Your Life Nature

Connecting You With Nature, No Matter Where Your Feet Are

Category: Blog (page 2 of 13)

Living in Times of Rapid Change

Uncertainty and overwhelm can be unruly beasts, prowling the perimeters of our lives, seizing unguarded moments to grab us by the jugular, suffocating our ability to focus, prioritize, and take decisive action.

Their unrelenting presence can wear us down and out, falling prey to believing things are moving way too fast, there’s far too much to do, that we don’t even know where and how to get started.

Yet when these things happen, as they do for all of us at times, it’s crucial to stop or pause what we are doing, and step outside. Just beyond our work and living places, nature’s rhythms await, illuminating how we can navigate more confidently and compassionately in the “real world” as well.

First, find a calmer, quieter place and space where you can relax for several minutes.

Put your mobile and other electronic devices on silent or vibrate mode.

Know that there is only this moment and this moment is perfect as it is.

Take several large in and out breaths and feel your feet connecting firmly with the earth.

Feel the earth’s energy flowing through your feet, steadily filling up your entire body with light, calm, peace, calm, trust and clear purpose.

Take several large in and out breaths as you imagine this calming, revitalizing energy accompanying you throughout the day, at work, at home, wherever your feet may be.

Know that you are already doing enough. You are enough.

Allow inspired thoughts to guide your next steps and actions upon returning indoors.

In A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle encourages us to “Realize that your entire life journey consists of the step you are taking at this moment. There is always only this one step, and so you give it your fullest attention…When you become comfortable with uncertainty, infinite possibilities open up in your life.”

Sure, we’re living in a crazy, uncertain time of rapid global transformation, but in the end we can only be responsible for transforming ourselves. As we do that on a personal level, we inspire systems and organizations experiencing chaos and upheaval to move in the same direction.

By being alive, by being human and by being loving, compassionate and present you are already making a huge difference.

And that is enough.

When you first notice uncertainty and overwhelm encircling your thoughts, emotions, feelings and actions, do your best to deter these beasts from becoming powerful saboteurs in your life.

Think of them as willful, spirited teachers, reminding you to return to your true self and essence.

To step back, to reframe, to recalibrate.

To illuminate the path of progress, not perfection.

To remind you to reach out, encourage and uplift others experiencing overwhelm and uncertainty in their lives.

And that is enough.

Happy Birthday, Yellowstone!

Yellowstone will celebrate its 146th birthday as a national park on Thursday March 1. It’s still remarkable that Congress and President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872 established the world’s first national park at a time when the American West and its original inhabitants were rapidly being subdued, and seemingly every acre of land in the region was slated for settlement and development by newcomers.

In Yellowstone, perhaps for the first time as Americans, we courageously chose stewardship and restraint over conquest and extraction when it came to how we viewed and valued land. This decision has since inspired the U.S. and other nations over the years to set aside more areas worthy of protection and preservation, and today nearly 100 countries have national parks. With a continually burgeoning world population living in urban and suburban areas, though, it’s important to set aside even more of our remaining wild places for current and future generations.

We shall see if that indeed happens. Current leadership for the most part seems to be indifferent at best and rather hostile at worst when it comes to fully funding and protecting our bountiful yet precarious natural heritage. Please let your elected representatives know how vital this matter is to you, and to a healthier future.

Yellowstone and other remaining wild places, regardless of their protected or unprotected status, are not sacrifice zones. They are where we all came from and where we all belong. They belong to all of us and to future generations.

It’s our responsibility to be wise, forward-thinking stewards of these places rather than acquiesce to a powerful few intent on plundering them for short-term profit and personal gain, leaving damaged, severed landscapes in their wake for everyone else to pay for and live with.

We cannot afford to let that happen.

We can all do better. Our ability to live and thrive as part of rather than apart from nature hangs in the balance.

As Henry David Thoreau reminded people years before Yellowstone entered our national consciousness, “The earth I tread on is not a dead, inert mass. It is a body, has a spirit, is organic, and fluid to the influence of its spirit, and to whatever particle of that spirit is in me.”

America’s Best Idea, and One of the Last Best Places, in Winter!

The late great writer and historian Wallace Stegner once wrote that “National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” Since Stegner first expressed his sentiments in 1983, we’ve added many places as national park units to protect and preserve for current and future generations, and to continue educating people about our shared natural, cultural and historical heritage.

Yellowstone was my year-round home from 2001-2005, and I am grateful that guiding groups allows me to return in all seasons to the world’s first national park. Yet there’s something super special about being here in winter.

