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Crying in the forest

It has been awhile. Too long actually. And with the passage of time comes inevitably the melancholy when the memory is revisited. It is has been too long since she hiked in a pine forest, Ponderosa Pine to be specific. Each step forward, each thought, each memory is enough to make her cry. The Sunshine filtering through the needle laden branches, the soughing and lowing-strong but not howling-is urgent in the wind and she cries for what was, feels a touch of anguish for what could have been and was not. Every sensation she feels calls her to weep. The present beauty is devastating. It evokes memories of what has passed. She realizes, even as she puts one foot in front of the other, she is still clinging to the past, still trying to figure out how to fix what went wrong, how to make things right. Perhaps it is time to let go of the past and move into the future-her very own future. The fresh air and evergreen trees seem to nudge her forward. But the thought of what the future can be is painfully dazzling. Can she really leave the past behind? Is it right to let go and move forward?

Twenty steps forward the beauty subtly changes. Without warning she steps into a part of the woods that has been ravaged by fire. Scorched from the ground up to about 20 feet high on the bark of the pines. Burned pieces of log litter the ground like the remains of a giant’s campfire. It is not clear who or what started the fire. It happened. Yet, there is still beauty here. She notices that the trees grew, continued to move forward. Forgetting what was behind – unashamed of their blackened scorched trunks –the trees were green at the top, reaching toward the sky without slackening their pace. Brilliant fall-colored foliage peaked out here and there along the ground. She stops in her tracks to contemplate. If the forest can survive a fire and move on, so can I. So can you.

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The best season ever

It is fall and I am nearly giddy. Something broke in me yesterday. Some chain or bondage or oppression – I think it was the heat. Today I took my morning walk and rejoiced at being alive, stopped and talked with my neighbors, started to think I will survive this leg of my life’s journey. Over these past 10 years of being alone and single, I have often pointed out that Nature loves you back. I go for a walk; I am refreshed. I take a long hike; I am restored. Yes. Nature loves me, feeds me and cares for me. But Nature does not coddle. Nature can be brutal. This year I have been in the desert. This year I felt Nature abused me with the heat – and then turned around and comforted me with a lake. But that is behind me now. The weather has turned. It is nearly time for sweaters and hoodies. Definitely time to plan those long weekend hikes to all the beautiful places.

 

My Hospital, My Church and Daily Meditation

There are places in Colorado where the water comes gushing out of the igneous rock at temperatures exceeding 110 degrees. These spots were well known to the Native Coloradoans: Utes, Arapahoe. For Chief Ouray, the hot springs that issue from high in the mountains at around 8,000 feet were a known place of healing – both physical and spiritual – for decades.

Water is an amazing healing agent. Walking beside it is calming. Swimming is cooling. Soaking in a hot springs, you can absorb all the mineral nutrients and warmth Mother Nature has to offer you. And rain, yes rain washes away the things that are past, maybe things we would like to forget, and carries them on down the river.

I have only recently learned to be a water baby. A variety of factors caused me not to favor swimming in my youth. But when I returned to the high desert of Western Colorado as a middle-aged woman, my favorite get-away was Chief Ouray’s old haunt in Ouray Colorado. I would go there tired and bruised and come away healed. The vapor cave I frequented was once a hospital and it became mine – and sometimes my church – my place of spiritual renewal – because it evoked such peace and gratitude in me.

This summer-in the desert of Arizona- the temperature inside my car clocked 120 degrees. The water bottle in the console was beyond lukewarm, beyond tepid – it was hot enough to pretend I was drinking tea. During a summer like that, it is important to find a beach, walk into the water, and thereby escape the temperatures over ninety or 100, or 110. What is the use of living next to massive Lake Powell if you never venture in the water? For the hottest days of June, July and August, I went to the beach more often than not. Yet, sometimes my habitual swimming and cooling is interrupted by travel or urgent business.

I returned to the lake in the desert the other night. The last time I swam was on a weekend trip to Ouray. It had been nine days. I missed the water. It seems water is a thing I must have daily just like a walk, or meditation, or prayer.

When I was growing up we had everyday clothes and Sunday clothes; workday activities and Sunday activities.

Ouray is my Sunday place, my church. But Lake Powell is my daily maintenance. One is natural and one man made. One is Sunday best and the other is for everyday.

