Why We Explore the Outdoors

February 6, 2002

Dear Mom and Dad,

It was an absolutely fabulous Christmas holiday for Nancy and me – it was with family. Of course, it was so wonderful that it wore me out and that is why I am so late in writing to say thank-you. When we returned home I took out photos from the last Allin Christmas together – in Dallas there were fewer of us. The family has grown since our last Christmas together – both in number and for some around the middle.

It is very difficult for me to realize that all the babies – Tim & Dianne’s excluded, are grown up or nearly grown up. I am not getting old but everyone’s children and my nieces and nephews are rapidly catching up with me in age. Burt is the last youngster.

When the family both immediate and extended gets together I instantly remember how much I enjoyed the previous get together and wonder why we don’t do it more often. Many excuses but few valid reasons.

Dad, once or twice you asked why we were stopping at White Sands National Monument. At the time I didn’t have an answer but as we drove east out of Tucson I gave it some Thought. The reason why:

The reason we wanted to stop at White Sands National Monument is the same reason I (and don’t think for a minute that it isn’t usually we) always want to hike to “just the next bend in the trail” – there is always something there that I have never seen, felt, tasted, heard, smelled or an experience that I get to relive – in short “for the experience”.

In my next life I am not going to play it safe (the corporate world with money) – I want to explore. I never look back at my life and wonder “what if,” but I can say that if I had it to do over I hope I would spend more time enjoying the world than working in the world.

(Since all children blame their parents for what ever is wrong in their life, sorry Mom it is your fault: “you made me go to a Presbyterian Church and the Puritan work ethic must have taken hold of me during that one hour each Sunday”. Or it could be the two of you made me earn my own money doing yard work and I grew up thinking your were supposed to work. Or then again maybe it is Dad’s fault for setting an example by going to work every day rather than staying home in an undershirt with a can of beer and the TV on. I just know it can’t be my fault for choosing work that provides all those lousy comforts like a roof over my head, a warm bed and food.)

I do know that I can’t sit still when something just around the corner may be the experience of a lifetime. Travel adventure is my tennis or golf or skiing or whatever. It is what makes life so much fun. Some adventures are just good (No adventure is ever bad; especially after the mind has time to forget the physical pain!) and then others are just unbelievable.

When we did the caving tour in New Zealand I wondered if I could rappel – I have a healthy fear of heights. But I discovered the fear was only a made up fear not a real fear – swing out onto a bar, check your gear and push off into space – only 300 feet of open air between you and the river bottom. I am not a rock climber – that is why I always let Nancy lead when we have to scramble over rocks. But nothing in the cave worried me, even the 20 foot vertical rock climb. And what an adventure – the adrenalin rush of repelling and climbing, wet shinny rocks, the damp smell of wet vegetation, the sound of rushing water, watching eels fight over bread crumbs, the feel of ice cold water going down my back as I repelled down a waterfall, the total darkness inside a cave without lights, the glow of the glow worms, the wonder of how you ever made it up 98 icy cold ladder rungs hand over hand to the cave exit, the fun of being with seven other people exploring a world none of you have ever seen and most of you didn’t think you could physically master!

Enough about why – what did I get to see that you missed this past December:

We arrived late in the afternoon at White Sands National Monument, took in a short film on the National Monument at the visitor center, drove into the park and then took a short walk with a ranger who explained the Sands geology and ecology. This is a wonderfully desolate quiet but very beautiful place – especially in the evening with the muted tones of white sands and blue pink sky with white clouds. The moon was rising as we were leaving – it was huge almost overpowering in size. The moon was like an Ansel Adam’s moon – huge, a centerpiece in the total picture of the moment.

The next morning we returned for more exploring on our own. We did a mile hike that was an interpretative walk. It is an extraordinary story to learn how plant life adapts to the shifting white sands. During our walk we stood next to trees and cactus that are 10 to 15 high – but we were looking down on them because only their top three to five feet are above the sand and they are still growing – the cactus has to grow faster than the shifting sand or it dies!

Following the completion of this “knowledge” walk; we drove farther into the Monument, parked the jeep, signed the visitor’s trail book and took off on a 4.5 mile hike through the white sands. The weather was cool and added to the pleasure of the walk – would not want to do this hike in the summer.

