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.

 

Why are People Trashing Our National Parks?: A Wilderness Therapist’s Theory

While the government closure goes on into it’s 4th week, the once protected National Parks are left vulnerable without rangers, volunteers, and respectful citizens to protect them.  Like many of my Facebook friends, I’ve been both angrily and sadly watching my feed with updates on more news of parks getting trashed, human waste building up, and even trees being cut down.  Why, why is this happening?  What would make a human so lazy as not pack out their trash, or be so motivated to take a saw into the park and cut down it’s historic trees?

Over the past few years, I’ve been observing and studying what I have dubbed “Mother Nature Attachment Theory.”  This is based on human attachment theory that, in short,  states our earliest relationships to our caregivers affects how we attach, securely or insecurely, in our other relationships throughout life.  In other words, if you have a negative relationship with your mother, or maybe she was never there, or sometimes there, or was always there looking at you for comfort rather than vice versa, then as adult you might either embody these same characteristics or go overboard in the opposite direction.  The underlying feeling left is often one of fear or distrust. (That’s just a brief summary of attachment theory).

(Cuyahoga Valley National Park)

In my own Mother Nature Attachment Theory, I see this in a similar way.  If a child doesn’t grow up spending time outside, climbing trees, building forts with sticks, then the child didn’t grow up with an attachment to Nature.  Or, maybe the child was told “don’t get dirty”, “it’s not safe out there”, and handed an iPad to keep busy, then the child grew up without trusting Nature, and an insecurity to it.  Then, there might be the child who was given a dirt bike before ever taking a hike in the woods, never recycled, or grew up with the perspective from parents that we must dominate Nature.  Again, this kind of relationship creates another form of insecurity.  These types of attachment to Mother Nature create not only a fear but both a disconnection to the land and to the self, for all of us who have grown up with a secure attachment to Nature knows that we are all connected.

If you didn’t grow up with the view that nature is an abstract object, then leaving a wrapper behind is no big deal.  If you grew up fearing nature or with the a privileged view of separate equals better than, than the damage of cutting down a tree might not be worth a second thought.  Actually, those acts might be your way of trying to cope from that missing connection with the Earth.  Temporarily, it might make you feel better.

The sad thing is for the people who grew up with an insecure attachment to Mother Nature is that their outward destruction usually reflects their own inward pain.  While I’ve only been interning as a therapist at a substance abuse center for 6 months now, I’ve clearly witnessed the turmoil many of our clients face from growing up with an insecure attachment to their early caregivers.  Most of them self-destruct with drugs and alcohol, don’t trust others, and don’t trust the world.  It’s a tough, unbearable way to live.  While I’m still angry at the people trashing our National Parks, I can find a little sympathy and sadness for them because I have a sense of what they’re lacking.  Having lived several year’s by Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park and now next to Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Parks, I have re-gained a sense of wonder and awe, felt at home, found my Higher Power, and cried in the beauty mountain shadows.  Just thinking of my life without Nature leaves me feeling like I have void centered in my chest.

Rocky Mountain National Park

If your feeling sad or angry about the state of our National Parks, that is actually a positive feeling.   It shows your love and secure attachment to Mother Nature, and a justifiable angst that She is not being respected or taken care of.  These feelings can either eat at us, or motivate us to do something.  What can we do?  For those of us who don’t live by National Parks* and can’t inform visitors or trail or park etiquette at this time (which may be dangerous and I don’t necessarily suggest) or clean up like this little boy, we can support our National Parks with donations, visit them the next time we are on vacation, and speak with our actions by recycling and trying to reduce of consumption of heavily packed products.  We can also get to the heart of the matter by encouraging others to have a secure attachment with Mother Nature.  If we have or work with children it’s a bit easier.  We can encourage kids to get dirty, to sit outside when they need to calm down or had a bad day, or make comparisons like “wow, that flower needs food and water just like I do!”.  It’s a bit trickier with adults, and we already know preaching usually doesn’t work, but we can sneak in comments, maybe at work, such as “Whew! I had a really tough day.  I need to make sure I get outside for a run today.” or “I had a great weekend hiking with my family.  I feel so much more energized now.”  We can also use our actions like recycling or bringing in re-usable silverware to eat lunch with.  If you have time, I suggest volunteering for your local or National Park a few times a year too.

I’m also going to keep praying to my Higher Power, Mother Nature, that the parks re-open ASAP.  And when they do, profusely thank the rangers for all that they do.  I’m going to count my lucky stars (which, by the way, are amazing living right next to a National Park) that I”m blessed enough to live in the mountains and that I grew up with parents who allowed me to play in the mud and build tree forts.  Last, I’n going to try to send a little love to those who haven’t been as blessed, as angry as I am by their actions, because I know what they are doing on the outside is a mirror of what is going on inside.

