Midnight Mussel Hunting and Other Food Reflections


Kicking off our midnight mussel hunt with incredible Alaskan views

The sunlight reflected on the glassy surface of the water as our skiff motored its way out of the harbor. I was still awestruck by the fact that it was nearly midnight and the daylight was still going strong. The air was crisp, but the “night” was young, or perhaps the “day” was old?  Either way, we had time to get in one more adventure for the day before the few hours of summer darkness settled over Homer, Alaska. I sat back in the skiff, laughing with the rest of the girls as we picked up speed, the water splashing up along the edges as we gobbled up the incredible view. Jagged snow capped mountains reached up from the horizon, incredibly dramatic and massive against the long flat surface of the bay.

We were on our way to China Poot Bay, taking advantage of the hour of low tide to harvest wild mussels for dinner the following day. The tides here move incredibly fast, faster than any I had ever witnessed, we had to be quick as the water began to recede. We cut the motor, jumped out of the boat, buckets in hand, and stomped through the ankle deep water to the countless mussel beds quickly revealing themselves as the water level dropped. The sheer volume of wild mussels resting at the bottom of the bay was simply incredible, and the experience of seeing all of them as they exist in this brief moment outside of the water was pretty wild.


This sure beats running to the grocery store for dinner!

The water lapped gently alongside the skiff, the air that was previously loud with the purr of the motor was briefly quiet. That quietness shifted as we jumped out and walked among the tidal pools. Everything was alive, there were gurgling bubbly sounds coming from the suddenly exposed mussels, crabs, shellfish and algae. The mud squished beneath our muck boots, the birds chirped loudly, swooping low and having their own midnight feast in the low tide. We hike about, squatting to pull out the large loose mussels, tapping them to be sure they were not filled with sand, wiping off the mud and then tossing them into the bucket.  Our buckets filled quickly, but it was impossible to see any dent we had made. We spent a good half hour or so picking mussels until we saw the water rising along the sides of the skiff and realized we didn’t have much time before the water swallowed up these mussel beds, us with it if we couldn’t get back to the boat in time. Not looking forward to a freezing cold midnight swim, we combined our buckets, hoisted them up and carried them back to the skiff quickly.


Hauling our bounty back to the skiff before the tide could catch us

The ride back to the harbor was pure magic as we raced toward what felt like an endless sunset. It was nearly 1:30 in the morning by now yet the sky was still light.  The sun appeared to be setting on the horizon but it just refused to take its light with it. The water was quiet, but the birds called to one another loudly, disregarding the late hour and instead conversing as though it were midday rather than midnight. We tide a rope to the buckets of mussels and once we had picked up speed we dropped them into the water to be drug along behind the boat, one of the quickest and easiest ways to clean the rest of the mud out of them. Back in the harbor, we hauled the buckets full of mussels and fresh bay water up to the house where we would all get some rest during the few hours of darkness.

The following day was filled with beach hiking and adventure prepping as we loaded the boat with all the gear we would need to head up to the glacier the following day.  The mussels would be our dinner for the night, our harvest easily able to feed all six of us. Around 8pm we jumped in the skiff cruised out across the bay to the inlet where we would set camp that night, allowing us an early start the following day. We pulled all of our gear out of the boat, set up camp and got to cooking. We sauteed some fresh garlic in olive oil, added water, white wine, lemon juice and dumped in our bounty of mussels gathered the night before. The mussels cooked in a massive pot over an open fire as we passed around beers and shared stories and exclamations of the beauty of this place we were so lucky to be enjoying. Once the mussels were cooked, we sliced up the freshly baked bread, doled out hefty spoonfuls of broth and mussels and dug in. DSC_5336 DSC_5331

Bliss. Divinity. Rich delicious tasty sensations filling our mouths and kissing our taste buds with every single bite. Words cannot do this meal justice. The memory will forever be etched in my mind and my heart- that moment sitting by the fire, shoveling in spoonfuls of broth with freshly baked bread and meaty mussel goodness, a rushing creek bed to our right, a quiet bay to our left, the sun quietly resting on the horizon, cold beer, sounds of laughter and joy and oh so much goodness packed into one single moment. We feasted until our bellies were too full to fit one more, hauled the leftovers down to the cold creek to sit for the night, and cooked up incredible mussel scrambled eggs for breakfast the following morning. It was a simple meal, harvested by our own hands from the land surrounding, and it was incredible.

Growing up on a farm allowed me to establish a connection with the food I ate from a very young age. We raised cattle, pigs, chickens and turkeys for meat. We cared for the animals, loved them, and were taught to thank them for sacrificing their lives so that we could have food. We delighted in the taste of the first fresh tomato of the season, of the crisp burst of sweetness from a freshly peeled ear of sweet corn, we laughed at the purple color our milk turned when freshly picked blackberries were sprinkled atop our cereal. It made me deeply aware of our interconnections with nature, and all of the other living creatures on Earth. It established a practice of appreciation for the life of what I ate- be it a vegetable, fruit or an animal- as well as the life I had as a result of this food.

When I left the farm at the age of 18, I had a different relationship with food than most people I knew. My life has taken me all around the world, and I have lived in many different places that impacted the food I ate and the food I had access to. I witnessed the lack of connection many people had to food, to the source of food, the lack of understanding where it came from and how it was processed, a lack of understanding of how food affected their bodies, how pesticides and chemicals and additives impacted our cells. In some places, I personally experienced a lack of access to fresh and healthy food, and a lack of access to information about where the food came from and what was in it. With a food system focused on mass production, we have become more and more disconnected from the sources of the food we eat. With that lack of exposure, many of us have lost our curiosity and gratitude for that food as well.

I have a lot of stories about my experience from food all around the world- from harvesting food in our organic gardens to witnessing the working conditions of workers in fields in countries such as Morocco and Mexico. My hope is that my stories might inspire others to think back on beautiful moments they have experienced with their food- that first fish you ever caught and cooked over an open fire, the taste of your grandmother’s homemade raspberry preserves, the fun you had with your siblings picking apples in the fall as a kid. If we all think about it, there is a good chance we all have a wonderful story connected with the food we eat- and if you don’t, that doesn’t mean you can’t make one. There has been massive growth over the years of local and slow food movements, and there is nothing stopping you from getting out and meeting your neighborhood farmers. Get to know the source of your food, not only will it change the way you experience your meals, it will bring a deeper level of appreciation for this incredible Earth that makes our life possible. At least it did, and does for me.

I recently made a pledge to know the source of my food, because I do believe we have to power to influence positive change- and that power begins with access to information. I grew up on a certified organic farm, having a rare (these days) understanding of where my food came from. We planted, we weeded, we harvested. We loved, appreciated and respected our land for our food. Now my career focuses on building transparency in supply chains- and this doesn’t just mean at the factory level, but also food production in fields around the world. It is incredibly shocking how far removed people have become from their food sources. I cannot begin to say how important it is that we have access to information about what is in our food, where it came from and how it was produced. It matters. Supporting local food options has incredibly powerful potential for positive change in our very broken food system.

We literally are what we eat, shouldn’t we know what that is? If you want to lend your voice, to stand up for your right to know, I encourage you to check out this fantastic campaign that 1% For The Planet is empowering through Takepart– simply click here to learn more.

In the meantime, go have an adventure involving food, I’ll bet you come back with a really great story!


Leigh and I making a memory cleaning mussels and checking for duds

A Nearly Full Moon, A Sky Full of Stars, And an Erupting Volcano


The trail winding through the lava tunnel


I paused, leaned down and placed my hand softly atop the dry magma covered trail. I could feel the heat of the earth beneath my hand, a stark contrast to the cold wind that blew my hair back and motivated me to zip up my vest. I scooped up Cabu, our newest adventure partner, inspecting his paws before placing him on my shoulder. He wrapped himself around my neck, leaning slightly into the top of my backpack. I turned into the wind and continued up the trail.

As I reached the closing of the lava tunnel we had been hiking along, I followed the dusty path up to the top of the ridge, heading straight into the strong wind waiting at the top. Cabu meowed in my ear, his kitten cries making me smile as he ducked back down into the backpack to escape the wind. He was already proving to be a great adventure companion. We hiked along for another mile or so, drinking deeply the incredibly vast views of the mountain valleys filled with forests, lakes and volcanoes of southern Chile. I noticed that some of the leaves on certain trees were beginning to change color already, and although the heat of the previous day felt as though we were still in the full embrace of summer, today had many hues of fall.

We continued along the trail, wrapping around the mountainside until Volcan Villarica sat directly in front of us, its top hidden beneath the thick cloud cover above. The volcano had recently increased in activity, a bubbling lava pool forming at the top of the crater only a week or so before. Being so close to it now I could feel a different kind of energy. Every few minutes a distinct booming sound came from the direction of the volcano. It was exciting, but also a bit unsettling; like hearing an avalanche canon and knowing you are in a place wild enough to warrant the use of that canon, but also the reality of how dangerous an avalanche could be. This piece of earth was alive. It was breathing, hiccuping, gurgling…and all we could do was guess what it was really up to.

