Skywalker Couloir

The rock was rotten. Each time I grasped a hold, I wondered if it would pull away when I cranked on it.

Ben, Jeremy and I were clustered around the bottom of an exit chute near the top of our snow climb up Skywalker Couloir on Sunday. The chute, a snow-collecting break in the band of cliffs at the top of the couloir, was a variation on the normal route, and according to the guidebooks, this variation — named Princess Leia — is only in for a week or two every year. We’d seen three other climbers head between the cliffs into this steep ribbon of snow that morning, but what we didn’t catch from below was how they crossed the gap between the couloir’s main snowfield and snow in the chute above. It seemed we were precariously close to the end of that Leia window.

Jeremy and I approached the top of the couloir ahead of Ben.

“You know, that ‘easy’ exit route doesn’t look so easy,” I said to Jeremy as we kicked our crampons into increasingly steeper snow and examined the route’s standard exit, to our left.

“Yeah, I don’t like it either,” he said. “Princess Leia almost looks easier.”

“Let’s go for Princess Leia,” I yelled to both of them as I followed the steps to the base that were kicked by the morning climbers. Itching to do the direct finish all along, Ben agreed from below.

It was late. I’d wanted to be off the snow by 10 a.m., and it was approaching 11. And I was tired. We’d gotten up at 4 a.m. and started the hike to the couloir at 6. Plus, the sun was coming out in very short spurts — good for the snow conditions, which remained stable instead of turning to a sun-baked slush, but a bad sign weather-wise. If lightning rolled in, tree line was far away. I wanted to get off the mountain.

Ben climbed up behind us, and we all deemed the 5-foot gap in the snow too dangerous to cross. Jeremy and Ben were discussing what to do while I eyed the rock to the right of the gap. Will it go in crampons? I pulled off my gloves, stashed my ice axe and tested a foothold. Maybe. The first looked too crumbly; I tried another. My crampons grated on the rock with that steel-on-stone sound that scrapes at my mind regardless of the quality of my foothold. But I wanted to be done, and we were close. I moved onto the rock with all of my weight and grabbed a crumbly hold with my hand.

“Jenn.” There was a tone of caution-too-late in Jeremy’s voice.

“I know.”

“I wish I could spot you.”

I moved further up the rock, because that was the only way to go. It was rotten, but going down was not an option, especially soloing in crampons. “I wish you could, too,” I said. “And I really wish I’d taken the rope with me.” I’m not terribly experienced as an alpine climber, so I’m sure it was much scarier for me to climb this than it would have been for a veteran alpinist. But I was committed to the route at that point, and there was no room for fear, only a focus on completing the task at hand safely. My left hand felt around for a stable hold until, voila. I tested it. It held. I moved a foot and pulled with my left hand.

The rock came away from the wall in my left hand.

In hindsight, this was the first of many times fortune smiled on us that day. If I’d gone flying backward, nothing would have stopped me from tumbling down the 1,000-foot snowfield we’d just climbed — self-arrest would have been difficult to impossible on snow that steep at any velocity created by a fall on the rock above. Luckily, I was stable on my feet, so I leaned in, pushed the rock back into place (bad to drop it on my fellow climbers, obviously) and said: “Shit.” Nervous laugh. “You guys should not do what I’m doing.”

I kept going for just a few more feet until I was far enough above the gap to climb safely back onto the snow in the narrow chute. After a deep breath, I looked down to see Jeremy pulling the rope out of his pack. I was glad to see they weren’t following in my foolish footsteps.

There’s a rhythm to climbing snow, even if you’re hauling ass to get off of it (I was). Punch axe into snow, then kick-kick. Repeat. The snow steepened to 70 degrees or so. Punch, push up with free hand in already-cut step, kick-kick. Thunder rumbled far away behind me, but I didn’t dare look. I just needed to concentrate and finish the climb.

Punch, push, kick-kick.

I topped out the snow onto scree in a brief moment of sunshine. Gravel glued onto my wet crampons and axe as I battled for a grip on the moving ground. This is worse than that solo below, I thought. I clawed my way onto a stable rock and looked behind me for the first time in hundreds of feet of climbing.

Dark clouds dripping rain streaks were rolling in from the southwest. They rumbled again. Our escape route was a 300-foot scramble above, over the top of S. Arapaho Peak, then a scramble down a ridge on the other side to a trail that would take us the remaining 3.5 miles to our car at the trailhead.

