Channeling Cassadaga: Meandering along the Psychic Footpath

Artwork displayed at Horseshoe Park.

Founded during the peak of the American Spiritualist movement in the mid-19th century, Cassadaga, Florida, is now a US Historic District and continues to host the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp for seekers, psychics, and mediums to explore the veil between our world and the “others.”

Spiritualists essentially believe that living humans can successfully interact with the personalities of deceased humans and other entities through practices such as channeling and divination. These spirits and entities offer insight and guidance to living humans, and help us along our own path. Psychics and mediums use tools like mirrors, tarot cards, palmistry, spirit boards, and bowls of water to manifest the messages from these non-human entities, since the entities don’t have physical bodies and don’t inhabit exactly the same physical space that we do. It is believed that psychic and medium skills are either a natural occurrence in some people, like athleticism or singing, while other people acquire the skill through a traumatic life event. George Colby, the founder of the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp, earned his talent after surviving a baptism in freezing lake water.

I stopped in Cassadaga for a quick lunch while traveling north toward the Georgia coast. Non-human entities contact me without the assistance of psychics and mediums, so I wasn’t interested in handing over $70 for a 30-minute reading of my Akashic records. However, I had heard of a footpath called the Fairy Trail, and after a quick meal of canned dolmas and a fresh mango, I ventured toward Horseshoe Park and the trail head. 

Gnome house along the Fairy Trail.

The most popular spot along the Fairy Trail is a set of human-size fairy wings, painted onto wood and mounted in a way for someone to take a picture of themselves with the wings behind them. As a solo-traveler without a selfie-stick, I bypassed the photo opp and decided to take a quick look around the other attractions in the village. Before long, I stumbled into the C. Green’s Haunted History Museum, which promised access to obscure items, antiquities of the spiritualist movement, and hauntings. How could I resist?

Once inside, the Museum is packed with all that it promised. The space is a crowded foyer with a long and narrow hallway extending toward a final room. I had followed a group of three others inside, and the four of us were the only visitors. I saw newspaper clippings of the history of Cassadaga, of Bigfoot and alien sightings, of mysteries and murders solved through mediumship, and of ghostly possessions that ended in tragedy. Dolls and toys that played host to malevolent beings stared out at us through glass cases, while spirit boards, crystal balls, and scrying mirrors shimmered in the low light. As we approached the final darkened room, I held back to allow the other group to enter first, while I examined post-mortem photographs of Victorian children in stiff knickers and Christening gowns. The group of three exited the last room, and I stepped forward to enter. Immediately, I felt a pounding sensation in my head and a total darkness covered my vision. Whatever was in that room didn’t want me there. Nope. I turned immediately and followed the group out the door. 

After exiting the museum, I asked the Curator about that last room. She said it held artifacts from Area 51. I asked what else was in the room. She confirmed that the ghost of a very unhappy man who had lived and worked in that room when it used to be the village post office continued to hold onto the space. Upon hearing this, I couldn’t help but wonder why stay attached to the discomfort of human suffering once our spirit is liberated from the human body? Maybe that’s why “ghosts” tend to be an unpleasant type of non-human entity, unlike the more beneficial and benevolent guides.

Bench along the Fairy Trail.

Cassadaga is a quaint reminder of the mysteries of death and mortality. Whether or not a visitor “believes” in or experiences the enchanted and supernatural world of the Spiritualists, each of us will one day cross the threshold into the spirit world. As is painted on a bench along the Fairy Trail, “we all have one foot in a fairy tale, and the other in the abyss.” We see this reality in nature, as the seasons change, within the folds of the food web, and even in our own bodies. Developing a relationship with nature allows us to feel more comfortable and to have more faith in that liminal space of transience; through a gentle acceptance of impermanence, we can meander gracefully along our path with one foot toward the dream of our life, and the other toward the unknown eternity.


