Monday, February 26, 2024

Thanksgiving hiking

Several years ago when we celebrated Thanksgiving weekend with our dear friends, the Calverts, they taught me a term I hadn't heard before. 

"Green Friday," Allen said. "Instead of Black Friday where people shop, we celebrate Green Friday where we like to get out in nature." 

I'd never heard of anything more lovely in all my life, so we adopted that tradition right then and there, and have celebrated Green Friday ever since.

This year for Green Friday, we hiked to the Arizona hot springs. We'd done GoldStrike Canyon several times and had enjoyed those hot springs before, but had never gone down to the other side of the river. 

At one point, Eliza was having a difficult time... maybe she had tripped?... but she just could not get control of her emotions. Minute after minute after minute she cried and cried, occasionally taking a few deep breaths, but then falling apart all over again when a tiny pebble would enter her shoe, or the tiny paper cut on her thumb from three days ago would start stinging. Eventually, we stopped walking and I had her sit next to me on a giant rock and place her hand on its cool surface.

"Go ahead and cry," I said soothingly. I mean, she already was, but she was trying to resist it which always makes it worse. I've found it's better to just have the sadness, so giving her permission seems to be a better move for her. "Do you feel how cold this rock is?" I asked. I wanted to help her get back into the present, because that seems to work miracles for her little nervous system. She nodded and began to calm down.

"Sometimes when I'm feeling really uncomfortable inside, I like to sit on the earth and just feel it, you know?" I continued. "I'll put my hand on a rock like this and move my hand back and forth to feel all the grooves- some rocks are smooth and some are rough. What would you say this one is?"

"Smooth," she said as her sobbing hiccups quieted a bit. 

"Yeah, I think so, too.  The earth is so amazing- I don't understand how, but its energy helps calm me down when I listen to it, when I touch it, when I breathe it. Close your eyes, put your hand on your rock, take a deep breath, and feel all of that energy."

Timothy only lasted about five seconds into the silence that followed before he burst out laughing. "Mom! What are you talking about!?"

"Hey! Don't make fun of it until you try it!" I said, kicking some dirt in his direction and patting the rock beside me. 

He came and sat next to me and playfully mocked the whole experience like you might imagine a 10-year-old boy would. Before long, Eliza was in giggles - tears still stuck to her cheeks - but the whole atmosphere had changed. Maybe it was Timothy's humor that helped her feel better, and maybe it was the earth.

Before too long, we made it to the hot springs. I didn't get any pictures of them, it turns out. Probably because they were quite filled with people and I didn't think any of the strangers would enjoy being in one of my pictures. (Especially the two old, naked guys 😳)

Brian and I are not big fans of sitting in hot tubs with strangers, so we kept hiking through the hot springs and down the creek a little more to the Colorado River. 

And, soon enough, the teenagers followed.

And then the littler kids.

We sat on the shoreline and pulled out our packed lunches while Timothy and David braved the cold of the Colorado.

And eventually turned around and hiked back out.

 In the end I decided that, while this was beautiful, I prefer Gold Strike Canyon overall. This hike was a little too 'pebbly' and open for me. I prefer a little more climbing, a little more shade, and a little less slipping. But it was worth it, and I have no doubt that we will go again.

Monday, February 19, 2024


It has become tradition. Every Thanksgiving morning we send our kids on a treasure hunt that takes days to prepare and hours to complete, and the kids - from old to young - love it. 

They are invited to a shared folder that contains files of sequential clues, each one password protected. As they solve riddles and complete tasks and gather information from around the city, they slowly uncover the password to the next clue, and the next, and the next, until they eventually find the hiding place of the treasure.

This year they traveled to parks, libraries, schools, local restaurants, hiking trails, and even spent a portion playing a mandatory game of pickleball. 

Sometimes they find letters and numbers - either by following clues to specific signs or by counting specific objects or by solving riddles - to assemble a password on their own. Sometimes they must complete tasks - like climbing a specific tree or flying a kite down Main Street - and send us pictures and videos of the task to receive the next password, but each password performs the same task: it opens the next file in the folder where they can find the next clue to their next quest, all in an effort to unlock the final clue which will lead them to the location of their treasure.

