Adventuring with Your Pup

Running with you Pacer/Pup Series

(From an Instagram series for Higher Running)

Running with your dog can add infinite amounts of joy to an already joyous activity.  But there are few more responsibilities and things to consider when running with your favorite pacer.  Here are Coach Ray & Coach Pacer’s top tips!

1.It’s Your Dogs Run/Adventure

 Our number one rule when running with your dog is simple:  It’s your dog’s run.  If your dog isn’t into the run that day, you turn and go home.  If the dog doesn’t want to scramble to the top of the mountain, you turn and go home.  It’s that simple, and probably obvious too.  But sometimes our egos get in the way.  Your job as a human is to rise above that ego (and Instagram photo) and remember how much you love your dog.  

2. Water

Anytime in the summer and anytime you’re on a new route, we recommend you fill up with water.  Anytime Pacer and I run in the desert or canyons, I’m going in with a full hydration reservoir.  In the summer, it can be helpful to look at maps to see if there are creek crossings, but you can’t always trust them.  It’s always good to have a water filter with you too just in case, as you’ll go through water quickly if you’re carrying for two, regardless if your pup finds a stream to jump in.  

3.  Leash

We really love the leash belts.   While not perfect for running form, it’s better than having one arm being pulled out.  If possible, have the belt/leash rest below your waist.  It’s likely not going to stay there, especially if you have a pup like Pacer who’s going to try and fly down hill and pull you like a kite.  In that case, let the leash be a reminder to keep a neutral pelvis.  If you are on a trail that allows off-leash dogs, have full voice command over your dog and you might want to put your dog back on leash if you see a pup with a leash on. For people and dogs who have been chased by dogs before, it can be scary to see an off-leash dog running towards them, no matter how friendly the pup.  If you’re not on an off-leash trail, please respect the rules. They are there for a reason and are really there for the love of all dogs, animals, nature, and people.  Pacer and I live in the mountains, and it always amazes me to see people who let their dogs off-leash when the area is prone to elk, mountain lions, bears, and moose.  

4.  Long mountain adventures with your pup

There is nothing more Pacer and I love than spending a day in the mountains together.   But there is more to think about when heading out.  One thing I’ve learned to always carry with me are dog booties.  If you’re on a mountain that is rocky, I’d put them on early.  I’ve had a hard time forgiving myself for the times one of Pacer’s paw pads ripped and it could have been prevented.  After trying several types of booties over many years, we finally settled on a simple cloth booty, used by mushing dogs.  They are fairly inexpensive and stay on better than the more expensive booties.  For summer mountains, Mountain Ridge has a “tough boots” option made out of a durable fabric.  Last year, I also finally bought a dog rescue harness (Fido Pro Airlift), mainly for peace of mind.  I don’t always take it with us, but truly, it’s better just to be okay with carrying a little extra weight into the mountains.  Finally, if I’m unsure of the route and it’s a big distance, I’ll see if another human friend can go with us.  Last year, on the “Pacer’s Big Day” 14er route (Redcloud, Sunshine, and Handies- 19.6 miles, 7,831ft of gain), “Aunt” Sandi came with us.  Aunt Sandi also always brings extra treats for Pacer, which Pacer says is also important to have on long mountain adventure days.

(We also have a Garmin inReach for additional safety.)

Confidence in the Wild

(I originally shared this on my Instagram page, which is private simply because I’m a mh therapist and am ethically not supposed to have client’s follow me, but my sister asked me to share it. Which, since this blog is also about Pacer, means I follow up this post with my tips for adventuring with your dog.)

At the beginning of summer, I had wanted to do a series for Higher Running on wilderness safety in the backcountry because I’ve heard so many people, especially women, say they want to get out but it feels too scary to go out alone.  For me, that’s really sad to hear…that people who want to aren’t getting out into sacred, healing spaces.

