Love Letters: Crested Butte

Dear Crested Butte,

My friends said I’d like you.

Probably because you’re a little less of a show-off then the other ski resort towns.

Still, it took me awhile to get to you.

But the moment we met was perfect.

You shined, as if a halo was surrounding the town.

The next day, as I rand down Teocalli Ridge, you showered me with golden leaves.


And everywhere we went, cows!

Yes, it is true, happy cows roam free, high up into the valleys.

Yes, that means more piercing dog barks in my ear, but I’ll take it knowing more beings can roam wild and free.

This letter is just the first, for we have only just met.

But I’ll be back.  To wander around more of you wondrous trails and passes.

Until next time.



October Snow

“You’re too early.”  “I’m not ready for you yet.”

My forsaken words.

And instead of slowing down, we go too fast.  Crash.

But what if we, what if I, appreciated you for what you are, despite or inspire of context.

If I were present.  If I slowed down…

Maybe I’d see your beauty.

Watch as the big, wet snowflakes fall to the Earth.

Noticed how your brilliant blanket of white highlights and contrasts with the yellow Aspen leaves.

Maybe I would be like my dog and find joy as my steps were created with soft pillows.

To be still with stored energy, like the deer that ran past as we stepped outside for a walk.

If I allowed you to just be, like the elk feeding on the side of the road.  Letting the snow fall and the cars pass.  Maybe, October Snow, I’d see you as a gift, with the surprise and wonder of a child receiving an early Christmas present.

A present.  Be present.  Be.



I’m a Feminist: Why I’m a Feminist, Not an Equalist, Though They Essentially Mean the Same Thing

[This blog is extremely brief in explaining the issues and challenges facing women all over the world.  Because this is a blog, I focused on my own thoughts, rather than digging into and citing research.  I did, however, touch on information from books and other resources that I have accumulated over the years.  I have listed the books that have profoundly impacted me at the end of this post.]

I am a feminist.  I think I decided that sometime in my early to mid 20s.  That was probably around the time I also read the definition of what it means to be a feminist.  Simply, it means someone who wants equal rights for men, women, non-binary, etc. It means someone who wants equal rights for all people, no matter race, gender, sexuality, religion, etc. Period.  It doesn’t mean I want and Amazon society. It doesn’t mean I want women to take over all leadership rolls, or that I think women should stop cooking dinner…if that’s what she wants to do. But if she has a partner, that’s the decision they make together.

It means choice.  It means not being held down by the “shoulds” of what someone else decided a woman should do or be.

It means that men and women have equal opportunities lead organizations, to be sponsored athletes, to together decide how they want to run households and communities.

Maybe you could call me an “equalist”.  That way I wouldn’t offend anyone.  But that definition is missing a key piece.  It ignores the fact that women do not have equal rights.    It ignores the fact that we as a society, can do better.

A lot of people think we already have  equality.  Those people miss the subtleties of how women are barred from certain things, held down by the expectations of others.  That comes from a place of privilege, which gives a person the ability to give a blind eye to any discrepancies.  I’m not going to say coming from privilege is bad thing.  I just want to highlight how important it is to realize and begin to learn our blindspots.  In most ways, I am privileged, and I’ve made a lot of ugly mistakes brushing aside the problems of my friends who are homosexual, have darker skin than me, or aren’t as able bodied.  The key, I’ve found, is humility.  Being able to make mistakes and learn, even if it hurts a bit, because that is nothing compared to what my less privileged friends have been through.

One of my first lessons on privilege came from a friend of mine who is gay.  It was during the time where people had signs up that said “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter.”  I didn’t understand the difference…until my friend told me how the latter turns a blind eye to the challenges the black community still faces.  I was stunned, ashamed I had missed the difference and highly aware of my ignorance on racism.  My friend had the courage to tell me, so I needed the courage to accept my lack of awareness and to learn more.

Back to the blind spots.  I won’t say too much in a blog, as many amazing books have been written about the challenges and struggles of women both in the United States and in other countries, and I’ll list those resources below.  To be brief, a few discrepancies we see in the US involves the gender pay gap, the lack of opportunities for women in the tech and sport (as specific examples) industry, and how women are treated in the workplace and at home.  In sports, this was highlighted as the US Women’s Soccer Team went on to win the FIFA World Cup.  Despite their win, actually, their WINS that include several World Cups and Olympic gold medals, they make appallingly less than the men’s team.  O, and did I mention the US Women’s Soccer Team jerseys became the highest selling jersey at Nike?  As for sexism in our society, that was highlighted in the 2017 “me too” movement.  Sexism, sexual abuse, and rape are signs that show women are still disrespected by many in society.  They are attempts to hold women down, to attempt to keep women from equality, to instill fear.  One of the most heartbreaking things I have ever had a client tell me when I asked about her sexual relationship with her boyfriend was “there is a fine line between consent and giving in.” THAT is oppression.  But more and more women and coming together and saying “No.  That is not okay.”  (If you asked all your female friends how many of them had been raped, abused, or sexually assaulted, you would be aghast.).

