Monday, January 20, 2014

For the love of Sarah

Yesterday, our community lost someone very special. This 47 year old woman was a personal friend of mine, but she was also unique in the way she touched every life she came into contact with. She is one of those exceptional individuals whom we are sure has been taken from us too soon.

Sarah was a school bus driver and she took her job seriously. She was more than just the person behind the wheel, whose responsibility it was to deliver children to school and back home again safely. This woman cared about each and every one of her charges and she made them feel as if each individual child were the most important person in the world. As each child came to know her, they quickly realized they’d found a safe haven, someone they could confide in, someone they could trust. “Sarah’s kids” were the light of her life and she loved each one as if they were her own.

Sarah was married and she and her husband had two sons. Sarah was immensely proud of both sons and she spent her days being the best wife and mother she could be. She also had a horse named Sandman. To say Sarah loved horses would be an understatement. Initially, Sandman was a rescue and at some point, Sarah became the proud owner of this wonderful horse, a fact that brought her much joy. Sarah and Sandman were a special duo and I believe Sandman loved Sarah just as much as Sarah loved Sandman.

My son and I have many fond memories of time spent with Sarah. We met her in 1995, when my son was seven years old and I was recently divorced from his father. I was doing my best to fill both parental roles while working several jobs in an effort to make ends meet and keep a roof over our heads. My son was not always a fan of riding the bus to school and for quite a while prior to Sarah’s arrival, I would end up driving him to school. There were bullies on that bus and for a small boy to be stuck in such an environment for nearly an hour each weekday morning and afternoon, was sometimes just too much to bear for either of us.

When Sarah became the bus driver for our school, things changed. She not only put a stop to the bullying but she actually befriended the bullies, finding out the reasons behind their negative behavior and helping them figure out how to change it. She didn’t pry into their lives. She simply cared…and they knew it. She was genuine, loving and non-judgmental. Every person who met her found an immediate, life long friend whom they knew was unique and like no one else they’d ever met before.

My son began riding the bus again. He actually looked forward to his bus rides because Sarah allowed him to sit right behind the driver’s seat. She shared jokes, stories, insights, advice. She was a listening ear and soon he began coming home with anecdotes from conversations he’d had with her. He’d tell me how she’d take an average expression, such as “I’ll get around to it,” draw a circle on a small piece of paper, then print, “tu it” in the middle. Later, that joke morphed into a game between them of who was going to be in possession of the “it” and how that person would manage to trick the other into being responsible for “it.” The game had continued to present day. Just one of the ways Sarah found to connect with those of every age.

I knew I had to meet this person and thank her for what she was doing in my son’s life. As soon as I met her, we became friends. Sarah was the kind of person who not only smiled at you but would make you smile, from the inside out. If you were in her presence, you were sure to find a smile from within. You just couldn’t help it. That’s simply how she was. A woman with a huge heart, an incredible zest for life, so compassionate and understanding.

We loved Sarah and wanted to find ways to make her smiles our own. One year, the last day of school before summer vacation fell on June 18, Sarah’s birthday. My son and I made a huge banner in bright colors that read, “Happy Birthday Sarah!” and I picked him up from school instead of letting him ride the bus that day. We hurried home to be sure we’d have enough time to put our surprise for her into place. We listened for the bus and as soon as we heard it, we flew into action, rolling out the banner and smiling proudly as she turned that bus up around the corner. When she saw us, she stopped and let us know what our gift meant to her. She could’ve just smiled, waved and kept driving but that wasn’t Sarah’s way. She always took the time to make someone know how they’d touched her heart, how special they were to her and lucky she felt to have them in her life.

As my son grew, Sarah grew right along with us. At age 15, he got his learner’s permit and Sarah helped by taking him driving, letting him drive her brand new Ford pickup truck.

She took us out on the ocean in her boat, a Grady White and on one of those excursions, we ended up at Burnt Island, off Boothbay Harbor, Maine. On our way back to the harbor, Sarah had the boat at cruising speed. I was standing at the helm, enjoying the feeling of freedom and sunshine. At one point, Sarah told me to duck down because of an oncoming wave but I didn’t hear her and got a mouthful of the Atlantic ocean! How we laughed about that one! Another thing about Sarah: she’d laugh with you but never at you.

