Science says, “Go hiking!”

I’m following paw prints in the snow as big as my late Malamute’s fuzzy feet. I think about Rigby all the time even though he died two years ago. It’s a little weird. While I am kind of sad, I am mostly wistful. It doesn’t take a psychology 101 class to know that it’s not so much the dog I miss, although he was the greatest dog that ever lived; it’s the experiences I had with him I miss. It’s what he meant to me.

Rigby meant long hikes in the summer and equally long cross-country ski tours in winter. He meant getting outside every day, even when I didn’t want to, and I miss him most when I am on the trail.

The paw prints lead through crusty, white snow contrasted with black tree trunks burned in a fire a couple years ago. They cross a log bridge under gray clouds and head up a small hill. I stick to the packed-down trail and posthole up to my knees as soon as I wander off-trail.

Despite missing my dog, I am really happy. I am almost always really happy when I am moving forward in the woods. I feel like the best version of myself. My mind is clear, my heart is pumping, everything around me is beautiful.

People often say they want to get “out there” when talking about the woods. And I say it too. But I think we all mean that we want to get “in there.” We want to get into the woods, into the mountains, rivers, streams, and brooks. We want to get into the trees, into quiet and solitude, and into our own selves a little bit more.

It's not so much about getting away, it's about about being where you are without all the noise and clutter. It’s about being home.

As I reach a spring locally known as the Fountain of Youth, my own personal sunbeam breaks through the clouds and turns the snow to glitter. The plants in the creek are the most vibrant green. It’s almost cliché.

There’s a log across the stream here and I walk above the gurgling water, still bathed in warm light. I briefly think of the people I wish could experience this with me, but know being alone makes it different, and possibly more special.

There have been several articles in the last few years about how time in nature makes people happier, smarter, better looking. Nature walks combat stress while boosting mental well-being. All work-at-home, homeschooling, moms of two high-energy (yet very sensitive) boys need nature walks. All humans need nature walks.

One of the latest studies, published in the journal Ecopsychology found:

"Group walks in nature were associated with significantly lower depression, perceived stress, and negative affect, as well as enhanced positive affect and mental well-being, both before and after controlling for covariates. There were no group differences on social support. In addition, nature-based group walks appear to mitigate the effects of stressful life events on perceived stress and negative affect while synergizing with physical activity to improve positive affect and mental well-being."

There’s a reason I feel so good tromping around outside. There’s rationality for missing the adorable dog that got me hiking or skiing several days a week. I didn’t need an explanation for craving time slipping up icy trails, weaving in and out of trees, or listening to chickadees thrill in the middle of winter, but it’s interesting to know that science says I should go hiking.

Sidenote: Why haven’t I heard of Ecopyschology before? I need a subscription!

Permalink 02/02/15 07:37:00 am, by Mel Email , 599 words, Categories: Hikes, Essays, Dogs ,

Elkhorn Hot Springs

Henry is cranking out these hot springs videos! And they are awesome.

If you started singing "Everything is Awesome," then you and I are connected at a cellular level.

We spent a few days at Elkhorn over New Years. There was skiing, sledding, soaking, eating, and laying around. I wrote about it for this cool new website called The Last Best Plates. If you know that Montana is "The Last Best Place," you'll get how clever that site name is.

Between the video and the story, there isn't much more for me to say. So, here are some pictures.

Moon over the Pioneers on my solo ski.

Sun setting behind Maverick Ski Area.
Finn lost his second front tooth. Cutest smile ever.

Our cabin: "Beaverhead"

Anders at Shelly and Andy's cabin--this is the cabin we had last time we stayed there.

Ski crew.

The trail back to our cabin.

Icicle view from our window.

Henry gets a few minutes to read.

Ruby's doll keeps an eye on things. Be afraid.

Me and Shelly.

The pool from one of the ski trails.
Winter swimmers.

Dinner at the lodge.

Dorel goes snowshoeing.

Ruby loves her mom.

Wunsch Bunch sled races.

Ruby and Lucy chilling out.

Gray and Finn scream down the road.

I love this photo of Anders and Kiris so much!

If you love Montana and want to read stories inspired by Big Sky Country, check out this anthology:
The Last Best Place: A Montana Anthology

Elkhorn Past

From our 2012 visit: little kids, four dogs, and a pregnant woman (not me!).

Permalink 02/02/15 12:43:00 am, by Mel Email , 260 words, Categories: Anders ,

Pine Creek Falls Recess

The calendar says January, but the outside temps feel more like May. We've had windows open during the day and sometimes leave the house without a jacket. It's kind of nice, but I miss winter.

Fortunately, we just need to get a little higher to find snow and ice.

