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A letter too late

Dear Allison,

I met you almost a decade ago at the Ouray Ice Festival.

In a room full of fleece and Schoeller, you stood out in tight jeans, a halter top, and glitter. Lots of glitter.

While anti-social climbers jockeyed for position at the bar and avoided eye contact with girls, you owned the dance floor, your energy and excitement feeding the band, which played long after its scheduled set, just so you'd keep dancing.

I knew a little bit about you--you ran 100-mile races, you paddled huge rivers, you climbed three Black Canyon routes in a day, you were recently divorced--but nothing could have prepared me for your joyful, loving, warm presence.

You were unlike anyone else.

Years later at the Southern Sun, you'd just returned from a ski trip to Mongolia--Mongolia of all places--and you held court with tales of approaching peaks on horseback, sleeping in dung-fired yurts, and drinking yak butter tea.

Gross, I thought, in admiration of your healthy sense of adventure. As we drank beers and split cheese fries, you told me I should join you next year; you said you couldn't wait to go back. You thought it was paradise. I couldn't imagine such suffering.

You manifested strength and drive, but you were vulnerable, too, and sensitive. Life wasn't always easy for you --in fact, you faced and cleared plenty of obstacles. But you never seemed to dwell on them--you never let them stop you from seeing that even the most painful moments could be made better with a smile, a peek on the bright side, and a dash of sparkle.

Your wardrobe remains legendary for its feather-to-fabric ratio, its sparkle, its flair. In the first yoga class we took together, you turned heads in a miniskirt, sparkly hot pants, and a tube top. A tube top. A foot taller than everyone else in the room, you turned heads, too, because you were so incredibly beautiful, and you stretched into even the toughest poses like you were born to them.

One day, in the Wasatch backcountry, we got a little lost (you being brand new to the area and me with a worthless sense of direction). A storm was rolling in, limiting our visibility on the side of a peak facing a strange drainage.

I panicked (it's just what I do), but you pulled on a warm layer (hot pink, trimmed in fake fur) and said, "We'll get a better sense of where we are from the top. I'll break trail."

And off you went, setting a skin track steep enough to make the boys proud. I tried to keep up, alternating between being impressed and wanting you to slow the hell down.

You were right. We got a visual at the top, and, confident of our location, you dropped into the bowl arcing perfect turns, hooting gleefully.

Driving back down the canyon, I was starving, freezing, and exhausted. All I could think about was a hot shower and food and the couch.

You had other plans.

"I'm gonna take Dulce for a run, then go to yoga at 5:30. You in?"

Allison, I thought you were unstoppable.

It breaks my heart that you were stopped last week by an avalanche on Split Mountain. You were with your Kip, and I'm certain you were being safe; you fostered such a healthy respect for the mountains.

It was just one of those freak things no one could have predicted, but it seems so wrong; you weren't done--you were just getting started in this life.

I saw you for the last time in Boulder. We ran into each other by chance at Illegal Pete's. Johnny had just died, and we talked about how special he was, how, when he talked to you, he made you feel like the only person in the room.

That's just it, though, Allison -- you did, too.

Even through all this heartbreak and sadness--for you and for the myriad people who loved you--I have such gratitude. I'm grateful that I knew you, that I got to laugh with you, to follow in your joyful, glittery wake on mountain adventures.

Thank you for being a role model and a friend and a constant inspiration. Thank you for teaching me that you can always go on, that you're never too tired, that a smile transforms a room, that strong is beautiful, that you can always be friendly, that love is paramount, that glitter makes everything better.

I love you, Allison. RIP.

Your friend forever,


We Do What We Can

I've had this post in mind for a while, but until today, I haven't been able to get the words in the right way. Too much distraction, too many tangents.

Then, as always, the Muse found her way through the noise, delivering a poem so apt I found myself nodding from the first line to the last.

