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Epiphany of a normal day: Keep being you

5 Jan

On this Twelfth Night, eve of Epiphany, when my mother would have turned 85, I reflect on the fact that many of the people I am closest to today—both geographically and emotionally—I did not even know in January of 2011.

At that time, I was in Kentucky, and suffering terribly because of a breakup a few months before that had left me feeling completely ungrounded. I had temporarily lost my identity in another, one with whom I finally had to sever ties in order to regain my self. I remember sobbing in my friend Candace’s bedroom, “I’ve had to break up with Bruce, and I’ve realized I have no idea who I am!”

During my time of healing, I sought counseling and found, through a trusted friend’s recommendation, a wonderful therapist who I will call Ryman. I saw him only five or six times, and I shared my story and brought him texts that I wanted to use to help me weather the storm until I found dry land again. They were passages from Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now and Melody Beatty’s The Language of Letting Go. Ryman and I made recordings of his voice and my own that I would play in solitude, reminding myself how to get back to center, where I needed to be.

Ryman was a huge help in keeping me on course, though he constantly told me that I was the one steering the boat—I was doing all the work, and he was just there to watch and listen. Months passed. I reached the shore and regained myself… just in time to be of some comfort to my mom in her final months.

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by Warren Lynn

Now, living in North Carolina, I have a whole new social pathway, but I keep in touch with many friends and acquaintances in Kentucky and the world over. I reach out to Ryman about once a year, and he always sends a message back to tell me a bit about his life. During the Twelve Days of Christmas this year, I wrote a note to him, and his response left me reeling. Unbeknownst to me, during January last year he lost his wife, his soul mate, to a sudden illness.

“It has been a year filled with sadness, joy, thanksgiving, longing, some despair, etc., all fine and part of the process,” he wrote. “Your experience after your Mom passed was part of a continuing reminder for me that she is alive and well in my heart and in every part of my existence and everything around me.”

I responded: “I can tell between the lines that you are allowing yourself the privilege to be fully immersed in ‘the luxury of grief,’ which is a very individual experience, as unique as your relationship was. I can say nothing that will help, but only to allow all this to flow over you and into you like a river, without trying to map its course. I feel that at the 3.5-year point since I lost my mother, I am actually done with grieving because I have always allowed the grief to overtake me fully and take me wherever it wanted me to go.”

I thought about what it really was that helped me get through the first year after my mom’s death. I remembered that I felt the most lost and bewildered on the first Mother’s Day (which was almost a year after she passed) and that I wished to be able to be counseled by Ryman, but I was far away and alone.

“I read a lot of things but really, what’s helped me most was just listening to my own heart and staying tuned in to my mother through common friends and through my writing about my grief,” I wrote him. “Something that helps me that I’ve never really tried to write down is the notion of how we experience time as linear, when truly it isn’t. Because of that, it seems that one person has to ‘go’ before another, but actually, we are all already everywhere together at once. During this horrible time of separation, you are forced to remain in this linear time illusion, while she is actually free of it. So as much as you can join her in that knowing that you are truly still together, the more free you become.”

Ryman responded the next day: “I just read your email and thanks so much. I copied it onto Word and made a copy to keep in front of me as a reminder about getting centered with this experience. Today, I have been sad and had moments of feeling sorry for myself. It’s of course all okay, but I want ‘to allow it to flow over me and into me like a river’ and be open to creating something new and different. I love your ‘linear time illusion,’ which nails the reality, leading me to say, ‘Oh, I forgot about that!’ Thank you for reminding me!! So much of what you said was a reminder of what I sometimes forget. One wise person said, ‘We teach those things we most need to remember ourselves.’ That has always been true for me.”

I’m overjoyed that I could be of some help to this person who helped me remember who I was at a crucial time of self-doubt.

