Notes from the woods...

April 1, 2020

Wow, here we are at the start of the second quarter of this wacky year and the first day of National Poetry Month. In any other year, April is full of optimism and beauty for me, and I try to imbue poetry into every single day and celebrate it more than I already do. This year is not like any other year as we curl inward and away from each other in order to protect one another. In this time of pandemic, fear, isolation and uncertainty I am trying to cling to optimism and poetry helps me to do that. I've been reading a lot of Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, (of course), and also going old school with Emerson. Reading their words helps even when I'm unable to put my own thoughts and feelings into words.

There is sadness, anxiety, grief and a true sense of loss, but there has also been an outpouring of love and support. A real knowledge that we are in this together, even apart and these moments of giving and connection and humanity that have sprung up digitally have been a true lifeline. My favorite singer/songwriter Josh Ritter has opened his living room on Tuesday nights to sing his songs to us and for the past two weeks that hour with him has brought me so much joy I forget that I'm not able to be with my poetry students or hug on my mom. I am going into National Poetry Month with a commitment to find joy every day and to seek out the unexpected moments as I witness them.

As I do for most years, I'm participating in a Found Poetry project every day in April. This year a group of us are all working with the same text as we find the poetry hidden in the Michael Crichton classic Jurassic Park. You can follow along on my Dino-themed Tubmlr here.

I'll pop back in next week with some more updates, but until then curl up with a good book, (I'm wrapping up my 2019 list of favorite books, (finally!) and will post it soon), try your hand at a poem, there are lots of places to find daily poetry prompts, my favorite is NaPoWriMo,​ try your hand at a found poem, my favorite found poet friend is E. Kristin Anderson and you can find her philosophy on found poetry here, or try a new recipe. I've been making focaccia every week and I use this recipe

Love to you all and virtual hugs; look for the flowers, listen to the birds!

January 25, 2020

I haven't been as successful as I'd like in updating these notes from the woods, but I'm happy to report that 2020 will be full of more adventure. The take-away is It's not too late! Here's a not so quick update:

I’ve never been a big resolution person and even the idea of setting a goal for the year is usually something I abandon by Valentine’s but when I sat at my desk looking at a map of Virginia this time last year, I was determined to hike all 38 Virginia State Parks in a year. Not as a resolution, or even a goal, but as hope to somehow restore me. I went into the new year knowing two things: I absolutely had to leave the job I was in, and I had spent very little time outdoors in the last few years. Hiking is something I have always loved, but it is not a love that my spouse shares, so as I finished my annual First Day Hike at my local state park, I knew that one thing I had control over was allowing myself the time to do what I love…hence the 38 state parks goal.
 

When I came home and told Adam my plan, he met it as he does most things I tell him I’m about to embark on, “have fun with that,” he said! And so the planning began. By the end of January, I already began to feel more clear headed. I was also firm in my decision to leave my job by spring. I have always cobbled together part-time jobs that have allowed me to feed my creative soul and knew that I had my creative writing classes lined up and my adjunct professor position, but I needed something else. I had been job searching for a year with no prospects and didn’t want to get back in a position where I felt like I was losing myself.

In my state park planning I stumbled upon a blog post that said “Spend your summer in State Parks!” I was intrigued.

It was a national service position with Americorps. I applied on a complete whim, thinking the small living stipend may be a way to supplement my income and allow me to do something completely different from the cubicle/desk work I had done for the last 15 years. I never imagined that I would be considered, just based on my age and lack of outdoor work experience. I was shocked to be selected and after a series of interviews assigned to my home park. I left my job with no regrets, and had the best summer of my life as an interpretive park ranger.

I signed up for the Virginia State Park’s Trail Quest challenge and ended up completing my journey of all 38 Virginia State Parks at the end of October, (a full two months ahead of schedule) and 2019 ended up being the year that I was outdoors or in the woods all 52 weeks of the year and the health benefits of that were evident. I never felt better mentally, physically, emotionally and creatively.

 

Stay with me, there’s more, but first a shout out to all the people that helped me on my 2019 journey. First, Adam for always believing I can do anything, for never saying a sideways word to me even though I have changed jobs 7 times in our relationship, for helping me with rental cars and directions and loving me through this crisis and letting me heal. Thank you to my family and especially my mom whom I know worried endlessly over my travels. Thank you to all my hiking companions, Kathy Sarosdy for False Cape State Park, Cynthia Greene for Pocahontas State Park, Rick Johndrow and Cynthia Johndrow for Belle Isle State Park, Lily Sun for Occoneechee, Staunton River, Staunton River Battlefield and Smith Mountain Lake State Parks, Hannah Donnelly for Westmoreland State Park, Virginia Parsons and Laura Papp for all our time at First Landing State Park, for educating me in all things swamp and bay and for rooting me on, you both have become life-long friends, and for Adam who never complained hiking Blue Suck Falls at Douthat State Park and re-visited Natural Bridge with me on a perfect March night.
 

Thank you to all the strangers at rural gas stations who re-directed me when I was lost and had no GPS signal in the mountains of Virginia, especially to the woman who let me follow her as she drove all the way to the interstate to get me back on track, to the rangers who helped me choose the best trails and find the must see attractions, a special thanks to the Twin Lakes State Park Maintenance Rangers who pulled my rental car out of the mud, to the Air BNB farm hosts who gave me a reduced rate for helping with farm chores and to Brooke Rodgers, an Air BNB host who saw me come in to her home 3 hours behind schedule, covered in mud and exhausted, and made me soup and tea. She has become a friend I continue to communicate with.
 

