Imagine the release of a major burden that you’ve been carrying lately. What part(s) of your body are connected to this burden and what does it feel like to let it go? Invite your hands to that place on your body and send it some deep breaths.
What’s left in the space where your burden was once rooted? What is one boundary you can put into practice to keep this a safe space for you to explore?
Rather than allowing something else to be planted in your burden’s place, what is a way you can nourish and nurture this spaciousness throughout the rest of your day?
You know your way: Your body is the map, your heart the container to bring along all you need for the journey ahead.
We rise to mountain tops and we fall into valleys. The shadows leave what is true, if we stay a while. But we don’t, we seek the temporary light in the valley. Cover up the dark. Run away. We leave and we return, again and again. Wishing to be on the ascent.
To feel deeply is to know life. To hurt is to taste life. To grieve is to touch life only for a moment, and then let her go.
The sun shines in the day, the moon and stars guide you by night. You are safe. You are protected. But this will hurt.
We must be here, to be there. The valley has much to teach us, blessings of skin and sand and sage. Stay here a while, but leave the weight. Receive your rest. And when it is time, take up your things and go softly.
3 Journaling Prompts:
If you could time-travel to 2019, what advice would you give to yourself or others? How can you still share or receive this advice now?
When was a time that you sat with your discomfort instead of distracting yourself? What was it like?
Who is a person that is going through a challenging season that you can have more compassion for? What does your compassion for them look like?
Anichka, a five-year-old, smiles sweetly and grabs my frozen hand, leading me toward a tiny house heated by a wood-fire. Before I open the small door, another child named Fafa hands me a soft broom and points to Anichka’s—and his own—dirt-and snow-caked clothes. My stiff hands grasp ahold of the broom and they both giggle as I brush the snow and dirt off of their snowsuits. A few mild tears spill out Anichka’s wide eyes as her face begins to thaw out from winter’s chill. We just spent the whole morning playing in the forest.
Other than for a warm lunch meal, naps, and an occasional local children’s theater performance, the students at Marianka Forest School in the southeastern Czech Republic spend their days playing and learning in theforest—year-round. As a weekly volunteer during the spring of 2016, they welcomed me into their world and taught me far more than I expected to learn from four-and five-year-olds who didn’t speak the same language as I did. My role as a volunteer was to come from 9-10 am on Tuesday mornings to open up conversations, songs, and games in the English language to the little ones. Each week, I stayed past lunchtime—during my short stay in the Czech Republic, this tiny community became like home.
In forest school—rain, snow, hail, or sunshine—the kiddos play outside, and they play hard. They run up big hills, climb around trees, and slide down frozen dirt chutes with a running start. They learn about navigation, they use their imaginations, they become students of life—and teachers. In a natural environment, children learn more about themselves and their bodies, their relationships with others, and life then in any school I’ve ever attended. Here are some of the lessons the forest school taught me:
If we give kids responsibilities, they can learn how to be responsible.
On my first day at forest school, I walked past zlatá brána—the “golden gate” that marks the entrance to the school—and saw three children playing as they cleared the snow from the little walkway with their mini shovels. They were happy and playful in their task to help make their place a little better. It was such a small task, but their smiles told of their big feelings of accomplishment.
These young people aren’t helpless—they’re full of help! Kids love to feel needed and appreciated. When we give them little tasks and the tools to do the tasks, they learn how to take care of themselves.Even though it takes some up-front work and supervision, delegating responsibility is the key to educating and empowering others.
There is a universal language.
Even though few teachers or students spoke English, we felt the same sun radiate through the forest trees, we felt the same dirt beneath our feet, we played the same games, and we all shared the fresh air. I did learn some Czech language and they learned some English words and songs, but mostly we communicated through smiles, snacks, and snowballs. Rather than focusing on all our differences, we focused on all the amazing human things we had in common.
When the sun comes out, sometimes you just need to run around in the forest with your buns out.
