Gaining Strength As I Go

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After a two year hiatus, I am back to blogging!  Before I made Renaissance Woman public again I went through all of my old posts updating, checking links, deleting (a lot of deleting) and I found it apropos that my final blog post in April of 2018 was about making forward progress even if it’s at a turtle’s pace.  Two years later and the theme of that post is still valid.

The last two years have been fraught with difficulty.  My biggest obstacle occurred at the end of 2018: a major surgery I spent what felt like all of 2019 recovering from.  My neighbor described his wife’s last surgery to me and said it is a fight to come back from such a thing.  I agree: it felt like a battle and it became obvious early on it wasn’t one I was going to win in a day.  My first post-surgery walk went no further than the mailbox on the corner of my block which is an embarrassingly short distance.  I’d love to say I made more progress the next day but I didn’t.  My recovery was one of two steps forward, three steps back, and then at last four steps forward.

It took months but I finally walked a full mile.  I even took a trip to the mountains with a friend in July of 2019.  I admit I was grateful for late snow storms that kept hiking to a minimum as I had overestimated my ability.  Still, I’m never one to turn down a chance to be in God’s Creation and I didn’t collapse during our hike at Fish Creek Falls. I call that victory!

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I had to learn to be gentle with myself.  I am still learning to be gentle with myself because I have found that six weeks might be enough for incisions to heal but the rest of me is on my own clock.  I can do nothing to alter the speed of this passage of time.  All I can do is surrender and take one day at a time one step at a time.  I still wear the turtle pendant I mentioned in the last post and it has been a tangible reminder to me that any forward movement, even if it is just one step, is better than stagnation.

Stagnation is a terrible thing.  When I think of stagnation in a physical sense, I think of my lymphatic system.  This amazing system running through my body is so important for my health and yet it has no ability to move itself.  What do I mean?  The lymph has no heart to aid it as it moves upward through my body to my subclavian veins and thus relies on the motions of the muscles and joint pumps.  I must move or my lymphatic system is unable to do its job and my immune system suffers.  This pumping of my lymphatic system doesn’t require insanely difficult exercises. (I always think of Tae Bo.  Is that still something exercise lovers do?)  All I have to do is move a little bit throughout my day.

I found this quote:

“Life is never stagnation. It is constant movement, un-rhythmic movement, as we as constant change. Things live by moving and gain strength as they go.” ~ Bruce Lee

I think that’s beautiful.  “Things live by moving and gain strength as they go”.  There isn’t an aspect of my life I can’t apply that to: especially writing.  Writer’s speak of the flow of words and so I write to keep that flow constant.  I will write here on this blog, in my journal, in my notebooks, in my manuscript (manuscripts now-I had to put my series aside to conduct research on a few things and I’ve been working on a stand alone book since April of last year).  I write, I walk, I move to keep stagnation at bay.  I seek merely to gain strength as I go.

River

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating National Poetry Month

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The poem below is one of mine I’m posting for National Poetry Month.

It will tie into tomorrow’s blog post.

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Epiphany

Three miles-less will mean defeat

The gravel’s crunch beneath my feet

Each step propels me down the track

Yet I’m aware of all I lack

My body falters-lungs constrict

It fights against all I inflict

I answer all my pain with rage

My heart thuds-panicked-in its cage

I will not fail. I won’t give in.

I won’t be beaten. I will win.

I stop.  I breathe.  Confront the myth-

Of Who am I competing with?

Begin Again.  Take it slow

Let lungs expand inside my chest

It matters not how fast I go

My racing heart returns to rest

My muscles slide beneath my skin

Feel sun and breeze upon my face

There is no race that I must win

I do not fight to keep this pace

A bird takes wing, soars overhead

So much is waiting to be seen

To my right, a flash of red

A single apple midst leaves of green

Now that I do not resist

I see all I would have missed.

 

 

 

Be A Turtle

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I recently had one of those experiences where someone says something, a simple statement, yet it takes hold in my mind and that simple statement blossoms into deep meaning.  I was perusing an exercise forum on Facebook and a woman talked about her experience with a particular form of exercise, stating she wasn’t well enough to practice every day but was “turtleing her way through”.  I saw what she was saying, acknowledged the truth of the statement, and forgot about it.