After Reading There Might Be an Infinite Number of Dimensions
by Martha Silano
I'm thinking today of how we hold it together,
arrive on time with the bottle of Zinfandel, a six-pack

of Scuttlebutt beer, how we cover our wrinkles
with Visible Lift, shove the mashed winter squash

into the baby's mouth, how we hold it all together
despite clogged rain gutters, cracked

transmissions, a new explanation for gravity's
half-hearted hold. I'm wondering how we do it,

comb the tangles from our hair, trim the unwieldy
camellia, speak to packed crowds about weight loss

or fractals. I'm wondering how we don't
fall to our knees, knowing a hardened pea,

lodged in the throat, can kill, knowing
liquids are banned on all commercial flights.

Leaves fall. The baby sucks her middle fingers.
Meanwhile, the refrigerator acquires

an unexplainable leak. Meanwhile, we call
the plumber, open wide for the dental hygienist,

check each month, with tentative circlings,
our aging breasts. Somehow, each morning,

the coffee gets made. Somehow, each evening,
the crossing guard lifts fluorescent orange flag,

and a child and her father cross the glistening street.

It reminds me of William Stafford's Yes, long a favorite for its choice to focus on the positive:

It could happen any time, tornado,
earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen.
Or sunshine, love, salvation.

It could, you know. That's why we wake
and look out -- no guarantees
in this life.

But some bonuses, like morning,
like right now, like noon,
like evening.

It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the news. Everyone's reporting disaster, loss, intolerance, struggle. This winter brought such devastating events in such rapid succession that I almost forgot the pleasure of a happy surprise.

A friend's husband was diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer. This just a handful of years after she lost her fiance to a bad ski fall. Recovering from that, weathering this…it seems like too much to ask of one person, but by all accounts she is bearing the yoke with her trademark grace and strength.

Still, though, wtf?

But that's just it. We can't know wtf, because we're not in charge. We're so small, such a minor part of the structure. A month ago, the Earth shook its fist and over 13,000 people died in Japan.

We can throw our hands up and cry, "What's next, world?" Or we can look around and figure out how we can help. We can quietly take action and offer as much as possible, in whatever way we know how.

We do what we can.

A few weeks ago, in a neighborhood not far from mine, a garbage man found a puppy stuffed into a bag in a dumpster. He was with a littermate who'd been violently, horribly abused and killed.

The pup who survived was in desperate need of care. He was starving, with every rib and his spinal cord and hip bones jutting out of thinning fur (malnutrition causes fur loss, and this fellow was just about bald). He could barely walk; the little mobility he did have was hindered by a severe limp that migrated from leg to leg (the limp was linked to the malnutrition). The white of one of his eyes was bright red (blood) from being kicked or stomped.

It's a miracle he survived.

I heard about this puppy from a friend whose job involves rescuing animals and placing them in loving environments. She shared his photo and story on facebook; it moved me to act.

Well, that's not exactly true. First it moved me to anger. What is wrong with people? Who could do something so horrific? How could anyone harm a puppy? A PUPPY?

I tried to imagine harming the perpetrator. Inflicting physical pain of the "I'd-like-to-meet-that-punk-in-a-back-alley" variety, but that's just not me. I don't believe in violence, and I certainly don't believe in violence as teacher or rehabilitation.

Still, though, something had to be done. I looked at the photo, at the puppy's bald head and slight, starved body and thought, "I can help.”

We do what we can.

I can't donate enough money to save all the animals in the world, and I can't sift through forensic evidence to help figure out who hurt these particular dogs, but I can love like crazy and I can cuddle like a champion, and thought that would do for a while.

So home came the Tiny One -- all 5 pounds of him. He was so exhausted from the effort of surviving that for the first 3 days he just slept and slept and slept. There is a soft, low chair beside our woodstove, and the little guy moved right into it, snoozing hard and snuffling in his dreams. I couldn't help but wonder if he was having nightmares of his abuse, so I spent most of those first days stroking his thin fur, whispering to his slumbering body that he was safe now, that no one would ever harm him again, that he could rest here.

He woke for a few minutes at a time, just long enough for short cuddle sessions and to lap up some chicken broth. He also made best friends with Heating Pad, who became his constant napping companion. I periodically stuck a finger between the two, just to make sure we weren't baking the pup.

