Your Life Nature

Connecting You With Nature, No Matter Where Your Feet Are

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Happy 150th Birthday, Yellowstone!

 

March 1 marks Yellowstone National Park’s 150th birthday.

Yellowstone was established in 1872, when President Grant signed legislation to “…set apart a certain tract of land lying near the headwaters of the Yellowstone River as a public park…”

For the park’s first several decades, the human footprint here remained fairly light, given the region’s remoteness and severe climate, and the need for people to be self- sufficient in their travels.

By 1915, automobiles had replaced traveling by horse and buggy, allowing increasingly larger numbers of motorists eager to explore the wonders of this and other western U.S. parks. In 2021, Yellowstone drew 4.86 million visitors, an increase of over 1 million from 2020!

“For the benefit and the enjoyment of the people” are the welcoming words inscribed on the Roosevelt Arch greeting visitors to Yellowstone’s North Entrance in Gardiner, Montana. In 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt happened to be visiting the region, mainly to hunt outside the national park with a few friends, it seems. He was invited to speak and lay the cornerstone in Gardiner, and his name has been associated with the arch ever since.

A future president spent time in the park as well, 23-year-old Gerald R. Ford, who worked as a seasonal ranger in the Canyon Area in 1936. One of Ford’s many wide-ranging duties that summer was serving as an armed guard on a “bear-feeding” truck!

Yellowstone and other national parks prohibited feeding bears around 1970, illustrating a different course we’ve been charting to become better stewards of wild places as our knowledge and attitudes change about their value and purpose.

Even today, Yellowstone is amazingly intact and untrammeled, nearly 3500 square miles in size, and the wild beating heart of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Home to nearly all the predator and prey species inhabiting the area two centuries ago, it’s a place vast enough where people witness large scale ecological processes such as predator-prey dynamics, fire cycles, and the dynamic presence of 10,000 plus thermal features fueled by a continental volcanic hot spot, subsurface magma chambers, and other contributors.

Over the years, we’ve also made discoveries and unlocked mysteries likely unimaginable to the park’s earliest founders, protectors, and visitors.

In 1969, Dr. Thomas Brock discovered an extremophile, Thermus aquaticus, in one of Yellowstone’s thermal areas. Turns out that this particular bacterial organism possesses some surprisingly heat stable proteins, one of which is Taq DNA polymerase. This protein has been responsible for numerous breakthroughs in the study of human genetics, as it has allowed for rapid gene sequencing under high temperatures through a process known as PCR, or polymerase chain reaction.

Much of what we do today regarding genetic testing for diseases and cancers, rapid HIV, Covid and other testing, and forensics stems from the discovery of this thermophile. Scientists are also using chemical and temperature signatures of different Yellowstone thermal features to look for early signs of life in this and other solar systems; other organisms have applications for de-icing highways, removing barnacles and other impediments to shipping worldwide, and yet others are being studied for their potential cancer fighting properties.

It’s estimated that we have only looked at less than one percent of Yellowstone’s thermal communities in any detail!

What else remains to be discovered and learned in Yellowstone and other protected areas?

We can only imagine, but there are vast frontiers waiting to be explored by today’s youth and future generations if we do our best to preserve and care for everything we have in Yellowstone, and beyond.

So Happy 150th Birthday on March 1, Yellowstone, and may you always live long and prosper!

Wanted: All Hands On Deck

 

“We just need more hands.”

Katharine Hayhoe

 

“It’s a magnificent thing to be alive in a moment that matters so much,” Texas Tech University climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe shared in a recent interview and article featured in National Geographic magazine.

It certainly is a roller coaster time to be alive, as nearly everyone and everything on our home planet struggles with myriad challenges and changes magnified by what humanity has thrown at it over the years.

We sense, feel and know on a palpable level that things can be better, but paths and trails leading from where we are to the place we’re envisioning remain about as clear as mud. For many people, heightened uncertainty and feeling unmoored from familiar landmarks leads to even greater struggle, apathy, and despair, and more short-sighted, self-centered behavior.

Yet that’s not really who we are as human beings at our best, but how can we move from feeling stuck to taking action?