My son graduated from the eighth grade in 2002. That event meant that his bus rides with Sarah would end. There was no bus service from our home to his high school so I would be his driver until he got his license and a car. However, every Spring he continued a tradition he’d started many years before. He’d pick one of the first daffodils that grew in our yard and wait for Sarah to stop at the end of our driveway at 6:50 a.m., the usual time when she’d pick him up for school. I know this sweet gesture spoke volumes to her and he continued that tradition until he went into the United States Army. He was away for approximately four years but when he returned home in the Springtime of 2012, his first surprise for Sarah was to meet her at the bus stop with the traditional yellow daffodil. Her smile said it all. She was beaming from ear to ear!

During the summers, Sarah drove the trolley for a local hotel in Boothbay Harbor. She made friends from all over the world when summer folks visited the harbor during vacations and had the fortunate experience to ride the trolley on the days she drove. She pointed out special sights for her passengers, always doing her research to assure that she could provide the most accurate, up to date information about the area. One of her proudest moments was telling her trolley passengers about a ship called, “The HMS Bounty” when it was at a local boat yard, in for repairs. The ship finally left Boothbay Harbor but later met its demise during a Hurricane in a treacherous section of the Atlantic Ocean in October 2012.

In 2007, I remarried and inherited two stepchildren. My stepson came to live with us fulltime. He had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and his prior experiences had given him the message that schools and bus drivers wanted nothing to do with him. As soon as he met Sarah, he became a definite fan, and throughout these past several years, she has worked hard to educate other students about kids with special needs without pointing fingers at anyone in particular, while making my stepson feel the honesty of her love and friendship.

My family and I have an immense love for our precious friend, Sarah. She touched our lives in her own special way and will remain near and dear to our hearts. Her presence has been a blessing and we are truly grateful.

I’m not sure what we’re going to do without her. Somehow, we must find a way to go on, learning from Sarah’s example and smiling because we had the chance to know her, at least for a little while.

To my knowledge, Sarah wanted to be cremated at the time of her death, her ashes spread from a Maine lobster boat in Maine waters. This seems fitting for such an adventurous, beautiful soul. I visit the ocean frequently and from now on, I will listen closely to the wind, imagining I hear Sarah’s laughter, envisioning her spirit running free.

copyright January 20, 2014
Tammy LR Meserve

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Girl with a mission:

Cyclist focuses on the awareness and support of women in Uganda.

© COPYRIGHT by Tammy LR Meserve
September 14, 2011
     Twenty two year old Brenna Coupland left her home in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada on June 20th 2011, bound for New York City, USA. Her mode of transportation: A forty pound Topanga diamond back mountain bike. But New York is just the first of impressive destinations on this bike ride. When all is said and done, Brenna and her bike will travel from Canada, into the United States and onward to Africa.
     Brenna explains her journey this way: “I am cycling for many reasons, and to say that I am doing this ride for women, unity, and hope all over the world would be a broad generalization. Through what I call the Moon Cycle Africa campaign, I am raising money for an organization called the Shanti Uganda Society. Shanti Uganda is a registered Canadian charity that runs empowering, educational and holistic programs to support communities impacted by war, poverty and HIV. Some of their projects include a women's income generating group, a teen girl's group, and also a birth house and learning center that was completed in March 2010. Before I departed on this journey, I was able to raise enough money to purchase a bicycle for each of the staff at this birth house, and just recently, (Sept 3, 2011), there was a blog posted on the Shanti Uganda website that informed me that the bikes had been received!
     There are over 90 women registered to give birth at this center over the next few months, and I am now campaigning to raise money to support these births. To sponsor a birth costs $50 CND, and folks can donate by visiting They can also write a check to The Shanti Uganda Society (memo: Moon Cycle Africa) and mail to:
The Shanti Uganda Society
607 - 228 East 7th Avenue, Vancouver BC
V5T 0A1 Canada

