The Refuge We May Find in Beauty

The words I read in the headline burn my eyes. I click the “x” in the right corner of the browser, closing the news article, feeling full of its toxicity, disgusted and saddened, ashamed at the level of political discourse in my country has sunk to- between candidates yes, but also between one another.

I log into Facebook and send a little note of love to a dear friend, and before I know it, I’m caught up in the quicksand action of scrolling through my newsfeed…again the toxicity of the posts I read feels tangible. So many people sharing the next obscene and ridiculous thing that has been said, and possibly done. So much expression of outrage. So much conflict and argument. So much talking and declaration, so little listening and asking.

I log out of my account and close my computer.

I sit for a moment quietly, taking a few deep breaths with my eyes closed. My eyes continue to burn as I rest them, the words and images plastered across the various articles, screaming for attention, pop up in the darkness of my mind, continuing their torment.

Dishes from breakfast beckon for cleaning and I have work to do, so up I go. I turn on my NPR One app to catch the morning newscast. Why? I’m not sure…a small part of me wants to further engage with the drama, perhaps?

Why are we so easily addicted to the things that do not truly nourish us?

The newscast offers up what I expect it to…and suddenly a stream of horrifying reports is flowing abrasively into my ears while I scrub off the remains of egg from my frying pan.

After several minutes my heart can no longer bare it, and begs for retreat. My ears feel overwhelmed by all the junk I’ve just consumed, like a guilty child who’s eaten too many sweets and now has an awful tummy ache. If only my ears could vomit all of that poison back up and release it from my body.

We are so much larger than this…I know we are.

The overwhelm of my senses is collectively gathering and I feel physically heavier as each moment passes.

I suddenly pause, and realize I’m starving for beauty, gasping for sustenance, aching for kindness.

I grab my jacket and step outside into the pouring rain, heading toward the forest that leads down to the river. Fresh apple blossoms greet me along the way, splashing their obvious beauty across my view, demanding I take pause to study their delicate, delicious and brief existence.

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I let the beauty of the forest fully embrace my eyes, soaking up every inch and detail of the vibrant green mosses and delicately dripping leaves. The spring (yes, it’s spring in Chile!) rains have been falling heavily for hours, and the leaves shimmer and shine brightly, reflecting the bright white sky above.

My eyes no longer burn.

I pause beside a thick tree trunk, suddenly lost in its web and variety of mosses and ferns that have claimed residency on its living, growing, breathing real estate.

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The green vibrance of the freshly-born leaves hanging from the trees invoke a sense of wonder. Each day their hue changes ever-so-slightly as they age from their spring birth into their midlife summer.

But now they catch the freshly falling rain with a full and delicate vulnerability. The rain splashes upon their new skin and they bounce under its weight; and they are resilient, these bold little leaves are not discouraged by the constancy of this heavy spring shower. They continuously reach upward, toward the sunshine they know resides behind the clouds.

Perhaps we can be as resilient as these bold little leaves, we can continue to reach toward the sunshine in the midst of this heavy downpour.

Before moving on I close my eyes and turn my face to the sky. The rain falls freely, delighting my skin with its fresh and delicate kisses. Each raindrop laughs as it collides with the leaves above, sliding down onto my skin, rolling onward from the clouds to the thirsty soil. I revel in the joyful journey of these little drops of water.

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I smile quietly and continue to follow the path toward the river, breathing deep the smells that the rain has encouraged forth. It’s so wonderful that rain produces such lovely smells in wild places.

How lucky are we for that? Very, I think.

And how delicate the smells are, they’re unnameable and unseeable, like fairies ducking beneath the leaves and emerging quickly and elegantly here and there, only to disappear again when another wishes to tickle our noses with delightful scents.

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Just down the hill I reach the spring where an underground creek gushes forth in crisp, pure form, traveling with great intention to join the Liracura river that runs along the property.

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The sounds of the forest pour into my ears- the gurgling rush of the water mixes sweetly with the pitter-patter of the heavy raindrops falling onto the fresh spring leaves. Various birds sing to one another and their calls mix with the lonely call of our dear rooster who seems to have lost his hens.

My ears seem to froth with gratitude for such lovely offerings, and I sit quietly, simply soaking in the beautiful sounds that surround me.

I dip my hand into the water, it’s icy cold and as I splash it on my face it takes my breath away. I cup the fresh water in my hands and take several deep sips. The cold, clean water washes its way down my throat, into my body, caressing my organs and my cells, sharing its vibrance with me.

My body, my senses, my heart no longer feel heavy, or full of the abrasive things I consumed earlier.

The world is a mess. And it’s also overflowing with beauty.

All too often we’re not conscious of what we’re consuming, nor are we aware of how the things we consume impact us. These delicate bodies of ours, they are strong, and powerful, and resilient, and yet they are affected by all things we consume. We often use the term “You are what you eat”- but we are also, in many ways, what we consume in these other forms as well. We are what we hear, what we see, what we smell, what we taste, what we feel. Perhaps that’s why we feel such exhaustion and repulsion from an overload of negative and disheartening things…our bodies and our hearts are crying out to keep this out, it is poisoning us.