Wade in the Water. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To swim or not to swim and other weekend choices

In terrain so barren the ephedra is stunted, the crypto sparse, and even though it is the desert, the cactus few and far between; she took a hike. A rejuvenating and fulfilling hike. She found places of beauty and refreshment in The Coves. And when her hike was done, she shed her shoes and walked from the beach out into Lake Powell to take a swim. It was all completed by 9:00 am – orchestrated to avoid the heat of the day and thus make the refreshment and rejuvenating as effective as possible.

In the first place, she parked at the Wahweap swim beach and followed the paved path on the edge of the lake past boat ramps, boat rentals, and a state line sign. She was now in Utah. Judging by the iconic Lone Rock formation immediately ahead, she figured if she climbed the hill to the west she would be able to see her apartment – which was still in Arizona. She did. Her home looked to be only a mile away as the crow flies.

For a moment she contemplated running on home, enjoying a big breakfast, and then hiking back for her car and the swim. “Tomorrow,” she said. “I’ll start from home and hike this direction. I’ll bring my beach towel. I’ll hike back wet.”

Accordingly, her Sunday morning plan was to hike down an arroyo, swim in the northernmost vicinity of Wahweap Beach and then hike back for a weekend style breakfast. She found a place to crawl under the fence and made her way to the dry creek bed, not sure if the trail she followed – and those she saw on the opposing canyon wall – were coyote or human, but confident that the descending runoff she chose was the most direct route to the lake. “This is nearly a slot canyon in places,” she mused as the gray rock walls rose ever more steeply on either side. And then, abruptly, she was on the precipice of a 30-foot waterfall. Time to skirt.

Back up the creek bed and on the wildlife trails, next a mile or more atop a windswept sand dune replete with familiar tracks of small mammals and reptiles. At last she came to the lake, or a finger of it, expanded back up the canyon by the final July surge of Rocky Mountain snowmelt. No beach here. Not another soul in sight. Possibility of cliff-jumping without being caught; also without your paralyzed body ever being found. She followed the edge of the cliff until she came to another fence. The grass was not greener. Every imaginable brand of ATV track decorated the hillside. And what was that? The mouthwatering aroma of Sunday morning camp breakfast. “The beach,” she said, “Is right over that hill.”

From the rocky crest she looked down on the secluded, but crowded beach. Directly below her, about half the length of a football field, two portly men of approximately 60 went about their morning activities on a houseboat. An assortment of other watercraft parked side by side like pie wedges of the tiny bay. “Nah,” she said, “I’ll not crash the party and swim today. I think it’s time I went back home and cooked myself a good breakfast.”

If You Do Love Colorado

If you do love Colorado, but for some reason or another there is not a perfect place for you in Colorado at the moment;

If you do love Colorado but you are living further downstream in the desert – not quite the Mojave and not quite the Sonoran – but the desert nonetheless;

If there is a heat wave and the temperatures are quite high;

It is very beneficial to go take a dip or a swim in the lake – Lake Powell.

After you have cooled yourself off by wading chin high into the water several times and then swimming back to shore, you might contemplate the following facts while you lie beneath a very blue sky on a beach towel on the hot sand:

This is the Colorado River

165 miles of the Colorado River

Backed up

Dammed up

5,041,636,850,517 gallons of water stored to recreate, irrigate, and oh by the way, power seven states or more with electricity

Some of this is water you kayaked in on from Dominguez to Bridgeport

Some is leftover from your kayak trip from Palisade to Corn Lake

This is not your first swim in this water

Remember when you tipped the kayak and took on water somewhere between Dominguez and Bridgeport?

Some of this water melted from snow you hiked through in April of 2015 when you went through Lulu in your quest to reach the headwaters of the Colorado River, everything was frozen, the roads were closed. Still you hiked on

Some of this was snow you sank in up to your waist in Dillon that one winter

Some of this water came from your beloved Ouray, and from Telluride and Durango

Some of this water is snowmelt from 10,000 feet where your daughter works in the summertime – snowmelt that collected in Taylor Reservoir and then made its way gurgling and laughing right on down to Almont where it became the Gunnison River and cascaded noisily through the Black Canyon eventually joining with the Colorado

This water is dark and muddy like ditch water, ditch water you waded in as a single digit child; water diverted from the Colorado River somewhere in the neighborhood of the Roller Dam on the way to Debeque and channeled to the Highline Canal and then the concrete slip ditch that watered the 35 acres on which you cut your farming teeth. Do you think some of that very water is still present?

