From Soupy to Shiny

Effigy Mounds National Monument is a fascinating and sacred place along the Upper Mississippi in a beautifully rugged region of northeast Iowa. The earthen mounds protected here by the National Park Service were built by prehistoric American Indian people between 800 and 1200 years ago. Some of the mounds are burial sites, while others are believed to be ceremonial, but many mysteries remain.

It was my very good fortune to be at the park just before sunrise one morning, surrounded by a fog so dense that, at first, shapes 20 feet away were barely discernible. To me, the ghostly grey fog was a perfect visual representation of the ancient secrets preserved here. As I walked the trails through the forest, the silence was so profound that it seemed to still my thoughts and allow a sort of wordless awareness to be present.


This photo comes to mind this morning as I think about the way complex decisions sort themselves out. It seems to be a necessary part of the process to walk for a while on a path you can barely see where surroundings seem shrouded in sameness. It makes no difference if you would like to have something different, like sparkly warm sunlight on shiny green leaves, what you have is fog. When we let go of our notion of how things should be, we can appreciate how they are. That bit of surrender often creates a space for clarity.

When my recent Kickstarter campaign ended successfully, thanks to many of you, my next step was to sort through a myriad of options, searching for the right path and the right experts to help with the next phase of bringing “Surrendering to Serendipity” into a completed, beautiful book. There came a point where I had accumulated lots of information about the choices and although I wanted a decision to be clear, it was not yet.

Life was showing me a familiar lesson in yet another new context. Resisting the reality of the way things are in this moment is about as productive as whacking one’s head against the wall. The fact is that in this moment I don’t know. My job is to simply be right here in the midst of don’t know, without resistance or argument. That means surrendering to the moment as it is. It means being still and waiting. Fog is never permanent.

And…sure enough! Out of that surrender, clarity arises. The next morning, every shape is distinct, every cornstalk stands in stark contrast to the one beside it and the way is undeniably shown – and it is full speed ahead.


Now, I’m happy to say that all the moving parts of this project seem to be on target and on time. I’ve got the wise counsel of a “coach” who has been in the book publishing industry for more than two decades and who really gets what “Surrendering to Serendipity” is about. Life is fast-paced, challenging, exciting and great fun and I am loving this part of this project as much as I have every other.

Part of the pure joy of my work is having you with me. On an almost daily basis, someone gives me the gift of saying, “I cannot wait to have this book!” I cannot tell you how that inspires me – and I also cannot wait for you to have this book!

Stay warm and safe and I’ll be back in touch soon!

Love, Gayle

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The Miracle on Spindly Legs

 Great Blue Heron in Winter

Happy Holidays, my friends!

I chose this photo to share as my little holiday gift to you because, for me, it has always been a reminder that life is filled with small miracles. I can look at it and remember how sharply cold it was that night. I was bundled in layers of high-tech gear and still shivering – my lips and fingers were stiff and the camera had to be held under my jacket next to my body between shots or the batteries would fail. My toes hurt, in spite of several layers of thermal socks and warm boots. It seemed a very long time ago that the boats in the background, those icons of summer fun, were pulling kids in tubes alongside this very dock.

There was the great blue heron, probably the same one I had photographed in this spot last summer, wading in the frigid water on his spindly bird legs with no protection at all from the cold. There was no shivering and no sign that he wasn’t perfectly comfortable. He took a slow, careful step, barely rippling the surface, then stood perfectly still, waiting for a sign of dinner, and then took another. It was an incomprehensible miracle to me – I would die of hypothermia if I tried that.

My favorite quote from Albert Einstein is this:

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle.The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Every day, every minute, there are millions of small miracles happening in each of our lives. A key to happiness is to notice them. A secret to joy is to appreciate them. Whatever else is happening in our lives that we may feel is “good” or “not so good” or “downright awful,” there are also tiny miracles present to be noticed and appreciated.

If we make lists of them, your list and mine will differ and each will be different from moment to moment.

Right now I am aware of…

…this breath, this heartbeat, the countless miracles that keep this body functioning without me even knowing they are taking place

…the brilliant red cardinal I can see out my window against a steel-gray sky which a few hours ago was a breathtaking azure

…the spinning of the earth and the changing of seasons and the unfathomable orchestration of it all

…that my fingers can strike keys and words are created that your eyes will see, your brain will interpret and, perhaps, your heart will feel

…that Louie, my sweet, warm, fat cat has come to sit in my lap as I type and how effortlessly our love for each other is communicated

…that the list of such miracles is ever-changing and never-ending

Try it yourself – pause, notice and appreciate. I can promise that you will be glad you did.

May your holidays and the coming year be filled with what matters…

Happiness that comes not from having, but simply from being in a world of miracles.

