Hiking

The End the Middle and the Beginning…In that order.

It’s time to reach back out to you fine folks, our readers. Even though it’s been several years, it’s important to me to finish sharing our year journey.  So, here is one final blog post from our year odyssey we call Five and a Roof Rack.

 

We finished off our year in style, as planned all the way back home to Bellingham, Washington.  During the last month and a half of our travels something shifted:  We began arranging, planning and preparing for our life back in Washington.  Once home, we bought a house, engaged back into our community, enrolled the kids back into school and we’ve been there ever since.  But to stay on point, the last month and a half of our yearlong journey included important adventures some of which were highlights of the whole year.

 

Resuming where I left off, following camping and exploring along the mysterious foggy coastline of Big Sur we visited my cousin Ueyn, his wife Jen and their boys, Evan and Jonas in Menlo Park just south of San Francisco. We stayed for almost a week, hopefully the first of many. Ueyn was working on a top-secret project at Apple that he was not allowed to discuss with us, his kids, his wife, or anyone for that matter.  Now, many years later we learned he was one of the main creators working on the Apple watch function that monitors heart activity in people susceptible to heart problems. We were all delighted to curl up in their cozy neighborhood home for a few days, go on walks in the oak woodlands and barbecue with neighbors.  During that time we also went for a quick visit to another cousin Matt and his wife and son over in the East Bay.

 

Serendipitously Michelle’s brother, Simon, just happened to be at a conference in San Francisco. So we moved north into a downtown San Francisco hotel with Simon and played in the city for awhile. While Simon taught during the day, the five of us wandered the hilly picturesque streets of the city, went to museums, enjoyed music in the park and ate some pretty damn good sushi.  All said and done it made for the single most expensive day of the entire year.

 

After Simon left, cousin Jen and her boys met up with us again as we took a ferry north of the San Francisco Bay for a really cool camping trip on Angel Island, the “Ellis Island” of the west. With a spectacular campsite, we were overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge the San Francisco Skyline and Marin County. After two nights, we said our good byes to family and it was off to the greener North.

Things really changed energetically at this point, our minds were not in the moment like most of the year but began looking forward, planning and wondering about life back to where we began.  And so we traveled north : Redwood State Parks, Red Wood National Park, then to Oregon. Camping on Diamond Lake at the foot of Mt Thielson. Jacob and I got to hike up to the summit of Thielson, one of Oregon’s fabulous volcanoes. We spent lots of time on the rich grassy shores of Diamond Lake, thinking deeply about our big adventure that was now coming to a close.  Michelle and I knew that being this close as a family, just the five of us, may never happen again quite like this.  The life we were going back to felt necessary but not as important as what we were wrapping up.  It was bitter sweet.

 

We spent a day at Crater Lake, a volcano that blew it’s top only seventeen-thousand years ago and is now a magical teal and deep blue lake that does not drain except into the ground below it.  Journeying on, we made one final stop north at Smith Rock State Park, the birthplace of sport climbing.  It was well into summer, the typically hot weather took a break though and it was cool and comfortable.  We did a little bit of climbing and most importantly got to hang out with Jen and Andrew and their kids from Wisconsin, who had launched onto their own road trip.  Here we spent a last few days climbing, hiking, playing music and reflecting on our crazy year and wondering what it’s going to be like to go back home.

We were ready at this point; our minds had now shifted to the north.  We missed our friends and hometown.  So at the beginning of July 2014 we hopped in the minivan and drove north into the rainy Northwest.  Thanks to good friends, we found ourselves a new home in an incredible little neighborhood in the hills just east of town.

 

But that’s not the end of it.  First and foremost, once we were moved in we began planning our next year long adventure…more on that later.  Other things began to be very clear.  We were all happier and healthier…but something else happened.  We noticed we inspired others to do the same.  We noticed that friends and families were put into action.  People we knew well and others through connections down the line began reprioritizing their lives, putting the busy things on hold and going on their own adventures big and small.

 

We discovered something very important on our adventure. What we found was not just for our own family. Our mission of sharing our personal stories and experiences with others had gone beyond ourselves and has only grown since.  It has become our mission to inspire others to go on their own adventure, to shy away from the ideas of vacations and consumerism, that to be fair, are fun in very small doses, but to court something else.   It has become part of our work to help others find their Adventure; a deeply human experience, like the first homo sapiens who walked beyond the boarders of Africa or Abraham leaving Mesopotamia.  It’s an essential part of being human. Sure we did it our own quirky, and unique way.  That was our journey. Every family has their own story, their own adventure to engage.

 

So…naturally, several months after returning to Bellingham the question was not if we’d go on another year adventure, the real question was where and when.

 

As we considered where our next family mission was to take place we decided that we wanted a location where we could load everything up in a van again and just go explore.  Michelle and I also wanted a place that would not only be new and fascinating to the kids but new to us as well.

 

Aside from the destination, we realized that there will be another part of this odyssey that will be quite different. We commenced our previous adventure with a 1 year old who turned 2 and became potty trained and learned to walk and even run while traveling.  The other kids were 7 turning 8 and 12 turning 13. This time we are bridging the other side of family life with a child who is no longer a child but spreading his wings and learning to fly on his own. Jacob, by the time we’re traveling will be 19.  The hope is that he will  travel with us for sections and then go have his own adventures as well. Our aim is to grow and adapt with our family, while strengthening tethers of connection made once again from the journey into the unknown.

 

With all of this in mind,  we decided that our next family year long adventure will take place in New Zealand and Australia!   The date is set. The plan is to be leaving to Aukland, NZ mid to late September 2020 and returning mid to late August 2021.

 

Our intention is to continue to share with you, our readers not only the adventure itself but the whole process.  We’ll be updating people on our preparations: the gathering of equipment, the logistics and sharing our project out line and route. Those logistics will include the planning of the trip of course, but also what the home schooling will look like, the gear planning, the financial planning. We’ll be reflecting on what worked well the last time and what could have been done better.  We will revisit the spirit of what we found throughout our own country…the United States.  We will dive into what this American family knows and thinks about the smallest continent.  For me, even though there are some similarities, there is something mysterious and very unique about Australia; I want to wake up in the early morning and see an animal I never knew existed in a landscape new and different.

 

We are excited to share once again our grand quest and in doing so help give, not just an inspiration to others, but a template. Come join us as we prepare for mission number two: 5andaroofrackdownunder.