This is the water you wrote about in a college class on Colorado History; the water that evokes the cliché “Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over.”

This water is familiar; both a comfort and a lesson to you;

See? This is where you end up when you thaw out, melt, run merrily away from Colorado. Dammed or reclaimed? It’s all a matter of perspective.

 

 

Crème Brûlée and the Great Outdoors

It was a familiar, though unwelcome, feeling. There were things she couldn’t fix. Too many things. Challenges without recourse. Problems without solutions. Insidiously, the depression crept in. Numbing of emotion. Flat-lining of feeling. No dreams, no desire for anything.

Instinctively she retreated to the beauty of nature – a long hike in the wilderness. The remedy learned with the wisdom of years.

It was wiltingly hot when she locked the car and started out, but she was headed for a shady glen. A sandy trail led into a canyon, crisscrossed a gurgling stream. Moss-covered rocks lay calm and green in the water. Up ahead sandstone mountains sported a variety of coniferous vegetation and a burst of blue sky.

Each step was refreshment. Return of vigor of thought. Hope for the future.

Typically she could judge distance by the state of her emotions. It usually took about a mile for the tension to begin to loosen- sometimes two.

About a mile and a half out she turned. The afternoon was waning. Finding the end of the canyon would have to wait for another time. Then, just like clockwork, her appetite returned. Appetite – the signal of lifting depression. This time she craved crème brûlée or custard or flan. She hungered. But not for egg rolls – her usual fantasy food.

“How odd,” she thought, “right out here in the wild and I can almost smell dessert cooking, wafting warm and sweet from the kitchen.”

It was then she realized she was striding through a stand of ponderosa pine, inhaling great gulps of air two feet away from thick sun-warmed trunks. And ponderosa are known by their faint vanilla scent.

Dream on, Happy Wanderer. And may all your desires and appetites be healthful.

 

I smiled yesterday

I smiled yesterday. Smiled despite the excessive heat and the gritty dust and sand and the annoying no see ums. I smiled and it felt a little strange, a little different than the furrowed brow and stressed frown that has become part of my office attire. I smiled involuntarily because I went out to meet Nature and I found her. I found the road less traveled. And yet that road-cautioned as unimproved – was actually a well- graded dirt road that led to somewhere; somewhere famous and beautiful. Grosvenor Arch is about 20 miles from Cannonville, Utah in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It is featured on a sticker that I buy and sell hundreds of regularly – one of those stickers for National Parks Passport Books. It is beautiful. Grosvenor Arch is named after Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor – known as the father of photojournalism – the president of National Geographic Society – and a friend of National Parks. Grosvenor Arch is situated fittingly as a neighbor to Kodachrome Basin State Park.

And here’s the thing; Grovesnor Arch is way out there on the dirt road, yet there is a sign. More noticeably, there is a concrete path that leads from the parking area up towards the arch. This path has resting benches along the way. The path is intentionally constructed and maintained to lead visitors to the best possible view of the arch – the photographer’s perspective. The path ends in a pedestrian cul-de-sac that clearly indicates “stand here.” “Take a photo here.” And still Nature beckons me deeper into the juniper forest, the cool cleft of the rock. Beauty restores. Nature refreshes. And Nature makes me smile.

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Happy Easter

Happy Easter from the beach nearest my condo. It is only four miles from where I sleep, but I have to drive in the car, cross a state line and go through a fee station to get here. I am lying on my beach towel, conducting a little self-care, taking a mini R&R, and thinking Easter thoughts. Perhaps I’ll just rest and relax here until Someone brings me grilled fish and little loaves of bread, breaks the bread and offers it to me saying, “Take. Eat.” Doesn’t that sound like a wonderful Easter Sunday brunch? Wouldn’t that make a believer out of you? But for now, I have the balm of the wet sand and sunshine, the smell of the water, and I will try to relax. I will not check my cell phone – which doesn’t have a signal out here anyway-to see if someone at the office needs me. I will spend an hour or two in sacred silence. I will walk away spiritually renewed, ready to speak truth, live in peace. I will know myself a little better and consequently be able to better love and understand those around me.

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For the Beauty of Nature

I saw him get out of the car and make his way carefully, painfully toward the glass visitor center doors. The interpretive ranger desk is situated ideally with a view of the five nearest parking spaces and the handicap space. It is not a sit-down desk, it’s more like a bar, really, with shots of information on tap and rangers dispensing topo maps instead of steins.