I put Cabu on the ground and he trotted along beside me, happy to be able to inspect the ants and wild blueberry bushes lining the otherwise dry, bare trail. Suddenly the wind shifted and a dark set of clouds began to blow toward us. It seemed like a good time as any to turn back, so we looped around and picked up the pace a bit, the wind now at our backs, pushing us forward, away from the dark clouds above, away from the grumbling volcano behind.

The following day we hear stories from those in town who saw lava spurting from the top of the volcano the evening before. Neighbors enjoying the light show from afar, friends of friends planning to hike into El Cerduo that night and climb to get the perfect photograph. The activity was increasing each day, and the alert had been raised from yellow to orange. That booming I had heard up in the mountains, that was the volcano after all. It all seemed a bit surreal, this little town at the base of a volcano, people going about their normal daily activities, meanwhile the massive 9000 Ft. volcano towering above us is speaking up. It’s Monday, and we’re all just going about our lives as usual. But this was not just another usual Monday for our volcano.

We decide that tonight we will see the lava bubbling and jumping from the top of the volcano. Once it’s dark, we’ll drive up the back road behind the house that wraps around the mountain ridge just on the flanks of the volcano. We’ll be far enough away to watch from a safe distance, but close enough to get a killer show. The clouds are heavy as we drive home from work, our chances of seeing anything seem slim to none; but still, we hope.

Darkness settles in and we pile into the car, bundled up against the cool air, a bottle of wine thrown in to keep us warm up top. Cabu meows at first but quickly settles in as the bumpy ride ensues. The drive up is rough and we carefully navigate the deep ditches and drop offs where the road has washed away. The wind has blown most of the clouds away and the nearly full moon shines brightly above us. Stars begin to light every corner of the space above, like fireflies waking up on an early July evening. We park our trusty Super Burro when the road begins looking more like a drainage ditch than a manageable path. It’s time to hike. The night is quiet, we marvel at the stars, the brightness of the moon, and the distinct booming we again hear in the distance.

Up we go, finally arriving at a clearing where we sit down on massive fallen Coihue tree trunks, pass the bottle of wine and watch the clouds atop the volcano glow various hues of red. The sight is wild, unlike anything I have ever witnessed. We let out small cheers when we see bits of lava spurt up above the clouds, burning a bright red orange.

The volcano has a pulse. The red glow disappears, fades fully into the clouds as though it was never there, and then suddenly returns with a crescendo of lava bursting out. It is all quite calm though, the soft moon watching over us, the warm light of the lava filling in the color of the clouds. We laugh and tell stories, marvel at the fact that none of us ever expected to experience something like this in our lives. And yet here we all were, seeing this incredible, rare sight. We finish our wine and turn as the volcano seems to go quiet. It was a lovely show and we were pleased with our little front row seats.

As we walk down to Super Burro we meet Don Jose, one of our neighbors whose house overlooks the volcano. He greets us warmly and tells us how the volcano has been acting up even more around 1am or so. Ale asks if he has a car to escape if he needs to, he says no. He stands tall, wearing a hardhat. They exchange phone numbers, in case anything happens on this mountain we share. We say goodnight and wave goodbye. He stands by his gate, the outline of his hardhat is black against the bright moonlight backdrop.

A roaring noise outside wakes me abruptly from my dream. Ale’s phone begins to ring and he doesn’t even have to answer it, we just know the volcano is erupting. Don Jose is calling, I can hear his voice through the line- it is happening, it is really going now! It is dangerous up where he is now. As Ale asks if he is okay and if he needs anything, I make my way out to the deck to listen closer to the roaring noise in the sky.

The sound is overwhelming; it is as though we are standing beside a waterfall, yet the tone is somehow more hollow than falling water, like a blowtorch and a fire hose firing together. I struggle to describe it, but it vibrates with energy, with mass, with vastness beyond anything a human has the ability to grasp. As I look around the side of the house I see a huge tower of red glowing behind the trees, reaching far up into the sky and exploding into a massive plume of dark black smoke and ash that seems to have a life of its own.

It’s 3am. I run outside and wake up Christina and Pete in the cabin. From the tent cabin in the woods Ellie calls out “what’s happening Greta”? “The volcano is erupting!” We all hike up the driveway together and just a few feet from the house we can see the lava shooting high into the sky, a powerful column of red reaching more than 3000 feet above the top of the volcano. We all gasp. The plume of smoke above it is absolutely massive, swirling like the genie in Aladin, dark black against the now clear, deep blue night sky. It looks ominous. The calmness of our earlier viewing is gone, the energy is entirely different, the power is beyond measure. As we walk up the road a little further, we are startled to see the black cloud light up with lightening. It is incredible. I am absolutely awestruck by the hugeness of it all, by the colors the sounds, the feeling of the energy in the air and the shapes of the natural wonder happening before us.

We watch as the tower of lava drops back into the volcano, spilling over the sides, oozing down the cone of the crater, creating long lines of red veins that grasp hold of the volcano’s surface, deforming its face, changing its character, molding its shape and reforming its skin. Eventually, the roaring noise softens slightly and the huge plume of smoke floats above, disconnected from the lava tower and slowly blends back into the sky, taking with it the lightening strikes and blackness that was darker than the night itself.

It is nearly 5am when my head falls back onto the pillow. Around 5:30am I am awoken again by the roaring sound in the sky. As I open my eyes I realize I was dreaming of a huge wave of black flowing lava was coming straight at us, just short of reaching the house before I grasped reality again. We were on a mountain that sat across a deep valley, and although perhaps 8 KM from the volcano, the possibility of lava coming anywhere near us was pretty slim. Yet the mind will do what it wants with what we are exposed to. Mine chose to toy with the scenario of a black magma escape.

As sunlight poured into the bedroom, Tuesday morning arrived seeming like any old Tuesday. It of course wasn’t any old Tuesday, the volcano had erupted only hours earlier. I brewed coffee and Ellie and I hiked up the road to see if Villarica was still acting up. As we rounded the curve of the driveway and the view opened up the volcano sat quietly in front of us, silent and stark, not even a whisper of smoke coming from its center. The sky was a clear bright blue. The sun shone warmly. Birds flittered about among the trees, chirping happily. The roaring sky, the ominous black cloud, the towering column of flying lava, the chaotic energy of the air, it was all gone; it could have all been a dream. The only clue that anything had occurred under the cover of darkness was the marked difference in the shape and look of the volcano. Somehow the top looked different, and where once was snow was now blackened with soot and long lines of hardened charred lava. We drank our coffee. We marveled at the experience, at the sheer wildness of the eruption, and the stark normalcy of life that ensued after it. Nature had taken its course, and moved on. Life goes on. It seemed to be just another Tuesday for our volcano.

It wasn’t just another Tuesday for the rest of us here in Pucon. Thousands of people were evacuated last night as a precaution, roads were closed, military was brought in. The president of Chile walked our streets and shook our hands. Businesses remained closed and although some people returned home, others have taken the time only to gather what they need and get out. In the daylight the volcano sits quietly. But we are told that its not finished yet. When the lava tower collapsed last night it apparently dropped back into the crater, forming a clot of sorts. A temporary clot. The pressure is building, so precautions must continue.

As the sun sinks lower, as the afternoon melts into evening, we now wait to see if Villarica has more to say. If we have yet to see all its might, if we will again bear witness to the remarkable eruption of the inside of our earth spewing out onto its surface. We have gallons of water we’ve bottled and set aside, we have batteries, we have food, we have masks. Electronics are charged and animals are fed. We have the company of one another, stories to be told and laughter to let loose. So here we are in southern Chile, having one of those remarkable experiences in life that cannot be planned, that cannot be orchestrated, that unfolds exactly as nature intends, regardless of what we think we can control. With all that said, with all these words, we’ll see you on the other side of another night with a nearly full moon, a sky full of stars, and an erupting volcano.


Villarica sits quietly behind the property where we live, resting in the evening light.


The More You Know, The Less You Need


Stuff…so much stuff

“The more you know, the less you need.” These eight words stared back at me as I chewed tirelessly on them, sitting on my couch in my 400 square foot apartment in Hong Kong after a long day visiting factories in China. In my lap sat Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s “Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant BusinessmanI leaned back in the uncomfortable couch, taking my eyes from the page to stare out the window, almost in a daze.

The more you know, the less you need. Oh how true those words suddenly rang in my ears, how heavily the tugged at my heart. The more you know. Let’s start there. The experiences of the past year had been beyond any limits my mind may have constructed in terms of what I thought I would know by now; as well as all I thought I knew. The “education” I received that first year out of college working in Asia had challenged every ounce of my fortitude, my agility, my comforts. It had rocked my pre-conceived perceptions of how the world worked that had been constructed mostly by society and the consumer-driven mentality of my country. It exposed me to the way things were, rather than the way marketing agencies and departments had portrayed them.

Stuff. It is actually a heavy word, “stuff”, taking on the feeling of something unloved, not wanted enough to be cared for or properly named. Images of little things tossed in drawers and junk closets, ending up in the garbage or boxes at the thrift store. I intimately became aware of the weight of “stuff” at this time, spending countless hours in factories churning out millions of components and products that would eventually end up in the grouping of “stuff” when referred to by their owners. Promotional products, toys, mugs, pens, too many items to list, but items all the same that were made with no real purpose.