Well, not really.  I began to see memes pop up on my Facebook page: pictures of turtles, tracks in sand, and messages like “any progress is forward progress” and I would think “turtling my way”.  During this time, I was finishing a book on the culture of the non-elite in Ancient Rome and Aesop was mentioned several times.  I already had Aesop on the brain when these memes popped up in my feed, not surprisingly, I began to think about the Tortoise and the Hare fable.

Do you remember this tale?  If not, briefly: The hare was laughing at the tortoise for being slow and awkward.  The tortoise challenges the hare to a race and the hare, thinking it’s a good joke, accepts.  The hare takes off, leaving the tortoise far behind, but stops halfway to the goal to play, snack, and take a nap.  The hare sleeps longer than intended and, upon waking, finds the tortoise no where in sight.  The hare races towards the finish line and finds the tortoise already there, waiting.

I’ve always read this with my focus on the hare, thinking it was a lesson on the dangers of being a bully and being arrogant.  I re-read it with my focus on the tortoise and two things caught my attention.  One, the tortoise good-naturedly, issues the challenge.  To do so the tortoise had to be aware of the hare’s character but, more importantly, self-confident.  The hare making her the butt of jokes did nothing to shake her assurance.  Two, the translation of the fable I have says the tortoise “plodded on, unwavering and unresting, straight towards the goal”.

That struck me.

I have such expectations of myself.  I think that can be a good thing-drive is important-but it ceases to be good when my expectations are unreasonable.  I’ve pushed myself in every aspect of my life, unwilling to admit I am subject to the physical and mental limitations I have.  I should write more words per day.  I should be further along in my spiritual walk.  I should be in better shape.  While all of these are worthwhile goals, I tend not to take into account my car accident.  I hate thinking of myself as a disabled person and, while I think it’s a good thing I don’t want the accident to define me, I must acknowledge my injuries left me limited.  Accepting those limitations aren’t always easy but it helps to have a mantra.  Over the last few weeks, mine has become “be a turtle”.  I tell myself that on a daily basis.

Any progress is forward progress.  Even if it’s one word written, one step taken, one prayer, it’s one more than I had yesterday.  Like the tortoise in the fable, I move unwavering toward my goal, though I admit I do rest 🙂

I was given a gift for my 17th birthday; a turtle pendant.  I haven’t worn it a great deal but I’ve kept it in my jewelry box.  I’ve begun to wear it as a reminder to be a turtle but also as a reminder of the fullness of time.  It’s been one or two years since I turned 17 and, at that time, the pendant was just a gift from a friend.  Gratefully received and appreciated but just a gift.  Neither she nor I knew it would take on such meaning for me at this point in my life.  A simple gift.  A simple statement.  Perhaps not so simple after all.

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My birthday gift.

 

 

A Resolution I Can Keep

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The first week of 2018 is coming to a close.  How are everyone’s resolutions going?

I don’t usually make resolutions but, moving forward, I am resolved to be kinder to myself.  I tend to be hard on myself, demand a great deal of myself, and then fall into negative self-talk when I can’t meet my own expectations.  In 2018, I resolve to say positive things about myself and focus on what I believe is my calling.  Writing.

I didn’t always think writing was my calling and, by ‘calling’ I mean the one thing I loved to do above all other things.  Writing was a hobby, nothing more.  After all, there were many other worthwhile things I could be doing.  I liked reading, enjoyed words, and always wrote even if it was just in a journal but it was always the thing I did to keep myself sane while I pursued that worthwhile (i.e. more important) thing.  And yet, there was always an image in my head: an example a friend set for me that always had me asking myself, is this worthwhile thing something I love doing?

That friend is Tara Novak and the example she set for me occurred on a New York trip we had opportunity to take with our High School drama group.  Tara is an immensely talented violinist and she brought her violin on that trip.  In the early morning, Tara was practicing her violin in the stairwell of the hotel our group was staying in.  That has always stayed with me.  With her talent, no doubt Tara could have taken a few days off practice and no one would have ever noticed.  She didn’t.  No matter what others might think or say, Tara was running scales before breakfast, honing her craft.  I never asked her if she did so because she loved violin too much not to play: whatever her reasons, her example is the standard I have measured my choices against.