By sponsoring a birth, one will directly assist Shanti Uganda's birth center in it's mission of lowering maternal and infant mortality rates, reducing HIV/AIDS transmission rates from mother to child, improving access to education and supplies and honoring every birthing woman.”
     I met Brenna on Friday, September 2, 2011 at the rest area on Route 1 in Newcastle, Maine. I had corresponded with her via Facebook a few days prior and we’d decided on this spot as our meeting place, right on her way, where I could offer food and friendship while having the opportunity to meet this sweet, journeying soul face to face. Since she is a vegetarian, I made her a spinach, red onion and shiitake mushroom quiche, and took along extras such as cucumbers, cantaloupe, bananas, and water. I arrived at the picnic area only minutes before she did, and had the lunch spread out and ready on a table sheltered from the weather and easily spotted from the entrance. I watched her approach, traffic whirling past her as she put out her left arm to signal the turn, then riding confidently into the rest stop. I felt grateful that she had afforded me this opportunity to meet her in person and provide food and friendship on what must be an exhausting, yet incredibly exciting expedition. As she reached the picnic table I’d claimed for us, she got off her bike and reached out to hug me as if we’d been pals forever. And that’s exactly how you feel when meeting her. It’s an immediate sense of knowing, a kindred spirit, a sweet and gentle soul who simply wants to be an asset to the world and do her part to improve the life of someone else. She instantly becomes family, someone you care about and want to stay in contact with.
     Her full, given name is Brenna Odette Coupland. She loves the fact that Brenna means Raven. This beautiful, determined young woman who will celebrate her 23rd birthday on November 12 while she is South Africa or Botswana, sports tightly wound dreadlocks decorated simply and sporadically with colorful ribbon that I found absolutely fascinating. She wears very simple, colorful jewelry made by women in Uganda and around her neck hangs a small leather-like pouch filled with a few special items given to her by her parents, George and Karen Coupland.
     Her bike is laden with camping gear and the bare essentials and since she is approximately 5’7” and about 120 pounds, she is happy for the weight of the bike and gear (an estimated 85lbs total) to avoid being tossed about in windy conditions.
     A self proclaimed introvert, Brenna says that she is confronted by challenges every single day.
     “Everyday there is a challenge, and usually more than one, that I have to overcome,” she said. “Whether it's internal, or physical, growth always comes from overcoming the challenges. Sometimes it's something as simple as feeling shy about asking someone for help, and other times the challenge is in finding some quiet space to be alone again when I'm feeling reflective. I am becoming more and more confident about my capabilities, and less and less afraid of the world. Most people, I'd say 95%, that I encounter are welcoming, inviting, and want to be a part of the journey, so my process is allowing that; learning to receive and to practice gratitude.”
     When Brenna reaches New York, she will then take a plane from the JFK airport to Cape Town, South Africa. The airline allows for sporting equipment (her bike) to be taken on as luggage. Once in Cape Town, she will connect with a friend named Dave (he is cycling around the world: and the two will bike to the north of the continent to Morocco.
     “I plan to spend my first 3 weeks in Cape Town, volunteering, or doing something constructive. Not sure yet,” explained Brenna. “Then my friend will meet me and we will proceed to bike toward Morocco. We hope to stop in Uganda and visit the Shanti Uganda Society, possibly volunteer for 1-2 weeks with whatever is needed at the time. I estimate the ride will take somewhere around 9 months, so somewhere around July 2012 is when I believe I will return home.”
     Brenna covers between sixty and ninety miles each day. She stops for the night in areas where she knows it is safe to camp or finds strangers who wish to offer a place to stay via a website called, ‘ On that site, anyone interested in offering food or shelter can post their name, city, and what they have to offer and adventuring cyclists can peruse the site, locating those along their route.
     “I use the resource whenever it is possible,” said Brenna. “I love meeting other people who are fond of cycling, and it is really nice to have someone with whom to share some quality, casual company at the end of the day.”
As with any mechanical device, breakdowns are inevitable. However, Brenna does not worry about such circumstances and is adequately prepared should one occur.
     “I have all the tools I need to deal with the most common bike mechanical breakdowns. I can change a flat tire, I can repair a chain, and I have several bike tools to allow me to deal with simple issues that come up. Staying with people in the Warm Showers community is also very helpful, in that I am able to talk with someone who is familiar with bikes. I am grateful for the people I have met along the way that have shared their knowledge, skills, and even bike parts to help me with things I didn't understand, and now I do.”
