calm lake that looked like blue glass, before jets stirred the water. I remember campfires and the stars at night; both seemed more grandiose than they do now. Although still beautiful, as an adult, fires seem smaller and the stars seem fewer.

I remember learning:  Learning to put a hook through a squirmy worm, learning to cast and reel, learning to watch for signs that fish might be biting, learning to wait quietly, learning to filet a fish with a knife I never would have been allowed to use at home, learning to read a depth-finder, learning to swim, learning to slalom ski and realizing this sport made the torturous heat and the endless waiting worthwhile, and learning to watch vigilantly when others were skiing, ready to pop up the red flag when a skier went down.

Lake Havasu, near London Bridge

I remember watching my parents cook breakfast on the camping stove. The fresh open air amplified the sound of the simmering coffee, the sizzling sausage, and the bubbling eggs. An aroma carried along by the morning breezes that would rouse the last of the sleepy campers. I remember devouring what my dad called, Poor Man’s Lobster (bite size bass boiled in water and beer, dipped in melted butter). Delicious. I remember trying Coors in a gold can for the first and last time. Disgusting.     

Although I cannot recall a favorite camping trip story, there were some standout hilarious moments that did not seem so at the time. Laughter is sometimes a delayed dish, needing time and perspective to simmer.    

Funny camping moment #1: We were camping in a cove and my parents were fishing nearby in the boat, while my brother and I were back at the campsite. I ventured off alone to use the restroom (i.e. a large tree I could hide behind). While there, minding my own, I mean, taking care of my business, I was surrounded by about half a dozen grazing cattle, who were chomping their way toward me and staring at this strange little creature crouched by a tree. Being a bit compromised, I could not move, but I could scream. That scream echoed through the canyon and was more of a distress signal than any red flare I could have fired. When my parents found me, they were out of breath from sprinting to my rescue, but they did manage to laugh after they realized the reason behind the scream.

Funny camping moment #2:  Once again, my parents were fishing in the nearby cove while my brother and I were back at the campsite. The sun had set, and we were in the camper. I was probably reading a book and my brother was probably building something or taking something apart. At least we were doing those things until noises outside the camper startled us. We jumped onto the raised mattress and terrified, we began to quietly conjecture about what might be making the skin-crawling scratching noises outside of the camper. Frozen, we looked at each other with frightened eyes, imagining what creature of the night was going to bust through the door and drag us off never to be seen again. This scene lasted a lifetime, until our parents made it back to the camper. Huddled in the top of camper, we explained that something was outside, scratching its way in. The “something” was a tree branch resting on the camper, that was moving back and forth in the wind.    

I have other funny camping moments and not so funny camping moments, but I will save those for another time.   

Did I say I hated camping and fishing as a kid? I suppose being woken up before the sun to beat the traffic and find the perfect cove wasn’t so bad.

Buckskin Mountain State Park

Thank you for stopping by and for traveling with me through a few Arizona State Parks and down memory lane. If you are receiving my blog through email, thank you for taking the time to follow and read my blog. For optimum viewing, consider going directly to the web @ https://myinspiredlife.org/blog-feed/ for each post. Have an inspired weekend and enjoy the great outdoors! Michele

This post is dedicated to all the parents who take their kids camping, fishing, boating, hiking, and exploring in the Great Outdoors. Keep doing it, even if your kids grumble and complain. 😉

Photo of my dad doing what he loved, a few years before he passed.

© 2019 Michele Lee Sefton. All Rights Reserved.

Nonstop Rain, the Mighty Rogue River, and a Swimming Bald Eagle

Relentless rain transformed the park near my home into a lake.

I haven’t left my city all week and yet I feel as though I have been transported to another location, as I have watched the dry Sonoran Desert turn into an expansive wet landscape. A magical transformation, that has also been treacherous for many, with streets and homes flooding. The greater Phoenix area just saw three days of relentless rain. Quite a change for us considering we haven’t had significant rain in 270 days. Our 72-hour downpour that, in some places, delivered six months of our annual rainfall (average 4-8 inches), now feels like a distant memory with the sun drying streets, yards, and parks.

