Wonderful Lives

Kristina and I have made an annual holiday tradition of watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” – with its message about one person’s life making a difference to so many other lives. This seems especially pertinent to me now because over the past several months so many people I was connected with passed away – including a couple of cousins, three aunts, and my blacksmithing teacher – and I’ve thought about how each of them made a difference to me and to the other people around them.

Making a difference to others isn’t just about people. In the past year Kristina and I also lost a dog and a cat, and we have often thought about the positive impacts they had in our lives.

And we ourselves have had opportunities to make a difference – not just to other people, but also to members of other species, including the hungry, sick little Siamese kitten we found at the end of our lane. We took her in, named her Loki, cared for her, and now she’s a beautiful, rambunctious member of our household.

I think we should go even further and acknowledge positive connections with all kinds of organisms, including plants. For example, Kristina and I are still benefitting from last year’s wonderful harvests from our apricot tree and our apple tree. What a great relationship – we give them some care and watering and they give us bushels of fruit!

I also feel like I benefit so deeply from wild plants and animals. I get joy from hiking or skiing in forests or deserts, and from seeing wild animals (or from just knowing they’re out there, doing the things wild animals do). And lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the relationships between forests and wildlife.

A few years ago while hiking in a nearby National Forest with my dad, sister, and niece, we were heading down a steep slope toward a stream. I went ahead of the others to find the best route down – and part way down the slope I came to a tall ponderosa tree that had a little flat area just downslope from it. This little flat area had a fallen ponderosa on one side of it, creating a protected area.

The area was covered with pine needles and had the look of a nice little bed, where wild animals might want to hunker down and rest. It looked like such a nice place to hang out – and I noticed evidence that something had been hanging-out there: a little bit of fur mixed into the pine needles, and a bunch of scat (apparently bear) downslope from the bed.

Life got busy and a few years went by, but I didn’t forget about the bed on that slope – and I kept thinking about putting a trail camera there for wildlife photos. Then one February day I called my dad and asked him if he’d like to go back to the area with me, and he agreed. It was a relatively snowless winter so conditions didn’t stop us from going there on Dad’s eighty-second birthday.

Dad hiked with me to the rim of the canyon and watched while I went down the slope and secured a camera to the limbs of the fallen tree next to the bed. Then I hiked back up, and Dad and I had a good hike back to the vehicle – talking and snapping photos as we went – and enjoyed the beautiful scenery as we drove down from the mountain.

The camera sat there for over a year and a half – until I came back last summer to check it, this time with Kristina. There were no bears in the photos, but what I saw was striking.

Many other animals had stopped at this little protected spot in the forest, from squirrels, to deer, to coyotes. Looking through my trail camera photos, I realized that it’s a place where many kinds of animals are able to take a little break from their busy lives and rest in a comfortable, cozy place.

I have come to call the area “the resting place” not only because animals like to stop there, but also because it’s the final resting place of a tree, dead and fallen but still making a difference to other lives by providing shelter. It’s amazing to see what a difference a couple of trees in the right location, alive or dead, can make in the lives of so many different wild animals.

So much can be lost when even the smallest piece of habitat is damaged or destroyed. I hope that generations from now that little place in the woods is still protected and offering wild animals a safe spot to rest.

As we begin this new year, and this new decade, may we humans do all we can to make life better – not only for other people, but for all of the other organisms we share this earth with; may we appreciate not only the things other people do for us, but the things all kinds of other life forms do for us and for each other; and may we always remember, as George Bailey had to realize in that timeless movie, that it truly is a wonderful life.

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An elusive wildman, Homo sapiens chadii, reposing

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A herd of Rocky Mountain elk, Cervus canadensis nelsoni. There are at least seven in this photo

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A red squirrel, Tamiasciurus hudsonicus

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Three Rocky Mountain mule deer, Odocoileus hemionus hemionus

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A mule deer fawn making a bed

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A mule deer fawn relaxing in bed

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A mule deer buck, his growing antlers covered in velvet, checking things out

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An apparently happy little mule deer fawn

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A two-point mule deer buck (possibly the same buck as earlier after a month’s growth)

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A young mule deer resting

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An elk in a December snowstorm

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A coyote, Canis latrans, checking-out the elk bed – a little over 3 hours after the photo of the elk

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A bobcat, Lynx rufus, approaching the camera

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The bobcat inspecting the camera

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A mountain cottontail (also called Nuttall’s cottontail), Sylvilagus nuttallii

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A bobcat, out and about in the middle of the day in January

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A black-billed magpie, Pica hudsonia (bottom center of photo)

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A pack of coyotes. One came and laid down and then the others joined it 

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One coyote in the afternoon of the same day as the previous photo (a lot of snow had melted)

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A coyote the day after the previous photos. Note the fresh snow at the site – and on the coyote.

