Even Atheists Believe In Rainbows

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I have always loved rainbows. I can recall staring out of a car window at a massive rainbow painting itself on the landscape during a long family drive through the countryside. As a youngster, rainbows completely amazed me (as is likely true for all kids). I always wanted to get closer to them. I wanted to touch them. I wanted the colours to spread themselves across my skin. This was before I knew about so-called Leprechauns (as far as I can recall). I didn’t care about any pot of gold, or any supposed prize at either end of the rainbow. I just wanted to touch it, to hold it, to know it.

My fascination may have faded as I grew older, but it never died, and any time a rainbow spread itself across the sky, it reignited the wonder of my childhood, awakening my innate sense of awe. I can’t imagine anyone growing tired of rainbows. I love to see adults regard them with the same child-like glimmer in their eye that they so often used to see the world through. It’s as if a rainbow can cleanse and renew us, freeing our sight, allowing us to look at life through a more magical lens. It doesn’t mean that we should curb our curiosity and instinct to understand, but perhaps we could leave enough room to absorb a rainbow’s unspoken majesty before digesting it into blocks of knowledge, distinct units of colour and symbols or stories. Look at the blurred lines binding the colours together and see how fluid they all are. Try to suspend your storytelling and analyzing for a moment and just be bowled over by its incomprehensible beauty.

Aside from their grace and charm, rainbows can bring people together. Taking in a shared rainbow can strengthen bonds between people, adding a hint of mystery to the moment. On the day of the mighty rainbow in Istanbul (which I mentioned in last week’s post), I saw countless people stopping and staring together, smiling and commenting to those around them, making momentary companions of previously complete strangers. For days after the rainbow it was a topic of conversation, people sharing their excitement and experiences of it. I met a number of people in book shops and cafes still talking about it throughout the week. And as much of a shared experience as a rainbow can be, it is also perfectly personal.

Nobody looks at the same rainbow. It is a matter of perspective. Moving either to the left or the right changes the rainbow. Every set of eyes gazing up in wonder at these astounding displays of light and colour is observing their very own rainbow. I began considering this interesting quality of light as I was traveling through Italy. As I watched the sun setting over Lago di Garda (just west of Verona) I marvelled at the movement of the light, playing on waves, rolling itself out to me, inviting me, as I sauntered along the shore. I realized that everybody looking at this sunset had their own direct slice of light unfolding across the water, dancing, shimmering and playing on the subtle waves. Its never-ending nature humbled me. It just kept on pouring over us, feeding us its abundant energy. I couldn’t help but be grateful. I felt as though the light were speaking to the light within me, warming, softening and nudging me toward further growth. I sat on a bench and pulled out my journal to scribble a bit of verse, or whatever else might come through me in the moment.

The light slips through cracks in our consciousness. Conspiring to gather again, to mingle among itself. To grow and spread. Some allow its flow constantly, others grab and grasp, but just fall short of holding on. We cannot contain or frame. Even as the blood flows through our veins. Our vines. Forever moving. In the mind, knives align, design and slice. But boxing up in sizes can never hold for ever and all, nor water in blocks of ice.

I rambled on even less coherently after that, but had approached an interesting pivot point – the paradoxical notion of light’s fleeting and endless flow. It is both ephemeral and constant. I loved it. A couple of weeks later in the south of Italy, I was moved by the subtle wisp of a rainbow hinted in the mist of the sea spraying up from the rocks along the shore. The light played upon the tiny droplets of water, and I sensed a kinship. With each wave rolling in and crashing upon the rocks, a new rainbow would emerge in the mist, whispering itself to my heart and fading away. I suddenly loved that a rainbow could never be proven. I no longer wanted to capture it, but just wanted to admire it for as long as it would let me.

That evening I met a Polish physicist and we got talking at length about light and energy, and the wonder of rainbows. We spoke also of faith and how so many scientific minds require hard evidence before permitting belief in anything. While I could understand this, I also felt that there was something inside me, inside all of us, that could not be proven – something before knowledge. The rainbow and its endless source of light seemed an apt analogy. A phrase was born in my mind; ‘Even atheists believe in rainbows’. It seemed to say that even apparent disbelievers are capable of belief. As I saw it, even expectation of the sunrise is taken on faith. Probability does not guarantee it, despite its strong likelihood based on past experience.

