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Building Capacity

By Randee Bergen
Monday, June 16, 2014

No, this post is not about how many people are legally allowed in a given space as determined by floor space, number of doors, and room configuration.

This post is about human capacity–the human potential–of each person within an organization. The notion of building capacity and its partner, sustainability, were introduced to me at the Tointon School and Teacher Leadership Academy, which I recently attended in Vail, Colorado.

There was not a particular presentation or session about building capacity; rather, the idea of building human potential, along with sustaining it and, hopefully, its accompanying positive results, was alluded to throughout the three days by every speaker. No single presenter stood up and told us what building capacity meant; I just had to keep inferring and refining my understanding of it as we progressed through the hours and days of learning to cultivate this in our school.

And so here I am trying to write about it, to help me solidify my understanding of this concept of building capacity.

To me, capacity is that which a human being has the potential to become, in the area of knowledge, skills, behaviors, and techniques. Building capacity is about changing, about becoming more, about distinguishing a fixed mindset and nurturing a growth mindset. Capacity can happen accidentally; but, when it is done by design–by intentionally putting into place a culture and supporting structures– it can flourish more readily and within and across a greater number of individuals. I think you’ll agree that capacity is limitless, that it is interminable.

Less concrete, but equally critical human capacities, include self-awareness, attitudes, purpose, ethics, and world views. There is also the larger collective capacity of any organization.

Perhaps the most fascinating strategy that stuck with me is asking questions rather than providing answers. If a teacher inquires about something, a school leader might ask several questions of her in return, to get her ideas and opinions, to build upon what she thinks. Then, if necessary, the leader may contribute her own perspective (note that it is not her opinion or her answer), intentionally implying that she does not have all the answers.

Likewise, the same technique can be used with students. If a student asks a question, the teacher responds by encouraging the student to talk more and formulate a response. This approach builds capacity in all members of an organization by making them feel respected and equally important and valuable.

Having permission to be innovative and autonomous – to work with purpose – also builds capacity by unleashing human potential. Teachers need opportunities for instructional inquiry (what effect will it have on achievement if I change this or implement that?) so they can improve their instructional practice.

Educators need plenty of opportunity for self-reflection as well as the time and expectation to reflect upon their teaching. Collaboration and peer coaching are highly effective means of building capacity. Teachers should know their own strengths and potential areas for growth. The latter–potential areas for growth–should not be seen as a weakness but instead as an opportunity to not only develop capacity but to experience the process and thrill of building capacity. Again, this is true with students as well.

It will probably come as no surprise that when I Googled building capacity, I came upon capacity building in nonprofit organizations and non-government organizations, capacity building in communities, how it’s defined and used in substance abuse prevention programs, and a whole host of other applications. Because trust and collaboration are two of its biggest pillars, capacity building has me thinking not only of my professional relationships and the relationships I have with students, but of my various personal relationships, too, and what I can do differently to give the gift of capacity to the people in my life.

I think you’ll agree that being mindful of capacity, and how it is developed, and how we, as individuals, can be instrumental in building it in others, is quite powerful. What have you heard of building capacity or, now that you know what it is, what does it have you thinking about?

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Throwback Thursday: Same as it ever was

By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Thursday, June 12, 2014

1 comments

Free fishing weekend

By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Tuesday, June 10, 2014

If you look at the calendar the number of summer recreational weekend opportunities shakes out to about nine. Only nine weekends. Sure, you can do things after school starts but I always feel a lot of pressure to get some fun stuff done before our weekends are taken up again by the kid's school obligations. The things we need to make time for are fishing, hiking, swimming, vacation, a rodeo and a couple of birthday celebrations. If we spend one weekend doing each of these things, we'll have used up all our time. Freakin' hell. Summer is WAY too short but what can you do but try to pack in as much stuff as possible before the snow flies.

We dedicated last weekend to fishing because it was free fishing weekend in Colorado. Woot! We loaded up the kids, a cooler of snacks, Kip, worms and poles and headed up to Glade Park. We stopped at Fruita Reservoir No. 2 and cast our lines.

