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A hawk flies in circles piercing the deep, infinite blue skies. From its wings, sonic waves travel across the Texas Hill Country to deliver me a message: “come back.” The sender is a radiant pecan tree that enveloped me in reflection two autumns ago. Back then, I checked in at the rustic Montesino Ranch in Wimberley to soak in the vibrancy of nature and plow the mind for a greater openness of spirit. I felt an intense connection to the rugged bark of that tree, a presence of wisdom and endurance in its roughness. Its trunk is wide and tall, so confident, so grounded. Its branches spread high and wide creating shade and shelter for the earth around it, but also space for sunrays to softly beam through the leaves (like when our hearts request safety but leave room for openings). One year after its pecan nuts crackled over my roof, nature language translated to “thoughts can also bear fruit,” I hatched one of the most transformational seasons of my life, finding clarity to embark on a career break. Fast forward another year and I have returned to the generous canopy of this old friend, seeking both the silence and vibrancy of this land to prepare my terrain for the seasons ahead. 

The Hill Country infuses me not only with metaphors for life and its deliberations, but also with plain reverence for its fertile countryside beauty. Steps from my cottage, a colony of monarch and tiger swallowtail butterflies frolic over a purple wildflower bush nibbling sweet nectar. Quite a mighty choice when you only have a few weeks to exist. Sweat breaks in my forehead as I walk across the dry riverbank to refresh in a swimming hole. The small catfish disappears as I submerge in the shallow water. As the heaviness that has been lingering in my chest dissolves with the white clay and limestone that give the Blanco its name, I think of baptisms. For about an hour I hike a trail of mesquite, juniper, oak and yucca. Fall arrived only a week ago and I can already see strokes of shy yellows over the lush green. I reach a clearing of monastic quietness where the wind requests permission to blow. Nature teaches me to slow down, be still. Moments later, as if coordinating tempos, a cow moos in the distance and crickets create music with their fiddle-like limbs. Nature reminds me to be self-expressed. I climb a ridge bordering a canyon that rises into another hill, an indication of the ups I must rejoice and the downs I must endure. An attentive roadrunner crosses my path. Ancient wisdom associates the bird with time to act on your ideas, break them down into smaller steps and cross the finish line. I’m listening.

At sunset I meet Gary, the equine leader, for a trail ride up the hills. His eyes are sapphire-blue, his face designed with years and sun, his distant Cherokee ancestry displayed in the sharp angles of his cheeks. He exudes the confidence of a cowboy and the mellowness of an artist. In fact, I learn that he is writing a movie script about Amazon warriors. We bond over horses and writing. He ties a bandana on his head covering his long silver hair that was once straw-blonde, almost the same color as Jazz’s, the beautiful brown mare I’m about to mount. He tells me to connect with her, so I spend time caressing Jazz’s face, letting her know that I am honored to join her in this adventure. We climb the same trail I hiked that morning, but by now the Hill Country looks and feels differently. The light is golden, I’m taller, more distracted, still serene. Gary tells me the names of the trees, what is edible, what is poison. As the night veil covers the skies, the air dampens and the earth emanates its calming scent of sweet dust in twilight. We take the horses to the river and Jazz immediately wants to play in the water. We share the same uncomplicated desires. Fireflies blink playfully announcing the last minutes before darkness prevails. I say goodbye to the docile mare and her kind wrangler and walk back to my cottage. A sliver of crescent waxing moon is barely a torch, but it’s beautiful and illuminates my wish to burn a fire.

As the only guest in the ranch, I have the fire pit for myself. Earlier this year I learned how to light a fire out of necessity to keep me alive in a crippling cold farmhouse in Spain. Tonight, I light a fire out of connection with its elemental force. The flames are welcoming, crackling with mystery, intensity and might. The pecan tree witnesses all, her leaves rustling gentle notes in the crisp air. I look above and the dark night sky beams with stars, flawless and glorious. I drink my lavender tea and burn the white sage stick I bought when I drove into town, performing a cleansing ritual that has been around for thousands of years, connecting with all of those who came before me all the way to some pre-historical cave in who knows where. Connecting to God that lives within me and all around me. I think of the places I’ve been this year, but also feel fully present. The past brought me here, but now is the only road ahead. I have all elements within my reach: earth, air, fire, water. I am the elements. I feel a shift. There is transmutation in the making. 

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  1. Your words caused me to reappreciate.

    1. Gary, thank you for your presence in this beautiful land. I've learned so much in those hours we spent riding and appreciation is definitely one of them.

  2. You must really visit the Tongue River Canyon, just outside of Dayton, WY. My favorite Zen area on earth. I would love to read your thoughts on it after experiencing it.

    1. Thank you for this tip! WY is definitely one of the places I'd like to return. It's beauty and might still shine brightly in my retina!

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