The point was, the more I knew, the more I realized no one really needed this shit. We were here, negotiating to the half a penny, pushing suppliers for unrealistic timelines and cost points that would encourage outsourcing, overtime, poor wages and bribery, in order to make more “stuff”. And we were just “doing business as usual” in comparison to the many other random companies purchasing products from China.

At the end of the day, the products coming off those production lines would be wrapped in plastic, shipped thousands of miles and eventually find their way onto a store shelf or product promotion bag. Once purchased, the owner might find delight for a brief moment, or perhaps the item would just be something given along with some marketing brochure in a product promotion; either way, the life of this thing would be fairly short without much love. The toxic chemicals used in the manufacturing process, breathed by the workers and dumped in the nearby river…those chemicals would actually sustain a much longer life.

The more I knew. I continued with this work for another year, justifying that the work experience was too unique, too priceless to let go of. What other 22 year old did I know who was based out of Hong Kong working by herself to establish a sourcing devision for a US based company?  What other 22 year old did I know who had access to realities only otherwise hidden behind closed doors, who could learn first hand the ropes of doing business in China?

None. I knew that I had a team in the USA that was trying to sell products to our clients and needed factories to do so. I knew I had a team in China who was trying to place production in factories so that we had product available to sell. But I also knew the beginning of the life of these products, I knew the challenges of tracing where the raw materials had come from, I knew the working conditions in which they were made, I knew the lax enforcement by the local government of environmental and labor laws. I knew we could do better. But I also knew that we were making things that I didn’t want or need. The more you know, the less you need.

The less I need. Aside from the full-speed-ahead consumerism that threatened to suffocate me, I also began to know more about the simple lives that those around me were living. The tiny living quarters of the workers, cramped dorm rooms where several workers lived, their small pile of belongings neatly stacked in the corners of each bed. One bathroom with two sinks available for the 100+ workers living in the dormitory, all of whom were expected to arrive to work on the production floor at precisely 8am- and would wait over an hour each morning to reach that bathroom. Simple meals consisting primarily of rice with the occasional vegetable, prepared on the floor of the bedroom or around a small fire on the street.

I began buying less things. As I would stroll through the countless markets in Chinese cities, I would find myself retracting inward, find myself pulling back, leaving empty handed. There were many moments when the volume of stuff that surrounded me would be absolutely overwhelming. The neat, far-extending production lines filled with countless workers, heads down, hands quickly and precisely moving were one thing. But the markets, the malls, the shops and stores, the trade shows, all simply overflowing with stuff. The result of our collective efforts. Meanwhile I strolled down streets choked with pollution, crossing bridges over rivers that smelled so putrid I held my breath as I passed.

I began to look more closely at my own belongings, the items I had collected over the years, some gifted, many bought. At the time I was living quite light as I traveled all the time and only had my small apartment in Hong Kong; but I still considered how much “stuff” I had acquired over the years. I thought about my car, sitting in the USA, awaiting my eventual return. I thought about the boxes of items I had moved back to Pennsylvania after I graduated college and put almost immediately into storage. I went through my wardrobe and my books, through my household items and my memory boxes. I looked at my bank account, at my credit card debt, at my loans and my income. I evaluated what I needed, why I needed it and what purpose every single thing was serving. It wasn’t an easy task, it wasn’t a comfortable process, confronting all of my stuff, confronting my motivations in acquiring that stuff, my methods of acquiring it. Yet I had to acknowledge it, I had to confront it, in order to truly understand what it was that I needed, now that I knew what I knew.

A year and a half after I read Yvonne’s words, I found myself in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, traversing the Presidential range around the fourth of July, a little over a month into our five month long Thru-Hike. On my back I carried my little bear, as I referred to my Gregory backpack, containing literally everything that I needed.

I wore boots that protected my feet from the rocky trail, and dry during the rainy days. I had gators to keep the sticker bushes from scraping my bare ankles and to keep the dirt from tumbling into my socks. I had shorts that were made from quick drying material and could be converted into pants. I had a t-shirt and long sleeved shirt that offered UV protection and a hat to shield my face from the strong sun. In my pack I carried my rain jacket, a fleece, a shirt and pants to sleep in, 3 pairs of socks and 3 pairs of underwear, a warm hat and gloves, a water pump, my camelback bladder filled with water I had taken from the stream, 6 days of food,  sunscreen, toilet paper, biodegradable soap, a spork, a rain cover for my pack, a pocket knife, headlamp and a plastic baggie I used as my “wallet” containing my license, cash, and debit card. A pair of crocs hung outside my pack by a single carabiner. Oh, and of course my journal and a pen. Ale’s pack had similar contents but also held our hammock that we slept in and a lightweight tarp for the rainy nights. That was it. Well, that and countless moments of laughter shared with people I loved, surrounded by the incredible beauty and magic of the wilderness. I knew that I had exactly what I needed, and it was way less than anything I could have ever imagined.

As the years have passed, the simple act of knowing how little I actually need has made it so much easier to pursue opportunities to make memories rather than acquire things. It has motivated me to invest in myself and my life experience rather than investing in stuff. It has inspired me to take big risks and let go of things that I might have loved once, but have moved on from. I may not know entirely what inspired Mr. Chouinard to write those words, but I sure as hell know that I can relate, that they ring true to me and the way I choose to live my life, and that I continue to hold them close as I consider what I really need these days. As my work in the industry continues, and I have gained more knowledge about issues in countries far beyond China, and about the impact of products across many industries, I continue to take comfort in my steadfast understanding of how little I actually need, and how liberating it can be to be free of too much stuff.

It’s easy to be saddled with stuff, even if you are trying to be conscious of your consumption- and especially around the holidays! If you do want to confront those drawers, those closets, those accounts and the motivations behind all that has gathered there, I encourage you to do so. It isn’t always fun, or comfortable, and it takes consistent effort, but it can be incredibly liberating and enlightening.  You might actually feel lighter once you begin letting go.

If each of us starts here, if we each begin to examine what we have, why we have it and take a stance to limit the consumption of stuff we don’t need (or really even want), then maybe, just maybe, we can begin to influence these companies placing production orders to start making things that matter. It takes more than not buying things, it takes action, it takes communication, raising your voice, telling your friends and family what you believe and telling the companies you buy from the same. You might feel insignificant in this effort, but you are not. You are essential. And now you know. So, what do you think, when you look at your life that you’ve lived, and you look at the future you hope to live, what do you really need? Do you see a lot of stuff in that picture?


Living light in the White Mountains along the Appalachian Trail, wearing or carrying every single thing that I needed 🙂


Seek Those Awe-Inspiring Places


Standing in the midst of giants- Humboldt County, California

I am awake, uncertain of what provoked it but my eyes are open and I look up at our orange tarp shielding our hammock from the morning dew.  The light of day is still just creeping in, softly waking up the world around me.  I peer over the edge of the hammock, gasping slightly as my eyes catch the glowing mountain ridges in the distance, the vibrant pinks and oranges lining the crest, like icing atop cupcakes, all various shapes and sizes.  I smile to myself.  It is a lovely morning, and I am in a wild place. I slowly unzip my side of the sleeping bag, pulling my legs out and over the edge of the hammock, rocking it softly but not enough to wake up Ale.  I tuck the sleeping bag around him, he rolls over in his sleep paying little attention to my dawn exit.

I slip on my boots, grab my yoga mat and run up to the mountain ridge just above the quiet hidden grove where we’ve strung our hammock for the night.  The sun has still not risen above the ridges to my left, and as I trot along I steal glances at the vibrant hues painting the horizon as the day unfolds. I reach a small flat ledge overlooking the deep river gorge where we had set top ropes to climb the day before.  The flat ledge is nearly level, wide enough to stretch out easily, just long enough for my mat to lie flat without taking me too close to the edge.  Oh what a lovely little spot! I had spotted it yesterday as we wrapped up our climbing session and were hiking out along the ridge.  I remember thinking, ah, the perfect spot for a sunrise yoga session!  I drop down on my mat, my legs folded, hands rested atop my knees.  I breathe deeply, eyes closed, then opened, and I smile, drinking in the expansive views of far reaching green valleys and wild places as far as my eye can see.  In the midst of this vast place, I feel small, but far from insignificant, I actually feel quite significant, filled with gratitude for this moment, this place, this morning and this life.

There is something pretty magic about being in a place that has the power to make you feel small. Perhaps this is what pulls me to wild places, but it is almost indescribable how precious these places feel when you are in their midst.  Whether it is amongst the enchanting giants in the Redwood National Parks, the incredible granite towers and massive waterfalls of the Yosemite Valley, the breathtaking scale of the glaciers of Alaska or the vast wilderness dotted with volcanos and waterfalls I’ve been most recently exploring here in Chile, these places all take hold of your senses, captivating your mind and heart in the rawness of their sheer existence. The vastness of these places make you feel utterly present. In the daylight, you enter the groves, dance beneath the waterfalls, climb the granite slaps, paddle out to the vast walls of ice and often catch yourself simply staring with wonder at the greatness of these places.  In the darkness of night, your breath is again stolen as you look up to a sky like none possibly witnessed amidst the neighborhoods and cities most of us call home.