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by Warren Lynn

Even though now I am so much happier and centered than I was five years ago, I still have days of frustration and need reassurance. On one of these, recently, I received a wonderful message from my new colleague, Tina—one of those people I didn’t even know five years ago, but who is now a treasured friend—who texted me:

“Just keep being you: dedicated, visionary, warm, professional, deeply caring, funny, experienced, creative, kind, with a smile and laugh and deep heart that naturally just draws you in… what struck me when I first met you, then played out deeper as we started to work together is that you do all these things with poise and class. Keep being you…”

One of the coolest things about that message was that while I read it, I felt somehow disoriented and seemed to travel back in time. For an instant, I thought I was reading a description written long ago about my mom—but then I realized, this was about me.

When I start to take any aspect of life for granted, I want to always remember Ryman and how he helped me get back in my boat and get back to shore in late 2010 and early 2011. I want to remember how sudden was his loss and how effervescent his ongoing resilience. I also want always to remember being with my mother in her last days and hearing her say, “I would give anything if I could just get out of bed and come to greet you when you get home from the grocery.”

A message came to me today from someone I don’t even know, as part of a chain of uplifting quotes:

“Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are.
Let me learn from you, love you, savor you, bless you, before you depart.
Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow.
Let me hold you while I may, for it will not always be so.
One day I shall dig my fingers into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or raise my hands to the sky, and want, more than all the world, your return.”

~Mary Jean Irion

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Intention, practice and writing your own future

25 Dec

I once heard Kurt Vonnegut deliver an absolutely riveting talk. At its climactic crescendo he exclaimed, “You want to know the future? Just wait around for about five seconds. It’s happening right now. You are creating it through your every thought and intention. You want to change the world? Change your thoughts!”

STL14KURT_336623kI remember including this and several other kernels of Vonnegut-inspired wisdom in a presentation I gave to various writers’ groups in Kentucky. One was: “Not sure you’re a writer? Check and see if you’re writing.” In other words, aptitude alone doesn’t make you a writer; you need to make writing a daily practice.

About five years ago, a fork in my life’s path could have easily swayed me from that practice. But I chose instead to use the circumstance to deepen it… and to add a new element to my writing: intention.

In October of 2010, I had just stepped away from an adventurous career in Costa Rica to spend time with my mom in Kentucky. I knew that I would be staying with her for the rest of her life. As the marketing and communications director for a kayak ecotour operation, I had been immersed in writing every day—handling all company communications and maintaining the web site and social media program I had created.

Rather than set aside the practice of writing each day, I started this blog.

Any body of work starts with a consideration of its audience. Even if we don’t realize it, the person or group for whom an article, essay, poem or book is written is with us on a subconscious level. Sometimes we know the audience, and sometimes we write to attract an audience not yet within our sphere.

I started this blog with two audiences in mind: one general, and one very specific.

First, I wanted to keep my broad network of travel industry contacts abreast of what I was doing and to express myself personally and professionally to that global audience, which included members of The International Ecotourism Society, Sustainable Travel International and the Adventure Travel Trade Association.

Another, as yet invisible, audience was more specific: I was writing to an unseen publisher who would someday discover my work through taking the time to read this collection of reflective essays (as well as the parts of my blog that are a virtual résumé) and deem me worthy of investing in as a writer, editor and leader. This person would not just think that I was good, but would completely “get” me and fully recognize and utilize my potential to take a product or company to the next level.

I was setting an intention with the blog site. While I was putting my career on hold in order to care for my mother, I was at the same time creating a way to continually demonstrate my abilities by writing about my current role as a caregiver.

It’s good to have intentions. What is sometimes hard is waiting for the time to be right.

IMG_0679Many lessons were learned and incredible growth took place in the fertile ground of my commitment—though I felt hopelessly unqualified—to help my mother die and then manage her estate. I didn’t do it perfectly, nor did she. It was hard, we were awkward, but we muddled through. While I could never master patience while she was here, once she was gone, miraculously, I had somehow become a much more patient person. All along the way, I wrote about the experience. Four of my best essays came to be penned throughout four difficult seasons: the spring of my mother’s last days; the summer of her passing; the fall consumed by the luxury of grief; and the winter when I finally understood… she wasn’t really gone at all!