As I was leaving the seaside town of Salerno, I caught a subtle sense of the spectrum of colour glimmering in a dark grey cloud. It was just about to rain, and as the heavy, grey cloud approached, I could see the whole rainbow hiding inside of it (though only ever in my peripheral vision). It stirred up even more wonder in me. How incredible, that even in darkness light and life is all-pervasive, that rich colours can dance in the most dense and dark clouds. I was positively buoyant as I left Salerno.

I don’t know that there is any clear point to this rambling, but maybe it can serve to remind us of the miracle of life that is always all around us. It can remind us to look up into the sky once in a while without a feeling of ‘knowing’ what everything is, and just allowing ourselves to wonder. We need not be dragged into seeing life through a mundane lens. Just look at a cloud and see if you can watch it without reinforcing your regular ‘cloud-related’ concepts. Watch sunlight cut through clouds and splay itself out in all directions, as though the rays of light had found a new source to broadcast their pure energy from.

Maybe we can be such vessels, emptying ourselves of clutter and allowing light to move through us toward others. Every rainbow is a reminder that life and light are free and ever-available – never departing and never arriving, just enjoying the journey. It doesn’t have to make sense. It’s OK to be stunned and catch ourselves without answers once in a while. After all, there’s no need to know how. We can only ever know now.

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By the way, perhaps it’s time to listen to Rainbow Connection again.  🙂

Thanks for reading!  Tune in again next week for something a little bit less hippie-dippy, I think.

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Rainbows Saved My Life

 

I don’t know if many people have made major life decisions based on rainbows, but whoever these people are, I am glad to be among them.

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Rainbows had already been an important part of my life, in some sense, on the day I saw the broadest and brightest rainbow of my life. It was the morning of November 23, 2012, and I had just arrived in Istanbul. I thought I was on my way to India. Little did I know then that the power of light would reach inside of me and send me home.

I had spent the night on the floor of a gas station just across the Bulgarian/Turkish border. The trucker who had taken me that far ended up blowing by me on the other side of the border. I had walked across alone beneath a blanket of stars, enjoying the clean, crisp air. Life was smiling on me. I slipped through the border swiftly, effortlessly, and when I watched ‘my’ truck breeze by an hour or so later, I smiled back. My peace couldn’t be shaken. I pulled out my guitar, made some friends (who fed me), and then I slept. I caught an easy series of rides the next morning and found myself suddenly wrapped up in the old arms of a rugged and restless city. But what beauty and charm lay hidden within it. I was truly moved. The rainbow which welcomed me to the centre of the world – the bridge between Europe and Asia – whispered itself in rock-solid silence, shaking me to the core.

I feel I captured the general sentiment fairly well as I touched upon it in my first letter following my great adventure:

My journey brought me home in a hurry. I didn’t see it coming. I was bound for India, where I had planned to find the answers. I only made it as far as Istanbul – where East meets West – the curves of the murky, Turkish strait connecting continents, bridging worlds. A great rainbow embraced me upon arrival and tears welled in my eyes. I had hitch-hiked through the cold, harsh Bulgarian night, sleeping in a gas station just over the border, where I played a few tunes for some food. I rose early – if not rested, at least at peace – and thumbed a couple of trucks into the massive metropolis. As the soft but sturdy light of this broad, benevolent rainbow reached into me, I felt a change. In that moment, I knew something I could not yet see. My perspective was fuzzy, and yet, through and through, I knew. Something. Even now, it grows in clarity, gently, its pace dictated from beyond. The very nature of light is such that this rainbow, every rainbow, and indeed every shard of light passing through our lives, is at once entirely personal and universal. We are the bridge. That rainbow spoke to my heart, and I know it had the same power to speak to the twenty million other souls moving about the city on that day.

I spent the week reeling. I was trying to make sense of what had happened. I almost couldn’t believe it. It all fit so perfectly. This rainbow was a culmination. It was a major turning point in my journey and in my life. I could not have scripted it better myself. I had been on the road for nearly two years, living and writing a book about traveling light, and suddenly I was stopped dead in my tracks by just that – traveling light. The dense and gentle rainbow brought about a subtle inner shift, and I was only shown bit by bit its true impact. On some level, I am still coming to terms with its implications, carrying on in complete faith and gratitude.

I met up with local friends that night and found even more signs confirming the ‘centre’ I had just stumbled upon. As the week went on dominoes continued falling and affirming this new-found balance. It popped up everywhere. I was baffled. Tears of laughter stripped me of all my former certainties. I found myself stunned, thoroughly humbled by wonder. Before the week was out, after busking for an hour or more on a broad pedestrian walkway, unfolding my soul, I discovered that this ‘dynamic centre’ had always been my home. I had never been anywhere else. There was nowhere else. I packed up my guitar and suddenly saw myself in every set of eyes passing by.  Not James, but my deepest, truest self, far beyond any individual identity. I laughed at myself. It was all so obvious, and so abrupt. I already knew it.

Everywhere is the centre. There is no edge.

***

But that’s all I am going to say about it for now. 🙂 I will follow up next week. After a couple of longer blog entries, I feel a shorter one will do for today. Perhaps this post is just a tease. Maybe I want it to mirror life in its reluctance to satisfy expectations, to deliver the juice. (ps…it’s not on its way, it’s already here…)  Maybe I am trying to see if I can drum up interest for next week, a patient page-turner. Maybe I am just done writing for the day and want to go watch a movie. 😉

Who knows? But I hope you won’t let the mystery stop you from stepping out into it. That’s ultimately what the rainbow has been teaching me. Maybe.

More on rainbows next week, right here on Traveling Light.

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Truth Is Fluid

Happy Monday all!  I am back from the wonderful woods and still digesting the beauty of the week.  Instead of rushing and posting my immediate impressions, I am going to let them marinate a few more days and see what comes out through the week.  So for today I am posting a portion of a note I sent out as an email circular last year.  It somehow felt like the right moment to revisit it.  If applied, there is some valuable practical wisdom below which can change your life for the better, or at least help you to see that it needed no changing, aside from your perspective.  Enjoy!

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What we think we know, what we are certain of, is already passed away.  We have passed through it.  It needs no maintenance.  Certainty is a hollow construction.  We can let it go and continue growing.  Nothing is lost.  The unknown is the home of the real.  The deepest truth is found, unspoken, in the empty tension between the poles of paradox.  Contradiction is balance, albeit broad – a balance beyond perception, perhaps; but by exercising faith in life, we can see this balance at work everywhere – all around and within us.  By acknowledging this balance, and by living this faith, we can grow in courage, wisdom and willingness, resting only long enough to gather breath for the next step – deeper into the mystery, forward toward the source.

Every outward journey is an inward journey.  All movement is toward our home, a blinding abyss of transcendent stillness.  If we are uncomfortable in this space it is due only to our conditioning, our habituation.  The beauty of life is that we can consciously free ourselves from these limiting attitudes.  We can transform ourselves.  We all have the gift of consciousness and the freedom to choose.  We are aware enough now to see that life has filled us with so many limiting conditions and habits, and we are strong and wise enough to recondition ourselves with more beneficial principles.  We can choose to embrace the mystery of life and free ourselves from the need to know.  This is when we are granted real sight, far beyond our eyes or the horizon.  Herein we find another paradox, as always, in perfect balance; the more we surrender, the more we are granted.

But don’t expect a moment.  It’s a process – full of moments.  Ultimately, there is only the one; now is forever – and we can never hold on to it.  “Ok, James,” I can hear you thinking, “thanks for your philosophizing, but what am I supposed to do with this?”  Well, I am with you – philosophy can’t do anything.  I am not all that interested in philosophy – not as I once was.  What I am most interested in now is the practical application of living wisdom – in regular, old (though ever-new) daily life.

So how do we use the power of our word?  How do we use our intention?  Although we have discovered that unconscious forces govern our thoughts, feelings and behaviours much of the time, we don’t need to feel bad about this, nor frightened.  Instead, we can be grateful for our awareness that we have an unconscious.  Express that gratitude, out loud or in your own silent dialogue.  We can do it right now.  This is exercising our gift of consciousness – with intention.  Furthermore, we can catch ourselves upholding limiting beliefs through unconscious self-talk: “Oh, I can’t do that…I’m not _____ enough.”  We say it, and we make it true; the power of our word, fencing us in, blindly.  But our awareness weakens these old patterns; it is in the nature of a mistake to disappear once discovered.  Why not try flipping that story around, consciously?  “I am strong enough to accomplish anything.”  Say it again.

What is this but another expression of the placebo effect?  It is a well-tested and documented phenomenon and yet it seems that few explore the depths of the mechanism beneath, which allows it to function.  Consciousness.  Is the glass half-full or half-empty?  We decide.  In the simplest terms possible, this is the gift of life: we are free to choose.  In truth, the glass is both half-full and half-empty, and we have the power to create our experience of reality.  The real gift cannot be seen with our eyes, and it has nothing to do with the glass nor whatever it may be half-empty or half-full of.

The nature of our consciousness is malleable, infinitely creative and highly suggestible.  Try telling yourself you love yourself.  Do it now.  It may feel funny.  At first, it may not even feel completely true.  But do it every day for a month.  Many times.  Write it down.  Repeat it.  Drill it into yourself.  Feel the change in your life.  Continue playing with this power and watch your confidence soar – fake it until you make it.  Tell yourself, ‘the search is over’.  This is powerful.  One day it will be true for you – I promise.  Feel gratitude for this gift.  Exercise it.  Be grateful for your self-awareness and watch it grow.  IT WORKS!  Anyone can do it and it’s completely free!  Your mind will try to tell you that this is not working, that you’re not cut out for this, that it’s a waste of time – but this is merely a defensive reaction to its loosening grip over you, the mind fighting for control the only way it can.  Eventually you will recognize these moments as nothing more than echoes of former ways of thinking.  Exercise patience and persistence – what have you really got to lose?  This is a failure-free experiment.

We can take control of our lives, and no longer be swayed by the myriad voices of the world.  Of course, this can only be taken as far as the inner voice, still and silent, when the time comes to surrender once again.  But now surrender is intentional.  Informed.  The paradox here is that total control leads eventually back to total surrender.  Always in balance.  But one step at a time is all we need to manage – slowly, slowly – gradual expansion and patient integration.  There is, of course, no obligation to do any of this work, but we can choose to consciously join the trajectory of evolution – also known as life.  It’s happening with or without our active participation.

Now that we are aware of this ‘river of life’, we can choose to: a) swim against the current; b) grope for branches on the banks; c) let go and roll with it; or d) even swim with the current, at times, when we can sense its course.  But we must continue to live in awareness.  The wild and lazy mind desperately wants to find some rule of life to apply as a blanket solution to every situation – to simply ‘set it and forget it’.  But life is not a Ronco product.  Every moment is unprecedented and calls for new and different responses.  An appropriate response in one instance could be wildly inappropriate (and potentially dangerous) ten minutes later in a slightly different context.  Much of this is common sense, of course, but the further we journey, the more we develop, our faculty for finer discernment needs sharpening.  This takes discipline.

And the more discipline we exercise, the more freedom we can enjoy.  Balance.  But only inner discipline counts here.  In every action we perform, we can ask ourselves what our intention is.  To impress?  Do we want credit?  What for?  Is there anything that any one of us can take full credit for?  Investigate.  We can examine ourselves and discover all we will ever need to see.  Do we work harder in front of others, or alone at home?  Are we more interested in expressing ourselves or being heard?  Which is more important?  There is a subtle but vital distinction here.  Consider it.

Ideas are inert.  Knowledge itself is limp.  Imposing stories upon people is ultimately useless.  But we can activate our understanding, with love and expanding compassion, allowing the power of our word – the very force of life itself – to ripen into living wisdom.  Consider the relationship between belief and behaviour – it’s a two-way street.  We can chip away at either side; our work is open to two paths of approach, both headed for the centre.  We need not try to transform others.  We can simply do our work and display whatever treasures life grants us.  With purity of heart, clarity of mind, and strength of will, we can humbly shine.

So be a beacon.  Be the star you are – a conduit channelling light into the world.  But always remember: the work starts on the inside – fruit is not grown from the skin inward.  And it can be sloppy at times.  So be forgiving, with yourself and everyone else.  We may appear a mess once in a while, but this is the nature of growth – the nature of healing – and we are complete at every point, in process.  Embrace it.

