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.  

Deep Freeze

ice-crystals
Like armies taking to the fields in battle, the ice marched steadily onward. Starting at the edges and meeting in the middle, its frozen grip grew briskly downward crystallizing all movement and solidifying that which was fluid mere hours ago.

Once again I stand in awe of nature and the uncanny way it has of taking over. It gains control of everything without ever having checked with us.

So too, life goes on without regard for our plans, our ideas, our dreams, our schemes. Time advances on us, like a freeze to unsuspecting open water, and we have no choice but to withdraw… to surrender… to survive… and to wait.

We wait—with overwhelming anticipation—for the sweet, sweet mercy of the thaw.

Belonging

three swansThree white swans inhabit the waters of the quarry stretching beneath and beyond my new office window. The other morning, the aqua expanse awash in the warm, bright sunlight of a new day, I watched the trio glide across the water just as they did the very first time I saw them.

They swim in a unique formation and always the same. Two of them remain close together while one trails slightly behind. They are graceful and lovely and a welcome distraction from the busy computer screens blinking and beeping at me with email and meeting alerts for the majority of the day.

Normally, I would think very little of the fact that there are only three. But a co-worker pointed out to me that a year ago there were four. Two pairs, consistently swimming together and doing whatever it is swans do. Over the course of time, however, the group had lost a member.

For an animal lover like me, it’s sad enough as it is without the regard for one important detail… Apparently swans mate for life. And this was a tiny bit of avian intel that I did not know. It wasn’t just that the “group” had lost a member, but one of these creatures—the one who trails roughly a swan’s length behind—had lost its partner for life.

For some reason that I can’t quite put my finger on, I’ve found myself obsessed with them. I look for them every day, hoping they will grace me with their silent presence. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that one of them has lost its partner, often causing me to wonder if perhaps he or she is sorrowful or lonely? Or whether or not it’s the fascinating fact that the other pair allows the lone swan to remain a part of the group? But something about this unconventional bird bunch intrigues and inspires me.

Such has been my preoccupation with them that I have tried to figure out the source of my quite-possibly-borderline-unusual curiosity. And I think (after some excessive reflection) I’ve nailed it down. I think it’s because the behavior is so human. Their bond reminds me so much of us with our innate desire to connect with others and to forge relationships that will stand the test of time.

The mating for life thing is cool… Don’t get me wrong. I know there are a lot of critters in nature who do this. But I think what has captivated me most is how consistently they stick together. The three of them… The odd number of them.

I don’t know about you, but I take great comfort in knowing that the need to belong stretches far beyond me… far beyond my peers, family, friends and fellow human beings… and farther still beyond the edges of the quarry outside my window… and infinitely beyond any of the natural world that I can touch, feel and see.

Ode to Springtime

Say what you will about the sorry state of our Union … but some things just don’t seem to matter quite as much when spring is in the air. We tend not to concern ourselves with things like the upcoming election, the economy, our current unemployment rate or the soaring price of fuel.

Yes… when spring has sprung, there is very little that can get us down…

It is light outside when we drive to work and when we return home. Daffodils seemingly pop up overnight, dotting the landscape. Gardens are planted. Lawnmowers and laughter can be heard throughout neighborhoods everywhere.

Crisp, white lines appear on baseball diamonds across America as the Boys of Summer begin their recreational reign. Birdsong fills the air. Windows are opened up, rolled down or taken out and replaced with screens… allowing the fresh air to push away the last stale remnants of winter.

It is also during this magically transformational time of year that the SAME birds who sing to you each morning whilst you rub the sleep from your weary, little eyes… also fly overhead and unleash a torrent of crap on your newly washed car.

Spiders, centipedes and other unidentifiable creepy-crawlies from the pits of hell appear as if out of nowhere scaring the $#@! out of you, making you reach for the nearest can of Raid or Aqua Net—whichever is closest.

As trees and flowers and other living things burst to life… your eyes water and sting while you sneeze uncontrollably as though having a grand mal seizure.

