Stubborn Beauty

Beautiful even in death, this gnarly tree reached out its arms as a greeting, or possibly a warning, on my way to Lincoln Lake near Mt. Evans.

I’m always delighted and often surprised by the surroundings on hikes in my native Rocky Mountains. It is a rare day when a rushing rill or a sneaky squirrel doesn’t touch my heart and lighten my spirit. Today, it was death that amazed me. The death of trees burned in a fire. A burn area with remarkable trees—trees that refused to lay down their lives. Rather than pathetic scorched snags or trunks littering the ground, what remained were beautiful brown cores with scraggly branches forever reaching out —like the arms of lovers on John Keats’ Grecian urn.

“With forest branches and the trodden weed;
         Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
         When old age shall this generation waste,
                Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
         “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
                Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
–from John Keats, Ode to a Grecian Urn

Living trees give mankind shelter, food, and medicine, and thus, have long provided us with symbolic and metaphorical fodder for life. Yet not in life, but in death, did these trees leave me a poetic freeze-frame.  The stubborn branches whispered as I walked by: Beauty is truth, truth beauty, –that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Cast in the shadow of a cloud, you can see how trees like these could conjure up the likeness of monsters or mystical beings. It is easy to see where Tolkien came up with Ents–tree creatures in Lord of the Rings.

48-Hour South Dakota Soul Safari

The sunrise greets the guardians of our campground, the American Bison.

It never ceases to amaze me what is possible to see and feel in less than 48 hours. Leaving Denver at 6:45 AM and returning the next evening at  6:00 PM, I managed to feel like I’d been far, far away on a soul safari. Wide open spaces and crepuscular moments will do that for you.

In an attempt to not let this summer slip away like last summer, I packed up the Cranberry Crush with her new tent and headed to South Dakota, a place I visited countless times as a child, but had never truly appreciated as an adult.

My experience blew me away. Not only did I see more than 100 pronghorn antelope (one with its two babies dancing merrily around it), I also saw wild turkeys, prairie dogs, bison, bighorn sheep, and  mountain goats. And I was sung to sleep by the howls of coyotes and the yips of their pups trying to imitate mom and dad. I’ve seen all of these animals before, but not quite like this — and not together. The wide open prairies in a National Park are magical. No fences. No houses. Just animals (and lots of them) roaming about as they wish.

Probably the most moving of all was the peaceful coexistence of camper and bison. The bison seemed to guard the campground. They owned it. And we all kept our respectable distance when they wandered through. Twice on my early morning mountain bike ride, I had to stop and wait for a bison to move before I could continue or wait for a car to come by so I could ride next to it for protection. When 2,000 pounds of bison are between you and your destination, you find another way.

Another spectacular crepuscular moment–sunset at the Sage Creek campground.

I was the first to leave the campground (on my mountain bike) and after carefully dodging bison and a swirling tornado of swallows, I was greeted by wild turkeys at this overlook in the Badlands.

I was moved by the beauty of the land and its creatures. But as I  hiked the popular Notch Trail in Badlands National Park, I was surprised at my emotional reaction as I saw a group of people coming toward us on the trail. They had just come up the steep ladder section and were traversing the narrow trail with a drop off to one side.

Boy Scouts. I knew it immediately.

My husband and I didn’t even need to discuss it. We’d both been around Boy Scouts for so long we can spot a troop a mile away. The boys at the front of the group were skipping over the rocks with ease and getting their buddies to take funny pictures. But as I kept going I witnessed something even more wonderful. The leaders, all three, were at the back of the group helping out one boy who was clearly scared of heights. With gentle encouragement they gave him pointers and blocked his “look down.” I was surprised by my reaction. As soon as I passed the four of them, I couldn’t breath. My heart was in my throat and I felt tears start to well up. My desire to work with youth has always been about this very moment. When I see, in action, adults walking alongside youth during their trials, failures, and successes— it hits me hard and it fires my passion for doing what I do. I was so glad to witness a bit of human nature as beautiful as the spires of rock around us.

My husband looks back at the ladder we climbed to get to the Notch Trail overlook.

An overlook of millions of years of geologic history is always a good way to end the day.

And my trip would not have been complete without a visit to Mt. Rushmore and to Rapid City, birthplace of my mom, and home to my great grandparents.  In a town full of summer tourists, I found my way out to sacred places that mattered most to me and brought them all home, tucked inside as precious memories.

