Friday, December 04, 2009

Prayer for a Lover

The mountains are suffused with light.
I think of you.
My body is aching with sadness.
I think of you.

Some of my best days
Were the days with you
You've given me my worst
and I to you?

I miss you.

When I'm sick
When I'm low
I'm at my weakest
There are you.

I miss you.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


Jaggedy bike paths
and velvety night rides
these are a few of
my dangerous things

It is certain that I devolve
that my ancestors were panthers
Caged all day in pretty clothes
and encouraging words
the feral blood prowling in silence
awaiting its chance

The spandex hits my crotch
and I roll
threading my way
through velvety darkness
egged on by coyotes
yipping in the open space
On all sides of me
voices threading through the grass
across the trail
with just me slicing between

Five miles through State Park,
I see no other humans
I fly too fast for a girl without a night light
but am unable to stop
unable to tether the panther
whose need for speed
teeth sucking wind
jaw gaping
bugs splintering the cornices
of my eyes
Makes me whole.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

14er Bliss

I love the hard, pumpy feeling you get when you are working at going uphill.
I love the way my head pounds until a single chocolate outrage Gu stitches those frayed temple edges back together.
I love the way you have to step slowly and place each foot deliberately so as not to plummet to injury - or just waste a ton of energy.
I love the way you gasp in that thin air that yet tastes fresher than the air anywhere else in the world.
I love the way I don't shower or change my clothes for days at a time. (I am green!)
I love the way you meet people on their journeys up the same mountain - and they've come from so many directions.
I love the way my body stays in motion, the way it craves the top as much as my oxygen-stretched mind.
I love the way the world is at the top.

I love everything about it.

Mt. Belford & Mt. Oxford
11 miles, 5900 feet, 9:04.37
July 25, 2009

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Minimalist

You are tempted to take shortcuts, to cut weight and "things" from your pack, to leave it all behind... but the minimalist has learned a few lessons.

You will need a cap and gloves on top of most 14ers. Even when it's 80 degrees in Denver, the top of Torrey's will most likely be tempestuous. Winds blow up there. All the time. Sneak snowfalls and thick wet clouds engulf you. Even the rocks wear a chilly set of whiskers. A warm 14er is a rare find. Come down 500 feet from the summit and you'll most likely bake, but up top - the winds prevail.

Extra water and energy gels are a must. Sunscreen cannot be neglected.

I'm tempted today as I pack. To cut things & stuff loose. But even the minimalist needs warmth on a bare peak. Even the strongest need help, need supportive people on their journeys.

Into my pack goes the warmth.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Mt. Yale: 14,196 Feet

I summited today! It was one of those days where I covered a lot of territory. My favorite shot of the day...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

That Time of Year

It's that time of year. That grateful time, the time of reaping all we've sown. The kids are awesome. I ask them to write a sentence using the word "genuinely," and Ellis writes, "I genuinely appreciate Ms. TT teaching me reading and writing."

I have fought so hard with these kids this year! I have despaired of EVER getting through to them, of ever having them see that this - this intervention - is in their very best self-interest. Every day, they are showing signs that they now see the light. They are taking charge, putting themselves in the driver's seat with their reading and writing. (And loving their teacher, which goes a long way to repair the ego they battered earlier this year.)

Today we curled up around the lava lamp for read aloud. I got two pages into it and we side-tracked for a discussion of adoption and foster care and all the issues that lead to parents making the decision to not raise their own children. It was deep and close and caring.

One other nugget for the days next year when I have the new, untrained ones... Parents and teachers of middle schoolers, I direct your attention to this...

I let slip yesterday that, because of a schedule snafu, one student had spent an hour one-on-one with me in my office. My news was met with a chorus of "How come she got to do that?"

Aren't these adolescents supposed to be wresting their independence from us? They are not. Not anymore than we want to be free of them. I'm already sad about the year ending.

Yeah, I'm a loser. But I'm a grateful loser.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lucidity Comes in Liquid Form

Everything I ever needed to know I learned on the swim.

I did fast 100s. My heart beat so hard, felt so large, that I was sure it was going to leap out of my rib cage and make a splashy entrance into the water below me.

My heart was full, sitting there doing her nails. In all honesty, she was a difficult grandma. She was a don't-touch-that grandma. But last week, I sat at a table with her, soaking her chemotherapy-hardened fingernails and toenails, clipping them, filing them and then rubbing in balm to fend off the itchy, thick skin. My mom was there. My sister-in-law, various nieces and nephews ran in and out. We talked. We laughed. She stayed there with us, with all of that chaotic kid and family noise. She stayed even though her head bobbed with tiredness. She was saying all of the things she'd never said. She said them eloquently with all that staying.

My plane landed in Denver on Sunday night and my phone rang. I thought my heart would burst, make a splashy entrance into the sunlit Colorado air that surrounded me. I wanted it to burst, to paint the sky with a rainbow, to tell Grandma that 89 years was just enough to thank a daughter, to woo a grand-daughter, to be heard.

Your arms reach and pull, all muscles seriously scrabbling for more purchase, more glide, more speed.

It clicked for me. How to climb the mountain was clear. I learned it from swimming. I needed to bend down, crawl like a monkey - on my hands and feet, my core tight, my arms scrabbling for purchase in the slippery scree. I needed to forgo oxygen and push through in bursts. I clued in the climbers nearest me - my nephew and my sister. In less than an hour, they would summit their first fourteener. I would stand there with two of my sisters, transported from our lives on a rural Wisconsin dairy farm when there was guaranteed Holstein shit under our fingernails for the first 18 years of our lives, up to that place that defies words... though my sister, in rushing bursts, tried... "It's all so amazing... It's nothing like I'd ever imagined it would be... every step of it... but how could I have imagined this...?"

I stretched, long and lean in the water. I was all glide and no effort. I flipped and repeated.

Do you ever get the feeling that what you are doing - in this precise moment - is exactly what you were meant to do, that you have been training all of your life for just this moment? That your neurons, your fibers, your very self is in harmony with this place? Do you ever wonder how you got there? Do you shake your head at the very odd confabulation of events that led to it?

I end this piece on a packing night. I will be on a plane again tomorrow. Going to a funeral, reuniting with my family - to grieve, to celebrate. I take with me Colorado sunshine. I take with me the sweet stillness of a good swim. I take with me peace - and the ability to be ever-surprised.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Ample Spread

I feel the ample spread
when I sit down in my chair
My hips and thighs
quashing any resistance
from the chair
the loveseat
even the couch can hold
no truck with them
This truckload o' me
brooks no opposition

And while I'm bitchin'...

My hair is streaked with silver
I've got cottage cheese
- and not just on my plate -


My ample spread
not only the state of my
buttocks and thighs
but also my frame of mind
I'm comfortable where I am
wide-ranging and free

So keep your skinny hips
and your 6-pack abs
I'm comfortable with
my ample spread
my horn of plenty
my plethora
the bottomless pit o' me
(No pictures with this post though.)

Sunday, March 08, 2009

DNS Mountain Style

I Did Not Summit today, but Mount Yale was kind enough to reward me with one of the best failures of my life.

This hike comes out of the gate in your face, ascending brutally from the get-go. Up-up. So it goes onward and upward for about a mile, and then you leave the hard-packed snowmobile trail. You think the snow is crusty enough to support you - and about 70% of the time it is. So you slog along, breaking through every few steps until your frustration overcomes your laziness and you stop, unclip the snowshoes, and put them on your feet. Sweet relief!

Until even those can't hack it. I reached this avalanche chute - and man, those things are false advertisers! They look all white and glisteny and inviting, and then you start walking up them and even your snowshoes don't cut it.

I'd take a step and sink in up to my waist, falling forward on both hands. So I thought I'd be smart and walk up it on my hands and feet. Not so smart. My feet couldn't get a purchase. I'd step and scramble with my snowshoes, essentially running in place, churning out crystalline snow in my wake. Then I'd stop and side-step and gain two inches. It was HARD. It took me the most arduous 30 minutes of my life to get up the damn thing. I really thought I was getting somewhere, because I saw patches of rocks (oh, sweet rocks) leading up to the summit. Ha! That was the kicker...

There were more steep patches of snow in between the rocks. I persisted until I'd been out 4 hours. At about 1/2 (grisly) mile from the summit, I decided that Yale would just have to wait for me to grace its top. I had eaten my lunch, 2 Gus, Shot Bloks and jerky and finally caught on that no amount of fuel was going to get the spring back in my legs. I'd given Yale the the ol' college try and it had shown itself to be the BMOC. So I gave up and started down. And that was even hard. Did you hear me?? Glissading down was hard. Without warning, I'd drop through the crust and end up with a pile of snow in my craw. That quite impeded progress.