Meanwhile, while the children are out, we adults prepare Thanksgiving dinner, and we track them, and oh how we laugh at their pictures and videos. This year, the aforementioned pickleball game was strategically placed two thirds of the way through their hunt, and when they arrived at the courts, we adults hopped in the car to take them snacks and water.

They are all such. good. kids.

Eventually they discovered their treasure in an old amazon box sitting at the back of a DI trailer in our church's parking lot. They brought it home and divvied out the goods.

This is the third year in a row we've done this hunt, and the most successful. We've learned a thing or two from mistakes in the past (last year's hunt ended up being so long and difficult that most of the kids gave up halfway through), and we're getting better. I can see my old grandma self doing this for my grandkids someday.
The timing couldn't have been better. The kids came home with their treasure after the table was all set, the food was coming out of the oven, and we were all hungry.

We love being with the Birdnos. They have been family friends for the past 20 years, and we love them deeply. We have raised our kids together and supported each other through some hard and terrible and wonderful things. 

And one thing always stays the same:

We always end Thanksgiving night with far more pies than people.

My kids view their kids like cousins, and we always have an amazing time together. 

One of the best things about having Thanksgiving with the Birdnos is that they come up and stay for the whole weekend... so Thanksgiving Weekend is really the holiday we celebrate. I'll blog about the other activities that filled our weekend in a bit, but for the time being, I'll leave you with two more Thanksgiving Weekend scenes. 

First, teenage boys and leftovers. 

And second, making music from garbage.

We feel blessed to have such good friends in our lives and in the lives of our kids.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Havasupai - Part 5

That night of was rough for Dad. Unsurprisingly, it was difficult for him to sleep through the pain that comes from a puncture wound of that sort, and at 4:30am we were both awake. It took all of his effort to get out of the tent to answer the call of nature, and as he tried to make his way around the outside of the tent in the night, he nearly fell. When he collapsed back inside the door, we tried to get some sleep for another 10 minutes or so, but we were up. My mind was racing (and probably his, too) through the list of things that needed to be done before we would leave- everything that had to do with getting ready for the day, repacking our stuff, and taking down a campsite- and we decided it was best to get started. Dad needed to be to the pick-up zone, a mile away, by 7:00am, and we didn't know how much time it was going to take him to hike it.

Thankfully everything was fairly uneventful in getting ourselves ready to pack out, and we left the campsite by 6:00am, giving us a full hour to hike the mile. And we needed most of it. I strapped my big pack on my back, my day pack on my front, and we left Dad's big pack at the campsite where the others in our group said they would figure out a way to get it up to the drop zone, and Dad and I set off. It was a long, hard walk for him.

I stepped back one time, just to take this blurry picture, but the rest of the time I was stepping right in his footsteps with my arms locked and ready. His hiking poles did a fantastic job helping him keep his balance from side to side through his pain, but he needed support behind him- especially on the steeper parts when the pain and gravity would often cause him to tip backwards.

We stopped every few minutes to let the throbbing settle down, and through it all Dad kept his positive attitude, a mix of gratitude for the helpers (including that mule we were working our way towards) and bewilderment for how much pain he was feeling. 

At one point along the mile during one of our many breaks he said, "Wow... I don't like to think about it, but what if we hadn't gotten a mule for me today? There's no way I would have been able to make it out."

But we had gotten a mule, and we made it to the pick-up zone by 7:00am. Just in time for him to wait 2 more hours for his mule to come and get him. (It's a rather loosely-run operation.) 

While we waited for the mule, the rest of our group went on. I wanted to stay behind with Dad to make sure everything worked out as it should, but after about half an hour of waiting, we both decided it was best for me to start the long hike back so we could make the long drive back to Vegas in time to be seen by Urgent Care. So I left him sitting there, my dad and all the bags, waiting to be carried out of the canyon by the mules.