After an icy drive up to the Pine Creek campground, we met Erica and her three kiddos for a mid-day, mid-week walk to the falls. Think of it as homeschool recess.

The trail was icy much of the way (shakes fist at warm weather), but there was snow all around and no one seemed to mind the slipping and sliding. The kids slid down snow-covered rocks, stepped on slippery rocks in the creek, broke icicles off the waterfall, threw snowballs, and soaked their snowpants. There was fallen tree walking, frozen waterfall slides, and all that outdoor, unstructured play we always say we want for our kids.

This was the first time we've really hung out with Erica and kids, and it was great. All the kids instantly got along and it's so nice for me to get to know a like-minded, homeschooling, outdoor gal.

It was well worth the sketchy drive up and down the hill.

Slide Rock

I was the only one not wearing red. Whoops.

Off-trail snow running.
Frozen Pine Creek Falls

"Can we climb the waterfall?" Sure, what could go wrong?

Pine Creek Falls in All Seasons

* Here's what it looks like in spring.
* And in summer glory.
* One of our fall walks.

Permalink 01/29/15 02:14:00 pm, by Mel Email , 254 words, Categories: Hikes, Anders, Finn, Learning ,

Traveling Mel Youtube channel

One of the advantages of marrying a filmmaker is that I get all the videos I could ever want. The advantage of marrying a tall filmmaker is that I never have to reach the top cupboards again. But, I digress...

Henry set up a Youtube channel for me and is working on a series of hot springs flicks. The first one is live.

We'd love it if you would watch, click through and "like," and maybe even subscribe to the channel.

Thank you! And look for an Elkhorn Hot Springs video next.

Permalink 01/26/15 07:34:00 am, by Mel Email , 93 words, Categories: Yellowstone, Hot Springs, Video, Anders, Finn ,

So, now we are into football (sort of)

Yesterday, was a lovely day. It was 40-degrees, sunny, and most importantly—not windy.

The boys wanted to go to the park to throw a football back and forth. I’m all for the park, we need to get outside everyday for everyone’s sake, but football? Ugh.

There are a lot of different names and philosophies for not sending kids to school. I usually say we “homeschool” because that’s easiest for people to understand. It doesn’t exactly explain what we do, but if someone really wants to know they’ll ask more questions.

We are life learners. My hope is to foster a love of learning, an ability to find needed information, and to raise out-of-the-box thinkers. I teach compassion, mindfulness, physics, reading, how to clean a toilet, and that this world is an amazing place filled with love, beauty, heartbreak, and inequalities. The boys teach themselves all kinds of things.

It's a 20-year experiment.

I have no idea what kind of jobs my kids will have when they grow up. When I was six or seven, I never imagined I be a social media manager, a blogger, or freelance writer that submits articles from my couch.

Anders attempts to hike the ball.

We are interest-led learners. By letting the kids dive into things they're interested in, so the thinking goes, they will dive deep, work hard, learn more, and stick to it. I give them space and opportunities to explore the things that grab their attention.

The reality is that most of the things that they are interested in are really boring to me. Ninjas. Lego. Minecraft. Angry Birds. Weapons of all sorts. And now it's football.

Personally, I dislike all organized team sports. Too much pressure to do well for others. Too much depending on others to make me successful. That says a lot about me.

But I don't want to push that on my kids.

The boys play soccer (the most bearable of all the team sports, in my opinion), and floorball, in addition to the solo sports like hiking and cross-country skiing. Lately, they've been really interested in football. Seriously?

So like a good interest-led homeschooling mom, I have been facilitating that interest.

For Anders, it mostly means knowing where each NFL team plays, what their mascot is, and then spending hours locating the stadiums on a map. He's also the kid who spent more time coming up with the brand and mascot for his soccer team, along with the backstory, then actually playing soccer. I may be exaggerating a little, but that happened.

Some of his friends have been really into football too, but actually play not just looking up geographic locations of football stadiums. So I checked in with both boys and asked if they would like to get a football and learn to throw it. Then I got Henry to teach them how to throw and catch. Remember, I don't do team sports.

Finn runs the field (is that even a football term?).

As it turns out, even though our kids are into the very boring subject of football, they are learning about geography, racial stereotypes (think the Redskins), and gaining some motor skills along the way. My friend, Tiny Jen, suggested looking into where the teams got their names, something she did in school. Knowing why the Packers are the Packers, is right up our kids’ alley.

So, while the boys throw the ol’ pigskin around the park, I get to do laps on the half-mile perimeter and get a little exercise. I’m into interest-led learning, too. Yay for football!

Permalink 01/24/15 07:10:00 am, by Mel Email , 595 words, Categories: Anders, Finn, Learning ,

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