It's been three weeks since we brought the baby home.

He’s doubled in size.

No more skeletal body, more closely resembling Gollum than a puppy, the little guy has grown healthy, strong, curious, persistent, and playful. His fur is growing back soft and shiny, his limp is gone, and his eyes are clear and bright.

Sometimes, I’m so amazed by his transition that I whisper to Brad, “We did that.”

We do what we can.

Our dear friend Kolin has helped by shooting photos and videos of the puppy. This footage will help share his story, and find the best home possible for this sweet little fellow.

Here’s the first vid, taken when the little guy was still in recovery mode:

And here’s the most recent footage, from April 3:


The Lesson of McCarthy's Bar

McCarthy's Bar, one of my favorite books, is part travelogue and part journey of self-discovery.

Written by British television presenter Pete McCarthy, it chronicles the author's trip through Ireland en route to a Christian pilgrimage in Lough Derg, once thought to be the end of the world.

This book has enjoyed pride of place on my nightstand for nearly two years. Even before I cracked its spine, I knew I'd love it, so I preserved it, saving it for lean reading times--rare days when I had no interlopers from the library or fresh New Yorkers to keep me busy. In this way, McCarthy's Bar became a companion, a story I could count on returning to over and over.

Last night I began reading the last chapter, and in panic over finishing the book, I sought out more works by the author; his lyrical descriptions of Ireland have become my lullaby and I'm not ready to change the tune.

It was a blow, then, to learn that the author passed away in 2004. He wrote one other book, a sort of follow up to McCarthy's Bar, but succumbed to cancer shortly after that.

I know it's odd to so acutely feel the death someone I never met, but after taking such a long literary journey with the author, I can't help but mourn. His book is transitional, and as his love for a mythical Ireland grows into a real sense of belonging, the reader experiences that connection alongside him. After such a shift, I couldn't help but feel suspended -- what happens next? Sadly, there is no next.

This reminded me of one day shortly after Brad's motorcycle accident. He was still in the hospital, broken and in tremendous pain, his head injury causing him confusion and agitation in turns. His mother came to visit and encouraged me to leave for a while. She was trying to be nice, to give me an opportunity to take the dogs for a walk, take a shower and change into clean clothes. I thought I'd appreciate a break from my vigil, but 20 steps outside the hospital doors, I felt an urgent, desperate need to run back in and reclaim my post in the uncomfortable chair beside Brad's bed. Even though we're used to being apart, it felt all wrong to be away from him just then.

Somewhere in our few years together, his well-being had become so important to me that I couldn't separate his pain from my own feelings; such entanglement was strange, but not totally surprising.

In college I led trips for the outdoor rec program. For each group I took climbing, backpacking, or winter camping, I honed in on the weakest person--the one who didn't really want to be there--and tried to tailor the trip to his or her skill level. It was the wrong way to lead, and I consistently got that feedback from my co-instructors. "You need to consider the forest, not the trees."

It was good advice, considering that I've always connected too quickly, sought to relate when there may have been nothing to bond over. Maybe that explains why, in athletics, I prefer to be the fastest in the group, rather than the slowest. I'd rather help than be helped. Or maybe that's just the easy way out; maybe I'd rather coast than keep up.

Meanwhile, while I've been reading (and thinking about writing, and talking about writing, and threatening to write), a new troupe of poets have charged in and written, receiving grants, winning awards, and getting published in the process.

I now have a whole new collection of poems to pin to my inspiration board, a bunch of new names to move in beside the yellowing work of Doty and Collins and Simic and Yeats.

There's nothing to do but the work. No shortcut or easy way out. So the longer we put the work off, wait for the muse or just wait until we have more time, the more likely it is that the work just won't get done.

Pete McCarthy had plans. He mentioned them more than once McCarthy's Bar. In one passage, he decided to stop reading a book with just a few pages left, choosing to save the ending for later, when he thought he'd be bored and need the distraction. Later, though, there was no power, and he lay in the dark thinking about the unread pages and how we can't know the future.


