Recently, I had the opportunity to join my husband for a trip out to the Grand Tetons. He had to fly out West for a conference, and decided since he was out there to meander through the desert and up to Jackson Hole. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see a part of the country I’d never visited before, so I begged for time off work and flew out to join him.
The week I spent out there was fabulous. No matter where we turned, we were faced with jaw-dropping scenery like this:
I mean, seriously. We found ourselves laughing at times because of the sheer beauty of what was before us. Honestly, after coming back from a tough couple of years of loss, any time away would have been good for my mental health, but this? Just breathtaking.
As the week went on, I began taking note of my feelings, determined to hang on to the lessons I learned and bring them home with me as a buffer against the weariness that has weighed me down for so long.
Slow down. Tune out. Reconnect with nature.
Before life got so crazy, I used to go hiking every week. Spending time in the woods was vital to my well-being. But somewhere along the way, I replaced walking in the woods with the dogs with walking around the neighborhood or just throwing a ball in the yard. Yes, it is time-consuming to pack everyone up in the car and drive to one of the local hiking trails. And yes, “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” really is a thing. While in Wyoming, we noticed that almost no one ran air-conditioning, even though the day time temps were almost as hot as back home. The difference is in the Appalachian mountains in the summer time, it can be in the upper sixties at 9 am, but you’re still drenched in sweat because it is so humid. So, if I want to be outside here at home, I’m either going to have to get up early or wait until the fall to pick up my hiking habit again. But pick it up, I will.
Because of the remoteness of our hikes, we frequently didn’t have cell service. I have to say, being forced offline was one of the best things that could have happened to me this past week, despite the fact I have a new book release this coming Tuesday. I spent a few minutes each evening online to catch up with emails and things related to the book launch, and then I walked out the door and left all of that behind.
I realize I’m speaking from a place of privilege here. To shut out the news of world events for a week is a luxury not everyone can afford. Finding the balance between staying informed (which usually means staying angry) and being able to do something about it is something I struggle with. Because I can seldom actively participate in things, I tend to share information and donate to causes when I can. But staying connected with social media means I’m frequently in a state of upset and anxiety. After spending a hour watching a moose and her calf feeding in the marshes surrounding a river, calmness draped around me like a warm blanket on a chilly night. I realized then I don’t need to be constantly bombarded with bad news. It doesn’t make me a more effective activist. Just a stressed one.
So I’m going to spend less time online. Hopefully, I’ll spend more time doing the things I enjoy, such a photography, hiking with the dogs, and yes, writing. I’m going to concentrate on changing the things that are within my power to affect, and let the rest go.
You don’t have to see everything.
This was another big lesson learned. We only had a week–there was SO much we wanted to see and do. We stopped at various visitor centers and asked people where we should go and what we should make a point of seeing, and it quickly became apparent we couldn’t take it all in. Not even if we had more than the 6 days allotted to us. We were so close to Yellowstone, we decided to spend a couple of days there as well, only after the first day of driving from geyser to geyser, stopping at overlooks and waterfalls for the view, we decided not to go back to Yellowstone a second day. There was so much to see and do in the Grand Teton National Park that we didn’t need the extra driving. We also wanted to spend more time with each place we visited, instead of pulling up to an overlook, admiring the view for thirty seconds or so, and then jumping back in the car to drive to the next landmark. We wanted to get in the forest, not just view it from the car in passing.
Seeing less allowed us to see more.
Plan, but don’t be wedded to it.
We wanted to see wildlife, and after talking to the park rangers and volunteers (all of whom were so friendly and helpful) we realized we were going to have to get up early to beat the heat or else go back out just before dark. But we were successful! On this trip, we saw elk, bison, moose, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, whistling marmots, ground squirrels galore, pika, foxes, coyotes, a black bear, and even a weasel carrying dinner across the road.
Birds too! Magpies, crested jays, trumpeter swans, merganzers, bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, a golden eagle, the tiniest hummingbird ever, sandpipers, redwing blackbirds, sage grouse, and more. The mountain bluebirds are such an intense color, much like the bluebirds back home–and yet they were different too. It was fun seeing species in the wild that I’d only ever read about before. But if we hadn’t planned for it, I doubt we would have seen nearly as much. We saw moose almost every day–and some people we spoke to never saw any.
But we didn’t always stick to the plan. Sometimes we had a destination picked out for the day, and a conversation with a fellow tourist changed our minds. We’d originally planned to spend two days in Yellowstone, but at the last minute decided to stay in the Grand Tetons instead, where we ended up taking a ferry across Jenny Lake and hiking up to an alpine meadow in the middle of Cascade Canyon. I wouldn’t have missed this view for the world.
As we were hiking this trail, it seemed to go up and up with no end in sight. We knew the trail made a big loop, one farther than we had time to do that day, so we asked someone coming down if there was a natural turning point somewhere.
Our fellow hiker shrugged. “You turn around when you feel like it.”
That seemed like the quintessential Jackson Hole answer. 🙂
Communication is everything.
I’m fortunate that my husband and I see eye to eye on many things (including what movies to watch, which is a blessing, let me tell you!). But when you’re hiking several thousand feet higher in altitude than you’re used to doing and you’re not exactly in shape, you need to be able to tell your partner when you need a break. We began listening to our bodies–able to hear them for first time in a long time in the vast silence around us. We knew we needed food and water when we began developing headaches.We took breaks in the shade and watched streams burble at our feet until we felt rested. We were upfront with each other about what we could manage and what we didn’t want to do–and that made bailing on Yellowstone a second day much easier. I can’t tell you how important it is to have the kind of relationship where you can be so open and honest with each other. I probably would have found joy on this trip no matter who I went with–but taking it with my husband made it one of the best vacations in my life.
Change your priorities.
This one was a bit of a rude wake-up call, to be honest. I don’t normally wear shorts, but after a day of wearing jeans when it was nearly 90 degrees, I pulled out the dark navy pair I’d brought with me, to wear with a blue t-shirt. At one point, I asked a couple on the trail to take a pic of my husband and I–and I was shocked when I saw myself looking like giant blueberry.
I knew I’d gained weight. The scale and the clothes don’t lie. The past couple of years have been emotionally and mentally challenging, with a great deal of personal loss. I’ve been battling depression and anxiety–and I don’t tolerate medications well. But I seldom look in a full-length mirror at home and I’d half-convinced myself it wasn’t so bad.
Until I saw the picture. For a split-second, a horrible wave of self-disgust rolled over me. No more photos! OMG, how could I have let myself go like that? I almost let it affect my enjoyment of the moment–until I reminded myself that, giant blueberry or not, I’d climbed three miles to reach that canyon. That was no small achievement. And while I definitely need to lose weight and get back in shape again, it’s no longer because I want to look ‘attractive’. It’s because I want to keep doing the things I love when I’m an old lady.
A few years ago, seeing that picture might well have destroyed my entire vacation. Well, I’ve lived through worse, and being 25 pounds overweight isn’t the end of the world. Neither is getting wrinkles, or thinning hair, or any of the other signs of aging that I’ve long hated. This is the body acceptance I can get behind: accept what is without hate, but don’t accept what you can and should change.
For me, that means cleaning up my diet. To find better coping mechanisms for my stress besides a bowl of ice cream. To reward myself with other things besides food. As I jump back into the work week tomorrow, I know this will be a tough lesson to hang onto–but I think it’s the most important one of all.