The Struggle is Real

“Oh my God, are you filing your nails?”

The stylish guy behind the counter at BC Surf & Sport looked up from his casual slouch. “First I bit them, now I’m smoothing them down.”

Not missing a beat, my teenage daughter continued. “So, is that, like, your personal nail file or do you all share it?” Two other young male employees, looking just as hip as the first, had sauntered over to join the conversation with this outgoing, plenty-hip-herself potential customer.

“Oh, no, it’s the shop file. We have to fight over who gets to use it.” All three of the guys chuckled.

“I hear ya,” said my daughter. “The struggle is real.”

The struggle is real? What an odd thing to say. Perhaps it was a trendy phrase among the young and cool, something I hadn’t yet heard my daughters use around the house.

The thing is, the struggle is real.

My teenager has had a rough couple of weeks. She’s a senior and will graduate in May. That is, if she can muster the will to get out of bed in the morning; if she can trick herself into believing that it’s worth it to go to class, to finish her assignments, complete the required service learning hours and supplementary reflection paper, to graduate because she has a future that’s worth living; if she can dispel the anxiety that obliterates her days when she’s forced to think about what’s coming next–a summer job, leaving for college, a lifetime of expectations to be capable, competent, optimistic, and excited about life.

For her, the struggle is real.

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I try to understand. I try to hide my dismay and disappointment when I find her hunkered down in bed when she should have been up an hour ago for school, when I get yet another automated call from the school reporting her random absences, when she says she’ll take care of timely business later because she just can’t deal with things right now. I try to suppress my natural parenting instinct of taking away privileges or at least letting natural consequences play out – as would be effective with most teenagers – for some of the things she does and doesn’t do.

But what good is it to take away her car, her means of getting to school? Sure, she could ride the bus, and that would be the perfect consequence for most teens who have trouble getting to school on time when driving themselves, but for her, having to ride the bus, as a senior, would be another good reason to stay in bed. And the joy of driving, of being independent, is probably the main thing that’s getting her to leave the house these days. Grounding doesn’t make sense when what I really want to see happening is her going out more and interacting with the world and spending time with friends. And should I cut back on her already minimal weekly spending money when doing so might result in her being more anxious, less hopeful?

The struggle is real.

Luckily, my daughter makes fairly good choices within the confines of her disorder. Her depression has not resulted in any run-ins with the law. She is not failing her classes. Like she says, she’s got healthy ways of coping, her music, drawing, art. She always finds the time and plenty of humor and love for her sister. She is open about her depression and willing to explain what she’s going through for those of us who don’t get it, who can’t possibly imagine not embracing each new day and what the future has to offer. These past few weeks, as she’s mourned her childhood and confronts her future, she’s felt more anxious and out of control than ever.

I’m always fighting myself.

I don’t feel like I’m on my own team.

I have my coping mechanisms in place – playing guitar, drawing, writing, walking – and I have plenty of time to do those things now, but what about when I go to college? I’ll be so much busier. How will I find the time to calm myself down? I’m already freaking out about it.

I know I miss some classes, but you have to understand that, for me, going to most of them is a huge accomplishment being that I can barely get out of bed.

Every time I’m happy, I feel like I’m just faking it. I know who I really am, that the bad feelings are going to come back.

I feel like you deserve a better daughter. You should have a smart daughter, someone who gets really good grades.

I’m so afraid this is hereditary and I’m going to give it to my kids. I don’t want them to suffer. I’m keeping a journal so that when they become teens I can look back on my writing and hopefully remember and be able to help them get through it.

I listen. I see her tears. I feel the bubble wrap in which she’s encased herself, that protective layer that keeps her safe, but simultaneously keeps me from her. I’ve helped her get a diagnosis, medication, counseling. And yet I cannot give her what it is I truly want to – optimism.

She’s going to have to discover that on her own. And find a way to let optimism rule.

And I cannot give myself the one thing that would help me to understand her better, that would allow me to more thoroughly accept and support her. I cannot give myself depression. And for this, I sometimes feel guilty.

The struggle is real.

For both of us, and for so many more out there, it’s real.

