Walking With Dinosaurs Again

“Let your age get old but not your heart.” ~Unknown

Joe, likely watching dinosaurs something dinosaur related, circa 2005

Our son, Joe, is a college sophomore. He has been interested in dinosaurs since he was about 3. We are not sure what first fueled his intense curiosity about them, but we’ve narrowed it down to Disney’s Dinosaur film (circa 2000), any of the library of Land Before Time films (1988-2007), or the BBC television production called Walking with Dinosaurs (1999). While we don’t know which show originally piqued his interest, we do know that we spent hours upon hours watching those productions with him. I partially credit Joe’s fascination with dinosaurs with our initial discovery of Joe’s learning disabilities. It made zero sense to us that a four year old who could instantly recognize a specific type of dinosaur and share with us its name, its size, and the period in which it lived, along with myriad other facts about it, could not remember that we told him to pick up his shoes and carry them up the stairs a minute earlier. He had an insanely acute long-term memory and a dismal short-term one. But, I digress.

Over the years since then, even as he discovered new interests (geology, flags, geography, history, world religions, travel, and geopolitics), his passion for dinosaurs was always running in background. As new discoveries were made, he would share them with us. At those times, be he 8 or 14 or 18, he would become so excited and animated and awestruck about his new knowledge that we would transported back to the days when four year old Joe was regaling us with dinosaur facts. Dinosaurs, a link to Earth’s past, have been our link to Joe’s past.

Yesterday, a new BBC series premiered on Apple TV+. Joe texted me the links to the first trailer for this show over a month ago, as soon as it was available online. I hadn’t heard Joe this excited about anything in a while. Joe’s ADHD provides him with this marvelous capacity for hyper focus. When he discovers something that captures his imagination, he becomes temporarily obsessed with it. He learns everything he can about it, and he passes his knowledge along to us, whether or not we find the subject as compelling as he does. So, yesterday, I was asked to join him in watching the first episode of five, one being released each day this week. Yesterday’s show was about the coasts and the creatures that inhabited them during the Cretaceous period. Even if you are not a dinosaur aficionado, I suggest you find this show and watch it. It will obliterate what you thought you knew about these creatures. Everything I learned about the dinosaurs while I was growing up has evolved with the discovery of new dinosaur fossils and the use of current technologies to analyze them. Science is amazing. And although I knew some of the changes that have occurred in our knowledge about the magnificent creatures of the Cretaceous thanks to Joe, I am still learning more through the series.

I can’t explain what a treat it is to watch our nearly 21 year old son seeing these episodes for the first time. After years of railing against the inaccuracies of the plastic model dinosaurs he would see and sometimes purchase (it seems Joe knows more about the dinosaurs than the toy companies that produce their likenesses), it was a delight to listen to Joe ooh and ahh over the depiction of the creatures in this series. He paused the show several times to tell me what has changed and how we know what we know now. He also paused the recording a few times to cry out, “That is speculation, but there is science behind it so it is possible.”

Yesterday morning I surreptitiously captured this photo of our deep-thinking, curious son investigating the first few moments of the first episode of Prehistoric Planet up close. I wish I had recorded it on video because there were audible oohs as he watched. I teared up seeing him like that because, although he is much taller and heavier now than he was when he was 3 and first discovered dinosaurs, for the briefest of moments there I could have sworn he was 18 years younger. I will never be able to hold that young boy in my arms again, but it brings me great joy to realize that the evolution of our human understanding about dinosaurs will continue to offer me opportunities to see that sweet child again and revel in his excitement about the world. My heart is full.

There was audible “oohs” when I was taking this photo

Baaaaaaaad Daddy

Serious zoom on this image because I was maintaining my more than 25 foot distance

Went on a hike with a long-time friend this morning. And, when I say hike, in this case it was more of a walk up a service road in a canyon near our home. Waterton Canyon is well known around here for the bighorn sheep that live on the rocks above the river. It is rare for me to be in this canyon and not see the sheep. They were farther up today than where I usually see them, but we came upon one large male and five youth males, so it was a good sighting. We even witnessed one little guy show off with a twisting leap off the ground. They are already losing their winter coats, which is a sure sign spring is here.