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A Steller’s jay, Cyanocitta stelleri (center left of photo between ground and snow)

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A coyote in April

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A Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel, Callospermophilus lateralis (they look like chipmunks but without the facial stripes)

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An amazing woman, Homo sapiens kristinii, contemplating

Intentional Spending Plan

As mentioned here before, Chad and I try to be creative about what we do for our weekly date night. The beginning of a new year always feels like a great time to do a life assessment, so we sat down together just after the turn of the year to discuss our goals for 2018 as a couple.

I heard a radio show about one of my favorite authors’ “year of no shopping” and  mentioned this to Chad. During our date night discussion I brought this up again and asked if there was some way we could be inspired by this idea. We ended up coming up with our own version of it and had a lot of fun doing so. We’re calling it our “Intentional Spending Plan,” aka, “Voluntary Simplicity.”

Rather than make a blanket statement that there would be no shopping at all, we came up with a list of categories, then discussed whether we could do without buying anything at all in certain categories or whether we wanted to allow ourselves a limited number of purchases.

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Leo is on board for less shopping and more play!

Considering these potential purchases in categories helped both of us to see purchases in a new light. While neither of us would consider shopping a recreation or hobby, we both admitted that there are times when we buy things just for fun rather than out of need. Even when you shop mostly at thrift stores or antique shops as we do, you can still end up with more clothes than you’ll ever wear or more doodad’s than you have shelves for.

My personal weakness is books, which I tend to buy very liberally, ending up with a backlog I need to read. By creating a limit of how many books I will buy this year, I will have to choose my purchases more carefully and can finally get to reading some of the ones that are already on my shelves.

One of the other areas where we are both no-holds-barred spendthrifts is on seeds. While working on our intentional spending plan we made what we thought was a very frugal allowance for the number of seeds we would buy for the upcoming planting season. After making an inventory of our seeds and discovering that we already have, for instance, over 50 winter squash varieties, we ended up reducing this even further.

All in all the point of the exercise for us is to keep moving away from a consumer mindset. Consumerism as a way of life can be very hard to avoid. TV was once advertisers’ medium of choice, but now the internet and especially social media are littered with advertising. It can be a challenge to resist these highly personalized marketing attempts – they know what we have been googling and what our weaknesses are.

Stuff requires resources, and both of us would rather leave resources in the natural environment and dedicate our own funds to charity, experiences, and savings. And as a new couple still laying the foundations of our relationship, this was a more entertaining way for us to talk about finances than sitting down and coming up with a traditional budget together.

As we start 2018, we both have our intentional spending plan checklists and are excited about using this to make spending choices throughout the year. We’ll report back to you in 2019 and let you know how it went!

 

Date Night

imgp7979Date night. That means dinner and a movie for a couple who already has their relationship well cemented, right? That’s what I used to think. I will admit, I used to think that it was a little sad to have to rely on date night for a couple to spend time together. Then I met Chad and most of my ideas about what it was to be a couple changed anyway, but for the better.

Even though Chad and I spend time together during the week, we felt we wanted to dedicate time each weekend for something special. So a few months ago we decided to have a dedicated date night once a week. Rather than dinner and a movie though, we decided to take turns coming up with a fun, preferably creative, idea for our weekly date night.

This really started back when we were still a long distance couple, him in Utah and me in North Carolina. In order to get to know each other we decided to answer the New York Times’ 36 questions. Rather than talking about the answers to the questions, we would email our answers to each other. If Chad sent his email before I’d finished my response, I would wait until I had emailed mine before reading his, and vice versa. It was an exercise in trust and honesty.