On the first warm day in a while, we all couldn’t get enough sunshine. Since trees weren’t yet in bloom, most of the group played as the sun radiated down through the branches. The three girls in the group wandered off toward a sunnier area. From a small distance away, I saw them taking off their snow-pants. Giggling, they ran between the trees and danced in the warmth.
When we stay present in our environment, we become more sensitive to all the changes happening. When we’ve been cold, we feel early-summer warmth deeper in our bones. When we’ve been present in sadness, we notice when joy returns. While most people can find something to complain about in any situation—these children are paying attention to their internal and outside environments and making the most out of any weather.
Small hills are as important as the mountains.
On a race up a small hill in April, four kids ran as fast as they could, all barely making it to the finish because of all the spring mud. The youngest child of the group kept sliding down to the start. She tried many times and became upset. She was very small and the task seemed too impossible. I walked behind her and encouraged her on. Determined and slow, she made it to the top by her strength.
The little victories teach us about our capabilities and help us discover the courage to do big things in life. Each struggle we face, no matter what size, can strengthen us.
Breaking some branches and picking flowers in nature is much less damaging to our environment than never experiencing it.
I’ve been too many places where I see a parent scolding their child for playing in dirt or picking a flower. Yes, a flower will continue to grow better if left with its roots, but what’s the harm in trying to capture a bit of beauty? If kids fear touching nature and getting dirty, the activities and things they will use to entertain themselves with will be far less enriching and potentially far more damaging to their lives and our natural environment.
One sunny winter day I saw a child named Honza staring deeply into the skeleton of a leaf. When he saw my curiosity, he quickly invited me over. This little explorer revealed the perfect similarities between the leaf and the palm of my hand by placing the leaf in it and tracing the lines in both. He showed me that we are all connected, and some unstructured time during our day gives us the freedom to explore the mystery of it all. We can discover all the little treasures surrounding us when we receive the gift of time and slow down.
Whether they’re examining a leaf or a bug, playing red-light-green-light, picking wildflowers, sliding down hills, drawing a map of our surroundings, gathering sticks for firewood, or managing a fight with a friend—these kids were connected to the gift of the present at each moment I was blessed to spend with them. Under the forest trees we grew from the dirt, together, as the seasons changed before our eyes.
A beautiful blast of cool mountain wind invades the cabin as I open the window. My lumbar spine is sore from sitting so long. I feel my stomach draping over the seatbelt from snacking all day. The hair dancing around my face tangles around itself in a big nest. Sometimes I wish we were just there already.
One year ago, I left sunny San Diego for the uncertainty of the Rocky Mountains. Before I left, people would ask me, why? They assumed I got a “big-girl” job or fell in love with a cowboy, but I assured them that this was an adventure—full of possibility, beauty, and uncertainty.
Embracing this unknown, I pursued my dream of living in Bozeman, a dream that little Emma had when she was nine—for she knew far more about life than I do now. And it was around this same time when Bernard (then age 11) moved to Bozeman from the Philippines. With faith, I decided to follow Emmy’s heart, rather than this overactive and unsettled adult mind.
This heart led me to Bozeman, where I soon met B. It led us back to California to entwine our lives under the rock giants of Joshua Tree. It led us to the Philippines to connect with family and explore the languages and culture my children will know as their own. And it led us back to the land of the big sky and the mountains that touch it.
We’ve traveled to many amazing places, and I’ve learned so much, but the teachers have not been our destinations. They have been the long stretches of desert highway, the vulnerable conversations with friends, the chaotic lines at National Parks, the gear stuck on multi-pitch climbs, the rain, the extended time with in-laws, and the unknown adventure of each day that teaches me to accept and embrace who I am, and love daringly all the beings that surround me.
All the time we can find wild places and unparalleled adventure within. And it is possible to do this without traveling far. So it’s time that I stay put for a little while, grow some roots, and let these winds tangle my hair where I stand. I am already here.
The sun radiated through towering pines, laying a canopy over the dusty trail toward Suicide Rock. Idyllwild, California—the true birthplace of the YDS, home to the world’s first 5.9, and central to the rise of rock climbing in the States. On a clear Saturday afternoon, climbing parties danced up the trail to hop on all the classics. My mom and I planned to do our first traditional climb together—Graham Crackers, a two-pitch 5.6.