In other countries, women are still banned from leaving home to make money so they can stay at home take care of the family, the family that has grown out of control because she is not allowed access to birth control.  Which means there’s a good chance she will eventually die in childbirth or suffer from other medical complications.  Girls are prevented from going to school and getting an education.  The right to vote is laughable.  Girls have their clitoris cut with rusty knives so they can be acceptable for marriage, often sold off before puberty.

Can you FEEL that oppression, the pain?  When I let myself feel it, it hurts like hell.

The first book that really opened my eyes to to women’s issues around the world was Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (I can’t recommend this book enough!).  I remember reading it in the car one day and bursting out crying.  I can’t remember if I was reading about rape or child marriage, but I couldn’t stop thinking about my sisters.  Thank God we were born in a first world country, where oppression is both visceral and identifiable, but not nearly as horrifically tangible.

Here’s the argument I often get from men:  “But men don’t have it fair either” which somehow means that women’s rights movements are unjustifiable.

[Story side note:  I currently volunteer and used to work for the organization Girls on the Run, a “physical activity-based positive youth development (PA-PYD) program designed to develop and enhance girls’ social, psychological, and physical competencies to successfully navigate life experiences.”  Men will get mad and say “well why isn’t there a boys on the run!?”  First of all, they’re missing the statistics, such as: by the age of 14, girls are dropping out of sports at twice the rate of boys, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation. Second, Boy Scouts started in the year 1910.  Girl Scouts started in the year 1912.  My guess it wasn’t because Juliette Gordon Low complained “why is there no Girl Scouts” but instead took the initiative to do it herself.  AND, while the program is smaller, there is a program called Let Me Run, which I think is awesome…the program was started my a female mom, who had first coached for Girls on the Run.]

Look, I get that men have their own set of imaginary societal laws that tells them how they should act, mainly that men need to always be tough and not show emotion. I read documentaries on the topic and listened to podcasts.  I’ve worked with men at an addiction treatment center and have seen how much pain that myth causes.

Truly though, its just the opposite side of the same coin.

This part may be a stretch for some, but I’m not going to call it “woo-woo” because I’m starting to hate that word and how much truth it allows us to ignore.  What I hear men telling me about is the inability to express their feminine side.  The same thing we are trying to suppress when we keep women from being equals in society. Showing emotion is not weak.  It does not mean the absence of the ability to look at things intellectually.  Emotion means strength, it means empathy, the ability to connect with other beings.  It means activism.  In a bit, I’ll touch on why both intellect and emotion, both the masculine and feminine*, are needed for a truly successful society.  But first, a short personal reflection.

*I am not trying to define the masculine and feminine in this blog.  I have felt the definitions, but can not yet put them into words.  What I will say here is that being feminine does not mean wearing high heals and putting on make-up anymore than being masculine mean putting on you flannel and going to chop wood.

I’ve written on this blog before a bit about my eating disorder in my adolescent years.  My therapist at that time always was pushing for a “why”.  Why did I starve my body?  I couldn’t give an answer at that time.  She wrote it up having to do with my parent’s divorce, which may have been partially true in an indirect way.

It wasn’t until my graduate studies that I looked up more theories on the root causes of eating disorders.  One theory dealt with the oppression of women.  A spark went off for me.  During these years, I was in a Catholic school, where women couldn’t be priest, God was considered a man, and most of the fathers of my friends were financially more successful than their wives.  I was also told something along the lines of that once I hit puberty, I would lose athleticism and the boys would gain in.  While this is essentially true to a point, to me it was more of highlight of the other gender discrepancies.  I taped my breast.  I made sure I didn’t get a period.  Depression and anxiety followed.

Depression and anxiety are what happens when we shut out any part of ourselves.