Three Low Impact Eco-Adventures in the American South East

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Thirteen percent of the land in the United States is protected from development, which is one-tenth of the total protected land on the planet. These areas are managed under the National Park Service, the United States Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. State by state, even more land is protected through individual state governments. 

Many of these areas offer accessible, paved trails; amenities such as bathrooms and even hot showers; and interpretive hikes with rangers. This post provides three ideas for low-impact, budget-friendly eco-adventures in the American southeast. The downside is that a personal vehicle is required. Bus routes are non-existent, and the destinations are remote enough that hitchhiking or trekking in from a nearby town are not practical options. However, what’s more synonymous with America than a road trip?

Hiking DeSoto Falls

Located deep in northern Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains and the Chattahoochee National Forest are DeSoto Falls. A 2.4 mile rugged trail along Frogtown Creek connects hikers to the Upper Falls, Middle Falls, and Lower Falls. The Upper Falls are the most scenic, with a 200-foot drop and a wooden viewing platforms with seating to rest and observe the sunlight filtering through the dense forest of old-growth pine and vibrant rhododendrons. The video below is an 11-second clip of the majestic Upper Falls.

De Soto Falls, Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia

Although AllTrails lists DeSoto Falls Trail as “heavily trafficked,” I was the only person on the trail during my visit. The sky had dumped buckets of rain on the forest the night before my hike, and the cascades were alive with movement. I paid the price of comfort for the solitude though, as I had been camping nearby and discovered during the overnight storm that my tent is only relatively waterproof. 

Rain, and any weather pattern, is part of the eco-system, and without a cold and wet night digging moats to direct the flow of water away from the base of my tent, I would not have seen such vibrant waterfalls, or the lush and nearly jungle-feel of the surrounding forest. Besides, waterfalls are good for health. Check out my post on Waterfalling to learn more about the demonstrated health benefits of hanging out near a waterfall.

Swimming in Natural Springs in the Ocala National Forest

Florida’s Ocala National Forest is one of the most unique eco-systems on the planet. The area is home to the largest concentration of sand pine in the world. In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt formally established the National Forest, and today it is 607 square miles of conifer, sand pine, and long leaf pine woodlands, with four crystal-clear and inviting natural springs for swimming and meditation.

Juniper Springs is located inside a large recreation area, and was rather crowded when I arrived late in the afternoon on a hot and sunny Sunday afternoon. However, the weekend groups thinned out, and the pool was completely empty when I awoke and walked to the pool from my campsite. Another woman was nearby doing yoga and a park employee was preparing the site for the day, but otherwise the space was mine. 

The water at Juniper Springs is a constant 68-72 degrees, which is definitely chilly. Although the bottom is deceptively visible, the pool is 21 feet deep. I am a good swimmer, but afraid of deep water for some reason, and took the opportunity to confront that fear with several laps around the pool.

Juniper Springs, Ocala National Forest

Swimming in cold water is good for health. It boosts white blood cell counts, and flushes veins, arteries, and capillaries. It also activates endorphins, and supports estrogen and testosterone production. Finally, it burns more calories than swimming in warmer water, as the body tries to keep itself warm.

After about 20 minutes in the water alone, the woman doing yoga joined me. She and her male partner both worked for a California-based tech company and had been remote for over a year, living and working from their RV. She told me about Salt Springs, and since it was on the way toward my next destination, I decided to visit that one as well.

Arriving at Salt Springs felt like I had discovered an ancient secret. The infrastructure was clean, welcoming, accessible, and developed, but hardly anyone was there. The pool at Salt Spring is much larger than Juniper Spring, and it is shallower so the water is warmer. A tall mosaic wall surrounds the pool, and I secured a spot in the sun with a roomy distance between a group of young boys snorkeling in the shallows, and a woman reading a novel. I felt very connected to the earth and water spirits at that location. The video below is a 25-second clip of one of my swims into Salt Spring. 