Since I’m just now writing this post in August, I’ll skip the series but highlight a few important things, namely, the role of fear. (Also, TrailSisters.net has a ton of great articles on women’s safety.) First, we’re scared of the wilderness because most of us grew up so disconnected from it. One of the biggest lies we’ve been taught is that nature is something separate from ourselves. From a psychological perspective, fear is located in the primal part of our brain.  Its design is to keep us alive, but it is not meant to keep us from living. When we hear about a person being attacked by a mountain lion, or a woman being assaulted during a trail run or hike, our brains highlights the experience as a way to protect us…which again, isn’t a bad thing. We just don’t want the fear to override our prefrontal cortex (thinking part of the brain) unless we’re truly under attack (which is what the survival response is designed for).  Both of the aforementioned situations are awful and not to be taken lightly (especially female runner’s safety in general), but we’re much less likely to be physically attacked* on the trail than the news and our brains would like us to think. In short, keep that spidey-instinct, just don’t be overrun by fear.  

What does that look like?  Personally, I tend to venture into the mountains with my dog alone quite often.  I do take a tiny drop of fear with me, which helps keep me aware of my surroundings.  That little bit of fear has caused me to educate myself and take safety precautions, like knowing what to do if a moose does charge and buying a Garmin inReach.  My risk tolerance is also relatively low compared to other people I know (I won’t climb on highly exposed routes-without a rope, which I don’t have the skill for- or go into avalanche territory)…and I am 100% okay with that.  But I love going really, really far into remote areas.  Be secure in yourself (not ego-driven) and your decisions.

Here are some general suggestions for increasing your wilderness knowledge and confidence:

– Research what to do if you end up closer to a bear, moose, mountain lion, etc. than you wanted to.  

-Research cloud patterns (bailing on a route is always okay) and what to do if you see lightning.

Take a wilderness first aid course (NOLS has a lot of offerings, especially in Colorado)

-Get out first with people who know what they’re doing (not just runners who like to go light), even if you use a guiding service. (Because I was in the wilderness therapy program at Naropa, most of my professors were also wilderness guides.)

-Buy the safety equipment that makes you feel comfortable (Garmin InReach, bear spray, knife, etc).

-Take baby steps.  A little uncomfortable equals growth, too uncomfortable equals flooded and frozen.  

-There are other things to consider when you’re about to take off for your adventure, but again, I’ll direct you to TrailSisters.net before this post gets any longer.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.” -Hellen Keller

“I will not abandon you.”: Coming back to Myself in the San Juan Mountains

(Note: This is an edited version of my journaling. The other pages were messier and free-flowing, allowing me to move through my anger and fear. While I’m happy to share many of my thoughts, some things are personal and sacred. I also apologize for the going back and forth with tenses. This is a mix of journal entries and reflections.)

Day 1

The San Juan mountains greeted us with clouds, drizzle, and 50 degrees. A comfort. Mother Nature reflecting the emotions living inside my body. A storm of beauty, gratitude, and grief.

“I will not abandon you.” She whispered.

Day 2

The next day, I cried. Balled might be a better word. As in balled my eyes out as I stumbled down an alpine trail.

You see, I don’t just cry. I ugly cry. I could never be an actress daintily crying in a movie, even though tears come easily for me. They always manage to make crying look like such a pretty act. I cry more like the comedian impersonating the actress crying in the movie, wailing, hiccuping, and sniffling.

“I hate having such a big heart.”, I nearly texted a friend before choosing not to.

This happened several times throughout the day. Each time I thought the pain might break me. “How can my 5’4″ frame bear so much hurt? I’m going to be ripped apart.”, I thought. But after a few minutes, I’d feel the space in my chest expand, the pain would settle, and a smudge of clarity would take its place.

**********

After the evenings misadventure that included a failed attempt at backpacking (which turned out to be good luck), a cloud enshrouded us. It felt good to be consumed. The hug I had been wanting. Later it started raining. It was nice knowing that Mother Nature was crying with me. That I wasn’t alone, not with Her and Pacer by my side.

