Archive for May, 2013


Near Vidette Meadow. Kings Canyon

There is an essential quality required for success in life. It’s not intelligence, good looks or even talent. It’s grit. What is grit? Grit is not the sandy grime at the bottom of your boots, it’s the ability to keep going—despite adversity—to overcome setbacks and rise again and again. It is the strength born from struggling to do something, to do anything and call it your own life. How do you get grit?

Modern writer Polly Campbell believes that grit comes from our passions. She writes, “Our passions are generally things that inspire us and drive us to improve. The  learning process, therefore, becomes rewarding in its own right.” She suggests that when you are on a path that you’ve hewed out yourself, you are more likely to stick with it, to persist and to persevere.

Ralph Waldo Emerson called this Self-Reliance, and he wrote beautifully about it long ago, directing readers to get know themselves and find their own paths. He writes, “A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages.”

But what do you do when life sends you a tornado, a marathon bomber or an avalanche? These events knock you down, literally. They are the kind of setbacks that make you want to give up and live under a bridge (or take a desk job that you don’t believe in). But these are also the moments when you can decide to live an authentic life. If you aren’t living one already, it will become quite clear. You might want to throw in the towel, and maybe you should. But for people on the right path, it’s time to get gritty, to push on even when you feel like quitting. By staying the course, you’ll grow and get stronger. This is when you become a solid individual, a compassionate friend and a thoughtful community member.

Power Plugs Mountain ClimberFor inspiration while soldiering on, Emerson wrote the beautiful essay, Compensation. On my own dark days, I’ve read it again and again. Emerson’s words have a way of lifting my mood, in the most challenging of circumstances.

When it’s all said and done, if I could give anything to a person, it would be grit. But grit can’t be given, it has to be earned.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.—Rainer Maria Rilke


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Flowers by Andrew Concell2

Memorial Photo by Andrew Councell

Two weeks ago, I cleared away clutter to make way for more life. Instead though, life brought bitter news. The largest avalanche in Colorado in the last 50 years wiped out five young men, and one of them was Rick Gaukel, my boyfriend’s brother. We had just read about the avalanche online, he sent a text to his brother, and we watched a video of Rick mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada.

Then, the phone call came.

There is a time in life when words will not suffice. This was one of those times. I didn’t write anything last week, because I honestly could not think of an adequate response. Some trite quote or cliché can’t encapsulate the full life of the spirited man, who I’d just begun to know. Instead, I showed up in Colorado and in California, hopefully at the right times. I read about how to care for people in the midst of grief. One article, in particular, clearly articulated the role of a community and of individuals in helping others out.

tapatioDr. Phyllis R. Silverman suggests, “We must know how to listen, to not recite platitudes, or be fearful of other people’s pain. We need to be able to say ‘I am sorry’ that this person died. We need to be able to ask about the person who died and to learn something about what was lost.”

So I’m listening. I’m learning. If there is any solace here, it’s this: Rick Gaukel lived one of most full lives I’ve ever heard about, and I’m now retroactively experiencing it. He climbed, he snowboarded, he sailed, he surfed, he biked, he hiked, and he taught others about the outdoors. He shared his greatest passions freely, among competing sports and friends. He listened often. He loved many, and he was a generous man. There aren’t too many people like that on Earth. Of course, we like it when those people stick around.

What can we do? We can come together. In his honor, we’ll be climbing, surfing, hiking, biking, talking a lot, sharing often and eating a lot of spicy Mexican food, with a healthy dose of Tapatio Sauce.

Be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.—Maya Angelou  

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