The adult male seemed like a stereotypical father in charge of the kids. When we spotted them, he was sitting quite casually on the road, his back turned to the young ones while they played on the rocky wall behind him. You could almost hear the momma sheep chiding him for his lax parenting.

“Really, Baaaaab? You let them play on the rocks alone? What on earth were you thinking? I can’t trust you with anything!”

Baaaad parenting, Baaaaaab!

Help Wanted: Tall, Handsome Man For Unpaid Position

The planting has begun

Gardening. It’s something many people enjoy. I am not one of those people. I would love a beautiful flower garden, but not if I have to be the one to plant, weed, prune, and water it. I also have zero desire to grow my own food when there is a perfectly serviceable grocery store nearby. While I am adamant about no pesticides in my yard, I am also against pests in my yard. If I’m out digging in the dirt, I’m sure to run across some worms or spiders or other creepy crawlies. No thank you. If I could manage to garden without seeing bugs, I still wouldn’t do it because dirt is, well, dirty, and if you’re outside gardening you’re also outside getting hot and sweaty. If I am going to get hot and sweaty outside, I prefer to be sitting in a lounger at a pool.

Once a year, though, because we haven’t yet won the lottery yet despite my husband buying tickets more often than he should, I use my brown thumbs to drive to Home Depot to buy mulch. Then I go to a garden center and pick up plants to replace the perennials that weren’t and put some petunias into planters so I can complain about having to water them every day until mid-September. This is a ritual that I carry out through gritted teeth, while cursing my allergies to all of the outdoors. (Seriously, I am allergic to all the trees, grasses, and weeds that grow here.) I continue to pray that someday a tall, handsome man will show up at my house and offer to take care of my yard and grow flowers for me just because he thinks I’m amazing. If this tall, handsome gardener man does materialize, Steve will have to learn to live with him. And, before you say anything, I did offer to interview Steve for the position of tall, handsome gardener man, but his application is currently under review because he isn’t willing to work for free.

Until a gardener has been acquired, I will continue to bitch about planting, watering, and weeding every stupid spring because, as Bobby Brown so eloquently put it back in 1988 and all my fellow Gen Xers know, it’s my prerogative.

The Moth

There are a lot of stages to growth. It doesn’t happen easily or quickly. Sometimes it occurs in fits and starts. You make some progress, level off, and stay at that stage for a while until you feel the next wave of growth building to propel you forward again. Although, like most people, I have wanted growth to come more quickly, I now appreciate the process more. I used to be anxious or frustrated with the leveling off until I realized those periods of my life allowed me to recuperate and prepare for the next stretch. I think we’d all like to be like a super hero, maybe Superman. We just want to close ourselves off for a brief moment and then emerge fully transformed into our stronger, braver selves. It just doesn’t work that way. It takes 18 years for a child to physically mature into an adult. So why should we think our emotional growth should be an overnight transformation? Growth requires time, patience, and energy.

While thinking about this today, I was reminded of an episode from LOST. Charlie, a recovering drug addict, asks John Locke to hold his heroin stash. John agrees and tells him he will hold it until Charlie requests it three times. On the third time, Locke will relinquish the drugs. When Charlie asks Locke the second time, Locke points to a moth in a nearby cocoon. He shows Charlie a small hole at the top of the cocoon that the moth has worked to create. He could, Locke tells Charlie, make the hole bigger to help the moth out, but the struggle to escape is what strengthens the moth for its life journey. If Locke assists the moth, the moth might not be strong enough to survive on its own.

This is why the struggle is real and vitally important. Struggle increases our strength. It’s in the struggle that we gain the fortitude to grow on, to move to the next stage of development. The tears, the anxiety, the discomfort, the conflicts, the frustration are all part of process. I think about when my youngest was diagnosed with severe dyslexia. I would sit and listen to him as he worked with his tutor, and I would cringe. It was painful. It broke my heart to listen to him battle his way through readings. I wished I could snap my fingers and make it all go away for him. I couldn’t. In the end, the years Luke spent leaning into the discomfort led him to become the person he is now, ambitious, dedicated, and a diligent reader. If I had snapped my fingers and changed his situation for him, he would have only overcome the dyslexia, but perhaps not grown stronger and discovered how capable he truly is.

