Elliott State Forest hike

Over the weekend we went hiking in the Elliott State Forest. Taking a break from normal life to get some exercise, look at some exceedingly tall trees, and marvel at the lush environment here did us both much good. We walked along an old overgrown road which made for a nice walk up along the mountainside, following a trail of elk poop and tracks all the way. And we had sunshine, which felt miraculous.

Wishing you all some rejuvenating outdoor time to lift your spirits in mid-winter!

Tribute to my mom


Tomorrow, November 21st, is my mother’s birthday. I thought I would share some of my favorite memories of my mom – Julie Doppel Hicks – and some of the reasons that I think she’s an amazing person. Here are just a few of them!

  • My mom took time to read to me when I was little. I owe my love of books to this.
  • When she made chicken pot pie she would decorate the top of the crust with the leftover dough – making little chickens and eggs. They were the tastiest parts of the pot pie, of course!
  • She went back to school as an adult to get her master’s degree and start a new career in academics. Getting stellar grades with a bratty teenager in the house (me) was certainly no easy feat.
  • She opened the minds of hundreds of young college students over her years as a teacher, exposing them to art, movies and ideas they may have never discovered otherwise.
  • She taught me that a woman can rearrange heavy furniture on her own with a little leg power and a lot of will.
  • More recently, she helped me with a transcontinental move, and taught me that hiring a couple of strong guys to move the big stuff is also a valid option.
  • My mother is one of 10 children, and therefore part of a huge family made up of her nieces and nephews and their spouses and children. She loves all of them and never writes anyone off, no matter how much time goes by.
  • She took a few of my younger cousins under her wing for a few years, creating “Camp Julie” to give them a fun and educational time away from their normal routines.
  • She always looks stylish and well put together, showing herself respect, as she should.
  • In addition to teaching in the honors department at UNCC, she also led and continues to lead a parallel career as a Pilates instructor. Her students / clients love her and are dedicated to working with her.
  • She goes out of her way to help her clients, even picking one of them up to take her to the YMCA.
  • One day when I was a teenager and in kind of a sad funk, she unexpectedly brought me a plate of chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk.
  • Many years before that, we hid in a basement during a tornado warning. I ate olive sandwiches and she made me feel safe and protected.
  • Nowadays, she spends a lot of time being an excellent grandmother to my nephew. She encourages his interest in nature and is, I’m quite sure, helping to create the fabulous adult he’ll be one day.
  • She has always shared clothes she no longer needed with me.
  • I bought a book once at a thrift store called “The Female Eunuch”. This book has been part of the decor in my parents’ guest room for many years now, decorated by my mother of course. I love the touch of weirdness this book gives to an otherwise very polished looking decor.
  • My mom has always been good at crafts and instilled this interest in me at a young age as well. My favorite craft-making memory with her has to be making Christmas ornaments out of dough, which we then baked, painted and shellacked. They didn’t survive once packed up in the attic, but making them was such fun.
  • My mom made sure she was present when each of her parents were dying. Some people may find it easier to disengage from events like these, but not my mom. I admire this.
  • I have my mom to thank for accompanying me to my first yoga class.
  • When my dad was in the hospital after a heart attack, she remained strong for my brother and I, managing to make sure we still were taken care of.
  • Every time I have asked her for help, she has always given it to me, without complaining.
  • I was born on Christmas day. Whenever someone new finds this out, they ask if my birthday got overlooked. My answer is always no, because my mom made sure that wouldn’t happen.
  • I took swimming lessons before I could walk. What kind of amazing parenting is that!
  • My mother has always made sure that she is taking care of herself in eating healthy food and getting plenty of exercise. This is excellent role modeling for the rest of us, of course.
  • My mother encouraged me to go back to school to finish my Bachelor’s degree when I was in my early 30’s. She even helped me pay for part of it.
  • When I had a car wreck at age 17 and split my lip in half, she managed to drive me to the hospital without freaking out.
  • Some of the moments I treasure of being with my mom are just plain simple little moments. Going to the grocery store together, for instance. It’s a ritual that seems to allow us to return to simpler times.

I could continue this list on and on but hey Mom, it’s your birthday, and you have other things to do than read my post all day! Happy Birthday! I love you!


A Walk In A Wild Oregon Forest

This afternoon Chad and I found ourselves in a wild forest full of towering trees, a multitude of mushrooms, and glowing autumn leaves. And when I say we found ourselves there, I mean that we got back to some integral, essential part of who each of us are, and who we are as a couple. Not that these parts were lost, just too darn busy.

We decided to move from Northeast Utah to Southwest Oregon over the summer. This decision was motivated by various factors, including me losing a job, and it wasn’t a decision taken lightly. We loved our high desert haunts in Utah, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I sobbed like a baby when the reality of moving kicked in. I knew I would miss our special desert hiking spots, and indeed, I do.

So finding a hiking spot of our own in our new location was very important for us. Spending time in a wild place that is minimally touched by human intention is, for both of us, healing, rejuvenating, and exhilarating. Today we enjoyed those feelings as we walked through the forest under the incredible heights of douglas firs, hemlocks, western red cedars, and many other species of beautiful trees.