Chapel of the Hills, an exact reproduction of the famous Borgund Stavkirke of Laerdal, Norway, is just a bike ride away down Rapid City, South Dakota’s main city pedestrian path. The meditation trail hidden behind the chapel offers a quite respite.

The last of the original historic terraces, looking out to Mt. Rushmore. Most of the original visitor infrastructure, including the visitor’s center and platform designed by my great grandfather, have been torn out and replaced. You can still see it, though if you watch Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest.

My great grandparents lived in this little house in Rapid City well into their 90s. I can still picture my great grandma sitting in a metal chair on the front porch in her lightweight, summer flower-print dress reciting funny poems and rhymes to me.

Journey of Trust to the Pinball Hall of Fame

hof

Now that is a seriously large gumball machine!

Nobody trusts anyone, or why did they put TILT on a pinball machine…

–Steve McQueen

I like a destination. And when I’m traveling for work, I like to get my exercise not in the fitness room, if at all possible, but by walking around my new environment and getting a feeling for where I am. Staying in a cheap government per diem hotel in Las Vegas, doesn’t always put you in the optimal location for fantastic hikes, but it does often put you smack in the middle of an adventure. Knowing this was my only opportunity in the next four days to walk outside (during the day before mugging hours), my quest was to get to the closest attraction on Google maps from my location.  That meant just shy of a 3.5 mile walk (one way) to the Pinball Hall of Fame. With dusk on the horizon, I knew I needed to make this walk snappy.  I walked on sidewalks along busy six lane streets bordered by chain linked fences topped with barbed wire curls. Planes dipped so close to my head I fought the urge to duck. I thought it quite convenient there was a mortuary and graveyard across the street.

pinball-map

My route to the Pinball Hall of Fame.

When I finally got off the main thoroughfare and around the airport, I turned in the direction of my target. I can’t say I felt particularly better here, but at least the airplanes weren’t after me. As I walked past Siegfried and Roy Park, which consisted of gravel and a giant silver mushroom-like statue, I passed row after row of apartments. Tucked beneath several of the gates were homeless people. And between them, rows of stores that included at least one or more of the following: liquor stores, tattoo parlors, and smoke shops.

luckys

How lucky! Open 24 hours!

I said “hi” to those I passed, looking less out of place than you would think. The temperature was a cool 45 degrees so I was sporting my black stocking cap, black running gloves, sunglasses, and a black leather jacket (the only coat I had brought). I looked like a hood in the hood. That probably was a good thing. After an hour of walking, I made it! The Pinball Hall of Fame.

I was not too impressed by the sign. Where were the neon and flashing lights? Where were the free food and fountains? I clearly had not walked far enough.

pinball-hof

Not the most impressive building I’ve ever seen, but I’d made it this far!

I went in and was shocked by the number of people inside (despite the missing cars in the lot). For $0.75 a game, you could play pinball on machines from the 1960s to modern day. I walked among the pinging and ringing, snapped a few photos and then quickly left.

elvira

Elvira! Now that is a pretty high score!

Now I had a dilemma. It was getting dark. And though I looked like I could rob a bank, I didn’t feel like it. Luckily, I had a twenty dollar bill and had scanned the bus routes earlier that day. I stopped at a nearby 7-11 to get change and purchase water. Two men wearing construction uniforms sat at the video slots and finished off their day with a bit of hope. I stood in line behind five people (all unrelated), each with multiple 24 oz. Bud Ice beers in their hands.  Apparently they knew something I didn’t. My Aquafina was clearly not the best bargain in town.

budice711

At this point I started jogging toward Eastern Avenue. As I reached the corner of Tropicana and Eastern, I saw the bus parked at a stop about 100 meters in front of me. I started sprinting. There was a man waiting to board and by the time I reached the bus the same man was still standing patiently waiting his turn. The fellow in front of him was feeding the bus fare machine slowly with pennies and nickels (possibly not realizing it was not a slot machine), but I was grateful. I caught my breath as the gentleman ahead of me and  I assisted by picking up rogue pennies as they rolled off the machine and onto the bus floor.

I hopped on the double decker bus and watched as a colorful cast of characters got on and off  (fully aware I was one of them). I was even asked where my motorcycle was! That’s how “bad to the bone” I looked!

As I stepped off the bus (forgetting my bottle of purchased water on public transit for the second time that day), I was happy I trusted Vegas enough to go for a walk, and happy Vegas trusted a hood like me.

Peace on (My) Earth

goggles

Deck the halls with swimming goggles!

