We Are Not Boulders

agnes-vaille-falls11Every now and then something profound happens that makes you realize how fleeting life can be. Something reminds you how fragile your existence is and sharpens your awareness of the fact that no one is immune to the fatal flaw that is simply being human…

On an ordinary autumn morning, six family members were hiking along an easy trail in the central Colorado Rockies to bear witness to one of the state’s beautiful natural gems waiting for them at the end. It would truly be a breathtaking reward for such a brief mountain stroll. Except that this excursion would ultimately be anything but rewarding.

Carved into the side of towering 14,000 ft. Mount Princeton and surrounded by sheer rocky cliffs, evergreen trees and quivering golden aspen, the ice-cold waters of the AgnesVailleFalls tumble over the rocks thundering and crashing as they emerge from the mountain. Perhaps the recent rains or dramatic changes in temperature had caused the boulders to shift from their perches high above and the giant monoliths began sliding and falling to the observation area at the bottom of the falls… and onto the family watching below.

Of the six hikers, only a 13 year old girl survived. It is indeed moments like these that make us newly aware how quickly life as we know it can change. However, for me personally, this struck on a whole other level. You see, I did not know the family, but I did know the falls. I used to visit them frequently, hiking that very trail many times while living and working just a few miles down the road. It was a place I went to watch for wildlife, or to sit in quiet meditation and write.

I have stood where they stood—where they perished—and looked up in awe and wonder at this towering, rushing spectacle time and time again and marveled at its strength, endurance and majesty. I have climbed up high amidst the boulders to catch a better glimpse of a mountain goat and eaten my lunch surrounded by the rolling mist coming off the water when first it broke over thrusting rocky ledges. And although I thought I appreciated the power of nature and I’d like to think I respected it too, I felt perfectly safe and secure inside my mortal shell.

We human beings have an incredible knack for thinking of ourselves as boulders. We consider our life, our stature, our “situation” to be immovable and permanently grounded… as though life, like water, should flow around us but never actually MOVE us. We think if we root ourselves in the soil of whatever we deem important that everything else will get out of our way. We believe that illness, death, loss and change cannot happen to us.

How humbling it is to be reminded—in times like these—that we are not boulders. We are breakable and fallible and nothing in this life is certain. I don’t know about you, but it is during circumstances like these that I want to hold my loved ones tighter… keep them closer. Watch what I say and how I treat the people who matter most. Enjoy the beauty of a crisp fall day or the musical sound of pure unadulterated laughter. And I want to bask in thankfulness for all that I have experienced and been given. I want to put away the cares and worries of tomorrow… Living only for today.

Written in honor of the Johnson Family of Buena Vista, Colorado. And dedicated to some dear friends of mine who’ve recently found themselves in battle against forces beyond our comprehension.  

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An End to Bad Hair Days?

It seems I spend an exorbitant amount of time messing with and fussing over my hair. And anyone reading this who KNOWS how much energy I waste worrying about my hair can stop laughing now… because I know I’m not alone in this. Any trip to the hair and beauty section of Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Rite Aid or Target will prove that there are huge profits to be made from the paralyzing fear of the infamous and dreaded bad hair day.

It’s too short, too long, too flat, too big, too curly, too straight, too thin, too thick, too coarse, too light, too dark, too gray, too fine, too frizzy or too fried. We’re never happy with the hair we have and all too often we look at the woman next to us and wish we’d be born with HER perfect locks instead of our own. Although I know plenty of my money has contributed to lining the pockets of some stylists, colorists, and product manufacturers… I am trying, these days, to worry less about “bad hair days,” as I was recently reminded of an encounter that I had during college.

During the summers of my college years, I worked on a dude ranch located in the heart of the gorgeous Colorado Rockies. The ranch was situated between two 14,000 ft. peaks at the base of some beautiful white, chalk cliffs. I woke up each day surrounded by blue skies, majestic mountains and a wilderness of evergreen. It was called Deer Valley Ranch and it was a little slice of heaven right here on earth.

Deer Valley drew in guests from all over the world who would come and stay for a week of horseback riding, fly fishing, mountain climbing, whitewater rafting, fantastic, western-style, home-cooked food and fresh air. It was part of our job to interact with them on a regular basis, ensuring that they enjoyed their stay. This was a fairly easy task, given that Deer Valley attracted some wonderful and interesting people. One of the ways we were permitted and encouraged to interact with the guests was to go on horseback rides during our breaks if there was room for an extra rider or two. In an attempt to get the most out of my time in Colorado, this activity was something I took part in as often as I could. The landscape was absolutely breathtaking and conversation with the other riders always came easily.

One particular afternoon ride, I was making conversation with 2 female guests who were friends and who I would guess to be in their early 40’s. They had husbands and children back at the ranch but these ladies were out enjoying some girl time. Inevitably, at some point on the ride—as often happens with women—our discussion led to the topic of hair. My hair was long that summer and I often styled it with large hot rollers every morning in order to give it some much-needed, I-wanna-be-a-cowgirl oomph. And looking back at photographs taken of me during that time in my life, my hair was actually rather pretty. It was shiny, wavy and blonde. HOWEVER, on the ride, during our discussion about HAIR, I began complaining about how much I hated my hair and how today was an especially “bad hair day” because it wouldn’t do what I wanted it to do that morning, blah, blah, blah…

When I was done with my rant, one of the women (who had chestnut-brown hair, cropped  in an adorably-short cut) very kindly and gently shared with me something I have never forgotten. Riding up alongside me she softly, but matter-of-factly said: “Ever since my battle with breast cancer a few years ago… Every day that I have hair on my head, is a good hair day.”

And I swear you could hear the pine needles falling from the trees it became so quiet.

Talk about an awkward silence.

We never stopped our horses. We just kept heading down the trail. And I felt both ashamed and grateful all at the same time. Ashamed I had made such a fuss in front of this woman who knew what it was like to be greeted by the reflection of her bare scalp every morning in the mirror while waging war on a disease that was trying to kill her. Yet grateful to her for gently liberating me from the ridiculous good-hair-day / bad-hair-day world I was living in. So now, whenever I’m in the bathroom, cursing my hair and pounding the brush into the countertop out of frustration… I sometimes hear her quiet words of wisdom: Every day that I have hair on my head, is a good hair day.