I have taken enjoyment in many things and, perhaps they were worthwhile, but none of them was the thing I’d do in a hotel stairwell.  The only thing I’ve never wanted to take a day off from and, yes, would do in a hotel stairwell, is writing.  I love words.  Reading them, writing them, finding that one word that perfectly expresses what I want to say.  Words are my passion.

Pursuing that passion isn’t always easy.  I have some physical limitations from the car accident that can make writing difficult and I am not always nice to myself when I come up against those limitations.  I tell myself if I was a better writer, more talented, I would be able to write less drafts and my book would not be taking so long to complete.  I find Tara’s example a comfort in these times.  She wasn’t in that stairwell playing Bach’s Chaconne from Partita in D Minor (though she could have done if  she wanted!): she was playing scales.  I like to think of my writing that way.  I have thousands of words and, even though they aren’t yet honed into the manuscript I can look at and say “it is finished”, each word is like a note in a musical scale: the necessary practice for the manuscript that will come.  I remember Tara in a hotel stairwell on those days writing doesn’t go well or I’m especially tired.  She reminds me to never give up and I am able to show myself kindness.  I will always be grateful.

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Not a stairwell but I did recently get some work done in a hotel room. It came equipped with a lounge chair.

If you’re interested in how practice truly does make perfect, you can find Tara Novak on Facebook    as well as her website.

Going a Viking

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The latest special exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science is Vikings: Beyond the Legend.  I was looking forward to seeing it.  When I first began researching different cultures for my book, I had no idea where to begin.  I visited the children’s non-fiction section of my local library and pulled off the shelf every cultural and historical book that looked remotely interesting.  I remember reading a few books on Vikings but, as my attention was quickly diverted to the cultures of the Ancient Mediterranean, my reading on Vikings quickly fell by the wayside.  I was looking forward to re-acquainting myself with them.

I began said re-acquaintance by attending a lecture at the museum before purchasing a ticket to the exhibit.  The lecture assured me I would see the Vikings in a new light; show me proof they were much more than raiders and killers portrayed by history.  Maps shown at the lecture did make me aware that Viking ships made it far further into various lands than I knew and that was interesting.  However, as another slide showed archaeological evidence that victims of a raid had been neatly buried in one mound with all their heads neatly buried in one adjacent, the lecture didn’t do much to dispel the raider image.  I had hopes the exhibit would do a better job.

It did.  The artifacts on display are incredible.  I learned Viking culture was so much more than swords and raids.  Metallurgy did involve the forging of swords but it also resulted in fabulous jewelry the intricacy of which, the exhibit tells me, is almost impossible to replicate today.

 

I was able to see Viking ingenuity at work in the inner workings of a lock.  The spring mechanism, activated by pressure from the teeth of a key, was brilliant.  I wish I had been able to get a photo of it.  The exhibit did tell me that the penalty for theft where the goods had been locked away was higher than if they had not.  An interesting facet of law.

The role of women in Viking culture interested me.  I had always thought that only men went a viking but, apparently, this isn’t so.  Women too, went on these travels.  Women had a great deal of authority in the home, more so than most other women of their day, and this role and power as household manager is symbolized with the keys found in some burials of women.

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Of course, Viking raids did definitely happen and were brutal.  And yet, the Vikings were also accomplished traders, dealing in goods as far away as China.  There was a replica of a Buddha found in a burial but, try as I might, I couldn’t get a clear photo of it.  I did manage to get a picture of a glass beaker, something I would have thought would be unheard of in Viking lands.

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I left the exhibit with a desire to know more and I decided to go straight to the source.  What did the Vikings have to say about themselves?  To find out, I purchased The Sagas of the Icelanders from the gift shop.  I look forward to reading it and learning more about this fascinating culture.

A caveat:

I googled tips for taking photos in a museum and did try to put them to good use but I still have a long way to go. 🙂  These are the rest of the salvageable photos.  The exhibit will have to come back…

 

 

Developing My Writing Brain

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Writing Shelf

I would love to be a word genius: stories spilling out of my brain with no need for editing or grammar checks.  That’s not how my writing process goes, unfortunately, so I do a great deal of reading.  Reading is my favorite thing and, among the amazing fiction I read for fun and the history I read for research (and fun), I also read about writing.  Some of the books I read are craft and others are writers writing about writing.  Most I read and put back on my shelf but I just finished a book I thought worthy of mention: Fire Up Your Writing Brain by Susan Reynolds.

