Saturday, January 10, 2015

A Work in Progress: The Two-Year List

Two years to see how far I can get on four different challenges.  That’s the plan.  I have until December 10, 2016 (my 50th birthday) to see what I can do to improve myself in these four ways.  Not that all kinds of other new and old things are off the table, but these are the ones I’m going to track (the plan is to use the blog as a sort of journal that marks milestones along the way as well as quarterly check-ins).  Here’s my list.  As always, nothing would make me happier than to do some or all of these in tandem with others who are interested (literally together or keeping track long-distance).  One thing I think I’ve learned since starting this blog is that, while it is true that we are the makers of our own destiny in so many ways, it is also true that the world is full of teachers and fellow students who can show the way.  The path that has taken me this far on these goals has been full of these teachers (many of whom were, ironically, also students at a previous point), and I anticipate and hope that the same will be true this time around.

1.      Appreciating and becoming competent in the outdoors.  One of the radical changes in my life began with an increase in hiking and my association with the SMC Wilderness Program, and continued with my relationship with Jon, a naturalist and huge fan of all things outdoors, who has introduced me to a wealth of new experiences, people and interests.  In fact, I started writing this post from the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest in Costa Rica, where we explored rain forests and cloud forests and then, dry forests as well. Over the next two years I want to increase both my appreciation for nature, and my skills in enjoying the outdoors. I’ve become a big fan of day hikes, and Vermont is a target-rich environment on that one.  But I also want to break the tether a bit and get more comfortable with camping and water travel (canoeing and kayaking) and backpacking and being outdoors in the winter (on snow shoes and cross country skis and microspikes).  I have a near-phobia when it comes to equipment, and am constantly sure I will break something or not be able to put it together right.  I want to be able to put up a tent and use a water filter and a cook stove and generally get more comfortable with the gear involved with being outdoors.  I also want to train my body to transport myself better – up hills, over long distances, carrying heavy things (like backpacks and canoes) and over water.
And equally importantly, I don’t want to just become a peak-bagger either.  I want to also learn to enjoy and be in nature.  I want to be able to slow down and notice what’s around me, and learn some animals and plants so I can recognize them when I see them (and spot them more often). I want to be able to see and appreciate how it all fits together, and the beauty of the components and the totality they create.  I want to appreciate where I am, not just move through the space. It’s a tall order, but I have some excellent resources – Jon, the SMC Wilderness Program (in which I am slowly progressing), and a host of friends, who have already provided me with some experiences in this area, and are lots better than me, to learn from.

This little red eft epitomizes my hope to become a person truly at home outdoors.  Whenever I do a hike I always count it as extra-special if there is an eft sighting along the way.

2.      Yoga, meditation and acro yoga. This one feels like I came to it sideways.  I’ve always been one of the least-flexible people I know.  I’ve never been able to touch my toes or do the splits or bend my back.  It vaguely bothered me, especially as a kid, but I just figured that’s the way I’m built.  But when I was living in Jordan a couple of years ago one of the other Fulbrighters, Jayme, got me started doing a little bit of yoga and I liked the way I felt afterwards.  At first I thought the meditation bits of it were mostly annoying, but then I started realizing that they had a great effect on me as well, and after my meditation class that I took this year, I was even more convinced that they had a real place in my (and everyone’s) quality of life.  And then trying acro-yoga, a partner form of yoga that is combined with acrobatics, convinced me that putting a focus on all three of these areas together might really help me in lots of ways.  Obvious ones, like increasing my flexibility, balance and strength, and less obvious ones, like working on patience, contentment and self-awareness.  On this one, I’m trying hard to embrace the idea that it’s all about increasing my own levels of these qualities in comparison to my starting point(s), and not in comparison to any else.  So, I’m enlisting Jon’s assistance to help me document these starting points so I can do quarterly comparisons.

Inversions -- in any form of yoga -- are not a strong suit.  But let's see how far two years can take me.

3.      Figure skating. I think when most people think of figure skating, they think of long-legged teenage girls in pretty skating dresses doing jumps and spins.  Me, too. But something I’ve learned in the last couple of years is that figure skating is for anyone who has access to a skating rink and a desire to learn how to do it.  It takes a lot of practice and patience, but it’s there, and there’s even a little community of other adult learners who are there to provide support and information and examples of what can be accomplished.  I’m now taking an adult figure skating class once a week and a second weekly class where I work on beginning ice dances and the qualifying skills for my first official adult test.  In the next few months I’ll lay out my goals for specific skills I want to accomplish and milestones (testing and otherwise) I hope to hit over the next two years.  Of all the things I’ll be working on, I have to admit I find this one the most fun, and I’d tell anyone who thought it’s too late, because they never learned how to figure skate (or skate at all) as a kid, that there’s no time like the present to lace those skates up and get going!  It’s great fun, and just about the coolest thing going to realize you can do something hard while balanced on little steel blades and gliding over a surface of ice.
We don't usually skate in dresses, but every once in a while it's fun.

4.      Rock climbing. Rock climbing was one of the great gifts that happened from my initial year of 52 new things.  As I have noted elsewhere, that’s not because I have any aptitude for it.  It’s taken me a long time to get a still-low level of competency, and I still have lots of hang-ups, like fear of falling when bouldering and anxiety over anchor-setting.  But the flip side is that I lived the vast majority of my life thinking that it was an activity for other people, and definitely not for me. It’s fun to do, and a great sense of accomplishment when you get up a route for the first time.  The movements translate into a better sense of balance and strength in areas (like fingers and forearms) that don’t normally get tons of exercise.  It’s a great form of exercise generally.  But for me, I think an equally great thing about it is the friendships it has helped to initiate and foster.  I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to a host of past and present students at Saint Mike’s—Cliff, Josh, Dan, Michelle and especially Amanda and Kyra top the list – for getting me started on this great pastime. In the next two years I want to become a better climber and learn some of the technical skills to be more independent outside.  This means going up a grade or two on top roping, get better at sport climbing and learning to set my own protection (or at least trying it).  It also hopefully encompasses getting over my fear of bouldering. I’m pretty sure if I can do these things, I’ll be working through a whole host of fears as well, and come out a stronger (character-wise as well as muscle-wise), more confident and adventuresome person as well.

My first-ever outdoor lead climb.  My friend and climbing buddy, Kyra, was warming up for her turn next.

My first goal in working toward these four areas is to figure out exactly where I am, and so in the next few weeks I’ll be doing a bit of personal inventory to figure out my starting points and maybe some short-term goals. If anyone among my friends and family saw one or more areas on this list that they, too, would like to engage in more deeply for the next couple of years – or if the list inspired your own longer-term goals that you’d like to pursue in tandem, let me know.  This is one journey that will be easier and much more fun with lots of fellow travelers along the way!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Trish - do you have an email I can contact you on? I have something I'd love to share. You can reach me through if you;d prefer not to give out your email on here, or drop me a line on Thanks