A hike in honor of my brother’s birthday

I took a hike in honor of my little brother’s birthday. How could he possibly be 59 when I am still young and fit enough to exchange a 2-mile hike for 6 miles on a whim? Six miles is a feat I could not have pulled off when I was half his age, by the way. But age has its privileges and its victories!

“Where do you want me to hike in honor of your birthday?” I asked.

“You know the area better than I,” he responded. “You choose.”

Owachomo Bridge is the oldest and most fragile of the natural bridges. My brother is not the oldest nor the most fragile in our family, so that’s out. Also, Owachomo is a short hike, less than half a mile round trip. Not a fitting distance in honor of a brother – or my day off.

Sipapu Bridge is most fitting, I thought. It is the second oldest bridge after Owachomo and the second largest natural bridge in the United States. Of the three bridges here in the monument it is the most symmetrical and beautiful. Besides, Sipapu means “place of emergence” and my brother is obviously the more emerged member of our family. But Sipapu Trail is also steepest and lies in shadow. We have been advising visitors against Sipapu for the past week because of the cold and melting snow.

Kachina Bridge, the youngest of the three bridges at Natural Bridges National Monument, is so named because of the Kachina symbols found in the petroglyphs in the area surrounding the bridge. Petroglyph hunting seemed fitting for my brother’s birthday. Destination decided. Three quarters of a mile down. Wander around a bit taking pictures of petroglyphs. Three quarters of a mile back up. Easy Peasy, right?


My roommate expected me back in a couple hours. I was pleased with my total time of four hours. She will learn not to trust in my early return with an open day, a prepared daypack and (most importantly this time of year) strap-on YakTrax.

Trail Diary for a brother’s birthday hike: Made it down the slippery slope to Kachina in excellent time. Found the Petroglyphs and wanted more. Did a bit of exploring. Found more Petroglyphs. Wandered up the canyon toward Sipapu. Remembered that Horse Collar Ruin was somewhere up this canyon. Kept putting one foot in front of the other. Canyon often in sun and just as often in shadow. Passed Horse Collar Ruin where I had hoped to find sunny spot to eat a snack.  Sunny spot occupied by other hikers. Found fabulous pictographs – an entire congregation of high-fives – just beyond Horse Collar Ruin. Rounded the bend and saw Sipapu up ahead. Ascended Sipapu Trail. Steep ascent, manmade staircase. Snowy and icy in spots. Crossed the road to Mesa Trails. Mud slippery and sloggy across the mesa. Ate apple and peanut butter while slipping and sliding. Successful and satisfying hike in honor of my brother’s birthday. Returned to residence to be greeted by Bear’s Ears Monument news. Well now, that rather upstaged my efforts.  Happy Birthday, Brother!








Wherein my Loki jacket goes to Purgatory

My favorite black classic Loki jacket –trusty outdoor companion for the past five years – is spending the ski season at Purgatory as a hard-side accompaniment to my daughter’s short down jacket. Meanwhile, I’ll be comfortable in my winter layers and knee length down coat – or so I thought.

The weather forecast called for mostly sunny weather and I trusted it. My trust did not prevent me packing a rain poncho and ice grips. There had been no precipitation for the previous week or 10 days at Natural Bridges, but it is December. Any water in the canyons is mostly frozen. And some ledges are in shadow 24 hours a day.

With a temperature reading of 33 degrees, I exited my car in the down coat over a ubiquitous hoodie, slung my daypack across the shoulders and set out for Kachina Bridge. I planned to hike the entire five-mile loop. Down to Kachina. Through the canyon. Under Owachomo. Across the mesa. Back to my car.

The trail was varied. Some steep slickrock, through some big sage, sandy creek bed crossings with hundreds of slender willows, a Mormon tea plant here and there amongst the mini forests of pinyon pine. In places the trail was narrow and I brushed against bushes and branches at the sides. Worried about tearing the nylon shell of my jacket, I looked down. Small dark spots spread across thighs indicating the down was absorbing droplets of water. The sky was still sunny, the weather dry. Quickly, I checked the bite valve of my water reservoir. Dry. Safely hooked to a shoulder strap in the up position.

