Monday, July 19, 2010

The importance of play

How often does lightness show up in your life? When was the last time you did something just for the sake of the adventure or the joy of it? When was the last time you did something not just to get better at it or to prove yourself good enough to someone in your life?

It's funny. I've been a ski instructor for the last 7 years and worked very hard to improve my skiing so I can get my PSIA level 2 certification, to get the higher pay, higher level classes, and the respect and prestige associated with it. Sometimes I can let those goals go, but a lot of the time I over-analyze myself, critiquing my balance, my tipping, turning, fluidity, and confidence level in every single turn......

It almost makes me forget why I love skiing. When I started teaching, I was barely skiing parallel. I made it down some black diamond runs without falling, but it was incredibly slow. I laughed every time I went out. I laughed at myself, laughed at the snow falling on my head from the trees as I skied through them. I laughed so hard when I fell that sometimes I would just lay there, making snow angels until I could stop laughing and find my skis that were buried in the snow somewhere uphill.

Even when I got my level 2 last season, I was so burned out that it was an effort to put my boots on int he morning.

Today, I bought an innertube with the intention of exploring the irrigation ditch next to my house. My neighbor asked where I was headed off to, and I told her of my plan. She looked concerned. She asked "Isn't that water poisonous?" The though had not occurred to me. I've waded in that ditch for 2 summers now, and my legs haven't fallen off yet!!!

Sure, this irrigation ditch is for all of the agriculture to the east of the city and thus may have pesticides and fertilizer and who knows what else downstream... But I'm not planning on drinking the stuff! Not to mention that I don't believe that there is much agriculture upstream of me.

The scientist in me wants to test the water to see what I can learn. My first reaction, though, is that nature is not anything to be afraid of. If I was too afraid to go outside at night because a mountain lion might eat me, I might miss the howling coyotes and hooting owls, and the cool night wind.

Google maps is possibly the best resource I've ever found for dreaming up expeditions near and far. My irrigation ditch is the drainage from Sixmile Reservoir just south of Boulder Res. It heads east past my neighborhood, then swings north to Niwot, then east again for a few miles before finally turning south in a cement lined ditch that leads back to Boulder Creek. It looks tubeable at least through Niwot and possibly beyond. It winds through suburbia until it passes out of town.

I started my exploration where 2 ditches meet, just downstream of the ditch that flows between Twin Lakes. I slipped my tube into the water, knowing some of what I'd pass, but there are parts that are too overgrown to see from the path. The flow was slow, and I had to wave away the cobweb and debris-covered branches that hung over my head. Only a few people passed me on the trail. The first man that passed did not notice me. The family that walked by a few minutes later smiled and waved.

When I was a child, I always wished that there was a stream behind my house. I loved my little patch of poison-ivy filled woods, where I played and swung on vines and built forts and ate berries. I loved it! But I always wished there was a stream to explore too.

I put my tube in the water for no other reason than to see what I could see. I didn't find any secret hideouts, animals, or any other major surprises. That wasn't the point though!

Play just for the sake of playing. Kids do it all the time (as long as their parents let them of course), but somehow we lose that desire as adults. That is, until we remember.

In the last year, I have encouraged every single coaching client I've had to find something to do just for the sake of doing it. Just for the sake of bringing lightness into their life, to balance out the heaviness of the stress in their lives. It's amazing how their perspective changes, just with a night of dancing or a camping trip.

I am going to float the section through the golf course next. I wonder if that's allowed? I suppose I'll find out!!!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Laughter beneath sandstone cliffs

How does it get any better than this?

I went to a networking meeting on Wednesday night and a woman named Rikka Zimmerman spoke about getting out of our own way. I was intrigued. Her work is all about living in the question, and one of her favorite questions stuck with me. I have played with it and felt it, explored it and noticed my gratitude for ordinary moments. How does it get any better than this?


Dave and I took my canoe through a part of Boulder Creek that is rarely boated. I'm not sure if it's even legal. I saw this area so close to my house first on a bike path and then by canoe last October. But what I wanted more than anything is for my husband to share my excitement. There is so much to explore right here. I've spent so much of my life exploring on my own, a side effect of being an only child. I like exploring solo, but it's so much more important for me to share this. I will still explore alone, but I want my Boulder Creek adventure to happen with Dave.

We slipped the canoe silently into the water, and I remembered what it feels like to disappear into a different world. There's nothing like it. I had forgotten exactly what draws me to the river.... It's not even the journey, it's the initiation of it. It's heading away from civilization and being surrounded by birds and cottonwoods, not a human soul in sight.

This is what I love about this river. So many people in Boulder are outdoorsy, hiking the same trails and floating the creek in the same places. How many people know where Boulder Creek goes after it leaves the city limits?

In this place, we see no one. In this place, we are in a different world, away from the crowds, flanked on the side by pockmarked sandstone cliffs and by field on the other. We feel like we're in a different world.