I was relieved that the springs I visited had not been ruined with over-crowding and over-use. If planning to visit these springs, or any natural area, please remember to pack everything out. One easy way to do that is to minimize the amount you are packing in. Identify everything you might want to take with you, and then remove half of it. We need less than we think.

Biking Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island is located about 11 miles off the coast of Georgia. It is only accessible on a ferry from the town of St. Marys. Unfortunately, affordable lodging is scarce in St. Marys, and the only nearby camping is an RV park at the Crooked River State Park. I bunked in my tent among roaring generators and nosy neighbors the night before my day-journey to Cumberland Island, and almost cancelled the entire endeavor. However, I followed through on my plans and the experience was one of my most memorable adventures in the past year and a half.

The ferry ride is about 45-minutes over smooth waters. Upon arriving at Cumberland Island, it docks twice. Most passengers de-board at the first dock, the Ice House Museum, to explore the Dungeness Ruins and the historical cemetery, and to walk the Interdune Boardwalk and across Dungeness Beach. The Southend Loop walk takes about 3-4 hours, and allows visitors to see and experience the island’s natural and cultural landscapes. The video below is a short clip of the ferry docking at the Ice House Museum. 

I stayed on the ferry to de-board at the more remote Sea Camp Rancher Station. This is the stop for backcountry campers, and for those of us renting bikes for the day. My bike rental was $18, and I set off north on the Main Road. I had wanted to reach the northernmost point of the road to see the Cumberland Wharf Ruins, which would take me through many miles of wilderness area, but of course that plan was overly ambitious. 

First, the Main Road is an unpaved sand and gravel trail that turns progressively more rugged once I entered the wilderness area. At some points, I had to get off the bike and push it through sand that was deeper than the depth of the tire. Second, water is scarce and although the map indicated potable water at Plum Orchard around mile eight, it had not gotten turned off during shut down and there wasn’t actually any water. Third, I had drastically underestimated the mileage to the Cumberland Wharf Ruins, and how long it would take for me to travel that distance on a beach cruiser across the sandy path. In total, I biked about twenty miles, and returned to St. Marys on the evening ferry, dehydrated and sunburned.

The “main road” on Cumberland Island.

It was worth the effort. The eco-system of the wilderness area was like something out of Jurassic Park. Herds of wild horses meandered across beach prairies, armadillos munched calmly on leafy vegetation along the path, flocks of fat turkeys pecked at insects in the trees, and a green-eyes bobcat sheltered in the shade of a large fern leaf while an oppressive afternoon sun tore through the forest canopy. Riding a bike in these conditions isn’t for everyone though. It was definitely difficult and somewhat painful, but the wild horses and armadillos are also often sighted near the Ice House Museum and the Dungeness Ruins.

Do you like what you see and want to get more tips, insights, and ideas for your next low-impact eco-adventure? Follow Nomad Star Travel to stay current.

Travel for an Expansive Self

Photo by Admiral General M.

Nomad Star Travel, LLC offers pre-planned group excursion with scheduled outdoor immersion activities, interpersonal learning and development opportunities, and guided individual reflection. Challenge yourself to meet new people in a supportive and growth-oriented environment with like-minded people. We also offer private journey planning options for individuals who prefer a solo quest. Both the group excursions and the private journeys include access to personal growth counseling to leverage the opportunity for self-transformation. Meet your Holistic Counselor, and email to learn more.

The connection between personal growth and travel is not a new concept. Many faith and initiation practices involve the physical act of separating the self from routine to embark on a journey into the unknown. It is believed that through the process of giving of the self and confronting uncertainty while moving along a literal or metaphorical sacred path, the traveler will arrive at a destination of deeper understanding with their spiritual purpose, transformed into a person who will successfully and gracefully meet the challenges of their next phase of life. This internal or external, literal or metaphorical journey, represents initiation from one cycle into another. It forces us to set intentions and navigate the unknown, while also presenting us with emotional obstacles we must gracefully overcome.