Love,   Gayle

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At precisely the perfect time, while up to my eyeballs in alligators during the Kickstarter campaign, Cathy Dondanville, a reader and a friend who I had not yet met, invited me to visit her home overlooking the Mississippi. Knowing that it would be the perfect way to recharge before the next busy phase of this project, I gratefully accepted.

Cathy’s home in the quiet farming community of Calhoun County, Illinois, is best reached by ferry as it sits on a sort of peninsula between the Illinois and the Mississippi Rivers. She is a fabulous cook and a gracious hostess  – AND this is her backyard!

1606Batchtowngrr3327I expected the weekend to be rejuvenating and the area to be lovely – and it was. But as often happens when Serendipity is in charge, there was even more to it.

Over the past 2 1/2 years, while writing “Surrendering to Serendipity” and editing the photographs, most of my time has been spent here in front of this computer. For a woman who was more often asked by friends, “Where are you off to next?” than, “How are you?” that signaled a profound shift in my life.

Although even I was surprised when I stepped back to look at that, I never minded. The writing was its own adventure and I loved it. In the same way that I never knew what a day on the road would bring, I woke up each morning excited to see what would show up on my screen.

Of the dozens of tales that might be told from each day or place, it never seemed up to me to choose. Something wanted to be said – I was here to listen and to punch the keys. The details, sensations and conversations that I did not know were living in my memory banks continually amazed me as they sprang to life as fresh and full as the day they occurred. The work never required discipline or determination as some people had suggested. Instead, I felt like the luckiest person I know to feel this way about my job.

So, although I welcomed a break after the intensity of the campaign and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to recharge with “River energy,” I didn’t feel any deficit. What happened caught me by surprise.

There is something inexpressibly freeing about being out wandering in unknown territory in the sweet light of early morning or late evening when I am not on assignment and have no agenda. I am there with camera gear, ready for anything that might be given, but without any expectation. Just being there – seeing what I see, exploring, absorbing, receiving without seeking – has a profound effect that I hadn’t felt in a while. It’s like when you stretch out on the floor at the end of a long day and all vertebrae click back into alignment. Everything is just right, no matter what.

For me, processing the photos from my weekend brought that same gentle click of realignment, so I want to share some  in case they might do the same for you.

morning gold….


a quiet backwater…


evening sky…

3438-1606grrBatchtownILskyand a blue ribbon of American Coots in a river of amber….

3371-1606grrBatchtownILWith love,


Posted in IL - Calhoun County, Mississippi Great River Road | Tagged , , , | 16 Comments

The Kitty Princess

Most of you have heard the news either through the Kickstarter site or the Facebook page, but just in case….The Kickstarter campaign is a success!  It ended yesterday at 103% funded, so “Surrendering to Serendipity” will now move into its next phase – and I am excited to take it there. Thank you to all who helped in so many ways – you are wonderful! I can’t see around the bend, but that’s how life is…I just take this next step and know that all is well!


Halloween has come and gone. For me this year, it fell smack in the middle of the final, intensely busy week of the Kickstarter campaign. When I learned that my husband couldn’t be here to help, I had a Scrooge-like moment. Maybe, I thought, I should stay upstairs in my office where the lights can’t be seen and just keep working. But I love Halloween and I couldn’t bear to miss those eager Ninjas and fairies craning to see what’s coming from my bowl.

Each year, it seems, there is one trick-or-treater who lives on in my mind. This year, it’s a tiny girl in a sparkly pink dress with silver shoes, fuzzy ears and whiskers. When I complimented her costume, she announced (as if expecting to be asked), that she couldn’t decide whether she wanted to be a princess or a kitty. “So,” she proudly announced, “I am a Kitty Princess!”

“Surrendering to Serendipity” won’t fit tidily into boxes either. It’s neither a photography book nor a book of stories – and it’s not even a hybrid of the two. The words and the images arise together, not just in complement to one another, but as one thing.

Some of my most treasured comments made by followers of this blog speak of this. Frances, who at 93 was quite certain that she “…would never travel the Mississippi and now I have – in the company of some wonderful folk, witnessing some lovely friendships and sharing in knowledge which could only be gleaned through those friendships.” Alejandra said, “…I close my eyes and feel like I’m actually visiting the places…” and Maggie said, “What a vicarious thrill!”

“Surrendering to Serendipity” is not a way to share my experience, but a way to give you your own experience following America’s greatest river through America’s heart. It is our river, our people and our journey.

Like the Kitty Princess, this book may be hard to categorize. My task now is to gather the perfect experts to guide “Surrendering to Serendipity” through the next steps while being true to the unique spirit of it – people with that perfect combination of rich experience and free thinking. I have no doubt that Serendipity will draw them near.

Now, a reader and friend who I’ve not yet met has graciously invited me to her home on a high bluff overlooking the Mississippi River in Illinois. I can think of no more perfect way to catch my breath than to sit beside the River in gratitude for a couple of days before striding on and seeing what lies around the bend.