When we lived in California, we had some pretty incredibly awe-inspiring places right at our fingertips, and we made it a point to play in them.  I would return from a weekend spent amidst the redwoods feeling as though I had taken a two week meditation retreat.  Three days in Yosemite would have me buzzing for at least a week and those massive glaciers in Alaska had my head in the clouds for a good month or so.  As we currently wander across Chile, through the countless deep river valleys and winding dirt roads with massive volcanos on our horizon, I find myself constantly in a state of gratitude to be lucky enough to explore this place.

Places like this ignite my soul.  They drive my creative process and inspire me with wonder, they bring peace and quiet to the noise of the ever-present distractions that taunt us constantly in this digital age.  When I choose to go back into the woods, to hike the steep path up to the ridge, to put my fingers and toes to the cold rock walls, to paddle down a river or into an ocean, to coast down a snowy powder bowl in the falling snow- each and every time I am reminded of the natural order of things, of the simplicity of the existence of life.

In this day and age, it is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of society’s priorities. We set incredibly unnatural expectations for one another- companies must show profitability every single quarter, professionals are expected to constantly climb corporate ladders with no moments of rest, with no opportunities to stop, to look around and perhaps walk another path for a while.  The expectation of constant growth and lack of opportunity to rest and reflect is overwhelming. Parents are expected to raise wholesome well-rounded children while they themselves are struggling to feel like half the person they were before taking on all this responsibility of life. Pressures of debt and rising prices, higher taxes and lower wages all weigh heavily on the need to constantly be earning more money rather than more experiences.

In nature, all of those pressures dissolve. The purpose of existence is simple, it just is. Everything experiences cycles of life, trees lose their leaves which fall to the ground and feed the soil and ecosystem below, they rest in the winter in order to be vibrant and productive in the spring and summer. The rivers swell with the rain and retreat with the draught. The snow falls softly, gathers, melts and feeds the soil, rivers and creeks surrounding. Everything is interconnected, and even though it is functioning independently it is all supporting the life surrounding it in some significant way. It is an incredibly complex system, and yet it functions so simply. It just is. Going into these places and witnessing this simplicity, it can be a powerful reminder for us to remember that we are also part of this ecosystem, that we are intimately connected with the natural order of things and with one another. We gain so much from this acknowledgement, and it can inspire personal fulfillment while challenging us to radically shift our societal priorities. Who knows what solutions to the massive challenges we face could be discovered if more of us, both leading and following, were filled with awe by nature a little more often. If more of us were willing to seek those awe-inspiring places, and to let ourselves feel small within their vastness, yet significant within their presence.

Today, we hit the road and head to Northern Patagonia and I am simply bubbling with anticipation.  There is a childlike glee that has taken hold of me as Patagonia has lived in my dreams almost as a mythical creature all these years; and while this is just a brief encounter I hope that it is the first of many adventures there. Either way, I know that inspiration awaits, to both motivate and to challenge- and I can’t wait to see what ideas are borne in the midst of this next wild place.


Feeling incredibly inspired in the midst of this wild place during my morning yoga. Gratitude simply becomes second nature in the midst of places like this.


The Choice That Changes Everything


A shot we captured westward bound on the open road.

I sat in the front seat of the U-Haul watching the sun set on the cold Kansas plains. I longed for the darkness to swallow up the road, as the desolate, flat landscape had been toying with our sanity for hours.  We were ready to get through this state, cross the border into Colorado where we would be greeted by friends, family and a nice cold beer.  Our dog Check sat beside me, looking back and forth between Ale and I, she was also ready to get out of the car and play.  We had been on the road for two days, just beginning our week long journey across these United States.  We carried with us all of our belongings as we left the east coast in our rearview mirror, ready for a new adventure beginning with a San Francisco address. Although, what address that would be was still completely unknown, as we were arriving with no jobs, no apartment and one friend who would be moving back to Venezuela at the end of the week.  But we had our U-Haul, for 13 days, so at the very least we could claim this as our home for the time being.

To say we were in transition seemed an understatement at this point. It had been a long, wild journey getting us to this place in time, and a year ago I could never have imagined I would find myself battling boredom across Kansas with all of my belongings in tow. Thirteen months earlier I was running between the China/Hong Kong border; nine months earlier we were stepping onto the Appalachian Trail with everything we needed strapped to our backs; four months earlier we were stepping off the trail, onto a plane and into the streets and mountains of Venezuela; one month earlier we couch crashed our way up and down the entire east coast collecting all belongings stored with loved ones. I was ready for a home.  I was ready to unpack my bags, to find my treasures that had been boxed up for safe keeping, to rest my head on a pillow in a room I could call my own.

Just before the darkness fell heavy we caught a glimpse of the “Welcome to Colorful Colorado” sign and let out a yelp of excitement and loud cheers.  Whew, we were finally out of Kansas and the horizon changed almost immediately with the promise of mountains. I felt a tickle in my heart, by the prospect of seeing my sister and friends from college who had transplanted themselves here in Colorado, but also by the realization that we were here, we were doing this. Once we had decided to move to California somehow, against all odds, everything had aligned to make this possible.

By nature, I am one of those people who is used making things happen.  When I was a little kid, I learned the value of hard work, and the reward as well.  I always believed I could accomplish anything if I was willing to work hard, not complain, stay focused and committed and get the job done.  I appreciated my own self-sufficiency, my ability to take care of myself no matter what happened.  I valued my own independence, and considered it to be one of my greatest assets.

However, these past nine months of constant travel and a good dose of vulnerability had opened my eyes to the power of letting things happen as well.  Sometimes when you are so heavily focused on making things happen, you close yourself off to the countless other twists and turns that are available for you, some of which may be the path of least resistance, or the path less traveled, or basically a hell of a good time. When making things happen, you have to rely on what you know already, what you have learned over time and what others around you have mapped out already.  But when you are letting things happen, literally anything is possible.  You are in uncharted territory, and essentially open to see every little angle that may present itself in unexpected ways. 

This realization was pretty massive to me, and it was essentially what made it possible for me to approach this move to San Francisco in such an easygoing, trusting way.  I avoided my knee-jerk reaction to first heavily research the neighborhoods of the new city and send off my resume to countless companies; to spend hours of my life stressing over an apartment and job search from 3,111 miles away. Instead I was embracing the present, ready to take on the tasks at hand as they came up, but ultimately knowing that all that we needed would be made available to us upon our arrival.  We had decided to go to California, and that was enough. For now, we should focus on the present and soak up all of the life immediately in front of us.  Tomorrow, we would be snowboarding in Colorado.  The following day, cruising to visit my sister and climbing up mountains for some backcountry powder. From there, we would continue west and embrace all that awaited in San Francisco, whatever that may be.

With our decision to move to Chile this year, a dear friend of mine recently shared a quote with me that I think truly encapsulates the essence of this balance between making things happen and letting them happen. The beauty and truth of these words resonates so deeply, as I have lived their truth each time I have stepped off that ledge, made the first big move and then sat back and watched as the unexpected supports were thrust forth, and I reached out to embrace them:

“Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”– William Hutchinson Murray

By no means did this shift in perspective mean that I was no longer ready to roll up my sleeves and put in the time and effort to make things happen.  Actually, quite the contrary.  It is much more of an acknowledgement of the need to balance these two- to be able to get clear on what you want, to understand your why, to commit to making it happen and be ready to show up when called to do so.  At the same time though one must be willing to be open, to accept that we don’t have all the answers and that is okay, and in fact that we don’t need to know how something will work out before we decide to do it.  There is huge power in jumping into something before you have figured it all out, that is where the magic happens, that is where the creativity ignites, and we see things through a different lens.

The point is, we need to show up, we need to make the choice that changes everything, but then we need to remain open to the flood of opportunities that will unravel as a result of this choice. Every single time I have taken a leap of faith with a bold move or a risky decision it has worked out in a way that I never could have expected.  That’s not to say it has always been easy, but looking back, incredible things happened as a result of those moves. 

When we arrived in San Francisco five days later, we spent the first day driving around the city looking at studio apartments found via Craigslist, which mostly consisted of converted dingy basements, just as we had expected. Our one friend in the city who I mentioned was moving back to Venezuela offered for us take over the last two weeks of his lease since he was moving mid-month, this bought us a little time.  Little did we know that we would become fast friends with his roommates, all decide to get a big house together, shortly thereafter find and move into a sweet three bedroom with views of the Golden Gate bridge in the lovely Inner Sunset and suddenly find ourselves in a place that felt like home, as though we were always meant to be there. 

Over the course of the next few months I would find my rhythm in the beats of the city.  I would wander the streets and the parks that surrounded. I would continue to balance the urge to settle for any job rather than wait for the right one, to feel as though I was putting in enough effort to “make things happen” while still remaining patient and open enough to “let things happen.”  And you know what? It was a struggle, that in between, being so ready to take action yet not entirely knowing the best course to do so.  And yet, it truly worked out exactly as it should.

