What Draws Us to Nature, to the Wild?

I recently read a blog post written by Julianne, a woman I met several years ago in Yellowstone National Park, a woman I admire for her spirit, her strength, her connection with nature.  She shares a blog, Writing the Wild, with two other friends, both women, both with strong voices and intensely personal relationships with wilderness, just like Julianne.  It’s a blog that draws me in deeper with each new post I read.  Julianne’s latest, Living in the Present, is deep and resonated with me immediately.  I found myself reflecting upon her message for days, and in that contemplative space the kernels of a blog post started to sprout.

nature post-1140346

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” ~ John Muir

We recently returned from a trip up north, back to our winter home base in So. California.  Although I knew we were heading back to complete details for an exciting trip we have planned this fall, I felt this sadness as I reflected upon the trip we had just finished, where nature and the wild imbued our every cell daily.  I was not ready to step back into the modern-day trappings of excess and commercialism.

“Look deep into nature and  you will understand everything better.” ~ Albert Einstein

It seems the more time I spend in nature, the more I have this reaction when I step off the trails.  So I have asked myself, what draws us to nature, to the wild, even when it could potentially put us in harm’s way when we traverse the same land as predator species?

“I held my breath as we do sometimes to stop time when something wonderful has touched us…”  ~ Mary Oliver

Yes, we take to the trails and the rivers for our source of exercise, but I believe it goes beyond this.  Julianne certainly touched on it when she said that being in nature forces one to live in the moment, as it takes all our attention to navigate a flowing river in a kayak or avoid sliding off a mountainside on a steep trail.

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.” ~ Edward Abbey

Living in the moment in the wild takes us to a place where we begin to move at nature’s pace, instinctual, perhaps due to a base need to reconstruct our lives.  Is it our soul’s longing to live free of the attachment we have developed to the various screens that have become an intrinsic part of our day-to-day existence, teeming with a set of perceptions on how well “liked” we are?   Or are we trying to salvage that indigenous part of us that once was wild?

“It is not half so important to know as to feel.” ~ Rachel Carson

A famous study conducted by the University of Illinois, Chicago, found that we spend 25% less time out in nature than we did in the late 1980’s.  If more of our society embraced nature and the wild, would we learn to live in harmony with our surroundings, be more at peace with ourselves and those around us?  Would we realize that we need less to live a life of fulfillment?

“I feel like lying down by the side of the trail and remembering it all.  The woods do that to you.” ~ Jack Kerouac

Nature is full of contrasts – rushed yet unhurried, quiet yet raucous, organized yet chaotic.  Even with this diversity, there is an underpinning of calm, a sense of serenity that eludes so many of us.  It is my hope each time I walk out of the wild that this sense of stillness will continue to reside in some deep recess of my soul, something I can draw from when day-to-day stresses arise.

“One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, “What if I had never seen this before?  What if I knew I would never see it again?” ~ Rachel Carson

“Nature never struggles to accomplish its purpose.  All things in nature live in a state of total grace and bliss, completely connected to life itself.”  I long to live this easy, effortless flow.

Vitamin D ~ Friend or Foe?

We have now returned home from our trip up north to prepare for our next adventure. While I practice learning key phrases in a different language (international trip perhaps?) I have decided to tackle a topic near and dear to my heart, that of vitamin/mineral supplementation, in particular vitamin D.

Source: healthline.com
Source: healthline.com

I have decided to write on this topic as I am one of those freaks who, instead of reading news articles ad nauseam, I pore through health and nutrition literature, topics for which I am most passionate.  And with all the documentation out there, it can be mind-boggling. What I hope to do here is to open up a dialogue, and quite honestly, learn from your comments. So, here goes…

Disclaimer:  I have no medical credentials to substantiate anything in this post; I’m just a passionate consumer.  This is based on what I have read over many years and what resonates with me, which is the approach I take with most things in life.

Several years ago I read a book written by Dr. Sarfraz Zaidi, Power of Vitamin D which for me was an aha moment.  Since then I have read many articles on the subject.  As I had lived in sunny Arizona for many years, I was shocked to read that this Southern California doctor discovered, after testing, that almost 90% of this patients were vitamin D deficient.  Soon after I had my doctor test my level and found that I too was deficient.  This started me on a course of vitamin D supplementation and a new approach to sun exposure.

Source: iStock.com
Source: iStock.com

What I have learned in my readings is that there is evidence to support a relationship between vitamin D deficiency and “bone pain, osteoporosis, immune disorders, heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, diabetes, and cancer”.  There are now over 800 references in the medical literature to support vitamin D’s effectiveness against cancer and many others that show vitamin D’s ability to fight infections and chronic inflammation.