To calm my nerves while I waited for Jeremy and Ben, I sang to myself and shooed marmots away from my pack. (When we were climbing in Chamonix, I noticed some of the guides and climbers would whistle, hum and sing through their climbs. I realized it was probably a good trick for keeping your head in the game, and I embraced it.) I couldn’t hear anything from where I sat with the marmots, and I couldn’t see down the climb.

Finally, Jeremy came over the lip of the snow.

“Hey!” I yelled.

“Hey,” he said. “You scared me.”

“I know. I’m sorry. I definitely win the prize for stupidest move of the day, soloing that rock.”

Ben wasn’t far behind. The weather already looked worse than it did when I topped out — the sun had disappeared, and the rain was closer.

“We need to get the eff off this mountain,” I said as both of the guys pulled off their backpacks to stash their crampons and ice axes. We were all perched on rocks looking right at the dark clouds.

“Seriously,” Ben said.

We scrambled for the top of the peak. It wasn’t far, but we were all so exhausted from the climb up the couloir that we kept pausing to gasp for air. Poor unacclimatized Ben had just moved to Colorado the week before. He had to be in a state of mixed misery and euphoria when we saw the turquoise lake in the jagged cirque on the other side of the summit.

A handful of hikers were on the summit and heading up the other side. (They should have been heading down.) We could see our trail; it crossed a high plain before switchbacking down to treeline far below. Thunder continued as we moved as quickly as we could down the ridge to the trail. I tried not to think about the metal ice axes we all carried on the backs of our packs.

The hail started in earnest as we crossed the open plain. So did the lightning. We paused to throw our rain jackets on and kept running for the trees far below. Rain poured and lightning crashed around us as we hit the switchbacks. Ben’s long legs carried him ahead of me and Jeremy, and when he reached the first patches of bushes, he yelled up to us:

“Should we stop here? We can ditch the packs and get under these bushes.”

We dropped our packs, ran 50 more feet down the trail and ducked deep into the bushes. Panting and soaked, we tried to breathe and count between the lightning and thunder. At first, we could count from three to five, but the flash and the following boom quickly became simultaneous. We were starting to soak through and shiver; we all knew we could easily become hypothermic if we stayed too long.

After a few minutes, Ben said: “Should we just make a run for it?”

Boom! No time to count between. “Not yet,” I said. “It’s right on top of us.”

After running more than a mile down the exposed trail, hiding in the bushes felt safe. It wasn’t much of a shelter, but we were safer there, without our axe-toting packs, without our heads poking above the low brush and rocks along the trail. I wasn’t anxious to leave. But the storm continued to beat down on us, and the cold rain was seeping into every opening of our jackets, pants and boots. Ben said he was praying hard. I thought of his wedding next week and hoped Genny, his fiancee, couldn’t see the storm from home in Boulder.

“It’s not letting up,” Ben said. “Should we go?”

We peered through the bushes at the gray skies to our south and west. Crash above.

“No.” I said.

“But there’s more on the way, and what if it doesn’t let up?”

“Maybe we should go at the next break,” Jeremy said.

When we could count to four or five again between the flashes and thunder, we went for it. (This was not safe, but we felt it was the best window we would get.) We ran. The trail was flooded, so to my worry over carrying a metal axe, I added my worry over standing in water in a storm. Full knowledge of the danger we were in had been pushing my body down the trail faster than my legs could actually carry me for an hour. I was wasted. I simply could not move fast enough to satisfy my fear.

Finally, we reached treeline, and of course, the storm faded, but not entirely. The drizzle and thunder continued as we headed down the trail at a walk instead of a run. I wrung water out of my gloves and put them back on, because fleece really does keep you warm(ish) even when it’s wet. My feet squished in my watery Gore-Tex boots. The rain stopped entirely about a half a mile from the trailhead, but by the time we reached the car, the rain and thunder began anew as another storm blew in from the southwest.

As I stripped off my wet clothes — even my pants, which were completely soaked and had been clinging to my clammy legs for miles — and chucked them into the back of the car, I made a vow to stay indoors and not climb the next day. Maybe do yoga.

Tuesday, however, is another day.