Which leads me to say a little bit about the benefits of equality, especially for an men reading this who’d prefer to hold on to their power.  When women gain equality, everyone gains.  In 3rd world countries, it’s been shown that when women are allowed to start earning an income, the children get educated, the family has enough to eat, and even the marriage strengthens.  Poverty is reduced.  After the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the country rose back from the ashes by putting women in leadership.  The GDP rose, as well as life expectancy.  In general, there’s less fighting, more talking.  Every gender holds both the masculine and feminine inside of them, in a mostly balanced way.  There’s the empathy and the intellect, the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes and to rationally think through a problem.  One we suppress one, balance and harmony are lost.  With my therapeutic mindset, I would say this most often leads to self-destruction on the individual side.  And when a society does it…well, I don’t need to describe that to you.  So we need to bring women up, to bring everyone up.

As Hillary Clinton famously said “If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.”



Recommended Books:

Half the Sky:  Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women – Nichola Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Lean In:  Women, Work, and the Will to Lead -Sheryl Sandberg

I am Malala:  The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban  -Christina Lamb and Malala Yousafzai

The Moment of Lift:  How Empowering Women Changes the World- Melinda Gates



Love Letters: Estes Park/RMNP

Dear Estes Park/Rocky Mountain National Park,

Despite your mountains’ jagged peaks looming in the background, you didn’t have me at first.

Perhaps because my dog wasn’t allowed in the Park, though now I appreciated the rule as I prefer my dog keeps her distance from moose, bears, elk, and other animals that wander through your forest.

Yes, we had to work for our relationship a bit, perhaps that made it stronger.

Your rocky paths offer little forgiveness, but with you as the ever patient teacher, I’ve begun to learn the dance steps.

It’s with mostly joy, and just a little blood, that I’ve gotten to know your summits and deep blue lakes.

Today I am taking it slow.  With a boulder as my chair and a creek as my soundtrack.

Simultaneously, a few drops of rain hit my bare arms as the sun kisses my face.

A humming bird offers a quick hello.

We are both dichotomies, aren’t we? Gentle creeks and stormy peaks.

Without the other, we wouldn’t be whole.

Again, RMNP, wise teachers, thank you for the lessons.

Until next time.





(Botton photo taken by Terry Kruse)


Love Letters: San Juan Mountains

Dear San Juans,

The Place of In-Between.

Closer to Heaven than to Earth.

A reminder beauty is always there, even when the rest of the world tries to deny it.


Healing in your mountains, alpine lakes, and high waterfalls.

Rich history of the hard mining people, though the idea of machines penetrating your rocky walls saddens me.

Hope for them.  Hope for me.  Though the gold I seek is intangible.

I simply need to bear witness.

You let me cry but always send a rainbow after.

Leaving you is never easy.

But a look in my rearview, and you remind me.

You’re never really gone.

Reflected back in me.



Photo cred: brett schreckengost

Love Letters: Sawatch Range/Salida/Buena Vista

Dear Sawatch Range/Salida/BV,

There’s something about you that just makes me want to keep coming back.

I’ve climbed all fo your 14,000ft peaks, and while I can’t say I’ve loved them all (mainly not those to the south), I can say that there is something about your wild side that has me mesmerized.  Hiking the Collegiate West, I feel a little bit like I’m on the new frontier, connecting me to the many men and women who risked everything to be here.  I hope I have at least an ounce of their grit.

Only ghost towns may physically still exist, but the souls of those who died here are still intertwined with the trees, rocks, and railroad tracks left behind.

Speaking of trees…

Quaking Aspen, do you have a message for me?

“S” mountain, decorated as a Christmas tree, you may be one of my favorite Christmas trees, second only to the one in my dad’s living room that has been up for 20+ years.

Salida, I must say, you’ve got to be the coolest, weirdest town I’ve ever known.  Eclectic only begins to describe you.

BV, you seem pretty neat too, though you don’t have Moonlight Pizza.  And thanks for your 2 minute shower for 4 quarters.

Needless to say, I’ll be back.

I’ve only touched exploring your depths upon which your nickname “high lonesome” stands.  But how could I ever be lonely, when I’ve got YOU, mountains, wildflowers, mountain goats, alpine lakes, and spirts to keep me company?

Until next time.


Ray & Pacer


(Photo credit for above pic to Peter Maksimow.)




Heartache and Healing in the San Juans

Okay, that title is a bit dramatic.  But it was the best I could come up with, so I used it.  Anyway…

For any of my regular readers (do I actually have any of those? No?  I don’t blame you.  I admittedly am not a blog reader myself.), you probably could read between the lines in my other blogs.  My relationship with the boy was coming to an end, in a way that was slow and then abrupt.  I’m not going to share the details here.  But with any breakup comes the need for healing, though this time through my healing was more for my soul than for my heart.  In some form of luck, I was already planning on heading to the San Juans, aka Heaven, for my last big adventure of the summer.  Because of the circumstance I was in, I just had to bump up my leave time…which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing!