That last essay, Changes are shifting outside the world, tells what it was like for me to be with my mother during her transition. It concludes thus: “The way we experience time in this realm of form brings a horrible finality to this type of separation from someone we love. But, we need not lose interest in the plot as we might do when watching a movie where no transformation seems to be occurring. Change can still be going on—and who are we to say that it couldn’t be? For all I know, Mom is now on some level of the hero’s journey that is beyond my comprehension. My continued closeness to her essence gives me the impression that changes are indeed shifting outside this world and that she is still learning, growing and changing as she has always done.”

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A year later, I had relocated to Asheville, North Carolina, and was trying to find a job in which I could use my writing. On the morning of February 1, 2014, I got the following response to the essay Changes are shifting outside the world.

“Beautifully stated! Your heart was opening to a wonderful knowing, love transcends all that is…. Peace of mind only comes thru the heart and is felt sometimes long before it is known. I am happy for your knowing so thoughtfully expressed.”

As I read that comment on my blog, I knew that my intention was now actualized. I had found my publisher.

P2P filler copyAnd so, largely because of the events that have transpired through the act of visioning and creating my own future, I now have the great privilege to work as a magazine editor once again. It is my J.O.B. (joy of being) to direct the work of some 50 contributing writers, photographers, illustrators and members of an advisory council for a fledgling print publication that celebrates the farm-to-table culture and community in the foothills of South Carolina, western North Carolina and east Tennessee.

Because of the magnitude of energy required in this new role, I have not posted an essay on this blog for an entire year—since my marriage January 1, 2015. It is my new intention to return to this practice of blogging, even as I devote myself wholeheartedly to my role as editor of Plough to Pantry.

12143356_1031905556839960_1656737984944827605_nMy audience for this blog has multiplied since my move to the Asheville area. So I write this to all my new friends, as well as all my long-time friends everywhere. I also write this essay for and dedicate it in utter thankfulness and humble appreciation to my very specific audience: To Jerry, who took the time to read, to see, and to believe.

“You want to know the future? Just wait around for about five seconds. It’s happening right now. You are creating it through your every thought and intention. You want to change the world? Change your thoughts!”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

View the digital Winter edition of Plough to Pantry here:

http://edition.pagesuite-professional.co.uk//launch.aspx?pbid=241bbb12-ba78-484a-9b9c-d9e37ccf4782

 

 

 

Asheville Red Barn House for Sale

12 Nov

I am excited to announce that my house is now for sale; interested parties can contact me about the price. It’s close to Biltmore Village, Brother Wolf Animal Rescue, Oakley (Fairview Rd.), Target, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Whole Foods and Tunnel Road Mall shopping, and is not far from downtown, the River Arts District and West Asheville. I-40, I-240 and I-26 are very accessible.

photo 2-3On 0.6 acres and just under 1,000 square feet, there are two bedrooms upstairs, a full bath upstairs and half bath downstairs with a freestanding shower in the laundry room. There is electric heat, central heat and air conditioning, ceiling fans in bedrooms and double pane windows throughout the house. The kitchen comes with refrigerator, dishwasher, and electric oven. There is a fenced-in back yard and two convenient outbuildings: a shed for storage and cabana with bunk bed for extra guests. There is ample private off-street parking.IMG_0909

The house was renovated in fall of 2013 with completely new kitchen, non-toxic paint in every room, new hardwood floor upstairs, and sustainable marmoleum flooring in kitchen, baths and laundry. There is an eco-sound barrier between the first and second floors.

I am happy to show the house at any time. Please feel free to get in touch with me at ffigart@gmail.com.

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Hike #8: Laurel River Trail

18 May

A week ago, I found myself alone in my new town on Mother’s Day weekend, and decided to do a solo hike to a place I’d been before, the Laurel River Trail.

IMG_9851When I left Asheville around noon, it was starting to rain, but I decided to think positively and by the time I’d passed the turn for Marshall and reached the gravel parking lot near the intersection of Hwy 25/70 and Hwy 208 in Madison County, I’d made it out from under the clouds.

Not long after you set off from the parking lot, a string of out-of-commission train cars can be seen resting peacefully through the trees on your left. Converted from an old railroad, this trail follows the tumultuous Laurel River as it reaches the larger French Broad River, for which many things are named in Western North Carolina, including my favorite chocolate lounge.

