Live to the Point of Tears

Three months ago I was wiggling my fingers and toes as I rocked back and forth in the saddle, willing my body to maintain whatever heat it could generate to keep my extremities from going numb. I pulled my wool hat a bit lower and tugged on the hood of my jacket to keep the cold rain out of my face. I held my reins in my right hand, my thin gloves soaked all the way through, the tips of my fingers poking out of the holes; I tucked my left hand under the saddle pad, feeling the warmth of Picante’s thick coat, still dry beneath his saddle.

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Picante resting as we traverse a deep mountain valley in the middle of Patagonia

It had been raining for three days straight. Our equipment was soaked. Our tent was soaked. The dogs and horses were soaked. Our boots and socks were soaked. Dampness seemed to be creeping into my bones, the days of wet travel through Patagonia were wearing on us.

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Another rainy day of riding

Ale turned in his saddle, calling back to me- “How’re you doing?”

“Freezing, I’ve lost feeling in my toes again, do you mind if we get down and walk for a while?”

Ale nodded and we pulled the horses off to the side of the dirt road. I loosened Picante’s girth, hung his stirrups over his saddle and gave him a hug. He lowered his head, his ears pointed forward and he curiously nuzzled my back. Check and Curi Cuyen ran up behind me, tails wagging, searching for some explanation for our dismount. I gave them both a quick pat before rubbing my hands together and stepping forward to follow Ale and the other horses. The rain continued to fall heavily, and we continued our long journey north.

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Together we walk

After an hour of walking, the blood was sufficiently flowing in our bodies again and the feeling of cold limbs was replaced with the feeling of hungry stomachs. Luckily we found a brief escape from the freezing rain in a small refugio on the side of the road. We let the horses graze in the rain as I quickly pulled out our Jet Boil stove, a cup of instant mashed potatoes, a carton of cooked vegetables and a can of tuna. The dogs curl up beside our backpacks and slept as we cooked.

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A welcome refuge on a cold rainy day

I paced around the refugio, trying to stay warm, grateful for the roof and walls that were momentarily blocking the wind and rain. This place felt like a little paradise after days of riding and walking outside in the elements. The water quickly came to a boil; I combined the ingredients, adding a dash of merken, a pinch of salt and a healthy dose of oregano. We feasted quickly as cars sped by, splashing cold puddles on our feet.

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Happiness is shelter and warm food on a cold day

The warm food disappeared just as quickly as it had cooked, our bodies seemed to be in a constant state of hunger as so much energy was required to simply stay warm. There were no leftovers when it came to meals on the trail.

We loaded the chiwas (packhorse packs) back on Zalig, bridled Aysén and Picante, pulled on our wet backpacks and climbed back into the saddles. The rain had turned into a drizzle and the clouds seemed to dissolve into fog, drifting in between the mountain ridges. Maybe, if we were lucky, it would stop raining by nightfall. Maybe, if we weren’t so lucky, it would rain everyday for the rest of the week. Either way, onward we rode.

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Rain or shine, we travel on.

About a year ago, I was listening to one of my favorite poets giving a talk about the depth at which we must be willing to dive, in order to fully embrace the lives we are given. During his talk, he mentioned the famous quote by Albert Camus- that we must “Live to the point of tears.”

Those words grabbed hold of me in that moment, they captivated me in a manner that made my heart beat a little faster. That was it- those words captured the essence of what I was seeking. Living to the point of tears felt like an invitation to pursue the grand adventures that visit us in our dreams, that give us such stunning experiences while we live them that we could cry with delight and gratitude.

I wrote down in my journal that I wanted to live to the point of tears- that this was my intention as I moved forward with this grand adventure called life, and I believed that my adventure on horseback in Patagonia would allow me to do just that.

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Standing in awe as I look out into the expansive wildness of southern Patagonia

In some ways, that’s exactly what it is. Our ride across Patagonia was an unbelievable dance with the rawest forms of being present that I’ve ever experienced. We witnessed wild places that were so beautiful they did invoke tears. We faced hardships that resulted in tears of frustration and tears of overwhelming gratitude when relief was realized. We met strangers who embraced us as friends, and were overwhelmed by the gratitude that flooded our hearts after they showered us with simple things such as homemade bread, sharing a warm stove together, and giving us their undivided attention.

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Waving farewell to Don Patricio, a deaf gaucho who opened his simple home to us late one evening after we’d ridden for hours into the night in search of water for the horses

Embracing grand adventures that demand a larger experience of living is important- but I’ve found it’s not entirely the essence of this whole “living to the point of tears” business.

What I’ve realized since finishing our ride, and returning to the “day-to-day” post-adventure living, is that the wholesome act of living in the present and acknowledging the simple things that bring us joy, continuously nurtures a deeper appreciation for life in general. When we find gratitude in our moment-to-moment existence, we may find ourselves living with the same fullness that we experience in those “bucket list” pursuits.

The inspiration for this post was a simple moment that happened a few days ago. After dinner, I poured the leftover curry into a recycled pickle jar and strolled over to the refrigerator. As I held the door open, scanning for a spot to stuff the jar, I suddenly felt goosebumps and tears well up. I leaned back, shaking my head with a smile.

My refrigerator is so full, practically overflowing, and it suddenly took my breath away. Fresh vegetables spilled out from the bottom drawer and lower shelves; a chicken sat on the middle shelf defrosting; on the door there were a dozen eggs of varying shapes and sizes, homemade cheese and butter – all bought the day before from the neighbors down the road. We don’t have a huge refrigerator, but as I looked at it’s contents and tried to squeeze in leftovers from our last meal, I was overtaken by a wave of gratitude by the abundance before me.

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Acknowledging the abundance of our community

There I was, staring at a refrigerator full of food, on the verge of tears.