So, am I happy that my personal growth story is taking so damn long? No. No I am not. But am I grateful to still be plugging along? Absolutely. I can look back and see where I was. I know I’ve made progress. So, I will keep working at it, stopping to take a break as necessary, knowing that every bit of the process is important and will, in the end, lead me exactly where I am meant to be.

Da Bears

As I was driving to my rental cottage the other day, I passed these bears. Not actual brown bears, although those do inhabit the area where the cottage is. These bears are works of art created by local artists for Art in the Park, an art auction with proceeds benefitting Colorado Chautauqua (there is also a Chautauqua in western New York) and 14 other local non-profits. As I was driving towards the reservations office to check in, I saw them and out loud pulled an Elaine Benes. “Get OUT!” I shouted to myself in the car. It was already getting dark when I arrived, so I vowed to get a closer look at the bears before I left.

To that end, I took a break from writing, put on my hat and down coat, and went for a stroll in the snow among the bears. And, dang it. They are all adorable. I am struggling to come up with reasons why I do not need one of these bears for my backyard. I have space for one. And my yard could definitely use a little more personality. And it is for a good cause, right? I mean, come on! How are you supposed to resist this?

If you want to check out all the bears, take a look. I’m open for thoughts. Which bear do you fancy? And which one needs to go in my yard? I would much rather find one of these bears in my Colorado backyard than an actual furry one. Help me convince my husband that this is a wise and necessary expense for a great cause. Go!

The Long And Winding Tale Of Ice, A Stuffy, And The Beauty Of Getting Older And Wiser

Happy corgi

I took the puppy on his morning walk earlier today while it was snowing. He loves the snow. Loves it. Actually, love might be an understatement. He and his short legs hop through it like a casual rabbit inspecting a yard. He buries his face in it and comes up with his black, button nose covered in white. He flattens himself out into the corgi sploot, the spotted paw pads on his back feet facing the sky, and pulls himself along on his belly as if he is his own sled. His joy in the snow is contagious. And so I love walking him, especially when the snow is still falling and I can revel in his exuberance and the beauty of Mother Nature’s the-sky-is-falling impression.

The snow was powdery and low in moisture. It was so cold that my boots squeaked as I stepped through the snow. About two inches had fallen by the time I got home from carpool and got suited up in my Sorels and my waterproof ski jacket. As we rounded the corner onto the path that runs behind the houses on our side of the street, I noticed an area ahead where it looked like a dog might have rolled around trying to leave a doggy snow angel. When I got closer, though, I noticed there were no dog tracks. Odd, I thought, as I continued on. Next thing I knew my right foot slipped and, before I had the opportunity to save myself, I landed hard on my right side, my elbow and wrist bearing the brunt of the fall. I sat there on the ground a bit dazed for a few moments, and then I noticed there was pain in my shoulder too. Nice. Loki looked at me impatiently. You gonna sit in the snow all day, lady? I have sniffs to get, and we’re not getting any younger. At least now I knew why there had been that impression in the snow. It wasn’t a dog that had rolled but another person who, like me, took a digger. Too bad I hadn’t Sherlock Holmes-ed my way to that conclusion before I discovered there was ice under that snow.

I finished the walk by hobbling along on any grass I could find, hoping to avoid another fall. I made it home without another incident and began packing for my evening flight. Luke and I are flying to Portland for one last college visit. He was accepted into Reed College, but we weren’t able to do an in-person visit there before now because of the school’s Covid restrictions. When they sent Luke his acceptance letter, though, with a copy of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, it felt like Reed might just be a good fit for our fearless reader. So we are on our way to spend a couple hours with a student and see if this is his place.