What’s most energizing about this trail is one’s proximity to the ever invigorating river. Not only the sights, but the accompanying constant rushing sound of water gushing through the rocks, keeps one feeling perky and quite alive!

When I visited here two years ago, I saw highly skilled and experienced kayakers making their way through the awe-inspiring rapids, which are ranked at Class III-IV at normal water levels. But on this day, if I’d seen a paddler, I would have considered them “loco,” as the water level was very high from recent rain and the current extremely swift through the boulder-strewn passes.

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I usually keep my camera in my pack until something comes along to prompt me to get it out. Last Saturday that something was a cute young garter snake, which I watched glide off into the woods and into a hiding spot from which she peered out at me curiously for quite a while. I thought how many times we are probably watched as hikers by a silent and camouflaged resident that we’d never be able to spot unless we happened to see them retire to their hideout.

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The Laurel River trail is ideal for families or groups in which someone is moving slower, as it’s fairly level and there is little elevation gain. However, low areas can retain mud and in many places your path is covered with thick roots, and in others laced with embedded rocks. Footing can be tricky in these sections.

IMG_9864After about two miles in, the sky began to turn dark and I took this as a warning sign to turn around. About a mile from the trailhead, the rain did come – and I was prepared with my trusty Patagonia rain jacket, in which I stayed dry and warm. I kept a slow pace in the slick mud, made my way out while watching the water beside me slowly rising, and headed for the French Broad Chocolate Lounge.

Distance traveled: 4 miles

Difficulty: easy with some mud, root and rock obstacles

Flora of note: rhododendron, mountain Laurel, pine, maple, oak

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Hike #5 Mountain Springs Road

13 Apr

DSC06454“Look, Daddy, it’s a natural tree tunnel,” shrieked the six-year-old girl in delight.

From behind the wheel of the sky blue Valiant Station Wagon, Ross Figart clapped his strong, olive-colored hands together once and smiled his biggest, sweetest smile. This signified his approval of the moniker his daughter had coined for sections of curving mountain roads where the trees were so old and their branches so outstretched that they literally joined each other over the roadway, forming a canopy.

The diminutive child arched her back, lifted her pointed little chin, pushed her unruly camel-colored hair behind her elfin ears and breathlessly took in the overwhelming vision of deep green hues rushing by and encasing them in wonder.

“It’s like a dream world,” she cooed, peering out the window and into the shady branches as they careened past, hoping to glimpse at least one fairy.

DSC04799The year was 1970 and the roads took us through the forested hills of Eastern Kentucky, where my father made his living as a Southern Baptist minister. He preached not hell and brimstone, but compassion and forgiveness. People adored him wherever he went, whether it was to Hyden or Hazard, Pikeville or Prestonsburg. And he adored the mountain people and their culture, a love he also instilled in me – along with his love of nature and of trees. The greatest gift he and my mother would give me was an idyllic childhood that could rival that of Wordsworth in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, on the wooded premises of a summer camp that was part of their ministry.

After I grew up and left Kentucky, whenever we would connect on the phone, I could hear Dad smiling as he’d say, “You’d like where I went today.” He would have just returned home from a trip to some remote community like Whitesburg, Grayson, Pippa Passes, or Booger Branch (yes, this is an actual place). “There were lots of natural tree tunnels.”

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Thirty years later in 2000, eight years after my dad had passed on, I finally got an opportunity to realize a lifelong dream: I went on a quest to find some forested property to purchase in Eastern Kentucky. I will never forget the first time I ever drove down Mountain Springs Road in Estill County, in search of a remote cabin that was listed for sale in an area called Furnace.

DSC06151My sidekick that day was my spiky-purple-haired New Yorker friend Cindi, who had implanted herself in Estill County a few years prior, and quite staunchly I might add. Even streetwise Cindi, who is rarely caught off guard, was taken somewhat aback when I began to shriek like a child at the amazing trees, whose branches bent and met as if in prayer over the winding gravel road. “These are the natural tree tunnels!” I screamed at her over the din of the Rav4’s tires on the thick gravel.