Things seem stripped down to their essence in Yellowstone in winter, yet much is going on here during the park’s longest season. Different animals prefer to make a living in, on, or under varying levels of snow. Voles and other small rodents tend to occupy areas deep below the snowpack and close to the ground, where the temperature is usually balmy, right around 32 F, no matter how frigid or windy it might be above. Certain animals are good at getting down to vole level, such as coyotes and foxes that may dive into the snow in hopes of catching these critters as a snack. Other mammals such as bison use their massive heads as plows to shovel snow away to get at sparse vegetation that lies below.

As snow depths and conditions change, predators may benefit for a while, or maybe things will favor prey species. Deep powdery snow may make it hard for wolves to chase and catch an elk or moose. In crusty snow conditions, though, a 100 pound wolf could easily stay and race atop such a snow layer, while a 700 pound elk might crash through and become trapped, potentially breaking its leg en route to becoming a meal.

Nature has no favorites in any season, and both predators and prey species share a dynamic web of interdependence with scavengers, decomposers, microbes, and other players in intact natural ecosystems such as Greater Yellowstone. Some of the park’s over 10,000 geysers, mud pots, hot springs and steam vents keep high elevation areas from being buried in snow, or stop bodies of water from freezing completely over, benefiting everything from ducks and swans to ephydrid flies whose lives are restricted to within a few vertical inches of these thermal features.

Yellowstone is a true winter refuge for many species, and its quiet, stillness, and vistas are enjoyed by about 200,000 visitors from December to March, in contrast to July and August, when over two million visitors pass through the area.

Visiting Yellowstone in winter is certainly not a draw for everyone, but for those who choose to venture here then, it’s an exceptionally exhilarating and rewarding time to experience one of America’s wildest places.

Giving Thanks, For Everything

“If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.” -Ram Dass

The above words of wisdom were steadfast companions as Erik and I visited family and friends in Virginia and North Carolina the first part of November.

We visited with my Dad, perhaps for the last time, a few days after his 91st birthday. He’s now in end-stage dementia, and it was sad to see a once feisty, resourceful and independent spirit so utterly reliant on others for his care.

While visiting with him that afternoon, I wondered what it must have been like for my parents to have had five children in a little over a decade, and the sacrifices they made to raise us.

I also wondered what he could now remember. As I flipped through a photo album showing him family pictures from over the years, he especially lit up upon seeing a picture of his last dog, an Irish setter named Beau. With other photos he was less responsive, but he grinned when I joked that none of us five kids had gotten a speeding ticket in over a decade.

Beau and my Dad became an inseparable family duo starting in 1992. My parents had already been divorced and living apart for several years, and my siblings and I had all moved out by then, too. After Beau died in 2003, our four-bedroom house in the suburbs became an even quieter, less vibrant place. Still, my Dad managed to remain independent until 2011, when he first moved into an assisted living facility, yet the decline he has experienced since May this year has been especially rapid and irreversible.

It was hard to gauge how my Dad might have been feeling when Erik and I saw him. Before arriving there, I feared that his new home would be lifeless and stagnant, a place where everyone languished in a holding pattern until they passed on. Instead, I was encouraged and uplifted by the compassion, patience and presence his caregivers exuded as they helped him and other residents navigate their daily lives.

This surprise gift was borne from choosing to be present with my Dad as he was in that moment, not from expecting him to be a certain way at this time in life for me. This gift of being present, along with Ram Dass’s words of wisdom, became trusted companions for the remainder of our journey back east, and our travels home to Montana.

After seeing my Dad, Erik and I drove for about nine hours from the mountains of western Virginia to Hatteras, North Carolina. We met up with my oldest sister there to honor my Mom’s passing two years earlier, in a place where she felt especially at peace.

Later on, my younger brother and his 18-year-old daughter drove down to join us in celebrating and remembering her life. That evening, we feasted on crab cakes, scallops, french fries, hush puppies, coleslaw, and super sweetened tea, things my Mom especially enjoyed when she vacationed here, usually in September, right after Labor Day.

This fall, it was great to make a pilgrimage to the Outer Banks and to travel back to Virginia. It was awesome to spend time with family, and remember and honor the life, love and memories we have shared together, alongside creating new experiences and memories. We are grateful to now be home, following an epic journey acknowledging the impending departure of one parent, and the recent passing of another.

I am thankful for everything that I have learned and received from my parents over the course of their lives, and I intend to pay this forward to the best of my ability.