I enjoyed every drop of it. Maybe I can, because it is such a rare occurrence for us living in the Southwest. While out taking photos of our neighborhood park that was transformed into a lake, I closed my eyes and for a moment I imagined that I was in Oregon, walking through my daughter’s neighborhood and enjoying the cool breeze, an abundance of water, and the fresh crisp air that was enveloping me.

Feeling as though I had been transported to the Pacific Northwest, I was reminded of another magical misty moment that occurred when we were traveling seventy-five miles down the mighty Rogue River. My family and I spent the day on a speed boat tour. We saw some sights that can only be experienced in the wild and a few that we may never stumble upon again. Our knowledgeable captain and guide educated us on the history of the river and the wildlife in the area – life found in the river, on the land, and in the air. We saw osprey and bald eagle nests, deer swimming to the opposite shore, breathtaking channels, and whitewater rafters and kayakers.

Many wonders to behold in all directions, but two sightings captivated us, and they revealed the incredible natural cycle of life in the wild. The first sighting happened traveling downstream. Our captain noticed something odd floating near the shore. He slowed the jets and moved closer to the bobbing object. Closeness revealed both the size and identity of the object. The object was a deceased bald eagle that was floating with its fierce face pointing down and its massive wings stretched and lifeless. A sad moan rippled through the passengers as each realized what our captain had found. I did not take pictures. My response was to mourn, not take pictures of the loss of this magnificent creature. We waited by the shore while our captain radioed his findings to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife officials. Following protocol, the feathered creature would be examined to determine the cause of death, which hopefully did not involve intentional harm. Eventually we left the eagle, and continued downriver, bringing some sadness with us, and an appreciation for the fragile existence of those living in the wild.

Our second memorable sighting happened on our return voyage, travelling upstream. Once again, our observant captain noticed something floating in the water, and once again he slowed his jets to not frighten what lay in the distance. The object was another bald eagle, except this eagle was fully alive. It was swimming! Every passenger jumped up and ran to the edge of the boat to catch a glimpse of the swimming eagle. We watched in awe as the animal looked back at us and then carried on with its business, which was to bring its prey out of the water. The scene unfolded quickly, but I managed to capture some video that you can view below (scroll to bottom of blog for four videos). The captain told us that the bird would swim to the shore, eat, and then after drying off its wings, which might take some time, fly away. The captain was right on all accounts, except for the, taking some time to dry off its wings, comment. The eagle flew off quickly, leaving us unprepared to capture the moment, but it was glorious all the same, because the memory of that moment is etched in my mind.  

Bald eagle drying its wings. Sadly a plastic cup sits behind.

Balcony View Above the Rogue River

Flowing water below, streaming cars above.

Permeable liquid and solid steel,

both flowing fast and changing with each glance.

One shares union with divinity and carries secrets from the past.

The other was forged with modern hands and unlike the timeless river, will not last.

Diamond jewels appear along the crest, then twinkle and vanish.

Ancient rocks below are not moving, but changing all the same.

A verdant duck glides close to the water’s surface,

its evolved eyes searching and skimming.

A butterfly descends in an effortless tumble, guided by the invisible wind.

The arms of trees reach for each other, waving to the giver-of-life below.

The trees speak in a language that only the quiet among us can truly know.

The cool breeze carries seeds, leaves, and stories from the ages.

A moment suspended above The Mighty Rogue River,

offers a glimpse into the unceasing flow of creation.

Thank you to the life-giver and soul-nourisher – water. Thank you for giving us life and for enriching our lives.

