Category: Nature

An Autumn Trail Race in Palo Duro Canyon, TX

Running is something that makes me happy. I never feel more free, more joyful, than when I’m running through a beautiful landscape. It’s probably the main reason I love trail running.

I recently ran in my first trail race, the Palo Duro Trail Run. It was also my longest distance to date, 50 kilometers (31.1 miles). I enjoyed the experience tremendously and loved running in the desert, even though it meant seven and a half hours of running and 95 degree heat at the finish.

That’s Texas in October for you.

Longhorns in Palo Duro Canyon, TX

Longhorns at the top of the canyon

Trail races are very different from marathons. You have to bring a lot more gear. I always compare trail running to a small military operation.

Walking to the start of the Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

Carrying all our gear to the bag drop before the start of the race.

It was 38 degrees at the start under a clear sky filled with stars. By 5:00pm the temperature would rise to 108 degrees.

20K bag drop at Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

Bagpipes played as people prepared for the 50K start at 7:00am. Away from the lights of the start area it was pitch dark. Headlamps were used for the first 45 minutes of the race.

Start area at Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

The start area

What you run in is important. Skirts are always a comfy, cool alternative to shorts. Even for men.

Running skirts for men in Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

Almost everyone carries their own water, either in their hand . . .

Shirtless runner in Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

. . . or on their back.

Runner in Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

You learn to eat on the go. It takes a lot of energy to run 20K, 50K or 50 miles, and the aid station tables are loaded with lots of goodies.

Runner with banana at Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

Some runners are able to resist the temptations of the aid stations and run straight through.

Runner in Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

The early morning sun coats the canyon and those lucky enough to run there in a beautiful golden glow.

Early morning sun runner in Palo Duro Trail Race 2012

Even the parking lots are scenic.

Parking lot at Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

The sky was a brilliant blue the entire day, with not a wisp of a cloud anywhere to be found.

Palo Duro Canyon Windmill

There are man-made treacheries that need to be carefully navigated in trail races. These stairs were never fun, but especially not on the final loop.

Navigating the stairs at Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

50K runners went down the stairs three times, 50M runners four total.

Muscles tighten and protest in the harsh terrain. Sometimes it’s necessary to stop and stretch.

Stretching in Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

Trail running can be a solitary endeavor, but at times small trains of runners would come together and infuse the trail with conversation.

Runners in Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

My training partner, Hari, leads the way, with me following.

A lot of times walking up a steep hill is actually faster than running. By the third loop I enjoyed every opportunity to walk, even if it was uphill.

Walking up a hill at Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

Hari leads us up the hill.

People run ridiculously long distances for a multitude of reasons. Some to challenge themselves, some to fight their demons, and others to remember someone they loved.

Remembering someone at Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

Some of the fastest runners stay so focused they barely register anything around them. Others make it look much easier than it really is.

Lead 50M male at Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

First place 50 mile male finisher, Quent Bearden

Nothing means more to a runner than seeing the finish line–except maybe having their husband waiting there for them.

First place 50M female at Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

First place 50 mile female finisher, Nicole Studer

All photos taken by my awesome boyfriend, Michael Friedhoff, who spent the entire day lugging heavy camera equipment up and down the course. He fell asleep before I did that night.

Advertisements

The Wildness Without

Why are wild places so vital to our existence?

I’ve pondered this question since my first trip years ago to Yellowstone National Park, and wrote a photographic post about the subject last year. Most people may not think of a national park as being “wild,” but I assure you, once you step off the main road or the shorter, more visited hiking trails and enter the back country, you are indeed in a wild place. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to experience it directly from the main road, such as when coming across a pack of wolves circling a group of elk cows and their calves, like I did one summer, or when you spot a grizzly bear at dusk, just off the road, pawing grubs at the base of a decomposing tree trunk.

Man’s presence is not needed for the wild to flourish, but I’m convinced we need wild places in order to flourish as human beings. We’re not separate from nature, we’re just another part of it. Wild places strip us of our modern contrivances and remind us how simple and present life really is.

Sepulcher Mountain, Yellowstone

Off the Beaten Path wrote about wild places recently and put into words exactly how I feel. She writes about viewing a grizzly sow and her cub:

For the first time I truly understood what a privilege it is to be able to visit a wild place; a place that provides a space for animals as wild as grizzly bears to live. That just knowing that these places are there adds value to our lives, even if we don’t go there often. This was an epiphany; and silly as it sounds, I realized that I hadn’t really understood why wild spaces are so important until that moment.

