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Planting Seeds

Posted on October 17, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

THOREAU-EXPECT-WONDERSHard choices. The theme for the day’s lunch. Discuss our hard choices and what we’ve learned from them, how they’ve shaped us.

Was the choice hard from the beginning, or did hardship arise only in the middle, when we were knee-deep in, no going back? Or was it the end of the choice and the bearing of its consequences that brought hardship on?

I immediately thought of all the times I’ve moved, over twenty when I stopped counting several years ago. Some easy–a few blocks away, in college, to the other side of town, same city. Some decidedly hard, requiring the shedding of material, intellectual, philosophical things, like a snake sheds its skin, leaving me feeling naked, exposed. Another state, another country. Back again, and always the question, now what?

I’d taken to thinking of my life as if I was a dandelion spore, blown about by the breeze, landing here or there by chance. Not a lovely thing, not rooted.

Until I landed here, where I stumbled into a community, a home. A place where hope multiplies like dandelions in a field, ineradicable.

I’ve always been a fan of fields and flowers and trees, but I now understand the power of a seed.

 

“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

Henry D. Thoreau

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But I have promises to keep…

Posted on August 8, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Sarah, go to the gym.

That’s what my friend says she needs someone to tell her, to motivate her. It’s not that she doesn’t like the gym. It’s not that deep down she really doesn’t want to go. It’s more that when time gets tight and life overwhelming, the first promise she breaks is the one she makes to herself.

She’s not alone. I can’t count the number of times I wake before my alarm, my daily calendar cluttering my mind, stealing my peace. It’s not just the tasks but the weight of it all that makes me want to lie in bed just a little longer.

So the mental calculations begin. What can I cut from my day to buy some time as I lie here, watching the slats for the first hint of dawn, delaying the inevitable? Never meetings or phone calls. Never promises to friends.

Always meetings with myself. Always promises to me.   milestogo

My workout, sometimes. More often, my writing. Always, something I like to do, just for me. So easy to back out on these things. I am not accountable for them to anyone but me.

But here’s the thing. Breaking these promises to myself, not doing the things that keep me whole, balanced, healthy, at peace with the world, ultimately affects my world and those who are in it. If I don’t take care of myself first, I am useless to others later.

I may become, in fact, a mean old lady with a sour face who lives alone with a dozen Chihuahuas in the house on the corner that’s overgrown with wild roses and thyme, the one that all the neighborhood kids pelt with rotten apples.

Or, worse, I may become a burden in my self-imposed declining health instead.

When I was in college, I visited my dad for the summer. It was his Saturday morning ritual to mow the lawn. Later in the day, he’d spend time with us. One Friday I thought I’d surprise him and mow the lawn while he was at work, free up his weekend time to spend with me.

Late that night when he came home and saw the yard shorn and flowerbeds well-tended, happiness was not the look on his face. His mouth opened, then closed. He licked his lips, inhaled deeply, eyebrows knitted downward into the deepest expression of disappointment I had seen on his face in a long time. I was heartsick and stammered to explain.

“But I like to mow the lawn,” he said. I had stolen his time, his exercise. His peace.

So I say to Sarah what I say to myself. Go to the gym. Go write or paint or walk your dog or any of the private, personal things you need just for you.

Ignore the arched brows when you go to the gym or out for a walk mid-morning, the smug comments about how nice it must be to get away and do something so unimportant when others are working or caring for kids.

Your time for you is your work. It’s your duty to yourself to be healthy, balanced, happy. It makes you more productive at work, more relaxed with your family and friends. Better able to tackle the rest of life.

I never mowed my dad’s lawn again. Now, when I mow my own, when I’m sticky with sweat and plastered with grass clippings and dirt, when I see the wake of clean lines left behind my mower and feel an immense satisfaction, an inner peace, I think of him and smile.

When I wake up tomorrow morning, I hope I remember this, the necessity to write, to run. The satisfaction, the peace. Because I have promises to keep. And miles so go before I sleep, again.

 

 

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Keeping the Peace

Posted on July 18, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The kayak reached it first. Debris, we thought, left behind by careless hikers. In the Grand Canyon, as in many parks, you pack out what you pack in. Not everyone packs carefully. We picked garbage sporadically from the swiftly flowing Colorado River as we made our way along, a chain of puffy yellow rafts.