If you buy into any of this literature, right now you may be wondering why your medical doctor has not told you about the risks of vitamin D deficiency.  It may be because he/she may not know, as this is not covered in the medical schools’ curricula, which Dr. Zaidi says is often tailored to drug companies’ standards.  It is not a drug so big pharma is not going to get behind it.  In fact, vitamin D is not really a vitamin, but a steroid hormone instead.

Testing

Source: Vitamin D Council
Source: Vitamin D Council

I read an article a couple of years ago on Dr. Joseph Mercola’s website, where he states that “vitamin D deficiency is a pandemic in the United States, with 50% of the general population at risk”.  Blood testing is the only way to be sure if you are vitamin D deficient.

If you prefer not to incur the cost of an office visit to have your doctor order a vitamin D blood test for you, there are several options for ordering in-home kits.  Here are just a few of the outlets available:

  1. Grassroots Health
  2. Vitamin D Council
  3. Direct Labs
  4. Health Labs

The best source of vitamin D is sun exposure, as your skin creates it as a response to UV radiation.  But if you can’t use the sun for your source, which may be dependent upon where you live or how you process vitamin D, then an oral supplement may be your next best bet.

Safe Sunlight Exposure

If you want to get your vitamin D from the sun, here are a few factors I have read for practicing safe sunlight exposure:

  1. Time – the best time to expose yourself to the sun for processing vitamin D is between 10:00 am to 2:00 pm.
  2. Skin pigmentation – fair-skinned people can max out their needed vitamin D production in as little as 10-20 minutes in the sun.  Those with darker skin will need more sun than this.
  3. Sensitive body parts – sunblock and/or hats should be used for the delicate skin of faces and necks.  But, unlike what we have been told for years due to fear of skin cancer, a little UV radiation, by way of sun exposure, is most likely very good for us.
Source: Grassroots Health
Source: Grassroots Health

If you do opt for vitamin D supplements, which are inexpensive, studies show that taking this with vitamin K2 is very beneficial, as K2 helps move calcium into the areas of your body where it is needed, such as bones and teeth, and helps remove calcium from areas where we don’t want it, namely arteries and soft tissues.

What are optimal levels of vitamin D?

Source: Dr. Mercola website
Source: Dr. Mercola website

 7 Signs You May Be Vitamin D Deficient

  1. You have darker skin. ~ Those with darker skin may need as much as 10 times more sun exposure to produce the same amount of vitamin D as a fair-skinned person.
  2. You feel “blue”. ~ Serotonin, the mood elevator hormone, rises with increased exposure to the sun.
  3. You are 50+. ~ As we age our skin doesn’t make as much vitamin D in response to sun exposure.
  4. You are overweight. ~ Vitamin D is fat soluble so it collects in fat cells.  If you are overweight you are likely to need more vitamin D than a slimmer person.
  5. Your bones ache. ~ Many who see their doctor for body aches and pains, accompanied by fatigue, may be diagnosed with fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome.  For some, studies have found that when tested for vitamin D deficiency and treated with larger doses of vitamin D, their symptoms have resolved.
  6. Head sweating. ~ This is one of the classic signs of vitamin D deficiency.
  7. You have gut problems. ~ If your body lacks the ability to absorb fat properly, you may have a lower absorption of vitamin D as well.  This may be true for conditions such as Crohn’s, celiac, and inflammatory bowel diseases.

Smartphone apps can track just about anything so I was not surprised that there is an app for tracking the UV radiation you’re getting in your area and how many units of vitamin D you are making.  If you are interested, check out DMinder.

There are hundreds of articles on the subject of vitamin D, some in favor of sun exposure and supplementation and some concerned about toxicity.  I would suggest googling vitamin D articles if you have an interest, and I would love to hear your comments, although please refrain from making this a political issue.

One of the Top Drives in the World ~ Icefields Parkway

There is a dramatic stretch of highway that parallels the Continental Divide, melding together two stunning Canadian parks.  This two-lane highway, stretching from the picturesque little village of Lake Louise in Banff National Park to the vibrant little town of Jasper in Jasper National Park, has been rated as one of the top drives in the world by Condé Nast Traveler, 144 miles of soaring rocky mountain peaks, ancient glacier ice fields, and immense sweeping valleys.  I would not be classified a worldly traveler (more a wannabe) but I must agree that it is tops on my list.

This is more than a drive.  It’s a journey through natural history, jaw-dropping landscapes, and more than 100 ancient glaciers.  It is so much larger than my meager brain can wrap itself around.  The best way to describe the beauty of the Icefields Parkway is through photos.  Here are just a few of the dramatic sights seen along this winding stretch of road:

Herbert Lake reflection

Herbert Lake, sitting under the peak of Mt. Tempe, was our first stop of the day after leaving Lake Louise.  Its morning reflection was a great start to our day.