Creeping slowly up the sidewalk, slinging one foot ahead of the other, he greeted the all-sport 30-year-olds in their jeans and crack climbing gear who were returning from the restrooms. Nice restrooms. The kind with running water where you can actually brush your teeth and wash your armpits after a few days spent camping with the Anasazi.

He took his time coming in the door, feeling for the adjoining wall as a support. I took my time welcoming him and offering a map. I was waiting for the rest of the family to join him before commencing information. He took a drink of water from the fill station. Then, leaning heavily on the desk, he followed its curve to the cash register.

“What I need,” he said, “Is one of those walking sticks – a cane to lean on.” I hurried to the telescoping hiking pole display, selected a pole, extended it to what I judged to be his proper height and handed it to him. He tried it out. “I’ll just see how it works as I tour the visitor center,” he said.

“Would you like to use the wheeled chair while you are enjoying the exhibits and the bookstore?” I asked.

“What?” he said.

“Do you have a park pass?” I asked.

“What?”

“Park Pass,” I enunciated clearly.

He showed me a vintage Golden Eagle Park Pass.

“I’m eighty years old,” he said, “I can’t hear very well.”

“Can I get you a map and directions, or shall I wait until your family arrives?”

“What? Oh, I am traveling by myself.”

He asked about the campground. Did it really mean what it said about the combined length being 26 feet? His motorhome was only 24 feet. He thought he might be able to park his tow car beside the motor home. Would that be all right? Eventually he bought the hiking pole and a couple books, made his way back to the car and drove the eight-mile loop. He retrieved his motorhome from somewhere alongside the road and camped in the park campground that night. I know this because I saw him pass the entry station three hours later in the motorhome with the car in tow. Both vehicles were snuggly parked side by side in the campground when I did the rove at 8:00 the next morning.

Eighty. He could well have been ninety. Deaf. Difficulty walking even 50 feet; yet he is still busy touring America and seeing the sights.

Twenty years ago I was hiking Box Canyon, Ouray CO, with the man I was wedded to at the time. The trail overlooked a wooded picnic area and we watched a family arrive in a van. They assisted Grandpa as he disembarked into a wheelchair and then they placed him comfortably at the picnic table.

“I hope,” said my husband, “that when I am old and in a wheel chair, someone will still take me camping.”

I have thought of that comment many times in the intervening years as I hiked, camped and travelled to beautiful places. Sometimes alone, other times with friends or family.

Yes! Somehow, some way, may we all keep on putting one foot in front of the other. May we enjoy the great outdoors until our last breath. Because out there is beauty and refreshment and life!

 

 

 

Hiking with The Phantom of the Opera

“I love to go a wandering, along the mountain path; and as I go, I love to sing, my knapsack on my back.” Who hasn’t chortled that song at the top of their lungs whilst trekking with a group of young people? Though I have grown older, I am nothing if not a happy wanderer.

So often the things we love most to do in life dovetail. Hiking and Music. That’s the perfect combination for me. Hiking. Writing about it. Writing a musical about it. Even better.

Nowadays I don’t often sing while hiking. Silence is better in the great outdoors. I embrace it. I think better in solitude. But there are times a tune whistled or hummed is just the right thing to get you through a narrow passage, barren stretch, or energize you for extra effort.

I have learned something about hiking along the Colorado River or its tributary canyons: There be willows – sometimes tamarisk – in riparian areas and sand bars. Willows and tamarisk can slap you, lash you and poke your eyes out.

Further up White Canyon from Sipapu Natural Bridge, the willows tower above my head, yet in the undergrowth, the trail is clear. The animals who regularly roam these paths are short, maybe coyotes. And there, on the wildlife path, I discovered a new way to wield my hiking pole.

Keep your hand at the level of your eye, may be a famous line from Phantom of the Opera but it’s also the latest principle I learned while putting one foot in front of the other.

Take your staff by the hilt, but still pointing down. Now salute with your fist in front of your nose, thumb on forehead, fist, pole and forearm vertical. You can now see around either side of your fist, your walking pole will part the willows from your forehead to your knees and you just might come out of the brush free of most lashes and scratches and without your eyes smarting.

Cue marching music. Let’s go a wandering, friends, with our hand at the level of our eyes