Even in harsh conditions, we thrive

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White Sands National Park

Sometimes living in the desert I am struck by how harsh the living conditions are. Just a few miles up the Sandia Mountains on the outskirts of Albuquerque, the landscape is dry and hot, filled with cacti and rattlers. It is not a hike for the faint at heart, or those without water, especially on a hot summer’s day. I’ve also felt this oppressiveness at the Sand Dunes National Monument or at White Sands and even on the mesa near my house. And yet, plants and wildlife thrive in these environments. They have learned how to live and grow in beauty and be strong with the sun and earth conditions.

I’ve been thinking about this recently in terms of humans, and how we also thrive in harsh conditions, and sometimes we struggle to figure out how. A lot has recently been written on how children need grit in order to make it in the world these days. And by grit, researchers mean tenacity or toughness to make it through harsh situations. Other researchers call it resilience. And still others have said that to shelter children from harsh environments means that they will be unequipped to navigate them once they face them as adults.

Sometimes I feel like I shelter my son too much, and other times I worry that he’s so much in the world that he’s completely unsafe. But then, I remember . . . he is part of the world. He is connected to this world, and he interacts with it on his own terms, as a complete human being, whatever his age. I can help him interpret, but I cannot change that fact that he is a complete human and part of this world, a world that is harsh and beautiful. And I try to remember the beautiful part when I help in interpret. But heck, I need help interpreting too, and so I reach to others in the same way. It is always a matter of learning, seeking support and speaking to beauty, not just to harshness. Maybe it is just about always carrying enough water.

I think about the lizards at White Sands, and their feet, shaped to be able to race over the hot sand like tiny potholders protecting their bodies. Most certainly, this is a resilience adaptation for survival in their harsh conditions, a normal way of living for this little reptilian creature. Maybe the thing with humans is, we can’t figure out what’s normal — is it normal to need to live in a diverse community peacefully? or is it a threat? is it normal to  need tenacity in order to navigate unknown? Or maybe it is both? and holding opposites simultaneously in our thinking minds confuses us?

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Lizard hanging out at home in White Sands

If we look around us, the answer seems to inevitably appear. Diversity exists. Opposites exist together in the world all over. Every day and night, again and again. And again and again. Maybe navigating the world means venturing into this diversity, and whether that requires grit, resilience or just plain and simple loving, it has to be.

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The rural urbanite (or urban ruralite), and loving it.

city porchIn the last year I haven’t written on this blog very much. I have been collecting lots of images and stories to post, but my family and I have been gathering our strength (and our belongings) for new adventures that have taken much of our focus, spirit and strength. Transitions are time consuming endeavors. Often exhausting and scary in their unknown beauty. But also just in the sheer number of tasks to get to where we want to go, even under the best of circumstances.

And right now, our adventure is learning to live as a family in two places, in the city and in the country, in one place where we walk to the neighborhood grocery (or Target) and in another place where we “drive into town” to get our groceries. We are learning to live on our own in many ways, and be more independent. It means that I have to do the dishes all the time now, and that Ric has to cook sometimes. I am trying to fill the freezer full of food for him. And I have to do my own laundry too. But it also means other things too, like growing up and appreciating our roles. It means being flexible (oh my god!) and making due. And it means changing (even more OH MY GOD!).

And after a few months, the differences are quite remarkable, and beautiful to say the least. Urban living is glorious in its ease and convenience. A gallon of milk is across the street from me right now as I write, and so are a new pair of blue jeans. And I have bought a couple pair. And even a jog in the neighborhood park where there is no mud and lots of gorgeous grass and picnic tables is right there. People I’ve never seen before are picnicking, playing frisbee, and running their dogs. The sheer beauty and diversity of people everywhere at any point in time is simply lovely. And I am simply one. Beautiful and anonymous as well.

italianos snowAnd at home, in the mountains, I can also run. In the mud, and snow. With a background of magnificent sky, mountain and plains that most people really never imagine. And when I hiked with my husband last weekend, we were alone. Just us and our dog, hip deep in snow for miles, laughing and having the world to ourselves.

These two worlds seem opposing at times. In one I need quiet, and in the other I need diversity, sounds and sights varied and delightful. In one I need space, and in the other I need chaos and busy city noise. And lucky for me, I have both, and can grow full from them both. They seem oppositional, and often in politics they are, but in real life, I think we need them both. I need both. Alone and together.