     Asked how she became aware of the needs of women in Uganda, Brenna stated, “ I met a wonderful woman named Kristen Porter, who was president of Shanti Uganda's board of directors at the time, two years ago at a yoga studio in Vancouver. The yoga studio was hosting a conscious giving Christmas craft fair, and Kristen was selling jewelry and bags made by Shanti Uganda's women's income generating group. Originally, I was interested in traveling to Uganda and volunteering with the organization, but it wasn't until one year had passed that I really got involved. I wanted to cycle from Vancouver (where I was living) to my home in Winnipeg and was looking for a charity that I could support along the way. Shanti Uganda really resonated with me, and I called up Kristen, and we made it happen. Last year I completed my ride and raised money for the women's group, and also had the great privilege of serving on the board of directors myself from May 2010 until April 2011.”
     Brenna wholeheartedly believes her cause is the right one to give her enthusiasm and support to and hopes others will agree by donating to it.
“As much as cycling and traveling is rewarding for myself on an individual level, I feel like, if I am to take this journey and expend so much energy, that I want to share it with an organization or cause that I believe in. As I meet new people, it often happens that talking about Shanti Uganda is a great ice breaker! I am able to draw people in and share the stories about where the jewelry I wear comes from, and encourage people to get involved in their own way. It's also a way for me to connect with the world, and it also helps me to feel less alone as I travel. I remember that I am part of a global community and family. I am drawn to Shanti Uganda's integrity. The people involved in the organization excel in staying true to their original vision and continue to empower women and communities through education, skill building and goal setting. While I lived in Vancouver for 3 and half years, I was a student and a teacher of yoga, and find that I really resonate with the principles of yoga philosophy (unity, honesty, kindness). I see how Shanti Uganda is able to integrate these principles into their projects.”
     There are many who become as excited about her cause as she is and make donations on the spot.
     “Occasionally, I have folks hand me donations to pass on to Shanti Uganda, but I would definitely love it if it happened more often! In fact, yesterday I was talking with a couple and they asked if I was riding for a cause. I could barely finish my sentence: “Yes, I'm raising money for a charity called Shanti Uganda. They support HIV women…” and before I could finish, the woman turned to her partner and said, "Oh, we must give her some money!" and handed me $20. Turns out she had taken part in a 1.5 mile swim that morning to support women with AIDS.”
     When asked if she ever feels fearful during her journey, Brenna is quick to reply.
     “Nope! Sometimes dogs chase me, but not for very far. I think the biggest (real) danger while riding is traffic. I'm really careful to practice safe biking (rear view mirror, reflectors, lights). I don't ride at night, and I have a cell phone.”
     Brenna has great memories of her journey, some she is grateful not to have missed.
     “Cadillac Mountain (located within Acadia National Park in Maine) was great! I was really hemming and hawing about going up this mountain (I ride a heavy loaded, mountain bike, that at it's lightest weighs about 80 pounds). I was just about to miss the opportunity when I met a very kind man who insisted I see the view from the top. So the real accomplishment, I think, was pushing myself to just do it - just to get to the base of the mountain - because I knew once I started I wouldn't want to give up. I felt really vulnerable about half way up, and started to doubt whether or not I would make it all the way. I was trying not to make eye contact with anyone that drove by, or that was sitting in their cars on the side of the road, because I was afraid they would say something that made me doubt my capacity. I was afraid they would offer a ride and that I would take it! I really got into a zone and listened to this really strong voice inside that told me no one could make me doubt myself but myself, and that I was only as strong and capable as I allowed myself to be. I think that there is this voice inside every woman (and man!), and that it's what we should listen for in times of uncertainty.”
     Very good advice indeed! I like that…a lot!
     When attempting to pinpoint a specific part of the journey that stands out in her mind as a favorite, Brenna hesitates to narrow it down to that extent.
     “There have been no favorite parts specifically. Everyday there are beautiful moments and everyday there are also moments I would rather be doing anything else but biking. The best parts of the journey are very simple: the feeling I get at the top of a challenging hill, being invited into someone's home at the end of the day, a strong, hot coffee in the morning, or the feeling of a hot shower after a humid day of riding.”
     Brenna has a Facebook page called, “Moon Cycle Africa” where folks can read her journal entries as she makes her way toward her goal. Her reasoning for that name is as follows: “It's kind of a double entendre. The menstrual cycle of a woman is sometimes called a moon cycle. It lasts an average of 28 days, and so too does the cycle of the moon in the sky! The moon to me represents a femininity and strength that I build in myself and support in Shanti Uganda along my journey.”
     To find out more about Brenna Coupland and her journey, find her on Facebook at “Moon Cycle Africa” or check out her blog at:


Sunday, July 3, 2011


A sea of petals white
Beneath the summer sun
With a tiny kiss of sunshine
At the center of every one!

© Copyright by Tammy LR Meserve
July 3, 2011

Sunday, November 21, 2010


My son bought a 1957 Willys Jeep this past summer. Since he’s currently serving in the military, I’ve been doing my best to take care of it for him. Knowing that it does a vehicle no good to sit for months without being driven, I decided to take the jeep for a spin on Sunday, November 14. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon and just as I was hopping into the driver‘s seat, my brother-in-law showed up. Without hesitation he climbed into the passenger seat. I had an absolute blast driving that little blue jeep and my brother-in-law has wonderfully captured the experience in the poem below. Thanks Brother-in-law! ~TLRM

THE LITTLE BLUE JEEPby Foster B. Meserve Jr.

The little blue jeep
Sits alone and forlorn
But from its sheer sadness
A great plan is born

We‘ll start the old jeep
And we’ll go for a spin
Miss Tammy’s the driver
I the passenger just grin

First gear then second
And now we’re in third
The hum of the tires
Is all that is heard

A canvas above us
No roll bars in place
We fly down the road
We’re setting the pace

Down hills, ‘round corners
We’re chugging along
Though no radio plays
In our heart there’s a song

The wind shrieks around us
With leaves in our face
We have not a care
As off we do race

At the end of the road
A u-turn is made
She’s grabbin’ the gears
Our tail lights do fade

Back where we started
And then far beyond
The little blue jeep
Is screaming along

I glance at the gauge
With reluctance I ask
I wonder Miss Tammy
If there’s enough gas

Not sure of the answer
Back home we return
And lucky for us
There’s more gas to burn

As we screech to a stop
Cross the lawn with grace
She whips it around
And backs it in place

The key is turned off
The motor is stopped
From this fun buggy
We leap with a hop

On this sunny fall day
Our memories we’ll keep
Of the fun that we shared
In the little blue jeep