It took some time, the work stuff, it didn’t happen overnight like our little home did. I had built up a very unique skill set while working as a manufacturing manager in China, but I had also come to realize that there were many aspects of that work that I couldn’t bring myself to do again.  I spent a lot of time understanding what my priorities were for my career, how I wanted to spend my time during work (the large bulk of my life) and imagined what the right company and career might look like.  It was an interesting moment because I knew very clearly what I didn’t want to do, but I couldn’t exactly see what the next “right” job looked like for me.  I knew I had a lot to bring to the table in terms of experience, but I didn’t exactly fit into the tidy job descriptions and titles posted on websites.

I had to get incredibly creative, which was actually quite fun. I began to reengineer my work experience through volunteer work and engaging with various industry groups and networks. I got out and I met people, never entirely sure how the connections would shape up, but talking about the work I wanted to do and seeing what could be borne of it. But I also did everything I thought I should do. I spent countless hours combing job websites and researching companies, I prepped cover letters and resumes, but didn’t send them off. There was just something inside telling me to wait.

When I look back now though I realize it was all a matter of timing. Right place right time. When I saw the job posting, something clicked. I researched the company and felt something else click. The job and company had not even been on my radar in my initial search, nor in my network of contacts I had been building, but it felt right. Within two days I had the job and I spent the next five years of my life pouring my heart into work that I absolutely loved growing a company that I deeply appreciated.  It had taken me four months of patience, four months of questioning my approach, of feeling a bit guilty when I was out exploring rather than on my computer searching for jobs. I realize now that I found this work regardless all of my “job hunt” efforts, instead I had found it by digging in and really understanding what it was I wanted to do.  So in the end, it was a matter of letting the right thing come to me, believing it would and remaining steadfast until it did. When it did come, I knew without a doubt this was what I had been waiting for. 

Sitting in that U-Haul driving into the setting sun with the mountains on the horizon and an open road before us…it was both exhilarating and frightening. I knew we would ultimately be okay, but didn’t exactly know how. I looked over at Ale and smiled, thankful to have him by my side, and gave Check a pat as she lay down in my lap.  Tonight we would celebrate with friends, we would catch up and tell stories, relishing in the brief moment we had to hug and enjoy one another’s company in person. Ultimately it all came back to that decision to move to San Francisco.  Many of the things that fell into place afterward were often beyond our control and for our benefit. We had made this happen though, we had set all of this in motion with that single decision to go for it, even when the “how” seemed so unclear; and for that I am forever grateful.

Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now. These words are incredibly powerful, and great ones to carry with you through every twist and turn of life.  What are you waiting to begin?  What have you always dreamed of doing but never tried simply because you didn’t know how it could possibly happen?  What is that one choice that could change everything?


Ale and I soaking in all the beauty that awaited us in San Francisco

A Little Lesson Learned While Falling Down Mountains

Tears welled up as I felt the hard, slippery root slam into my hip.  As I looked up at the cloudy sky, I decided to lie still for a moment, take a deep breath and just let the rain fall on my face.  I was soaking wet and exhausted. Ale and I had been making our way through the Hundred-Mile Wilderness in Maine, we were nine days into our Thru-Hike of the Appalachian Trail and to say the least, it was kicking my ass.  Literally.  After days of constant rain, it felt as though the trees surrounding us rapidly growing around us, and with their growth their roots seemed to rise from the Earth and trip me at every turn.  At the beginning of our hike, I was actually counting the number of times I fell down, although when I think back on it now I have no idea what motivated me to do so.  When the number began to climb to embarrassing heights, I decided it might be better to just focus on getting back up rather than keeping count.

Although every muscle in my body ached during the ascents, it was the descents that really took me out.  I think I fell down more mountains than I hiked down those first few weeks.  Dirt covered my rain gear, my pack pulled me down heavily into the muddy trail, anchoring me and forcing me to learn the art of the “turtle roll” in order to actually be able to stand again (until you’ve mastered this, lying on your back with a heavy pack feels something like this).  At this particular moment as I stared up at the clouds and rain, I was contemplating the best direction for me to angle my turtle roll so that my heavy pack would not tumble me further down the steep pitch.

“Are you okay?” Ale yells up to me.  “Yes,” I half-heartedly grumble as I roll onto my chest and manage a push up-warrior pose, grabbing the nearest wet tree trunk to brace myself and survey the trail ahead.  My boots squish, feet soaked after too many rainy days and flooded trails.  I’ve learned that Gortex can only withstand so many drownings.  Raindrops form on the front of my hat and splash on my face, blurring my vision momentarily.  I readjust my hat, wipe away the water, tears and dirt from my eyes and choose my next step carefully.  The trail holds and I gain confidence, stepping with slightly more momentum and reaching forward with my walking stick. I manage to get four more steps in before I am again crashing down the trail on my backside.  “It’s not how many times you fall Greta,” I think to myself as I grit my teeth and prepare to roll again, “It’s how many times you get back up.”

It feels a bit cliche but I literally had to embrace the essence of this saying while hiking those steep, wet, black fly and mosquito ridden, root-covered mountains of Maine.  There was plenty of opportunities to dwell on the misery, to think only of the awful black fly that bit you until you bled; the constant swarm of mosquitos that never left your side; the strong slippery roots that sent you careening down the mountainside; the fast flowing, freezing rivers that had to be crossed; the incredibly uncomfortable first moments of putting on your cold wet socks, pants and shirt from the day before that had not dried in the night; the tired, sore muscles and blister-covered collar bones.  But there was also the stunning embrace of being in wild places everyday.  The beauty of it was that I awoke each day, despite the hardships of the day before, filled with gratitude to be in such a magic place.  The pristine wilderness that I was living in took my breath away (when it wasn’t knocking the air out of me).  The early mornings I awoke just before the moon retired…before the rain clouds would unleash the torrents of the day, when I would crawl from the tent and hike out to the rock slabs, sit with my journal and the dew-soaked spider webs and the songs of the morning birds, the soft mist blanketing the forest around me.  Every one of those little moments felt like an incredibly precious gift, and the struggles of the day seemed a small payment to make in order to relish in the experience of living this way.

Those months spent hiking the AT broke down my complex perspective of the world.  At the age of 24, I had worn myself down into a perception of the world that was overwhelmed by our endless thirst for consumerism, an unexpected understanding of the “reality” in which most of the products we bought were made and the environmental and social impact of that reality.  My perspective of the world involved countless airplanes, hotels and city streets with no rest in between, daily border crossings, encounters with masses of humans that I had never imagined as a child growing up in the woods and fields. It involved bribes and pollution, it involved poverty and construction, it involved gender discrimination and culture shock, it involved growing cities and shrinking wild places. The world I was living in was shaping my priorities, and before I had known it I was so caught up in the grind that I had lost my purpose and the intention of the path I was blazing with this precious thing called life. I had lost that flame of inspiration that is necessary to overcome moments where hopelessness threatens to take hold. Without realizing it I had fallen, and I didn’t know how to get back up.

The wilderness whittled away the priorities of my former life so that the most bare of essentials were all that mattered.  To be warm, to be dry, to have food, to have water.  To retreat into the essence of the love that I had for my partner who had chosen to walk beside me as we were both finding our way into the next chapter of our lives.  To get up every time I fell down, no matter what, because that was literally all I needed to do that day, and everyday, for 2,180 miles. I was constantly confronted with the choice between misery or perseverance, the choice of dwelling on the difficulties or celebrating the accomplishments, no matter how small they might be.

The day before I began my Thru-Hike, I recall stressing out about how I, as a young woman just beginning her career, could have an immediate positive impact in the world of business, how I would ever find the “right job” where I, despite my youth and gender, could influence change among broken systems and how the gap in my resume would be perceived when I finished the trail.  In the wilderness, I had to instead draw my focus to the grand accomplishment of managing to stand my 108 pound frame up beneath the 45+pound backpack that I was carrying (don’t worry, I quickly learned to prioritize gear and by the time I finished my thru-hike my pack was a mere 28 pounds with 6 pounds of water and 6 days of food). At the end of the day, the answers to all those other fear-induced questions really didn’t matter.  I was forced to focus on my present state of being, to let go of the weight of the unsolvable (seemingly) problems beyond my reach and instead manage only the weight that I could carry on my back.

I had to dig deep, I had to confront the fact that I was too hard on myself, I was literally keeping track of the number of times I fell down for goodness sake, and I had to learn to let go.  I had to learn how to simply acknowledge what I had immediate control over and put my energy into that.  What I could not control, I must accept and move through, and turn my eye toward the positive hues of the environment around me.