Through intentional and intuitive planning, adventure, and reflection we connect with a source of strength that propels us toward a more meaningful identification with a web of life that is older than us, more intelligent than us, and more resilient than us. We learn to transform our mindset to recognize success, to accept social responsibility, and to act through faith. As we journey into a world that is currently unknown to us, we confront the uncertainty within ourselves and begin to overcome our emotional and psychological barriers, for continued alignment with success, growth, and transformation.

Connecting with an Earth-Based Consciousness through Land Acknowledgment

It is no secret that the United States is built on stolen indigenous land, on which many people lived, hunted, and worshiped for thousands of years before European colonization. While none of us can change the past, we can recognize the injustice and give acknowledgement to the tribal land before each picnic gathering with friends, at the entrance to each trailhead, or while pushing your kayak off into the river. According to the Native Governance Center, a land acknowledgement, “should function as living celebrations of indigenous communities.”

  Compared against the Western worldview, the indigenous worldview strikes a more balanced and harmonious material and spiritual relationship with nature. Where the dominant worldview categorizes the nature, the landscape, wilderness, and non-human beings including plants and animals as utilitarian resources and objects whose inherent purpose is human consumption, Wahinkpe Topa (Four Arrows) and Darcia Narvaez in their 2022 book Restoring a Kinship Worldview explore what they are naming the “kincentric” worldview which could be “the first step toward returning to an earth-based consciousness, a starting place for relocalizing or restoring place-based knowledge,” Four Arrows and Dr. Narvaez present excerpts of speeches, letters, and testimony from First Nation leaders which illustrates the depth of kincentric values as expressed through common indigenous worldview manifestations. Interwoven in this dialogue are consistent ideas that the natural world is sacred, and that “the indigenous worldview reflects the original instructions for how to approach living well on the earth.”

Restoring the sacred and healing relationship with nature requires a conscious and intentional awareness of the cultures who are indigenous to the land, otherwise we risk more colonization and cultural appropriation. The Native Governance Center asks that anyone who is constructing a land acknowledgement for any reason to start with self-reflection and research, and to use appropriate and truthful language to describe the past. They have a lot of really helpful reminders, tips, and resources to learn more and get involved on their website, so check it out for sure. 

Traveler’s Power Stones for an Intentional Adventure

When we charge stones, we set powerful intentions for what we will seek and explore next along our Earth journey. Whether it is the stones themselves that create this reality, or simply that they are conscious reminders of what we want to find, they serve as guides directing along our path. These are five powerful stones to carry with us on our journey, and how others before us have carried them. 

Visiting Europe’s Second Highest Waterfall

Anela and I had already made plans through the Couchsurfing website to meet up before I even arrived in Sarajevo. When she met me at the bus station to show me to my guest house, we confirmed that the next day, we would hike to Skakavac Falls. At 321 feet, it is Europe’s second highest waterfall, falling behind only Austria’s Krimml Waterfalls. 

Water flows down 321 feet at Skakavac Falls outside of Sarajevo, Europe’s second highest waterfall.

Skakavac translates into “grasshopper” in English. It is named from its stream of origin, which follows the peak of Bukovik and then flows into the Perak creek. The start of the trail is located about seven miles from Sarajevo, and then a five mile loop trail will guide you through wildflowers, grassland, and forest to the waterfall. Some people describe the trail as “rugged,” but I would call is easy-moderate. It is definitely not accessible for people with mobility devices, and the steep spiral staircases could present difficulties for young children or the elderly, but a reasonably healthy adult can comfortably finish the trek in a few hours.

A winding wooden staircase leads us into the forest and to the base of the falls.