 

Her Countenance Alone

 

It doesn’t matter who she is

Her name

Nor father that created this beautiful piece of art

What she’s saying

In all those seconds

Over all that time

Utterly inconsequential

What I study instead

Is her countenance alone

That face

Living, expressing, growing, changing

Yet persisting

And prevailing

As the baby girl

Expressing without words

No words to express

How she is every girl

Every baby grown up

Every stage

Each different

All the same

She is my daughter

My first daughter

My second

She is every girl

I’ve taught over the years

At some point talking

To me

Without me hearing

As

Her countenance alone

Captured me

Raptured me

Entitling me to see, just see

To appreciate

To love

Every stage

Of every girl

Each different

All the same.

Just .1 Left

Of course, a 5k can’t be a perfect three miles; that’d make too much sense. A 5k is 3.1 miles long. But it’s that last .1 that’s so much fun. That final .1 when the finish line is in sight.
This weekend I labored through the last stages of my 5k. I’ve been steadily planning the Lincoln OM ROARing to Run 5k—a joint effort between Lincoln Orchard Mesa Elementary School and the Mesa Monument Striders running club—for the past four months. The event is happening next weekend, April 19, and I’ve only got a few days now to get all the remaining details in place.
Just a short distance until I reach that final .1 of this run I’ve been running.
I want to say first of all that though this project has been like an extra half-time job for me, I have had a great time with it. The learning curve has been challenging and I’ve enjoyed thinking about how to make this race the best it can be.
Here are the highlights:
• a flat straightforward course starting and ending at the school
• low registration fees – just $5 for kids
• 30+ volunteers, with many of them on the course to help cheer on the runners and keep children safe
• post-race snacks
• raffle tickets for a kid’s mountain bike
• lots and lots of door prizes
• popcorn for sale
• the school’s bathrooms and drinking fountains handy
• music rocking the race scene
• covered areas in case of inclement weather
• finisher awards for all kids
• age group prizes
• the National Anthem
I’ve completed most of this race, meaning that I’ve put forth most of the mental and physical energy necessary for this race to happen. I’ve learned how to time races, ran several possible routes, secured insurance, checked into permits, created a website, designed a race t-shirt, set registration fees and age groups, selected awards, accepted and stockpiled donated door prizes, planned race day snacks and registration goodie bags, created and distributed flyers, organized a running club at the school to get the students fired up about and trained for the race, lined up volunteers, held committee meetings, and rounded up sponsors.
Thank you to the race committee that helped all the above come to fruition.
This weekend I spent nearly 12 hours in my classroom (which doubles as my 5k planning and storage area) making signs, preparing the results boards, stuffing race bags, and sending emails to all the volunteers with their assignments and instructions.
I think I’ve got enough accomplished and feel ready enough to go with this event to say that the first three miles are done.
And now I’ve got just that final .1 to go, the fun part where I know that all of hard effort is about to pay off. The finish line is in sight, right before my eyes. I’ll be crossing it next Saturday as the event starts, happens, and concludes.
I’m excited. I truly believe it’s going to be a fun time for all – runners and volunteers alike. And what an awesome way to build school-community relations and pride.

In Search of a Giant Sequoia

The Giant Sequoias were on the list for our 12-day 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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Hiking Underground

My teenage daughters aren’t that into hiking – you know, exertion and sweat and covering ground just for the sake of covering ground – so any hike I planned for our Spring Break road trip had to be extra beautiful or unique. And short. I know they’re not planning on walking far when the sturdiest shoes they have along are their Vans. And so it was we found ourselves hiking in an underground lava river tube.

Lave River Cave is northwest of Flagstaff in the Coconino ponderosa forest. A rock pile and short rock wall marks the opening. It is small and drops downward immediately, giving us the feeling right from the start that maybe we didn’t want to do this hike after all.

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067I hung back, initially, to take photos of the girls entering the cave and dropping down into it, and then panicked a bit as I realized I was getting behind and that catching up would be difficult due to the big boulders on the floor. It seemed wrong to call out, “Wait up!” when the girls were just fifteen feet in front of me. I was happy when Addy said, “Come on, Mom, we’ll wait for you.”

Just before the cave floor leveled out, I turned back to get the last glimpse of daylight.

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Now we seemed to be walking parallel with the Earth’s surface above us. We turned our headlamps off to check and, as expected, found ourselves in complete darkness. Most of the cave was wide and up to 30 feet in height, but portions of it got to as low as three feet.