This book doesn’t cover craft-not really.  Rather, the book contains tips and tricks derived from neuroscience to take what I already know as a writer and make it work more efficiently.  This is a book I’ll have to study and my favorite part were the quotes included from different writers.

There were three things I read on my first pass through this book that stayed with me:

First, a little blurb about Mark Zuckerberg was included stating he buys multiples of the same shirt in order to minimize how many decisions he makes in a day.  He’s quoted as saying; “There’s a bunch of psychological theory that even making small decisions about what you wear, what you eat for breakfast, etc., can make you tired.” (Fire Up Your Writing Brain, page 162).  The TBI I sustained in my car accident years ago means it’s easy for my brain to get overwhelmed.  Planning my meals, multi-tasking at my job, researching, writing my manuscript, posting to my blogs…it can get difficult for me to keep it all straight.  This quote struck me.  I’ve already been looking for ways to simplify my life and reading this has caused me to make doing so a priority.

Two, no one is perfect and yet I keep expecting my writing to be so.  The section entitled “Your Expectations Are Too High” on page 194 spoke to me.  In it, Ms. Reynolds states “The best advice anyone can give inexperienced writers is to write a first draft as quickly as possible, as good books are not written, but rewritten and rewritten and rewritten.”  This is something I’ve heard many times from many sources but perhaps, this time, I was ready not just to hear it but take it to heart.  I finished a first draft years ago: all 612 pages of it.  It’s been whittling and paring and cutting that mass of research and character background into something more readable that’s been a problem.  I have difficulty not tweaking this, re-writing that, what if this, and would it be better if… What Ms. Reynolds’ book is helped me realize is it’s still too early in my process to expect perfection.  I need to turn off my editing brain for a while. Easier said than done but I’m pushing through.

Three, it’s important to have a writing space.  I’m fortunate to have an office downstairs where all my books are neatly on their shelves, I have a desk, a comfy chair, and a place to put my feet.  While simplifying my life, parts of my office have become a dump site for papers I have to scan before I can shred, blank cards I have yet to fill out and send to friends and family, and other detritus I’m can’t throw away before I look at it.  Writing in this room feels different than writing anywhere else in the house.  Because of my books?  I can’t really say.  However, I need to get the room organized so I can work there without feeling anxious about mess.  This too is now a priority.

I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads.  The information in it is bound to be more useful than I yet realize.  This is one that definitely goes on my bookshelf; just as soon as I get the shelf dusted and sorted.

Connect with me on Goodreads!

The Good Old Wintertime

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Snow

It’s still winter according to the calendar but snowy days have been few and far between here in Colorado.  I need some cold days because my cookie recipes are stacking up but I can’t complain too much: cold weather makes me feel old and creaky.  On really cold days I entertain myself by thinking of seeking warmer climes, however; I’d miss winter.

I like snowy days.  Every sound is muffled and the world is quieter, stiller, than usual.  At least, I like them when I’m inside and warm.  I remember one time when I wasn’t much of a fan of cold and winter.

My dad had taken a job as foreman on a ranch and moved us north.  My brother and I were excited to be living on a ranch and were sure we’d each be able to have a horse.  It was the dead of winter and, practically the moment we arrived, the pipes in the house froze.  I don’t remember much of that time other than the bitter cold.  I do remember being put to bed with so many blankets and coats I could barely move.  I woke up on the third morning after our arrival to the sound of my mother packing our boxes and we were gone.  That was the coldest I ever remember being and the shortest I ever lived in one place.

Usually though, I like snow.  I like watching the flakes fall, I like the feeling of isolation.  I used to like hiking in the snow, though I don’t do much of that now.  All other sounds are muffled and the crunch of snow under my boots, the creaking of branches, and the occasional drop of snow to the ground all are inordinately loud.  Even when with other people, hiking in the snow made me feel alone.  I always felt more in touch with my own breath outdoors in the snow-perhaps the act of drawing the cold into my lungs-and even my thoughts seem to move more slowly.

I once tried to capture this feeling in poetry.  I wrote the included poem for my English class while at University and it’s one of my earliest attempts at word painting.  It’s been years but I remember my classmates liked it.  I hope you’ll feel the same.