When I was still teaching fifth grade, I used to come back from our summer road trips to Montana and Wyoming feeling sad that most of my students had never experienced a wild place, and probably never would. I felt certain that if only I could pack them all into a bus bound for Yellowstone, get them on the trails, and let them spend time in the wild, it would change their lives. Children need to see that the earth is a living thing, that there are wild places with rules all their own, and that everything they think is important in life really isn’t.

Sepulcher Mountain, Yellowstone

Once in Yellowstone we mistakenly took a left instead of a right and wound up taking an unplanned all day hike up Sepulcher Mountain. For almost an entire day we never saw another human. The weather was somewhat stormy, and I remembered all the warnings I had ever read about hiking in the mountains during lightning. There is something life-altering about spending an entire day in nature, having to be alert and attentive to the possibility of death from weather or wild animal, and yet feeling so completely alive because of it.

We sat at the top and viewed the mountains around us. I had a profound feeling that I was at the center of the world, and that it didn’t matter what happened to the rest of the world, Yellowstone and the wilderness would always be there. It didn’t need us. It didn’t need me. Life would always continue, with or without man.

There was still snow at the top, and because we were lightly dressed we ran down the side of the mountain in our hiking boots. It felt like we were flying. Missing that turn on the road turned out to be one of the best days of my life.

Sepulcher Mountain, Yellowstone

I think back often on that day climbing Sepulcher Mountain. I can imagine the grizzly bears, the bison, and the wolves going on with their lives, oblivious to anything but survival. Life is harsh in the wild, but perhaps our own modern lives are just as harsh, if not more so, than anything we can imagine in the wild.

Perhaps the need to connect with wildness is why I love trail running. When I’m running on a trail in a beautiful location, even if it’s only half an hour’s drive outside the city, I’m always cognizant of the possibility of danger. I don’t want to get chased down by a bobcat or trip over a rattlesnake, but running through a forest or desert canyon gives me a sense of freedom and being alive like nothing else does.

Sepulcher Mountain, Yellowstone

So find someplace wild to visit. Spend time in the Needles in Canyonlands, or hike into the wilds of Alaska. Get out of the car. Walk. Make yourself a part of the natural world. Remind yourself that the entire world is your home. See what lessons wild places have to teach you.

What Makes a Place Feel Like Home

They say home is where the heart is, and I believe it. I’ve written before about how being in Wyoming feels like home, even though I’ve never lived there. What is it about certain places that instantaneously feels like home?

I admit that home doesn’t have to be a place. People can also feel like home, and make the unknown places you visit better if that person is with you. But for me, home is a place, where things are open and spacious, inspire awe, and make me joyful to be alive.

On the road to Moab, Utah

On the road to Moab, Utah

For me, a place feels like home when I can be myself, when I don’t have to hide who I am or pretend to be someone I’m not. I can live in jeans and t-shirts, forgo almost all makeup, and not worry about having the latest hairstyle or making enough money. I’ve lived most of my life in Dallas and have spent most of that time trying to get away. Even though my closest friends and family are here, as are years of memories, it’s not where I belong.

The first time we drove out West to visit my then-husband’s family, I felt like I relaxed for the first time in my life, like being surprised to realize you’ve been holding your breath and tightening your shoulders. All that melted away when I saw the beautiful, sweeping grandeur of the West.

Utah

South of Moab, Utah

At first I thought it was just the landscape that made it feel like home, like finally being somewhere I could explore the outdoors and hike and run in beauty. But it was more than that. I lived in Switzerland for seven years in my early twenties, and despite its breathtaking scenery, I never felt comfortable there. I felt like an outsider, and it was a feeling that never left. Switzerland couldn’t have been more different from Texas in every way imaginable, and I was the stranger next door peeking in.

Flaming Gorge

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area

There is something about being in the West that speaks to my soul. I can understand traveling across the country on foot, next to a wagon, following a trail that leads to an unseen place to start a new life. I can understand taking that risk, especially if it brought me to a place where life was what I could make it, not what someone else told me it should be.