Over the coming winter solstice, Christmas, new year and other holidays that are fast approaching, I also set the intention to not dwell on the past, to not worry about the future, and instead be as fully present as I can in every moment.

That truly is all any of us ever have, the present moment, yet that’s so easily forgotten and dismissed when our lives become crazy, busy or both. Thankfully, nature connection freely provides us reminders and opportunities to be still, be present, slow down and take stock of what’s truly important.

May you and your loved ones experience tremendous peace, goodwill, camaraderie and community this coming holiday season and into the new year.

May you be grateful for everything in your life.

May you reach out and extend these gifts to others.

May we all celebrate the ebbing of darkness, and welcome the returning tide of light to our one home planet in the weeks and year to come!

Monumental Legacies

National monuments are a direct result of the 1906 Antiquities Act, which gives presidents “the authority to, by proclamation, create national monuments from federal lands to protect significant natural, cultural or scientific features.” The Act also allows presidents to set aside or accept the donation of private lands for such purposes.

Without the protections and powers vested in the Antiquities Act, many of our most valued and beloved public lands would have been irreparably diminished, destroyed, or sold off to the highest bidder.

Today, President Donald Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke have their sights on reducing the size of, eliminating, and transferring ownership of lands within certain national monuments designated since 1996. About two dozen such designations remain in the cross hairs for further scrutiny, under this administration’s claims that they are too large, or that local communities weren’t sufficiently consulted or involved at the time of designation.

One wonders what Grand Canyon, Zion, Acadia and other national parks, all initially protected as national monuments, would look like today if earlier presidents had done what Trump would like to do with public lands belonging to all Americans.

In the mid-1880s, congressional attempts to protect the then Arizona Territory’s Grand Canyon from exploitation were defeated, yet in 1893 the canyon became part of a forest reserve established under President Benjamin Harrison. It stayed somewhat protected as part of a re-designated game preserve created by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. Using the newly granted powers of the Antiquities Act, in 1908 Roosevelt established by proclamation the 800.000 acre Grand Canyon National Monument.

For nearly a century now, the Supreme Court has upheld that there is no size restriction on national monuments. In Cameron vs. United States in 1920, it said that the president was free to protect a very large object of scientific or cultural interest-even if others had their eyes on the area for extractive or commercial purposes. That large area in question was The Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon became a national park by act of congress under President Wilson in 1919. In 1975 President Gerald Ford signed into law an act of congress incorporating Marble Canyon National Monument (designated by President Lyndon Johnson) into an expanded Grand Canyon National Park.

Thankfully, the vast one-million acre Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, established in 2000 and bordering the national park to the northwest, is not under “review” by the Trump administration, but others in the Southwest such as Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante remain on the chopping block.

With the Grand Canyon and other significant places, it’s taken a steady, bi-partisan succession of administrations and congresses over time to build upon what others have protected and preserved before them. In 2017, it’s murky as to what kind of legacy the President and his Interior secretary envision when it comes to our public lands.

President Lyndon Johnson, over 50 years ago, said that “if future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.”

This administration should use, and not curb, the authority of The Antiquities Act to protect more lands with significant natural, cultural and scientific features. It should designate more national monuments, and stop spending time and resources undoing the conservation legacies of others.

It should also stop fueling the myth that we already have enough, or more than enough public lands already. We should be doing everything possible to ensure that people long after we are gone can enjoy and experience a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, rather than after we got through with it.

If Trump’s and Zinke’s current efforts should prevail, we all become impoverished. Their efforts would likely not stop with undoing national monuments; public lands, regardless of their status and designation, would proceed to be sliced and sold off in piecemeal fashion.

Americans would surrender a freedom envied worldwide, the right to publicly access and enjoy these special places. Let’s not squander these amazing assets we all hold in common for the private, permanent gain of a few, while leaving future generations little to nothing of our natural heritage.

Welcome to YourLifeNature!

The new YourLifeNature website has just launched, after some quality, behind-the-scenes time collaborating, re-envisioning and co-creating with site builder and designer Skyler Bexten of Kalispell, Montana.

Following are some of the highlights and developments you’ll find at my updated site at www.yourlifenature.com

First, 36 new photos are available for purchase as signed, large format 8″ by 12″ or 12″ by 18″ prints. There are now over 150 inspiring landscape and nature images to choose from that would look beautiful in home and work spaces, and if you’re looking for unique gifts for nature lovers in your life, you’re in the right place as well!

