Your Life Nature

Connecting You With Nature, No Matter Where Your Feet Are

Category: Blog (Page 1 of 15)

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:

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:

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:


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:


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

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.


Small But Mighty

One of my favorite birds is the black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus). Weighing only 11 to 12 grams, or about the weight of a AAA battery, these non-migratory birds are found from the northern two thirds of the U.S. into Canada and much of Alaska.


Black-capped chickadees are supremely adaptive birds. I’ve witnessed them quietly working the grooves of lodgepole pine trees on minus 40 degree mornings not far from Old Faithful, eating insect larvae or spider eggs they’ve found, or (more likely) stashed there in advance. In winter, they may eat up to 60% of their body weight daily.


On winter nights, black-capped chickadees lower their body temperature to the low 90s from their typical metabolic temperature of 107 degrees Fahrenheit. They also shiver to keep warm, and in brutal cold spells enter a state of torpor to conserve vital energy. Perhaps the expression “tough bird” comes from the black-capped chickadee’s example!


Erik and I enjoy watching them hammering insects on nearby tree branches, or zooming close overhead when we’re lounging in the backyard. What strikes me most is their indomitable spirit; they seem unfazed, upbeat and resourceful, no matter what’s happening in their world.


The black-capped chickadee remains a spiritually and culturally significant to Crow Native Americans, who today mainly reside on or near the Crow Native American Reservation in Montana.


As a youth, the last Crow traditional tribal chief, Plenty Coups (1848-1932), had a vision of a great storm that toppled all but one tree in a vast forest. Perched on the lone surviving tree was a chickadee, long regarded by the Crow people as a good listener and able to adapt to change. As Plenty Coups shared his vision with tribal elders, they interpreted it as a sign that the Crow nation would best survive moving forward by making peace rather than warring with the U.S. government.


By the end of the 19th century, and in less than a few generations, Chief Plenty Coups and his people had shifted from being nomadic buffalo hunters to living a more individualized, agricultural based existence. Today, Chief Plenty Coups State Park near Pryor, Montana chronicles the unimaginably swift changes his people underwent and had to adapt to.


Before he died, Plenty Coups and his wife Strikes the Iron gifted part of their family homestead and farm to the state of Montana as a public park. Today it remains a vital, enduring bridge connecting different generations and cultures, highlighting the importance of building greater understanding, empathy and cooperation between others.


Small but mighty is the chickadee, living amongst and between people who may see and experience the world differently. Yet this bird reminds us we are not all that different from each other deep at heart, that adapting, working and thriving together is healthier, smarter and saner than fueling fear, hatred and division.


Slow Down and Focus, and You Just May Find Your Footing

Erik and I usually pick up the Sunday New York Times about once a month, and it takes us nearly a month to peruse it. Not that we’re slow readers, but we both like to pick up a section when we feel inspired, then it might be several days before we return to read another part.

In the August 23 Sunday edition, one article in particular stood out, “Remembering Katrina, 15 Years Later” by Talmon Joseph Smith. It chronicled how pandemics and other upheavals challenge us to deepen our connectedness and shared responsibility toward the health of the natural world, especially our individual and collective responses to those most impacted by these life-changing events.

My favorite definition for “responsibility” comes from the late Stephen Covey, He re-frames it as “response-ability,” our ability to choose how to respond to something, rather than automatically reacting to a person or event the way we habitually do so. It’s an excellent reminder, especially now, to step back from time to time, view things from a higher, less personal perspective, and consider where we are genuinely coming from in our daily actions and interactions.

What feels overwhelming for many right now is the perception that events and developments are unfolding at a rapid, dizzying pace. But even when the world feels like it’s hurtling at the speed of hyperspace, we can regain our footing by focusing on things that aren’t moving so fast.

A gentle place to start is by focusing on your breath, noticing it steadily rising and falling as you deeply inhale and exhale. Do this for several minutes, a few times a day, especially when you’re feeling disconnected, upset, distracted or overwhelmed. With consistent, focused practice, doing this can help you keep more centered, refreshed and focused throughout the day.