We arrived at the Northeast Buttress and joined the other weekend warriors—some were smiling, and some scowling at the increasing amount of people arriving at the crag. We greeted the woman standing below Graham Crackers who placed gear on her harness, preparing to lead. As we discussed our choices to wait or find another 5.fun route, a woman dressed head-to-toe in Patagonia interjected, recommending we try out Etude, 5.11a. A bit alarmed we would jump from 5.6 to 5.11, and a bit honored she assumed my mom and I would be up for it, I responded, “I do love that route but we’re looking for something easier.” The woman looked at me surprised and responded, “you’ve climbed it?”
With this response, she suggested that either she expected us to climb it on-sight, or that she simply said it to measure her climbing ability against ours. I calmly told her I climbed the route last time I was here and my mom added in, attempting to be helpful, “she top-rope on-sighted it!” In a condescending tone, she went on to tell me that doesn’t count and she would love to see me lead it.
The climb tempted me with its beautifully delicate features, but I was new to traditional climbing, I wasn’t warmed up, there were a plethora of stressed climbers defensive of their spot in the queue for Flower of High Rank—the climb just next to it, and my mom would be tense and terrified belaying me. These didn’t feel like excuses, they were valid concerns. And for some reason, my ego still wanted to prove that I could.
I looked up at the climb from where I was sitting and took a deep breath. I knew that it wasn’t my voice telling me I wanted to climb it—it was the insecurity of another. I smiled and brushed it off as if her challenge was a friendly joke. We ended up waiting only a few minutes more for Graham Crackers. My mom and I climbed our two pitches and had a great time together.
As climbing ascends even more into the mainstream, crags are becoming more crowded and the competition becoming far less than friendly. With this, we worry that climbing-related accidents will also become more common. We’re a community, after all. Why doesn’t it feel like it sometimes?
Increasingly, and not just in California, I have seen people pushing their goals—and insecurities—onto others. If someone has a true intention to do something, they will do it rather than spray about it. If you have a goal to try climbing indoors, try it! If you’d like to climb outside, it’s wonderful! If you’d like to climb 5.15, work super hard and get there! But please remember, we all have different limits and we all have diverse goals. Competition can be positive, helping us try hard and do our best. But not everyone wants to compete.
There’s a huge difference between challenging others to be great and shaming them for not being “as good” as you. It takes enough strength and energy to become a better version of ourselves, and criticizing others’ abilities and decisions is a waste of it. We must use this energy to grow, as members of the same community, and encourage others rather than judge them for growing in a different way. Climbing is a beautiful physical endeavor, but it can also help us face the weaker parts of ourselves so we can see that there’s something bigger going on than just scaling a blank-looking rock.
What we learn when we climb—about patience, about respect for ourselves, other climbers, and the natural world, about overcoming fears, about having grace with ourselves—can translate into our everyday lives. If we are busy invalidating others’ pursuits and accomplishments, we will miss opportunities to better ourselves and our community. Wherever we may be in our journey of ability, we must all embrace our own goals and allow others the stillness to reach theirs. Climb on!…if you want.
While many people in our country spend these frigid months watching the news or Netflix in Snuggies, most Bozemanites keep warm by skiing or snowboarding Bridger, Big Sky, or the backcountry. Unfortunately, many of us must spend five of seven days inside an office or a classroom—sans ridiculously comfortable blanket with arm holes—in order to afford gear, lift passes, and the medical expenses that accompany a mountain lifestyle. For the weekdays when the heavens anoint our peaks with fresh powder, and your closest view of the Ridge is the background photo on your laptop, try these excuses with your superiors.
“I strained my chi doing camel pose in yoga last night.” It’s really important to listen when the universe tells you to take a day off. Some unbalanced chakras could really mess up the workspace feng shui.
