IN SEARCH OF A WHITE CHRISTMAS

By definition; a White Christmas is having at least one inch of snow. Statistically speaking, the chances of having a White Christmas is 60% or better over the Northern Rockies, the Northern Great Plains, the Great Lakes, and most of New England. If you live in the southern third of the country, your chances of seeing snow are less than 20%.

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Living at an altitude of 4,000 feet, I looked to the town of Jacob Lake for a White Christmas. A scenic forty-minute drive to Jacob Lake would not only double my altitude, but also increase my chances of snow.

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Jacob Lake offered an escape from the desert heat in the summer and glowing aspens in the fall. I was hopeful Jacob Lake would complete the trifecta of my seasonal experience, by giving Shadow his first snow encounter and a white Christmas.

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Before retiring to bed on Christmas Eve, I chatted with the perfect stranger and checked the weather forecast. The overnight temperatures were expected to drop below 30 degrees with a 50 percent chance of snow. I felt the odds were in my favor; White Christmas here we come!

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On Christmas Day, a sleepy-eyed Shadow and I headed out to the kitchen to make the morning coffee. From the back window, I could see the clouds hovering over the cliffs. The temperature felt colder than usual; it was starting to feel like snow weather.

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By mid-morning, the view from my front porch was nothing but grey clouds. A final weather check reported snow flurries on the Kaibab Plateau and up to four inches of snow at Jacob Lake. It was official; a White Christmas for Shadow!

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Outfitted in snow gear, Min, Shadow, and I left Vermilion Cliffs bound for Jacob Lake. Ascending over 3,000 feet, we traded the desert valley floor for a snow storm in the Kaibab National Forest.

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The snowy road conditions caught Shadow’s eye. He had never seen snow before, but it did pose the question: do dogs have an understanding of weather?

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Shadow was not a fan of hiking in the rain, yet he had no problem swimming in the cold Colorado River. Would Shadow enjoy the fresh snow under his paws? Well, we were about to find out!

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I am not sure who was more excited, Shadow, Min, or me!

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Dressed in his Michael Jackson Thriller vest, Shadow galloped through the snow. Min and I took turns playing photographer, as we both wanted to capture Shadow’s first snow experience.

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While Shadow continued to run himself ragged, thoughts of the perfect stranger ran through my mind. Had it only been one week since we said our goodbyes at Kingman Airport? Would you believe we had talked on the phone every day since? Call me selfish; it wasn’t enough! I needed to see her. I missed her company!

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Even though I felt fortunate to be spending Christmas Day with my family; Min and Shadow, it felt incomplete. My special someone was a few thousand miles away and it was snowing. I wanted to share my White Christmas experience with her too.

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With the snow continuing to fall at an inch an hour, Min and I decided to head back to Vermilion Cliffs. Neither one of us wanted to get stuck or stranded in the snow storm, although Shadow wouldn’t have minded. How do you tell this face it’s time to go home?

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As Min headed to the car, Shadow and I enjoyed our final run in the snow. Shadow was a natural in this winter wonderland, and I could only hope for more snow opportunities in the New Year.

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Perhaps Mother Nature could overnight a winter storm to Vermilion Cliffs. Ideally, she’d deliver several inches of snow to my desert front door. I wanted to experience a desert winter wonderland!

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Walking back to the road, I had so many questions running through my head. I wondered if Shadow would remember the sensation of snow under his paws. Would Shadow and I get the opportunity to share some winter adventures together? When would I see the perfect stranger again? How would I spend my winter break? None of my questions required answers; I was content to let life happen.

Letting life happen is a lifestyle that dogs model for humans on a daily basis. A dog owns nothing; they live in the moment, yet they seldom seem dissatisfied. Companionship is their currency to happiness.

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In recent years I’ve had friends tell me they are more likely to find companionship with a dog than with a human. It makes me wonder, has human companionship become such a foreign concept that we fear it as much as loneliness? Is it our lack of companionship that places the focus on consumerism at Christmas? Has Christmas become more about giving presents than offering our presence?

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I returned home to a clouded in Vermilion Cliffs. With the temperature dropping, I grabbed a hot shower and heated up some homemade soup. I spent the rest of my day camped out on the porch. Yes, this was how I spent my Christmas.

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A DOG’S YEAR IN THE DESERT- UNLEASHED

“Science has so far been unable to tell us how self-aware dogs are, much less whether they have anything like our conscious thoughts. This is not surprising, since neither scientists nor philosophers can agree about what the consciousness of humans consists of, let alone that of animals.” John Bradshaw

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When I first moved to Vermilion Cliffs I wondered how my urban dog would adjust to life in the desert. Would he miss the grass under his paws or embrace the desert dust, dirt, and mud? After nine months of desert living the results are in!