A few suggestions…

Delve into the wellspring of gumption and wisdom of previous generations who worked together to overcome serious challenges they faced in their lifetimes.

Let’s also get out of the way and make room at the table for younger generations worldwide to co-create their collective vision of a more just, inclusive and sustainable planet. As Albert Einstein observed, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”

During the first half of the 20th century, my late parents’ and grandparents’ generation navigated a decade-plus long economic depression. As teenagers and young adults, my mom and dad lived through a brutal, all-consuming second world war persisting for four years in terms of direct U.S. involvement, and for nearly six years in much of the world. My dad was just 17 when we learned that one of his older brothers had been killed in Belgium in late 1944.

The present moment calls us to join together, to change, adapt, and live in greater harmony with our environment and each other.

This has never been an easy feat to accomplish in any era, yet the arrival of 2022 presents us with a fresh opportunity to review our past so we may create a better today and future.

It’s a welcome time to acknowledge what’s working and not working well, to make necessary changes, and take action to move to where you intend to be.

It’s also worth reflecting upon times you successfully made significant changes in your life in response to challenges, and how you transformed into opportunities what first might have been perceived as obstacles, dead ends, roadblocks or setbacks.

Life always finds a way. And so must we.

Inspirational stories abound of ordinary human beings who’ve found a way to move forward and make the world a better place for all, so find a few good reads to help you stay laser focused on what’s possible instead of what’s wrong.

I may be going out on a limb here, but perhaps what these people have all had in common is a resilient, inexhaustible reservoir of hope, no matter what.

As Jane Goodall shared: “I do have reasons for hope: our clever brains, the resilience of nature, the indomitable human spirit, and above all, the commitment of young people when they’re empowered to take action.”

Young, old, or in between, let’s all keep taking inspired, hopeful action to make our surroundings and world a better place, no matter where our feet are.

 

 

 

Be Thankful For What You’ve Got

“Be Thankful for What You Got” is a song I remember well from the mid-1970s, when I was growing up in the suburbs of Richmond, Virginia.

 

The song still evokes a deep upwelling of awe and gratitude, as the pandemic and other roller coasters continually reconfigure what we once called “normal” in our everyday lives.

 

Celebrating my youngest niece’s wedding on the Outer Banks last month was a indelible gift, highlight and special occasion for everyone there in person and in spirit. Friends and family members who hadn’t seen each other for some time gathered to celebrate Peyton and Preston’s union, and bless the beginning of their new life chapter and journey together.

 

I’ve also been thankful for this autumn’s peace, calm and quiet. Since October, we’ve alternated between warm spells (in the 40s F, sunny and calm winds as we might define it in Montana) and freeze/thaw cycles accompanied by rain, snow, ice and graupel. It’s been a blessing not to be breathing the persistent, pervasive wildfire smoke countless people endured from July into September, and welcoming snow and colder temperatures in early December as well.

 

I am grateful for community on so many levels.

 

The kindness of strangers at busy traffic intersections and supermarket checkout lines, and the pure joy I witnessed a few weeks ago outside the Missoula County Courthouse, where good Samaritans distributed winter clothing and other necessities to people in need ahead of Montana’s longest season. The hushed excited whispering of a boy to his mother as they walked past a man with a snowy white beard in downtown Missoula: “Was that Santa Claus?”

 

I am also thankful for the beauty, magic, inspiration and bounty of the natural world, and the gifts that it freely bestows when we take time to stop, slow down, listen and receive what it freely has to share.

 

I am especially thankful for Erik, our friends, our blended and extended families, and our semi-sweet cat Ren. For people worldwide engaged in the cooperative, brave and bold work required to build healthy, sustainable, just and equitable communities.

 

For everyone we haven’t been able to see and hang out with the past two years, please know that Erik and I have been thinking about you and wishing you well during this time. We’re looking forward to catching up on the other side of the pandemic, and there will certainly be much to catch up about.

 

In the meantime, here’s wishing you a wonderful, peaceful and enjoyable holiday and soon to be winter season, and thanks for being part of a community that cares deeply about everyone and everything with whom we share this planet!

 

 

Keeping (Your) Cool This Summer

The Northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest have endured record-breaking heat since late June, and starting this coming weekend, many places will see temperatures soaring into the upper 90s and beyond again.