One With Winter

It was a moment I will always remember

I stepped out of the trees

And a magnificent sight lay before me

A fresh snowfall covered the meadow

Beautiful, unmarred, soft, covered in a thin shell

The light from the moon sparkled like diamonds

All around me was silence-no movement for miles

There was only the fog I created as I breathed.

The coldness of Winter was in the air

It caressed my face, my lips

Winter found a kindred spirit in me

It entered my skin, my blood, my bones

And we were one.

As Winter I felt such peace-such nothingness

I was the ice in the air and the snow expansive before me

Beautiful, still, cold

I let myself sink into the heart of Winter

Until I was becoming lost in the cold

And had to fight my way back to myself

I took care as I walked around the meadow

Reluctant to mar the beauty I had enjoyed.

I returned the next day

To see my snow covered meadow but the snow was no longer there

It had melted-submitted-to the loving warmth of the sun.

 

 

As Long As There Are Mummies

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My Cartouche

I didn’t realize two months have passed since my last post.  I’ve been busy with adjusted hours at work and my manuscript.  I intend to post something interesting but I get busy and blogging is the one thing that falls behind.  Still, I do look up from my keyboard and manuscript from time to time and get myself out of the house.  My last outing was to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science where I caught the Mummies: New Secrets From the Tombs exhibit.  I’m always willing to make a special trip if mummies are involved.

This exhibit, while not extensive, was fascinating.  Egyptian and Peruvian cultures were covered by the exhibit and I tried to take as many interesting photos as I could.  I’ve never photographed an exhibit before and the biggest takeaway for me was…I need practice.  Fortunately, another special exhibit on Vikings is on its way to the museum.  Until then, here are photos from my first attempt at photographing exhibits.

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The Carved Inside of an Egyptian Wood Coffin

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Canopic Jars

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A Rather Interesting Sarcophagus from the Roman Era

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A Fabulous Painted Coffin-My Photo Definitely Doesn’t Do It Justice

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Pots Made to Resemble Cats

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Diorama of a Peruvian Burial Site

 

Not the best photos, I know, but I hope you can tell how amazing the exhibit was.  I did manage to get my name spelled out in heiroglyphs so I now have my own cartouche (the featured image at the top of this post).  An exhibit well worth attending.  I’ll work on my technique in preparation for the next one.

Happy 2017, Everybody!

 

Making Art From Trash

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The beginning of November in Colorado was lovely and so, one sunny Saturday, I paid money to look at trash.  Beach trash.  Or, at least, beach plastic.  The Washed Ashore Exhibit is available for viewing at The Denver Zoo and I badly wanted to see it.  If anyone lives in the area or the Exhibit is coming to a location near you, I encourage seeing it for two reasons.

Reason One: The Exhibit is fun and interesting considered as mere works of art.  I don’t have the sort of mind that looks at discarded water bottles, chairs, tires, boots, flip-flops, shotgun shells, pop cans, random toys, and toilet seats and sees animal sculptures.  How all of this trash is turned into sculptures complete with waves, sea plants, and reefs is beyond me and I had great fun seeing how all the different objects came together to create animals like sharks, penguins, and jellyfish.

Reason Two:  I’ve lived in landlocked states most of my life, barring a University stint in Juneau Alaska, but have always loved the ocean.  I had dreams of being a Marine Biologist and, while that didn’t work out, I’ve never stopped caring about the oceans and its creatures.  The plastic soup swirling in ocean gyres, being eaten by the inhabitants of the oceans, and being dumped on the beaches horrifies me.  The Exhibit exists because volunteers pick up marine debris from beaches and the objects are then recycled into art that’s both fun to look at but helps bring awareness to a massive problem.

According to Washedashore.org, over 60 sculptures have been created and 38,000 pounds of marine debris has been processed.  38,000 pounds of garbage.  The number boggles the mind, especially when I realize that 38,000 pounds comprises a tiny part of the estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic waste entering the ocean from land EACH YEAR! (World Economic Forum, January 2016)  Even if that number isn’t accurate, half that would be overwhelming and I’m so grateful to volunteers who partner with organizations like Washed Ashore to do something about it.  Washed Ashore promises small actions make a difference and there are tips for reducing consumption of plastic at every sculpture.

