Updated: Sep 21, 2021
Land Between the Lakes
As Steven and I made our way down the highway from Illinois, we suddenly ran into Kentucky’s hickory oak forests featuring tall red maple trees. The excitement of a new terrain had come upon me and I was eager to spend a little bit more time indulged in the solitude of the trees. We had been recommended by our neighbor at Carlyle Lake to go to Land Between the Lakes and we decided on Energy Lake Campground in Cadiz, KY. It was $26/night with electric at the campsite and a communal spicket for water. We arrived on a Saturday night and scored the most epic campsite right next to the water. We were told that 20 spots had opened up since the weekend was coming to a close and everyone was going back home to prepare for the workweek. We were spent from paddle boarding on Carlyle Lake and then packing up and driving to Kentucky, so we hit the sheets early.
We awoke early the next morning and instantly headed down by the water to catch the early morning rays as they shined on the ripples of the water. We were enjoying the peaceful morning and preparing to meditate before getting our morning started. I heard children talking and calling out for their dog in the campsite laying near the edge of the forest that split between us. Not minutes later, I hear a rustling in the leaves right next to me and I stand up quickly. A big, round, blonde mut comes running out and immediately begins to instigate a fight with Promo (our Shiba Inu). I am suddenly filled with panic and frozen in fear as I have previous traumas with dog fights. I knew from those experiences not to get in between the dogs because it is easy to get bit. The first thing I decided to do was move Jazzy (our pit mix) away from the other dog so that she didn’t get into the middle of it. Steven instantly dropped our new camera and went to assist Promo with getting the dog off of him. The dog had pinned Promo to the ground with his weight and was trying to get to Promo’s neck. Luckily, Steven had the opportunity to grab this dog from behind and picked it up and tossed it into the water. Steven immediately yells, “WHO’S DOG IS THIS?” Seconds later we see two kids, no older than 12, running out of the brush towards us. Their first replies were “I am sorry, our dog got out of its collar.”
The moment that I knew Promo was safe I grabbed him and Jazzy and headed back up towards our campsite from the water. Tears instantly fall from eyes and I can feel the flood of terror that had been washed through my body escaping from me. It was as if my body hadn’t completely caught up with real time yet, it was still responding as if the dog fight were still occurring. After some time, I settled down and got my thoughts gathered. Promo was sitting underneath the bench right next to my feet panting. I had finally calmed down enough to check-in with Promo and make sure there were no serious injuries. At a first glance, it looked as though everything was fine due to his long, thick fur. When I turned his neck he winced in pain, so I examined the area. I saw a deep gash in his neck, with some blood surrounding the surfaces, and it worried me. Steven and I decided that we needed to go to the other campsite and get their contact information before heading to the closest vet office. We didn’t realize that it was Sunday and no businesses were open as we arrived into town. Fortunately, we were able to get in contact with a veterinarian via phone and he told us to put some hydrogen peroxide on the wound and bring Promo in the following day.
When we brought him in the next day the veterinarian told us that he would have to put Promo under to get the gash stitched up. When we came back later in the day, the veterinarian told us it was a good idea that we had brought him in because there was rotting tissue near the wound that had to be removed. Promo had to stay the night there to ensure that everything from the surgery had gone smoothly and there were no further complications. Due to the incident, we had driven the first couple of days to and from town (which took roughly 45 minutes as we were following the lakeside), so we had not spent a lot of time in nature. I am proud of the way in which Steven and I handled the situation and believe that if it weren’t for the support of the witness to the whole event (a guy camping next to the family and their dog) and the campsite hosts, we would have been in a lot worse shape. We did not allow the incident to cloud our judgement or tamper with our emotions. We decided that in no way was this our responsibility to pay for since we had our dogs on their leashes and we were within the boundaries of our campsite. Furthermore, we found out that the reason the kids had come running to grab the dog was because the parents had left their kids with the dog at the campsite alone. We sent out prayers for the best-case-scenario to unfold and for further protection and safety as we moved forward with our journey. Despite this whole situation derailing some of our plans, we are eternally grateful for the end results. Our dog got the care that he needed and is well on his way to recovery and the owners of the other dog took responsibility for the situation and payed for our vet bill.