The hike back out of the canyon was beautiful - truly - and I had a lot of time to enjoy being with myself and the scenery.

The energy of the earth was especially moving for me as I walked. For ten miles, I kept waiting for the moment where I would feel satiated with the landscape and soundscape enough to want to pull out my headphones and listen to a podcast, but that time never came. Mile after mile, minute after minute, hour after hour, I just walked, breathed, listened, and felt.

At one point a couple of stray dogs joined me for about a mile (I think it had a lot to do with the trail mix I was munching on). They trotted along beside and behind me, quiet and gentle, and I was grateful for the company, until a hiker going the other direction passed us and offered them some snacks. Those dogs switched their allegiance fast as lightning. 

One of the most interesting features of the canyon to me were holes in the rocks. It doesn't look like it in this photo because I have nothing to show the scale, but that little hole is about 20 feet above the ground.

It was a little off the trail, but there was something about it that made me happy to be there. Like this one, the holes were always filled with smaller rocks that people had thrown, and I smiled. 

I was alone but not lonely, and those little rocks nestled inside interrupted my solitary hike with an invitation for connection. 

People had thrown those rocks.

People had played here.

It's fun to think about people when you're alone but surrounded with big, big nature.

I ventured off the trail and picked up a smaller stone, throwing it towards the hole... and as anyone in my life could have predicted, it landed nowhere close. So I picked up another one, and another, and on the fourth try, my rock nestled in with the other rocks.

That's kind of like life. Sometimes connection with people is hard, and it takes us a few tries to get it right.

I took a few breaks to change my socks and eat some food, but for the most part, I was hurrying along at a pace that pushed me. I felt the pressure of the passage of time. Melani had been very clear that we needed to get his leg looked at as very soon as possible, and I knew that once we got to the car, we still had a three hour drive to get back to the Vegas area. Also, I didn't know when my dad would pass me along the trail, but I didn't want him to get to the top and have to wait too long for me. So, like I said, I pushed.

I caught up to the rest of my group rather quickly, chatted for just a few moments, and then continued on. For about seven miles I enjoyed every step, and then at about mile 8 I started to think to myself, "You know, I could use a conversation."

But the canyon conversed with me, and soon enough, I hit the switchbacks which signaled the last mile... and that, at a hurried pace and at my current fitness level, would have rendered me unable to have a conversation anyway.

Back and forth and back and forth, up, up, up, this was the last push before I reached the top, and I had yet to see my dad. I worried a little through the whole hike that something had gone wrong and that he hadn't been able to ride the mule for some reason, and with every mule train that passed without him, my worry grew. But I also wanted to make it out of the canyon at around the same time as him, so with every mule train that passed without him, I felt relieved that he was still behind me.

It was confusing for my brain. 

And then I saw him... well, I heard him before I saw him, interestingly. Something about the sound waves in the canyon at that point carried his voice well and when he was just a small speck in the distance I heard his voice say, "Are there many deer in this canyon?"

I turned around and saw a mule train far in the distance and knew that he was there. 

My father's voice.
I'd been watching and listening for him the whole hike.
Not in a distracting way. It hadn't taken away from my ability to be present and to enjoy my moments, but a portion of my brain had always been tuned and ready for him, listening and waiting, so when his voice echoed faintly through the canyon, I heard it.
And because I know and love him so deeply, I knew it was him.

It's not hard to find the symbolism in that.

I was so relieved, and it couldn't have been better timing as I knew I was about half a mile from the top. As he got closer, I got more tired- those switchbacks were tough, and I was all too happy to step to the side for a few moments to rest and let them pass. 

"Linds!" he said when he saw me. He looked so rested and comfortable up on that horse. (He wasn't, as I would learn later. The ride had been unexpectedly hard for him. He grew up on horses and knows a thing or two or twenty, but his horse would not respond to him and only had one speed- trotting- and because he didn't have enough strength in his leg to ride the trot, he bounced and bounced and bounced the whole ten miles which obviously had other negative consequences.)