Anela and I met up with her friend Helena, and her daughter Dragona. The four of us drove together in Helena’s Ford Fiesta to the trail head (Helena and I have the same car!) and stopped at a rustic cafe called Kafana Prohama to embolden our spirits first. Alena and Helena wanted me to sample raki, a sweet, herbal aperitif popular in Serbia and Bosnia. The cafe owner was excited to share from his personal bottle, a batch distilled with pine needles. I can’t say I loved it, and during my travels through the Balkans, I was able to limit my consumption of raki to twice. The second time was while a guest with a local family in Nis, Serbia. 

Dragona and Helena (L), Anela (R) relax at the Kafana Prohama after our hike.

Interestingly and perhaps synchronistically, both Anela and Helena had been to the United States each once before. Of all the 3.8 million square miles that is America, they had both separately visited southwestern Ohio. Anela has friends in the northern Kentucky/Cincinnati area where I am currently staying, and Helena had gone to Dayton to participate in the 1995 Dayton Accords, which ended the Bosnian War. I felt a camaraderie with these two women and with Helena’s shy daughter, and the experience reminded me of the importance of staying open to new social connections while traveling. As an INFP, it is much easier for me to stay independent and follow my own flow in life, but forming connections with other positively-aligned humans will reaffirm my energetic path.

Vanished Horses and Painted Ladies

While exploring one of the most charming neighborhoods I have seen in Cincinnati, I was reminded that history is viewed through the eyes of the victorious aggressor. That’s why Grandmother’s Foot in Bogota, Colombia, is now called Montserrat, and why there is no longer a temple to the sun at the top of El Panecillo in the Ecuadorian capitol of Quito. In the swift current of human time and warfare, knowledge erodes like sediment, washed into a lost ocean.

Columbia Tusculum is the oldest neighborhood in the City of Cincinnati, and the second oldest white settlement in the Northwest Territory. The Northwest Territory was founded in 1787, and included what would become the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota. It’s formal name was the Territory Northwest of the Ohio River.

Benjamin Stites and the Disappearing Horses

A white man named Benjamin Stites learned about the area when he was on a hunting expedition in Kentucky. A group of Native People allegedly stole some horses, and he and others began to pursue them. The Native People built a raft and crossed the Ohio River, near the mouth of the Little Miami River. Stites never recovered the horses, but he decided that the location he explored would be an ideal location for his settlement. He returned to his family in Pennsylvania, and immediately negotiated an agreement with a New Jersey Congressmen named John Cleves Simms. Simms purchased a large piece of land in the newly established Northwest Territory, and sold Stites a 20,000 acre parcel at less than a dollar an acre, near the junction of the Ohio and Little Miami Rivers.

The Stites house in present day Cincinnati.

Stites gathered a settlement party of 26 people from New Jersey. Although they anticipated hostility and conflict with Native People on their journey, they encountered none. They had heard rumors of 500 Native People waiting for them to arrive but their scout canoe saw no one. The party of settlers arrived safely on the morning of November 18, 1788.

Although relations with the Native People were pleasant enough in the early days of the settlement, they soon turned sour. History records the murder and kidnapping of the white settlers, earning the area the dire nickname of “Slaughterhouse.” A history book describes a cabin constructed only the year after the arrival into the territory in 1789:

“Its narrow doors of thick oak plank, turning on stout wooden hinges, and secured with strong bars braced with timber from the floor, formed a safe barrier to the entrance below; while above, on every side, were port-holes, or small embrasures, from which we might see and fire upon the enemy. Of windows we had but two, containing only four panes of glass each, in openings so small, that any attempt to enter them, by force, must have proved fatal to an assailant.”

The Battle of Fallen Timbers

In 1794, the US army staged the Battle of Fallen Timbers along the Maumee River in Northwest Ohio. This would be the final battle in the Northwest Indian War between the Native People affiliated with the Western Confederacy and their British Allies, and the United States. The leaders of the Western Confederacy included Chief Little Turtle of the Miami, Chief Blue Jacket of the Shawnee, Chief Buckongahelas of the Lenape, Chief Egushawa of the Ottawas, and others that history has rendered invisible. At least one tribe, the Chickasaws, fought alongside the US as allies. Although the battle itself was only about an hour, it’s consequences resulted in the forced displacement of the Native People from what is now the State of Ohio.

