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ImageIt’s spring! Here come new adventures, new friends, and new places. Let’s go play outside!

My left hip flexor is so tight it hurts to the touch. I have a knot in the arch of my foot and another in my ass. My trapezious muscles on both sides are pissed and doing interesting things to my posture. But at mile four of my favorite six mile loop there’s a section of trail where the rhythm is so good, the slope so perfect, the air so clean that instead of feeling liking a broken watch, or a ticking time-bomb, I feel like I have wings. Like if I held my arms out and pushed the cadence just a little more through the berms and over the whoops I could take flight. It hasn’t happened, yet, but the potential keeps me coming back for more.

 

I have a girlfriend visiting from a few states away. Last night after making dinner and cleaning up we settled in front of the fire. I flipped through a few magazines and cast on the stitches for a knit hat. She crocheted a tiny white and pastel blanket. It was very calm, very domestic. When I looked up from my knitting she had this serious, concerned, deep-in-thought look on her face. In truth she seemed to be scowling at the fire.

“What are you thinking about?”

She looked up. Long pause.

“Babies.”

“Oh yeah? What about babies?”

She proceeded into a long and bouncing soliloquy about starting a family. She covered: the pitfalls and benefits of childbearing; adoption options; appropriate timelines related to first finding a partner, then spending time with that partner, then marrying, then spending time married, then reproducing; financial commitment of a child in both the immediate and over the long term; the dangers of advanced maternal age; the cons of a sperm bank. The list went on. At the beginning she said more than anything she wants the option for children. At the end she said she wants children.

I sat across from her and listened to the worries and concerns pour out of her, and I couldn’t help it; as she was winding down, I smiled a bit.

“What?”

“Do you want to know what I was thinking about?”

“Sure.”

“Ice climbing.”

Then she scowled at me.

It’s not that I don’t ever think about children, partners, or life down the line, I told her. Right now, though, I know that as as much as we might try to plan, or schedule, or force things to happen, when it comes down to it we have to play the cards we’re dealt, and hopefully enjoy it while it’s happening. There’s a lot to be said for knowing what you want out of life and taking appropriate steps to achieve your goals, but sometimes I think we can get ahead of ourselves. We plan the wedding before the first date. Turn on the oven before catching the bird.

I want my friend to have the option to have babies. But I also want her to know that today there’s a great, big, beautiful world out there, and it’s not going to wait for her to get out in it. I want to take the silly quote, “Life is what happens while we’re making other plans,” and sticky note it around the house while she’s here. A gentle reminder that sometimes worrying can get in the way of living.

I ran into a girlfriend I hadn’t seen in a while. We started chatting about jobs, then trips, then winter plans. She’s hoping to move this way. Hoping for a little skiing this winter. Some climbing when it’s warm. I asked if she’d want to jump in on some tours, maybe a bit of mountaineering. She hesitated. She said she doesn’t want to be uncomfortable, and that she doesn’t find suffering fun. She’s a rad girl. Strong, intelligent, aware. She knows what she likes, and is empowered enough to lay claim on what she doesn’t. I like that.

In continuing to talk she asked why I seem drawn to discomfort. I didn’t have a good answer. Or, I had a lot of good answers:

I like walking into the storm, and coming out of the cold.
I like sunrises, and emergency headlamps.
I like the taste of blood in the back of my throat.
I like the shared experience of doing something hard with a close friend, running out of water half way through, and dreaming about what we’ll eat if we ever get down.
I like trying to face up to the fact that in a battle between mind and body, mind is almost always the weaker of the two.
I like falling asleep sitting up, with boots on, and a hat covering my eyes.
I like being dirty, smelling slightly wild, and then the magic of a hot shower.
I like how one good day outside turns the volume down on a week inside.
I like feeling soreness in muscles of which I’d forgotten.

I like all those things, and they all, in one way or another, point to the real truth: I like it when it hurts a little.

Sometimes the pieces I read stick with me. A line echos after I’ve turned the page. Months, sometimes years, later I find myself searching for the piece  guided only by a phrase or two that’s been ping ponging around the dark corners of my mind.

In November 2009, Steve Casimiro, current editor of The Adventure Journal and former editor of Powder, wrote an essay titled, “The Elements of Skiing: Waiting for the Weather.” It was the first line that got me.