We were still able to enjoy some epic experiences as well. Some of the highlights of our stay at Energy Lake were biking, paddle boarding, playing with the camera, and cooking some pretty freaking awesome meals. The road that leads into the campground is about 6 miles of twisty and curvy roads filled with wildlife, trees and shrubbery. Taking a bike along these roads was magical and testing. After the first couple of hills my legs were feeling the burn, as we flew down one hill, we made our way up another. There was one hill in particular, that instead of winding back down after the curve it turned into an even steeper hill. I was about halfway through it when I told myself, “There is no way I am making it up this whole thing, my legs are shot and I still have the steepest part to push through.” In that moment, I took my gaze from the top of the hill to the street that was rolling right under the tires of my bike. I tuned into my breath and I switched my thoughts from I can’t to I will. As I gasped for air and gave my last ounce of effort, I had made it up to the flat part of the hill. I looked over at Steven with a lump in my throat and my eyes filled with tears and screamed “FUCK YEAH, I FUCKING DID IT!!! I WAS READY TO GIVE UP HALFWAY.” He looked at me and smiled deeply, stating “I am so proud of you honey, you are so strong.” As we kept moving forward through the trees, I could feel my once depleted energy source rekindling again. The energy in my body felt clear, more focused, positive and motivated. The burning in my legs was still present, but it bothered me much less. I made the rest of the bike ride with ease and a smile on my face. I hadn’t pushed myself in this way since I ran a half marathon almost two years ago. It felt so good and I felt so alive. In fact, I loved it so much I decided to do it to myself again the following day. I realized that I love to be my own competition and was proud of how far I have come on this fitness journey.
I was also met with some resistance throughout this trip as I didn’t have cellphone service anywhere within 45 minutes of where we were staying. Since I have been trying to stay connected throughout our trip and want to share our journey with you guys, I had a hard time adjusting to not having my phone on me. I realized just how attached I am to my phone, even when I knew I couldn’t use it I wanted to have it near me. Our phones do so much for us. They are our source of music, our sense of direction (google maps), our flashlights, our hotline in case of emergency and our source of connection to others. In many ways, they are our safety net, our comfort zone. I am privileged and blessed to have a phone and yet I wish I wasn’t as reliant. Fortunately, the discomfort present in the first couple of days subsided and I was able to see how much time I have been wasting in those ‘in-between’ moments. Like waiting for dinner to be prepared, riding in the car, laying down right before you go to bed or right when you wake up. Instead, I found myself playing with my dogs or watching the sunset while I waited for dinner, enjoying the scenery in the car, reading my book at night and snuggling up to my dogs in the morning. I hope that I continue to take more time do those things instead of staring at my phone for countless minutes of the days.
I am grateful for the abundance that nature has to offer. There is so much that you can learn about yourself just by spending an extended amount of time in nature. I can feel the ways in which nature has brought me back to myself. It has forced to me to slow down and appreciate all of the small things that life has to offer. What better feeling is there than when you gather up a bunch of firewood and make a fire that you then use to cook over? There is a satisfying feeling to work for the rewards that you then reap. Furthermore, my appetite has shifted and I am actually eating when my body tells me I am hungry versus what time of day it is or right after I watch someone put something into their mouth. My bowel movements are becoming more scheduled and I feel less bloated and have more energy. My circadian rhythms are syncing up with the sun and I have been waking up promptly every morning at 7:30am (without an alarm) and getting to bed around 9:00pm. Prior to this trip, I was working second shift and getting to bed around 1:00am and waking up around 9:30am. I am feeling ALL of my emotions, those sweet and fulfilling, loving ones and also those difficult and frustrating, painful ones. I am beginning to realize that the less stimulation that is in my life the more present I am with my emotions. I am no longer running or hiding behind the distractions found in our present-day society. There is so much stimulation with the news and social media, temptations with food, sugar, and alcohol, distractions with television or constantly hanging out with others. I am learning how to face adversity with detachment from suffering. Pain is felt, but suffering is the cause of our attachment to the outcome. Each moment passes and we are awarded the opportunity to come back and find the blessings of each day. I found myself irritated and upset by the very populated number of flies hovering over our food, flying into our car or camper, and landing on my skin. The moment that I let go of trying to fight nature (and the flies) and settled into the mindset that this is all a part of being with the outdoors I instantly felt better. I am still trying to understand the purpose of flies here and what they are actually good for other than eating shit or being annoying to humans, but aside from their purpose they were made as a part of this story here on earth and I respect their presence as a part of the divine essence of nature. What I have come to realize is that nature has this beautiful way of humbling humans. We are so smart and we have found customs to cope with the ways that nature tests us: like air conditioning and ice for heat, roofs and umbrellas for rain, stoves for cooking, and cars for transportation. But it is a beautiful experience to witness that the human was made for all of these conditions. Look at our ancestors and all of their wisdom. We are resilient beings meant to thrive in the face of adversity and it is our attachment to pain that causes our suffering. When we observe it for what it is, we flow through it not against it.