It is enlightening to see what nature does when left to its own devices. The trees that fall to the forest floor are allowed to remain there, decomposing, creating a delightfully spongy surface to walk on. We kept noticing pairs of trees growing side by side: one douglas fir and one hemlock, with each tree thriving as they grow closely side by side.

The past several months have been exceptionally busy for both of us. Moving is a major feat that comes with several different varieties of stress to deal with, not to mention all the unpacking and getting settled in. Chad is adjusting to a new job, and I am starting up a new business. Our new life in a new community has been full of warm social interactions and exciting cultural opportunities. Yet, life isn’t quite in balance until we have our wild places. And now we do.

Cape Blanco Cabin Camping and a Farewell

Back in May, Chad and I traveled through Oregon and made a stop at Cape Blanco State Park, on the coast. We arrived at the park in early evening to a cool and cloudy 53 degrees. The campground is nestled into a forest populated mainly by giant, spooky looking Sitka Spruce trees. The forest is dense and the lower limbs of the trees tend to be broken off and covered with moss. You take a short walk out of the forest and find yourself on bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

After walking through the gloomy forest and braving the coastal winds, we headed back to our cozy cabin. The cabin featured a nice little back porch and had a picnic table and fire pit but it was just so windy that we decided to spend the evening in the cabin rather than hanging out under the night sky. It was also late by then so we decided to just eat some snacks instead of having a proper dinner.

We had a good night’s rest in the cabin and were delighted to see that the weather had calmed and that the sun was peaking down through the trees. We ate our camping breakfast (yogurt, peanut butter, fruit, GF cereal) out on our little picnic table and then wandered around the campground a bit, enjoying the sun peaking through the trees.

It seems that we were there at the right time of year as far as flower-viewing goes. Everything seemed to be in bloom! We walked over the bluffs checking out the local vegetation and eventually headed down to one of the state park’s beaches.

We had the entire beach to ourselves and of course, ended up doing things that you feel compelled to do on a beach: run around on the sand, frolic in the surf, watch the waves, and bust a few yoga poses.

We also had a mission for our beach visit – scattering the ashes of one of Chad’s recently departed friends, John. John’s wife Mickey had a novel idea for spreading his ashes – she put the ashes into small bags and asked everyone who attended his memorial service to scatter them in places that he would have loved. As a fellow outdoor and wilderness lover, Chad thought that John would appreciate having a tiny part of himself left at wild and rugged Cape Blanco. It felt good to do something symbolic to memorialize him.

Just as we were about to leave the beach, Chad noticed something in the water. A little head bobbing above the waves that almost looked like a person. What swims in the water and has a head that looks like a person? A ghost? No. A sea lion.

Spending time on a beach is exhilarating for so many reasons. Of course, there’s the wind, the waves, the sand. For me there is excitement in being at the edge of a whole different habitat, the ocean. Catching glimpses of this alien but very earthly world is a good reminder to me that our day-to-day concerns (for instance, whether we get to our next destination on time) are small and probably not all that important. And maybe if things don’t go as planned, something wonderful will end up happening…


Harley hikes Sheep Creek Canyon

We spent a weekend in the Flaming Gorge area recently and took a drive to one of my favorite places in this part of the state, the Sheep Creek Canyon Geological Area, also known as Sheep Creek Canyon Loop. Chad took me here on one of my first visits to Utah and I was awed by the fascinating geology. So I was looking forward to returning – this time under a beautiful blue sky and bringing our dogs along with us.







The geological loop is one you can enjoy entirely from your car should you choose to. In winter part of the loop is usually closed due to unsafe conditions. So when we reached the gate and could drive no further, we got out, found a nice spot near some conifers, had a picnic and sat, enjoying the scenery.












I loved the variety of textures and colors offered by the geology in the canyon and kept looking in amazement when I’d notice something new: striations, cliffs, landslides, jagged peaks, diagonal layers, pinnacles. This area is a visual feast.



After our meal, we decided to hike up the road that was closed off. I thought to myself that we’d have to see how far Harley could go, and might have to cut the hike short if he seemed like he was struggling.

Harley is our elderly dog. He’s 13 or 14 and has been having a few issues lately because of his advanced age, yet he remains amazingly sweet, patient and good-natured. He still jumps excitedly when it’s meal time and often bounces eagerly along on our daily walks, but there have been times lately when he looks up at me with his big sad eyes and lets me know he’s too tired to go on those walks.


On this walk, Harley surprised us all. Not only did he have plenty of energy, he took the lead, and I had to keep adjusting my pace to keep up with him. He strode along the road looking like he knew exactly where he was going – and was in a bit of a hurry to get there! He only got sidetracked to munch on patches of snow a few times. Chad and I kept laughing at what an amazing job Harley was doing hiking with us, making this one of those special memories we’ll always cherish.




The views along the road were amazing, and Chad, who usually likes to bushwhack off-trail, was as happy as I was that we decided to hike along the road instead of in a dense thicket of saplings.





Leo and Charlie obviously had a great time too. They had noses to the wind the whole time, no doubt taking in an exciting array of wild aromas.









By the time we made it back to the car, the clouds had started rolling in, covering the beautiful blue sky, and we were all well-exercised and feeling good. The dogs snoozed happily in the back seat as we made our way back towards Red Canyon Lodge, although sadly, we did not encounter any yaks along the way.