Treasure Stones


More than 20 years have passed, but I can still hear the waves lapping on the shoreline, while a canopy of leaves rustles overhead.  It’s summer in Northern Wisconsin, and I am just a little girl basking in the oblivion of 85 degrees.  Cool lake water swirls around my feet and smooth sand curls around my toes.  Up and down the shore I go, searching the shallow waters for the perfect stone to add to my collection.  The blue and green ones are pretty, but just won’t do.  Red, black, and brown rocks are beautiful, too, but I’m looking for something else. White stones are different from the others and always sparkle when a speck of sun peeks through the trees.  I can’t resist the urge to pick them up and put them in my pocket.

White Stones from my favorite places. Top two: Big Portage Lake, Wisconsin. Bottom Left: Thames shoreline, London. Bottom Right: Vltava River, Prague. c.b.w. 2012

As a child I didn’t understand why I was so drawn to white stones, but after having some time to think, I believe the beauty of white stones wasn’t about how they sparkled, but rather the lessons they had to teach. For a kid who never fit in anywhere and always felt out of place, my treasure stones told me it was okay to be different.  If anything, I should dare to be myself and revel in my individuality.  I don’t match my surroundings and I never will, just like white stones lying in the sand.  Do they wallow in the dirt and wish they were something else?  No.  They always find the bright side and boldly stick out from the rest.

To this day, I keep my stones close and stay true to their wisdom.  As I travel around the world and through life, I still pick up little white rocks.  From London, Prague, Ireland, and wherever I land next, my eye will keep searching for the next treasure stone. I am older and wiser, but I am always listening for the next bit of truth.

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c.b. 2012


Secret Passage


Black tunnels
forget the light
is not free
Storms take flight
stealing faith
has a price
Fog descends
spiting North
pays the fee

Parliament via Westminster Bridge Tunnel, London, June 2011, c.b.w.

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c.b. 2012

Finding True North


On more than one occasion, I’ve uttered the words, “Oh, great.  I have no idea where I am.”  For a directionally challenged person such as myself, this is a common phrase! Back in 2005, I added Beijing to my list of international cities where I’ve been completely lost.* In a place where English makes a rare appearance and tourists from the West stick out like a sore thumb, it becomes vitally important to find the way back to home base as soon as possible, (nothing attracts a pickpocket or worse than a confused looking tourist!). What set this event apart from all the rest was the fact that I had a compass keychain dangling from my belt loop.  Between a city bus map display, my street map, and the needle of a compass, I was able to find my way back to the hotel by matching up Chinese characters and traveling North and then East. My compass saved me that day by showing me where I needed to go and I’ve never forgotten that gift.  Seven years later, it’s still my lifeline.

I’ve often referred to my recent journey to London as a life-altering experience, despite my struggle to understand the full impact it has had on my life.  Some changes are obvious, but the deeper meaning dangles in front of me like a clue in a mystery waiting to be solved.  I am different in a place so hidden and so deep I can’t see it or even begin to comprehend it’s significance. All I have is the unrelenting sense of a huge shift towards something.  It’s a lot like standing at a fork in the road without knowing what the choices are or why they exist.

Essentially, I am lost all over again without knowing the language. Being lost in this way is both wondrous and frustrating.  Sometimes I revel in the confusion and the inspiration it brings, but there are times I wish I had a road map that at least reveals the basic layout of my new landscape.

Upon returning from London, the feeling of disorientation was overwhelming.  I couldn’t shake the duality of being excited to go home, while at the same time feeling as though I was leaving home. Torn in two, I oscillated between a life I loved and a life I didn’t know was possible, (and loved just as much). Nothing seemed real. In the months that followed, that surreality never left and I grew increasingly restless.  My perspective had changed so drastically, it effected every element of my life and made even the most the familiar things seem foreign.

I remain directionally challenged and my reliance on a compass has manifested itself in an entirely new way. About a month after my return, I was out shopping with family when I spotted a necklace with a compass pendant.  It was beautiful, not only in terms of design, but for the fact that it represented something very special to me.  With every spin of the needle, I am reminded that as lost as I sometimes feel, I will find my way to true north.

My compass necklace wrapped around the place that changed everything.

I wear my compass necklace almost every day so I don’t forget to follow my instincts and listen for hints that will eventually lead to the answer I seek.  All I know for certain is London taught me I am a lot stronger than I ever believed and that serves as my anchor.  At the moment, I walk this path with a smile on my face and growing curiosity of what lies ahead.  Just as it always has, my compass will point me in the right direction.