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The cabin itself was situated on a knoll that crowned six acres, two miles in at the head of this heavenly mountain “holler.” The greater forest of which this small plot of land was part teemed with wildlife! To a wood spirit like me, the place was perfect. Tree-covered, rustic, comfortable, private (the nearest communities were all 30 minutes away) yet accessible (I could get to my office in Lexington in an hour) – and with a few improvements and embellishments, it became utterly and completely home. My plan, very simply, was to live out my life on Furnace Mountain.

But fate had other ideas. In a few short years, everything would change. And it all started because I loved – and lost – the trees.

DSC06115About five years into my stay, much of the land around the cabin was unsustainably and mercilessly logged, the beautiful forest habitat ravaged by the largest and most ruthless equipment used in the state. Catalyzed by this catastrophe, which I worked for a year to try to prevent, changes would lead me to let go of the one thing I thought I’d always keep: I sold the cabin.

DSC04808But letting go of what we can’t imagine letting go of always leads to new adventures – to realities that before could have only seemed like dream worlds from a childhood fantasy. Before long, I would be riding through natural tree tunnels in the lush forests of Costa Rica. And from that land of diversity, I’d eventually return to Kentucky to help my mother die, two decades after losing my father.

As I write this, I’m getting ready to spend my last day as a Kentucky resident. Tomorrow I’ll head south and try to make a new life for myself in Asheville, North Carolina. I’ll be living at 3,000 feet elevation overlooking the city and surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains, with abundant bird life, resident white squirrels, black bears passing by and natural tree tunnels surrounding me once more.

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Last week, I returned to Mountain Springs Road for a hike with my dear friend Jane, who now has a small cabin not far from my erstwhile home, which is well cared for by its new owners. Every bend in the two-mile road brought memories flooding back. We hiked on Forest Service Road 2057, which I used to walk with my dogs almost every day for the six years I lived there; I was walking on that road when the planes hit the towers. We visited the special rock sanctuary there, a sacred formation known only to a handful of locals. And I said my goodbyes.

I love Eastern Kentucky. And, although I’m not sure what is coming next, I cannot deny that I also love change – probably as much as I love mountains, mountain people, and trees. North Carolina, ready or not, here I come.

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Hike #1 of 2013: Bent Creek

10 Jan

I had planned to go to the gym after today’s lunch meeting with a tourism industry colleague in downtown Asheville. But when I emerged from Tupelo Honey, it was a whopping 64 degrees and the sun was peeking out from behind the clouds hovering over the mountains. So I called Nate and suggested we get outside for exercise instead.

117Today we explored the Bent Creek hiking area, located just 15 minutes from downtown Asheville in the northern tip of the Pisgah Ranger District of the Pisgah National Forest. This watershed is a federal Research and Demonstration forest that backs up to the Blue Ridge Parkway to the south and a moderately high ridge to the North. The trails here connect with the Mountains to Sea/Shut In Trail, two of Pisgah’s most popular long-distance trails.

The easier trails are close to Lake Powhatan, which features a swimming beach.  Three loop trails – Deerfield Loop, Pine Tree Loop, and Explorer Loop – provide short, easy hikes. We stayed in this area and shared the trails with families, other hikers walking their dogs, and mountain bike enthusiasts.

Bent Creek has a community vibe, yet it does not feel at all crowded. The trails offer plenty of birding opportunities, and run alongside the creek or skirt the lake, allowing many chances to see and hear water. My favorite moment was lying down on the ground near the beach area under some huge white pines and listening to a kingfisher making its rattling call while darting about in the marsh area nearby.

132Distance Traveled:
Approximately 3 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Birds spotted:
Belted Kingfisher, Downy Woodpecker, Fox Sparrow

Flora of note:
Hemlock, White Pine, Rhododendron, several varieties of moss

Photos by Nathaniel J. Miller

Learn more on the Hike WNC web site, from which some of this information was derived.

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How can tourism be responsible? Let’s ask Ged.