Fishing with kids is not like fishing with adults. It's loud and chaotic. There are tangled lines, spilled Cokes, scabbed knees, wet shoes, dropped worms, and abandoned poles. If someone does finally get a line in the water and hooks a trout, a grown-up has to jump up and supervise the entire process of reeling, unhooking, then stringing. Often, worm hooks get swallowed which means someone (Daddy) has to re-rig the whole pole.  Marty and I are not fishing, we're just running around helping the boys catch fish. It's rather exhausting.

But, it's so, so good for our boys. And, they love it.

After finally getting a pole in the water, Marek will sit patiently in a chair staring at a bobber he most likely can't see. Once every minute or so he says "Is it time Daddy?"

"No."

One minute later.

"Now Daddy?"

"No."

One minute later.

"Leave it in the water!!!"

One minute later.

"Daddy, am I a good fisherman."

Pause.

Marek sings ....

He drops his pole, pokes the mud with a stick.

"Now Marek, Now!"

And Marek jumps up and starts reeling with all his might. And everybody runs down to the water to inspect the stocked rainbow trout. 

And, Marty gets handed an empty pole to start the whole process over, again.

On the second day, Marek didn't catch any fish. This is what he thought of that.

No matter, in two days, we had nine fish that we ate with lemon and onion.

Fishing with little kids is far, far from a relaxing or serene time. But, we do it for the boys. And for ourselves because, just like summer, the number of weekends to make these kinds of memories before they grow up are pretty limited. And, we have so very much to do still.

 

 

 

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A Perfect Night for a Hike

By Randee Bergen
Monday, June 9, 2014

It was the perfect night to go hiking. The venue, the weather, the company, and a whole lot more.

My friend, Rochelle, also a teacher, took a class this past week called Teaching Environmental Science Naturally, put on by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (formerly Division of Wildlife). I ran into her Friday at the pool and she was telling me all about the activities and what she had learned. She mentioned that Colorado Parks and Wildlife was going to start a bat study. They wanted to find out how many species of bats lived on the Monument.

“Oh, you’ll probably want to know this. It’s a great time to go night hiking in No Thoroughfare Canyon. Our instructors said the frogs and toads are going crazy up there right about the time it gets dark.”

“Um, yeah! We should go tonight!” I said. “Or tomorrow. Whatever works for you.”

Rochelle couldn’t go either night because she was going out-of-town. So I asked Jim and he agreed.

We grabbed some Del Taco on the way and threw it in his backpack and started hiking about 7:30. The prickly pear blooms were incredible, sporting hues I’d never seen before, especially the orange sherbet shade.

I gazed at the canyon walls, the last of the sunshine illuminating and highlighting their tremendous height, amazed as always at the splendor of the red canyons in the Monument. And the greens. So much variety, so rich in color and life following a fairly wet spring.

After about a mile we came upon the first pool created by run off. And at the first pool were two guys, wearing waders, and setting up nets.

“Hey, what are you doing?” asked Jim, in a friendly voice.

“Well, we’re going to try to catch some bats,” said the shorter of the two men, who we later found out was Dan.

“Oh, is this for the bat study?” I asked, hardly believing how lucky we were that the study Rochelle mentioned was starting tonight and happening right here, right where we happened to be.

Dan looked at me at funny. “Yes. Yes, it is.” He went on to explain how the nets worked, wanting us to know that there would be no harm to the animals.

“And you’re trying to find out how many bat species are up here on the Monument, is that right?” I asked.

“Uh, okay,” he said, cocking his head and squinting his eyes at me, “how do you know all this?”

I laughed and told him that I was a teacher and that I had a teacher friend who, not more than three hours ago, had told me about her class and what she had learned.

“Oh yeah, I spoke to that class,” he said. I noticed he was wearing a Colorado Parks and Wildlife t-shirt.

Dan and Jake were more than willing to tell us about their work in general and this study in particular. They explained what all they’d be looking for if they caught any bats and what type of information they’d record. I asked if it would be okay if we watched, if it was okay that we were in the area tonight.