Depiction of the Battle of Fallen Timbers in what is present day Toledo, Ohio. Image shared through the Chickasaw Nation.

Settling into the 19th Century

After the victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, the white settlers in Columbia Tusculum felt safe to construct their homes with less safety measures. However, as they began to expand their settlement, they realized they were building on a flood plain of the Ohio River. They relocated to the foot of Tusculum Hill in 1815, and most of the existing neighborhood survives still today. The oldest home that is still occupied nearly 225 years later is at 3644 Eastern Avenue and was built in 1805. It has evolved over the years, from a modest log cabin to its current Gothic Revival architectural style.

The oldest home in Cincinnati, located in Colombia-Tusculum.

Many of the houses are on the National Registry of Historic Places, including the rows of “Painted Ladies” that line Tusculum Avenue. The Painted Ladies are Victorian era homes, adorned in brilliant and bright colors that contrast sharply when compared to the more modest dress of our 21st century, prefabricated homes. However, the newer homes in this neighborhood are modeled after the Painted Ladies, maybe to maintain consistency of appearance. Today, this neighborhood is like the SF of Cinci; any home for sale costs upwards of half a million dollars, an impossible price for the average Cincinnati local who earns a median income of $43,000. 

A row of historical Painted Ladies in the Colombia-Tusculum neighborhood of Cincinnati.

We will never know what happened to the horses that Stites followed from Kentucky to the spot of land near the Ohio River and the Little Miami River. Did he really believe the Native People had stolen them, or were they an easy scapegoat? We will also never know the story of conquest from the perspective of the Native People who lost their land and thousands of years of cultural heritage and knowledge within a few years time. If we have learned anything from the lessons that 2020 has offered, it is that we can’t trust the story fed to us from the leadership. But I guess my most pressing question is who in the world is buying a house that costs half a million dollars?

Indigenous Ohio

The land of Ohio has a powerful relationship to the Indigenous People who lived in this area for many thousands of years before the European people arrived. The word “Ohio” is itself derived from a word in the Iroquois language for “good river.” That is fitting as Ohio is home to several networks of rivers and tributaries. Also, Tecumseh, the leader of the Native American Confederacy, was born in Ohio. Tecumseh fought to the death to unite the Indigenous People of what is now Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, to secure a hunting ground and a territory, protected against European colonization. 

Portrait of Tecumseh, Shawnee warrior who resisted British imperialism into what is now the Ohio River Valley.

The British were allies with the Native American Confederacy, and during the Treaty of Ghent, the British implored the US Government to return that land to the Indigenous People. However, Ohio was granted statehood in 1803, and then after Tecumseh died in battle in 1813, Indiana followed in 1816, and Michigan in 1837. What remains of the long-standing Councils and the multitude of tribal communities that inhabited the land are relics in museums and several sacred burial grounds.

Recently, I explored three such burial grounds, called “mounds” or “earthworks.” The earthworks are places of ceremony, social gathering, worship, and burial. Although Ohio has many numerous earthwork sites, those I visited are all located in the southern end of the state, between Cincinnati and Athens.

Mound City Group

The Mound City Group is one of six Hopewell National Historical Sites. This 13-acre space is enclosed with a 4-foot earth wall, and is home to 23 mounds. The largest mound is 17 and a half feet high, and 90 feet in diameter. 

Hopewell Earthworks located 12 miles west of Chilicothe, OH.

The mounds are what remains from the Hopewell culture, who is thought to have lived in the area from 1-400 AD. Historians and archaeologists speculate that each mound used to house a ceremonial building, based on clues such as artifacts, clays, and ashes. After the building was purposefully dismantled, the mound was constructed.

