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now I see the secret to making the best person

2015 February 12
by Rachel Turiel

It takes two families to cover childcare so Dan and I can come to the woods today. We’re here to visit the big pines, the old growth ponderosa that have been around for centuries. They’ve quietly risen while aspen forests sprouted like highrise tenements and then fell; while the Civil War was fought and the Wright brothers launched failed iterations of the future airplane; while generations of animals came and went, feeding the trees with their bones, blood, hair, excrement.

We follow a trail that seems to lead straight up to the sky. My ears fill with the sounds of my own quick breaths, the metronome of my heart tapping a brisk, ascending tune. The wind whooshes through the tops of the big pines in a world above us. Secrets lurk everywhere.

The soil is exposed: moist and fragrant. At 8000 feet the snow has retreated from all but the north faces in these unseasonably warm February days. We quickly shed jackets. Summer smells abound: human sweat, warm soil, dry bark. Thick hatches of winged insects launch from the brown oak leaves. Grass spears up towards the sun like a snake to a flute. I’m aware that winter is alive and well in parts of the U.S. but it is said that in our changing climate, extended drought will be the Southwest’s particular cross to bear.


I once went to an outdoor talk devoted to the ponderosa pine tree. I learned that a mature tree exhales 100 gallons of water a day; that ponderosa roots can stretch 100 feet laterally; that a tree only 30 inches in diameter can be old enough to have shared breath with a human who walked through the forest 200 years ago. Ponderosa forests are sculpted by fire, the young upstarts cleared out periodically, making room for the elders to become habitats unto themselves.


I can’t separate my love of this land from my grief about this changing world. I keep trying to find the angle from which to gracefully accept what climate change will, well, change. I struggle to find the bright side, the message, the shiny pearl in the rough oyster. In the Southwest, water wakes up this dry, dusty land, sloshing life into every living thing.

A Buddhist teacher said that the gift of this particular time is that we can wake up (as in: become present) to our environmental losses instead of say, blundering along unawares. I think I’d rather blunder along a fat mountain creek, in the monsoon-fed wildflowers, in my own August rain-drenched garden, knowing these gifts will be available to the next generation.

We head back down the muddy trail, through the bare oaks, their skeleton limbs snagging our clothes. Ravens circle overhead.


I think of my children, with whom we’ll reunite soon, and I realize that to love this land means to not give up on it. The more we feel the earth’s blessings, the more protective we become. It is a privilege to be a human walking on this earth. How do you receive the earth’s blessings? Maybe you grow food in your yard, or befriend trees, feed backyard birds, or use your feet as transportation. Maybe you spend time with a stretch of river, turn a compost pile, receive the quiet calm of a thicket of woods. Maybe you remember from time to time, that you too, are of this precious earth.

Now I see the secret of making the best person: it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth. – Walt Whitman


8 Responses leave one →
  1. February 12, 2015

    I have taken this same walk here in our Sangres so many times–among the old trees, and the new, through fire cleared stretches blackened and then filled with blooming Arnica. Every time we drive into the mountains we see the speed with which the trees are dying, every time we go to Colorado we see the mountainsides covered with trees turned rust red, even the trees with their feet along the water. If we grow up along the trees and earth, what becomes of us when faced with such transformation, and loss? Or, as Chase Twichell says

    I’m imagining what will happen
    to the soul in me,

    which feeds on these things,
    and which I fear will go on living

    after the loved world dies.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      February 12, 2015

      I love you, NM sister.

  2. February 12, 2015

    I loved reading this post! And the photos are spectacular. They made me miss my home so much. Drought or not, SW Colorado and it’s forests are my home. We had a nurse recently who said she’s never been hiking or been to a forest. I don’t think I could live without access to ponderosa pines. I didn’t know that they were quite so old, but now that I know that, it makes sense, as they hive a wise presence. And I really love the quote at end. XO

  3. Andrea permalink
    February 12, 2015

    I too feel this grief. Today was 66 and sunny. Weather we usually wouldn’t see until June. Its fells sneaky. Like having an affair behind the rain forests back. It just feels wrong. And so, I do the only thing I know how to do. The thing that the Mother calls me to do. Which is turn my face to the sun, accept its warmth. And then breathe.

  4. Natalie permalink
    February 12, 2015


  5. David Brown permalink
    February 12, 2015

    Thank you, Rachel. For many of us, it is your words that wake us up “(as in: become present) to our environmental losses instead of say, blundering along unawares.” I need you every week.

  6. February 18, 2015

    Oh Rachel. I get this so deeply. I especially appreciate these words:

    I think of my children, with whom we’ll reunite soon, and I realize that to love this land means to not give up on it. The more we feel the earth’s blessings, the more protective we become.


  7. carrie-anne permalink
    February 19, 2015

    Rachel, you get me in the heart every time—you put to words all that i too feel. your writing is breathtaking-your truth is stunning truth
    i adore you and your family

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