“It shouldn’t be a problem. We don’t mind. You’ll just need to keep your headlamps off most of the time so the bats will come in. They usually come here to drink right around dusk.”

Jim and I went up the trail, above the first pool, and found a nice spot to have our Del Taco dinner.

The moon, a 5/8 moon, made its appearance as the sun exited the scene. Right as it was getting dark, we made our way back to the first pool, the loud machine gun sounding call of the Canyon Tree Frog (it doesn’t live in trees but it has feet like most tree frogs do) and the screaming of the Woodhouse Toads ricocheting off the rocks.

As the light extinguished, I kept my eyes on the trail. I was surprised when a frog (or perhaps a toad, they do look similar) crossed the path right in front of me and then scooted into the safety of the grass.

By the time we got back to the first pool, the guys had already captured several bats. They showed them to us beneath their headlamps. They were tiny, their furry bodies no bigger than a juvenile mouse. But then Dan gently stretched out the wings of one and we could see that the wingspan was nearly ten inches.

We observed their sharp teeth set into their tiny heads and got to touch their paper-thin wings. I tried to get my iPhone camera to cooperate, but it had trouble focusing and deciding whether to use its flash or rely on the ever-changing light of the four headlamps leaning in and lighting up the subject.

Dan and Jake shared more of their knowledge. These bats were all myotis bats, the same bats that dart about in town shortly after the sun goes down. They know of eight species of myotis bats on the Monument and about eight other species as well. Then, we thanked them and let them get back to work.

The moon was almost bright enough to light the way for us, but we didn’t want to stumble so we turned our headlights on and took the short hike back.

“What a magical evening this has been,” Jim said, walking slowly, not really wanting it to end. “Thanks for getting me out.”

“Yeah, magical is right. The hike alone would have been wonderful. Add in evening light and then an early rising moon. Perfect weather. No bugs. Our yummy Del Taco picnic. Background music of frogs and toads. And then the cherry on top–running into the bat study and getting to see that work firsthand. Pretty much a perfect night for a hike.”

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Wise words from my old self

By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Friday, June 6, 2014

I posted this on back in 2006, less than a year after I became a mom. It was within a post about what the Haute Mamas, then me, Robin, and Lynn, had learned about being a mom. I love what I wrote:

Richie

1. Just stop and enjoy the moment because he’s already growing up so fast.

2. The dishes and housework can wait until after the baby goes to bed.

3. Toys are expensive!

4. The human body needs much less sleep than recommended.

5. Motherhood is the strongest emotion I’ve ever felt. I could never love anything more than my child.

6. I’ve learned how to be grateful. I have the most generous friends and family in the whole world.

7. It’s okay to cry right along with the baby if you feel like it. He’ll understand, he won’t tell anyone and you’ll both feel better.

8. Babies are the best excuse to loosen up, make faces, blow bubbles, and just be generally silly. After all these years of being told to STOP these things, it’s so refreshing to start up again.

9. Always give your husband credit and compliments especially in public and to his mother.

10. Everything you own is doomed to be destroyed in one way or another. Just accept this and you’ll be a lot happier.

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Victory by attitude

By Robin Dearing
Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Last week, I finally got my tomato plants in their pots and flowers in their hanging baskets. Another thing crossed off ye olde “I’m going to … “ list.

Sunday, we packed up my mom’s RV and we made the quick trip west to Moab. Monday morning, Bill helped me cross yet another thing off my list. We hiked to Delicate Arch inside Arches National Park.

We got to the trailhead early enough to avoid the heat of the day, gathered our water and fruit and started out.

I have to agree with the National Park Service brochure, it was a strenuous hike … for me. For the tiny, Asian tourists “hiking” in polyester trousers and patent leather ballet flats, it seemed like the proverbial walk in the park.

The further up the steep slickrock trail, the slower I went. I stopped often for water and rest. When I was passed by a geriatric couple, I really started getting down.