At any rate, after my fall earlier and in anticipation of developing bruises and pain from my Ice Capades, I decided it might be prudent to add a heat pack to my bag. So I tossed in this eucalyptus-and-peppermint-scented neck wrap I bought off Etsy last year from the Flax of Life shop. The hotel room has a microwave, so I figured better safe than sorry. Getting older can be a bit of a bummer.

The snow stopped in time for our drive to the airport, and with a gorgeous sunset to our west over the Rockies I was feeling pretty confident about our trip. We got a spot in the garage and headed straight for the Clear queue at security. After I did my chalk outline impression in the millimeter wave scanning machine thing, I went to grab my carry on roller bag and noticed it was set off to the side. Well, crap. A TSA employee grabbed the bag and opened it up. She unzipped the portion where the heating pad was and took it out to test it for explosives, I guess, and as she did the stuffed dog I sleep with nightly fell out onto the inspection table. Of course it did. I stared at Elliott (that is his name) on that cold metal table and felt bad that he had been so unceremoniously outed. The residue test on my Etsy purchase came back negative for whatever nefarious crap they were testing it for, so she put it and my dear stuffy back into my bag. No harm, no foul. We were on our way.

There is a beautiful thing about getting older. Eventually you learn not to care. I mean, you still care about the important things, like your family and friends and the health of the planet and maybe the date the next season of Ted Lasso hits Apple TV. But you stop caring about little things you finally understand don’t matter at all and aren’t worth your brain power. I don’t care if the entire TSA line saw my stuffy sitting there (although Elliott might have words for me about it later). I don’t care if I had a heating pad in my bag for an injury I sustained while trying to walk and failing. I don’t care if any of the neighbors saw my less than graceful wipeout. What I do care about anymore is only what my circle of concerns contains. And it definitely does not contain any dignified concern about being exposed as a 53 year old who travels with a stuffed dog.

A friend was telling me today that she is sick of people on hiking web sites complaining about rock piles. I had to ask for clarification about this, but apparently people who are nature purists get quite bent about the rock cairns other people create to help mark a trail. These people feels this is an aberration in the whole “leave no trace” movement. All I have to say about these people is that they haven’t become wise with age. Because if you are lucky, as you age you learn not to give a flying figlet about things that don’t really matter. If you’re lucky, you get old enough to realize that you can only be shamed when your stuffed dog falls onto a TSA table if you decide to give that shaming power to someone else. You learn that there are only so many hours in a day, so righteous indignation about rock cairns might not be the best use of your precious time. You learn not to focus on small things you can’t control (an undignified, painful fall on some hidden ice) and only to focus on what you can control (putting a heating pad in your carry on bag). You learn to say “bless his heart” when an idiot in a lifted truck with truck nuts speeds around you and then cuts you off. You learn to let go.

Life is short. Walk the dog. Fall on ice. Take a trip. Enjoy the relief of a heating pad. Overlook the rock piles. And for holy hell’s sake, stop worrying so damn much. Everything will be fine.

Loki says “Don’t worry, be happy…like me”

The Budding Botheration Of Climate Change

I went on a walk today with my oldest son and my youngest dog. I’ve been on a quest to get our puppy as much exercise as possible because he’s a really good dog when he’s tired. And long walks outside are totally feasible in the winter in Denver because it’s not unusual for us to have a spate of 30 degree days followed by an equal portion of 50-60 degree days. During those warm periods, I love to get outside, and this has been even more true in the time of Covid when any opportunity to get out safely in the world brings me joy.

But while walking today, I noticed an unwelcome sight. The cottonwood trees are beginning to bud. It’s mid January, and this is not good. We had an exceptionally warm December and didn’t receive our first snow until midway through the month, which is about two months later than we used to see our first snow of the winter. Colorado and many western states are reliant on heavy winter snows in the mountains for fresh water. We are not seeing snow levels here like we used to. Colorado had seasons when I was growing up. We’d have a cold winter with some warm days, followed by a snowy spring that eventually gave way to a warm but not ridiculously hot summer, which led into a temperate fall that was inevitably cut short by an early winter snow. More recently, we have joked (sadly) that Colorado has two seasons: winter and fire. But now I even see our winters abating.

