Tuesday, April 1, 2014


Yesterday afternoon I drove down to Prairie Pond Woods to resume the "businistry" of  Heart by Nature Retreats. Upon arrival, I heard several phoebes calling and before I went to bed a barred owl hooted from the woods.  In between, I took a walk and a friend from down the road invited me to dinner at their cabin.  It was a lovely way to begin this next season of writing and hosting retreats for women.

Walking the paths in the afternoon sunlight with Cyon, the beginning of a blog post I wrote in 2005 came to mind: 

"As I approached the wooded trail-head at Spring Valley Wildlife Area, I noticed something about myself. For whatever reason, I was not focused outwardly at that moment, but inwardly, and sensed a slight physical change, a minor elevation of heart rate perhaps, the tiniest release of adrenaline maybe...the kind of change you might experience seeing a good friend approaching unexpectedly. The moment I stepped over the chain separating woods from parking lot and on to the path, I was aware of the great expectation of discovery and a settling calm inside."

This is how I feel being here again; looking forward to whatever the days bring forth.  Like a trail head I have never been down before, I am unaware of what is before me.  Is it a straight path? A winding trail? Is it steep or wet, and are there interesting things to see?  Each time someone ventures down any trail, old or new, mysteries await. 

The trails in my life have always been a little rocky, winding and less traveled.  They were built by the pain of inner wounds, friendship, beauty, God, more pain, nature and healing.  They have been maintained by solitude in the wild, wrestling prayer and love.

So every April I open my heart, the retreat house, and our nature trails so that other women can come to find their hearts in nature.  It isn't the most popular activity to do in our culture. I know that. It may be scary for some and others may find it a foolish waste of time.  But I am an April fool...so when the creatures begin to stir and the earth magically greens-up in small bursts...I just want to share it with all the other fools out there!  

MAY 2-4, 201

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Sometimes people ask me why I don't offer different types of group retreats.  I assume they mean the latest "trending" kinds of women's retreats...crafting, health-focused, beauty-focused, fun-focused, etc.  I say it's because others are already doing those retreats, but few are offering what Heart by Nature has to share.  

Heart by Nature's goal is to give women the opportunity to create a ritual, a tradition, a way to annually check-in with themselves and evaluate their spiritual, personal or creative growth.  Whether it's learning about and understanding the natural world better (several women return each year to the annual Bird Watching as Meditation retreat), or broadening creative skills, or planning a more Spirit-centered year, that is the calling I try to fulfill for others.

Do we engage in creativity?  YES we do!  And all our creative activities reinforce the theme of each retreat.  We've painted bluebird houses, made bird nesting balls, prayer cards, collages from the soul, and more!  This year for the ECOntemplation retreat in June, we'll be making HYPERTUFAS...earthy, messy, and oh, so cool!

Are we health-focused?  YES we are!  Taking a walk in the country air for over an hour several times during the weekend is good for the body & brain.  And the sacred act of eating healthy, organic food in community is good for the soul. 

Are the retreats fun?  Well, what do you think...a bunch of women away from their
responsibilities, talking, finding common ground, laughing, resting and reveling?  Will you be entertained or amused?  No...probably not...except maybe by butterflies, dragonflies, deer, skunks...or Cyon (our prairie dog).   

Are we beauty-focused?  YES, we are!  But these retreats focus on the beauty of the wildflowers, the metallic gold dots on a Monarch chrysalis, the clouds passing over the hills. This kind of deep appreciation becomes part of the true beauty of each woman as it is cultivated from within. 

You can find a list of all the upcoming 2014 retreats HERE.  I hope you'll join us.  Start a Ritual this year.

Friday, January 31, 2014


Top  Ten
 things to do at
Prairie Pond Woods

April - October

When planning a personal retreat this year, the beauty of these seasonal events might help you choose the perfect month!