Pacer and I actually started our trip with a hike up the backside of Mt. Massive.  We did this 1) because Sandi had told us how beautiful it was when she did it earlier in the summer and 2) the drive from Estes Park to Ouray is LONG and I wanted to break it up.  It was also nice to start somewhere fairly familiar.


(Favorite radio station that come in in Leadville: 92.7)

From Leadville, we headed to Ouray and camped at Thistledown Campground…not the free dispersed camping we prefer, but it was the shortest drive and had good trail access for the morning.  Day 2 was supposed to be an easy day as I wanted to attempt Wilson Peak the next day, which would be mine and Pacer’s 40th 14er together.  Except I picked the road/trail leading up Imogene Pass.  And then I didn’t want to turn until we reached the top of the pass.  And then when we reached a pass a mountain (Telluride Peak) was right there with a nice trail going up!  And then I missed the turn on the way down to where we parked, and we added on an extra (few) miles and several hundred feet of elevation gain to get back to our car.  And so our easy day turned into 4.5ish hours.  Pacer hadn’t been feeling up for long back to back days, so I knew we still needed to take an easy day…so off to Telluride it was!


(Favorite Ouray/Montrose radio station: 103.7)

I was hoping to stop at the Ouray Hot Springs on the way to Telluride to shower as it’s the cheapest in the area and doesn’t have a time limit, but the skies that afternoon were bluebird and it was 75ish degrees out, so that was out of the question with Pacer in the car.  I did, however, stop at the mountain shop in Ouray to get a new headlamp (mine died) and a new running leash for Pacer, as I forgot hers and it’s so much easier to climb up a mountain and have my hands free.  After the unplanned shopping spree, we headed over to camp at Alta Lakes near Telluride.  To be honest, I don’t really like Alta Lakes.  I had camped there with my twin a few years before, so remembered it being free.  However, a lot of the lower campsites now had signs up for restoration, so I had to drive all the way up the rocky road to the campground, which was free, but nearer to other people and buggy because of the lakes.  Yes, it was pretty.  My mind just wasn’t in it, and I was thinking how far I had to drive back down the road to actually get to Telluride in the morning.


In the morning, we woke up early and I realized I was being a bit dramatic about the camping space.  Still, we hustled down because I had work to do on the computer and I knew it would be cool in the morning and safe to leave Pacer in the car with the windows partially open (40ish degrees).  I drove to the only bakery/coffee shop I knew in town that wasn’t on the main street and I could park outside the doors.  I was slightly dismayed there was no vegan bakery items, so settled for a coffee and settled in to a spot with a charger and got most of my work done (when I have a time limit, it’s pretty impressive how much I can accomplish!).  I also met a local trail runner, who gave me a recommendation for a quiet trail for a true easy day that I could hike with Pacer later on.  Except it was still overcast when I finished my work, and I knew it was my chance to shower.  We headed down to the Telluride Pool/Camping area and I paid for a shower…$3 (in quarters) for 5 minutes.  Not exactly ideal, but eco-friendly I suppose.  And then we hiked for about 2hrs on the Deep Creek trail, which to be honest I didn’t really love, but it was quiet and at least easy to turn around, unlike the day before.  After lunch near the waterfall, we headed to the Lizard Head Wilderness Area and the Navajo Lakes Trailhead, the start of the route to Wilson Peak!

(Ooo, I also found a chocolate bar in my car…which is amazing that I actually forgot I had chocolate in my car!)

Okay, so actually, I wasn’t a total exclamation mark, at least at first.  As I mentioned before, Pacer and I were finishing up our list of the 14ers I thought a dog could do.  And the past few had been hard.  Mostly class 2+, but I knew this would have some class 3.  Could we do it?  Was I pushing Pacer too much?  On 8/29, I wrote in my journal:

“Currently at the only campsite by the Navajo Lake Trailhead.  A little nervous about Pacer (aren’t I always?) but excited for tomorrow’s attempt up Wilson Peak.  (I was nervous but was able to switch it around.  Biggest worry is Pace stopping in the middle of it, but I have booties!). ”

My prayer was “Mother Nature, grant us safe passage and give me the courage to turn if needed” and “watch over Pacer.”

The next evening, I was busy getting Thai Pie from Avalanche Brewing in Silverton, so it wasn’t until 8/31 that I wrote in my journal again:

“Supergirl submitted Wilson Peak!  In combo of the distance and technical terrain (class 3) it was our hardest.”  Our 14er project was a fun goal to have, but truly, I think I can speak for me and Pacer (not that I don’t always) when I say that we are excited to repeat our favorite 14ers next year with class 1 & 2 terrain.  (The only 14er we attempted but did not summit was Challenger, as there was too much loose rock.  We were slightly off route when we tried because of snow, so there is a tiny chance we will try again, but after reading other’s reports, it seems the terrain stinks regardless.)