Categories: Adventure, adventure travel, Angel Island, Australia, California, Camping, Car camping, Cornicopia, Driving cross country, Ecosystems, Family camping, Family Climbing, Hiking, Homeschooling, New Zealand, Oregon, organic farming, Prescott College, Rock Climbing, Rock climbing kids, San Francisco, Smith Rock, Uncategorized, Washington, Wisconsin | Leave a comment

Death Valley

When Pacific storms slam into California they are liable to drop healthy amounts of rain along the coast before moving inland and getting relentlessly forced upward in to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. As the wet air is driven higher it becomes thin and unable to hold moisture, therefore causing it to condense into clouds. These clouds then condense into rain. Once the moisture gets high enough the rain turns to snow, lots of snow. The largest snow falls in a given winter storm are on average larger here than anywhere else in the United States. The air continues to rise because in the Sierras there is nowhere else for it to go but up. The Sierra Nevada runs like an impenetrable fortress wall down the eastern side of the state of California with peaks higher than anywhere else in the contiguous US. Only the burliest storms make it over the spine of the Sierra and then down the other side where the moisture evaporates and leaves just wind for the lonely basins on the  east side. What moisture does make it to the there is forced up once again over another range of mountains almost equal in height, only to go bombing down the other side even drier and further down until it bottoms out in Death Valley, the lowest, driest, and hottest place in the United States.

Our drive towards Death Valley took us through dreary and lonely looking desert valleys and over craggy desert mountains of the Basin and Range province. We crossed into California and soon after the border, into Death Valley National Park where we found ourselves starring down into a frightful giant tear mark in the earth’s surface. We continued to descend with feet working the breaks trying to keep our overloaded minivan happy in low gear.

The rock formations that the road twisted around were stunning. Stories of very ancient mountains were quickly laid out in the crazy scenery as we rushed onward. Even though the stretching of the Basin and Range began only 16 million years ago the rock that has been exposed is over a billion years old.  The elevation continued to drop until we hit sea level and kept descending. This big broad flat valley was made up of giant lakes back in the last ice age.  Now the water that leads down here heats up, evaporates and leads to nowhere. What’s left is salt, a vast flat expanse of salt. There are no major river ways that drain the Basin and Range Province. To put this in perspective, this entire region: eastern California, southeastern Oregon, southern Idaho, western Utah and the entire state of Nevada, is without a major river drainage. Mountain ridge lines collect snow and rain, it flows down hill like all water should but then poof, it’s devoured by the basins.

When we made it to a sign that read -150 below sea level, we parked our car in the salt flats and greeted the 100 degree heat. Curiously, we all walked into the sea of white salt and pulled shoes off to feel the comfortable crunch under our feet. The walking led to jogging and then regardless of the heat, to sprinting. You could run as much as you wanted in any direction and it would not matter if your eyes were open or closed. The crunchy white salt was uniform throughout the valley bottom. We played in the salt flats and our skin and spirits felt gritty and good.

 

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Back in the car we charged on towards our destination driving by towering sand dunes where Jacob pleaded with us to stop and explore. The temperature was even warmer when we got out and walking around felt like a huge effort. As we drove further and began the climb up and out of the valley the family was still, content with their books on tape or sleep as I quietly noticed warning signs that suggested we turn AC off so as not to let the engine overheat. The poor van pushed  4, 5 almost 6 thousand feet back up and out of the valley. The AC blasted as I thanked our faithful car for the big push. We continued down the other side on a road that cut through yet another lonely basin with nothing in it except the large expansive natural shape of the mountain and valleys flowing together as one with giant dunes on the northern end piled high just as it had been for several thousand years.

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Michelle and I bonded without speaking with our hands and our smiles while we deeply absorbed the freedom of endless scenery. Topping out on the last mountain ridge the Sierra Nevada stood in front of us reaching up into the heavens. They reminded us that not all mountains look like these dry basin and range hills. Their steep noble mountain slopes were flanked with the beautiful clean look of granite walls and ridges. It was like a fortress of the heavens and we had finally arrived. Snow etched the stately and tall lines which lead up to the summits which were crowned with clouds. The first clouds we had seen for weeks.

 

Categories: Adventure, adventure geology, adventure travel, Death Valley, Desert, Driest Desert, Driving cross country, Ecosystems, Great Basin, Hiking, Lowest Point, Sand Dunes, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Zion

As we turn on to Interstate 70 and head west we are quietly absorbed by the red desert landscape floating by. Jacob and Elias watch through the windows entertained by their audio books, Ila quietly sleeping, and Michelle and I are planning our next adventure. Once again we are coasting along at high speeds comfortably watching the inhospitable desert screaming by.  I look ahead and see the abrupt walls of the San Rafael Swell that our Freeway will float easily through as if there is nothing there and I am floored by how easily we can cruise around this country. How did this all happen.

In the summer of 1919 while the lessons of “The Great War” aka, World War I, were being considered by the United States and its military a transcontinental convoy of over 300 military personnel left Washington D.C. and arrived in San Francisco, California two months later. On duty on that convoy was Lieutenant Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower. It should be no surprise that in 1956 Eisenhower as president was the one with the vision needed to push through the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act – highways reaching coast to coast. Thirty five years and $114 billion after the act was passed the Interstate System was considered complete. Now recognized as one of the engineering marvels of the 20th century the Interstate Building Project is the largest human powered earth moving project on the planet.

Interstate 70 ends in the rural, remote and scenic mountain valleys of Mormon country, and here we merge on to I 15 South. I ask myself, “Didn’t the Mormons want to cut off from the rest of the country?” In popular culture they have been branded as a male dominated polygamous, bigoted religion. What I have found in Utah are very hospitable, friendly people, willing to go way out of their way for you, much more than is common. That said there are certainly sects that practice the old values such as polygamy. The United States government outlawed the practice of polygamy in the Mormon Church in 1890 and The Mormon Church officially abandoned the practice in 1891. Why does that matter so much? I believe that slowly the majority of the Mormons are and have been settling into the positive attributes and motivations of their faith which seems inevitable as they are a part of a larger network like the United States. This could also be attributed to the highways, the infrastructure, and the fact that although many want it differently they are part of something bigger, rather than a secluded radical nation or kingdom in some remote corner of the globe. We rise over another wild mountain pass and through canyons of the Mormon Promised Land and continue our glide towards Zion National Park for our four-day back packing trip.

We have promised the kids another backpacking trip for awhile. The time was now and we needed to craft the perfect trip for our multiaged clan. As Ila is older now she is less interested in being carried for long periods of time and so we needed an itinerary light enough for little feet with opportunities for great adventure. The trip packing was swift and marked a turning point in our family as it was the first backpacking trip in 13 years without diapers – super exciting.

Elias, when reflecting back on the trip explains: “When I first started the backpacking trip I had butterflies in my tummy. It was so fun.” We saddled our packs while Ila searched for the perfect “stick hike” (read:. walking stick) and we were off strolling our two miles in to camp on flat ground hiking next to a dry creek. After about a mile we watched in wonder as this dry creek bed gave birth to a running river due to storms higher up in the mountains. Our careful planning to make sure we had enough water suddenly became irrelevant as the previously dry wash was now the key water and entertainment source for the remainder of the trip.

Elias shared about the first and second campsite:

“We had a big pool with a waterfall running into it. It had big tadpoles in it. I mean big. Jacob and I raced as fast as we could through the creek and sometimes I won. The sand felt so good on our feet. At the next camp we made a Giant dam in the creek, it was really awesome. We could actually walk on the dam and the next day tadpoles started coming to our dam.”