 1. During Full Moons, strap on headlamps (if you even need them) and take a walk on the Refresher Course, the path that winds through Prairie Pond Woods' 27-acres.
2.    During the Waning, Waxing or New Moon phase view billions of stars in the dark sky free of light pollution!  Take binoculars to see star clusters and bright planets better.

3.    In early April a half-hour before dusk, sit outside to listen to the mating call of the Woodcock in the fields.  Also watch for his winding, whistling aerial display.

4.    In late April, walk to the pond before dusk to listen to high-decibel Spring Peepers and other amphibians calling. See how long you can sit there! 

5.    In early May, before leaves begin to dress the trees, hike to the Woodland Cathedral. Listen and watch for warblers, tanagers, vireos and more! 

6.    In June, see millions of fireflies flicker in the fields, woods or prairie. It’s a light show!

7.    In July take a favorite book and meander the Refresher Course with dazzling displays of butterflies and butterfly weed. End at the Pine Sanctuary swing and read to your heart’s content in the coolness!

8.    In August, dragonflies at the pond offer hours of entertainment and tranquility.
  1. September brings out the photogenic complimentary colors of purple ironweed and yellow goldenrods and sunflowers.  Bring your camera!
  1. October is a great month to hike all the property and end at the pond to see the fall colors reflected in the water.  Hiking at The Edge or Shawnee State Park is also recommended during the fall.

Friday, October 25, 2013


A phone call previously in the week to the Director of Keepers of the Mountains, inquiring about a mountaintop removal auto-tour, went unanswered. So, despite sentences in their printed instructions like "This is a public road, it is OK to be here" and "don't be frightened by the coal trucks but give them plenty of room" and "proceed with caution," Craig and I proceeded to Kayford, West Virginia...with caution.

The day started out sunny and our drive to Charleston was pleasant, noticing that the foliage further south hadn't turned quite as colorful as in southern Ohio. I wanted to do this auto-tour partly for research for a short story I'm writing and partly because I wanted to see for myself what I'd been reading about the practice of mountaintop removal. This is a relatively new method of mining that not only obliterates the mountain tops, but also significantly decreases the amount of human labor needed to extract the coal.

After lunch at The Bluegrass Kitchen in Charleston, we left the interstate via Exit 79 and began navigating using the print out.  The directions took us several miles down a broken and pot-holed country road lined with below-poverty houses.  We passed a couple large trucks going in the opposite direction, and after "bearing to the right at the "Jesus Saves" sign," things got a little dicey.

The poorly paved road turned to gravel and mud and it began to sleet, leaving us to wonder how bad the weather might turn.  Would it be a treacherous return down the mountain?  

A large coal truck came barreling up behind us.  We decided to take advantage of one of the "pull-offs" on the road - not knowing how well our little Subaru, with its Nature Conservancy and "Beauty Will Save the World" window stickers would be received.  But it sped by without incident and we continued to "follow the guard rail up the mountain," on a very rocky road.  

Our only glitch following the directions was when we turned too soon and went right in to the mine entrance...until we heard someone yelling for us to stop.  A young man came out of a small building and we tried to ask his help with our directions.  He was a good-looking boy, maybe 18 or 19, and I wondered about his future as we talked.  Even at that young age, his front teeth were rotting and I guessed he would be working for this mining operation for the rest of his life, if they didn't lay him off.  From where I stood, I thought his situation looked bleak.  From where he stood, he probably thought his future was bright just by having a job.  After his answers revealed he was either completely unaware of the place we were looking for or just playing dumb, so as to be unhelpful, we left.  

Finally we saw the true "white rock," where we were originally supposed to turn for the Stanley Heirs Park parking lot. This park is 50 preserved acres - what's left of the original 5 ridgetops that the Stanely family once owned.  The picture on the website is heart-breaking.  Each of the small seasonal cabins pays tribute to "their people" who came before them, living on the land for several generations.
From the parking lot, it was now a short but steep hike in the cold rain to the ridge top, where we would see the effects of mountaintop removal on the surrounding ridges. We passed a dozen or so shacks and trailers, belonging to the Stanley heirs, all with their personal decorations and all closed up for the winter. 