*While I live right next to Rocky Mountain National Park, I’m very fortunate to not have witnessed any damage from my outings, which may speak to the community of Estes Park whose residents see themselves as the parks caregivers.

**I have to add this Rich Roll podcast with Zach Bush, MD of Food Independence & Planetary Revolution because it is relevant, both from a scientific and spiritual standpoint.

The Wander Years

5/29/2018

This is another throw-back post from my old blog, several years old.  While my writing has changed (and hopefully gotten a bit better), the message is still powerful and I’m amazed at the wisdom I had in my early 20s.  Looking back at this now, one of the great part is that I have had the chance to study what I call “the wander years”.  Common terminology calls this the liminal phase, or the phase between who a person once was and who they are becoming.  In case you want more, I did add my academic response to a discussion forum on this topic below. 

The Wander Years
I am in the middle of a forest. The trees are thick with a vibrant shade of green, but peaks of sunshine still manage to seep through. Purple, pink, and orange flowers line the either side of the trail. To the east I can hear the gentle babble of the sparkling blue river I just crossed. To the west, large purple mountains clash with the clouds, dotting an azure sky. When people talk about things being beautiful, a day being perfect, this is surely what they mean.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to fully appreciate all the natural wonders around me. I’ve gone mile without picking my head up.The constant chatter in my head blocks out the chirping birds, the light wind brushing the leaves, and even the crunch of my footsteps on the soft dirt trail scattered with twigs. My vision is skewed, not because of a lost contact, but because I am too busy searching for another trail.
I passed another trail a few miles back heading towards the south, and another a few miles before that heading toward the east. Neither felt quite right, so I kept going. Now I am second guessing that decision. I know there are a few more side trails coming up ahead, but will they lead me in the right direction? Where am I going anyway? I think I am…
Lost.
Well, maybe no quite lost.
I am….Wandering.

 

The term “wander” probably best explains the past 2 years of my life. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it means to:
1a : to move about without a fixed course, aim, or goal
b : to go idly about
2: to follow a winding course
3a : to go astray (as from a course) : stray <wandered away from the group>
b : to go astray morally : err
c : to lose normal mental contact : stray in thought <his mind wandered>

Aside from 3b, I’d say, yes, that is about right.
After college, I thought I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. How quickly that all became blurry. For starters, things happened that I couldn’t have predicted. Then I began to learn more, read more, and do different things. My thinking began to change. This took effect on the ideas I had for myself and my future.
Many times, I became frustrated. I knew I was on this Earth for a purpose, but what the heck was it!? Too many times, I let my frustration turn into disappointment, bringing me to tears. Running was not the answer, nor were the two jobs I tried out. Life satisfaction was a far off concept for me.
So, I wandered. And I’m still wandering. But I think I’m getting closer to that one path, that one trail that was meant for me and me alone.
Funny thing is, I’m getting there because of all the things I’ve learned along the way in these past two years. I’ve learned I hate driving an hour to work, in a busy and crowded city. I also hate dressing up and wearing heals. On the other hand, working with kids in an unstructured environment isn’t for me either.
I’ve learned people can’t read my mind. Sometimes, I just need to say how I feel, even if that’s not that natural thing for me to do. Communication is key.
I’ve learned to be me, and I’ve learned what I value. I like to be warm, happy, and well fed…but I don’t need a whole lot. I don’t really like BIG things, just small, simple things…and things that are as eco-friendly as possible.
I’ve learned I love running…but not when it becomes my forefront. Then it becomes work, and with that comes unnecessary pressure. I like running for its serenity, and how it enhances who I am.
I’ve re-learned what my values and my morals are.
The list goes on and on.
All these things have helped shape who I am, and expanded my horizons.
If only I would have slowed down, picked my head up, and enjoyed the views along the way…
Yes, I was wandering. But, as it turns out, wandering is what I needed to do. I may have gotten a few bumps and bruises along the way, but my wandering wasn’t really such a bad thing after all.
I haven’t done too much research on the subject, but I don’t think I’m alone in my experience of these “wander years”. Actually, I think the majority of the population goes through the same thing. Usually though, it’s given a negative connotation.
For adults, it’s most often known as a mid-life crisis. For teens and young adults, they’re either lazy or “dreamers” who need to come back to “real world”.
There are the exceptions of course…
There are the child prodigies and young entrepreneurs, some millionaires before they reach adulthood, who know exactly what they are born to do. Then there are those who have a calling so strong that they know, even when still playing in a sandbox, that they were meant to lead, preach, or heal.
It’s hard not to be jealous.
But truth be told, we are all meant to be on this earth for some reason, and most of us have to do quite a bit of digging to get there. And that’s okay! Because it is when we wander that we make mistakes, fall, and learn. It’s a time of exploration, self-discovery, and beauty…if only we take the time to pick our heads up and enjoy it.
[Again, it’s unfortunate that our society looks down on wanderers, instead forcing many people to take on jobs that they really don’t enjoy (yes, you can find meaning in those jobs too, you can find mean in your life in anything you do, but that’s another blog!). Recently, I listened to an audio CD, “Thrive” that listed Copenhagen, Germany as one of the world’s happiest places. A huge reason for this is because people have the freedom to try different job without fear of debt or others opinions – the sacrifice is that the majority of a person’s income goes to taxes, but hey, who cares if your happy!]
My hope in writing this blog is to encourage others to embrace their “wander years” because they are important parts of our lives. It takes a lot of trust in oneself, and maybe a Higher Calling, but there is no point in worrying or getting down on yourself in these years. Our wander years having meaning and purpose, whether they are spent exploring the mountains or working at a restaurant just to get by. As long as we don’t give up and believe in ourselves, we will all find the direction we are supposed to be traveling in and reach our destinations…or destinies.