The ground thaws and frequent rain waters the thirsty earth while flooding your basement and turning your driveway into Monster Truck Mud-Fest 2012.

The weather warms and grows psychotic causing you to leave the house dressed in a snappy tank-top-turtleneck-wool-sweater combo, carrying an umbrella, sunglasses, gloves and scarf, rain boots, bottle of iced-tea, flip-flops, thermos of coffee, an ice-scraper and a bottle of SPF 30.

A sudden abundance of sunshine pours obscene amounts of sunlight through your dirt-brown window panes revealing how truly filthy your house is after you and your family have been trapped inside of it for 5 months straight.

The snow and ice melt away revealing dozens (if not hundreds) of dead twigs and clumps of leaves that have been deposited all over your rain gutters, flower beds and patio furniture.

The climbing mercury propels you to rummage through boxes of spring and summer apparel—and as though trapped in a nightmare from which you cannot awake—you and everyone else is forced to see your thighs for the very FIRST time since Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day and the pizza, brat and beer fest that is March Madness.

Ahhhh Springtime… We are oh SO happy to see you again!

The Itsy-Bitsy Spider

I saw a little black spider in the corner of the ceiling while in the shower this morning and even though I knew it would mean a slow, torturous death for the miniature monster… I also knew it that only one of us was going to survive this shower. It was either him or me. So naturally I chose me… and I drowned him.

Poor little guy. Here it is… finally, mercifully springtime and he crawls out of his tiny crevice either from wintering or simply because he was just born and he starts to build his first delicate web of the season… when all of the sudden some crabby bitch with a personal vendetta against all eight-legged creatures as well as the state of wakefulness in general has to come along and cut his life short.

And let me tell you that the shower isn’t exactly the easiest place to commit murder. Though it IS the cleanest. The problem with the shower is that said method of execution HAS to be what I like to call death by “splash drowning.” I call it “splash drowning” because one must repeatedly throw cups-full of water onto the offending beast and their fragile, new structure until they tumble from whence they came. 

Yes, death via splash drowning is far, far worse and deeply cruel compared to “direct drowning” in say, like… a sink or a toilet, because it is MUCH slower and the spider thinks for a bit that he actually has a chance of surviving this terrifying ordeal.

He’ll try to outrun the waves that continue to crash rhythmically upon him and he’ll do so successfully… for a bit… until, when out of sheer exhaustion, he’ll be spent. He’ll have nothing left and be forced to succumb to his fate, riding the river of death straight down the shower wall, across the floor of the tub… slipping anonymously and unceremoniously into his watery grave.

Now, you might ask: Did you, at any time, feel badly about torturing one of God’s creatures who was merely minding his own business, doing what he was designed to do by choosing your shower corner in which to innocently emerge from winter and spin his little web?

Well… I guess you could say that I did feel an itsy-bitsy amount of guilt and sadness as I watched him rushing helplessly “into the light”… until he got caught on one of the anti-slip treads on the bottom of the tub… and I gave him a swift, wet kick… right down the drain.

The Encore

I smelled Fall today. I think there are finally enough leaves on the ground that you can actually begin to smell them. You know, like when you were a kid and you raked them and raked them into huge, heaping piles and then dove head-long into them! You would plunge right into the center of that crispy-sweet, earthy scent. There is nothing else like it. It is in the air for just a few weeks… fleeting but heavenly. This is my favorite time of year.

Summer seems to yield to Fall so suddenly. One week you’re wearing shorts and flip-flops and the next you’re reaching into the back of the closet for that favorite sweatshirt. Bare feet search for fuzzy socks and slippers. Windows are opened at night and an extra blanket tossed on the bed. Shadows from the trees lay longer and longer across remnants of green grass… stretching for the last few drops of sunshine before the cold renders them silent. Darkness comes sooner than the night before.

With the glorious colors of the season I have searched and searched for the right words to describe this unique and transformational time of year. But nothing I come up with seems to do it justice. They say a picture is worth a thousand words… and that statement could not be more true of autumn. I guess that’s why—over the years—I’ve turned the camera’s lens to capture so many images of the brilliant leaves when the late afternoon sun is dancing on them. Words simply aren’t sufficient.