Monday, October 11, 2010

Venado: young “deer” of the Appalachian Trail

For several months now, I’ve been following the journey of an eight year old boy hiking the Appalachian Trail with his dad. The boy’s trail name is “Venado” a Spanish term for deer, and his dad has been hiking under the trail name of Tecolote, Spanish for Owl. Very nice names that perhaps helped bond these two to the wilderness they loved, while learning the ways of the trail and its people, experiencing an adventure of a lifetime.
In a newspaper article by a reporter for the Bangor Daily News, Tecolote said his son, after hearing about people who walked the entire length of the trail in one continuous trek, asked if he could experience such a thing, known to those in hiking circles as a thru-hike. Obviously a dad who enjoys being with his children and wanting to give them opportunities that encourage a love of learning and experiencing life to its fullest, Tecolote told the reporter that when Venado asked the question initially, all he could think of was how cool it might have been to be at such a young, tender age and have someone give him the thumbs up to such an adventure.
As an avid hiker/adventurer, I can only imagine how Venado must’ve felt when his parents gave the nod and plans for the hike began to become a reality! I too, hope to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail one day. For now, my days are often spent living vicariously through those who have the chance to make that dream happen. I seize any opportunity to hike a section of the trail, large or small, merely because of how deeply I feel while walking there and the growth and peace I sense within.
I have come to love the Appalachian Trail and all it represents. The freedom, the adventure, the need to dig deeply inside oneself to find that mental strength to endure hardships while pursuing the forever memories that will undoubtedly become the result of such a long, extreme journey.
It has been reported that Venado did not reach the summit of Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. This is the mountain that hikers who leave the southern terminus of the trail, Springer Mountain in Georgia, dream about for a series of months, what motivates them to finish on the most grueling of days. Those who enjoy mountain folklore might point a finger toward Pamola, the spirit whom Indians of long ago believed resides on the mountain, as having something to do with the intensity of the weather that day. Whatever the source, Gail force winds required that the boy make a very adult decision. Less than a mile from the peak, with unyielding winds tearing at his clothing and pushing him about, Venado chose to turn back and head for home. After walking nearly 3,000 miles, he would not complete the very last mile of the journey.
Now some people might be disappointed in not reaching the summit sign and getting that long sought for ’summit photo’ at the peak. But not Venado. This boy seems wise beyond his years. His parents say he felt fine about turning back toward safety, wanting everyone in his hiking party, many who had come to join in the final piece of the trek, to be safe. Venado knows something that some folks never learn.
The hike is in the journey, not in that final summit. It’s about all that has been experienced between the sign on Springer and the challenges of Katahdin. It’s the people he has met, the wonders that have been beheld during months of climbing mountains, slogging through mud, and surviving on one’s wits while eating from a somewhat limited, repetitious menu.
Although he is still a child with much to learn and plenty of growing to do, I am only one of many whom Venado has made a huge, lasting impression upon.
I have yet to meet this little boy face to face but plan to do so as soon as possible. His father insists his son is just a “regular” little boy, that most any child could accomplish the same feat.
Yet, there is something about eight year old Venado that sticks with me, that touches my heart. His love for the trail, his awe for all that surrounds him, the uniqueness of an understanding of what it took to hike his own hike, and his determination to complete the journey he started, in his own way and to his own satisfaction. In my opinion, Venado is above and beyond what I see as “regular” and I have an admiration for all he has achieved. I commend his parents and his sister for their extraordinary input and love in the life of someone whom I think will become an exceptional asset in the midst of all the lives he touches.
The chapters of the trail have written themselves on his heart and in his soul, to forever be a part of the man Venado will someday become.
© copyright Tammy LR Meserve 2010

Friday, September 24, 2010


Golden leaves dance on a spirited autumn wind
Whirling, swirling, twirling
Against the brilliance of an azure sky
Mingling with rusty reds and coconut browns
All collaborating in the assemblage of a brittle collage
A sure sign that winter snows
Are soon to follow.
-By Tammy LR Meserve
© copyright TLRM 2010

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A ‘Golden Ray’ of Sunshine

Although I have always defined myself as a writer, several years of my life have been spent enjoying employment at a school for the deaf, having friends who are deaf, taking classes in deaf culture, sign language, and interpreting. Yet, the harsh realities of what life is like for those who are deaf, the prejudices they have endured, how often they are misunderstood and to what extent they must simply put up with living in a hearing oriented world, had never really dawned on me until recently.