When I reached the tree line, things finally leveled out a bit and - the sun was out en force. It was 52 degrees and so bright. The mountains were in bas relief against the blue sky, the trees were in bas relief against the snow... it was purdy. I couldn't stay peeved. It felt so nice and warm. I slowed down and took a ton of pictures, frolicked, and just looked at stuff. All told, I was in there 6 hours.

Attempt concluded, I drove out to the main road in the teeny town of Buena Vista and - surprise, surprise - turned the wrong way on the highway. I realized it within a mile so turned around. I took it as a sign that I was supposed to stop somewhere and indulge the strange craving I'd been having. I ate a cheeseburger. I haven't eaten a burger in 15 years. I pulled off at this mom & pop place that had a lot of cars in the parking lot (that is my new #1 restaurant- choosing strategy) and ordered the quarter-pounder with cheese. It was charbroiled deliciousness.

That helped me get my head on right - and served as the icing on the cake for a perfect DNS.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The CLimBer

I'm exhausted and my fingertips hurt, but I can't sleep and want to write. My blood is still up.

I went climbing outdoors for the first time today. I keep replaying it. The holds, the exhilaration, the way it felt to just boss my way up the climb. Then the utter exhaustion and my inability to grasp even the easiest hold. The way my body told me "no," the way my mind could just not persist, did not even want to - the way I hated the rock and wanted off in the worst way.

I never felt unsafe. My belayer is too good for that. But I did feel unsure. It feels like a massive departure from who I used to be. The climbing crowd is part of it. The rock itself is another. Then there's my learning curve - the absolute mental and physical challenge. I could barely follow the conversation on the way to the rock. The terms, the names of (apparently) famous climbs and climbers... My climbing partners threw their jargon around like snow in Wisconsin. I was in a blizzard and just tried to keep my vision clear. More than once, I was snowed-in.

And that was even before we got to the rocks.

Once there, I soon found myself on belay and climbing Shelf's limestone walls. Implicitly trusting my belay partners and going all out, attacking the rock. You look for the weakness in the rock - and it ferrets out every weakness in you. I used every part of my body and every piece of rock that I could think of to devise a hold. To pull myself up those rock faces. I bear the battle scars. Bruised knees, a chunk of skin out of a finger pad, and muscles that I don't want to face tomorrow.

I attempted five climbs. I couldn't make it to the top on my last two. A meager three full ascents drained every ounce of my energy. My third climb was my most fun - but the most technical of them all, the bruise-maker. It was called "Don't mess with my Moves" (each climb has a catchy little moniker) and was "in your face" the whole time, requiring the climber to be creative in finding each hold. I remember being splayed on the rock, spread-eagle style to reach holds, while other moves had my hands and feet hugging an outward bulge of rock. That's where I earned the bruises; determinedly hugging that rock with my thighs and knees, not wanting to give it an inch - wanting to ascend under my own power.

Once that climb was done, I attempted the fourth and fifth climbs but found that I was done. My body was tapped out. My mind was tapped out.

Right now I am a CLimBer; my skills are as jagged as Shelf's burlier faces. I am going to have to work to get good at this. According to my climbing partners, I have a natural aptitude, but even with that, I didn't do a single "clean" climb. I either fell off the wall or had to ask for a "take" - wherein my belayer locked down the rope and let me hang to rest and consider my next move. I am far, far from being able to lead. It is unsettling to be a newbie at this. I am, however, settled on one thing: I will be back. I am in the place where it makes sense to do this.

As exemplified by this final photo. We left as the sun was beginning to sink. But a glance back revealed nine different ropes at work on this one wall. Shelf's hundreds of routes find just as many climbers. This is quite a place.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Mt. Sherman is Mine, All Mine

I did it! Bagged my fifth 14er on Saturday. I can now notch my belt with Mt. Sherman, 14,036 feet.

The trip was awesome - beginning with the drive to the trailhead. I topped two new passes and the view was stunning. From Denver, highway 285 leads you to the Mosquito Range which hosts Mt. Sherman. It also leads you to incomparable views. The passes opened onto wide valleys framed by the mountains. Little - like teeny, cardboard box - towns were nestled in there. I drove through and couldn't help but dream of purchasing real estate. You wanna be tucked away - that's the place.

After Fairplay (the most populated city in its county, boasting 610 souls), you turn off on a highway that quickly turns into a boulder-strewn gravel road. When that peters out into feet-deep snow (where the plows stop), you park and start hiking.