I collected park pins on all my visits and in November, I was invited to my home park for a small ceremony where I was given my Master Hiker Certificate, my final Trail Quest pin, and a Virginia State Parks badge. I’m currently working on an art project to put all these pins together.
 

There have been so many times in my professional life where I have felt unfulfilled, drained, taken advantage of, unstimulated and truly lost. Other than teaching, (which I will always do) I never felt like I belonged in any of my jobs. This embarrassed me and I often felt like I should be farther ahead than I was at this stage in my life. The most surprising thing about my time in Americorps was that I felt home. I knew from the second day of training that I had found my people and I had found my place. It took me a long time to figure out what I want to be doing and where I belong, but I’m so grateful that I found it. Trust me, it’s not too late to find your place.
 

So, I’m taking another leap. I want to continue to be a better steward of the environment, to learn about conservancy and ecological sustainment, and to educate others. I have been accepted into the Americorps Virginia Service Conservation Corps Career Development Program. I have joined the District 1 Natural Resource Crew and will be working alongside a team that handles 6 Virginia State Parks. I will spend the next 9 months learning everything I can about this field. I will need lots of good thoughts and prayers to pass all my certifications which include Wildland Firefighter and Chainsaw Apprentice(!). Here’s to another year of adventure and growth. Onward!

May 22, 2019

Wow, this year is flying by! Quick life update:

So, that New Year's goal of hiking all of the Virginia State Parks, has been a bit life-changing. As of today, I am 28 parks in and have just returned from a week long training as a Virginia Service and Conservation Corps member with AmeriCorps! I am spending the summer serving at my home park in Virginia Beach as an interpretive program ranger. I could never have imagined on January 1st when I sat down with my map of Virginia and started planning my hikes that it would lead me to quit my full time job and apply for an AmeriCorps position. 

This year has been about following my joy and right now I am bursting with it. Stay tuned for updates from the woods!

January 26, 2019

As I'm writing this I am slowly recovering from a week-long stomach virus, that has left me sapped and a little jello-y. It has been an emotional couple of weeks with the passing of Mary Oliver, though I have been heartened by seeing her words in my social media scroll, photos of her and her beloved Percy and even cafe chalkboard signs that remind us "You do not have to be good/"

 

My husband puzzled over why I was so wrecked by the passing of someone I did not know. It took me days to be able to explain my grief.  When I read "The Summer Day" as a teenager, it shook me thoroughly by its honesty. I devoured Mary Oliver's words, her perspective on the natural world,  and somehow her ability to seem to be speaking directly to me. This intimacy is the gift of a brilliant poet. I believed in Mary Oliver's version of the world and it made me want to write down the poems that had been in my head. 

I shared my love of poetry with my grandmother, who was raised by a woman that recited Keats and Coleridge even in the midst of advanced Alzheimers. My grandmother and I were lifelong pen pals sharing near weekly letters with each other. We talked about books, poetry, the number of nightly primrose blooms, everything and nothing all at once. I have kept many of those letters and even though she passed more than two years ago, I continue to find her notes tucked into various places around my home.  When I read the news of my favorite poet's passing, I went almost immediately to my bookcase to find "When I Wake Early." I read this book, over and over again, poem by poem on a daily basis for nearly a full year. It was a terrible year. One of death and divorce and change and anxiety and becoming finally myself. It was a wonderful year, too. It was a year I was convinced I would not have survived without that book.

 

So, on January 17th when I curled up in a chair with that book, it should not have surprised me that a letter from my grandmother would have fallen out. A letter that had also sustained me through that challenging time. With that letter came another round of tears for what is lost, for what is found, for the gift of words and for knowing with certainty that the course of my life was changed by a person I had never met, but whom I knew.  Farewell Mary Oliver, may you wander the woods of paradise forever.

January 2, 2019

Happy 2019! I love the optimism and possibilities of a New Year. Fresh starts and second chances and 12 pages of a calendar to fill with opportunities. 

2018 was a year of flux and learning, making mistakes, shifting priorities, embracing rejection and writing and submitting more poems than I ever have in a year. 2019 brings two forthcoming full length poetry collections, which I'm still trying to wrap my head around.  

I'm experimenting with this website of mine and since this is my first entry, I'll keep it light and highlight some of the best books I read in 2018. Some of them were published years ago and I just got to them last year, but they each in their own ways were stunning, startling, inspiring, complicated and lovely. Here's the top 15 list:

Calypso - David Sedaris

We are What We Ate – 24 memories of food – edited by Mark Winegardner

Assymetry - Lisa Halliday

Yuki Chan In Bronte Country – Mick Jackson

The Power - Naomi Alderman

The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno – Ellen Bryson

The Buddha Wonders if She is Having a Mid-Life Crisis (Poetry) – Luisa Igloria

Beast, to be your Friend (poetry) – Jennifer Moss

Solve for Desire (poetry) – Caitlyn Bailey

When I Grow up I want to be a List of Further Possibilities (poetry) – Chen Chen

The Goldfish Window (poetry) – Lisa Beech Hartz

Vox – Christine Dalcher

The Shock of the Fall – Nathan Filer

Incendiaries – K. O. Rown

Florida – Lauren Groff

I have long list of books to tackle for 2019 and that is one of the many beautiful things about a new year.

Finally, one of my 2019 goals is to complete a hike in all 38 of Virginia's State Parks. Stay tuned to this page as I expand on my notes from the woods and track my way through this state, writing, learning, falling, and getting back up. 

Quarantine allowed me to finish my Folk Art pin project, documenting all my VA state parks visited in 2019! 
Getting my Master Hiker certificate!
We've been making lots of soup, this is Instant Pot Lentil soup, and homemade focaccia!

© 2018 by Kindra McDonald​

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