23 Mar


I expend a great deal of energy supporting and promoting various forms of responsible travel, including types of tourism known as “ecotourism” and “sustainable tourism.” And so I often encounter the legitimate question: How can tourism be sustainable at all? Doesn’t it, by its very nature, contribute to the planet’s demise? You bring hoards of people into pristine natural areas, altering indigenous cultures, running roughshod over endangered species’ habitats, and releasing tons of carbon into the atmosphere with all the flights and other nasty forms of transportation.

Touché. True, if we all wanted to do the most sustainable thing possible, we’d each stay put, on our own plot of land, grow our own food, create our own homes, draw on natural resources for energy and building materials, manufacture our own supplies, and NOT travel, or at least not go very far from our respective communities. However, few of us in this day and age have the skills to go into the wild and live off the grid – much less the disposition to stay in one place. Whether international or regional, travel is how we expand our horizons, how we learn about the world around us. And, as long as we can, as an enterprising species, we are going to do it.

So, then, given human nature, the more practical question becomes: How can those who offer travel experiences ensure they improve the lives of the local people and the ecosystems their trips affect? Fortunately, there are many answers to this question. One of them is to build into the price of the tour funding that will go directly to conservation partners and programs that help the animals and the local people on the ground in the places visited. That is the approach taken by Ged Caddick, who runs Terra Incognita Ecotours. What follows is an interview I did with Ged last month for my Sustainable Travel International column, The STI Inner View.

Nominated for Best Tour Operator in the 2006 First Choice Responsible Tourism Award, Terra Incognita Ecotours is based in Tampa, Florida, and operates tours to Belize, Borneo, Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Galapagos, India, Madagascar, New Zealand, Peru, Rwanda and Tanzania. Gerard “Ged” Caddick founded Terra Incognita Ecotours in 2004 after more than fifteen years of working in expedition travel. Ged worked for Lindblad Expeditions as an expedition leader from 1992 to 2004, and for International Expeditions while living in Belize in the 1980s. He has led trips for the World Wildlife Fund, National Geographic Society and the American Museum of Natural History as well as many College Alumni groups, the National Audubon Society and the Smithsonian Institution. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Geography from the University of Liverpool, and a Master of Science degree in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation from the University of Florida. As one can imagine, I had a hard time getting Ged to sit still for this interview as he’s usually on at least three continents each month. We spent a little time together recently when he had just returned from at trip to India setting the foundation for yet another ecotour.

Frances: Where were you in India and what did you see?

Ged: We were in Banhavgarh and Corbett National Parks and had some incredible wildlife experiences. We saw tigers and Asian Elephants on multiple outings, but also the monkeys called Common Langurs, Plum-headed Parakeets, Jungle Cat, Wild Boar, lots of Spotted Deer, Brown Fish Owls, eagles and much more. It was very, very cold in the mornings and hot in the afternoons. We will be offering India in early 2012, probably in February.

Frances: In a nutshell, what is the philosophy behind Terra Incognita Ecotours?

Ged: We are committed to making a difference to our guests and to the places we visit. Our commitment is to provide travelers with opportunities to participate in ecotours that explore the world with a sense of discovery and wonder, and to preserve our environment for future generations. We draw on our legacy of adventure, experience and knowledge to do this. And as we do so, we strive to create ecotours that are as enriching and memorable as they are comfortable and fun.

Frances: How did you decide upon the name Terra Incognita?

Ged: Terra Incognita was chosen as this was the term you saw on the edge of the maps drawn by early explorers to show that the edges of the map were undiscovered, uncharted or unknown land. I love the romance and idea of exploration this invokes.

Frances: How did the experiences and dreams of your formative years foster your leadership skills and shape your interest in travel and animal conservation?

Ged: I grew up on a small farm on the outskirts of Liverpool, the oldest of ten children! We had dogs chickens, geese, pigs and various other animals as pets, as well as horses for riding when I was a young teenager. Always being around animals and loving them, I dreamed of being a game park warden in East Africa, Kenya or Tanzania. I even applied for such jobs there as I finished University. I traveled a lot within the UK, to the Lake District every summer with my family and as a teenager all over England, Scotland and Wales, plus a couple of trips to France.

Frances: What was the event that first interested you in environmental conservation?

