Above Tree Line: September and October

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Intentions are a means of getting ourselves where we want to be, rather than letting life’s currents spin us along.  Not that letting currents take you into unknown and unexpected territory is a bad thing.  After all, my tag line for this blog is “Life is more about floating down river than it is marching across a field.”

Balance is the key, between letting events and experiences unfold, and making sure you have enough of what sustains you in your life.  The intention David and I committed to for this year — to get above tree line at least once a month — was meant to make sure we have enough hiking in our lives, because hiking to a view is nourishing for both of us.  The effort, the exercise, often the friends with us on the hikes, the reliable renewal of being outdoors, and the visual expanse all contribute to the pleasure we get from being above tree line.

So does the hiking we did in Arizona and Utah count towards that intention?  Yes. Even though we weren’t technically getting above tree line, we were hiking.  A lot.  In fact, in the Grand Canyon we hiked down to an elevation that would be far above tree line in New Hampshire, and for the entire time we were out west we were at elevations that would be above tree line here.  We had expansive views on every hike, mostly because we were below tree line, we were outside for most of every day, and there was plenty of effort and exercise, often to get to a mesa top where there were trees again, after walking through rock-walled canyons.

We had the intention of going out west to center our days around being outdoors, walking in new territory, and seeing vastly different landscapes.  And that’s what happened.  It was grand.

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Be Happier

1378488_759276826206_1352928517_nThe unveiling of Natalie’s tombstone was Sunday at the Hebrew United Cemetery in Waterbury, CT. David and I met Adrienne, Matt, Emilio and Sam early for bagels (I think Waterbury has been the center of my bagel-eating life), then went to the cemetery to meet up with Eric’s brother and sister and cousin.  We’d all been to this cemetery many times, for the burials and unveilings of Eric’s parents and an aunt and uncle.  But we’d never been there in anything but inclement weather, either so frigid it was painful to stay until all the dirt had been shoveled back into the grave (a mitzvah the Rabbi had excused us from at Natalie’s funeral, saying it was dangerously cold) or so hot retreating to shade was the only sensible thing to do as soon as the service and burial were completed.

But Sunday we had over an hour in the cemetery before the unveiling, so we walked far from the corner where Eric’s parents and Aunt Belle and Uncle Babe are buried, into an expansive and attractive cemetery we hadn’t even known was there.  There were tombstones shaped like tree stumps, in a variety of thicknesses and heights, iron-fenced enclosures, and tall hard wood trees filtering sunlight through red and yellow leaves. Lovely.

When the Rabbi arrived and began the ceremony, he started by talking about Natalie’s legacy.  “What we all learned from Natalie was to try to be gentler, be kinder, be happier and be friendlier.”  Yes, I thought.  Exactly.

Because you can decide to be happier.  The field of positive psychology is burgeoning and is full of research about how to be happier, including tryng to be happy.  Concentrating on the positive aspects of life, celebrating all successes, however small, and focusing on what there is to be grateful for all contribute to a more satisfied state of mind.

When David and I saw the movie “Lincoln” last year, we looked at each other during the scene when Abe turns to Mary and says, “We must try to be happier. We must. Both of us. We’ve been so miserable for so long.”  David and I felt like Abe was talking to us.

Want to try being happier?  Read about The Habits of Supremely Happy People.  “Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, theorizes that while 60 percent of happiness is determined by our genetics and environment, the remaining 40 percent is up to us.” I’m working on that 40% and it’s working.

Civil Obedience Santa Fe Style

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David and I arrived in Santa Fe on Saturday night, after a drive through Southern Colorado that we both found stunning and comforting at the same time.  Land more like home, hillsides colored with vegetation rather than layers of rock, open valleys with horses and cows, and the southern end of the Rockies making a jagged ridge of the far horizon.  We came here with the intention of spending time with Marsie, experiencing the delights of this city, and being civil and obedient.  In other words, relaxing.  We’ve achieved all those goals.

After four days in Santa Fe I now understand why people are smitten with this city.  The russet and cashew-colored adobe buildings, with their low profiles, soft rounded edges and decorative wooden doors are soothing to walk among.  The coyote fences made from rows of standing sticks are unlike anything at home, able to last in the dry air under perpetually sunny skies.  The people are friendly and talkative and everyone has a story of how they came to be in Santa Fe.  There is art on every corner, in a gallery or a courtyard or the central plaza.  Mountains define the horizons, whether up close or distant, and there is a network of trails throughout the city, including the 5 mile trail we hiked yesterday that took us to the top of Atalaya Mountain, a 1,500 foot climb to look over Santa Fe below.  And the food is simply fabulous.  We’ve had a couple of meals here that compare to anything we’ve had anywhere.

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But it’s more than all these things by themselves. There’s a slower vibe here, an appreciation for beauty and the sensual delights of a hospitable climate and stunning natural world.  The colors are vibrant and striking and subtle at the same time, with sage brush spreading across red earth, interspersed with the deep green of pinyon pine and juniper.  In the mountains ponderosa pine hold their broad needle fans up into the sky to contrast their sun-sheened green with the deep blue.  It makes me feel relaxed, and that’s no small thing for me.

We fly back to New Hampshire today.   It’s been a grand trip and we’re already planning the next western adventure.  In the meantime, David is busy organizing a NationalParksProtest movement, so check out his blog Old Man Bad Back.  Want to take back our national parks and make a statement about the government shutdown?   This is your chance.

Civil Disobedience, Rangers and Cowboy Poets

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Just as we were rounding the first mound of rock to disappear on the Chimney Rock Trail in Capital Reef National Park yesterday, we heard a siren whirl from the road and saw a National Park truck pulling up to the trailhead.  We’d parked in a pull-out up the road and walked down to the trail.  The word in town (because we’d talked to people as we bought groceries and coffee) was that all the trail entrances along Route 24 were blocked, people were parking elsewhere and walking to the trails, and if they got caught, were being given $150 tickets.  David and I stopped and looked and a woman got out of the truck and yelled at us.  “You need to come back and get off this trail.”

We walked back.  The ranger began the conversation by being firm and telling us we had to leave, that it didn’t matter to her if we felt we weren’t doing anything wrong by walking on our public land, and that we’d get ticketed (yes, $150) and even arrested if we didn’t get off the trail.

“But we were in the park yesterday,” I said.  We’d gone to the southern end of Capital Reef the day before, because we’d heard (everyone out here is talking about the national park closures) at dinner that the eastern and southern ends of the park were open.  “They only have 5 rangers for the whole park,” one person told us.  “They can’t patrol it all.”

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We’d driven the long, gravel Notom Road down the eastern side of the park, then turned on the Burr Trail, a 35 mile road that climbs through the Waterpocket Fold of Capital Reef on steep and narrow switchbacks.  The fold is an upheaval of layers of the earth along a fault that’s almost 100 miles long and that reaches over 2500 feet (it used to reach over 7,000 feet).  David and I had hiked the Upper Muley Twist Canyon the day before, which follows the wash of a river through the spine of the fold after climbing to the top, providing incredible views of the jumbled rocks stretching north and south.

Photo from Wikipedia
Photo from Wikipedia

“We were on the Upper Muley Twist trail yesterday,” I told the ranger.  “Well you were hiking illegally,” she said.  We hadn’t really engaged in civil disobedience, I thought but didn’t say, because there were no signs saying the trail was closed.  Instead, I told the ranger I felt a moral obligation to continue to hike as planned, in spite of the national park closures, because I truly believe the parks are public land and that the public can’t be denied access.  David talked to her about his vision of national park protests and sit-ins by older Americans, the people taking back the parks.  “You’d need to pick a more well-known park than this one,” she said.  She argued with us for a few more minutes, but then started suggesting other hikes that wouldn’t be illegal and asked us not to continue with our protest right then and there by continuing to hike, “because then I’ll have to arrest you and take you to jail all the way in St. George, and that’s not going to be fun for anyone.” 

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The ranger was reasonable, she was only doing her job (without pay), she was listening to us and she was nice.  We didn’t want to ruin her day, and we didn’t want to spend the weekend in jail (which the ranger had told us would likely happen if she did arrest us) so we left, after thanking her for working without pay.  We drove back down the Notom Road to Cottonwood Wash, another river bed that runs west into the Waterpocket Fold, and walked up through a series of unimaginably varied, colorful and angled rocks.

We’d shifted our plans and decided to do half of the long drive back to Santa Fe yesterday, rather than a 10 hour drive today, so we came to Durango, Colorado last night.  We’d heard it’s a wonderful town (it is) and the drive was spectacular, with the widely varying landscapes we’ve come to expect on this trip, including a long descent through a red canyon, 1,000 foot walls of Navajo sandstone rising on either side of us, and dropping us at a northern edge of Lake Powell where the Dirty Devil and Colorado Rivers flow in.  Towards the end of the drive we got into more familiar looking mountains, forested with spruce and colored russet and golden with the changing foliage of oaks.

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We expected an interesting and charming town, steeped in cowboy culture, which we found.  What we didn’t expect is that this weekend is the 25th anniversary Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering.  Last night after dinner we walked into the Strater Hotel and listened to cowboy poets reading and singing and telling stories.  All the men were wearing cowboy hats and all the poems rhymed.

The next four days in Santa Fe don’t include plans to visit national parks, so our days of civil disobedience might be over.  Or maybe we’ll get back to New Hampshire and start organizing in a park people have heard of.  A sit-in at Acadia next weekend?

National Park Civil Disobedience Day 2

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“I’m not talking to you anymore,” the man ranger said to David, holding his hands up as if to push David away. We’d stopped to get out and talk to the rangers when we saw two of them standing in front of orange cones and making cars turn around on the road into Bryce Canyon National Park.  I was having better luck talking to the woman ranger.

“Would I be breaking a federal law or a regulation if I drive down the road and park?” I asked her and she said she wasn’t sure, but then decided it was a federal law.  “You’ll be arrested,” she said.  “We have national park law enforcement and they’ll arrest you and take you to jail.”  By then David had joined the conversation, since the man ranger wouldn’t talk to him any more.

“I’m in a place in my life where that might be okay,” David said.  “What jail would they take us to?”  David and I told the ranger about our idea of organizing thousands of vacationing grandparents and getting them to stage a sit-in at a national park lodge and refuse to move.  I told her about my history of civil disobedience, having been arrested at the Seabrook nuclear power plant and at a Wall Street protest in the 70’s.  She told us she was working without pay, “because I love this park.”  We told her we’d created a Twitter hashtag #nationalparksprotest but since I only have about 80 Twitter followers and David just set up a Twitter account last night to tweet under that hashtag it probably wasn’t going to get a lot of traction.  She laughed.

David and I thanked both rangers for working without pay, then got in the car and drove down a dirt road we found out of the parking area across the street.  We found crowds of people on the rim of the canyon, most of them having taken a back road behind the Bryce Canyon Best Western, some in tour buses.  We crossed the fence into the park and started walking, following foot paths along the edge of the canyon.  The further we walked the more spectacular the hoodoos (the spires of rock that make Bryce so remarkable) became.  The rocks got redder and the canyon glowed with color.

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At a mile and a half we reached the first parking area of the park and picked up the official park trails.  We kept going until we reached Sunrise Point, an elevated platform which looks out over the Bryce Amphitheater.  We were the only ones there.  The only people we met actually in the park (most people who’d come in the back road to the rim weren’t going more than a few hundred yards) were Europeans.  I welcomed them to our national park and they smiled and thanked me.

Tomorrow, Capital Reef National Park, which is vast and criss-crossed with back roads.  We’ll find a place to park and take another hike on our public land.

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National Park Civil Disobedience

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David and I were already planning to hike the East Rim Trail in Zion National Park today. The trail head is only a few miles down the road from where we’re staying, just inside the east entrance to the park, and we were looking for a less crowded area to hike.  We also knew the government was probably going to shut down and we figured this would be an easier place to access the park.  We knew we’d get past the entrance, because Utah State Route 9 runs through the park.

At the entrance the ranger in the booth told us the park was closed, that we could only drive through on Rte. 9 and couldn’t stop anywhere on the road.  So we drove the 100 yards to the turn off for the trail head and pulled in.  Just before the parking area, the gate was closed.  I got out of the car, untied the yellow caution tape (Caution, Congress in Session?), opened the gate and David drove through.  We parked and started our hike.

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The trail was beautiful, less majestic than in Zion Canyon, but quiet and still full of an amazing variety of rock formations and views of cliffs and tree topped mesas. We only saw 6 other people during our morning hike — on most Zion trails you see 6 people in the first minute of the hike.  A man and his son were sitting at the top of Jolly Gulch, looking down the canyon when we arrived.

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“We’re practicing civil disobedience,” I said.  “The parking area at the trailhead was gated, but we just opened the gate and came in.”  The man nodded.  “I had the same thought,” he said.  He and his son had driven a back road to the boundary of the park, just behind the canyon and walked in.  “This is a good place to be today.”  Hiking back to the trial head we met two couples on the trail.   They’d parked just outside the entrance of the park and walked in.  They couldn’t go hiking from the park campground where they were staying, because they were told “you can’t recreate in the park.”  They have to leave their campsite by tomorrow.

So today no one got to hike to Observation Point, which we did yesterday,  unless they did a very, very long hike in from the East Rim Trail (another 7 miles from where we turned around today, then you’d have to come back).  It was a grand hike, up through part of Echo Canyon, where the red sandstone has been washed into curves and ripples.

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Following switchbacks up the cliff faces, we reached the top of the mesa and walked through scrub vegetation, out to a point with views down Zion Canyon.

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Tomorrow we’re headed for Bryce Canyon National Park, and we’ve been studying topo maps to figure out how to get into the park and hike.  And we will get into the park and hike. Woody Guthrie had it right.

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island; 
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters 
This land was made for you and Me.