Second, browsing my landscape and nature photographs has become way more navigable and visitor-friendly, with all images displayed in different photo gallery collections:

Greater Yellowstone

Glacier Country and Beyond

Wildflowers, Pacific Northwest and Alaska

Desert Southwest

Northern Great Lakes and the Unexpected.

I no longer sell hand-signed, handmade cards directly, but the new site has a handy directory of regional card vendors where these cards are available for purchase.

A new MEDIA tab conveniently parks my free sit spot recording and Nature Boy Free apps (both iTunes and GooglePlay store versions) in the same place for greater ease and access. Folks can also sign up to receive my free nature connection ezine here, too.

Ditto goes for my new on-site BLOG location.

Throughout the site, you’ll learn about how and why I help individuals and groups connect with nature, no matter where their feet are, and the benefits and changes people have experienced as a result. Be sure to check out the ABOUT, MENTOR WITH HOBIE, CONTACT and other sections of the site to learn more…

I hope you’ll enjoy visiting www.yourlifenature.com and discovering how to connect more deeply and consistently with nature.

Thanks for being a part of the YourLifeNature community. I’m grateful, honored and inspired to be on this journey with you. In a time of rapid change, 24/7 everything now mentality, nature continually reminds and shows us how to slow down, be present and embrace what’s most important in our daily lives.

We can and do make a difference, each and every one of us, every day.

Natural Miracles

Spring is indeed a time of palpable and visible miracles, as are the other seasons of the year. Crocuses rocket out of the ground not long after overnight snowfalls that often melt the following morning. Robins and northern flickers contest favorite spots on lawns for emerging worms and insects. It’s easier now for most people to wake up with the sunrise, and stay up past sunset again, and there’s a lot less frost to scrape off car windshields in the morning. In our own backyard, rhubarb is starting to poke out of the ground, and it won’t be long before dandelions reign over parts of the lawn for a while.

Saint Augustine had it right when he observed that “Miracles are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature.”

Miraculously, nature shows us that nearly everything depends on chance, on timing, on inspired action or intuition, on recognizing patterns, cycles, flows and opportunities. It also reveals how much we are not meant to live this thing called life alone. We all have an important role to play. We are all part of the natural community.

Nature’s a risk taker and we are hard-wired to be so, too.

The rewards of risk-taking are universally uncertain and unknowable, yet the risks of not changing or evolving portend a death knell for all of us. We stop growing. We dig in tenaciously, hoping someone or something else will change, yet ironically and miraculously, our entire world changes once we allow ourselves the miracle of seeing and experiencing things differently.

Nature is constantly reinventing itself and changing form-think of a caterpillar en route to its becoming a butterfly. The natural world doesn’t play favorites or take sides, yet it does seem to encourage innovation and experimentation. What’s the true cost of not being connected to nature’s wisdom, encouragement, support, and infinite wellspring of creativity and possibilities?

What miracles are we missing out on in life because we perceive and believe we are too old or busy, there’s not enough time, the timing’s not right, the money’s not there, or we need someone’s permission before we commit ourselves to changing?

All you need is to allow yourself a tiny shift in perception, hope and belief. Once you take that leap, once you make an unwavering commitment, nature will always be there to meet, greet and support you, no matter where your feet are.

 

Note: An earlier version of this article, “Natural Miracles,” was first published here on my blog on April 10. 2014.

Chaos, Creativity and Change

Time always seems to speed up a bit the second half of March. Nearly every day the grass does look a little greener, more plants and trees are starting to bud, English sparrows, nuthatches, and black-capped chickadees race around, and on some days, we go from 55 degrees in the afternoon to wet snow in the space of a few hours!

It’s like nature is reminding us to stay on our toes and be open to change, not to fight it or resent it. Sometimes that’s a lot easier said than done but I try to keep that in mind as time seems to especially accelerate in political, economic and other realms. Maybe it’s the bombardment of information, the 24/7 news cycle, the rapid (and sometimes rabid) response to whatever today’s headlines might be, the sowing of fear, doubt, discord and distrust, especially between people who may be a bit different from ourselves.

It’s really fucking exhausting, isn’t it? Very few profit from a vestigial scenario and narrative designed to keep people on the defensive and pitted against each other  while what’s left of the natural world and its remaining indigenous populations are targeted for resource extraction.. It’s hard to be fully present and pro-active when there’s a constant barrage of threats, negativity, and dramatic plot turns and twists. Some days, it’s easier to feel complacent and powerless, overwhelmed and defeated.