I’ve also had to admit to myself that Pacer doesn’t love going over 8 hours anymore, or long back to back days.  She is NOT getting old…truly, she is 7 going on 3 (slightly maturing from last year when she was 6 going on 2), I just think she is a cuddle bug and sometimes rather be on a comfy bed sleeping…and she knows she can get her way.  So, I may just have to adapt and there may be more hotels interspersed with camping trips next year.


(On Saturday, we did a short hike by Paradise Basin…and then Pacer sat down in the middle of the trail, so we turned around and she started walking again.)

On Sunday morning, still in Silverton,  I woke up early, much earlier than I wanted, to run up the road and then up the trail to Ice Lake Basin, so I could let Pacer sleep in the car while it was still cool out (I was back before it hit 60 degrees and the windows were open. The sky window is one of the best features on my 2002 Subaru!)  I wasn’t able to make it up to the lakes, but I was so joyful on that run and had the biggest (and probably goofiest) smile on my face because it was so beautiful and the trail was so awesome.  After breakfast at the campsite, I headed into town to call my dad and wish him a happy birthday. (He treated himself by sleeping in until 9:30…he’s been waking up before 5 a.m. since he was a little boy.).  After driving around the mines a bit, getting a Thai wrap to go at Avalanche Brewing (Saturday I had the Thai salad) and completing the Thai triad, we started the drive towards Durango, where we had a hotel for the night so Pacer could rest and I could get some work done not sitting in the car, getting wifi from the visitor center.  Back to my journal:

“Almost instantly I was sad to be leaving.  I had forgotten how far away Durango is (50+ miles).  It’s like leaving Heaven, knowing you’ll be back when its your time, but still sad you can’t stay longer at present.  (I have thought about moving closer, but I couldn’t do the winters in the San Juans, and the nearby towns of Montrose and Durango don’t do it for me.). Budget Inn in Durango was a little creepy and old, but Pacer was super happy to have a bed and I was happy to have a shower and not to have to work from my car.”

I was also able to get our grocery shopping done and pick Pacey up some treats and wipes from Pet Haus.  I made dinner from the motel and half-watched a Hallmark movie, then Monster-in-Law.  In the morning, I was happy to awake to a spry Pacey.  We walked to the Animas Mountain trailhead and not much farther.  The trailhead sign says dogs must be leashed, but of course they weren’t.  A woman pulled up in her truck and let her energetic dogs out and they ran right towards us—they stopped short, but poor Pacer!  (I love dogs, its just Pacer and I have been attacked by off-leash dogs several times, and its not fair when Pacer has a leash and muzzle on, which I do for extra safety as she is reactive/sensitive). Another reason not to move to Durango!

Anyway, I then walked over to the rec center ($6.50 for the day) and ended up taking a spin class from Rock N’ Roll Bob.  Afterwards, I headed over to the thrift store for a book (I picked up The Ten Trusts by Jane Goodall and Marc Beckoff) (super nice store owner) and the The Coffee House (hotel only had a coffee pot in the lobby) and spoke to a friendly guy there as well.  Actually, almost everyone I talked to was friendly besides the woman from spin class who was annoyed with me for rolling my bike backwards to put it away (I stand at almost 5’4″, so the bike was nearly as big as me).  And then it was off to Creede with Pacer, rather than back to Silverton.  I felt like I had enough heartbreak the first time leaving the San Juans, but I still nearly cried leaving Durango.  I know the sadness comes from being blessed enough to have been there, which takes a bit of the edge off, but still hurts.

(Every time I enter Durango, I look for the Siesta Motel sign for a good laugh.)

In the end, I think heading to Creede was the right choice.  Pacer and I got to re-summit San Luis Peak, the first time we did it having been a side trip on our Colorado Trail thru hike in 2015.  It was slightly disorienting for me to do it from the opposite direction, but still felt good to be back and be on a trail that was mostly runnable.  My proverbial cup felt pretty full after that.