My legs felt like lead, each step was a labor. I never considered quitting, but I started feeling bad about myself. I started mourning Robin B.A.D (Before Addison’s disease). I thought about how much easier the hike would have been a couple years ago, before I got sick.

As I plodded along, I forced myself to think about the fact I was achieving another goal. I wasn’t thinking about what I used to be, how things are harder for me now, how I’m not what I used to be. Instead I focused on the prize.

I pulled up my big-girl panties and carried on. I made it to Delicate Arch and even conquered my fear of heights to cross the steep bowl it sits on to get my picture taken at its base.

Now when I look at the pictures from that hike, I see victory by attitude … not defeat by disease.

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YOU People

By Randee Bergen
Wednesday, June 4, 2014

What type of people are you? Are you downtown people? Redlands people? Near-the-North-desert people? Me? I’m Orchard Mesa people. Maybe you’ve never considered what type of people you are. Not quite in this sense, anyway, right? I hadn’t. Until a few nights ago.

I live just over the Fifth Street Bridge in Orchard Mesa. It’s an older neighborhood, blue collar, quiet, simple. There are no sidewalks on the side streets and not many businesses, so it has a bit of a country feel to it. It’s a little run down, quirky. But it’s peaceful.

One of the things I like is seeing the Colorado River on a daily basis, walking and driving over the bridge and walking along the river path. The river is fascinating in the spring when it’s running strong and full, fueled by mountain runoff, devouring the land that typically defines its normal path, visibly cresting from its power within.

Two evenings ago, Jim and I were driving over the bridge to my house and decided to try to get a better view of the confluence and the rapids that always form in that area in the month of May. I suggested we turn into Hilltop Liquors (now out of business) and drive behind the building. There is a good view of the Gunnison River there. But you can’t see the Colorado River all that well and it’s the Colorado that’s running wild right now, especially where it converges with the Gunnison. You need to drive north a little to get a better look at the Big C.

So that’s what we did. We drove north, back behind some other buildings that are up on the hill, not far, maybe a hundred yards. It’s basically a large gravelly area with worn out weeds and a few small structures. They may be homes or possibly storage or old business buildings. I’ve never really taken note and I wasn’t then. I had my eye on the rivers, the confluence.

Jim had his eye on a man walking toward us, a man with a beer bottle in one hand and a chihuahua on a chain in the other.

Neither of us had seen the NO TRESPASSING signs. I was checking out the river, the rapids. Jim was seeing the anger on the man’s face and in the way he strode toward us.

I stopped and got out to take a closer look. Jim kept his eye on the guy and said, “Where are you going? Get back in here.”

I took only a few steps when I saw the sign, a big sign that said PRIVATE PROPERTY. So I turned and got back into my vehicle.

I’m respectful. I’m not going to intentionally trespass on someone else’s property if I’m not welcome. And I know that whomever owns that property back there has had plenty of trespassers in the past, plenty of vagrants wanting to get to The Point, hoping to set up a temporary home on the picturesque slice of pie between the rivers at the confluence. But that was a few years ago. That area has been closed off for a while now.

As I hopped back in, I saw him. He was approaching our vehicle and he looked none too friendly.

You people!” he yelled at us. “Go back to the Redlands.”

“Calm down, man,” Jim said. “We’re not doing anything. We were just going to look at the river.”

“Go to the Redlands! Right over there!” He nodded to the bluffs on the other side of the Gunnison. “Go park in their driveways and look at the river. See if they like it. Can’t you read? It says no trespassing!”

“I’m sorry,” I yelled past Jim and out the passenger side window. “I see this big PRIVATE PROPERTY sign, but I didn’t see any others. I guess I was just looking at the river.”

It was true. I wouldn’t have driven past the liquor store if I realized it was posted no trespassing.

It didn’t matter though. What I said–my explanation, my apology–made no difference at all to this man.

“You people disgust me, you make me sick,” he continued. By now I had started driving. I couldn’t tell if he was drunk, if he was going to continue approaching us. So I circled wide around him and headed back from where we had come.

“Yeah, that’s right, you people! You go back to the Redlands!” he shouted behind us.