“I will not abandon you.”, we whispered together.

She reminded me not to self abandon. I keep saying this “I will not abandon you” to myself as my body tried to go numb. I so desperately want to, but I was determined to feel. To not abandon myself, my body, or my Inner Child who always felt like her emotions were too big and needed to be hidden. I had learned through my older sister’s passing that I can survive this pain, this “breaking open.”

And as the darkness enveloped, I could rest.

Day 3 (Colorado Trail)

On the 3rd day, I was mostly tearless as long as I was moving. (I had intentionally planned the day to be moving for half, then napping, journaling/writing, and reading in the second half.) Sad, but more hopeful moving through the sacred mountains. There was clarity in the remote space. Thankfully, Mother Nature decided to wait to cry until we were back at camp. There, we cried together. And that crying opened up space within me to write.

I have so many regrets, but I know I was doing the best I could with how my nervous system was reacting. I have to forgive myself. And if this leads to his healing and happiness, I can find joy in my suffering.

And then I got my perfect moment. Pacer and I were napping (well, I was resting while Pacer was on and off snoring) in the car, mostly dry inside, as the rain fell around us and pitter-pattered on the car. Pacer grabbed my hand with her paw.
(I always new if I were going to get married, it would be in the San Juans. -Note: Humor coming back).

Maybe what he had given me was a gift.

I noticed that even though it was still raining, the sky wasn’t that dark.

“…nothing beautiful in the end comes without a measure of some pain, some frustration, som suffering. This the nature of things. This is how our Universe has been made up.” -Archbishop Desmond Tutu (The Book of Joy)

Day 4 (Colorado Trail)

I woke up in the middle of the night trying to get comfortable, frustrated and sad my time in the abyss was being cut short. The stars were out.

Today’s intention: find joy.

(Later) Still no sun, although I see it trying behind the clouds. A little more gratitude. Enough light and joy to feel Amanda again.

It’s funny how both grief and love can feel so all-consuming. Well, maybe love isn’t the right word. Fear-based love. I never understood the “fear God” concept in Catholic school, so its interesting to me to see I’ve still clung to the ideology in adulthood. Can I let it go for good?

Love, while everywhere, is spacious, not confining. Its Mother Nature saying to us humans “Even though you hurt me, I will still give you wildflowers, just as Father Sky presents you with the Perseids meteor shower each August.”

No tears. There hasn’t been thunder in a few days. Still clouds. Yet a clearing. No sun, but stars.

(In my isolation with Pacer, I was also blessed to meet with a friend this day, a kindred spirit. The perfect break in my retreat inside myself.)

Day 5 (Handies Peak)

Sunshine.

The first time we’ve seen it since arriving in the San Juans. A butterfly from my sister. Still clouds, but so much more sun. A friend commented on a picture of me and Pacer on Handies Peak, saying that we/I looked so happy. (Pacer is almost always happy). I reflected: I was. The type of joy that only comes from suffering. After forgiveness, with gratitude and acceptance. Unfiltered light.

While I was never in a labeled relationship, the inherent love was always there, right from the start. It just had no space to grow. Not because we didn’t hold unconditional love for each other, but because we held conditional love for ourselves.

“I will not abandon you.”, I whispered to myself.

****

The most courageous human act is to choose to love again after your heart as been broken.

To live, to truly live, is to have your heart broken. At least once, but often many times. After, it is a natural survival response to guard it. After all, it is the holiest thing we possess. But once we are aware of this mechanism, we have a choice: to put walls up around our hearts, to defend and protect, or to let our hearts be broken open and allow for even more love to be let in.