Many in the region live without air conditioning; normally we navigate hot days by opening doors and windows in the evening to to let cooler air flow in. This heat wave has been especially brutal for the elderly and the very young, along with homeless people, those living in poverty, and people living with respiratory conditions. In parts of British Columbia, Canada most impacted by the heat, the death rate was nearly triple the daily provincial average during the last week of June.

One of my favorite all time sayings is “This too, shall pass.” and I look forward to the return of cooler days that don’t throttle the kale, tomatoes, bee balm, milk weed, other things growing in our garden and ourselves this season. I look forward to not sheltering in the basement late afternoon into early evening, when downstairs it’s below 70, upstairs we’re in the mid 80s, and outside it’s nearly 100 degrees F.

Yet silver linings, life lessons and gifts of wisdom accompany challenging times, no matter where our feet are. Here at home in Missoula, the unrelenting early heat has jolted us into slowing way down, focusing on what’s truly most important, and postponing some projects and activities until cooler weather returns.

Erik and I are checking in on our kitty Ren more often, and have her inside most of the day. We keep her indoor and outdoor water bowls filled, and touch base with family and next door neighbors to see if they need help navigating the hot weather.

We’re watering our outdoor plants, flowers, vegetables and trees more frequently, especially early mornings and at dusk to allow for better saturation. We’re monitoring and watering our indoor plants more often, as they can get mighty parched, too!

For the most part, we’re using our stovetop only to boil water for morning coffee. We’re enjoying cold salads, sandwiches, and chilled seasonal fruit including cherries, raspberries and cantaloupes. We’re  content preparing chicken, fish and veggies on our backyard grill, then dining in lawn chairs parked strategically in the shade, with Ren prowling or snoozing nearby.

What has this lengthy stretch of scorching hot weather showed us?

Especially when it’s extremely hot, cold, smoky or otherwise unhealthy to be moving at your usual speed of life, remember that it’s alright to do less, shake things up, and postpone doing things. As and after things change (and change again) it’s worth considering whether certain habits, patterns, routines and activities remain important or are no longer worth doing, and that is alright as well.

Let summer be your muse and inspiration, whether it’s 100 degrees or a balmy day with billowy cumulus clouds drifting dreamily above. Adjust your work and other routines accordingly. Get up early and enjoy the quiet, cooler time of day where birdsong prevails over human sounds. Watch for bats and nighthawks flitting about at dusk, while noticing the stars, planets and the moon emerge in the night sky.

Nature continually shows us how to live in balance and harmony with our surroundings, and summer is an especially ripe season to spend time with friends, family, colleagues, and also alone. Don’t let the heat get you down-find ways to improvise, adapt and adjust, and eventually this season too shall pass.

Here’s wishing you all a safe, fun and relaxing summer, no matter what’s happening weather wise. Here’s also wishing you the ability to keep cool, slow down and do what it takes to enjoy rather than endure this fleeting, abundant season!

 

Craters of the Moon, and Moose!

About a five-hour drive from Yellowstone’s Old Faithful geyser is Craters of the Moon National Monument in central Idaho.

If you’re out West enjoying Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, I highly recommend visiting Craters of the Moon. It’s uncrowded and peaceful, night skies are brilliant, and the monument is even home to moose (and excellent cross-country skiing) in winter!

The geologic landscape here is fairly young compared to other areas nearby. Some basaltic lava flows are a mere 2,000 years old. The extent of this and older volcanic activity abruptly ends to the north of the 750,000 acre monument, where foothills climb rapidly toward the Pioneer Mountains and other ranges.

Volcanic activity here is dormant, not extinct, at the moment. In geologic terms, it could be a short period of time (or maybe not) before things “wake up” again, creating the next generation of new lava flows, lava tubes, caves and charred “lava trees.”

Craters of the Moon sits at an average elevation of 5900 feet. When Erik and I were there for four days in early May, it was windy most afternoons, but things calmed down by nightfall. We enjoyed clear starry night skies rivaling those of Bryce and Grand Canyon, followed by frosty mornings that warmed up very quickly.