Although some of this seems complicated, I assure you it arises from and returns to perfect simplicity.  Life is indeed a beautiful gift – more colossal, more intricate, and more interconnected than the mind will ever fathom.  There is nothing we need to figure out.  It’s all taken care of.  So if any of this feels too far out of reach, don’t worry, just breathe.  And pay attention.  Oscar Wilde very wisely said that “Life is far too important to be taken seriously.”  Although I care deeply for life, and explore it meticulously, I realize that taking it, or ourselves, too seriously is most definitely a mistake.  Please save yourself the trouble.  This may be the best lesson I am learning.

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The Good of the Woods

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“In the woods is perpetual youth.” Ralph Waldo Emerson shared this nugget of subtle wisdom in his 1836 essay, Nature. Originally published anonymously, Nature introduced a new view of life to the Western World. I feel it to be a view we could benefit from as the frantic pace of modern life reaches fever pitch. Nature is precisely where we can discover this wisdom for ourselves – as if for the first time, we can see our unity anew, renewing our purpose and our passion.

Nature is not outside of us, and yet it is all around. We are not separate from it. The same life in every tree branch and blade of grass is alive in us. If only for a moment we allowed ourselves to fall quiet and observe life with a calm mind we would see very clearly the singular intelligence of nature at work within and around us. But we need not run off to Alaska to connect with this force. We can see nature in the city, too, though the speed and noise of urban life often make it more difficult.

Nature moves through cycles. Many we can see. Some we speculate. Others we intuit. Despite our discovery of countless cycles and patterns in nature, I sense we are still guided by far larger cycles than we can see, the magnitude of which we can scarcely conceive. These wider realities may well exist beyond any scale or reason. Though many of us seem to have glimpsed the infinite potential of the source – life’s creative centre – and some attempt to express it, the deepest essence of life remains ever-elusive, immune to scrutiny. But that’s neither here nor there.

Nature’s cycles honour the law of balance, expanding to contract, rising to fall. Similarly, we find ourselves alternating between extremes, in equal need of work and rest. The manic pace of our society demands balance, and many are now awakening to its necessity. On one hand, racing alongside the arrow of time, we are most definitely on the edge of an ever-breaking wave, endlessly evolving, pushing forever onward. But we cannot deny that seasons peak. Nothing grows without eventual decay. Nature shows us this in our solstices and equinoxes. But it is difficult to sense these shifts while we are in the immensity of their midst. The folly of falling empires – as all fall – has been to project an endless reign, blurring the dual truths of now and forever. But eternity has nothing to do with time. Time is temporal, temporary. It comes and goes. Real life is always now.

It is nearly impossible to have perspective from within a picture. But we keep trying to capture the outer frame, convinced it exists. On one level, turning points are undeniable. But beyond all of these cycles and shifts, there seems to be something constant – a background of unchanging presence. What else could register change? Perhaps the calm, detached and unbiased clarity developed through meditation can allow for a greater understanding of wider frames of existence, perceiving shifts as they are taking place.

I recall reading several years ago about a significant global threshold being crossed – the human population had become more urban than rural. Within a few months of this news I read also that more than half of the world owned cell phones. I felt these turning points to be connected, and indicative of a massive global shift, the repercussions of which would surely be felt, however subtly. I thought it was strange that we could have pin-pointed these tipping points so precisely. I wondered if such a critical mass could even be so tidy and finite. Either way, I found myself keen to leave the city, more interested in the whisper of a silent breeze than the ongoing honking of horns. So I headed for the woods to become an earnest student of nature. It taught me a lot.

***

Caterpillars consume. That is how they spend their entire lives. They have a voracious appetite, which eventually turns inward. After enough consumption the caterpillar begins digesting itself. The butterfly that becomes from within them is born of their life of endless eating. The life of the butterfly is comparatively brief, though beautiful. Butterflies flit about very lightly, drinking a bit of nectar or tree sap, occasionally taking nourishment from dung, rotting fruit or decaying flesh. It is an incredible example of transformation. I imagine the butterfly’s perspective must be quite a shift from the slow and heavy life of a caterpillar.