And yet we are incredibly resilient, how quickly we are rejuvenated when we consume things that inspire us, that lift our hearts, that delight our taste buds and sooth our ears.

Food is not the only thing that nourishes our body. All of our senses are attuned to receive from our environment, and if we aren’t aware of what we are exposing them to, we risk losing ourselves amidst the toxic and damaging realities of our world. In order to find the creativity, the curiosity, and the resilience we need if we are to overcome these negative realities, we must offer all of our senses nourishment.

So where might we find this nourishment?

We find it in beauty.

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I wholeheartedly believe in the undeniable power of beauty. I offer refuge to myself, by choosing to engage with beauty when I need regeneration. Despite the undeniable chaos and darkness we are exposed to all across the TV and computer screens, despite all of the products for sale that have done incredible damage to the environments and communities where they were made and discarded, despite the availability of foods that are full of toxic pesticides, chemicals and hormones that have damaged our soils and polluted our waters, despite the outrage we are witnessing and probably feeling in our communities about social injustice and corporate and political corruption- despite all of this we have beauty awaiting us at every turn.

It’s waiting for us, waiting to offer us the replenishment we need so desperately so that we can carry on.

We can all be more mindful about what we consume. I believe in being an informed citizen, and in participating in our society in order to move collectively toward a more positive and regenerative existence on this planet. And I believe in being a wholesome person, who listens to the needs of her body, who seeks inspiration and opportunities to serve in a positive way, who knows that she was not made to carry the weight of the world and therefore there are times I must retreat from it. When I must retreat into it.

And when I retreat, I retreat to beauty.

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Nourish yourself. In the midst of all the embattled dialogue on our screens and public stages, take time to listen to beautiful music; make a colorful meal with fresh ingredients that is so beautiful to look at you can hardly dare to disturb it with your fork; step outside and breathe in the fresh spring rain, or the crisp fall air- both will be swollen with the life of leaves- breathe in that life. Walk up to a tree and get lost in its trunk for a few moments, oh what wonders await us when we look closely at the bark of a tree! Embrace a friend or a loved one with gratitude and appreciation. Beauty is all around us, the ways in which we may uncover it are truly endless!

So, how might you take refuge in beauty? What simple beauties invoke a sense of wonder and joy in you?

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The Art of Embracing Uncertainty

My heart delights when I adventure into the unknown.

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Away we go, toward another horizon leading to the unknown

It’s enticing, the sense of adventure and the stories that I will live to tell. The people who will come across my path, inevitably linking me to another part of my journey and perhaps an entirely new chapter of my life.

 As Paulo Coelho says, “What makes life interesting is the unknown. It is the risks that we take every single moment of our day, every single day.”

There is something innate within us that craves this unknown, while also seeking a sense of security and safety. It’s such a dichotomy, such a wild and provocative thing to examine, to wonder at and to learn to dance with.

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We often feel most alive when we step into the unknown

 

I’ve taken up this act of living with a sense of uncertainty, of consciously carrying a level of uncertainty with me as a companion to my soul. For years I adventured with the idea that my ultimate destination was a sense of security…and yet recently I’ve seen this destination fall away entirely and make room for some degree of uncertainty to live comfortably within me.

The mystery of life is the unknown, the uncertainty of it all, and rather than spending time and energy trying to figure it out, I’ve decided to embrace it as a friend and listen to what it has to teach me. I’ve acknowledged that it’s going to be with me all the days of my life anyway, and rather than being afraid of it I may as well delight in its company.

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A mix of courage, heart, and trusting the unknown brought me here

Earlier this year Ale and I rode our horses nearly 1000 kilometers across Patagonia.

Rather than following my initial reflex of thoroughly pre-planning this expedition, I surveyed what it would take for us to cover our essential bases, and otherwise left the journey entirely open to unfold however it wished.

When we began our journey, we’d never been to Patagonia before and we didn’t even have horses. Our friends drove us from our home in Pucón to Puerto Montt and left us with our two dogs on the dock leading to the ferry. We waived goodbye to them, and waived goodbye to the last aspect of our trip that we’d actually planned. From now on we would be dancing entirely with fate- stepping fully into the embrace of uncertainty.

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Embracing uncertainty is not always easy, or comfortable, in fact it rarely is. It brings with it, as can be expected, many unexpected things. Looking back on how our journey unfolded, I can’t help but smile, because in hindsight it really does seem kind of fantastical and even crazy by some accounts. And yet, it happened so fluidly, it was such a wholesome journey, such a grand adventure and such an awe-inspiring experience, I wouldn’t trade the uncertainty we baked into it for anything. And I couldn’t have planned a better adventure in my wildest dreams.

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Deep in the heart of Patagonia

When we stepped off the boat carrying our excessively heavy packs, full of our backcountry gear, horse equipment and dog food, we had no comforts awaiting us. We didn’t even know how we would get to Villa O’Higgins, some 1200+ kilometers to the south. We were certain we’d get there though, and once we did, we were certain we’d find the horses we needed to ride home. Don’t ask me why, all I can tell you is we knew it with all our hearts, even as we began walking south along the Carretera Austral, our thumbs out and our hearts open.

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That first day we walked for miles. And then it began, the rides came. In quick succession we found ourselves with our feet propped up in the back of a pickup truck, the wind blowing our hair back, our puppies tongues hanging out happily and the mountains of Patagonia blowing by. For six days we were carried across Patagonia by the kindness of strangers- catching hitches each morning with ease and making our way steadily across the region.

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When we arrived in Villa O’Higgins it was time to buy our horses. Scratch that, it was time to find our horses. Just as we had been certain we would get to Villa O’Higgins, we were certain we’d find the right horses, but in reality we had no control over making this happen. We were in an incredibly remote part of the world where people use everything they owned- and horses are a vital part of the lifestyle here. Folks weren’t just selling horses off, and before we would find our faithful equine companions we would have to spend time getting to know the families living in the region, and give them the chance to get to know us. When we walked out of town three weeks later with two of our three horses, we had uncertainty to thank for the tears of gratitude and hugs we received from the friends we had made.

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The morning we left our adopted Patagonian family at Los Nires in Villa O’Higgins

We walked out of Villa O’Higgins, our horses and dogs walking beside us. We ventured up into the mountains where we’d been told we could find another horse. Nothing was certain, the horse might not be healthy, he might not be trained, the gaucho who owned him might not want to sell him for what we were willing to pay. The only thing we knew was that we could keep walking if we had to, and if we had to walk all the way to Cochrane with only two horses we would. But we had a feeling our third horse was waiting for us up in the mountains.

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Into the mountains we go

It turned out he was, and he would prove to be our boldest, strongest and bravest horse of all.

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The great Picante, our third horse found deep in the mountains of Patagonia

The first month of our ride we spent traversing the eastern mountain ranges of Patagonia, riding north from Villa O’Higgins to Cochrane following an old unmarked pioneer route. Because the trail was unmarked, it was incredibly challenging to find our way. There was a trail, sometimes, but we would often lose it as it disappeared across lakes or rivers or we would mistaken the tracks of wild horses or herds of cattle and follow them for hours before we knew we were off trail.

I have never, in my entire life, been so uncertain of where exactly I was in the world. I’ve always enjoyed wandering into the unknown, but I’ve also always had a way to find exactly where it was I’d wandered to. This particular section of the trail was incredibly challenging because even though we were never technically lost, we lost our way so many times that we would lose entire days backtracking and route finding. What we expected to take 13 days ended up taking 24 days. We had to ration our food. We had to send reassuring messages to our families using our emergency GPS tracker so that they didn’t call in the army to come find us.

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Following rivers to the glaciers they are born from deep in Patagonia

We found our way though. And we kept finding our way for several more months as we steadily continued north. We ducked and swerved mishaps as needed, we cared for our horses and our dogs, connected with locals and learned to find comfort in the simplest joys that embraced us daily. I felt the elements of Patagonia taking hold of each cell in my body, I felt the songs of the wind begin to live in my ears, the kiss of the rain felt familiar on my skin, I felt the endless pristine beauty of it take hold of my heart and squeeze it ever-so-gently. The constancy of the ever-changing sky and weather became a reliable companion, as did the uncertainty of what each new day would hold.

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Everything about this ride took longer than expected, but brought with it such unexpected beauty and laughter and joy, if anything it made the length of time entirely insignificant when compared to the depth of living we did in that time.

And that, perhaps, is my most favorite thing about carrying uncertainty around with me as a companion. It reminds me of the depth at which I can live my life when I allow a bit of mystery to weave itself into my story.

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We don’t have to always be the heavy handed narrator of our lives- when we let go of the need to see exactly what lies far beyond the horizon of our future, and instead get busy with the moment before us, when we fill our arms and minds and attention with this moment here, the uncertainty of what lies ahead is no longer frightening or overwhelming. Quite contrarily it’s enticingly exciting.

My what wonders have come from adventuring into the unknown…and my what wonders await as we continue toward the next horizon, embracing the uncertainty that adventures along with us.

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Live to the Point of Tears

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

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

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

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Another rainy day of riding

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

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

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

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Together we walk

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

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A welcome refuge on a cold rainy day

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

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Happiness is shelter and warm food on a cold day

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

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

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Rain or shine, we travel on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Acknowledging the abundance of our community

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

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

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

“Live to the point of tears.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

In the Presence of Abundance

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_212525 days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Beyond the Boundaries of Imagination

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

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

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Majestic Patagonia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Don’t let your dreams be dreams. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letting Go of the Weight of The World

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

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A moment in the streets of China

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

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

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

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Just another chaotic traffic jam in China

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

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

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

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

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A sunny afternoon hike up the Rio Turbio outside of Pucon

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

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

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

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A discouraging site as I pulled up to the trailhead

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

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

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

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

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I draw so much inspiration from wild places

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Small Ripple Steadily Grows

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

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Morning moon

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

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

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Misty reflections on the calm surface

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

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An incredibly peaceful morning on the lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can also find my daily hauls featured on Instagram:

https://instagram.com/wanderwithgreta/

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

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