The views on the path up were beautiful, both beside us and below our feet, where fallen maple, poplar and oaks leaves had us walking on shades of red, gold and orange. I was anxious to see the view from the top. Would I be devastated?  Would I cry? Would we even be able to see anything?  Would someone see us...and send a posse?

Finally, we reached the top and saw the sign.  NO, we were not authorized by anyone the mining company would recognize, but we were authorized by our own consciences. And I wondered about the consciences of those who run the loud, violent machinery we had been hearing since getting out of the car.  I wondered about the mining executives and the Board of Directors who make these decisions and live in homes 20 times the size of the ones we saw in the valley.  I wondered about my own conscience, since I use the electricity generated by this coal, and what I might do from this moment forward. 

Finally, we took the last few steps up the narrow path on the ridge and saw it. We stood in silence for a long time before I started taking pictures.

 This is what is happening to the mountains of West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee...over 500 so far! They are being cleared, blasted, dug and dumped to death.

The little valley town below is Kayford. I don't know how the people of this small community are faring.  As we passed through it on our way back home, we saw what we would consider extremely impoverished homes and middle class houses side by side.  Is this a good thing?  Is one household head a crew chief and the other someone who got laid off?  Has their drinking water been poisoned?  Is that why we saw so many large water containers near homes?  Again, I couldn't help wondering if any coal executives had ever been to this area. Had they ever seen this land...some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world...that they were blowing up?  I wondered what plans they had for the future. Wouldn't every mountain eventually have to be laid to waste to fuel our lifestyles? 

On the way back down we couldn't help but notice the contrast in beauty. 

After returning to the park, we also noticed the sign above the stage that read, In Loving Memory of Larry Gibson...the reason my phone call was never returned.  For me this was the saddest moment of the trip.  From all that I had read, he was a man dedicated to fighting for the mountains with truth and integrity.  Was anyone else was stepping up to take his place?  I wondered if he struggled at the end, knowing his task was not yet accomplished.  I wondered if the stress of this fight and the loss and destruction of the place where he grew up was a factor in his death.  I wished I could have met him.  Since I couldn't, I picked up a few chestnuts from a large tree growing by his cabin and put them in my pocket to take home to plant. I also plan to make a donation to the Keepers of the Mountain Foundation, because I believe that if he would have answered my phone call, we would have become good friends.

To find out more about Mountaintop Removal and what it does ecologically and socio-economically, click on these other links:

Monday, July 15, 2013


We call this spot, The Woodland Cathedral because, well, it just feels holy when you sit there. You will undoubtedly hear the crescendo of the Ovenbird song in the spring. Up on the ridge in the tangles of underbrush, a Hooded Warbler faithfully sings his "witcha-witcha-wee-oh" each summer.  A Pileated Woodpecker may also startle the silence with its loud, staccato call, as it swoops through the colored canopy in autumn.

This is a good place to contemplate whether your own voice is being heard in the world...

"Don't try to figure out what other people want from you; figure out what you have to say.  It's the one and only thing you have to offer.  
 -Barbara Kingsolver

 If you prefer not to trek up the hill, another spot at the bottom of the trail awaits. This Adirondack chair sits across from a small patch of newly planted woodland flowers, anchored by one Mountain Laurel bush that I planted several years ago. This summer I planted Virgiania bluebells, Jacob's ladder and wild geraniums. If all goes well, next spring these will flourish alongside Giant Solomon's Seal, Bellwort, Mayapples and Two-flowered Cynthias.  

This is the third and final spot in the woods for reflection, should you come for a Personal Retreat.  There is nothing more relaxing...more quieting...more comforting than being surrounded by such beautiful gifts of creation.  

To find out more about taking a Personal Retreat visit the 
Heart by Nature Retreats Website