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Shadow has sprinted, jumped, climbed, swam, dug, and bathed in the Paria and Colorado River. He has experienced monsoonal storms, chased pack rats, befriended lizards, met a rattlesnake, and experienced his first fall on the Kaibab Plateau.

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Now, if only I can give him a white Christmas!

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THE PERFECT STRANGER- ROUND 13- AIRPORT GOOBYES

“Heavy hearts, like heavy clouds in the sky, are best relieved by the letting go of a little water.”   Christopher Morley

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After another conversation packed, sleepless night, the perfect stranger and I shared a late breakfast with our Canadian snow geese neighbors. Our breakfast backdrop: a river float plane, only reinforced the inevitable reality of the day. In a few hours, the perfect stranger would be boarding a plane bound for Long Beach, California and I would be returning home to a pending winter in Vermilion Cliffs, Arizona.

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On paper, our worlds couldn’t be anymore different. In practice, our hearts were kindred spirits separated by a zip code. I resided in a remote community that had one gas station and a post office. The closest supermarket was two hours away.

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The perfect stranger lived in Long Beach. I had forgotten what is was like to have access to the modern conveniences of malls and medical centers.

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The perfect stranger’s recreational playground was the Pacific Ocean while I had the Paria and Colorado River at my disposal.

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I gave up a career in mental health to pursue a simple life outdoors while the perfect stranger turned her passion into a non-profit foundation.

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As we packed up camp, the perfect stranger and I committed ourselves to a round two adventure. We considered our eight day maiden voyage as round one. Where would we spend round two? If I were lucky, I would get the opportunity to show the perfect stranger around my neck of the woods.

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Our 60-mile drive to Kingman airport was a mixed bag of emotions and round one reflections. The songs playing on my mp3 player felt more like a love story soundtrack than just an indie music playlist. The genius of song writing is when an artist captures your thoughts and sentiment in a song. Seldom do I hear limbically driven lyrics in mainstream music. Thank god for artists like Garrison Starr, Lovers and Poets, Vicci Martinez, and Jamestown Revival.

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As we exited Interstate 40 for Kingman Airport, the perfect stranger called her mother in North Carolina. Surprisingly, the perfect stranger introduced me to her mother via speaker phone. Her mother asked me about our adventure. I mentioned that the perfect stranger and I were finishing our trip with a fever and sore throat. How do you tell a mother you are sending her daughter home sick for the holiday season? You don’t! Instead, you jokingly threaten to kidnap her daughter for the holidays. The perfect stranger’s mother caught me off guard when she invited me to North Carolina for Christmas.

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If I didn’t have my dog child Shadow waiting at home for me, I would have booked the first flight out to North Carolina.

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Pulling into the Kingman Airport, the perfect stranger seized upon another photo opportunity. Looking more like a country general store, the Kingman terminal possessed real character and charm.

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As the perfect stranger approached the check-in counter, she was greeted with a lecture about tardiness.  We had arrived at the airport twenty minutes before the flight. This did not make the Great Lakes Airlines staff member very happy.

sadSmileyThe perfect stranger did her best to remove the somber look from my face while her ticket was processed.  I wondered if it was possible to be happy and feel sad at the same time? My happiness I embraced; however, the complete utter feeling of loss was overwhelming. How could I fall for someone in eight days? I was not looking for romance on this adventure; a new adventure buddy would have been enough.

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As her plane landed, the  perfect stranger was rushed outside to the TSA security check. There was no time for a long sentimental heartfelt goodbye; instead, it was a rushed embrace. All I wanted was simply to hold her.

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I had no words to convey how I felt. Perhaps tears are simply unspoken words that run down your face. I felt exposed and vulnerable. Thankfully, my sunglasses created a safe haven from public view. In my twenty’s and thirty’s I seldom cried in public. I could hold back a tear like a dam sustaining a flooding river. On this day, the dam broke and I would never be the same.

My drive home to Vermilion Cliffs was one of self reflection. Is it really possible to fall for someone in eight days? The answer is, YES!! Was I hopeful that I would see the perfect stranger sooner than later? Most definitely!

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I remember when I left southern California and my friends expressed concern about my future love life. How would I ever find Ms. Right living in the middle of nowhere? My answer was very simple. I wasn’t looking for love; however, I was hopeful one day she would find me.

PUTTING THE FACE INTO FACEBOOK FRIENDSHIPS

“Using friend as a verb is a recent phenomenon, thanks to Facebook. In a verb world, friending is a simple click taking only seconds to bridge a connection. In a noun world, being a friend requires a real investment of time.”

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Facebook friends, are they really our friends?

Has social media redefined our sense of values about friendship?

Could a friendship simply be “knowing someone” or “having them on your Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn?”

