Your Life Nature

Connecting You With Nature, No Matter Where Your Feet Are

Category: Blog (page 2 of 13)

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.

Yellowstone Dreaming

A few fitful nights ago, when I was in deep monkey mind and unable to sleep, I got an intuitive nudge to re-read a story I wrote 15 years ago, “Right of Way,” and see how it spoke to me at this time.

December 2001 was the beginning of a winter I spent in the heart of Yellowstone, not far from the shores of Yellowstone Lake. I worked there as an interpretive National Park Service ranger. The nearest paved road was over 50 miles away, meaning snowmobiles and skis would be my primary mode of transport for the next three months. More than a few times during my first weeks living and working here, I wondered what the hell I had exactly just gotten myself into.

Seemingly far away from Yellowstone, out there in the “real world”, our country was still reeling from the September terrorist attacks. That winter, I had limited access to email and WiFi, my cell phone coverage didn’t work in this remote setting, and the only two radio stations I could reliably pick up were a country and western one along with NPR. The learning curve seemed so steep for all of us as to how to move forward in our lives, and how, or whether, to respond and act in the face of what had happened.

I didn’t have any easy answers then, and the same is true for the challenges and opportunities we are living with today. Looking back at what I experienced at that time, and over the last 15 years, I remember that I have navigated incredible challenges in the past that have been largely out of my control. I have also embraced and enjoyed  exhilarating and wonderful opportunities. Because of this, I am able to draw from an amazing wellspring of skills, wisdom and life experiences that serve me in the present, and will continue to so in the future.

I am still standing, and I am still an American bad ass. I bet you are, too, if you are reading this.

Don’t let fear, doubt, worry or any other form of negativity, including someone else’s, keep you from doing what you have longed to do.

Be curious instead. Be creative instead. Be resourceful, be supportive, and allow yourself to be supported when you need courage, inspiration and motivation to keep taking action, to take the next step. Act on your heart and soul’s grandest dreams and visions, rather than crawling under the covers and wishing that the world’s ego-generated nightmares and bogeymen will simply just go away.

This holiday season and into 2017, I wish you the very best in being a bad ass in hugely powerful, positive, loving and life-changing ways. Be a ripple maker in the lives of others who will be inspired by your actions and example. The world can no longer wait for us or anyone else to sit on the sidelines. We are the ones we have been waiting for and now is our time.

Wishing you much peace, love and light in the year, and years to come!

P.S. Here’s the original story, “Right of Way,” which was first published in 2002 in Yellowstone Science magazine.

Right of Way

Heading home by snowmobile a few days before winter’s longest night, I encounter a lone bull bison standing on the groomed road just south of Hayden Valley in the Mud Volcano area. He initially gives no sign of noticing me, or of being bothered by my presence. At the same time, he is probably hoping that I will just go away, in the direction from which I came, and leave him in peace. I wait, with my engine still running.

Now wary, the bull moves slowly and deliberately away from me. Yet he stays on the road-his other options are either to move off into three feet of snow to his left, or to go down a steep bank leading to an ice-covered expanse of the Yellowstone River on his right. With the comfort and mobility it offers, this narrow strip of groomed road has become a lifeline, a survival and dispersal corridor that we have both come to expect and depend on in winter.

Standstill. And we do, two lone figures facing off on this empty stretch of road. I remember the importance to wintering wildlife of slowing way down and conserving my energy, which is not so easily replenished at this time of year. The bull shakes his massive head, moves a few unsteady steps, and continues standing in the middle of the road, staring at me with his large dark brown eyes, perhaps assessing my next move.

I get the message. I stop, and turn off the snowmobile. I am awed by the silence and serenity of this moment. I hear and then feel the late afternoon wind shift its direction and velocity, and quickly put a facemask on top of my balaclava to ward off the chill. The wind and cold does not seem to bother the bison, standing silently, his thick coat of fur protecting him from the freezing wind. I hear the rapid, powerful flapping of a raven’s wings long before I see it glide slowly above us, and then disappear from this winter scene.

The bull bison and I watch each other for a long while on this gray and cloudy December afternoon, neither of us acting or reacting. For several minutes I find myself breathing in the sharp, cold air, deeply and slowly, exhaling in unison with the bison.

The bull turns and faces the bank sloping sharply down toward the Yellowstone River. He exhales deeply, as if finally deciding to move on. He swings his head a final time in my direction. Mistakenly, I take this to mean that I can pass to the right while he remains safely on the other side of the road.

Instead, in a burst of energy he jumps from the road, bulldozing his way through the deep-drifted snow to where the riverbank begins to drop off. I gaze down to where he is most likely heading, to the river, where the ice appears unstable and the route across looks arduous.

As he deliberately descends the bank, I make my own move. I start my sled and ride about fifty yards past the point where he left the road, and then stop again, cutting the engine. I glance back to see him looking back at me, then toward the ice-covered river. He steps onto it with his full body weight. I shudder, holding my breath, expecting to hear the ice give way and the bison crash through.