These days I could cry with joy each time I step into a hot shower, or put on a lovely smelling lavender lotion. The waves of gratitude are palpable. Each morning I awake and I look out my front door and see our horses grazing, the joy bubbles up in my heart and I’m again on the verge of tears of gratitude. I notice more moments in the day that delight me- the moment the sunlight dapples the forest with shimmery gold, the hay we have neatly stacked to feed the horses for a month, the way the sun bursts through the clouds on a rainy afternoon, the warmth of the house when I come inside after working outside all day with the horses. I take a moment to simply close my eyes and smile, so thankful for this roof, these walls, and this wood heating our little home as winter settles into the mountains of southern Chile.

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Crisp early winter sunrises with the river and volcano in our backyard

“Live to the point of tears.”

Looking back, I didn’t actually think that living to the point of tears would be so literal. But it actually is. Not to say I’m walking around all day crying (don’t start worrying), but the fierceness of the joy that overwhelms me when I acknowledge this underlying gratitude- for incredibly small things- it brings me just to the point of tears, quite literally.

I do experience a heightened sense of gratitude for hot showers and a warm house on a cold rainy day, for a full refrigerator and left overs after being able to eat to my heart’s content. To be sure, that heightened sense of gratitude is easily invoked thanks to all those cold rainy days we endured riding across Patagonia.

But, what I’m continuing to discover is that living to the point of tears is actually a way of being that we can carry with us through our daily lives. It can elevate us in moments of everyday hardship and uncertainty by allowing a constant celebration and acknowledgement of the small things we can easily be grateful for.

After all, life is not always a grand adventure- and in fact, the small, quiet moments make up much more of our lives than the risky bold adventures do. With each breath we take, with each new day, we have the opportunity to wholeheartedly live to the point of tears.

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Life after the grand adventure continues to invoke incredible moments of gratitude

So, what inspires a deep sense of gratitude in you, one so powerful it may just bring you to the verge of tears, followed by an outburst of joyful laughter?

 

In the Presence of Abundance

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The air is brisk; I can see my breath as I climb the steep slope in the dawn light. The moon sits quietly above the glacier, lingering with the last few stars in an otherwise empty sky. Curi Cuyen trots in front of me, pausing every few steps to look back at me before carrying on her endless search for that unsuspecting bird. I’m tickled with excitement as I climb higher and higher, the vastness of the valley unfolding before me, the mountains and peaks, the glaciers and rivers that had silently hidden behind the thick, cold fog yesterday now sit vibrantly exposed.

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I climb to the top of the rocky slope that sits high above our camp. Curi and I trot along the ridge, all the way to the tip where two large, flat rocks form a nearly perfect chair- setting quite the stage to watch the world wake up. I drop down, sitting cross legged with my camera and journal by my side. Slowly I pull my hat further down to cover my ears, the chill of the morning shadows creeps down my neck. Curi curls up in my lap and I’m immediately warmer thanks to her furry little body.

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I take a moment to sit with my eyes closed, feeling the stillness of the morning. I feel the absence of the wind, the absence of the wet, cold rain, the absence of the pelting sleet.

Generally speaking, Patagonia is not a quiet place- between the ferocious wind and the roaring rivers, there’s almost a constant symphony of powerful sounds weaving their way through these wild places.

But this morning, high up in these mountains, up above the mouths of the rivers, beyond the glaciers from where they are born, tucked in between the tops of the peaks where the wind cannot travel- here I find stillness. And this stillness fills each and every molecule- it is vast and grand, as large as this wild place I look out upon.

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I sit in the shadows of the mountains and watch the slow, sultry entrance of the majestic sun. Even this has a stillness to it. The sunbeams creep forth, constantly in motion and yet seemingly motionless. I turn my head and it has inched its way further while I was looking the other way. I’m reminded that there is always an abundance of light, despite the length of the night, the light always returns. As the first sunbeams reach beyond the highest mountain ridge and the warmth of the morning sun rushes over me, a smile rises with my temperature. Sunshine. Oh how wonderful to feel warm sunshine.

IMG_212525 days.

It has been 25 days since I’ve had a hot shower.

25 days since I’ve had any contact with friends or family via telephone or internet. 25 days sans email or Facebook, sans Instagram likes or BBC news updates.

24 1/2 days since I was certain I knew where we were going and how to get there.

20 days since I relinquished control and discarded expectations of this journey and instead decided to focus only on the demands of my present existence.

19 days since I’ve felt full after a meal, since we’ve been rationing our food, uncertain of how many more days it would take us to emerge from these mountains, how many more days we would spend deep in the belly of this Patagonia wilderness.

And yet here I sit, so full of a simple abundance. So full of this stillness, so full of the abundance of sunshine, the abundance of clean water, the abundance of light, the abundance of fresh air and the abundance of love for my little family of husband, horses and dogs. I’m full of the abundance of strength and resilience that I have found within me. I sit, overwhelmed, as I have been so many times before, by the abundant beauty of this earth that we are blessed to walk upon.

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I climb down from the mountain, down into the valley where the sunshine is now flooding across our campsite, drying the dew on our tent, bathing our horses in its warmth. Ale is walking up to each horse, hugging them, brushing them and checking their hooves. I catch my breath and feel another tickle in my chest. This is our home! This is our life! This is our story!

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I stroll up to our grazing horses, our faithful companions and adventure partners who have carried us across rivers, glaciers, through sheer mountain passes and rocky canyons. I hug each one, thankful for their willingness to carry us through this adventure, their willingness to endure the ferocious winds, the cold hail and rain, to endure our uncertainty and our endless desire to explore and continue onward.

Ale and I pull our damp sleeping bag and soaking wet sheepskins out of the tent and lay them across the rocks. We unpack every single piece of gear- most of it damp from the days of relentless mountain storms- and lay them in the sunshine.

All of these things have our stories wrapped up in them. I love every single thing that I handle, placing them gently in the sunshine so that they too can indulge in the abundance of warmth.