When we were safely out of there, Jim said, “That was weird. That really creeped me out.”

“Why?” I asked. “It wasn’t that bad.”

“Yes it was. What was all that ‘you people’ about? ‘Go back to the Redlands?’”

“Yeah, you’re right, that was weird. Why would he think we’re from the Redlands? Are Redlands people more inclined to look at the river? To trespass? I felt like telling him, ‘Hey buddy, I live on Orchard Mesa. Same as you.’”

It concerns me that people think–not to mention speak out loud–like that, in blanket, ignorant generalizations. When he said ‘you people’–meaning you people who live in the Redlands–he was referring to thousands. What could those thousands of people possibly have in common, other than living in the Redlands? And if there is a commonality, how was he seeing it in us? The Redlands is generally thought of as an affluent area in our community, with many beautiful homes that sit along the base of the Colorado National Monument, but in truth there are all sorts of homes and all sorts of people who live out there.

Just as there are on Orchard Mesa, or in any other area of our town.

If I didn’t live in Orchard Mesa, myself, I suppose I could shake my head at the guy and think along the lines of, oh, he’s just an Orchard Mesa hillbilly.

But that doesn’t work for me. That’s the beauty of our neighborhood, my community, the world. There are all sorts of people to be found everywhere. And we’re all different.

And there is much to be learned from all people, from any one person. And that holds true for this guy, too. I understand that he was angry at me for being on his property and he had every right to be, but did he handle it well? Was it really me who made him angry or was he angry long before we showed up?

Unbeknownst to him, he is the subject of my blog, and his thinking, his attitudes, his behavior, can teach us.

What do you take away from him?

By the way, the next evening we went to look at the river again, this time by the Blue Heron area. You know, over by the Redlands.

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Walking Fred

By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Wednesday, June 4, 2014

I have some pet regret when it comes to Fred. Don't ge me wrong, I love him as much as one can love a turtle I guess or else I wouldn't feed him. But, a turtle is a hard pet to love and if it weren't for me Fred II would be dead.

Nobody cares about Fred anymore. All he does is bury down in his tank, sleep, and occasionally he comes out to eat then quickly retreats underground. You can't even see him. It looks like an empty tank.

A really big empty tank because Fred's house is a turtle mega-mansion that sits on a wooden base. It's a rather large piece of furniture in my living room. And, I'm over that too. Sorry Fred, your tank is ruining my fung shui.

I feel bad that this is Fred's life. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that turtles should not be pets. There's no point in it. But, I also don't give pets away so we're in for the long haul which could be a very, very long time. So, I decided that Fred deserves the best kind of life we can give him and took him outside for a walk.

I remember getting off this bus in Cairo and trying to cross Tahrir Square. It was terrifying and exhilerating and somewhere along the way I remember thinking that this was the way to really get out and experience the world.

So I've been setting Fred in the grass every night hoping he would find an exhilerating experience, his Tahrir Square if you will.

He closes up in his shell. I sit on the porch and watch him. His feet won't touch the grass. He won't taste the mint. He won't experience the world.

Damn it Fred! I'm trying to give you a good life here. Walk Fred. WALK!!!

Guess I'll keep trying.

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On sharing:

By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Tuesday, June 3, 2014

I just read THIS ARTICLE about one mother's opinion on sharing. I'm not yelling at you, btw, I just wanted to make it clear that you could click on THIS ARTICLE if you want to read it.

If you dont' want to read THIS ARTICLE, that's okay, I'll tell you what it says. Basically, the mom writes that she doesn't expect her son to share in all situations. She claims that ownership is a valid point in all human interactions and that in the real world, we don't all have to share.

I know, at first I thought, "Not Share! What? Everyone child everywhere has been taught how to share."

But, I totally get her point and have to agree that sharing is not necessary in some circumstances. Certain toys are communal, like playgrounds. It's polite to swing awhile, then give someone else a turn. It's also okay to find something else to do if the swings are occupied. Should you share a drink? Nope. If you bring a jumprope do all the kids need a turn at it? Nope.