But in that moment to me, he looked much more comfortable than I felt with my burning lungs and legs, so I couldn't help but feel a little measure of playful jealousy as he passed. 

"Dad, I kind of hate you right now," I joked.

He laughed and we talked for just a moment while his horse trotted passed (bounce, bounce, bounce), and then I continued my climb. 

As I rounded another bend, I passed some hikers who had just begun their descent down. 

"Wow!" one of them said to me, "You look like you're doing better than everyone else we've seen coming up today!"

I was shocked enough to be speechless for a moment, because I certainly didn't feel 'better' or really very  strong at all, but then I laughed right out loud and said, "Well, thank you! My secret? Let the mules carry your heavy pack." We all laughed and that interaction kept me company for the rest of my climb. I didn't feel strong in a physical sense, but there was no denying that I was quite, quite happy. And happiness is strength, so maybe that's what they saw in my face that day. Nature fills me, loves me, energizes me, and I can't help but feel better when I'm in it.

As I reached the top, I saw my dad sitting on a step with a smile on his face. Between the difficult mule ride and the angry stick, his butt, his left knee, and his right leg hurt intensely enough that he could hardly walk the five steps to the car and lower himself down into the passenger seat. Yet he smiled. He saw a small pick-up truck in the parking lot selling cold sodas and said, "You know, I think I need a Dr. Pepper," and as I stood in line and looked around at all the people, I saw a lot of long, tired, grumpy faces, some climbing out of that canyon and some not, and I realized that the descending hikers' words applied to my dad, too... to look at his face, he really did look like he was doing better than everyone else.

I don't know how he does it so well, but I am grateful to have a father who leads by example and demonstrates that attitude is important. In my home I recently put up a quote by one of my favorite apostles, Jeffery R. Holland. "No misfortune is so bad that whining about it won't make it worse." I think my dad gets that.

I knew I would love spending this week with him- he is truly an incredible man, and the older I get the more I see it.

The rest of his leg story is really not my own. It's been 13 weeks now and is still not 100% healed (though, I think he'd probably say it's just fine). A unique antibiotic regimen was finally found through trial and error that helped combat whatever infection was festering inside from the unsterile conditions, while a handful of ER visits and doctor visits combined to finally start improving his condition. More than once, his wound was stuffed with gauze and left to drain (eww), layers and layers of dead skin were ruthlessly cut off, probes were pushed up inside to gage how well the healing inside was going... His healing seemed to follow the two steps forward, one step back rule the whole time, and when I ordered him a pirate T-shirt for Christmas that said It was all fun and games until someone lost a leg, things were bad enough that I hoped it would be funny- because if he actually lost the leg, I'm sure it would not have been. That danger has passed, luckily, but even if it hadn't, even if he had lost the leg, I'm sure he would be smiling.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Havasupai - Part 4

Maybe you don't want to know the story about this stick (and maybe it's a good thing it's a little out of focus), but I'm going to tell you anyway, because this stick that sat across a wrong path on our hike back to the campground from Beaver Falls became part of our story for weeks and weeks to come.

My cousin's friend, Aspen, and I felt particularly chatty on our hike back to the campgrounds. Spending hours and hours in a most beautiful place has a way of doing that to me. We pointed out interesting leaves and rock patterns and talked about how nature fills our souls. 

"If you could be any kind of tree, what would you choose?" she asked me. 
Oof, that's a hard one.

I looked around and saw, right at the side of the river, a tree with a curvy trunk. Curvy enough to create a seat to sit in, and the colors of its leaves were particularly bright. It was kind of alone... a clear space all around it for squirrels, and had plenty of space to grow just like it wanted to without any straight and tall trees hovering over it.

"That one." I pointed. "It gets to hear the sound of the creek for its whole life, and no one is obstructing its view. It's a little weird, very bright, and makes me smile when I look at it. That's who I want to be. I like that it's alone, not crowded out by other trees, because it doesn't seem particularly interested in growing just like everyone else, but perhaps, like me, it needs its space in order to not feel that pressure. Yet all that space can be filled with friends. I'd want to be that tree, but I'd want to have a root system like the aspens - connected deeply with other like-minded people who can give me strength when I need it, and with whom I can share my strength, too."