It was a big adventure that will always rest in my mind as one of the freest wild times of the whole year for my kids. Ila and Elias were in the river and covered in mud almost the entire time. I remember seeing the two of them with an almost permanent look of wild and euphoric glee, bouncing on logs, chasing down rodents and insects. At one point Michelle turned to me “Oh my gosh, I think Elias is going feral.” I was reminded of a book I read to Elias at the beginning of the year called Incident on Hawk’s Hill where a little boy growing up on the Canadian Prairie runs away with a badger and over several months learns to live and act exactly like a badger. “Don’t worry Michelle, I think he’ll bounce back” I answer although I wasn’t totally sure.

Zion is a playground and adventure capital for some of the most scenic terrain in the United States. Big Wall climbing is popular on the Kayenta formation and Navajo Sandstone giving rise to the highest sandstone cliffs in the world. Canyoneering is famous in the Virgin River Gorge and countless locations around the park. On this visit, the mighty walls just acted as dramatic back drop. For us Zion was where we were able to keep our promise to our kids and ourselves on what this year was all about, connecting with each other, connecting with ourselves and connecting with nature.

When we arrived back at our hot car on the side of the busy road when the trip was through we got to work organizing. I became impressed with the kids. None of us needed to talk; I didn’t need to give directions. We all worked to blend our life from the last few days out of our packs and back into our lives of the past year and into our car. We settle back into our seats and Elias lets out a big sigh and says, “That was the best time I’ve ever had in my life.” I look at Michelle and say quietly with a shrug, “Maybe he is feral.”

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Categories: Adventure, adventure geology, adventure travel, Backpacking, Family camping, Hiking, Homeschooling, Interstate System, Mormon Church, Utah, Zion, Zion National Park | Leave a comment

EE’s Canyoneering Adventure

Driving from Sedona to Flagstaff is a treat. The road that leads directly up the mountain is one of the classics of the Arizona Highways. The climb takes you up, up, up for three thousand feet until finally it stops winding and you’re driving amidst Ponderosa Pine forests to Flagstaff. Through the trees you see the views – The San Francisco Peaks, the highest point in Arizona stand 12,600 feet tall just above and to the north of town making a pretty backdrop to the area.

We arrived at the home of my old Prescott College roommate, Scott and his wife Lindsay in Flagstaff and the mood was festive. When I saw Lindsay I knew she was pregnant but I didn’t want to say anything. They shared the news and the time to celebrate was on – they were going to have a baby! We soaked up our friends for a bit but things were different. In the past Scott would have played hooky from work to go climbing or exploring but not this time. Nesting was their game so we enjoyed small adventures to some of the fun rock climbing venues, shared some great meals and moved on to the north – Grand Canyon bound. Both Michelle and I have been to the canyon before so it was with excitement that we showed it to the kids. Through their eyes the canyon was new and full of wonder.

Elias tells us about his experience in the Grand Canyon below…

Dad, Jacob and I started our adventure hiking down the Bright Angel Trail on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. We stopped at Indian Gardens, refilled our water and cut off the trail to another trail that went around the hill. We traveled down a wash and had lunch and put on our harnesses. We then started down a canyon mouth that was shaped like the pouring part of a water pitcher. Daddy set up an anchor (which we had to leave with 2 carabineers) and we began our first big rappel. I went first and then Jacob went. We descended down in front of this huge cave and so we weren’t touching anything just lowering into open space for almost 200 feet. Finally we got to the lip of the rock and pushed off and swung way out and rappelled some more to get to the bottom. I jumped so I didn’t land in a bush. It felt really awesome to go down into the canyon. It felt like I was flying! Everything was before me like I was in the middle of a 3D movie.

Daddy came down and while he was packing up the ropes Jacob and I went down canyon. Suddenly there was a big drop. I stayed near the stream while Jacob checked it out and then we followed a small route that went to the bottom of the drop where there was a small pool of water with tiny tadpoles and water bugs. We kept going down canyon and there was another drop with a little waterfall. I tried to un-dam part of the stream and when I picked up a rock it jumped out of my hand! I shouted in surprise and Jacob came over to see what the ruckus was about. We checked out the critter and it was a toad the color of dark pine needles. It had pimply things all over its body. Initially it was squished between two rocks and I thought it was a slim rock but really it was about the size of my fist.

Daddy got back so we went up and over the water fall. Then there was a beach on the right side and a bit later a slot canyon that seemed to go all the way down. The right side of the canyon was kind of rocky lifting up on a slant so we walked until there were little sand and rock islands in the shallow water. Then we jumped onto land and walked for about ½ mile until there was a sheer drop with a waterfall going down it. I heard Jacob say, “come here come here” and daddy and I ran over and there were five Big Horn Sheep climbing up the cliff. They were tan with two babies, one with little stub horns and the other without any horns. It looked like the mama didn’t have horns but her ears looked like small horns. The other adults had curly horns. We kept going talking about the sheep when we saw rocks falling and five more sheep climbing up another cliff wall with no problem. Once in a while we heard “braaaaa” or “crash” or rock falls, but I felt safe because they were way up there.

We kept walking down the canyon for another while when we stopped and daddy said “here it is”. The canyon all the sudden became like stairs going down towards the canyon floor. I started to unblock the little dam of rocks that slowed down the water heading down the falls while daddy set up the anchor of rope and locker carabineers. Then Jacob started to go down and he said ”Elias, your making the water flow faster”! (It flowed right next to you as you descended the canyon.) Then he called up to tell us that there was another big anchor down there. Then he said “ok, off rappel” as he was at the bottom. I started next and I got down past the first stair and there was a big pond of water because I made it flow so fast. I started going down the second stair and there was a waterfall going right in front of me below my shoes. I asked Jacob how to continue so I didn’t get wet and he told me that I was going to get wet anyway so just do it. I started going and he said “you’re going to swing to the right“ so I flicked the rope under an overhang and swung perfectly to the water beside me without getting wet. Then I jumped over the waterfall and into the pool on the bottom and dipped the front of my sneakers in but the water didn’t harm them. Daddy rappelled down, changed into shorts and we walked further down canyon. In about 20 steps there were big rocks as big as a couch. When I got to the bottom I saw the falling water that turned into a stream and disappeared under a rock. I tried to dam up the stream with dirt and rocks so it would go the other way but the water was really strong and it just busted through the dirt and went around the rocks. We went on a little bit and the stream was back. Here we discovered this seaweed stuff that looked like a splattered out brain but when you picked it up it felt like a carpet and it came up in big sheets. We couldn’t rip it and it seemed water resistant totally dry on the inside.

We made our all the way down and hiked for a ways and finally got to the trail on the bottom o f the canyon. After two exhausting hours hiking back up the canyon, daddy and I looked and there was a purple throated, green faced, blue/grey hummingbird chasing a bee around a blooming yucca stalk. They both wanted the nectar. The hummingbird knew that the bee could sting it and the bee knew that the bird could eat it so they chased each other at a fair distance. Finally both of them settled down on flowers equally distant from each other to drink.