****

Final reflections:

  • Part of me feels like I have simply repeated another “non” relationship from several years ago. Another part of me realize that I have pulled back yet another layer and met with a deeper truth.
  • A few days, mostly alone in nature can help me feel, explore, and grow more than a few months’ time at home. Somehow, in the arms of Mother Earth, healing is accelerated. I feel closer to Me again. (For me, the San Juan mountains* appear to be my go-to: https://adogandhergirl.com/2019/09/10/heartache-and-healing-in-the-san-juans/) *These mountains played an important role when Pacer and I backpacked the Colorado Trail in 2015 as well.
  • A lot of the pain had to do with the “second arrow“, that voice that asked “why doesn’t he want me?”, that believed I wasn’t enough. Ultimately, stepping into that pain and following the thread of that false belief is what lead to my healing.
  • I have rarely ever felt this close to myself.

One More Night

One more night at my spot in the clouds.
To read, to write.
To wander, to breathe, to be.
And maybe to cry a little too.
Away from it all…
Or maybe I’m in it all?
Alone with my pup.
Here with the pines.
The flowers and the bees.
The snow melt cascading behind.
Mountains surrounding.
What else more?
More complicated, most likely.
Save for the love of family and friends,
My world needs little else.


A Dog and Her Girl: A Love Story

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At least once a week, I’ll cry over Pacer.  The tears are from the purest Love I know.   They symbolize both my deepest gratitude for being blessed to have the best companion I could ever want, and an even deeper grief knowing one day she will most likely leave this Earth before me. (I’ve cried every time I have thought of, written, and edited that line.) The funny thing is that I know she loves me just the same.  She just doesn’t seem to share my sorrow.  It’s like she knows, or at least more truly believes, something I don’t.  Sometimes I swear I can see the Universe through her eyes.  

Pacer close up

One of my only hopes when I leave this world is that I can fully encompass so much Love.  

God is Love.  Dog is Love.  

I am by no means an expert in the history of language, but I can with almost 100% certainty say that it is no coincidence that God spelled backwards is Dog.  If only the religions of the world recognized that, there would be no shortage of compassion.

A little more on our Love story: 

When my then boyfriend and I (we adopted her together) went to pick up Pacer (in Asheboro, NC), I was just about as nervous as I was excited—pretty much how I am going on any mountain adventure.

That little squirt was such a beautiful little determined sass-ball from the start.  She tripped my boyfriend walking up to the car, puked in my lap on the drive home, and had us chasing her around the yard from the start.  

When me and that first boyfriend split (I guess we can call him her Dad), it was never a question of whom she’d go with.  I would’ve stayed in that relationship if I had to, even though we had exhausted all options of working things out.  I’m pretty sure he and I both cried when I left.  Pacer probably licked my tears.  But did she know that we were leaving for good?

Pacer has been with me through several other relationships after that, like the one boy I fell in love with, hard and fast, but between The Pill* that left me with panic attacks, navigating a transition back to being a student, and a whole lot of insecurities, we couldn’t make it work.  I’m not sure how much I cried on mine and Pacer’s trip to Cloud Peak Wilderness in Wyoming (I may have still been in denial), but she remained my constant companion through the very literal highs and lows.  

*I am by no means against The Pill or any other method of birth control.  For me they just didn’t work.  And for any guy reading this, go you for wearing a condom and taking part of the responsibility off your partner. 

Then there was the relationship that ended with a boyfriend coming home drunk and angry, her body under mine in hopes that I could protect her from some of the yelling.  She never judged me for not leaving sooner and instead gave comfort by simply laying next to me (plus some incessant pawing and licking) not as I cried from heartbreak but the absurdity of it all.  Then off to the mountains we went again, seeking healing in the San Juans, her never leaving my side even when not happy with my route decisions.  (She has, however, learned to demand rest days.)

The last boyfriend, whom we both adored, maybe loved, but only Pacer could ever say.  Except my internal warning system has never been able to turn off of high alert from the last one.  I can’t tell you if the system was accurate or faulty, only that when I felt my throat constrict and the weight in my chest that I was already trapped in a mix of fight and flight.  All my body could tell me was enough.  Even on those lonely nights hoping for a text or a “like” on Facebook, Pacer just curled up beside me on the couch (unless she got bored with me ignoring her for the computer, and put herself to bed.) 