I want it to snow and never stop. I want big black storm clouds—not those wimpy gray ones—to cover the land from here to the horizon and beyond. I want flakes the size of dinner plates, blizzards that last for weeks, and powder so deep you need spelunking gear if you lose a ski. I’m only satisfied by “storms of the century”—and I’d be even happier with storms of the millennium. Each time I see a snowflake, I want to ask it, “Are you the one? Are you the first of the storm without end? Or are you gonna puss out like all the others?” It’s a bit of an obsession, I admit, but I’m just happier when snow is falling. Especially when it’s falling on me.

And so it’s November and the snow has fallen in some places and not in others, and most of us are staring at the sky wondering “when?” And “how long?” And because I’m not a selfish sort, at least when it comes to powder, I’m also wondering “where?” Will it come to Telluride and Taos or will it head north, just out of reach, like the fruit dangling over poor King Tantalus? Will the plucky, hardscrabble resorts of Southern California play Russian roulette with bankruptcy again, or will they reap some of nature’s wealth as snow instead of rain?

Or will we have what an old friend called a “grand-slam winter,” where the snow comes to Telluride and Taos and Southern California, and it doesn’t stop there but also falls on Mammoth and Baker and Kicking Horse and Jay Peak and Snowshoe and Steamboat. It’s happened, you know, most recently in 1996–97 and before that in 1982–83—two seasons that have become legendary.

For the full piece, click here: Waiting on the Weather

Since bringing Em home back in July running has taken a dive. Those growth plates of hers have us doing a lot more hiking than running, and the running we do do is often slow and easy, or interrupted by frequent breaks. In the long run it’s for the best, but right now I’m wanting more time on the trails. Yet, Em still needs several hours of exercise everyday, and the time on the leash is good for us both. The result for the last week has been a short 2-3 mile hike/run for her, then a longer solo run for me, then more play time for her, then some work for me, and more play/training time for her.

Back to the point of this post. The extra time on the trails, both with Em and without, has me running into a fair amount of other people, dogs and wildlife. A few days ago, I started writing the bit below about predators. I’m not sure what I’ll do with it, but for right now, I thought I’d put it here.

The sound of a woman’s scream breaks through the morning. It’s barely light out, cold enough to see breath, to wish for mittens, yet she yowls as if her feet were touching hell’s fire.

The shriek careens through the park, follows the creek bed, gains the south ridge. On the loop trail stopped dead in my tracks the hair on my neck and on the dog’s shoots up as if we’ve run full speed into an electric fence and rather than jumping back are holding on to the top wire. The scream comes once more, then nothing.

My hearing turns up to eleven heralding the sounds of the creek and the wind in the trees out of the morning. Tightening my grip on the leash and taking a breath I turn around. It wasn’t a woman.

There aren’t many major land predators left in the Pacific Northwest. The ones still holding on can be counted on one hand. Black bears, mountain lions like the one I heard in the park, maybe an angry moose or one rogue Grizzly up in Idaho’s northern interior have survived years of hunting, habitat degradation and human expansion, but barely.  They’ve done it by moving higher into the mountains, avoiding people, scavenging around the edges of what’s been left behind by logging operations and housing developments.

This situation hasn’t just been rough on the carnivores.

The presence of large predators instills fear in prey causing a change in behavior, says Robert Beschta, an emeritus professor at Oregon State University who studies trophic cascades. These behavioral changes are realized in the prey animal’s balance for food and safety and can result in changes to how they move across the landscape.

Without predators, says Beschta, ungulates like elk and deer are more likely to remain in a region with preferential forage. The result is heavy grazing, and the degradation of soil and water quality. Add in the trickle down effect, and everything from butterflies to bull trout feels the loss of predators.

The take home message: From mountain lions to wolves, predators make for a more balanced ecology.

 

She chases grasshoppers, but instead of running after them as her physiology would recommend, she follows their jumps with her own short bounds. Someone looking into the meadow from the road above might think her a tiny deer erupting out of the grasses like a child’s Jack-in-the-Box. Or perhaps they’d think her a rabbit. A conejita racing for her life, a fox hot on her heels. But no. She is just Em chasing hoppers toward the creek where waiting trout have the last laugh in the ripe golden sun of the first day of fall.

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