I swim at 6 a.m. on Monday and Wednesday every week and have been for the last year and a half. I’ve rarely missed a swim day. Even when injured I still show up and do what I can. Water has healing power. Some days I’ve been physically hurt and the hot jets have comforted my aching muscles. Some days I am frustrated and use the emotion to smash my 800m time. I love being in the water, but I’ve never loved swimming laps. I find it boring. I don’t meditate well. I fight with my thoughts as I blindly navigate the lane through my foggy goggles. To combat this, I’ve started using the time to solve work problems, compose poetry, write play scripts… I’ll solve almost anything to pass the time.

Wednesday morning I couldn’t come up with a good swimming brain project, so I jokingly told my swimming buddy I was going to solve world peace. I didn’t realize that meant I was actually about to attempt to solve personal peace. After the first eight laps, the best I could come up with was “let’s all just be nice to each other.” Seems simple enough until you realize you can’t control other people. So that meant Peace on Earth starts with the peace I bring to it. I kept swimming.

I’m not peaceful at Christmastime. Yet, peace is a word used over and over in a whole bunch of Christmas songs and stories. I pondered this as I hit lap ten. In the Christmas story it says a heavenly host appeared to a group of shepherds as they were watching their flocks by night and said to them:  

 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth PEACE among those with whom he is pleased!”

Hmmmm. If I don’t have peace, am I not pleasing to God? Made me think. Hmmm. So, I can bring some peace to the Earth and to others, but I can’t have it myself. Hmmmm. I didn’t like where this was going. I was pretty sure there was some twisted logic here and my graduate school rhetoric teacher would have scolded me by now for such a conclusion.

Splash. Turn. Lap twelve.

Peace, MY peace, or lack thereof, is almost always attached to my judgment of myself—not meeting the impossible expectations I’ve set. And Christmas brings out the worst in me. It reminds me of my failure and of the injustices I have or am experiencing and sets me up for failing again or, at the very least, having little trust in any goodness to be found in the world. I can’t succeed at Christmas….not the way the songs want me to anyway. Splash. Turn.

But maybe MY peace has nothing to do with God being pleased with me and a bunch of shepherds. He has already forgiven my imperfect self. That is the point of Christmas, after all, isn’t it? I conclude again that I’m the one with the problem. I’m the one who isn’t pleased. I’m the one who can’t forgive myself or cut myself a break. Splash. Turn. Lap fifteen.

I’m pretty sure peace for the entire Earth is impossible to solve.  But maybe, just maybe, Peace on Earth for me is possible, some days, even during, or maybe especially during, Christmas.

So now I’ve got something else to try not to fail at—personal peace. I wonder what that looks like? I think it may look like trust…or faith…or simply letting go.

Splash. Done. Guess I’ll need to wait until Monday to finish solving this one.

Crossing the Cross Country Midline

5k

You can take the girl out of the running, but you can’t take the running out of the girl.

I am a runner—at least in my soul. My mind still thinks I’m a runner. My body doesn’t always agree. I spent this crisp fall morning not out bounding over crunchy leaves, but in a gym doing interval training. Seems ridiculous to me.

My time felt ridiculous as well. I slowed the machine down to snap this picture when I hit 3.1 miles.  The time is a bit deceiving. I sprinted a lot of this 5K on an incline.

But the time also doesn’t lie. I jogged in between the sprints.

I decided to do some math to ease my pain. If I ran an 18 minute 5K when I was 20, then when I double my age I should be able to double my time, right? So that means anything under 43 minutes would be incredible.

Too bad it doesn’t work that way.

After knee surgery in college and back surgery in my late twenties, running has been the itch I just can’t scratch. I tiptoe back into it whenever I can and often end up discouraged or injured. But not this month. I’ve actually been running (carefully) three times a week. I don’t want to jinx it. And I can feel the cross country returning to my soul and filling me with joy again.

I think I’m almost ready to take it outside—where I want to be. But there are potential hazards out there. Birds for one. Rocks for another. And my own self…who tends to think I’m still 20 when I hit the trail.

I’m pretty sure I’ll never stop trying to run. My old shoes in my keepsake box remind me of that. Why did I keep them? Did I think they were magic? That if I put them on some year in the future I would be able to run—really run—again. No. I think they just serve as a constant reminder that you can’t stop being who you are.

old-shoes

My cross country spikes and flats from high school and college remind me that I’ll always be a runner.

Thanks WordPress #wwwp5K.

Back in the Shadow Again

bike-shadow

I saw my shadow differently today. Not as who I was but who I am now and who I still can be.