But, if a little person visits our house then my kids are expected to share. They aren't brats and they need some manners. Sharing is good manners within your own home.

In the case of siblings, my boys are expected to share to a point. If a brother wears your shirt or plays with your Spiderman that was laying on the floor, then that's fair game.

But, I have noticed as they get older that ownership cannot be overlooked. It's okay to have your own things. To stake claim to something and call it your own. To tell someone to get their grubby hands off your stuff. I do it myself. And, I'm okay with the boys drawing a territorial line across the entrance to their rooms. I actually encourage it and consider it a sign of respect and privacy, something everyone should be entitled to in their home.

But, the author stretched it just a bit when she said that sharing caused a sense of entitlement to kids. Hmmmm .... I don't know about that. I'd say the new generation's sense of entitlement comes more from what their parents have given them (everything) rather than what they're taking or giving other children on the playground.

Thoughts?

 

 

 

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In Search of a Giant Sequoia

By Randee Bergen
Friday, May 30, 2014

The Giant Sequoias were on the list for our Spring Break road trip, but I’ll tell you, it was the hardest part of the trip to plan. First, Sequoiadendron giganteum occurs naturally only in groves on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. This is a pretty out-of-the way spot for us Coloradoans and a difficult one to return home to from. After seeing sequoias, we would either have to go way far north to get up and around the Sierra Nevadas or all the way back down south again to get to the other side of the Sierras. This is because – I learned as I was planning the trip – there’s no crossing the Sierras during the winter months. And March is still winter when you’re talking mountain country.

But, I thought it’d be worth the extra driving if we could incorporate something interesting or unique while in the sequoia area. Like snowshoeing. Yeah, how about snowshoeing through the sequoias? That would a neat experience, especially after coming from the beach the day before. But, alas, when I called to inquire several months beforehand and make reservations for an activity like this, everyone told me that so far there wasn’t much snow and they couldn’t predict how much snow there would be in March and that therefore we couldn’t make reservations.

And as I researched further, I read in several places that we might not be able to get to any sequoias, due to road closures, if there did happen to be snow.

So, I scrapped the idea of going all the way north to Kings Canyon National Park or even Sequoia National Park and focused, instead, on Sequoia National Forest. Specifically, I Googled “most southern Sequoia groves.”

I felt armed and ready with my plans –though they concluded with “just ask the locals where to find a sequoia” — and, after leaving the beach, the girls and I drove northeast into central California. I hadn’t been to Bakersfield since I was a child and must say I thought it was lovely with its surrounding orchards and agriculture. From there, we went to Porterville and the much smaller, quaint and pastoral town of Springville (population 1,100), which would be our home base for finding a Sequoia tree.

We arrived in the late afternoon and decided to drive to Balch Park. My research indicated that this was a beautiful park with a lake, walking paths, and several of the giant trees. As we wound our way up into the mountains through several life zones, the late afternoon sunshine illuminated many plants and trees to which we were not accustomed. The forest grew thicker and taller, but the trees we saw were not sequoias. Balch Park is 26 miles from Springville. Around mile 20, we started seeing cabins, but they must have been summer homes because there were no other vehicles and no signs of human activity. Signs indicated that the road was open to local traffic only and that the road would be closed in two miles and then, after we’d gone the two miles, in 500 feet. But we were able to keep going. It was open. And then, suddenly, it wasn’t. I knew we were close to Balch Park. It had to be just beyond the closed and locked gate that blocked the road. But we couldn’t enter. Tulare County had the road closed for the season.

So after an hour or more of switch-backing up into the mountains, we turned back. We all agreed it was an incredibly beautiful drive and that though we didn’t reach our destination, it had still been an enjoyable time.

And then we saw it. A random Giant Sequoia. In the tall, tall forest that we were in, it rose high above the rest of the trees. Its color was magnificent in the late evening sun. And it was beautiful.

The girls were moved by this tree and Addy said, “Mom, I want to see more of these. Can’t we please drive north tomorrow and go see a bunch of them?”