She was quiet for a moment. So long that I started to wonder if I'd flown my freak flag and scared her away. It happens.

But instead she said, "Wow... I like you. You just came up with all that?!"

"Sorry," I said, feeling embarrassed. "I know it's weird."

"No... I really like you. You're kind of full of contradictions." 

I've been told that before, too.

Freak flag. 

We had just crossed the river and were waiting on the other side for the rest of our group to catch up when we realized that they weren't behind us. Wondering where they were, we passed the time in nervous, idle chit-chat, before my cousin Tiffiny came around the corner with wild eyes. 

"Karl's hurt!" she yelled across the river. "I think it's bad!"

My dad came limping into view, and he looked hurt. He waded into the river and stumbled his way across it, relying heavily on his poles to support his weight whenever he stepped on his right leg. From across the river I could see that something wasn't quite right, but it took a closer view to see that he had a trail of blood marking the side of his calf under a ring of grey duck tape that was putting pressure on what was obviously a wound.

"It's bad," my cousin Tiffiny mouthed quietly to me as she passed me in the river.

Apparently their little group had taken a wrong turn and bushwhacked their way through a trail of their own before deciding they were going the wrong way. After they had turned back around to find the right trail, my dad lifted his foot to step over the branch you see pictured above, and as his leg came down, the twig pointing vertical found its way into the side of his calf muscle. Deep. It was so deep and entangled in flesh and muscle that he was unable to pull it straight back up, and had to fall down on his backside and use his hands to pull it out. He estimated the stick traveled 3 inches up inside his leg, even though the incision wound was only (!) about an inch long. 

Thankfully he was with a nurse who had a first aid kid handy. She put gauze and a tight ring of duck tape around it to help with the bleeding, and then there was nothing else to do but continue hiking back to the campsite 2 miles away. And we still had that cliff to climb.

He could hardly put weight on his right leg and would stumble occasionally at very small obstacles as the pain and muscle trauma in his right leg tried to shut him down, so knowing that we had the cliff ahead was concerning. He had flatly refused my offer to carry his pack shortly after it had happened, so as we neared the cliff I started rehearsing arguments in my head that would increase the likelihood of me ending up with his pack, but when we reached the base of the cliff, it turned out I didn't need to use any of my arguments. Perhaps he saw the resolve in my eyes, perhaps he simply knew that he couldn't carry it up himself, but he lowered his shoulders, took it off and put it into my open hand.

I strapped his pack to my front and followed him closely as we climbed slowly up the wet and slippery cliff, but truth be told I don't know what I would have done had he fallen. Landon (the Ox, as some people were calling him for obvious physical reasons... that boy had muscles for miles) was ahead of my dad and literally pulled him up the cliff whenever it was needed. I won't lie - carrying my dad's pack on my front and mine on my back made my own journey harder. Each time I pulled myself higher, my muscles noticed the unexpected extra weight, and it was harder for all four of my limbs to find find footholds and handholds around the added bulk. 

But I was happy to do it.

Happy to. 

As I pondered on it later, the lesson that touched my heart the softest was one about equality. Father, daughter, ruler, subject, prophet, peon, we are all working together to get Home. Generally my dad's role in my life is to be the helper- he's my dad. But that's just a role. It made me want to look around and help more. To not be blinded by the roles people assume around me. Sometimes I get a little intimidated by the 'status' of others, but it helps to remember that we're all just humans, and every human needs to be helped, to be served, and to be loved.

We finally made it to the top of the cliff and through all the tunnels back to the sunshine on the other side. 

True to my dad's character, he never grumbled. Never complained. Just kept putting one foot in front of the other and relied heavily on his hiking poles as a makeshift leg.