Ged: During my university days in Liverpool I spent vacations working as a volunteer for the “British Trust for Conservation Volunteers,” doing trail maintenance, cleaning old footpaths, canals and other such tasks.

Frances: Did you have a mentor who directly inspired you in terms of your ultimate career choice in working to protect animals?

Ged: My first job was a zoo-keeper at the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust, a zoo dedicated to captive breeding and conservation of endangered species. My mentor there was Gerald Durrell, the founder of the zoo.

Frances: How did you first get the inkling you wanted to work in travel or tourism?

Ged: In the mid 1980s, when living in Belize and working at the Belize Zoo, I started doing guiding for International Expeditions as they started tours to Belize. They needed local people who knew the wildlife and culture of Belize. It was then I realized how much I enjoyed sharing my love of conservation and wildlife by showing people natural spaces and species in-the-wild.

Frances: What were the challenges of living in Belize long-term and what did you love about it?

Ged: The biggest challenge to living and working in Belize was the isolation and the fact that simple tasks presented many more logistical challenges; communication, building, even getting supplies takes much more effort there. What I loved was that you could make a difference, that my work at the zoo was helping to change people’s perceptions of wildlife and nature in the country of Belize. You become a big fish in a small pond when working in a small country like Belize; when I was there, the population of the entire country was less than 200,000 people.

Frances: What were the things you most admired about Lindblad Expeditions? What elements of the job did you find challenging? Were there aspects of the travel experience you wanted to emulate when you started your own travel company?

Ged: My time at Lindblad was very enjoyable, and particularly important was the commitment to excellence. Dealing with “difficult” people was always the main challenge! I knew when I started my company it was going to be important that we made a positive impact on the places we visited, that we made a difference, that our presence was a force for good, for improved conservation efforts.

Frances: What are the greatest challenges and the greatest rewards of being a tour operator for you?

Ged: Attracting customers through marketing has been my biggest challenge – and I am still learning. The most rewarding facet of the work is helping the conservation organizations and other partners we work with in each destination.

Frances: Empowering local people is a huge component of ecotourism and sustainable travel. Give an example of seeing local people become empowered as a direct result of your tours.

Ged: On our Rwanda trip last September, many of the group were so moved by their experience they asked what they can do to help the kids we met around the Virunga Lodge where we stayed. Most of these children attend primary or elementary school as that is required by the government. But high school is elective and costs money, so many bright children do not continue their education as they simply cannot afford to. I have been sponsoring three children through high school, covering their fees and uniform costs etc. Well, many in the group wanted to do the same; they asked about each sponsoring a specific child. So on the next trip in December, I personally took over some funds gathered by these clients to sponsor about eight kids through a year of high school. And we’ll continue to do this sort of thing on a yearly basis.

Frances: Can you describe an “aha!” or “wow!” moment where your clients really “got it” in terms of ecotourism?

Ged: Every single time we take people to see the Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda, people experience an “Aha!” moment, they realize their presence is helping to save the Gorillas. Every single trip, someone is reduced to tears by the moment. I have had similar experiences when we see Pandas in the wild in China.

Frances: And I understand you got to meet someone very special last summer while on a tour to Gombe National Park in Tanzania. Can you tell us about that as a closing anecdote?

Ged: We were so fortunate last July to be in Gombe simultaneous to Jane Goodall being in Gombe, simultaneous to the 50th Anniversary of Jane’s pioneering work in Gombe and simultaneous to the visit of Lara Logan and the 60 Minutes film crew as they interviewed Jane and filmed the Chimps. Indeed several times we found ourselves being filmed by the 60 Minutes crew on the trails as we met Jane, and again as we arrived outside Jane’s house on the shores of Lake Tanganyika when we actually joined Jane for sunset cocktails! So we sat glued to the TV one Sunday night in the fall for the airing of 60 Minutes to see if we made the episode! We did not make the final cut, as not surprisingly the focus was on Jane, her research and the Chimps, not on our small tour party that overlapped so fortuitously with this filming! But we are in a behind-the-scenes clip that you can see at this link (the Jane Goodall segment begins at about the 8:15 mark).