Up the trail, I spotted a tree that I remembered at Indian Gardens right where we filled up water on the way down and rested. We continued up, up, up the trail and finally got to the first tunnel which made its way a short distance through the Grand Canyon rock and spotted a lizard about as long as my forearm with a purple head, white belly and legs and blue, green, red and orange back. I knew we were very close. We got to the second tunnel and a guy asked daddy how far the canyon floor was. Daddy said it would probably take him about 10 hours to hike there and back. We then finished the hike and met Mommy and Ila on the Canyon Rim.

What a trip, we went down the Bright Angel trail, down through Indian Gardens to Pipe Canyon, up the Grand Canyon trail again to Indian Gardens and back up the Bright Angel trail. Our 15 mile adventure was over!

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Categories: Adventure, adventure geology, adventure travel, Arizona, Bright Angel Trail, Camping, Family camping, Family Climbing, Grand Canyon, Hiking, Homeschooling, Rappelling | 3 Comments

Cochise Stronghold

It could be that there is a spirit world, a world that exists on a different frequency than we are use to acknowledging in our day to day lives.  In this place if you lie, steel, or are untrue and you don’t stick up for what you believe in or if you don’t stick to your word, than your spirit person becomes less and suffers.  This is what the Apache believe, they believe that if you are always true and unflinching and if you make the hard but right choices, than you die free and you will be soaked into the universe allowing your spirit to live forever, giving power to all.  We are told that this happened to the great Apache Chief Cochise.  During a time in American history known as the Apache Wars, Cochise was a hero for keeping his faith to his people, a champion and devotee to the truth and to his word, and in so doing honored his spirit body.  Cochise defended his lands from the bloody Mexicans to the South and the lying Americans to the North.  His physical body was and is still buried deep within his spiritual home in the Dragoon Mountains of southeast Arizona.  Cochise’s spirit was never captured and is alive and well at Cochise Stronghold.

As our loaded down minivan raced the sun’s setting light to the Stronghold, we bounced down the road quiet and calm with the jagged spine of rock mountains before us.  Would we have enough time to use the last sun rays to find the perfect camp for the next 8 days?  Yes.  We pulled into camp at the base of a protective rock barrier with a big expansive view of the setting sun.  Stepping out of the van we could feel that this place was not preserved by strict laws, or museum like encasement.  Any stories or thoughts that were previously racing through our minds of things that may or may not be happening somewhere else dissipated.  We were quietly and peacefully engulfed into the present as we set up camp that first night.  We felt safe, welcome and invited to stay there.

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 It is said that the great Apache war shaman Geronimo passed freely between the physical and the spirit world.  That is how Geronimo could run 100 miles carrying only a spoonful of water in his mouth for nourishment.  That’s how he was able to help the passing of the Apache people from the physical world to the Spirit world.  Squeezed between pain and suffering Geronimo was known to be captured on purpose in order to achieve other means.  It was common knowledge that if in battle you were charging Geronimo or had him surrounded, it was so because that was what he wanted, all of your actions were a consequence of his larger plan, which was to free the spirit of the Apache.  The Dragoon Mountain Range, our home for the week, is considered a direct portal between the two worlds. It is where Geronimo brought 150 Apaches from the San Carlos starvation camp.  He led them into this maze of jagged granite towers and canyons, possibly passing though our camp, where they eluded the United States Army and made a pact with the spirit world.

When we awoke that following morning we turned our attention to the 100 foot tall cliff that was part of our camp.  Jacob and Elias put up a target on a nearby mesquite tree and began working on bow and arrow shooting.  I stacked a rope at the base of one of the routes and Michelle belayed me up as Ila played in the dirt.  We climbed 1, 2 3 climbs and moved on to breakfast.  Michelle began homeschooling with Elias.  Jacob and I climbed more.  The climbing was physical, thoughtful and low on stress.  This was just one rock in an immense rocky landscape but we had no desire or need to move on.  This spot was so intriguing and engaging that we made this our rhythm for several days.  Views to the west brought the Serengeti to mind and the rest of the landscape, a fortress of rocks.  Our imaginations and actions remained in the present yet life felt timeless.

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At the time of the Apache Wars the policies of the US government towards the Apache were set forth by such sentiments as this by the bureau of Indian Affairs:

“This race is destined to a speedy and final extinction, all that can be expected from an enlightened and Christian government, such as ours, is to graduate and smooth the passway of their final exit from the state of human existence.”

During the late 19th century this region saw the highest concentration of forts and military presence in Western US history in order to fight the Apache.  It was also at this time that the small mining towns of the region boomed.  The precious metals being excavated from the hill sides were in high demand as were whiskey and whores.  The most infamous of these towns was Tombstone, Arizona.  During its peak Tombstone not only saw a military and mining presence but there was the smuggling of cattle across the US/ Mexico boarder.  This brought to the region the “cowboy”, originally not to be confused with a cattleman or rancher but a slang term to describe “the worst kind of outlaw that there is”.  Gunfights were common in Tombstone, Arizona with the most famous of all to take place at The OK Corral, between  “law men” Doc Holiday, Wyatt Erp and his brothers versus “The Cowboys”, the McLaury brothers and Bill Clanton.  Tombstone and it’s legacy was so rowdy and so intense this is where the term Wild West was coined.  That Wild West is now gone.

On the forth day at our camp we needed two things, water and clean laundry.  Excited to see some of these infamous local sights  we drove the 10 miles of dirt road to Tombstone and found Tombstone in what is considered by the US Park Service to be in a preserved state.  It is true that you can legally carry a gun down the street in the state of Arizona but in Tombstone you won’t need one.  It most certainly is dwelling on the past with reenactments of the shootout at the OK Corral and plenty of Old West tourist activities.  But the streets are clean, calm and preserved.  The Wild West is definitely gone.

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We continued on to Bisbee, Arizona and found a strange big hole in the ground of a town that once boomed during the industrial revolution and many booms and busts thereafter.   Copper is no longer being mined there but the town is still going strong on it’s own right.  Artists, musicians and bohemian types have taken over the very quaint little town with tight hilly streets, restaurants, galleries, hotels and pedestrian life.

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For the remainder of the week we settled back into our own little stronghold allowing our souls and spirits to flourish.  We took hikes deeper in the mountains, we pushed ourselves rock climbing and everyday we felt increasingly better.  The good work is to push yourself without distractions.  We spent time with our neighbors Jodi and Mike.  Both of them perhaps 25 years older than us and kick ass climbers. They showed us first hand that taking care of your spirit year after year keeps you strong….and happy.  Thank you Mike and Jodi for your hospitality, for letting me try the belay glasses, for the blue lollipops, the wine, the yummy truffles and the camp fire.