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I peel off my clothing, most of which hasn’t been changed in nearly a week, my skin feeling the cool air and warm sunshine for the first time in a long time. Each piece of clothing is handled with gratitude, as it has kept me warm and dry through the most rugged terrain I’ve ever ventured into. I adore the bright colors of our belongings as they lay strewn across the rocks, the patterns and layers- each item serving a simple but essential purpose. These clothes are our companions, just as our horses and dogs are, and they play a vital part in this story.

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I set up my little kitchen on a semi-flat rock, pulling out our fuel, stove and cookware. I collect water from the glacial stream and set about to cooking breakfast- measuring a cup of dehydrated mashed potatoes. I add what’s left of our salt, a heavy dash of oregano and merken. Even though we’ve been eating this mixture for weeks, it’s somehow incredibly delicious as we dig into breakfast in the abundant sunshine this morning. I put another cup of potatoes aside for lunch and pack up the rest of our food, it isn’t much, but it’s enough.

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I splash in the shallow river that’s gushing from a nearby glacier, gasping at the coldness, laughing at the freshness, smiling from the glee of feeling clean for the first time in weeks. I dry myself in the sunshine, standing naked on top of a cold boulder with my arms outstretched like a bird drying her feathers. The sunshine wraps itself around me and I’m blanketed in its soft warmth. These are seemingly small things- this abundance of water, of sunshine, of time in a beautiful place- but they are so precious, so essential, and inspire overwhelming gratitude in this moment.

As our things and ourselves dry, we slowly begin the process of breaking down camp, repacking all of our belongings, saddling our horses and loading everything onto our packhorse. We take our time, deliberately enjoying the pace of this day. As we put everything away, I feel grounded in a reassurance that we have all we need on this journey- on this adventure through Patagonia but also this adventure through life. It’s a simple moment acknowledging the abundance that we carry with us no matter where we are.

We begin to follow the unmarked path along the stream, uncertainty hovering above us as to whether or not we are on the right trail. Yet we are also accompanied by a confidence that no matter what lies ahead, we have all we need- and we are always in the presence of abundance as long as we take time to acknowledge it.

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Beyond the Boundaries of Imagination

My heart beat rapidly as I looked upward and stared at the belly of the massive condor flying directly above us, diving and swooping and soaring up and over the edges of the surrounding peaks of Patagonia. It was a magnificent creature, looking prehistoric. Although I’d seen condors in other parts of Chile, I had never been so close and the sheer size of it was overwhelming, and we were overcome with a distinct sense that this was his territory, we were in his kingdom now.

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As we continued climbing Alejandro snapped photos in quick succession and I kept a wary eye on Curi Cuyen, who I imagined must look like a delicious morsel to the large dinosaur-like birds circling above us. The wind picked up, tugging at the flaps of my hat and drying the sweat forming on my brow. I pulled out my vest as the air cooled the higher we climbed. 360 degree views of jagged snow-covered peaks and numerous hanging glaciers surrounded us. Jewel-toned lakes dotted the valleys below. The blue sky was crisply dotted with fast moving puffy white clouds. A wide smile spread across my face, this place, like this trip, was so beyond my imagination.

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Majestic Patagonia

Our dreams are born from our imagination. They are carefully nurtured within the boundaries of our minds- the have edges and lines, distinct colors and shapes. These boundaries and lines are necessary for the dream to be constructed, they are necessary for us to fully grasp the idea of the dream, and the possibilities it could lead to. However, there comes a time when we must deconstruct the dream, we must erase some of those edges and lines to let the universe in.

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When this dream of riding horses across Patagonia was born, it began very simply- a basic image- us sitting on the backs of our horses, staring at the jagged snowy mountain ranges of Patagonia. The grass of the meadow where we sat reached our knees and was tinted golden in the warm sunlight. A soft breeze blew across the valley, invoking the sound of a million tiny whispers as the grasses bowed in it’s presence. Exactly where we were, or how we would get there was not yet exposed- there was only this image, and this feeling of weightlessness.

When we decided we were actually going to make this happen, we began the process of constructing the boundaries of the dream. How would we pay for it? Where would we buy the horses? What would we do with them after the ride? What would we share about our journey, was there a larger purpose? How would we set our route? Where would we buy the equipment for our horses? How would we travel to southern Patagonia in a very remote region with our dogs?

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We didn’t originally plan to hitchhike the Carretera Austral, but by doing so we opened ourselves entirely to the kindness of strangers- and they showed up without delay

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The unfolding of this adventure has felt a bit like this hike up Volcán Chaitén (our first adventure in Patagonia just before we began hitchhiking south)- stunning moments of beauty awaited each immediate step. And even though we couldn’t see exactly where the path was leading, we knew we were heading in the right direction. 

Our imagination began to construct possible ideas and solutions to answer all of those questions. At the same time we prioritized what questions actually needed immediate answers and what could wait until we were in a more appropriate place to find (or simply receive) the answers. Here and there we erased lines and boundaries, we left questions unanswered and options wide open. In a delicate manner we focused our energy on preparing for anything, rather than preparing for everything.

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One of those “pinch me” moments hiking along the Carretera Austral with our pups

What began as an image of a guy and a girl sitting on the backs of their horses staring at the snowy mountain ranges of Patagonia has evolved into these life experiences that keep defying the boundaries of my imagination. Never in my life have I imagined I would hitchhike 1200 kilometers across Patagonia with our dogs. I couldn’t have written into this script unfolding in my mind the countless characters we’ve encountered already who are continuously connecting us to our next destinations. Heading over to the local radio station in a tiny remote town in southern Patagonia to announce that we wanted to buy three horses and two saddles…nope can’t say I planned that. Nor could I have fathomed I would eat one of the best sandwiches I’ve tasted here in Chile on the porch of this bus as the sun lit up the breathtaking Cerro Castillo for our viewing pleasure.