I’m not writing this as a way to encourage pity for deaf people. They are a proud community with a strong culture. They certainly do not need our pity.
This is merely an observation of an experience I have learned from and want to share.
The veracity of how they must be staunch, ardent advocates for themselves to insure they get what they need or want out of life hit me full force last weekend when I met a 33 year old deaf man from Seattle, Washington who is currently hiking the International Appalachian Trail.
He is known in hiking circles as “Golden Ray,” a name that fits his personality perfectly. He radiates positive energy and he is excited about completing the Appalachian Trail (AT) and continuing his journey to include the International Appalachian Trail, (IAT) where the hike resumes from the north side of Maine’s greatest mountain, Katahdin, in Baxter State Park (BSP) on into Aroostook county, then to New Brunswick, Canada. This is most likely the place where Golden Ray will end his hike sometime around Thanksgiving, since the snows and winds of winter will be nipping at his heels. The trail does continue from New Brunswick, tracking northeast, up and over the highest point in the Canadian Maritimes, leading north to Quebec’s rugged Gaspe’ Peninsula, crosses an eight mile long bridge to Prince Edward Island, then to Nova Scotia via ferry, and finally to Newfoundland/Labrador and Crow Head, the northernmost point of the Appalachian Mountains in the Western Hemisphere. Perhaps Golden Ray plans to save that bit of hiking for another time. After he leaves Canada, he plans to resume his Appalachian Trail hike, completing a section he missed between Vermont and Pennsylvania before returning home to Seattle.
Quite an adventure for someone who has been profoundly deaf since birth and cannot hear any of the noises surrounding him on a daily basis. Sounds that might alert him to danger on a quest alone through some areas of wilderness that many hikers say are poorly marked.
Talking with Golden Ray (GR) is an uplifting experience. His attitude is that of someone who has the world at his fingertips, excited about what could be around the next corner, the next mountain, the next state, or even the next country. He does not demonstrate any thought of failure, of not living his dreams, nor does he worry that he might encounter a situation he cannot handle. He is obviously an intelligent man, yet possesses that childlike awe many of us try so desperately to find and hold on to. His smile is contagious and his eyes are full of wonder, sparkling with a thrill for all that surrounds him. He thinks the best of everyone he meets unless they prove otherwise and he seems to regard strangers simply as friends he hasn’t yet met.
He communicates with the general public via a composition notebook he carries in his backpack. He uses a second notebook as his daily journal where he writes of his experiences in elaborate detail. During the time we spent at a hiker hostel in Millinocket, Maine, Golden Ray allowed me to read some of the private entries reflecting communications with the people he has met since leaving Springer Mountain in northern Georgia, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Those entries reveal his willingness to initiate conversations with complete strangers, ask questions when seeking answers needed to navigate life on the trail, at a shelter with other hikers or in trail towns where he stops periodically to re-supply or find a shower and a bed for the night.
One of his fondest memories is meeting an eight year old boy, known within the 2010 hiking community as “Venado” who is currently thru hiking the trail with his father. Golden Ray hiked with them for a few days and says he enjoyed the interest the child demonstrated when wanting to learn sign language.
“Venado is a special boy,” remembers Golden Ray. “He learned the American Sign Language (ASL) alphabet very fast! He wanted to share what he‘d learned in one of the trail registers that hikers can leave messages in at the shelters. His way of doing so was to form each ASL letter with his left hand and then draw that hand shape in the register with a pencil his right hand! Venado is amazing!”
(I have since spoken to Venado’s mom via Facebook and learned that his trail name is Spanish for the word deer. I’ve decided that I definitely want to meet this little boy and will hopefully be writing about that experience in the near future if I am blessed with such an opportunity.)
There were a few instances during my time with Golden Ray that made me realize just how much he must overcome in order to keep his positive attitude and zest for the life he wants to live.
A group of drunks who seemed to want to harass us as we walked down a dimly lit street late at night didn’t phase Golden Ray in the least. Their verbal attempts at intimidation were lost to him as he happily walked along toward his destination. Wanting to err on the side of caution, I suggested that we cross to walk on the opposite side of the street, avoiding close contact with them. Golden Ray was accepting of that but he never hastened his stride nor opted to change the route he had chosen. His wide, brown eyes are always alert and with the combination of my ears and his eyes, I felt confident we would have no surprises from those demonstrating obnoxious behavior. It was actually very empowering to see Golden Ray stay on course, not veer from his plans in the least.
He told me later that when he is hiking on a trail in the middle of a dense, remote forest, he depends on his senses of smell and sight to know if there is a wild animal nearby who might be threatened by his presence. When he encounters such, he stops immediately and always a reasonable distance from the animal, giving it the right of way, not moving until the path is clear and the animal has left the area. He acts out of respect, not fear. He reasons that wild animals will not harm him, especially if they realize he means them no harm.