“I’m taking a sick day.” Although we try to discourage using the word “sick” interchangeably with cool, awesome, wonderful, etc., there’s finally an appropriate use for it—and it’s barely fibbing when used as an explanation for your absence in class or at work. The nipple-deep pow and the lack of lift lines are sick, indeed.
“I’m sick. Really.” Chances are you may truly be afflicted by a virus, but what invigorates your system better than some fresh air and cold smoke? You’re less likely to spread your infection while bundled up head to toe in ski gear; however, you are more susceptible to a snotty beardsicle—and pneumonia. Use this one with caution.
“My dog has the flu.” Most employers and professors will understand that you will need to be gone all day giving her medicine, homemade bone broth, and mixed-berry popsicles. Substitute “child” as necessary.
“My doctor recommends that I spend time outside to cure my winter blues.” You will probably do yourself and everyone else a favor this season if you just go outside. Ask your doctor, a yoga teacher, or the cashier at the Co-op to write a prescription. “200 turns in fresh powder before lunch, three to five times a week to help prevent the transmission of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Repeat after one week. Refills: Unlimited.”
“Do you mind if I take a half-day today? I’d like to take advantage of the powder.” Be real and remember that you are in Bozeman, after all. The powder clause and nature tax are real things here, and your supervisors likely want to get outside as much as you do. Odds are, you’ll be running into them on the slopes. If they still say no, give ’em a disappointed head-shake and mutter something about the robust middle-management job market in Miami.
When looking for a partner, it’s tempting to consider someone with a nice-looking rack or a sweet set of nuts, but take it from me, you’re better off with a belay partner whose gear—and ego—is well-worn. There are too many people out there who claim to climb, but instead spend their time flaunting their equipment on social media, seeking partners who will shower them with thumbs-up approval. Despite the occasional d-bag around the crag, there are still many bona fide dirtbags: people who don’t need the newest Prana climbing pants, or the most aggressive shoes, or lavender-scented chalk. If you too want to rope up and cut the crap, but can’t figure out why your climbing days still consist of the auto-belay at Spire, here are some tips.
For starters, talk to people. Many Bozemanites have climbed before, so you’re not putting yourself out too much if you ask, “Do you climb?” If it’s a co-worker, a cutie in line at the Co-op, or a babe in Burke Park, be friendly and strike up a conversation about how great the conditions in Hyalite have been looking. If you both are up to climb, exchange numbers, and call if you say you’re going to. Agree on a time, and if you’re the one who initiated the date, let your partner know what to bring and what to expect.
When you call, have a plan. If you ask someone out for the first time, remember that “Want to go climb in Hyalite at 1am?” is similar to “Want to watch Netflix and chill?” It shows that you probably don’t have a plan and that you and your partner might get into some very risky business.
Now, if you’ve never been to Practice Rock, tell the truth. Your partner will figure out soon enough if you were bullshitting about your Cardiac Arete lead. It’s okay for him to see that you don’t know everything—and just because you know some things, doesn’t mean you’re going to do all the work. Climbing is a team effort, and it will help your relationship if both you and your partner know that from the start.
After you do make a plan, show up. Be prepared and don’t expect your partner to bring water, snacks, or gear for you—unless he already told you he would. And it’s a safe practice to have extra water handy anyway, for when you and your partner get hot and bothered by the start on Theoretically.
In addition, try to avoid talking about all the long and hard classics you’ve done. Even though you may want to tell your partner how experienced you are, there are other ways—communicate well, help him feel safe, and climb smart. It’s easy to blab about climbs you’ve done; it’s more difficult, and more fun, to climb.
When gearing up, if a more experienced partner says you didn’t follow through your knot, or that your harness isn’t double-backed, listen. His advice could save a life. A good belayer will help his partner become a better climber.
If a less experienced partner is ready to get onto the sharp end of the rope, encourage him, answer his questions, be an unselfish and attentive belayer—and don’t beta-spew. Even if your way is the “right way,” as long as your climber isn’t in any real danger, give him some real words of encouragement.