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Just stopping for a quick bite mid-hitch on the Carretera…no big deal

So here I am- writing this post from the southern tip of the Carretera Austral, in the tiny town of Villa O’Higgins where we’ve set up base camp in search for our horses. We’ve been traveling across Patagonia for nearly a month, and the answers to all those hows and all those questions are still unfolding. We’re not rushing though, we’re not trying to manage this with a forceful hand. If we’ve learned anything down here in Patagonia it’s that everything will unfold in the time that it’s meant to; in the meantime patience and enjoyment of the present moment trumps all. That is, after all, how we managed to get here in the first place.

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Check, Curi and I overlooking Villa O’Higgins, our temporary base camp while we find our horses for the ride north

We’re spending the next two and a half months riding our horses 1800 kilometers across Patagonia. We’re not following a set route or a strict path; rather we’re weaving our way through the backcountry and trails that aren’t marked on maps but are instead held in the minds and hearts of the people and communities who’ve lived throughout this region before any roads existed. Once again, just as we did in order to get to our first destination (Villa O’Higgins), we’re opening ourselves up to the kindness of strangers and intentionally seeking their participation in this journey. We’re leaving edges and lines undrawn so that they can contribute and weave their stories into our own.

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When we finally arrived in Villa O’Higgins and found this statue in the town square, I knew we’d chosen the right place to find our horses and begin this adventure!

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Don’t let your dreams be dreams. 

The last little bit of this dream, kind of a dream within a dream, is tying my work into this adventure. When we left San Francisco, I always had the intention of finding a way to tie together my passion for wild places and outdoor adventure with my passion for sustainability and ethical supply chains. In many ways this dream is still in motion, still in transition from idea to reality, but it’s already begun to evolve and I’ve decided to bring it into this ride in order to give it a path forward. Again it’s a bit like that climb up Volcán Chaitén, I can’t quite see where the trail is leading, but the beauty of the path forward is continuously unfolding with each step I take, and I know I’m heading in the right direction.

When I first began working as a manufacturing manager overseeing production in factories across China, I had no idea where that work would lead me. At that moment in time it was so beyond my imagination that those experiences would ever connect with my other life passions, or even inspire them, and yet here I am, redefining the work I can’t not do.

In addition to sharing stories about our adventures on the trail, I’ll be writing stories about the things we carry with us, and the life that we give these things. Through creative storytelling, I hope to inspire curiosity about product life cycles, invoke reflection on the life we give the things we own, and motivate creative thinking about how the life of these things can continue beyond a landfill. I’ve got some ideas about how I’ll continue this work after the ride, but I’ve erased some lines and boundaries here as well, so that something can evolve that truly exceeds the boundaries of my imagination.

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I would love for you to follow along on our adventures across Patagonia, and my husband and I created a website to document our travels. I’ll continue to post stories of our adventures on this blog, but you can find more stories on our other site that will carry three main themes- adventure (sharing adventure stories as they unfold), simplicity (celebrating the simple things that inspire gratitude) and curiosity (stories of the things we carry with us, the lives they lead and the role they play in our life on the trail). Here’s a link to our website: www.abriendocamino.net – here you can find our blog, photos, profiles, and a bunch of resources to help inspire curious consumerism (check them out here!).

We’ve got a Facebook page where we are sharing great articles on solutions to move toward zero-waste economies and conservation and will also post trail updates, blog posts and photos.

Lastly, this is an adventure through one of the most stunning places in the world. All the photos in this post were shot on our way south- you can see more of this beautiful corner of the world by following our Instagram @abriendo.caminos

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For me, watching this all unfold as it has, it’s a beautiful reminder that we can’t let our dreams live only within the boundaries of our minds, we can’t delay bringing them into our reality until they are “perfect” and all the hows have been answered; instead we must let them grow wings on their own, we must let them evolve in ways that defy the constructs of our reality and instead let the universe influence their growth and development as well. If you have any doubts, let them go; if you need any reassurance that the world is waiting for you to step off the ledge, the world is waiting to celebrate your boldness, believe me it is.

The Quiet Urgency of Life

It’s a quiet moment. Dawn.

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We sit on the side of the bridge, the dawn light casts pink hues across the three volcanos on our right. The river rushes swiftly below us. Slowly, silently, several birds float across the sky.

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The wind is cold. My fingers are frozen as I fumble with my camera lens. I pull my hood up and huddle close to the ground, half-knocked down by a flurry of puppy kisses as Curi rushes over to jump in my lap.

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I turn around, the nearly full moon glows brightly at the other end of the river. It’s a stunning morning, with none but one cloud in the entire sky. I zoom in, trying to capture the face of the sleepy moon as she begins to retire for the day.

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The wind picks up, playing with my hair, whirling it around my face.

“It’s happening, here it comes!”

I turn my back on the setting moon, readying to welcome the rising sun. We all face east, looking up the river to the mountain-lined horizon. Warm golden light suddenly races down the mountains, rushing across the volcanos and forests.

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I find myself holding my breath as the rays of the sun pull themselves just above the horizon, casting dramatic beams of light and shadows all at once. My heart beats a little faster with excitement of the beauty I know is about to unfold.

I exhale and the beams stretch forth beyond the curve of the earth.

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Quickly, the sun pulls itself fully above the horizon filling the entire valley with sunbeams. We bathe quietly in the morning light, feeling it’s warmth wrap itself around us, warming our frozen noses.

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And just like that, a new day begins; and with it, it brings opportunity to experience something amazing.

“Somebody ought to tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit every minute of every day. Do it, I say, whatever you want to do, do it now.”- Michael Landon

We come into this world like the rising sun; one moment we’re not here, and the next we are. Our life exists in the course of the day, as we age we climb across the sky, our light extending to all within our reach, slowly we descend until the furthest curve of the earth is reached and once again we disappear. Some of us have lives the last like the long days of summer; others are brief, rising and setting with the winter solstice of the most northern reaches of the planet. The one thing we all share is that we will rise, but we will also set.

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Acknowledging this ignites a quiet urgency of life.