So wander on my friends, and enjoy the adventure.

Image may contain: Ray Nypaver, smiling, mountain, sky, outdoor and nature
We wandered A LOT during our 2017 trip to Montana.

From February 2018:

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

“Not all who wander are lost” is a line from one of my favorite poems by J.R.R. Tolkien* from his Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  It’s become a common bumper sticker (or in my case, a car air freshener that lost its smell long, long ago), but it has always held great meaning for me.  I was able to put words to that meaning as I read the assigned readings for the week.  Bridges (2004) calls the gap between one life phase and the next the neutral zone, while Stein (1987) describes the phase of a person’s internal structures from a former identity being dissolved and new structures constellated as the liminal phase.  Personally, I can going to call this “the wandering phase”, a phase that seems aimless at first, as if one is lost in the woods at night, grasping for direction by the light of the moon, and finally begins to find purpose at the approach of sunrise.

Further building upon the work of Bridges (2004) when he describes surrender as a time when “one must give into the emptiness and stop struggling to escape it” (p.140), I liken it to the hiker who must give into the darkness, make camp, and wait until morning to find help, also acknowledging that help may come in many different ways.  Four pages later, Bridges speaks of the “wilderness”, which he reveals in Hebrew also means “sanctuary”. To extend this analogy (or truth?) one more step and call upon the work of Brene Brown when she says “there are times when standing alone feels too hard, too scary, and we’ll doubt our ability to make our way through the uncertainty…this is when you reach deep into your wild heart and remind yourself “I am the wilderness””. In that sense, we are both our own wilderness and our own sanctuary.  The gap between phase of one’s life is not an abstract place, but a place when one needs to go inside oneself and seek one’s own truth.

The Hine (1987) reading reminded me of my own ceremony during a transitional phase in my life a year ago, though at the time I did not call it such.  It was just something that I felt called to do, which, when reading, alleviated my anxiety in being creative enough to create a ritual.  During this time, I was doing my best to surrender my identity as an competitive athlete.  In the year and a half previous to my ceremony, lots of tears, frustration, and anger ensued. Finally, after a lot of praying, journalist, and soul searching, I was able to begin to let go. I wrote a letter to my “old legs” and then, on Christmas Eve at dusk, I buried the letter into one of my favorite trees in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  This ceremony, like the ones described by Hines (1987) helped me to begin to find gratitude for my past self and embrace who I was, and still am, becoming.

 

References

Bridges, W. (2004). Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Hine, V. (1987). Self-created ceremonies of passage. In Mahdi, L. M., Foster, S., & Little, M., Betwixt & Between: Patterns of masculine and feminine initiation (pp. 304-326). La Salle, IL: Open Court Publishing Company.

Stein, J. O., & Stein, M. (1987). Psychotherapy, initiation and the midlife transition. In Mahdi, L. M., Foster, S., & Little, M., Betwixt & Between: Patterns of masculine and feminine initiation (pp. 287-301). La Salle, IL: Open Court Publishing Company.

https://themarblejar.com/products/i-am-the-wilderness-print

*

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes, a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king -J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring