the cost of what is lost (in translation)

When was the last time you thought about language? Being able to communicate with others we encounter is of critical importance on any given day.  Language itself, however, is not something many of us consider outside the realms of academics or literature until we are beyond the boundaries of our own tongue. Travelers often have to rely on hand gestures, humility, and faith that messages are understood when in a foreign place. This is something I was recently reminded of at a Vietnamese train station. I was able to find the right train but have no idea what details were lost in the process of seeking directions. The lack of understanding is compounded when you’re not only dealing with a different tongue but also a different alphabet.  When visiting a foreign country, learning the requisite “Hello,” “Thank you,” “Please,” and “Where is the toilet?” is very important but will only get you so far. (Though I have seen how stumbling through “Happy New Year” in Vietnamese before Tet is sure to bring a smile to local faces. Small efforts almost always bring great rewards.) Yes, a certain level of misunderstanding is to be expected in travel.

No parking? Do not enter? When traveling to Cambodia, where the alphabet is different, I was not only not able to read the signs but could not sound them out to ask others what they meant either. It is a humbling experience. Thankfully helpful people exist all over the world, so I was able to get by without being able to read the signs.

No parking? Do not enter? When traveling to Cambodia, where the alphabet is different, I was not only not able to read the signs but could not sound the words out to ask others what they meant either. It is a humbling experience. Thankfully helpful people exist all over the world, so I was able to get by without being able to read the signs.

Our world is encapsulated in an intricate web of words that has shaped our history and defines our present existence. One of the grave consequences of the age of globalization is the loss of languages in cultures worldwide. How do people navigate the language differences within a community or home as a modern language becomes the dominant one? It’s not just the ability to have a discussion that dies with this decline. There is also a disconnect from heritage and environment that is at some point irreparable.

While none of us are immune, indigenous peoples run the greatest risk of this loss as they become more connected with roads, devices, and the lure of cities for building a different life for their youth. Thankfully there are people dedicated to the importance of words and who are working to preserve some of these languages and the deeper meanings that are connected to them.

A young Waorani girl outside her home in Guiyero. She will no doubt see many changes to her village and way of life as she grows.

A young Waorani girl outside her home in Guiyero. She will no doubt see many changes to her village and way of life as she grows.

The Yasuní region of Ecuador is a region undergoing rapid change. The Waorani that live there are varied in their level of contact with the outside world. Some are completely isolated from modern culture, living as they have for centuries. On the other side of the spectrum are the villages along the “Via Auca,” an oil road built in the 1950’s that brought with it modern conveniences, medical care, industrialized foods, and eventually, tourism. Between these two extremes, there are communities working on the transition that is sure to come. Last summer I visited three of these villages, Guiyero, Ganketapare, and Timpoka, that lie along a road built in the 1990’s. The way of life in these villages is a hybrid, though mostly traditional one. Spanish is widely spoken but is freely interchanged with the native Wao Tededo. Hunting is done with guns as well as blowguns and spears. Western clothes and cell phones are a reality. Tourism is certainly on its way but has not yet arrived. This is a tremendous time of transition and opportunity for the Waorani people.

The Waorani village of Guiyero, like the culture itself is evolving. Traditional straw structures stand next to more modern buildings.

The Waorani village of Guiyero, like the culture itself is evolving. Traditional straw structures stand next to modern buildings.

I was in this area with Megan Westervelt who has been working with the Waorani since August 2014. With cameras on loan from Ohio University, she has provided these communities with a visual voice. As she teaches them about composition and some basic technical aspects of photography, she also talks of how to tell a story about their lives through images. During my short visit, people from the communities met with us daily to work with the cameras and look at photos. Nods and chatter filled the room as they talked about the different stories they could tell. Our discussions with the group centered around parts of their lives that may seem mundane or normal to them but are unique to their culture. (The challenge of showing “normal” moments in a way that is interesting is one that many a photographer has faced.) The resulting images were soulful and intimate. Megan and these communities compiled the images, and with the support of several groups in Ecuador and a successful Kickstarter campaign, they were showcased in Wao Mimo: Yasuní Bajo el Lente Waorani, an exhibit that traveled to Quito and Coca last fall.

Megan Westervelt talks to a group of Waorani about elements in a photo essay. She has encouraged these communities to tell their stories through photography as a way to share their unique ways of life and to bring in the transition they are experiencing consciously.

Megan Westervelt talks to a group of Waorani about elements in a photo essay. She has encouraged these communities to tell their stories through photography as a way to share their unique ways of life with others.

During the time that Megan has worked with the communities in the Yasuní, she has fostered relationships with the Waorani, not only taking on the role of teacher and advocate, but of friend.

During the time that Megan has worked with the communities in the Yasuní, she has fostered relationships with the Waorani, not only taking on the role of teacher and advocate, but of friend.

While we were visiting the communities in the Yasuní, I met Marleen Haboud, a professor of linguistics from Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador (PUCE) and director of Oralidad Modernidad. She works with minority groups to help them to preserve and revitalize their native language. The projects she’s involved with are multi-faceted and include mapping changes in language over generations as they evolve from the native tongue, to Quechua, and eventually Spanish. In some homes she has met families where grandparents have no way to communicate with their grandchildren because there are three distinct languages spoken. Verbal understanding lost in three generations…under one roof. It is a tragic byproduct of progress.

Marleen Haboud and Juan Carlos Armejos talk to a group of Waorani about the work that she has done with other tribes in Ecuador.

Marleen Haboud and Juan Carlos Armijos talk to a group of Waorani about the work that she has done with other tribes in Ecuador.

Wampi Humberto Ahua, a Waorani elder and the leader of the community,  tells a story about hunting to the group. These stories are filmed so they can be translated and eventually become material for animated films that will be given back to the community.

Wampi Humberto Ahua, a Waorani elder and the leader of the community, tells a story about hunting to the group. These stories are filmed so they can be translated and eventually become material for animated films that will be given back to the community.

Marleen’s work extends beyond words. She works with the stories told in these cultures in an effort to preserve heritage along with language. One facet of the work, Así Dicen Mis Abuelos (So my Grandparents Say), is a collaboration with her filmmaker daughter. I was able to witness the beginning of this process in action. Dozens of Waorani gathered in a room. Elders in the community were asked to come forward and tell a story. As they talked, they inevitably became animated while everyone watched and listened, gathered on the floor and in chairs around them. Marleen and her team filmed the storytelling. As I listened to words I could not understand, my mind pictured stories like these being told in villages for centuries, around campfires or while doing daily tasks. With the plotlines fresh in their minds, the Waorani gathered in groups to illustrate the stories. It is very important for Marleen to know what aspects of the stories look like visually for each tribe she works with. On this particular day, one man’s story was about hunting with a blow gun. Without the drawings to accompany the words, it would be difficult to know exactly what Waorani darts and blowguns look like, a key detail in getting the story right. With the recordings and illustrations in tow, Marleen and her daughter work with representatives from the villages to help with translation. The final products include animated films and books depicting the story in Wao Tededo (in this case) with Spanish subtitles. These resources are given back to the communities and serve as an invaluable tool for educating their children in both the content of the stories and the language. The beauty of this exercise was not just in what was being produced but also in the spirit of community and sharing that grew as people from several generations talked, drew, and laughed together.

After elders told their stories, Omaca Gloria Irumenga and others in the room began to draw them.  These illustrations are valuable tools to help Marleen produce resources to give back to the community in the form of animated films.

After elders told their stories, Omaca Gloria Irumenga joined others in the room drawing their interpretations of the tales. These illustrations are valuable tools to help Marleen produce resources to give back to the community in the form of animated films.

I could write multiple posts about the work that both Megan and Marleen are doing in Ecuador. What I witnessed was only a few short days, a small glimpse into labors of passion that no doubt will continue for the span of their lifetimes. They certainly have huge challenges ahead, but I believe their impact is taking root in these villages as young and old take pride in who they are, where they come from, and the importance of keeping some of that heritage alive.

It is clear that the intentions of these two women are not to keep the modern world away from the Waorani. Often when I travel with groups of tourists to indigenous villages, comments arise about how strange it is that the people there have cell phones or TVs. Isn’t it natural that these luxuries would be attractive to them? Dismay that people enjoy modern conveniences because of the quaint or romanticized images we, as travelers from first-world countries, have in our minds about their culture is short-sighted and self-centered. Expecting them to stay as they have been historically is no different than wanting to put them behind glass, on a shelf in a museum, frozen in time. No, the goal in these projects is rather helping the Waorani to recognize their uniqueness, with their language and their ways of life, while their communities welcome the 21st under their own terms.

Preserving culture by giving people voices through the arts: photography and drawing are two ways that Megan and Marleen are working with the Waorani to tell their story.

Preserving culture by giving people voices through the arts: photography and drawing are two ways that Megan and Marleen are working with the Waorani to tell their story. Carolina Ahua’s (L) photographs were included in the Wao Mimo exhibit in Quito and Coca. Wampi Humberto Ahua (R) draws a detail of the darts he mentioned in the story he shared with the group.

In the months since my visit to the Yasuní, ideas about language and culture have swirled in my mind. (I hesitate even now, putting words to this since much of it is at best half-baked.) I’ve visited with members from Haida (Haida Gwaii, British Columbia) and Tlingit (Alaska) tribes who are going to great lengths to learn the tongue of their ancestors and carry on the knowledge that has long been known in their culture. Friends who work with Native Americans have told me of the gravity in elders’ voices as they describe all that is lost when words are lost. In one tribe, an elder explained that a tree might be “tree’ in English, but in their native tongue there are numerous words used, each that carries a significant meaning associated with its role in the environment.  All of that meaning disappears when “tree” is used instead.

For centuries, the people of Haida Gwaii have spread knowledge through stories.  These originated in nature and were told through art.  Today, Linda Tollas (L) helped design the Spirit Lake Trail and educates visitors in regards to native use of the forests, for food and medicine.  (R) Christian White continues his family's heritage of telling stories through art, included totem poles.

For centuries, the people of Haida Gwaii have spread knowledge through stories.  These originated in nature and were told through art.  Today, Linda Tollas (L), who helped design the Spirit Lake Trail near Queen Charlotte City, educates visitors in regards to native use of the forests, for food and medicine.  Christian White (R) continues his family’s heritage of telling stories through art in Old Masset.

We don’t have to look to another group of people to see the ramifications of this concept. Every year, words are officially added and removed from dictionaries as they become relevant or obscure in modern culture. Last year in the Oxford Junior Dictionary, MP3 player and blog were added while heron and mistletoe were removed.  While a children’s dictionary is not an official lexicon, it does speak to where we are headed. Aside from pocket groups, how many in my generation understand the words associated with growing, harvesting, and canning food, darning socks, or sewing, much less how to put them to use? How many in the next generation will know how to read a map or cook without a microwave?  Our world is rapidly changing, and as it does, the way in which we relate to each other is morphing too. Are we taking the time to think about what parts of our own culture are worth holding onto in the process of our evolution? Who are the Megan’s and Marleen’s speaking out for all of us?

intersection

There are times when life whispers, “Pay attention.” I’m certain it happens to all of us, though we may or may not be listening. Sometimes when those subliminal (I think divine) lights are flashing, I look the other way, out of fear or denial. It matters not whether they are red or green, sensing that life is or isn’t on the right track can be a big deal, especially when looking out across the unknown.

Sunrise near West Yellowstone, Montana.

Sunrise near West Yellowstone, Montana.

During my travels over the past 11 months, I have received two books from friends. One I have held onto since the beginning of my journey without reading. The other was given to me only recently. My delay in reading the former is beginning to make sense. It just wasn’t the right time yet. Last week I was reading both and came across the following on the same day:

We Americans are great on fillers, as if what we have, what we are, is not enough. We have a cultural tendency toward denial but, being affluent, we strangle ourselves with what we can buy. We have only to look at the houses we build to see how we build against space, the way we drink against pain and loneliness. We fill up space as if it were a pie shell, with things whose opacity further obstructs our ability to see what is already there.
from The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich

Openness is also about wonder and surprise. Christin Lore Weber writes: “All life is beginning. I need an open, spontaneous, joyful attitude that knows it does not know. I need an emptiness in me…I need to find the part in my soul still empty, still able to be surprised, still open to wonder” (The Finding Stone).
from The Cup of Our Life by Joyce Rupp

Sunset at Flathead Lake, near Bigfork, Montana.

Sunset at Flathead Lake, near Bigfork, Montana.

As I was reading these passages, I was camping in Montana, on Flathead Lake, not far from Glacier National Park. Soon after, I spent several days in Yellowstone. As I am writing this now, I am sitting on a hilltop watching the sun descend behind the Tetons. These are magnificent places, probably some of the most awe inspiring in the lower 48.

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Buffalo Bill State Park, near Cody, Wyoming.

There have been moments driving through this part of the country when I physically gasped as I came over a rise that revealed a new expanse of landscape before me. There are places to which the spontaneous tears that come really are the only appropriate response. There was one particular evening in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone where I had to remind myself to breathe. The dance that was playing out before me – the multitude of animals in such a stunning setting, the soft golden light, with sounds of birds, bison, and flowing water coming from all directions, and the crispness of the cool air gently moving around me – it was unlike anything I had before experienced, or I suspect, will again.

The fact that these two passages refer to openness was not lost on me. As I wrote here, it is a concept I thought a lot about last year. But on a deeper level, they express ideas of fullness, which happens to be my world for this year. I have to admit, I haven’t thought very much about “full” this year. I’ve been too busy living! Maybe that was the point all along.

Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, near Cody, Wyoming.

Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, near Cody, Wyoming.

It doesn’t matter whether you are perched above or sitting within a large valley of wilderness. You can’t deny the vastness of it – the space. That is part of what adds to the grandeur. Taking it all in, you know that there is nothing missing. This is fullness – abundance. There is nothing overflowing the brim of the mountains (compared to our need for constant stimulation, from media, communication, exercise, fill in the blank…consuming the waking minutes of our days). This view of nature is not the pie shell filled with opaque things that prevent us from seeing what is there. All that is to be seen is what is there.

It is not only the space in the topography, but space in vegetation as rocky mountaintops descend onto pine-covered slopes, leading to the grassy valley floor below that is elegantly dissected by winding streams which in turn reflect light from the sky that encapsulates the scene. Within this setting, there are spaces between herds of buffalo running full speed to their wallows for the evening, with a cloud of dust in their wake. There is space between the elk quietly grazing on the hillsides, between the geese swimming through the streams, and between the lone bear and coyote walking along their shores. In the midst of it all there is space for those of us watching this play out to experience pure amazement. Would we be able to see this magnificent choreography if it weren’t for all the openness? No, the space is vital – and yet, again, nothing is missing.

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Bison grazing near Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

This is openness AND fullness together. This is an expression of God’s grace. And this, on a human scale, is what I seek.

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Looking out over the Tetons, near Jackson, Wyoming.

pointing toward something bigger

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Pigeons congregate outside the cathedral one early morning in Villa de Leyva.

Villa de Leyva is a quaint colonial village in the mountains approximately 3 hours from Bogotá. The buildings in the town, all white with green doors and clay roofs, line cobblestone streets that extend from the central plaza.  In the center of this small town sits the largest plaza in South America. Smooth foottrails have been worn into the stones of the plaza from paths that generations have daily tread. I woke early the days that I was there to watch the town wake up. There was no rushing here.  Each morning at the plaza was a slow awakening that eventually blossomed into a hub of activity that lasted well into the night.  The central focus of this town is no different from many Latin American villages.  It is the church.  Since I was there just before Christmas, there were events daily at the cathedral in the plaza.  From my hostel I could hear chanting early in the mornings.  Children sang at novenas on the front steps in the evenings.  There is a relationship to the church in the activities of this town – and relationships among locals play out daily just beyond its doors.

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Station X. Jesus is stripped of his garments. Each station leading to the cathedral was packed with symbology. Here the shape of the cross as a hole in the cave wall symbolizes the removal of Christ’s clothing.

On our way to Villa de Leyva, we stopped in Zipaquirá, to see the Catedral de Sal.  What a magnificent sight!  Deep below the ground, 180m (590ft) below ground to be exact, in an old salt mine, a cathedral was built.  As we descended down the path, we passed the Stations of the Cross, artfully interpreted and built, all out of salt, with some marble sculptures here and there.  The path led to a huge cavern converted into a cathedral.  A luminous cross behind the altar towered over the large room.  Scars from the pick axes that mined for salt in another time mark the walls and ceilings.

Behind the altar of the sanctuary, a large cross towers above my friend, Maria.

Behind the altar of the sanctuary, a large cross towers above my friend, Maria.

How does something like this come to be?  Originally an area was carved in the mine as a place for miners to pray.  And from there it grew…and grew, eventually into a large cathedral in the early 1930s. Structural compromises lead to the closing of the older cathedral, and in the 1990s, the current cathedral was built as a replacement, below the original. It is a stunning creation, a means to glorify God. (In addition to being a tourist attraction, services are held here every Sunday.) Of course, as lots of tourist driven places go, even those that are intended for higher purposes, there is also a Disneyland aspect to this place.  But the glory has not been lost even in the midst of the light shows and concession stands.

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Jaime Rodriguez Roldan relaxes in his livingroom near Villa de Leyva.

A short distance outside Villa de Leyva we were introduced to a different seeker of sorts.  Jaime Rodriguez Roldan has built is house on a hill with magnificent views of the surrounding mountains.  These aren’t just any mountains. They serve as the backdrop of the creation story for the indigenous peoples here, the Muiscas.  At the base of this mythologically and culturally rich landscape, Jaime has created an assembly of symbolic items from many native traditions, with origins in North and South America.  Among many other things, he has built a labyrinth, which is how we came to be in his presence.  (There is a registry of labyrinths worldwide.  My friend Chris’s mother had built one in Galveston, Texas years ago, so he looks for registered labyrinths in his travels.)  There was a natural beauty in the environment that Jaime has created for himself and his family there.  While a lot lost in translation, both between his Spanish and my moderate understanding of it and between his ayahuasca-influenced inspiration and my perspective from the world I was standing in, it was undeniably a powerful place to experience, packed with symbolism and earth driven design.

Jaime prepares Chris for entering the labyrinth.

Jaime prepares Chris for entering the labyrinth.

These three places, with their own attempts of pointing toward God, brought in me nostalgic thoughts of Santa Fe.  The historic architecture, the presence of grand old churches, the connection to indigenous peoples and the respect for the magical land that surrounds them…these places hold much in common. As I was experiencing this new town in a foreign land, there was a comfortable familiarity that quietly hummed within me.  Maybe it was not the places in and of themselves that brought that on, but the God who created each of them and whose glory is seen in different manifestations in all that is here, if we’re looking.

A mandala outside Jaime’s home lies at the base of the mountains thought by the Muiscas to be the origin of life on earth.

A mandala outside Jaime’s home lies at the base of the mountains thought by the Muiscas to be the origin of life on earth.

opening to fullness

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2013 began with a word in mind. It was a simple exercise shared by a sweet friend as a way to see how God would work in the coming months around that intention. A simple word. “Open.” Little did I know how many times that string of four letters would come to me – in conversations, experiences, choices.  It was a wonderful exploration of seeing life in a new way and also an opportunity to learn more about who I am at deeper levels.

Being open to opportunity has allowed me to visit places and do things that I could never have seen coming.  In the last 12 months, I have sold a house, lost my breath while paragliding, felt the excitement of a hawk landing on my gloved wrist, been in awe swimming with sharks too numerous to count, cherished the views from mountaintops and beaches, wandered through forests and deserts, taken in the diverse beauty of gardens and coffee farms. I’ve visited nine states and four countries. My path has crossed those of people from many countries and walks of life. Several I have had the privilege of calling friend and a few have greatly impacted my life with their presence and wisdom.  It is not an exaggeration to say that I have had varying levels of significant interaction with over 65 new acquaintances and friends in the last six months.  Those who know me would agree that a great opening had to take place for that to happen!

This growth and availability came only from allowing a deeper opening to occur, one that was far less enjoyable but every bit as important. When one is open, one is exposed, vulnerable. But being aware of the growth process, I was able to walk through the more painful and scarier parts of my experiences knowing that they were all laying a foundation for becoming a more authentic person. Tenderness remains in some of these areas, but there is also a quiet strength that was not present before.