I’ve never been a climate change denier. The scientific evidence Al Gore presented in the first Inconvenient Truth film made sense to me, and the second film 11 years later simply backed up everything he reported in the first film. I’ve accepted what the scientists have said and what the climate continues to demonstrate. We are in a bad place. Warmer, drier summers mean more drought and fires. Warmer, drier winters mean less water for crops in the spring and summer. Warmer weather means mosquitoes and mosquito-borne illnesses are likely to increase. And when plants bud early and insects appear sooner because of warmer temperatures, migratory birds become imperiled because they may arrive in the spring to find they are too late for their food. We’ve seen droughts and wildfires on the rise. We’ve also witnessed storms growing worse, flooding happening more often, and unprecedented heat waves occurring in areas that are temperate (I’m looking at you, Seattle and Portland). I’m not sure why we aren’t all freaking out about this, but I assume it’s like the fabled frog boiling experiment. Because the changes have been amortized, they are easier to ignore as one-off situations. But as these storms, fires, floods, droughts, and heat waves become more common, your head has to be buried deeply in the sand to miss their message.

One area I’ve been working on in my life is accepting the unwelcome changes that are an inevitable part of life. The Buddhists call this practice “groundlessness” or “impermanence.” It simply means working to accept that everything is fluid and nothing is constant, and it’s our human desire to expect that we can settle into and keep things comfortable and changeless that causes us pain. So, I accept that climate change is real. I accept that Colorado’s climate will never again be what it was in my childhood. I accept that the warmer, drier winters will likely mean water restrictions and rationing in the years to come. I accept that having smokey summers will be the norm. I accept that ski seasons will continue to shorten until there isn’t even enough snow to ski on anymore. I can accept all this, but it makes me sad. Sad we didn’t think this would happen despite the overwhelming scientific evidence. Sad that we are too comfortable and complacent in our lives to make the sacrifices necessary to prevent this. Sad that trees are budding in January instead of April or May. Sad there is nothing much to be done to change this unless 90% of our world’s population suddenly become Greta Thunberg clones and begin demanding more from our governments and leaders.

What I know about life, though, is that adapting to change and accepting it diminishes suffering. So, I will continue to enjoy my warm, winter walks with our dog and ignore the trees budding in January because I will take the good where I can find it.

The Trouble With Time Is That It’s Too Easy To Waste

It’s not that we have little time, but more that we waste a good deal of it.” ~Seneca

I have wasted a ton of time since the pandemic began. I can’t even begin to calculate how much time. If you checked my Nintendo DS, you could probably find a record of how much time I spent playing Animal Crossing during lockdown (okay, and beyond). It would be a gargantuan number of hours. Add to that the time I spent on TikTok or researching travel I could not undertake or playing Archery in my text threads with my sisters or reading tweets, well, it’s embarrassing. I know that my misuse of time stemmed, at least initially, from the overwhelm of being in lockdown and uncertain about what was going to happen with the pandemic. But, once things relaxed a bit, did I get back on track with living my life? No. I did not. The ups and downs of “do we mask” and “can we trust the vaccines” and “why am I wearing a mask when so many people aren’t” and “how far do I have to travel to get a vaccine” and “what do you mean cloth masks aren’t effective enough” and “will there even be room at a hospital if I have a stroke or something” made me want to check out. So, I did. I continued to bury my head in nonsense.

But then we went to Hawaii for Christmas, and I put my phone down more often and lived. I sat in the sun on warm, black lava rocks, and watched the waves roll in shades of turquoise. I walked among swiss-cheese rocks and looked for shells both teeming with life and devoid of it. I woke up to the sunrise ten out of eleven mornings there. I felt the sand between my toes, smelled plumeria blossoms, and tasted fresh, Kona-grown coffee. It felt good to be alive again.

I missed living.