(A sunset Steven captured right next to our campsite)
(Scenery captured as we were entering into Land Between the Lakes)
Rohit and his family
As we said our goodbyes to the deep southern forests of Kentucky, we made our way to Louisville, KY to meet up with Rohit and his two daughters: Pragya and Gari. Rohit is from India and his children are the first generation to be born in the United States. Steven met Rohit and Pragya (the eldest daughter) at Bonnaroo in the summer of 2019. Rohit and Steven remained in contact after the festival. Later that summer, Rohit took his two daughters across the United States to the west coast in his jeep. Since Kansas is a midpoint between Kentucky and California, they stopped in Lawrence to see us. We took Rohit and his daughters to our favorite pizza joint (Limestone) and then to a concert in downtown Kansas City (The Floozies). Rohit shared a very special tea ceremony experience with us the next day before he was on his way. When we started to plan our trip, Rohit came to mind as we would be making our way to the East coast. Rohit stated that he was happy to host us at his house. We arrived in the early evening on a Friday just as he and his kids had finished their work and school day. Rohit and the kids decided to take us out to their favorite pizza joint, coincidentally, as we had asked if they had planned to return the favor from their previous experience with us.
Our stay with Rohit was calming and peaceful. We had originally planned to go to Mammoth Cave while we were with him, but ended up enjoying the comforts of his home instead. We relished in conversation, catching up on big life changes, experiences throughout the pandemic, reflections and his plans with renovating his home. Rohit’s house was under complete renovation, nearing its completion while we stayed with him. Rohit is transforming his house into a Minka. Japanese homes are called Minka, and include tatami flooring, sliding doors, and wooden verandas circling the home. His vision was sparked by his interest in providing his passion for tea with others. He wanted to create an atmosphere that resembled the culture of tea. Ceremonial tea is most commonly produced in China, but Japan inherits many of its traditions from China. I asked him why he favored Japanese culture over Chinese culture. Rohit replied “I am deeply interested in the ancient traditions of both. You cannot cherish Japanese culture without acknowledging its influence from China. I admire Japan because it is an island country and have remained pure in their traditions, China had been invaded by other countries and ruled by people who did not come from the land.”
Rohit had finished the mudded walls and placed wood in the hallways and the living room for flooring. All of the wooden verandas were up, the doors just needed to be installed and rice paper would be filled into the wooden frames of the sliding doors, separating each of the rooms. The tatami flooring would be placed in the tea rooms that layed at the front of the house as you enter. He had built in beautiful nooks to display his tea paraphernalia and had a stunning wooden chest storing his abundant collection of teas sourced from all over the world. Another beautiful concept of Japanese styled homes is that the common spaces where guests commune are often filled with floor seating. He had built a beautiful wooden table that lay 2 inches above the ground with mats and pillows surrounding the circumference of the table. His tea table, that he had built, lay over the surface of the ground table. The tea table has boards that run along the top with space in between to allow water to fall through. Underneath the tea table is a plastic tray that catches tea waste and excess water that falls from the tea pot. His tea pot, a strainer, and tea reservoir used for serving the prepared tea lay on top of the tea table.
Our first morning there I awoke and was out of bed promptly. I came downstairs to a still, quiet and bright sunny morning. I found Rohit in the tea room, sitting on his bolster meditating. Despite my entering into the room, his posture remained fixed. I sat across from him and joined in the presence of stillness captured in that moment. As we finished up our meditation, his eyes opened slightly and a smile was drawn to his face. Our eyes met and he bowed towards me, I smiled in return with big, opened eyes and returned a bow. There are not many people that I have met who take it upon themselves to commit to a personal practice in the presence of hosting others at their home. I loved that Rohit created a space for us to get a glimpse into his world, one that I wouldn’t have minded staying in for the next 5 months--haha. We decided to take the dogs for a walk into town to get a taste of the city and of course we had to stop in and try their local roasteries’ coffee. Gari, the youngest daughter, had brought a game in her bag that they often play together as a family when they come to get coffee. The game is called Sets, and the goal of the game is to collect as many sets as you can before the deck of cards runs out. The cards each have different shapes, with different shadings and different amounts of shapes on them. The goal is to try and get a set with three different cards that have a particular characteristic in common. After we finished up at the coffee shop, we walked back to the house.