It was a bit sad packing up our tents at the end of our time. We discussed coming back sans kids in a bunch of years to climb some more, enjoy the magnificent sunsets and sit under the huge starry sky together. For now, we are bound to move on.

Thank you Cochise Stronghold!

Cochise Camp Elias and Ilaserengeti 1 Stronghold

Categories: Adventure, Apache, Bisbee, Camping, Car camping, Chihuahua Desert, Cochise, Cochise Stronghold, Family camping, Family Climbing, Geronimo, Hiking, Homeschooling, Rock Climbing, Rock climbing kids, Tombstone | 1 Comment

E E’s Adventures

It was a Wednesday morning and I woke up. My mom and dad told me what we were going to do; we were going on a hike to the divide between the East and West Stronghold in the Dragoon Mountains. That is where the Apaches used to live and later the Wild West outlaws hid out. It is close to the Mexico border and to Tombstone, Arizona.

 I got dressed wearing sweatpants, a long sleeve shirt, socks, sneakers a hat and sunscreen. I packed my backpack with, head lamp, pocket knife, flip knife (that I found around the campsite under a tree), multi-tool (it has a compass, thermometer, magnifying glass, mirror, whistle and a flashlight), gloves, a sweatshirt, a water bottle, an orange and carrots, binoculars and my animal tracking book. I felt prepared!

EE's Adventures

We drove to the trailhead and started hiking up to the pass about 1 3/4 miles. I saw different birds Yucca, Manzanita and Alligator Juniper trees. I snacked on some carrots on the way up. Dad spotted a climbers trail off of the main trail and we explored it while Mama and Ila were catching up. Then we continued on the trail when we were all together.

After what felt like 3000 miles, finally we got to the pass. I started whittling a spoon, out of a piece of wood I found, and the others started eating lunch, I hurried to eat lunch towards the end. When we finished eating lunch we repacked our backpacks and started down the trail.  I spotted the climbers trail again and we started down it together. It was rugged, narrow, steep, bumpy and slippery and ended in a very rocky, sandy wash. Daddy found distinct footprints that went towards the right side of the wash which we followed. It met up with a narrow trail that went up into slick rock. We scrambled to this little flattish rocky platform. The landscape around us looked like a Dr. Seuss world, the rocks and boulders where bubbly and bulging, lumpy and huge. When you looked at them they looked paper smooth and when you went up to them they were rough like sandpaper.  Ila wanted to explore and went off with daddy. I started whittling again while Mama and Jacob relaxed.

Cochise

After some time Daddy and Ila came back and asked if we wanted to go. We said yes, put our stuff away and we left. We hiked back down the wash, up the climbers trail and down the first trail. A little while later I figured out that I left my multi-tool at the Dr. Seuss place. I got really, really nervous. I ran up to my mom and told her and she said we will probably find it in someone’s backpack. I forgot about it and started hiking with them.

 Elias and Ila Elias Hiking Ila at Cochise

I figured out that we were almost at the end of the trail by remembering the landmarks and I saw a place where I rested and waited for everybody on the way up. I yelled out “yippee” and sprinted down. I only stopped once to see what Jacob was doing. He asked me if I had long nails and I asked why. He told me because he had a big splinter in his hand. I looked at my nails and realized that we clipped them the day before so I told Jacob that I couldn’t take the splinter out. So then he said “ok”.

I sprinted down the rest of the trail. Finally I got to the bigger wash and I was out of breath but I didn’t want to stop moving so I walked to the car. When I sat down at the car I felt like my legs were about to fall off, after a while my legs got tingly and a little while later they stopped getting tingly and they felt like they weren’t going to fall off.  Soon after I heard voices and everyone else appeared, we hopped into the car and drove back to camp. When we got to camp a little while after I looked on the dashboard and there was the binocular case (which I dropped on the first trail) and my multi-tool. I asked my mom where she found it and she said “in your dad’s backpack”. I said “thank you”.  That night I went to sleep listening to a book. When I shut it off I thought about the hike.

The End

Cochise Camp

Categories: Adventure, adventure geology, Arizona, Cochise Stronghold, Dragoon Mountains, Family camping, Hiking, Homeschooling | 5 Comments

The Warm Desert

Our first Arizona morning as we hopped out of our tents, the Catalina Mountains loomed 7,000 feet above.  The North West side of the range that we were nestled up to is heavily decorated with big granite walls and long meandering ridge lines that spread out like an octopus guarding deep mysterious ravines.  The morning was very cold, unlike the mid 40s that Tucson was promised, we were 400 feet higher in elevation and it was more like low 20s.  The camp ground we were in was in the middle of a cold air sink that drained all night from the high mountains.  Hands were cold as I prepared coffee for Michelle which we enjoyed in the tent as we did in the Chihuahua.  But we were no longer in the windy desert and we knew that once the sun popped up above the mountain it would be warm.  We were now in the Sonoran Desert, the warm desert.

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If anyone has spent quality time in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert they know that it’s not just the warm winters, or the endless panorama of mountain landscapes or the stellar sunsets that make it so alluring, granted, those are big selling points, but one of the most interesting details lie with the crazy flora and fauna.  The biggest and coolest is the Saguaro.  You’ve seen Saguaros in cartoons or in pop culture featured typically in Monument Valley landscapes (which is in the Great Basin Desert and not where they actually exist).  Usually they are portrayed with only a few Saguaros standing around with a couple of arms sticking up.  They’re not like that though, they are much crazier and a lot of the time bigger with anywhere from no arms to lots of arms sticking out in every which way.  Unlike a tree they seem to have drastically different characters from one another.  Actually all cactus are a bit like that.  The Sonoran Desert has a literal forest of different types of cactus.  Prickly Pear are everywhere of course but then there are Barrel Cactus, Hedge Hog Cactus, Organ Pipe Cactus and then Cholla.

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Cholla (pronounced choy-a) and what Ila calls “Cholla O-boya” after a few unfortunate run-ins, are constructed with a main trunk that comes up out of the ground and then branches out; each individual subspecies takes on a different way of branching out to survive in the extreme heat and lack of water.  There are the Chollas that look like a tinker toy project gone crazy, such as the Staghorn and the Buckhorn Cholla,  there are the Cholla that resemble the structure of trees a little bit more such as Chain Fruit Cholla, then there’s the skinny links and sparse needles of the Pencil Cholla, the Teddy Bear Cholla with so many needles it looks soft and fuzzy.  But the craziest Cholla of all is the Jumping Cholla.  Jacob, Elias and Ila decided to test the rumor that the links actually jump off of the main body.  At one point in camp I heard Jacob yell, “Dad help.”  And there they were, all three of them looking dumbfounded with Cholla links stuck all over them after an unfortunate soccer ball rescue.  It was almost funny but pulling it out of Ila’s foot was nasty as they are definitely barbed.  They seemed to have learned their lesson as I have not seen anyone get stuck by a cactus again.