When there’s heightened chaos in the natural world, though, there’s also an opportunity for heightened creativity, for different ways to move forward. Think about how the earth rebounds and recalibrates following volcanic eruptions, such as at Mount Saint Helens in Washington State, or how forest fires in 1988 regenerated the landscape of Yellowstone on a massive scale. In our backyard, a tiny horse chestnut sapling has somehow endured the coldest winter in 40 years, with over five feet of snow so far, along with freezing rain and ice!

So let’s receive a little encouragement from spring, its reminders that anything is possible when so much anticipation, hope, renewal and creativity abounds at this time of year. We are bigger than our problems and our challenges. We are not flawed and none of us are misfits. We all belong, and all of us are needed.

Thanks for reading this. I appreciate your being part of this community and hope this in some small way encourages you to keep the faith, keep on keeping on, and rock the world in encouraging ways so others will be inspired to do the same.

Happy spring!

Coming Home to Montana

Montana’s romantic and rugged landscapes have always had a profound impact on people who have spent time here. Author John Steinbeck, who journeyed through the state in 1960 with Charley, his French poodle, declared “I am in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana, it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.”

Nearly 60 years later, Montana can still steal your heart, open it more fully, and bring you home to your self. What attracted me here back in 1992 was the palpable feeling of being surrounded by nature, and a heightened sense of personal space and freedom. Time still feels slower and calmer here than it did where I grew up in central Virginia, or in Tokyo, Japan, where I taught English for two years in the late 1980s.

Montana is where I stopped being a restless nomad, where I put down roots, and where I got to know the landscape and my true self better. Here, cities and towns still seem to be swallowed up by a beckoning, undulating landscape, with the horizon visible in all directions. Even in mid-winter, the sun seems reluctant to depart at dusk. Lingering sunsets glow and cast their spell on all who pause to notice and savor them.

Noticing what’s happening in our natural environment is a common trait shared by Montana lovers. In social interactions, people tend to talk about what they have been doing and enjoying outdoors long before sharing what they do for work or where they live. Paying attention to the language of the landscape and nature over time fuels and feeds hearts, souls and minds in a way few other things can. I am especially thankful to be sharing my life journey with someone who also loves living immersed in nature and adventure.

There’s a place Erik and I both like to roam once we’re over Homestake Pass heading east. Madison Buffalo Jump State Park is about a 20-minute detour off of I-90 near Logan, Montana. We love visiting here in all seasons, as it reveals different gifts every time we go.

In winter, we tend to hike on sunny, drier south-facing slopes, as we did about a month ago. Bare rather than snow-covered ground predominated there, and we came across a shed rattlesnake skin impaled upon a prickly pear cactus. From our vantage point, about 300 yards away across a yawning ravine, steep north facing slopes were still deeply cloaked in winter where snows had drifted and piled up with the wind. Above us, hawks, and later on a golden eagle, silently glided and soared in search of sustenance.

On top of the actual buffalo jump, stone tipi rings jut out more prominently in winter. Stunted junipers and other wind tolerant trees flourish in places where Native American eagle catching pits once stood. Grizzly bears, elk and wolves roam not far from this still largely untamed landscape from time to time, although you’re more likely to encounter mule and whitetail deer, and other hikers and their dogs.

I love Montana and its natural beauty and bounty. It’s difficult to analyze, but it anchors and continually reminds me I’m part of something much larger than my own life, thanks to previous generations who saved, protected and were wise stewards of a place they also loved. When you care for and nurture a place it ultimately nurtures and cares for you as well.

Just minutes from home here in Missoula, there are protected natural areas where you can hear your heart beat fiercely over pulsing sounds of freeway traffic, blaring emergency sirens, and droning aircraft overhead. You can feel and hear the wind coming from great distances before it caresses you on a hot summer day, or makes you zip up your jacket on a mid-winter walk. Often, ravens ride thermals overhead, while horses graze in nearby pastures.

When you quiet your mind and ego in such places, you can remember what’s really important, and that seems way easier to do in a place not covered in concrete and asphalt. To me, my love for Montana and nature reaffirms that I am not in this alone. My wild, beating heart and soul is much needed in a world and time where many have embraced fear rather than love.

No matter where you travel in the Last Best Place, Montana’s landscapes leave an indelible imprint; their vastness and beauty have continually shaped Native American worldviews and those of more recent arrivals. Despoiling places for short-term gains and shattering environmental consequences will hopefully remain in Montana’s rearview mirror, so future generations can experience wildlands large enough for grizzlies and eagles to thrive and soar, alongside the human heart, spirit and imagination. That would be a courageous and selfless act of love, paying it forward.