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The cave is 3/4 mile long, so 1.5 miles round-trip.  A short hike, right? Yes, but a long time to be underground. At no point was it relaxing. For starters, we had to keep our headlamps trained on the ground right in front of us, which was rocky and uneven. Looking ahead required stopping, getting my balance, and moving my head rather than just my eyes wherever it is I wanted to look. And looking around wasn’t all that revealing. The cave walls and floor looked almost the same the entire way, giving few hints that progress had been made or that the end was approaching. And then there’s the fact that our minds started racing with all kinds of crazy thoughts.

Like a good mom should, I started worrying while driving down the forest roads to get to the cave. Were we the only ones out here? Would it be better to be alone in the cave or to have some other hikers in the area? If something happened and I needed to drive out of here quickly to get some help, would I be able to find my way back if in a state of panic? I dropped my mental breadcrumbs.

And as soon as we were in the cave: What if someone covers the opening with boulders? What if there’s an earthquake? What if today is the day the cave becomes unstable? It was only a 1.5 mile hike, so I didn’t bring water or snacks. I didn’t bring anything except an extra headlamp and the clicker to my vehicle. Bad hiker. Bad mom.

There were others ahead of us, we assumed, because there were two vehicles in the parking lot. And there was another family arriving as we were starting down the trail. You’d think you’d hear voices echoing throughout the cave. But no; it was eerily quiet. Was anyone hiding down here, just waiting to attack us? I thought about how hard it would be to run out of here, and the worst, having my headlamp knocked off and the batteries coming loose while struggling to get away from someone.

To cope with these irrational (maybe not so irrational?) ideas, we started acting really goofy. It started in a low section of the cave, where we had to bend over to continue moving forward. The girls’ hands touched the floor and then they were suddenly acting like gorillas. While they do plenty of strange things, I have not seen this particular behavior elicited anywhere above the earth’s surface.

112Amy kept us laughing with possible journal entries, doubly funny because they were all for Day 1 – as if one day would be the extent of our survival in the event something horrible happened – and they all had the word growing in them. Day 1 – Some of us are growing hungry. Day 1 – The soles of my Vans are growing thin. Day 1 – My mother is growing crazier by the minute.

Addy tried to get our minds off the situation by writing raps. She would start and Amy and I were supposed to add to it. I wasn’t very good at it. I was slow to think of rhyming lines and was getting hung up on whether we were doing couplets or quatrains and what was a quatrain, again, anyway.

After what seemed like several miles, we finally reached the end. There was a large family there, or two. It was awkward visiting with them in the dark, nothing like stopping to talk with other hikers while in the daylight and nothing at all like celebrating with whomever you find when you finally reach the summit of a 14er.

We continued our silliness on the way back, but now that we were on our return trip it was more for the fun of it than for the sake of retaining our sanity.

I must say I was plenty relieved when I saw that shaft of sunlight, which was slow to come into view because it was above us (remember I said we had to go down at the beginning of the hike before it leveled off) and not in front of us.

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Am I glad we went? Absolutely. Any short hike that is unique in some way is a hike worth taking.

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What exactly is a lave river cave? According to Wikipedia, between 650,000 and 700,000 years ago, molten lava erupted from a volcanic vent. The top, sides, and bottom of the flow cooled and solidified, while lave continued to flow through, and out of, the middle, forming a cave.  I don’t know how common lava river tubes are, but there is one near Bend, Oregon. Lumbermen discovered the Arizona lava river tube in 1915. I’m a little surprised that the area hasn’t been made into a national monument or park, to be honest. A sign outside the opening explains that there have been problems with litter and graffiti. It’s a pretty cool place and I’d hate to see it destroyed.

 

 

 

Slide Rock State Park

A beach scene in the middle of a mountain canyon? Sounds fun.

Slide Rock is in Arizona, south of Flagstaff and north of Sedona, in Oak Creek Canyon. The month of March is a bit early in the season to be playing in a mountain creek even in sunny, warm Arizona. I researched camping in the area and found just one campground nearby that was open, for tent camping, during March, another sign that it might not be the best time to visit. But this was the time we had to go – the last two weeks of March. I figured we could at least make a stop and do some hiking.

It was a warm, beautiful day as we drove through the northern Arizona desert, then up into the Ponderosa pine forests to Flagstaff and down the switchbacks into Oak Creek Canyon. We saw the area and many people enjoying it before we actually turned into the entrance. A sign there said that the air temperature was 74 and the water temperature 46.

“Are people actually playing in the water?” I asked the ranger.

“A few are. It’s a really nice spring day here. No clouds, no wind. So some brave souls are getting in.”