(September 2019, August 2015—Im so grateful to the guy who took our picture, as it too a bit of maneuvering with reactive pup, but he could’ve waited until Pacer closed her mouth! lol)

From there, we headed to Salida, first getting my favorite bottle of wine from Vino Salida, and then heading to our regular spot near the Shavano Trailhead.   “Am I ready to go back?” I journaled. “Good question.  Part of me wants to keep adventuring from trailhead to trailhead and part of me wants to shower and start my practice (Wanderlust Counseling).  I know I’ll be back.  And I want to explore my backyard more (Rocky Mountain National Park/Indian Peaks).  But I’ve been so far away from the rest of it.  Hopefully all goes smoothly tomorrow afternoon and getting my stuff.”

(Fav. BV/Salida radio station: 92.3…actually, this is one of my favorite stations period. I didn’t shower in Salida, but if I do when camping its usually at the Salida Hots Springs Aquatic Center, and in BV its back by the river park, again where you have to start with shampoo in your hands because it’s a few quarters for a few minutes.)

We finished up our trip with a 7ish mile run/hike to Ptarmigan Lake near Buena Vista, which was just as glorious as expected.  Then it was time to face what laid ahead, trying up a few loose ends that we had left behind.

At this moment, all is well.  I got to play in my backyard yesterday and run up to Odessa Lake in RMNP.  Girls on the Run starts today, and we had enough girls sign up for two teams!  I’m debating if we’ll stay and play near home this weekend, or head back out to the Sawatch Range one more time.  No wrong decision there.  Fall, change, is coming.

(Pace “helping” me prepare for Girls on the Run)

Perhaps the main reason I love the San Juan mountains is that they have this way of breaking you open.  They wrench at your heart, tear you down, and build you back up.  They’ve been doing this for decades (and probably much longer), from the Native Americans traveling through the hills, the mining families who dug for a better life, the mountaineers who’ve climbed the majestic peaks, the runners who’ve attempted Hardrock 100, the backpackers finishing their Colorado Trail thru-hike. There’s loss, but if you keep the hole open, you end up receiving so much more light and beauty than you could have ever expected.


(Over looking the Colorado Trail and San Juans on one of my first trips to the area, near Molas Pass.  The first time I stoop at this spot, I fell in love.)

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross


Ray & Pacer






Love Letters: Lost Creek Wilderness

This is not the first time I’ve come to you.

I fell in love on our first acquaintance.

You offered a gentle climbing valley full of wildflowers as my dog and I hiked the CT.

A sight of a family of at least three generations, camping with their horses.

I came back here twice before this time.

Once on an early spring hike, another to fulfill a day dream of running through the valley, late spring.

There’s something enchanting about your pine trees.  Seen from afar, they appear to go on for miles and miles.  Inside, hold secrets.

Your creeks, a gentle murmur.  What are you saying?  To you, I whisper quiet love songs.

(I wonder what tomorrow will bring?)


Pictures:  Pacer during our first trip to Lost Creek wilderness, backpacking the CT.  Me overlooking the forest, 3rd trip.  And finally, pictures of our final time, already lost, before our encounter with a moose.


Dare to Dream: Redefining the American Dream

This spring, I began toying with the idea that I might be able to run fast again.  Maybe even race if I felt called to.  I had promised myself that if I ever did race again, I’d be mentally in a good place, ready to race with the true definition of competition (to seek together) and remembering that in the long run (pun intended), running in in itself is no big deal. I felt I was almost there, also having gained greater body wisdom and appreciation through 3 years of grad school and seeing a therapist who often used body-centered methods.  Physically, I still wasn’t sure if my body would ever truly recover from years of pushing it too hard and not adequately nourishing it.  But, I decided I wanted to try anyway, having a Rolfer and biomechanics specialist on my team, working together, to potentially get me running strong again, or at least consistently. If it didn’t work out, then okay.  I was/am happy with myself, coming into my place as a healer, wilderness therapist, explorer, etc. (just a few of the descriptions/labels I’ve chosen for myself at this time).

But then, I fell wrong on my already chronically tender Achilles.  Somehow I managed to run the Run Through Time half marathon in Salida, a course I always wanted to see, without pain during the race.  And then I did’t run for several weeks as the swelling never decreased and the pain stayed consistent.  Then I strained my right calf muscle in May, before getting run over by a moose and acquiring enough muscle damage to take me completely out of running for another 4 weeks.  It is now mid-July and I’ve just started to run again.


Still, I am in a place where I have no idea what my running will look like in a few months.  Mainly, I just want to run because it makes me feel good, and then I don’t have to cycle and walk my dog.  My other dream is to open my own counseling practice in the fall, which I have a bit more control over the outcome.  But really, the key for me here is that I have the ability to dream.  That I can dare to dream, big and small, to pursue those dreams, to maybe reach them, and maybe not.  