Thank you, each one of you. You are the heart and soul of this adventure.

Love,      Gayle

P.S. I’ve added a new “Media” Page to this blog. If you didn’t get to see the great coverage that we got during the campaign, check it out. There’s a tv interview, a couple of radio interviews and newspapers and magazines.

There’s also an index now to “Roadtripping with a Raindrop” with descriptions and links to those pages if you missed any or want to revisit them.

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An Incredible Honor!

Elizabeth Gilbert, the incredibly talented, best-selling author of “Eat Pray Love” released her new novel, “The Signature of All Things” on October 1st and it is already on the New York Times Bestseller List. I am a huge fan of hers.

I am greatly honored, humbled and amazed to learn that she posted a link to my Kickstarter campaign for “Surrendering to Serendipity” on her Facebook page with this comment:

Screen Shot 2013-10-30 at 5 52 42 PMThank you, Thank you! I am overwhelmed!

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A Peaceful Puppy and a Final Push


Yesterday, as I was preparing for my first live TV interview, my thumping heart and racing mind were a clear reminder of why I picked a career that puts me on the back of a camera rather than the front.

OzarksLive0673PuppySmYou can see that the guest before me, there to spread the word about “Puppy Day” had no nerves at all as she sprawled on the counter and soaked up the love.

And – as often happens, the anticipation was actually more stressful than the interview itself. Tom Trtan and Shannon Fox of KOLR-TV, made it easy and, to my surprise, actually fun. If you’d like to see the interview, here’s a link

One of the questions I was asked had to do with the “overarching theme” of this project and what came out of my mouth was that, in an era with no shortage of disheartening news, “Surrendering to Serendipity” reminds us that the world is actually filled with kind, open-hearted, wonderful people.

There are lots of ways this project and this book can be described. As you read it, you will learn much about America’s greatest river and its quintessential role in our history, our present and our very identity. You will sample the river’s endless moods and colors as it grows from a tiny stream to a massive force of nature. You will leave behind, at least for a time, schedules and agendas as we happily follow a raindrop on a 7,400 mile route that would look like a spaghetti bowl if we traced it. You will be on the great river in everything from a canoe and a sea kayak to fishing boats, ferries and a towboat pushing its massive flotilla of barges.

Yet, when asked to describe the essence of this journey in one sentence, there was no thought or hesitation – it is about the joy of making eye contact with someone who is known to be a friend before we speak. It is about the utter trust demonstrated when I was given the use of a 30-room, antique-filled mansion for a weekend. It is about being included in picnics, fish fries, birthday parties and quiet moments. It is about sharing joy in the simple things. It is about being continually reminded of the love that is the essence of all of us.

Sharing these moments in words and photographs is the best way I know of to honor the love, trust and kindness of all the beautiful people who are part of this adventure, so that’s what I intend to do.

Thank you, everyone, for your pledges and your efforts to spread the word! Thanks to you, we are right now at 71% with 11 days remaining. At this moment, that leaves $4,514 in pledges yet to be raised. We can do this!

Several people have told me that they intend to pledge, but must wait until payday or a new credit card cycle. This prompts me to assure you that your card is not charged until the campaign ends on November 4 – it is only a pledge until then. And that assumes that we successfully meet our goal! Any campaign that falls short of the goal, even by a small amount, receives nothing and no one is charged. It is all or nothing.

If you haven’t visited the Kickstarter site yet, this is the perfect time! Watch the video, read the Updates (click on the tab at the top of that page) and then study the Backer Awards. You can have your name printed in the book or have a book donated to the school, library or organization of your choice imprinted with your words in recognition of someone you love. There are wallpapers for your computer, postcards and prints ready for display. You can join us for the Book Launch Party and be honored there as a Backer.

Your pledge in any amount is truly appreciated. Pledges so far range from $1 to $1,000 and each is appreciated. Each moves us closer to our goal. If you can help push for the finish by spreading the word on Facebook, Twitter and other social media and in person, that would be awesome. It will be a beautiful book that will make you proud to be part of it.

Here’s the link…

Love,    Gayle

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Media Coverage for “Surrendering to Serendipity”

I’m sending a great BIG heartfelt “Thank You” to each of these media professionals!

Michele Skalicky, reporter and Morning Edition Host at NPR affiliate KSMU for this wonderful story! You can listen online now and it might be aired live today (Monday 10/21) at 4:30 or 5:30. It’s 91.1 FM if you are local.

Jonathan Turner, reporter at Quad Cities Dispatch/Argus for this great article!

Steve Willoughby, Station Manager at KRZK-FM in Branson, MO for this fabulous on-air interview.  

Thank you SO much for helping to spread the word!!!

WE ARE RIGHT NOW AT 55%!!!!!    Just 14 days remain.  Please, if you want to back “Surrendering to Serendipity,” do it now! We can do this with your help!

Thank you everyone!!!   Gayle 

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