In the parking lot, I changed into water shorts and a shirt that could serve as a swimsuit top if need be. I wasn’t quite ready to don true swimwear. We walked a half mile before dropping into the rocky canyon area called Slide Rock. We crossed the creek a few times in ankle-deep water, on stepping stones and over short bridges. Then, we set our belongings down and found a place to test the water.

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The rocks beneath the crystal clear water were green and looked slippery with moss. I was worried about losing my balance and falling in, but the wet rock was surprisingly easy to walk on.

The water was indeed chilly, but it wasn’t long before I was meandering over to the top of the sliding area. As I got closer, I watched a few people sit themselves into the water, push off, and slide down the rock. They all drew their breath in quickly and grimaced, but soon switched to laughing, screaming, and smiling.

Some of the kids got out, rushed back to the top, and did it again. But they were kids. I found the one woman who was close to my age who had braved the water slide and got her opinion. She basically said it was awesome and that she could do it all day long.

All I needed to hear.

I gave my camera to my daughter, sat down, sucked my breath in, and pushed off. It wasn’t as slippery and slide-like as I thought it would be. Nor as cold. I had to push myself along in a few spots and this meant that I was sitting in the water longer than I had planned to.

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But, when I hit the deep pool at the bottom and pulled myself to the side, I was smiling like the rest of them and thinking about doing it again.

I hear they have to close the gates in the summer because there are too many people. I could only imagine the line to slide on a hot Arizona day. So I was glad I did it on this early spring day while I was here.

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Later, I noticed people on the cliff high above and set off to find the trail.

As I left the swimming area, some teens were cliff jumping into a large pool. If I was still wet, I would have tried it. Now I wish I would have anyway.

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The views from above, on the trail, were incredible. What a fun spot!

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Antelope Canyon

 

It was well worth going over a hundred miles out of our way on our Spring Break road trip to stay one night in Page, Arizona and tour the Navajo’s Antelope Canyon.

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Living in canyon country and near Utah, we’ve hiked through many slot canyons, but what I saw and read online about Antelope Canyon made me want to visit.
We arrived at the tour office in downtown Page at 7:30 a.m. and were loaded into the back of a pickup just before 8:00. There were two long bench seats, back to back, in the bed of the truck. Those sitting on the end were actually hanging out past the bed, perhaps even past the tailgate. A metal gate and seatbelts that double- and triple-buckled us made the 15 of us feel somewhat secure.
We drove through town in this fashion, then north at highway speed, and, finally, down a wide, sandy wash. I’m guessing we were going about 70 mph as we glided through the sand toward the west. The driver would have to go fast to not get stuck in the foot-deep sand; there were no obstacles, nothing to run into; and, the guide later said he did seven of these tours per day so he had a strict schedule to adhere to. We traveled—again I’m guessing—about five miles down the wash. Needless to say, it was a separate highlight of the tour in and of itself as we leaned and laughed and realized we may never do anything like this again.

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Suddenly, the wash ended, blocked by a tall rock wall. And in the rock wall, a crack, the beginning of a slot canyon.

 

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The beauty and wonder of the canyon hit us immediately upon entering. The canyon is only accessible with Navajo guides, as this is a spiritual place for them. Our guide explained that there were seven companies that gave tours (all Navajo) and that 14 million people have visited the canyon. At $35 per visitor, it is good to know that the Navajo nation is able to make some money on this natural wonder.

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The thing about this slot canyon, which is one-quarter mile long, 125 feet deep, and ranges from three to 25 feet wide, is that the light within is constantly changing. Depending on the time of day, the season, and whether there are any clouds high above, the colors and stripes and textures upon the walls are always distinctively different.

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Our guide pointed out the images of several sacred animals, objects, and places as we passed through the canyon, such as eagles, grizzly bears, Monument Valley, and the sun. I tended to linger behind, going at my own pace, separating myself from the group, and thus missed most of what he pointed out.
He also told us where to stand and how to angle our cameras for certain photos. He demonstrated with his smart phone camera and showed us the shots to try to get. I was glad I was close enough to see how he zoomed in on some light entering high above and came away with “Monument Valley at Sunset.”

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We emerged on the other end of the canyon and, as we traveled back through, I took many more photos as it really did look different with the passing of the time.

 

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Like many places out West, Antelope Canyon is remote and takes some time to get to, but it was definitely worth it.

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