A few in the group ran ahead to get Melani, Jamie's wife, who, as an ob/gyn, had some skills and had brought her emergency surgical kit with her. As we walked the final leg to the campsite, my dad started stumbling more on the flat ground... a sign (I would imagine) that the adrenaline had worn off and the pain was felt in full.

Once we arrived at the campsite, it took us a fairly long time to get Dad more comfortable. Melani was wise and convinced him to get out of his wet clothes and into warm ones before they even took a look at what was going on with his leg. But it was difficult to move, especially in a small tent. Eventually he managed while I boiled water in our pot for some semblance of sterility in that dusty campground.

Melani thankfully had some lidocaine, which made the flushing out of his wound much more comfortable.

They did their best to clear out the debris. They flushed and flushed and flushed with the sterile water, but with the wound traveling so far up into his leg, they didn't have access to make sure. 

Dad wasn't happy, but somehow the following picture still tells the true story.

He was hurt, and still quick to laugh. Frustrated, and still strong. Shaking with shock, and still aware and grateful towards all who were helping him.

There was a time of uncomfortable uncertainty where we were not sure how he was going to be able to get out of the campground the next morning. Our parked cars were still 10 miles away through a canyon and up a mountain, and we were sure he wouldn't be able to hike it. But the last helicopter had already flown for the weekend, and the only other option was to ride a mule out. In order to secure that option, reservations needed to be made in the village - 2 miles uphill from us - by 5:00pm.

"I can make it," Janina said, looking at her watch. 4:35. My dad gave her the cash that would be needed and she took off jogging with Jeremy through the campground. 

Something uncomfortable had been stirring in me through the afternoon, and it grew bigger while they were gone. The day had not been about me, of course, but the emotions in my body were demanding some attention and I couldn't shake them. What were they? Jealousy? Frustration? Loneliness? Self-pity? I stepped away from the group to boil some more water in the surgical pot that would need to be cleaned in order to fulfill its role as our dinner pot next, and let my thoughts turn inward. I scrubbed the scalding pot with soap and rinsed it well before boiling more water to make dinner. I cleaned up the bandages and dug out the small pool of blood in the dirt to make our campsite cleaner. I hung our wet clothes and towels on the clothes line and put our wet shoes on a rock to dry. I pulled out our bags of dinner and poured the boiling water inside, making sure to scrape the bottom of the bags so everything would be evenly cooked. I made hot chocolate, and set some pieces of dried fruit on a make-shift plate, and because I know how much my dad loves chocolate covered almonds, I put a generous handful next to his fruit for dessert. And as I worked, I searched inside. Over time, I realized that the core feeling stuck in my chest and throat was Worthlessness. 

I hadn't been there when Dad stepped into the stick - Tiffiny was the one to hold his skin together while help came. I wasn't strong enough to help him up the cliff - Landon the Ox was there for that. I couldn't clean his wound or stitch him back together - Melani had those skills. I didn't think to run to the village to ask about the helicopter - Jeremy did. And when we learned that the helicopter was gone and that we had to go back to the village to secure the mule, I would not have been physically capable of making it there in time - but Janina could.

Unchecked, all of these thoughts had been growing and swirling together in my mind, crowding out the things that I was doing, and creating the sob-story of a father who was hurt and a worthless daughter who didn't help.

No wonder I was feeling terrible!

Of course, once I found that story and gave it some conscious air-time in my mind, it at once felt silly.

A testament to the power of awareness. 

I shifted my focus and noticed the things I was doing, not herculean, but important. They were not things that others would notice- they were not skills that others would praise, but they were important and all I needed to do for myself was to see them, to pat myself on my own back, and say 'thanks for helping, Linds.' I mean, chocolate covered almonds might not heal a wound, but they can go a long way to show love, which heals, too, because not all wounds are visible. Once I got out of my own way, I felt deep gratitude that we were surrounded by people who were so quick, so capable, and so eager to help.

A testament to the power of intentional thoughts.

Janina and Jeremy made it to the village in time, and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief when they returned in the dark, $200 poorer.