As I began to think about 2014, another four-lettered word quickly and clearly came to me. “Full.” In the short time that I’ve thought about this it’s become clear that one cannot be full without first being open and available. It is a natural transformation. The opening of 2013 was in ways a preparation for the abundance and fullness that will be my focus for this year.

It was not intentional but is by no means coincidental that one of the books I’m reading right now is “About You: Fully Human, Fully Alive” by Dick Staub.  One quote from the book sums it up. “You will feel the greatest pleasure and wholeness when who God made you to be is fully developed and expressed.” The Hebrew term shalom is often translated as peace, but its root meaning is to be complete….peace comes from a transition toward fullness. There will certainly be ways that “full” is revealed in a less than comfortable light, just as “open” manifested as raw vulnerability, but I will trust in the journey as it is laid out before me. And so begins a year of seeking completeness – in mind, body and spirit – in relationships with God, nature, and others – and a year of becoming more authentically who I am, fully developed and expressed.

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Note: For the past three weeks I have traveled around Colombia. Now I am in Cuenca, Ecuador, preparing to dive into several weeks of Spanish classes. As I settle into this place and a bit of routine, I will be writing about my time in Colombia.  I am looking forward to reliving some of the memories as I share the experiences here.  It truly is a remarkable place!

perspective + possibility

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As I stood this evening on the California coast, watching the incoming tide of the Pacific Ocean churn below me, the vastness of it all was undeniable.

It reminded me of Alaska, of mountains seen in the distance, rising some 10000+ feet from sea level…of the sheer number of animals that filled the waters around the ship…of the smallness of that ship when anchored in the landscape.

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It also gave me a glimpse of the possibilities, the potential, of the unknown that this life holds for us if we are open to receiving it.

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Yes, it can make one feel small to be in a place this vast, but it is also invigorating to be a part of something so big, and being a part of it, as we all are, wherever we are, is a beautiful thing.

JDavidsonBlog130902-01-2(photo by Eric Johnson)

mountaintop experience

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After climbing a great hill,
one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.
~Nelson Mandela

Thoughts about mountains and my attraction to them have been percolating for some time now.  For the past eight years, I have looked daily upon the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez Mountains when I was home in Santa Fe, which rests comfortably between these two ranges. As many times as I could, I would drive up the ski basin road outside of town to lose myself in the wilderness.  In the winter, the mountains provided a playscape for cross country skiing; in the summer they were a respite from the warmer temperatures and bustling tourists down below in town; in the fall they brought forth pounds of golden treasure if you know where to look (not only the vibrantly gold aspen trees, but delicious chanterelle mushrooms that are a delight to forage); spring never failed to bring a sense of newness as snow melted, leaves budded out on the bare aspens, and the sound of water flowing in the creeks added to the chorus of birdsong.

One thing continues to draws me to the mountains regardless of season – the quest for the top.  There is the heart-pounding, heavy-breathing, sweat-producing work that it takes to get there.  Few venture out with this mission, particularly off-trail, where I usually trod along.  The sweet solitude with the wildlife, the streams, the hidden meadows….there are glorious gifts all along the way.  But it is the top that is most often the goal.  This winter, breaking trail on a stormy day, I began to wonder what makes people strive for the top.  “The view” is the most obvious answer – and a legitimate one.  There’s something magical about watching the sunset over a horizon that is below you.  It never ceases to amaze me how far you can really see once you’re on top looking over the landscape below and beyond what is available to you from lower elevations.

There’s also the sense of achievement once the summit has been reached.  I have yet to come to the top of a mountain and not think that every step was worth the work that it took to get there.  But on that stormy January day, as I slowly made headway in the bitter cold and blowing snow, I looked at another aspect of the mountaintop experience square in the face. Above the treeline, you are exposed.  Vulnerable to the winds and the cold, to lightening, rain and hail. There is no place to hide from the elements here. Yes, the view is incredible.  The achievement is very worthwhile, but it is not a place where one can stay.  Mountaintops are places to visit, to cherish, to strive for, but there is safety in the valleys.  There’s no doubt that valleys are where hard work must be done and where routine can become mundane, but they are also where relationships are built, where character is fostered, where lives are lived.