While I was digging, I also found that my perspective of the “real” world had become so overwhelming for me because I was focusing only on the falls.  I was focusing on the problems and the challenges so intently that I could not possibly see any solutions, or have any room for creativity. The first few times I fell on the trail and was confronted by the weight of my pack and the difficulty in getting back up, it took me a little while to find the right twist, the right maneuver to put myself upright again.  Eventually, I figured it out, and I became pretty damn smooth with my turtle roll moves (well, as smooth as you can be when literally using the same technique as a turtle to get up).  I still fell, but I got better at getting up, and as I did the falls weren’t nearly as discouraging, they weren’t nearly as overwhelming and my recovery was faster every time.

When I stepped off the trail I was ready to “get back up” when it came to my work.  I was able to see beyond the overwhelming expanse of problems that lie within the arena I was going to enter again, and instead I could focus on my fundamental strengths and hone in on opportunities to contribute the way I wanted.  I had learned the importance of letting myself trip, of taking a tumble but not forgetting to look around in the midst of it and feel gratitude for the place that the path was leading me.

Although the early years in my career had taken me down a path I had never expected, it was exactly the path that I was meant to walk.  And even though I felt as though I had failed in my ability to influence change in those early days, and I saw myself contributing to more problems than solutions, I would learn later how this experience would become the fundamental driver of one of my greatest passions, and would lead me to do work that I loved with an incredible company for many years.  When the industry had pushed me down I managed to find a way to get back up that inspired, rather than discouraged, and as a result I continue to believe in the endless possibilities we have before us to come up with creative solutions to the vast and complex problems we face in this day and age.  Should we only choose to get up and persevere.

How have you confronted the challenges in your life that threatened to discourage your perseverance?  What moments are you most proud of your recovery, of your ability to get back up even when you have fallen?  What drives and inspires you to continue on a path that might not be easy, but that you know with all your heart is right?


A moment of absolute gratitude as I came down off this summit along the Appalachian Trail, miles of untouched wilderness before me and a momentary clearing of rain clouds. By now I had lost count of the number of times I had fallen down mountains, but I was getting more inspired to get back up with every tumble.

A Tale of Two Oxen, The Kindness of Strangers and a Road Less Traveled


Sometimes the road less traveled leads you to sticky situations, but it is usually always a story worth telling

My heart is pounding rapidly and feels as though it has been pushed up into my throat.  I look down and realize I am gripping the sides of my seat, my entire body tense.  I look to my left and see a wide grin across Ale’s face.  Suddenly I acknowledge what I am doing, the fear and worry of the future having pulled me from this present moment and instead distracted me with awful “what-ifs”.  I decide to let go of those what-ifs and simply enjoy the ride, I let out a laugh with Ale and encouraged our trusty little Subaru we endearingly refer to as Super Burro forward through the thick mud and rocky uneven road.  What’s the worst that can happen?  Well I don’t want to spend to much more time imagining that, so instead I begin thinking, what’s the best that can happen, even if something bad happens?  “You can do this Super Burro!” I yell and laugh.  Just as suddenly as my attitude changes so does our progress- suddenly it becomes quiet as the car drops down and we are no longer powering forward and instead sit hopelessly stuck somewhere along the back roads of Chile.  Ale and I look at each other as he again presses on the gas and we only feel the wheels spin- “Oh no…” we both say with wide eyes.

This could be a moment to again entertain those “what’s the worst that can happen” scenarios, we are, after all, in a pretty dire situation.  We are miles from the nearest paved road and similarly miles from any other route that has anything remotely related to “traffic”.  I step out of the car and my foot sinks up to my ankle in mud.  Immediately I fear the entire car may be swallowed up within the hour.  We don’t have any cell phone service, but even if we did who would we call?  We are in the middle of nowhere surrounded by fields, mud and tropical sounding birds.  The road we are on, like many we have traversed since arriving in Chile, bears no name, and any description would not likely bring help.  What would we say, “Yes, so you turn left off the main road onto a dirt road, the dirt road takes you back through the fields and rapidly deteriorates, eventually bringing you down steep rocky hills and when the dirt turns quickly into mud before you even realize it, yes that is where you will find us.”? Not likely to garner a rescue.

Ale tries tirelessly to place boards beneath the tires and better position us so that we have some sort of traction.  After hours of effort and little progress, we decide it is best for him to go look for help.  Perhaps we’ll find a tractor in the field, or a friend along the road who can call another friend with a truck.  I stay with the car and smile, thinking well, we certainly will have a story coming from this one…hopefully it’s a good one.

Those “worst that can happen” scenarios fall quiet.  I sit, I write, I listen to the sounds of the forest surrounding me.  The sun is incredibly warm and I am so very thankful it is not pouring down rain on us.  I find a log that makes a great seat, away from the wet mud, and listen to the birds, their exotic calls taking me to tropical escapes.  I imagine the luck Ale will have in finding help, in somehow managing to get us out of this mess.  I wander further down the road a bit, trying to see if I can hear or see any sign of life without straying too far from our stranded steed. I try not to look at the road ahead, the deep pool of water and mud menacingly embracing the front end of our car.  Deep breath, we are going to get out of this, and it’s going to be a good story, not a bad one.

A few hours later I hear the sound of a harness and clinking of a chain.  I can hear Ale’s voice, and the constant prodding of heavy feet in the mud.  I run up to the edge of the hill to find three dogs, Ale, an old man who must be close to 90 years old and two oxen.  Oh boy I think….here comes that story I was hoping for. Don Fernando has arrived, a local farmer who lives far down the road we had traveled.  Ale had found him out with his oxen and asked if they might be able to pull us free from the mud.  I can’t imagine how this is actually going to work, and I notice the oxen are staring at Super Burro with wide eyes, it seems as though they are thinking the same thing.

We hitch the oxen to the back end of the car with the heavy chain attached to the yoke.  Ale gets in the car, turns it on and puts it in reverse, hoping to help these massive beasts as they pull.  I stand in awe and watch as the oxen pull, encouraged by Don Fernando’s feeble yelps and the barking of the dogs.  My heart is again in my throat as I watch the wheels spin hopelessly and the mud is churned deeper. We try again, and still the weight and strength of the oxen is simply not enough to release Super Burro from the muddy depths of the road.  Nervous butterflies tickle my stomach as I wonder again how we’re ever getting out of this.  Eventually Don Fernando takes his trusty oxen home, he is old and very tired and the car simply seems too stuck.  Perhaps a tractor will be better, he suggests, although he says that none of his neighbors have cars, so we must find a way to get to the nearest town.  With a kiss Ale is again off, taking on the miles needed to meet the paved road in the hopes that he can hitch a ride into town and convince someone to get back here with a tractor.  I am again alone in the woods with the sun and the birds.  Again alone with my thoughts and imagination.  The sun is dropping as the afternoon wears on.

Hours pass before I hear voices in the distance and the sound of a motor.  Gleefully I jump up and run to see who our rescuer is now.  Ale is coming down the mountain, his gators caked in mud. Behind him I see a large red 4×4 pickup truck parked at the top of the hill.  A man is standing on top of a rock peering down nervously.  He is wearing a large brimmed leather hat, a button down plaid shirt, a pair of khaki pants and white socks with leather sandals.  I can hear the uncertainty in his voice as he yells rapid fire Spanish to Ale.  This is Don Luis.

Eventually Don Luis decides it is in fact possible for him to bring his truck down into the gully where we had managed to get stuck, although by doing so he seems to create a zig zagging slip and slide of muddy ditches that I can hardly imagine our little Subaru being able to clear.  My heart is again in my throat…

As he hooks his truck up to the back end of our car, Don Luis alternates between an attitude of unwillingness to that of overzealous belief in his ability to get us out.  He yells loudly for Ale to step on the gas as he slams on his, the truck jerking forward before being jolted to the sides, sliding back and forth in the mud.  We try, try again, and for a moment we see the small light of progress as the front end slightly emerges from the deep mud.  Suddenly Don Luis and Ale are speaking fast in Spanish, the words jumble in my ears as I work strenuously to decipher what is happening.  He doesn’t pull forward any longer, instead he gets out of his truck and nervously looks at his phone, trying to find a signal.  He steps delicately around the blocks of mud, careful not to get his white socks browned, hiking up the hill and leaving us with both cars.  I look at Ale questioningly, “He’s stuck,” Ale informs me matter-of-factly.

At this point I can’t help but laugh.  Oh boy! What are we going to do!?  I seriously cannot imagine a possible solution, as I look up the road, back the way we came, where Don Luis has now churned the thick mud into deep, cavernous ruts. I look at the two cars, back to back, both stuck in the deep mud, well beyond our capacity to remove them in our current state.  The sun has dropped and I can feel the temperature cooling.  I grab a sweater from the car and realize it is 6:30.  An hour and a half of daylight left, it looks as though we might be sleeping here.

Eventually Don Luis returns.  He has called his friend who has a pair of oxen, they will come to pull us out.  I look doubtfully at Ale, remembering the lack of progress we had with Don Fernando’s team, wondering how they will actually be able to pull out this massive truck now as well.  But I am advised that this is a younger team and a younger farmer, so they will be stronger. This is how it works here, I am told, you need the oxen, a truck or tractor will never work.