Another route might be to stop and step away from whatever’s happening in the moment. Head outside for several minutes without any technical devices, and stretch and yawn a few times to release any tensions, stresses and challenges. Sense and enjoy the strength, quiet beauty, power and resilience of a towering tree within your view, or of something else in nature that’s not moving at warp-speed. Imagine receiving and embodying the energy the tree exudes, then re-enter your home or workplace, feeling more peaceful and grateful for all that is good in the moment.

Slowing down and re-focusing our attention helps us respond proactively and differently to people and events. But as with anything else we wish to change for the better in our lives, it takes practice to become a more established habit.

Let’s redouble our efforts to be present and focused in the moment, to find more solid footing beneath our feet, wherever we are.

Let’s share our strategies, successes and challenges so others can benefit as well.

Let’s be easy, kind, forgiving and patient toward ourselves and others as we navigate uncharted waters.

Let’s keep showing up and doing our altruistic best, knowing we can emerge from these times with a better future for all with whom we share this planet.

And perhaps most importantly, let’s make sure our own foundation is solid. for that’s from where we relate and create on all levels.

As Tulane University geoscientist Stephen Nelson shared at the end of the New York Times piece on remembering Hurricane Katrina, “You can’t ignore what’s underneath you. Because you’re building everything on top of it.”

Saving Nature, Saving Ourselves

On the surface, you wouldn’t think that Abraham Lincoln was a generally happy man, given all that was on his plate as U.S. president from 1861-65. Yet even in the midst of The Civil War, Lincoln retained a glimmer of hope for the eventual reunification of the United States of America. Lincoln envisioned things that would help heal and bring people back together following the bloody conflict. some of them seeds eventually leading to the birth of our first national parks.

In 1864, Lincoln signed the Yosemite Land Grant into law, the first legislation setting aside land for preservation and the public’s enjoyment and use. It also protected the nearby Mariposa Big Tree Grove of sequoia trees, at that time one of the largest unlogged stands of this species remaining in California.

In the decade following Lincoln’s assassination and The Civil War, President Grant established Yellowstone as the first national park in 1872. Some years later, after the U.S. frontier was officially declared a done deal, Yosemite and neighboring Sequoia national parks were created under President Benjamin Harrison in 1890.

In 1903 President Teddy Roosevelt traveled and camped in Yosemite with conservationist John Muir. They had lengthy spirited conversations about the future importance of America’s remaining wild places as they camped under the stars, and upon Roosevelt’s return to Washington he expanded Yosemite’s boundaries to reflect its current size of over 1100 square miles.

Roosevelt created a slew of new national park and monument designations from 1901 to 1909. Establishment of the National Park Service shortly followed in 1916, creating a federal agency charged with protecting and managing the rapidly growing number of national parks. It was woefully underfunded and understaffed at its inception, and in 2020 the trend continues as the N.P.S. strives to manage and protect a staggering 420 national park units.

Who knows what Abraham Lincoln’s take would be on the state of our union today.

His recognition of nature’s enduring value and power to bring forth the better angels of our human nature inspire me to believe that all is not nor ever lost. Doing what we can today to remain hopeful and continue taking inspired action is most crucial.

When we step back and allow ourselves a more detached view of humanity’s time on earth, we more clearly see how we’ve been continually building upon the efforts and lives of others, many whose names will be forever lost to history and the ages.

Today, we’re also creating stories and legacies for others. I hope future generations will thank us for what we did for the greater good of all, rather than ruing us for allowing selfishness, greed and short-sightedness to trash the planet and their future.

Let’s intensify and redouble our efforts to protect and preserve special places, alongside our air, waters, soil and environment. We are the only species that consciously and unconsciously trashes our planet, whether it’s through environmental destruction, war, violence and other means.

There is no Planet B to move to for anyone- maybe that’s what Lincoln recognized and felt on a palpable level. It’s up to us and our nature to nurture and safeguard this thread, this connection, this fragile miraculous lifeline we maintain with the natural world.

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