The ice holds. The bull ambles to safety on the opposite bank. Then he begins to move with a more rapid gait to join several other bull bison grazing in the snow about a half mile away.

This final vision remains in my mind as I also move at a faster pace to rejoin my own winter community on the northern shore of Yellowstone Lake. Snow begins to fall and swirl as I head homeward. It gradually picks up in intensity, slowly burying the landscape with a new, sparkling white layer.

That night I watch as the snow continues to fall outside my window, and ponder how this thickening of Yellowstone’s deepening winter blanket will be perceived by both visitors and residents alike. It will be greeted warmly by the many park visitors, winter enthusiasts here to celebrate the holidays in and around Yellowstone. I am less sure how the park’s bison and other wintering wildlife will perceive it, for this season presents great challenges to the animals that visit or call Greater Yellowstone home. I drift off into a deep December sleep, dreaming that in the future we will all be able to find peace, space and room to roam in this increasingly crowded place.

Who Needs A Road Map?

Several of my lifelong heroes and inspirational figures have died this year, book-ending 2016 as a time of rapid change, myriad unexpected plot twists and turns, and huge opportunities for growth, adventure, travel and transformation.

David Bowie, Muhammad Ali, Gwen Ifill, Natalie Cole, and Leonard Cohen are all now gone, with another one of my heroes, Rod McKuen, passing shortly before them in 2015.

All of these people possessed an unflappable spirit and were also honest about the struggles they faced in life. From the outside looking in, they also seemed to show up every day, no matter what, and always give their best They also were talented at bringing forth the best in others, even with people they profoundly disagreed with, or who disagreed with them.

What comes next I am not sure. I cannot let fear or the unknown stop me from living my life to the fullest. I have to trust that everything is going to turn out alright. I have to keep the faith that humanity will ultimately reject fear and hate, and embrace love, compassion and acceptance moving forward. I have to do my part.
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I cannot do this alone. None of us can. But we can all hold the light and shine our love on places where fear, hatred, misunderstanding and distrust lurk, loom and hide, intent on bringing us back to the dark ages if we are not vigilant, if we are not warriors for love.

In the days, weeks and times ahead, when you catch yourself demonizing, fearing or attacking someone or something, be quick to forgive them, as well as yourself. Send them light, send them love, especially when someone or something’s driving you nuts or pushing all your buttons. Hit the reset button instead. Send them and yourself even more love and more light. It’s the only way forward.

P.S. I’d like to close with my favorite poem by Rod McKuen and also one of my favorite tunes from Leonard Cohen as covered by Jeff Buckley.

ATLAS 

Don’t be afraid to fall asleep with gypsies or run with leopards
as travelers or highwaymen.
We should employ whatever kind of wheels it takes
to make our lives go smoothly down the road.
And if you love somebody tell them.
Love’s a better roadmap for trucking down the years than Rand McNally ever made.

-Rod McKuen

 

P.S. Here’s a link to Jeff Buckley’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s classic “Hallelujah”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y8AWFf7EAc4

 

War and Human Nature

Veterans Day has taken on a deeper and more personal meaning for many people this year,  given that many of us have been feeling battle weary following an election cycle that started over 18 months ago, if not even longer back in time. It’s a relief to be done with the relentless parade of political commercials and related advertising, and I wonder how much money was spent in total for this year’s campaign and electoral cycle. I suspect it’s in the billions altogether, and it’s too bad all that money cannot seem to be harnessed and channeled toward a greater good.

My dad, who turned 90 last Saturday, is a veteran of World War II. His brother Jack died in a German P.O.W. camp several days after the jeep he was traveling hit a land mine. This happened in Belgium, in late 1944. More than half a century later, in March 1999, my dad and I traveled together to the Allied Cemetery near Liege, Belgium to honor his brother’s memory, and it was an emotionally cathartic experience for both of us.

What really haunted me there were innumerable crosses remembering so many people who died in war. I thought of the collective energy, mindset and resources that it took to end this particular conflict  Standing there silently together at Jack’s gravesite, I palpably and deeply felt the loss that my Dad, his oldest brother and their mom must have felt when they received the news that my Uncle Jack, age 20 at the time, would never be home again.

I am thinking today, too, of how and on what we spend our individual and collective energies, mindsets and resources. I hope that with this election cycle now hopefully behind us, we’ll also choose to invest in healing and rebuilding divisions, rather than throwing white gas on and igniting them. I hope we will move forward by choosing to see the good and the potential in all people, and invite and include everyone at the table. We all have some room to grow and heal in these respects.

As Abraham Lincoln said in his first inaugural address,

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Nature is one of the best places in which we all grow and heal and come home.

Let’s all take a collective deep breath, exhale, and dive in to experience nature where we live, work, play and create community.

It’s one of the best ways to bring more peace, healing, calm and lightheartedness into a world that has been hungering for it for far too long.

Count your blessings, share your gifts.

Bury the hatchet, heal the rifts.

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