The Need to Retreat

One of the easiest, most accessible personal retreats is a Screensaver Break.

While researchers are confirming the health benefits of spending time in nature, most of us don’t need this proof. When we can’t get outside, pausing over a screensaver can be a mindful respite. The relief that comes from seeing earth’s natural landscape is spontaneous and palpable.

My current screensaver is a photo taken several years ago of people I love at a place I love–family members on a guys-only visit to Maroon Bells near Aspen. Viewing the picture takes me there and to them. I inhale and exhale. My senses open and awe reawakens, leaving me refreshed and ‘good to go’  before taking a real break with my feet upon the earth in the great outdoors. #HappyFriday

For more retreat tips from The Contemporary Shaman visit



On the Rocks



Life can get rocky. It did for me recently and the mood would not lift, so I went to the creek. It gurgled where it fell between rocks on its way to the reservoir, and I complained that it wasn’t making much noise. I needed the racket of a real waterfall. Scum formed on the surface where water pooled, and it had an odor. I told the creek it stunk. It matched my mood.

Interesting, I felt guided to sit on the man-made bench rather than on my usual rock formations. ‘Going to the creek’ is synonymous with sitting on the rocks. But, I followed the guidance, and from the perch could look down on the creek bed for a distance upstream and downstream.

Bored with the little gurgles and still in my own stew, the urge to a hike a trail got me up and moving. The bare winter woods was particularly uninteresting, as my experience was tainted by attitude.  The trail brought me back across the creek. I spent a few minutes on the bench again and the stink wafted in the air again.

I decided that coming to the creek just wasn’t going to help me this time. Rounding a bend in the trail I stopped in my tracks as a skunk waddled nonchalantly up the sandy edge of the creek and disappeared into a hole under overhanging tree roots. “Huh! It’s a skunk!”

Ha! It was you, not the scum causing that odor! I laughed and was glad I had not sat on the rocks in the creek.

Is my negative attitude stinking up the woods like you? Thanks for letting me know what’s it like to be around someone with a bad mood. Are you telling me that I can be nonchalant like you? No one messes with you. If they do, they’ll regret it.

Nonchalant. Like a child. Innocent. Carefree. Even if life stinks for the moment, I can be nonchalant, knowing I am protected.

After watching the skunk disappear from sight, I walked up the trail toward the parking lot. With every few steps, I noticed in the ground looking back at me, heart-shaped rocks. One rock after another peppered on my trail. I felt the love again. The Earth holds and heals me. It is good to go to nature to reconnect.


PS   The first time I saw heart-shaped rocks in the Earth was on 911. After my family members made it safely home, we drove to our local park, which was a special place to us, to soothe our nerves and find our balance. As we descended the trail and walked along the creek, I noticed underfoot heart-shaped stones, thus beginning my habit of looking underfoot for what is helpful to regaining equilibrium.





On an Outer Banks, NC, Retreat this week.
Returning to the Appalachian Trail next week.

For now, I’m with the cormorants flying in formation,
willets puttering along the sea foam,
herons quietly moving through the wetlands,
gulls squawking and hunting,
seashells, the resident gray fox,
and pounding surf.
And of course, the dolphins.


Walking on the sand has its challenges, too!



Late Autumn on the AT—AAH!

Two Miles at Hawksbill
Scarn and Scree

 Up close and personal with the woods today. Short hike on the AT after a night of rain. Moist underfoot. Quiet. Rock and moss, decaying logs, green leafy ferns, trees bare of leaves–naked in profile. Alone on the trail, one hears the mind, worries, wonder—silenced by the invitation for protection to take over. Then everything is a hum.

The normally rocky-to-smooth trail is interrupted by four scree crossings. Each hike has something to remember, so far, none more interesting than the crumbling side of Hawksbill Mountain.

The Trail Ahead

The Trail Further Ahead

Makes one curious …

What geologic action created this pointy megalith?

Refuge for faeries during the rain.

Heading home.