We got through most of the questions and then I proposed that we change it up a bit, that we take turns making up a prompt each week and that it didn’t have to be a writing prompt. The fact that we both had so much fun with this was a sign that we were very compatible.

Now that we live in the same house we have transferred this weekly call for creativity and bonding into our weekly date night. Sure we see each other every day and talk about our challenges, joys and concerns, but it is really nice to take some time to do something a little different.

So far for date night we have made origami, created mandalas, done figure drawing, responded to writing prompts, looked through seed catalogs, and (since we don’t include TV or movies as our regular routine) we have even watched a movie from time to time. Recently I came up with a prompt that was inspired by a book I was reading (Snow by Orhan Pamuk): draw a map of your place in the universe. We thought we’d share our drawings with you.

We hope you’ll enjoy getting creative with your own romantic plans. Happy date night!

Thanksgiving on the Beach

As we start this new year I’ve been thinking about the past year. 2016 was a big year for Kristina and I as we got married and started our new life together. It was a year of a lot of firsts, including our first Thanksgiving together as a married couple. We decided that rather than celebrating with either of our families it would be fun to celebrate a Thanksgiving with just the two of us – or almost just the two of us, since we were including our three dogs – Leo, Charlie, and Harley. We rented a cozy little cabin from some people who were kind enough to let us bring the dogs.

We did a lot of our cooking in advance, so we would have more time for other activities on Thanksgiving Day, and we decided a fun activity would be driving to nearby Moon Lake and spending some time there.

We drove through the Moon Lake Campground and took a little road down to the beach, where we got out with our dogs and walked, and ran, through the snow to the edge of the lake. As we made our way along the shore I spotted an old torn tennis ball and picked it up. Leo loves tennis balls and was ready to play with this one, so we took his leash off and started throwing the ball for him. We were grateful for that ball, because we had much fun playing fetch with Leo there on the beach, and it gave us a chance to work on Leo’s training at being off-leash (we knew the game would keep him with us). Running around on a snowy beach must not be everybody’s idea of fun, because we had the whole place to ourselves. The quiet and solitude were great!

We left the beach and drove down to an old side-road, no longer open to vehicles, that I was familiar with. Kristina and I and the three dogs hiked up the road a ways, enjoying the spectacular mountain scenery as we went. It felt so good to be out in the fresh mountain air. We returned to the car and headed back for the cabin, ready for a feast and some relaxation.

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner, complete with all kinds of healthy organic foods – including beets from our own garden. I was amazed at how sweet and delicious our apple pie was, with not a bit of sugar added – just the natural sweet-tart flavor of Granny Smith apples.

After dinner we played some intense rounds of a board game called Octi. It’s a great strategy game that my family discovered years ago, but that I hadn’t played for a long time. Kristina had never played it before but quickly caught on, and we each had our share of wins and losses.

Kristina and I both see the importance of spending time without the distraction and interference of electronic devices – and, other than a quick call to each of our families, we didn’t spend any time on our phones. And we didn’t watch any television or connect to the internet. Electronics seem to take over people’s lives so much! The Monday after Thanksgiving one of my students told me that her family was together on Thanksgiving weekend and that they were all doing things separately on their phones – when suddenly the wi-fi went down. She said that with no wi-fi they started socializing with each other… but then the wi-fi came back on they each went back to their phone. What a shame that the wi-fi had to come back on!

I’m so thankful to have married a wonderful woman who sees the importance of spending quality time together – and who enjoys running with dogs, and her husband, on a snowy mountain beach.

   

Going west

IMG_2960Around a year ago I went to the airport to meet in person, for the first time, a man who I’d met online and had been writing to for a little over two months. Our letters to each other made me feel like I’d found the friend I’d always longed for and the romantic partner I’d craved. That first meeting was not without its awkward moments. But it was mostly full of fun, laughing, long talks, and feeling the exciting bloom of new love. We realized what we had not been able to tell quite as well through our letters, phone calls, and Skype conversations: we shared a sense of humor. And even better, we felt a surprising physical comfort and compatibility with each other that drew us even closer together. Chad and I visited each other once a month over the next several months, decided to get married, and I decided that the most logical step would be for me to move out to Utah with him. So here I am now, enjoying a wonderful relationship while I discover an amazing area of the country.