If you’re not cheering him on, embrace the silence. If you don’t know your partner well yet, get to know him, but not when you’re halfway up the route. From 50 feet up, “What did you say?” sounds a whole lot like “Off belay.” Be respectful of other climbers, be mindful of the timing and volume of your conversations, and welcome the quiet moments between you and your partner.
When we climb for ourselves and encourage others to do the same, seeking to become a better belayer rather than finding the perfect belayer, we will discover that they are all around us. And it just takes a few awkward moves, sweaty palms, and courage to get to the top of the world with one.
Staring at the towers above, I imagine a gneiss crack hugging my fingers as I sandwich my rubber toes in a one-inch splitter. A cool breeze flows through the canyon, lifting my awareness higher up the mountainside and further from the water I’m in. With the weighty nudge of a paddle against the back of my PFD and a yell, “Stop looking at the rocks!” I snap out of my fantasy. A sudden burst of water in my face, and I’m back in the front seat of a whitewater raft—and an integral part of keeping it afloat.
Whitewater explodes all around us, and all eyes widen as we approach a huge rapid. Our Montana Whitewater guide, Michael, laughs and commands, “Alright, all forward!” Each member of the boat paddles at a slightly different pace, like a heart with palpitations, occasionally skipping a beat. Our strokes finally sync as we hit Hilarity Hole, an enormous hydraulic known for its hungry belly that flips its food over quickly and digests it without a pause. The only way out: ditching your PFD, swimming downward, and praying that it will spit you out with a breath still in your chest.
We make it through the rapid and water drips from our sunburned faces, revealing the smiles that were hidden behind our unease. After some small-talk, Michael guesses that rafting may not be any of our first choices and asks, “So, what’s your thing?” As the others begin describing some of their outdoor preferences — kayak-fishing, mountain biking, skiing — the serene wind blows through our conversation and silences our discourse. In a moment of stillness, we absorb the perfect warmth of the sun and take in the calm waves and breathtaking scenery. Despite our variety of interests, we’re all here now, synergistically enjoying this experience in Gallatin Canyon.
People from all backgrounds come through this canyon and its surrounding mountains — strapping on their Oboz, Chacos, or La Sportivas and flowing into their activity of choice, often forgetting about the wide variety of other activities available. On this day, when the air was too scorching to climb Scorched Earth, I didn’t even think to jump in the water. And just as I began to make plans to climb indoors at Spire, the O/B crew invited me out to the river — where we could step out of our routines and into a whitewater raft.
In the rugged waters below looming citadels of gneiss and limestone, we prepare for another rapid — this time we’re all a bit more comfortable and collegial. Our strokes sync even quicker this time as we glide over the whitewater like butter on warm bread, becoming one with the rapids. With water up my nose and a smile on my face, I understand that all our “things” are just small ingredients to this same fantastic whole — a whole that would be incomplete if we only saw it from one angle.
At another calm section, Michael tells us he came all the way from Indiana to become a Gallatin River guide. He hasn’t invested in a drysuit yet; instead, he wears only a polyester t-shirt — which he wore throughout his springtime guide training while swimming down the numbing rapids. No matter how cold he gets, he’s out here doing what he loves most — and trying to understand the other “things” that keep the canyon bustling year-round. To our left, he points out some lesser-known public lands to hike and mountain bike. Gesturing to the right, he describes the “granite” climbing. I smile under my PFD and keep quiet. He’ll figure out the geology in time — maybe by strapping on a harness and seeing the canyon in a different light. And who knows, maybe he’ll enjoy the rocks as much as I’m enjoying this river.
And this is what it’s all about, appreciating the abundance and enjoying the occasional divergence from the familiar. Rather than getting cooked on the rocks on a sweltering summer day — or, in my case, wasting it inside — I gave the river a chance, respecting another ingredient of the good life this canyon brings us. And while everyone may have a preferred way to spend time here, if we only engage in what we know, we’ll miss out on the variety and splendor of the outdoor world. Instead, we should savor the entirety of this place, where there’s always an adventure — around every corner, on every type of craft, with every type of person.