Shamanic Sunset


I’m cut loose, a convict escaped,
Fleeing the simmering Piedmont.
A lone, whirring cicada
Seasonally attuned
Slipped his shell, clinging
Empty and stiff to bark.
I’m parched as cicada’s crunchy shell.

Survival instincts free me
To a higher perch in the Blue Ridge.
From a stone wall on the crest,
Legs dangle into oblivion.
The sun slips lower
In a Massanutten-Alleghany meltaway.

My head in the sky of diminishing day,
Magic and wonder return.
In a hail farewell at the horizon,
Sun tosses a burst of red light.
A sun-bear flies to within my reach
And we merge! “Huh!”

It is ecstasy and exhalation.
A higher voice interprets,
You are a shining ball of light,
From head to toe.
 The message echoes within, encouraging
Comprehension as diminishing light
Takes the cacophony of day.

Trees covering mountainsides
Withdraw to their roots.
Air cools. Insects and butterflies retire.
The only sound in the panorama
An uplifting nocturne chirped in duet.
Moon takes center stage.
Day is done.

No longer a wizened Piedmont shell.
Homebound, full, nestled in fleece.


copyright Louise M. Mitchell

Hiking the Appalachian Trail–AAH!


November 12 – Animal Totems

3.6 miles Hawksbill Gap to Skyland

As we drove into Shenandoah Park, the outside temperature dropped a few degrees to 38. Skies were crystal clear. My son was my hiking partner for the day. First wildlife sighting was a hawk circling over Skyline Drive. Quite beautiful—hello, Hawk! Second wildlife sighting was a deer bounding across the road a few cars ahead of us. She made it safely to the other side. Hello, Deer! Once parked at Hawksbill Gap, out of the car and hiking boots on, I chose to wear gloves and a headband around the ears and a winter jacket over a lightweight fleece. Note to journal: all good choices.

Few leaves remained on trees along this section of the AT. As in previous hikes, the leaves lay as a blanket across the rocky trail, forcing us to concentrate on footing most of the way. We hummed along and stopped to enjoy our first icicle of the season hanging from a rock formation.

About halfway through the hike, where the trail had nice little ups and downs through wooded areas with massive rock formations, my son stopped walking and said, “Bear.” I must have been far away in my own world, because I was caught off guard.

“A bear? Where?”

“Over there. A mother and her cub. A mother by herself is not a problem. But with her cub …”

I saw them. They looked to be running and playing, bouncing around. Then she stood still. She looked at us. She looked away. She looked at us and looked away.

“Let’s back up the trail a little,” my son said.

That was good thinking. Okay.

“Do you have your whistle, Mom?”

“Ah, yes, right here.” It has been hanging from the top strap of my backpack for the last two months, but this was the first time I needed it.

“Should I blow it?”


I blew it and rested and blew it and rested. The bear continued to watch us. Two other hikers stopped with us. They were equally captivated and happy to take cover under the whistle. I noted that the trail ahead curved away from the bear family. A peaceful feeling came over me, when I realized another animal totem was showing itself. I talked out loud to her and told her she was safe. I felt safe. We walked on and she disappeared with her cub over a ridge behind where they had played.

We walked on thinking that was pretty cool and after another half-mile stopped in our tracks again as a wild turkey crossed the trail, fleeing from our footsteps. Another totem! Ah! So much wildlife in one day—more than I have seen since we left Colorado three years ago. What a great thrill to be so close to W-I-L-D-L-I-F-E!


Mother Bear and Cub



Trailside Landscape

Undulating Ridges and Valley View


Allow Your Gifts to Flow

Stone 4: Eagle Rock

Excerpted from my book, Rain Makes the Rocks Sing, Inspirations from Nature.

Venturing deep into your relationship with nature, you can discover the Earth singing for you! Indeed, technology and media are good sources of information. So, too is the web of wisdom woven through nature.


This stone feels cold in my hand and emanates vibrations that tingle across my body. He says:

Each moment is a mental choice—to struggle or flow. Struggle or flow.