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*Oh, the stories I have from London, Paris, Rome, Prague, and Dublin!  I suppose that’s another post for another day.

– – –

c.b. 2012

The Best Souvenirs Are Free


I took my first trip overseas when I was 17 years old and it’s been non-stop journey ever since. Almost every summer I strap on my globetrotting shoes and take off to explore all the beauty this world has to offer.  I always find a little piece of myself hiding in some far flung place as though it was waiting for me to bring it home.  Perhaps, that’s why I don’t buy souvenirs. The best memories come from experiences and the epiphanies that follow.  None of which can be bought in a tourist trap. Instead, I look to where my feet land and pick up what lies in my path.

Upper left: Prague

The larger block is a cobblestone from a sidewalk I strolled along every day.  In the morning I’d wonder what I would see that day and in the evening I was filled with awe.  The strength and beauty of this place taught me to never give up  . . . ever.

The white stone is from the Vltava River.  In the middle of the river is an island park filled with large trees and park benches.  The shade and quiet made for a nice afternoon of reading and picking up stones.

The gray stone is from a walkway that winds through Prague’s infamous Jewish graveyard.  The Jewish Quarter of Prague tells a story that spans centuries of segregation when Jews were relegated to one small part of the city and one small graveyard.  The result is an overcrowded cemetery filled with gravestones piled one on top of the other.  I picked up this stone to remind me of the struggles that so many endured on account of racism and hate.  It symbolizes my hope that humanity will one day learn this lesson for good.

Upper Middle: London

The white shell and flat red stone are from the shoreline of Thames.  In a previous post, Sand in My Shoes, I wrote about fulfilling my bucket list wish of walking along the Thames at low tide.  These two items are my mementos of crossing that item off my list.

Upper right: Ireland

The large gray stone is from the Burren region.  I picked it up after walking to the edge of a cliff that towers over the ocean.  I looked straight down a couple hundred feet and watched the waves crash against craggy rocks and into a hollow ravine.  There was no rail to keep me from falling and no one around to hold me back.  There’s nothing quite as terrifying or liberating as looking out to the open sea and realizing there is nothing to catch me. The stone serves as a reminder to be brave and put my toe to the edge.

The ragged gray rock is a piece of mortar from Blarney Castle.  If the castle comes crumbling down, I guess you can blame me.  This little piece came from a spot near the bottom of the back wall of the castle.  It was already loose, so I just finished the job.  I wish I had a better reason other than I thought it was a cool thing to have, but I don’t.  How many people can say, “I have a piece of Blarney Castle?”

The seashell  crescent and the two stones beside it are from the coastline of Waterville .  I’m not much of a beach person, but the ocean is beautiful no matter where it crashes ashore.  It was a rainy, cold day but the sound of waves lulled me out to the sandy beach.  This part of Ireland is very serene so I picked up a few smooth stones as a way to take that feeling home with me.

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“The Coma” is Far From Unconscious


A wandering plot is usually a problem in a novel, but it oddly works in Alex Garland’s The Coma. In the most basic sense, a man is severely beaten by a group of thugs in the London Tube. Despite being beaten unconscious, the voice of the main character continues to speak. He is aware that he is horribly injured and has gone to the hospital, but something isn’t quite right. Through a series of strange events, he realizes he is not awake and is indeed in a coma.

Thus begins an odd journey of attempting to find a way to wake himself up. It’s through this journey that Garland contends the human mind is a strange landscape where imagination fuses with reality and self discovery is easier said than done. Essentially, The Coma is an existential adventure. Garland creates a beautiful open-ended allegory that asks us to consider what truly defines reality and what constitutes the self. There is no clear-cut end to the story, just as there is no such thing as a clear-cut definition of existence.

Garland’s simplistic approach to presenting a rather complicated topic is what makes this little novel a pleasure to read. Even with a meandering storyline that isn’t always anchored to a strong foundation, there is an indescribable “pull” to keep turning the pages. Admittedly, the ending is a bit frustrating, but it’s also absolutely perfect. Reality is all about perception – what is gibberish for one, makes perfect sense to another.

The Coma is an interesting and surprisingly fast read. I’d recommend it for anyone who enjoys a nice little fictional jaunt into philosophical contemplation.

c.b. 2011