As we were walking, I couldn’t help but notice the staggering number of murals that displayed the Black Lives Matter movement. Rohit lives in a primarily black neighborhood and it was beautiful to experience in real time what a black neighborhood feels like. The teenagers were playing football in the street together, the children were running up and down the sidewalk, and the adults were sitting in chairs among each other outside the footsteps to their house. The houses were long and skinny with tall, fenced in backyards. I thought it was pretty cool that everyone was congregating outside of their homes in spaces where conversations could easily take place as people pass by on the sidewalks. Since I grew up in suburban white neighborhoods, I find that our culture is much different. There is more privacy and separation than there is community. Most families spend time together in their backyard, closed off from accessibility to connection.
When we arrived back to the house, I wanted to check out Rohit’s Garden. Since Steven and I moved from his house out in the country we haven’t had a garden of our own to enjoy. Rohit asked us many questions and asked for assistance with picking some of the weeds as he couldn’t tell what was a baby plant and what was a weed. Rohit also had an injured hand from sawing off part of his thumb during renovations that he was doing to the house. He recently had surgery on his thumb and was wearing a brace to keep the posture of his hand in place for a smooth recovery. Steven and I offered our help with things that he couldn’t do with just one hand. As soon as Steven and I started on the garden we couldn’t stop there. We instantly moved on to the siding that had piled up right behind the house and moved it to where the rest of the siding lay in the backyard. We layed down the paper that had been protecting the floors inside of the house and placed them around the circumference of the raised beds. We gathered up the wood and moved it all to one corner for easy access to the fire pit. I was amazed at how easy it was to work with Rohit and admired his approach to instruction for his kids. He was very inquisitive and asked for their suggestions. He positively reinforced their behaviors by sending affirmative, appreciative comments as they completed tasks that were asked of them. It was so easy to see why his children were so well behaved. They had autonomy, were given the opportunity to speak their opinions, had space created to offer creative advice and their father was supportive and acknowledged their help along the way. Rohit was deeply grateful for our help and we replied “No, thank you! This is something that we miss and enjoy doing.” It got me to thinking about all the times that I had friends come over and help me with projects that I couldn’t do alone. The thought, “We are better together,” ran through my head and a sense of pride and gratitude ran through my body.
We had all worked up an appetite so the girls and I headed into the kitchen to start preparing dinner. Rohit and his daughters are vegetarian so they provided jasmine rice and tofu and we provided some fresh vegetables that we had obtained at a farmers’ market in southern Kentucky. I also wanted to share some of our fermented deliciousness with them so we pulled out the honey ginger concoction Steven had prepared just a couple of weeks ago. After we had prepared dinner together, we all went and sat in the tea room at the ground level seating to enjoy the meal together. We said thanks and engaged in brief conversation. The girls would be leaving soon to spend the week with their mother so we decided that it was best to have the tea ceremony together after dinner. Once we finished, we gathered around Rohit, who was sitting on the other side of the table from the rest of us. He asked Pragya to fetch some water for the tea and began preparing the first round. Traditionally, ceremonial tea is made in a small tea pot and passed around in small tea cups no bigger than a few ounces. This way, the tea is fresh with just about every swallow allowing the person to get all of the flavor and aroma notes with each sip. The first round of tea is sipped in silence to gather in the story that is told by the tea. Tea is dried and rolled in different ways allowing for the taste and aroma of the tea to be captured. Rohit described the experience of a picture being painted in your mouth as you gather notes from the tea. We began with Genmaicha, a bold, bitter tasting green tea punched with caffeine. We then moved to a sweeter tasting black tea (that I can’t remember the name of) to contrast the Genmaicha. Afterwards, we tried Oolong, a roasted black tea—a happy medium between the two previous teas. We ended with a s’mores tea that the girls had picked out since we had mentioned making s’mores that evening over the fire. It was a delicious treat to end the experience with.
I am thankful for the seemingly mundane experiences that we shared with Rohit and his family. Our stay with him was cozy and lovely. There is a deep sense of wisdom, awareness, groundedness and insight among him and his two daughters. I find it miraculous that you can share the some of the same values, lifestyle habits and beliefs as others who come from a completely different background. I am also appreciative to have found a space among others to share our thoughts and opinions with differing viewpoints and each of them be respected and heard without voices being raised or separation and divide resulting from the conversation. If there is one lesson that I got out of this trip it would be that we are all trying the best that we can and the Truth looks different for everyone. The most important thing is that you are honoring what feels right for you and in alignment with your core values.
Thank you for taking the time to keep up with our journey. I am sending you so much love. I hope you find the blessings in each day.
Our next stop -> -> -> Rock Island, Tennessee