Wherever You Go, There You Are

Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning

That is at one with your life’s desire.”

-John O’Donohue, from “For a New Beginning,” To Bless the Space Between Us

I did it! I got out of my rut this past week, as I had warily planned to do. It was different from what I thought it would be, of course. Isn’t that usually the way? We make plans, we imagine how exciting or meaningful they will be, and then “life” happens. “We” happen. And sometimes we discover that finding ourselves in a new way is full of the unexpected. Unfurling is complicated.


Those of you who read last week’s blog (“When A New Beginning Shows Up”) heard about my pending trip to Old Man River. You heard about my hopes for traveling its shores and writing more profoundly as a consequence. I had high hopes. I was energized by John O’Donohue’s lyrical invitation to begin anew. It would be my first trip entirely alone since my husband died. Very nervous stuff for an introvert!


I left my nest Monday afternoon, headed for a river city and a Victorian B&B. I was surrounded by the beauty of southeastern Minnesota. It splendidly shines this time of year. The greens are delicious in their variety and the antique whites and plums of the wild display of fruit trees and lilacs in the spring are breathtaking.


I was pampered with five-course healthy, indulgent breakfasts at the B&B. My spacious room was resplendent with Victoriana. Carved white oak gleamed everywhere.


Though an introvert, I enjoyed the presence of many guests over those days as we shared breakfasts. Monday night, five of us traveled to the tiny village of Rushford for the best Italian dinner I’ve ever had. And the cook is from Ecuador! A worthy beginning to my unfurling journey.


I wrote and wrote on a cold, rainy Tuesday. It was cozy and lovely to rest and work there.


Learn to find ease in risk.”

-John O’Donohue, from “For a New Beginning,” To Bless the Space Between Us

I had intended to “learn to find ease in risk.” There were moments – even hours – when I did. Especially when I ventured north out of town on Wednesday to drive the Great River Road that is Highway 61.


I was cradled on my left by the grand, high granite hills, carved by the Mighty River over eons and eons of time. I knew the ease of awe.


I was soothed by their green forests that defied rock and grew there abundantly anyway.


I was startled every time I gazed to my right to see Old Man River just “rollin’ along,” whipped up by the high winds of the day. The sun sparkling on the crests of the waves was magical.


I was unfurling myself! I was finding ease in the risk of venturing forth all on my own. With no set plan. Just wandering. Looking. Seeing new things. Expecting delight and finding it!


In Wabasha, I shopped and then sat on the shop’s platform, looking over the Mississippi and the huge bridge that leads to the Wisconsin side of the river. The sun was warm and the wild winds threw my hair about, but it was calming and beautiful and I was indeed at ease. I wrote and wrote as I sat in the calm of my spirit that was at one with the river and my world.


This was what I had planned!


My writing awakened the memory of “walking across the Mississippi River” when I was a kid, visiting the narrow slice of its headwaters in Itasca State Park. That, in turn, opened up memories of so many yearly family trips – some along that river where there was no walking across it possible.


In elderhood, travel can offer an extra layer of mindfulness. Looking back and remembering good days from long ago can be sweet. It can be a way of capturing in a new way the experiences that were part of shaping us. My remembering that day was a grace – the grace of memory. It was perhaps the very grace that I had taken this small risk to rekindle.


I eventually left there to cross that bridge and the backwaters of the Mississippi that you pass through to reach solid ground in Nelson, Wisconsin. I took pictures of the trees fastidiously mired in the floodwaters of spring. I went to the old village creamery and had the iconic ice cream that everyone said I had to have. And met people – like me – retired types, elders, out for a glorious day in Minnesota spring.


That Wednesday was a special day, the kind of day that I planned to repeat elsewhere before I left for home. But it didn’t happen. Weather – but more significantly, impatience – had their way with me instead.


Thursday was another cold, rainy, grey day. The anticipated sun never arrived. I grew more and more restless as the day passed. Here it was: the uncomfortable risk of going it alone for the first time. I had made one significant mistake: it was too long to be away from my little Scandinavian nest that is my spirit’s daily comfort.


I had paid for my room, so I stayed. Writing and painting and napping and reading and wandering in the mansion’s elegance. But I wrestled with restlessness, and I couldn’t get home fast enough on Friday.


I was so disappointed in myself. Some unfurling!


“Wherever you go, there you are.” Ah, yes. I forgot how introverted an introvert I am. Getting old hasn’t changed that. I need my carefully appointed 720 square crowded feet that is home. I can only handle a bit of time away all on my own. I can travel long when I’m with others, but I can only handle a bit of time away alone. Two or three days will do it. 


Then I realized: all this is but one hour from home! There are still so many interesting places to go on day trips! Ha!


Adjustment made. Getting out my map. Where shall I go – when the sun is out and the dew point is below 68 and I am ready to unfurl once more? Finding ease in risk? Hey, I’m getting it!


It turns out, I’m surprisingly okay with its contours. Finding ease.


Photo: Detail from the fireplace mantel in the library at Alexander Mansion B&B in Winona, MN.

7 thoughts on “Wherever You Go, There You Are

  1. Thank you for sharing your journey Martha.
    Following a sudden family illness in early May which is now medically under control I took a weeks city break to Liverpool.
    I have taken trips alone before and since 2012 have spent periods in The Gambia, West Africa.
    Liverpool is about 30 miles from my home in Chorley, Lancashire and I have previously spent a really enjoyable week there.
    Although this was my first trip outside my own town since the beginning of u.k lockdown etc March 2020 there seemed to be some other reason that left me unsettled and not enjoying this trip as I had enjoyed the previous one.
    Your post has helped me realise that even a week was too long and perhaps before winter, all being well, I will revisit for a shorter period.
    Take care.


  2. I am always using that line–wherever you go, there you are–with people who want to get away and do something different. Usually, though, it’s with younger people who think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.

    A question I ask them, what is it you like about where you are or what you do? Find more of that right here. Once you can do that, then head out to see if you can find it elsewhere. But, if you cannot make the changes where you are, going somewhere else may only make life harder.


  3. I think this brave little trip is exactly what experts recommend as a way of keeping our brains in working order. Novelty on all fronts, something truly you to you. Thanks for taking us along on your solitary adventure!


  4. BIG high five to you for stepping into adventure, open to life and the lessons awaiting us! I soaked in your gorgeous writing, appreciating your poetic perspective, so grateful to be taken along on your journey. Yay YOU, my friend! You DID it (and will continue to)! Would love to see your painting too — how wonderful! With gratitude, The Other Martha (TOM)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, Martha, you do my heart a great good! I’m trying to work on some elementary mindfulness – like even getting out of my natural state as an introvert and actually noticing the wonderful physical world that I live and move and breathe in! You have been an inspiration and I am but a neophyte, but I am trying! Thank you for your lovely message, Martha, dear friend! Much love, TOM (P.S. It will be a while on the painting…NO natural talent! BIG learning curve!)


  5. I think you were very brave to go on that trip alone, and very wise to realize that you prefer shorter trips when traveling by yourself! Understanding our limits and realizing what truly makes us happy is so important. So, in my opinion, you really did “unfurl!” Thanks for sharing this post!


  6. Great article a usual Martha. I can hear your voice in your writing. You truly shine through into your narrative. You must be letting the inner introvert out.


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