We spend the next hour or so speaking with Don Luis, learning his story, hearing about his family, his farm, his parcels of land and simple little store where Ale had collected him.  He speaks no English, and gets a kick out of the fact that I am American, and that I have been here sitting with the car all day.  He asks if I was afraid to be out here alone, of strangers that could come around with ill intentions.  I make a joke which Ale translates, something to the extent of being more afraid of strangers in cities than those I encounter out in the woods.  He looks at the sky and says we should leave the woods though before it gets dark, since the pumas will arrive then.  He seems only half joking now.

Soon enough we again hear the clinking of chains hanging against the yoke of another pair of oxen.  I look up the path hopefully and see a younger looking farmer with work boots and thick clothes, carrying a long pole and clicking to his team of oxen.  This is Don Pepe.  I don’t want to believe it but the pair of oxen he has brought are significantly smaller than those of Don Fernando… oh how on earth are we going to get out of this!?

He first hooks the oxen up to the front end of the truck.  The oxen bow their heads, ready to pull, Don Pepe lets out a shrill “Owwyeeeee!” and the oxen power forward.  In the same moment Don Luis hits the gas and his truck miraculously lurches forward.  He is free!!! The oxen had done it! They continue to pull him further up the muddy hill, as he zig zags and weaves he again forms new ruts in the soft earth, but I don’t care now, I believe that this can be done, and these two oxen can do it!

Once Don Luis is back up the hill he parks the truck and runs down to us.  We have hooked up the oxen to our car and Ale sits ready on the gas.  With rapid clicking, numerous yelps of “Owwyeeeee!” the oxen pull, but again the wheels only spin, mud kicking up and splattering the edges but no lurches of freedom can be realized.  We all look at one another, the evening darkness rapidly approaching.  It is quickly decided we must leave the car for the night and come back in the morning with a winch that will make the power of the oxen stronger.  With that, Don Pepe believes we will be able to move the car.  Don Luis invites us to his home for the evening, also inviting Don Pepe to come by for a drink once he has returned his oxen to their field.  I smile as I quickly stuff overnight clothes in a backpack, wondering where this little twist of fate is taking us, and who these characters are whose lives have intertwined with ours.

We spend the night in the very simple and gracious home of Don Luis and his wife, telling stories and laughing well passed midnight.  A dinner of bread and cheese is presented, and Don Luis excitedly remarks to his wife to “mira la niña en la cocina” after I take up his offer to cook some eggs gathered from the chickens out back. We share rum and beer and my broken Spanish mixes with their low-toned Chilean Spanish, Ale often lending an ear to try to translate, although even for him there are words used in Chile that are foreign.  By the end of the night they are referring to me as “hija”, or daughter, and making us promise, with tears in their eyes, that every time we drive this way we stop by and stay, because we are family now.  Oh what a moment, oh what a time, and oh how significant it felt that our paths had crossed in the moment and manner in which they did.

The next morning Don Pepe arrives bright and early, as promised.  We rush through breakfast, grab our bag and run outside to jump in his truck, finding the truck bed full of men from the small village.  Don Pepe’s father sits in the front of the truck, his grey hair neatly tucked under a clean blond hat, his presence stately compared to the rag-tag team in the back.  We proceeded to drive down a few dirt side streets, collecting two more men along the way. It literally felt as though we were bringing half the village to get us out.

Driving through pastures, we eventually come to the field where the oxen sit grazing.  What peculiar site we must have been, walking down that dirt road, 7 men from the town, the old father of Don Pepe walking with his cane, Ale chatting with Don Pepe alongside the trusty oxen and me, the only woman among us.

As we arrive to the hill, we look down and see Super Burro still sitting where we left it the night before.  A little part of me seriously believed it would be swallowed up in the sinking mud, so I let out a quiet breath of relief.  We again connect the oxen to the back of the car with the same chain, but this time also connect it to a winch that the men tie to the tree. Ale revs the gas and the oxen begin to pull as Don Pepe lets out another shrill “Owwyeeeee”! My heart is racing now, the anticipation and hope that this works feels simply palpable.

Nothing.  The car does not budge.  My heart feels as though it drops down to my stomach…now what?

The men have gathered around the car, all of them bracing the front and the sides. They are all yelling to one another as Don Pepe readies the oxen once more.  Ale steps on the gas, a loud “Owwyeeeee!” mixes with the calls of the pushing men and with a sudden jolt Super Burro is free from the muddy pit and is being pulled backwards with great force.

Everyone stops and cheers.  The winch is removed and the oxen pull Super Burro up the hill, easily towing the car across the deep ruts made by Don Luis the day before.  It is truly an incredible site…the sheer strength of the animals is simply shocking and their power is obvious.  Finally our little steed is free.  At the top of the hill Ale is able to back up and turn the car around.  He slowly drives forward as the rest of us walk behind, ensuring there are no future problems with some of the ruts further on.  There is a relieved energy that resonates among all of us.

Once we are beyond the deep mud and back on solid stones, we say farewell to the men and the oxen.  There is no request for money, there is no demand of anything, only well wishes on our journey and some laughter with advice to stick to actual “roads” in the future. I give everyone a hug, my heart fit to burst with gratitude for their time and energy and selfless willingness to help us in our moment of need.  We stop by Don Fernando’s house on the way out to show him our liberated Super Burro, he smiles a wide toothless smile and nods and laughs, hugging me as we bid farewell.

What a funny way to embrace a disaster.  At the end of the day, it was a grand adventure. Although getting the car stuck was one of my original “worst that can happen” scenarios, the people, the stories, the heartfelt gratitude and laughter were all elements of my “best that can happen” scenarios.  And that acknowledgement made all the difference. Oh what fun these little twists of fate can be when we simply decide to smile and laugh no matter what!

Have you ever been on the brink of disaster and chosen instead to imagine the positive that could come from being in a bad spot?  I bet the chance will arise at any moment….so don’t forget, worrying about the negative possibilities only takes you away from experiencing the present moment, and if you lean into that moment, even when bad things happen there is always opportunity for beauty and laughter to grow out of it.  And maybe, if you’re lucky, you will find the kindness of strangers ready to embrace you, no matter how hopeless your state may seem.


Don Fernando and his oxen, our first attempt at getting Super Burro free was not so successful



Don Pepe’s oxen successfully pulling out the truck of Don Luis


Super Burro is finally free thanks to our new friends, a winch and some incredibly powerful oxen!



The Open Road, An Untouched Roadmap, And A Smile


Taking a moment to smile, appreciate and document some of our adventures in the backcountry of Chile.

What a day!!  After several days in County Cork bouncing between hotels, pubs and business meetings, I found myself in Ireland with one day entirely to myself before I would catch my next flight on to Hong Kong. I woke up early, grabbing my carry-on bag, the keys to my rental car and a road map of Ireland. Once checked out of my hotel, I sat at a crossroads and considered consulting my map; instead, I decided randomly to turn left.  What was left? I had no idea, but I knew I had one day and I wanted to spend it getting lost in one of my favorite places in the world.

I managed to meander my way to the coast simply by choosing random lefts and rights along the way, my roadmap sitting untouched on the floor of the passenger side of the car.  Oh the coast of Ireland, how this place makes my heart ache!  It had first stolen my heart two years prior when I had been studying abroad there.  Ireland was the first country I had ever visited outside of the USA, and my what a place to introduce me to the beauty that awaited on the other end of an overseas flight.  Now as I sat again on the cliff’s edge, breathing deeply the crisp sea air, I marveled that I had managed to get back to this place that I loved so dearly without even trying.  How funny that one of my biggest clients would be based in County Cork, and that it would be a business trip that would return me to this place I held so closely in my heart.  The thought of all the random twists and turns of the past two years that brought me back here, similar to those random twists and turns that brought me to the very place I sat that day, triggered an uncontrollable grin.

Eager to see what else could be discovered, I jumped back in my car, invigorated by the jewels I was finding simply by wandering aimlessly across the country. I completely disregarded my roadmap once again and instead drove north along the coast, now in search of some Irish fish and chips. I found my way back to the lovely Galway, one of my favorite cities in Ireland, and dug into by far the most delicious fish in chips I’d ever eaten as I sat at the edge of town beside the water’s edge. From Galway I hit the road again, heading a bit further north up the coast before deciding to wander inland a bit and cruise the country roads of middle Ireland, heading in the general southern direction so as to end up somewhere semi-close to Shannon airport from where my early morning flight would depart.

The smile on my face just could not be undone, as I passed countless stone farm homes, pastures of sheep and horses, the only traffic to bother were the occasional herds crossing the road.  As the sun began to set and evening descended, I decided it was time to finally consult that map and see where the nearest city or village was.  Luckily I wasn’t too far from Ennis so I decided that would be my final destination where I would find a room for the night at a local pub. Considering I hadn’t intended to arrive here, I was delighted to find such a lovely little town overflowing with charm and an age that took one back to medieval times.