True Love is unconditional.  We’ve never needed words because we could always attune to the other’s presence.  Or maybe spirit?  Pacer is my ultimate Love story.  

I laugh because that certainly isn’t to stay our story has been perfect or easy.  I still can’t say I’ve totally forgave myself for some of the training tools (ex. e-collar) I used on her as a puppy (instructed by professionals) or some of the mountains I’ve taken her up when she was clearly not happy with me by the end.  And I can still see her little body running through our old house with the veggie burgers I made for dinner locked in her jaw.  Even more so, Pacer has made my life more challenging.  I can’t be away from home for more than 8 hours (maybe 9, but then I feel guilty), I can’t travel unless Sandi can watch her or I can afford to put her in boarding with a trainer who is used to working with reactive dogs, and I carefully consider each trail we can go on safely.  Then there’s the constant worry.  Like right now, her first few steps on her hind leg are tentative, and then she’s fine.  Should we do an easy hike tomorrow, or should we abandon ship (or rather, our camping trip) and head home?  Nevertheless, all of that is second.  Effortlessly, she slid into my life as my number one priority.  I never regret anything I haven’t been able to do because of her.  Because her laying next to me is worth so much more than anything else.

I probably should add…it’s not to say I don’t love some of the humans in my life to the Nth degree.  It’s just that we humans often come with conditions and stories of what Love should be, which makes it harder.  Pacer just is Love. (At least to those who know her.  For those of who don’t—well my friend told me that Pacer has the bite that I don’t always have when I should.)  Together we just ARE. 

Maybe Pacer, and all dogs, have been put into this world to teach humans what Love is.

In many ways, Pacer and I are wild, stubborn or determined (depending on your perspective), and tamed only in the sense that I am Hers and She is mine.

Love,

A Dog and Her Girl

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Self-Partnered though the Holidays

Recently one of my favorite actresses*, Emma Watson, made headlines as she used the term “self-partnered” rather than single to describe her relationship status.

*Partially for her role as Hermione in Harry Potter, partially because of her activism, and partially because my family says I look like her (!).

Additionally, rapper/singer Lizzo has talked, or rather sung, about being her own soulmate.  There’s been a few haters, but more people have followed up with positive comments on this new terminology.

Truly, I love it so much that I wish I could check off “self-partnered” rather than “single” on my voter registration.  (Or rather for me and in congruence with my website name, the proper term may be dog-partnered.)

But, as Watson alluded to, it takes some work to get from single to self-partnered.

And I’m not quite there yet.

Now before all the haters say “see, I told you it wasn’t possible” let me say that I have identified with the term before.

A few years ago, after my heart was torn from a break-up with a man I was still in love with, I was living with my dog, sister, and her boyfriend in a condo we decided to all rent together to save money.  While I still mostly kept to my own, I had people I loved to briefly chat with throughout the day, often lamenting about the joys and pains of graduate school.  Speaking of grad school, I also had a small cohort/friends of other wilderness therapy students that I interacted with constantly.  For an introvert that thoroughly enjoys alone (aka, a dog and her girl) time, my life was full of social interactions and little time to do nothing, or rather, scroll through social media.  I felt content and fun-filled in my life without being in a romantic relationship.

Which brings me to the “work in progress” part now.

For one, my private counseling practice has been taking some time to get going, and my run coaching career is work-from-home, so I’m not spending a lot of time in social environments (though I am currently typing away at the library).  I live in a smallish mountain town, so finding friends is a bit of a challenge.  However, I have made a few friends recently, and that’s added a lot of joy to my life.  I also have a few core friends, though they’re spread out.  Still, our get togethers and chats are a valuable pieces of my well-being.  Additionally, my last break-up came with some small-t trauma, and I’m still processing the pain/confusion of the relationship. I have had some extra alone time lately.