Only this speck of bobbing flotsam was not garbage but a young hawk. Feathers soaked, cold and shivering, it struggled to keep from slipping beneath the river’s skin. The kayaker leaned in, lifted it from the water, held it high toward the reach of a river guide who firmly, gently cupped it in her hands.

red-tailed-hawk-dive-marcus-armaniThe vastness of the canyon walls, the river cutting through it, alters one’s perception. The sixteenth century explorer Cárdenas estimated the width of the river, peering down from the canyon rim, as only six feet.

It averages three hundred here, a distance hard to comprehend even as you’re on it, dwarfed by the layers of time in the formation of rock jutting up around you. What appeared a tiny speck easily grasped between two fingers spilled over the river guide’s hands as she held them aloft in an attitude of prayer. The hawk’s feet dangled halfway to her elbows.

Someone took over her oars and paddled the raft to an outcropping of rock, where the guide hopped nimbly from raft to rock in her bare feet, skirt billowing around her legs, and laid the hawk in the sun to dry.

Later, at camp, she assured us that the hawk didn’t appear injured, only stunned, and it seemed almost grateful to feel the life-restoring heat of the sun bearing down, rising up from the rock beneath. We were relieved to imagine its full recovery.

We speculated how such a thing could have happened. A keen-eyed bird of prey, most at home soaring the skies, only to skim the river too closely, tumble in. Was it so eager for its meal that it misjudged the gap between its talons and the river’s surface? Was it too hungry—or too inexperienced—to wait for the safe bet—or maybe too self-assured, this young hawk, overestimating its ability to dip quickly, veer off before getting caught in the rush of the waves?

Or, perhaps, the surface was smooth as the hawk approached, glass mirroring the sky, the layers of time extending up into an open blue vault. Perhaps the hawk was startled by its own reflection, lost its balance, plummeted in. Lost its breath and its bearing in the cold shock of water.

I had forgotten about the hawk until this week. Ten days home and already my peace disturbed. I returned from my trip determined to preserve my balance. To not allow the crush of commitment and time, the pressure of the unfinished, the weight of the promised plague my soul.

To not skim too close to the swiftly moving tides and fall in. field-of-trees-at-dawn-126-2560x1600

And then I simply forgot, or maybe disregarded, the promise I made to myself: You must remember this. The rolling of the raft on the river. The dry heat of the sun on the skin. The final cleansing of waves in the rapids as we prepared to beach below the trailhead.

The river alters one’s perception. It wasn’t until this morning’s run as the sun split the sky like a melon, spilling its pink-and-yellow-rind color into the dark, on my skin that I remembered, and I re-visioned things. My place in this world. So small.

I ran toward the crack of dawn and let it envelop me with gentle hands.

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Shantih

Posted on July 11, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Shantih:  The peace which surpasses understanding.

You must remember this, I told myself on day five, the final day of our rafting trip on the Colorado River through the upper half of the Grand Canyon. We paddled the last three or so miles from our campsite to the drop-off point at Garden Creek, just west of the Bright Angel Bridge, where we’d hike the eight miles up, out of the canyon and onto the south rim.

Bright Angel (Silver) Bridge

Bright Angel (Silver) Bridge

The last couple of rapids were tame but we paddled as we were taught to, leaning in from the hips, pulling back not with the arms but with the  core. A light breeze rippled the water, our hats. Birds spun and skimmed the surface in search of breakfast. Deer played on the opposite shore as we prepared to beach.

It was beautiful. Serene. But that’s not all I wanted to remember. It was the way I felt that seemed more important to recall, to mark in my brain and body this profound sense of peace.

That was day five. But that’s not how the trip started.

River guides are smart. They dole out information a little at a time. Just what you need when you need it. Otherwise, you’re overwhelmed. The pre-trip meeting, for instance: Here’s how you pack your dry bag. The pre-launch meeting: Safety first–what happens to you effects everyone. Do this with your paddle; never do that.

Just a trickle of information. Always the right amount at the right time.