A second instance was when he asked a question of someone whom he thought he could get a free ride from. He needed to get from in-town Millinocket back into BSP to Katahdin Lake, where he would pick up the IAT and continue his trek north. The conversation became intensely argumentative at one point because the person providing the shuttle service needed to receive payment but Golden Ray did not understand why he should pay the man when the shuttle was going in the direction he wanted to go anyway. I assume Golden Ray’s thinking process might have related to the fact that some folks feel it is easy to take advantage of a customer who is deaf but that was clearly not the case in this situation, as Golden Ray soon realized. The matter was settled when both parties calmed down and the two compromised on a fee somewhere between gratis and the price usually charged for the shuttle.
Within the same morning a third mishap occurred, a misunderstanding at a popular, local restaurant, where Golden Ray ate meal after meal until he was full. Currently, he has the appetite of someone who has been hiking 20+ miles each day. He continually reminds himself that he cannot continue that eating style when he stops hiking because the 30+ pounds he has happily shed while hiking will indeed return.
The waitress assigned to our table seemed impatient when Golden Ray would sign what he wanted to eat and I would voice for him. I thought it worked perfectly and I was happy he felt free to communicate using sign language and not feel the need to point to the items he wanted on the menu or write notes back and forth. I was thrilled to be able to be of service to both Golden Ray and to the waitress! What a great feeling to dust off that interpreting hat and throw it back into the ring once again!
Well, the folks at the restaurant seemed agitated by his requests. The place was hectic and more than a few times he left the table to walk up to the cashier or to a waitress and ask for something he wanted. Honey for his pancakes instead of maple syrup, a pair of scissors to trim his mustache after breakfast, a straw to drink with, to order more food, etc. He would wait patiently for a waitress to approach our table but when they seemed to ignore him or were too busy to look his way, he simply walked to the front and made his requests known to the first employee he met. We waited what seemed hours to receive our bill but it never came. Groups of people were filing through the door and constantly eyeing our table, wondering why we were sitting there when we were obviously finished using it. Finally, I gathered up our things and offered the space to a group of young women standing nearby. Golden Ray walked to the front and told the cashier he wanted to pay what he owed so we could leave. Somehow, his communications were misunderstood and she thought he was refusing to pay at all! From where I stood near the exit, I noticed something seemed awry and went to investigate. By this time, the kitchen manager had written him a nasty note demanding payment. Golden Ray had absolutely no idea why she was so angry or why she had written, “YOU MUST PAY!” on a rectangular piece of white paper, shoving it toward him at eye level, then letting it drop to the counter as she turned on her heel and returned to the chaos that ensued in the frenzied kitchen behind her!
I looked at Golden Ray in an effort to assess his reaction. He was clearly unsure of what had just happened, yet remained completely calm. I explained to the extent he asked of me, we paid the bill and left. He did not let the negativity of what had just occurred ruin his day. He made it clear that he chooses to cherish every moment and doesn’t allow the negativities of the world to creep in or alter his happiness. I was in awe!
Luckily, I was able to clear up the situation later, letting the owner know what had happened before I had to leave town to make the four hour journey home.
Meeting Golden Ray was certainly an eye opener. He told me that his family is spread around the globe. I’m not sure but it seemed that in his opinion, they are not closely knit and to his dismay, they do not use sign language to communicate with him.
In the few hours I was in his presence, I learned volumes about myself. I learned how blessed I am to have someone at home who loves me, is interested in my life, my hopes, my dreams. Someone who encourages me to live out my dreams and make them my reality. I realized I have some things inside myself that I want to investigate further and work toward improving. I learned that there is freedom out there and that it is up to each of us to reach out and grab our own piece of it. I tend to become a prisoner of my stress, of the walls I put up, of the walls other people put up, of barriers that exist only because I inadvertently choose to accept them. I realized again that the need to be empathetic toward others is extremely important. I must remember that I really have no idea what another life consists of and to be patient and forgiving with those who do not show me kindness or compassion.
I was reminded once again that everyday is a gift, to be opened, enjoyed and marveled over! To live each moment to the best of my ability, to fulfill what I know is my purpose in life. To be a blessing to those people who come into my life for whatever reason, whether I like it or not. To remember that they are there for a purpose, to learn or to be learned from. To see this as yet another gift and roll with the flow of it. To be grateful for it, not get bogged down in negativities that get thrown my way and just keep moving on, enjoying this incredible journey that is my life!
 © copyright TLRM September 23, 2010