The hike itself was... incredible. It is a singular experience doing these 14ers. My other hikes are pretty views and tranquilizers; I find so much peace. These 14ers are all hard edges and adrenaline. You start above treeline so there are only the bare faces of the mountains and their individual shapes to study. Some have been uptilted, decorating their faces with horseshoe-shaped bands of minerals. Others are stout little pyramids greeting you. Others, like Sherman, while indistinct in shape, are no less impressive for their sheer mass and power over the landscape.

Though snow is the predominant color, rocks with their coats of lichen also dot the mountainsides. Occasionally, human structures break out of the landscape. Abandoned mine shafts remind you of Colorado's rocky mineral history. Looking down, you see fir trees, standing stark and dark against the white of the snow.

For most of the hike, I followed a well-blazed trail. But by approximately 13,500 feet, I had passed all the other climbers and was left to my own devices to find the trail. Naturally, I lost it (my map had flown into a ravine early in the hike) and I ended up making my own path. I could see the summit ridge so I knew which direction to go, but it was quite tricky picking a path. My choices were to pick my way up steep, slippery scree - or posthole up a nearly vertical wall of snow. And of course you don't realize how vertical things are until you start...

I chose the snowy path, kicking my boots into the snow for toeholds and grasping with my fingers for handholds. It all went pretty well until I reached the very last ledge. And it was a doozy of a ledge - with snow stacked up to my chest. And it was hard-packed. Kicking to test the snow and finding it unyielding, I considered Down. But Down looked more treacherous than Up.

Up it would be. I kicked several times before I could begin to consider putting my weight on the toeholds. I threw my mittens up on the ledge and dug handholds with my fingernails. With two good footholds, I heaved myself up and crawled on hands and knees once on the ledge itself. Tricky, tricky. Meanwhile, all the other yaks were gaping at me - and mostly going a different route. I got lotso props on that move on my way down. But mostly I just loved it for me. It's a bit ineffable, this feeling I have while climbing, but I'll give it a whirl...

I realized that day on Sherman that I am no longer just somewhat driven; I am summit driven. It feels like purity, like all of life's ambiguities are no more. There you find yourself at 13,500 feet, buffeted by winds and facing steep rock and frozen snow. I love being at 13,500 - much more than the 14,038. Thirteen-five is where the adventure is. The self-reliance, the test of strength and stamina. The choice between Down and Up, while daunting, is a clear one. And you write the ending all yourself. I revel in my body's strength and - dare I say? - developing skillz.

The top? Oh yes, I reached it. It took me 3 hours and 15 minutes. It was super windy so I spent very little time stopped anywhere - not even the summit. I snapped a few photos, signed the 14ers ledger, and began the descent.

When I reached the downhill of the less steep snowfields, I remembered an episode of Man Vs. Wild in which Bear Grylls saved mucho energy by glissading down an embankment. I promptly plopped myself in the snow and slid down, steering myself by slightly digging my heels into the snow or pushing down with the heels of my hands. It was a ball! That 3:15 it took me to get up turned into 1:59 for the way down.

Once finished, I was a zombie, tucking myself into my car, not even changing out of my wet socks and boots but rather doing all that needed to be done with automaticity. I listened to no music on the way home; rather I was accompanied by my own thoughts and the sensations of 14.

Mt. Sherman? Feels like mine.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Rocks Were There... I climbed them.

Path finding mid-stream. Better now than never.

Goal met: I reached my chair and sat for a spell.

Eldorado Canyon Hike 2/16/09


They come into my office one-by-one
these struggling readers
referred to me by teachers
who have related their
battle stories


They come into my office
and they perform
No, they transform
for those 20 minutes
they become students again
slicked-up and straight-backed
doing their darndest to answer my questions

Some can't sit still to save their lives
some can't answer my comprehension questions to save their lives
but they try
they have new hope
for that 20 minutes they see
a new teacher
a new opportunity
and to a one
their egos respond
the best in them shines
they have hope
they give it their all

That resiliency
that capacity for hope
is inspiring ...
yet sad

Because when my 20 minutes is up
they leave
Over my head in my office hangs
their hope
their inspiration
their assiduity
Over my head hang
the question marks

Can we?
Will we?

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Mountain Top

I am another person on the mountain top.
I'm the person who knows how to live.
Who knows how to give.
Who wants nothing for herself.
Who has everything she needs.
Who doesn't crave
or claw
or demand
But rather
and hears
and is soothing

I see far on the mountain top.