The trail I was hiking was perfect terrain for ungulates. Without planning to do so, I had verified some oft-repeated scientific information.

My purpose for these three months of volunteer work at Natural Bridges is to facilitate accurate information for visitors via print or interpretation. When we tell visitors Desert Bighorn Sheep get most of their water from the plants they eat, visitors are skeptical. Sage and rabbit brush seem so dry. But it really is true! You can get water from plants. I hiked while the morning was still warming up, the sun peeping into the canyon. I passed through a vegetation buffet designed for large mammals. I took on water.

The Loki jacket’s purpose for the next three months is to protect a down jacket – to keep the down from being shredded by the jostling snowboards and skis of other powder buffs as she scans tickets. Loki jacket is doing that job well. But how am I to keep dry while hiking the rest of the season? How about wool?  Or maybe just a new Loki Mountain Jacket?


What would you give to be loved?

She was single. At an adult time in life when most would assume and presume to be married. Or is that true? Many of her friends were also alone. Grown children. Estranged spouses. Sometimes more than one. In some cases, a deceased spouse. A lifetime of anticipated marriage and a dream of growing old together had certainly taken an unexpected and unwelcome turn for each of them.

Once in awhile, she and her single friends might discuss loneliness – the dream of actually finding a soul mate. Often, they iterated the good; how really nice it was to be single and independent, to arrange life without regard to the strong opinion of another. Some joined singles groups online or in person in an active bid to find a partner. One or two friends were openly desperate, chasing a string of lovers. Others quietly waited and pined.

Secure in her singleness, outwardly content, with a measure of independence, she still found herself one day in deep longing and yearning.

She was out walking (although it could have been any legitimate hobby or activity beloved by an individual; knitting, painting, golfing, yoga). Minding her own business. Steadily moving forward. Putting one foot in front of the other. She was suddenly overcome by longing and yearning. Articulating the feeling, she said, “I would give anything to be loved!” She sighed and coddled the pangs of longing for a few moments.

“Really?” asked her brain. “Have you not done this before with less than satisfactory result? Would you repeat the past? Hold on to someone who didn’t want to stay? Help someone who didn’t want your help?”

Love is not a thing you can barter and get a guaranteed return. Love cannot be enforced. It is ineffective to say, “Look how much I gave up for you! Now you are obligated to love me unconditionally.”

There is such a thing as strong, healthy self-respecting, other-respecting self- sacrificial love. There are things you give up, willingly out of your love for others. For family you love. You self-sacrifice willingly your goods, your desires, even your life to directly love someone else. But, when you give, or give up, in a bid to get that other person to love you because you so desperately need love, that is unhealthy.

So. What would you give for love? Would you give up your writing? Your music? Your goals? Your successes? For a time, yes, to care for a dearly loved one. But for life? For the whims of others?

“Love,” said wise counsel, “is not 50 / 50. It is 100% / 100%. You bring 100% of who you are into a relationship. But if you give up all you are, you no longer have 100% to give. You have nothing to give.”

She reconsidered the ancient parable of the 7 foolish and 7 wise virgins. Be wise. Be always prepared. She got that part loud and clear. For decades she was perplexed by the fact that the wise virgins did not share with the foolish – did not give up their provisions self sacrificially. And Jesus, who was telling the story, thought that was okay? Yes.

Why? Because to split their oil would, a few miles down the road, cast everyone into darkness and make all 14 of them the loser. How much better for the seven wise to hold their torches high, full of oil, and spread light on everyone – even the seven foolish. In this way the wise, the prepared multiplied their effectiveness and shared light with everyone.

“So. Be it known,” she said, “I will not again sacrifice who I am and who I am designed to be in a bid to get someone to love me enough. I will bring my 100% and shed all my light on the relationship until my oil is spent and my light extinguished.”