I’m back in the shadow again. After a July and August filled with sickness and total exhaustion, I have made it back onto my mountain bike for only my second real mountain bike ride of the summer. The first involved a rainstorm, a steep mountain road, and no brakes….but I’d rather not remember that one. Let’s talk about today.

Today I panted my way up our friendly neighborhood mesa. Once at the top it is a paradise of flat winding trails. As I zoomed across the mesa top, I kept my head down, navigating the rocks and watching for rattlesnakes for a good 10 minutes until I caught my shadow cast by the late afternoon sun. It is like watching a movie of myself.  I love shadows because you can see who you want to be in your shadow.  For years I’ve always looked at the shadow and saw who I used to be as an athlete and lamented that I would never be that again.

Not today. Today I was grateful for my shadow. Today, I just saw me out on my bike  riding free and being who I am today with the promise of who I can be tomorrow.  Once I did that, an amazing thing happened. I looked up and I saw not where I couldn’t be, but where I was.  Wow. What a view!

mesa

The view from the mesa with beautiful Rocky Mountains as a backdrop.

As I kept riding (only looking down when I had to maneuver up and over rocks), I came across the acres of charred earth where a fire had scorched the top of the mesa several weeks ago.

Again I was struck by the beauty of what can come from the ashes—what can rise that once was fallen. They were Black-eyed Susans—their petals on fire from the setting sun. I laughed as I took this picture. I felt like this flower. What a perfect flower name for this rebirth —you can knock me down and give me a black eye, but I’ll keep coming back!

Charles Dickens once said, “There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast.” That was so true today—for the flowers and for me.

flower

These hardy yellow flowers are bursting forth amidst acres of charred soil.

 

Total Exhaustion

nap

One minion riding a fluffy unicorn, two minions riding a fluffy unicorn, three minions riding a fluffy unicorn……..

If you haven’t noticed, my blogs have been few and far between the past few months. But not because my head isn’t reeling with topics. I now realize my bloglessness has been due to total exhaustion. Complete and utter total exhaustion.

Total exhaustion has never been a negative phrase for me. Total exhaustion, rather, has been a battle cry. It is something I aspire to when climbing peaks or riding my bike. In fact, it’s become a game. How much harder can I make it? For example, is there an alternative way to get to the trailhead? Anyone can drive there. How about riding my bike there…and then back after finishing a grueling climb? Yes! Total exhaustion! Bring it on.

This summer I discovered a new form of total exhaustion. And I did something I can’t remember ever doing before. I took a nap—a real nap. Not just nodding off for 15 minutes on the lawn furniture on a sunny Saturday. No. I got up at 8:00 a.m. on a work day (really late for me), stood up, checked my phone, wrote my boss a “not happening today” note, and didn’t get out of bed again until 12:30…possibly 1:00.

What drove me to total exhaustion? It wasn’t a mountain I had climbed or a pass I had peddled. No.It was mental and physical exhaustion from work and simply finally letting myself fully recover from the cold I had fought with for the last four weeks. Although there were no lingering signs of the infection in my sinuses, it had apparently sucked the life from me and my body was still crying…I just refused to listen…until what I will now and forevermore refer to as THE NAP.

But, no more! My mind is doing cartwheels and my body thanking me all because of THE NAP. And because it was so amazing, I followed it up with a shorter sequel today …THE NAP 2.

In fact, I have not thought of work once today. Not obsessing over our startup business struggles. Not counting my long list of “to dos.” Nope. Just counting minions riding fluffy unicorns as they bounce over my head…1…2…3… Zzzzzz!

Now I believe I am ready to blog again, ride again, hike again…maybe, just maybe, even work again.

Naps. Who knew? Maybe I’m getting older and this is what crossing the midline is all about. Or maybe I’m just getting wiser and maybe that is what crossing the midline is all about. Either way I’ve found a new friend called sleep.

Justice, Injustice, and Grace

Do you see any signs saying this sidewalk is closed?

My son went running at the park in the evening. When he crossed the street his foot fell into a small, uncovered manhole. He tripped, tumbled, and rolled into a busy intersection. Thankfully, he didn’t break any bones and came away with only bruises and cuts on both his arms and legs.

What did he do?

He called the city to tell them about the accident and that the missing cover was a hazard to others. He received a call back this morning from Public Works.  Please choose from the following answers what you think the person from the city of Wheat Ridge said to my son:

A. We are so sorry. We’ll send a crew over to make sure that problem is taken care of. Thank you for letting us know.

B. We just finished redoing the sidewalk there and someone must have forgotten to put the cover back on.

C. That sidewalk is closed and clearly marked with signs. You should read better next time.

By now, you’ve probably guessed the answer is “C” or I wouldn’t be writing this post. My son came to them with grace…not demanding retribution…but with a pure heart to help others.  In return he was called a liar. Injustice.