As I sat at the bar in the pub enjoying a hot beef stew with mashed potatoes washed down with an incredibly delicious Guinness, I jotted down some favorite moments in my journal, smiling to myself with each little memory.  I was approached by three very jovial flight attendants- Sara, Chris and Tony, from the USA who happened to be staying in Ennis as well before flying back to their Detroit base in the morning.  We swapped stories of world travels, laughed a lot, and probably managed to sample all of the pubs in Ennis until the wee hours of the morning.  As we parted ways and I gave everyone farewell hugs, Tony looked me straight in the eye and said, “Never stop smiling, your smile brings more light to others than you could ever imagine.”  I smiled again, saying thanks and that I would always try to keep that in mind.

The next morning I awoke with a start, frantically grabbing for my phone to check the time.  Oh no!! It was 8:30!! My flight departed at 9:15…how on Earth was I going to make my flight?  I shook my head as I quickly pulled all of my clothes into my bag and dashed down to reception to check out.  Into the little rental I raced, stepping on the gas and willing my trusty car to get me to the airport in a mere 20 minutes rather than the 35 the innkeeper had estimated.  Oh I couldn’t miss this flight!  I had meetings lined up already in China, and was on a three week travel stint and oh how irresponsible of me if I screwed this up!!

My heart was racing as I quickly tossed the keys of the rental car to the attendant and ran for security.  I smiled at the security personnel, looking wildly disheveled, explaining that my flight left in 10 minutes and I had to run.  The guard let me pass through the separate line for flight attendants- I smiled to myself remembering the fun I had with the crew last night and threw my bag on the conveyor. “Beep beep beep”…the security guard asked me to open my bag. Oh no I don’t have time! I thought nervously, quickly unzipping my carry on and finding that I had forgotten to separate my liquids and they were messily strewn about with my clothes.  I hear my name being called over the loud speaker as a final departure call for my flight. I looked desperately at the guard and smiled, she simply said in a thick Irish accent, “Don’t worry love, RUN!” and smiled broadly.  I grabbed my bag, zipping it as I ran, raced down the terminal to my gate where I found the door just being closed.  “WAIT!!!” I desperately called ahead.  The gate attendant looked at me, oh what a ridiculous sight I must have been, she smiled and picked up the phone, hanging up and opening the door to the jetway.  Oh my God I had made it.  I breathlessly thanked her a thousand times and ran onto the plane, apologizing for my lateness and quickly finding my seat.

I was sweaty, my hair was a mess, uncombed and flying every which way thanks to the lovely wet Ireland air.  My face had no makeup, and I think it’s very possible I was still wearing my pajamas.  But I had made it.  Oh wow had I made it.  I sat there wondering at the day I had just experienced, all those little moments that had drawn a smile to my face, and the lovely little reminder that a perfect stranger had given me about the power of that smile. I leaned back deep into my chair and once again was overcome with an uncontrollable grin.  The passenger beside me looked over and said, “Well it appears you’ve had quite an adventure, what have you been getting into over here in Ireland?”

In all my travels, my smile has been a constant companion.  And as I’ve gotten older, even more so.  Not only does it physically make you happier when you smile, it is actually contagious, and inspires those around you to smile as well.  My smile has brought some pretty wonderful people into my life, people who may not have approached me had I not been wearing it.  It has also been a wonderful way for me to become more present and conscious of the experiences I am having.

The past few weeks I have been exploring Chile with my husband.  We began our travels heading to the coast, in a similar manner to the way in which I chose to meander through Ireland so many years ago.  We have our wetsuits, surfboards, yoga mat, rock climbing gear and backpacking gear ready for whatever Chile had in store. As we arrived in Matanzas, a tiny little town along the coast that reminded me warmly of the California Coast and had been recommended by a local for the surf, I ask “How long will we stay?”, to which Ale responded, “what do you think, as long as we want?”

“Sounds good to me. And then where to?”

He smiled and said, “Further South I suppose, and when our arms need a rest from all this paddling, let’s begin driving East to the Andes for some trekking and climbing, give the legs a workout.”

I smiled and nodded, “sounds good to me.”

I think over the course of these past few weeks I have probably smiled hundreds of thousands of times….hopefully I’m getting closer to millions.  I am constantly in awe by the beauty we discover at every turn, constantly in a state of gratitude for this journey I am blessed to be traveling, for all of the twists and turns in my life that have brought me to the very place I sit, and for the prospect of so much unknown opportunity awaiting on the horizon.  I smile now as I relive that brief but hilarious moment in Ireland, and cherish the words that Tony left with me. I am sharing this smile all across Chile, and just as this country is inspiring light within me, I hope that my smile inspires light within others.  We should all smile more, it’s good for ourselves and great for one another. If you don’t believe me, just listen to this fantastic gem about The Hidden Power of Smiling by Ron Gutman.

Here are a few of the places that our random little journey has brought us here in Chile and that keep invoking this ever-present smile:

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Lean Forward and Just Let Go

“How are you feeling Greta, are you scared?”  I grin widely and shake my head no.  “What’s your social security number? Just kidding, I better see that smile when we get to the bottom.”  My skydiving instructor laughed lightly at his own joke, I felt a tickle in my chest and laughed as well as the small biplane banked slightly.  It was almost time to jump; I was ready.  I glanced across the plane where my brother sat, he too had a wide grin on his face.  I gave him a thumbs up as I was strapped onto my instructor for my first tandem skydive, here we go.

As I leaned out over the edge, I had no instinct to hold on any longer, no desire to pull myself back into the safety of the plane, I quite simply just leaned forward and let go.  As we were free falling my eyes raced to see as far as I could see, to witness as much of this Earth that I could fit into view as I fell back down to it.  I wanted to absorb every detail, to etch it into memory.  The wind pulled at my cheeks, broadening my smile even further.  With an abrupt tug, we were safely floating by parachute, enjoying the gorgeous day, reveling in the quietness that was so contrast with the roaring wind from a moment before.  I let out a giggle, overflowing with glee, that was simply too much fun.

I was 22 the first time I jumped out of a perfectly good plane.  It was probably the riskiest thing I had ever done at that point in my life.  Taking that leap of faith would come to be somewhat of a trend in other areas of my life, moments when I would realize the opportunity at hand, ultimately trusting that I was meant to land on my feet.  In every instance it has been worth the flutter of the heart as I leapt into the unknown.

Risk is a funny thing, it both inspires innovation and spurs imagination, while also confronting vulnerability and discomfort.  Risk pushes us to perform beyond the best of our ability, it takes us out of our comfort zones where real growth is tangible.  That risk I took jumping out of the plane had very real consequences, positive and negative consequences that ran parallel and a mix of luck, fate and preparation helped determine my experience of these consequences.

Over the years I’ve tried to make a habit of embracing risk with the same zest that I do when I jump out of planes; to maintain that thirst for experience, that desire to soak in every ounce of living from the moment I have left the ledge, stepped away from the safety zone, let go of the security and comforts of that which I am used to and acquainted with.

At this very moment, the sound of seagulls fills my ears.  The sun is warm, gently kissing my face as it slowly wakes up the rest of Valparaiso.  I sit from a balcony, overlooking the colorful city, homes of every shade of pastel you can imagine, ships sitting out in the harbor, the Pacific resting calmly to my left as I look out over the rolling hills.  It is quiet, the sounds of morning dominated by birds, with faint ship engines motoring off in the distance.  I have been exploring, and this place has filled me with imagination and wonder.  The cobblestone streets, the homes painted so many various hues of color delight at every turn.  Risk brought me to this little city by the sea built up into the the hills, whose charm is intoxicating alongside its grit.  A leap of faith brought me to this very moment that is filling me with so much joy and wonder. 

I believe that each and every one of us feels a tug to do something every once in a while that others may consider crazy.  Every single one of us has ideas that seem perhaps too risky, that we may be too easily talked out of.  Yet, there is greatness in taking bold action, there is so much growth awaiting us in the discomfort of the unknown.  To defy the fears of others, and perhaps the fears of yourself, by listening to the desires within and taking that leap of faith- this is truly living.  I recently walked away from a lot of very obvious opportunity for perhaps the less obvious ones.  Making that bold move, to write a chapter where I would be drawing on every ounce of strength I could muster, where I would again be searching every landscape to etch in memory the beauty it beheld, that has pushed me beyond what I believed capable, this is my latest leap of faith, and the journey has just begun.

A week ago I was rock climbing gorgeous granite deep in the Andes, discovering waterfalls and meeting the sunrise as it spilled through deep valleys.  Two days ago I was galloping horses up a mountain outside of the gorgeous organic vineyard where we’ve been learning about biodynamic viticulture. Today I am walking the streets of Valparaiso, ready to further discover this place, ready to soak in as much as I can with eyes of wonder.  Tomorrow, well, who knows where tomorrow will lead, but I will be sure to take a moment to acknowledge with gratitude the decision to take this leap, to embrace this risk, to lean forward and just let go.  Today, I let out a giggle of glee, this is simply too much fun. 

So, what is that thing that makes your heart skip a beat?  What is that leap of faith you have only imagined taking, but haven’t given it serious thought, yet?  Think about it, imagine it taking shape, and believe that you really are strong enough to lean forward and just let go.

The view from where I sit, writing this post. Valparaiso is a gem of beauty and grit, a lovely place to meander, to explore and to imagine.