I notice the shape of an eagle soaring on the back of this stone and a heart shape in relief on the front, making it resemble a two-sided ink stamp. The wings of the eagle on the back mirror the two lobes of the heart on the front.

Develop the heart of an eagle, he continues. Get a higher perspective and give up your addiction to struggling. Let go and allow your gifts to flow.

Do not be fooled by ideas of limitation and weakness or fears of excellence and failure—and everything in between. Relax that knot in your stomach. My message is peace.

This message is so poignant that I struggle with facing its truth and wisdom! Ah, I have been discovered and am being pushed to get above my limiting thoughts and fears. Eagle Rock concludes:

Ease is the way out of struggle. Surrender to ease and you will be home, wherever you go.

The Inspiration: Soar with the heart of an eagle. It is all so easy! Elevate your perspective. Elevate your existence. Trust the thermals to carry you to your destination and soar.


–May the music and voices of the stones awaken the Light within and fill you with joy.



Hiking the Appalachian Trail–AAH!


My Hiking Partner

4 miles Hawksbill to Fishers Gap
Aka Facing Adversity—real and imagined


To hike the AT, you must get ON the AT. Yesterday’s hike from Hawksbill to Fishers Gap began with a 1.7-mile consequence of starting at the wrong trailhead. My former park-ranger friend and I began at Hawksbill Lower Parking. I expected the trail to intersect with the AT after a few minutes of walking. It was not to be. With every switchback and turn in the trail, I searched for the concrete AT post. After 45 minutes of mountain-goating, we stepped out onto the summit of Hawksbill—not part of the plan. I have never been more disappointed to be on a mountaintop—usually my favorite place to be! The AT is more toward the base of Hawksbill. I could have cried.

 From the parking area, we should have walked north to find the AT access. For some reason, we just headed up the trail in sight from the car.

 The real consequence—I never found my groove. I didn’t enjoy the vistas across the valley, rock formations looming trailside, the wash of fall color at the lower elevations of the mountains, the singing and entertainment of my hiking buddy. She was blissful, confident. “Whatever. We’ll get there,” she said.

 We eventually intersected with the AT and immediately I felt energy shift. The AT has a feel. It is feminine—like mother earth herself. It has flow, continuum, and connection. I stopped in my tracks and remarked about the change of feeling. My hiking partner looked around and said, “Well, look there are the rocks and steepness of Hawksbill Mountain to our left, and a flat forest to our right.”

 I said, “No, not physical difference. An energetic difference. Don’t you feel it?”

 She searched for the feeling. “No.”

 More than a blue blaze, is the white blaze. I was delighted to be on the AT, connected once again. But, my surge faded as my feet began to complain from the 1.7 miles of rock already covered as we progressed through the woods along more rocky sections. Our three-mile hike was going to be a four-mile hike.

 She said, “Is Jim going to worry?”

 “Yes. He is a worrier.” I texted my husband, doing duty with the car to meet us at our end point at 2-2:30 p.m. I didn’t know if he would receive the message that our pace was slower than expected, but after a while I got a text back saying, “Okay.” That relieved my fear over his worry.

 A breeze came up and brought gray cloud cover. My trail buddy said, “Is it supposed to rain?” For some reason this struck fear in me, too. I had a poncho with me, but she did not. I had thoughts of hypothermia and a vision of our stumbling from the woods drenched and shivering. The sun was in and out, the afternoon cooled, but rain was not a real threat.

 “Sing a song, Louise!” my buddy said.

 Ah, me, I cannot sing. She tried to enliven me.

 This hike poked at hidden and not-so-subtle fears. As we trekked closer to our exit point and contemporary life, an additional fear surfaced. Being Election Day, I wondered if my candidate was winning. Are all the people not on the trail, voting?

 Two nights before the hike, in meditation, I was told my planned hike in the Hawksbill area would be all right. I questioned that advice, wondering why that was so important to address in my meditation. Now I know. It was going to be a trek through my fears, a veritable workshop of negativity.