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Finding a Good Hike for a Good Old Pair of Boots

1Today I went for a mountain hike with my almost sixteen year old son, and our exuberant and lovely dog. We were alone on the trail, and we both spent time reminiscing about all the time we’ve spent on the beautiful Italianos Trail. It was delightful to listen to my son remember his stories — that when he crossed the creek as a child the stones seemed impossibly big and scary to reach across. He remembered feeling sure that he would tumble into the cold water. But today his legs are so much longer, and the stones felt so small. Today, the crossing was so easy. Oh yes, the perspective that age brings.

We also commented on how much he has changed in that last thirteen years, and how the trail has changed so little. The caves are all still intact, the special trees, swimming spots. Yes, so much changes, and so much stays the same. Life is so much that way, and the older we get the more we notice the little things, and the big things. And truly all of it is so much sweeter. If we let it be.

Italianos Trail is familiar. It is like home in the mountains for us. We used to come here when he and his cousin were toddlers. We would bring friends here. I helped him learn how to hike, how to maneuver through the rocks and identify plants, bugs, and learn how to be in the mountains safely on this trail. Noitalianos2w as a teenager, my son is my hiking partner, my equal, stronger than me, with more endurance and strength, but still innocent in so many ways. I so appreciate this transition. He remembers the spot where his cousin fell into the creek, and the place where our friends got stuck in the creek when they were attempting to be adventurous.

Along the way, I realize that while he’s changed, I’m still hiking in the same boots that carried him on my back when he was a baby. He changes at such a fast pace, and I’m slower, in so many ways. He still can kick my butt on the trail. But in terms of self awareness, and shifting perspectives and adapting the changing world, youthfulness simply takes the fast 2lane easier. It is beautiful to watch, and to remember when I was more nimble, my body more flexible, requiring less thought to more through the world.

So I wear the same worn out, comfortable boots that taught him to jump across the creeks. The boots have taken me from my college days, to my son’s birth to his teen years. They have helped me forge new paths, and stay on well beaten ones. They are like good friends.

And as life transitions, we certainly need things that we depend on, even if it is just good old hiking boots.

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Why Dirt Road?

Ric at the summit of Imogene Pass. Telluride, CO
Ric at the summit of Imogene Pass. Telluride, CO

Why Dirt Road Journal?

The short answer is because my family loves to get off road and have an adventure. But there’s a lot more to it too. We are adventurous souls. Being on the road of life pushes boundaries and comfort zones, and adventure makes new rules and breaks old ones. That is is where real living is.

And sometimes, we have no choice, adventure finds us. Life is that way.  It happens, and how we respond to it is our choice. We can engage with courage and a sense of curiosity and self-reliance, or we can sit at the bottom of the mountain and cry at the steepness of the summit. Life is in the climb. Traveling gives us practice climbing. Traveling off road gives us tools and stories, experiences and love for tackling new and unknown life.

Sometimes off road is a new cafe, or a practicing a foreign language, or trying new food. It could be taking a hike for the first time, visiting a world heritage site or sitting in meditation.

Being in those places is sometimes like scare-your-socks-off, and sometimes it is pure and simple beauty that makes you cry. Life is funny and scary and when you’re on off-road, it is also pure. It is the place where my husband is truly himself, and where we work together in pure fun. It is the place where anything pretentious dissipates and where presence is profoundly cultivated. Of course, the 1,000 foot drop on the passenger side is a friendly reminder to stay present.

In the last decade, my family has driven hundreds of back country roads in New Mexico and Colorado. These photos and video (forgive my video-editing skills or lack thereof) give you a small glimpse into one way we cultivate presence and find ourselves through adventure. Most often my husband drives, my son navigates, and I document. We’ve driven the highest roads in the country, and they are magnificent! And we all look at roads like Devil’s Punch Bowl and think, “holy moly, how will we navigate that doozy?”

Yes. Hell yes, we’ve gotten stuck, many times. We’ve had to turn around, and a couple of times we’ve had to ask people for help. But I always think, “well, it is only a days walk to the closest town. That’s do-able if anything were to happen.” And really nothing does. Nothing we haven’t handled at least. One time the car died. One time we flooded the engine driving through water too deep. One time we were stuck in a mud bog. But we’ve always gotten through it, and in the end we have a great story and a satisfying day. Even if my finger nails are gone at the end of it.

Life in general is much the same. Sometimes it can be nail-biting. Sometimes we get stuck, really stuck, and need to ask for help. Sometimes we can recognize that it is a short trip back to “normal” and just go for it.

So this blog…not so much about dragging your truck through the mountains, as expanding your mind and body by traveling to places off your beaten path. Finding your own off-road adventures to open your hearts and mind.

That’s why this is the Dirt Road Journal.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

 

 

 

 

Cultivating presence in DIY

Fence. Completed.