History almost lost this site. After land pressures in the mid-late 19th century, it was plowed over for farming. Fortunately, two historians had mapped the original site, and it was successfully reconstructed in the 1920s.

Seip Earthworks

Seip Earthworks is another one of the six Hopewell National Historical Sites. It is 120 acres of two circles and a 27-square acre astronomical alignment. Sadly, many of the geometric earthworks were destroyed during colonial expansion. Tim Anderson Jr’s drone footage from 2016 is a birds-eye view of what has been preserved, and is now part of the National Park Service. My visit was fairly short, but I did take a peaceful moment to prepare morning coffee over my propane backpacking stove and to bask in the fresh autumn sunlight.

Fort Hill Earthworks

I almost bypassed this site, in favor of continuing on to my final evening of camping, but it ended up being my favorite, and most adventurous, afternoon. This site apparently has two earthworks, one at the top of Fort Hill with 33 gateways and 1.5 mile circumference; and a second, more difficult to locate, Circle Earthwork. I opted to trek along the Buckeye Trail to find the less accessible mound. 

Trail map at Fort Hill Earthworks.

After perhaps two miles along a steep and uneven path, I was on a narrow trail overgrown with spider webs and vegetation. I waved a stick in front of me with each step to avoid spiders in my hair. Eventually, the trail abruptly ended in a field. A farmer was baling hay in the late afternoon heat, and I wondered if I had taken a wrong turn. I stumbled a bit over the uneven soil, and then finally noticed a slightly elevated area of earth to my right. I had found it, the Circle Earthwork. I felt satisfied and accomplished.

Uneventful yet still accomplished at the end of the trail.

We can’t change the course that history followed, but we can choose which version of history we honor: the brutish violence of colonization, or the powerful energy of a movement toward reclamation that is very much alive. We can choose our heroes, and how we name the victors. 

Finding Center

Stillness and silence nurtures a connection with transiency that is a familiar feeling for those among us who travel. We are always shifting and adjusting to fill the spaces around and within us. Through centering, I feel the space within me unfold into an acceptance of impermanence and walking meditations in a labyrinth is one way to connect to this timeless moment.

Labyrinths have been around for over four thousand years, and labyrinthine symbols date back to the Neolithic age. Through shifting the mental constructs of linear time and space having origins only between two separate points, they aid in the traveler’s discovery of their true Self. They guide the seeker into a compression of time and space.

On one particularly bleak Sunday, I decided to venture into that sacred space of my center. Using the World-Wide Labyrinth Locator, I filtered the search function to find ten labyrinths within a 10 mile radius of my zip code. The World Labyrinth Locator is an online project of The Labyrinth Society. Launched in 2004, it is a database that contains over 6050 labyrinths across 85 countries. These are my three favorites in the city of Cincinnati.

The Smale Riverfront Park has a gorgeous labyrinth located between the Roebling Bridge and the Black Brigade of Cincinnati Monument. The total distance from entrance to center and back is half a mile. When I began the journey, I was the only one walking. Within ten minutes, a young girl on a tricycle who was on the Ohio River Trail with her father saw me and wanted to explore as well. Although they didn’t seem to understand the purpose, they at least opened their perspective enough to wander into a circle that perhaps they had never before noticed.

Smale Riverfront Park labyrinth.

I traveled to a new area of the city to walk this labyrinth, located behind the Unity of Garden Park church. Designed to represent the mythic Phoenix who rises from its ashes to fly away, symbolizing healing and transformation, I felt an alignment of time and space while weaving through the pathways and visualized a peaceful transition from the chaos of 2020, and into a more stable 2021. The words, “May Peace Prevail on Earth,” mark the beginning and end, printed on a post in four languages.

Labyrinth at the Unity of Garden Park Church.