We also brought plenty of water (and refilled our containers at the visitor center water filling station), as the National Park Service cuts off the campground water from mid-September to late May to avoid pipes freezing and bursting.

Craters of the Moon’s official website posts updates, alerts and more information pertaining to visiting, but it’s always a good idea to bring ample water along wherever you’re traveling in the Intermountain West.

A seven-mile loop drive leads to some of the area’s most accessible geologic attractions, including short walks to the Devil’s Garden, Inferno Cone, Spatter Cone, and the aptly named Snow Cone. The loop drive also doubles as a popular cross-country skiing and snowshoeing route, usually from late November to early April. Craters of the Moon receives close to 90 inches of snow annually, more than twice what our home city of Missoula, Montana gets.

Outside of winter time, there’s little standing surface water here. During spring and summer, many plants compress their growth stages into a few weeks’ time to take advantage of available moisture. During our visit, Erik and I were surprised to see prominent signs warning people to keep a healthy distance from moose. We asked an interpretive ranger about this, who explained that deep mountain snows force moose to lower elevations to browse limber pine tree needles and other vegetation during winter. Perhaps the national monument should be called “Craters of the Moose” instead!

Seriously, though, be careful and never approach moose, which also live throughout Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Weighing up to 1000 pounds and standing 6 1/2 feet tall at the shoulder, moose are formidable, unpredictable and wild. Keep at least 25 yards away from them, and even more so if there are calves present.

Other mammals such as mule deer, rabbits and pikas also live here, as do many bird species including kestrels, ravens, great horned owls, towhees, Clark’s nutcrackers, and Townsend’s solitaires.

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is about six hours by car from Missoula. It’s about three and a half hours from Grand Teton National Park and Jackson, Wyoming, and Yellowstone’s west entrance at West Yellowstone, Montana.

If you’re looking for solitude and no crowds, only about 200,000 people explore the monument and preserve every year, a fraction of the millions that visit Yellowstone and Grand Teton!

 

You Will Grow From This

I recently reconnected with a long-time friend whom I first met in Costa Rica in the 1990s. We worked together at a bilingual, environmental education focused school in a remote rural setting, a place that challenged me to stretch beyond my perceived skill set, embrace previously untested strengths, and step more courageously and confidently into leadership positions.

My work and life experience there magnified the importance of personal integrity, along with articulating and advocating for what was right and best for students, teachers, parents and the community at large. Innumerable growing pains accompanied our efforts helping this fledgling grade school succeed, and I was proud of the considerable progress we achieved toward making this endeavor a reality.

“You will grow from this,” my friend commented at the end of a recent phone call. Her encouraging words continue to have a profound impact, prodding me to revisit how I’ve grown and changed recently, revealing greater clarity as to where I am today, and what I might become moving forward.

On one level, it’s been mighty hard these last few years, having lost both my parents, a longtime childhood friend, and other people we have cared about and loved.

We’ve witnessed firsthand a palpable diminishment in the mobility and independence of other people we know. We realize that although this can be a hard part and stage of life for many, it can also be lived with grace, dignity, appreciation and a healthy dose of irreverent humor!

And then of course there’s been Covid-19. Its deadly capacity for disruption has battered so many things we hold near and dear. It has continually challenged people to isolate, go within, and do their best to heal; hopefully we’ll emerge from our chrysalises more resilient and confident in the present, while building toward a brighter future.

On another level, these times reflect how perceived hardships have actually helped me change, grow and become a better person, despite all that has happened and is happening. I have learned to tap more deeply into my strengths to serve and support others in more accessible, positively life-changing ways. I have more clearly identified where I struggle most, and would greatly benefit by doing things differently.

One area is not giving up when the going gets challenging.

I’ve re-framed this into a positive personal mantra moving forward: “You can handle this.”

Another insight is that finishing things generates momentum, greater confidence and energy to tackle new and different challenges.

I’ve also re-framed this challenge into a positive personal mantra moving forward: “You will grow from this.”

On a global level, it’s invaluable to acknowledge that as human beings, we are so much more (and greater) than our problems and challenges.

Don’t let problems and challenges define You.

Remember that You can handle this.

Know that You will grow from this.