This year I lost four people of sincere significance in my life. Two whom I knew and loved very closely, and two whom I didn’t know so personally, but deeply respected and drew insurmountable inspiration from. All four of them died at a moment those of us left living would describe as “far too soon”; and yet, they all accomplished and created so much beauty in their brief moment in the sky. They all emitted intense beams of light; they all lived with intention and passion. This is how they will be remembered.

“We all act as if we aren’t going to die, or our loved ones aren’t going to die. And how do you act like you are going to die and your loved ones are going to die, without being overwhelmed by it or made smaller by it, but are made larger by it, and more privileged.”- David Whyte

We’re all going to die one day, and yet life will continue anyway. Life will go on. That’s the cycle of life in all aspects of nature. It’s the ultimate duality of existence. The awareness that we will die is uncomfortable, so we distract ourselves from this reality by planning for the future. But the moment we take ourselves out of the present, it is another moment of our precious life lost.

Personally, I struggle with this duality. I struggle with the desire for long term security, for assurances that everything will be okay, for a fail-safe plan just in case my leap into the unknown takes me somewhere frightening.

And yet, it’s that urgency of life that pulls me back; it grounds me in the present. In an odd way it gives me roots and gives me wings all at once. It urges me to wake up at an uncomfortable hour to witness another sunrise- simply because of how that sight will make me feel as the sunbeams break the horizon. The urgency of life keeps me from worrying about being able to afford buying a home “some day”, or stressing out about how to define success in my professional life. It’s the urgency of life that pushes me to break trails, to color outside of the lines, to embrace and celebrate the unconventional. The urgency of life is what inspires me to seek experiences that will take my breath away, experiences that constantly remind me what a gift my life is and that I better not take it for granted because in the end, it’s all I’ve got.

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How are we made larger and more privileged by the acknowledgement that one day we will die, and our loved ones will die? To do this, I believe we must lean into life. We embrace it with love and we honor it.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you must climb more mountains, or have more adventures. For me, personally, it does- but that’s because I draw so much joy from these actions. This is why I am building a life where I can fill more moments with these things I know make my heart sing. For you, perhaps it is writing music, or painting, or building homes. Maybe it’s spending more time with your kids or your partner, or exploring new countries.

Whatever it is that you love doing, whatever it is that makes your heart overflow with gratitude- that’s what you lean into. That’s how we make ourselves larger and more privileged by the acknowledgement that one day we will die. We take this day that we have before us and we fill it with life.

We never know where we come into this world- on what latitude and longitude, how much time we’ll have as we move across the sky. All we know is that each new dawn brings with it the prospect of something wonderful happening, it brings with it the opportunity for us to live our lives in a way that expands us beyond the horizon, in a manner that keeps pace with the quiet urgency of life.

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Little Moments Filled With Magic

The phone rang as I drove around the airport parking lot; I picked it up and immediately heard laughter spilling through from the other end. “We’re walking outside,” Ale said.

“Okay, give me thirty seconds. You’re with the guys?”
“You knew?!” Ale laughed even louder and I could hear Eto and Alfredo, two of our best friends, laughing in the background.

It was Ale’s birthday in the coming days, and Alfredo and Eto had flown down to Chile to make some memories with us for the week. Originally they were arriving different days, but thanks to a little tweaking of schedules they managed to organize flights together to arrive with a little surprise. To top it off, our other friend Cristobal was arriving from Santiago the following day, let the adventures begin.

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Los hermanos venezolanos

You know the friends that you just never skip a beat with? The ones who would move mountains if you asked them to, or die trying? These guys fall into that pool for us. We all lived together in San Francisco, and for a brief moment in time, we were able to share the same city and make some amazing memories while living there.

Now we are all scattered across the world, Eto is in California, Alfredo is in Brazil, Cristobal is up in Santiago and of course here we are in a somewhat remote little corner of southern Chile. I miss having these guys show up at my doorstep every Sunday for an arepa feast. I miss hanging with them in the San Francisco parks and having adventures with them in the Sierras. But most of all I miss the random hug and being in the presence of their unconditional love. They are our family, our Venezuelan brothers. So, when they arrived in Chile this past week, it was a gift that went way beyond any “thing” money could buy.

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Camping along the Puesco river valley

The past few days with them have been overflowing with magic little moments. Catching up on each other’s lives while sharing a mate. Strolling the streets of our little volcano town and introducing them to all the friends we have here. Filling our car with laughter as we road trip east to the mountains of the Puesco river valley to celebrate Ale’s birthday at Puescofest. Camping under the nearly full moon at the base of the majestic towers. Introducing them to our ancient forests, lakes and volcanos.

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Magic moment as the moon emerges beside the towers

Yesterday we pulled ourselves from our beds at 5:30am and attempted to ascend Volcan Villarica, the most active volcano in Chile. Since it’s eruption in March, all ascents had been forbidden, but a week ago local guides were cleared to climb again. When our guide Claudio told us the chance of a full summit to the crater was about 50/50 due to the changing weather, my crew was the first to enthusiastically say yes, let’s try anyway. If we turn around, we turn around. We are here, together for this brief moment in time- either way we are making a memory that will last a lifetime.

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The best crew

Blue skies teased us as the morning unfolded, periodically bursting forth from the heavy, fast moving clouds. We climbed single file reaching the first rest spot after about an hour. The clouds cruised across the deep valley, quickly changing in color, shape and size. We waited for a while, to see if our luck might change and the clouds changed course. Our guides eventually decided it was safe to proceed, despite the constantly changing sky; so onward we climbed, up into the clouds.

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Blue skies teasing us as the clouds move along

We climbed into white out conditions, passing la Capilla, carefully securing ice axe handles into the volcano and placing each foot into the footprints made by our lead guide as he broke trail. The silence of the snow and the clouds was broken by the laughter of my Venezuelan husband and brothers as they occasionally broke out in song. We reached the glacier, which was covered with snow, the white sky melting seamlessly into the volcano, making it impossible to differentiate the two. Finally we reached the crest of a very steep ascent, arriving at la Pingüinera. We dropped our packs to rest while Claudio took a call on the radio.