These tips are so easy to incorporate into daily life.  I don’t use single use plastic water bottles if I can help it.  I have stainless steel water bottles with lids that screw tight for hiking and a glass water bottle I use daily while at work.  A bonus to using a glass water bottle is that doing so gets me up out of my office chair as I have to walk half the length of the building to re-fill it.  Good for the environment and my cardiac health.  I’ve found there’s no need to purchase water while on road trips.  No gas station has ever complained about my refilling my water bottle with ice and water from the soda machine and there’s always a basket of fruit where I can purchase a banana or an orange so I don’t feel like I’m taking advantage.  If I have to purchase a bottle of water, I keep a bag in the car to put the plastic in until I can find a recycling center.

My family and I use fabric bags when grocery shopping.  We also watch our shopping habits so we reduce the amount of packaging included with our purchases.  I admit that can sometimes be an inconvenience when I don’t buy a product I need because of packaging-why do I need individual bags of vegetables inside another bag?-but I think the inconvenience is worth it.

The Exhibit is both fun and educational while managing to create beauty from objects that are anything but.  I found it encouraging as well.  I’m not alone in caring about what happens to our oceans and beaches and, together, we can make a difference.

To see the photos I took at the Exhibit, check out my Facebook page.

 

 

 

 

 

A Walk in the Park

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A friend came out for a visit a few weeks ago and we celebrated beautiful weather in Colorado by spending the day in Rocky Mountain National Park.  This day, we turned left rather than heading straight into the park and visited Bear Lake.

My friend is a low lander and made some comments about my state not having enough air.  My family and I plied her with water and warnings not to ignore any feelings of dizziness then, as my friend was game for hiking, headed to the lake.

Bear Lake was well worth the stop.  It’s a beautiful place.  When my friend and I visited, the sun sparkled on the water, the sky was clear overhead, and a pair of ducks sought sustenance.  My friend asked if Bear Lake was called “Bear Lake” because it was shaped like a bear’s paw and I had to tell her I didn’t know.  A bit of research on Google led me to this blog post where I learned that the grandfather of a woman named Sally Ferguson shot at and missed a bear while hunting in the area in 1912 and that’s how the lake earned it’s name.  Now I know.  There’s a great deal of information on the History of Bear Lake in the post: I encourage you to check it out.

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Bear Lake

Bear Lake isn’t far from the parking lot so my friend felt up for a hike.  I’ll hike whenever I get the chance so I was chomping at the proverbial bit to get onto a trail.  There’s a lovely walk around the lake but we weren’t far from the trail to Alberta Falls.  My friend said she’d never seen a waterfall before and thought she was up for the hike.  My family was content to entertain themselves and the two of us started off.

Hiking with my friend was an experience I’ll ever forget and probably the most fun hiking I’ve ever had.  The two of us giggled over the fact she was hiking in designer jeans, Pumas and carrying a Coach bag slung over her shoulder.  I looked like I’d crawled out of the bushes by comparison.  We laughed, snapped photos, and took breathing breaks all the way to Alberta Falls.

I resorted to Google again to satisfy  my own curiosity about the naming of Alberta Falls and found I liked this website best.  The hike isn’t difficult.  There is an increase in elevation once Bear Lake is left but the incline isn’t ever too intense and the trail is well maintained.  There are bridges that add some fun to a basic trail and stones to prevent tumbling head long into a ravine.  (I had to be kept from falling to my death in search of a photo; my friend is much more level-headed)  The hike up to the falls took about an hour and, when we finally reached them, my friend said the hike was well worth it.  She rested for a bit while I had a grand time crawling around on rocks in search of the best waterfall picture.

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Alberta Falls

It was a glorious day.  Not only did we see two beautiful spots but my friend got a stamp in her National Parks book and I purchased a book of my own: a history of women settlers in the area now in my stack to read.  I’ll be hard pressed to top it when next my friend visits.

It isn’t possible to find a bad view in Rocky Mountain National Park but, if you get a chance to visit, check out Bear Lake and take the time to hike to the Falls.  Both places are beautiful and not difficult to reach.  I found them both to be accessible by all fitness levels.  Come to Colorado and decide for yourself!