 

 

Build Bridges, Not Walls, in 2017.

In the fall of 1984, I backpacked through Asia for about eight months before taking on my first teaching job at a refugee resettlement camp in Thailand the following June. It was a heady time, full of adventures and a few misadventures as well, and through traveling in different countries, I came to learn not only a lot more about people living in other cultures, but also about walls and bridges we choose to create in our lives.

In October 1984 I entered China from Hong Kong, and for the next three months I navigated traveling in a country largely unused to solo foreign travelers. Having grown up in Virginia, I wasn’t used to crushing crowds of humanity simultaneously angling to get train tickets rather than standing in line in an orderly American fashion. Nor was I used to visiting sprawling markets where vendors would have you point to and then they’d kill what you wanted to eat, and then cook it for you on the spot!

Over a three-month period in China, I journeyed with other international backpackers. At other times I traveled solo. I became known as the American guy traveling with vegemite, as prior to arriving in Hong Kong I had been in Australia and had developed an enthusiastic taste for it. Bartering and negotiating were key to getting better deals on food and lodging, as was exchanging information with fellow travelers about the lay of the land behind or ahead of us.

Perhaps the first crack in the bamboo curtain I personally believed separated me from non-Westerners was visiting the Great Wall of China in November that year. I was traveling with a new fast friend, a fellow American, and he and I set out to do some exploring on our own there. What initially surprised me were how uneven and steep the steps could be as you walked up and down the spine of a series of walls that once stretched thousands of miles across the Chinese frontier.

Parts of the wall were cracked and decayed: other parts had been rebuilt to look as they might have been centuries ago. Built and refortified by a million plus forced laborers over nearly two millennia and a succession of dynasties, the wall served as much to keep people in as to keep intruders out. Ultimately its lifespan and purpose collapsed in the mid-1600s, when the Manchu Dynasty toppled the Ming Dynasty, when the wall fell into an even deeper extended period of decay and neglect.

Standing there, I wondered what it was like to be a citizen of the People’s Republic of China in 1984, to be largely silenced in a geopolitical chess game, to have few freedoms and opportunities compared to those I had in my own young life. My mind wandered to other places where walls had been built, such as between West and East Berlin, and the frontier between West and East Germany. My sister Nancy. as a 15-year-old, spent the summer of 1971 visiting a friend and her family in West Berlin. I recalled harrowing stories of travels with her host family through East German checkpoints to visit Austria, as well as other places in West Germany.

Around twilight that afternoon at The Great Wall,  my American traveling companion climbed a steep series of steps to another section of the wall, sat down and started playing a flute he had brought for the journey.. Time seemed suspended. The music swirled and drifted in from different directions as a still warm breeze flowed over and through gaps in the wall. When he finished playing, we both walked quietly back to the guest house where we were staying, at peace for being able to experience the Great Wall, its enormity, and its meaning for ourselves.

About a month later, in December 1984, I traveled by train to Kunming in Yunnan Province. One warm evening, while I was sitting outside a cafe reading a book, a Chinese man in his early 60s who spoke fluent English introduced himself. He inquired where I was from and why I had chosen to visit China, and we ended up talking about a wide range of topics..

Spontaneously he invited me to sit in on an English class he was teaching that night. It was hard for him to teach, though, with about two dozen middle school age kids spending more time looking back at me rather than focusing on the lesson. He was very gracious, patient and calm in regaining his students’ attention, and then he invited me to speak with everyone from the front of the room.

Walls, barriers and boundaries seemed to vanish as we had a lively, fun, and often funny exchange that lasted well past the normal class ending time. Students approached me afterwards to say thanks,  shake hands or bow in appreciation for the opportunity to connect with a native English speaker. Sparks had been lit and ignited in both directions. I thanked my new teacher friend, said goodnight, and never saw him again.

I was immersed in my element teaching that night, sensing the awesome opportunity and responsibility to be and build a bridge in a world where some people sought to construct walls instead, within their own and between other countries. Other serendipitous experiences over the next few months ultimately led to landing my first teaching job at a refugee camp for Cambodian and Laotian children resettling with their families in the U.S. I had found my purpose, doing things that helped people connect more deeply with their environment, and experience the interconnection we all share as humans on this one planet Earth.

2017 undoubtedly will be yet another year when a fearful few angle to build more walls between people. I have lived long enough to have learned that bridges more powerfully connect and strengthen us more than walls could ever do.

May this year be one in which you create, build and help others construct bridges rather than walls. Life, humanity and real freedom, as always, hangs in the balance.

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