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Deteriorating conditions as we climbed on

He came back and announced we would have to turn around, that we would not be able to continue to the summit due to the unpredictable weather. Our group sat quietly as a cold gust of wind kicked up the snow and we looked out into the white abyss.

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White out conditions and deteriorating weather ended our try for the crater summit

I reached into my backpack and pulled out a bag of arepas I had prepared the night before, meant to be shared on the summit. We passed the bag around to all of the climbers and our guides. Despite the news that we wouldn’t summit I didn’t feel an ounce of disappointment. I laughed with happiness at the surprise and delight of the guides, my friends and the other climbers as they dug into the arepas- so happy to share a little flavor from tropical Venezuela in this cold place and in a moment that some may have felt disappointment.

For me, I was so happy just to be sitting on steep edge of this breathing volcano, atop a snow-covered glacier, eating an arepa with some of my most favorite people in the world. I didn’t care that the view around us blended in with the snow beneath us; I don’t think I could have been happier even if we had bluebird skies and were sitting beside the smoking crater instead. The moment was perfect, full of magic, and I couldn’t stop smiling.

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After we descended the steepest part of the glacier, our guides determined it was safe for us to indulge in a little fun. We stopped at the top of a steep powdery bowl, strapped on a plastic sled that fit on the belt of our pants, and one-by-one we dropped into the powder bowl zipping down the mountain like little passenger cars on a train. As we zoomed by one another our booming laughter filled the air.

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Having our house full of people that I love, it’s nearly impossible to describe how wonderful it is after spending the last year and a half on the road and in a state of constant motion. As always, the distance traveled to be together is simply minutes that melt into miles, and miles that melt into smiles. These moments, the little moments filled with magic, they are the essence of being present. They are the ultimate gift. They are the glacier that feeds this overflowing river of gratitude flowing from my heart, coursing through my veins.

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This Thursday is Thanksgiving, a day of gratitude. In this moment I have more to be grateful for than I have time to tell. For starters, I am grateful that I woke up to a house full of people that I love. I give thanks for the hugs I received as my friends made their way downstairs for breakfast. I give thanks for the kiss that my husband gave me just before he and the guys left for a mountain bike adventure this afternoon. I am thankful for the food in my kitchen and the wood in our stove. I give thanks for every single little magic moment that has been full of laughter and love the past few days, and throughout my entire life.

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What little moments of magic have you experienced today? What little moments ignite a flutter in your heart and inspire a smile to spread widely across your face?

 

Letting Go of the Weight of The World

I dropped heavily into the back seat of the car, exhausted from a full day bouncing between production lines and meetings with factory engineers. The air conditioning was a welcome escape from the hot, thick air of summer in China. I stared out the window, trying to clear my mind. The streets were packed. People were everywhere, walking with umbrellas to fend off the sun, others driving cars, riding bicycles or tractors or some bizarrely constructed vehicle that seemed to be a combination of both. This place felt so heavy. For me, at this moment in time, China felt heavy and full; full of meetings, full of people, full of factories to visit, full of pollution, full of fires I had to put out, full of billions of things being manufactured in every single breath I took, full of potential and full of irreparable damage. It was Just. So. Full.

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A moment in the streets of China

My driver made his way aggressively down the crowded streets, at times pulling up onto the sidewalk (full of pedestrians mind you) in order to avoid the red lights and traffic jams. Oh how badly I wanted to teleport myself back to my tiny apartment in Hong Kong and retire for the day. Finally we made it to the highway onramp and began accelerating. I watched as the half-constructed sky-scrapers faded behind us, replaced by flat stretches of watery rice fields.

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The ever-present cranes line the skylines of nearly every Chinese city I have ever stepped foot in

Suddenly, without warning, my driver slammed on the breaks, threw the car in reverse and spun us around, quickly accelerating and flying past the ramp we had just used to get on. Startled, I leaned forward just in time to see a line of cars that were blocking the entire highway, sitting at a standstill. Apparently my driver was trying to save us from hours in this traffic jam, but as a result we were cruising the wrong way down the highway at 70 MPH. I sat deeper in my seat and thought, what the hell are we doing?

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Just another chaotic traffic jam in China

At that moment, this question wasn’t inspired solely by my driver and the fact that we were flying in the wrong direction way too fast. It was a much bigger question that had woven itself into my view of the world. It was a question embedded in the products my company was sourcing for our clients. It was a question embedded in my mind every time I walked across a bridge with water flowing beneath it so polluted I had to cover my nose and quicken my step. It was a question that taunted me after I began having to wear masks whenever I left my apartment in order to keep my lung condition from worsening. It was a question embedded in the realization that everything, every single thing, carries with it a cost when we choose to bring it into existence.

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I continue to struggle with chronic inflammation in my lung tissue due to the black carbon exposure while living in China

The weight of it all settled on me silently, almost unconsciously and even as I continued with my work, that “what the hell are we doing” question just wouldn’t let me be. And yet, what could I do? I was just one person, this massive system had been around far longer than I had, and “business as usual” just felt so… usual. The experience burned me out. It shut me down, stole away my fuel for inspiration and reinforced the belief that it was all too big for me to have an impact that mattered. It made me feel small and insignificant.

I felt this way the other day, as I walked the shores of the Rio Trancura, along the outskirts of Pucon. Since October 1st, I’ve made time everyday to get outside. Some days I have hours to spend out exploring. Other days I might only be able to steal away for a half hour or so. Regardless, I try to find new spots every day, and I am finding that it’s a beautiful way to constantly discover new angles through which to see this lovely place I call home.

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A sunny afternoon hike up the Rio Turbio outside of Pucon

In addition to getting outside everyday, I have committed to post a photo of any trash that I happen to collect during my adventure. My intention from the start was to raise our collective consciousness of the stuff we consume. The entire project has turned into a kind of experiment, and I can feel how radically it’s already shifting my perspective as my mental filters change and I continuously acknowledge the incredible volume of stuff around us, even in this wild and remote corner of the world.