Tougher than me

I spent the better part of this weekend with women who are tougher than me.

Today, I went on my club (Title 9) ride with my friend Kim. I’ve been riding for a while, but Kim is a new cyclist. We both joined the club this spring, and when we went to the sign-up, Kim didn’t even own a bike. She’s green.

On today’s ride, a group of the T9ers wanted to head up to Jamestown, which is a climb of 2,000 feet or more. Kim had recently expressed a fear of climbing, which is crazy for a person who telemark skis and hikes so fast it’s what most people would call trail running. As my husband put it: Kim should be worried about ripping the cranks off of her bike, not climbing.

“Kim, how you feeling?” I asked when we regrouped near the bottom of the climb.


“Then let’s go to Jamestown with them.”

Of course, Kim climbed like Marco Pantani in his doping days. She took strong pulls at the front and stayed on the wheels of much more experienced girls for all 12 miles of the ride up the hill. For an encore, she fearlessly dipped through the sandy curves on the downhill.

Did I mention how green she is?

Yesterday was even more wussifying for me. Our band of climbing buddies had taken its first steps up a climber’s trail to a crag in Boulder Canyon when Genny took a spill on a loose rock underfoot. She caught herself with her hands, but when she stood up, she discovered that she’d peeled back most of the skin on the print of one of her fingers.

This is what climbers call a “flapper.” And it was big — the size of a penny or more.

We were still so close to the car that I suggested we go back to it and take a good look at Genny’s flapper. Our friend Jeff took charge of the first aid.

“First we need to irrigate the wound,” Jeff instructed. I pinched my Camelbak above Genny’s finger and winced (wincing again as I write this) as she pulled the flap back so the water would pour right onto it.

“Is this a stitch-it-up situation?” I asked. “It looks like a stitch-it-up situation.”

“I think it’s okay,” Genny said. (Genny’s quiet, calm demeanor is such that if she’d lost the entire finger she might have said the same thing, except that she would have innocently asked whether anyone had ice, too.) I didn’t believe her, but Jeff agreed. Jeremy and I exchanged a look that said he wanted to take her to a doctor, too.

Jeremy produced our first aid kit, and Jeff taped gauze to her finger like a pro. When he was done, Genny’s finger looked like it belonged to Mickey Mouse.

Genny said she wanted to go up to the crag with us and watch us climb. Jeremy and I exchanged looks again. But she was already standing up and adjusting her backpack.

We set up a toprope, and Jeff, Jeremy and I climbed…and then Genny decided to climb, too. She proceeded to climb everything we did with panache. And a Mickey Mouse finger.

That night, Genny called a cousin who is a nurse. She told her to clean under the flap again (wincing) and try to put it back in the right place. It didn’t want to go back quite right, Genny said, so it must have stretched (really wincing now!), either when she did it, or while she was climbing on it.

Now we’re just waiting to see what happens to Genny’s fingerprint. I have a feeling it’s going to heal into the swirled phrase: “Tough Mickey.”

The liar

I was just reviewing some of the e-mails I’ve received from people who tracked down information on Dr. Ajari here, and at the risk of perpetuating old gossip, here’s one of my favorites:

These are some things I’ve heard but I have no idea as to their validity.

Dr. Ajari carried the Dali Lama on his back when he (the D.L.) was fleeing the Chinese invasion of Tibet. …

Dr. Ajari would awaken at 2 or 3 am to practice because this was the most powerful time.

Dr. Ajari was hired by the Sony Clan to go into lengthy retreats atop a Japanese mountain for the health of their family and business.

Don’t worry friend — no one seems to be able to validate many of these stories! I was going through some other e-mails, too, and nearly all of them refer to one or more difficult if not impossible to confirm stories that I’d put in the category of Dr. Ajari Myths. In fact, one person wrote to me about “Dr.” Ajari because, he said, the man didn’t have an M.D. or Ph.D. (I wrote back to say that I had not yet attempted to confirm his academic credentials, but I, too, question them.)

My point? Some of you think Dr. Ajari was a liar.

Your words, not mine. Still, some of you who knew him are going to read that and be pretty unhappy with me for writing it. Others might relish seeing those words typed out with the blunt force of short words in a simple sentence. And other still will say what a longtime student of his told me:

It doesn’t matter if he lied. Or not. He was a great teacher.