We stopped in a charming café in the small town of Springville for dinner. There, we asked our waitress where the closest place to see the trees was. She wasn’t sure; she hadn’t lived there long. But, some fellow diners overheard us and explained that all we had to do was go up Camp Nelson Road to the Trail of 100 Giants. “It’s not that far, but it’ll take you nearly two hours to get there because the road’s so windy and it’s such a climb.”

“Will the road be open though?” I explained to her what had happened in our attempt to get to Balch Park.

“Oh yeah, the road’s open.” They seemed sure about it.

Back at the hotel room, I opened my laptop and did some research. Everything I read indicated that the road to the Trail of 100 Giants would not be open, even at the end of March. This is what I had read while researching at home before we left. There were two small communities up this same road though and I reasoned the road would have to be open to at least that point being that these were towns and people most likely lived there year-round. And near one of these communities was the world’s fifth largest tree, the Stagg Tree. It would require a short hike, but I had a feeling we could get to it.

I asked the girls if they wanted to get up early – 5:00 a.m. – and once again switch back into the mountains and attempt to find Stagg Tree. Surprisingly, they did.

The drive was steep and windy and slow. We climbed more than 4,000 feet in an hour and got a real sense of how high and vast the Sierras were. And it really was winter up there. It was cold and there was snow everywhere, even some snow on the road. Amy was feeling carsick but didn’t complain too much. After an hour and a half, we reached the small communities. I didn’t see much sign of activity and I knew I had lucked out that this road was open. I kept half an eye on my hastily written notes–according to my directions, I needed to turn onto a dirt road soon–and wished that I had written more detailed ones. What if we couldn’t find this tree, after a second attempt and all this driving?

Then, my notes made sense and I could see where we were supposed to turn. But it wasn’t a dirt road. It was a snowy road. And I couldn’t see much of it as it went off into the forest. “What do you think, girls? Should we go for it?” Of course, we had to. I put my Sequoia in 4LOW.

Now, I wasn’t about to do anything crazy. I wasn’t going anywhere where I might get stuck. I mean, we were an hour and a half into the mountains and as far as I knew, there wasn’t a soul around. And there surely wasn’t any cell service. Mostly, I put my vehicle in 4LOW to be on the safe side. And to make it seem more adventurous.

We only went about 100 yards until we came to a closed gate. But there were footprints in the snow beyond the gate and I had a feeling that was where we needed to go. Again, I asked the girls if they wanted to press on. They didn’t have the greatest hiking shoes. And we’d be hiking in snow.

After coming as far as we had, they wanted to find this tree.

It was a lovely day for a hike, about 35 degrees, sunny, and just a few inches of snow on a pretty road. And there were several stately Sequoias along the way.

The hike was about 3/4 of a mile, but then a sign showed that we should leave the road and go into the forest. The snow was deeper here, it was downhill, and we didn’t know how far we’d have to go on this new section of our journey. It was icy and we giggled as we slid and grabbed at the vegetation that lined the trail to help maintain our footing.

Then, just ahead, I saw a large sign and I knew it must be for Stagg Tree.

The “giant redwood” aspect of the sign perplexed me a bit. Were Giant Sequoias redwoods? I was pretty sure they were a different species than the Giant Redwoods in northern California and Oregon. When I got home, I looked it up and read that sequoias are one of three species of coniferous trees known as redwoods. The sign said that Stagg Tree was about 3,00 years old. 3,000! The oldest Sequoia is estimated to be about 3,500 years of age. The circumference of its trunk at the ground is 109 feet. We could not walk all the way around it due to the amount of snow on the backside.

We enjoyed the beauty and wonder of Stagg Tree and the idea of hiking in the snow in the Sierra Nevada with no one else around and then we walked back to our vehicle and began the long, slow drive into the valley. Amy drove; she didn’t want to deal with that carsick feeling again. Addy slept. And I smiled to myself the entire way.

Mission accomplished – together we three Bergen women had conquered our need to find and touch and marvel at a Giant Sequoia tree.

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