I hope that my Saturday posts bring you a spark of inspiration at the end of your week and the beginning of your weekend, or whenever you choose to read my words. As I write this post, late Friday afternoon, I am so grateful to do so. I am wrapping up a week of annoying and frustrating life stuff, nothing serious, but the type of scenarios that make you want to pull your hair out, scream, punch, or all of the above. I am grateful that the week’s frustrations were resolved yesterday evening and now, what a blessing it is to take a moment and focus on that which inspires me, lifts me up, and brings me joy. It is my desire that some, or all of that extends to you.  

Photo taken at Kartchner Caverns State Park 20-year anniversary (11/16)

If you are reading my words early Saturday morning (MST), I will be beating the sunrise and climbing Sunrise Mountain while working as a trail host at the Copper Hills “4 Peak Challenge” Hike (#CH4Peak). Please send me and the hikers and trail runners good vibes as we make our way up the mountain.

If you are receiving my blog through email, thank you for taking the time to follow my blog. For optimum viewing, consider going directly to the web @ https://myinspiredlife.org/blog-feed/ for each post. However you choose to look at my posts and pictures, thank you! Have an inspired weekend! Michele

Hawaii interview update: The inspiring family of five who recently moved to Hawaii are very busy getting settled and, well, being a family of five. I hope to complete their interview and story soon.

© 2019 Michele Lee Sefton. All Rights Reserved.

Rediscovering a Passion and Connecting to a Legacy

Relearning to slow down and see the world through a camera lens. Pictured here looking through my dad’s lens, that I recently inherited.

One of my goals, during my inspirational and intentional change journey, is to reconnect with my passions. Passions that I have either neglected for too many years, or passions I have yet to discover. On the neglected list was photography. As a young person, I loved capturing a moment in time through a camera lens – stories told without words, transferred to the viewer through a single still image. I have been reconnecting with that early love. Five weeks ago, I signed up for a photography class through our local Parks and Recreation department and have been relearning a hobby that once inspired me and gave me purpose.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I asked my dad if he would buy me a camera for a photography class I wanted to sign up for. I don’t recall the cost of the camera back then, but it was enough to warrant a conversation between my dad and (former) stepmom. I had passionately pleaded my case. My photography fate rested in the outcome of a conversation that took place behind a closed bedroom door. I sat in the hallway, waiting and hoping, while they deliberated on this potentially, life-altering decision. Much to my surprise, they agreed. I was ecstatic. Of course, my future camera purchase came with a caveat:  I had to listen to the obligatory, “This is an expensive purchase, so it is important that you see it through,” directive from my stepmom.

My first “real” camera was a pre-digital Minolta; 35 mm film was required. What followed my parents’ purchase was a love affair with my photography class and the picture-taking process. I loved learning about f-stops, the shutter speed, exposure, and film developing. The darkroom was a secret chamber. A place where faces magically appeared on blank paper. I remember the smell of the processing chemicals and the feel of the closed-off chamber that sealed out light and fresh air. But inside that black room, the energy was anything but stagnant. I remember standing over the tub of chemicals, gently moving the photograph paper back and forth with tongs, breathing wafts of pungent odors, and watching as the image came to life. Often the exposed image revealed a lesson to be learned regarding my photography skills, but sometimes I captured something that made me gasp. In joy. In surprise. In wonder. The photograph, whether one to share or one to toss, was then clasped to a long thin wire for drying.

My emerging love affair with photography gave me a sense of purpose. I felt purposeful and directed when I could take pictures at events or gatherings, versus engaging in awkward small talk, or worse, confronting boredom. Looking through the lens also allowed me to see things I might not otherwise see and in doing so, my perspectives began to evolve – not only about the material world around me, but about my future. I daydreamed about becoming a photojournalist, which would allow me to marry my new love, photography, with my first creative love, writing. I continued taking pictures, learning, and progressing through high school until the unthinkable happened. My sophomore year was cut short when my stepmom decided I should live with my mom three weeks shy of summer vacation. Once again, the details of my destiny were sorted behind a closed door, in a hushed conversation. I was surprised by the decision, only this time I was not ecstatic. I was devastated. Moving to Colorado the last three weeks of my sophomore year was a difficult transition and one for another story. I had to say goodbye to my childhood friends, but I did not have to say goodbye to my camera. My camera came with me when I abruptly left my high school and moved to Colorado to live with my mom and stepdad.