“People would get caught up, saying how could he have been jumping out of planes in the Congo when he was supposed to be carrying the Dalai Lama out of Tibet? Some people said, ‘They’re lies, lies!’ But they’re just stories.”

I won’t attribute that quote at the moment, but it came from someone who lived with Dr. Ajari for nearly two decades. He said that if you got stuck in the facts and chronology and is he a liar?!?, you were probably missing an important dharma lesson that had little to do with veracity of the facts.

If there is far more myth than fact here, does it matter? We expect honesty to be one of the many virtues our religious leaders possess. Is it bad if your spiritual teacher lies to get a point across? Or is trust, a requisite factor in the student-teacher relationship, destroyed by a lie?

Or is this debate an exercise in dualism?

Big ice

I was hooking my way up a picked-out and crowded frozen waterfall at Wild Basin on Sunday when the climber next to me yelled:

“Ice ice ice ICE!”

You yell “ice!” a lot when you’re ice climbing. It’s usually a fairly casual warning for the folks around you: I am swinging an ice axe into this frozen cascade and knocking down everything from fine shavings to dinner plates. For your own safety, please take notice and avoid the dinner plates. Thank you.

But when this guy yelled “ice!” it had urgency. It was not the casual yell for quarter-to-golf-ball-sized ice chunks easily deflected by a climbing helmet. This “ice!” had danger behind it.

I looked over to see dinner platter ice coming down from him. It was glancing away from me and my husband, who was belaying me below, and away from the climber’s own belayer. But the dinner platter ice (think of what your grandma serves the Thanksgiving turkey on) was heading for a young woman further west along the bottom of the cliff.

She glanced up and dodged one big chunk. Her head was still ducked when another dinner platter crashed into the side of her helmet.

She stumbled backward and crumpled to the ground.

The other climber and I were stunned. We hung motionless from our ice tools, crampons clinging to the ice in silence, waiting. Everyone on the ground (except our belayers) ran to the girl.

The guy who had knocked the ice down was still a bit above me, so I climbed up next to him to avoid being the next victim, just in case, and waited. I looked at my husband. Is she okay? I mouthed. He shrugged uncertainty. The other climber didn’t say a word. He didn’t have to — I knew we were both wondering whether he’d just caused massive head trauma with the flick of an ice axe.

One of the women on the ground came into sight and gave us a thumbs up and a big smile.

“Can you move her to the side?” the climber yelled down. (Just what we needed was another dinner platter of ice coming down on her again, or on someone else.)

By the time I came back down, the poor girl and her climbing partner were perfectly cheerful. Her friend even took a picture of her holding the offending chunk of ice next to her head as she wore a huge death-cheating smile.

“You know,” said the guy who’d knocked the ice down, “It was much bigger than that, but it broke on your helmet.”

“Really? Sweet!”

And she kept climbing.

Norwegian Kool-Aid

One of the reasons I haven’t written much here this winter is that I’ve taken up two new winter sports.

I’m from Missouri, a land that sees more ice and freezing rain than snow. We stay inside in the winter. The only sliding around on the white stuff we do is on a saucer sled (or in our cars). But even if skiing had been part of my region’s cultural identity, my scrawny, uncoordinated childhood physique wouldn’t have accepted the sport as a viable pastime.

Not that well-meaning family members didn’t try. When I was 11, my mom took me to visit our more sporty relatives in San Jose, who for years had spent winter weekends blasting through bowls at Heavenly. They wanted us to experience the joy of skiing and thus carted us up to Lake Tahoe in winter.

Aunt Ethel took Mom high up the mountain, and Mom, being adventurous (and stuck after taking the lift to a no-woman’s land of steep black-diamond snow), somehow followed Aunt Ethel without killing herself or anyone else. Uncle Bruce, a kindly soul who deserves a sainthood for his patience, took me to the bunny slope.

What happened there was one of those traumatic experiences of total childhood humiliation that we later tell ourselves was good for us. I don’t remember much, but I’m sure it was good for me. There was a lot of coaxing, crying, and falling, then some more crying, more falling, and guilt over hating the sport that was the sole reason for wearing the cute bubblegum pink snowsuit Uncle Bruce had bought me. My young mind raced for a way to make this all better as Uncle Bruce moved me down from the bunny slope, where I was pink Missouri carnage to be avoided by hot-dog toddlers from Cupertino, to a tiny slope off to the side — of the bunny slope — out of view of the rope tow, or, as I like to call it, the undertow of athletic inadequacy.

There were more attempts at pizza, french fries, but all attempts at skiing left me feeling like I’d been food poisoned. Just let me go back to the cabin to read a book, I remember thinking before I blotted the rest of the day from my memory.

Poor Uncle Bruce.

Years later, as an adult, I moved to Colorado (the first time) and tried cross-country skiing a few times. I stayed upright for the most part and didn’t cry. Teenage Boulderites passed me on the nordic trails, and this was more tolerable than toddlers, but I still wasn’t enjoying myself.

Perhaps I just needed a cute pink snowsuit to experience the joy?

In November, I was showshoeing near Fraser, Colorado, on one of the first days of the winter that was cold enough to cause snot to freeze inside my nose. The sun dipped behind a ridge around 2:30 p.m., and we had three miles to hike back to the car. Trudging back down, a skiier, quiet and smooth, slipped past us, effortlessly gliding down the hill to the trailhead.

I hated him instantly. My mouth fell open, I looked at my husband and said:

“I’m learning how to ski this year.”

I wasn’t sure just how I wanted to ski — so many ways! — but the answer fell into my lap when the Colorado Mountain Club’s winter course schedule arrived at our house: backcountry cross-country skiing, or ski touring. We both signed up.

With the childhood ski trauma in mind and my adult cross-country experience a 6-year-old memory, I scrawled across my application, “no skiing experience.” I was placed in a small group with beginner skiers and a nice older woman carrying a backpack twice her size.

“Do you have mittens?” she asked me, surveying my gloves like a school teacher. “Because I have down mitts in my pack.”

Jan said she was 72 and had just had two knee replacements. She must have taken lessons on cheerful patience from Uncle Bruce, and fortunately, I wasn’t the one causing the need for patience this time — our group had a drama queen who cried for help every time she fell, which was often, and yelled at us to slow down between telling us, “oh, I’m a fit lady .” But Jan’s drills were helping me catch on, finally. She had me skiing up and down a trail by the end of the day, which felt like a major coup to the little girl in the pink snowsuit crashing all over the hill below the bunny hill.

At the next lesson, I actually figured out that whole pizza and french fries thing. I was moved into a higher group with Pete, who wore wool knickers and colorful knee socks.

“We’ve got a group of guys, and we need a woman to keep us in line,” Pete said. “You can do that, right?”

I liked Pete instantly.

Pete took us on a trail. He taught us how to cross dips in the trail on our long skis and look out for moose.

“If we see a moose, we’re going to find out just how fast you can ski,” he said.

Pete kept haranguing us to glide, not shuffle, and I started to glide. It was a revelation. I could glide several feet in one kick, and it was a glorious feeling. I remembered something a friend of ours told us:

“Snowshoeing is for people who haven’t discovered skiing yet.”

Joy was bubbling. When we got back to the trailhead, we skied back and forth to stay warm in the high winds that batter the Indian Peaks.

“How long have you been skiing, Pete?” I asked.

“Well, let’s see,” he said. “I’ve been skiing 71 years.”


“Well, my father is Norwegian, and when you’re Norwegian, you learn how to ski when you’re two,” Pete said. “I’m 73 now, so I’ve been skiing for 71 years.”

Though I was a Missourian, not a Norwegian, I was inspired. Pete and Jan took me from zero to skiing in two Saturdays. Now that I suddenly knew how to ski (not well, of course), I didn’t want to forget. A few of us girls at the office started doing Saturday ski tours up the hill at Brainard Lake — we start at a reasonable sleeping-in hour, so we’ve dubbed them the Civilized Ski Tours for Civilized Ladies — and, though I can’t keep up with them, I’m finally experiencing the joy of skiing.

Last weekend, I bought my first pair of skis. The CMC instructors are into these old-school, old-country skis that they sell down at Neptune Mountaineering. Gary Neptune is the ultimate old-school cross-country skier. He came out for our classes decked out in a red parka with fur that made him resemble Santa Claus. He has a store full of the latest and greatest gear, but he carries a rucksack that looks at least 60 years old. A fellow student who asked him about the rucksack said he replied:

“When I find something that works better, I’ll carry it.”

