Things I hope my son and nephew learned on the snow this year.

DSCN5878The season was a good one for us; and hopefully not over yet. Cai did his first multi day backcountry trip and made the move to telemark equipment. Trevor successfully took up snowboarding. Along the way we had backcountry days and used the snowcat at Loveland to explore less traveled but still managed areas. There is though much more to skiing than riding on snow and the lessons it can teach a young person are huge.

DSCN5691Falling: When you fall, do you blame it on the snow? Do you complain about people or do you stand back up and resolve to learn and do better next time? There is something about the exhilaration of traveling downhill fast that encourages these two young men to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and take off again. What happens when you do complain? Do you get better if you blame your fall on other people? If I work on one thing in my life that will reap the biggest rewards it is probably this simple  idea.

DSCN5855Looking at where you want to go: Watching their intent gazes as they looked at where they wanted to go when faced with difficult terrain was amazing. There was no peering at their feet. They did not stare wistfully behind them thinking about what had got them to this place. They looked at their destination and just gave it a go. And when the going was tough they were way more focused on where they wanted to end up. Rather than analyzing the ground between them and their goal they focused on the end point and let what their bodies already know do its thing. How often can I say that about my life?

DSCN5842Fear: Anxiety was ok on the lift and tolerable at the top of a run. However, as soon as the run started it was left behind. That is to say fear is not a bad thing per se; it can though be crippling if you let it rule your actions. Fear helps you make good choices but once a decision has been made it will just get in the way. Besides, the most fun is had when you are pushing the boundaries of your fear. It is also generally where you learn the most because it inspires reflection.

IMGP2964Choosing to see what is good:  One of our themes of the year was, “regardless of the weather, if you decide the skiing is going to be good, it will be. If you decide it is not it probably will not be.” Watching these guys out in some pretty nasty conditions with big smiles on their faces was huge. I really hope they take this paraphrasing of Henry Ford into the rest of their lives. Happiness is often a choice.

DSCN5926 - Version 2Simplicity: I used to be a ski instructor so I am capable of breaking down movement to the minutiae. This is great if you want to shave seconds off your time. It was not our focus. Skiing like life can be interpreted as being simple or complex it comes down to the way you look at it. Our goal was to slide down ever more fun terrain with the biggest smiles on our faces. Every now and then we would throw in a drill or game that naturally high lighted good technique. Occasionally, I asked questions that might do the same.

DSCN5903The rewards of work: The smile being the most important part of their day they learned to work hard at it. Perhaps this was leaving fear at the top of the lift on a particularly steep run. Or, pushing through to take one more run when they were tired. As long as the result was going to be a big smile it was worth doing and boy were some of the results worthwhile.

IMG_0259Freedom: Cai said it best when I was checking in with him .

Dad: “So yesterday was a huge day and I just want to make sure I was not pushing you too hard – was it worth it?”

Cai: “Yesterday was hard dad but it was so worth it. There were times when I felt that there were no presidents or queens… I felt that no one was the boss of me!”

A rather choked dad: “Wow, did you feel that on the groomers?”

Cai: “No. I only feel it when we get away from people and we are stood at the top of a big clean field of snow, we float down it and then we look back at our tracks and they are the only ones there”

When my 8 year old can articulate that sense of ultimate freedom that I feel, then I know I am doing good. It is a feeling to aim for and replicate as often as possible.

DSCN5949Leaving fresh tracks: Looking behind and seeing your tracks in the snow is one of those great feelings, the thing is a high percentage of skiers know this and want those feelings. In resort you have to hustle, or go farther than anyone else. In the backcountry you have to put in some miles.  Ultimately, you have to be ahead of the crowd which means knowing what you want and knowing how to get it while others are spinning their wheels. You learn this either through experience or surrounding yourself with people who have learned through experience.