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The desert is not just choked full of cool variations in Cactus, the plants that have adapted here to cope with the extremes are fascinating.  Agaves, Yuccas and Ocotillos are like nothing you see anywhere else.  The Yuccas and Agaves are both in the Agave family with the Yuccas usually possessing softer flexible leaves, although they still cut your skin if you don’t watch yourself.  Most Yuccas are on the ground but there’s the Soap Tree Yucca which grows tall with it’s sprout of spiky Yucca leaves at the top and a strange single branch coming out of the top.  It would look like a palm tree except for the fact it looks nothing like a palm tree.  More like a Truffula tree from the Lorax.

The Agave, with its sphere of spikes that protrude from the ground provide the desert visitor with one of the most lethal pointy sharp things out there.  Actually, not much isn’t spiked here in the warm desert including many of the trees, and there are quite a few trees.  They average 10 to 15 feet tall and they’re spread out usually just enough to remind the visitor that, yes they are in the desert.  There is the Cat Claw Acacia with its nasty spikes and the Arizona Mesquite, which makes for some great carving wood and fire wood for that matter.  Then there’s Iron Wood,  which is illegal to harvest on any scale because it is so coveted for it’s “iron” like wood.  You actually need diamond tipped blades to carve it and is suppose to last forever.  All of these trees have sharp spikes but my favorite tree of all does not.

The Palo Verde is a beautiful tree.  It grows tiny leaves so that it does not have to use water for the costly leaf building process.  Instead the branches all the way down through the trunk are a beautiful shiny green.  This green is due to a layer of chlorophyll throughout the entire tree.  This allows it to photosynthesis without traditional leaves.  On these very green trees there are curious bushes of another plant that you see occasionally growing out from its branches called Mistletoe.  I don’t know the story of how mistletoe become the fabled kissing plant but I do know that it is planted by a bird’s behind.  The Phainopepla, a smallish black perching bird with a crest above it’s head, eats the plant’s fruit.  When the bird has to poop the digested seeds cause the birds butt to itch so it lands on the branches of the Palo Verde for a much needed scratch and presto, it plants and fertilizes the seed.

Elias is the ultimate dude for noticing all of the little things the desert is up to.  In a home schooling assignment where we asked him to write about and research what he saw  in the desert near our camp site, he writes  “The Saguaro cactus had holes made by Gila Woodpeckers. Then Elf Owls and Cactus Wrens live in the holes.”  His skill has already helped keep him out of trouble in this land of prickly things.  One night as he was going to bed he called out to me nonchalantly and said “um dad, there’s a scorpion on my shoe and it’s now crawling up the side of the tent.  What should I do?”  Sure enough there was a scorpion right on the zipper.  He was the best of our 3 kids to have spotted it…he did not grab it or freak out (Ila may have grabbed it, Jacob may have freaked out). He and I shooed it away and he was off to sleep. He drew this picture and wrote a story about it to mail to his class in Bellingham.

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After a few days of hiking and rock climbing in the Catalinas and at Mt Lemmon as well as taking advantage of the close proximity to Tucson for laundry and the things that are boring to talk about but feel so good when you finally get them done, we picked up camp and moved to another campground next to the Sonoran Desert Museum.  Here we could finally sooth our overwhelming curiosities over our new environment.  We were met with one of the most fun and enriching learning environments I’ve experienced from any museum.  We held pieces of rock from asteroids, watched Harris Hawks duke it out together and hunt for food and learned about the desert around us on a deeper level than we expected.  Jacob and Elias learned to identify the difference in skull structure between the Javalina, Coyote and Cougar and what identifies one as a carnivore or omnivore and not as an herbivore.  We learned how the world’s lushest desert, with only 10 inches of rain a year has developed so many fascinating plants that are able to make the most out of every drop of water that falls which in turn allows for life to flourish beyond what most deserts would allow.

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Here in the Sonoran Desert the wildlife is abundant and especially well, wild.  The animals are rambunctious.  I know coyotes live everywhere but did you know that they will not attack people?   We need to remind ourselves of this when we hear them going crazy every night, all night, crazier than you think they can get.  A few nights ago a bunch of them traveled right through our camp.  You could hear them on either side of our tent. There are more than just coyotes roaming around. Big cats are at their best in the USA down here in this cactus jungle.  Bobcats for sure and Mountain Lions….the lion just may eat you by the way.  But the beautiful and shy Occilot lives here as well and the biggest secret of all is the Jaguar who lives in southern Arizona…..they’ll eat you for sure.

Every dusk the desert landscape hands the show over to a heaven full of stars.  Brilliant skies.  When we “learn” we think of storing information between our ears, here all the input easily and quickly travels down our spines and into our solar plexus allowing the world to be relevant on a more personal level.  The mixing of the desert and the stars, learning and living has made every day a constant flow of contextual and experiential learning. What we learn next just may blow our mind all over again.  Our neighbor and campground host invited us one night to watch the Universe through one of his powerful telescopes.  We saw Orion’s Nebula, the most heavily studied and scrutinized nebula in the sky which is an intense sea of celestial matter making up Orion’s Scabbard just below Orion’s Belt.  We saw Jupiter and it’s four moons:  Europa, Io, Ganymede and Callisto.  We looked at the moon and all of it’s craters for a long time. Even Ila got a peak. We walked back to our tent, all of us quiet and in wonder…

The following day in Saguaro National Park Jacob wrote a Saguaro inspired Haiku as part of his main lesson work:

In Blistering Heat

The Sonoran Sentinel

Desert Mastery

Categories: Adventure, adventure geology, Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum, Cactus, Camping, Car camping, Catalina Mountains, Family camping, Family Climbing, Harris Halk, Hiking, Homeschooling, Rock Climbing, Rock climbing kids, Saguaro National Park, Sonoran Desert, Tucson | 11 Comments

Chihuahua

Beaumont, a city in East Texas, close to the boarder of Louisiana is among the wetter cities in our country.  With an average annual precip of close to 70 inches a year and surrounded by lake and bayou country, it is amazing that it shares a state with El Paso.  El Paso, one of the driest cities in the country receives on average 9 inches of rain a year.  What happens in the 830 miles between these two cities is the product of this fairly abrupt transition in climates:  Severe thunderstorms with dangerously big hail and a high frequency of tornadoes.  In fact the highest number of tornadoes of any region in the country is found in Texas.  So it really should come as no surprise that when a mountain range is pushed up in the western part of this meteorological shear zone there is a high likelihood of wind, especially on the leeward side of a range where the dry winter air mass sinks and descends rapidly back down the mountain range to the other side, pulled eastward towards the humid Gulf air.  It was such a mountain that we were headed to.

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On January 2nd we drove southwest across the border into Texas and about 45 minutes away to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  The mountains that make up this park were visible the whole time we were at the Whites campground.  It looked like an abrupt mountain range flanked by what seemed to be almost thousand foot tall lime stone cliffs.  We set up our camp nestled at about 5,500 feet elevation at a very cool campground at the mouth of one of the ranges intriguing valleys.  Once camp was set we were off to hike up and into the mountains.