Oregon Trail, Wyoming

The Oregon Trail crosses through this land towards South Pass, Wyoming

I don’t like crowds, and generally avoid large cities when I travel. I especially take to emptiness and lonely landscapes. I like having space. Most people find the places I love to be boring, a whole lot of nothing. Not me. I imagine lying in the grass, watching the clouds slide by, or viewing the heavens on a star-filled night.

I used to do a lot of that when I was a child. Being outdoors, with no particular purpose, may be my best childhood memory and the thing I miss most about being a child. Just being. Outdoors. Just enjoying.

Moab, Utah

South of Moab, Utah

Some places feel like more than home, they feel sacred. Utah is that place for me. I don’t really believe in energy vortexes and all that stuff, but there is a certain feel about all that dry, barren, rockiness that seems electric. It’s almost an unnameable mystery that makes me want to be there. I think of walking there, exploring, trail running, or meditating, of vision quests and being creative, living in a trailer, rejecting modern society, and making things with my hands.

Utah brings out my inner hippie.

Wilson Arch

Wilson Arch

Home feels like a place where you don’t care what others think of you, because you know most of the people around you either think the same, or you know they will be accepting of your differences. You speak the same language, so to speak. It doesn’t matter your political views, your stance on religion, or what kind of car you drive. When you’re outdoors, you’re a member of the same tribe.

La Sal Mountains

La Sal Mountains, just south of Moab, Utah

Remember that old John Denver song, Rocky Mountain High, about “coming home, to a place he’d never been before?” It happens, and when it does, even if you can’t always be home, you know you can live anywhere because home is never far from your heart and mind.

I hope you find your home.

Moab, Utah

What do you consider “home?” Is it a place, or the people you love? Is it where you grew up, where you now live, or someplace else?

Palo Duro, the Grand Canyon of Texas

West Texas is flat. Really flat. And treeless. It’s easy to imagine thousands of buffalo roaming the plain, or tornadoes barreling across the horizon. Amidst all this flat emptiness, it’s tough to believe there’s a canyon anywhere close by.

West Texas Windmill

But there is a canyon, and it’s the second largest canyon in the country.

Palo Duro Canyon

This past weekend some friends and I camped in Palo Duro Canyon in preparation for our trail race there in October.

Camping in Palo Duro Canyon

Jay loved camping in his new tent. Because of it’s McMansion dimensions compared to the other two tents, it was quickly dubbed “The McTent.”

New Tent

Some places in the country have snow drifts. In West Texas, we have mud. Flash flood warning signs are everywhere in the park. It’s obvious Palo Duro had a significant rain event in the canyon sometime before we got there.

Palo Duro Water Crossing

But it wasn’t as significant as the rain and flooding they had there in 1978.

1978 Flood Sign in Palo Duro Canyon

Though not deadly, spiders as big as your hand are nevertheless scary. There are tarantulas in the park. Supposedly they jump.

Tarantula in Palo Duro Canyon

Looking for evidence of other animals in the canyon is easy in the soft sand. Other than these raccoon tracks, we saw other evidence of deer, hogs, coyotes, and lizards.

Animal Tracks in Palo Duro Canyon

It was extremely hot during the day in the canyon. 114 degrees was the highest we saw. We had been hoping to have cooler temps, but at least it was cool in the mornings and evenings.

Thermometer in Palo Duro Canyon

Even Shasta felt the heat.

Hot Dog in Palo Duro Canyon

To avoid the intense sun, we stayed under our shade shelter and played Uno, Monopoly, read, snacked, and played with the dogs.

Playing Uno in Palo Duro Canyon

Hari is like the overindulgent grandparent when it comes to Shasta.

Hari and Shasta

Kurt braved the elements and went for a ride.

Cycling in Palo Duro Canyon

One morning we got up before the sun and went for an eleven mile trail run on the Givens, Spicer & Lowry Running Trail. It was the best trail run I’ve ever been on. It was exhilarating to run through such amazing scenery.

Early Morning Trail Run in Palo Duro

Our trail took us to the Lighthouse formation, which is an iconic Texas landmark.

Lighthouse Formation in Palo Duro Canyon

Hari and I took a break at the top of the Lighthouse. Kurt took photos.

On Top of the Lighthouse Formation in Palo Duro Canyon

The trail winds through the canyon. We had it to ourselves for hours.

Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon

We took the Little Fox Canyon Trail loop for a few extra miles. It was starting to get warm, but it was nothing like the humidity we’re used to running in.

Little Fox Canyon Trail in Palo Duro Canyon

Tired, dusty, trail legs after a run are never pretty. Even Jay was impressed enough to take a photo.

Dusty trail legs in Palo Duro Canyon

Our last morning, Kurt and I got up once again before the sun and took a short 3.5 mile hike on the Rojo Grande and Juniper Trails. I love the desert light in the early mornings.

Juniper Trail in Palo Duro Canyon

West Texas is a dangerous place. On the way back to Dallas, even stopping at a rest area (which also doubles as a tornado shelter) can be treacherous.

Rattlesnake Rest Stop in West Texas

It was a great trip. From the coyotes howling in the middle of the night, to the full moon rising over the ridge, to the turquoise blue collared lizard I thought was a bird, and the Milky Way and Big Dipper stretching across the night sky, Palo Duro Canyon is beautiful. And of course, everything is more fun with good friends. I can’t wait to go back in October for the trail race.

Lighthouse trail run photos courtesy of Kurt Cimino.

Beautiful Tetons

During our week of camping in the Tetons, followed by my daughter’s wedding, we were audience to the continually changing beauty of the Tetons. I wanted to post a few photos of the Tetons, to show how different they looked at various times of day, but rather than just “a few,” decided to post all of the best photos.

MORNING:

After unzipping the tent each morning, the Tetons were always my first sight. It became a game each morning to discover how the mountains would look that first hour of the day.

Foggy Tetons

Our first morning’s view, before the fog had lifted in the valley

Teton view from the campsite

This was the view from our campsite.

Teton Dogs

Tetons as backdrop to my dogs, Shasta and Nevada

Tetons with Popcorn Clouds

The clouds were different every day we were there

NOON:

The afternoons were very warm, and the sunshine at altitude was intense. Everyone got sunburned the first day within the first hour. Each afternoon seemed to bring dramatic weather, with winds and dark clouds, though many times the rain never hit the ground.

Tetons after the rain

Our first view, after a huge downpour

Teton Rainshower

It wasn’t unusual to see rain and sunshine at the same time

Tetons and low clouds

After a hard rain storm

Tetons with rays of sunshine

Rays of sunshine beaming down from the clouds. It never stayed cloudy for long.

Tetons and cloud shadows

I love the way the cloud shadows danced across the mountains.

Teton Wedding

Tetons as backdrop to my daughter’s wedding

Tetons from the south

Evening Tetons on the south side of town, towards the ski resort

and NIGHT:

The evenings were simply gorgeous. Each evening was different from the one before, depending on the clouds and colors. Our first night there, the Milky Way arced across the sky like a white rainbow.

Teton Sunset

Our first sunset

Teton colors at sunset

The photo doesn’t do justice to the incredible colors that night

Tetons in early evening

Early evening

Evening Tetons with wispy clouds

The wispy clouds against the indigo sky were beautiful

Nighttime Tetons

Time for the stars to take over

Going Home to Wyoming

There are places in the world that feel like home even if you’ve never lived there. Places that feel immediately familiar, where your shoulders relax and you sigh deeply. Places that deeply touch some part of your soul and beg you to stay. Places you yearn for when you’re away. Places where you don’t have to be anything other than who you are.

For me, that place is Wyoming.

Wyoming Rainbows

I’ve traversed America countless times to return to Wyoming. Each time is like a homecoming.

On a flight to Oregon once we flew directly over eastern Wyoming. It’s expansive nothingness was unmistakable. I looked out the window and thought, “My heart is down there.”

I don’t think I’ve ever said anything more true.

Eastern Wyoming

For years, my family made summer road trips to Montana and Wyoming. My daughter worked as a park ranger in Yellowstone, then a geologist in Jackson Hole. This summer we returned for her wedding overlooking the Tetons.

Tetons

On our first trips, Wyoming seemed so far away. Two full days of driving with two bored kids in the backseat almost didn’t seem worth it. The fights, the restlessness, the boredom. But once we got out of Texas (which is over nine hours of the entire trip), and the drive became more scenic, even the kids couldn’t complain too much.