To learn more about Ged Caddick and Terra Incognita Ecotours, please visit the company’s web site and follow them on Facebook.

Networking, paying it forward and a request for help

16 Feb

Do you know anyone, anywhere, who needs an editor, writer, marketing or communications professional?

When I was cutting my teeth on corporate America, working as a proofreader at an advertising agency in Lexington, Kentucky, the person who made the connections to get me that stepping-stone position was a male executive in the company who took the time to read a short résumé that demonstrated little experience except for award-winning essays at two colleges, including a piece analyzing a song by Joni Mitchell. He remains a dear friend to this day.

Try as I might, I couldn’t ascend from proofing to writing during the one long year I spent in that company. Whenever I heard an ad rep fretting because the copywriter was out for the day, I would dart out of my office into the hall and literally throw myself at the poor salesperson’s feet pleading, “I can write it!” But to no avail. When all my attempts to write copy at the ad agency ended in disappointment, I moved on to the local newspaper, where I was finally allowed to write – in the Creative Services (Promotions) department. Here again, it was a male editor who gave me my chance to cross train in the newsroom, so that I could taste the life of a reporter, a skill I later capitalized on when I had my own company and the paper became my client.

Many more stories would reveal that it was the men in the journalism, media and marketing worlds that were nurturing enough to help me get all my first big breaks. Most women I had met along the way thus far seemed to take the attitude of, “Good work getting this far, good luck getting any further, and oh, by the way, I’ve been your supervisor for the past six months so I just thought I’d say hello. Let’s chat again in another year or so.”

This repeated experience was what later prompted me, while working for myself as a successful freelance writer, to found and direct a non-profit organization based on the concept of successful business women mentoring low-income, undereducated women who needed a chance to discover their talents and find better job opportunities. I worked at this for a good five years before one day suddenly realizing that, while helping others get a leg up, I had inadvertently stopped bringing in an income for myself. It was then that a female friend and colleague suggested I do an interim stint at a travel association that needed an editor for its full-color monthly magazine. During that time, another professional female fostered my initiation into the travel industry so that I eventually took the position full-time.

I’ve been working in travel writing, editing and marketing ever since. And whenever someone writes or calls me asking for networking help, whether they are young or old, male or female, experienced or not, I always follow the model set for me early on by Jim Gleason and Jim Durham, and later by Susan McDaniel and Catherine Prather, and I go out of my way to read the person’s résumé, conjure up good connections for them from my network, call someone who might know a great contact, or e-introduce them to the most likely connections to help them get where they want to go with their career. I do this automatically, without thought; it’s my lot in life to be this way, a characteristic, like having crazy hair and green eyes. It’s what I do; I pay it forward.

And now, I am in a position to ask others to do this for me. I need to find new paying contracts that can utilize my editing, writing and marketing skills in a telecommuting capacity, either in the travel industry, or anywhere else. Book publishing and online publishing are of interest. I am based in an office in Winchester, Kentucky, where I can keep an eye on my mom. I can travel for up to two weeks at a time. My bio, experience, references, publications and other CV elements are all right here on my blog. Do you know anyone, anywhere, who needs an editor, writer, marketing or communications professional? Is there anyone in your network you could put me in touch with via an e-introduction?

My early mentors demonstrated that networking only works when everyone plays the game, when each person in the chain tells others what they need and what they want, when we all pay it forward – and that’s there’s nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it. Thanks in advance for any connections you can provide. I hope you will let me know how I may, in turn, help you.

2010 in review

2 Jan

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 2,600 times in 2010. That’s about 6 full 747s.

 

In 2010, there were 8 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 129 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 20mb. That’s about 2 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was November 17th with 283 views. The most popular post that day was Yin and yang in the Old Pueblo.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, mail.yahoo.com, tucsonweekly.com, mail.live.com, and sz0129.wc.mail.comcast.net.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for frances figart, yoga conference in india, yoga india, saguaro cactus roots, and rios de la costa.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Yin and yang in the Old Pueblo November 2010
7 comments

2

Bio November 2010

3

Experience November 2010

4

Recommendations November 2010

5

Publications November 2010