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On our trip to Colorado in September, we had the privilege of experiencing what it’s like to hike Rocky Mountain National Park. Aside from the magnificent beauty of this amazing place, it was awe-inspiring to contemplate the forces of nature that molded and shaped this spectacular landscape: the tectonic plates and the crush and rumble, the slow grind of rock and sediments and water and ice, the featured players in creating this most incredible terrain in all of the natural world.

And so, stumbling upon this smaller rock wedged – just so – beneath this large boulder (or perhaps the little guy is really only propping up the bigger fella?) gave me pause to consider how, after all that geological activity had exhausted itself to create the breathtaking scenery that surrounded us, seen and not yet seen, these two rocks would end up in just this manner.

My five sisters and I grew up on an acreage south of town. Our property was home to the sawmill my Dad owned and operated, the old schoolhouse he’d attended as a child, the house we lived in, a functional, compact, barn Dad built from scratch and a small, wooden, nondescript edifice we called the brooder house.

I didn’t even know that was how it was spelled until just now when a quick Google search provided me with the official definition: a device or structure for the rearing of young chickens or other birds. An alternate meaning of the word would be a person who broods but that is another matter entirely.

For us girls, however, there was another way to describe it and that was playhouse. Although designed for raising chicks, it was never really used by Dad for any other purpose than storage, most notably sacks of grain for the handful of farm animals we occasionally kept in the barn just a few feet away. When the barn was empty, so was the brooder house and written large upon our imaginations were ideas of how to transform it, if not into something of beauty, then into a private hideaway or retreat of sorts.

I recall fashioning a type of bed and a desk out of scraps of lumber – plentiful when your dad works with wood for a living – and I think I even laid out cups and saucers to serve tea to unexpected guests. However, no matter how much I swept and tried to clean or hung up pictures on the walls, it was still, after all, just a brooder house. Even at a young age, I was fond of decorating and designing and creating special places to suit my enthusiastic, yet grandly misguided, ideas. Sigh. How does that go – something about making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear?

Because the brooder house had rotting floors and unsecured doors and windows, it was pretty much open to the elements and therefore a handy refuge for both winged and four-legged creatures. Swallows built nests in its eaves, hornets constructed hives, and on occasion we heard and sometimes saw mice. Still we were undeterred.

Until…

Until Dad decided to move the brooder house to another location on the property and used the end-loader to lift it off its moorings. I think we were all stunned when we saw the large number of rats that scattered when the building was raised into the air and I was struck by how large – and fast! – these loathsome creatures appeared to us that day.

Even now, after all these years, I remember – with great clarity – that moment and the sick feeling in my stomach when I realized what it was that had caused those scratching, scuttling, scurrying sounds we heard below us whenever we spent time in that ‘special’ place of ours. It was, then, time to move on.

Dull, dreary, brown, mousy and nondescript…

That pretty much describes the month of November.  After the colorful leaves of fall find their way to the earth below, we’re pretty much left with bare, lifeless trees in a monotone landscape.

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It occurs to me that November, the second to last month of the year, shares the same boring distinction – as far as months go – as that of the second month of the year, February. True, November has Thanksgiving, a wonderful American holiday and February can boast of Valentines Day, a commercially-driven day for lovers but weather-wise there is not much to recommend either one. Both have their fair share of gloomy, sunless days and cold-for-the-season temperatures with both pesky winds and unwelcome precipitation.

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Still, both months have merit. November is the gateway to the holiday season while February signals the halfway point of winter with the promise of spring soon to follow. For now, however, with the end of daylight savings time and the transition to cooler temps and the promise (threat?) of snow in the wings, early November can be fickle and unreliable. Nothing to do but hunker down, enjoy those hot, comforting beverages, stir up a pot of chili, burrow into a good book or catch up on those recorded TV programs and series – Orange, House of Cards, Breaking Bad – you’ve been wanting to watch (or watch again). Now, before the busy season is upon us, sit back and make the best of it!

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Waiting in the car while my husband picked up some painting supplies at Home Depot last night, I was glad for the small Canon PowerShot I purchased a few months back to leave in the car so I’d be able to snap scenes like this whenever I happened upon them. Nothing award-winning by any means but I do so love me a good sunset!

Special shout out to Julie, my blogging buddy from New Zealand. This one’s for you! 🙂

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What should we do today?

Hmmm. I don’t know. I guess the bathroom could use a good cleaning. We still need to cut down those tall grasses out back and stow away the patio chairs. Oh. And we talked about doing a ‘cook-a-thon’ to stock the freezer with casserole goodies so we won’t have to keep eating out so much during the week.

Uh-huh.

Yeah, okay. I’ll draw up a grocery list. [She pulls out a scratch pad and pen, starts putting together a shopping list.]

Hey. Want to run to Starbucks, read the paper, ‘lax a bit before we start in?