 We did make it just fine, but my journey was very different than my hiking partner’s. She was fearless, undaunted, and into the beauty and joy of it. Thank you for the inspiration and leadership you provided while I was a weenie.

 I even lost the trail map in my backpack for a while. What a doofus I was—all balled up like a coyote chasing her tail—when I could have been enjoying the day as it unfolded. Such is human nature.



Peeling birch bark glistening in the sun.


The view from Hawksbill, the highest point in Shenandoah Park, 4050′.


Approaching Fishers Gap.


Windswept ridge near Fishers Gap.

The Earth Sings to Those Who Hear

Excerpted from my book, Rain Makes the Rocks Sing, Inspirations from Nature.

Venturing deep into your relationship with nature, you can discover that the Earth sings for you! Indeed, technology and media can be good sources of information. So, too is the web of wisdom woven through nature.


Stone 33: Sings Praise

I found this stone on a creek side trail at a local waterfall. It has a diagonal line of white quartz across the “forehead,” two eyes, three dots for a mouth, and a nose that resembles the numeric 5. It is rough, tumbled, and formed of feldspar. I took the 5 as a big hint and asked, “Are you the fifth of a five-note scale?”

Yes, I am
The note A-flat,
Singing tones
Of the Third Eye,
Vision of
The Light that
Dwells within.
Water, wind,
Earth, fire and wood.
Five elements, five notes,
Weaving the song
Of the Earth.
Singing praise
For the Light
That dwells within.

The Stone’s Inspiration: Praise Your Own Existence

Seek the Light that dwells within you. This journey, alone, defines a great life. Connect with the five elements and five notes. Let nature inspire you. Your awakening is what the Earth asks of you and what the human race needs now. Wake up your vision. With insight, awaken to the Light streaming through your heart.

See with your sixth sense, intuition, third eye (the fifth note). Sense your true beauty and the beauty of your message. Glow, shine, and transform. Become a warrior of the Light, living prideful and free-spirited at the pace of the Earth.

Find the flow of the five elements and five notes. It can carry and support you in this lifetime and through all time.

–May the music and voices of the stones awaken the Light within and fill you with joy.


Autumn on the Appalachian Trail – AAH!

The View from Hazeltop

Four-Mile Section, Milam Gap to Bearfence

The last Friday of October began with a short wait in lane to enter Shenandoah Park. My Senior Pass got me through the booth quickly when it was my turn. Air was clear. Temperatures in 40s and 50s. Gusty wind. Fall color remained on some trees, but mostly covered the ground, opening up views of neighboring mountains and valleys that had been hidden all summer. Oak leaves and acorns everywhere—roller derby conditions for downhill footing on the trail. Nodded hello to about 20 other hikers on the trail, which is a high traffic count compared to other outings. Nearing the end of Fall color, means we are also nearing the end-of-season for many facilities along Skyline Drive. Autumn roams will soon dissolve into winter ways.

My hiking buddy was a woman who had been a Park Ranger for 20 years and knows the lay of the land. As we hiked, she grooved on finding ginger plants and unusual tree formations, and entertained with stories of teaching children about nature. She speaks my language and walks at my pace. We decided we were a good pair.

I’m always ready to be awed by nature and found beauty in fungus and wonder in twisted, aging bark. The rock of windy Hazeltop juts into the air on the diagonal, a sign of the force that pushed the mountain into shape. I could only try to imagine the geologic action that moved the earth—it boggles the mind. I traded my fleece baseball cap for a fleece headband, which kept my ears warm, but freed my hair to fly around and dance in the wind. My hair danced past one dynamic rock formation after another, releasing heat from my body’s effort.

Significant wildlife count for the day was one raven that squawked in the treetops, catching our attention. Hello, Raven, bringer of magic, remind us of the magical side of life.

Most of the passing hikers were young and fit, coming upon us and disappearing out of sight quickly. We silently envied their pace and comfort, but remarked how nice it was to admire the bounty of nature surrounding us, while giving our blister and bunions little rests along the way.

Fungus pattern on tree trunk

Lush moss habitat