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All of the trash I packed out during this same sunny hike up the Rio Turbio

As I pulled into the somewhat overgrown lot with a dirt boat ramp, my eyes immediately swept back and forth between the huge piles of trash. It looked as though the area was recently designated as the public dump. I was shocked. Throughout my efforts this month, I’ve picked up a lot of trash, much more than I have in the past, mainly, I think, because I just see more of it now. But this place was by far the most polluted and it just kept getting worse as I edged closer to the river.

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A discouraging site as I pulled up to the trailhead

I got out of the car, let the dogs out, put my backpack on and began walking toward the river. As I walked to the water’s edge, I looked to my left and right, trying to decide which way to go explore; but all I could see was trash. Everywhere. Instead, I walked back up to the car, took my gloves and trash bags out of my backpack and left my pack in the car. Today would not be about the adventure. Today was about the trash.

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I was so pissed off at the end of this day. I spent about an hour collecting trash along that incredibly beautiful river, and I was never more than 100 feet from my car the entire time. I focused on the trash closest to the river, along the trail and in the sand. I packed out diapers, paint cans, cardboard boxes, bottles, plastic, cans, clothing and by far the most styrofoam to date. 3 kayakers floated by, waving at me as they moved along; 4 large rafting groups also passed by. The sight of them discouraged me, as I felt indignant that they were not making more effort to care for this precious place we were all so lucky to enjoy.

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I lugged the two trash bags that I had filled back to the car, cursing that I hadn’t thought to bring more. I sat in the car with the engine off feeling heavy. Feeling that same silent weight I felt when I was in China, when I was just becoming so aware of the amount of stuff we were producing. Here the weight was tied to my heightened awareness of all the stuff we were consuming. My efforts felt futile, small and insignificant. The two bags of trash in my car didn’t even appear to make a dent in the garbage that remained. Yet again I felt like we were speeding the wrong way down a highway and I was sitting there wondering what the hell are we doing?

Over time, I have found that confronting big, heavy, challenging realities can be overwhelming and discouraging. I have also found that confronting them can lead to some of the most inspiring and motivating work I have ever done in my life. The trick, for me anyway, is to first get out from under the weight of it all, to begin by letting go of the weight of the world. We simply do not have enough strength or space to bear this weight while also imagining positive solution-oriented ideas that lead to incredible change. While the process of getting really pissed off and angry about a certain reality can be a pivotal catalyst for action, in order to be effective with whatever action you take, you have to let go of that anger and frustration to make space for all the creative juices to flow.

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I draw so much inspiration from wild places

For me, the most powerful way I have learned to let go and make space is to go outside into nature. After reaching an overwhelming state of cynicism during my first few years working in global manufacturing, it wasn’t until I retreated to the Appalachian Trail and removed myself from the discouraging environment that I really began to see how I could influence change in this space.

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Learning to let go of the weight of the world while thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail

Sometimes you have to go out to go in. After my angry evening on the river, I decided I should go climb a mountain the next day. I went to a remote area where I would have to work physically to muscle my way up. As I hiked up the steep trail, I spent time with all of my thoughts and frustrations from the day before. I acknowledged them, dug a bit to the core of what was motivating them, and then I let them go. The higher I climbed the lighter I felt. As I entered the incredible mixed coihue and araucaria forest I stopped repeatedly, leaning back and staring in awe at the huge trees. A child-like grin spread across my face as I was filled with delight and wonder by my surroundings.

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An amazing, massive araucaria reaching for the sunshine. This tree is around 1000 years old, inspiring awe and deserving respect

As I reached the ridge I stopped to catch my breath and take in the view of the three incredible volcanos on the horizon.

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I felt invigorated and strong. I continued along the trail and began thinking about different approaches I could take to inspire curiosity about the things we buy. I explored how I could motivate changes in behavior locally in a way that could also inspire others globally. I imagined tangible solutions I could contribute to immediately, and played with big, fantastic solutions that had huge-reaching impacts. I just let all of the creative ideas come in and excite me and it literally felt as though my excitement about these solutions was filling the space I had made when letting go of the anger about the problems. I didn’t feel heavy with this invisible weight, I felt lifted by this invisible force.

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I can do this. You can do this. We can do this. Whatever it is- whatever impossibly huge thing you want to tackle, whatever negative thing that you see in the world that you believe can be turned into a positive- it can be done. Don’t be discouraged by the weight of the world. It is not your responsibility to carry it. It is important to acknowledge it, to face it and see it for what it is, but then let it go. Let it go and get on with the good stuff, the stuff that excites and inspires.

A Small Ripple Steadily Grows

I fumble in the darkness to find my shoes, slip them on in the midst of furiously excited puppy licks and trip my way to the front door to let the dogs out. It is a quiet morning, finally the rain has stopped. I look up at the night sky and see the stars shining brightly, the moon sits low and in the distance the top of the snow-covered volcano glows orange below a cloud of smoke. It is a gorgeous morning and my grogginess is immediately replaced with motivation to get in a dawn hike. I close the door and run back to the bedroom to quickly change, swapping my house shoes for my hiking boots and my pajamas for layers that will keep me warm as the day transitions from cold moonlight to warm sunshine.

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Morning moon

The dogs pile into Super Burro and I toss an extra trash bag in my backpack as I top off my water bottle and grab a snack for the road. As I pull out onto the street, I sit at the corner, looking left and right- where shall we go? The thought of the glowing volcano is tempting, but I plan to squeeze in some snowboarding there tomorrow, so instead I decide to head to our favorite spot along the gorgeous Lago Caburgua.

As we cruise along the road the sky slowly transitions from night to day, and the stars begin to fade into the blue, one by one. We park along the quiet dirt road, walk a little ways down the steep, narrow trail leading to the beach and I take a deep breath as we arrive at the water’s edge.