Though finally one day it came to me. I believe “encore” to be an appropriate word… if there is one. The dictionary defines encore as: an additional performance in response to the demand of an audience.

If we are the audience… and Spring, with it’s debut of flowers and tender new buds, is the Opening Act, and Summer, with it’s long days and warm nights is the Main Performance… then Fall must be the Encore. The verdant reign of Summer ends in one big blaze of glory. One final number before the white curtain of Winter falls.

I Hate Camping

I remember the day with startling clarity. It was the day that I finally accepted my disdain for camping. I was in the mountains of New Mexico, gazing out across a picturesque valley with a deep blue lake surrounded by lush pine. The water was sparkling in the sun like a thousand white diamonds while a cool breeze caressed my face… and I was elbow-deep in nasty, tepid, grey water… washing dishes.

“I think I hate camping.” I said to my friend who was sunning herself on a nearby picnic table. Now, to convey the actual weight of this statement coming out of my mouth you must understand something. My ex and I owned a camper. A REAL camper, loaded down with all of the trappings for camp life… from the fireside cookware to the pump-it-yourself travel toilet (which never got used anyway because no one wanted to clean it). And the friend that I was speaking to was one-half of the couple that we always camped with.

“Seriously?” she asked me. “You don’t like camping!?” Her voice raised an octave and cracked as though I had just confided in her that I was, in reality, a Russian spy working undercover in America’s desert southwest.

“Yes. Yes I do.” I said matter-of-factly with a growing air of confidence. “I mean, look at us. We are on VA-CA-TION (said extra slowly and loudly for maximum emphasis and effect). We took actual time off from work to come all the way up here, set up camp, don filthy flannel and sport greasy hair only to do DISHES in nasty water, sit in the dirt and stare at one another. IT’S WORK. It’s all work (again with the slow yelling for effect). And I can be doing this WORK at home. Except that at least there I have hot running water and an actual toilet that flushes and clean, soft things in which to wear, sit and sleep on!”

She sat on the picnic table staring at me in utter shock and disbelief while I poured out my dirty little confession. I didn’t care if she disagreed. I didn’t care if I offended her. It was my moment. My epiphany. WHY must I love camping? Who decided that humans should just LUUUUUUUV camping? Because it sure as hell seems like everybody does. Or at least that’s what they tell you. It’s what they want you to believe so that you will think they’re this outdoorsy, tree-hugging, adventurous individual capable of just “goin’ with the flow” and bein’ “one” with nature… Well, it’s a load of crap. And if they think it, they should just admit it. Like I did on that day.

It was a thing of beauty I tell you. Making peace with the fact that I did NOT enjoy this thing that I was supposed to enjoy and not being afraid to say so.

So today, for anyone reading this, I’m going on public record and proclaiming that I DON’T LIKE CAMPING!!! Why should I set up an entire HOME outdoors when I already have one indoors? Why should I wash my dishes in gross, tepid water, carry a damp roll of toilet paper under one arm and a shovel under the other while trotting off to the bushes to “do my business,” sleep downhill with my head or other critical body parts on a rock (when tent camping at least), schlup around camp all dirty and smelly with nappy hair and covered in scratches and bruises from aforementioned bush-peeing or rock-sleeping? Hmmmm?

I love to do all SORTS of outdoorsy things. Fishing, hiking, mountain climbing, whitewater rafting, horseback riding, SCUBA diving… the list goes on. In fact I’ll try just about anything… once. But when I am done with my adventure for the day, I want to order dinner from a menu and for someone else to set said dinner on a warm plate in front me. I want to sleep in a fresh bed surrounded by endless, fluffly layers of down-filled goodness. I want a hot shower and clean underwear. I don’t think this is too much to ask.

In one way or another, if you are going away somewhere, camping or otherwise, you are most likely taking time off from work, packing your things, and spending money. Therefore, why shouldn’t my precious time and money be spent paying SOMEONE ELSE to do the dishes?