For better than half the hike we did not see any one else – you are very alone in the middle of white sand with distant blue mountains and a very blue sky. It’s quiet, its lonely, there is nothing but sand all around – yet you, yourself, feel so alive because it is just you there; no one else. Then you start to explore – there is a plant or tree or cactus just over there – why? You begin to wonder how the animal life survives – and could you survive if you had to. The sky – the most impressive blue that is contrasting with the white of the sand – but another blue is the mountains on the horizon – but another white is in the clouds. The colors are much truer than a painter can paint.

We are both very glad we stopped – the White Sands National Monument is like nothing else we have hiked or experienced. And it can be fun – see the photograph of me crawling through the every shifting sands with a blinding sun beating me into submission.

The following day Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge for birding and a short hike. What a scene: thousands, like five to ten thousand or more snow geese alone, thousands of other ducks, two thousand plus sandhill cranes, a dozen bald eagles, multiple types of hawks, pheasants (first wild pheasant I have ever seen – what colors) and many other birds. Even if you are not a birder you become one when visiting Bosque Del Apache.

We arrived in time to see the ducks and sandhill cranes leave the small lakes for the surrounding fields to feed. It was impressive to see hundreds of birds leave the lake together – but not nearly as impressive as that afternoon when thousands of ducks/geese/cranes returned. I have never seen anything like it. I wonder what Africa is like?

That afternoon in a chilling rain I watched probably 1000 birds land on the water, turned and looked to the north, and all the way to the horizon I saw wave after wave of birds already airborne and headed for the lake. After maybe two thousand birds had landed on the lake, all of a sudden for no reason I could ascertain, they all started honking and took off almost as if they were a single bird. This horde – a couple of thousand ducks and geese, flew within a hundred feet above my head, circled the lake and landed in mass. When the birds took off Nancy joined me on the viewing deck – she had been cheating by getting warm in the jeep. Another thousand birds landed during the next five minutes and then they all took off again. The beating of all these wings created or at least made me feel as if the atmospheric pressure was increasing around my body. These same wings also create a very loud soundless sound – wings beating against air. By the time we left there were more than 3000 birds on the lake! This is one (some day I’ll tell you about Costa Rica and frogs) of the most impressive sights in nature I have ever witnessed – absolutely unfathomable.

Our first weekend Sunday home we took out the snowshoes, picked up the granddog – a 90 pound yellow lab, and headed for the mountains for snowshoeing. At times we didn’t need the snowshoes but it was great to be outdoors in the crisp clear air of a snow covered mountain.

The following Saturday we invited Dianne and Bob Stein over for dinner. It isn’t a short drive from their house to our house and you never know what traffic will be – they were about 15 minutes early. So as Nancy finished up in the kitchen we all started with a glass of wine. They arrive before 7:00 and left after 11:00. I hope they had as good a time as we did.

The following weekend Nancy cooked for a dozen. Nancy set the table with china, crystal, silver and candles on Friday night – I polished silver, piece after piece after piece. I polished the good silver and the everyday silver, I may have even polished some of our neighbor’s silver! The dinner was a birthday party for Will. It was four adults, seven children (those under 33), and one and one/half babies. Jen is starting to look pregnant. And Will and Jen’s first child, a boy, is due in May.

What a dinner! Everyone thought it was great. We had leftovers and that was all I ate for lunch and dinner the next day. Two desserts and then the younger guests retired to the kitchen to do damage to a tequila bottle. Knowing who had to clean up, I passed – my passing on the tequila has nothing to do with maturing, I just don’t bounce back the next day like I used to. But then again, the last dish I washed a little after two o’clock that night was my wine glass.

The week after we returned to Denver, my new boss called to tell me that he had convinced Luther, our CEO, that Jay (my wireless telecom counterpart in Dallas) and I were due an extra bonus and a couple of days off. I thanked him and told him Nancy and I would use both the money and time. About a week later, he calls and says he is headed downtown and to meet him outside and he will hand me a check. And what a check, I am thinking $250 maybe $500. The check had a 2, then a five and then not one but two zeros! New York here we come.

Yes, it’s time to explore a city rather than sands, jungle, water, snow, ice, etc. The plan is to leave on a Friday afternoon or Saturday morning and not come back for a week. Art museums, the Bronx zoo, the streets of New York during the day – back to the hotel for a rest – and then to Broadway, off Broadway, off-off-Broadway, maybe some jazz, ballet at Lincoln Center or whatever is fun!

Mom, hope you won the superbowl pool. Talk with you all soon. Oh yes, share the pictures with the younger Tucson Allins.