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Two weeks ago, I drove away from Santa Fe, closing the chapter of calling that beautiful city home.  Memories of the town, the people and the wild places that surround it will remain close to my heart.  But it is time for me to travel to lower elevations, to new environments.  The years spent there were hugely transformational, a mountain experience in many ways on its own. Yes, there is sadness in leaving a place so comfortable and familiar.  But there is excitement in knowing that there are more mountains to climb (and climb them I will!)…and more valleys in which to seek refuge.

reflection and transition

As 2012 came to a close, my thoughts quickly moved on to the current year and all the unknown that will unfold as these months pass.  But realizing that reflection is a place for learning too, I began to think back on 2012 and what was special about the last 12 months, what I can intentionally take with me into the new year.

Appreciation of youth.

I spent more time around children last year and enjoyed watching them experience the world.  In the Galapagos, I watched in wonder as children frolicked in the surf and rolled on a sandy beach.  When do we lose the freedom that comes with not caring how we are perceived by others?  They know something we don’t and we’re missing out on some of the joy of life as we replace that freedom with inhibitions.  I experienced a bit of childhood during special days with my nieces, as they went sledding for the first time, celebrated overcoming the fear of swimming underwater, and explored the ranch with no set agenda.  These moments gave me a glimpse into their quickly changing lives.

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Two special visits with close friends and their kiddos lent for many adventures and new experiences for my younger friends.  We spent days exploring the mountainside of New Mexico, my backyard garden, and the wide open spaces of West Texas.  When we encountered an armadillo in Texas, I asked the three year old if he’d ever seen one before.  He quickly and firmly answered, “Yes, in my books.”   Somehow this was not the same.

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Early in the year, I photographed a group of second graders in a Cooking with Kids class.  Not only are these children learning to cook, but they are learning about health, customs around the world, and the social aspects of eating. (How often to many families actually sit down at a table and visit as they eat these days?  It is a soapbox that I won’t jump on right now, but a terrible trend in our society on many levels.)

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The excitement of harvest.

It was a bountiful year in the garden, both for my dinner plate and growing relationships.  What began as a dinner to pour over seed catalogs developed into a monthly meal with two close friends where we share our lives and our harvests with healthy and new culinary creations.  With the harvest of my garden and those of generous friends, I was never wanting for fresh fruits and vegetables and ate like a queen.

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A chapter closing.

In the fall, I said goodbye to Bailey, my sweet canine companion that bounded into my life in 1999.  Even up to her last few days, we were in the mountains together.  She’s been sorely missed, but has left me with beautiful memories that I cherish so and will never forget.

Bailey

The impact of an image.

We are visual creatures. Since we’re bombarded with imagery, many of it mediocre at best, it is easy to think that we’re saturated and numb to the effect that an image may have.  But every once in a while, we are seen as we really are by a photographer or shown the world in a way we haven’t seen before. And there is an innate response in the moment that we see an image that may bring us to tears or to our knees.  I am honored to have been given the gift of photography as a way of expressing how I see the world and to know people who do the same. Two images, one taken by myself (top) and one taken by my friend Nerissa Escanlar, reminded me of the impact that we have as photographers and the gift that we are able to give those around us when we seek our art honestly.

Will

JandBatHome

Silent gifts.

There is nothing better than the swish-swish of cross country skis being the only thing that I can hear as I glide across fresh snow away from the crowds.  The glitter of the snowflakes as the sun dances across the ground, the shadows cast in an aspen grove, the coldness of snow laden conifers that have yet to be blown bare by the wind…all of these things are gifts of a moment, fleeting as the sun moves behind a cloud or the inevitable winds pick up on the mountaintop.

AspenShadows

SnowyDay

And on to a new year.

Over breakfast recently, a sweet friend mentioned that she was designating a word for the year ahead. She explained how it could set the intention for the year and that it is a way to allow God to work through that word as you live out the year.  You can read more about it on her blog, beWARM. I fell in love with that idea, and a word came strongly to me during our conversation.  Open.  So as 2012 fades in the dusk of memory, I will take with me the special times that it brought and will be OPEN to all that 2013 has to offer…and wish the same for you.

Rain