So when we set out on day one, which felt like the hottest day in the history of days, and I followed all of their instructions–drink at least one gallon of water by lunch (I drank two), another gallon by dinner (I drank two more); wear cotton and a hat and sunglasses; lather up with sunblock–I was disturbed by the fact that I was so miserable. I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors, after all. I’ve been camping and hiking, canoeing and kayaking, snorkeling and diving and sailing, running and biking and swimming. I’m no stranger to sweat and dirt and discomfort, yet here I was, hot and irked.

And it was only mid-day.

That’s when we got the bathroom talk, part one. The instruction: Everyone pees in the river. Not on the shore. Not in the bushes or on the trees or behind the rocks. In the river. Pants down–not through your bathing suit.

When you drink two gallons of water before lunch, pit stops happen early and often.  You paddle to the shore, hop off the raft, men upstream, women down, and everyone turns their head away, men from women, women from men.

But this was day one. With twenty-two guests and seven guides on six rafts. We barely knew each other. We were all civilized, proper, coming straight from a world of comfort and technology and suits, where most of us are uptight about such things. And you want us to do what?

Five women and two men slid off my raft onto a stretch of shore barely wide enough for the boat. Men walked a couple of steps upstream while the women waded waist-deep into the water, attempting to spread out far enough that we didn’t have to see each other, yet not far enough into the river to get swept away. No one made eye contact. Everyone hurried, embarrassed, not talking, until we saw the other rafts coming our way and scurried to get back into the boat.

We sat quietly for a while afterward, taking in the sights. A condor, some bighorn sheep, swallows that flash iridescence on their wings, and more. We’d have been sweating profusely if the humidity wasn’t in the single digits. (Now I understand what people mean when they say, but it’s a dry heat.) Dipped our feet in the 50º water to keep cool.

Vishnu Schist

Vishnu Schist

 

Slowly, steadily, over the next few days as the canyon walls rose more steeply and majestically and the silence of nature settled in, we let our tensions go. Rather than talking about what we do in the world, we attempted to answer the important questions:  If Vishnu Schist (the deepest, blackest, oldest layer of rock in the Grand Canyon–on the planet, actually–the layer of earth that surrounds molten lava at the planet’s core, the layer we glided through, half expecting dinosaurs to peer over the fallen rocks) was the name of a beer, what kind of beer would it be? A dark stout to match the color of the schist? Or a pale amber, to match the cool, refreshing feel of the river on your skin as you’re passing through?

As the layers of the earth towered above us, our guards went down. On pit stops we waded into the river only ankle deep and chatted as we squatted side by side. We didn’t search for such absolute cover when we selected our place to sleep at camp. We simply gauged the closest spot to the river (four to five gallons of water a day wakes you up frequently at night) under the widest expanse of sky so we could unfurl our bed in the sand under the stars. Before long, even the sand felt like velvet between the toes.

When we unloaded the raft on the bank of the river at the base of the Bright Angel Trail that final day, I noticed an outhouse just up the trail. I looked wistfully down at the river rushing cold and fast past our rafts and then sighed as I looked up at the perfectly fitted brown painted planks enclosing the composting toilets. A hiking party from the rim had almost reached it.

“Do I have to go in there?” I asked our river guide as I looked up toward the trail.

She shrugged as she tied off the boat. “Whatever makes you happy,” she smiled.

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Hello Summer

Posted on June 6, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

It’s here, semi-officially, this week.

I know, it doesn’t officially start until summer solstice, Saturday, June 21, at 6:51 am. In case you’re counting.

But this week marks the end of the school year, which means…

Less traffic.

school-buses-300x172

Less shoe-wearing.

summer-quotes-sayings-overdressed-feet

More lawn mowing (I love the smell of fresh cut grass. It reminds me of watermelon. And my dad.)

how-to-mow-your-lawn-1

 

More pool time.

swimming_cat

 

More down time.

sam-keen

 

And more sweat.

seat lodge

Well, maybe not that much more. I’m just glad it’s here.

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To Say It Makes It So

Posted on May 16, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

writer-at-desk

I’m in the process of writing a book about—wait for it—running. I know. Who’d have thought?