Bow Glacier and Bow Falls

Bow Glacier and Bow Falls , one of the many striking glaciers along this beautiful stretch of highway.

Peyto Lake

Peyto Lake, named for “Wild Bill” Peyto, one of the first game wardens in the park.  The unusually bright blue water of the lake, created by glacial “rock flour”, which scatters the blue-green rays of light, coupled with the wide view of the Mistaya Valley, make this one of the most scenic sights along the parkway.

Hilda Pass

Another glacier seen from Hilda Pass.

Sunwapta Pass view

And another from the Sunwapta Pass.

The Columbia Icefield, composed of eight glaciers and encompassing an area of about 200 miles, sits near the halfway mark on the Icefields Parkway.  This ice mass is one of the largest south of the Arctic Circle and is one of the most reachable in North America.  The Athabasca, Snowdome, and Stutfield Glaciers can be seen from the parkway.

The Columbia Icefield Centre, much like a large National Park Visitor Center, is where you can book the Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure, a 90-minute excursion onto the Athabasca Glacier aboard a massive Ice Explorer.  Tours on the Glacier Skywalk, a glass-floored observation walkway 918 feet above the spectacular Sunwapta Valley, can also be booked at the center.

Not unlike most other visitor centers, there is a 20-minute film that can be watched here.  We experienced “Through Ice and Time”, the best film I have ever seen in a National Park visitor center.

Snowdome GlacierSnowdome Glacier, part of the Columbia Icefields.

Athabasca Glacier

And the mother of them all, the Athabasca Glacier, largest in the Columbia Icefields, is the glacier the Ice Explorers drive visitors onto.  In 1844 this massive glacier covered the area across the street at the Columbia Icefield Centre, where the parking lot now sits, another testament to how far these glaciers have retreated.

Sunwapta Falls

Thundering Sunwapta Falls, whose power can be felt and heard when you stand on the bridge above it.

Athabasca Falls

The massive power of the Athabasca Falls is created as the Athabasca River funnels into a narrow gorge.

Mountain goats

Mountain goats come down from the red cliffs of Mt. Kerkeslin to lick mineral deposits along the road.

A trip to the Canadian Rockies would be incomplete without experiencing this spectacular drive on the Icefields Parkway and the Columbia Icefields.  As we drove the winding roads, I was remembering a post I had recently read by blogger friend Sue, who had recently biked this route with hubby Dave and a group of other cyclists.  I bow down to you both.🙂

Those Spectacular Canadian Rockies ~ Banff and Yoho National Parks

While visiting friends in Cochrane, Alberta, we had to make the difficult decision of how to spread out our limited time in Canada.  I recall when we lived in Yellowstone shaking our heads each time a visitor came into the park with a few short hours to spend.  We wondered if it was worth the time to visit when so much would be missed.  Here we were faced with a similar decision, during peak tourist season, and I found myself as excited as those first-time Yellowstone visitors, wanting to see it all.  We were so close to many national parks so of course I wanted a taste of as much as possible, rationalizing that we could always return for more.

Our first stop was Banff National Park, in the Alberta province, where we pitched our tent for three nights at Lake Louise campground.  What began as a 16 square mile hot springs reserve is now 4125 square miles of unparalleled mountain terrain, Canada’s first National Park, home to seven National Historic Sites.  Banff, along with Jasper, Yoho, and Kootenay National Parks is recognized as part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Ok bear, here I come!
Ok bear, here I come!

I thought our western mountains were breathtaking, but Canada really takes it up a notch with their Rockies, a beautiful melding of heaven and earth.  There is an unspoiled “wild-ness” here, thanks to the  ice-age glaciers acting as landscape sculptors, creating the rugged mountain ranges and gouging out the valley into a deep basin.

Spectacular glaciers and turquoise lakes above treeline on the Iceline Trail
Spectacular glaciers and turquoise lakes above treeline on the Iceline Trail

The glaciers that covered the Canadian Rockies have vastly retreated but have left behind vivid memories found flowing in the turquoise and jade green waters, unusual gorges and canyons, and unique rock formations.

The next morning we set out for the much smaller Yoho National Park, in the province of British Columbia, and the second Canadian National Park.  The unusual name for this park is a Cree expression meaning awe and wonder, which was exactly what we were feeling throughout our first hike in a Canadian park.

Although the smallest of the four parks that form the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Sites, it holds some of the oldest and most significant shale fossil beds in the world, as well as 36 peaks soaring above 10,000 feet.  It packs a punch!

Takakkaw Falls - 830 foot drop in one stretch and 1260 foot drop in total, among the highest in Canada
Takakkaw Falls – 830 foot drop in one stretch and 1260 foot drop in total, among the highest in Canada

Since we had time for only one hike in Yoho, we chose a memorable hike, the Iceline Trail.  There are several ways to tackle this hike, out and back, a shorter loop and the big loop.  Guess which one I chose?😉

Terry climbs to get a better view of Takakkaw Falls
Terry climbs to get a better view of Takakkaw Falls

The Iceline Trail via Little Yoho (the big loop) is 13-miles, with many of those above treeline.  It’s roughly 3000′ of elevation gain made for a challenging hike, but the 360º views of glaciers, flowing streams, and one of the tallest waterfalls in all of Canada made it worth the effort.

One of the infamous red chairs found after completing the Iceline Trail.
One of the infamous red chairs found after completing the Iceline Trail.

The next day we decided to scale back our hiking and chose to hike the Lake Agnes Trail in Banff National Park to a European-style tea house, the highest tea house in all of Canada. It is probably the most “civilized” way to see the Rockies.  The trail is 4-miles round-trip, with a 1300 foot elevation gain, just enough for me after our previous day’s trek.

Lake Agnes tea house
Lake Agnes tea house

And a visit to Banff is not complete without visiting the most iconic site in the park, the emerald waters of Lake Louise, where millions come every year to bask in her beauty.  It is the most famous glacial lake in the Canadian Rockies, named for Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, daughter to Queen Victoria.

The iconic Lake Louise
The iconic Lake Louise

The world-famous Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise sits on the edge of the lake, striking an impressive pose.  And it looked like millions were there on the day we visited and none spoke our native tongue.

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

Enough though we visited during peak season and had little time to explore, we wouldn’t have passed on getting a glimpse into these two spectacular Canadian parks, and we will definitely be back.  I am already reading about Banff in the winter – snowmobiles, dog sleds, cross-country skiing, sleigh rides.  Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Hubby is not convinced.😉

Next Up:  Icefields Parkway

Friends Old and New

“There are some people in life who make you laugh a little louder, smile a little bigger, and live just a little better.” ~ Anonymous

Wind turbines stand in the canola fields near Pincher Creek, en route to Cochrane
Wind turbines stand in the canola fields near Pincher Creek, en route to Cochrane

As we left Waterton Lakes National Park, our journey continued northward to Cochrane, one of the largest cities in the Alberta province and one of the fastest growing communities in all of Canada.  It’s Western, outdoorsy culture, with rolling hills, turquoise rivers, trails and paths, set against a Rocky Mountain backdrop, was divine.

Turquoise waters of the Ghost River
Turquoise waters of the Ghost River

Cochrane was on our radar, as we couldn’t pass an opportunity to reconnect with friends Jim and Barb.  We had met this lovely couple two years ago in Florida, where a quick introduction found us spending the rest of the evening and several days after talking like we had known each other our entire lives.  We have since caught up with them in So Cal and were now looking forward to seeing them on their home turf.

Wonderful friends Jim & Barb
Wonderful friends Jim & Barb

Jim and Barb graciously extended an invitation to stay in their beautiful home.  We couldn’t have had a lovelier experience had we stayed in the finest B&B.

The next several days we were treated to Barb’s scrumptious home-cooked meals and were the lucky recipients of Jim and Barb’s tour guide expertise, giving us a taste of Calgary (a beautiful city) and a full-day tour of Kananaskis Country, where the breathtaking Canadian Rockies surrounded us at every turn.

Our visit ended with an invitation to their annual block party, where 60+ neighbors warmly welcomed us into the fold.  I found myself wishing for someone to adopt us.  I was ready to pack my bags and head north.

And if that wasn’t enough, I had one more highly anticipated visit while in Cochrane.

When I was certain our travels were taking us to Cochrane, I reached out to a blogger friend in the hopes that she lived closed enough and was interested in meeting.  She did and she was and a plan was hatched. And now I can say that I have met one of my favorite bloggers, Sue Slaght of Travel Tales of Life.  If you aren’t already following her (and I’m sure many of you are) you really should check her out.  Funny, engaging, and chock-full of adventure, Sue’s is the consummate blog that all tourism boards would love to know.  Over coffee, both Sue and I agreed that meeting felt like reconnecting with an old friend.

Sue & me at Legacy Guitar House in Cochrane
Sue & me at Legacy Guitar House in Cochrane

I find meeting those who you can easily engage in conversation, yet find comfort in the silence, one of the most delightful pleasures in life.

We cannot thank Jim and Barb enough for their gracious hospitality, and hope to see them again next spring.  As for Sue, I would have been so disappointed had we been so close and our paths hadn’t crossed.  I hope this is just the first of many visits.

A sign outside a great restaurant, Anejo, in Calgary. Our crazy political scene is not lost on our friends north of the border.
A sign outside a great restaurant, Anejo, in Calgary. Our crazy political scene is not lost on our friends north of the border.