No matter what’s happening in your world, keep taking action, keep showing up, and stay open to different ways to continually keep moving forward. Embrace, welcome, envision and trust rapid change, growth and transformation.

And no matter where your feet are, identify which personal strengths have supported and helped you push through in life. Lean and tap into your strengths.

Spending time in nature provides invaluable support as well, helping us notice more clearly what’s going on in our lives, and what we may need to do (or not do) to make desired changes.

Consistent nature connection helps reveal what’s most important in life, at times gifting us with insights, epiphanies and other personal life-changing discoveries.

So spend more time immersed in nature, by yourself and with others. Notice and observe what stands out for you. Whenever you make time for consistent nature connection, you’re creating boundless opportunities to grow, thrive and prosper.

 

 

Get Away In Nature This Year, Part Two!

Following up on my February 1 blog post, which highlights tours I’m scheduled to lead with Off the Beaten Path, here are some more upcoming travel adventures to consider for a nature escape in 2021!

First off are two tours I am slated to guide in 2021 with Smithsonian Journeys:

Pueblo Culture and History Mesa Verde, Chaco Culture, Canyon de Chelly, and Pueblo of Acoma are some of the significant Southwestern sites we visit on this epic eight-day adventure.

The tour starts in Durango, Colorado and ends in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Hikes and walks are rated easy to moderate with at times uneven, unpaved and rocky trails, many of them occurring at higher elevation.

I am slated to guide with and support Smithsonian Journeys expert John Ninnemann for the May 15-22 and October 9-16, 2021 departures. John and I have a long history working together on many national parks departures over the years!

More Info: https://www.smithsonianjourneys.org/tours/pueblo-culture-and-history/term-and-conditions/

P.S. If you want to read an outstanding book about the Southwest, grab a copy of Blood and Thunder: The  Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West by Hampton Sides.

 

Next is a tour I am slated to guide in 2021 with NatGeo Expeditions:

Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion National Parks visits some of the most treasured, iconic places in the national parks system.

Enjoy less traveled trails along the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, explore Zion’s towering colorful sandstone canyons, and cap it off in stunning Bryce Canyon, home to hoodoos, pinnacles, and exceptionally clear night skies when the weather cooperates.

This eight day, seven night tour starts and ends in St. George, Utah and is rated as light to moderate.

I am slated to guide with and support NatGeo expert Jeremy Schmidt for the June 5-12, 2021 departure. Jeremy and I also have a long history guiding together on this and many other national parks adventures over the years!

More Info:  https://www.nationalgeographic.com/expeditions/destinations/north-america/land/bryce-zion-grand-canyon-tour/

Get Away In Nature This Year!

Nearly everyone has spent the past year close to home, sheltering in place, practicing social distancing, and awaiting arrival of a viable Covid-19 vaccine.

Now that the end of the pandemic is potentially within sight, many of us are ready for rejuvenating travel with friends and loved ones to some of America’s most beautiful natural settings.

I invite you to travel on an upcoming tour I am slated to be guiding, dependent on the number of passengers booking a given tour.

These departures are all with Off The Beaten Path, a company I’ve been guiding with since 2007.  Tours generally have one guide for up to eight passengers, and a second guide is brought on for up to 16 passengers.

 

Here’s the skinny on “OBP” trips I’m slated to guide in 2021:

Classic Canyon Medley highlights some of the U.S. Southwest’s most iconic places, including Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon South Rim, a mellow river float on the Colorado downstream from Page, Arizona, and relaxing, rejuvenating time exploring Zion National Park.

This tour starts and ends in Las Vegas and is rated as active and easy.

I am slated to be Guide 1 for both the April 11-17 and October 17-23 departures.

More info: https://www.offthebeatenpath.com/trips/classic-canyon-medley/

 

Exploring Glacier National Park kicks off with a Class II/III white water rafting excursion just outside the national park before settling in to Lake McDonald Lodge for two nights.

We journey over Going-To-The-Sun Road and enjoy mountain hiking near Logan Pass, and enjoy boat rides across Swiftcurrent and Josephine Lakes to access the Grinnell Glacier Trailhead. We also stay two nights at historic Many Glacier Lodge on Glacier National Park’s east side, an indelibly scenic base camp for more wildlife watching and hiking adventures.