Lately, this has gotten me thinking about the “American Dream”, what it meant when the concept was first created, what it means now, and how we would like to define it for future generations. states:

1. the ideal by which equality of opportunity is available to any American, allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved.
“a workaholic lawyer who seems to be living the American dream”
Good start, I thought, until I saw the example, which was more like my typical perspective of the American Dream growing up.
The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States, the set of ideals (democracy, rights, liberty, opportunity and equality) in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, as well as an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers. In the definition of the American Dream by James Truslow Adams in 1931, “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.[1]
(Just acknowledging that this blog post could be much longer if I addressed poverty, privilege, power, etc.)
Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Gone are the days when Americans aspired to own a house with a white picket fence. Some 82 percent of Americans now say their “American Dream” is simply financial security for themselves and their family.
The last quote is more typical of what I grew up to believe, that the American Dream included owning a home, getting married, and having kids.  At 31, I have none of these things, nor am feeling moved to attain any at the moment.  When asked, the Boy responded that it meant doing better than your parents, then working hard so your kids would have better.   As most of you know, financially that is not an easy goal to attain in this day and age, and a source of much stress for just about everyone.  But what if we re-define “better”?
For me, better means that I am not restrained by the confines of a 9-5 job.  That I can play in the mountains and trails weekly, that I have control over my schedule.  That I can dream, work had, maybe fail, and dream again.  That have the right to pursue happiness in a way that makes me happy, similar to the line in the Declaration if Independence.
What I am realizing now that current society has the ability to define their version of the American Dream (though I urge each individual to make their own unique definition).
So what do we want our version to say?
We have plenty to be inspired about too (glass half full readers!).  Most recently, I’ve been fueled by the success of the U.S Women’s Soccer team, winning the FIFA World Cup with chants of “USA, EQUAL PAY!” both at the end of their final match and during their ticker tape parade.  This dream truly started with the 1999 World Cup Women’s Soccer Team, but now we can actually taste the dream coming into fruition. On a more personal level, the Boy inspired me as he pursued his dream to run Badwater 135, a ultramarathon that runs through the heart of Death Valley in the heat of summer to the top of Whitney Portal road…this after being told several years ago that he would never run again.  I could go on and on with stories like this, but they all really come down to one thing: these people had the courage, the daring, to dream.
If we continue with the society’s old ways of defining the American Dream, a long with what it means to be successful, I fear for the health and happiness of young people.  It seems like a perfect concoction for chronic stress and depression.  I could go on, but I’ll limit my words and recommend the book “What Made Maddy Run” for a more detailed example.
This is a call, a dream of mine, to re-define the American Dream.  As described above, my version includes the ability to dare to dream, to succeed and fail, in a way that I chose.  To decide and follow what makes me truly happy.  What is your American Dream, how would you like to define it for our younger generation?
I know this is a stretch, but I’d love to hear your answers in the comment section of this post.
Dream On,
Ray & Pacer
We’ve made it to living in the mountains.  Who knows where else our dreams will take us?

“It’s too much.”: When the World Overwhelms

Do you ever feel like the world is too much to bear?  Like the darkness is going to consume you? That you can’t bear to look at it or think about it because it hurts too much?

This “it’s too much” feeling has happened to me frequently over the past year.  It’s different from my depression years ago, which was more focused on my internal self-loathing.  This is more of an external depression felt internally.  It’s like the pain of the world is an arrow shot straight into my heart.  Hope, the fire in my belly, is nearly extinguished.  My body shakes and my tears water the Earth, or my dog’s coat.  In reflection, I realize my tears are my hope.  My shakes mean I am still moving, and moving means I still have influence.  As long as I don’t freeze (my go-to panic response), there is possibility.

My examples of my “it’s too much” scenarios are plentiful, though they may seem insignificant to a bystander:

  • I am sitting in a dark theater of a film festival.  The movie is portraying a man, a runner, a hunter, who is seemingly connected to the Earth.  He climbs a remote mountain, hunts a mountain goat.  He kills it.  I silently cry in my seat and the tears are pouring, my body trembling.  The boy doesn’t know what to do with me.  I can tell he wants to comfort me but is keeping his fingers crossed that I can continue to muffle my sobs.  You see, mountain goats are beings I am blessed to see perhaps once a year, on sacred days.  The magnificent creatures offer me blessings on my travels.
  • A week later, I am on the bathroom floor crying into a towel.  On the news, I am constantly hearing about immigrant children being torn away from their parents.  Then I look at my computer.  I can’t remember exactly what it was this time, possibly a picture of a mama bear shot in her den with her cubs, or a story of a momma cow chasing after her calves who were put in a truck to go to slaughter.  The tears came instantly.
  • In the spring, I learn my sister’s cancer spread, just when we were getting ready to celebrate the end of her breast cancer treatment.  I hold back my tears at internship, but put them all into Pacer’s fur when I get home.
  • Quietly, I listen to war stories from the boy.  How can people be so cruel?  Another immigrant child died in camp.  A picture of a starving polar bear, then dead whales on a beach with plastic in their bellies.  There’s a school shooting, then another.  Trophy hunters killed an elephant.  A line of dog’s were euthanized because their owners didn’t want them.  The Earth may only have another 12 years until climate change takes over, until the pain is too much for Mother Earth to bear.