We believe in DIY in our household. There is almost nothing that we can’t do on our own. If we don’t know how to do it, we ask someone for help. That person is usually our neighbor because we all believe that he knows how to do everything. Sometimes we just have to figure it out.

My husband has been known to watch YouTube videos to learn how to fix certain parts (complicated parts like the dashboard) of his car. And then, actually fix it! We have built bathrooms, fences, and chicken coops, dug French drains and re-landscaped every part of our house at one time or another. DIY builds self reliance.

DIY also builds something else, presence. This weekend my husband and I had a marathon work weekend in the yard. We pulled weeds, built two rock walls, spread landscape fabric and hauled gravel. We painted our deck. We pulled more weeds. When I see my husband DIY, I see him in his true element, open, singing, hard-working and happy. I see the stress from his finance industry day job fall away. When he’s enthralled in DIY projects, there is an ease with the process, moving rocks and dirt from one place to another, and trusting the outcome. It is his creative action. It is his art.

That is the beauty of DIY in our household.

Fence. In progress.

Each of us have our niche. My husband will take on any household or car related project he can get his hands on. Going to the dump is as fun as taking apart the BMW. He and my son, with my neighbor, will spend hours on projects. And he has a list long enough to keep them busy for several years to come. The list is constantly shifting and growing based on what breaks, or who finds something too cool to pass up. But there are projects, lots of them, to keep everyone thinking and ending the day with sore muscles, a bit too much sun and a smile.

And me, I bake. Anything I can buy tastes better homemade. Pastries or fig pudding, mayonnaise or marshmallows. The journey of making my own and then sharing it with family and friends is, I think anyway, what truly makes the world go round.

Recently, my neighbor made bacon jam. She has a thing for bacon (don’t we all!) and she’s constantly trying out bacon recipes. Even though the bacon milkshake was not high on our list, she and I love the process of experimenting and perfecting. Me, I’m always in search of the most perfect melt-in-your-mouth cake recipes. But I’ll settle for creating my own recipe for the perfect kale juice or lettuce wrap too. It is a standard joke in my house that we never eat the same thing twice. I always say, there is more deliciousness in eating my new food creations.

In some ways DIY can be brutal. My hamstrings were aching like crazy by Sunday night. And DIY takes time. Sometimes I find myself all tied up in anxiety about how much time a project will take. I have a list of chores and other work that won’t get done because of the project. But 45 minutes into DIY, that list disappears from my mind. There are always chores, and there is always work. And in the end, my aching hamstrings felt so good. It was evidence of my hard work. I felt stronger. I mean, who doesn’t feel strong when they fill wheelbarrows with gravel and haul them around the yard all day! My husband always says that all his body aches and pains feel loosened up after a long DIY weekend. He lets the stress out of his shoulders, and relaxes his gait. DIY helps him become firmly placed in his self again, through the physical work, and he experiences life as it is. That is the beauty of presence.

That presence, whether gained through bacon, pastries or rock walls, makes for a good weekend. A good life. We didn’t finish our project, and my husband noted that there is so much more to do, but we could see the progress. We sat and enjoyed how clean and fresh the deck looked. We also felt satisfied; we savored our work and how it gives us hope. That is all good.

 

Newest rock garden. In progress.
Newest rock garden. In progress.
Homemade Apple Tart
Homemade Apple Tart

 

Snow in a mountain town

WProcessed with Moldivhen it snows, I mean really snows, our little town totally changes. The atmosphere completely shifts. Our town often has an air of depression surrounding it, but when it snows, that lifts immediately and those snowflakes bring in a feeling of celebration that is palpable. For the last week, the snow has heralded a beautiful celebration in our town. People arrive ready to ski. Children and teens take off to the valley, boards and skis in hand ready to catch new powder. My son brags about the runs he and his friends will do before any tourists even get up the lift. I remember what it was like when I first moved here, before the drought really hit hard. I remember what it is like to live in a ski town. The community that happens when it arrives. I remember that I love snow.  The stories that arrive with the headline “massive snowstorm blankets Taos Ski Valley.”

I also remember that I love making soup, warming up my house and snuggling up with a novel. I prefer to ski after the crowds have gone. I finished two novels this week, and to me that is almost heaven. It is worth celebrating the powder in the ski valley — I get to read! I do a bit of celebrating in the snow too — shovel the drive, chase the dog around and build the snow fort, but I also like to take advantage of town closing down. I can truly hibernate for a bit and let myself sneak away into a good book. And that is a change for me.

However we enjoy the weather, inside or out, it is good to recognize the good. The ease at which we move into and through more than a foot of snow (more the three feet in the mountains). It is more deliberate, and joyful. It is more hopeful even. That certainly makes me hope for more snow!