What is the difference between an online friendship as opposed to a face to face friendship?

Has Facebook become a melting pot of strangers and online acquaintances who have yet to meet in the flesh?

Separate of established friends, family, and co-workers, how many friendships have you formed online through community interest groups?

What was the commonality required in order for you to click on a stranger’s name to invite a friendship?

Would political or religious differences lead you to ending a Facebook friendship?

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To unfriend someone on Facebook is rather common, no explanations or reasons are needed. With a simple click, you can virtually disappear from someone’s life.

Would you end a valued friendship this way in the real world?

Has social media crippled our communication skills?

Do we hide behind the keyboard instead of having face to face conversations?

Have we become emotionally braver via text, yet cowardice in limbic conversations?

EMOTIONAL INTIMACY

Can a form of emotional intimacy be established online?

Could this online vulnerability transform a virtual friendship into a face to face friendship?

Why do some of us feel safer disclosing intimate personal details via a keyboard as opposed to a sit down with a cup of coffee?

Are we more willing to share our world from the safety of our laptop?

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These are some of the questions that have floated around in my head since moving to Vermilion Cliffs nine months ago. Has Facebook been more a friend or foe since living remotely?

Personally, I feel Facebook has helped me maintain long-term friendships, in addition to creating and establishing new relationships. My internet communications have become so intimate that I now feel it’s possible to cultivate authentic relationships online. I often wonder how many of us get the chance to meet some of our online confidants and actually spend quality time with them. In this regard, I consider myself extremely fortunate, as I was able to meet some of my online friends this year. Not only did meeting them in person make our relationship stronger, it reinforced what connected us in the first place, authenticity!

FACEBOOK FRIENDS I MET IN 2014

Ranger Karen drove 300 miles out of her way to come by and say “HI!”. Her spontaneity and eagerness to meet in person made my day, month and year. Karen was a blog follower and a Facebook friend, who I met through the full timer’s RV community.

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Sethi is a Bay Area native, who I met through the John Muir Trail Facebook community. Sometimes our phone service out here is unreliable, and even though she could not reach me via phone she still came out to see me.

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Fortunately, I was home and spent the day together hiking and bonding in the mud.

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Renee is a fellow nomad I met through Facebook travel communities. I think mainstream society would be surprised to learn that there are many women traveling solo, deciding not to wait for the ultimate travel partner, instead they are living in the now.

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Jackie is yet another Facebook friend I met through the full timers RV community. When I was researching alternative ways of living, she offered some very helpful advice regarding potential LGBT job discrimination.

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I was curious to learn more about Jackie’s life on the road and asked if she would be willing to sit down for an interview. Without hesitation, she said “Yes” and then later that evening we spent two hours filming. Look for a blog about her story in 2015. In the meantime here is part of her story.

FACEBOOK FRIENDS

According to recent studies by the Pew Research Center, Facebook users average about 338 friends each. It makes one wonder if it’s possible to sustain friendships with over 300 people at one time?

Anthropologist Robin Dunbar believes our brains aren’t big enough to hold all the information necessary to maintain relationships with hundreds of people. In 1993, Dunbar conducted research to determine the cognitive limits of a person’s effective real-world social network, where individuals know who each person in that network is and how each relates to every other person. Although his research was based primarily on animal and primate interactions, Dunbar’s analysis and theories have since been applied in psychological and sociological circles and have given rise to “Dunbar’s number.” That limit, it seems, is about 150 people including your favorite waitress, your boss, co-workers, people you attend church and social functions with, classmates, and so on. But that’s just the limit of people you can maintain stable relationships with, much less friendship.

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It’s estimated that the average American spends 37 minutes on social media each day. That’s a full day each month spent cultivating relationships in front of a screen. Cumulatively, Americans spend 115 billion minutes each month on Facebook.

Are we sacrificing time that could otherwise be invested in real-time face to face friendships?

What if one lives remotely and face to face time is not an option?

Is it possible that the larger your “network” the shallower your connections become?

How would you measure the depth in your network connections?

By immersing ourselves in social media, are we ultimately choosing quantity over quality in our friendships?

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A college friend of mine confessed that having lots of friends and dozens of “likes” on her Facebook status gave her an ego boost. I asked which posting seemed to generate the most traffic. Her top three topics you may wonder; updates about her dog, complaints about her co-workers, and pictures of her homemade desserts. I have noticed my dog Shadow has quite a following and fan base on my Facebook page.

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Photographs from my adventures and backpacking trips also tend to generate a lot of attention, in addition to my random commentary on human behavior.