Everyone was quite pleased to be walking.  Having spent a bit of time in the flattest landscapes of our country the towering walls that guarded the valley while we were hiking up was like medicine.  Jacob remarked that he enjoyed the hiking because it gave him time to think. Funny because we were in the car for days but it is the movement of our bodies, coupled with the openness that seems to let the thinking happen.

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There are the flat dreadfully barren expanses of landscape that appear in perhaps everyone’s subconscious when the word desert is used and then there is what happens to the desert when the landscape is not flat.  This desert mountain range acts like an expert water catcher and the strange and interesting plants that are able to make the most efficient use of this water are the norm here.  The mountain range acts like a sponge mostly because any moisture that does sneak into this area is pushed upwards by the landscape into to higher and thinner air until the air can’t hold that water anymore and it condenses.  Even though the Guadalupe’s are essentially in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert the highest elevations are completely forested.  Much of the high country is sloped northward which keeps the sun from beating down on it just that much more.  We didn’t make it that high on our hike though.  We made it up into the upper Chihuahuan life zones where plants were abundant and especially those designed to catch any water that fell.  Yuccas and cactus were all over. As we hiked higher we began reaching Junipers and Madrones which were cool to see because they are all over the place on the coast of Western Washington.  But there the Madrones are always on some south facing hill right on the coast poised to get the sunniest driest places in Western Washington.  Here they’re seeking out shade, small drainage bottoms, sort of showing a sign that more moisture is present here and not less.

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The following day we were reminded that we had gotten lucky, our hike had been warm and there was no wind at all.  That morning was very windy and cold. I made coffee and oatmeal on the little whisper light stove on the ground near some rocks instead of using our double burner Coleman stove on the comfortably arranged table. The kids and Michelle snuggled in the tent as long as they could before they needed to emerge into the wind blasts. We had to hold onto Ila! As we were packing up the wind grabbed the top of the roof rack out of my hand and flung it back aggressively.  Crack! The roof rack split and I yelled some colorful language.  That was when everyone knew I was not happy because we are one of those old school families that don’t cuss.  Somehow I put it back together and we got out of there.  Well, that was the expected norm there… wind.

We didn’t end up stopping at Hueco Tanks State Park like we had planned.  I have heard about this famous bouldering area for years and we made reservations to camp there.  When I got there I felt like it was just all wrong.  It was like if you were really craving vanilla ice cream, perhaps this has never happened to you, but you just want vanilla ice cream.  When it comes out it wasn’t ice cream at all it was like one of those weird Indian deserts…..sweet meats.  Ever try sweet meats?  Terrible.  If they bring out chocolate ice cream than it’s like, OK, that sucks, but I’ll eat it any way.  But no chocolate, it was like Indian sweet meats.  I hate that stuff.  I wanted my vanilla ice cream! Well, not only were you suppose to have reservations for camping, we were suppose to have reservations for bouldering and we were suppose to have a guide….for bouldering!  Just like I have never understood why I would ever want to eat sweet meats we weren’t even close to understanding why we would want to stay and deal with how convoluted and not relaxing the whole thing felt….so we left.

We drove on, almost directly North to a spectacular state Park called Oliver Lee State Park, which was nestled at the base of the San Andreas Mountains across the valley from the famous White Sand Dunes in New Mexico.  Here we had arrived exactly where we wanted to be and we never knew we wanted to be there.  We loved Oliver Lee State Park, we stayed there the next day and night and hiked up the fossil filled limestone canyon.  It was just us, it was great, it was better than ice cream.

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On January 5th we got up on another chilly morning and went to the largest expanse of white sand dunes on earth.  Two hundred and seventy some odd expansive square miles of desert are all made of grains of white gypsum that comes from several thousand feet higher in the mountain range directly west of the dunes.  It’s a case of the right geology and the right dry and windy climate that come together to create this very cool place.  Fortunately much of it is protected within a national monument because an enormous amount of the land between these two desert mountain ranges belongs to the US Airforce, warnings of missile testing north and south of the Monument is everywhere.

The Dunes were a sublime experience and Elias wrote about them in his Main Lesson book:

“White Sands was huge.  We went to White Sands, N.M.  It was totally not what I expected.  I thought there would be little mounds of sand, but there were huge sand dunes.  The dunes were very soft, cold, and about 60 to 100 feet tall.  When we left New Mexico we went to Arizona but that’s just another story.”

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After the sand dunes and many days of literally freezing mornings, I promised everyone we were headed to warmer places.  We kept lucking out with a warm day here and there in this windy desert but the weather was about to get quite a bit colder.  The last mission in Chihuahuan Desert was to go find an authentic Mexican restaurant in Las Cruces.  On the drive in we settled on a brew pub that looked like it would take care of business.  When we shuffled in to find our seats all of the locals were starring hard especially as Michelle attempted to nurse Ila.  Most of them looked like they had never smiled in their lives.  No way.  I got everyone up and even though everyone was getting hungry and cranky we piled back in the car and resorted back to plan A:  authentic Mexican.  Since it was Sunday in Las Cruces it took awhile but we found it and it was sooooo good – the real deal.   Back in the car and off seeking the sun.

Categories: Adventure, adventure geology, Camping, Car camping, Chihuahua Desert, Family camping, Family Climbing, Guadalupe Mountain National Park, Hiking, Homeschooling, Hueco Tanks State Park, Oliver Lee State Park, Rock Climbing, Rock climbing kids, San Andreas Mountains, White Sands New Mexico | Leave a comment

Thank you Chickens

Annique, my wild and beautiful Prescott College roommate and Thomas her friendly, intense and loving husband whom she also met at college settled down in the little town of Putney, VT. We couldn’t leave New England without a brief visit.  Over a decade ago we visited them in their cute rustic house on Putney Mountain with a 2 year old Jacob. Thomas shared tales of tracking animals in the VT winters – hare, deer, weasel following their prints in the snow, as Annique cultivated her hearty garden and found her own roots in the rugged and beautiful North Country.

It’s funny how the little things that seem inconsequential in our life can make subtle and lasting ripples. Way back in 2002 Annique taught us the art of singing to their chickens when we gathered the eggs to thank them (and to calm the rooster so he didn’t peck at us)!

”Thank you chickens,

thank you chickens,

for your yummy eggs,

for your yummy eggs”…

That little chant has become part of our family thankful repertoire all of these years since and is such a sweet way that Annique and Thomas are woven into our everyday life.

Over the last few years they designed and built a beautiful home tearing down the old house and keeping and developing the gardens. Annique, a well respected Midwife and Thomas an accomplished Acupuncturist and Chinese Doctor, share an office/practice in Putney called Medicine for the People and seem to be living a very busy and meaningful life as integral resources in their community.