Moving to Englewood, Colorado and starting a new high school was a difficult experience, but I did have a few memorable photography moments while there. I remember taking pictures of a lake in the early evening. My perfectly selected settings captured trees, the moon, stars and their glowing reflections in the still water below. The developed image made me gasp. In awe. I also captured several urban shots in Denver that I incorporated into a Social Studies project during my junior year. I was allowed to complete an extra credit project because I was earning an excelling grade in the course. I chose to research and share pictures and details of several historical downtown Denver buildings. My stepfather drove me downtown and waited while I walked several streets looking for just the right architectural picture. Once again, my camera gave me a sense of purpose and it also allowed me to see my new city with a different perspective.

I moved back to Mesa, Arizona to graduate from my original high school, with my childhood friends. Once again, my camera came with me.

Lake Pleasant, Arizona (substitute for my Denver lake picture that is long gone)

…………………

I kept my first camera for a few more years, but my photographs went dark. Photography was an expensive hobby that I could not afford to maintain as a young trying-to-survive-person. The point, click, and save world of today, had replaced the buy and develop film of an earlier era. Each of those steps required a monetary investment – one that I simply could not make. I remember the day I sold my camera. I sold it to a stranger who would never know the purpose it had given me and how grateful I was when my parents agreed to buy it. Although that camera had represented a highly coveted path to creative expression just a few years before, it had turned into pieces of metal, plastic, and glass that served as another reminder of what I could not afford to indulge in. I sold it, paid some bills, and moved on.

I would pick up a camera again when my daughter was born, and like most new parents, I documented every month, if not every day of her young life. Those photographs are my most cherished possessions; they document every stage of her life. They also document a time of delayed photographic gratification. When my daughter was a toddler, we bought our first digital camera. The cost was exorbitant and one that should have made the young parents we were pause, but we were fascinated by the technology and wanted to experience it as quickly as possible. What we didn’t realize, as we were caught up in a must have this newest gadget frenzy, is that the technology that would transform our picture taking would also take away the tangible result of taking a picture. The cost of the camera (somewhat) balanced not having to buy film anymore, except for a few select photographs, but the new technology could not replace the simple pleasure of sitting side-by-side and looking through photo albums. Nor could it replace the experience of developing my own images in that darkroom, or the feel of a photograph in my young daughter’s hands and the intimate connection made by looking closely into a loved one’s eyes, versus clicking hurriedly through dozens of pixelated images staring back from a computer screen.

I appreciate my files of digital photographs that document our lives together. Digital photography is extraordinary and allows for smoother sorting, easier sharing of images, and of course, digital manipulation. My need to know different camera settings to achieve the results I visualized had been replaced with the ease of point and click. I have continued to take pictures, but the act of capturing an image had lost the creative allure I experienced as a high school student. Yet, I have harbored the desire to reconnect with that young love and once again learn how to use my camera in a manner that goes behind the simple point, click, and save process. So, after several years of saying, “Someday I would like to take a photography class again,” I finally followed through with my desires; I signed up for a photography class and have been learning how to use my 2017 Canon camera Christmas present, beyond the automatic setting, and relearning the technical and the artistic aspects of visual storytelling.

Shared Lens

Inherited camera that I am learning to use.

It was during week two of my photography class, that my (current) stepmom gave me my dad’s camera. I was surprised. I thought he had sold his camera to my brother. He actually had sold a camera several years ago; this was a different camera. She thought I should have his camera, given my interest in photography. His camera, a Sony, represents so much more than the metal, plastic, and glass materials that house the 21st century picture-taking technology. It represents a connection to a side of my father that emerged during his retirement years. A side to him that may have been there for many decades, but it was when his active work life slowed that he began to share his sensitive reflective nature, that was delivered through dozens of emails, sent to family, containing photographs of his picture du jour. His emails often included humorous and thoughtful messages.

