Finding Joy, Peace and Gratitude In the Darkest Chapters of Our Life

Sunday, September 10, 2023

It's become somewhat of an annual tradition to visit Grafton Lakes State Park in late summer to search for mushrooms...not the eating kind.  For the average person, that exploration might involve walking through the forest but my M.O. is capturing photos from the passenger seat of our car.  That not only eliminates the fear of ticks, but increases the challenge of the catch by a landslide.  

With the exceptionally wet summer we had, we were pretty confident we'd be successful, but I couldn't believe how many we found. I didn't realize mushrooms came in so many varieties. Did you know....

Fungi are critical to the health of the forest, decomposing woody debris and helping trees obtain required nutrients. Fungi are neither plant nor animal, and biologists place them in their own kingdom.

Our annual hunt for mushrooms is a little like a toddler's version of a scavenger hunt.  Each discovery evokes a tap on the brake, sometimes a short drive in reverse, a squeal of joy (from me, not John), and a photo capture for posterity.  By the end of our visit, I'd captured a bumper crop of fungi, some varieties I'd never seen before.  I imagine my excitement and sense of accomplishment may be a little like what my dad must have felt after a good day of fishing.

This annual tradition has become a somewhat philosophical exercise, reminding me of the challenges of life.  Specifically, it reminds me that in times of darkness, when it's hard to find hope, when the light at the end of the tunnel seems too far away to discern, when we're in that dark place, we are called upon to not dwell in the darkness, but instead to look hard for the bright spots.  Just like when in a dark forest, we must turn our eyes to the rays of sun to guide us out.  We must focus on our blessings, on the things we are grateful for to help us overcome the darkness.  I've written about this idea more than once here on the blog, but today that concept of focusing on the light is inspired by a person - a person who is facing what most of us would consider the worst kind of darkness....only she isn't consumed by that darkness.  She is focused on the light.

Last week I had the privilege of visiting a dear friend who is nearing the end of her earthly journey.  I was apprehensive about seeing her in this state, worried that I wouldn't have the right words - or any words - worried that I'd not be strong for her and break down.  I feared that I would be weak when I should be a comfort to her.  I spent about 30 minutes with her, and all of my fears faded quickly, not because "I" was strong, but because SHE was.  In those 30 minutes, my friend talked about her wonderful family, about the great care they are giving her.  She shared the kindness of her neighbors and of the friends who had sent her cards - over 100.  Every word was of gratitude, joy, love and faith!  There was no fear, no anger, no resentment over her limited time.  All she seemed to feel was immense love and gratitude and peace.  How?  How does one reach the last days of their life and have a heart so full of grace and peace?  What an inspiration!   I didn't have to worry about what to say, she filled the conversation with ease and I suspect it's because she understands how difficult it is for her friends and family.  I believe it's also because her faith has replaced fear and she knows where she'll be when she leaves this earthly place.  

Too often we become entrenched in life's small struggles, in the daily frustrations, the things that don't go as planned, the things we wish we had in life, the have nots instead of our blessings.   It's just how we humans sometimes operate in this world of convenience and instant gratification.   My exercise in treasure hunting colorful mushrooms in the forest is an exercise we all need to practice in our everyday lives.  Not for mushrooms, but for finding the little joys around us and feeling gratitude for them instead of wishing things were different than they are.  We need to stop dreaming of what might be and find the jewels all around us.  We are called to live with gratitude and grace.  Finding all these mushroom was challenging, just like fighting to focus on the light when all we see is darkness is challenging.  Just like the mushroom are critical to the health of the forest, the dark times in our lives serve to teach us to appreciate the bright spots, the blessings if you will.  If my friend can do that as she faces saying goodbye to her large, loving family and many friends, certainly we all can do better in our own lives.  Instead of mourning that she's writing her final chapter, she's celebrating that chapter and writing it with the same strength, grace and faith she lived her life.  She's not just focusing on the light, she is the light that is enabling her family and friends to walk this difficult walk. 

Life is not always as we planned or imagined.  Some days it feels hopeless and we are forced to walk miles in the darkness and face unimaginable challenges and impossible goodbyes.  I think we are called to be like my friend and rise above those challenges, celebrate the small victories and have faith that tomorrow will be a little brighter. These little jewels of the forest remind me of that and of the special people who have stood quietly at the edge of the darkness in my life, cheering me on, holding my hand, reminding me how very much I have to be thankful for.  I'm so blessed to have so many of these people in my life and I hope that one day when I'm writing my final chapter, I'll be as joyful and grateful, and that my light might shine on after I'm gone.  Thank you, my friend, for being the light that helps others see.

 Matthew 5:16 says, "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven".  Godspeed my friend!  The world has been brighter for having you in it and your light will live on in all the people you've touched.  Carol, may the road to heaven be as beautiful as the life you created.