The funny thing is, I rarely feeling lonely.  At this time of the season, I’m pretty happy snuggling with my dog and watching holiday movies (favorite: Elf).  And I’ve made sure to partake in my favorite holiday traditions and activities: my yearly November trip to Salida with my sister, her boyfriend, and Pacer to see “S” Mountain lit up like a Christmas tree, the tree lighting ceremony in my town, and the weird but wonderful holiday parade in the town down the canyon.  There’s been a few times I wished for a Hallmark* style romance in these situations (I’m not going to get into Hallmark movies right now…I find them predictably comforting…and I am sticking to my story for now!).  Additionally, unlike the previous year I’m grateful that I could enjoy the latter two events without an argument with the ex-boy.

If I could point to any other culprit that I would say is preventing me from fully claiming the “self-partnered” status, I’d blame the time I spend on social media.  A lot of my friends would laugh at this as I don’t even have a smart phone, but again, I work from home on my computer.  And then I’ll check social media at night, scroll through the feed, rather than diving into the book next to me.  There’s quite a bit of research out there on social media and loneliness, and as person who also happens to be a therapist, I can attest.  Temporarily de-activating my Facebook account may be something I try in 2020, while I consider getting a smart phone.  The benefits are getting lost less on camping trips as well as getting work done while on camping trips (with an re-active dog, its hard to find a coffee shop I can sit in and leave her the car, especially when it’s warm out), but I’m fearful of a further social media addiction.

As a therapist, I know that humans are wired for connections.  I know the goal is not dependence, independence, but interdependence.  And I know that being surrounded by people you love, but not romantically in-love with, is the key to being happily self-partnered…and happy when you do have a romantic partner!

With that, here are my tips for being happily self-partnered through the holidays:

-Spend time with friends/family weekly, especially one some evenings.

-Partake in all the holiday traditions and activities you enjoy, whether it is by yourself or with a friend.

-When you do settle down for that holiday movie, place your computer somewhere far away from you.  Commit to watching the whole movie without checking your social media.  (If you can ditch social media more than that, awesome, but I’m going to take baby steps.)

-When you are not listening to holiday music, put on some Lizzo!

“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.” – Hamilton Wright Mabie

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*Due to Hallmark’s ad pull, I’ve made the switch to Ion, Lifetime, Netflix Christmas movies, Elf, and traditional Christmas movies.

**I’m undecided if I’ll go back to watching Hallmark this Christmas…Hallmark reverses decision.

Fall Evenings at the Cafe

It’s mid October.

Fall is quickly changing to winter here in the mountains.

Dusk comes early.

The trees stand nearly bare.

I can track my dog in the backyard just listening to her paws crunch the leaves.

I’ve taken shelter and a quaint cafe this afternoon.  I am the last customer inhabiting the upstairs loft.

On my left I have a view of the town park and I watch people in sweaters and boots holding hands as they walk past.

In front of me is contrast.  One tree bare, already strung with Christmas lights.  Then a yellow-orange Aspen beside a dark green pine.  The, far in the background, the foreboding and enticing Long’s Peak.

The cafe is closing soon.

Almost time for me to put on my hat.  I’ll stroll back to my car, welcoming the dark and finding comfort in the crisp air.

At home, I’ll give my four-legged fluffball a hug and belly-rub before we settle down for the night, buried under blankets and watching Netflix.

The wind will most likely howl and beat against the windows, but we will feel safe.  The wind only means change is coming, most likely snow.

I’ll say goodnight to the sky, kiss my dog’s wet nose one more time, and bury myself under the covers.  My hibernation won’t be very long, but I relax knowing I’ll awake to another day of Harvest.

It was a pleasant café, warm and clean and friendly, and I hung up my old waterproof on the coat rack to dry and put my worn and weathered felt hat on the rack above the bench and ordered a café au lait. The waiter brought it and I took out a notebook from the pocket of the coat and a pencil and started to write…” -Ernest Hemingway (quote on the wall at Inkwell & Brew)

Lessons from the Aspen Grove

When I worked at an addiction treatment center next to the forest, our spiritual advisor would take the clients to an Aspen grove next to the center.  When the spiritual advisor left, I followed in his footsteps.  We told the clients that the Aspen grove, the hundreds of trees in front of us, were one organism. Underground, they were connected, firmly rooted because of how they intertwined with one another.  That way, when 2013 flood swept past, or when harsh mountain wind blew through, the trees remained upright.