Here is an example of an image and message my dad sent to family:

“HAVE A GREAT DAY. I thought this was appropriate for a Friday. It looks like he is heading home.” DDW (email received May 15, 2015)

I can recall several memories of my father, the man behind the lens, as he documented important life events. I remember waving to him, as he stood in the orchestra pit, camera ready, during my first dance recital. He also captured pictures of me walking across the stage, both as a high school graduate and when I received my first college degree. My father would once again be the man standing, camera ready, taking pictures of his dancing daughter, when I participated in several community holiday performances. I appreciate having tangible reminders of special life moments, made more meaningful by knowing the photographer, but it wasn’t until life forced my dad to slow down, that he began to explore the creative side of photography, and through that exploration, an attention to nature’s special moments.      

Nature’s force and fragility, captured by my dad.

My dad was thrilled to capture the Salt River Wild Horses on the move. A “decisive moment in photography,” as my photography instructor would say.

I have been told many times that I have my dad’s green eyes. As a young person, I heard this frequently when meeting one of my dad’s coworkers, friends, or Iowa family members for the first time. I appreciated sharing this physical feature with him. His eyes were a light green that contrasted dramatically with his dark hair (in his younger years). It occurred to me recently, that we shared both similar eyes and the love of extending our vision beyond what is obvious and capturing what a focused camera lens reveals. It took me slowing down and reconnecting with this early passion to fully appreciate the joy my father was experiencing as he worked on finding just the right setting to capture a bee buzzing around a flower in his backyard.

My Green Eye

My “Eye” picture was taken at the Arizona Science Center, in Phoenix, which has a telescope that projects the viewer’s supersized eye onto the ceiling above.

……….

I have some unfinished business with an early creative passion, and now that my fate rests in my hands, I plan on seeing it through – through green eyes that observe behind a shared lens.  

I hope you enjoyed reading the puns as much as I enjoyed writing them. 😊

Slow down and capture a moment.

Are you interested in learning more about photography? Community colleges and local Parks and Recreation departments are a great place to start your photographic adventure.

My class takes place in the City of Peoria, Arizona, at the Rio Vista Recreation Center, with professional photographer, John Keedy.

Message to myinspiredlife.org blog followers:

If you are receiving my blog through email, thank you for taking the time to follow my blog, I really appreciate it. I hope you are finding the weekly writings and photographs inspiring. I have noticed that the formatting of each post gets wonky through the static email delivery.

For optimum viewing, consider going directly to the web @ https://myinspiredlife.org/blog-feed/ for each post. However you choose to look at my posts, thank you!

If you are going through a life change or know someone who is, I would love to learn more and possibly share their story on a weekly post.

Thank you and have an inspired weekend!

Michele

Copyright © 2019 Michele Lee Sefton. All Rights Reserved.

The Summer Sun’s Retreat Invites Us Out to Play

Our beautiful backyard sanctuary is an inspiring place to greet the fall day.

Agreeable Autumn Days in Arizona

Change is a constant in our lives and that renewal is reflected in the natural world around us. On Monday, September 23rd, the sun began to loosen her control over those living in the Valley of the Sun. Although the change in season occurred over two weeks ago, we are just beginning to enjoy the effects of that seasonal change. The sun does not leave us quickly or willingly, it seems, as she crosses the celestial equator headed south. The shining sun that scorches us all summer is reluctant to give up her control over our thermostats and our daily routines. In other locations across the northern hemisphere, the arrival of fall means winter is approaching too quickly, but for us living in the southwest, it means we can let out a collective sigh of relief when we step outside, especially early in the morning. The less intense blazing star invites us outside to enjoy golden sunshine and we are happy to oblige. The skin-scorcher becomes a life-giver – invigorating rather than depleting our senses. We have endured the soul-stifling summer months and can now enjoy crisp mornings, cool afternoon breezes, and open windows in the evening that allow fresh air to once again circulate through our summer-sealed homes.