Post Script: 
When I finished writing this post, this memory from 2013 popped up on my Facebook page.  It's what I refer to as a God wink - not a coincidence, but a wink from God whose Hands are in everything we do.
Post Script:  My friend went home to her Lord on September 26th.  RIP Carol.

Getting Up Close and Personal With All God's Creatures at the Animal Adventure Park

Monday, September 4, 2023
 You don't have to be a kid to have a rollicking good time at the Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, NY but kids would go crazy here.  The park became famous in 2017 when April, the giraffe, became a worldwide webcam sensation as all eyes watched and waited for her to give birth. That's when I first heard about the Animal Adventure Park and I've been itching to go ever since.

Sadly April was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in 2021 and had to be euthanized, but Tajiri, her offspring, carries on her legacy along with a slew of beautiful creatures at the zoo - over 300 representing over 100 species.  A gorgeous ride on I-88 for most of our drive, Animal Adventure Park is located just 15 minutes from Binghamton. Our decision to go was made spur of the moment so we didn't arrive at the zoo until 1:30 but that was ample time to enjoy the Preserve portion of the park.  This is the park's 11th season.

The park is divided into two sections, one a traditional type of zoo where guests can walk about visiting the animals in their caged habitats and 'The Preserve', a drive through park.  The Preserve consists of 100 acres of 3 miles of one way dirt roads that snake through grassland, scrub brush, and deep forests as you explore geographically designated paddocks:  Aussie Eurasia, The Americas, Africa & Giants of Africa. Being a "free" space, the animal inhabitants can choose if they wish to engage guests in their vehicles or keep their distance and ignore them. We are joining them in their environment (from the safety of our car)and that is a beautiful thing to experience!  We found almost all of the animals to be in hospitable moods, some more interested in us than others and all of them seeming to be well aware we were packing treats.  We purchased a $20 treat bucket which was a 1/2 bucket of pellets which we could feed any of the animals, a large handful of carrot sticks (also for any of the animals) and a cupful of lettuce for the giraffe.  We rationed the treats and had enough to get us through the entire Preserve, although I'm sure we could have emptied the bucket on the first group of animals. (They were a friendly bunch).

Admission to the Preserve was very reasonable, in fact much more affordable than the small local animal park.  Guests 3 and up are $14.99 at the Preserve.  The park and Preserve have different entrances and separate admission.   We planned on doing the Preserve on this visit, which is advertised to take 1-2 hours.  We enjoyed two leisurely hours of fun, pausing as long as we wanted at each animal group including a quick stop into the gift shop. Although the roadway was one-way and narrow, there were plenty of spots to pull to the side to let more hurried visitors pass.


Tibetan Yak


Eland Antelope

Tank the Rhino

Tajiri and Desmond

Grants Zebras
Jordan Patch and his team have created a most beautiful environment - both for his animals and for visitors to enjoy the beauty and an up-close experience with animals one might only see on tv or behind a fence from a distance.  It's not everyday that a bison or yak comes face-to-face with you inside your car.  Where else can you go and come home with animal drool on your windows?  Or feed pellets on your car floor days later?   It was a truly magical experience to witness so many wild animals who were calm and relaxed, happy and healthy in a large and natural habitat.  I would absolutely do this again and can't wait to go back to experience the Animal Park too where they have lions, cheetahs, tigers, monkeys, wolves, bears and so many more.  Visitors can also purchase more intimate encounters with some of the animals including a sloth, a penguin, a rhino, or have breakfast with the giraffe.   
The Animal Adventure Park is open daily from 10:00-5:00 through October 22nd with many fun events happening including a trick or treat event and holiday lights.  
For more information and to learn more about Animal Adventure Park and the Preserve: and and  The park is located at 85 Martin Hill Road in Harpursville NY.  It was an easy 2 hr. drive from Clifton Park on scenic I-88. 
There's plenty of time between now and October 22nd, so there's plenty of time to visit this great park.
Thanks for stopping by Life As I See It.
Animal Adventure is an accredited zoological facility, earning accreditation after a rigorous application and site inspection process in December of 2021.
The Zoological Association of America (ZAA) is a non-profit, membership-based, accrediting organization dedicated to responsible wildlife management, conservation, and education. The ZAA upholds the highest level of professional standards in animal welfare, safety, and ethics.

We are federally licensed by the USDA; ensuring that our animals, their care, and facilities meet the same standards of all USDA licensed zoos and aquariums in the US. We are also licensed by NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and NYS Agriculture & Markets.
Many of our animal ambassadors are from rescue situations & surrenders! Ask our staff, we would love to share their story with you!
Life As I See It Header

Never Miss A Post - Follow by Email

Sign up here to get the latest blog post delivered to your inbox.
Never miss a post again!