IMG_0162Beauty and views: There is something about standing on top of a white ridge that reaches out for miles, while other ridges criss cross like onion skins into the distance. The monochrome of snow and rock is an amazing foreground to the backdrop of azure skies and a bright yellow sun. Throw in the wing beat of a large raptor or the scurrying of critters in the frost laced pines then… breathe. The scent of mountain air brings the feelings that air freshener companies try to convey in their advertising. It is the smell of being home. Of belonging. I know that I belong in the mountains. It always surprise me though that when I work with kids who have never set foot outside of their city that after a while of fighting it and dealing with the fear of being in big open spaces for the first time they just get it. They know it is right. Cultivating that sense of belonging is a useful tool as it applies not only to place it also is an important concept with regards to community. When you know what belonging feels like it is much easier to recognize and nurture it elsewhere.

DSCN5915People and natural selection: The idea of community is an important one. As skiers these boys are part of a large tribe, some of who they will want to hang out with some who they will not. Some who will help elevate them on their journey of development, some who will drag them down. Some who will give them an opportunity to learn and shine, some who will bring out the worst in them. As we have already said there are benefits to being ahead of the curve, there are also benefits to being part of a big group and at other times a member of a much smaller one. And sometimes it is good to just be alone. This season they felt most of these things. Days when the resort was full and the grooming was beautiful but we had to jockey for our niche in time and space. Traveling on the cat with a small excited group who felt like an elite cadre congratulating each other on their choice to be there. Watching groups of young jibbers being supportive (or not) and thinking about how it might be to hang out with them. Cai traveling with two friends on a four day odyssey through the backcountry where the work to reach the next yurt was often hard and supporting each other was important. Choosing the people you spend time with is important, equally significant are the moments spent with yourself . There were the times when they stood alone, looked around, soaked in the atmosphere and took it all in. I wish them many more of these last occasions because this is where the sense of an experience is made.

DSCN6068A final thought: As John Dewey posited you do not necessarily learn by having an experience, neither do you necassarily learn by thinking. We all know plenty people who fall into both camps and are left spinning their wheels without seeming to move forward. True learning occurs when you think (reflect) on an experience. I wrote this for Trevor in the hope that he ponders about how when he is on his board he usually displays his best possible self. What does that look like in other areas of your life Trev? And Cai? Well I am an Amish(ish) tyrant and he does not get to use a computer for a long time yet, so it will be a number of years before he reads these words and see these images. Poor deprived Waldorf kid – you will see him counting in this little unrelated video. Technology and Schools

 

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Creating your roadmap: dreams and futures

A couple of years ago I was reflecting on the places that I have lived and trying to figure out if there was any reason why I had been attracted to those places in particular. At the time, there really seemed to be no pattern. Each of the places seemed unlikely for different reasons. I never really wanted to spend an extended time in Australia because my mother had emigrated there in her twenties and I did not want to follow in her footsteps. Nepal always seemed to be a hard country to gain a visa for. The States was the place of movies rather than somewhere I was going to end up living even if Colorado has the perfect climate and incredible mountains. Alaska, now there is a far flung frontier, what does anyone want to do moving there?

During our sojourn in Alaska; which really is an incredible place, I wrestled with why. One day it suddenly struck me. On the wall of my room at school I had placed posters and a few pictures from magazines. In particular there were four large images of climbers and guess where the climbs were; Australia, Nepal, Colorado and Alaska. Now I have never done any of those routes but something must have resonated. A seed must have been sowed and nurtured which led to my following through and all this was done at a sub conscious level.

My conclusion is that dreams really are powerful. Creating images of where you want to go is far more productive than looking at roadblocks.

What do you want to do and how are you going to create the images that will take you there?

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Tall Tales – thoughts on stories and using them:

As a teacher I use stories all the time. Painting images of archetypes truly allows a concept or lesson to be picked up, played with and felt at an emotional level. Recently there seems to be a recurring theme in the conversations I have been engaged in. “We talk about authentic, do stories need to be true?” If you know why you are telling a story then you are always going to know the truth in it and to me this is the foundation of authenticity. I particularly like stories that challenge the status quo and commonly held norms. Even tall tales can have integrity, you merely need your audience to know that the message of the story is what is important. The disconnect occurs when something is passed off as real which isn’t and then we have to contemplate the story of the boy that cried wolf.