We float on, avoiding fallen trees and sharp corners, laughing as the tree branches cause me to fall backward, into the canoe, feet in the air and gasping for breath because I can't stop laughing. Seriously, did it happen again???? At least I didn't tip the canoe. Now, when Dave and I switched places, the story ended a little bit differently. He leaned back, lost his balance, and I gasped as the boat tipped. In slow motion, the boat tipped, we laughed hysterically, I jumped out and pulled the side of the boat up to keep the water from filling the boat. He said he did it on purpose. He said he was just imitating me. Sure, Dave, sure you were. Mmmhmm.

We fall into silence as the creek runs beside the sandstone cliffs, so close we could reach out and touch them. We are in a different world. Suddenly, we hear a flap of wings and two birds screeching. A golden eagle flies away, with two swallows scolding him, shouting and diving. How can those small birds cause such a reaction? Those little birds are fearless! And the eagle flies over the cottonwoods and disappears from sight.

We see great blue herons taking off from the shore of the river. Red winged blackbirds flock in the cottonwoods, calling to each other and maybe to us? There is something tan on the river side, silent and unmoving. It is the same color as the cliffs. As we float on, we realize this stone being on the river isn't a stone at all! It's a cow! She sits in the river and not even her ears twitch. She hasn't a care as we pass her.

Later on, we saw something floating in the water. It looked dead. We didn't realize it was a snapping turtle until we passed it! The turtle was tilted, half submerged, its skin looking pale and sickly as it slowly moved its legs under the water. He was HUGE! Then he noticed us as we turned back to look closer. He took off and swam under the boat! I guess he wasn't dying, after all! We watched until he disappeared into the mud at the bottom of the river.

Dave's sold on the adventure! He said he would even consider selling our kayaks and instead explore all of these rivers in eastern Colorado. I have my partner in adventure. My wish came true....

How does it get any better than this?


Friday, July 16, 2010

Following the river

Imagine, for a moment. Imagine wandering past the lakes at the St. Vrain state park, passing the edge of the park and wandering along to the river. The St. Vrain river, which flows much more gently this far downstream than it does in the Lyons play park. It's hot. I feel faint, almost, sweating so heavily that my clothes are sticking to me and the now hot water in my backpack does absolutely nothing to refresh me. Yet, still I walk.

After leaving the park and crossing a ditch, I end up on a bike path to nowhere. It's deserted. The path goes under 3 bridges- cars and trucks zooming along above me. Cars and trucks, drowning out every sound... except.... Bank swallows. They swoop and dive and call and there are so many of them it seems as though it's a cloud above me. A cloud that sings and calls and dives. A cloud of eyes, watching. The cars zoom overhead and no one knows I... am... here. I am here.

Except the birds. They know.

I wander along the river, imagining my canoe slipping into the water, disappearing downstream, slipping past farmland and cottonwoods and landowners that very likely would not be happy with me if they knew I was imagining camping on the edge of their land as I float downstream into the unknown.

Cheatgrass gets stuck in my shoes, poking and prodding me, but I do not retreat back to the paved bike path. I am drawn to the river, cheatgrass and all. It's perfect for my canoe. I sometimes imagine slipping into a river and following it all the way to the ocean. This river. I imagine my canoe slipping into Boulder Creek, only a mile from my house, and living, unnoticed, along the highways and farms and cities, hiding in the willow thickets, with the swallows to guide me.

I decide to walk back. I return to the bike path only to realize that I've barely gone anywhere- it's only a 5 minute walk back to where I started! To the left of the bike path, I see birds in a nearly empty reservoir. I see Canada geese and snowy egrets. Snowy egrets!!!! I feel like I'm at my grandma's house in Texas as a teenager, watching egrets fly with their huge white wingspan, I had never seen anything like them, back then. I can't remember the last time I've seen them.... Maybe in Texas as a teenager.

I wander back to the bridge and I look up at the trucks passing over me. No one can hear me. No one knows I'm there. Except for the swallows. They know. I start to sing. Loud. I sing the song that has haunted me for years and years. Here I am. I went down to the river to pray. Studying about those good old ways and who shall wear that thorny crown, good Lord! Show me the way!

Don't you want to come down? Down to the river to pray!

Here under the bridge I sing to the swallows, and I wade into the river, finally cooling off, and finally feeling.... that this is where I belong!!!! Singing to the swallows, standing in the river, smiling at nothing and everything all at once.

I notice the tracks in the mud next to me. There are raccoon and coyote, skunk and heron, fox and... otter? I think so! Maybe my friend the otter is listening to me sing at the top of my lungs too! There is something missing in that mud, though. There is something very significant missing. I see no human footprints except my own. I see no domestic dog prints. All I see is wildness in the mud and on this river, and I wonder if anyone has been here before me.

I'm sure someone has. I'm sure someone else loves finding the secret homes of swallows under the bridge. I am sure that someone else has had the same idea of sliding their canoe into the river here. But right now, the idea feels like it is fully my own.

This is where I belong. This. Is. Where. I. Belong.