Nowadays we avoid Colorado and sacrifice mountain views for the easy, monotonous drive through Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. I ponder the emigrants of the 1800’s walking through these arid places, following their wagons, ready to start a new life. I wonder what it would have been like to be a woman, coming to such a place and raising a family.

Kansas Barn

This year we drove up through southern Utah, another place I think of as home. Still clinging to our stressful, fast paced city lives, we were anxious to reach Wyoming and help with wedding preparations, and made no stops in Utah. It was tough to drive past Canyonlands and Arches and not enter the parks. For me, southern Utah and the four corners area is like the center of the world, and if there is such a thing as “sacred space,” it is found in Utah.

Southern Utah

Regardless of which direction we enter Wyoming, I’m in love the moment we cross the state line. From the lonely, empty landscapes of the east, to the mountains of the west, it’s all magical to me. The sky is huge and never remains the same. Weather changes are dramatic and sudden.

Western Wyoming

We camped on Shadow Mountain, across the valley and overlooking the Teton mountains. We camped five nights on forest service land, and I couldn’t have been happier. We had only planned on camping three nights, but the choice between a hotel room and sleeping outdoors was an easy one. Despite a fire ban, which meant no evening campfires, every minute spent on the mountain was priceless.

Tetons from Our Tent

My daughter was married there.

Teton Wedding

The Tetons wear a different face every morning. Its face changes throughout the day. It’s fascinating to watch those changes. I could never grow tired of the view.

Sunset Tetons

One could sit for a lifetime on Shadow Mountain and grow old, watching the changes sweep across the mountains, and know that despite the changes, nothing really changed at all. This is the mountains’ greatest lesson.

I used to think of Wyoming as being someplace far, far removed from my Texas life. It isn’t. Even if I never physically live there, I will always carry it’s songs and pictures in my heart.

Teton Bison

When I’m back in Dallas, in my air conditioned house trying to escape the 100+ degree temperatures outside, I can close my eyes and imagine myself standing before the Tetons. I know all the roads that will take me there. I imagine one long road, a tether, an umbilical cord, between myself and the mountains. I know that at any moment, if my everyday life ever becomes too overwhelming or artificial, all I have to do is start driving.

I’ll be there soon enough.

Portland, Oregon: A City I Could Love

After running the Eugene Half Marathon, I spent a few days visiting my daughter and her fiance in Portland. Despite the cold, rainy weather, Portland is a city I could definitely learn to love.

I did almost no sightseeing in the city itself, mainly because I had just run a half marathon and my legs were a little trashed. And did I mention it was cold and rainy? We’re talking 40’s and 50’s, which is like winter for this Texan.

While in Portland, we had dinner one night at a fantastic Thai restaurant called PaaDee on Burnside. It was, hands down, the best Thai food I’ve ever eaten. I loved it so much I even took my friend Hari there for lunch the very next day before he flew back home to Dallas. We even took pictures of our food–it was that good.

The only time in my life I’ve ever photographed my food in a restaurant.

Hari blissfully eating in all his Eugene paraphernalia.

One afternoon my daughter and I walked (I hobbled) up to Mt Tabor. I can’t believe there are such beautiful places in a city the size of Portland.

View of downtown Portland from Mt Tabor

They don’t call me a tree hugger for nothing.

Walking path and trees at Mt Tabor

One thing I love about Oregon is the incredibly tall trees. They make our Texas trees look like bushes.

Right in the middle of the city, next to parking lots, are these huge trees. I almost got rear ended looking at the trees.

The tree in a parking lot that nearly caused an accident when I saw it.

11 random observations about Portland:

  1. It seems to be a young city. Maybe it’s because I spent most of my time with my daughter and her friends, but everyone seemed to be young.
  2. The houses are fantastic. Historic, full of character, charming. These are houses I could live in.
  3. It seems to be trendy to dress like a Victorian. We saw a few guys dressed in bowler hats, bow ties, and old fashioned pants. Interesting. I expected to see a lot of granola types, but this I didn’t expect.
  4. The homeless people have cell phones. I saw quite a few walking around town talking and texting on their phones. And there are a lot of homeless people in Portland.
  5. The bridges are scary to drive across. I’m not afraid of heights, but driving across the Willamette River on the freeway bridge made me feel like the girl in Clueless who accidentally gets on the freeway.
  6. You see a lot of old, beat up cars in Portland. You rarely see old cars in Dallas. People there pride themselves on their new, expensive, immaculately clean cars. I liked seeing the old cars still out there, being put to use.
  7. Recycling is serious business, and the city even picks up compostable items.
  8. People drive more courteously than they do in Dallas. I never had anyone tailgate, or cut me off, or drive aggressively.
  9. Cars and bikes share the roads. The cyclists actually stop at red lights and stop signs. They even wait until the light turns green. Road signs and signals seem to be optional in Dallas (and that goes for cars, as well).
  10. Everyone expects changing weather and brief rain showers. They dress in layers and carry umbrellas. But they still talk about the weather all the time.
  11. I could work for Nike. The Nike world headquarters in Beaverton is an awesome space. The buildings are surrounded by trees and various running paths, trails, and tracks. Everyone going into the building was dressed very casually in jeans, t-shirts, and running shoes–Nikes, of course.

I loved visiting Portland, and could definitely see myself living there one day. Even with all the chilly, rainy days, I suspect I would eventually adjust and learn to layer up. When the temperatures start hitting the 100’s down here in Texas in a few weeks, I’m going to remember there are cooler, more habitable places in America–like Portland.

In Dallas, April Showers Bring … TORNADOES

I’ve spent most of my life in north Texas. Anyone who lives here knows what to expect each spring and early summer: a rash of severe thunderstorms and the possibility of tornadoes.

We like to think the chances are small that our small piece of the world could be hit by a tornado, and so far we’ve been pretty lucky. We watch the news and shake our heads at the devastation other places have incurred at the hands of extreme weather, but we all know it could just as well happen here.

Today Mother Nature reminded us who’s in control.

(source)

Michael mentioned when he let the dogs out this morning how incredibly humid it was outside. I checked the weather on the computer and was surprised to see thunderstorms to the west of Ft Worth. I had already planned on going downtown to the Farmer’s Market, so I knew I needed to get a move on in order to beat the possibility of bad weather.

As I drove the three miles or so to the market, I took note of the extreme humidity in the air. It was so thick it almost looked like fog settling over the downtown skyscrapers. Again, I’ve seen a lot of Texas sky through the years, and the thought immediately crossed my mind: This looks like tornado weather.

It’s unmistakable, even if it takes many forms. There’s always a different feel in the air, an eerie stillness, and a muggy stickiness that makes you want to take a shower. Sometimes there’s a dark, low lying cloud that looks as if a tornado could drop down at any moment. Sometimes the sky takes on a strange greenish tint. Sometimes it’s windy, a lot of times there’s no wind at all. Sometimes it’s raining so hard you aren’t aware there’s a tornado nearby. Sometimes you can stand beneath the clouds and watch them rotate in a circle above your head.

Whatever form it takes, tornado weather is no fun.

It started to sprinkle on my way back from Farmer’s Market, and the streets were wet when I went out to my car from the grocery store I stopped of at on the way home. As I made something for lunch, my heart stopped. The tornado sirens were going off.

I turned on the TV and looked out the window. Our house is located between two fire stations, each of them less than half a mile away. When the tornado sirens go off, we always hear them. And they always scare me.

Once when I was a kid, my little sister and I decided to walk up to the grocery store about a half mile from our house. We noticed how dark the skies were getting as we walked, and by the time we got to the store it started raining like crazy. We were glad we had made it in time–but then the tornado sirens went off. We were just kids, and had no idea what we should do. I was so scared. Luckily, a neighbor was also in the store and gave us a ride home. My mom was frantic by the time we returned, and that experience left a mark of fear that I always remember when I hear the sound of tornado sirens.

In 1979, when I was a teenager waiting tables close to Love Field Airport, a huge storm hit Dallas. The sky had that strange, greenish tint and the clouds were rotating. At one point it was raining so hard and the wind blowing so strongly, it sounded like a train rumbling through. At the time I had no idea that’s what a tornado sounds like, and we learned later than several tornadoes had indeed touched down in our area. Driving home on the freeway that night, it looked like a war zone. I passed an 18 wheeler that had a small sports car lodged completely under its trailer.