It is yet another example of our broken messed up world.  Blame. Covering backs. Lying. I’m sick of it. What happened to grace? Sometimes it seems like the only two possibilities people see are justice or injustice. (And I’m not even sure people always know the difference.) How about another possibility? How about grace?

Grace is awesome.

Grace is giving and forgiving when you shouldn’t have to.

Grace is taking the time to tell the city the manhole cover is open while you stand there bleeding.

This world needs more grace. Why do we humans seem to hoard it or save it up for special occasions?

Enough already.

Let’s not live in fear. Let’s love each other. Help each other. Forgive.

Fearless

glove

The ball glove from my youth. Though old and worn and small, I’ve never replaced it. It has never let me down.

Shortstop—the position I played for seven years as a youth. There’s something every shortstop must be. Not a good aim. Not a good batter. Not technically flawless. These are all important, but the key to playing shortstop is just one thing. Being fearless.

I remember the day I became fearless on the field. I was in 6th grade. I had been playing softball for two years. I was a good fielder and was getting pretty confident. Then it happened. I was at practice and a hard hit grounder made contact with a rock on the infield and took an unexpected hop. The ball missed my carefully placed glove and smacked me square in the chin. Hard. No amount of skill or exceptional hand-eye coordination could have prevented it.

After some inspection, spitting of blood, and a little ice, I was back out on the field. The next ball hit was met with trepidation. I missed it. I couldn’t believe it. I was so mad at myself and I couldn’t believe I let one little rock—one bump in the road stop me. I had a decision to make.

As every good coach tells his or her fielders, you should charge the ball. That is, as soon as it is hit, you run toward it, resisting the tendency to back up and get a better read on it. You charge it.

So, I asked myself: Did I want to be a mediocre shortstop or a great one? Would I let fear drive me? The answer was no. I proceeded to take every ball hit to me with fearless abandon. Like I’d never done before, I charged EVERY ball and threw it to first base with wicked speed. I let the pain drive me. I decided I didn’t care anymore. If it hit me, it hit me. It would not be by my doing. That would just be fate—chance. It was one of the best practices of my life. I felt liberated from all the rocks.

As I sit here today, watching softball practice from my front porch, I am reminded again of this moment in my life. I am sitting on my porch because I’m feeling wounded from an event at work. A rock appeared in my life. No fault of my own. The ball smacked me hard in the chin. I’m feeling the pain and spitting out the blood. And now I have a decision to make.

My sixth grade self is tapping me on the shoulder and handing me my glove.

Back onto the field. Charge the ball. Fearless.

We’re Not Here To Look at Rainbows

faint-rainbow

A faint rainbow crying out for a passing glance.

This  rainbow caught my eye tonight as I took my dog out on a walk. It was 7:00 PM and the sky was just barely spitting rain. Across the street from my house poured the sounds of summer—the crack of the bat and voices chattering in the field. Girls softball practice. Really little girls. I was surprised any of them could fit a softball in their hand at all.

Now stopping during a walk isn’t something I usually do. But tonight, something tugged at me and I felt compelled to pause and glance at this faint and rare sight in the sky. And I wasn’t the only one. As I stood gawking upward, I heard the frustrated coach yelling at the girls, “COME ON! WE’RE NOT HERE TO LOOK AT RAINBOWS!”

It wasn’t a spectacular rainbow. In fact, it was pretty hard to see. I think that is what made it so special, so attractive. You really had to look hard. You had to stop and be still to appreciate it.

It got me thinking about all the faint, but spectacular, “rainbows” I might be walking quickly by every day. I’m pretty sure when my kids were little I missed quite a few. It is hard to see the little faint rainbows of life when you need to fix breakfast, make lunches, get to work, run the Cub Scout meeting, make cupcakes for the school party, deal with a frustrated teacher, coach the team, help with homework, cook dinner, exercise, do your own homework, rinse, and repeat.

“COME ON! WE’RE NOT HERE TO LOOK AT RAINBOWS!”

Sorry, coach, I beg to differ. We are here to look at them. Seek them out. And stare long and hard. They disappear way too soon.

softball-girls

Little girls with pink softball socks and golden hair kissed by the sun. That’s at least one more “rainbow” I saw today.