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It has been suggested when someone’s Facebook status highlights a personal trauma or an oppressive circumstance, Facebook friends offer minimal virtual support. In my experience, I have seen a community of caring, compassionate, supportive friends that have rallied around a Facebook friend in need. At the same time, I have also seen Facebook pages go silent when someone struggling with their mental health has cried out for help. Perhaps in some ways Facebook does emulate the real world, at times uncomfortable situations render us silent and visibly invisible.

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CONNECTED, RECONNECTED, AND DISCONNECTED

For me, Facebook offers three types of connection: connection, reconnection, and disconnection. Facebook has afforded me connections with like-minded individuals who might otherwise be strangers. Facebook has reconnected me with old high school friends and most recently my childhood best friend.

With that said, I feel the disconnection lies in the reality we spend more time commenting on social gossip and educating ourselves less about social issues and political news. Have we become less engaged politically and socially since Facebook? Has Facebook empowered our knowledge and increased our awareness, or has it served merely as a distraction from reality?

In 2014, my reality was living remotely. I learned you cannot hide in an outpost town, it’s simply easier to live as an open book. I chose to live the same way on Facebook, naked if you will. Perhaps by stripping down socially it has made me more open to experiences with strangers, and undoubtedly more willing to say YES to the unknown.

IS IT OK IF WE SIT HERE?

“Good afternoon gentlemen” was my opening line, as three bikers walked through the front door of Lees Ferry Lodge. As they approached the bar, “DICE” enquired as to where his boys should sit for lunch.

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You can sit anywhere you want my friend, wherever you feel comfortable was my response from the other side of the counter.  Without hesitation Coach, Dice and Bullet sat down at the bar.

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After taking their lunch orders and engaging in some small talk, Coach mentioned that sitting at the bar was something of a luxury and privilege. I guess the surprised look on my face prompted a warranted explanation from Bullet.

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Bullet explained how their biker image often caused them to be seated in the far corner of eating establishments. Coach asked if I was afraid of bikers. My reply was rather instant, not in the slightest!

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Contrary to the biker images of outlaw gangs, tattoos, and hard face stares; I felt my experience with bikers had been one of regular men and women who simply enjoy riding and belonging to a club.

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Over lunch, we talked about their road trip, politics and social issues. It seemed the one social issue they wore on their heart, sleeve, and vest, was their support of child abuse survivors. Bikers Against Child Abuse is an international non-profit organization of motorcycle riders that works to create a safer environment for abused kids.

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Dice was quick to point out that BACA members are not vigilantes. BACA works in conjunction with police and social workers. Local authorities will refer a child to a BACA chapter. Upon referral, the chapter “adopts” the identified child. The child instantly gains an extended family of brothers and sisters they can call anytime.

I can only imagine how empowered and protected a child would feel from an entire chapter visit, not to mention being assigned a road name with a biker’s vest.

For a moment consider a child’s reality of testifying in court? Would you feel safe having your abuser present in the courtroom? Would it help if your extended family of bikers escorted you into the courtroom?

As Dice told me, “The kids feel less alone and protected by their presence.” Coach said, “The chapter is available to the child 24/7 regardless of the reason.” I wondered why I had never heard of BACA prior to meeting these guys. I found it somewhat ironic that these protectors were seen as problematic and considered a social eyesore in some restaurants.

Bullet asked me if I had ever spent time with bikers or been on a bike before. The answer was no on both accounts; however, I did tell them bikers and hikers have a few things in common. Hikers have trail names, bikers have road names. Perhaps hikers have better memories though as we do not patch our name on our clothing.

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Hikers and bikers offer a community of connection and common interest. We are not defined or separated in status by our profession or income; it’s the love of the road or being on trail.
Hikers and bikers love to meet strangers; we really are very social loving creatures. At times society considers bikers to be loud troublemakers while hikers are perceived as dirt friendly granola eating earthlings.
Hikers and Bikers both appreciate simplicity. We travel light, pack small, and LIVE big. The road binds a biker’s brother and sisterhood, yet they still maintain their individuality by riding their own ride. Hikers share the same trail, we break bread with strangers, yet we still hike our own hike. I feel this is where we share the same defining factor, our sense of FREEDOM. For it seems we seek, find and experience FREEDOM on the road and trail.

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As the gentlemen paid their tab, Bullet succumbed to some peer pressure and belted out some Bob Seger tunes. Earlier at lunch, Dice had mentioned how amazing Bullet’s voice was. I asked Bullet who his favorite artist was. Without hesitation, he said Bob Seger. Bullet admitted he loves to cover Bob Seger, yet but we both agreed no one should ever try to replicate “Turn the Page”.

As the Bikers Against Child Abuse headed out onto the 89A; all I could think of was Bob Seger’s lyric line. “Here I am, on the road again.”

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I felt honored to have served these gentlemen and blessed that they were willing to share part of their lives with me. And YES, it’s ok if you sit here!

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