Last year I was at the tail end of a run at the lake, less than three miles from my home, when tornado sirens went off. It was overcast, but not stormy, and I was confused. Tornado sirens? While I was running? I had no idea what I should do, so I kept running. I made it back to my car and drove home to the sound of the sirens–and constantly craned my head to monitor the sky. I knew driving through a tornado was the dumbest thing I could do, but I was also amazed at how dumb everyone else was, too. Everyone seemed oblivious to the danger, and the next day at work we all discussed how we pretty much ignored the sirens, even as we watched live footage of a small tornado twisting through an industrial section just west of downtown. I remembered all those episodes of  Storm Chasers I’ve watched, knowing we all should have taken the sirens more seriously.

Supposedly the oldest known photograph of a tornado, taken in 1884, in South Dakota

(source)

Today I took the sirens seriously. I turned on the TV and watched live footage of a tornado to the south, just outside Lancaster. I knew if it kept going north and hit downtown Dallas, it would be devastating. I watched in amazement as the tornado picked up tractor trailers weighing several tons. They looked like they were made of styrofoam.  Huge pieces of debris were spinning around the tornado, and I knew it was doing a lot of damage in a town that had already been hit hard by a tornado in 1994. Tornadoes were also being reported in Arlington, a city situated between Ft Worth and Dallas.

Even with the sirens blaring, I kept hearing a chainsaw in the alley and realized someone was working outside who must not know about the danger. I ran out back and told a worker who didn’t speak English, with hand signals and bad Spanish, that a tornado was just to the south. You don’t need much language to understand a tornado.

As the day developed, I lost count of how many times the sirens sounded in my neighborhood. I cleared some things off the floor of a closet in the middle of the house, grabbed my large meditation mat and my phone, and coerced the dogs to stay with me. I texted Michael and close friends, telling them to stay safe, and talked to the dogs. I thought about my friends who are teachers, and how difficult it must be at school with all the sirens. Allyson texted a photo of baseball sized hail in her yard. The dogs and I went into the closet six or seven times, until the storms passed and the sirens remained silent.

Tonight I watch the news and see the damage. I’m thankful the tornadoes missed my neighborhood, but sad for those coming home tonight to a wrecked home. I’m relieved there doesn’t seem to be any loss of life, and hope all the missing pets will find their way back to their owners.

I’ve never seen so many tornadoes so close to home. I’m apprehensive that it’s only April 3 and tornado season seems to already be in full swing. Unofficially, at least 12 tornadoes touched down today, and 300 homes have been destroyed.

And despite the fear they induce, I’m most thankful for the tornado sirens.

Stopped by a Trail Sign and a Yellowstone Grizzly Encounter

The other night I had a dream about a grizzly bear. Anytime a grizzly bear shows up in my life, even if it’s merely a dream, I sit up and take notice.

A few weeks ago I read a blog post about grizzlies, and this morning Michael sent me a link to an article about a woman who survived a grizzly attack.

The power of the grizzly beckons and wants to be noticed.

One of my favorite blogs is Off the Beaten Path: Hikes, Backpacks, and Travels. The author is living the life I’ve always wanted to live. She writes about living in Montana and of the travels and sights her and her husband have seen, mostly out west. Michael and I have talked very seriously about selling our house, buying an RV, and traveling the western parks. If I had my choice, I’d settle down somewhere in Montana or Wyoming in my little RV and never look back.

Off the Beaten Path wrote a great post a few weeks ago about backpacking in grizzly country and her fear of a seeing a grizzly. It reminded me of my own grizzly encounter in Yellowstone.

Shortly after I met Michael four years ago, I mentioned to him that I was driving up to Yellowstone in a month. My daughter, a geologist who lived in Jackson Hole at the time, was flying down to visit us in Texas and we would make a mother-daughter road trip back up to Wyoming. I don’t know what possessed me, but I boldly told Michael he should fly up and see Yellowstone with me, that it would change his life.

I met him at the Jackson Airport a month later.

While we were in Yellowstone, towards the end of our stay, we wanted to take an all day hike off the main tourist trails. We chose a trail in the vicinity of  West Thumb and Yellowstone Lake and drove over from our campground. When we gathered our gear and walked up to the trail head, however, we were stopped by a sign stating the trail was closed due to “bear activity in the area,” but that it would open up the very next day. Michael assured me that hiking one day early would be okay.