The book is part memoir—how running has transformed me personally and professionally—and part community collaboration. It will include the stories of remarkable women I’ve been fortunate to know here in San Antonio and how running has transformed them too.

It’s because of these women that I found the courage to write this book. And I was lucky enough to meet them because of the work I do as council director for Girls on the Run of Bexar County. Through it all, I am learning what it means to be part of a community. And I am learning so much more.

Writing is a tricky process. It comes in fits and starts, and sometimes goes even quicker. There are days when I can’t wait to get in front of my computer to dump out the piece of story that’s written itself in my head, and days when I can’t, for the life of me, string together one true sentence.

But it’s coming together nevertheless, slowly but surely. I’m half way there. Over the hump. Which is why I feel safe enough to say it out loud. And you know how words work. To say it makes it so.

 

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Flat Tires

Posted on March 14, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

flat-tire

I’ve seen this commercial several times. We see the face of a young woman as she changes her tire in the rain.  She appears anguished, there in the rain alone. We are distressed too.  Is she safe? Will anyone stop to help her?  The camera pans out to a man standing next to the car.

Appearances can be deceiving.

“I told you you could do it,” the man says.  The girl, obviously his daughter, smiles confidently in her newfound ability as the rain stops and they get into the car together.

I generally hate commercials, and I particularly hate car commercials.  But I love this commercial. I love that this father empowers his daughter, showing her that she need not rely on others to do things for her unless she wants to.  She can do what she puts her mind to.

I was lucky enough to have a dad like this too.  He believed in doing things himself whenever he could.  This is the man who built most of his home’s second story by himself on weekends, vacations.  The man who always mowed his own lawn, planted his own flowers, painted the house, the deck, the awnings, the lawn furniture.

Sometimes do-it-yourself worked out fine.  The second story carpeting looked fantastic, for instance.  Other times, calling in a professional might have been a better idea. But who needs a level driveway anyway? He was a firm believer in trying.

So when my first car needed an oil change, he took me to the gas station and showed me how to find the right oil and filter, then dragged me under the car to finish the job.  When my headlight went out, I fixed it, with my dad standing behind me. It didn’t feel so empowering, then.  It felt greasy. Dead-buggy. And I felt awkward doing something I wasn’t used to.

A few years ago, I had my first flat tire. I had never changed a flat with my dad, but I had seen one changed.  This tire wasn’t just flat, but blown right the heck out.  My fault. I was new to Texas, not used to the razor-sharp markers sometimes used to separate traffic lanes, and I ran right over a whole stretch of them.  The mechanic who later attempted to fix the tire asked if someone had slashed it with a machete.

I pulled over and sat in my car for a few minutes, hoping someone would stop.  I knew what to do, in theory, but I felt awkward doing it. What if I screwed it up somehow or made it worse?  What if I accidentally fell over into oncoming traffic when I tried to remove the tire?

But no one stopped. I got out of the car, more irritated that I was going to be late than that I had to change my tire. I hate being late. I unloaded the spare and parts from my trunk and watched the road with one eye.

A handful of cars drove by. No one stopped.

I jacked up the car, swearing as I dirtied my shirt looking under the car for the groove to place the jack in, and started to loosen lug nuts. Not an easy task, let me tell you. I stomped on the tire iron and could barely budge them, at first.

More cars drove by. Still, no one stopped.

Finally, I got the tire off.  A semi pulled over a couple hundred feet up the road.

“Hold on,” the driver yelled as he walked my way. “Let me finish that.”

I waited for him to get there, then thanked him for stopping to help.

“I wasn’t going to,” he said. “I mean, you look like you know what you’re doing.  But then I thought of my sister. If she had a flat, I’d want someone to stop and help her.”

I wasn’t sure what to make of this. How odd that I look like I know what I’m doing, I thought. Sure, I know the process, but I am not at all comfortable actually completing it.

“Do you think that’s why no one else stopped?” I asked him. “Because I look like I know what I’m doing?”

“I guess so,” he shrugged and turned his attention to the tire.

I crouched into a deep squat and hugged my knees as I watched him finish changing the tire, grateful that I did know what to do. And grateful that he did too.

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