Photo - Pike's Peak Ascent, 9/12/08
Sentiments - Eldorado Canyon Hike, 2/16/09

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Did you see that streak?

It was me on my bike! It was AMAZING here in Denver today.

It was the kind of day that makes happiness leak out of you & everyone else you meet on the bike path, resulting in a culture of grinning that seems almost cultish. It was 67 degrees with sun, sun, sun that flooded the bike paths and baked the concrete. It was the kind of day where you yell (OK, I yelled), "Go, shirtless guy!" to the biker in the oncoming lane. It was the kind of day where you started out a little fearful, because - well, you think about things differently when you've been hit by a car - but then find yourself fearless because you have a mightily beneficent tailwind and every time you look down to check the gauge it's whispering sweet nothings to you... 19, 20, 24, 26 MPH...

You find yourself fearless because the sun emboldens you. You find yourself fearless because the downhills feel so sweet and rounding the curves feels tight and fast. You find yourself fearless because your bike feels like an extension of you and you are lithe and strong and healed and - best of all - on the road again. Riding out the thoughts of the day, obsessing over the kids, the colleagues, the lesson plans, the problem solving until you've ridden them all out. And all that's left is you and the motion and the pure mounting joy...

Today: 21.4 miles, 19.4 MPH Av.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Dumb Dog

Dumb dog, why are you following me?

Mostly just his big puppy eyes follow me around - to see if I'm catching him at his various misdeeds. But he's been kicked around and neglected like orphan Annie's dog. And people think he's dumb. But, those same sneaky eyes have finally started to meet mine when we're working in small group.

His mom is crazy, his dad long-absent. School is a grind for him, a place where he fails, where he doesn't get the unwritten rules - much less the written ones. He is craving safety, craving acceptance, craving a place where he can succeed. He would never say that, but we teachers, we can read it. And I can give him that. I am working hard, thinking hard, advocating and fighting hard to keep minds open about him, to keep people believing in him. So that WE can give him that. A guaranteed education that he can access.

And then, on my other battle front, I am teaching him that a teacher is not always Teacher. We are not flat placards of lesson plans and discipline. We understand, we listen, we see flashes of insight and pull, pull, pull, dredge the depths of brains. Begging for more, helping to shape thoughts, to find words, to think, to self-advocate, to understand.

And he is getting there. He is so close. He is opening up, he is attempting. He is becoming a student. He might even be beginning to believe that he can, he could, he just might... succeed.

He's Making a List

He's making a list
he's checking it twice
He's using exclamation points
about ME!
He's can't waiting
and advanced packing
My baby's coming for a visit

He's coming home
to me
in this place of sunshine
this 300+ sunny-days state
my internal & heart-earned fate
After dwelling in his place of darkness
for so long
he is coming to my light

and I?

I am ready
I am a woman in full
I bike through the sunlight
and claim it as my own
I'm going to baste him in my warmth
He's going to bask in my glow

I'm walking on air
I'm jumping off bridges
This here cloud nine will always catch me

Sing it from the mountaintops
Spread it on your bread
TT is in love.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Canvas

I'm living my daydream. It came to me on today's hike. Okay, so it's only one of the bazillion daydreams that I've had of my life, but how many lives do you have anyways?

I used to daydream that I'd hike in gorgeous mountains every weekend. I used to dream that I'd become a climber. I used to imagine that I'd find my center and let the other stuff swirl on around me.



And check.

A year & a half ago, I remember sitting in my newly-rented apartment - right when I first moved out - drawing myself a web. In the center was me and then the tentacles reached out, pointing to the major portions of my life: my personal relationships, my athleticism, teaching. I thought that drawing the web might help me unify all of those people and things that had only me in common. It didn't. It has taken a year & a half of stumbling through some days, "acting as if" on many others -and just plugging away at my mantra of eat right, sleep right, and exercise - to bring me to this spot today.

The peaceful spot. The pond upon whose surface others' jagged edges may be reflected, but whose ripples are all her own. I have become the glue of that web. I've added some things and removed others, but mostly I've placed myself at the center of it, firmly planted, not seeing in black & white, yet knowing where my lines are drawn - and who will be allowed to cross them.

And (puh-raise the lord!) I'm having fun. I awoke from a dream laughing out loud this week. Two mornings I woke up before my alarm to play guitar - and a third to get out hiking today. There were times over this last year & a half that I woulda sworn I'd never have fun again.

So here I find myself. With this Colorado canvas. And I'm painting.