I hesitated. My daughter had been a park ranger in Yellowstone for several summers before she found full-time work in Jackson Hole. I had heard many stories of dumb tourists and their disregard of the park rules–sometimes with deadly consequences. I had also been a teacher for many years and following the rules was ingrained in my psyche.

I had a really bad feeling about going on that trail. Other than my guilt at not following the rules, it just didn’t feel right. I felt very, very strongly that we shouldn’t take that hike.

I told Michael I wanted to use the restroom before starting off, and headed over to the port-a-let. It was mostly just an excuse to buy myself some time. I came out and told him I didn’t want to hike the trail, that maybe we could find another one, apologizing for my timidity and trying to explain my hesitation.

We got back in the car and turned around to reverse. Just as we started to back up, a grizzly came sauntering out of the trees, not ten feet from the car.

Even in the car, I was scared. I’ve seen quite a few grizzlies from a distance, but never one even remotely this close. They are massive, with long claws–and despite their size, they’re fast. I was glad we had the protection of the car, but kept the motor running and the car in drive.

The grizzly ignored us as she went about eating vegetation in the parking lot. We were the only ones there, and felt honored to be able to be so close to such an impressive animal. We sat and watched her for a long time, and Michael took a ton of photos.

This experience only reinforced the certainty for me that I never want to see a grizzly on a hike, up close and personal. I’ve been on several hikes in the past where people have passed us on the trail and excitedly asked: Did you see the bear?!? My answer has always been the same: No, and I don’t want to see the bear!

I was so glad I listened to my intuition and we hadn’t gone on that trail.

We drove a ways and found another perfect hike to the top of  Sepulcher Mountain–and we didn’t see a bear all day.

Related: article in Slate Magazine about investigating grizzly bear attacks in Yellowstone

Addicted to the Eagle Cam

It was an incredibly busy weekend, with a day trip to Houston and back for a touch rugby tournament on Saturday, then a long run that almost did me in (82 degrees at the finish!) and a full afternoon of working in the garden. In addition to all that, I had to make time to watch the Decorah Eagle Cam (you can also view the eagles and other raptors here).

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you need to check out the link above. The Raptor Resource Project has installed live cameras above various bird nests, and you can watch what happens in the nest. My favorite is the Decorah bald eagles’ nest.

The Decorah eagles’ nest is located in Iowa and there are three eggs. The first baby bird poked through its egg this afternoon, but it will be hours, maybe days, before it fully emerges. The other two eggs should hatch within the next two weeks.

Someone described watching the live feed as “the most boring, yet fascinating thing” they’d ever seen. I have to agree. Supposedly the nest was all the rage last year, but (like Downton Abbey) I somehow missed all the hoopla.

Right now it’s just a lot of sitting on the eggs. The mother and father birds trade off, and occasionally call to each other to signal when they want to switch. At periodic intervals the eagle will stand over the eggs, carefully arrange them, sometimes nudge them over, fluff up the area around the eggs, then settle back down and rock back and forth to get situated.

More than anything, it’s a huge lesson in patience.

Since my first trip to Yellowstone years ago, I’ve loved large birds, especially eagles, ospreys, and peregrine falcons. We don’t have eagles or ospreys here in Dallas, but we do have falcons that roost in downtown, and we have a neighborhood hawk couple who fly around every fall through spring. We also have pelicans and herons at the lake where I run, about 2.5 miles from my house.

If you’ve never seen a bald eagle’s nest, they are HUGE, about 6 ft across. There’s an eagles’ nest just off one of the main roads in Yellowstone and it was always nice to go back each spring and see one of the eagles sitting on the nest.

(source)

There is a canyon in Yellowstone where you can see osprey nests on the tops of pinnacles. Some of them you can view from above, and there’s nothing more touching than to see a baby osprey sitting in the middle of their rather large nests. The mom and dad osprey swoop down and around the canyon, hunting for food and calling to each other and their baby. Once I saw an osprey swoop down and catch a fish from a stream near some geysers not 10 feet from where I was standing.

It’s hard not to watch the eagles sitting on the eggs and wonder at the beauty of nature. The eagles innately know what to do, and their job is to protect, raise, and care for their young.

So simple, so lovely.

(source)