45 Words for Grace

I found it in my thirties,
Bridging acceptance and joy,
In the quiet place some call balance.
It came when I discovered

The beauty in longing,
And in a moment of stillness--
my pack asleep around me--
It crept in and love came crashing through.


Certain Things

We heat our home with wood, so wintertime sees us spending most of our house-hours in the room with the wood stove.

A squat, broad thing with a glass front door, it looks like a little fire-bellied Buddha, spreading enlightenment in the form of warmth.

And we flock to it--after skiing or shoveling the driveway, after work, after showers when we're dripping and wrapped in towels and hopping from foot to foot. We soak in the heat and the light of it, warming our skin and our blood and our bones, and slowly, eventually, feeling human again.

There are certain things that always make me happy, that make me smile from the inside out; sitting by a fire in our stove is one such thing.

We all have them--these little sources of unconditional joy--but they're so different from one person to the next..my own husband would surely die of boredom in my own perfectly constructed Happyland. Although, I suppose he'd like the puppies.

Sitting here with a sleepy dog at my feet, the fire-bellied Buddha warm, the storm gathering and growing outside (the newspaper actually warned against "Thundersnow"), I'm grateful for everything around me, and:

String Lights

Vanilla Frosting



Fabric Bunting and Garlands


In the Name of Authenticity

All day, I've been thinking about authenticity. Rather than fitting into a role, I've been trying to let my freak flag fly lately -- loving what I love out loud and without apology, finding comfort in my own skin.

Then me friend sent me a link to a TED Talk -- the author of one of my favorite blogs, 1000 Awesome Things, telling his story and sharing the three As of Awesome: Attitude, Awareness, and Authenticity.

We all haves truths we seldom share--they're embarrassing, they don't fit the role were working so hard to manifest. Sometimes it gets exhausting, though, trying to live up to a hologram. Sometimes it's better to be authentic, even if it means that everyone will know #28.

1. I don't like sushi.
2. I love Myley Cyrus's "Party in the USA."
3. I prefer resort skiing to backcountry skiing.
4. I love my dogs more than I love most people.
5. Certain poems always make me happy.
6. Others always break my heart.
7. I love watching sports.
8. I also love playing sports.
9. I hate how sweaty I get when I work out.
10. I'm proud to be from Pittsburgh.
11. I prefer being at home to going out.
12. If I never go back to Yosemite, that's ok.
13. Most of the time I want to be at home in Pennsylvania.
14. Taking care of Arnie taught me how to take care of myself.
15. Passing the Therapy Dog test with Arnie was the proudest I've ever been.
16. I know I don't use my full potential most of the time.
17. I work every day to change that.
18. I prefer beer to wine.
19. I've wanted to lose weight for as long as I can remember.
20. I sometimes wonder if I should have gone to New York instead of Colorado.
21. I always crack up at silly physical comedy.
22. I can watch the same funny SNL skits 200 times and still laugh.
23. I can not bear to see people or animals in pain.
24. I don't understand the allure of watching violence in films.
25. I have no time for people who willingly bear witness to violence.
26. I'll never forgive Michael Vick
27. I don't think he deserved a second chance.
28. I'd far rather meet Andy Samberg than Barack Obama.
29. I know that last one makes me sound like a tool, but it's true.
30. I worry about my family.
31. I hate living so far away from them.
32. Sometimes I resent my husband's attachment to this area.
33. But I totally understand it.
34. I wish we had cable so I could watch football and hockey.
35. I fear that television would highlight the major differences b/w B and me.
35. I sometimes worry that our passions are too different.
36. But then I question what my passions really are, and can't always answer.
37. Someday, I want to be in charge of something.
38. The Park City scene annoys me.
39. But its mountain biking is still my favorite in the world.
40. Little makes me as giddy and happy as mountain biking.
41. First-cup-of-coffee is my favorite time of the day.
42. Arnie makes me feel happy all the time, without fail.
43. I sometimes worry that I won't be able to deal with his death.
44. I'm mortified to remember certain parts of my life.
45. I'm super proud of others.
46. I know I'm too selfish.
47. That'll do for now.