Looking at it, I sense a parallel between the caterpillar/butterfly life-cycle and that of humanity. Our endless consumption of oil and sugar, among various other vices, will eventually leave us with little else to consume but ourselves. We have been acting like caterpillars for quite some time now. I wonder when we will find ourselves in a collective cocoon, digesting our culture’s fat stores? What will our flowering into butterflies be like? Has it happened before?

Much like sugar speeds us up, packing a condensed punch of energy, I feel oil has similarly sped up our collective evolution. With the rapid extraction and expenditure of energy that has been stored in our planet for millions of years, we have accelerated our civilization so wildly that we are only slowly coming to terms with it. As with any form of growth, experiencing growing pains is common, along with often sloppy leaps forward. It takes time to come to terms with these changes and to level out, eventually gaining clearer perspective in hindsight.

So perhaps Western civilization has peaked and we are just realizing it. It’s not a radical suggestion. There are many signs of this around us. Detroit, once the centre of an unparallelled industrial and economic boom, has been in decline for decades, emblematic of our present direction. The home of the automobile, the birthplace of modern worker’s unions, the city where the assembly line was perfected – have these (albeit valuable) developments reached their peaks? I really don’t know. Might their decay give rise to new and greater structures?

It seems there is some remnant momentum from the early westward settlers of the New World, then encouraged to continue pushing the frontier, told to ‘Go West’. But where does it end? Is the Occident an accident? It may be time to reorient ourselves, to seek balance. We went all the way west, and the wave hitting the coast has been settling for some time now. Some hit the coast and leapt across to the extreme East (whether physically or philosophically), but otherwise, a general mellowing occurred, despite the crowds still flocking there. California, as well as Oregon and Washington, seemed to pave the way for the widespread acceptance of yoga and organics, generally waking people up. It is no surprise that it happened out there first, all the way west, and is now spreading back. Perhaps it will eventually settle us all into a natural balance. But many are still clinging to old habits, patterns and structures, very reluctant to relent. I wonder how much the caterpillar struggles as it becomes a butterfly?

If indeed we are in the midst of a great shift, as many sense, the new phase of life need not be seen as a negative. A ‘recession’ or ‘decline’ is a natural cycle of life, and can bring us into closer contact with the things that truly matter in life. Money is not among them. The buzz of our consumptive guzzle muddles our vision. Even the faintest trace of greed clouds our sight. We need to refrain, to reframe and retrain ourselves in order to see clearly. But the suffering caused by this consumerist chaos is sufficient to alert us and shake us awake. Balance is asserting itself, effortlessly – at apparent peril to many. Whether as active pacifists, passive activists, generally apathetic passengers or any other creative combination of character, our collective excess is awakening many to the madness of our ways, giving rise to a more conscious hand in our continued evolution. But this is a dynamic dance, and we must honour the grunts and nudges of mother nature. Technology need not fade away, but we must first listen to and respect the needs of our host, our home, the centre upon which we spin. We must surrender our short-sighted desires for the demands of life. The more we resist change, the worse it will hurt. All attempts at total control will eventually implode – we are seeing this now. So let’s let go together, with great care and attention, sensing the inborn course of nature, and serving it wisely, easing the transformation. Maybe we will all end up butterflies flitting about lightly, dancing delicately in the dynamic creative centre of life (whatever that might mean).

***

This has been quite the rant. It is largely unedited and very much ‘off-the-cuff’, chewing on and spewing out a few notions that have been rolling around inside a while. If you made it through it all, please take in what suits you and discard the rest. It looks as though I am railing on cities at times, which have their obvious benefits, though they seem to separate us to the same extent that they press us together. However, I guess our perceptions and behaviours are ultimately up to us. Whether in the city or otherwise, as we become more conscious and respectful of nature’s balance, I believe our society can serve nature instead of stripping it. The planet will cleanse itself of our presence if we are unable to come back into balance. And I sense that we are waking up and responding to this call. As we do so, cities are becoming healthy hubs. But we cannot forget to check in with life in the old-fashioned forest. Am I biased? Would I know for sure one way or another? Maybe I am just ready for some time in the woods. That’s where I am headed. Right now. I wrote much of this last night, in order to keep up with my Monday posting schedule. I am off to hike for a week in Killarney Provincial Park with a friend. I will check in again next week to let you know what I found out in the woods – aside, of course, from perpetual youth.