Pretty quickly our families connected in a warm and deep way.  This visit we met Samuel their very sweet 4 year old son.  Elias quickly and quietly got to work on Samuel’s train set and Ila at dismantleling Elias’ work! As they have been lacking in traditional toys they were quite pleased to play and play and play and Samuel was a generous playmate.

Jacob was under Thomas’s spell after quickly realizing that they share common interests…Thomas has a vintage collection of comic books…! This coupled with his mastery in the art of bow making, tracking and animal awareness kept Jacob teetering between nonstop questions and nonstop reading.  He had his first introduction to characters like “the Punisher” and was later given a three volume set of books on how to make bows and arrows, the Bow Makers Tome.  Jacob was SOLD!

Although our visit was short we found time to hike through the beautiful VT autumn with Annique and Samuel, walking a few miles up the road from their house towards the top of Putney Mountain watching raptors soaring on the drafts above. The kids played on a magnificent old and huge tree, hiking home barefoot and free.

The day before we arrived, Annique, Thomas and their friends killed and prepared chickens for the winter – 100 of them.  Although in my vegan years this would have been quite difficult for me to bear, in my recent incarnation as an omnivore I was intrigued by the process.  Our drive across the country has allowed for a few good conversations on food, food choices, raising animals and farming. Very recently Jacob and I discussed different slaughtering techniques and theories comparing factory farmed animals and humanely raised animals. I understand, based on my reading and my brief time working on a ranch in Colorado, if killed humanly the animal does not experience fear or as much anticipation and terror in the end.  This is so much kinder to the animal and healthier for the person eating the meat.  Unsurprisingly, this was Jacob’s first question to Thomas after finding out about the chickens. Thomas described how he held each chicken closely and compassionately in his arms until he felt them stop “buzzing like a refrigerator” and felt more calm.   A wide eyed Jacob (and Michelle) were captured by this story.

Evening was spent with the boys helping Thomas stack a truck full of wood near the back door of the house in preparation for a long VT winter as Annique and I prepared incredible chicken enchiladas and fresh salad from the garden.  Around the fire Thomas brought out arrow making materials and the boys learned the art of crafting their own arrows by gluing on the feathers and the tips with the proper tools. They made a list of all of the things that Jacob needed to craft his own bow over the next few months which fit in perfectly with his 6th grade Waldorf curriculum and made missing school a tiny bit easier to bear.

We came full circle that night singing our thankfulness to the chickens with a deeper sense of gratitude and understanding.  All holding hands and smiling at each other around the dinner table we giggled as we sang –

”Thank you chickens,

thank you chickens,

for your yummy meat,

for your yummy meat”…

Stocked with delicious syrup and VT hard apple cider, we packed the minivan and shared hugs trying to convince our friends why reuniting in Arizona this winter is an excellent idea (hint hint if you are reading this Annique and Thomas).

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Categories: Accupuncture, Autumn, Hiking, Homeschooling, Medicine for the People, Midwife, New England, Prescott College, Putney Mountain, vT, Waldorf Curriculum | 1 Comment

Organic Farming in the Rockies

Larch camp
Day 2 – Day 6
Waking up in a Montana Larch forest to freshly picked huckleberries and French pressed coffee, care of my husband, as the kids slept, was delightful. After a slow morning of yoga in the sun and quiet chatting with Joseph I realized that nature is my medicine right now…wilderness, walks, crickets, wild chamomile, berries and quiet. There is a lightness that I haven’t felt in years creeping back into my spirit. It is contagious and I think we are each experiencing it in our own ways.
The previous evening was wonderful. As dinner was cooking on our camp stove the boys eagerly started their “adventure school” work, writing and drawing in their main lesson books about the beginning of our journey. Although I expect their enthusiasm will wear off as school becomes an integral part of the trip it was quite satisfying to see them work. Ila played her part. She participated by snatching up Mr. E’s crayons when nobody was looking, then running as fast as she could then stopping and eating them as he chased her down the trail. Ila’s entertaining yet goofy urge to eat crayon continued. We gave her a piece of paper with crayons so she could participate. When everyone was looking her way she would use them to draw. Once she decided everyone was looking away she shoved it in her mouth and started devouring as fast as she could. “Ila no!” someone would shout….back to drawing.
J and E 1st lesson
Ila's main lesson
From there we enjoyed the spectacular drive down to Missoula and took care of some busy work…Laundry, food shop, gas. We also learned that town life was complicated with our family of five. Instead of hanging around we wasted no time and headed North to the Salish Indian reservation.
Next stop, was our college friends’ organic farm, Fresh Roots Farm just outside of Polsen, MT. About an hours’ drive North from Missoula their picture perfect farm was nestled literally at the base of the dramatic western edge of the Rocky’s. The Mission Range towered above as we enjoyed this lovely resting place and opportunity for karma yoga. Weeding onions, gathering eggs, washing beets, sharing meals and playing in the sun, E was sold on the farm life and on his new 4 yr. old buddy Kena. Mr. J was psyched that it had wifi (read download more books) and an opportunity to learn how to fish and Ms. I was all about the animals. She made friends with the sheep, courageously pet a chicken and was pretty much the last gal standing at the end of each night with late night visits to see the cows, horses and donkeys. The stay included pasture walks, lovely hikes with refreshing and picturesque swims at nearby Flathead Lake – a lake so vast it seemed more like an inland sea with the Rocky Mountain rising abruptly out of its eastern bank.

Mr. E's new friend

Mr. E’s new friend


I, E, K on tractor
Days before we set off on our journey from Bellingham, Joseph Mr. J and I watched Food Inc. We wanted to educated ourselves before we traveled, knowing that the temptation to eat mindlessly and poorly on the road was too easy. We hoped that the film would make this decision simpler. Interestingly, we experienced the themes of the movie first hand on the farm. As the kids played on our last morning, our hosts prepared an incredibly bountiful box of veggies for us for the road and we packed up the car, a plane flew super low over us spraying the commercial seed potato farm adjacent to our friends’ farm. Although common to farm folk, it was incredible to our little town family that such spraying of pesticides (and earlier in the season, herbicides) was acceptable much less right next to a certified organic grower. The wind was quiet that day however is it realistic to say that all of the spray fell over the exact area and not in the common irrigation ditch or atop other parcels of land?
Flathead lake swimming
Kena fishing
Joseph and Karl harvesting
Over our last breakfast, Karl and Darcy, our farmer hosts gave us a quick lesson about commercial/organic farming regulations and practices as well as the impact of GMO’s and the power of large companies like Monsanto (with printouts regarding the major chemical companies that now own the majority of seed companies and the rights to the seeds as well as the major organic seed sellers).
camping at the farm
We left the farm with a focus on continuing to learn more about our food, visiting other farms across the country, remaining aware about our choices and feeling thankful for our friends in the gorgeous valley and their dedication to sustainable, organic growing…
The Farmers
Let the adventure continue. Next stop Glacier National Park.

Categories: Adventure, Camping, family, GMO, Hiking, Homeschooling, Montana, organic farming, Rocky Mountains | 7 Comments

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