I went into Neptune to rent skis (again) for a Civilized Ladies ski tour, but they were out of my size boots. Nonplussed, I ended up buying a pair of gorgeous, smooth Norwegian touring skis that I’ll have to learn how to wax if I have any hope of traveling uphill in them. It’s all quite new and exciting, and the little girl in the pink snowsuit with pink, tear-streaked cheeks can hardly believe it.

And Uncle Bruce would be proud.

The chronology of nonexistent time

From the Dr. Ajari files…

A chronology of Dr. Ajari’s life has eluded me for some time. No one seems to know exactly when he did anything, just that he did a lot: was detained in Dachau, subsequently went to Japan to study Shugendo and complete a three-year retreat, jumped out of airplanes in West Africa, accompanied the Dalai Lama out of Tibet, served as a field surgeon in the Korean War. And this is all before arriving in San Francisco. Somewhere in there, pre-SF, he also earned a medical degree, a PhD, and a doctor of theology degree (Dr. Ajari was apparently a triple threat).

Dr. Ajari was born in 1932, which means he would have been a teenager in Dachau, and probably Japan, too, in the late 1940s. If he was in Korea for part of the ’50s, and helped the Dalai Lama flee Tibet in 1959, then…

Okay, help me with the math here — when did he have time to become a doctor three times over? In fact, when did he earn his bachelor’s degree?

And when did he jump out of airplanes in West Africa? And why?

I’m completely confounded, but this is why I want to write his story. The tale of Dr. Ajari is the stuff of myth and legend. One of his students in the 1980s was so fed up with his tall tales that she hired a private investigator to upend his wild stories. But as far as I know, the only thing this revealed was that he’d been excommunicated from one church, and that wasn’t a factoid he was hiding, anyway.

Dzogchen texts suggest that by checking our watches and keeping a calendar, we’re missing the point — time doesn’t exist. In trying to understand the chronology of Dr. Ajari’s life, I sometimes feel that is the only explanation. He must have been living outside of anything resembling a linear space-time continuum.

Or he had a gift for exaggeration.

Soft Girls

While having dinner with a typically outdoorsy Colorado friend the other night, she mentioned that her co-workers don’t climb or ski or cycle on weekends. They bake, she said. And watch the occasional game on TV. And bake.

“You know,” she said. “They’re soft girls.”

I did know. I used to be a prolific judge of soft girls. When I worked with a bunch of guys at an outdoor gear shop in St. Louis, there was a soft girl who worked for the buyers. She was marrying a well-known local mountain biker (much to my amazement), and she liked to look at bride magazines and talk about weddings and flowers and other soft things. I inadvertently ended up eating lunch in the break room at the same time as the soft girl most days, and I’ll never forget the day she went on and on about some intricately-iced cookies in a Martha Stewart magazine.

“I could stay home and bake pretty cookies all day,” she gushed in her whiny voice.

I held back from tossing my not-so pretty cookies. I did not like this particular soft girl, nor did I understand her pretty-cookie lifestyle. I vowed to never become a soft girl.

This vow turned into a virtual wedding vow. I started dating my husband right around that time, and pretty cookies became our little joke. Do you want to go mountain biking? No, I want to stay home and bake pretty cookies all day. Try to climb my first 5.11, or try to bake pretty cookies? A tough choice indeed. If I climb, my forearms will be too pumped to knead pretty cookie dough later.

I was so disgusted with the soft girl and her pretty cookies and her hopeless exercise-free wedding diet (“I don’t want my arms to get all muscular,” she whined with a grimace. No danger of that happening, I thought.) that I vowed only to make gnarly, misshapen cookies for my husband. With fat-free, whole-grain ingredients. And not very often.

So there, soft girl. I will break up your pretty cookies with my muscular arms. I will mix them into my granola. And I will never be a soft girl like you.

But sometimes, life throws you cookies, and you have to make them pretty. Or at least edible.

I went to grad school, and I figured out that the best (if not only) way for me to survive grad school was to become a better student of Buddhism. Unfortunately, compassion and equanimity are central principles in Buddhist thought.

Compassion is one thing. Poor soft girls, look how mushy they are. But equanimity? I had to come to grips with being the equal of a soft girl?