Located in the beautiful and historic Cincinnati neighborhood of Walnut Hills is the New Thought Unity Center with it’s outdoor meditation garden and labyrinth. The Cincinnati Magazine from October 15, 2020, gave the labyrinth a bit of publicity. In this online article, Larry Watson, the center’s head prayer chaplain explains the installation’s purpose of creating and releasing an intention, whether “a concern, belief, sadness, emotion, pain, anger, shame.” The process of following the path gives space to reflect on the intention before releasing it. Watson explains that, “working into the center, through the labyrinth, gives us time to be comfortable letting it go.”

Labyrinth at the New Thought Unity Center.

Gazing at the Edge of the World

A blast of chilly air slapped me refreshingly in the face as I pushed open the door to the four bed bunk hostel. I was in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, a small border town on the confluence of the Parana and Iguazu rivers. The late February jungle air hung dense, and I had practically swum through the unpaved streets of the town center after departing the bus station. It had been maybe a twenty hour ride from Buenos Aires, and I was tired, sweaty, hungry, thirsty, and stretched thin. Puerto Iguazu was the final remote destination on my journey inward, and from this point I would turn around and return to Bogota, 4213 miles away. It was also the first and only location where I would bask in the glow of air conditioning.

A handmade wooden dream catcher on display at our hostel in Puerto Iguazu.

My bus from Buenos Aires had been over night, and it was around noon when I arrived in Puerto Iguazu. After a nap and some SteriPEN sanitized water, my hungry became my primary need. I ventured through the town center, seeing the usual tourist shops selling braided bracelets, freezer magnets, and snow globes of Caucasian-featured figurines holding surf boards.  As the gateway town to Iguazu Falls National Park, Puerto Iguazu has developed most of its economic infrastructure around tourism.

I followed a trail away from the upscale cafes serving steak and fried yucca root and passed modern hotels with valet parking and airport shuttles, to a spot where I sat and watched the muddy water of two rivers swirling into ripples and waves. From this point, I saw three nations: Argentina where I stood, Paraguay across the water on the left bank, and Brazil across on the right. I didn’t have a VISA for either of those countries, so I was unable to cross political borders. This was the farthest edge of my journey.

Crowds gather for a display of negative ions tumbling over the cascades of Iguazu Falls.

Waterfalls happen to be one of my favorite features, right up there with gorges. Waterfalls symbolize the process of release, of letting go. They are the continuous flow of life and energy. They remind us that no moment in time is the same as the one before it, which means that each breath, each heartbeat, each blink is a space of awakening into a new experience.

Waterfalls also produce an abundance of what are called “negative ions.” Negative ions are healthy for our bodies, contrary to what it might seem. Ions have an electrical charge that is either positive or negative. Positively charged ions have lost one or more electrons, and negatively charged ions are oxygen atoms with a large number of highly negatively charged electrons. These two types of ions are fundamentally different in their sub-atomic structure, and negatively charged ions can be found in natural areas, such as on beaches, near waterfalls, and in the forest after a lightening storm. While in Puerto Iguazu, I definitely had to see the falls at the Iguazu Falls National Park.

The park is a protected area with a sister park called Iguazu National Park, located in Brazil. Although a total of 275 falls roll through the heart of this Paranaense Rainforest making it the largest waterfall system in the world, the most monumental is the Devil’s Throat Falls, where the water tumbles 80 meters into a deep canyon, its voice deep and deafening. The falls are one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, and were dedicated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

A critter tries to convince me to share my cashews.

Filled to the brim with negatively charged ions, it was time for the long haul back to Bogota. I had no idea how much more adventure was ahead of me. Over the next three weeks, the bus I was riding would break down in the Atacama Desert; the ATM in Tacna, Peru, would eat my backup bank card; agents at the border of Ecuador and Peru would attempt to forcibly “offer” me a vaccine for an unfamiliar, mosquito born virus; and I would share empanadas and Aguilar with an Ecuadorian family while the highway through Colombia was closed for a labor rights demonstration. That’s human existence, right? When we think we are facing the edge, we creep closer to see a new path.