Some years ago I was working building trail, groups of five to twenty of us would go out into mountain parks and create and repair routes through the foothills of Colorado‘s Front Range. One of my colleagues was a young man named David. David had a penchant for stretching the truth, his motivation seemingly to create something incredulous out of a normal life. This was so much the case that he had earned the nickname, Liar Liar. One morning he came in claiming sickness, we tended to think it was the result of a late night. Following walking in to our site in extremely hot weather he proceeded to go and lie under the tarp we set up for shade at breaks. While the rest of us sweated, David snored and to say the least sympathy was the farthest thing from our minds. Just before lunch there was a scream from the tarp and David came out running, looking distraught and cursing about a snake. Now it should be noted that David the bull riding, sky diving, extreme fighter was terrified by snakes, even so we certainly were not inclined to believe his latest story of a large rattlesnake slithering over his chest while he slept.

Out of curiosity and armed with a suitable excuse to down tools we meandered over to the tarp to witness the site of his newest escapade. Imagine our surprise when we saw a big old snake curled up by the backpack which had obviously served as a pillow. David had told the truth; this was a shock, especially when the snake was the largest rattlesnake I have ever seen. It was a beautiful and unusual green color and sat at the end of it’s tail were 16 globes which made the most incredible sound when we tried to move it on with a lengthy stick.

The point of my story is that David’s intention in telling his story was entirely lost due to the previous pattern of his behavior. While he was digging for sympathy we were all laughing. Rather than believe his story we had believed he was going to tell us an untruth.

On another note we often disbelieve stories because of our perceptions of them. Fish tales are never true right? So here is a shameless plug for my wife, the woman some know as a prissy cheerleader and others a mom. Here is the result of 4 hours in the Kenai River while I was away working and that is no lie. This may tell you something about who the provider is in this household?

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Who gives you food for thought? How do they supply material for the messages you want to share?

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Finding Your Brave

Cai and I went climbing last Friday. What interests me is that he did not really want to go; I had to work hard to encourage him. This sometimes happens, the thing is that once we find ourselves outside he loves it. Watching him move over the rock on a beautiful, sunny fall day in one of my favorite places in Colorado was pure bliss. The smile that covered his face was one of a person fully engaged in the moment and loving it. Watching my boy enjoying doing things that are special to me in places that are special to me ranks as one of the best feelings I know. Learning the tools to make them happen is therefore important.

The first thing I have to come to terms with as I learn my ways of motivating Cai is that he is often a mirror of my actions. I am known to sabotage my enjoyment because I think something else is more important. How can I expect my son to be any different from the example that he sees? So yet again it seems that teaching starts with empathy and compassion and then requires a healthy dose of making the changes I want to see in my students in myself first. I also fall foul of not allowing myself to see the pleasure that is available in the situation at hand, I almost imprison myself in a preconceived mindset. That day as I watched Cai embrace the rock and sunshine, as he allowed himself to ignore the emotions he predicted he was going to experience I realized it was he who was doing the teaching.

So I now have a big note to self. I am going to make sure that we get outside more often. The more we allow ourselves to find the fun and beauty in a moment, the more we are going to find that same fun and beauty in every situation and this is a lesson I want both of us to live.

That evening following an afternoon of climbing and watching trout swim in the shadows of the creek I had a familiar feeling; one I do not allow myself to feel enough these days. It is a warmth and satisfaction that comes from having an optimal experience; the same concept as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls Flow. It comes from being brave enough to surrender completely to the moment. It is most easily found when doing something one is passionate about and yet it can be found in the most mundane occasions if we allow ourselves to be truly present. The topping on Cai’s and my cake was that we both slept the sleep of warriors, content and spent. Finding our brave may be one of the most beneficial things we can do. How do you find yours?

 

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