I’m drowning.


Even if it is a doggy paddle.

Eventually I come out of the bathroom.  Pacer licks away my tears.  I don’t get rid of the pain, but I keep moving.

I run up the hill, or Pacer pulls me up, and I stare at the snow-capped mountains.  As long as love, like the love between a girl and her dog exists, and as long as the beauty of a sunlit mountain range exists, there’s reason to keep moving.  My tears have only watered the Earth allowing for the summer wildflowers to grow.

Lake Estes with Twin Sisters, Meeker, and Longs Peak in the background.

Martin Prechtel speaks of grief and praise.  The grief is movement.  As long as we allow it to move through us, our praise and love will be our fuel to fight on.

The problem, the dis-ease, as I see it, is that we have numbed ourselves to the pain.  Society appears to be wallowing in a state of depression, with anxiety as its sidekick.  It seems like no once can figure out why, so pills have become our pesticide-ridden fertilizer.

What if we all cried?

I know it hurts, but you must be brave.

Eckhart Tolle speaks of the universal pain body.  I first read about this while on my Rites of Passage trip last year.  He said that women feel more intensely during menstruation, feeling the pain of women around the world.  It’s no wonder that a sensitive soul like me prevented her river from flowing for so long, without any guidance on how to deal with my emotions.  I read about the pain body while naked in a canyon, the womb of Mother Nature.  Finally, deep in the canyon, I felt a truth and a sense of purpose with my pain.  Mixed with it was a call to heal.

But what can a little privileged white girl from Colorado (born in Cleveland, Ohio) do?  (First, I should probably stop talking to myself like that.)  I have a degree in wilderness therapy—does that even mean anything?

To be honest, I’ve always known the answer is “yes.” Yes, there is hope.  Yes to life.  Yes, I have a part in the healing.  Sometimes, it’s just seems safer to feel small.

And I have some idea of the how.  Besides having loved ones close to me, getting outside has not just been fun for me, but a necessary part of my life to rejuvenate and heal my own wounds.  It reminds me that even in the darkest of times, there is beauty in the world.  It’s like adding kindle to my fire, making my energy grow brighter so I can share it with others.


Still, I really wanted specifics.  Yes, I knew I could take clients out in nature.  I knew more and more research is coming out about health benefits of nature.  It was enough and not enough at the same time.

Then came a cold summer day of 50 degrees and constant rain where I had signed up for Wilderness Therapy Un-Conference, dragging myself there only because I had already paid.  By bedtime that night, I was already so cold and wet that I was ready to hike back to my car and leave.  AND my tent was leaking.  This was not the beautiful nature I liked to bask in.  Of course, I survived, like every other person there who was cold and wet.  There’s something to facing adversity in nature too, but I won’t get into that here.  With a break in the rain that morning, I sat down with my group for our first session.  What topic had we decided on? Of course, the stars aligned for me.  Our topic was:  As wilderness helpers/healers, what was our role in healing the planet?  I could go on and on about the insight of my group members, but for now I’ll just list the four steps I came up with during our conversation in how to create healing:

  1. Create love and connection to the Earth. (PLAY*)
  2. Awareness: Education on the state of the Earth
  3. Allow and help people to grieve
  4. Action: Give tools on how to make change (volunteer, recycle, vote, etc.)
*Many people have not grown up in a way that connects them to nature, or their attachment has been severed over the years.  The biggest piece in step one is cultivating joy in nature.

Big but simple, difficult yet doable.

Another flicker of hope.

As I said before, our tears are a necessary part of healing.  Before this year, I thought rain when the sun was shining was a dichotomy.  Now I know they are both necessary parts of a bountiful life.  It is only with the rain and the sun that a rainbow can exist, creating a bridge from what we call the real world to the world of our dreams.

“For the rainbow is perceived as the very edge of the Dreaming, as that place where the invisible, unconscious potentials begin to become visible. “
(Taken from The Spell of the Sensuous)