So today I spent some quality time with our puppy because he makes me laugh every day. I savored my food and appreciated it. I went to my meditation meeting and listened intently to what the other participants said about their practices. I worked hard to be present all day.

Maybe it was my Hawaiian holiday. Maybe it was watching Don’t Look Up. I’m not sure what has brought me to this place, but I have definitely been more present so far in 2022. I’m tired of wasting time and then being frustrated that I didn’t do all the things I wanted to do. I know what I want for this year, so I am setting an intention to show up for my life and the people in it. I’m going to spend some time this week figuring out what that looks like and how I think I can best accomplish it. And then I am going to get busy living again. It’s not a New Year’s Resolution. It’s a Life Revolution.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” ~Henry David Thoreau

Shell Shock: The Crustacean Calamity

Shells without feet waiting for a clean and polish

We got home yesterday afternoon and, being the Type A person I am, I immediately dove into the process of unpacking, doing laundry, and getting settled at home again. This was an even bigger task than usual because we had celebrated Christmas by unwrapping gifts the night before we left for Hawaii, which meant there was an even bigger mess left behind than usual. Sigh. I don’t like chaos in my house. I find it counterproductive to my intention to live a more peaceful, mindful life. It’s difficult for me to feel at peace when I look around a cluttered, dirty house.

While we were in Hawaii, I would wander along the lava rocks on the beach outside our rental home and look for shells that had been beached and discarded. I would collect nice looking shells of that variety, ones on dry land rather than in the tidal pools because I know the tidal pools are teaming with sea snails and hermit crabs, and sometimes live cowries too. To be careful, though, when I would collect the shells, I made a habit of drying them on the lava rock wall by the pool or on the counter in the bathroom. The shells needed to be dried before packing, and I figured this would allow time for any sea life living in the shells that had somehow managed to escape my notice to make a break for it. And it did happen. One day I brought the few shells I had found to our bathroom, removed them from my pocket, walked into the other room, and a little while later heard something make a sound in the bathroom. I returned to find a hermit crab in the sink. Apparently that shell’s owner objected to being collected. I took him back to the beach and set him into a tide pool. He was free.

At any rate, as I was unpacking my suitcase yesterday, I found the shells I brought home in a Ziploc bag and set them out on my bathroom counter. I had plans to sterilize and polish them, but that process could not begin until I had the house settled again. While I was busy unpacking my toiletries and putting some towels away, out of the corner of my eye I saw one shell moving across the counter. Dammit. I had a stowaway. Despite my best efforts to ensure I didn’t transport any live creatures from the Hawaiian tropical climate to cold, semi-arid, high altitude Colorado, one of the shells held a tiny hermit crab who had refused to let his presence be known on the bathroom counter in Hawaii.

The little guy had lived through a day on the counter and another twelve hours in a plastic bag inside a suitcase, only to arrive 3300 miles away from its origins and 1030 miles from the nearest ocean. I momentarily considered setting up an aquarium setting for him before coming to my senses. Colorado is no place for a tiny, salty hermit crab. I had to dispatch him. I hated to do it (and I will not disclose the methodology of such actions here because I am still wracked with guilt), but it had to be done. And, no, I don’t really want to talk about it.

I’ve spent a bit of time since then beating myself up for being a murderer. Finally, though, I decided I had to forgive myself. I did not mean to bring him here. I didn’t set out to harm anything. I tried to leave my shells time enough to walk away if they were inhabited. I also realize I am likely not the first human to err in this fashion. And on multiple occasions while looking for shells on dry land in Hawaii, I found hermit crabs who were stranded away from the ocean (seemingly miles away if you consider how small they are and how far the tide had carried them from their point of origin) and picked them up and returned them to tidal pools, thereby saving their lives. Sometimes, life is messy. I am a person who has rescued snakes, voles, mice, rabbits, and even salamanders from window wells. I need to cut myself some slack on this one life. I try to be a good steward on this planet, but being good does not mean being perfect.

Next time I go to Hawaii and collect shells, though, I am going to stop the collection process two days prior to my departure to give any accidental sea life ample time to escape my evil clutches.