We have been living in a pressure cooker for four months and the sun’s retreat delivers an explosion of outdoor activities across the Grand Canyon state. A change in the season brings desert dwellers an anticipated season of farmers’ markets, fairs, festivals, hikes, bike rides, concerts, weddings, walks, art shows, and other activities that share the same inviting sky. It is impossible to do everything offered around Arizona during the agreeable autumn days, but it sure is fun to try. I have been making the most of this fall thus far, even if those moments arrive in the form of pausing to look at the setting sun during the golden hour.

I am headed to the Desert Botanical Garden this morning, followed by a visit to Sidewalk Surfer in Scottsdale to see our friends’ band play during the lunch hour, and a drive back to the west valley to attend an afternoon art mural dedication, then we will end our evening at a Second Saturday in Peoria Dinner event. It will be one of two busy weekend days, but I am going to squeeze every drop of loving sunshine out of this season and I invite you to do the same. Unless of course you are already shoveling snow – warm wishes to Billings, Montana, Denver, and North Dakota, or anywhere else that abandoned autumn too soon. If that is you, I hope my fall photographs bring you joy and a respite from the cold outside.

Fall Highlights

“Give me juicy autumnal fruit, ripe and red from the orchard.”
― Walt Whitman

from the poem, Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun

My Friday Happy Hour ~ A bike ride along the New River Trail before the sun set.

Play like a child, read like a child.

Leaves by

David Ezra Stein

In the spirit of embracing the changing season and adding more play to my life, I recently read a children’s book about a young bear experiencing his first autumn. When the leaves begin to fall, he is concerned and tries to put them back on the tree. Realizing he cannot put the leaves back on the tree, he decides to scoop up a pile of leaves and put them in a hole, where he spends his sleepy winter. After a long sleep, he awakens to sunshine and tiny new leaves welcoming him to a new season. This sweet book reminds me to practice seeing the world through the eyes of a young child, or in this case, a young bear, and experience the wonder of nature.   

Discovering the world through my daughter’s eyes.

My daughter’s fall view.

Eugene, Oregon

Letting the light shine through and embracing freedom and exploration.

I am still embracing the freedom that comes from waking up on a Saturday morning and realizing I do not have 100 senior essays waiting for me to read and grade. The memory of being shut up in my office most Saturdays to grade student work is fresh. The awareness of that freedom is enhanced when the weather is inviting. I was so focused on my work that I rarely even opened my window shutters. Maybe I did not want to be reminded of what I was missing outside. I have started opening the shutters recently, and I have captured some beautiful sun rays shining through. I am letting the light shine through in many ways. I do miss connecting with high school students – I surprised myself two days ago during a writing workshop in Tempe when I got choked up reading a piece about my students, that I wrote during a seven-minute prompt. I am grateful for my years of service in high school classrooms, and I am also grateful for a brief home office visit this morning – just long enough to write this post before I head out to explore the inviting fall world.

What are you up to this fall? I would love to hear about it. Do you have any favorite fall traditions? Please share in the comments.

Enjoy your weekend and if you are receiving this post through email, please visit my blog for additional pages and previous posts.

Last Saturday’s Phoenix Farmers Market &

“Meet Your Literary Community” Event

ended with a “Can I take a picture of your cute dog?” event.

My Inspired Life ~ Updates:

  • Be sure to follow Emily Gerlick’s Instagram account @em_run_teach_love and, if you haven’t already, read her inspiring story from last week.
  • I am wrapping up Story #26 and starting Story #27, in my “50 Life Stories” writing project (68 pages and 34,341 words).
  • I have completed my application to volunteer with a local organization that assists the elderly.

Copyright © 2019 Michele Lee Sefton. All Rights Reserved.