Sounds like a plan. Let me shower first.

OK. I’ll just finish up some work-work while you’re doing that.

Oh. I think I’ll check my blogging stats real quick first… [She scrolls through her Facebook feed, responds to a few posts, accepts a Friend request – looks through his recent activity and photos – laughs at a few posted videos, jumps to her blog stats (sigh – nothing), pulls up her Reader to see what’s new, laughs at some funny photos, Likes a few of them, punches in a couple of witty comments to others, realizes she was going to take a shower, heads to the bathroom.]

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That felt good. Now I am clean and you are dirty. [They both laugh at this long-shared joke.]

So. Do we really want to do this – get started on painting the living room?

Sure. I think it would look better than that contractor-white that’s up there now. [She offers to help as he starts pulling the furniture away from the main wall and removes all the photo frames, the ones he took such time and painstaking effort to put up there in the first place. He then takes measurements to calculate how much primer and paint they’ll need.]

No. Just stay the heck out of my way. [Again they laugh at yet another shared joke. Whether it’s him preparing a meal or doing something of a technical or mechanical nature or anything requiring brute strength, that’s his standard, light-hearted response.]

Remember, we need to stop at Target for my Rx. Then we can get painting supplies and stop at Starbucks for an hour or two.

I’d kind of like to find a place to watch the football game at 2:30.

Right. Well, let’s run our chores first, hang out at Starbucks for a bit and then go to that sports bar across from the mall to watch the game.

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Another disappointing game. Well, there’s always basketball!

I think I’ll stop at Home Depot for a few more paint supplies that I should have picked up earlier today. [She waits in the car and snaps several photos of the gorgeous sunset sky, all lit up in shades of pink, rose, blue and turquoise.]

The wind has died down and it’s not really that cold right now. I’ll get my walk in when we get home.

Yeah, I’ll burn that master copy of Becky’s wedding video while you’re doing that.

Perfect! And maybe a little House of Cards later tonight?

[He sits in the recliner to listen to the post-game show while she checks her blog stats (much better!). Half an hour goes by, then an hour. She’s still sitting there, working on a new idea for her next post, he’s nodded off and fallen asleep. She decides it’s probably a little too chilly now for her walk and besides, she still needs to run to the store to get those groceries they forgot to pick up earlier.]

[And so it goes…]

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Quiet contemplation at Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park…

Even when we met others on the trail, being there was a glorious exercise in solitude. A heady combination of beauty and grandeur – perfect for searching the soul and reassessing one’s priorities.

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The winding, hilly path from the main, north entrance of the park to the back entrance to the south and east covers almost three miles and as such, is the perfect course to train for 10k runs or, if one is a little less ambitious, overall fitness goals like improved stamina and a slimmer waistline.

While I’d actually once run entrance to entrance (and back again) with a girlfriend, I normally preferred to simply walk this somewhat challenging route instead. Either way, it provided me with an effective workout and besides, I always loved the peaceful, quiet setting surrounded by thick woods, native flora, birds, squirrels and other wildlife that called this place home. I recall once seeing a doe resting in the shadows along a hiking path and being surprised by a garter snake underfoot at the bottom of a steep trail as well as wild turkeys that quietly emerged from the deep woods totally unaware of my presence as I hiked. My son and I enjoyed stumbling across puffball mushrooms and the occasional morel and we also took great delight in small discoveries such as the three small stone bridges built along one of the trails. And every trip to Pilot Knob State Park required we make the steep climb to the tower with its stellar view of the surrounding countryside.

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Some thirty years later I’m struck by the realization that if only I had continued with those daily treks, where my hour long hikes led me up and down a variety of paths and horse trails throughout the park, I might be in pretty fantastic physical shape right now. Our recent trip to Colorado (where my husband and I experienced true elevation!) reminded me of those tranquil moments that my son and I both enjoyed with so much satisfaction. When my legs were weary and my spirit even more so, I would utter the mantra I’ve used my entire adult life: one foot in front of the other, keep moving forward. And so too, I must look toward possibilities of what I can and might and WILL do rather than nurturing regrets and grievances over what I have failed to accomplish or to dwell on mistakes that I’ve made.

Nature is like that. Beautiful, serene and thought provoking. A wondrous cocoon, a place that offers both comfort and protection as well as a harsh landscape that demands respect and must be navigated with care, Mother Earth tugs at something deep within us as nothing else can or does. Sadly, there are too many who have allowed material, superficial ‘realities’ – wants, needs and desires driven by marketing ploys and a 24×7 culture – to negate and minimize and essentially diminish (if not destroy) any recognition of what our planet has to offer.

But for those of us who see and appreciate the beauty all around us, we are forever changed by the possibilities and opportunities to live a pretty heady life of wonder, adventure, peace and joy!