The tour starts and ends in Whitefish, Montana and is rated as active and amibitous.

I am slated to be Guide 1 for the August 23-28 departure and Guide 2 for the July 26-31 departure.

More info: https://www.offthebeatenpath.com/trips/exploring-glacier-national-park/

 

P.S. Travel within your own group bubble in 2021. Customize one of these or other OBP tours with me as your guide-contact me at  https://yourlifenature.com/contact/

I’d be happy to make an introduction with OBP’s travel planning team to explore available dates and help make that happen.

P.P.S.  Be sure to check back this week for blog postings listing departures I’m slated to lead with other travel companies, too!

 

 

 

Welcome Winter, and 2021, Too!

On December 14, 2020 I welcomed the changing of the seasons and shared a relaxing meditation welcoming winter with the Dunrovin Ranch cybercommunity.

Dunrovin Ranch in Lolo, Montana plays a vital role in connecting an increasing number of people with nature through both in-person and on-line programming.

Dunrovin’s mission to build stronger connections with nature and community has never seemed more important than now, given the uncertainty ongoing political upheavals and related unrest have generated, and an unbridled pandemic now raging in its eleventh month in the U.S.

In my 20-minute chat (recorded nearly three weeks before the events of January 6), I touch on myriad issues and challenges we’re continuing to deal with today.

I also share an uplifting, upbeat meditation helping listeners connect and ground with earth as we move more solidly, courageously and confidently into 2021.

The meditation starts at about the 8:30 mark in the broadcast and ends at about 15:00 if you want to cut right to the chase, but I encourage you to watch the entire segment if you have time to do so.

Dunrovin Ranch owner SuzAnne Miller has graciously given me permission to share this with everyone, so feel free to share and forward this video link with other nature lovers as you like!

P.S. Consider joining the Dunrovin Ranch community for “Monday Socials” with free live programming from sun up to sundown every Monday.  You can also connect with everyone via the Dunrovin Ranch and Dunrovin Birds pages on Facebook.

 

 

 

Persevering, Pandemic Style

“Pandemic fatigue” seems as viral and widespread as Covid-19, belying the fact that the pandemic is far from over, and it may still be several months before effective vaccines become widely available.

With fall’s (and soon winter’s) arrival, many of us are back indoors for longer periods of time now, still maintaining social distance, sheltering in place, and taking other measures to keep ourselves and loved ones safe and healthy.

It’s been a long haul and it ain’t over yet, so how do we keep our spirits, hearts and mindsets strong and resilient in such times?

In her article “Strengthen Mental Stamina Like the Pros,” New York Times writer Talya Minsberg shares that

“The drive to persevere is something some are born with, but it’s also a muscle everyone can learn to flex. In a way, everyone has become an endurance athlete of sorts during this pandemic, running a race with no finish line that daily tests the limits of their exhaustion…Some of the world’s best athletes shared what they do when they think they’d reached their last straw. How do they not only endure, but thrive in daily challenges?…One message they all had: You are stronger than you think you are, and everyone is able to adapt in ways they didn’t think possible.”

One person Minsberg interviewed was Dr. Carla Meijen, a sports psychologist and senior lecturer at St. Mary’s University in London. “A lot of it comes down to pacing, ” Meijen said. “When we think about the coronavirus, we are in it for the long run; so how do you pace yourself?”

Honoring effective routines, being pro-active, and valuing processes over results helps boost our mental stamina and ability to thrive, noted Meijen. None of us really know when the pandemic will finally be behind us, but we do have power and control over our daily habits.

And we usually do this best when we take life, and each moment, one day at a time, while balancing and honoring our needs for rest, relaxation, recharging, and exercise.

Setting mini goals, creating structure, and focusing on something new were other time tested strategies endurance athletes recommended when interviewed for this article. Together with pacing yourself, they immeasurably help strengthen the capacity to persevere, and stay positive in the face of adversity.

“You are stronger than you think you are” is powerful encouragement for navigating the storms of life, continually helping us endure, adapt and thrive, no matter where our feet are on this human journey.

In the meantime, hang in there and keep the faith, remembering that indeed this too shall eventually pass.

 

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