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Misty reflections on the calm surface

It is such a lovely morning. The clear sky that greeted me earlier is now sitting behind a heavy morning mist, which is casting magical shadows across the still lake. The beach is silent except the sound of the calling birds. The shrill songs mix with the soft swooning sounds of the two birds that glide across the water. Everything is still and fresh. Slowly, with dramatic purpose and effect, the sunlight begins to spill onto the mountains surrounding the lake.

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An incredibly peaceful morning on the lake

I hike with the dogs across the sandy beach, hugging the shore until the edge of the water pushes us up into the forest briefly. The trail narrows between trees, then opens up again to another beach. We walk along the water’s edge, Curi and Check tackling one another in the sand and periodically racing into the water in rapid succession. We cross the river feeding into the lake basin and make our way further around the edge, enjoying the quiet of the morning and the beauty of this place.

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Check takes in the sky reflected on the water’s surface

Eventually we run out of trail and have to turn around. I sit for a while, drinking my yerba mate and writing. There is not even the hint of a breeze, it is so still. As I finish, I tuck my journal back into my backpack and pull out the trash bag and a pair of gloves for the hike out.

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Lago Caburgua is pristine, the water is incredible clear and the mountains that line its edges are simply breathtaking. It lies just east of the famous Parque Nacional Huerequehue, a huge draw for tourism, particularly in the summer months. It is surrounded on other sides by undeveloped native forests, a truly beautiful place. According to Wikipedia (this was news to me, so I can’t verify it), in 2007 the Fundación Lago Caburgua was founded to protect, rescue and preserve the heritage of the lake.

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Despite the fact that this lake borders national parks and is considered a protected area, the trash that litters its shores is overwhelming.

Despite it’s incredibly clear waters and obvious beauty, Lago Caburgua has a big pollution problem. Many blame this on the popularity of the lake during the summer months, and are quick to point the finger at the “lazy, dirty tourists”; but the fact of the matter remains that the garbage is here, long after the tourists have left. And it isn’t just a little bit here or there, it is everywhere; and it is heartbreaking.

Every since I discovered this place back in January, I have always brought with me on my hikes trash bags and gloves. With every visit I remove one bag of trash, which is all I can carry up the steep hill out to the road where my car awaits. I have never, once, felt as though I made a difference. There is just so much garbage needing to be hauled out, that it always seems to overwhelm my efforts as my bag fills up so quickly.

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I picked up six dirty diapers that had all be stashed in one corner of the trail. SIX

I know that this is a local issue in many ways- yes there are some easy changes we can make here that will make a difference- such as setting up easily accessible trash and recycling facilities, organizing community beach cleanups to really tackle it, designate people who will be accountable for keeping the area clean and educating folks.

But there is also a much larger conversation that we should be having as well- one that goes way beyond this local issue and delves into the responsibility of our global community. A conversation about why we are consuming this stuff in the first place, and why on earth, in this day and age, are we manufacturing (on a rapid, massive scale) anything that cannot be recycled or upcycled and therefore ends up in a landfill, or worse, once we are done using it.

Why are we paying for water that comes in a plastic bottle when we can save ourselves money using a refillable bottle and also save the incredible volume of energy, water, and oil that goes into making that plastic bottle in the first place?

Why are we manufacturing trillions of plastic bags to shuttle around the things we buy when there are probably enough reusable bags already existing on this planet for each person to own at least one?

Why isn’t all of the packaging that is wrapped around our food made from compostable or biodegradable materials?

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Fundamentally, I believe that in order for us to even begin to imagine a sustainable economy, whereby we have access to products and services that have either zero or positive impact on the planet, we have to begin by seriously examining our consumer practices- which in turn also means looking at our production practices. And, just as we locals can’t point and say “it’s just the lazy, dirty tourists”, we global citizens can’t point and say “it’s just the lazy, dirty companies”. It is up to every single one of us to speak up and be the change.

When I think about changing this broken system on a global scale, it is overwhelming- just like when I look at the shores of Lago Caburgua and I cannot imagine even one of my bags full of trash having an actual impact. But the reality is that I am having an impact. And although my efforts feel small, they are mighty. And even though I can only carry one bag at a time, I can use my voice and I can share my story, and I can share the stories of these things that I carry out and the places they are damaging.

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Have you ever seen a ripple in a lake get smaller? I never have, I have only seem them grow. I can start a ripple, I can throw this pebble and see how the ripple grows. Because you never know who your ripple might touch, who might embrace your small effort and join you, adding energy and force, and eventually creating the power of a wave.

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So this is my small ripple. I have committed to get outside every single day in October. No matter the weather, the agenda and to-do-list, no matter the deadlines; I am carving time outdoors in the wild places that surround my home here in Southern Chile. As usual, I will continue to carry out any garbage that I find during my hiking, surfing or snowboarding adventures. But this time I’m going to show you what’s in my bag. I am going to expose the stuff that has been discarded, and I’m going to do so against the backdrop of the incredibly beautiful places where I find it.

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This is my attempt to start the conversation. To peak your curiosity, and mine as well, and to raise our collective consciousness of the stuff that we consume and discard every single day that we live and breathe. Let’s talk about it- the what, the why, the how. Let’s consider what it is made of, where it has come from and where it will go when we are finished with it. Because everything goes somewhere. There is no “away” to throw it to.

If you would like to follow me on this adventure, and see some of the incredible places that I am lucky to have so close to home, please check in with this visual journal which I will be updating daily:

http://wanderwithgreta.vsco.co/journal/whats-in-the-bag

You can also find my daily hauls featured on Instagram:

https://instagram.com/wanderwithgreta/

While I would love to have you follow along with me, I would love even more for you to join me. This is a personal project, but it is a small simple thing that anyone can do anywhere in the world, every time you step outside. Some of you probably already do it. What I am asking is that you share your story, show us what’s in your bag, join the conversation! If you post via social media, tag it #litterati and/or #thereisnoawaytothrowto so we can all see the great work you are doing.

Remember, no one can do everything, but everyone can do something.