I told them this with fervor, as I knew that at the heart of addiction was disconnection.  Many of the clients had already begun to learn this, as in group they let their guards down, shared their stories, and made deep friendships.  Within days, I could often see a shift in the clients, a glow, like those of Aspens in the fall.

I told this story again to my mother, just a few weeks ago, at her first chemo appointment.

Just the week before, she called me on a Wednesday evening to give me the news “I have cancer.”

She told me not to worry.  That she was tough and going to be fine.  She had the same doctors as my older sister (still going through her own cancer treatment), and they were going to take an even more aggressive route.  She told me not to come home, to continue my work in Colorado.

Two days later I learned from my older sister that my mom was in surgery to have her port put in, a small device put under the skin to make to make blood draws and infusions easier during chemo.  My older sister and my step dad went to her first chemo treatment, which my mom was upset about.  She wanted to go alone.  Not to be an inconvenience to others and their “busy” schedules.  It wasn’t until almost a month later that I found out it was stage 3.

But when your family, both in blood and deep friendship, schedules and to-do list don’t matter.

My mom’s stoicism didn’t stop my from collapsing to the floor in pain and tears minutes after we hung up, with my dog rushing over to me to lick the salt off my cheeks.

It didn’t stop me from feeling anger, sadness, and confusion.

As I gave myself the space to feel all of my emotions, I came to a few realizations.

The first being that this storyline, the storyline of “I have this problem, but it’s not for you to worry about” has shaped my own beliefs growing up.  When I felt sad, so sad that I wanted to claw my way out of my body and escape to somewhere, anywhere else, that I wasn’t enough to share how I felt.  It was my burden to bear.  Alone.  Even after the depression passed, a fierce independence took over.  It’s taken me years to learn to lean on others, like a fallen tree resting on its neighbors.  Still, I have to fight the urge to just collapse.

Second, I remembered the message of the trees.

Even more amazing than hundred plus trees in one Aspen grove being one organism, they are connected even more intimately through a fungal network.  This network not only allows the trees to send vital nutrients to each other, but also communicate.  If there is concern about disease or insect infestations spreading, the trees will send out distress signals to each other, allowing the others to alter their behavior.  And if a mother tree is felled, the surrounding trees may continue to send her nutrients, keeping her roots alive.

Humans have created this world wide web in our own way through technology.  But I suspect there is a deeper form of connection between loved ones, one that may not be visible to the untrained eye (trees also send out chemical, hormonal, and electrical signals).

I can’t say with certainty that without my phone I could have picked up on the distress of my family hundreds of miles away from me.  What I do know is that I feel better when I am in the loop, and even better when I can offer some form of help, be it a card or flying back to Ohio to provide company.

When I told my mom about the trees, I went on to say that because all the trees are connected, one’s challenge is not just theirs alone, but shared among the group.  My analogy, trying to tell my mom that we were all in this together.  She wasn’t a burden but an opportunity for our family and friends to come together and find strength.

She said she understood, but I’m not sure she felt my words.  Maybe I said too much.  I don’t know.

When I got the original call from my mom telling me she had cancer, I texted my sisters (after I picked myself up off the floor).  I told them that I never wanted us to keep things from each other, good or bad, that we never had to “go at it alone.”  When they both texted back “agreed”, I felt we solidified a pact.  We were in this life together, for reasons both known and unbeknownst to us, tied together by cell phone signals and invisible visceral strings of love.  My heart felt a bit lighter, like an Aspen leaf held up by the wind.

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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.

Love,

Ray & Pacer

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(Photo credit for above pic to Peter Maksimow.)

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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.