Am I the same as that dreaded mushy girl and her stupid pretty cookies?

This proves a point I’ve made many times to friends who’ve heard about the happy, smiling Dalai Lama: Buddhism is much easier to stomach in theory than in reality.

In the meantime, while trying to cope with my soft-girl sameness, my cookie suchness, my four-pack (never had all six) disappeared under a layer of lattes, coffee-house scones and late-night reading and writing. My back ached. I slept little and exercised even less.

I got soft.

There’s no better (or harder) way to learn equanimity than to become that which you despise. Granted, I didn’t become a completely soft girl, just softer. I’ve still never baked a pretty cookie. I’d rather gush over an ugly vegan cookie I didn’t bake.

I might have this all wrong, but I think the point of equanimity is to understand that our personalities are like our favorite cookies. We ice them in pretty, perfect ways to cover their flaws. Or we add whole oats and raisins to make them gnarly so they seem tougher.

But all cookies are good. My favorites are kitchen sink cookies — throw in everything but the kitchen sink. They’re misshapen and lumpy, and they’re best slightly undercooked.


Answering the question: WWDLD?

I learned from one of my co-workers who recently saw 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama that one can simply e-mail the Dalai Lama. Now, don’t expect a direct answer. He’s a busy guy, so a bunch of monks weed through his e-mails (apparently. I haven’t seen the movie myself.).

But all this time, I’ve been asking, WWDLD? And all this time, I just needed to send an e-mail.

So my question, friends, is what do you want to know? (I think we’ll pass on Libby’s parking question — sorry Lib.) Let’s discuss and come up with a good question. Once we narrow it down, I’ll e-mail the Dalai Lama. And we’ll see what happens.

Blog Action Day: Take my canvas. Please.

Today is Blog Action Day, which means that I have to get up off my mouse and do some typing here. I’m way behind on my blogging, so the stories are piling up: recent climbing escapades, bad yogis, and of course, an op-ed on why even Superman could neither get nor keep (read: downsizing) a job at the Daily Planet in this market.

But that will all have to wait, because the topic for Blog Action Day is the environment.

It would be easy to talk about Al Gore and his Nobel Prize right now. Or Boulder’s attempt at creating regulations for solar panels — that’s hot here right now. But I’m going to trouble you with a more pressing issue for me, because this is my blog, and I often find myself quite concerned about things that have to do with me.

Why, for the love of Pete, do baggers at Safeway insist on giving me plastic bags when I bring in my own canvas bags?

A dear friend of mine who is a reporter at the local paper did a story recently on plastic bags: how we clean them up here in our community, what our local recycling facility does with them, and why they’re nearly impossible to recycle.

That’s right, nearly impossible. If those flimsy plastic bags they give you at the grocery store get the least bit wet or dirty, they gum up the recycling machines. Those slightly flawed bags you’ve saved up in the garage to recycle later are trash.

I’ve been fond of my canvas bags for a long time now, but this story made me start dragging the canvas into Safeway again. I’d stopped taking them there, because the cashiers always seem confused when I hand over my sturdy canvas bags (which are boldly marked with the Whole Foods logo). I took paper instead, because paper is widely recyclable nowadays, but even the request for paper often confounds the average Safeway cashier, even here in Boulder County.

We’re not San Francisco, but we’re close.

Anyway, this alarming new information about plastic bags inspired me to scorn those freebie vessels of vice and use my own saintly canvas bags whenever humanly possible. But baggers at my local Safeway conspired against me. They lightly loaded my lovely canvas bags, then switched to plastic. I took more bags next time and asked them to fill them to the very top. They did, but they still threw cold items with condensation on them into plastic bags as I watched in horror and imagined the thus ruined bags floating into myriad waterways until reaching an ocean, where a fish or small water-borne mammal will perish inside it beside my lost receipt.

Damn you, Safeway. I will triumph.

The only solution I’ve found to this environmental tragedy of mine is not socially or culturally acceptable in our society. It is not nice. It is not appreciated by your average Safeway cashier. But it allows me to take my groceries home without plastic bags, and it allows me to leave the store with my smug sense of self-satisfaction firmly in place.

I insist on bagging my own.

This is also an excellent way to prevent your grapes flown in from South America from being smashed under your New Zealand apples. But buying local is a topic for another day.